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Devarim Deutronomy

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   670: Bamidbar

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675: Chukas

676: Balak

677: Pinchas

678: Matos-Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

July 6, 2001 - 15 Tamuz, 5761

676: Balak

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  675: Chukas677: Pinchas  

More Memory  |  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

More Memory

Forty GB hard drive. 128 MB SDRAM, 600MB CD's.

In today's jargon these terms deal with the amount of memory a computer hard drive has, the amount of random access memory, or how much information can be stored externally. Can you imagine a memory that stores, say close to two thousand years of history, experiences and emotions?

The collective Jewish memory has this unusual and state-of-the-art ability. We are beginning the time known as the "Three Weeks" from the 17th of Tamuz (July 8 this year) to the Ninth of Av-Tisha B'Av (July 29 this year). During these three weeks many calamities befell the Jewish people, the most devastating of which was the destruction of the first and second Holy Temple on the Ninth of Av.

In the times of the Second Holy Temple, on the seventeenth of Tamuz, the Romans breached the walls of the city of Jerusalem. For the next three weeks the city was besieged until finally, on the ninth of Av, the Holy Temple was actually burned by the Roman General Titus.

After celebrating numerous Jewish holidays, you might well point out that our festivals aren't just cerebral experiences, happenings in history that stay put in the past. Oftentimes, the mitzvot associated with a particular holiday actually help us relive the experience as our ancestors did. It's like using the right computer codes to access and later store important data in our memory.

Reliving an experience is true, too, of the "Three Weeks." During the period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, we become mourners. No weddings or other joyous celebrations take place, we refrain from cutting our hair, wearing new clothes, even eating a new fruit upon which the blessing of "shehe-chyanu" (...Who has sustained us...) would be said. The mourning process is only interrupted for Shabbat, a day on which joy must prevail.

On the first of the month of Av, our mourning intensifies. On the Ninth of Av, we truly act as mourners, sitting on low stools, not greeting others, etc. In computer terms, you might call these actions "memory enhancers."

But the truth is, that adding on to, enhancing or accessing the memory is not the most important part of such a powerful tool. Remaining connected to the source is. Because if any memory, computer or human, becomes disconnected before it has a chance to be stored properly, that memory doesn't have a chance.

Whereas a little over a decade ago, 40 megabytes of memory, a 512K RAM (and 5 floppy discs with 360K) were all considered state-of-the art, today such computers and hardware would only exist in a museum of modern history! Just as with computers, times they are a changin'. In previous generations our focus during this three week period was on the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people. Today, however, as we stand literally at the threshold of the Redemption, these three weeks should be used to study more about the Redemption process and the Messianic Era, to do more mitzvot in general and acts of goodness and kindness in particular, and to rejoice in the knowledge that soon we will open the door and actually greet Moshiach!

Living with the Rebbe

As related in Balak, when Bilaam went to curse the Jewish people, he woke up early in the morning "and saddled his donkey."

Bilaam was a very important personage, and was accompanied by an entourage of Moabite princes and leaders. Why, then, did Bilaam perform such a menial task himself?

Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains: "From this we see that hatred causes disregard of proper conduct." Bilaam hated the Jews so intensely and was so eager to curse them that he disregarded the usual mores of society.

All this hatred, however, did not ultimately help him, as Rashi continues: "Declared G-d: Wicked one, Abraham their father has already preceded you, as it states, 'And Abraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey.'" When Abraham set out to what he thought would be the sacrifice of his son Isaac, he too "arose early and saddled his donkey." Abraham's actions thus "canceled out" Bilaam's evil intent and protected the Jewish people.

What exactly was Bilaam trying to accomplish? Surely he knew that G-d would not allow him to curse the Jews, for he had already been warned: "Only the word which I shall say to you, that shall you do." However, Bilaam hoped to somehow provoke G-d's anger against His people and damage His love for them. Bilaam was a master of incitement. When he saw that it would be impossible to curse the Jews within the natural order, he attempted to "disregard proper conduct" and circumvent convention. Bilaam figured that after the Jewish people had sinned in the desert, G-d would also "disregard proper conduct" and stop showing them His attribute of loving-kindness.

Bilaam's faulty logic was derived from blind hatred. However, G-d said to Bilaam, "Wicked one, Abraham their father has already preceded you." In other words, in the merit of Abraham, the Jewish people are deserving of blessing within or without the natural order. For Abraham's actions also transcended the "usual" way of doing things.

The Torah portion of Balak expresses the transformation of curse into blessing: "The L-rd your G-d would not listen to Bilaam, but... turned the curse into a blessing to you, because the L-rd your G-d loved you." Bilaam's hatred for the Jews caused him to "disregard proper conduct"; conversely, a Jew's love for G-d should prompt him to observe Torah and mitzvot even beyond the letter of the law, with dedication, devotion and commitment. This love must be so intense that it can even transform evil into good.

When a Jew is strongly connected to G-d, it arouses a reciprocal love from on High; curse is turned into blessing, and G-d's love for His people is revealed.

Adapted from Vol. 28 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

A Nice Jewish Girl Who's A Karate Champ
by Miriam Karp

Homes in Tekoa, Israel The diminutive Sara-Rivka Ernstoff can often be found involved in one of many womanly arts: cooking a creative health food Shabbat repast, playing with her baby, leading a La Leche League meeting, or home-schooling her children. But watch out, this dynamo can pack a punch!

A five-time USAAU National Champion in Kata, she has been practicing and teaching karate for 25 years. How did she make the transition from globe-trotting to world championships and studying with her Sensei in Japan, to walking the family donkey past the olive groves and winery near her home in the Judean hills of Israel?

Sara-Rivka started studying karate at age 17, and by age 19 her talent and hard work had her participating in national championships. In spite of her success, she was plagued with a sense of emptiness. When someone suggested that she pray, Sara-Rivka replied, "How can I pray if I don't believe in G-d?" She was encouraged to pray anyhow, and found some comfort. Figuring, "Since I'm Jewish, I might as well pray Jewishly," she bought a prayerbook and randomly said prayers.

The dry goods store where Sara-Rivka bought her green belt was manned by a personable Chasid, Rabbi Zhia Zuber. Upon finding out she was Jewish, he invited her to join his family for Shabbat. She declined, but returned often for new belts. With each new level attained in karate and each additional belt purchased, Sara-Rivka received another Shabbat invitation. But each time she declined.

Preparing for tryouts for the World Championship Team (after reaching the level of a third degree black belt), Sara-Rivka noticed that they were scheduled for Rosh Hashana. She informed the officials she could not participate, and asked for an alternate date, which she was promised. In the end the date wasn't changed. She sued the AAU.

A team of 30 Jewish lawyers from the ADL and AJC took the case to Federal Court and won. But Sara-Rivka found herself blacklisted. "My competitive career was over. I was never again able to compete internationally, although I was a Pan American Gold Medal winner and had often been on international teams. I was shocked into realizing who my real friends were. My karate associates turned their backs on me, and 30 lawyers I'd never met worked thousands of hours for free."

With her spunk and forward-looking vision, she rebounded. "I decided I wanted to live a Jewish life and show everyone my pride in being a Jew, but how? I went back to Rabbi Zuber's store and accepted a Shabbat invitation. That started a path of learning and growing that continues to this day. Eleven years after meeting Rabbi Zuber he officiated at my wedding to Moshe, a nice Jewish computer progammer from Miami."

Moshe and Sara-Rivka bought a house in Sharon, Massachusetts, a rural suburb of Boston. There, they met the Rebbe's emissaries in Sharon, Chabad shluchim Rabbi Chaim and Sara Wolosow. "The Wolosows showed us that Judaism can be fun. Staying up all night building a giant Chanuka menora, preparing Purim packages, letting us give to the community, which helped us feel an integral part of the community. We felt they honestly cared about us as individuals. Rabbi Wolosow would take the time to listen to my questions and concerns and thoroughly discuss them with me."

Moshe's job led to a move to Columbia, Maryland. For 18 months the Ernstoffs enjoyed being part of the warm community that shluchim Rabbi Hillel and Chani Baron had helped foster, and they grew closer to the decision to make aliya.

"Sharon was like a cocoon. But in Columbia, we began to see that we wanted much more of a vibrant Jewish community for our children. I'd been ready for aliya, but now Moshe was getting serious." A trip to the Holocaust Museum left Moshe in tears and brought to the fore his feelings that "We don't belong here. We belong in Israel."

Three years ago, the Ernstoffs decided to build a home in Tekoa, a West Bank neighborhood of about 275 families, approximately a 20 minute (pre-intifada) drive east of Jerusalem.

Sara-Rivka speaks earnestly about living in Yesha (Judea-Samaria), or as she deadpans, "the Wild West." "I wanted to live here. I asked myself, 'What can I personally do?' Now there are seven more Jews here. Daily, I am strengthening our hold on the land."

So, what is life like under fire? "It's very hard. Especially the mothers feel the fear and anxiety. We pray a lot. We try to practice what we preach, and constantly work on strengthening our faith and trust in G-d. But when you're awakened by machine guns, you wonder where they are and it's really hard.

"There are nice things happening, too. We get calls and e-mails from all over the world. People are praying for us, writing letters of protest, holding rallies. A non-Jewish group in Ohio sent us bullet-proof vests that the residents share. We feel the unity of our Jewish family, and the caring of other concerned people."

Fighting darkness with light, Sara-Rivka has been busy filling the activist Chabad role she learned in Sharon and Columbia. "When we moved to Tekoa the Chabad shul was in a trailer. We worked to double the shul's population and bring in a rabbi. And now it's housed in a proper building.

"We have organized giant public menora lightings, children's rallies and Lag B'Omer parades, and we celebrate all Jewish and Chasidic holidays with Chabad-style gusto. I'm gratified that we're helping make a difference."

What's New

Israel Solidarity Trip

Chabad of the Upper East Side (New York City) has planned a solidarity trip to Israel leaving Saturday night, August 4, through August 12. It includes a meeting with Knesset members, jeep tour, kayaking, special Shabbat program, meeting with settler families and touring with a licenced tour guide. In a letter inviting people to register, Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski writes: "Five million of our brothers and sisters are living as our representatives on the front line, protecting our homeland for the whole Jewish people. Today they feel abandoned. The airport in Israel is empty, the hotels are empty and the streets are empty. For the first time in 53 years Jews are being attacked, wounded and murdered on a daily basis for the crime of being Jewish. History will record what we knew and what actions we took at this crucial moment. Just by showing up, just by being there, we could make a huge difference. We can't imagine how grateful and how appreciative our brethren are when tourists come and visit...the question is not How could we go at a time like this, the question is How could we not go..." For more information and reservations call immediately (212) 717-4613.

The Rebbe Writes

16th of Cheshvan, 5734 (1973)

...Here I wish to refer to one point in your latest letter, where you wrote about the difference between the Six Day War and the so-called Yom Kippur War, in that G-d's miracles were more obvious in the Six Day War, etc.

As a matter of fact, there were ample miracles, and quite obvious ones, in the last war. The overall miracle, which has now been revealed, although not overly publicized, is the survival after the first few days of the war, when even Washington was seriously concerned whether the Israeli army could halt the tremendous onslaught of the first attack. Slowly and gradually some details are being revealed also in the Israeli press as to how serious was the danger in those early days of the war.

The greatest miracle was that the Egyptians stopped their invasion for no good reason only a few miles east of the Canal! The obvious[1] military strategy would have been to encircle the few fortified positions in the rear, and with the huge army of 100,000 men armed to the teeth, to march forward in Sinai, where at that point in time there was no organized defense of any military consequence. This is something that cannot be explained in the natural order of things, except as it is written, "The dread of the Jews fell upon them," in the face of their intelligence reports about the complete unpreparedness of the Jews in Israel at that time.

There are also scores of reported miracles in various sectors of both fronts, which need not be recounted here.

The essential point of this whole tragic war is that it could have been prevented, and, as in the case of medicine, prevention is more desirable than cure. For, at first glance, the accomplishments of the physician in curing the sick seem more impressive by the dramatic results than preventive medicine where there could be some delusion that sickness would somehow be avoided, but in truth it is much better, of course, to be spared the pain and anxiety of sickness altogether, by immunization. The latter approach is the way of G-d, as it is written, "All the sickness...I will not afflict upon thee, for I, G-d, am thy physician" (Ex. 15:26).

Now it is quite evident how important and urgent was the appeal made last summer, centered on the verse, "Out of the mouths of babes and infants You have ordained strength (oz), to still the enemy and avenger." All the more so since in the present situation the "enemy and avenger" has made no secret of his intentions.

If recent events will have taught everyone the basic lesson that Jews have no one to rely upon except G-d Himself, and that the real strength of our people lies in the Torah and mitzvot, called "oz," as it is written, "HaShem oz l'amo yitein" - then the sacrifices will not have been in vain. Certainly every one of us must redouble our efforts to bring this realization closer to all our fellow Jews everywhere....



  1. (Back to text) A similar strategy brought full victory to the Germans over France in a few days.

Rambam this week

15 Tamuz 5761

Positive mitzva 118: restitution for sacrilege

By this injunction we are commanded that whoever unintentionally uses Temple property or eats some holy thing must make restitution with the addition of one-fifth of its value. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 5:16 and Lev. 22:14): "And he shall make amends for the harm he has done in the holy thing, and shall add a fifth part to it"; "If a man eats of the holy thing unwittingly, then he shall put the fifth part, etc."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Sunday is the fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz. On that day, Moses descended from Mount Sinai and saw the Jewish people sinning with the Golden Calf, prompting him to break the Tablets of the Law. Years later, five calamitous occurrences befell our forefathers on the same date, beginning with the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and culminating with the destruction of the Holy Temple. (Both Temples were destroyed on the Ninth of Av.)

The Seventeenth of Tamuz begins the three-week period known as "Bein Hametzarim," literally "Between the Straits." It is a time of mourning when no weddings are scheduled and we refrain from listening to music.

At this time, when the loss of "G-d's Chosen House" is more keenly felt, it is customary to increase our learning about the Holy Temple. In the Written Torah, this involves studying Chapters 40-43 in the Book of Ezekiel, and in the Oral Torah (the Talmud), Tractates Tamid and Midot. Maimonides' "Laws of the Temple" are also studied during this period.

The Midrash relates that "The Holy One, Blessed Be He said: The study of it [the Temple] is as great as its building... Let them busy themselves studying the Temple's form, and I will consider it as if they are actively involved in its erection." Similarly, in a discussion of the sacrifices, the Talmud relates: "He who studies the laws of the sin-offering is considered as if he has offered one."

Studying the laws of the Holy Temple thus allows us to actively participate in rebuilding it, even during the exile.

It is also desirable to give extra charity during the Three Weeks, as it states, "Great is charity, for it brings the Redemption nigh."

In such a way Biblical prophecy will be realized: "Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and those that return to her with righteousness (literally 'charity')," for it is through "judgment" - the study of the Torah's laws - that Jerusalem will be redeemed, and the Jewish people will return to the Holy Land, in the merit of their charity.

Thoughts that Count

The L-rd put a word in Bilaam's mouth... (Deut. 23:5-7)

Bilaam's prophecy is unique, in that it was uttered by a non-Jewish prophet who was forced to foretell of the gentile nations' ultimate subservience to the sovereignty of King Moshiach. Bilaam's words are also considered part of Isaiah's general prophecy concerning the Messianic era, when even the non-Jewish royalty will honor and serve and Jewish people: "And kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; they shall bow down to you with their face toward the earth, and lick the dust of your feet."

(Likutei Sichot)

You shall see but the utmost part of them, and shall not see them all (Deut. 23:13)

It is only if one looks at a "part" of a Jew, a small detail of his make-up, that one might notice any flaws; if he is considered as a whole, no defects will be visible.

(Ohel Torah)

According to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel what G-d has done (Deut. 23:23)

It is from this verse that Maimonides derived that prophecy would return to the Jewish people. Bilaam's prophecy was uttered in the year 2488 after the creation of the world; accordingly, the ability to prophesize would be restored to the Jews 2488 years later. This corresponds to the year 4976 (785 years ago or 1216), the era of Rabbi Shmuel the Prophet, followed by Rabbi Eleazar Baal HaRokeach, Nachmanides, the Ravad, Rabbi Ezra the Prophet, Rabbi Yehuda the Chasid and others; indeed, prophecy flourished in the generation of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. In our generation, the Rebbe has prophesied that the time of our Redemption has arrived.

(Peninei HaGeula)

It Once Happened

The streets in the Jewish section of Saragossa were bustling with activity. The benevolent king of Spain was coming to visit! Everyone was caught up in the excitement.

The Jews were very grateful for the religious freedom the king granted them, and the fact they were allowed to be full participants in the economy of the country. Thus it was no surprise that the king was genuinely beloved by the Jewish community.

All of the streets had been decorated with brightly colored banners in preparation for the royal visit. But the Jews of Saragossa had another custom as well: Whenever the king came, the entire populace would come out to greet him. The most distinguished members of the community would lead the procession, carrying the synagogue's Torah scrolls as a sign of respect.

As is customary among Sephardic Jews, the cases in which the Torah scrolls were stored were made of olive wood or plated with silver and gold and set with precious gems. However, as Jewish law prohibits transporting a Torah scroll for anything other than a mitzva, the sexton of the synagogue would remove the scrolls and put them away in storage before the king's visit. Thus in actuality, the Jews welcomed the king with elaborately beautiful yet empty cases. This practice had been going on for generations.

One time the king held a big party in the royal palace, with many important personages in attendance. In the course of the festivities, the king happened to mention how respected he was by his subjects. "Even the Jews treat me with reverence," he boasted. "Whenever I visit they greet me with their Torah scrolls, the holiest of all their possessions."

Now, one of the king's advisors was an apostate Jew, who hated his Jewish brethren intensely. For many years he had been waiting for a chance to cause trouble for them, and this looked like the perfect opportunity. "Your Majesty prides himself that the Jews honor him with their Torah scrolls," he whispered to the king. "But what you don't know is that those beautiful cases are empty!"

The king became immediately incensed. "If what you say is true," he vowed angrily, "bitter will be the fate of all the Jews under my sovereignty. Not one will be allowed to remain in this land."

That same day the king announced that he would visit the Jewish sector the following morning. Indeed, he would investigate for himself what was inside those cases.

That evening, after everyone had gone home from the synagogue, the sexton opened the holy ark and removed the Torah scrolls from their cases. Everything was now ready for the king's visit.

For some reason, however, the sexton found it very difficult to fall asleep. After hours he finally dozed off, only to have a very disturbing dream: an old man with a long white beard was commanding him to get up at once and run to the synagogue. The man's face shone like an angel. "If you value your life and the life of all your brethren, hurry up and put all the Torah scrolls back in their cases. And make sure that no one sees what you are doing." With that the old man disappeared and the sexton woke up.

Extremely agitated, he rushed off to the synagogue and did as he had been told. Still trembling from the intensity of the vivid dream, he returned home satisfied at having successfully fulfilled his mission.

Morning came, and the king was due to arrive. The royal carriage wended its way through the streets of Saragossa with the king's advisor - the apostate Jew - seated next to him. As was customary, all the Jews came out to welcome their beloved monarch and demonstrate their respect. At the head of the procession strode the leaders, carrying the exquisitely bejeweled Torah cases.

Suddenly, the king turned to the head of the Jewish community and ordered him to open them up. "I want to see the Torah scrolls themselves..."

A hushed silence fell over the crowd. "We are lost!" the Jews thought in unison. The apostate regarded the scene with satisfaction, an evil smile playing on his lips. Finally, after so many years, he had succeeded in getting his wish...

As the Jews silently prayed that G-d save them from destruction the cases were opened. A miracle had occurred! Every scroll was right where it belonged.

The king's anger was now focused on his advisor, the apostate Jew, who was shaking with fear. In a loud voice the king described the vicious plot he had schemed against them, and apologized publicly for having doubted the Jews' faithfulness for even a moment. The humiliated advisor was stripped of his position, and the king promised that he would never again allow anyone to speak against his loyal subjects, the Jews.

From that time on the Jews of Saragossa celebrated that day as an auspicious holiday of thanksgiving and salvation.

Moshiach Matters

"Though I have set a limit to 'the end,' and it will happen in its time regardless of whether they will do teshuva [repent] or not... the scion of David [Moshiach] will come if they keep just one Shabbat, because the Sabbath is equivalent to all the mitzvot."

(Midrash Shemot Rabba 25:12)

  675: Chukas677: Pinchas  
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