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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

May 3, 2019 - 28 Nisan, 5779

1570: Achrei Mos

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

  1569: Passover1571: Kedoshim  

Bon Mots of Life  |  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

Bon Mots of Life

Life is full of those little truisms that we hear as children and play back as adults. Recorded in books like Life's Little Instruction Book and P.S. I Love You, sprinkled throughout The Reader's Digest and gathering dust in The Farmer's Almanac, pithy sayings and bons mots can do more than just make us smile or send us running for a pen and paper to write it down and hang it on the refrigerator.

If someone were to ask you, "What's your motto in life?" or "What are your golden rules for living?" how would you respond?

Perhaps by familiarizing ourselves with one of the treasure-stores of Jewish wisdom, Pirkei Avot - Chapters of the Sages, we can each find our own special saying that "fits like a glove."

(On the long Shabbat afternoons, from after Passover until Rosh Hashana, it is customary to continue our study of Pirkei Avot which was begun in the spring.)

Many of the teachings of our Sages in this guide to Jewish living are preceded by the words "He used to say..." One commentator points out that most of the Sages quoted said many, many things, some much more famous than the quoted teaching. However, "he used to say" tips us off to the fact that what is recorded in Pirkei Avot for that particular Sage was his motto in life, the slogan he lived by and with on a daily basis.

For instance, Joshua ben Perachaya used to say, "Judge every person favorably." The great Sage Hillel said, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah." Hillel also made the famous statement: "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

Shammai, Hillel's colleague, said, "Receive every person with a cheerful countenance."

Shimon ben Gamliel said, "There is nothing better for one's person than silence" and "not study but practice is the essential thing."

Rabban Gamliel said, "Do not say, 'When I will have free time I will study [Torah],' for perhaps you will never have free time." He also used to say, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man [i.e., mentsch]." This is just a sprinkling of the many insightful saying one will find when perusing Pirkei Avot.

To acquire a motto for life, one needn't create an original or innovative saying. Your "saying" already exists for, as the wise King Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun." It is waiting to be personalized and stamped by you with your individual and distinctive character. But first, you must find it.

"Learn it and learn it, for everything is within it," is Ben Bag Bag's bon mot as recorded in Pirkei Avot. He was referring to the Torah, in all its glory.

Studying Pirkei Avot at this time of year is one of the ways we can "learn it" and find "within it" a motto for life that will truly bring life. For, as it says in Proverbs, "It is a tree of life for all who hold onto it."

Living with the Rebbe

The Haftora that we read together with the Torah portion of Acharei is a prophecy from Amos. G-d says that we are like the children of Ethiopia to Him, and that he took us out of Egypt. Then He speaks of the destruction of the sinful kingdom (the kingdom of Efraim - the Ten Northern Tribes), but He promises that He will not wipe out the house of Jacob. He continues to say that He will spread us among all the nations, but we will remain the Jewish people, "just as a pebble shakes back and forth in a sieve, but does not fall to the ground." Meaning, though we will bounce around the whole world, we will retain our connection to G-d.

Then the Haftora starts to speak of the Redemption. The two Jewish kingdoms will be reunited under the rebuilt monarchy of David. The nations that wished to destroy us will instead serve us. There will be an abundance of food. Our destroyed cities will be rebuilt, and we will inhabit them eternally.

The Haftora then turns speaks of Moshiach. G-d says, "On that day, I will erect David's fallen sukka." What is David's fallen sukka? The simple meaning is that the kingdom of David will be reestablished. The Talmud tells us that Moshiach is called "bar Nafli" - the son of nofel (fallen). A nofel is a baby who dies before turning one month. Why is Moshiach called "bar Nafli?" Because David, who is the father of Moshiach, was preordained to live only three hours. However, Adam gave 70 years of his life to David.

On a deeper level, David's fallen sukka refers to us the Jewish people, who from the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, until the end of the First Temple era, had a close and open relationship with G-d. But now we have fallen into exile, where we don't experience an open relationship with G-d, it is only with great effort that we feel anything at all.

On an even deeper level, the "fallen sukka" refers to the Shechina - G-d's presence in this world - which went with us into exile. Meaning that instead of the Shechina affecting us from above, inspiring us, as it did before the exile now the Shechina is found in the most physical things, and it is up to us to uncover the G-dliness through our Torah study and mitzvot observance.

There is a chapter of Psalms known as "Ashrei" that we recite thrice daily in our prayers. Ashrei has verses that start with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet except for the letter Nun. This is because Nun stands for nofelim, the fallen. However if you look closely, you will find that Nun is included in the very next verse that begins with the next letter, Samach: "Somech Hashem l'chol ha'nofelim, - G-d supports all of the fallen." Instead of having a verse about how we have fallen, we have a verse of how G-d supports us when we are down. Because especially in the darkness of exile, when we feel so down and lost, G-d is holding us and supporting us.

May our efforts bring the ultimate redemption when we will merit to see the prophecies of this Haftora come true, now!

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

A Slice of Life

An Angel
by Rabbi Levi Welton

Recently, my wife Chavi and I decided to visit my folks in Sacramento, California. We picked a random Shabbat to go out there and went to the local Chabad for services. An out-of-town family was also there that Shabbat celebrating their daughter's Bat Mitvza. We stayed for the Kiddush and the dynamic Rabbi Mendy Cohen led the entire community in singing, Torah inspiration and some hearty l'chaims. The celebration continued until late in the afternoon.

At some point, I asked Chaim Valencia, the father of the Bat Mitzva girl where they originally came from and he told me he was from Mexico City and had converted to Judaism many years ago (before he had his kids). "So why'd you pick your Hebrew name of Chaim?"

He told me that he had once spent a Friday night Shabbat service at a synagogue in Westchester back when he was just starting out on his spiritual journey.

One of his rabbis had told him that if he ever met a Holocaust survivor, he should remember these words: "A Holocaust survivor who doesn't believe in G-d is a normal person. A Holocaust survivor who does, is an angel."

During that Friday service, they were dancing around welcoming the holiness of the "Shabbat Queen" when he looked down at the arm of the person he was holding hands with and saw tattooed numbers. He felt overwhelmed that he was dancing with an angel and couldn't control the urge to ask the man his name. The old man smiled and said "Chaim." From that moment on, this man from Mexico City decided that when it came the time to pick his Hebrew name, he would name himself after the angel he was lucky to dance with. Years past and he never saw the man again.

I stopped smiling and asked this father, "Is his name Chaim Grossman?"

His mouth dropped. "How do you know that?"

I told him I was the rabbi of the Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers, New York, and that Mr. Grossman is a member of our synagogue. He survived Buchenwald, went on to serve in the IDF Air Force, and then immigrated to America and settled in Westchester.

This father began to cry. He hadn't even known Chaim Grossman was still alive. I leaned close to him and told him that Chaim Grossman was very much alive and that I would be seeing him the following Shabbat. We took the photo above (after Shabbat) as Chaim Valencia wanted to send his love to his "godfather."

The next Shabbat, I asked Chaim Grossman to sit in the center of the shul as I began my sermon. I told him that 3,000 miles away there lived a man that carried his name and who was raising his family to follow in the ways of G-d.

"This is incredulous!" I said, "What is the mathematical probability that on the exact Shabbat, the ONLY Shabbat in the entire year, that my wife and I would fly out there, it would be the same Shabbat as his daughter's Bat Mitzvah? What are the chances that after four hours of celebrating, we would have that conversation about the origin of his name?

"And what are the chances that the Shabbat that I would return to New York City to tell this story to his namesake would be when we would begin reading the second book of the Torah Shemot (which is mistranslated as "Exodus" but which actually means "Names"). The entire second book of the Five Books of Moses is called "Names" because our sages teach us that one of the ways our ancestors broke free of their slavery was by keeping their Jewish names!" As I looked out at the crowd, I kept repeating "What are the chances?!!"

And then I pulled out the above photo, printed and framed, and looked Chaim in the eye. As he raised his numbered arm to receive the photo of his "godson," everyone began to cry. You see, Chaim had never been blessed with any children. And yet now he had a proud Jew halfway around the world who was carrying his name and who would pass it on to his children's children.

I will never forget the moment when Chaim stood up and blessed G-d. I will never forget the roar of approbations that followed.

And I will never forget the image of this holy Holocaust survivor Chaim holding tightly the framed photo of a miracle. As Albert Einstein once said "Coincidence is G-d's way of remaining anonymous."

I had thought I was going to California on vacation but I was really being sent on a mission to witness the lesson of "Chaim" which means "Life." As the Talmud Taanit 5b says "If our descendants are alive, then our ancestors are alive."

Chaim Grossman and Chaim Valencia have been in touch since then and the story goes on. L'Chaim - "to Life"!

What's New

Seder-to-Go a Hit

The Seder-to-Go kit, produced by Chabad on Call, was given out this year in the thousands. The kit was designed to bring a complete seder to Jewish patients, including all necessary food and supplies, in an elegantly designed and easily distributed package. Each kit included a seder guide, Seder Plate placemat, labeled containers for the seder plate items, Hebrew/English Haggada, matza bag, and a cute plastic frog.

4D Pesach Experience

A most important teaching of the Passover Hagada is that we must view ourselves as if we had been personally freed from slavery in Egypt. 180 Chabad Houses around the world, from Denmark to Hong Kong took part in the 4D Pesach Experience, created by CKids. The program blended learning through seeing, hearing, feeling, and doing, in an aim to give kids an interactive way of understanding the history of Pesach.

The Rebbe Writes

24 Nissan, 5738 [1978]
A.L. Mo.

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter with enclosure. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in letting me know that you enjoy reading the "Thought of the Week." Inasmuch as these thoughts are based on Torah, which declares that "the essential thing is the deed," I trust that they have an impact, in some measure at least, on the actual daily life and conduct of the readers.

Moreover, since the mitzvah [commandment] of v'ohavto lre'acho komocho [love your fellow as yourself] is the Great Principle of our Torah, you surely endeavor to be a good influence in your surroundings, especially in view of the fact that you have a special standing in the society as a "Dr." For it is a matter of common experience that when a person is prominent in a certain field, his influence extends also in other circles.

With regard to the problem of marriage which is the main subject of your letter, suggesting that when two people have good feelings towards one another there is no compelling reason why they should bind themselves by formal marriage and "legal agreement," etc.

I trust it is unnecessary to explain to you at length that a human being is essentially different from the lower species, though he has certain needs in common with them, such as eating and drinking, etc. Hence, whereas in the case of the animal world these are purely instinctual functions, a human being is expected to elevate even his natural needs to a higher level of G-dliness, as expressed also in the dictum, "Know Him (G-d) in all your ways," this is to say, whatever a Jew does it should be sanctified with G-dliness; which is why a Jew recites a benediction not only before doing a mitzvah, but also before eating and drinking, etc.

Certainly, when it comes to human feelings and personal relationship toward another person, it is not only unbecoming to place such a relationship on the level of the animal world, but the Torah strictly forbids it.

In your letter you speak of marriage in terms of a "legal contract," etc. but surely you know that in the Torah and in Jewish life, marriage is designated as "Kiddushin" - a holy and sanctified union. Be it noted that since the Jewish people and every individual Jew became a "Hoy Nation" on receiving the Torah and mitzvos, there are many aspects in Jewish life that are not explicitly termed "kiddushin" - though all are to be sanctified to G-d (as mentioned above). Yet precisely marriage has so been termed and the formal declaration of the marriage ceremony is "Harei at mekudeshes li" - "Be thou sanctified unto me."

All this goes to emphasize the sublime nature of the relationship between man and woman in Jewish life, which has its true expression in marriage "in accordance with the Law of Mosheh v'Yisroel [Moses and Israel]."

This is why I must take the strongest exception - and I trust you will not take it amiss - to the view on marriage which you seem to advocate, which is based on a total misconception.

I am confident that on reflection, you will fully agree with all the aforesaid, notwithstanding how lightly marriage may be considered in the outside world - a world that is, sad to say, not noted for the excellence of it moral and ethical standards.

To conclude on the note of Pesach, the Festival of Our Liberation" which we have just celebrated, it is pertinent to mention that one of the reasons why our Jewish people were able to survive their enslavement in Egypt as a distinct people was the sanctity of their married life and the raising of their children in the way of G-d - even in the midst of a pagan and morally most depraved society. These were the children, as our Sages tell us, who proclaimed "This is my G-d!" and ensured the continuity and eternity of our Jewish people as a "Kingdom of Kohanim and a Holy Nation."

With blessing,

All Together

MENASHE is from the Hebrew meaning "causing to forget." Menashe was the first-born son of Josef (Genesis 41:51). With the birth of his son, Menashe, Josef was able to "forget" his hard work in Egypt and the pain he experienced at not being in his father's home. In the traditional blessing with which a father blesses his son, we say "May G-d make you like Efrayim and Menashe." MAZAL is Hebrew meaning "constellation." It also has the connotation of fortune or luck, as in the phrase "Mazal Tov" - congratulations.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Thursday evening, the eve of 28 Nissan, 1991, began with an ordinary weekday evening service at 770 Eastern Parkway, World Lubavitch Headquarters. The Rebbe began to deliver what appeared to be a regular talk. After a short time, however, everything changed. In tones of intense clarity the Rebbe addressed everyone directly, and most unusually, in the second person. This was a cry from the heart.

The Rebbe's words were highly charged: "What more can I do to motivate the entire Jewish people to clamor and cry out, and thus actually bring about the coming of Moshiach?.... All that I can possibly do is to give the matter over to you. Now, do everything you can to bring Moshiach, here and now, immediately.... I have done whatever I can: from now on, you must do whatever you can...."

Stunned, people around the world began to mobilize. On the following Shabbat the Rebbe clarified his intent, and emphasized that he was advocating concrete activity within the reach of everyone:

"Every man, woman and child has an individual responsibility to work to bring about Moshiach's coming. No one else can shoulder this burden for him; his own efforts and energy are needed. Each of us must prepare for the coming of Moshiach by increasing his study of the Torah and enhancing his performance of its commandments, in a beautiful and conscientious manner....

"In particular, we should devote our energies to the study of the mystical dimensions of the Torah as they are revealed in the teachings of Chasidut. Disseminating these teachings - internalizing them within our own personalities and teaching them to others - brings the coming of Moshiach closer.

"More specifically, our study should center on the subject of Moshiach himself and on the future Redemption, particularly, as these topics are developed in the discourses and published talks of the Nasi - leader - of our generation."

Let's do our part and bring Moshiach NOW!

Thoughts that Count

On the tenth day of the seventh month you shall afflict yourselves. (Lev. 16:29).

The Apter Rav author of Ohev Yisrael used to say: "Were I only to have the authority I would annul all the fast days on the Jewish calendar with two exceptions. Those are the Ninth of Av, date of the destruction of the Temple - for who can eat on such a day - and Yom Kippur (the tenth day of the seventh month), the holiest day of the year - for who needs to eat on such a day?"

Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow any of their customs. (Lev 18:3)

This verse is not exhorting us concerning transgressions; those are detailed later. Rather, it is informing us concerning the actions and deeds which are permitted; they must be performed in a different manner from the non-Jewish people in Egypt and Canaan. Even our eating and sleeping should be done in a Jewish way.

(Siftei Emet)

Keep my decrees and laws, since it is only by keeping them that a man can truly live. (Lev. 18:5)

The Torah spells the word "otam" - them, without the usual vav, leaving only the letters of the word "emet" - truth. This indicates that if one makes truth the byword and mainstay of his life, he is guaranteed to see the fulfillment of the end of the verse, "He shall live by them." For clinging to truth is a special blessing for long life.

(Degel Machane Efrayim)

It Once Happened

Rabbi Shmuel, who is known by the acronym of his name, the Rebbe Maharash, was the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch and the youngest of the nine children of the third Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek.

The saying which became identified with the Rebbe Maharash's name is "L'chat'chila Ariber," meaning that when one encounters obstacles, one should immediately seek to rise above them.

He said, "The world says that when you cannot go under it (around the problem), then you should rise above it, and I say, 'L'Chat'chila Ariber' - the first approach should be to go above it."

In other words, no obstacle should be considered too big, and whatever you do, do it as if you are in a position of power and command. Indeed, this approach characterized his whole approach to life and communal leadership.

The Rebbe Maharash had a style which was noteworthy in its expansiveness and opulence. This lifestyle and corresponding conduct marked his personality even before he assumed leadership. He lived affluently and performed extraordinary miracles.

The Tzemach Tzedek used to place a gold coin on the table while he studied Torah.He explained that it is in the nature of a person to feel good and broad-minded when he sees gold; thus, the mind is more capable of grasping a concept on a deeper level.

Although such an incident is cited only once in the life of the Tzemach Tzedek, this was a guiding concept for Rebbe Shmuel, throughout his life. This "broadness" of style was characteristic of him and his Divine service throughout his lifetime.

Two years after the Rebbe Maharash assumed leadership, his entire house burned down.

He ordered that it be rebuilt three times its original size, and in a space of time considered to be impossible. It was, indeed, finished in the specified time.

Not many details of this palatial dwelling are known, but we do know that there were five doors leading from the dining room to the outside. It had an enormous crystal chandelier, lit by thirteen kerosene lamps. Most of the utensils were made of silver and gold.

The room where the Chasidim met was lit by six candelabrums, each having twelve candles.

All of this extreme opulence, however, was not for the personal pleasure of the Rebbe, but in order to serve G-d in a manner which would impress the oppressive Russian government and induce them to treat the Jews with respect.

It is known that the Ruzhiner Rebbe wore shoes that were golden on top, but had bottoms with holes. This shows that such tzadikim, whose service entailed a detail of great wealth, were themselves, completely humble before G-d.

The gentile coachman of the Rebbe once told the Chasidim, "I don't understand your Rebbe. He is so rich, and yet every time I take him in his coach (which was worth the princely sum of 300 rubles) for a ride to the forest - which is almost every day - as soon as he is out of sight, he sits on the ground and cries out to G-d as if he was a pauper."

His unique approach was also seen in his dealings with the Russian government. The Rebbe Maharash was always very outspoken and bold when relating to government. He believed that the government should not assist the Jews out of pity; rather, he demanded that they help, and explained that it was to their own benefit to aid the Jews. As a result of his attitude to them, the Russian government was not well-disposed toward the Rebbe Maharash.

Toward his final years, when violent pogroms overtook the Jews of Russia, the Rebbe Maharash spoke out very strongly against the violence. Even though the government admonished him for his actions and words, (he requested other governments to pressure the Russians) and threatened him with imprisonment, the pogroms stopped after he spoke out.

In fact, so harshly did he speak to the Russian Minister of the Interior that the Rebbe's health was adversely affected for two months after.

When his doctor complained that he should not have made himself ill, the Rebbe Maharash replied that it is the entire essence of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim to endure any consequence to help the Jewish nation.

This approach of "L'chatchila Ariber" by the Rebbe Maharash reinforced the Jewish belief that no matter how hopeless a situation appears to be, we must never abandon hope. Instead, we must proceed in each situation, knowing that with G-d's help it is possible to overcome all obstacles.

Adapted from "The Rebbeim" by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon

Moshiach Matters

With this - bezot - Aaron shall come into the holy place (Lev. 16:3) The Hebrew word "bezot" has the numerical equivalent of 410, alluding to the 410 years of the First Holy Temple's existence. But why would Moses tell the Jewish people that the Temple would exist for only a specific time? What is to be gained by predicting this tragedy? Rather, Moses' intent was not to dishearten. On the contrary, he informed the Jewish people that it was in their power to prevent the sad event. Proper behavior would confer eternity to the first Holy Temple and preclude any exile. Now, too, it is up to us. Our present conduct can rid us of the exile. Our actions can hasten the coming of Moshiach and the establishment of the Third Holy Temple, which will stand forever.

(Peninei HaGeula)

  1569: Passover1571: Kedoshim  
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