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677: Pinchas

678: Matos-Masei

Devarim • Deutronomy

July 13, 2001 - 22 Tamuz, 5761

677: Pinchas

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  676: Balak678: Matos-Masei  

Don't Give Me Your Attitude  |  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

Don't Give Me Your Attitude

Surely you've seen the t-shirts and pins stating "I don't need your attitude, I have one of my own."

Most likely, the person wearing this message is tired of being confronted by people with negative, angry attitudes, whether a fellow commuter on mass transit, a cashier at the supermarket, or a customer service representative for a local utility company.

People with attitudes seem cold as ice, but if you've ever tried saying a few caring words, you were probably surprised to see the frosty exterior melt like a popsicle on a 100 degree day.

"You look like you've had a really hard day" will often get you a sigh of appreciation and a peek under the veil of indifference and anger.

But why should we put ourselves out and be compassionate toward a surly person?

Because, in these last few moments of life as we know it here in this imperfect world, we can practice honing our interpersonal skills. Kindness, compassion, and consideration are what our attitudes will be all about in the times of Moshiach.

In the Messianic Era, the inherent goodness and G-dliness that everything contains, will be revealed. We can help reveal that latent quality even now by making sure our Attitudes are caring toward our fellow human beings. Even if their Attitudes make them seem despicable and unworthy of compassion, we should respect them simply because they are G-d's creatures, and if G-d tolerates them, we should, too.

Sometimes, displaying a Moshiach Attitude takes no time at all. Like when you flash a smile at someone as you pass him or her on the sidewalk, or when you say a heartfelt "thank you" as you're given your change. At other times it might take a moment, but not much more, to let your Moshiach Attitude shine through: Letting someone with one item go ahead of you in the supermarket line; helping a little old lady cross the street (yes, there are still little old ladies who need help crossing the street!); calling a parent or sibling to say, "I was thinking of you, " not cutting someone off in traffic just to get to your destination 30 seconds earlier. But those moments are timeless and well spent.

Practicing a Moshiach Attitude now is a sure way to get ready for and actually hasten the perfect world we've always dreamed of.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion is Pinchas. In it we read about Pinchas, who in a burst of zealousness slew Zimri and the Midianite woman with whom Zimri was consorting. The Talmud speaks of "six miracles that were done to him [Pinchas]"; other sources refer to 12.

It states in the Talmud, "He who sees Pinchas in a dream will experience a wonder," upon which Rashi comments, "A wonder will be done to him, as was done to Pinchas."

It is significant that our Sages use the word "wonder" rather than "miracle," as the two terms are not quite synonymous:

A miracle means that the laws of nature are broken and transcended. The "regular" structure of the universe is altered, and a miracle occurs. However, the fact that natural law needs to be superceded implies that "nature" possesses some sort of influence or significance.

A wonder, by contrast, is entirely above nature; the very concept of nature is meaningless.

Indeed, this demonstrates the greatness of Pinchas: The miracles associated with him were not merely a succession of supernatural events, each one of which had to rise above the existing universal order. Rather, what Pinchas experienced could more accurately be described as one big, uninterrupted wonder that bypassed nature entirely.

The reason G-d acted toward in Pinchas in a "wondrous" manner was that Pinchas' Divine service was similarly "wondrous." In effect, G-d was merely responding to Pinchas measure for measure.

In terms of Divine service, both "miracles" and "wonders" imply self-sacrifice. However, self-sacrifice can exist on two levels:

On the lower level ("miracle"), the Jew serves G-d in the usual manner. If self-sacrifice should ever become necessary, he will rise to the occasion.

On the higher level ("wonder"), the entirety of the person's Divine service is carried out in a super-natural manner of self-sacrifice. The Jew gives his will over to G-d so completely that all of his actions are a reflection of self-sacrifice.

Pinchas was the embodiment of the level of "wonder." His very essence was self-sacrifice for G-d, which is why he endangered himself for a matter that was not strictly required by the letter of the law. Because his entire being was self-sacrifice, he did not ask any questions and acted in a zealous manner.

Indeed, the practical directive to be derived from Pinchas is as follows: Every Jew must strive for this essential self-sacrifice, strengthening Jewish observance and disseminating Torah and mitzvot with selfless devotion, ignoring ostensible obstacles and giving oneself over to G-d wholeheartedly. G-d will then respond in kind, enabling us to serve Him in a manner of "wonder," and we will successfully bring about the Final Redemption.

Adapted from Vol. 33 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Chaplaincy is Rabbi's Calling
By Ellen L. Weingart

Rabbi Yaakov Blotner Rabbi Yaakov Blotner has always found himself drawn to those Jews who, for one reason or another, find themselves isolated from their home congregation.

Although he has spent years serving the Jewish population on college campuses and at summer camps, it is by helping the "most disenfranchised of the disenfranchised"-Jews confined in correctional or mental health facilities-that Rabbi Blotner has found the greatest rewards.

He serves at the Federal Medical Center at Devens (the new federal prison on the grounds of the former Fort Devens), at the Worcester House of Corrections and at state prisons. He has also been the Jewish chaplain at Westborough State Hospital for the last 25 years.

Rabbi Blotner said most people underestimate the degree of interest mental health patients and prisoners have in maintaining their Jewish ties.

"Many of them have had a good Jewish education and are proud of their Jewish identity," he said. "Having a chance to practice Judaism is both spiritual and therapeutic for them, because it often has associations with family and friends and, in some cases, happier times in their lives.

"Many people think, " 'Jewish prisoner' is an oxymoron," he said. "Some people think that if a person has been that unusually bad, he can be written off as beyond help. But like a lot of things in life, it's not so simple."

Rabbi Blotner often brings kosher food to the mental health facilities, because "it not only offers camaraderie of breaking bread," but presents an opportunity to teach the blessings for food and, depending on the time of year, the significance of the particular food he brings. He has also been able to obtain permission for patients to attend services, something they may not have done in a long time. He also puts on tefilin and prays with them.

Rabbi Blotner said his schooling gave him the inspiration and optimism for the work he performs. "My training emphasized outreach to all Jews, in line with the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose school system I attended and who saw in everyone a spark of G-dliness."

He said he has found prisoners and mental health patients who have again begun to appreciate their Jewish observances.

"When they get out, they will incorporate it into their lives," Rabbi Blotner said. "And depending on when and where they are discharged, there is an informal network of contacts to try and help them along with counseling and reading materials."

Rabbi Blotner said he has seen examples where despite difficulties, prison inmates and mental health patients have tried to observe different practices, including some they hadn't participated in before their incarceration. "It makes me appreciate the freedom that I have."

He recalled one inmate with a fairly liberal upbringing who missed her day to go to the canteen-one of the few highlights in prison-because it was Yom Kippur. Her next opportunity to go was about a week later.

"For us, maybe avoiding shopping is no big deal, but in that environment, it takes a lot of self-discipline," Rabbi Blotner said. "I didn't urge her to do that-I wasn't even aware of the schedule. She told me about it a few days later and I was really impressed."

On a few occasions, Rabbi Blotner said Kaddish for his mother at the prison minyan. "I appreciated the unexpected chance to say Kaddish and they, in turn, felt they were paying me back, enabling me to say Kaddish, when it otherwise might not have been so easy to arrange."

Rabbi Blotner has arranged for the inmates to receive the national Jewish prisoner's newsletter, Reaching Out, published [by the Lubavitch Youth Organization] in Brooklyn. He also brings in videos with Jewish content, ranging from concerts to something of deeper religious significance. "[The inmates] are particularly impressed that Judaism can be that up-to-date and sophisticated," he said.

Music has a particular appeal, he noted. "In both prisons and mental health facilities, people often suffer from depression. So cheering them up is a direct part of what they need." Music helps accomplish that, Rabbi Blotner said.

"And in prison," he added, "being in a stable mood is significant, not just because it's nice to cheer somebody up, but additionally, to get along-especially being a minority-with other prisoners and with the guards.

"Íf you're down and out and miserable, you'll get picked on. If you're kind of upbeat and with it, then you're one of the boys. Injecting some singing and dancing is almost directly connected with a minority group's safety."

He said a person who is angry and miserable is more likely to be involved in an aggressive incident. "So having people in a stable mood will avoid that kind of thing."

Rabbi Blotner said most of the Jewish inmates do come to him, either publicly or privately, prompted by a variety of reasons.

"Sometimes it's just for the sake of having a friendly visitor," he said, adding his approach is very relaxed. "I don't do anything heavy. I talk about their old neighborhoods, sports. It's not all or nothing with a religious component that they're not up to."

Rabbi Blotner is the coordinator for Jewish Chaplaincy Services of Massachusetts.
Ms. Weingart is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle of Worcester, Massachusetts, where this article first appeared.

What's New

Biography of the Rebbe Maharash

Biography of the Rebbe Maharash, the newest release by Sichos in English, is an insider's view into the life of the fourth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, the Rebbe Maharash, his descen-dants and antecedents. The reader enters the fascinating world of the Chabad Rebbes, their intense efforts on behalf of world Jewry, and their Chasidic gatherings. The book was culled from one of the earliest published works of the Previous Rebbe, whose rich language and unique narrative style are legendary, and expertly translated by Rabbi Shimon Neubort. The second half of this volume, aptly titled, "Her Husband's Crown," containing precious biographical insights into the life of a most extraordinary woman, the Rebbe Maharash's wife, Rebbetzin Rivka.

The Rebbe Writes

22 Av, 5739 [1979]

Greeting and Blessing,

This is in reply to your letter of Aug. 9, in which you ask for my views on "the care and education of Jewish retarded children," outlining some of the problems connected therewith and prevailing policies, etc.

I must first of all, make one essential observation, namely, that while the above heading places all the retarded in one group, it would be a gross fallacy to come up with any rules to be applied to all of them as a group. For if any child requires an individual evaluation and approach in order to achieve the utmost in his or her development, how much more so in the case of the handicapped.

Since the above is so obvious, I assume that you have in mind the most general guidelines, with a wide range of flexibility allowing for the necessary individual approach in each case. All the more so, since, sad to say, our present society is poorly equipped in terms of manpower and financial resources to afford an adequate personal approach to each handicapped boy and girl. Even more regrettable is the fact that little attention (at any rate, little in relation to the importance of the problem) is given to this situation, and consequently little is done to mobilize more adequate resources to deal with the problem.

Now, with regard to general guidelines, I would suggest the following:

  1. The social worker, or teacher, and anyone dealing with retarded individuals should start from the basic premise that the retardation is in each case only a temporary handicap, and that in due course it could certainly be improved, and even improved substantially. This approach should be taken regardless of the pronouncements or prognosis of specialists in the field. The reason for this approach is, first of all, that it is a precondition for greater success in dealing with the retarded.

    Besides, considering the enormous strides that have been made in medical science, human knowledge, methodology and know-how, there is no doubt that in this area, too, there will be far-reaching developments. Thus, the very confidence that such progress is in the realm of possibility, will inspire greater enthusiasm in this work, and hopefully will also stimulate more intensive research.

  2. Just as the said approach is important from the viewpoint of and for the worker and educator, so it is important that the trainees themselves should be encouraged - both by word and the manner of their training - to feel confident that they are not, G-d forbid, "cases," much less unfortunate or hopeless cases, that their difficulty is considered, as above, only temporary, and that with a concerted effort of instructor and trainee the desired improvement could be speeded and enhanced.

  3. Needless to say, care should be taken not to exaggerate expectations through far-fetched promises, for false hopes inevitably result in deep disenchantment, loss of credibility and other undesirable effects. However, a way can surely be found to avoid raising false hopes, yet giving guarded encouragement.

  4. Part of the above approach which, as far as I know has not been used before, is to involve some of the trainees in some form of leadership, such as captains of teams, group leaders, and the like, without arousing the jealousy of the others. The latter could be avoided by making such selections on the basis of seniority, special achievement, exemplary conduct, etc.

  5. With regard to the efforts which have been made in recent years to create "group homes" for retarded individuals, which, as you say, has been a source of controversy - it is to be expected that, as in most things in our imperfect world, there are pros and cons. However, I believe that the approach should be the same as in the case of all pupils or students who spend part of their time in group environments - school, dormitory, summer camp, etc., and part of their time in the midst of their families, whether every day, or on weekends, etc. Only by individual approach and evaluation can it be determined which individual fits into which category.

continued in next issue

Rambam this week

22 Tamuz 5761

Positive mitzva 54: rejoicing on the festivals

By this injunction we are commanded to rejoice on the festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 16:14): "And you shall rejoice in your feast."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we go back to studying Chapter 1 of Ethics of the Fathers. The very first directive it contains is as follows: "Be deliberate in judgment; raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah."

It is axiomatic in Judaism that G-d observes the same mitzvot He commands the Jewish people (in the spiritual sense, of course). From this we understand that G-d Himself acts according to the above directive.

When we look at the degraded spiritual condition of our generation, we might be tempted to judge it unfavorably. However, when we take into consideration the deeper causes and circumstantial factors that have contributed to our present state of "twofold and doubled darkness," we come to a different conclusion. Instead of asking why we aren't on a higher level, we wonder how we've succeeded in achieving anything positive at all!

Being "deliberate in judgment" then leads to "raising up many disciples." We mustn't content ourselves with the number of Jews who already strongly identify with Judaism and are knowledgeable about Torah. Judging others favorably helps all Jews become "disciples," "Your children, the learned of G-d."

The next step involves making "fences around the Torah" (the various stringencies that safeguard the precise letter of the law), which give every Jew an opportunity to begin or enhance his religious observance in a unique, personalized way: If an individual finds it hard to start with one thing, there's always something else he can do to come closer to G-d!

May all of our resolutions for good lead to the ultimate "deliberation in judgment" - the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption - which will not be "in haste," but as prophesied by Isaiah: "In ease and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength."

May it happen at once.

Thoughts that Count

Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned My anger away from the people of Israel, while he was zealous for My sake among them (Deut. 25:11)

In enumerating Pinchas' praise, the first thing the Torah mentions is that he acted "among them." In Judaism, true zealousness for G-d does not mean withdrawing from society and becoming a recluse, but expressing it on the communal level.

(Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz)

From Yetzer, the family of the Yitzrites; from Shilem, the family of the Shilemites (Deut. 26:49)

Our Sages said: "A person is led in the direction he wishes to go." If a person wants to indulge his "yetzer," his evil inclination, he will not be prevented from doing so. But if he truly strives for wholeness (from the same Hebrew root as "Shilem") and purity, G-d will help him achieve his goal.

(Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlatchov)

These were the counted of the people of Israel: six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty (Deut. 26:51)

This number reflects only those Jewish men who were between the ages of 20 and 60; it does not include males who were older or younger, nor does it include women and girls. The total number of Jews in the desert - men, women and children - is not recorded anywhere and is unknown.

(Rabbeinu Bachya)

And Moses did as the L-rd commanded him, and he took Joshua...and he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge (Deut. 27: 22-23)

The Talmud relates that Moses passed the mantle of leadership to Joshua "even more generously, and to a greater degree than he was commanded." (Moses had been commanded to "put some of your honor upon him.") Commented Rabbi Yossi Bar Chanina: From this we learn that a person is not jealous of his disciple.

(Tractate Sanhedrin)

It Once Happened

In the period between the First and Second World Wars there lived a pious Jew named Yehuda Schwartz, in the central Hungarian village of Mezutzat. Reb Yehuda was the proprietor of a small tavern located next to the railroad station.

Most of Reb Yehuda's business was conducted with the local wine growers, from whom he purchased his supplies. Some of the wine was served in his tavern, while the rest was sold to wholesalers in the larger cities.

The business grew and grew until eventually Reb Yehuda acquired a partner, a Jew by the name of Hopstatter. Over the course of time a clear division of labor was established: Schwartz traveled from village to village buying the wine from the vineyards, while Hopstatter dealt with the wholesalers and other merchants. All payments he received were handed over to his partner, who could then pay the wine growers whatever they were owed.

At the end of each season, after the wine had been fully fermented and sold, the two partners would sit down to do their books. Both men were G-d-fearing individuals, and the two partners trusted each other implicitly. Not even once had they argued over figures or the division of profits.

One time, however, it happened that each partner made his calculations separately, with drastically different results. Hopstatter claimed that he had given 10,000 kronen to Schwartz, while Schwartz insisted that he had never received the money. After going over their records a second time with the same results, they decided to go to the Rabbi.

In those years, the legal authority in the village was the famous Rabbi Yehuda Altman, author of the scholarly work, Yam Shel Yehuda. The Rabbi listened carefully as the two sides presented their respective cases.

Standing before him were two good men, ethical and honest. Each was convinced he was speaking the truth. Hopstatter insisted that he remembered putting the bundle of money in his partner's hand. Schwartz was equally adamant that it never happened. Unfortunately, neither partner had any documents to back up his claim.

In such cases, the Rabbi had no choice but to ask the defendant to take an oath. Hopstatter declared that he was willing to swear, but Schwartz was dead set against it. As it was patently obvious that his friend was mistaken, Schwarz argued, he had no desire to cause him to commit the sin of taking a false oath.

"I am against it on principle," he continued. "If the tables were turned and I were asked to swear to the truth, I wouldn't do it even then. How much more so am I opposed to it now, when I see my friend about to stumble." At that point Schwartz announced that he was dropping his claim against Hopstatter. The 10,000 kronen weren't that important...

The two partners looked at the Rabbi expectantly, awaiting his verdict. After a brief moment he pronounced that as there was no longer any case pending, there was no need for an oath, and everyone could go home.

A short time later a vendor who was a casual acquaintance of Reb Yehuda Schwartz visited the tavern. In the course of conversation, Reb Yehuda mentioned the recent misunderstanding he had had with his partner.

"Hey, wait a minute," the vendor said as a thought occurred to him. "I might be able to tell you something that can shed a little light...

"A few months ago I was making my rounds at a certain inn, and I bumped into your friend Hopstatter. I didn't really talk to him, but I noticed him speaking to the owner. At a certain point a third man, someone I didn't recognize, walked in and went over to Hopstatter. The two men shook hands, whereupon Hopstatter took out his wallet. I saw him remove a bundle of money tied with a string and hand it to the stranger. The stranger then sat down at a side table and counted the bills. When he was satisfied it was the proper amount he left the premises."

Immediately, Schwartz took out a pen and paper wrote a letter to his partner describing the incident, and asked if it had any significance. After posting the letter he went back to work.

About a week later a carriage pulled up in front of the tavern, discharging a rather emotional and distraught Hopstatter. Rushing inside he practically fell upon Schwartz, hugging and kissing him. "I can't believe it!" he cried. "You saved me!"

He related that although he clearly remembered preparing the bundle of money for his partner, he had completely forgotten that he had given part of it to the man at the inn.

That evening Hopstatter told everyone in the synagogue the story of what had happened, and invited everyone to a festive meal in honor of his dear friend, who had prevented him from committing a grave sin.

[Reb Yehuda Schwartz was murdered by the Nazis (may G-d erase their name) in June of 1944. This story was told by his great-grandson, Avigdor Sharon of Israel.]

Moshiach Matters

A person is formed through a combination of three partners: the mother, the father and G-d (Nidah 31b). But during the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Era, "Know that the L-rd is G-d; He has made us..." (Psalm 100). We will be recreated by G-d alone.

(Rabbi Yosef Yaavetz)

  676: Balak678: Matos-Masei  
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