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With summer comes travel - vacation, camp, conferences, playing tourist or commuting to a summer home. And with traveling comes all the preparations and hassles - packing, holding the mail, informing the neighbors so they can watch the house, rescheduling appointments, etc.
With all the preparations and precautions, traveling creates a kind of worry, a concern for safety.
Thousands of years ago the Torah recognized that we are more safety conscious when traveling than when living at home, even though objectively one is no more dangerous than the other. Indeed, accidents are more likely to occur in or near the home! Thus, when Jacob sent ten of his sons into Egypt to buy food (where they also found Joseph), he did not send Benjamin, saying "Lest perhaps harm befall him."
Regarding this "fear of the road," the foremost commentator Rashi raises the question, "And in the house could it not befall him?" What's the difference where Benjamin might be - accidents and unfortunate events happen. However, we are justified to have a heightened sense of danger when traveling for "the Accusing angel [the adversary or prosecuting angel in the Divine Court] brings charges against a person in the hour of danger."
But if we take proper precautions, what's so dangerous about traveling? True we're entering unknown territory, leaving the familiar behind, but so what? Why should a cabin by the lake be any more dangerous than an apartment in the city? Why should a country road be more dangerous than a city street?
Traveling diminishes us, Rashi explains (elsewhere). We instinctively recognize that there's a certain danger, an uncertainty, a peril and risk involved in traveling. That's why we personally take so many precautions.
Judaism teaches that everything that exists in the physical world actually just manifests a reality in the spiritual realms. Thus, if traveling does increase our susceptibility to accident, it's only because traveling diminishes us (potentially) on a spiritual level as well.
How so? Well, since "G-d directs the steps of man," we find ourselves living in a particular place because G-d wants us there. And He wants us there to make that particular place a "dwelling place for G-dliness," to transform and elevate that portion of the world given into our care. If we leave, even temporarily, it's like a soldier abandoning his post. And thus it exposes us to danger, to the accusations of the prosecuting angel.
Ah, but if we are traveling not for personal reasons, not for our own selfish interests, but to perform a mitzva (commandment), well, that changes everything. Then we are traveling not (just) because we want to, but because we are fulfilling a mission for G-d, a Divinely ordained task.
That's why there's a custom, called shliach mitzva money, to give a friend or relative a dollar or a few coins before they leave, asking the traveler to give the money to charity when arriving at the destination. (The term means one is an emissary (shliach) to deliver money for a mitzva.) The traveler thus travels for G-d's purpose, not just his own. (Of course when traveling to do a mitzva, one can also use the time for a personal pleasure trip.) And to do a mitzva, one certainly can temporarily be "reassigned."
So before someone travels this summer - or anytime - why not give him or her shliach mitzva money? It'll make the spiritual journey easier.
This week's Torah portion, Balak, opens with the Children of Israel encamped near the borders of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, hired the famous gentile prophet, Bilaam, to curse the Jews and cause their defeat, but G-d frustrated his evil intentions. Instead of delivering curses, Bilaam was overcome with a Divinely inspired mood of prophecy and perception of goodness. Against his will, Bilaam heaped praise and blessings upon those he had intended to curse.
Our Sages taught that Bilaam's prophecy alludes to the end of days and the Final Redemption that will take place when Moshiach comes. "There shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel," Bilaam begins. Maimonides explained that Bilaam's prophecy refers to two anointed kings - King David, who saved Israel from her enemies, and the last anointed Jewish king, Moshiach, who will arise and save Israel in the end of days.
By specifying that the Torah mentions Moshiach "in the portion of Bilaam," Maimonides alludes to the underlying concept of transformation which will see its culmination in the Messianic Era. "And G-d, your L-rd, did not desire to listen to Bilaam. And G-d, your L-rd, transformed the curse into a blessing." Just as Bilaam's evil intentions were transformed into benedictions, so too shall the inner positive nature of human suffering be revealed when Moshiach comes.
The Torah portion of Balak generally coincides with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz which commemorates the breaching of the walls around Jerusalem, the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple, and inaugurates a three-week period of mourning. Yet, according to Maimonides, in the Era of Redemption, "all fasts will be nullified...and will be transformed into festivals and days of joy and rejoicing." When Moshiach comes, the entire experience of exile will be seen from a different perspective. The inner good of the exile will be revealed and appreciated as a positive phenomenon.
The coming of Moshiach will theretofore restore to the Jewish people a sense of completeness which cannot be experienced while in exile. Just as his ancestor King David did before him, Moshiach will remove our spiritual blinders and enable us to live a fully integrated Jewish life.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Torah Scroll Dedications
This past month of Sivan, the month that highlights the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on the holiday of Shavuot, saw dozens of new Torah scrolls dedicated in Chabad-Lubavitch Centers and synagogues around the world. On the Sunday before Shavuot itself, there were 11 Torah scrolls dedicated in North America alone.
In preparation for the celebrations and at the festivities themselves, people were encouraged to "buy" letters in the Torah scrolls on behalf of themselves and family members. This is in keeping with the Lubavitcher Rebbe's mitzva campaign to purchase letters in communal Torah scrolls for Jewish unity.
The Rebbe explained: "One of the mitzvot (commandments) that the Jewish people were commanded at the conclusion of the 40 years in the Sinai desert is the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll, 'And now, write for yourselves this song' (Deut 31:19) - 'a positive commandment upon every Jew to write a Torah scroll for himself' (Maimonides, the Laws of Torah scroll 7:1)
"...Furthermore, it can be said that in different generations and times, and in situations where not everyone can write his own Torah scroll, the way to fulfill this mitzva from the outset is through purchasing a letter in a communal Torah scroll.
"...And by all Jews having a letter in a Torah scroll, since the mitzva of writing a Torah is the 'conclusion' of all 613 mitzvot (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzva 613), we will merit very soon literally the conclusion of exile, from which all Jews will go out at the coming of Moshiach."
It's never too late to participate. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out if they are currently writing a Torah scroll or how you can purchase a letter in a Torah scroll. There is a special Children's Torah campaign for boys and girls under the age of Bar and Bat Mitzva. Visit www.kidstorah.org
to purchase a letter in these special Torah scrolls that have already united over one million Jewish children around the world. College students can purchase letters in a Torah Scroll being written to show solidarity with Israel. Visit chabad.edu to purchase a letter.
Freely translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
4 Shvat, 5714 (1954)
I was informed about the state of your health, and later I was also informed about the results of your eye operation - that, thank G-d, it was successful.
May G-d grant that your health continuously improve, so that you will be able to study Torah and serve G-d with increased strength, inasmuch as a hale and hearty body is part and parcel of Divine service.
You have surely heard of the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that within any event occurring to an individual, and from everything one sees or hears, there is a hidden lesson and directive that applies to the person's Divine service.
Most assuredly this is so regarding a crucial event in a person's life, such as that which you have undergone with regard to your sight, as a person's vision is one of his most vital components.
This is also underscored in the revealed part of Torah, where it is stated (at least according to one opinion), that only a sighted person is obligated and merits to perform all the mitzvos (commandments); only a sighted person is truly considered alive, etc.
You are also no doubt aware of the expression of our Sages with regard to the power of sight, that it is referred to as the "'luminary' eyes of man."
Everything our Sages say is extremely exact, inasmuch as every single word of our holy Torah was given by G-d to Moses at Sinai, as Maimonides rules in Hilchos Teshuvah, ch. 3, par.8.
"Man is a microcosm of Torah." Just as "G-d looked into the Torah and accordingly created the macrocosmic world," so too with regard to man, who is called "a small world" (Tanchuma, beginning of Parshas Pekudei, and Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 69, p. 100b, et al.).
Because of the similarity between the macrocosmic world and the microcosm of man, it follows that the "'luminary' eyes of man" is the counterpart to the luminary aspect that is found in Torah, and as stated in the beginning of Eichah Rabbah, "The luminary within it, i.e., within Torah, will return him, i.e., the sinner, to the good."
"The luminary of Torah" refers to the esoteric portion of Torah, the "'hidden' aspect of Torah," that leads the person to awe and love of G-d, as our Sages state (in Shabbos end of 31a) and as is explained in Likkutei Torah of Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
In these later generations, this luminary aspect of Torah has been revealed in the teachings of Chassidus in such a manner that each and every individual can understand the "esoteric" and the "hidden" full well, as explained at length by my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, in Kuntres Limud HaChassidus.
The above is not intended as an academic teaching, but that you act on this matter: that henceforth you firmly resolve to establish a regular study session in Chassidus. This resolve will itself speed the healing process of your eyes, so that very soon you will be able to actualize this resolve.
1 Shvat, 5712 (1952)
It pleased me to receive your letter in which you inform me about the health of....
It would seem from your letter that his health has improved somewhat, and I hope that in your next letter you will be able to inform me that his vision is improving, so that with the passing of time he will be able to write to me himself. May G-d, the "Healer of all flesh, and Performer of wonders," hasten his recovery.
There is a famous saying of our Sages: "Who is wise? He who sees what will come from his actions."
Chassidus explains this to mean that wisdom lies in seeing the birth of Creation from non-being to being (from ayin to yesh) every moment of the day.
For as explained in Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Creation is not a one-time event that only transpired during the Six Days of Creation. Rather, the Divine Utterance is constantly creating all of creation from non-being to being in every moment.
The same is true with regard to each and every Jew - his physical health is dependent upon his spiritual health, just as the physical aspect of creation is constantly dependent on the spiritual aspect that is always creating it anew.
When an individual feels a weakness in one of his bodily parts he goes to a doctor, for it is incumbent upon us to also act in a natural manner, and "the Torah has granted permission (which also means it has empowered) the healer to heal."
But along with the above, it is also necessary to examine the weakness of the spiritual counterpart of the physical organ - in this instance, the deficiency in one's spiritual power of sight that enables him to see how all of physicality is born every moment from non-being to being.
The above is not intended as an academic teaching: rather, it is intended that you rouse [-] to strengthen himself in the study of Chassidus, beginning with the study of Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah cited above.
Thank you very much for making the effort to transmit all the above to [-]. Just as you took upon yourself to be an emissary to write to me about his health situation, surely you will take upon yourself to be my emissary with regard to what I have written in this letter, assisting as well in helping [-] to bring all the above into actuality.
Reprinted from Healthy in Mind, Body and Spirit, published by Sichos in English
Are there special ways to prepare oneself for prayer?
There is a custom, mentioned in the prayer book compiled by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi - the founder of Chabad Chasidut - which is based on the teachings of Kabala, that one say, "I hereby undertake to fulfill the mitzva (commandment), 'Love your fellowman as yourself,'" before beginning to pray. For fulfilling the commandment of loving a fellow Jew is the gateway that enables a person to enter and stand before G-d in prayer. By virtue of this love one's prayers are accepted.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Tuesday (July 3 this year) is the Seventeenth of Tammuz, when the ancient city of Jerusalem was assaulted by invading gentiles. Twenty-one days later, on the Ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av), the Holy Temple was set afire and razed. Both the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av are fast days (though the fast of the 17th of Tammuz begins before sunrise and the fast of Tisha B'Av commences the evening before).
The fact that this interval on the Jewish calendar is known as the "Three Weeks" and not the "Twenty-One Days" is not incidental. The number three alludes to the inner significance and function of the Three Weeks as a period of preparation for the Third Holy Temple.
On a superficial level the Three Weeks are a sad time, a period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of the Jewish people's current exile. But on a deeper level they contain a hidden good. Why? Everything that happens in the world is directed by G-d. G-d is the essence of good, and everything He does is good, even if it doesn't appear that way at first. Having come directly from G-d, there is no other possibility.
Accordingly, the Three Weeks, although superficially associated with sadness, contain a positive meaning: At the exact moment when the Second Holy Temple was destroyed, the Third and eternal Holy Temple was constructed up in heaven! In this light the entire destruction can be seen as nothing but a preparatory stage in the Redemptive process, a necessary step toward the Final Redemption with Moshiach, at which time the concept of exile will no longer exist.
At present, the good contained within the Three Weeks remains hidden. But reflecting upon its true, inner meaning hastens the day when its inner goodness will be revealed, when the Temple will be reestablished.
Let us therefore accustom ourselves to seeing the hidden good that exists in all things, thereby meriting the ultimate revelation of inner goodness with the arrival of our Righteous Moshiach.
Each and every day a heavenly voice goes out from Mount Horeb (Ethics of the Fathers 6:2)
Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, where the Jews were given the Torah and became G-d's chosen people. The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a Jew feels an inner awakening to strengthen his observance of Torah and mitzvot (commandments), it is because his soul is responding to the call which it heard emanating from G-d at Mount Sinai.
The Sages taught in the language of the Mishna, "Blessed be He who chose them and their teachings." (Ethics 6:1)
The word "Sages" refers to each and every Jew, since all Jews are members of a wise and understanding people."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The Tablets were the work of G-d and the writing was the writing of G-d, charut [engraved] on the tablets. Do not read charut, but cheirut [freedom]. There is no free person except one who occupies himself with the study of Torah. (Ethics 6:2)
Chasidut explains that engraved letters are unique in that they are an integral part of (and not a separate entity from) the object on which they are written. When a Jew studies Torah in a manner of "engraving," he becomes unified entirely with the Torah he studies. His entire existence becomes Torah. This leads to true freedom; he is lifted above all worries and distractions.
On the 17th of Tammuz Moses broke the first tablets upon which were engraved Ten Commandments that he had received on Mount Sinai. Centuries later, the daily sacrifice in the first Temple ceased. Still later, in the times of the second Temple the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans. It was also the date on which the wicked Apustumus burned the Torah and put an idol in the Temple. Because of all these tragedies, our Sages declared the 17th of Tammuz a fast day, which it remains until the Final Redemption wipes away all suffering forever.
The entire Jewish people had gathered around Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from the Creator. But after that awesome event, Moses again ascended the Mount to learn all the details contained in the Torah and to receive the Tablets of the Covenant.
Before he left he instructed the people, "At the end of forty days, at the beginning of the sixth hour, I will return to you and bring you the Torah."
The people were very strongly attached to their leader, the faithful shepherd who had brought them out of Egypt and sustained them throughout all their travails.
As soon as he left they began calculating his return. They assumed that the day on which he ascended the Mount was to be considered the first of the forty days. But, that day was actually to be considered only a partial day, with the full forty days ending only on the 17th of Tammuz.
When the 16th of Tmamuz arrived Moses had not returned. The Evil Inclination came and asked, "Where is your teacher Moses?"
"He has ascended the mountain," they replied.
"No," said the Deceiver: "He is dead."
But they refused to pay any attention to him. He wouldn't desist, and tried another ploy: "Six hours have already passed," he taunted them. Still, they ignored him. But when the Great Deceiver showed them an image of Moses lying on his death bed, they succumbed.
Since their faith in Moses was far deeper than anything they could perceive with their own intellect, they were completely shaken when it seemed that his words had not come true.
Their attachment and love for Moses was so intense that they were unable to exist without him even for a short while. They ran to Aaron and cried, "Make us a god!"
How could people who had just witnessed the most stunning event in human history succumb to such a craze? How could the same people who had just witnessed Divine revelations and heard the Voice of G-d beg for an idol?
But the entire nation did not fall into this snare. They had split apart into numerous factions, each confident of its own viewpoint.
Aaron thought he would delay them. "Ask you wives for their gold jewelry, otherwise I cannot construct a calf," he told them.
When the women heard the plan, they wanted nothing to do with the idol. The men, however, were determined to proceed and donated all their gold.
Aaron dared not delay the mob any longer. The hotheads amongst them were becoming violently agitated, and nothing would stand in their way. Aaron took the gold and threw it into the fire. To his surprise a golden calf leaped out, for sorcery was honed to a fine art in Egypt, and among the numerous Egyptians who had followed the Jews into the desert were expert practitioners of the black arts.
When they saw the calf some found the attraction of idol worship too overwhelming to resist. After all, hadn't they been immersed in Egyptian "culture" for hundreds of years?
There was another faction which was mildly inclined to idol worship, but suppressed their desire for it after having witnessed the events at Sinai.
They looked from the sidelines with vicarious pleasure as the others danced wildly around the calf.
Still others were shocked at what they saw. To them all the other factions seemed absurd, both those who worshipped the calf and those who merely watched on the sidelines. They said, "One faction is as evil as the other."
Yet, another group never lost faith. When they saw the actions of the other groups, they said, "They will never be able to repent.
Let's divorce ourselves from them completely!" This attitude was in itself a sin, for they should not have abandoned all hope for their erring brethren.
The following day when Moses descended the mountain, bearing aloft the Tablets, what a scene met his eyes! Love of the Jews ever foremost in his mind, he immediately thought, "How can I give them the Law? It says 'Thou shalt have no other gods,' and now they will be subject to the death penalty.
When Moses turned around to leave, the holy letters on the Tablets flew away. When that happened, the weight of the stones became too great for him (for the words themselves had carried the Tablets), and he dropped them.
The Levites, the one group which had in no way taken part in the calf-worship, rallied to Moses like a loyal army.
Punishment was meted out to the guilty, but through this experience, the vast majority of the people became forever rooted in their belief and trust of Moses and G-d.
The sin of the Golden Calf proved for all generations that repentance is always possible, for even the worshippers of the Golden Calf, in the end, returned to G-d.
Through the "complete Torah" and the "complete Jewish people" we merit the "complete Land," and the promise "The L-rd will broaden your boundaries." As a preparation, all actions associated with the security of the Land of Israel should be increased, even those actions that need to be done outside of Israel, and to complete those operations already started. We must increase in fear of G-d, thereby meriting the promise "All the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of G-d is called upon you and they shall fear you," and "they shall flee before you in seven directions:" Speedily we will greet Moshiach, when these days will be converted to joy and happiness and festive occasions.
(The Lubavticher Rebbe, 17 Tammuz, 1982)