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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
June 15, 2007 - 29 Sivan, 5767

974: Korach

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  973: Sh'lach975: Chukas  

Windows  |  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

Windows

by Tzvi Freeman

My mother, G-d bless her, told me there are men and women that come to this world, but stay above it. My mother's mother told stories of the tzadikim (righteous) of Baghdad, where she was born.

If your mother never told you these things, let me tell it to you now: A world without holy men and women is a house without windows. A tightly plastered cistern of a universe that offers no escape.

Of course, you could always paint pictures on the walls. Perhaps even illuminate them from behind. Or use mirrors, even a battery of television screens. You would imagine you see beyond while staring at your renditions of what is within.

And so we need our precious mothers and other pure souls of simple faith to tell us, "Don't be a fool. There are windows, and you can tell them easily from paintings on the wall."

Your mother may have told you this as well, as mine did: That the most important quality of a window is how there is nothing there. It shelters you, as a mother bird shelters her infants from the great blue sky for which they are not yet prepared. But it provides of itself only that which you need. If it screams out, "Here I am! I am a window! I am teaching you about the great outside!" it is a painting on the wall. A painting is a statement that someone felt a need to make. A window is no more than a passage of light.

There are windows and there are windows. Windows to the north, to the south. To the future, to the past. A window could be a lens, finely shaped without distortion, to magnify the details before you. Another window projects your vision to the details of the distant hills. Yet together, the many windows present a single, consistent view. One may show you the rain that bounces off its surface while the other filters the rays of the sun. One looks out over a magnificent precipice, while another to the truth of your own backyard. But together, it is all one view. Because all the windows share a single truth. The truth of what is there.

So too, all the holy men and women, they are all one. They receive from one another, passing down a holy fire that has never extinguished since they received it from Abraham and Sarah, and they from Noah and Na'amah, and they from Adam and Chava. From them we know what is beyond and where we are going, where we stand and what we must do to move ahead. Without them we might as well be those blind creatures who are born and die beneath the earth and never see the light of day. With the guidance of those holy souls, we look outside and know our journey, an amazing odyssey through a vast, fantastic cosmos.

I knew there must still be windows to our universe, that not all the shutters had been sealed. I found many paintings, perhaps a few apertures in the wall, but when I found a window I sat before it and soaked in its light, its warmth, its panorama. Its stunning revelation of what is. What is beyond and what is within - for the tiny capsule that held me had transformed as well.

Let me tell you about the Rebbe's words: They are not poems for the lips. They are not pretty ideas for intellectual games. They are not necessarily nice, nor particularly palatable. They are answers. They are meant to drive people into life with all they've got, squeezing out every moment and facing every challenge. To show purpose in each thing.

They are answers because they are for someone who has a question. Some-one who experiences life and comes up against brick walls, things that seem futile and pointless. They are meant to open windows, to shine light on each of those things and reveal its meaning.

Answers are never easy, they come to those who make room for them.

Eventually everybody asks, What now after the Rebbe has passed on?

First of all, you must know - even though it doesn't answer our question - that the Rebbe is still here with us. Just as a parent who leaves this world is still with his or her children - but much, much more so. Just as any tzadik, for whom death is no more than a passing from the confines of the body to a freedom to work within this world without such limitations. But even more so.

For a tzadik as transcendent as the Rebbe, none of the events of this world, not even death, effect any real change. His life is truth, and truth is constant. He guides those who are bound to him as he guided them before, and continues to channel light and blessing into our world and for those in need, as he always has. The only change is for us, that our flesh eyes looking out of a coarse world, cannot see a tzadik before them. And that is our question: How can we be expected to carry on with our window shades down?

The question is really a larger one: Where are all the tzadikim when we need them most? Once upon a time, people lived a simple life and had clear direction from their teachers and parents. They believed with simple faith that wonders and miracles could happen, and that G-d could speak with Man. What need did they have for tzadikim? Now, with our disillusion, confusion and apathy, now we need someone transcendent to show us that G-d is still possible. Yet now we are more alone than ever.

The answer is that each one of us must find our window now. The tzadik within. The place where the tzadik and the student are no longer two beings.

That is the whole purpose. For all of time and all of creation was directed to this point: a point when the people no longer look above for G-dliness to pour down from the heavens but search for that G-dliness within themselves, within the people of the earth who belong to the earth. When heaven has reached earth and speaks from within it. From within each one of us.

The tzadik has shown us where to look. Now he hides so we may discover. Soak in the wisdom of the Rebbe, not as words, not as ideas, but in attempt to feel the tzadik within them. Find a place where the teacher and student merge.

Once enough of us have done this, it will be time for the blind to be pulled from over our eyes, for all the walls to be dissolved and we will see the world for what it truly is. We will know wisdom once again from the Rebbe's mouth - until there will no longer be a teacher and a student. We will have arrived. May that be sooner than we can imagine.


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Korach, we read of Korach's questioning and eventually rebelling against Moses and G-d. Korach's first question to Moses was, "Does a garment made completely of turquoise wool still require a single turquoise thread in its tzitzit-fringes?"

Moses' answer was "yes." Korach believed Moses' response was absurd.

Why the commandment for one strand of turquoise wool in the tzitzit? The Talmud explains because turquoise is a spiritual color. It resembles the oceans and the heavens, reminding a human being of G-d's majesty.

In truth, Korach and Moses debated the nature of spiritual leadership, the question of how to inspire human beings toward idealism and holiness.

Korach believed that you need to overwhelm people with the magic and majesty of your message. Let their entire "garment," their entire identity, become all-turquoise, melting completely in the "blue" of heaven.

Moses disagreed; to let people's spirits soar is splendid, but never enough. For inspiration to leave a lasting impact, it must find expression in individual specific acts, words and thoughts. To make a real transformation in people's lives, you must give them a single act through which they can connect to G-d and bring His morality into the world on a daily basis. You need to inspire people to make one strand of their lives blue.

This was an argument about what should become the great emphasis of Judaism. According to Korach, Judaism was about awakening a passion to revolutionize the universe. But Moses understood that in order to accomplish this goal, the primary focus of Judaism needed to be on individual daily behavior, changing the world one mitzva (commandment) at a time.

Korach's message seemed logical. If we can electrify a soul with a passion for making the world a G-dly place, is the individual mitzva ultimately relevant? Let us talk about changing people and changing the world, not about small individual acts!

Korach felt that Moses was misrepresenting G-d's true intent. By focusing so much on mitzvot, Moses was stifling the spiritual creativity in the souls of Israel. Moses was robbing the community of its grandeur.

Korach was a revolutionary; he was a soul on fire. But Moses was a leader, a shepherd. Moses, to be sure, deeply identified with Korach's message. If anybody understood the value of impassioned idealism, it was Moses, a man who left everything behind in his quest for truth. But a leader is not an individual lofty soul; a leader is a person who encompasses within his own heart an entire nation, from the highest to the lowest, and who is deeply in-tune with human nature.

Moses knew that a message that inspires boundless awe and excitement, but that does not demand individual life changes, won't have a lasting impact.

When an idealistic spirit speaks of transforming the universe and uplifting all of humanity, but fails to focus on building this universe through daily actions and words, at the end, he might fall very low, perhaps even become swallowed by the abyss. This indeed occurred to Korach and his men.

The lesson in our lives is clear: Living a Jewish life on a daily basis, saturated with the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, and passing on these sacred deeds to our children - that is what will secure Jewish continuity and healing the world.

Adapted by Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, June 16, 1974. Reprinted with permission from The Algemeiner Journal (www.algemeiner.com). To subscribe to Rabbi Jacobson's weekly essay, e-mail YYJacobson@aol.com


A Slice of Life

Words to Hear With Your Heart
by Sarah Karmely

I come from a family of Jews from Mashhad, Iran, although I grew up in Stamford Hill, London, very near the heart of Orthodox Jewry in England. Our family was traditional. We kept strictly kosher and lit candles for Shabbat; my father wore a hat and a yarmulke. But we were totally unfamiliar with the teachings of Chasidism.

When I was 18 years old, I married Benjamin Karmely and moved to Milan, Italy, where I quickly had three children and settled into a rather normal, culturally modern yet traditional Jewish life. For thirteen years, I had everything any woman could want, from one perspective: I had a loving husband who supported us very nicely; three healthy children who were the light of my life; a lovely home, friends, good health...everything.

But something was missing all along - I couldn't have told you what it was, but I knew it was there. There was a hollow core within me, one that I was trying to fill the "as-soon-as" thoughts. You know, as soon as I finish school, everything will be perfect. And then as soon as I get married, and then I will feel complete. And then as soon as we have children, everything will really be perfect. But there I was, with everything - and yet still, something was missing.

Then, as now, Benjamin traveled a good deal for his business. But one day he flew home after a trip to Thailand, and when I picked him up from the airport, I could see, even from a distance, that something was wrong. He was limping, and he looked ill - pale, drawn and obviously in pain. He insisted he was fine, but he couldn't fool me.

Something was very wrong.

By the next morning there was no question - he was in excruciating pain, and his whole body was in a state of spasm. He couldn't walk or move his legs, and even his speech was affected. We saw the doctor and Benjamin was immediately hospitalized, although no one knew what was wrong. Over the next several days he underwent test after test but nothing proved conclusive. All the while, he was getting worse and worse. At times he was partially paralyzed, but all the time he was in serious pain. He wasn't even able to get out of bed by himself. I went to the hospital several times a day to bring the kosher food we regularly ate - which seemed especially important at that point - but as I watched, he continued to deteriorate day by day. The days turned into weeks, and when even the painful bone marrow tests gave no indication of what the problem could be, I started losing home, fast.

The worst day was about a month after he'd been hospitalized. I arrived at the hospital slightly earlier than usual and came upon my usually stoic husband collapsed in tears. Seeing him so distraught removed the last of my own defenses. I was terrified. I went to the doctors, demanding they tell me what was wrong, convinced that they knew, and were hiding something from me. They insisted: "We don't know. We have no idea what it could be." And since they didn't know the cause, they had no clear indication of what treatment to begin. "We need more tests," they said, over and over again. How long would this go on? I asked. The doctors shrugged. "We don't know. Maybe in a few months things will improve."

Months more? I was stunned by the bleak prognosis - no, it was more than that. I was depressed, I was frustrated and I felt totally lost. My husband was the strong one, our protector, and the one who always knew what to do. With him so very ill, I was alone and frightened. I didn't know what to do, or where to turn. I went home from the hospital that day, exhausted and depressed, and as I walked in the door, my phone was ringing.

I was my usual weekly call from Rabbi Moshe Lazar, a Chabad rabbi in Milan who'd become a good friend. How was my husband? He wanted to know. I couldn't answer. All I could do was cry.

Rabbi Lazar held out a straw of hope I hadn't thought of before. "Why don't we ask for a bracha (a blessing) from the Rebbe?" he asked. "The Rebbe" was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, residing in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. I had never met the Rebbe, but I had heard stories. Everyone had. The Rebbe was said to be a holy, G-dly man able to do many otherworldly things. So, why not? I thought. At this point, I was desperate, and besides, it couldn't hurt.

I gave Rabbi Lazar my husband's name and his mother's name so the proper bracha could be said, and he said he would call New York that very night. I thanked him, and we hung up.

I was grateful, of course, and having at least done something, I felt a small sense of peace. But if I told you now I had confidence in a miracle of some kind, that would not be true. Maybe, maybe...

The next morning, looking for some company and moral support for a day I expected to be exhausting, I invited my father-in-law to come with me to the hospital. As we walked in, I remembered the blessing Rabbi Lazar had said he'd request, but decided against mentioning it to my father-in-law. No point in both of us being disappointed. We stepped out of the elevator on the third floor, and I looked down the hall toward the door of my husband's room.

Can you imagine our surprise when we saw my formerly-paralyzed husband walking toward us in the hall, without crutches?

Again, all I could do was cry - in fact, we all did. As well as I was able to between sobs, I told the story of Rabbi Lazar's call the night before, the request for a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and now....look!

There was, of course no medical explanation from the doctors as to what the problem had been, or what had cured it. They simply didn't know. And neither was there ever a clear explanation, in my mind, for all the whys I had accumulated. Why us? Why my husband? Why was he chosen for the affliction - and then for the miracle cure?

We don't presume to know the answers to those questions, Rabbi Lazar said. G-d has His plan. But, he reminded us, there is one thing we do know: Everything that happens to us is for the good. G-d uses His own means and devices - including affliction, healings, or not healing - for our own good.

My husband had already come to that conclusion. When he returned home, he told me about the days and nights he spent in pain, in the hospital, unable to walk, uncertain of his future. "I learned one thing for sure," he said. "There's more to life than just business and pleasure."

That was true, of course. And quite obviously everything did work out "for the best." But neither of us then, at that moment, knew the full impact of Benjamin's illness recovery. G-d still had a few more cards to play. But those were all within His Will, at the moment, yet completely unknown to us.

From Words to Hear With Your Heart by Sarah Karmely. Reprinted with permission


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The Rebbe Writes

Freely adapted and translated

Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5710 [1950]

...In the well-known Epistle 27 in Iggeres HaKodesh, written to offer redoubled consolation to "the smitten, who are sighing and groaning," Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism) writes that a tzaddik "leaves over life... to every living being, that is, to the soul of every living being who is bound to his soul..., in each and every individual, corresponding to the degree of his genuine bond with the tzaddik and his true and pure love of him."

It is explained in Inyan HaHishtat'chus that "even with those who did not know or recognize the tzaddik during his actual lifetime but only studied the holy books that he left over as a blessing, and who bask in the radiance of his Torah teachings and are thereby invigorated in their service of G-d,... it is certain that they too are called his disciples,... for they believe in that tzaddik and from him they receive the light of his Torah teachings;... the branches are drawn back to their roots."

So, too, my late revered father-in-law the Rebbe Rayatz explained in a letter that a chassid "is able to satisfy his strong desire for a bond with his Rebbe only by studying the discourses of Chassidus which the Rebbe delivers or writes; merely beholding his face is not enough."

Another letter states explicitly: "You ask, what does your bond with me consist of, since I do not know you by face.... True hiskashrus (connecting) is attained by the study of the Torah. If you study my discourses of Chassidus, read the talks, associate with my friends (the members of the Chassidic brotherhood and the temimim [Chabad yeshiva students]) in their studies and in their farbrengens, and fulfill my request concerning the daily recital of Tehillim and the observance of fixed times for Torah study - in this lies hiskashrus."

When we will study the Torah teachings and the sichos of the Rebbe Rayatz, and will walk in this "straight path which he has shown us," then " 'as in water, a face reflects a face; so is the heart of man to man', and 'spirit rouses spirit and brings forth spirit.' For his ruach remains truly in our midst...; that is, even in this world of action - of which it is written, 'This day: to do them' - the departed tzaddik is found more than in his lifetime." And just as here he stood and dutifully served, there too he stands and dutifully serves....


Adar 26, 5710 [1950]

Greetings and blessings,

In one of his letters, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, hk"m, writes: "Chassidus brought about a situation in which one is not alone." If that applied when "the tzaddik was living on this earth...in a physical place," certainly it applies to a much greater degree at present when "he is found" - even in this world of deed - "more than in his lifetime." How much more so does this apply with regard to a tzaddik who is also a Rebbe who is "an intermediary who binds" between G-d and the Jewish people!

The name used for G-d, Havayah, is not related to the limitations of nature, Heaven forbid. The intermediary possesses dimensions of both the entities between which he mediates. With regard to his chassidim and those bound to him at present, as previously - for a connection with a Rebbe is one of yechidah which is above the concept of time - the motif of bonding is even stronger now. For the chassidim tell their souls and their bodies that we have no other alternative at all. And then there will be no interruption in that bond, Heaven forbid. On the contrary, "the spirit will draw down the spirit."

This will be manifest in spiritual matters and in material matters, in all forms of good. For just as Above, so too below, i.e., with regard to a Rebbe: the nature (i.e., a tendency above nature) of the good is to do good.

From I Will Write It In Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos In English.


Customs

Why is the "bima," the elevated platform where the Torah is read, located in the center of the synagogue?

The bima is in the center for numerous reasons:

It is symbolic of the altar which was in the center of the Holy Temple; Since it is primarily used for reading the Torah, its central location makes it easier for everyone to hear; The Holy Temple stood in the center of the universe to diffuse its spiritual light throughout the world. So, too, the bima where the Torah is read is in the center to convey that its teachings should radiate to the entire world; It reminds us of the encampment of the Jews in the desert, when the 12 Tribes formed a square around the Tabernacle; To indicate that the Torah belongs equally to all those present.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In the book "HaYom Yom," compiled by the Rebbe at the behest of the Previous Rebbe, it says, "You ask how can you be bound to me when I do not know you personally. The true bond is created by studying Torah. When you study my discourses, read the informal talks and associate with those dear to me.in this is the bond."

The Rebbe's most recent talks, from 1991 and 1992, consistently communicated the news that the time of the Redemption has arrived and that every individual can and must play an active role in hastening the Redemption. One of the ways this can be done, the Rebbe explained, is by permeating our lives with the awareness of the imminent Redemption.

By attending classes at your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, by listening to Torah classes over the phone, by studying and reading the Rebbe's published talks and essays (available in many languages), you will connect to the Rebbe and everything he personifies.

As we approach Gimmel Tammuz, the pain has not lessened. But there is no room for despair. For, as each moment passes, we are one moment closer to seeing in a revealed manner that, to quote the Rebbe, "Moshiach is coming," and that "he has already come." We are one moment closer to recognizing that "the world is ready for Moshiach" and that "the time of the Redemption has arrived." We are one moment closer to being reunited with the Rebbe, and "he will redeem us."


Thoughts that Count

Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said: "He who fulfills one mitzva (commandments) acquires for himself one advocate..." (Ethics 4:11)

The simple meaning of this Mishna is that the performance of a mitzva (commandment) creates an angel that will act as an advocate for the person in his final judgment. Nevertheless, the fact that the Mishna uses the expression "acquires" rather than "creates" implies something deeper. In addition to the angel created by each mitzva he performs, a person acquires One advocate; the One becomes an advocate for him. For every mitzva a person performs, regardless of his intent, connects him to G-d. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Motzei Shabbat Eikev, 5738)

Rabbi Yannai said: "We are unable to understand either the well-being of the wicked or the tribulations of the righteous." (Ethics 4:15)

One of the Maggid of Mezeritch's students asked him how it was possible to accept tribulation with joy. The Maggid sent him to his student, Reb Zushya of Anapoli. Reb Zushya was poor, suffered from physical difficulties, and endured many different types of privation. Nevertheless, he radiated happiness. When the student told him the purpose of his journey, he replied: "I don't know why the Maggid sent you to me. I have never suffered any adversity in my life." Not knowing, in the positive sense, is the key. When a person makes a commitment to G-dliness that is not bound by the limitations of understanding, he is able to appreciate that everything which G-d grants him is good.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4)


It Once Happened

by Eddie (from lazerbrody.typepad.com, reprinted with permission)

I'd like to share an experience. I have a trading position on one of the exchanges in the U.S.A. This is my third year trading; my first year was a scratch , which meant I owed the firm which had backed me. I made a strong effort in Judaism during the second year and saw enough trading success to cover what I owed and make a little, thanks to G-d. This fiscal year which began this past October held a lot of promise; my slate was clean with my firm - they were happy with me - I had experience to build on, I had made pledges to tzedaka (charity) and was working on sharing Judaism with those around me (getting co-workers to put on tefilin, study Torah, etc.). All systems looked good for success.

Unfortunately October ended poorly, November was a disaster and December started out shaky. I was deep in the red and my stress level was high, especially with my wife expecting our first child. I couldn't help but think it would be another year of difficulty just like the first, which I didn't think I could take. During this time my observance of Judaism started to nose dive. Praying got shorter, my outreach went to a trickle, and like an idiot, I turned to the TV for escape. Every time I tried to get my emuna (faith) going, all these doubts crept in: A part of me kept telling me that G-d wants to punish me, and that I just am not that type of person that can have the right faith. I was choking myself with fears and running away from the true solution, steadfast emuna.

Rabbi Lazer, I always read your site and personal letters of emuna. I also came across letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe talking about emuna. Both of you stress how emuna that G-d will take care of us is the prerequisite key for success. "More emuna more parnasa (livelihood)," the Rebbe told someone. Still I couldn't shake the stress. Finally I just started talking to my wife about emuna, stating to my wife my desire to have the right emuna and trust in G-d that things will turn out right. Everytime the fears and doubts surfaced I forced myself to think - G-d will help. Last Sunday, I went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's grave, to ask for a blessing and help.

The next day on the train to work as I was thinking how rough things were, I stopped myself and tried to think as sincerely as possible, "I can't wait to see how G-d will help me out of this." I had a warm feeling of confidence that G-d would provide - it felt so very good. As I stepped off the train, I had a message on my cell phone - it was my head manager at work telling me something big had happened - good big.

I came into the office and found out that one of my positions that was a 100-1 shot had unexpectedly hit big, making up for my entire deficit and putting me nicely positive for the year thus far. It was a miracle from G-d. It was a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I have no doubt. For all my trying to figure out how to succeed, I actually succeeded in a way I never dreamed would happen and just a few days earlier would have told you my position is no good. G-d not only did a miracle for me but I finally have the privilege to see emuna at work first hand. Emuna in Tzadikim (the righteous) and Emuna in G-d no matter how rough it looks will work in the end.

I wish I hadn't given myself all those months of stress and substandard Judaism because of my lack of faith. I hope I learn from this when I face difficulties in the future. Writing to you is one of the ways I am trying to not loose the effects of my experience. I hope others can benefit from it too.


Moshiach Matters

"Do all you can - in a manner of Orot D'Tohu in Keilim d'Tikkun (lights of Tohu in vessels of tikkun, i.e., the harnessing and control of tremendous energy and enthusiasm) - to actually bring Moshiach in the most immediate present! May it be G-d's will that there finally be ten Jews who will be obstinate that they absolutely must achieve the redemption from G-d and they most certainly will achieve."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 28 Nissan, 5761)


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