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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

January 31, 2003 - 28 Shevat, 5763

755: Mishpatim

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  754: Yisro756: Terumah  

Paying Off the Home Loan  |  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

Paying Off the Home Loan

What happens when we want to buy a house? First, we save some money - or get some as a gift - for a "down payment." That's what we start with. Let's say we've managed to accumulate fifty thousand dollars. Then we start looking for a house. After much searching, we find the perfect dwelling - except it costs two hundred thousand dollars.

What do we do? Why, we go to a bank, of course, or some other financial institution, and we borrow the balance. We go to the seller, pay the two hundred thousand dollars, and we've got our house.

We've also got a $150,000 debt.

Things would be simple if all we had to do was pay back what we borrowed. If the bank lent us the money for thirty years, then we'd just have to pay them $5,000 a year.

But it doesn't work that way, of course. The bank charges interest. It charges interest annually on the balance owed. So, if the interest rate is 7% per year, then at the end of the first year we'll have to pay around $10,000 in interest. If we have reduced the loan by $2,000 by the end of the first year, we only owe a little less than the original $150,000. Again, the interest for the second year will be around $10,000.

Thus, in two years, we've repaid only $4,000 of the original $150,000 loan, but we've also paid almost $20,000 in interest.

The interest we'll pay far exceeds the amount we borrowed. If it takes us thirty years to pay back the loan at 7% per year, then we'll pay over 200% interest over the life of the loan!

The formula to calculate the exact ammounts (called amortization) is simple, though figuring the math is complex; nowadays, computers calculate for us - and the banks.

There's an analogy here. After all, G-d "borrows" from the Jewish people, as it were. He tells the Jewish people - our souls, "Listen, I want to build a dwelling place for Myself in the lowest realm, the physical world. Lend Me the "capital" to do it and I'll pay you back."

Since it's G-d that's asking, we know His Word is good and we agree to the loan. What is it that we "lend" Him? Our mitzvot, our observance of G-d's command-ments. Our souls tell G-d, "Okay, we'll leave the Divine Presence and go into a body. We'll even go into exile. We'll go to the farthest corners of the earth where we will study Torah and do mitzvot. Under all circumstances, we'll remain faithful, fulfilling Your commandments. When we're oppressed and downtrodden, so that we must risk our lives for a simple mitzva, we'll do it. When we're wealthy and prosperous, so that pleasures abound, we won't neglect Your Torah. But You owe us (as it were) for time absent from the Divine Presence. With interest."

And G-d agrees. He uses those mitzvot to build a dwelling place for Himself, to transform the physical so that "the whole world will be filled with knowledge of the L-rd." Through our Torah and mitzvot, we amortize exile.

Most home loans run for thirty years. Ours has lasted three thousand years, since Sinai.

It's time to collect our "debt." It's time for Moshiach.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, delineates the four categories of guardianship:

An unpaid keeper - one who serves as trustee for another person's property and does not receive payment; A paid keeper - one who is remunerated for his guardianship; One who "rents" the use of another person's possessions; and a borrower - a person who uses someone else's belongings without paying for the privilege.

The seventeenth-century Sage, known as the "Shaloh," explained that these four categories of guardianship correspond to the four different types of Jews who serve G-d, as every Jew is charged with "guarding" G-d's universe through the observance of Torah and mitzvot (commandments).

The first and highest level of this charge is the "unpaid keeper." This refers to a person whose focus is entirely on guarding the owner's property, without consideration for his own benefit. A person in this category serves G-d with the utmost dedication and devotion, for his sole aim is to serve his Master, unmindful of the reward his actions will bring. Maimonides refers to this type of person as "one who serves G-d out of love...and not because of any other consideration...not in order to accrue benefit, but one who does the true thing because it is true."

The second level of guardianship is the "paid keeper." This person also devotes himself to safeguarding the owner's possessions, but expects to be paid for his labors. This category refers to a Jew who serves G-d with genuine vitality and enthusiasm, at the same time anticipating that he will be rewarded for his observance of Torah and mitzvot.

The third level of guardianship is one who pays for the use of the owner's property. For this person, the enjoyment he derives from the object is his main goal, yet he feels compelled to recompense the owner for granting him the privilege. In the spiritual sense, this refers to a person whose principle desire is to enjoy the pleasures of this world, all the while cognizant that it is G-d Who is allowing him to do so. This type of Jew serves G-d solely out of a sense of obligation and duty.

The lowest level of guardianship is that of the "borrower." This person is only interested in his own gratification, and does not even feel the need to compensate the one who has lent him the object. In terms of our G-dly service, this refers to one who delights in the pleasures of this world without even thinking of "paying" G-d back for His beneficence.

Yet even the "borrower" is considered a guardian, for he too observes Torah and mitzvot, albeit without perceiving the connection between his service of G-d and the blessing he receives from Above.

This person is convinced that all of the goodness and bounty in his life has been granted to him simply because he is deserving!

What is the point in a mitzva done for personal considerations?

Our Sages explain: "A person should always busy himself in the observance of Torah and mitzvot, even when it is not for its own sake." For we are assured that from the wrong considerations, one will come to observe for the right reasons. Every Jew is promised that ultimately, he will perfect his service of G-d, achieving the level of the "unpaid keeper."

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 31

A Slice of Life

Bat Mitzva Debut in Duluth
by Aliza Karp

Celia: "Be confident in yourself and trust what you know is right!"

Victoria: "Enjoy all the small things in life."

Rebecca: "Every chance you have to meet somebody or something new, take it. And stay away from boys... "

Casey: "Don't wash red socks with whites."

As we went around the tables, all the women present gave womanly advice to the Bat Mitzva girl, my daughter Huvi.

In this day and age, when Bat Mitzva celebrations come in all shapes and sizes, colors and textures, decibels and pixels, Huvi had agreed that she wanted her celebration to reflect the womanhood that she was entering into.

Huvi's lifestyle is one of dedication to Jews and Judaism, according to the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who encourages all Jews to share their knowledge of Judaism, no matter what level they are on. If all you know is the Hebrew letter "alef," then teach alef.

With this approach in mind, Huvi decided to celebrate her Bat Mitzva, not with her classmates who share her knowledge of Judaism, but with the Jewish women in - of all places - Duluth, Minnesota, where her older sister Rivka Greenwald, together with her husband and children, recently opened a Chabad House.

The party was beautiful: simple and inexpensive; but rich in friendliness and enthusiasm. Everyone enjoyed themselves: Huvi, Rivka, the women and girls from Duluth, and most of all, the proud mother, myself.

The tables were set with purple balloons flying high above each chair. The balloons were not only decoration. Inside each balloon was a raffle ticket to be filled out by all those who were committed to lighting Shabbat candles. The raffle prize was a beautiful set of two candlesticks with a tray.

Being from Brooklyn, I was a little surprised when the guests started to arrive early enough so that the party could begin at the exact time printed on the invitation. Meanwhile, my three little Duluthian granddaughters were scurrying around (or being passed from hand to hand) making everyone feel welcome.

The theme of the party was, Jewish Women: Lighting Up the World. At each setting was a tall purple candle. Huvi lit her candle at the head table and passed it around so that everyone could light their candle from hers. While the candle was being passed around, one of the teenage girls from Duluth, Leah, sang an enchanting song about light dispelling darkness.

We enjoyed a sit-down dinner and a full program. Each of the teenage girls who attended turned out to be very talented. Tzippora, Tirtza, Alice and Adina put on a skit about Shabbat candles, Addie played an intricate tune on her flute, and Rebecca read a favorite book of hers, about growing up and venturing into the world with self-confidence and determination.

Huvi gave two short speeches. One explaining that since she was born she has always eaten kosher, and since she was able to, she has always lit a Shabbat candle and observed the laws of Shabbat. But this was all in preparation for becoming Bat Mitzva and taking responsibility as a Jewish woman. In the second speech she briefly explained Chapter 13 of Pslams, which she would now be saying every day in her thirteenth year.

As mentioned above, we went around the table and asked each participant to give advice to Huvi. The response was full of wisdom, sincerity and humor. Song sheets had been placed at every place setting and we sang together. The participation created an atmosphere of togetherness. It was not a room full of relatives, nor a group of people who had grown up together or gone to school together. We were a group of women whose common bond was a Jewish soul. A very strong bond.

Presents! What would any Bat Mitzva be without presents! In addition to the pile of colorful, girlish presents that Huvi received, all the guests gave Huvi a special gift. Each one took upon herself a new mitzva in honor of the Bat Mitzva.

First we had a discussion about a journey of 10,000 miles starting with one step... signifying the importance of every mitzva, no matter how seemingly small. We discussed many mitzvot and how they could be assumed in a way suitable to the individual. All the women wrote down their mitzva on a small decorative piece of paper and gave it to Huvi, while keeping one copy for themselves.

Those women who decided to take upon themselves to begin or continue lighting Shabbat candles, popped their balloons and entered the raffle. The winner of the raffle was 12 year old Alice; but the grand winner was Huvi... who took the warmth of her Bat Mitzva Simcha to Duluth.

What's New

Chicken Soup for the Neshama

Chicken Soup for the Neshama is collec-tion of "101 Short Stories, Insights and Sayings Containing Life-Long Lessons." These are not just short stories and anecdotes that relate to everyone; they are words to which everyone can relate. Available at Judaica stores or by e-mail at


This discourse, written by Rabbi DovBer, the second Rebbe of Lubavitch, and translated by Dr. Naftali Loewenthal, is based on the verse, "The soul of man is the candle of G-d" (Proverbs 20:27). Flames demonstrates that while spiritual endeavours such as contemplative prayer and inner personal transformation are important, the actual performance of mitzvot is what is most essential. It is practical deeds that keep the radiance of the soul kindled upon the body - acting much like the oil that fuses flame and wick. Published by Kehot Publication Society,

The Rebbe Writes

Erev Shabbos Kodesh,
Yud Shevat, 5734 [1974]

Blessing and Greeting:

I was pleased to be informed of the forthcoming Twelfth Annual Midwinter Con-vention, which is to take place during the weekend of Shabbos Parshas Mishpotim.

In accordance with the well-known adage of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], founder of Chabad Chasidism) to the effect that "a Jew should live with the time," that is to say, in the spirit of the current weekly Sidra [Torah portion], and also on the basis of the Baal Shem Tov's [founder of general Chasidism] teaching about the significance of a name being related to the inner essence and vitality of a person or thing,

One can, upon reflection, discover a profound message in the Sidra Mishpotim and in its very name; a message which is pertinent to the convention and its main theme.

The highlight of the Sidra Mishpotim is to be found in its concluding keynote, which summarizes the proper approach to all G-d's commandments on the principles of Naaseh v'Nishmah, namely that Naaseh - the actual doing and fulfillment of the Mitzvoth [commandments] - must come before v'Nishma - intellectual comprehension.

In light of the above, the contents of the Sidra coming under the heading Mishpotim, seem to be in contradiction to the principle of Naaseh v'Nishma, as will be seen from the following:

It is well know that the Mitzvoth are generally classified into three categories: Chukkim, Eidos and Mishpotim.

Chukkim [statutes] are the Mitzvoth which are purely religion in the sense that they have not been given a "rational" explanation.

Eidos [testimonials] are the Mitzvoth which are "testimonies," recalling and testifying to certain events, such as Yetzias Mitzraim [the exodus from Egypt], etc.

Mishpotim [judgments] are those Mitzvoth which are "understandable" by human reason, such as laws of social justice, ethics and morality.

Thus, according to the principle of Naaseh v'Nishma, mentioned above, one would have expected that the first Sidra that follows Mattan Torah [the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai] would deal with Chukkim, rather than Mishpotim, and should have been named accordingly.

The explanation, however, is that a Jew is expected to attain such a high degree of perfection, where his entire life is based on an absolute obedience to G-d's Will, so that his fulfillment even for the so-called "rational" Mitzvoth, the Mishpotim, is motivated solely by his desire to fulfill G-d's Will, and not by his own "approval" or consent. In other words, the highest expression of Naaseh v'Nishma is to be found precisely in the Mishpotim, the validity of which is not in human reason, but in the fact that they have been ordained by G-d, from Sinai, just like all other Mitzvoth of the Torah.

If there may have been a time in the past, when the need of the Divine origin of the laws of morality and ethics (Mishpotim) in the Torah had to be explained, no such proof is necessary in our day and age, especially after we have seen the total bankruptcy of man-invented ideologies and systems, and when the Prophetic outcry against those who "misrepresent darkness for light and bitterness for sweet" is so much in place.

It is for this reason also that the Ten Commandments, including such "under-standable" laws as "thou shalt not steal," etc., are preceded by "I am G-d, thy G-d."

At the same time, though, the principle of Naaseh v'Nishmah must apply to all Mitzvoth, it does not, of course, exclude the human intellect from participating in Torah and Mitzvoth. On the contrary, the human intellect and its thinking powers must be engaged in Torah and permeated with Torah.

It must not, however, be the arbiter in matters of Torah and Mitvoth. Indeed, it must recognize its limitations and subordinate itself to Naaseh, and in this way the intellect itself is refined and deepened, and can play its full role.

In all this, the Jewish woman has a dominant place in Jewish life. The Jewish housewife and mother is the Akeres Habayis, the foundation of the Jewish home and a pillar of Chinuch [Jewish education], the basis of the Jewish family, as has often been emphasized before.

It is to be hoped that the thought enunciated above, will find full expression at the Convention, and will animate all your activities with Chasidic vitality and enthusiasm, or, to quote your program, with "Torah energy - light and warmth."

With blessing,

Rambam this week

4 Adar I, 5763 - February 6, 2003

Positive Mitzva 222: Divorce Procedure

This commandment is based on the verse (Deut. 24:1) "Then let him write her a bill of divorce and place it in her hand." The Torah teaches us the proper manner through which a Jewish marriage becomes a union of holiness. If for some reason a marriage must be ended, there are specific laws that must be followed.

This positive mitzva details the manner in which a couple may divorce.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

As this year is a leap year on the Jewish calendar, there are two months of Adar, known as Adar Rishon and Adar Sheini, or Adar I and Adar II. This Shabbat we bless the new month of Adar I.

Our Sages have taught that, just as when the month of Av begins (the month in which we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem) we lessen our joy, so, too, when the month of Adar begins, we increase our simcha - joy and happiness.

In talks before and during the two months of Adar, 5752 (1992), the Rebbe emphasized the importance of simcha in turning the darkness of exile into the light of Redemption.

The Rebbe also stressed that, being as there are two months of Adar this year, there are 60 days during which we are to increase our simcha. More importantly, in Jewish law, the quantity of 60 has the ability to nullify an undesirable presence.

Specifically, this concerns food, as we see that if a quantity of milk, for instance, has accidentally become mixed with meat, if the meat outnumbers the milk by a ratio of 1:60, the milk is nullified and we may eat the meat.

Similarly, explains the Rebbe, 60 days of simcha have the ability to nullify the darkness of the present exile, allowing us to actually turn the darkness into light.

Concerning the kind of things that should be done to arouse simcha, the Rebbe suggested that each person should proceed according to his level: a child, for instance, should be made happy by his parents; a wife by her husband, and visa versa. The bottom line, my friends, is that the Rebbe did not let up on encouraging an increase of simcha in all permissible manners during the entire month.

We must hearken to the Rebbe's words and utilize simcha, especially during this month, to turn darkness into light, sadness into joy, and pain and tears into rejoicing with Moshiach in the Final Redemption, may it take place, as the Rebbe so fervently prayed, teichef umiyad mamash - immediately, literally.

Thoughts that Count

Six years shall he serve, and in the seventh he shall go free. (Ex. 21:2)

"Six years" symbolizes the six thousand years of the world's existence. "Shall he serve" refers to our mission to learn Torah and perform the commandments. "In the seventh" refers to the seventh millennium, when "he shall go free" - when the Messianic Era shall reign on earth and G-dliness will no longer be hidden but revealed.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

For all manner of transgression...of which he can say, "this is it" (Ex. 22:80)

Pride is the root of all transgression. The essence of sin is when a person says of himself - "this is it" - "I am the most important thing in the whole world!"

(Rabbi Yisrael of Modzitz)

If you lend money - kesef. (Ex. 22:24)

The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, explained that the Hebrew word for "money" - "kesef" - comes from the root word meaning "longing and yearning." The soul, he explained, always yearns to go upward, attaining higher and higher levels of spirituality. "If you lend money" - G-d "lends" the eternal soul to each of us for a certain period of time, to dwell in a physical body in this world. It is up to the individual to utilize that loan to the fullest, taking advantage of every day that is granted on earth.

(Hayom Yom)

And He will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove sickness from your midst (Exodus 23:25)

Most illnesses are caused either by food that is ingested, or from an intensification of internal forces within the body. G-d therefore promised to send His blessing in both of these areas, blessing the food one eats - "your bread and water" - and "removing sickness from your midst" - making sure that illness does not come from within.

(Kli Yakar)

You shall not afflict any widow or orphan (Exodus 22:21)

Whenever Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev reached this verse he would cry out. "Master of the Universe! You instructed us in Your holy Torah to be kind to widows and orphans, and yet we are like orphans in this bitter exile! You must therefore take us out of this exile at once!"

And He will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove sickness from your midst (Exodus 23:25)

Most illnesses are caused either by food that is ingested, or from an intensification of internal forces within the body. G-d therefore promised to send His blessing in both of these areas, blessing the food one eats - "your bread and water" - and "removing sickness from your midst" - making sure that illness does not come from within.

(Kli Yakar)

It Once Happened

Over 400 years ago, there lived a nobleman who served as the chief advisor to the King in the Spanish Royal Court. When the counselor was already older, he became very ill. The king ordered the very best physicians for his dear friend, but all the doctors' efforts failed. When the counselor was at "death's door," the king sent for his personal priest to attend to the devout Catholic.

The priest entered the room of the dying man. After administering the last rights, the priest took one last look at the counselor, whom he too admired, and left the room looking very sad. The king's doctor returned to the room and was shocked to see the unconscious counselor actually moving his lips, then breathing deeply, and finally opening his eyes and asking for a drink of water. From then on, the patient began to recover quickly.

When the counselor was fully recovered, he asked for the priest to visit him. "First of all," he said to the priest, "I want to thank you for praying for me when the doctors had given up all hope. I have the distinct feeling that your prayers helped me; especially the short, strange prayer that you recited repeatedly."

The priest paled and stammered, "G-d accepts prayers in any language."

"But," persisted the counselor, "I am curious to know what that prayer was that you whispered into my ear."

"There are certain things that a clergyman must keep secret," answered the nervous cardinal.

"Listen," said the counselor. "When I lay unconscious, my soul hovering between life and death, the prayer you said sunk into my brain. I am sure those were the same words I heard the Marranos call out with their last breaths as they were burned at the stake. You must be one of the Marranos!"

The priest's face turned ashen. The counselor continued, "It is the duty of every true Catholic to inform the Inquisition of any suspicious behavior."

The priest quietly began his story: "I come from a family of secret Jews. When I was twelve years old, my father told me this and began to teach me about commandments I would be obligated to carry out in another year. When I was fifteen, he enrolled me in the Royal Seminary for the priesthood. He explained that as a priest I would be able to help my Jewish brethren. I would have free access to every home without suspicion and could encourage Jews to keep firm in their Jewishness. If I won the confidence of the inner circle of the Inquisition, then I could warn those who were under suspicion. All this, in fact, I was able to accomplish. G-d protected me from all danger.

"It has been my practice to whisper "Shema Yisrael" in the ear of each dying person. I do not always know who is or is not a secret Jew. If the person was born a Christian, he would be none the worse for it. But if he was a Jew, the holy words of the Shema could awaken in him his Jewish spark and a feeling of repentance in the last moment of his life, and he would then feel that he is dying as a Jew."

Both men were quiet now. The counselor broke the silence. "I have no choice but to put you in the hands of the Inquisition unless you are prepared to forget everything and from now on behave as a true Christian priest."

"I cannot make such a promise," replied the priest. "I am ready to give my life for my Jewish faith, as did my ancestors who died at the stake, with the Shema on their lips."

The royal counselor jumped up and happily embraced the cardinal.

"I, too, was born a Jew, and my parents were also secret Jews like your own. But my parents died when I was a small child and I was brought up by my uncle who was the royal counselor. Just before my 13th birthday, my uncle told me the secret that I was a Jew. He arranged for a teacher to prepare me for my Bar Mitzva, but that is where my Jewish education ended. I took over the position of royal counselor upon my uncle's death and slowly forgot that I was a Jew.

"When I became ill I remembered that I was a Jew and felt troubled and confused. If only there was some way I could die as a Jew, but the holy words of the Shema would not come to mind. Then, suddenly, as if in a dream, I heard those elusive words, "Shema Yisrae." My whole being became alive again. I made a vow that if G-d let me live, I would return to the Jewish faith with a whole heart.

"Now that G-d helped me to get well, I figured out a way to fulfill my vow. I will go before the king and tell him that at the height of my sickness, I made a solemn vow that if G-d would spare me, I would settle in the Holy Land to spend my remaining years in seclusion and holiness. I would ask the king a special favor; to allow you, my dear friend, to join me, to be my spiritual mentor and teacher in my old age. He would not, of course, even suspect that both of us are secret Jews."

Words could not express the joy which the "priest" felt. The king, in fact, agreed to all of the requests of his loyal counselor and allowed the "priest" to accompany him. Amidst great honor, the counselor and the priest left the shores of Spain. They eventually made it to the Holy Land and settled in Sfat.

Moshiach Matters

In our days the Redemption has to be hurried along, in the spirit of the prophetic promise, "I shall hasten it." Hence all the activities that are undertaken in preparation for the Redemption should be done in haste, for the above promise indicates not only priority (as opposed to postponement), but also speedy performance.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, eve of Rosh Hashana, 5742-1981)

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