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1031: Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
August 1, 2008 - 29 Tamuz, 5768

1031: Masei

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


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  1030: Matos1032: Devarim  

One Last Summer Jaunt  |  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

One Last Summer Jaunt

Are you planning one last trip this summer with the whole family? Or do you remember when you were younger and you went on vacation? Each summer you went up to the mountains or to a little cottage near the lake. Or did your family go to a different spot each time? Maybe your family just went for a day-trip into the country. Or maybe you took a trip to a far-away city to visit relatives.

The trip had many stages, even if it was only for a day. There was the planning stage at the beginning when the ultimate destination was decided. After all, if you didn't know where you were going you couldn't possibly proceed with the rest of the plans.

Next came organizing everything and packing up.

Finally you were on your way. Every once in a while the map was checked (no GPS in those days) to make sure you were staying on course. But within a short while little voices (whiny voices?) started asking, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?" Your parents reassured you, "We'll be there soon. Only another few miles (or minutes)."

As you neared the destination the excitement - and impatience - increased. Finally, when you were almost there, everyone started recognizing sights and landmarks that they remembered from past visits or read about in travel brochures. The directions you were following now were more explicit. There weren't any more highways to stay on for miles at a stretch, but street names to find and search for and traffic lights to count before the right turn. Maybe you didn't know the territory very well, so you had to be extra cautious not to make a wrong turn; you didn't want to wind up in a bad area. The anticipation was palpable. The air was electric. You could see that you were in a different place. You could feel that you had nearly reached your destination.

When G-d created the world He had its ultimate destination in mind - the Messianic Era when the world would actually become perfect and complete. Little by little our ancestors started organizing things and started packing the world's suitcases with a knowledge of a higher purpose for the world, a transcendence of mundane day-to-day living, and with the light of Divine morality.

We started our journey, but it's been no vacation. The road has been bumpy. For the directions given us take us on the road less traveled. And, as we have traveled, we have been asking in our tiny, little voice, "When will we be there? Are we there yet? How much longer?"

"We're almost there. We'll be there soon," is the answer. As we near the final destination - the Messianic Era - our excitement and impatience must increase. G-d is showing us sights and landmarks that we can readily recognize and which we will see even more clearly when we reach the Redemption.

And the directions G-d has given us, the map He has drawn up for us, is even more important as we reach our destination. No longer can we speed along the highways stopping only once in a while to spiritually "filler up." We have to follow the directions more carefully now, making sure to turn right or left at the correct places.

The anticipation should be palpable. The air should be electric. And it can be when we open our eyes and see that the world is in a different place from when it started out. We've nearly reached our destination. After traveling for thousands of years the Messianic Era is in sight.

Adapted from a talk by Rabbi H. Greenberg


Living with the Rebbe

The Torah portion of Masei contains the commandment to set aside cities for the Levites. All of the other tribes were given a specific portion of land for them to populate. The Levites, by contrast, were given 42 cities that were dispersed throughout the entire Holy Land.

Why this distinction? Because the Levites were given the mission to serve as teachers and spiritual leaders. Such a person must realize that he cannot fulfill his mission by remaining secluded in an ivory tower. Instead, he must become integrated with the people as a whole.

This concept has implications on many levels. On the most obvious, a teacher should not wait for a student to come to him. He must be willing to go out to the student and attract his interest. Moreover, his "going out" should not be an occasional visit after which he retreats to his own spiritually secure community. Instead he should be willing to live among his students and become involved with them in an ongoing manner.

There is, however, a deeper point. True teaching comes from living with a person. The Bible praises the prophet Elisha as one "who poured water over Elijah's hands." In other words, he performed manual tasks for him, helping him in the ordinary details of day-to-day life.

Our Sages ask: Why isn't Elisha praised as being Elijah's student? They answer that Elisha learned more from living with Elijah and performing these basic tasks on his behalf than from hearing his teachings. When a person lives together with a teacher, he does not receive mere abstract knowledge. He sees how the teacher has integrated his values and objectives into his own life. The Torah insights the teacher imparts are not just lofty ideals, but active principles. The student can see these principles bring about results in the way the teacher relates to his family and to others, and how they endow his life with more meaning and purpose.

These are the types of lessons that make an impression on a student and empower him to change his own life. In order to teach in this manner, the Levites were commanded to live dispersed among the other tribes.

Masei is always read in the "three weeks" interposed between the commemorative fasts of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av. These fasts mark the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Holy Temple. As such, it is a time when we focus our attention on the idea of exile and our people's hope for Redemption.

A person may legitimately ask: "What does it mean that we are in exile? This feels like my home." It's true, we feel at home in our present environment. Why shouldn't we? It offers peace, prosperity, and opportunities for growth that no culture in history has ever experienced. For this, we must be very thankful. Simultaneously, there is something missing. When the Temple was standing, it afforded every visitor a direct appreciation of G-dliness. A person felt as if he had seen the Divine.

This is what it means to be in exile. It is not necessarily about suffering difficulty and hardship, but about the inability to appreciate G-dliness. This is what we lack today. It isn't bad, it just isn't life at its fullest. As we become conscious of the nature of exile, a desire for Redemption is kindled, for every person sincerely wishes to live a life connected with G-d.

From Keeping in Touch, adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Eli Touger


A Slice of Life

We're All the Same
by Sharon Marcovitz

Excerpted from a graduation speech at Machon Chana Women's Institute

A few years ago, I was in Key Largo, Florida, studying Torah at the Bais Chana Women's Institute with women from all over the world.

During one particular class taught by Rabbi Manis Friedman, about 20 young women were gathered, trying to absorb everything. Palm trees and the ocean were in the background, and in the foreground was our very intense discussion about relationships, about G-d, about our Biblical ancestors. The wellsprings of the Torah were being opened up to us and we were all quenching our thirst on its life-giving waters.

I learned there and then that what everyone loves about Chabad - the sense of openness that draws us in - is not tolerance of people's differences, nor acceptance of various types of Jews. Rather, it is Chabad's insistence on seeing what is the same. All Jews are the same! Chabad barely hears the people that try to say that they are a different type. That is when I started to get interested in Chasidut, the philosophy behind this all-inclusive mindset.

From that point on, I was very fascinated with Chasidic philosophy, which is the idea that the whole world is G-d, and G-d is the whole world. G-d is invested in everything. It is not one G-d and one world, rather, it is all G-d.

That taste of Torah in Florida helped me decide to see what Torah study and the observance of mitzvot (commandments) are all about.

I decided to move forward and study more intensively and long-term. I made the decision to study at Machon Chana, a women's yeshiva in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I knew that taking time off to study Torah full-time, as well as moving into the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, was going to be a big change in my life. But any time I wavered, I kept thinking how important this step was in my life and how this move would enable me to grown spiritually. Once I made the move, I never looked back, I kept myself focused on the only thing that mattered to me - becoming more immersed in Jewish living and reaching higher in my spiritual life.

I found the experience of studying at Machon Chana to be truly unique. In particular, the teachers of Chasidut were eager to hear our insights - they understood that the truth that they were teaching was sitting inside the hearts and minds of their students. While the study of sources and texts was very important, it was never seen as something separate from the world, our experiences, and the universe, which G-d created. My teachers in Machon Chana helped me understand the essence of G-d. I listened and absorbed every piece of information I could during the two wonderful years I studied there. I came with an open heart and mind like many of the other students. I am certain that our teachers are going to affect more and more young women like myself, and I am glad to have been given this opportunity.

In the Talmud it states that before Moshiach comes, the youth will put the elderly to shame, and the old will rise in the presence of the young. Interpreting this according to Chasidic philosophy rather than its conventional interpretation, this means that the youth will be so much more knowledgeable than their elders that their elders will be (pleasantly) embarrassed in the presence of those younger than they. I am sure that young women like myself and my fellow students will use our knowledge for good. We will strive to be role models of Jewish outreach professionals, spreading the teachings of Chasidut all over the globe, thereby bringing Moshiach now!

At Machon Chana I learned first-hand that a solid Jewish education is so important; it is life itself and it never ends. Formal education stops when we finish school but education itself should intensify once we become more experienced in life and understand our place in the universe. It does not matter how old we are, or how learned we become, I've discovered that we are always young when it comes to spiritual growth.

I owe so much of who I have become to Rabbi Shloma Majeski, dean of Machon Chana, Mrs. Gitta Gansburg, the "dorm mother," and all of the teachers in the school. Thank you all!

To my beautiful friends who received me with open arms, I will always be there for you as you have been for me.

May G-d bless all of us with continued strength to run in the direction of our dreams, to fulfill our potential with enthusiasm, and to constantly be moving down life's beautiful paths.


What's New

Likutei Sichot in Russian

This volume of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's edited talks, known as "Likutei Sichot," is the fifth book in this series published in Russian. Published jointly by New York's F.R.E.E. Publishing House and the Jerusalem-based SHAMIR, the 172-page work presents edited talks of the Rebbe dealing with the book of Deuteronomy.

The Lawyer and the Mystic

Twenty years ago, lawyer and businessman Robert Kremnizer began giving a weekly class in Chabad Chasidic philosophy in Sydney, Australia. This booklet, and Mr. Kremnizer's other three books, brings Chabad Chasidut in a language and style comfortably comprehensible to people of all levels of knowledge and observance.

Mikveh, The Foundation of the Jewish Home

This new book, written by Rabbi Ze'ev Ritterman and translated by Rabbi Tuvia Litzman, explores the commandment of Family Sanctity as the cornerstone of Jewish life. The author and the translator have compiled a comprehensive, well-researched, and beautifully lucid analysis of the history and laws of Mikveh, illustrating its various dimensions through stories, anecdotes and letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Mikveh provides a profound and awe-inspiring vision of this mitzva.


The Rebbe Writes

26th of Tammuz, 5733 [1973]

I was pleased to receive your letter of 18th of Tammuz, following our conversation when you visited here. May G-d grant that just as your letter included good news, so should you be able to continue reporting good news in the same vein and in a growing measure.

You mention that you had some questions and doubts. Of course, one must not feel any shame in asking for clarification, and certainly one should not keep any doubts within oneself, but should seek answers. However, there is only one condition: Whatever the questions and doubts may be, this must not affect a person's simple faith in G-d and in His Torah and mitzvoth [commandments], even if the answers have temporarily eluded him. This condition goes back to the day when the Torah was received at Sinai on the principle of "naaseh" [we will do], before "v'nishmah" [we will understand], the guiding principle for all posterity. The "naaseh," the doing, follows "v'nishmah," the understanding, for G-d, the essence of goodness, desires us to follow the path of Truth on the basis of faith, and then to follow it up with knowledge and understanding. For only then is the whole person involved in serving G-d to the fullest capacity.

One must always bear in mind, however, the limitations of the human intellect in general, and particularly in relation to the area of G-dliness, which is essentially beyond human comprehension. By way of analogy, even within the realm of human intellectual achievement, a small child cannot possibly comprehend an advanced mathematical or scientific formula conceived of by a great professor, although the latter was a small child at one time, and the former could one day even surpass the intellectual prowess of the professor. The relationship between the human mind and the Divine mind is quite different, for it is a difference not in degree, but in kind. It is the difference between a created being and its Creator. Therefore, the Torah and mitzvoth, which are G-d's Wisdom and Will, can at best be comprehended in only a limited fashion. A person is welcome to inquire and probe to the extent of his capacity, but, as above, he must not lose sight of the basic condition of doing and then learning in order to understand.

What has been said above is especially pertinent in the present Three Weeks, which commemorate the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] and our Exile. For, as we say in prayer: "Because of our sins we have been exiled from our land." Hence, every one of us must do our utmost to rectify and reverse the cause of our Exile by studying more Torah and doing more mitzvoth, and spreading them throughout the environment. Thus we hasten the reversal of the effect of the sins, and bring about the fulfillment of the Divine prophecy that these days shall be converted into days of joy and gladness, with our true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach.


Customs

How does the mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple intensify when the month of Av begins?

During the Nine Days between the beginning of the Jewish month of Av and the 9th of Av mourning intensifies. We abstain from eating meat and drinking wine except on Shabbat and for a Seudat Mitzva (meal associated with a mitzva such as a brit, or upon completing the study of a section of the Torah or Talmud). Lawsuits should be postponed, pleasure trips should be avoided.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This week, on Shabbat afternoon, we study the second chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). One of the Mishnas discusses choosing one's path in life, as it states:

"Rabbi (Yehuda HaNasi) said: Which is the right path that a man should choose for himself? That which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from man."

The "right path," according to our Sages, is a life in consonance with Torah and mitzvot. In addition, Chasidut explains that each individual has his own particular path, and the path that seems to be correct for one person may not be the ideal path for someone else. G-d has granted each and every one of us our own unique talents that must be utilized to accomplish our goals. Every person must realize his own abilities and use the Torah as a guide to travel down his own "right path."

The verse goes on to speak about receiving honor. How can a person achieve honor once he has recognized his true path in life? Through action. Thought, speech and deed are called the "garments of the soul," giving physical expression to the soul's G-dly connection. It is fitting for a person to ponder his path in life, and to discuss how he will travel that path further solidifies his commitment, but thought and speech are not referred to as "honorable." It is only through deed, through actually doing what he has set out to accomplish, that a person is called honorable.

This Shabbat is also the first day of the Jewish month of Av, also known as Menachem Av. The word Menachem comes from the word "comfort." For as we mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple on the ninth of Av, we are comforted by the anticipation of the imminent coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

As we enter into an increased period of mourning we know that there is an increased potential for rejoicing with Moshiach.


Thoughts that Count

These are (Eileh) the journeys of (masei) the Children of Israel (Bnei Yisrael) (Num. 33:1)

The first letters of these Hebrew words allude to the four exiles of the Jewish people: alef-Edom (Rome); mem-Madai (Persia); beit-Bavel (Babylon); and yud-Yavan (Greece).

(Nachal Kadumim)


These are their journeys according to their starting places (Num. 33:2)

The Hebrew word for starting places or departures (motza'eihem) comes from the same root as descendants, alluding to the future Redemption and the ingathering of the exiles that will occur in the Messianic era. At that time, all 42 journeys made by the Children of Israel in the desert will be duplicated by the Jewish people as they make their way back to the Land of Israel.

(Abarbanel)


And you shall not render unclean the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the L-rd dwell in the midst of the children of Israel (Num. 35:34)

Not only does G-d's Divine Presence accompany the Jewish people throughout the exile, but G-d Himself, as it were, goes into exile with them, sharing the suffering of the Children of Israel. Because of G-d's great love for His children, He does not abandon them even when they are exiled because of misdeeds. When Moshiach comes, the Divine Presence, no less than the Jews, will also be redeemed from exile.

(The Rebbe)


It Once Happened

It was a perfectly beautiful Shabbat day. The Jew strolled at leisure through the orchards and fields. The trees were heavy with their fragrant bounty. The bees swarmed about the blossoming flowers; each leaf glowed its own shade of green in the light. "How wonderful was the world which the Creator bestowed upon his creations," thought the man.

Then he reached the boundaries of his own vineyard. "What's that?" he thought, as he noticed a hole in the fence. "Why, how could I have failed to notice it before? I better come around early tomorrow morning and fix it before wild animals or thieves have a chance to go in and eat up the grapes. As it is, I have barely enough to support my family."

Then he suddenly stopped in his tracks and caught his breath. "Today is Shabbat," he thought, "and I have just been thinking and planning my mundane affairs on this sanctified day." The Jew, who was a pious man, was shocked that he had just transgressed the sanctity of the day by actually planning to perform work which was forbidden on the holy Shabbat. He turned his thoughts away from the fence and returned to his home and the joyous Shabbat meal that awaited him.

When Shabbat had come to an end the Jew remembered his vineyard and the broken fence, and he felt a great sorrow at having profaned his holy Shabbat with thoughts of repairing the fence. He decided that to atone for his sinful thought, he would never fix the fence.

The summer passed, and the harvest approached. The vineyard was redolent with the fragrance of ripe grapes. The man went out to his vineyard to gather in his harvest thinking, "There probably aren't many grapes left. I'm sure the foxes and rabbits must have passed through the hole and eaten them all." But when he entered the vineyard he couldn't believe his eyes. The grapes hung in gigantic clusters throughout the vineyard, and the smell of the ripe grapes was overpowering. Every grape was perfect, and there was no sign of any having been touched.

The man began to look for the hole in the fence. The damage had been quite extensive, and so he was sure to find it with little searching. And so he did, but in the place where there had been a gaping hole, there was none. Instead, completely covering the hole, there was a fully-grown caper bush. The Master of the Universe had caused it to sprout there, to cover up the opening with its bushy branches.

The caper bush had not only saved the grape crop from certain destruction, but it possessed a great value in itself. Every part of the plant could be sold at great profit. The caper buds were preserved in vinegar and savored as a tasty delicacy; the twigs and leaves were enjoyed as well.

The pious Jew benefitted from the wondrous bush for the rest of his life, earning from it a good livelihood to support his wife and children. He enjoyed the bountiful harvest from it every year and it was a reminder of the great holiness of the Shabbat and the miracle of G-d's creation.


In the Holy Land, when the Romans ruled, Rabbi Yonatan was a judge in his city. He was known to everyone as a fair and honest man. The court convened in his home which was situated next door to that of a Roman. And just as the two houses were adjacent, so were their fields. In Rabbi Yonatan's field there grew a majestic tree whose branches overspread the field of the Roman, but the Roman didn't mind, for he loved to sit under its welcome shade.

This Roman enjoyed disparaging the Jews, and he decided that it might be entertaining to listen to some of the cases brought to Rabbi Yonatan. One day two Jews came to the court arguing about a tree belonging to one of them. The second Jew complained that the shade it created interfered with his crops. The first man cried, "For twenty years the tree never bothered you!"

The second replied, "That is true, but now it has become so large that it damages my crops." Rabbi Yonatan listened and then instructed the men to return the following day for the verdict.

The Roman thought to himself, "I bet the rabbi postponed his decision because I was here. He was probably afraid that I would demand that he cut down his tree. I'll show him. I will embarrass him in front of the whole court."

Rabbi Yonatan called a carpenter and instructed him to go at once and cut down all the branches of his tree which hung over his neighbor's field.

When the verdict was read next morning, the Roman was there. "You must cut down the branches which hang over your neighbor's field, since they are disturbing him," ordered Rabbi Yonatan.

The Roman leapt up and yelled, "Why, then, don't you cut down your tree which is leaning over my property?"

"Go to the field and look at my tree. You will see exactly what this man must do to his tree."

The Roman went, and to his surprise the tree no longer hung over his field. He saw that Rabbi Yonatan made sure that he would not transgress a ruling which he laid on another person. From that time on the Roman had the greatest respect for Rabbi Yonatan and Jewish Law.


Moshiach Matters

The wondrous events and conditions of the Messianic Era will completely overshadow all and any miracles that happened before then, even those associated with the Exodus from Egypt.

(Talmud Berachot)


  1030: Matos1032: Devarim  
   
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