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Devarim Deutronomy

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1424: Bechukosai

Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

June 3, 2016 - 26 Iyyar, 5776

1424: Bechukosai

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

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  1423: Behar1425: Bamidbar  

Such A Little Thing  |  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

Such A Little Thing

It's like a particle of dust in your eye, or a speck of coal in a diamond. Sometimes even the tiniest thing make big problems.

Which is why, when you think about it, it's not at all surprising that the ego can wreak havoc. Of course, you and I know that it's not our egos making the problems. We only have little egos, just big enough to encourage us to be goal oriented, take pride in our work, not be a doormat for the other guy. But the other guy - our neighbor, spouse, boss, co-worker - he/she has a real ego problem!

This Shabbat, it is customary to read chapter five of Ethics of the Fathers. There we read (5:18/5:21): "Whoever causes the public to have merit, no sin will come through him; but one who causes the public to sin will not be granted the opportunity to repent. Moses was himself meritorious and caused the public to attain merit.... Jeraboam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the public to sin, therefore the sins of the public are attributed to him."

Our Sages taught: "G-d disqualifies no one, but welcomes all; the gates of repentance are open at all times; whoever wants to enter may enter."

Yet, so great a travesty is it when one leads others to sin that a person who leads others to sin is never given the opportunity to repent. There was, however, one exception - Jeraboam ben Nevat mentioned above.

Upon King Solomon's death, his officer Jeraboam successfully led a revolt against the king's son and successor.

Eventually, to distance his kingdom - comprised of 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel - from the other two tribes, as well as from Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, Jeraboam set up altars and encouraged idol worship.

G-d chose to give Jeraboam the chance to rectify his sins. But this unique opportunity was not all that G-d was offering. "Repent," G-d urged Jeraboam. "And then I, and you and ben Yishai [King David] will walk together in the Garden of Eden." (Talmud, Sanhedrin) G-d was offering Jeraboam that He would bring Moshiach if the wicked king would only repent!

And here's where the ego comes in. For, while Jeraboam should have been overwhelmed with gratitude to G-d for giving him this unprecedented opportunity to repent, though he had led millions of Jews astray, he asked one very simple but very egotistical question. "Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"

Hadn't Jeraboam just been told by G-d that he would go first? Hadn't he, for that matter, just been given a singular opportunity to repent? And, in addition, to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden?

From Jeraboam's query we see that he didn't have a problem with repenting per se, nor with belief in G-d versus idols. His problem was his ego. Jeraboam was demanding assurance. "Who will go first? I or ben Yishai?"

So G-d told Jeraboam, "Ben Yishai will go first."

And Jeraboam replied, "Then I will not repent."

Jeraboam had it all! He had the unheard-of opportunity to repent. He had the opportunity to bring his entire generation to repentance. He had the opportunity to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden.

But he could not put aside his ego long enough to accept G-d's offer.

Jeraboam was the proverbial "other guy" who has the ego problem. But, of course, you and I would have never let our egos get in the way. So we shouldn't allow our egos to get in the way of accepting G-d's magnanimous offers that He presents to us each day. If we don't, then very soon we will all be walking together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden!

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read the Torah portion of Bechukotai. Bechukotai begins: "If (Im) you will go in My ordinances..." The Talmud interprets the word "im" in this verse as a plea. That is, here the word "im" is not a condition (if), as it is in many other instances. In this verse it is an appeal. G-d, as it were, pleads with Israel: Go in My ordinances - exert yourselves with Torah.

This plea and command also confers ability and an assurance to every Jew, that you will go in My ordinances. How is this so?

There is a principle that G-d does not impose unreasonable or impossible obligations upon His creatures. He will not impose upon them burdensome demands which they are unable to obey, but comes to each one according to his ability, "as people say, 'In accordance with the camel is the burden.'" Thus it follows that where there is a Divine command there is also the ability to obey it.

There is another instance where a command and a assurance are found together - in the mitzva (command) of loving G-d. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, offers two meanings for "You shall love the L-rd, your G-d": "You shall - must - love," in the sense of a command; and "you shall - will - love," in the sense of a promise or assurance. There, too, both meanings are bound up one with the other: the command from Above confers ability and assurance.

Love of G-d is the very root of all the positive commandments including the mitzva to fear G-d - which is the root of all the negative precepts. Love of G-d, therefore, is the root of all mitzvot.

Therefore, the simultaneous command and assurance with regard to the mitzva of loving G-d applies to all the mitzvot! Thus, we are certain that G-d invests each and every person with the strength and capacity to observe all His commandments.

An additional interpretation states that the word "bechukotai" (in My ordinances) refers to mitzvot in general; those mitzvot which we can understand with our own logic as well as mitzvot beyond our understanding - mitzvot we observe simply because the King commanded them. The Divine plea and assurance relates not only to the actual physical fulfilment of these mitzvot, but also to the intent with which it is done: You will go in My ordinances, that is, that every Jew is assured that he will observe the mitzvot with the proper spiritual vitality.

A Slice of Life

From Choir Boy to Campus Rabbi
by Dvora Lakein

During a two-week period several years ago, Matthew Devlin felt hopeless. The 18-year-old came to rest his head one night on a table in a Manhattan Starbucks. Waking up from a deep sleep, he met a Chabad teen who told him that there was a place called "770" (Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch Headquarters), where he could find some help. At the time, Devlin, who has a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, didn't know that is a Jew. But figuring he had nothing to lose, he used his last metro-card swipe to travel to Brooklyn.

His life changed that cold March night. And these days, Rabbi Matis Devlin, as he is now called, is sharing the warmth. The Chabad representative to the University of California Riverside has a goal: to make sure each student knows they belong.

"I grew up going to Catholic school. My family attended church every Sunday and I sang in the church choir," recalls Devlin. Though his mother never converted to Christianity, she raised her 11 children as devout Catholics. The only vestiges of Judaism in their home were candles on Chanuka and a Seder on Passover. Throughout his school years, friends would tease him about being half-Jewish.

All was well on the surface until Devlin was expelled during his senior year of high school. "And quickly, my life spiralled out of control. I had to leave my parents' home and then when I lost my job, I was evicted from my apartment." In an attempt to start afresh, Devlin got into his car and headed to New York City.

Sleeping off his misery in a warm Starbucks, Devlin and the Chabad youth talked for six hours. After convincing him that he was Jewish, his new friend advised him to seek assistance in Brooklyn. "Within a minute of entering Chabad Headquarters, someone approached me speaking Hebrew. I indicated that I didn't know the language, but he soon had me strapping on tefillin. 'It's your bar mitzvah,' he told me enthusiastically.

"It was strange and bright in there, so unlike the dim, depressing atmosphere of the church I grew up in. I thought it was weird, the men swaying and muttering with sheets over their heads. I told myself I would just do the thing with the straps, and then leave."

Since September 2015, when Devlin and his wife, Nechama, arrived on the campus of UCR, he has helped students "do the straps" regularly. Convinced of the verity of his own heritage, he is eager to pass on this passion.

The couple and their young son "table" each Wednesday, setting up a tent on the main drag of the campus. From behind his folding table, Devlin calls out to passing students, asking them if they are Jewish. "When we get out there, I text people and they start coming by to say hello, to introduce me to a friend of theirs, to talk about what's going on in their lives." When they aren't catching up or meeting new people, the Devlins are busy growing their new community. Tanya and Tea taught every Sunday by Mrs. Devlin is followed by Monday's Pizza and Parsha and Chabad Night on Wednesdays. Students gather to bake challah on Thursdays in honor of the week's highlight, the ever-popular Friday night dinner, the menus for which are posted on Facebook in advance.

In their short time at the school, "they have created a much stronger sense of community and have provided a more religious environment here," says Benjamin Brown. The fourth-year Creative Writing and Political Science double-major serves as vice-president of both the campus Hillel and Chabad groups. "It's hard to measure what Chabad has already brought to campus," Brown reflects. "The life lessons, the religious teachings, their home, a hub that is always open, it's really all invaluable resources."

"It was time. The students were begging for a full-time Chabad presence and we also heard from faculty who wanted to see Judaism strengthened on campus," explains Rabbi Shmuel Fuss, Chabad's representative to Riverside since 2005. Together with his wife, he had been organizing campus activities, but between their community responsibilities and their growing family, Chabad's presence on campus was not consistent, he concedes. On their own initiative, several students worked together, writing to philanthropist George Rohr, explaining the need for a permanent Chabad outpost at the school. He responded with a seed grant.

Rabbi Fuss fielded 20 applications from interested couples: last summer, he chose the Devlins. "I felt that the Devlins were the best fit for our diverse school," he explained. "They have a diverse background, an understanding of secular culture, and a passion for Judaism. They are a great match for the students."

Devlin relates well to the students. "I grew up in the same world as them. I know the struggles they go through. I think that it's a lot easier to talk to someone when you feel that you can relate."

While donning tefillin for the first time in "770," Devlin was instructed to recite the words of the Shema prayer. He did so, in English. "When I came to the last word, 'truth,' I had a powerful realization. I'm Jewish, whatever that means. G-d exists Whoever He is. Torah is truth, even if I don't understand it. And I need to live a truthful life with G-d."

Devlin enrolled in Hadar HaTorah, a Chabad yeshiva for men who did not grow up with a Torah education. He made peace with his family after being at odds with them for so long. His mother, he learned to his surprise, was pleased with his new vocation.

After two years in Hadar HaTorah, Devlin moved to Chabad's mainstream yeshiva system where he studied for an additional two years. At 23, he was introduced to his wife, Nechama, who studied in Machon Chana Yeshiva, for women who did not grow up with a Torah education. With most of his family in attendance, they married in March of 2013.

The Devlins' presence comes not a moment too soon. Anti-Israel activism is growing steadily on the campus, to the point where several Jewish student leaders put in formal requests to transfer to more Jewish-friendly schools. "Jewish students are safe on the campus," says Vice-President Brown, "but that does not necessarily mean that Jewish students are welcomed by certain segments of the population."

"If the leaders are afraid or uncomfortable on campus, then where does it leave the rest of the students?" Fuss asks rhetorically. It was the final push the rabbi needed to install a full-time presence here. "Our way, the Jewish way, is not to engage with the darkness, but to engage with the students, to give them more Jewish education, more light. The more knowledgeable they are, the prouder they are, the better equipped they will be to combat anti-semitism."

Reprinted with permission from

What's New

Kosher Organic Restuarant

The first kosher restaurant in the city of Chernivtsy, Ukraine, opened its doors recently. Kosher Organic, offering healthy, traditional and delicious kosher food, is located in the Jewish Community Center, under the auspices of Chabad.

Torah for Lone Soldiers

An organization catering to "lone" soliders in the Israeli Army - young men and women from outside Israel who volunteer for the IDF, dedicated aTorah scroll recently. The Torah was accompanied amidst much joy to its new home at the Chayal-el-Chayal Center in Jerusalem. More than 150 "lone soldiers" spend Shabbat each week at the Chayal-el-Chayal Center. The Torah was dedicated in conjunction by Chamah International, donated by Alex Rovt in memory of his mother.

The Rebbe Writes

Continued from the previous two issue. In the first part of this letter (printed in issue 1422), written in 1964, the Rebbe makes the point that when a house is burning, all theoretical and philosophical discussions must be put aside to take care of the matter at hand: saving the lives of those in the burning building. In the second part of the letter (printed in issue 1423) the Rebbe emphasizing that Hitler (may his name be erased) aimed to destroy the Jewish body and spirit. He also explains that the Evil Inclination tries to entice a person to involve himself in "saving the world," thereby ignoring the immediate needs in his own surroundings. The letter concludes in this issue.
3) Chabad exemplifies the right approach to arresting this trend, which will, incidentally, answer one of your questions, namely, what does Chabad aim at?

One of the basic tenets of Chabad is that ahavas Hashem [love of G-d], namely unity with G-d, who is not only the Creator of mankind, but also the Creator of the universe, is synonymous with ahavas Yisroel [love of one's fellow Jew] (Tanya, ch. 32, Hayom Yom, 28 Nissan). And ahavas Yisroel is not necessarily expressed in the attempt to save the whole Jewish people, but even in the help given to a single individual. Remember: "He who saves even one soul," our Sages declare, "is deemed to have saved a whole world. (Sanhedrin 37a)."

Indeed, the founder of Chabad himself showed an example of it: When, we are told, a poor woman gave birth at the far end of town, R. Schneur Zalman took off his tallis and tefillin, and went to her dingy hovel to light the fire and prepare some food for her. The Alter Rebbe saw no contradiction in the fact that he was interrupting his prayer to G-d (and be it remembered that the prayer of even an ordinary Jew, if it is sincere and wholehearted, can achieve unity with the Creator of All), in order to help a woman in need; quite the contrary, such help is the best expression of attachment to G-d.

How can you - and I say this with all due respect to you - sit idly by in this city while surrounded by thousands upon thousands of your fellow-Jews who are languishing for want of guidance, and direction, towards the right path in life, the way of the Torah, Toras Chayim? Can you turn a deaf ear to the cries of Jewish children who, if denied immediate help, may be consigned to a spiritual crematorium, G-d forbid? Surely you would wish to dedicate all your energies and capacities to this life-saving work?

Can you turn a deaf ear to the cries of Jewish children who, if denied immediate help, may be consigned to a spiritual crematorium, G-d forbid?

It is my prayerful hope that from this point on, at least, you will open your eyes and heart to what I have said and written to you; that you will, without further procrastination, fully utilize the gifts and capacities which Divine Providence has bestowed upon you, in helping to guide Jewish children and adolescents towards the path of the Torah and mitzvoth, to help save them from the clutches of complete assimilation.

Moreover, as explained in Chabad teachings, in which I am glad to see you are interested, this sacred work will give you new insights into ahavat Hashem and all that goes with it, and will help clear up many of the problems, enigmas, and conflicts which disturb your peace of mind at present.

I hope and pray that my words, coming from the heart, will find the proper response in your heart.

With blessing,

All Together

Trust (bitachon) in G-d is one of the Jewish people's fundamental beliefs and basic principles of our Torah. Bitachon means having absolute trust in G-d, whose Divine Providence extends to each and everyone individually, and specifically, and in detail. It is this trust that makes a spiritual Hakhel of the people a reality, unifying all Jews into one entity - since their common simple belief also pervades and moves everything in which they differ.

(From a letter of the Rebbe Tishrei, 5741-1980)

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In a letter the Rebbe penned in 1948, during the lifetime of the Previous Rebbe, he explains two different kinds of rewards for observing mitzvot (commandments) and cites the chapter of "Ethics of the Fathers" that we study this week.

"The reward for mitzvot is of two kinds:

the reward for the very nature of the precept performed, where we do not account for the relative importance of the various mitzvot, and,

special reward cited in the Talks dependent upon certain conditions, i.e., the nature of the person performing the precept, the kind of performance, and the circumstances of time and place involved.

To illustrate point b):

Two people buy the same kind of etrog, pay the same amount of money, make the same blessing. But one of them could less afford to pay the price. This person is performing the mitzva at greater sacrifice. He is deserving of greater reward.

Or take the case of a heavy smoker who stops smoking before the Sabbath and abstains from smoking throughout the Sabbath. He is deserving of a greater reward than one who is less addicted to smoking.

Or the case of a "self-made" man, who never had occasion to take orders from anybody, and grew up with the idea of exceptional self-reliance. When such a person puts his own strong will aside and accepts the guidance and leadership of a spiritual leader in Israel, he is deserving of a greater reward than the person who has been brought up since childhood in the spirit of self- abrogation and submission to the wishes and guidance of the Rabbi.

This is what our Sages meant by "According to the [painstaking] labor is the reward" (Ethics, end of chapter 5).

Thoughts that Count

If ("Im") you will walk in My statutes (Leviticus 26:3)

"The word 'im' ('if') is used to imply pleading and entreaty," the Gemara states, teaching us that G-d pleads, as it were, with each and every Jew: "Please walk in My statutes! Please keep My mitzvot!" G-d's request also endows us with the strength to overcome all difficulties that might stand in the way of observing Torah and mitzvot. (Hayom Yom)

As Rashi notes, this means that G-d's wants a Jew to expend effort and labor in his Torah study. Commented Rabbi Avraham of Sochetchov: There are many ways to serve the Creator, but the best one of all is through studying Torah.

I will place My Tabernacle among you, and My soul will not loathe you (Lev. 26:11)

When Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsburg returned from his first visit to the Maggid of Mezeritch, everyone asked him what he had learned there. "Before I went to the Rebbe," he replied, "I used to fast and afflict my body so it could tolerate my soul. But the Rebbe taught me that the soul can not only tolerate the body, but the whole point of Divine service is to transform the body into an appropriate vessel for the light of the soul - in other words, that the soul not 'loathe' the body, but work in conjunction with it."

And I will remember My covenant with Jacob (Lev. 26:42)

Why, asked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, does the Torah suddenly bring up the merit of our Patriarchs in the middle of a lengthy reproof? Because, he explained, there is no greater reprimand than to point out that we are not behaving as befits the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

It Once Happened

Once, when Reb Elimelech of Lyzhansk was travelling, he heard a heavenly voice announce that the rabbi of Nikolsburg, Reb Shmelke was having terrible problems with those who were bitterly opposed to his spiritual path. The heavenly voice promised great rewards in the World to Come for the one who would extricate Reb Shmelke.

Reb Elimelech turned to his companion and asked, "Did you hear anything?" But his companion replied that he had heard nothing at all. From that, Reb Elimelech deduced that it was up to him to travel to Nikolsburg and offer his help. As soon as he arrived he asked Reb Shmelke's permission to address his congregation with a hearty sermon that would bring them to resentence. "My friend, I certainly have no objection. But, any criticism will fall on deaf ears."

When it was announced that a visiting preacher would address the congregation, the synagogue filled to capacity. Reb Elimelech used his brilliant scholarship to deliver a speech using the most involved and seemingly erudite arguments to prove that many of the prohibitions mentioned in the Torah were actually permissible.

The congregants were very impressed with his great learning and skillful arguments. So, when they heard that he would speak the following day, they flocked to hear him. But this time he proved to them, now with genuine evidence, that all the precepts which he had so skillfully disproved the previous day were actually true. In fact, he stressed that any deviation from them went completely against the teaching of the Sages.

His words were received in the manner intended, as "words from the heart enter the heart," and the people were moved to repentance. When they realized that the words of their own rabbi had been echoed by this guest preacher, they went as a group to beg Reb Shmelke's forgiveness.

Reb Elimelech left Nikolsburg and continued on his way. Soon after he left the town, he again heard a heavenly voice, this time proclaiming: "Reb Elimelech, because you helped Reb Shmelke, whomever you bless within the next 24 hours will have the blessing realized."

Reb Elimelech's initial happiness over this marvelous gift gave way to bitter disappointment, when after many hours of walking he met not one person he could bless. He cried out his complaint to G-d: "Why did you give me this gift, when you haven't sent me anyone that I can bless?"

Just as he finished his plaint he saw a lone woman walking toward him. He ran up to her and began to heap blessing on the startled woman. Seeing her fright, he reassured her that he meant no harm. He questioned her gently, and she told him about her life situation and the difficulties she and her husband were having with their livelihood. He finished blessing her, and they parted ways, each continuing on his own journey.

From that day on the woman and her husband experienced no more hardships and prospered in their endeavors. Their business grew more and more successful, until they had a comfortable life. They generously shared their blessings with those less fortunate and they were always sure that the stranger who had blessed them was none other than Elijah the Prophet.

Years later Reb Elimelech and his brother Reb Zusha were travelling to collect money for the mitzva (commandment) of redeeming captives. They heard that in a certain city there was a very generous merchant who dispensed a great deal of charity. When they arrived at his residence, they were ushered into his parlor where he was sitting with his wife. No sooner had they seated themselves, than the wife swooned to the floor. When she regained consciousness, she said to her husband, "That is Elijah the Prophet who blessed us, and I'm sure that he has come to remove the blessing."

Reb Elimelech had heard her comment, and he replied, "I am not Elijah, but just a simple Jew, and I am not here to take any blessings from you. Through G-d's will my blessings were brought to fruition."

The merchant turned to Reb Elimelech and asked him how much money he needed to redeem the imprisoned Jews. Hearing the huge sum of five hundred gold rubles, he went to his room and brought out the entire sum and handed it to the Reb Elimelech. But Reb Elimelech was not willing to accept it; he preferred to give other Jews the opportunity of joining in that great mitzva. He accepted a large sum of money, bid a warm farewell to the couple, and continued on his travels.

Moshiach Matters

Since the time of Moses Maimonides, also known as "the Rambam" (1135-1204), it has been impossible to discuss the subject of Moshiach and the Era of the Redemption without direct reference to the last two chapters of his monumental Jewish legal code, the Mishneh Torah. These chapters conclude the final section (Hilchot Melachim - "The Laws Concerning Kings") of the final book (Sefer Shoftim - "The Book of Judges") of the Mishneh Torah, and are sometimes referred to separately as Hilchot Melech HaMoshiach - "The Laws Concerning King Moshiach."

(From Moshiach, published by Sichos in English)

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