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   679: Devarim

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684: Ki Seitzei

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686: Nitzavim

August 31, 2001 - 12 Elul, 5761

684: Ki Seitzei

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

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  683: Shoftim685: Ki Savo  

Metric, English, or...  |  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

Metric, English, or...

Though most of the world operates on a metric system for weight, liquid, cubic, square and linear measurements, the United States continues to use a system still known as the English system, despite the fact that the English switched to metric decades ago.

Years back, it was expected that Americans would gradually wean themselves off English and switch to metric; thus products produced in the U.S., even those not manufactured for export, carry both the metric and English measurements. Goods imported into the U.S. from Israel and Europe carry both metric and English designations. But for most American schoolchildren, their only familiarity with the metric system is the knowledge that soft drinks come in one, two or three liter bottles.

There is, however, another system of measurement, linear at least. And it is called the "Jewish yardstick."

The Jewish yardstick is simple to use, and it doesn't interfere with any other system of weight, liquid, cubic, square, or linear measurement.

The rules for using the Jewish yardstick are as follow: When measuring up your neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative or any stranger, judge him leniently and favorably. When measuring yourself and your accomplishments, be stringent.

In Chasidic terminology one would say: Look at another with the "right eye" - with kindness; look at yourself with the "left eye" - with strictness.

Such an approach is based on the commandment to "Love your fellow as yourself." Just as a person's intrinsic self-love allows him to overlook his own faults, so too, must we overlook another's faults.

In regard to our personal conduct, we strive to both push away the negative and to do good. When relating to another individual, however, the Jewish yardstick's method is to channel our energies solely into the positive path - "Do good."

Although there may be times when someone's conduct warrants reproof, before criticizing - even before giving "positive criticism" - we should question ourselves as to whether we are fit to be the one to administer it. Furthermore, if reproof must be given, it should be offered gently, which will obviously enable it to be accepted more readily than harsh speech.

Moreover, such words should be spoken only on select occasions.

The old saying, "Spare the rod and spoil the child," is a derivation of the Biblical verse, "One who spares the rod hates his son." Judaism indicates that rebuke and reprimand are not only important, but at times, essential. However, admonishment may be given only when the relationship between two individuals is like that between a father and son: To give rebuke, one must love the other person just as a father loves his child; additionally, the difference in level between the two people must be as radical as the difference between a father and a son. Needless to say, this does not apply in most cases.

Why is all this true? Because the ultimate value of every Jew is immeasurable.

Based on the last public talk of the Rebbe on 25 Adar I, 5752 (1992)

Living with the Rebbe

The opening verse of this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, begins "When you go forth to battle against (al) your enemies." Significantly, the Torah uses the word "al," literally "upon" or "above," rather than "with" or "against."

This contains an allusion to the ongoing "battle" every Jew must wage against his true enemy, the Evil Inclination:

A Jew might claim that it is very difficult for him to study Torah and do mitzvot, given that he lives in a non-Jewish world. Then he must also contend with his Evil Inclination, which continually tries to convince him that he doesn't need to conduct himself as a Jew. "The non-Jews don't keep kosher," the Evil Inclination says, "why should you?"

Furthermore, the Evil Inclination is a "skilled craftsman," meaning that he is very good at his job. The Evil Inclination doesn't always present himself as an enemy; in fact, he is at his most dangerous when he disguises himself as a friend. Sometimes, the Evil Inclination will even pretend to the Good Inclination, whose only desire is to improve the person's behavior. This is the worst evil one can inflict on someone, making believe he is a true friend while actually causing him harm.

A Jew might ask, "How am I supposed to protect myself from the Evil Inclination? And how can I be sure whether a suggestion is coming from the Evil Inclination or the Good Inclination?"

Then, of course, there is a more fundamental question: Why did G-d create an Evil Inclination in the first place? Wouldn't it have been better if people had only a Good Inclination, and instead of fighting negative impulses and having to overcome them, all their time could be spent learning Torah and doing mitzvot?

To which the Torah answers, "When you go forth to battle upon your enemies."

G-d tells every Jew: Yes, it is true that you will have to wage a life-long battle against the Evil Inclination. But you should know that as soon as you determine to fight him, at the very moment you resolve to wage war against your true adversary, the Evil Inclination, you will automatically be raised to a superior position. And in the same way that it is easier to vanquish a physical enemy from an elevated position, so too will it be easy to defeat the Evil Inclination, with G-d's help.

As soon as a Jew resolves to fight his Evil Inclination, the battleground is already tilted in his favor. G-d makes him stronger than his adversary, and he has nothing to fear. All of his time can then be utilized for learning Torah and doing mitzvot.

Adapted from a talk on 7 Elul 5750

A Slice of Life

A Plane, a Boat and a Haftorah
by Steve Hyatt

The flight to Philadelphia had barely cleared the runway in Portland when I took out my book, put on my headphones and played the tape Rabbi Choni Vogel had sent me to help me study for my haftorah. I couldn't help but smile as I heard his first few words, "Okay Shloma Yakov, here is the tape, I am sure you are going to be FANTASTIC!"

Fantastic indeed. I had been studying for six months and no matter how much I tried, I simply could not retain the melodies. Six months before, I had made a mitzva pledge to chant the haftora that I should have presented at my bar mitzva 33 years earlier. Back then, I was such a poor Hebrew school student that my teacher Rabbi Lapidus had wisely limited my role to a morning aliya and leading the afternoon service later that day. And even that had been an enormous challenge.

Of course life had changed since I discovered Chabad, and reciting the haftorah of my youth had seemed like a great idea. But now it was almost "game time" and I simply was not ready. Even as I was practicing on the plane, I was trying to find an excuse to get me off the hook. I was desperate to avoid looking foolish in front of friends and family.

As I sat in my seat wallowing in self-doubt an elderly woman strolled past, looked at my open book with the Hebrew writing, looked at me and then kept walking. Repeating this procedure for the better part of a half hour, she finally stopped in front of me. She said, "It isn't often you see someone reading from a Hebrew book on an airplane. What are you reading?" I explained that I was practicing for my haftorah.

She smiled and sat down in the seat next to mine and proceeded to tell me her life story. She was a retired Jewish doctor living in Los Angeles and she and her husband were on their way to Philadelphia to see their son. After a little while she walked back to her seat. Several minutes later her husband sat down next to me. He pulled an old newspaper article from his jacket pocket and gave it to me to read. He explained that the photo in the article was of his cousin's school class back in Hungary during World War II. He pointed to his cousin and said he was the only member of the class that had escaped when the Nazis invaded his village. He thought since I was studying for my haftorah I would appreciate reading the article.

The story moved me but I was mystified why he thought it had a connection to my haftorah. When the plane landed, the doctor and her husband said goodbye.

After picking up my luggage, I started driving toward Chabad of Delaware, where Rabbi Vogel's second son Areleh was soon to celebrate his Bar Mitzva. As I crossed the state line into Delaware I could almost smell the aroma of the Rebbetzin's mouth-watering kugel cooking in the oven!

The next evening was Shabbat and it got off to a joyous start as friends and family from around the world prayed, ate, laughed and sang together. On Shabbat morning, Areleh made us all proud leading the services, reading from the Torah and chanting a magnificent haftorah.

When services were over the celebration began in earnest. After more food, and of course more kugel than I could eat, a full-fledged "farbrengen" began. Each participant shared insights and wisdom about the Torah portion, the responsibilities a boy assumes upon becoming Bar Mitzva and discussions of spirituality and commitment.

Midway through the festivities Rabbi Vogel cajoled his father, Reb Noson Vogel, to recount his miraculous escape from the Nazis, on the last boat out of Calais, France. Rabbi Vogel described how, on that fateful day, which "coincidentally" was exactly 61 years to the day of Areleh's Bar Mitzva, his sister had convinced a guard to let the family secretly scale the wall of the ship and board before it sailed out of port. In the end they were four of the less than seven hundred souls who finally escaped from the clutches of Hitler's henchmen that day.

He explained that only through G-d's blessing did he and his family escape the hands of the Nazis and how he had dedicated his life to foiling Hitler's ultimate plan by promoting and supporting Jewish education throughout the world. Rabbi Vogel established the Lubavitch Boys High School and eventually the Lubavitch Yeshiva in London, which sends to communities around the world hundreds of boys who are involved in Jewish outreach. He said that with every mitzva performed, and with every Jewish boy or girl educated, we ensure that the Jewish people survive and thrive in the post Hitler world.

When Shabbat was over and it was time to return to Oregon, I returned with a passion burning in my heart. When I first started this journey I was fearful of "looking foolish" in front of my friends. After meeting the couple on the plane and then listening to Reb Vogel's words of inspiration, I realized that learning and chanting the haftorah was more important than I had ever imagined.

I realized that no matter the final melodic quality of my haftorah, it was imperative to complete it. For every note of my haftorah and the millions that others have and will chant, serve to remind us that despite the evil intent of the Hamens and the Hitlers of history, the spirit of the Jewish people still burns brightly throughout the world.

As I sat back in my seat I couldn't help but marvel at hearing two such painful, yet inspiring stories over the course of a few days.

I thanked G-d for these wondrous blessings, smiled, picked up my book, slapped on my headphones and went back to work.

What's New

Jewish Renaissance Fair

Sunday, Sept. 2, marks the 23rd annual Jewish Renaissance Fair, at South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey. The main concert features Uncle Moishy and the Mitzvah Men, and Lenny Solomon & Shlock Rock. There will also be magicians, jugglers, clowns, an Arts and Crafts Village, Noah's Ark Zoo, Storybook Hayride, carnival rides and games. Completely new is the Madcap Mutts Dog Show. Kosher fair foods will be sold. Tickets can be purchased at, or at over 20 outlets in the tri-state area. Group rates available. Call (973) 731-0770 for more info. Rain date is Sept. 3. Sponsored by the Rabbinical College of America Community Outreach Program.

The Rebbe Writes

14th of Elul, 5727 [1967]

Greeting and Blessing:

I duly received your correspondence, and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report in regard to the contents of your letters.

No doubt you remember the Alter Rebbe's [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explanation of the significance of the month of Elul, in terms of the following analogy: There are times when a king leaves his palace and goes out to meet his subjects in the field, when everyone, regardless of his state and station, can approach the king, and the king receives everyone graciously and fulfills their petitions. The days of Elul are such a period when the King of Kings is, as it were, "in the field." This is, therefore, the proper time to strengthen the adherence to the commandments of the King, and to receive a greater measure of the King's blessings.

Wishing you and yours a Kesivo vaChasimo Tovo [may you be inscribed and sealed for good],

With blessing,

P.S. With regard to the question of Moshiach which you raise in your letter - I refer you to the Rambam, Hilchos Melochim, Chaps. 11-12 [Maimonides' Mishne Torah, Laws of Kings].

Enclosed is a copy of the general Rosh Hashono message, which you will surely put to good advantage.

3rd of Elul, 5726 [1966]

Greeting and Blessing:

After not hearing from you for a long time, I received Mrs. . . .'s letter. In the meantime I also was told of the telephone conversation with Rabbi Hodakov, who also conveyed to you my concurrence in regard to Mr. . . .'s visit here during the month of Tishrei.

As requested, I will remember you and yours in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all the matters about which you write.

Now that we are in the auspicious month of Elul, may G-d grant that you should have good news to report - "good" that is obviously and evidently good.

In accordance with [the] good Jewish custom, I wish you and yours a Kesivo VaChasimo Tovo.

With blessing,

22nd of Elul, 5723

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter in which you write about your birthday in this month.

I send you my prayerful wishes for a happy and successful year, materially and spiritually. Above all, it is important for you, considering your age, to make every possible effort to strengthen your devotion and diligence in the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the Mitzvos. Every Jew has been assured that if he sanctifies himself a little by his own effort, he is sanctified a great deal from above.

Let me know your full Hebrew name and your mother's Hebrew name, as also in the case of your brother for whom you request a blessing, and I will remember you both in prayer.

Hoping to hear good news from you and wishing you a Kesivo veChasimo Tova.

With blessing,

Excerpts of a freely translated letter
Teves, 5704 [1944]

...From the time it was publicized that the eighteenth of Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov [founder of general Chasidism] and the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism], it became customary in many places, and particularly, in Chabad synagogues, to commemorate the date as a day of farbrengens [Chasidic gatherings] when the stories of tzaddikim [the righteous] are told, emphasis is placed on strengthening the paths of Chassidus, and particularly, Ahavas Yisrael [love of a fellow Jew], and good resolutions are made with regard to establishing fixed sessions of Torah study, both in the study of Nigleh, the revealed discipline of Torah law and Nistar, Torah's mystic secrets.

This birthday is celebrated with unique inspiration in the Rebbeim's household. The Rebbe delivers motivating words with regard to Torah study and Divine service. At times, he also delivers a Chassidic discourse...

Rambam this week

29 Av 5761

Positive mitzva 97: defilement through the carcass of certain creeping creatures

By this injunction (Lev. 11:29-30) we are commanded concerning the uncleanness of the eight varieties of creeping things: the weasel, mouse, great lizard, gecko, land crocodile, lizard, sand lizard and chameleon. The commandment includes the law of their uncleanness and the related detailed rules.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The month of Elul is almost upon us, a time of introspection and soul-searching. As the old year draws to a close, we take stock of our behavior and make amends for any wrongs we may have committed. In preparation for the New Year, we conduct an honest assessment of our conduct, that we may be aroused to repentance and improvement of our Divine service.

During Elul, a Jew can almost sense the difference in the air. Everyone feels an inexplicable urge to draw closer to G-d, to increase in Torah and mitzvot.

The G-dly soul that every Jew possesses automatically pulls him in the direction of holiness. However, there are two basic ways to motivate a person: the "carrot" and the "stick." Fear of punishment may yield the desired results, but it usually causes more damage than benefit.

Historically, it was against this backdrop that the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples first arose. In those days, itinerant preachers would "put the fear of G-d" into simple Jews by vividly describing the punishments that would befall them if they did not walk the straight and narrow.

The Chasidic approach, however, is the exact opposite. The Baal Shem Tov emphasized the innate worth of every Jew, the value of serving G-d with purity of heart, the immense power of prayer and the beauty of the Jewish soul.

On countless occasions the Rebbe has declared that the way to draw a Jew closer to Judaism is by spreading the light of Torah and mitzvot. "One should explain to him the greatness of being a descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...the 'only child' of the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, and that his soul is 'a veritable part of G-d Above.'"

In Elul, G-d's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are manifested with particular intensity. It should thus be a time of only emphasizing the positive and increasing our love for our fellow Jew. In the merit of our good deeds (especially the mitzva of charity), each and every one of us will be found deserving, and G-d will inscribe us together with all the righteous.

Thoughts that Count

But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn (bechor), by giving him a double portion of all that he has (Deut. 21:17)

Even the letters of the word "bechor" allude to the firstborn's inheritance of a double portion, as each letter is numerically equivalent to double the one that immediately precedes it in the Hebrew alphabet: beit (2) is twice alef (1); chof (20) is twice yud (10); and reish (200) is twice kuf (100).


You shall not watch your brother's ox or his sheep go astray and hide yourself from them; you shall surely bring them back to your brother (Deut. 22:1)

This is the mitzva of "returning a lost object." If the Torah commands us to return a lost physical object and not pretend we are unaware of the situation, how much more so are we obligated to help a lost Jewish soul and restore it to its rightful place.

(The Shaloh)

But you shall let the mother go, and take the young to you (Deut. 22:7)

What is the reward for sending the mother bird away from the nest? "If you are childless, I will give you children. By fulfilling this commandment, you thereby hasten the arrival of King Moshiach...and the Prophet Elijah."

(Midrash Rabba)

You shall not wear a garment of different sorts (shaatnez), wool and linen together (22:11)

According to Chasidut, wool and linen are symbolic of chesed and gevura, the opposite attributes of loving-kindness and severity. When a Jew observes a positive mitzva, a "do," he draws nearer to him the object or thing with which he performs the mitzva. When he observes one of the Torah's prohibitions, a "don't," he avoids something that is forbidden and pushes it away. The mitzva of shaatnez reminds us that the two opposing thrusts mustn't be confused or combined: that which is forbidden should be shunned, and that which is holy and positive should be encouraged.

(The Rebbe, Elul 5744)

It Once Happened

In the same city as the famous holy tzadik, known as the "Shpoler Zeide" ["the Grandfather from Shpola," Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola, Russia, 1725-1812] there once lived a Jewish tradesman who plied his wares in the marketplace. On the table of his market stall, right next to where he displayed his merchandise, the man kept a small moneybox in which the day's profits were placed.

One time, a platoon of soldiers passed through the city. As they made their way through the marketplace, one of the soldiers diverted the businessman's attention by engaging him in conversation. Once the man was distracted, he grabbed the box of money and ran off. To the backdrop of the poor Jew's vociferous protests, the thief was immediately swallowed up by the large crowd of soldiers similarly clad in uniform. It was impossible to tell who had committed the crime. In the meantime, he hopped onto one of the transport wagons and escaped.

The Jew went directly to the platoon's commanding officer to register his complaint. The general agreed to order the thief to return the money, but only on condition that he positively identify the soldier who committed the theft. This, unfortunately, the Jew was unable to do. He hadn't gotten a good look at his face, and besides, they all looked the same in their uniforms. Not knowing how to proceed, he went to the Shpoler Zeide to ask his advice.

"Go back to the general and tell him you have an infallible way to find the thief," the Shpoler Zeide said. "Have the soldiers stand in a straight line with their backs toward you. Pass down the line and inspect the soldiers. Whichever one is grinding his teeth in anger is the one who stole your money," he counseled.

The Jew went back to the general and asked him to line up the soldiers. "You'd better make sure that the one you point to is the real thief," the general warned, "or else you will be the one to be punished." The Jew willingly and readily agreed, which surprised the general and aroused his curiosity.

The soldiers were ordered to stand at attention as the Jew wended his way up and down the rows. Suddenly, he came upon one soldier who was gnashing his teeth in barely suppressed fury. "This one is the thief!" the Jew announced. The general ordered the soldier to be flogged, whereupon he admitted his theft and the moneybox was returned to the grateful Jew.

The general was amazed. He demanded to know how the Jew had distinguished the guilty party from among all the other soldiers. The Jew, an honest and simple man, responded with the truth. He told the general that the Shpoler Zeide, a very great tzadik, had told him what to do. "Go tell your Rabbi to appear before me at once!" commanded the general. The Jew was horrified, for such was not his intention. Full of remorse for mentioning the tzadik's name and weeping bitter tears, he went back to the Shpoler Zeide and begged for forgiveness, recounting what had occurred.

"Do not be afraid, and do not cry," the Shpoler Zeide consoled him. "Inform the general that I refuse to come. Tell him, instead, to inspect the pocket of his trousers."

The Jew returned to the general and related the message. The general put his hand in his pocket and examined its contents. Then, without saying a word, he took out his gun and committed suicide on the spot.

It later became known that the general, involved in waging war with an enemy nation, had accepted a bribe to lead his platoon of soldiers into an ambush. The general had written two letters - one, to his king, assuring him that their military strategy was proceeding according to plan and was sure to bring them victory, and a second letter, addressed to the enemy, describing in full detail the plans of the ambush.

When the general checked his pocket he saw that he had made a fatal error: the two letters had been inadvertently switched. The letter in his possession was the one he had meant to send to the king; the enemy's letter had just been dispatched to the royal palace instead. Realizing the fate that awaited him, he took matters into his own hands and took his own life - before the monarch he had betrayed could mete out the punishment he so richly deserved.

Moshiach Matters

It is presently "dark" for you, but the Holy One, blessed be He, will in the future illuminate for you as an everlasting light...When will that be? When all of you will be a singular band... Israel will be redeemed when they shall be a singular band, as it is said...and they shall come together from the north to the land I have given as a legacy to your fathers" (Jeremiah 3:18). When they are bound together they shall receive the Face of the Divine Presence!

(Tanchuma, Nitzavim 1)

  683: Shoftim685: Ki Savo  
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