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Devarim Deutronomy

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576: Matot-Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

July 9, 1999 - 25 Tamuz, 5759

576: Matot-Masei

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  575: Pinchas577: Devarim  

Some Things Never Change  |  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

Some Things Never Change

Especially when we're whining about a problem that doesn't seem to go away, we complain "Some things just never change."

One thing that is changing, though, is the world. And anyone who says that the world hasn't changed, and changed phenomenally in this decade alone, is out of touch with reality.

Take surgery, for instance. Medical problems which a decade ago could only be corrected through traditional operations are now being dealt with on an out-patient basis through laser surgery. And with bloodless medicine becoming more popular, state-of-the-art techniques minimize a patient's blood loss before, during and after treatments for many illnesses. Who could have imagined such advances just a decade ago?

The world of medicine is really changing.

How we buy things has also changed drastically. In addition to shopping on the Internet and the plethora of outlet stores popping up everywhere, even the experience at the cash register has changed.

Everything has bar codes today, from a 20-cent candy stick at Kmart to $3,000 worth of kitchen cabinets at Home Depot. You're at the checkout line and beep, beep, beep, your items are passed over a scanner or zapped with a bar code reader and the total bill is right there on the screen in front of you.

The world of shopping is really changing.

A picture is worth a thousand words. And as we find ourselves with less time to write, photographs become an increasingly important way to keep in touch. One, two, three. Say "cheese." Take a photo with your digital camera and within minutes, Grandma and Grandpa who live thousands of miles away are enjoying a picture of the kids' latest antics.

The world of photography is really changing.

Who could even discuss changes in the world without at least mentioning computers? Since the advent of computers in every home (in some homes every family member has his/her own), we see how a person can sit in his house, move a finger, and literally touch the world! And, G-d willing, as we move closer and closer to the times of Moshiach, we will see more examples of the Internet and hackers using cyberspace for positive, educational or inspiring purposes.

We should look at the dramatic changes taking place in every aspect of our lives and realize that we are living in a special time. We should take a moment to recognize how advancements in technology are helping bring the fulfillment of Jewish teachings concerning the Messianic Era.

The Rebbe said in the early '90s that the world is ready for Moshiach, that all we need to do is open our eyes to the reality of the Messianic Era. Let's do it!

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Matot and Masei. In the second Torah portion, Masei, Moses recounts the Jewish people's travels through the wilderness. In connection with their encampment at Mount Hor, the Torah provides us with the details of Aaron's passing.

Actually, this is the second time we are told of Aaron's passing. The first reference appears earlier, in the portion of Chukat, which relates the Jews' journey toward Mount Hor.

However, there is a difference in the two accounts. The first account does not elaborate; the second informs us that Aaron died "at the commandment (literally "at the mouth") of the L-rd," i.e., that he died by Divine kiss. Additionally, we are told the date of his passing ("in the fifth month, on the first day of the month" - Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av), the year ("in the fortieth year after the coming out of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt"), and the age Aaron had attained at the time of his passing ("And Aaron was 123 years old when he died at Mount Hor").

An obvious question is raised: Why does the Torah wait until the second reference to Aaron's passing to fill us in on all the details? Indeed, including this information in the portion of Chukat would have seemed a more logical choice, as the events it relates are chronologically closer to the actual time of Aaron's passing.

One of the explanations offered is that the Torah portion of Masei is always read on or around Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Aaron the priest.

On a spiritual level, the original event that occurred on a particular date is "reawakened" and "relived" each and every year. Accordingly, the Torah relates the details of Aaron's passing precisely in Masei, as the week in which it is read coincides with the actual date of Aaron's death.

From this we learn the importance of studying the daily portions of Chitat*, as instituted by the Previous Rebbe: Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) with Rashi's commentary), according to the division of the seven Torah readings, i.e., the first reading on Sunday, the second on Tuesday, etc.; Tehilim (Psalms) as divided into days of the month, and Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy.

Just as Masei is relevant to the season in which it is read, so too are the chapters of Chitat that correspond to a given day specific and timely; they pertain to that particular day and should therefore not be postponed.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 8

* To learn how to implement this study schedule call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or study it on the web at

A Slice of Life


by Yehudis Cohen

"Surfing is one of the most incredible things that G-d invented," asserts Nachum Shifren, otherwise known as the "Surfing Rabbi."

Born in California, Nachum was drawn to the water at the age of 12. That was the year the movie The Endless Summer immortalized surfing.

Nachum's father, a former physical fitness trainer in the Navy, inculcated in Nachum and his brothers a deep appreciation for keeping fit. The importance of physical fitness together with the discipline with which Nachum was raised helped him mold his body and mind into that of a surfer.

Nachum became a regular at Malibu as a teen and attended the University of Hawaii so he could surf the Banzai Pipeline and catch the "perfect wave" while pursuing his degree. During those years he rubbed shoulders with most of the famous surfers from around the world.

After Hawaii he became a lifeguard in California, working 3 months a year and surfing the other 9. He chuckles as he repeats a motto he once heard: "Work is for people who don't surf."

His desire to "find out who I really was" climaxed when he started dabbling in student activism. He attended a convention where Timothy Leary declared, "Who are the enemies of the people and our movement, which is based on international harmony through love and peace? The Jews and the G-d of Israel."

Nachum recalls, "I was struck not so much by the incongruous nature of the remark, as by the utter lack of reaction from anyone in the audience, many of whom were Jews. The picture Leary painted, world harmony and love being jettisoned by the Jews, was a hip version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion with an Aquarian slant."

And so, at the age of 27, Nachum went to Israel to find himself. But being in the Jewish land and serving in the Israeli Army didn't help his search. In fact, it was in Israel that he became involved with a non-Jewish German woman, eventually following her back to Germany. There, Nachum enrolled at the University of Gottingen where he pursued a degree in German literature.

A visit to Dachau made a deep impression on him. In a moment of clarity, Nachum felt that what Hitler (may his memory be obliterated) had attempted had been actualized in him. He was utterly unrecognizable as a Jew, having totally divested himself of anything that smacked of Jewish religion, culture or attitudes.

Soon after this revelation, Nachum returned to California, dropped his German Literature major and completed a degree in teaching "which was not only more practical but saner."

An ad in a local paper for a Chanuka party reminded Nachum that he needed candles and a menora, "which had always been my link to Judaism" says Nachum. He called Rabbi Yosef Loschak, of Chabad of Santa Barbara. Arriving at the Loschak home to pick up the Chanuka paraphenalia, he was invited to stay for Shabbat. Nachum demurred, opting for the surf rather than the Sabbath.

About 2 weeks later Nachum received a phone call from the ever-upbeat Rabbi Loschak inviting him for the Friday night meal. When Friday rolled around and there were torrential rains, Nachum figured, "Why not?"

Nachum enjoyed the delicious food. In addition, Nachum found Rabbi Loschak's honest and humorous answers to the questions of the other guests refreshing. But what he appreciated most was the unadulterated Ahavat Yisrael-love of a fellow Jew-that flowed from Rabbi and Mrs. Loschak and all of their children. This made a deep impression on Nachum and helped establish a fast-friendship between himself and the rabbi.

Nachum started joining the Loschaks each Shabbat. He would stay overnight and then leave on Saturday after lunch to catch the waves.

A year passed. One Shabbat Nachum was getting into his car to cut out to the beach. When he turned on his car's ignition, it was dead. He figured it was time to do Shabbat all the way.

Six months later, Nachum told Rabbi Loschak that he wanted to study in a yeshiva. Rabbi Loschak suggested the Ohr Temimim Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel, and Nachum went. The yeshiva administration was a bit wary of the Hawaiian-shirted and jean-clad Nachum but accepted him on a one-month trial basis. Nachum applied himself and after the month was over was allowed to stay on. "I was determined to pursue this quest for knowledge with the same vigor that I excersized in my search for the perfect wave, with unwavering commitment and discipline."

Did he surf while in yeshiva? "Israel has got to have just about the worst surfing in the world," Nachum sighs, which made it easier for him to apply himself to his Torah studies. But he did surf. "I received a tremendous amount of support not only for my studies but for my surfing as well."

After years of intensive study, Nachum received rabbincal ordination. He decided that it was time to put the Chasidic teachings he had learned, especially that of elevating the physical world around us, into practice. Nachum returned to California and began teaching high school Spanish. He used surfing videos and actual surfing as a behavioral modification tool for the kids he taught.

After marrying his wife, Rikvah, the Shifrens moved to Israel, settling in Ariel, north of Tel Aviv. There, Nachum decided to take his two loves, Torah and surfing, to the masses. He established Jewish Surfers International and publishes the Surf and Soul Newsletter. He also organizes surfing trips around the world.

Nachum says that the surfing experience hasn't changed for him. "The majesty of riding a wave, which may have originated 10,000 miles away, is probably the most powerful experience in the world."

Nachum and Rikvah's oldest son, Yona, is five years old. "He already knows how to surf, he's just a natural," says Nachum proudly.

But isn't it a bit strange for a black-hatted, long-bearded Lubavitcher Chasid to be a surfer ("the only one I know who surfs in a yarmulka" says Surfer magazine editor Steven Hawk)? "The Rebbe has Chasidim that do just about anything. I am by no means a precedent," says Nachum.

What's New


Rabbi Mordechai Isaac Hodakov, author of The Educator's Handbook, was a teacher and a pedagogue of such outstanding skill that, as a very young man, he was appointed Minister of Jewish Education in Latvia. Soon afterward he was called upon by the Previous Rebbe to apply his talents to building religious and educational institutions in America. His ideas are "classroom-tested" and his presentation is so clear that both parents and teachers can benefit. The Educator's Handbook is meant to be read by anyone concerned with education in general and Jewish education in particular. It is an almost encyclopedic compendium of the principles of education. Published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch.

The Rebbe Writes

21st of Menachem Av, 5728 [1968]

I am in receipt of your (undated) letter.

The first observation I must make is that whenever a question is to be discussed, there can be a meaningful discussion only if both sides accept certain premises as a basis for the discussion.

From your letter I see that we both recognize the Written and Oral Torah as undisputable authority.

Now it is clearly explained both in the Written Torah, as well as in the Oral Torah, that insofar as Jews are concerned, Golus [exile] comes not as a result of military circumstances, namely an outnumbered army, nor as a result of economic pressures necessitating submission to a stronger power, etc. Rather it has amply been explained again and again in the Chumash [the Five Books of Moses] (including whole Sidras [portions], such as Bechukosai, Ki Sovo, etc.) and in the books of the Prophets, and even more so in the Talmud and Rabbinic literature, that if Jews had always adhered to the Torah and Mitzvos, they would have never been banished into Exile, regardless of the fact that "You are the smallest among the nations." For, Jews have always been outnumbered and outweighed in terms of military and physical strength, as King David puts it succinctly in one sentence, "These (come) in chariots, and those on horses, but we call upon the Name of G-d."

Conversely, when Jews forsake the Torah and Mitzvos, G-d forbid, no power nor military might, nor political alliances, etc., are of any avail, as the Torah clearly states, "If you will walk contrary unto me, then will I also walk contrary unto you" etc., with the inevitable consequence of Golus.

In the light of the above, the true test of events, to see if they herald the Geulo [Redemption] or not, is to see whether there has been an essential change in the causes which have brought about the Golus in the first place, namely, a new tendency in the direction of stronger adherence to the Torah and Mitzvos.

A further point is this: After the Churban [destruction (of the Holy Temple)], when there could have been no question about the observance of the 17th of Tammuz [when the wall of Jerusalem were breached], Tisha B'Av [the Hebrew date on which the Holy Temple was destroyed], etc., there were still a number of Jews who remained in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel], and it was incumbent upon them too to observe all the matters connected with the Golus. As a matter of fact, those who remained in Eretz Yisroel and saw with their own eyes the destruction, would have felt the Churban and Golus even more. Let us remember also that the observance of Tisha B'Av, etc., was in effect even during the time of Gedalia ben Achikom, the Jewish Governor of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel, before he was assassinated by Ishmael (II Kings, 25:25)

As in the case of many other Torah matters, there are sources where they are explained at great length. However, inasmuch as not every person has the ability or patience to study these things at length in their original sources, they come also in a short and concentrated form.

Thus we find also the subject under discussion formulated in succinct terms by the Great Teacher, the Rambam, who was not only the Guide for the Perplexed of his generation, but for the perplexed of all generations. In his Code Yad Hachazakah, he describes in brief but highly meaningful terms the state of the last era of the Golus as it would be, and how the beginning of the Geulo would follow.

I will quote what he states, but in English translation, with interpolations to clarify the text, with some prefatory remarks, namely, that it has been amply explained in the Written and Oral Torah that the Geulo will come through the Melech Hamoshiach [King Moshiach], and as the Rambam also declares, simply as a matter of course, in the section which is the last of his entire Code, so that it is in a sense the very seal of his Code - the section of Hilchos Melochim [the Laws of Kings].

There, at the beginning of chapter 11, he states that the Melech Hamoshiach will bring the Geulo, and at the end of this chapter he describes carefully the order how this will come about. And since this is not a book on philosophy, but a code of laws, the terms used are carefully chosen and strictly to the point, without polemics or homiletics.

Continued in next issue

Rambam this week

In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman yblc't

25 Tamuz, 5759

Positive mitzva 129: the Levites' tithe for the kohanim (priests)

By this injunction we are commanded that the Levites are to set aside a tithe which they have received from the Israelites, and give it to the kohanim. It is contained in the words (Num. 18:26): "Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites, and say to them: When you take the tithe from the Children of Israel which I have given you from them as your inheritance, you shall set apart of it a gift for the L-rd, even a tithe of the tithe."

A Word from the Director

We find ourselves now in the "Three Weeks," the period of time between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av), which presents us with a unique quandary on Shabbat:

On the one hand, these Sabbaths occur during a period of lamentation over the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Jewish people. At the same time, the Torah forbids mourning on Shabbat.

What's a Jew to do? Rejoice even more on these Sabbaths than on a "regular" Shabbat, lest they be tainted by the sadness of the mourning period.

Shabbat is likened to the Messianic era, which is called "the day that is entirely Shabbat." In the Days of Moshiach, the very concept of exile will cease to exist. The emotion of sadness is thus altogether inappropriate on Shabbat, and it's a great mitzva to be happy.

But why do we have to rejoice even more than usual? Why isn't the usual measure of joy sufficient?

The answer lies in the following principle:

The purpose of exile is to bring us to a higher spiritual level than before. If the process of exile and redemption were only intended to restore us to a previous level, it would serve no useful function.

When Moshiach comes, an entirely new light will illuminate the world. This light will be so intense and brilliant that it will negate the very possibility of future exiles.

In truth, the Sabbaths of the Three Weeks are a semblance of the Messianic era, which is why an additional measure of joy is required. By infusing us with the power to transform even the Three Weeks into a joyful time, they are a forerunner to the future revelation that will negate all exile and sadness forever, may it happen immediately.

Thoughts that Count

If a man makes a vow to G-d (Num. 30:3)

In contrast to other mitzvot that first begin to apply at the age of Bar Mitzva (13), a vow is considered binding "from the age of 12 years and one day." The reason is that when a person makes a vow and declares something prohibited to himself (above and beyond the Torah's prohibitions), the extra caution he must exert prepares him for "regular" Torah observance. (It also prevents him from being "a scoundrel who observes [the letter of the law ].") This preparation is allowed to commence a full year before Bar Mitzva. (Likutei Sichot)

He must not break his word; he must do all that he expressed verbally (Num. 30:3)

When a person is faithful to his every utterance and lives up to his word, he merits that G-d will "do all that he expressed verbally," as the saying goes: "The righteous man decrees, and the Holy One fulfills it." (Kedushat Levi)

These are the journeys of the Children of Israel (Num. 33:1)

Moses documented all the journeys of the Children of Israel through the desert; this record then became part and parcel of the Torah. Similarly, all the wanderings and misfortunes of the Jewish people during the present exile are being recorded; when Moshiach comes, they will constitute a book from which all will learn. (Rabbi David of Lelov)

They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin (Num. 33:11)

First called "the Desert of Sin," the area became "the Sinai Desert" after the Ten Commandments were given and G-d added the Hebrew letter yud to its name (the numerical equivalent of which is 10). Additionally, the sum of the Hebrew letters of "Sin" is 120 - an allusion to the total of 120 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai. (Baal HaTurim)

It Once Happened

One of the great treasures of the ancient community of Bodenheim was a beautiful silver Torah pointer. There were many legends associated with the hand-shaped pointer, and according to tradition, it had been fashioned for a synagogue in Rome hundreds of years before.

The story is told of an incident which occurred in the 14th century when the silver hand was credited with saving the Jewish community from ruin. A young carpenter's assistant claimed that he had heard two Jews plotting to poison the wells of the region. The arrest of all the leading Jews of Alsace followed quickly. And although the Jews protested their innocence, they were not believed.

"How long will you keep up your lies when you meet the thumb screws and the Iron Maiden?" the chief of police threatened. The Jewish leaders paled at the mention of these terrible tortures, but Rabbi Wolf of Strassburg declared, "Neither torture nor death can sway us from the truth, and we are all innocent."

The Jews spent the entire wakeful night in prayer, and in the morning they were once again led before the police chief and the city council. "Are you ready to confess your guilt?" they demanded.

"We have nothing to confess," replied Rabbi Wolf. "Please allow us to prove our innocence. Perhaps if we can question our accuser, we might be able to discover the truth."

When the young apprentice was brought in, he described how he hitched a ride with two Jewish merchants and overheard the men speaking in hushed tones. "One Jew said to the other, 'We must see that the convention does something about the poison that has been spreading throughout our well of life-giving water in the province of Alsace.'"

"Aha!" exclaimed the police chief. "That surely proves the guilt of these Jews! They are killing our children and animals with their poison!"

In spite of the terrible tension of the moment, Rabbi Wolf smiled. With great relief in his voice, he addressed the assembled: "I am sure that I can explain everything to your satisfaction. You see, the purpose of our meeting at Bodenheim was to save our youth from ignorance and from neglecting their religious duties. In our Biblical language we call the Torah 'the well of living water.' Those who distort or falsify our religion are referred to as 'poisoning the wells of our water,' since the Jewish people can live only if this, our spiritual fountain, is kept pure. When the two merchants were discussing the meeting at Bodenheim, they weren't speaking of anyone poisoning the wells of Alsace, G-d forbid, but the wells of our Jewish faith in the Alsatian Jewish community."

"How absurd! Do you imagine that you can fool us with such a ridiculous explanation? You had better come up with a better story. If not, we know how to draw the truth out of you!"

Rabbi Wolf was now confident that he could prove their innocence. "Your Honor, there is a book entitled The Well of Life, which has been translated into Latin. One of your own priests can easily verify the truth of our words in the pages of this book, where he will find this figure of speech employed."

"What do you say, gentlemen?" the police chief asked. One of the nobles, Bodo of Bodenheim, had a particular grudge against Jews, since he owed a huge sum to Jewish money lenders. This was a perfect chance to exact revenge. "I don't see why a passage in some book proves their innocence. Even if this expression is used, it still doesn't negate the possibility that these Jews really planned to poison our wells. This is no proof! I propose that we search the homes of all the Jews. Let's confiscate all their valuables as collateral and imprison their leaders until the truth is found."

Bodo knew the Jews hadn't planned to poison the wells, and he knew he wouldn't find any evidence of a plot. Nevertheless, he would find a way to produce the proof he needed.

It was long past midnight when a masked figure climbed into a window of the Bodenheim synagogue. Ulrich, Bodo's faithful servant, carried a bag of poison. Ulrich had faced danger so long, he had forgotten the sensation of fear. Yet, as he walked toward the Holy Ark, guided by the few rays of pale moonlight that penetrated the windows, he felt a chill crawl across his skin.

He approached the Holy Ark, pulled the heavy velvet curtain aside and, holding the bag of poison in his teeth, forced the doors apart. Panting with the effort, he inhaled some of the deadly powder.

The caretaker was awakened by a blood-curdling scream, coming from the synagogue. There, writhing on the platform was Ulrich, moaning like a wounded beast, but unable to speak, the bag of poison still clenched in his teeth. He was gesturing to the huge shadow of a hand, a finger pointing directly at him. The caretaker understood that it was merely a reflection of the silver Torah pointer.

The following morning a crowd gathered in the synagogue where Ulrich lay quiet now, with the poison still between his teeth. He pointed his finger in silent accusation at Bodo. The nobleman knew the game was up.

His confession was sufficient to free the Jews of Bodenheim. After this incident, the silver hand became the most treasured possession of the community, and its story was retold from generation to generation.

Adapted from Talks and Tales

Moshiach Matters

As he looked into the Book of Adam, Moses was shown the Sages and the leaders of all the 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 hearts they would not attain the loftiest peaks of Divine 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. In the light of what his eyes then beheld, Moses became exceedingly humble; as it is written, "the man Moses was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth." (Sefer HaMa'amarim, 5710 of the Previous Rebbe)

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