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L'Chaim
August 23, 1996 - 8 Elul 5756

432: Ki Teitzei

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  431: Shoftim433: Ki Tavo  

Time for a Checkup  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  A Call To Action
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's New  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Time for a Checkup

Once in a while, for safety's sake, you can and should test your smoke-detector to make sure it's working properly. This is, of course, in addition to replacing the battery when it starts beeping once in awhile. When it starts beeping all the time, for your safety and sanity, you'd better replace the battery immediately. In addition, some smoke-detectors come with information about how often they should be tested and how often batteries need to be replaced.

There's another "safety contraption" in our homes which needs to be checked periodically -- our mezuzot. It is customary and advisable to have a knowledgeable person check the mezuza parchment (the actual mezuza) during the month of Elul. Though mezuzot don't actually come with pre-packaged instructions, the instructions should be followed all the same.

Since we are presently in this month, it' time to check our mezuzot. It's also a good time to take a moment to learn about the place mezuzot (like smoke-alarms) hold in helping assure our safety.

The Zohar, which contains the more esoteric aspects of Judaism, explains that the effect of having a mezuza on one's door is to provide protection by G-d from the time you leave home until you return.

This aspect of "protection" is also hinted to by the Hebrew letter "shin" which appears on most mezuza covers. The shin is the first of three letters, shin -- dalet -- yud, which spell out one of G-d's names. Those letters are also an acronym for Shomer Daltot Yisrael -- Gaurdian of the Doors of Israel.

Finally, just as the blood, placed on the doorposts of the Jewish homes in Egypt kept away the Angel of Death, so, too, the mezuza has the effect of "not allowing the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you." (Exodus 12:23)

With all of the above in mind, however, we are told not to look upon the mezuza as a charm or amulet; it is not a good luck symbol, garlic, etc., to be worn around one's neck. It is also not just a symbol or quaint ritual, to tell the outside world that this is a Jewish home. Of course, it does serve as a concrete reminder to the people living in the home, when coming in or going out, that the people in the home, in fact, are Jewish, though this is not its primary purpose.

How can we understand how the mezuza protects us inside and outside the home and is yet not some sort of charm or amulet? A mezuza can be compared to a helmet. A soldier wears a helmet to protect him from enemy bullets and a mezuza, too, protects us, our family and our possessions from harm.

Yet, "bad" things do sometimes happen to someone with mezuzot on his doors. How is this possible? If, while wearing a helmet, an enemy bullet does manage to wound a soldier, it is the enemy bullet, and the enemy bullet alone which has pierced him. The helmet provides added protection, but is not the only factor involved in the soldier's safety.

Similarly, a smoke detector offers a certain amount of protection in case of fire. However, if a fire does, G-d forbid, cause damage, it is the fire and not the smoke detector which has brought about the disaster.

Have your mezuzot checked soon. If you don't have mezuzot or you need more, make sure to purchase them from a reputable Judaica store or certified scribe. Or call your local Lubavitch representative for more information.


Living with the Rebbe

The first verse of this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, seems to contain a grammatical error. "When you go forth to war against your enemies," it begins, "and the L-rd your G-d will deliver him into your hands." Why does the Torah begin the verse with the plural--enemies-- and continue in the singular?

Every word in the Torah is exact, every letter conveying a multitude of nuances and meanings which teach countless lessons. This verse, which seemingly deals with the subject of conventional warfare, alludes to a different type of war, a spiritual war which is waged by every individual.

A Jew may face two types of enemies: one which threatens his physical existence and one which threatens his special holiness as a member of the Jewish people -- his Jewish soul.

The Torah uses the word "enemies" to refer to both these threats, for the body and soul of the Jew work in tandem, united in their service of G-d. Whatever imperils one's physical well-being threatens one's spiritual equilibrium, and vice versa.

The Torah tells us how to emerge victorious over both types of enemy: "When you will go forth." A person must gird himself with the strength that comes from absolute faith in G-d, even before encountering the enemy. Next, one's approach must be that of ascendancy -- "against (literally, `over') your enemies." Know that G-d Himself stands beside you and assists you in your struggle.

Armed in such a manner, victory is assured, not only against conventional enemies, but against the root of all evil -- the Evil Inclination, equated in the Gemara with "the Satan (enemy of the soul), and the Angel of Death (enemy of the physical body)."

When a Jew goes out to "war" fortified with the knowledge that there is no force in the world able to stand in the face of goodness and holiness, not only are external manifestations of evil vanquished, but its spiritual source is defeated as well. The Torah therefore uses the singular -- enemy -- to allude to the Evil Inclination, the origin and prototype of all misfortune.

The verse concludes with the words "and you shall take captives of them." If a Jew is not careful and falls prey to the Evil Inclination, all of his higher faculties, given to him by G-d to be utilized for good, also fall into its snare. The Torah teaches that sincere repentance has the power to redeem these captive prisoners, elevating them until even "willful transgressions are considered as merits."

Such warfare brings Moshiach and the Final Redemption closer, when the Evil Inclination will be totally vanquished and the victory over sin will be permanent.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

My Mother
by Debra Krauthamer

Two summers ago, my mother (of blessed memory), was dying of cancer in a Seattle hospital, and I was privileged to be able to spend a lot of time with her during those weeks. I had grown up in a completely secular home, and as an adult had be come observant.

Although not Lubavitchers ourselves, my husband and I were members of the Seattle, Washington, Chabad Shul and I had become active in the Chabad Women's Organization there. In my talks with my mother, I told her about the support and strength I had received from the Chabad community.

My mother, who was Jewishly uneducated and had been uninterested in religion her whole life, suddenly became interested in learning more about Moshiach. She was fascinated by the idea that we are truly on the verge of the Messianic age, and she wanted to know more about the signs which have led Lubavitchers and many others to expect Moshiach's revelation and the Redemption at any moment.

I borrowed a book from one of the Rabbis at Chabad House, and she read it. She said she didn't quite understand it, but found it interesting.

Not long afterward, she was in such incredible pain that the doctors had to put her into a drug-induced coma to keep her comfortable. The day they brought her in an ambulance to the hospice and hooked her up to the high dosage IV of morphine, I was told by a nurse that this was really the end. She said that my mother's bodily systems would start to shut down, and that it might be just a matter of a day or two. I prepared myself and davened [prayed], and began the grieving process. But strangely, she stayed in this state of unconsciousness for five weeks.

I asked Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin [one of the Rebbe's emissaries in Seattle], to whom my husband and I had become very close, what could be the purpose of her lingering in this state for so long. His answer comforted me immensely and will stay with me always. He said that we don't know exactly what it will take to "push us over the edge" in terms of our readiness for Moshiach. Who knows if the final level of readiness might be reached by one thought in the subconscious of a person in a coma.

I knew at that moment why euthanasia isn't G-d's way, it's humans trying to play G-d. I realized that until my mother breathed her last breath and her soul returned to G-d that there was a purpose to her existence, and that the purpose might have universal implications.

You might say that philosophically I became a chasid at that moment. I really began to believe that what we do and think does affect the Divine Presence. This, I believe, is the essence of the Chasidic world view. Finally, my mother passed away as my step-father and I stood by her bedside and watched her breathe her last breath. I was shaken, but relieved that her suffering had come to an end, and that she would be going to a place free of pain.

My mother had not known anything about Torah Judaism and had requested certain secular customs regarding her burial and funeral. As soon as she died, my stepfather and I had the difficult task of deciding whether to follow her requests, or to follow Jewish law. Again Rabbi Levitin and I spoke, and the way became very clear. He told me that no matter what a Jew believed while he/she lived, once the soul had gone to its Source, it received complete and total understanding of Torah, and it was the mitzva of the mourners to carry out a proper burial according to Jewish law because this would most honor the deceased.

We had to stop thinking about my mother the way she had been while she was alive, and concentrate on her soul, now freed from earthly ignorance and cultural influences. A decision had to be made quickly, and we made the decision to call the Chevra Kaddisha [Jewish burial society] and start the process of arranging for a proper burial.

I am so glad that my mother was buried in a proper burial. We set a beautiful headstone on her grave near the end of our year of mourning, and I look forward to visiting her grave on my next trip back to Seattle.

Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter


A Call To Action

Increase your prayers during this month

During the current month of Elul it is traditional to enhance or increase our observance of mitzvot. Prayer, in particular, is increased by adding Psalm 27 twice daily in our prayers, and saying 3 additional chapters of Psalms daily. If you don't pray daily, now is a perfect time to start. G-d understands all languages, but if you want to pray "in the original" call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. Many are offering crash courses in Hebrew reading to help you prepare for the upcoming holidays.


The Rebbe Writes

CULTIVATING A SEEDLING

7th of Cheshvan, 5737 [1977]

To All Participants in the Celebration Dinner of the Lubavitch Foundation in Glasgow, Scotland

...As has often been emphasized, the education of young children is very much like the cultivation of a tender seedling, where even a slight change at an early stage can have a decisive effect when the seedling matures into a fruit-bearing tree. How much more so when the change is a basic one and a durable one. In the case of young children, the proper care, or lack of it, especially in the present day and age, is, of course, of vital consequence which cannot be overemphasized.

We are witness to two phenomena which are apparently contradictory, yet both contribute to the favorable climate for the advancement of Torah education.

On the one hand we have seen an appalling alienation of recent years of many of our Jewish youth from their spiritual heritage, and even from any affinity to their Jewish people, which in some extreme cases, has led them to self-hate, and to joining forces with the enemies of our people.

On the other hand, there is a genuine search and a soulful desire among many other of our youth for the truth and for a sense of belonging. In this determination, they are ready to face challenges and hardships, to the extent of sacrificing careers and the pursuit of material goods.

Given the right direction and help, these young people readily dedicate themselves to Torah with a total commitment which is nourished by their realization of having found at last true inner peace an self-fulfillment.

In light of the above, every effort in behalf of Torah education is assured of success, especially when it is made with a sense of dedication and, to use the well-known expression of our Sages, with "words coming form the heart" which are certain to penetrate the heart and be effective.

Indeed, this has been our invariable experience, which has been most gratifying and rewarding in all countries and cities where Lubavitch has been engaged in all phases of Jewish education, and not least in your city of Glasgow.

With the consistent and devoted cooperation of all friends of Torah education; with personal identity with this cause in the realization that, as our Sages defend it, our Jewish people are one body, one organism; and stimulated by past achievements--your efforts will be rewarded beyond expectation. This will also be a source of Divine blessings--in every respect, materially and spiritually--for each and all of you, your families and the community at large.

Wishing you much hatzlacha [success],


What's New

A DAY TO RECALL A DAY TO REMEMBER

This book recounts in detail the happenings and events that are connected to the auspicious dates of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes. The thirty-one dates that are included in this first volume span the Hebrew months of Nisan through Elul and represent only a fraction of the actual history of Chabad. A Day to Recall - A Day to Remember, volume I, was written by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon, a prominent teacher at United Lubavitcher Yeshivot in Brooklyn. Available through S.I.E. by sending $14.95 to 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213

DEFIANCE AND DEVOTION

One of the newest books from Sichos in English, Defiance and Devotion is a collection of Chasidic discourses of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, dating from the time of his arrest and liberation in 1927. Translated into English by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, the potent message in these discourses is that they embody an explicit and fearless call to defy the Soviet regime, even at the cost of life itself. Available at Jewish bookstores and through the publisher by sending $14 to Sichos in English, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.


A Word from the Director

During the month of Elul we blow the shofar in preparation for the High Holidays. The Baal Shem Tov, whose birthday we celebrate on the 18th day of this month, told the following parable about the Jewish people and the shofar:

A mighty king had an only child, a beloved son. Though the prince grew to be a well-educated young man, he and the king decided that by traveling to other countries he would further enhance his knowledge.

And so, the prince set out, laden with wealth and accompanied by nobles and servants. The prince travelled for years and years, studying the people and countries he encountered and acquiring a great taste for luxuries. At first slowly, and then more quickly, the prince spent his money until he was finally left penniless, without servants or friends, far from his father's palace and comfortable life.

Slowly, the prince made his way back to his homeland. He arrived at his father's palace, bedraggled and exhausted. He had been away so long, though, that he had even forgotten his mother-tongue. Through signs and gestures, he tried to convince the palace guards that he was the prince, but the guards just laughed and beat him.

Finally, the prince cried out in anguish and grief, a wordless cry full of desperation and agony. And his father, the king, heard and recognized the prince's cry and ran out to greet his son.

The king is, of course, G-d, the King of Kings. The Jewish people are the prince.

G-d caused the soul to descend into and wander in the body to perform mitzvot and do good deeds. However, the person often gets distracted and wanders far away. Eventually, however, when he notices the poverty of his life, he returns to his "Father's palace" though he no longer even knows the language or how to communicate with G-d, the King. So, he utters an incoherent cry, but a cry from his very depths -- the cry of the shofar. And the cry of the shofar is recognized by the King, who lovingly accepts him and all His returning children.

May we merit, even before Rosh Hashana, to hear the cry of the Great shofar which will be sounded at the commencement of the Messianic Era.


Thoughts that Count

Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them near to the Torah. (Ethics 1:12)

The Hebrew word used for people here is briyot -- literally, "creatures." The term "human being" (ben adam) is used to stress a person's humanity and his relationship to Adam, father of all mankind.

The term "Children of Israel" is used to emphasize the significance of being a Jew. The term "creatures," as explained by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, refers to those who have absolutely no other virtues. Their only merit, as it were, is to have been created by G-d. Yet even these Jews are worthy of our love.

(The Rebbe)

Hillel used to say: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" (Ethics 1:14)

It is up to the individual to better himself and improve his behavior through his own hard work. No one else can do this for him; only he can achieve his own perfection. Yet no matter how high a level is reached, a person must never become to self-satisfied. "What am I" one should ask, "How may I further improve?" Finally, the observance of mitzvot should never be postponed until a later date. If negative character flaws are not corrected in one's youth, it is far more difficult to change in later years, when bad habits have already become ingrained.

(Mili D'Chasiduta)

Hillel used to say, "...nor can an ignorant person be pious" (Ethics 2:5).

Just as a fire will not burn unless it has the proper channel -- wick and oil -- so, too, will love of G-d not take hold unless it is contained in the proper vessel.

The mitzvot a Jew observes and the Torah he learns define his capacity to love a nd fear G-d and form the vessel with which this is accomplished. An ignorant person has not spent sufficient time creating that vessel and, thus, cannot be truly pious.

(Torah Ohr; Sefer Hamaamarim)


It Once Happened

Two brothers, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech, were great tzadikim and amongst the most prized disciples of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritch. With the passing of time and difficulty of communication, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech lost contact with a third brother, who was not a chasid.

The two brothers, throughout their many travels, would ask about their brother and try to ascertain his whereabouts. They were intrigued to know what type of lifestyle he was living. Was he religious like themselves, or had he, G-d forbid, abandoned the teachings of the Torah? And even if he was religious, was he exacting in his practice, concerned only for the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law?

And so, in each town and village they visited, as they spread the teaching of their master, the Magid, they asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of their brother. Try as they might, they could not find out any information. Yet, they still persisted on their self-imposed mission.

When finally they did hear some information concerning where their brother lived, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech rejoiced. And yet, there was a certain amount of hesitation in their rejoicing for, after over a dozen years of separation, they had no idea what their reunion would bring.

And so, with slight trepidation, the two brothers made their way to a small village where their brother was an innkeeper. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech entered the inn and observed their brother at work. He was busy the entire day greeting guests, preparing rooms, and cooking food. He ran from person to person, task to task, with a cheerful countenance and dealt with each guest, rich or poor, graciously. With his long beard, tzitzit, and long black coat, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech were assured that their brother had indeed remained true to the Torah even in this isolated village.

But still, a question remained unanswered for Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelch. These two chasidic masters were known for their humility. But, of course, humility doesn't preclude the fact that they understood that there was something special about themselves. They might have considered themselves undeserving of the remarkable qualities which G-d gave them, but to outright deny their uniqueness would be like denying a precious gift. And so, they wondered, was there something exceptional about their brother, too, and the way he served his Creator?

Evening came at their brother's inn. Most of the guests had already arrived and the furious activity of the daytime hours had slowed. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech observed as their brother entrusted his wife with the inn's duties and entered his study. In the study, he prayed the evening service and then poured over his holy books until it was quite late.

The brothers were reassured by this sight, but not awed; it was not uncommon for a Jew to put in a full day's work and then spend his "leisure" hours in prayer and Torah study. However, their brother's next activity was indeed unusual. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother began to say the Shema before bedtime. In the middle of the prayers before retiring, their brother took out a worn ledger and opened it toward the end of the book.

For long moments he sat motionless, pouring over a page of his ledger. "How much could be written on one page that it takes him so long to read it?" they wondered. They continued to watch, transfixed. As the minutes ticked away, they saw their brother begin to shake. Tears rolled down his cheeks and onto the page of the ledger in front of him. In a quiet, trembling voice they heard him read from the ledger, "I didn't serve this guest today with as much honor as is befitting a fellow-Jew. ...I was too quick to answer this person when they asked me a question..." On and on went the list of their brother's "sins" which he had written into the tear-stained ledger.

Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother continued crying and reading from the ledger until the words on the page literally disappeared. Whether it was his tears or a miracle that washed away his "sins," the brother knew that when his sins were no longer on the page, his sincere repentance had been accepted.

The brothers thought of their parents, and wondered at what great deeds they had done to merit raising such remarkable children.


Moshiach Matters

A gentile landlord once asked a chasid: "What will you do if your Moshiach comes and I won't believe in him?" Replied the chasid: "If you won't believe in him, I won't believe in him either!"


  431: Shoftim433: Ki Tavo  
   
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