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Devarim Deutronomy

February 22, 2008 - 16 Adar I, 5768

1009: Ki Sisa

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  1008: Tetzaveh1010: Vayakhel  

At Twenty - Count, Pursue, Sell  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Customs  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

At Twenty - Count, Pursue, Sell

Twenty years of L'Chaim! By any reckoning, that is a significant milestone. But as we pause at the anniversary, we should ask why is 20 so significant? That is, what is the inner spiritual implication, what is the lesson in our Divine service - of 20 years?

To answer, let's first look at what the Torah and our Sages say about a person who reaches 20 years.

"Take a census (literally, "raise the head") of all the congregation of the children of Israel from 20 year old and upward" (Numbers 26:2).

"At 20, pursuit [of a livelihood]" (Mishna Avot 5:22).

"To sell his father's property, [the legal right begins] at 20" (Talmud, Bava Batra 156a).

What do these three laws or directives have in common? Each indicates a stage of independence, a new level of responsibility, a change of status. At 20, a young man was counted because he became eligible to serve in the army; at 20, a young man was able to establish his own career; at 20, a young man had legal sanction to handle his deceased father's financial affairs.

So at 20 we become fully responsible and independent. That doesn't mean we become independent of the influence of our parents - or teachers. Obviously not. But it does mean we now are qualified, and thus obligated, to stand on our own as a member of the Jewish people, to be productive and contribute in our own way, to decide pathways into the future.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, on the twentieth anniversary of his leadership, offered a unique spiritual insight into the significance of 20, based on the Talmudic law quoted above: Students are also considered like the children of their teacher. Since that's the case, how does a student "sell his 'father's' - his teacher's - property"? By studying Jewish teachings in a new way, by reaching a new depth of understanding, by increasing the level of concentration, by, in effect, changing his status as a student, to a new kind of learner.

This idea is echoed in the Biblical passage mentioned earlier. When a person becomes a soldier in G-d's army, it means one fights not just external enemies, but one battles primarily the internal obstacles to Jewish study and observance. What does the Torah say? Literally, "lift the head" - that is, to transcend even the limitations of the mind, by applying the full force of that which is higher, that which can always go "upward" - by devoting one's will to, completely focusing it, on Torah.

The Rebbe points out, though, that we can only do so if we're learning something we want to learn, something we enjoy and that gives us pleasure.

This too, fits in with the concept, the promise, of 20 years: a soldier performs his duty with self-sacrifice, with an inner satisfaction knowing that his or her efforts contribute to a greater cause; the job we choose to do, we work with great effort, with again self-sacrifice, because we enjoy it, it gives us satisfaction, makes us significant. And even in "selling our father's property," we are accepting a responsibility, taking a risk, in order to reshape the world. This, too, whether literal or spiritual, applied to our learning, requires both the investment of self-sacrifice and the emotional energy of will, pleasure and joy.

Certainly, in one way or another, more or less of the above can be applied to each individual's personal life. But what does this have to do with L'Chaim on our twentieth anniversary? For 20 years we've shared the Rebbe's Torah insights and his guidance, told stories and presented profiles for inspiration, and, in this column, offered a little observation. For 20 years, L'Chaim has been a weekly bit of Torah for hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world. But at 20, we must now be "counted" or "raised," we must "pursue," we must "sell." In other words, L'Chaim at 20 must try to be a source of deeper understanding, greater inspiration and, above all, a more intense devotion to and pleasure in Torah, mitzvot and the teachings of the Rebbe. L'CHAIM!!

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, Moses descends from Mount Sinai holding the Tablets containing the Ten Commandments he received from G-d.

"The Tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, inscribed on both their sides."

Engraved on two magnificent stones of sapphire, the Ten Commandments were miraculously visible from both sides. Yet they were not to last for long:

"And Moses became angry...and he broke them at the foot of the mountain... And G-d said to Moses, 'Hew yourself tablets of stone like the first.'"

In connection to the Tablets, the Torah speaks of three distinct stages:

  1. The original Tablets: Moses descends from Mount Sinai, where he had spent the previous forty days and forty nights, with the Tablets in hand;

  2. The breaking of the Tablets: Moses witnesses the sin of the Children of Israel with the Golden Calf and breaks the Tablets in anger;

  3. The second Tablets: The Jews repent of their sin. Moses goes back up the mountain for an additional forty days and nights, to return with a second set of Tablets.

The first and second sets of Tablets were not identical. The first set was written by G-d; the second set was inscribed by Moses under G-d's direction. Yet curiously, the second set of Tablets was superior to the first in one important respect, as explained in Chasidic philosophy.

The breaking of the Tablets and their subsequent replacement is an example of "a descent for the sake of an ascent."

Every descent, every failure, can lead the individual to an even higher spiritual level. According to this principle, the second set of Tablets was clearly superior to the first, for it came after the Jews' descent into idolatry and their ensuing return to G-d.

Symbolically, the three stages of the Tablets parallel the annals of the Jewish people and their progression throughout history:

The first stage (the original Tablets) spans the years between the Revelation on Mount Sinai until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple.

The second stage (the breaking of the Tablets) refers to the forced exile of the Jews from their land and the spiritual degradation endured for almost 2,000 years.

The third and final stage, the era on whose threshold we now stand, is the Messianic Era, at which time the spirituality of the entire world will be elevated to unprecedented heights, an ascent made possible only by the bitter darkness of the exile.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

An Orthodox Lawmaker
by Shira Schoenberg

reprinted from the Concord Monitor

When Jason Bedrick was considering a run for state representative, an incumbent legislator encouraged him to shave his beard. Bedrick refused. "I said the beard is off-limits, and that's not the half of it," Bedrick said.

Bedrick, an Orthodox Jew, said he wouldn't enter churches. He wouldn't campaign at the transfer station on Saturdays. And he wouldn't shake hands with women. His friend said he didn't know how Bedrick could win.

In 2006, Bedrick, a Windham Republican, eked out a six-vote victory to become the first Orthodox Jew elected to the New Hampshire State House.

Since then, Bedrick, 24, with his beard and a black velvet yarmulke, or skull cap, has established himself as a studious and often quiet conservative legislator with an interest in education. And he has welcomed his role as unofficial Jewish ambassador.

Bedrick grew up secular, a fourth-generation New Hampshire resident. His great-grandfather came from Russia and settled in Nashua, where Bedrick's father, Mark, had his bar mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue. The family celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. Bedrick's parents taught their three sons about Jewish history and culture, but they kept no religious rituals.

"We taught our children basically a belief in the Ten Commandments, to respect all people and all religions and all religious beliefs, and even if the person didn't have religious beliefs, you respect everyone as an individual," Mark Bedrick said.

Bedrick attended public school, then switched to Bishop Guertin, a Catholic high school in Nashua, believing that the education was better. Attending the school forced Bedrick to confront his own faith.

But it was at Babson College, a Massachusetts business school, that Bedrick's path toward both Orthodox Judaism and political activism was set.

Bedrick had long been interested in school choice, supporting education vouchers and charter schools. For a college political science class, he wrote a paper about education in New Hampshire.

Bedrick was also a senior editor for the college newspaper, the Babson Free Press. It was that position that led him to Rabbi Moshe Bleich, director of the Wellesley Weston Chabad House. Bleich is part of Chabad-Lubavitch, an international Orthodox Jewish outreach organization that promotes Judaism to Jews of all levels of observance. Bleich and his wife invite local college students to Jewish programs, classes and Sabbath meals in their home.

Bleich sought out Bedrick after seeing a pro-Israel article Bedrick had written for the newspaper. "I invited him for Shabbat dinner because of the article," Bleich said. "I wanted to meet him, and one thing led to another."

Bedrick grew close to Bleich's family and started visiting for the Sabbath and holidays. He started reading about Judaism and asking Bleich questions.

The turning point in Bedrick's observance was when he took a trip to Israel with other college students. Bedrick decided that while in Israel, he would wear a yarmulke. He saw his tour guide wearing tzitzit, a ritual garment with fringes that Orthodox men wear. "I thought it was an amazing concept, this garment my people have been wearing for years, to remind you to keep the commandments," Bedrick said. So he bought a pair.

On the plane ride home, Bedrick began to reconsider his intentions to remove the yarmulke and tzitzit. "I thought, 'I'm Jewish in Israel, but not America?' This is my identity." He kept the clothing and became one of two Babson College students to wear a yarmulke, Bleich said. Bedrick had already given up eating pork and shellfish, and now he started adhering more fully to the kosher dietary laws. He started walking to the rabbi's house on Friday night, since observant Jews do not drive on the Sabbath. After college, he returned to Israel for the summer to study.

After graduation, Bedrick worked in his parents' furniture business for six months, then decided to go to a yeshiva, a religious school, in New York to learn more about Judaism.

While Bedrick was studying, a friend in the Legislature called and asked him to run again, this time as a Republican. As a student, with no family to support, Bedrick said, "I know if I was going to do it, this was the time. I figured if I win, great. If I lose, I go back to yeshiva."

Bedrick returned to New Hampshire in August, facing a September primary. As a newly observant Jew, he found himself back in a state that has two Chabad centers and no other year-round Orthodox synagogue. There are about 10,000 Jews in the state, according to national Jewish organizations. But just "a handful of families" are Orthodox, said Rabbi Levi Krinsky, director of Manchester Chabad.

The most challenging law during the campaign was that prohibiting contact between men and women. "You already look weird because of the beard, then you say 'I'd like you to vote for me but I can't shake your hand,' " Bedrick said.

When members of the Salem Women's Club were offended by the practice, he sent the club an e-mail explaining his religious principles. He stressed that Judaism sees men and women as equals, and the laws were out of respect. "I can compromise on policy but not on principles," Bedrick told them. The president of the club started campaigning for him.

Bedrick does not plan to run for another term. Instead, he will spend another year at a religious school while applying to law school. While he enjoys politics, he ultimately needs to earn a living, he said.

What does Bedrick think about his legacy as the only Orthodox Jew to serve in the Legislature? "It's an interesting historic footnote," he said. But he pointed out that other non-Orthodox Jews have served. "A Jew is a Jew," he said. "If you're Jewish, you're as Jewish as Moses."

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Zalman and Nechami Charytan recently moved to Acworth, Georgia, where they have established a new Chabad House serving the Jewish community in Western Cobb County. Rabbi Boruch and Chaya Sussman will be arriving soon in Louisville, Kentucky, where they will be spearheading activities at the University of Louisville as well as being involved in the Chabad Center of Louisville. Rabbi Shmuel and Ariel Kravitsky have joined the shluchim (emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) at Chabad on Washington Square in Lower Manhattan, and are focusing on adult education.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated and adapted letters

1 Shvat, 5718 [1958]

Greetings and Blessings!

Just now I received your letter in which you write of your present condition.

You have no doubt heard the teaching of the Rebbe Maharash [Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch], the grandfather of my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe: "People say that if you can't make your way from below, you should climb over the top - but I hold that right from the outset you should leap over the top."

Now, this approach applies to the present subject. At first sight it would appear that manifest joy should wait until one's health improves in actual fact. However, in the spirit of the above teaching, it could be suggested that rejoicing over this improvement should be advanced ahead of time, even though the improvement is not yet manifest.

Indeed, this itself will hasten the process. As has been repeatedly cited in the name of the [earlier] Rebbes of Chabad, "Think positively, and things will be positive." And how much more does this assurance apply when one translates positive thoughts into joyful words and joyful actions. This is especially relevant to yourself, whose literary skills equip you to influence many people in this direction - and the reward of those who gladden people's hearts is well known (Taanis 22a).

[...] With blessings for good news,

3 Menachem Av, 5714 [1954]

Greetings and Blessings!

This letter is a response to the undated letter in which you write that though you are pleased that you moved to [...], at the moment your salary does not quite suffice to meet your needs, and this is affecting your mood.

This is most surprising. After having palpably witnessed G-d's kindness toward you, do you really not have enough faith in His absolutely certain ability to guide you with His acts of loving-kindness in the future, too, and to free you from your straits? And even if, for reasons not understood by us, this is delayed, it is only the Creator of the universe, Who knows the future and Who knows what is truly good, that is able to decide in what manner - the manner that is best for a man and his household - He should bring them to their true happiness both materially and spiritually.

If the above applies even with regard to people whose present situation is less positive than it was previously, and also less positive by comparison with their environment and their acquaintances, how much more obviously does it apply with regard to people whose situation has improved from what it was. And in these difficult months, your situation is certainly better than that of quite a number of people around you, who nevertheless are not despairing, G-d forbid. Most certainly, therefore, neither you nor your wife ought to be dispirited or saddened, G-d forbid. We have seen it proved in practice that the greater a man's trust, and the more he looks toward his future with joy, the faster do these things materialize on a practical level.

I hope that you will soon gladden me with good news concerning all of the above, both in relation to yourself and in relation to your wife.

With blessings,

3 Kislev, 5720 [1959]

Greetings and Blessings!

After a long break your letter of 2 Kislev arrived, in which you write of your financial straits.

As I have written in the past to a number of people, if they had made a habit of sharing [their] good news and writing about it frequently, they would have had less - or no - need to set up bonds of communication by writing about things that are the opposite of good news. This is self-evident....

With blessings for good news in all the above,

From In Good Hands, translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, published by Sichos In English


What is the reason for dancing at a wedding?

Part of the mitzva (commandment) of "making the groom and bride happy" is to entertain them with dancing. By dancing around the bride and groom, the community expresses its support for the couple. The Talmud relates many instances when the greatest of our Sages set aside their uninterrupted study of Torah for the sake of entertaining the couple. In accordance with Jewish law, men and women dance separately with a mechitza (divider) separating them.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We always saw from the Rebbe a special interest in the L'Chaim publication. It can be attributed to the fact that it was named for the Rebbetzin. L'Chaim is an acronym for "L'zichron Chaya Mushka" - in memory of the Rebbetzin. The other reason is that the idea for the publication was born during the days of Shiva for the Rebbetzin and the first issue came out in time for her Shloshim (30 days after her passing). The Rebbe likes when people do things immediately, with swiftness, without procrastination.

In reflecting about those beginning stages of L'Chaim, I remember very well (maybe too well) the skeptics who were not too sure as to the longevity of L'Chaim. It is therefore, with great thanks to Hashem Yisborach and His boundless mercy, and great thanks to the Rebbe and his steady inspiration and blessings, that we have continued to this day, 20 years, without missing one single week. And if you want to know the extent of our pride and how many issues we have published, please consult the opening page of this publication and focus your attention to the upper corner on your right!

As the publisher of this important publication it gives me great pleasure to thank the entire L'Chaim staff, including our writers, editors and office staff, for their devotion, dedication and hard work. I also want to thank our contributors, our partners, who have helped make all this possible.

L'Chaim has become an integral part of the Jewish community, a tool for Jewish outreach and education and for communicating the Rebbe's work.

There is also a lot of pride that L'Chaim takes in the many editions that L'Chaim has "given birth" to, including those published and distributed in Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Manchester, London, Johannesburg and Melbourne (where it is known as the Lamplighter). L'Chaim articles are also translated into Spanish, French, Hungarian, Hebrew and Portuguese. L'Chaim has reached "beyond itself" in spreading the light Yiddishkeit and giving our brethren the world over a taste of our glorious heritage.

We hope and pray that L'chaim will help in hastening the Geula and bringing Chaim Nitzchiyim, eternal life, to all with the revelation of Moshiach Teikef Umiyad Mamosh.

Thoughts that Count

And you shall make a basin of copper... and they shall wash their hands and their feet (Exodus 30:18, 21)

Nowadays, when prayer must take the place of the priests' service in the Holy Temple, we wash our hands before we begin to pray. Yet in distinction to the priests of old, Maimonides concludes that also the face (in addition to the feet, if they warrant it) must be washed prior to praying. The hands and feet enable a person to perform practical actions, but the face and head contain the person's higher faculties - the intellect, the faculties of sight and hearing, and the ability to speak. When the Holy Temple was in existence and Jews enjoyed a more direct relationship with G-d, only the outer extremities needed purification. Unfortunately, however, during the exile, a Jew's most sublime gifts are often abused, applied towards matters unworthy of their attention, making their purification before prayer also necessary.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Everyone who sought G-d went out to the Tabernacle of Meeting, which was outside the camp (Exodus 30:7)

In actuality they were looking for Moses, yet the Torah states that they were seeking G-d. We thus learn that receiving the leader of the generation is the same as receiving G-d Himself.

(Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin)

And the Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath (Ex. 31:16)

Every Jew is given an extra G-dly soul on the Sabbath, which is why we are especially careful in keeping its laws: G-d is always more stringent with those He is closest to.

(Ohr Hatorah)

Before all your people I will perform wonders, such as have not been done on all the earth, nor in any nation (Ex. 34:10)

The Hebrew word for "wonder" is related to the word meaning "set apart." G-d promised the Jews that they would be set apart from the rest of the nations of the world, for His Divine Presence would henceforth rest only on them. But what "wonders" were promised? Not merely miracles in the physical world, but wonders in the spiritual sense, a deeper understanding of G-dliness and holiness than is afforded others. That is why the verse specifies "before all your people," for only the Jew can really understand and appreciate the depth of these wonders.

(Ohr Hatorah)

It Once Happened

The Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch) carefully scrutinized the chasid who had just entered his room for a private audience. "Tell me," he asked, "have you allotted time to learn Torah with others?"

The chasid shifted uneasily. A talented silversmith and skillful watchmaker, he had traveled for many days from his town, Vladimir, to be with the Rebbe, and this private audience was definitely the culmination of his visit.

No, he explained, he had not scheduled any learning sessions with others, but he was not to blame. He had just taken up residence in Vladimir and the Jewish population there was comprised of boors, through no fault of their own. They were descendants of the Cantonists - the Jewish children who had been brutally kidnapped from their grief-stricken parents to serve forcibly in the Czar's army, eventually forgetting the sacred laws and rituals of their youth.

There were only two villagers capable of officiating as cantor; the chasid was the only one in the entire community learned enough to read from the Torah, and it was his sacred duty to prepare the weekly Torah portion. This, besides his daily private study schedule and business, argued the chasid, left him with no additional time to teach others.

"I do not understand you," said the Rebbe Maharash disapprovingly. "For what reason did you leave your previous residence in Polotsk - which is famed for its religious adherence - and exchange it for Vladimir, a wilderness barren of Torah and mitzva (commandment) observance?"

The chasid agreed wholeheartedly. Polotsk had been an exemplary place to live, inhabited by exceptionally pious people who filled its synagogues from dawn till dusk, and whose yeshivot boasted advanced levels of religious education of no small repute. But what could he do? His business had deteriorated steadily and he barely eked out a meager existence in Polotsk. Besides, he had expressly asked for and received the Rebbe's consent and blessing to move to Vladimir. The blessing had materialized to the fullest extent with his business succeeding beyond his wildest dreams.

"You are mistaken," said the Rebbe Maharash, "thinking that you were sent to Vladimir for business purposes. Whoever believes in G-d and Divine Providence can, and must, understand that G-d does not uproot a G-d-fearing family from a place of Torah to an irreligious environment for material reasons. This notion stems from your misconception of your purpose. In truth, your purpose is not to work with silver and watches but to spread G-d's Torah and its commandments wherever possible. Your move to Vladimir was Divinely orchestrated to enable you to teach and inspire the masses, whether the knowledgeable soldier or the illiterate Cantonist children."

The Rebbe Maharash continued, "Have you forgotten the teaching of the saintly Baal Shem Tov that a soul descends to this physical world for seventy or eighty years to do another Jew a favor, a physical favor and especially a spiritual one? He who assumes that his steps are predestined according to his material needs is lacking in his faith. Cannot the same Divine blessing rest in Polotsk as in Vladimir? My blessing for your material success was intended to accompany your own efforts in disseminating Judaism; without it, my blessing will come to nothing."

"Let the reader beware," wrote the Previous Rebbe, who recorded this story in a letter to one of his followers, " do not read this story as if it were just another anecdote, entering one ear just to exit the other. Rather, let the words of the Rebbe Maharash permeate his very essence, and let every person ask himself - what am I doing to fulfill the Divine mission that has been entrusted to my care in the place which has been Divinely ordained for me?!"

Reprinted from the weekly magazine, Beis Moshiach

Moshiach Matters

Three times a day we express this fervent wish - that Moshiach come and gather our people to the Land of Israel, the eternal heritage of our people. This involves more than a mere geographic movement on the part of our people. At that time G-d will "bring us together" and establish unity among us, for in that age, the Era of the Redemption, "there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 25 Adar I, 1992)

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