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Devarim • Deutronomy

   1434: Devarim

1435: Vaeschanan

1436: Eikev

1437: Re'eh

1438: Shoftim

1439: Ki Seitzei

1440: Ki Savo

1441: Nitzavim

August 19, 2016 - 15 Av, 5776

1435: Vaeschanan

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

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  1434: Devarim1436: Eikev  

No Greater, No Lesser  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  All Together  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

No Greater, No Lesser

"Moses, our teacher, is very, very great. But he is no greater than a Jew. At the same time, the simplest Jew is very simple, but he is no lesser than a Jew."

This was a favorite saying of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, Jewish leader, scholar, Kabalist, and father of the Rebbe, whose anniversary of passing occurs this week.

As certain as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was that every Jew is equal in G-d's eyes, that is how fearless he was in defending every Jew and the Torah's laws in the face of government or other intimidation.

To illustrate: It was in the early years of the Soviet regime, when all commerce and business throughout the country had already been nationalized.

All of the mills and matza bakeries were run by the government. When it was time to ship the wheat for the matza and they needed a certifying rabbi, the government asked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak as they had in previous years.

However, that year, the government representatives explained that if any of flour would not be allowed because it did not meet his approval, there would be a monetary loss to the government and it would be interpreted as a declaration of war against the state.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was unbending. If they allowed him to hire people whose instructions would be strictly obeyed, he would certify the flour. And if not, he would not comply. And not only that, he would make sure to publicize that it was not under his supervision.

The government representatives threatened Rabbi Levi Yitzchak who declared that he was ready to travel to Moscow and meet with the president of the Soviet Union to discuss the matter. But he absolutely refused to put his name on something that did not deserve it, as it was against Jewish law and against G-d.

The matter was referred to the highest authorities. In the end, the government representatives were told that everything Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said must be followed to the letter.

And that is what happened that year, and the next year and the next. In all of the government-sponsored matza bakeries throughout the Soviet Union, only the flour approved by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was used.

In retelling this story about his father, the Rebbe shared the life-lesson that can be gained from it. "When a Jew stands firm and declares that he cannot act contrary to G-d's command, nor is he willing to do anything against Jewish law, he will ultimately succeed.

"Of course, not everyone can demonstrate such strength. But it is also true that not everyone must oppose an entire government ruling over 200 million people. All that most of us need to do is to take a stand against our own evil inclination."

May we all have the strength to take a stand wherever and whenever we need to!

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, VaEtchanan, we read about Moses' powerful description of the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah as unprecedented events. "Has any god performed miracles to come and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, with trials, with signs, and with wonders, and with war and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesome deeds, as all that the L-rd your G-d did for you in Egypt before your eyes?"

Why is it important for us to know that G-d took for Himself "a nation from midst of another nation?" What lesson can we learn from here that we can apply in our personal lives?

The Hebrew word for "Egypt" is "Mitzrayim" from the word "maytzar," meaning "constraint" or "limitations." When G-d took us out of Egypt, He removed us from all constraints -physical, psychological and spiritual. When we cleave to G-d and His Torah we are open and free. The only constraints we have are the ones we accept upon ourselves.

In every situation we have the ability to be free. Even in this exile when the world seems against us. Even in our personal lives, when we have difficulties, suffering, and pain.

Our choices express our free nature, not our predicaments. In every situation we can find a way to free our essence, our Jewishness.

Today this seems harder than ever, as there is a strong pull to be like the rest of the world and blend in. But we have been there before; if we try, G-d will surely help each one of us free ourselves from our personal Egypts.

On a deeper level, each of us have the ability to free ourselves from our current status, standards and stations and reach higher heights. Yesterday's freedom is today's Egypt. If you are not growing you are not free. If you can will yourself: How can I improve myself? How can I get closer to G-d? Then you are free.

Finally, realize, that to get closer to G-d, you need to love His children, and see them as "us."

Loving each other is the key to our redemption, it is how we break the chains of this exile. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult, nevertheless, we will overcome this as well. May it happen soon.

Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.

A Slice of Life

Rehab for the Soul
By Faye Kranz

Yankees fans were ecstatic. Lefty Gomez and Joe DiMaggio had just helped their team sweep the Cincinnati Reds to win the 1939 World Series.

In Newark, N.J., 12 year-old Bill Shank was happily anticipating his forthcoming bar mitzvah. Studying with the cantor at B'nei Abraham Synagogue, he was almost ready for his big day.

But he didn't get the chance to show off his newly acquired skills; he never made it to his own bar mitzva. The celebration was canceled because he suddenly developed a severe case of pneumonia. The young boy languished in pain for months because the new "miracle" drug -penicillin - was not yet in widespread use. The bar mitzva was forgotten in the wake of his illness.

Fast-forward to Shabbat, July 23, 2016. The place is the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., a highly reputed facility entirely dedicated to rehabilitation medicine.

Mendel Brikman, 43, a Chabad rabbi and businessman, had recently been accepted to Burke. Diagnosed with cancer in 2011, he underwent surgery that successfully removed the tumor, but made it difficult for him to breathe. The husband and father of six has been in and out of hospitals for the past few years, battling his illness and overcoming the enormous challenges placed on him and his family.

Remarkably, Brikman remains the same outgoing, upbeat, personable fellow he always was. Quick with a joke and easy to talk to, he has become known for his ability to listen and dispense practical advice.

Last week he was enjoying the company of his friend Chaim Marcus, who had come to spend Shabbat with him. They were sitting in his room at Burke discussing whether he had the strength to participate in his scheduled rehab session. Although exhausted, Brikman decided to go ahead with the therapy.

In the rehab room, they found a few other patients already there, including an elderly gentleman who turned to them and said, "Shabbat Shalom." It turned out that their Sabbath greeter was none other than Bill Shank, professor emeritus and the former music librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, and that his Hebrew name was (you guessed it!) Mendel.

During their conversation, Shank told them about his canceled bar mitzva, that he had never put on tefillin and was scheduled to leave Burke on Monday.

So what's a good Chabadnik to do?

"We are all raised on the idea that every Jew is infinitely precious, and that every mitzvah has cosmic importance, especially tefillin," said Marcus. "For a Chabadnik, the words 'I've never put on tefillin' trigger something akin to an adrenaline rush. Like my friend David Suissa says, 'Chabadniks have one global model, and it's called, 'We want you to do a mitzvah because the world needs it.' That is the essential lesson we learned from the Lubavitcher Rebbe: Helping a Jew do a mitzva is the best way to say 'I love you.' "

"Mr. Shank, it's never too late. How about we make you a bar mitzva tomorrow?"

"Let me think about it," he replied. "I'll discuss it with my daughter, and I'll let you know."

Later that night, the nonagenarian enthusiastically agreed and even invited his daughter, who was visiting from Norway, and a number of friends to join in the celebration. As is typical in the Chabad world, it turned out that Shank's daughter knows Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Shaul and Esther Wilhelm in Oslo.

By Sunday morning, the guest list had grown to include Brikman's wife, Toby; their youngest son, Zalman; and Shank's roommate at the hospital, Ralph Ziskind. They also extended an invitation to Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg of Young Israel of White Plains and the chaplain at Burke.

It turns out that you don't need a DJ, caterer, centerpieces or flowers to have a meaningful bar mitzva.

"Everything is Divinely orchestrated, but it's particularly gratifying when the Almighty gives us an opportunity like today," said Brikman, "to be able to come together 77 years after your bar mitzva and celebrate this occasion with you."

Speaking about the mitzva of tefillin, Brikman pointed out that tefillin is a testament to our love for the Almighty and His love for the Jewish people. "What is written in G-d's tefillin?" asked Brikman. "The Torah tells us that in G-d's tefillin, it speaks of the special love that G-d has for the Jewish people." Several of the guests had never even seen a pair of tefillin before, so Rabbi Greenberg explained what they are, what is written in them and why Jews wear tefillin on the weaker arm (for which he used a baseball analogy).

There was some spirited singing as Shank unwrapped his presents, which included the Chabad classic books, Daily Wisdom and Towards a Meaningful Life; a CD of Chassidic recording artist Avraham Fried; and a kipah with the words "Bill" and "Mendel" embroidered in both Hebrew and English.

Shirley Miller, a longtime friend of the Shanks, was visibly moved, and told Mendel that "this has been one of the most meaningful and beautiful events I have ever participated in."

Brikman spoke movingly about what he has been through and shared a personal story about a former Israeli soldier that had moved away from Judaism because his friend was killed during the 1982 Lebanon war. After befriending Brikman and forming a close bond, the former soldier decided that although many years elapsed, he would begin putting on tefillin again.

The bar mitzva "boy" shared his own story and emotionally wrapped tefillin for the first time. "I want to say this is a very proud moment of my life at age 90. I'm very honored and very happy that I have my good friends and my daughter here with me, and I'm very proud to be able to say that I've now finally been bar mitzvahed."

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Yossi and Leah Cohen recently arrived in Rochester, New York, where they will establish a new Chabad on Campus at Rochester Institute of Technology. Rabbi Yossi and Raizel Nissim recently moved within the hottest NYC borough to establish Chabad of North Brooklyn. Shabbat dinners, holiday programs, classes, a summer camp and lots more action are happening at Chabad of North Brooklyn.

Newly Renovated and Expanded

Chabad of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, recently resettled in their newly removated and expanded Chabad House. The 100 year-old building underwent an intensive renovation under the directorship of Rabbi Shmuly and Rashi Weiss. There is now a large multi purpose social hall which doubles as the Chabad House Shul, a beautiful café/lounge, a hospitality suite and an extensive two-level library and study area, as well as a commercial kitchen that will be linked to a kosher restaurant.

The Rebbe Writes

12 Av, 5737 [1977]

I received some information about the relationship at home, but I do not know to what extent it reflects the actual situation. Hence I want to convey to you some thoughts in light of what the relationship should be according to the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] - the Jew's practical guide in life. If the relationship is, indeed, in keeping with it, the purpose of this letter will be to strengthen and deepen it, as there is always room for improvement in all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvoth [commandments]. On the other hand, if it is not quite what it should be, I trust that, since the Torah is surely "a lamp unto your feet," you will bring it up to the desired level, and you will do it with joy and gladness of heart.

The central aspect in the manner of conducting a Jewish home and family life is that it has to be based on the way of the Torah, "whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace." If this rule applies to all activities of a Jew, even outside the home, how much more so does it apply within the home itself!

Of course, since G-d has created human beings with minds and feelings of their own and these are not uniform in all people, peace and harmony can be achieved only on the basis of "give and take," that is, meeting each other half way. For a husband and wife to make concessions to each other is not, and should not be considered, a sacrifice, G-d forbid. On the contrary, this is what the Torah teaches and expects, for we are talking about concessions that do not involve compromise in regard to the fulfillment of mitzvoth, and both of you are of the same mind that the laws of the Shulchan Aruch must not be compromised.

Furthermore, to achieve true peace and harmony calls for making such concessions willingly and graciously - not grudgingly, as if it were a sacrifice, as mentioned above, but in the realization that it is for the benefit of one's self and one's partner in life, and for one's self perhaps even more, since it is made in fulfillment of G-d's Will. And if our Sages exhort every Jew "to receive every person with a friendly face," certainly it applies to one's wife or husband.

There are many sayings of our Sages, as well as those of our Rebbes, urging husband and wife always to discuss matters of mutual concern, and to give patient attention to the opinion of the other and then act in mutual agreement. It is also very desirable that they should have at least one regular study period in a section of Torah which is of interest to both, such as the weekly Torah portion, or a timely subject connected with a particular season or festival.

While the major obligation to study Torah is incumbent on men, it has been emphasized that women, too, have to fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study in areas where they are directly involved, as explained in the laws of Torah study. All the more so in the present day and age when women have the possibility - hence the obligation - to do their share of spreading Judaism no less than men.

It may sometimes appear difficult for the husband to take time out from his preoccupations in order to discuss mutual problems with his wife, or study Torah with her, but he should not look at it as a sacrifice. On the contrary, he should do it eagerly in fulfillment of a most important mitzvah - sholom bayis - peace in the home. And if any mitzvah has to be carried out with joy, how much more so such a fundamental mitzvah.

Finally, I would like to add that of the mitzvah campaigns which have been emphasized in recent years, special attention has been focused on the mitzvah of ahavas Yisroel [the love of a fellow Jew], which embraces every Jew, even a stranger; how much more so a near and dear one.

I hope and pray that each of you will make every effort in the direction outlined above and will do so with real joy and gladness of heart, and may G-d grant that you should have true nachas [joy] - which is Torah nachas, from each other and jointly from your offspring, in happy circumstances materially and spiritually.

All Together

Although Hakhel in its original form can only be fulfilled in the Holy Temple, nevertheless, the spiritual role of Hakhel applies now also even more strongly. The women assume the major mission, to effect the spiritual theme of Hakhel in their own private Holy Temple. For in her house each woman is the foundation of the home and she makes that home a holy Sanctuary. Then, her husband and children will listen and observe all the words of the Torah.

(The Rebbe, 22 Elul, 1987)

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Shabbat, the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av, is known as Shabbat Nachamu for the Haftorah portion we read which begins, "Nachamu, Nachamu Ami - Comfort, I will comfort My People."

Our Sages have pointed out that the word "Nachamu" is stated twice for with the building of the Third Holy Temple, G-d will comfort us doubly for the destruction of the first and second Temples.

Jewish teachings further explain that the repetition of words in the Torah points to the unlimited quality of the matter being discussed.

Thus, the comfort that G-d offers us through his prophet in this week's Haftorah does not point to just a limited consolation for the destruction of the First and Second Temples; G-d is telling us that with the building of the Third Holy Temple in the Messianic Era, we will be comforted in a totally unlimited manner, when the revelation of G-dliness and Divine Knowledge will likewise be totally unlimited.

This Shabbat is also Tu B'Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, a day when many positive things occurred throughout Jewish history. The 15th of Av is also the day on which we are encouraged to begin increasing in our Torah study, since, on the 15th of Av the nights become longer - nights which can be used for Torah study.

In a talk on Shabbat Nachamu, the Rebbe once emphasized what form this Torah study should take:

"In general, the study of Chasidut is associated with the Redemption... in particular the function of this study as a catalyst for the Redemption is more powerful when the subject studied concerns that matter itself," i.e., matters concerning Moshiach and the Redemption.

May G-d comfort us not only doubly but in an infinite and unlimited manner with the revelation of Moshiach and the building of the Third Holy Temple, immediately.

Thoughts that Count

In the heavens above, and on the earth below (Deut. 4:39)

"In the heavens above" - in matters of the spirit - a person should always look to those who are on a higher, more advanced level, and strive to emulate them. As for material concerns ("on the earth below"), one should always look to those who have less, and be grateful and happy with what he already possesses.

(The Rebbe)

I stand between you and G-d (Deut. 5:5)

While this verse in Torah is a direct quote from Moses, the early Chasidim used to interpret it allegorically as follows: It is the "I" - man's ego and sense of self - that erects the barrier that separates him from G-d...

There are those who ask, "Why is it necessary to have a Rebbe? Can't one maintain his relationship with G-d independent of an intermediary?" The answer is that ever since the Giving of the Torah, it is necessary to have an intermediary like Moses, as the verse says, "I stand between you and G-d ," - and this must be through a rebbe. If not. . . our Sages tell us (Sanhedrin 110a) that whoever is "cholek" (contends) against his rebbe is as if he is "cholek" against the Divine Presence ["cholek " in Hebrew also means to separate]. If one does not have a connection to his rebbe, he not only separates himself from his rebbe, he is then not only lacking a component, but he also separates himself from the Divine Presence. And this is the same in every generation. There is a Moses in every generation, and by connecting to him we connect to the Divine Presence.

(Sichat Shabbat Parshat Shemini 5726)

It Once Happened

A young girl approached the rabbi of her village. With tears in her eyes she described her situation to the kindhearted rabbi. She was engaged, but her joy in her upcoming wedding was marred by the fact that she was an impoverished orphan, and her intended was also very poor. There was no money for a wedding gown or even a proper wedding feast.

The rabbi turned to her and said, "Don't worry, my child. With G-d's help we'll celebrate a fine wedding." The young girl went home, comforted by the rabbi's optimistic words.

No sooner had she left when the rabbi immediately donned his coat and set off to visit some of the wealthier members of the community to attempt to raise money for the wedding.

His first stop was at the home of a very wealthy and generous man, and the rabbi felt confident that he would find success there. When he arrived, the wealthy man greeted him warmly.

"Peace unto you, Rabbi," he said. "I am greatly honored by your visit. Please allow me to fulfill the mitzva of welcoming guests properly." With that, he offered the rabbi a seat and served him some fruit.

The rabbi pointed to the fruit and said, "While I enjoy the fruit that you have so kindly offered me, I want you to enjoy the fruit that I have brought."

The man looked puzzled, and the rabbi went on to explain:

"As we say in our morning prayers, 'These are the things, the fruits of which a man enjoys in this world and the remainder is held for him in the World to Come: Honoring one's father and mother, giving charity, hospitality, visiting the sick, endowering a bride...'

"You see, my friend, I am collecting money to enable a poor orphaned girl to get married, and I have come to offer you a chance to partake in this great mitzva (commandment) of endowering a bride."

His host smiled at him and replied, "If you will stay and enjoy some refreshments, I will take upon myself the full expense of the wedding, And if your time permits, I would like to tell you a story which will explain why I'm so eager to fulfill the mitzva of endowering a bride."

The rabbi was indeed curious to know what motivated his host to make such a generous offer, settled himself comfortably and listened intently to the man's story.

"This happened soon after my own wedding had taken place. It was my first time heading out to the market to seek my fortune. I had a substantial amount of money in my pocket, and I was eager to get involved in the noise and excitement of trading in the marketplace.

"As I was about to get started, I noticed a poor woman standing off to the side, crying quietly. I was greatly affected by her obvious distress, and went over to her to uncover the cause of her sorrow. When I inquired as to what was wrong, she informed me that her daughter was to be married shortly, and she had no money to cover the expenses, and both she and her daughter were heartbroken.

"At that moment, the bundle of money in my pocket began to feel like a heavy burden. I took it out and handed it to the woman without saying a word, and then I left quickly before the woman could even thank me.

"I had no choice but to return home, as I had no money to purchase goods in the marketplace. As I made my way home, a stranger stopped me and greeted me warmly, and then he offered me some diamonds for sale. As my father had been a diamond merchant, I was able to examine the stones competently, and I judged them to be beautiful stones offered at a fair price. I told the stranger that I would be happy to purchase them, but I had no money.

"The stranger didn't seem surprised by that, and he said, 'I knew your father, and I know you to be an honest man. Take them on credit, and when you resell them you can pay me back. You will be able to find me in the study hall.'

"I had no problem selling the stones at a substantial profit. At the end of the day I hurried to the study hall to pay back my debt. I searched the study hall, but the stranger was nowhere to be found. When I arrived home, I calculated my earnings, and they were ten times what I had given that poor woman. I put the money aside, but I have not seen him since. Since then, I have, thank G-d, been very successful, and I have always been aware of the importance of this mitzva. Permit me then, rabbi, to arrange the wedding of the orphaned bride in my home."

With that, the wealthy man handed the rabbi an additional sum of money to pay for the wedding gown and to cover additional expenses of setting up a home.

The wedding was celebrated amidst great joy and festivity, and the young couple was able to set up a true Jewish home which was the pride of the community.

Reprinted from Talks and Tales, published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch

Moshiach Matters

"I besought G-d at that time, saying... 'Let me go over, I pray You, that I may see the good land' " (Deut. 3:23-25) Why did Moses so desire to enter the land? The Jewish people have been given many commandments that can only be done in the Land of Israel. Let me therefore enter the land so that they can all be performed through me," he reasoned, as related in the Talmud. Moses' motivation was not personal. Rather, had Moses merited to accompany the Jewish people into Israel, the final Redemption would have occurred immediately, without the necessity of having to endure subsequent exiles and wait several thousand more years for Moshiach.

(The Rebbe, 1986)

  1434: Devarim1436: Eikev  
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