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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Eli Hecht
Recently, World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov participated in an unprecedented game of chess. The contest was against "Super Computer Deep Blue," a program expressly created by an outstanding team of IBM scientists to challenge Kasparov.
The IBM team that programed Deep Blue was so sure of winning that they picked Kasparov (who had vowed never to lose to a computer in classical chess) to be contested; and they were confident that they would prove their point.
It was to be man vs. machine, with the computer winning, of course.
To the consternation of many, Deep Blue did not win, but in their defeat, the excuse given by the IBM team was that Kasparov is the only one who could win and that "Gary learned through the match how to best play against the computer."
This chess match is a "perfect" example of man's ever-present and irrational need to defy the truth.
Man will never be able to program or build anything to perfection, for he is only human. And as a human, he will never reach the zenith of perfection because only G-d is perfect.
All throughout history we've seen examples of how man has tried, with reason or force, to prove himself equal to G-d. And when he fails, in each of these cases, man will find reasons and excuses all the while thinking that next time the outcome will prove successful.
The debate on how to treat comatose patients is on the increase.
Almost daily, distinctions are being made between what is considered a prolonged vegetative state versus a comatose one.
Recently, the reports that Gary Dockery, the 42-year-old policeman who woke up after 7-1/2 years in a coma, are being explained by Cornell University neurologist, Dr. John Caronna, as a bit of the norm. "Everyone loves to think of this case as Rip Van Winkle, but it wasn't," explains Caronna. The doctor seems to be saying that Dockery's recovery wasn't a miracle, rather, that it was a bit of medicine and good luck. After all, during the seven years, Gary had blinked once for yes and twice for no. Therefore, Gary was really in a twilight zone with some awareness, and this was an indicator for the patient's eventual return to consciousness. But in reality, there is no real medical explanation as to why he did wake up when he did!
Once again, we were baffled by the outcome.
Think for a moment: How could a man possibly wake up and speak normally after being sustained by a machine for 7-1/2 years? Isn't G-d telling us something: Man's understanding is not always perfect.
In these and many more cases, man's might and ingenuity seem to have little or no effect on the actual outcome. Medical predictions, computer predictions and strategic warfare are all actions subject to man's fallacy. Humans can and will make errors. G-d does not.
It's something to consider as we all eagerly await and work toward the time when G-d, Himself, will perfect the world in the Messianic Era.
The name of the first of this week's two Torah portions, Behar, means literally "on the mountain." The Midrash relates that when G-d wanted to reveal His holy Torah to the Jewish people, all the mountains in the world vied for the privilege.
Each mountain in turn came before G-d and boasted of its superiority and beauty, yet it was precisely Mount Sinai -- a small and unassuming mountain that refused to boast -- upon which G-d chose to give the Torah.
Neither the mountains' impressive height, prime location or other physical characteristics were taken into consideration. Not only did these features not convince G-d, as it were, to choose them, but their boasting had the opposite effect. For the Torah could only be given in a place where side issues were irrelevant; the Torah was revealed purely for its own sake.
The giving of the Torah on humble Mount Sinai contains a lesson for all of us in how a Jew is supposed to observe G-d's commandments.
Personal considerations and motivations, no matter how valid or convincing, are not the real reason we perform mitzvot. Rather, a Jew fulfills the Torah's commandments solely because such is the will of G-d.
Nor do we perform mitzvot because of their reward, despite the fact that the Torah promises ample dividends for our compliance. True, we will be more than compensated, but the true reason a Jew obeys G-d's will is only because He wants us to. Some Jews may wish to observe the commandments in order to merit Gan Eden, but this too, is only a secondary issue. Observing mitzvot brings delight to the spirit, refines our character attributes and purifies the soul, but the desire to obtain these personal benefits is not the Jew's genuine motivation.
As Jews we are obligated to emulate the example of Mount Sinai, the only proper "vessel" for containing the Torah. Our motivation and intent in heeding G-d's word must be unadulterated by thoughts of personal gain or advantage. For the true reason we serve G-d and obey His mitzvot is solely for the sake of serving Him.
In fact, had G-d commanded us to perform actions which would not be rewarded, we would carry out His will with the same joy, enthusiasm and vitality with which we observe the Torah commandments, solely because He wants us to!
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Volume 1
by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
I was on my way to South Africa when the Rebbe instructed me to change course and stop in Uganda. The Rebbe told me, "The Rebbe Maharash went out of his way just to bring one Jew back to Judaism... every Jew is considered a shaliach [emissary ] especially in this mission where more than one Jew is involved."
I wasn't sure if there were any Jews in Uganda, but I immediately made plans to spend Shabbat in Nairobi, Kenya. I then proceeded on to Uganda.
After a painstaking search, I found eighteen Jews. I gave each one of them a mezuza and encouraged them to increase in their Jewish observance. Uganda was once being considered as a homeland for Jews who then numbered 18 million. Now, it had only 18 Jews. No one cared for these lost Jews, except for the Rebbe whose all-encompassing soul cares for every Jew wherever he or she is.
At one point during my trip, there was a long stopover in Dakar, Senegal. The plane from South Africa en route to London and New York was delayed on the runway longer than usual for refueling. Then the steward notified us that there was a problem and we would remain for two days.
My travel plans were very carefully arranged, and now everything would have to be postponed. Then I remembered my audience with the Rebbe before I left. I had entered the Rebbe's room to hand him a report. Suddenly, he inquired about my flight schedules from one place to another in Africa and took great interest in whether one really needed to fly so fast from one Jewish center to another. "Maybe you could stop on the way in a small place where there are a few Jews."
Now, with this unexpected stop in Dakar, I realized what the Rebbe meant. The Rebbe asked me about a stop in the middle of the way, and here I was forced to stop in Dakar.
I summoned a taxi to take me to the center of town. I walked through the streets staring at passersby, looking for Jewish faces. Walking along slowly with my beard, black hat and long coat, I hoped a Jew would approach me. It had to happen, just like all my other missions from the Rebbe. Wasn't this why my plane was delayed?
Suddenly, a young man patted me on the shoulder. "Pardon me," he said in French, "are you Jewish or Indian?" After I was able to grasp what he said I knew that I found what I was looking for.
Here was a Jew residing in Dakar, and out of great excitement I whispered, "Shema Yisrael." The young man responded, "Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad." We embraced in the middle of the street. We found a quiet corner to sit and chat, and despite the language barrier our discussion flowed.
He told me his name was Clement Bajeau and he came to Dakar from Egypt. He worked with his uncle, who lived in Dakar, for the past 40 years. His uncle had married a gentile woman and removed himself from the Jewish fold.
I asked if he had tefilin. "No," he replied. "In Egypt I wore tefilin only for a short time after my Bar Mitzva." I took out tefilin from my hand-luggage and gave it to him. I asked, "Will you wear them every day?" He ran his fingers over them lovingly, but instead of answering "yes," "no," or "maybe," he sighed deeply.
Clement did not leave my side the entire 48 hours I was in Dakar and he helped me find other Jews. But the entire time I felt his tension. I knew that time was short and tried to get him to speak about what was bothering him, but to no avail.
The evening of my flight arrived. He accompanied me to the airport. Suddenly, he asked me if I could spend a little more time with him; he wanted to tell me something. We found a quiet corner in the airport. His words burst out full of pain.
"It's been sometime that I'm considering marrying a girl who is not Jewish... It troubles me. I know that I must leave her but there aren't any Jewish women here. As I was walking in the street before meeting you I was thinking only of that. Then I noticed you and said to myself, 'Here is a Jew, maybe he can help me.'"
I asked him, "What do you plan to do now?" "As long as you are here, Rabbi, I'm sure I won't see her. But I am afraid that the moment you leave, I will be unable to withstand the test and will eventually marry her."
Time was short. Soon the plane would take off. I took his hand and said: "I promise you, Clement, that I will remain in contact with you. But now I want you to promise me that you will soon go to France and marry a Jewish girl."
"Rabbi," Clement said with a trembling voice, "you don't know what meeting you means to me. Rabbi, thank you, and don't forget me."
Immediately upon my arrival in London I called the Rebbe's office in Brooklyn and asked that tefilin be sent to Clement along with other materials. Shortly afterwards, a package from 770 arrived for Clement, with tefilin, tzitzit, and a prayerbook. As it was before Passover, the Rebbe sent him a package of hand-baked matza, for him as well as for the other Jews in Dakar.
Months later I received an invitation to Clement's wedding in France to a traditional, Jewish girl who had even visited the Rebbe.
Again I had to travel to South Africa and went to the Rebbe for a private audience. "I hope this time you will visit Dakar even if nothing happens to the plane," the Rebbe said with a smile.
The first night of my stay at Clement's house, he made a party for me. I met Mr. Pinto, who started wearing tefilin through Clement's influence; Mr. Edward Politi, a righteous convert who keeps up a correspondence with the Rebbe; and Mr. Richardson, who at first was the only observant Jew in Dakar.
Clement told me of the "religious revolution" which took place in Dakar. When the Rebbe's matza arrived, they decided to arrange a seder. "Everyone was thrilled with the matzot from the Rebbe, "
Clement told me. "We wanted to make a proper seder and eat the Rebbe's matza. But most of all we wanted to thank G-d for this great tzadik who doesn't forget a single Jew, even those who are 'forgotten and far away.' He sends them a shaliach to remind them of the value of being Jewish.
Rabbi Wineberg has been traveling around the world for over 40 years on behalf of the Rebbe and United Lubavitcher Yeshivos.
To be continued in the next issue #418
Give even more tzedaka:
Giving tzedaka (charity) will not cause the family any lack. On the contrary, our Sages taught: "Tithe so that you will become rich."
Surely, this applies to those who give more than a tenth, increasing their donation to one fifth of their income. Particularly, at present, when women also earn a livelihood, it is appropriate that they give generously to tzedaka.
THE VALUE OF TIME
Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5731 
To All Participants in the "Evening with Lubavitch" in Philadelphia, Pa.
I am pleased to extend greetings and prayerful wishes to all participants in the Evening with Lubavitch, and particularly to the honored guests.
Inasmuch as the event is taking place in the days of Sefira ("Counting of the Omer"), it is well to reflect on the significance of this mitzva.
At first glance, the counting of days seems to be of no consequence, since the flow of time is beyond man's control. Yet, it is obviously very significant in that it lends emphasis to the period connecting the two most important events in Jewish history: Pesach -- the liberation from Egyptian bondage, marking the birth of the Jewish people; and Shavuot -- the Receiving of the Torah at Sinai, where the Jewish people became a truly free and mature nation.
Like all things with Torah, the Counting of the Omer has many aspects. To one of them I will address myself here.
Generally, the counting of things by the unit, rather than by approximation of the total, indicates the importance of the thing. The fact that each day, day after day for forty-nine days, a blessing is said before the counting, further emphasizes the importance of this thing -- in this case the value of time.
The blessing we make expresses not only our gratitude to G-d for giving us the mitzva of Sefira, but also our gratitude for each day which He gives us. We must learn to appreciate the precious gift of each day by making the proper use of it. The tasks we have to accomplish today cannot be postponed for tomorrow, since a day gone by is irretrievable.
Secondly, while it is true that the flow of time is beyond our control, since we can neither slow it, nor quicken it, expand it nor shrink it; yet, in a way we can directly affect time by the content with which we fill each day of our life.
When a person makes a far-reaching discovery, or reaches an important resolution, he can in effect put "ages" into minutes. On the other hand, time allowed to go by without proper content, has no reality at all, however long it may last.
Correspondingly, the Torah tells us that man has been given unlimited powers not only in regard to shaping his own destiny, but also the destiny of the world in which he lives.
Just as in the case of time, the real length of it is not measured in terms of quantity but in terms of quality, so also in regard to a man's efforts. Every good effort can further be expanded by the vitality and enthusiasm which he puts into it.
Indeed, the period of seven weeks connecting the above-mentioned two greatest historic events in Jewish life, illustrates, the Torah concept of time and effort as indicated above.
In the course of only seven weeks, a people which had been enslaved for 210 years to most depraved taskmasters, were transformed into a "Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation," who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai and received the Torah and mitzvot from G-d Himself.
"Lubavitch" teaches and exemplifies the principle of the predominance of form over matter, of the soul over the body. It is not the quantity -- in terms of physical capacity and length of time -- that is the essential factor, but it is the quality of the effort and the infinite capacity of the soul that determine the results.
I trust that the spirit of Lubavitch will stimulate each and all of the participants to ever greater accomplishments in all areas of Jewish life, both personal and communal.
CHILDREN AT HEART
A star-studded Sotheby's auction, co-chaired by Steven Spielberg and Elie Wiesel, benefitted the Chabad Children of Chernobyl Project, an Israel-based organization that evacuates Jewish Chernobyl victims and brings them to Israel for medical treatment.
Children are brought to live in campuses in Kfar Chabad where they are cared for until their parents can join them for permanent resettlement in Israel. To date, the organization has brought 1,294 children. The proceeds from this event paid for the evacuation and care of the children of the 22nd flight.
For more information on the activities of Chabad Children of Chernobyl you can write to: Jay Litvin - firstname.lastname@example.org
This week we read the fifth chapter of Ethics of the Fathers.
The first Mishna in this fifth chapter reads: "The world was created by means of ten [Divine] utterances. What does this come to teach us, for indeed it could have been created by one utterance? [It was done so] in order to bring retribution upon the wicked who destroy the world which was created by ten utterances, and to bestow ample reward upon the righteous who sustain the world which was created by ten utterances."
Our Sages have asked, if the world could have been created with one divine utterance, then why, in fact, was it created with ten?
Had the world been created with just one utterance then the world would have been on such a high spiritual level that everything would have been nullified to G-d. Thus, no entity, including humans, would have felt its own identity and there would have been no free choice in the world. Therefore, G-d created the world with ten utterances so that the world could be diverse and any self-nullification of a creation to G-d would not be an innate natural tendency, but rather a product of its own effort.
However, with the above explanation it seems as if G-d "could not" create the world with one utterance which, if this was the case, why does the Mishna even bother to suggest that He "could have?"
Thought is potent, Chasidic teachings emphasize. That G-d "considered" creating a more highly spiritual world than currently exists before creating this more mundane world actually gives the potential for this mundane world to be elevated to G-d's originally intended level of spirituality. And it gives us the potential to carry through this G-dly ordained mission.
Through using our G-dly gift of our soul powers -- thought, speech and action -- responsibly, we prepare ourselves for the revelation of Moshiach and can bring about the ultimate elevation of the world, which will take place in the imminent Redemption.
There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham to indicate how great is His patience...until Abraham our father came and received the reward of all of them (Ethics, Chapter 5:2)
The generations before Noah had no redeeming virtues whatsoever. They "repeatedly angered G-d" and lived in constant friction, conflict and discord. In contrast, although the generations before Abraham also "repeatedly angered G-d," they at least shared a kindred spirit and treated each other with love.
But although their conduct generated reward, they themselves were unfit to receive it. Because Abraham, unlike Noah, sought to influence the people around him for good, he "received the reward" of all the comradely deeds of the generations that preceded him.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. III)
A 20-year-old should pursue a living (Ethics, Chapter 5:22)
The first 20 years of a man's life should be largely devoted to toiling in Torah (beginning at age five): five years dedicated to Scripture, five years entirely Mishna, and five years devoted to Talmud. This method of learning is not designed to have an effect on the world, as such, but rather on the person himself, so that he will develop properly. From the age of 20, a man's duty is to be a "soldier." He must go to war to conquer the world and make it a fitting dwelling place for G-d by fulfilling the mitzvot.
(Biurim L'Pirkei Avot)
The world was created by means of ten [Divine] utterances (Ethics, Chapter 5:1)
According to the principles of Torah numerology, five represents a level of G-dliness above all limitation, while ten reflects the structure of our finite, material world.
The intent of this chapter of Ethics of the Fathers is to reveal the G-dliness which transcends all limitations within the context of our material existence.
(Sefer HaSichot 5751, Vol. II)
Many years ago in a small village a Jewish boy was orphaned. A fellow villager took pity on him and took him into his own home. The child attended the local yeshiva but try as he might, he just couldn't grasp even the most rudimentary subjects.
Finally, the boy's guardian decided to apprentice him to a tar-maker. No sooner did his master teach him some element of the work than he could perform it faultlessly. After half a year his master said, "You don't need me any longer. You are competent enough to go into business for yourself."
The boy, now a young man, opened his own business in a neighboring village. He quickly established himself amongst the villagers, for both Jews and non-Jews alike were drawn to his cheerful manner and absolute honesty. His business thrived and he married the daughter of a local tradesman. He was soon able to support not only his family, but to give charity generously to the local yeshivas and other needy causes in the town. He even had built a special guest house to feed and maintained travellers at his expense.
His only regret in life was his ignorance of Torah. His father-in-law tried to soothe him, assuring him that the charity he provided to Torah scholars was counted to him as if he himself had studied, but to no avail.
One day in his guest house he noticed a certain visitor who was suffering from sores all over his body. "How did this happened to you?" he inquired.
"I was proficient in learning Torah," the man replied, "but the study of the commentaries was very hard for me. I decided to torment my body in order that G-d would help to open my mind to my learning. With G-d's help, I succeeded and reached my goal. With His help these sores will also heal," he replied.
The young man had never heard of such practices, but he was overjoyed to learn that he still had a chance. And so every day he would go into the woods, sit in a spot where the air was alive with biting gnats and flies, and there he would expose his skin to the creatures until it bled and itched unbearably.
One day, as he sat on a tree stump with flies buzzing all about him, a stranger approached and asked, "Why are you doing this?"
The young man explained his great desire to learn Torah. "It is totally unnecessary for you to do this. I will make a deal with you. If you will give me all of your worldly possessions, I promise you to teach you Torah."
"Of course, I am willing, but I must discuss it with my wife, for it affects her as well. I will meet you tomorrow, and I will tell you our final decision."
The man returned home and related the incident to his wife. "This is what you have always wanted. Of course, you should do it without delay," was her reply. But the man was still wary. After all, he had always been a responsible person. He went to his father-in-law and asked his opinion.
"What! To sign away all your possessions to an utter stranger in return for some foggy promise that you will learn Torah! Your charity is equivalent to the learning of a great scholar!"
The young man left in confusion. But his wife told him: "It seems to me that you aren't sure of what you want. You always professed the strongest desire to learn Torah, but now when you have the chance, you balk!"
The following day the stranger, who was none other than the Baal Shem Tov, came to the same spot in the forest, and the two men proceeded together to the young man's home. When they entered a tantilizing aroma greeted them, and they were astounded to see the table set for a lavish banquet.
"What is this?" asked the Besht.
The wife explained, "This is the last time we will be able to fulfill the holy mitzva of entertaining guests, and I wanted to perform the mitzva as beautifully as possible. In addition, we have reason to celebrate, for now you will be able to achieve your life's ambition. But I had one other consideration: There are many ways in which G-d is able to take away a person's fortune. We have the privilege of giving away all in order to 'buy' Torah learning. This is also a great cause for celebration."
After they had eaten, the Besht asked the young man, "What have you decided?" The young man seemed unsure but a look in the direction of his wife, gave the young man the courage to make the decision. He took a pen and signed all of his worldly goods over to the Besht. In accordance with their agreement, the couple was permitted use of the house and its garden as well as flour to bake bread. And in return, the would-be scholar travelled with the Baal Shem Tov to a place of Torah, where his eyes were illuminated.
True to his promise, the young man eventually became a great scholar and a tzadik. Years later, the Baal Shem Tov was heard to say that which was uttered about Rabbi Akiva's wife, Rachel, "Everything he has achieved belongs to her" -- to his selfless wife who sacrificed everything for Torah.
An aerial view of a Jewish cemetery (known in Hebrew as "The Home of the Living") often discloses that the plots are arranged in such a way that the foot of each grave is directed towards the Holy Land so that the body of every departed Jew is laid to rest "as if ready to arise and go up to Jerusalem."
(Gesher HaChaim vol. 1, p.138)