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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
July 6, 2012 - 16 Tamuz, 5772

1228: Balak

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  1227: Chukas1229: Pinchas  

Don't Put It Off  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Who's Who  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Don't Put It Off

A goal-oriented person, especially when lecturing a procrastinator, quotes the golden rule, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."

A procrastinator, however, will cite the principle, "Don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow. For tomorrow you might not need to do it anymore."

Although neither of these cliches is a perfect fit for the Jewish experience of this coming Shabbat and Sunday, if we had to choose one over the other to describe the 17th of Tammuz this year, we'd side with the procrastinator.

For, even though 17 Tammuz is traditionally a fast day and a day of mourning, this year it will be a day of joy and pleasure. How can this be? The 17 Tammuz this year occurs on Shabbat, and thus, the fasting and mourning are pushed off until Sunday.

The 17 Tammuz is the date nearly 2,000 years ago when the wall surrounding the holy city of Jerusalem was breached by the Roman army. This initial cracking and breaching of the wall allowed for the eventual destruction of the Holy Temple which took place three weeks later, on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av.

A discussion about what to do when the 9th of Av falls on Shabbat is recorded in the Talmud. The esteemed Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi ("the prince") opines that being that the fast is postponed until Sunday (for Shabbat is a day of pleasure and enjoyment, and we must not mourn or afflict ourselves on Shabbat), it should be altogether cancelled.

Although the ruling was ultimately decided according to a differing opinion, the concept of "If it's being put off until tomorrow, don't do it altogether" does have validity.

For certainly, when we consider that the sad three-week period inaugurated by the 17 Tammuz (and concluded on the 9 Av) is actually a preparatory stage for - and thus part of - the ultimate Redemption, there is the real hope that the Redemption will come before the postponed fast can be observed.

Jewish mysticism explains that although outwardly, the fasts associated with the destruction of the Holy Temple and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people from our land seems to be entirely negative, in fact, the essence of these fasts is positive, since they are entirely connected to the Redemption. For the whole purpose of the destruction of the Holy Temple and our people's exile is solely to reach the pinnacle of existence which will take place in the Era of Moshiach.

The 17 Tammuz is the beginning of this ultimate era. It is when the cracks and crevices were first created in the wall.

Quoting a verse in Song of Songs, "Behold, he stands behind our wall, he looks in at the windows; he peers through the crevices," the Rebbe brings the opinion that this verse refers to Moshiach: "Moshiach is standing on the other side of a wall that is already cracked and crumbling... Moshiach is watching and waiting in anticipation: When are we finally going to finish off our sundry outstanding task, and complete the final sorting out that needs to be done to refine and elevate the world? If we do not see him, it is because it is our wall that is standing in the way."

Celebrate Shabbat this week, for in general, Shabbat is a taste of the World to Come. And particularly this Shabbat of the 17 Tammuz, which is essentially and intrinsically connected to the Redemption. And as we celebrate and delight in Shabbat, let's contemplate which spiritually refining and elevating tasks we need to do (that should not be pushed off to tomorrow!) so that our wall no longer obstructs Moshiach's presence but reveals him entirely.


Living with the Rebbe

This week we read the Torah portion of Balak. In the portion, it is related that when King Balak asked Bilaam to curse the Jewish people, Bilaam responded by uttering several prophecies. The first one established that it was impossible to curse the Jews, as they are especially beloved by G-d. "How shall I curse whom G-d has not cursed? And how shall I execrate whom the L-rd has not execrated?" he said. Bilaam's second prophecy went even further: Not only is it impossible to curse the Jewish people, but they deserve special blessing because of their good deeds: "Behold, I have received [the word] to bless; and when He has blessed, I cannot call it back."

Bilaam then cites one of the special qualities of the Jews: "Behold, it is a people that shall rise up as a lioness, and as a lion shall it raise itself." As Rashi explains, this means that "when [the Jews] awaken from their sleep in the morning, they show the strength of a lion to seize the commandments - to put on tzitzit (fringes), to recite the Shema, and to don tefilin."

According to Rashi, whose explanation is based on a Midrash, the main reason G-d loves the Jews so much is their willingness to "seize the commandments." Not satisfied to merely observe mitzvot (commandments) in a routine manner, they "seize" and "grab" them as an expression of their eagerness.

Reaching out to grab something is an indication of how much a person wants to possess a particular object. If he is not that interested in the object, he will not stick out his hand or rush to take it.

In fact, the Jewish people love G-d's mitzvot so much that immediately upon arising, they "attack" them with the forcefulness of a lion. As soon as they regain consciousness they "put on tzitzit, recite the Shema, don tefilin, etc."

On a deeper level, the act of "seizing" indicates an action that transcends logic. In the service of G-d, this is the level of mesirut nefesh, self-sacrifice, the "illogical" willingness of the Jew to give up his life for the sake of G-d. When we say that a Jew "seizes" the commandments, it means that he observes mitzvot with a sense of mesirut nefesh.

This brings to mind a statement of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who encouraged his Chasidim to actively demonstrate self-sacrifice in the face of Communist oppression: "Jews, you must grab mesirut nefesh now. Grab it! Because the time for mesirut nefesh is about to end. The day is coming very soon when there will be complete religious freedom; you will look for mesirut nefesh but will not find any."

Indeed, in the merit of the Jewish people's self-sacrifice throughout the generations, we will very soon merit the fulfillment of the rest of Bilaam's prophecy - "a scepter shall arise out of Israel" - the coming of Moshiach, speedily.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 33


A Slice of Life

Today I Fall, Tomorrow I Get Up
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Belev Echad hosted 10 severely wounded female Israeli soldiers and victims of terror. Chani Avramov, shared her story:

"I served in the Border Guard, in a unit that works to capture terrorists attempting to enter Israel. On the day of the attack, several members of my unit were preparing to drive to Tulkarem, to go about regular army activities.

"We piled into an army jeep and drove off. I was sitting at the very back of the vehicle, and I noticed a car driving behind us. I didn't give it much thought, but when I turned around I saw four rifles sticking out of the car, pointed at me.

"I froze. Almost before I had time to react, a burst of gunfire began. I was severely injured. One bullet lodged in my leg, and as I screamed a second bullet landed in my jaw. Part of my jaw fell onto the ground as well as part of my tongue.

"Trying to escape as fast as he could, the driver sped up, and I fell out of the jeep onto the ground. It was a miracle that the terrorists did not come back to make sure I was dead. I remember no more from that day.

"I found out afterwards that it took three attempts to resuscitate me. When I reached the hospital, the doctors predicted I would not survive the night. In fact, they were so sure I was going to die, that my family was initially told I was already dead. But I pulled through. My body did not let me down and I survived seven hours of surgery.

"My physical recovery started that day, and more than ten years and 15 surgeries later I still have a long list of operations that I need.

"My mental recovery was even more challenging. Those two bullets stole my two biggest loves: singing and dancing. The first bullet stole my voice; the second changed me from a promising young dancer to someone who walks with difficulty."

I looked around as Chani spoke at our dinner honoring these heroes. I have never seen 500 people listen to a speaker so silently. Chani's story had touched each and every person present. And then she shared something even more personal.

"I had never seen my father cry. Until I was injured. I remember lying in the ICU, falling in and out of consciousness, and I saw my father holding my hand and crying. This was something I had never seen before, and even in my semi-conscious state, unable to speak, I motioned for a pen and paper and wrote, 'Father, don't cry. Today I am falling, tomorrow I will get up.'"

A chill went down my spine when she uttered these words. What powerful words from such a courageous young woman. It's unfathomable. Still in the ICU, condition unstable, Chani was already giving hope and strength to those around her.

The truth of her words still resonates, "Today I am falling, tomorrow I will get up." On a personal level, Chani has indeed managed to "get up", to heal, to carve out a new life for herself. And on a communal level, her words speak the fate of our nation. For millennia we have faced persecution, torture and suffering. But time and again we pull through, strong in our faith and our community. We have suffered so much in this current exile - more than 2000 years - but we know the time will come when we will get up. We will be redeemed.

Tzippy Bloomberg also bravely shared her story. "I was just a teenager - only 14 years old - living with my family in Karnei Shomrom. On the day that would forever alter the course of my life, May 8th, 2001, I was in the car together with my family and another passenger. We were heading home, happy and calm, when traffic began to slow. My family and I were in one of several cars stuck behind a very slow-moving vehicle.

"The car slowing us all down had Palestinian license plates. The car directly in front of us tried to overtake the car. Suddenly, a spray of gunfire erupted from the Palestinian car. Bullets flew in every direction. The family in the first car managed to escape unscathed, but our car was hit.

"My mother, in her fourth month of pregnancy, was killed instantly. My father was critically injured and remains paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair . I was severely injured with gunshots to my spine and stomach.

"I was hospitalized for nine months and underwent three long and difficult operations. More than ten years later, I still attend daily physiotherapy. Nevertheless, I remain paralyzed; a constant reminder of the traumatic day which ripped my family and my childhood apart."

Tzippy said that the hardest part of her ordeal was not the physical pain. It wasn't the countless surgeries or finding out she would never walk again. Tzippy continues to suffer severe pain to her entire body. She has a device which she can switch on to provide some relief, but it is unreliable. During the trip it worked, which was why she was able to smile throughout the visit.

But even that was not the hardest part. No. Tzippy confided that the most difficult part for her, lying in the hospital bed, was having no one to hug her. Nobody to hold her hand and reassure her. Her mother was killed in the attack, and her father was in his own hospital bed, dealing with his own pain and paralysis. Her very aloneness in the hospital brought her to tears, day after day.

But now, said Tzippy, she no longer feels so alone. She is happy despite her pain. Happy to be alive, and happy to be in New York. In fact, I kept on noticing Tzippy's brilliant smile. How can someone in so much pain keep smiling?

When Tzippy finished talking, I was left with one thought: I need to learn from Tzippy. If she can find a way to be happy despite her tremendous ordeal, surely we can too. Let's give it a try!

Belev Echad, sponsored and run by Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side (NY) aims to create golden memories for severely wounded IDF soldiers and victims of terror, flying them to NY for ten trouble-free, worry-free days. In addition, Belev Echad unites the Upper East Side Jewish community together with our beloved soldiers, educating us regarding daily life on the forefront of our battles. For more info visit chabadic.com

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Yehuda and Batsheva Glick will be moving to Germantown, Maryland, to direct the activities of Chabad there. Rabbi Leibel and Mussie Kesselman moved to Greenville, South Carolina, to serve the Jews of Greenville and the Upstate. Rabbi Reuven and Mushka Ouanounou moved to the Magnan neighborhood in Nice, France, to serve the Jewish population there. Rabbi Shlomo and Mushka Zalmanov are moving to Budapest. Hungary, to teach in the local Jewish educational institutions. Rabbi Berel and Goldie Paltiel are moving to Edmonds, Washington, to direct Chabad of Snohomish County. Rabbi Boruch Sholom and Mushkie Wolf moved to New Hyde Park, New York, to serve the North Shore-Long Island Jewish medical centers in the area.


The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe addressed to "all campers in summer camps, everywhere," written three months before the Yom Kippur War.

Tammuz 5733

I hope and pray that you are making the fullest use of the present summer days to gain new strength and strengthen your health - both the health of the body and the health of the soul, which are closely linked together. And since the health of the soul is bound up with the Torah, which is "our very life and the length of our days," and with its mitzvos (commandments), "by which the Jew lives," you are surely doing your utmost in regard to Torah study and the observance of the mitzvot; in which case you may be certain for the fulfillment of the promise - "Try hard, and you will succeed."

I wish to emphasize one point in particular, in connection with the forthcoming "Three Weeks." You are, no doubt, familiar with the events and significance of these days. The point is this:

I want you to consider carefully the special merit which Jewish children have, a privilege which affects our entire Jewish people, to which King David refers in the following words: "Out of the mouths of babes and infants You have ordained strength - oz...to still the enemy and avenger" - including also the enemy that has caused the "Three Weeks" and still seeks vengeance to this day. In other words, the way to vanquish and silence the enemy is through the study of the Torah, called "strength" (oz), by the mouths of young children. Indeed, so great is their power, that our Sages of blessed memory declare: "The whole world exists only by virtue of the breath of little Jewish children, whose breath is pure and free of sin," referring to children who have not yet reached the age of responsibility for wrongdoing, that is, boys and girls of pre-Bar/Bat Mitzva age.

In this connection it is necessary to bear in mind the words of our Prophet Isaiah (in the first chapter): "Zion will be redeemed through justice (mishpat) and her returnees through righteousness (tzedaka)." "Mishpat," here, means that through the study of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvos, especially the mitzva of tzedaka, the Redemption is brought closer. And tzedaka - in the light of what has been said in the beginning of this letter - includes both tzedaka for the body and tzedaka for the soul. Tzedaka for the body is, simply, giving tzedaka to a poor man, or putting money in a tzedaka box. Tzedaka for the soul is done by helping one's classmates and friends spiritually - that is, to encourage them in matters of Torah and mitzvos, through showing them a living example of how Jewish boys and girls should conduct themselves, and also by talking to them about these things.

Since it is my strong wish, and also great pleasure, to be your partner in this tzedaka activity, I have sent out instructions to give each and every one of you a token amount of money in the currency of your country, which is to be my participation in the said tzedaka campaign.

May G-d bless each and every one of you and grant you success in all the above, especially in your Torah learning and practice of tzedaka, in a steadily growing measure, so that even when you return home from camp and throughout the next school-year (may it be a good one for all of us) you will - with renewed vigor and in good health, in body as well as in soul - go from strength to strength in your study of Torah with diligence and devotion, and that your studies be translated into deeds - in the practice of mitzvos with beauty; and all this should be carried out with joy and gladness of heart.

And may we all very soon, together with all our Jewish brethren, merit the fulfillment of the prophecy that these days of the Three Weeks be transformed from sadness into gladness and joy.

With the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach, "who will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth...and all the earth will be filled with G-d's Glory."


Who's Who

RABBI YOCHANAN BEN ZAKKAI lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Before the actual fall of Jerusalem he hid himself in a coffin and was smuggled out of the city. He made and was granted three requests of the Roman commander Vespasian: the city of Yavneh to establish a yeshiva; the life of the Davidic heir to the monarchy; a physician to cure Rabbi Tzadok who had fasted 40 years to save Jerusalem from destruction. The establishment of Yavneh as a Torah center set the stage for the spiritual rebirth of the Jewish people despite the destruction of its physical base.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is the 17th of Tammuz and the fast usually commemorated on this date is postponed until Sunday. The Rebbe explained that there are two ways of explaining the fact that the fast is put off:

a. It is forbidden to fast on Shabbat, because no element of sadness should be associated with this day. In particular, this applies in regard to those fasts that commemorate national calamities.

b. The postponement serves as a foretaste of the revelation of the true nature of the date of the fast that will surface in the Era of the Redemption when, as Maimonides writes, "all the fasts will be nullified... and will be transformed into festivals and days of joy and rejoicing."

On an overt level, a fast day is obviously undesirable. The suffering endured on a fast is surely not pleasurable, nor appreciated. Never-theless, the inner dimension of a fast is good, as the prophet states, "It is a day of will to G-d."

This contrast is openly expressed in regard to the 17th of Tammuz. On an obvious level it is associated with negative factors, the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple. Nevertheless, its inner, essential quality is good. This is even alluded to in the date itself, for 17 is numerically equivalent to the word "tov." This points to the intent of the exile, that it should lead the Jews to the Era of the Redemption.

The connection to the Redemption also relates to Shabbat which is a foretaste of "the era which is all Shabbat and rest for eternity." Moreover, the mitzva of delighting in the Shabbat by partaking of material delicacies is also paralleled by "the feast that G-d will make for the righteous in that future era." That feast will be an actual physical meal. For, as Chasidut explains, the ultimate reward of the Messianic Era will be experienced in this material world, as the souls are enclothed within the body.

May this take place immediately!


Thoughts that Count

He has not beheld any wrong in Jacob; the L-rd his G-d is with him (Num. 23:21)

Even the "animal soul" of the Jew is ultimately transformed into good, by virtue of the fact that every Jew possesses a Jewish soul - "a veritable part of G-d Above" - giving him the power to effect this transformation.

(Sichot Kodesh)


He couches down, he lies down as a lion (Num. 24:9)

Even when the Jew is "asleep" in exile he is considered "as a lion," for his heart is always "awake" to G-d, to Torah and to mitzvot (commandments).

(Ohr HaTorah)


And now come, I pray you, and curse me this people (Num. 22:4)

It is interesting to note the language Balak used when he asked Bilaam to curse the Jewish people: "Curse me" he said, words which can also be interpreted to mean that he himself should be cursed, which is exactly what eventually happened. One must always think before speaking and pay attention to the words we use.

(Shaloh Hakadosh)


It Once Happened

Our Sages said that whoever has not seen the Second Holy Temple has never seen a beautiful building. The fabulous restoration and enlargement of the Holy Temple was undertaken by King Herod as an act of atonement for his murderous savagery. Herod was an Edomite slave owned by the Hasmonian royal family. With the complicity of the Roman rulers he seized the throne and proceeded to completely wipe out all the remaining descendants of the Hasmonian dynasty, eventually even his own queen, Mariamne. He ruled, unchallenged for 33 years, and was a cruel and savage despot who bitterly oppressed his Jewish subjects.

The Torah Sages were the particular victims of his hatred, and he had most of the Sages murdered. Only Bava ben Buta was allowed to live, albeit blinded, in order that the king might avail himself of the rabbi's wisdom. How then can we understand why this cruel butcher took it upon himself to engage in the holy work of beautifying the Holy Temple?

According to the Sages, Bava ben Buta was responsible for giving the king this advice. One day Herod went to visit Bava ben Buta. The king disguised his voice and his identity went undetected by the rabbi, who took him to be an ordinary visitor. The king initiated the conversation with Ben Buta saying, "It seems to me that Herod is nothing more than a wicked slave! Just look at all the evil he has done!"

Ben Buta replied only, "What can I do about it?"

The king answered, "Why don't you curse him, then?"

"Does it not say in the Torah, 'Thou shalt not curse a king?'" Ben Buta replied. He then continued explaining, "Even if he were not the king, but merely a prince, it would be forbidden to curse him, for it also says, 'A prince in your nation, you must not curse.' And even if he were merely a wealthy man, it would not be permissible, since it is written, 'Do not curse the rich man, even in the privacy of your bedroom.' "

But Herod replied, "This refers to a prince who acts like one of you, like a Jew. But Herod does not even stem from the Jewish nation and certainly does not act like a Jew!"

To this Ben Buta replied, "But I am very much afraid of him."

Herod answered, "There are only the two of us here. There is no one to report to him what we are saying." But Ben Buta replied by quoting a verse from Ecclesiastes, "Even the birds of the sky will carry the voice."

When he heard this reply, the king became angry, and blurted out "I am Herod! Had I known how careful the Torah Sages were in their speech and actions, as I have now seen, I would not have had them killed. But now that the deed has been done, what can I do to atone for it?"

Bava ben Buta answered him, "When you killed the Torah Sages, you extinguished the light of the world, as it says, 'For a mitzva (commandment) is like a candle and the Torah is light.' Go now, and occupy yourself with the light of the world. Go, rebuild the Holy Temple anew in greater majesty and splendor, for it, too, illuminates the world, as it says, 'And all the gentiles shall stream to it.'"

In return for this act of piety, Herod would be able to attain some degree of atonement for his sins. When Herod heard this advice, he wanted to follow it, but was afraid of the reaction of the Roman Empire.

To this, Ben Buta answered, "Send a special messenger to Rome asking for permission. This messenger will travel for a year's time, will stay in Rome for another year, and will return only after a third year. In this time you can demolish the old building and rebuild it."

Herod accepted this suggestion, and proceeded with the project. Addressing his subjects, Herod promised to rebuild the Temple according to its original splendor which had been prevented before because of the domination of foreign kings. The people, however, were not happy with Herod's proposal. On the contrary, they were frightened, fearing that Herod would demolish the existing structure and then never rebuild. Herod reassured them, promising that he would gather all the necessary building supplies before pulling down the existing Temple. True to his words, he collected a thousand wagons for transporting materials and recruited ten thousand skilled carpenters and craftsmen. Ninety thousand woodcutters and 30,000 stonecutters were employed. Fifteen hundred priests and Levites took part in the construction. In all, 181,500 men were employed in the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. [Josephus] All expenses were covered from the king's personal fortune. As Herod had promised, all preparations were firmly in place before he began the demolition.

It happened as Ben Buta had said. After three years the messenger returned with this reply, "If you have not demolished the old building yet, do not do so. If you have already demolished it, do not rebuild it. If, however, you have already done it, you are no better than any other willful slave who first does what he wants and then asks permission. You may flaunt your power, but we know what you are! You are neither a king nor the son of a king, but a lowly slave who freed himself!" But, by the time the reply was received, the work was under way and could not be reversed.

Construction continued for eight years. The newly rebuilt Holy Temple was completed in the year 3738 (22 b.c.e.) and stood for 90 years, until the ninth of Av, 3828 (68 c.e.).


Moshiach Matters

And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which shall neither be measured nor counted; and it shall come to pass that, instead of saying to them, "You are not My people," it shall be said to them, "The children of the living G-d... And I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness and with justice and with loving-kindness and with mercy. And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know the Lord.

(Hosea 2:1, 21-22)


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