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Devarim Deutronomy

July 25, 2008 - 22 Tamuz, 5768

1030: Matos

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

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  1029: Pinchas1031: Masei  

Sunscreen  |  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


Everyone knows why we need sunscreen: to protect us from the sun's rays. On a hot summer day - or even a summer day that's not so hot, or a hot day that's not in summer - too much exposure to the sun can result in more than a nice tan; it can cause temporary discomfort or permanent damage.

Which rays of the sun cause all the damage? Well, the infra-red - wavelengths, longer than visible light - are responsible for the heat, and thus the sunburn. Ultra-violet - wavelengths shorter than visible light - are responsible for altering DNA, and thus the lesions or illness, G-d forbid.

Now, the atmosphere blocks some of the damaging rays, especially the Ultra-violet (UV), but not all, and not enough. That's why we put on sunscreen. The higher the SPF (Sunburn Protection Factor), the more effective the sunscreen.

Of course, we do need some sunlight. Contact between sunlight and our skin manufactures Vitamin D which our body needs.

Sunlight also affects us psychologically. If we don't get enough, we may be susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD - a form of, or precursor to, depression.

So it's important to get the right exposure to the sun, but not too much. Similarly for all of life on earth, the sun's rays are what makes everything grow, but where there is too much sun we have dryness and dessert.

It says in Psalm (84:12): "For the sun and the shield is Havayah Elokim." Havaya and Elokim are two names of G-d.

[An explanatory aside: Havayah is a respectful way to write the four letter proper Name of G-d we usually pronounce Ado-nai. The name Havayah rearranges the four Hebrew letters that constitute the Divine Name.

The name Elokim (written with an "h" sound rather than a "k") is a more generic term for G-d, and means power ruler or judge.]

The name Havaye represents in spiritual terms what the sun is in our physical world, namely the energy source of all creation animating and giving life to everything that exists.

And the Psalm tells that Elokim is a shield, that is, a covering for the sun. Like a Divine sunscreen, so to speak, the Divine Name Elokim, shields us from the full power of the creative energy, enabling its rays to be creative rather than destructive and ensuring that we, and all of creation, will not be consumed in a fire of spirituality that would result from exposure to the full force of the Divine Name Havayah.

The effects of the name Elokim are seen in the laws of nature which disguise the workings of G-d in our world and make us see the miraculous as ordinary.

This helps us understand how we - how a material Creation - can exist when "there is nothing beside Him" - when the only true existence is G-d Himself.

Nevertheless, while the Divine Name Elokim protects us, it's really just a temporary protection. As long as the Jewish people are in exile and the world is not ready for redemption, we need sunscreen to protect us from the powerful light.

But in the era of Redemption, we are told, G-d will take the sun out of its shield, and exposure to the full illumination of the Divine source of existence, the Name Havayah will not blind or harm us - just the opposite! It will heal us and the whole world will perceive the Divine Life-Force that illuminates creation, and the G-dliness within us.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Matot, contains a seemingly unusual request by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. Citing their "great multitude of cattle," the sons of Reuben and Gad asked Moses to grant their portion of the land of Israel on the other side of the Jordan. "The a land for cattle; and your servants have cattle," they said. "If we have found grace in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not compel us to go over the Jordan."

Even more surprising is the fact that Moses acceded to their request. How many verses in the Torah speak of G-d's promise to Moses to bring the Children of Israel into the promised land? Yet these verses mention only "the land of Canaan," an area west of the Jordan river. If so, why would the tribes of Reuben and Gad have even considered settling in the cities of "Atarot, Divon, Ya'zer and Nimrah" on the eastern shore of the Jordan, part of the land of Sichon and Og? Did these tribes intentionally seek to distance themselves from their brethren?

Furthermore, how valid was their claim that the territory east of the Jordan would provide superior grazing land for their cattle? Why would the tribes of Reuben and Gad have willingly forgone entering the promised land with their wives and children just to benefit their livestock?

In order to understand what really occurred we need to refer back to G-d's very first promise to Abraham concerning the land of Israel. At that time, G-d said to Abraham, "To your seed will I give this land...the [land of] the Keni, the Kenizi and the Kadmoni..." In all, G-d enumerated ten nations that the Jewish people would one day inhabit. Seven of these nations were defeated by the Children of Israel soon after they left Egypt; the other three will only be conquered by the Jewish people in the Messianic Era.

The true intent behind the request of Reuben and Gad to dwell east of the Jordan was in order to hasten this process. The portion of land they settled, formerly belonging to the kings Sichon and Og, was part of the territory of the three nations that still remained to be conquered. This is the reason Moses agreed to their request and granted them their inheritance east of the Jordan, for he saw their settlement of that territory as a "preparation" for the full and complete settlement of the land of Israel that would occur in the Messianic Era.

In truth, the actions of the tribes of Reuben and Gad lent an added dimension to the Jews' first conquest of the land, one that brought our ultimate conquest of the entire land of Israel in the Era of the Redemption much closer.

Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Family Photographs
by Chaya Devorah Welner

One of my family's most cherished possessions is our collection of family photographs, dating back nearly 100 years. These pictures tell the common story of what happened to the majority of Jews during the last century. There is a photo of my great-great grandfather, handsome in his black silk coat, long beard and payot (side curls), and my great-great grandmother who wore a shaytel (wig). Next there is a picture of my great-grandfather, clean shaven but with a head covering and my great- grandmother, who looked very modern but kept Shabbat and strictly kosher. My grandparents are not observant, but they are Yiddish-speaking and active in Jewish communal affairs. Finally comes my parents who beat the odds by marrying Jewish and wondered if being Jewish was even worth it.

Every person grows up with certain beliefs that they accept without question, the beliefs of the society they are born into and the opinions of their parents and teachers. In the course of maturing, people begin to question the direction their lives are taking and wonder if there might be something better.

Imagine that a person believes herself to be living in a world where either there is no G-d or that G-d really has no immediate impact on her life. She can do anything that she wants with herself, accomplish any goal she chooses or just use all of her 24 hours in each day to have fun, guilt-free. Why would someone give up that life for Torah and mitzvot (commandments), where every action is dictated by G-d and even thought and speech are under His constant scrutiny?

Because a life without Torah and Chasidic philosophy is really a life of fear. Imagine again a world where no one is in charge. You never know what is going to happen to you or where it is going to come from. And it has no ultimate meaning or significance, it just happens: either because you made the wrong choice, or you're a shlamazel. Good guys finish last. Cheaters do prosper. All the good or bad in your life is a result of human activity: your own choices, good or bad, and the charity or malice of those around you. The world is unstable and uncertain, and it is impossible to make sense of the terrifying things that are happening to you and around you. Is it hard to understand why there is an epidemic of anxiety, depression, selfishness, chutzpa and fear? Young people drink, take drugs, and abuse themselves in unimaginable ways. Doctors keep prescribing tranquilizers, anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs, but nothing helps.

Chasidic philosophy, on the other hand, tells us to fear nothing but G-d. Now add into the equation the idea that not only is G-d running the world in a general way, but that each event in your life is meaningful and purposeful, bringing the world one step closer to the time of Moshiach. Everything that happens is from G-d, there is no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and life would not be different "if only." Your job is to do the mitzva and leave the results to G-d. Now life can be relatively peaceful and calm. It's a pleasure to be alive.

While secular thought teaches that people have control over what happens in the world, it also teaches that we have no control over ourselves. I was a psychology major in University, and one of the prevailing ideas in psychology is that thoughts and emotions cannot and should not be controlled. We are taught that people should just let their emotions flow over them and that all emotions are okay. Feelings are facts; "my perception is reality" and therefore it must be expressed or it will damage my mental health. Chasidut teaches that we have control over the state of our minds and hearts; that we can choose to perform every task in life with joy is extremely liberating and gives one a new sense of empowerment.

At my high school, many of my friends realized that the expensive gifts they received from their parents - luxury cars, designer clothing, and Prada handbags - were actually bribes to make them forget about the lack of parental attention, love and guidance in their lives. They were not fooled. Life was about impressing others, and children were expected to contribute their own academic and athletic achievements for the family honor. Even at that time some of us recognized that these things were less than worthy goals, but many secular Jews think that in essence religious Jews are no better. They think, yes, they are performing religious rituals rather than attending parties, but why? So that they get invited to an even bigger party: the World to Come! That is why the Chasidic idea is so satisfying and refreshing. What is a mitzva? It's a connection to G-d's will. It's the forming of a relationship with G-d. And even higher than that, it's not even about what we are gaining, but that we are building a home for G-d and giving Him great pleasure.

But far more persuasive than intellectual arguments are the real life experiences of visiting a Chabad House: the warmth that hits you as soon as you step inside or attend a Shabbat meal; meeting people who are completely selfless, have devoted their lives to giving to others, and yet have more true joy than almost anyone you've met before; or knowing that the shluchim really love me, and they will continue to love me just because I'm a Jew.

When my grandchildren will look at the family photographs, they will notice that the pattern has changed. Once again, their grandmother will be wearing a shaytel and their grandfather will have a beard and a long, silk coat. But they will also know why it happened. Their grandmother attended Machon Chana where young women have the opportunity to learn, grow and accept their responsibility of upholding Judaism. But primarily it was because G-d, in His kindness, gave us the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who cared enough to send his emissaries to the spiritual desert of Arizona - my home state.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Yosef and Hindy Plotkin will soon be moving to Greensboro, North Carolina, where they will establish a new Chabad House serving the Jews in the area. Rabbi Levi and Esti Grossbaum are moving to Livingston, New Jersey where they will be focusing their efforts on the Friendship Circle program for children and young adults with special needs.

New Center

The city of Banglor, India, will have its very own Chabad-Lubavitch Center soon. For the last few years the Chabad Center in Bombay, as well as yeshiva students who visited each summer, served Banglor, considered the "Silicon Valley" of India. Torah classes and synagogue services are already taking place and plans to build a mikva are underway.

The Rebbe Writes

26 of Tammuz, 5743 [1983]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your correspondence.

In general, I have already expressed my opinion on the matters about which you wrote, and will again remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.

Now that we are in the period of the Three Weeks, commemorating the sad events which led to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] and the dispersement of our people, we are reminded that every one of us has to do all in one's power to minimize and eventually eliminate the cause that brought about the Destruction and Exile. The only cause of it is clearly spelled out in our Mussaf Prayer: "Because of our sins we have been exiled from our land." If alienation from the Jewish way of life, the way of the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] has been the cause of the Golus [exile], every one of us must work all the harder to bring Jews closer to the Torah and Mitzvos. Thus, every effort in this direction brings all the nearer the appearance of Moshiach Tzidkeinu [our righteous Redeemer], who will usher in the true and complete Geulah [Redemption]. May it come speedily in our days.

With blessing,

24th of Tammuz, 5739 [1979]

I am in receipt of your letter of the 17th of Tammuz, in which you write about two happenings recently, connected with Tzitzis and Tefillin [the ritual fringes and phylacteries].

In general, there are so many clear and specific instructions and teachings in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] connected with these two basic Mitzvos, that there is no need to look for other interpretations.

However, since you wrote to me and requested some explanation, I want to emphasize what is mutual and common to Tzitzis and Tefillin. Our Sages declare that the whole Torah has been compared to the Mitzvah of Tefillin, and of Tzitzis it is written, "And you will see it and remember all G-d's Mitzvos." Thus, the common denominator of the two happenings that you mentioned, namely in connection with Tzitzis and Tefillin, is to emphasize forcefully the need to strengthen adherence to all the Mitzvos in the everyday life and conduct, and since you are a Yeshiva student, it is particularly indicated that there should be a growing measure of devotion and diligence in the study of the Torah.

A further point - in view of the fact that every Jew is duty-bound to do all he can to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in his surroundings, and one of the most effective ways of doing it is through showing a shining example, the above-mentioned increased efforts on your part in matters of Torah and Mitzvos will have a good influence all around you, and at the same time enable you to fulfill more fully the Mitzvah of V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho [love of your fellow Jew].

Wishing you Hatzlocho [success] in all above,

With blessing,

5th of Menachem Av, 5721 [1961]

I received your letter, in which you write about the old problem which we already discussed in the past, namely, the feud between families and how it reflects upon the work of __.

You will surely recall that when the problem first came to my attention, I expressed my opinion and made my suggestions on the basis of the viewpoint of the Torah. As the viewpoint of the Torah isn't changeable, it is clear that the suggestion I made at that time is still valid at this time.

Now that we are in the midst of summer, which necessarily brings about a change in the program of activity, I trust, however, that the summer months will not bring about a complete cessation, G-d forbid, of the activities of the __, but they will be continuous, and in some respects even more active, since the summer months offer special opportunities to come in contact with people of various circles, etc.

Hoping to hear good news from you,


What are some of the customs of the "Three Weeks"?

During the Three Weeks between the tragic day of the 17th of Tammuz when the walls around Jerusalem were breached and the 9th of Av when the Holy Temple was actually destroyed, we observe some aspects of mourning. Weddings do not take place, dancing and playing musical instruments are prohibited, as is the wearing of new garments. In addition, we do not cut the hair. Also, since historically these days are fraught with danger and misfortune, a parent should refrain from striking his child and a teacher his students.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This week, we being studying, once again, the first chapter of Ethics of the Fathers. As the Rebbe encouraged that we not only read the chapter, but actually study at least one Mishna on Shabbat afternoon, I would like to share with you one of the Rebbe's explanations of a teaching in this first chapter.

After the first chapter describes the chain of receiving and transmitting the Torah, it emphasizes the importance of Torah study, counseling, "Raise up many students."

It also contains the teaching: "The world stands on three things - Torah, the service of G-d (prayer), and deeds of kindness."

At first glance, it would seem that the order in which these services are listed is problematic. For, each day, they are carried out in a different order. We are enjoined by our Sages to first give a coin to a poor person and then, only afterward, to pray. Similarly, it is only after prayer that we are taught to "proceed from the synagogue to the house of study."

Another example: in the history of the Jewish people, the order of the patriarchs was Abraham, Isaac and then Jacob. Abraham is identified with the service of deeds of kindness - receiving guests. Isaac is identified with the service of G-d (as he was prepared as a sacrifice and prayer was instituted in the place of sacrifices). Jacob is identified with Torah study.

It is Jacob, however, who was referred to as, "the chosen of the Patriarch." Our Sages made this distinction to teach us of the importance of Torah study. Similarly, in regard to the above teaching from Ethics of the Fathers, Torah study is mentioned first because it is the service of primary importance "maintaining the world" in establishing a dwelling for G-d in the lower worlds, as explained above.

May we immediately merit the time when we are able to study the "new Torah" that will be reveled by Moshiach, together with all the greatest Sages and Scholars of our generation and previous generations in the Messianic Era.

Thoughts that Count

If a man makes a vow to the L-rd (Num. 30:3)

The Torah teaches that vows are praiseworthy, terming them "a fence around abstinence," yet at the same time states that "the [existing] prohibitions of the Torah are sufficient." How do we reconcile these two statements? A person who conducts himself properly is not encouraged to abstain from worldly matters. On the contrary, he is obligated to work "within" the world, in order to elevate and sanctify the physical plane of existence. A person whose conduct is deficient, however, can sometimes prevent further deterioration by means of vows.

(Likutei Sichot)

He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth (Num. 30:3)

The commandment to carry out one's verbal declarations was given primarily to the "heads of the tribes" - to the leaders of the Jewish people. As authority figures, they are responsible for setting the highest standards for the rest of the community. That is why the Talmud states in Berachot: "Concerning one who recites the Shema but [his words] do not reach his own ears, Rabbi Yosai opines that he has not fulfilled his obligation." A person must never chastise or reproach another unless he has first applied the same criticism to himself.

(Mei'otzareinu HaYashan)

You shall be guiltless before the L-rd, and before Israel (Num. 32:22)

A person who is innocent before G-d and at peace with his conscience will ultimately be found guiltless by his fellow man; if he does experience occasional difficulties, they will only be temporary. By contrast, a person who strives to be innocent only in the eyes of man will eventually end up being a hypocrite.

(Bina La'itim)

It Once Happened

A chasid who lived in Vitebsk remained childless for many years. Several times he had traveled to Liozhna to beseech his Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad movement) to arouse heaven's mercy with the Rebbe's prayers and blessings. But strangely, the Rebbe responded each time that it wasn't in his power to help him.

Once more he decided to seek the Rebbe's help. He enclosed with his written request to merit children a charitable contribution (a combination commonly known as pidyon nefesh - "soul redemption").

Again the Rebbe answered that it was not within his power to help him, but this time he offered a surprising recommendation: to go to the Rebbe, R. Shlomo of Karlin, that he would be able to help him.

Now, it is well known how Lubavitcher chasidim feel about going to other Rebbes. Nevertheless, the Rebbe himself had suggested it, the need was great, and the years were slipping by, so off he went.

Arriving at Karlin, he consulted with some of the local chasidim. They recommended that the best time to gain access to the Rebbe was when he set out on one of his journeys. On the way, the Rebbe would regularly give advice to those that accompanied him. So the chasid stayed in Karlin several days, until finally the Rebbe announced he was about to leave on a trip, and that anyone who needed anything of him was welcome to come along. The chasid climbed aboard the caravan of coaches and wagons, which soon after set off.

The Rebbe and his entourage passed through many towns and villages. The journey continued, but still the chasid had not received any encouragement to present himself to the Rebbe. Finally, after they stopped at a certain village, the Rebbe summoned the chasid and told him that if he would turn over to him a certain large sum of money, he would then merit to be blessed with offspring.

The chasid was by no means a wealthy man. Also the extended traveling had already cut deep into his resources. What to do? Eventually he made up his mind that he just could not meet the Karliner's demand. He respectfully took leave of the Rebbe and departed for home, but in his heart he felt resentful: how could a tsaddik request so much money for a blessing?

After he was home for a period of time, the chasid decided to go again to Liozhna to visit the Alter Rebbe. When his turn came for a private audience, the Rebbe asked him if he had gone to the Karliner Rebbe, and if so, what had the tzaddik advised him? The chasid answered that indeed he had gone, and had invested a lot of time and money in a long journey with him. But in the end the Rebbe had requested a large sum of money which he wasn't able to provide, and what kind of business is this anyway to demand so much money for a blessing?

Said the Alter Rebbe: "The reason you don't have children is because you once gravely insulted a Torah Sage."

"But I never insulted a Torah Sage in my life!" cried the chasid.

"Yes, you did," insisted the Rebbe, "the great scholar and righteous man, the Rabbi of Lubavitch, Rabbi Yisasschar Ber, of blessed memory."

"But I never thought him to be a sage," said the chasid.

"Is that so?" marveled the Rebbe. "You should know that Elijah the Prophet was revealed to him everyday.

"It is written in the Talmud," continued the Rebbe, "that part of the appeasement process is to pay a liter of gold. But as R. Yisasschar is no longer in this world, it was no longer possible for you to apologize to him and make amends. There are certain latter rabbinical authorities, however, who have ruled that even posthumously, paying the liter of gold helps to ease the censure. The Karliner Rebbe took you around with him to all the places where those Rabbis are buried in order to garner support for you. The large sum of money he requested from you was exactly equivalent to a liter if gold. Unfortunately, you passed up the opportunity.

"I, myself am not able to help you in this matter," explained the Rebbe, "because R. Yisaschar was my teacher, and a student cannot forego the honor of his teacher."

Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles,

Moshiach Matters

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chasidus, was once asked: "Who is greater, Moses or Moshiach?" He answered, "Moshiach. Moses is compared to a physician without experience, whereas Moshiach is compared to a veteran and experienced physician."

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