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479: Matos Massei

Devarim Deutronomy

August 1, 1997 - 27 Tamuz 5757

479: Matos Massei

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

  478: Pinchas480: Devarim  

Filters  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  A Call To Action
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's New  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters


Recently, Consumer Reports investigated water filters, those affixed to the plumbing under the sink, those that are fitted to the tap, as well as pitchers such as Brita.

Today, we are filtering water to get out the lead, radon, nitrates, chlorine, copper and parasites.

Water is so full of impurities, we are being told, that it is no longer enough to filter our drinking and cooking water. We must even purify the water with which we bathe by attaching a filter to the shower head.

But, whether we use water straight from the tap, bottled, filtered, softened or distilled, we can't get away from the fact that water is a necessity of life.

Torah is likened to water. It is called "Mayim Chaim"-- life-giving waters. Torah, like water, more than anything else, keeps the Jewish people alive.

Rabbi Akiva transformed himself from a simple, ignorant shepherd into one of the most outstanding and influential Sages of all time, because of water.

Rachel, the only daughter of Kalba Savua, one of Jerusalem's foremost families, offered to marry the uneducated Akiva if he would devote his life to the study of Torah. At the age of forty, Akiva felt that such an endeavor was hopeless.

One day, though, he observed water dripping onto a stone and noticed that the steady trickling had made an impression in the stone. "If drops of water can make an imprint on a stone," he reasoned, "then even I can learn Torah."

When the Romans forbade Torah study, Rabbi Akiva continued to study at the risk of his life. When a soldier once asked him why he behaved thus, Rabbi Akiva answered with a parable:

A hungry fox, standing on the river bank, called out to a fish, "Fish, why do you subject yourself to such a dangerous existence? Don't you know that a little further down there are fishermen just waiting to catch you? Join me on the river-bank and you will be safe."

Replied the fish, "What you say about the fisherman might be true. But if I am not immersed in the water, then surely I will die. My only chance to live is if I am in the water despite its peril."

Rabbi Akiva closed his discussion with the Roman soldier by saying, "Just as a fish cannot live without water, a Jew cannot life without Torah."

The question arises, though, as to whether or not any water, even "dirty" water or water with impurities, can be considered life-giving like Torah.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe, was once at a conference where the effects of assimilation on Jewish education were being discussed. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was adamant that, despite the increasing amount of assimilation, the Torah should not be "watered- down."

One skeptic noted that, when there is a fire, one is not concerned with how clean the water used to put it out is. Rather, one uses even dirty water. "This is certainly true," exclaimed Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. "But one must be sure that what one thought was water is not really kerosene!"

Living with the Rebbe

As we read in the first of this week's two Torah portions, Matot, the Jews were given very specific instructions on dividing the spoils of war after they were victorious over the Midianites. Half was to go to the men who had actually participated in battle, and the other half was to be divided between the rest of the nation. The Torah further specifies the percentage -- one out of every 500 and one out of every 50 -- that was to be rendered to the priests and Levites.

After these instructions the Torah states, "And Moses and Elazar the priest did as G-d had commanded Moses." The next several verses provide us with the exact figures: how many of each category were taken in battle, how many constituted half the spoils, and how many one out of 500 came out to be.

A question is asked: Why does the Torah go into such detail? Why is it important for us to know the exact number of each category? Why doesn't the Torah merely inform us that G-d's command was carried out or tell us the total amount of booty, in which case we can figure out the numbers for ourselves?

Moses was commanded to divide the spoils in half, and from that half to set aside one part out of 500. But not every number is divisible by 500. Surprisingly, the Torah does not mention what Moses was supposed to do with the odd numbers that would be left over.

When we look at the figures, however, we see that there were no odd numbers! The sum of every single category of spoils was divisible by the number it was to be divided by; there were no left-over numbers!

The quantities mentioned in the Torah are very large. Nonetheless, G-d's command was carried out in a perfect manner, with all of the numbers adding up correctly. And in fact, this was not accidental but intentional.

G-d values the Jewish people's observance of His mitzvot so greatly and desires that we fulfill them so perfectly that He orchestrated the multiplicity of events connected with the battle so that the numbers would come out even! A large number of factors had to be "manipulated": how many animals the Midianites would buy and sell prior to the war, keeping the animals healthy, etc. Indeed, not one animal died until the division of spoils was completed!

From this we learn that whenever a Jew encounters obstacles in his daily life or finds himself beset with problems that hinder his observance of Torah and mitzvot he must trust in G-d completely. For G-d will surely help him fulfill His will in a perfect manner.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 13

A Slice of Life

A Miracle in our Times
by Yehudis Engel

It was Friday afternoon, April 12, 1996, when my daughter and I went to Kings Plaza, a shopping mall in Brooklyn.

As we were going down the escalator on our way out of the mall, I overheard the couple behind us speaking in Hebrew. Realizing that they were Jewish, I took out a "Good Card," and told them that it has a message from the Rebbe about Moshiach. The card briefly explains how adding in goodness and kindness helps us prepare for Moshiach.

I proceeded to ask the woman if she lights Shabbat candles. She replied that although she is not observant, her sister is and she convinced her to light each week. I remarked that she should add another mitzva by putting some coins in a charity box before lighting candles, at which time she can have in mind to ask G-d for whatever she wants. To this comment of mine, she responded by saying, "Oh, what we wouldn't do to have a child. We've been trying for several years already."

I told the woman, whose name was Naomi, that the Rebbe has helped many people in similar situations. Naomi nodding in agreement, saying that she had heard that the Rebbe used to give people blessings, but now...

"Yes, now," I told Naomi, and inquired how I could reach her after Shabbat to discuss the matter further. As it turned out, they lived in Israel and were returning there that coming Sunday. Naomi and her husband, Meir, were staying at the home of Ruty, Naomi's sister. I took Ruty's phone number and promised to be in touch with them before they went home.

After Shabbat ended, I called Naomi and Meir, and invited them to my home. They were eager to accept my invitation as they were interested to find out how they could receive the Rebbe's blessing for a child.

As I related various stories of people receiving assistance from the Rebbe today, I could sense the Rebbe's direct involvement in what was unfolding.

Meir and Naomi wrote a letter to the Rebbe requesting a blessing for a child. They inserted the letter between pages selected at random in one of the many volumes of Igrot Kodesh [personal responses of the Rebbe to people]. The page to which they opened contained a letter which read: "It is a well-known saying that G-d gives a doctor permission to heal, not to give depressing news, continue treatments. I give you my blessing to live a long, healthy, happy life with your wife with much nachat [pleasure] from all your children."

Naomi was very excited after reading this letter of blessing. On the opposite page, there was a letter in which the Rebbe suggested that studying Tanya [the major work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy] daily will bring success and job satisfaction. Now it was Meir's turn to become overwhelmed. He told me that in the letter they had just written, they had asked for a blessing for a child and to be able to raise the child together in good health. They wanted to ask the Rebbe what to do about his job (as he was unhappy and dissatisfied) but had decided against including this question in their letter to the Rebbe. Meir purchased a Tanya. In addition, they decided that they would begin observing some basic mitzvot as a way of giving the Rebbe's blessings something to "hold onto," so to speak. They departed totally elated and confident in the Rebbe's blessings.

One month later I received a call from Naomi with the news that she was pregnant, but the doctors were pessimistic about the outcome. I immediately wrote to the Rebbe informing him of this and I sent a fax to Naomi with the positive response I received on her behalf.

Three months later, Ruty called me. During our conversation, she mentioned that Naomi and Meir were going on a business trip to Sweden and were taking along kosher canned foods, as they were not sure where they would find kosher food there. She also told me that Meir had just purchased a pair of tefilin and a talit.

I found out later that while in Sweden, Meir "happened" to meet the Chabad emissary there, who graciously taught him how to put on tefilin. Meir has put them on daily ever since.

Five months passed, and once again Naomi's doctors were concerned. They were convinced that her baby was Down's Syndrome. I wrote to the Rebbe and inserted the letter into the Igrot Kodesh. The Rebbe answered with a blessing for "a safe and easy pregnancy with a healthy child, and an easy birth."

On January 16, 1997, nine and a half months after Naomi and Meir asked the Rebbe for a blessing for a child, they became the proud parents of healthy twin boys, fulfilling the Rebbe's blessing of nachat from all their children.

Yehudis Engel is the editor of the bi-weekly Miracles in Our Times where this story appeared.

A Call To Action

Nullify Exile

As we approach the month of Av, " is important to utilize the potential of converting destruction to redemption... Increase in Torah study and charity. This charity may take the form of money, or spiritual charity such as spreading Torah and mitzvot. There must likewise be an increase in Ahavat Yisrael and Jewish unity, for they will neutralize the causes of the exile, and when the month of Av comes it will already be given the label Menachem Av, the name of consolation."

(28 Tammuz, 5747-1987)

The Rebbe Writes

11th of Nisan, 5720 [1960]

I received your letter, in which you write about your general daily program, for your own studies as well as with others, etc.

At this distance it is difficult for me to give any specific recommendations in this connection, since many factors are involved. Therefore, you might consult with your local friends on any problems that might arise in connection with your daily program.

However, there is one general suggestion that I wish to make, namely, that whatever your daily program of learning is, it should include the subject of practical dinim [laws], the knowledge of which is essential for daily conduct. Such study could be done in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch [the Code of Jewish Law], or similar sources. Also, the three daily shiurim [lessons] of Chumash [Pentateuch], Tehillim [Psalms] and Tanya [the magnum opus of the first Chabad Rebbe] should be kept up faithfully. But with regard to the other shiurim, you should consult with your friends locally, as suggested above.

With regard to the ___boy, you are right that it is necessary to know the proper approach to his parents. But perhaps you can find that out after talking to the boy and learning from more about the motivations and views of his parents.

As requested, I will remember you in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, in accordance with the contents of your letter, and may G-d grant that you have good news to report...

16th of Tammuz, 5720 [1960]

I received your letter of the 9th of Tammuz, in which you write a brief report of your activities to strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. You are quite right that "There is much work to be done." I trust, however, that on your part you are doing your utmost and are also helping to stimulate others to take advantage of every opportunity. For, as you surely know, the Baal Shem Tov taught that everything that comes to the attention of a Jew, either to his eyes or ears, is a special call for so me activity in the service of G-d, since nothing happens by accident, and everything is by the design of G-d's Providence which extends to everyone and everything in particular.

You mention various activities with which you occupy the time. As our Sages said that one mitzva brings another in its train, I am sure you will find a way to utilize your time in the best possible way, so that you could avoid a clash between different activities. Our Anash [members of the Lubavtich community] in ___ could surely be helpful in arranging the best possible program.

I was particularly pleased to read about your work for Gan Yisrael. The name of the camp surly reminds you of the saintly Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov and this year, being the 200th anniversary of the completion of his life's work, is especially significant and auspicious.

Hoping to hear good news from you.

Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5742 [1982]

I received your letter of the 17th of Adar, in which you write about the way the Chabad House in your city is being conducted, and mentioned some of the Chabad people you like and others with whom you are not impressed, etc.

Judging by your writing, I assume you know the saying of our Sages that one should not be hasty in judgement, and if a judgement is made, it should be made on the scale of merit. If you will talk to those whom you like, they will surely help you to dispel any suspicions in regard to those with whom you are not satisfied.

I would also strongly recommend that you study carefully Chapter Lev (32) of the Tanya, which is also available in English translation...

What's New


In this unparalleled historic first-person description, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, graphically documents the cold truth behind the cynical Stalinist facade of religious tolerance -- midnight arrest, intimidation and interrogation, incarceration without trial, the torture of dissidents, and so on. This volume also includes chronicles of the first three generations of Chabad Chasidim and recollections of the author's childhood between the ages of six and eleven when he was being groomed by his father to succeed him as Rebbe. Published by Sichos In English and available at Judaica stores or by sending $15 to SIE, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.

Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

365 Meditations based on the teachings of the Rebbe, by Tzvi Freeman.

Tzvi chronicles his personal life and search of G-dliness in his youth and then finding the beauty of Judaism through the teachings of Chassidus. He complied 365 short insights - one for every day of the year, that can be used as a "burst of spiritual energy". See his home page - for more information.

Good Morning America

The nationwide ABC News television program Good Morning America ran a special program during the week of July 14, 1997 on "Spirituality." On Friday morning (July 18) they featured a segment on Judaism where they showed the activities of Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace, in the 7:45-8:00 am time frame. Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace will be converting the video to the VIVO Format so that segment will be able to be seen on the Internet.

A Word from the Director

This week, on Shabbat afternoon, we study the second chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). One of the Mishnas discusses choosing one's path in life, as it states: "Rabbi (Yehuda HaNasi) said: Which is the right path that a man should choose for himself? That which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from man."

The "right path," according to our Sages, is a life in consonance with Torah and mitzvot. In addition, Chasidut explains that each individual has his own particular path, and the path that seems to be correct for one person may not be the ideal path for someone else. G-d has granted each and every one of us our own unique talents that must be utilized to accomplish our goals. Every person must realize his own abilities and use the Torah as a guide to travel down his own "right path."

The verse goes on to speak about receiving honor. How can a person achieve honor once he has recognized his true path in life? Through action. Thought, speech and deed are called the "garments of the soul," giving physical expression to the soul's G-dly connection. It is fitting for a person to ponder his path in life, and to discuss how he will travel that path further solidifies his commitment, but thought and speech are not referred to as "honorable." It is only through deed, through actually doing what he has set out to accomplish, that a person is called honorable.

This Shabbat is the Shabbat before the month of Av, also known as Menachem Av. The word Menachem comes from the word "comfort." For as we mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple on the ninth of Av, we are comforted by the anticipation of the imminent coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

As we enter into an increased period of mourning we know that there is an increased potential for rejoicing with Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes, "...If a man takes a vow to G-d... according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do." (Num. 30:2-3)

Moshe taught the commandments first to the heads of the tribes and then to the rest of the Jewish people. This is emphasized in the laws of the vows, because one who runs for office very often makes promises in order to be elected. Moshe warned the heads of the tribes that promises and pledges that were made were to be kept.

(Chatam Sofer)

A thousand from a tribe, a thousand from a tribe for all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the army (Num. 31:4)

Included in this army were a thousand from the tribe of Levi, who were normally exempt from going to war. This was a different sort of battle. Unlike the battle for the Land of Israel, which was over a material issue (land), the war against Midian was a spiritual one.

The Midianites had caused the Jews to sin. The war was "to inflict G-d's vengeance against Midian," as Moses stated, to sanctify G-d's name. The tribe of Levi was "set aside to serve G-d and worship Him," and sanctifying His name was within their domain.

(Likutei Sichot)

Moses said to the children of Gad and the children of Reuben, "Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?" (Num. 32:6)

The tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to stay in the land east of the Jordan river. Even though the Jewish people are dispersed all over the world, we are emotionally connected, and when a Jew experiences misfortune, Jews all over the world feel compassion. Therefore, Moses asked the tribes of Reuben and Gad, "Can you sit here calmly and enjoy your land when you know that your fellow Jews are engaged in battle?"

(Sha'ar Bat Rabim)

These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Num. 33:1)

The first two words of the verse begin with the Hebrew letters alef and mem. Those two letters stand for the two people who redeem the Jews from each exile. The redemption from Egypt was due to Aaron and Moses. The Jews were saved during the Babylonian exile by Esther and Mordechai, and the ultimate redemption will come through Elijah and Moshiach.

(Pardes Yosef Hachadash)

From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky

It Once Happened

Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveichik, the rav of the town of Slutsk once happened to meet a young man who had been one of his students at the yeshiva in Volozhin. The meeting was very cordial and the rav invited the young man to dine with him at his home.

"What are you doing these days?" the rav inquired. "Thank G-d," the former student replied. "I have become a merchant and I'm very successful. In the past few years I have done very well for myself, and I'm making a very comfortable living."

The rav looked at his former student, paying close attention to his words and then said, "What are you doing?"

The young man was perplexed. Hadn't the rav understood him? he wondered, and he repeated his explanation. But instead of acknowledging his statement, the rav only repeated, "What are you doing now?"

"I hope the rav will forgive my asking, but three times the rav has asked me what I'm doing and I have answered him. I don't understand," asked the young man.

The rav replied with a deep sigh: "It is correct that you have answered my question three times over, but your answer is not the one I was hoping to hear. In so far as you have accumulated money, that is nothing to your credit, for it all belongs to G-d, as it says, 'Mine is the silver and mine is the gold." It is He who gives you riches, health, and in fact, your very life.

"When I ask you 'What are you doing?' I am referring to your good deeds, which are wholly your own. Do you give tzedaka-charity? Do you do kindness to your fellow man? Do you devote a set time every day to the study of Torah? These are the only things in this world which are truly your own possessions which you accomplish through your efforts alone. I am asking you what you are doing, not what G-d is doing for you!"

Reb Moshe Leib Sassover was a great Tzadik known for the tremendous love and kindness he constantly expressed for his fellow Jews. There was a constant stream of Jews who came to him to ask for a word of advice or a blessing.

One day a poor women appeared at his door. As soon as she was admitted to his rooms she began to weep as if her heart was breaking. "I beg you, Rebbe," she pleaded, "give me a blessing for my daughter who is very sick."

Reb Moshe Leib responded with the blessing, "May G-d send her a complete and speedy recovery."

But for the distraught mother this blessing wasn't sufficient. "No, Rebbe, you must promise, you must swear to me that my daughter will recover. You must swear to me on your share in the World to Come that G-d will cure my child."

Without hesitating a moment Reb Moshe Leib replied, "I swear on my portion in the next world that G-d will cure her and she will recover." When she heard these words, the women thanked the Tzadik copiously and left with a light heart.

Reb Moshe Leib's students who had observed the entire incident were astounded. They asked him, "Rebbe, how could you have made such a promise? The girl is seriously ill, and it is very possible she may not survive."

"What else could I have done?" Reb Moshe Leib replied. "The tears of a Jewish mother are more precious to me than the entire World to Come. If my swearing on my future reward in the World of Truth was necessary to stop her from crying, then it is more than worth it to me, even if it will cost me my portion in the next world.

Moshiach Matters

The ultimate promise [of Redemption] is not to Israel alone. The Redemption of the Jew is closely linked to the emancipation of all humanity as well as the destruction of evil and tyranny. It is the first step in man's return to G-d, where all mankind will be united into "a single band" to fulfill G-d's purpose. This is the Kingdom of the Almighty in the Messianic Age.

(The Real Messiah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)

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