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Devarim Deutronomy

July 7, 2017 - 13 Tamuz, 5777

1479: Balak

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

Text VersionFor Palm Pilot
  1478: Chukas1480: Pinchas  

Reflections on Independence  |  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

Reflections on Independence

Not only is the red, white and blue of the American flag a fine symbol of patriotism, it also symbolizes the freedom and independence for which the Founding Fathers of the United States fought so tirelessly over two hundred years ago.

If you questioned a cross-section of people on how they define freedom, you would undoubtedly get a wide range of answers. Freedom to a typical teenager is totally different from the "freedom" of a parent whose children have all left home. And neither of these definitions will have much in common with freedom as defined by someone who emigrated from the former Soviet Union when it was still a communist country.

In Ethics of the Fathers Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi discusses how one can become a truly free person: through studying the Torah. He quotes the verse: "The Tablets [with the Ten Commandments] were the word of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d engraved ('charut') on the Tablets." Says Rabbi Yehoshua, "Do not read 'charut' but 'cheirut' ('freedom'), for there is no free person except one who occupies himself with the study of Torah."

"What?" one might ask incredulously. "How can you call a 'religious' Jew who learns and lives Torah free? Isn't he anything but free? His life is filled with so many do's and don'ts. "And," the person adds in a whisper, almost conspiratorially, "aren't rules made to be broken? No," such a person might conclude, shaking his head emphatically, "true freedom means being able to do whatever you want whenever you want."

A cursory look each day at the front page of any newspaper or a glance at a network news program will quickly highlight the fallacy of such statements. For we are living in times when rules are constantly broken, where people do whatever they want, whenever they want. And we are anything but free.

Before we enter our car to return home each night from work, we check the back seat. We buckle up to save ourselves as much from a fluke accident as from drunk or drug-crazed drivers. We reset the car alarm upon arriving home and open the door that has been double-or triple-locked. This is freedom? It's certainly not the freedom envisaged by the Founding Fathers of the United States who came to these shore because they wanted freedom - freedom to practice their religion as they saw fit.

According to the Midrash, if you fill your life with spiritual pursuits, your soul will not be "enslaved" to your body. And even those material needs that the body does have become elevated through one's spiritual service.

In the words of Rabbi Nechunya in Ethics of the Fathers, "Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah - the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly cares are removed from him..."

A person who involves himself in Torah, says the Maharal of Prague, elevates himself above the cares and concerns of this physical world and is freed from the natural order of the universe. Thus, though a person needs a livelihood in order to live, the "yoke" of making a living is removed from him; it is put in G-d's "hands" and comes more easily.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Balak, we read how Balak and Bilaam schemed to curse the Jewish people. G-d protected them, not allowing Bilaam to curse the Jews; instead Bilaam blessed them and eventually prophecized the coming of Moshiach. The Torah portion concludes on the "low note" of the Jewish people getting involved in indecency and immodesty.

The weekly Haftora reading from the prophets is always connected to the essential themes of the Torah portion.

In the Haftora, Micah prophecizes about things that will happen with the coming of Moshiach. Then, he brings the plaint of G-d to the Jewish people. "What have I done for you... I brought you up from Egypt... from a house of slavery. I redeemed you... I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam... remember please what Balak advised and what Bilaam answered him... So you can know the righteous acts of G-d..." The Haftora concludes with Micah saying G-d doesn't care for grandiose gestures, rather, "He has told you... what is good and what G-d demands of you, only to do justice, to love loving-kindness and to walk modestly with G-d."

The Torah portion and Haftora both have two themes: G-d affording us safety and protection, and the coming of Moshiach. And at the end of the portion and Haftora we are conveyed the key as to how to receive these gifts.

In Balak, we see that our failure to keep the commandments and a lack of modest conduct, caused us to lose our protection.

The Haftora conveys this in a positive, proactive way. It gives us three rules to follow:

Do justice - which means to keep G-d's laws, mitzvot (commandments), etc.

Love loving-kindness - In Torah language, love is not a feeling, it is an act. Here it means to do acts of loving-kindness.

To walk modestly with G-d - to be aware of G-d's presence. When one is aware of G-d's presence, it is more than belief. Being aware means our relationship with G-d has reached a point where you know He is there, He is real to you. This changes the way you do things. The way you talk, act, dress and even think become more refined, because G-d is part of your reality.

These three things are who we are; it is the definition of acting and living Jewishly. When we get away from our essential selves, we lose our protection, because G-d wants to protect us, not someone whom we are copying.

Becoming who we are meant to be by living according to these three principals - keeping G-d's laws, doing acts of loving-kindness and making G-d part of our reality - is the key to bringing Moshiach as prophesied in our portion. May he come 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

Bar Mitzva In the Sky
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

A close friend and community member was getting married in Israel and I very much wanted to be there to share in the joy of his simcha. But oy! The 10-hour flight, not to mention all the time spent waiting in lines and going through security, was enough to make me reconsider. I vacillated for a few days, but in the end I decided to go. I booked an in-and-out flight, giving myself just 20 hours on the ground in Israel, which meant I could be back with my family for Shabbat.

My departing flight was a day-time flight, so after the seat-belt sign was turned off, I began walking the aisles looking for tefillin "customers." "Excuse me sir, are you Jewish?" I convinced 15 people to do the mitzva of tefillin right there on the airplane, culminating in a Bar Mitzva for one of them - Mark, who had never put on tefillin before in his life.

Mark was flying on a birthright trip together with about 40 others. I explained to them that while I've performed many Bar Mitzvas over the years, this would be the very first at 30,000 feet above ground!

I asked the flight attendant, who is also a close friend, for some whiskey. We said l'chaim, sang some songs, and celebrated in style.

My favorite moment was when one of Mark's friends, after seeing me run around the plane asking people to put on tefillin and getting into some intense conversations along the way, said to me, "Rabbi, you don't really have a wedding in Israel, do you? You just like to ride the plane back and forth for the tefillin thing." If only she knew how much I detest travelling! But it was all worth it, for the wedding I got to attend, as well as all the tefillin moments along the way.

We are all travelers, journeying through this transient world. This is the message of this week's parsha, when the Torah describes the Jewish people's journeys through the desert. Every day is a journey, every moment a priceless lesson that we should treasure. Every day of that journey, everywhere we go, we should search for the opportunity to create meaningful moments and encounters, so that we live each day to its fullest. Every moment wasted is one we can never recoup.

And oh, the flight ended up being so much fun. Hope the passengers enjoyed it as much as I did.

We said goodbye to Yarin Ashkenazi who we hosted for 10 days as a guest on our Belev Echad trip.

Yarin is a sergeant in the Givati Brigade and he was injured 18 months ago when a terrorist rammed his car into him at 70 miles an hour. Yarin was able to shoot at the car, causing it to overturn, but it still crashed into him, injuring him severely in the head and legs. The terrorist then exited his car and went after the other soldiers with an axe. Fortunately, one of the other soldiers was able to shoot and neutralize him, preventing more injuries and deaths.

At the end of the week, I asked Yarin what had been the highlight of his trip. I assumed he would choose the helicopter ride, motorcycle trip, or one of New York's famous tourist attractions, but he surprised me by choosing our visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Ohel in Queens.

"It was a very moving experience," he explained.

"What did you pray for?" I asked.

"I prayed for a blessing to be strong in Torah and mitzvot."

"Did it work?"

"Yes! For the first time since my injury, here on the Belev Echad trip, I kept Shabbat fully! I did not answer my phone or check my emails. I kept Shabbat 100%."

I was astounded!

Here is a man who has suffered tremendously over the last year and a half. When he arrived at the hospital after the attack, the doctor's tried to revive him three times without success. The head doctor indicated they would try once more before giving up, and it was that final time that brought him back to life. After that he had to undergo tremendously risky surgery, where the doctors reattached his skull. He had to re-learn how to walk, talk, eat, laugh, smile, and perform basic daily functions that every child knows how to do.

And when presented with the opportunity to pray at the Rebbe's grave and ask for a blessing, what does he choose? He asks for strength in Torah and mitzvot!

On Simchat Torah 49 years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe told a story. He had received a letter from a young student in Russia, who was stuck behind the iron curtain, persecuted for being Jewish. In the letter, he asked the Rebbe to bless him with the ability to properly focus on his prayers.

As he told the story, the Rebbe cried profusely. The boy did not beg for an easier life. Even though he was suffering tremendously in Russia, he didn't beg for freedom. All he asked was for help in serving G-d better.

I think the Rebbe received another such letter from Yarin last week!

Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in NYC. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at

What's New

Unique Convention

Recently in the city of Girona, Spain, 48 shluchim (emissaries) to 25 small countries in Europe and Central Africa gathered together to participate in the first ever conference of its kind. Regional Conference of Emmissaries of its kind. While the annual Shluchim Conference each winter at World Lubavitch Headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, attracts thousands of emissaries, this special Conference was organized specifically for emissaries tending to Jewish communities that are very small or remote.

Torahs on Loan

The Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach, in conjunction with Merkos suite 302, the Jaffa Family Foundation and the Gross Family Foundation have acquired and loaned out eight more Torahs this month. The locations that have received the Torahs are; Chabad of Almere, Netherlands; The Nun Daled Shul; Chabad of Croatia; Chabad of South Dakota; Chabad of North Dakota; Chabad of Northeast Portland; Chabad of Nanaimo, Canada; Chabad House center of KC Kansas.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe addressed to "all campers in summer camps, everywhere," written three months before the Yom Kippur War.

Tammuz 5733 [1973]

I hope and pray that you are making the fullest use of the present summer days to gain new strength and strengthen your health - both the health of the body and the health of the soul, which are closely linked together. And since the health of the soul is bound up with the Torah, which is "our very life and the length of our days," and with its mitzvos (commandments), "by which the Jew lives," you are surely doing your utmost in regard to Torah study and the observance of the mitzvot; in which case you may be certain for the fulfillment of the promise - "Try hard, and you will succeed."

I wish to emphasize one point in particular, in connection with the forthcoming "Three Weeks." You are, no doubt, familiar with the events and significance of these days. The point is this:

I want you to consider carefully the special merit which Jewish children have, a privilege which affects our entire Jewish people, to which King David refers in the following words: "Out of the mouths of babes and infants You have ordained strength - still the enemy and avenger" - including also the enemy that has caused the "Three Weeks" and still seeks vengeance to this day. In other words, the way to vanquish and silence the enemy is through the study of the Torah, called "strength" (oz), by the mouths of young children. Indeed, so great is their power, that our Sages of blessed memory declare: "The whole world exists only by virtue of the breath of little Jewish children, whose breath is pure and free of sin," referring to children who have not yet reached the age of responsibility for wronG-doing, that is, boys and girls of pre-Bar/Bat Mitzva age.

In this connection it is necessary to bear in mind the words of our Prophet Isaiah (in the first chapter): "Zion will be redeemed through justice (mishpat) and her returnees through righteousness (tzedaka)." "Mishpat," here, means that through the study of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvos [commandments], especially the mitzva of tzedaka [colloquilly charity], the Redemption is brought closer. And tzedaka - in the light of what has been said in the beginning of this letter - includes both tzedaka for the body and tzedaka for the soul. Tzedaka for the body is, simply, giving tzedaka to a poor man, or putting money in a tzedaka box. Tzedaka for the soul is done by helping one's classmates and friends spiritually - that is, to encourage them in matters of Torah and mitzvos, through showing them a living example of how Jewish boys and girls should conduct themselves, and also by talking to them about these things.

Since it is my strong wish, and also great pleasure, to be your partner in this tzedaka activity, I have sent out instructions to give each and every one of you a token amount of money in the currency of your country, which is to be my participation in the said tzedaka campaign.

May G-d bless each and every one of you and grant you success in all the above, especially in your Torah learning and practice of tzedaka, in a steadily growing measure, so that even when you return home from camp and throughout the next school-year (may it be a good one for all of us) you will - with renewed vigor and in good health, in body as well as in soul - go from strength to strength in your study of Torah with diligence and devotion, and that your studies be translated into deeds - in the practice of mitzvos with beauty; and all this should be carried out with joy and gladness of heart.

And may we all very soon, together with all our Jewish brethren, merit the fulfillment of the prophecy that these days of the Three Weeks be transformed from sadness into gladness and joy.

With the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach, "who will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth...and all the earth will be filled with G-d's Glory."

All Together

Unique Convention

Recently in the city of Girona, Spain, 48 shluchim (emissaries) to 25 small countries in Europe and Central Africa gathered together to participate in the first ever conference of its kind. Regional Conference of Emmissaries of its kind. While the annual Shluchim Conference each winter at World Lubavitch Headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, attracts thousands of emissaries, this special Conference was organized specifically for emissaries tending to Jewish communities that are very small or remote.

Torahs on Loan

The Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach, in conjunction with Merkos suite 302, the Jaffa Family Foundation and the Gross Family Foundation have acquired and loaned out eight more Torahs this month. The locations that have received the Torahs are; Chabad of Almere, Netherlands; The Nun Daled Shul; Chabad of Croatia; Chabad of South Dakota; Chabad of North Dakota; Chabad of Northeast Portland; Chabad of Nanaimo, Canada; Chabad House center of KC Kansas.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Tuesday is the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz. On that day, Moses descended from Mount Sinai and saw the Jewish people sinning with the Golden Calf, prompting him to break the Tablets of the Law. Years later, five calamitous occurrences befell our forefathers on the same date, beginning with the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and culminating with the destruction of the Holy Temple. (Both Temples were destroyed on the Ninth of Av.)

The Seventeenth of Tammuz begins the three-week period known as "Bein Hametzarim," literally "Between the Straits." It is a time of mourning when no weddings are scheduled and we refrain from listening to music.

At this time, when the loss of "G-d's Chosen House" is more keenly felt, it is customary to increase our learning about the Holy Temple. In the Written Torah, this involves studying Chapters 40-43 in the Book of Ezekiel, and in the Oral Torah (the Talmud), Tractates Tamid and Midot. Maimonides' "Laws of the Temple" are also studied during this period.

The Midrash relates that "The Holy One, Blessed Be He said: The study of it [the Temple] is as great as its building... Let them busy themselves studying the Temple's form, and I will consider it as if they are actively involved in its erection." Similarly, in a discussion of the sacrifices, the Talmud relates: "He who studies the laws of the sin-offering is considered as if he has offered one."

Studying the laws of the Holy Temple thus allows us to actively participate in rebuilding it, even during the exile.

It is also desirable to give extra charity during the Three Weeks, as it states, "Great is charity, for it brings the Redemption nigh."

In such a way Biblical prophecy will be realized: "Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and those that return to her with righteousness (literally 'charity')," for it is through "judgment" - the study of the Torah's laws - that Jerusalem will be redeemed, and the Jewish people will return to the Holy Land, in the merit of their charity.

Thoughts that Count

Rabbi Meir said: "Whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah for its own sake merits many things..." (Ethics 6:1)

The Hebrew word "osek," translated "occupies himself," is related to the Hebrew word for businessman, ba'al esek. A person's occupation with the study of Torah must resemble a businessman's preoccupation with his commercial enterprise. Just as a businessman's attention is never totally diverted from his business, the Torah should always be the focus of our attention.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. XVII)

Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said: "Each and every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth from Mount Horeb..." (Ethics 6:2)

Our souls exist on several planes simultaneously. This Heavenly Voice reverberates, and is "heard" by our souls as they exist in the spiritual realms. And this causes our souls as they are enclothed within our bodies to be aroused to repentance.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. IX)

Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created only for His glory; as it is stated, "Everything that is called by My name, it is for My glory that I created it; I have formed it, indeed, I have made it"; and it says, "The L-rd will reign for ever and ever." (Ethics 6:11)

Never fear, says our text: "The L-rd will reign for ever and ever." However dark and twisted the world seems today, however worse the mess and blunder of mankind seems to get, mankind moves on to its destiny. By a thousand ways we can hardly surmise, mankind inches forward to its "spiritual breakthrough," when "the L-rd will reign." That day will come. It is inherent in a creation that was wrought originally to bring Him glory.

(Ethics from Sinai, Rabbi Irving Bunim)

It Once Happened

Reb Wolf Kitzes, one of the most devoted and loyal followers of the Baal Shem Tov, had a burning desire to visit the holy land. He tried to push aside this desire because he did not wish to leave his saintly Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov. His yearning for the Land of Israel gave him no peace, though, so he decided to tell the Baal Shem Tov about it.

The Baal Shem Tov listened carefully and replied: "You should not go yet."

The reply was enough for Reb Wolf and he said no more.

But after some time, Reb Wolf again was haunted by his unquenchable thirst for the Holy Land, which drove him again to ask the Baal Shem Tov if he could go. The Baal Shem Tov would still not give him permission to go, so Reb Wolf would not travel to the Holy Land.

Reb Wolf allowed some time to elapse before he again approached the Baal Shem Tov, and finally the Baal Shem Tov agreed to give his consent for Reb Wolf to undertake the long and difficult trip.

Before leaving, the Baal Shem Tov said to Reb Wolf: "If anyone on the way asks you a question, think carefully before you reply."

Reb Wolf boarded the first ship sailing to the Holy Land.

One day the ship anchored at a small island. All the passengers disembarked and so did Reb Wolf. When it was time for the afternoon prayer, Reb Wolf found a quiet spot and began to pray. He got so carried away with his prayers, he failed to hear the ship's blast calling the passengers to return to the ship.

When Reb Wolf looked up, he suddenly realized with shock what had happened. The ship was disappearing in the distance and he was left behind. The inhabitants who had come to meet the boat also disappeared, and he found himself all alone on this desolate island.

"Don't be discouraged," he told himself. "Have faith in the Alm-ghty. He will not desert you, and everything will be all right."

Feeling thus encouraged, Reb Wolf set off to look for perhaps a Jew on this unknown island. But there was no sign of any human being. Suddenly, as he approached a forest, he noticed some smoke rising to the sky. There seemed to be no road or path to follow, but he made his way through the trees until he came upon a small hut.

He quickly knocked on the door and was delighted and relieved to see the door opened by a dignified, fine looking old Jew, who greeted him with a warm "Shalom." Reb Wolf breathed a sigh of relief. Thank G-d he was now out of danger. He told the Jew what had happened to him and his host assured him that there was no reason to be afraid. The island was not altogether uninhabited. There were people living on the island through not many. True, he was the only Jewish resident, and he, in fact, would not stay there very long.

"Ships pass here regularly," he said. "The island belongs to Turkey, and a Turkish officer and his soldiers take care that the island should be free of robbers and pirates. Don't worry, Reb Wolf," he continued "a ship will soon be here on route to the Holy Land and you will be able to continue your journey. In the meantime, the Sabbath is approaching and you are welcome to be my guest."

Reb Wolf was delighted with his good fortune. He wondered why his host, who was obviously a learned and G-d fearing Jew, was living here, without a family and also, how he knew his, Wolf's, name. But he didn't dare ask.

Shabbat passed very pleasantly. On the following day, a boat docked, and Reb Wolf thanked his gracious host for all his kindness.

Just before leaving, his host said to Reb Wolf: "You have travelled through Russia and Poland. How are the Jews living there in galut (exile)?

"Thank G-d," replied Reb Wolf, "The Alm-ghty takes care of them."

Reb Wolf was already aboard the ship when he suddenly remembered what the Baal Shem Tov had told him to think carefully before answering any question put to him by anyone on his way to the Holy Land. He was terribly upset to think that he had forgotten his Rebbe's advice and had answered his host without thought. He decided that at the next port of call he would disembark and wait for the first ship to take him back to the Baal Shem Tov.

Several weeks later, Reb Wolf presented himself to the Baal Shem Tov. Reb Wolf told the Baal Shem Tov everything that had happened and that because he had forgotten the Rebbe's advice, he immediately turned back. Now he humbly asked how he could correct his mistake. The Baal Shem Tov replied: "You, personally, have already paid for your mistake by returning home without seeing the Holy Land. Now I can tell you the rest of the story.

"Our Patriarch Abraham had complained to the Alm-ghty about his children and asked why He has kept them so long in exile, making them suffer so much.

"The Alm-ghty replied: 'It's not so bad. They don't suffer so in exile. If you want proof, ask a Jew who never lies and hear what he says. That Jew is Reb Wolf Kitzes. He only speaks the truth.'

"So it was arranged that our Abraham should be your host and the rest you know. Had you been thoughtful enough to add a few words about how much Jews long for Moshiach, and how ardently they pray daily, 'May our eyes behold your return to Zion in mercy...,' Moshiach might have already come by now."

Moshiach Matters

Traditionally, the prophecy of Bilaam is seen as a comparison between King David and Moshiach. At first glance, it would seem more appropriate to compare Moses and Moshiach, since both are redeemers of the Jewish people. However, Moses is unique in that he gave the Torah to the Jewish people. King David and Moshiach are comparable in a number of ways, especially that they enable the Jewish people to actually observe the Torah. The prophecy of Bilaam contains four parts; each part alludes to a different qualification shared by King David and Moshiach.

(From Reflections of Redemption by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)

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