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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
April 12, 2002 - 30 Nisan, 5762

714: Sazria-Metzora

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  713: Shmini715: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim  

Act It!  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Act It!

"You're smart." "You're cute." "You've got a great sense of humor."

These might be some of the appellations that were lavishly applied to you as a child or young adult.

Even if you weren't born SO smart or SO funny, you became smarter and funnier just because you believed you were and had that self-confidence.

With this in mind, try this moniker on for size. "You are a tzadik - a righteous person!" Now, say it over and over again to yourself a couple of times. "I am right-eous, I am righteous, I am righteous." Doesn't that feel good? Doesn't it make you want to do a good turn for someone, to put a few coins in a charity box, to let the car cut in front of you?

"Every Jew has a portion in the World to Come as it says, 'Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which to take pride.' "

This verse from the Talmud is how we begin the weekly study of Pirkei Avot each Shabbat afternoon. The study of Pirkei Avot (roughly translated as "Ethics of the Fathers"), is meant to enhance and reinforce the ethical and moral fiber of all who read it through the sound and wholesome advice of our Sages.

Week after week, when we begin Pirkei Avot, we are reminded that each and every Jew, including you and I, are ultimately righteous. What enables us to claim this noble title is the actual spark of G-dliness that every Jew has within.

"But, wait a minute," you're thinking. "I know my neighbor never does 'xyz' even though he's supposed to. And he always does 'abc' even though the Torah says not to. How can you say that he's righteous?"

Rabbi Moses Maimonides, in his laws of repentance, writes: "The reckoning of sins and merits is not calculated on the basis of the mere number of merits and sins, but on the basis of their magnitude as well. Some solitary merits can outweigh many sins. The weighing of sins and merits can be carried out only according to the wisdom of the All-Knowing G-d: He alone knows how to measure merits against sins." So don't judge your neighbor so harshly. In fact, it is actually a mitzva (comman-dment) to judge others favorably. Better yet, don't judge him at all!

The Talmud teaches that before a soul - the spark of G-dliness within every Jew - comes down into a body, it is administered an oath. "Be righteous and don't be wicked; and even if the whole world tells you that you are righteous, consider yourself as wicked."

Why are we told to consider ourselves as wicked? Is the Talmud encouraging us to think depressing thoughts! No, far from it. It is just that we should constantly be striving to grow in our observance, to do more mitzvot, to learn more. If we think that we're on a level where we are already righteous, then we might decide that we can sit back and relax; we won't push ourselves. We should perceive ourselves as wicked when we start becoming satisfied with our spiritual achievements, when we become lazy about our need to constantly do more, to attain new heights.

"Your people are all righteous!"

Keep this thought in mind the next time you have the opportunity to do a mitzva, or the next time you might be tempted to do something the Torah prohibits.

To illustrate this last point, imagine you're getting ready to bite into a mouth-watering eclair when your friend on the other end of the phone says, "I've been meaning to tell you how great you look since you lost weight." Of course, you quickly put down the calorie-laden pastry.

By reminding yourself that you are righteous - like the friend who told you how great you look - you'll have the confidence to do what needs to be done.


Living with the Rebbe

This week two Torah portions are read, Tazria and Metzora. Metzora deals with the various types of illness known as tzaraat (similar to but not the same as leprosy) and the purification procedure one had to undergo after suffering that affliction. Yet on another level, tzaraat signifies something deeper than just a skin condition or disorder.

Surprisingly enough, Moshiach is often referred to as a leper. The Talmud calls Moshiach a "leper," for "he suffers our burdens, and our maladies are his. He is therefore afflicted, stricken by G-d and tortured."

But Moshiach is considered a "leper" only during the exile, before the Final Redemption takes place. For, although Moshiach exists in every generation, he is not yet in a revealed state even though his essence is whole and unchanged. He must therefore suffer the pain of the Jewish nation and bear the burdens of exile together with them.

But what is the nature of Moshiach's suffering? Tzaraat, as pointed out by Chasidic philosophy, is a disease affecting only the "skin of his flesh." It is an illness which disfigures only the external layer, and does not involve internal organs or even the flesh itself. Leprosy therefore symbolizes a state in which a person's inner being remains unaffected, despite the outward manifestation of disease.

The leper represents a person whose inner self has already been purified and refined. All that remains is for the outermost shell, the husk, to be cleansed. In Moshiach's case, this outer layer consists of the Jewish people's collective infirmities.

This, then, is the condition in which we find ourselves today, on the threshold of the Messianic era. On the one hand, it appears as if we are still afflicted with many plagues, but in truth our afflictions are only external, for the essence of the Jewish people has been refined and cleansed by the long years of exile.

The laws of purification delineated in this week's portion also parallel the process of Moshiach's revelation and the purification the Jewish people must go through when he is revealed. Moshiach, too, impatiently awaits the day he will no longer suffer and G-d will bring the final Redemption, speedily in our day.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

Chabad To The Rescue
by Leslie Aliza Seigel

Excerpted from the on-line book Remember Mount Sinai (members.tripod.com/lseigel/)

I found out there was a Chabad House at the University of Miami about 10 minutes from where I lived. I decided to go and check it out; I thought it might give me a chance to meet other Jews like myself who were also searching for answers and exploring their lives as Jews. Eventually I started going to the Chabad House regularly.

The rabbi there was Dovid Eliezrie. He was a real character, but the truth is that I wouldn't be married to my husband and be where I am today if it wasn't for Dovid Eliezrie. He put up with a lot of crazy students back then, including me.

Rabbi Eliezrie suggested that I write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and ask him to give me a Jewish name. Nearly every Jewish boy and girl is given a Jewish name shortly after birth, but my parents had never given me a Jewish name. So I sent the Rebbe some poetry I had written, and I told him that since I thought it was very important for every Jew to have a Jewish name, would he please give me one. What I didn't tell the Rebbe was that years before, a teacher in my temple said I should use the name Leah, and I actually had used it for a while. All I knew about Leah at that time was that she was not the patriarch Jacob's first choice as a wife, and I didn't want a name that meant I was picked second. Of course, I now know what a righteous woman our matriarch Leah was and that anyone named for her should feel truly honored. Anyway, I thought it would be really rude of me to ask the Rebbe to give me any Jewish name except Leah, so I didn't mention any of this in my letter to the Rebbe.

I still remember the moment when Rabbi Eliezrie told me what the Rebbe's secretary had said to him over the phone. The Rebbe had given me the name Alizah, which I thought was a beautiful name. The Rebbe also said that though it is very important for every Jew to have a Jewish name, "It is even more, more (the Rebbe emphasized the word 'more' by repeating it) important to live a Jewish way of life every single day."

I understood what the Rebbe meant. He obviously knew how inconsistent I was at the time in deciding to keep Torah and mitzvot (commandments). I decided to hang in there and try a little harder to stay on that path. And from that moment on, Rabbi Eliezrie always called me Alizah.

Rabbi Eliezrie continued to make a genuine effort to reach out, not only to me, but to my family as well. He came to visit us at our home, and he invited us to his home for the Passover seders. He really made us feel like friends. He tried to reach out to every Jew he could. Once, he planned a whole weekend Shabbaton in Tallahassee, and I decided to go. Rides to the Shabbaton were scheduled to leave very late Thursday evening. My mother drove me to the Chabad House.

I shared a ride with Rabbi Eliezrie, an even crazier rabbi named Kasriel Brusowankin and two other people. In typical Lubavitch style we arrived late, and things were really hopping. It was almost Shabbat, and I watched as Rabbi Eliezrie hurriedly poured tomato sauce all over pans of chicken. When he ran out of tomato sauce, he started squirting ketchup all over and shoving the pans into the oven.

That evening, the speaker was a wonderful psychologist from Palo Alto, California named Dr. Judah Landes. He began by telling us that there were two things his mother was always asking him to do, lose weight and put on tefilin. When his son was about to have his Bar Mitzva and put on tefilin, Dr. Landes thought that maybe he should also start putting tefilin on. But every time he started to put them on, he would begin to cry like a baby. Although he didn't understand what was happening to him, it turned out to be the beginning of the journey that would bring him back to Torah. Dr. Landes explained how certain actions of a Jew lead to the awakening of the Pintele Yid, the spark of Jewishness which exists inside of every Jew. With Dr. Landes, his little spark was awakened simply through his action of trying to put on tefilin. I enjoyed how he spoke from his heart, and what he said certainly sparked something inside of me.

I felt comfortable enough to go up and talk to him after his speech. I told him that I thought I might want to live a Jewish way of life, but I had this really great Catholic boyfriend, so what should I do? Well, he looked me straight in the eye and said, "You have to break up with him. You'll do it now and you'll understand why later." Dr. Landes was right.

The next morning, Rabbi Brusowankin taught a class at the Shabbaton. I was really impressed with the way he spoke so highly of "the Jewish woman," and especially of his wife Tzippora. I remember thinking, "This guy is okay; he really appreciates his wife." Later, some of us were having a discussion with him about why Orthodox Jews never exercise, and Rabbi Brusowankin said he got plenty of exercise lifting his kids up and down. Then someone pointed to Rabbi Brusowankin's stomach and said, "Then why do you have that?" Rabbi Brusowankin sat back, smiled, patted his stomach and proudly replied, "This is a Cholent stomach." Lubavitch rabbis are always ready with a good answer for everything.

I really did enjoy myself that weekend, and I learned a lot more about Jewish life as it should be than I ever expected. I learned from watching Rabbi Eliezrie that Jewish men were more than adequate in the kitchen when they needed to be. I learned from Dr. Landes, who told me plain and simply that Jews were not meant to be married to non-Jews, no matter how great the relationship seemed to be. And I learned from Rabbi Brusowankin that a Jewish man is incomplete without a Jewish woman, and also that it is the woman who sets the whole tone for her family.

I was beginning to think that maybe these Jews were not so crazy after all.


What's New

RESCUE FLIGHT #61

Amidst the violence, Cher-nobyl parents continue to send their children to Israel for health care. This past month 22 children from the contaminated regions of Ukraine and Belarus arrived in Israel on Chabad's Children of Chernobyl's 61st rescue flight, bringing to 2,177 the number of children brought to Israel since 1990. The children live on special campuses in Kfar Chabad where they receive health care and education.


The Rebbe Writes

20th of Iyar, 5713 [1953]

Sholom B'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:

I was pleased to receive your letter. You need not excuse yourself for writing in English, and should not hesitate to continue to do so. The important thing is that your letters should contain good news.

I was gratified to note in your letter that you feel the need and urge to devote more time to learn Torah, and that to increase the amount of Tzedoko [charity] cannot make good the deficiency in the time of study. That this is true, we can see from physical life. Each organ of the body must receive its nourishment, and although strength in one indirectly benefits also the rest, each and every one must receive its own blood and nourishment. Spiritually, the soul has its own 248 "organs" and 365 "blood vessels," namely the positive and negative precepts, respectively, which make up the spiritual stature of the Jew. And although a greater effort in one Mitzvah [commandment] benefits the whole organism, each Mitzvah has its own function which cannot be substituted by another.

I trust this feeling of the need for more time for study, which springs from an inner desire for Torah, will be translated into practical deed, and without loss of time, and that you will go from strength to strength, as our Sages rule: "Maalin b'Kodesh" [ascend in holiness].

Your determination to give Tzedoko above Maaser [the commandment of donating 10% of one's income to charity], is certainly praiseworthy, and in addition to all else, it is a Segulah ["catalyst"] for good business and avoidance of losses, so that not only would your anxiety about your surplus stock prove unfounded, but even bring a profit, in accordance with the words of our Sages "Aser bishvil shetisasher [tithe to become wealthy]."

I am looking forward to receiving good news about your coming addition to the family. It would be advisable to have all the Mezuzoth checked in the meantime.

May G-d help you and your wife to raise children to a life of Torah, Chuppah [marriage] and Maasim Toivin [good deeds], and that you continue to increase your share of Torah and Mitzvoth.

With blessing,


11th of Menachem Av, 5714 [1954]

Sholom uBrocho:

I have received your letter of August 5th, and in compliance with your request I will remember you in prayer for improved business on my next visit at the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory.

I am sorry to note some discouragement in your outlook by reason of the setback you had in business. Surely you know that our Sages refer to the "wheel" of fortune, and after a turn of the wheel downward must come a turn upward, but a lack of faith does not help it. Besides, there is also the psychological effect, and a lack of courage and assurance brings with it a lessening of initiative, etc. Actually there has been a general business recession, and your setback was not exceptional, while the worst in business seems to be over.

In view of all of the above, it is my decided opinion that you have no cause for worry, and you should be quite firm in your faith in G-d that things will improve.

While doing everything necessary in a natural way one should never forget that it is G-d's blessing which brings success, and G-d is not limited to business cycles, so that as long as you keep the channels of Torah and Mitzvoth wide open, especially in everything connected with the Jewish home, you should have every confidence in the flow of G-d's blessings.

I trust your brother conveyed my regards to your son's Bar Mitzvah, for he had told me that he expected to be in Manchester on that occasion. I wish you and your wife much Chassidishe Nachas [Chasidic pleasure].

With blessing,


Rambam this week

3 Iyar 5762

Prohibition 216: sowing grain or vegetables in a vineyard

By this prohibition we are forbidden to sow grain or vegetables in a vineyard. It is derived from the Torah's words (Deut. 22:9): "You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed." The prohibition also applies to grafting trees of diverse kinds.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we begin the month of Iyar. In the Torah, Iyar is referred to as the second month, since it is the second month from Nisan. It is also called Ziv--the month of radiance (Kings I)--because the sun's radiance begins to grow. Iyar is also a month of healing, for the generation of Jews who came out of Egypt were healed this month from all their illnesses, as they prepared to receive the Torah. In fact, the word Iyar spelled in Hebrew letters is an acronym for the verse, "I G-d am your Healer."

The month of Iyar for the generation of the desert was, in essence, a foretaste of the Messianic Era when we will witness ultimate physical and spiritual bliss. According to the Midrash (Breishit Rabba) everyone will be healed of all their diseases. At the time of the Redemption, we are told, G-d will take the sun out of the special sheath in which He enclosed it. These special rays of the sun which had previously been hidden are healing rays and will cure everyone of all their ailments. The blind, the deaf, and the mute, anyone who has any illness or disease, any blemish or disability, will be healed.

Death itself will cease, as the Prophet Isaiah said, "Death will be swallowed up forever and G-d will wipe the tears from every face."

When will these miracles occur? There are two stages to the Redemption. The first stage is the one about which Maimonides writes, "The world will follow its normal course." This stage is a precursor for the second, later stage when we will see changes in the conduct of the world. The laws of nature will be changed to what they were originally intended to be, that is, as they functioned while Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden. At this time we will see the actual fulfillment of our Prophets' words such as the wolf at peace with the lamb, etc.

It is in this second stage that we will witness the Resurrection of the Dead--the belief in which is the last of the Thirteen Principles of Faith as expounded by Maimonides. In this second stage, G-d will be revealed in all of His Glory.

May the month of Iyar truly be a month of healing--spiritual, physical and emotional healing for the Jewish people and the entire world.


Thoughts that Count

He shall shave off all his hair-his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. (Lev. 14:9)

The plagues that are mentioned in this week's Torah portions came as punishment for three things: haughtiness, gossip, and jealousy. Therefore, the cleansing process for one afflicted with leprosy was done in the following order: First, the hair on the head was shaved off, because the person's excessive pride caused him to desire to be above others; second, the hair of the beard was removed, because he did not control his mouth and spoke slanderously against his fellow man; and third, the eyebrows were shaved off, as they did not prevent his eyes from looking narrowly and with avarice at the possessions of others.

(Klai Yakar)


The priest will command him to take... cedar wood, and a string of scarlet yarn, and hyssop (Lev. 14:4)

The great commentator Rashi explains: These plagues come to punish excessive pride. How does one atone for this and become well? By humbling himself like the above inanimate objects.


The Kotzker Rebbe once remarked: Our rabbis have always emphasized that the performance of mitzvot (commandments) requires proper devotions. Indeed, when mitzvot are performed with the proper intentions, their worth is immeasurable. However, there is one mitzva which cannot be performed for its own sake: humility. If you are trying to be humble, it is really just a form of pride.


But if he be poor, and his means do not suffice... (Lev. 14:21)

The reason that it is permissible for a poor man to bring a smaller offering than a wealthy man, is that his poverty itself is an atonement, and through it he is cleansed of his sin.

(Tchelet Mordechai)


It Once Happened

The young woman rose early. She hurriedly dressed in the half-light, making her way down the hill. Her attention was taken up by thoughts of the future. Following the sound of melodious voices, she arrived at the House of Prayer, and took up her usual position outside. It was here she came every morning, to sit upon the large rock and allow the sounds to enter her and fill her soul.

From the moment she knew there was life within her, her plan was clear. She would go every day to the House of Prayer and then to all the Houses of Study. Her child, though yet to be born, would gradually come to know the sounds of the holy words of Torah.

When asked where she was going, she would reply, "I am going to the House of Prayer, so that my baby can hear the holy words." No one could fathom her design; but to her it was perfectly clear.

On this particular cold, winter day, she sat immersed in her own prayer to the One Above to bless her child with wisdom and the ability to toil in His Torah. She sat until the scholars emerged. Shyly, she approached the first: "Please, bless my child with wisdom." The old man smiled at the young woman whose presence no longer surprised him. "May your child shine with the light of Torah," he replied. She then continued on to the various Houses of Study where she would sit beneath the open windows, the words of Torah permeating her essence.

The months passed. The young woman still made her early morning rounds, but now she was accompanied by her new son, her precious treasure.

She still visited both the Houses of Prayer and the Houses of Study, but now she propped up the small baby in his cradle which she carried from home. And from the early morning until the heat of the day had passed, the tiny baby sat, dozed, ate, and dozed again while the sacred melodies of Torah learning filled the air, enveloping him and filtering into his consciousness. The young mother was joyful with her lot and confident in the future of her small child, Yehoshua.


Rabbi Yehoshua was tired. The road to Rome was long and difficult. But, thank G-d, his mission had met with success. His nerve-wracking debates with the vicious Hadrian had yielded the hoped for result-the severe decrees against the Jews had been rescinded. He could return to Yavne in peace, with good news for all his fellow Jews. Rabbi Yehoshua was enjoying his repose. Rabbi Yehoshua's thoughts turned to home. He longed to return to the Holy Land, to resume learning Torah with his beloved comrades, to enjoy the serenity of life's routines.

He was immersed in reverie when he was jolted by the appearance of a young Roman woman who stood before him with a saucy look on her face.

"So, you are Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania," she said with disdain.

"So, I am," answered Rabbi Yehoshua, for even in his humility he was aware that his fame extended to Rome. His wisdom, though, was equalled by his penetrating insight and deep-felt love for his fellowman.

"I have heard many tales recounting your wisdom," she replied. "But never would I have imagined that G-d would pick such an ugly vessel for his wisdom!"

Rabbi Yehoshua smiled at the girl's rude, but honest description of his appearance. He thought for only a moment and looked her in the eye, "Tell me, does your father have much old wine?"

"Yes, of course. We have quite extensive cellars," the girl answered.

"Well," he continued, "how does your father store the wine?"

"In clay jugs, of course."

"Can he not afford silver casks?" asked Rabbi Yehoshua, feigning surprise.

"Certainly he could, but everyone knows that wine will spoil if it is stored in silver. Clay is the proper material for preserving wine."

"Ah, now you have your answer! The Creator of the World knows the proper receptacle for his wisdom, and thus has He created me! So, if you have some complaint, you must take it to my Creator!"

The Roman woman was both embarrassed and impressed by Rabbi Yehoshua's discourse with her. She quickly took her leave, murmuring apologies, but as for Rabbi Yehoshua, he was unperturbed by the whole encounter.

Back in Yavne, Rabbi Yehoshua felt an immense relief. Now, life's rhythms could begin anew; and to him life was synonymous with Torah. And for his great learning and his loving nature, he was loved by all whom he touched. The years accumulated greatness and honor, but Rabbi Yehoshua's aim never changed.

One day, already an old man, Rabbi Yehoshua sat with his students exploring a question in Jewish law. Was it incumbent upon the parents to bring their small children to hear the reading of the Torah during the Hakhel year? Rabbi Yehoshua listened to the discussion, and then related the story of how his mother would rise before dawn to sit beneath the open windows and allow her child to absorb the feel and essence of the holy words. All his life, Rabbi Yehoshua continued, he recalled his mother with blessing, for it was she who instilled in him the holiness to which his soul became attached.

Rabbi Yehoshua's comment sealed the Jewish legal conclusion with his own beautiful truth.


Moshiach Matters

As he looked into the Book of Adam, Moses was shown the Sages and the leaders of all generations of the future. When he thus gazed ahead at the generation that would live to witness the footsteps of Moshiach, he saw that they would have but a modest conception of Divinity, and in serving G-d with their minds and their hearts they would not attain the loftiest peaks of G-dly service. Rather, they would actively observe the Torah and its commandments in a spirit of self-sacrifice. At the same time, he was shown what joy this service would bring about in the heavens Above.

(Sefer HaMaamarim 5710)


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