Blog - Torah Insights

Experience Sinai - וילך

Experience Sinai 

Can you do it alone? 

Can you ensure you will be dedicated to G-d’s word by studying the Torah on your own? 

On the last day of his life, Moses indicated that the answer is no. 

To remain committed to the Torah, we must recreate the experience of Sinai, where all the Jewish people stood together and accepted the word of G-d. Something about the tangible experience of standing in one place, along with many people creates a deep impression on the human psyche. 

Therefore, in our Parsha, Moses commands the people: 

At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Succoth, [after] the year of release,

When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord, your God, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears.

Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children, and your stranger in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your God, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.

If the purpose of the gathering was so that a person would hear the content of the words being read, then it would not apply to the scholar, who already knows it, or to the person who would not understand the reading. Yet, Maimonides explains that the commandment of Hakhel applies equally to the scholar who already knows the words of the Torah that will be read as well as to people who do not understand the words being read: 

Even great Sages who know the entire Torah are obligated to listen with exceedingly great concentration. One who is unable to hear should focus his attention on this reading, for Scripture established it solely to strengthen the true faith. He should see himself as if he was just now commanded regarding the Torah and heard it from the Almighty. For the king is an agent to make known the word of God (Deuteronomy 31:10-12).

This year is the year of Hakhel. While we are unable to fulfill the commandment in the literal sense, the objective of the Mitzvah, strengthening our commitment to G-d and the Torah, can certainly be fulfilled even during the time of exile. The Rebbe taught us that the year of Hakhel should be dedicated to bringing people together for a shared Jewish experience. 

This is something that can't be done alone. To experience Sinai you must stand together with others.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 19 Vayelch 1 


Fuel Your Spiritual Light - נצבים

Fuel Your Spiritual Light 

The Tanya, the foundational book of Chabad philosophy, spends fifty three chapters explaining the statement in our Parsha that the Torah is “very close”, exceedingly  accessible to every person. Moses states: 

It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"

Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"

Rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:12-14)

Is it indeed the case that it is “very close” to serve G-d not only by taking the right action but also “in your heart”? Is it indeed easy and accessible for one to transform his heart from negative and destructive pleasures to the love of G-d? 

The Tanya explains that, for the overwhelming majority of people, the meaning of the verse is that we are able to develop enough control and inner motivation to to be in control of the most important aspect of our lives, the realm of action. The verse “in your heart, so that you can do it”, means that it is “very close” to generate enough emotional motivation to take control of our actions. 

But why is action primary? Is it only because we live in a physical world and therefore abstract spirituality is less important than tangible action? The Tanya explains that, perhaps counterintuitively, the most profound connection to G-d occurs only through action. 

The Zohar states that every human being is called upon to bring Divine light into the world. The Divine presence is the flame, the human body is the wick and the oil that allows the fire to exist is good deeds. Neither the soul nor its emotions can be the fuel for the Divine light. In order for a substance to become fuel it must become absorbed within the fire to the point that it loses its own existence. The soul can never reach that level of unity with the Divine. Only the energy we expend in doing a good deed dissipates and fuels the Divine flame, allowing us to become the luminaries bringing G-d to ourselves and to the world around us.

In the words of the Tanya:   

the soul of a person—even if he be a perfect tzaddik serving G‑d with fear and love of delights—does not, nevertheless, completely dissolve itself out of existence, so as to be truly nullified and absorbed into the light of G‑d to the extent of becoming one and the same absolutely, but the person remains an entity apart, one who fears G‑d and loves Him.

{By contrast}, the very energy of the body itself which is engaged in this action is absorbed in the Divine light and in His will, and is united with Him in a perfect union… thereby also the energy of the vital spirit in the physical body, originating in the kelipat nogah, is transformed from evil to good, and is actually absorbed into holiness like the divine soul itself. (Tanya Chapter 35)


Renewing the Vows - כי תבוא


Renewing the Vows 


In a healthy relationship, there is a time for each party to take the initiative.


Indeed, the Song of Songs, the Biblical romantic poem which is a metaphor for the love between G-d and the Jewish people, contains two very similar verses: in chapter 6, we read: “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me, who grazes among the roses.”, whereas in chapter 2 we read the reverse order: “My beloved is to me, and I am to him, who grazes among the roses.” The commentators explain that both patterns are true. During the season of Passover, we experience “My beloved (G-d) is to me (the Jewish people)”. Passover was the time when G-d initiated. Like a knight in shining armor, G-d led us out of Egypt. Our commitment to Him was a response to His initial expression of love for us. 


By contrast, the High Holidays season is expressed in the verse “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me”, when the Jewish people are called upon to take the first step and return to G-d. 


As the Jewish people prepared to enter the land of Israel, the nature of their relationship was about to shift. Until that point, G-d took the initiative in redeeming the Jewish people  from Egypt and leading them through the desert while providing for all their needs. From the time they crossed the Jordan, they would be called upon to take the initiative, to work the land, and build a morally just society. 


This explains why, in this week’s portion, as they were about to cross the Jordan, Moses commanded them to reestablish the covenant with G-d as soon as they would enter the land. At Sinai, G-d wrote the text of the tablets, in the second covenant, it was the people who were commanded to write the Torah: 


And it will be, on the day that you cross the Jordan to the land the Lord, your God, is giving you, that you shall set up for yourself huge stones, and plaster them with lime. When you cross, you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah. (27:2-3)


When at Sinai, the Jewish people passively heard the voice of G-d speaking the ten commandments, in Israel, at the renewal of the covenant, it was the Levites who spoke the words of the Torah: “The Levites shall speak up, saying to every individual of Israel, in a loud voice”. At Sinai G-d inspired the Jewish people, whereas in Israel the Jewish people were called upon to self-generate inspiration; only then would G-d reciprocate.   


In our Parsha, as an introduction to renewing the covenant, Moses expressed the pattern of “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me,” where the people initiate the relationship. First, the verse states, “you have selected the Lord”, and only then “the Lord has selected you”:


You have selected the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him.

And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments. (Deuteronomy 26:17-18)



You Will Not Be Able To Ignore - כי תצא

You Will Not Be Able To Ignore

Every morally just legal system requires that a person not cause damage to his fellow. Yet the Torah goes much further in its moral calling. A person must invest time and effort to prevent his fellow from suffering a loss. This principle is demonstrated in the commandment to return a lost object:  

1. You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying, and ignore them. [Rather,] you shall return them to your brother.

2. But if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, you shall bring it into your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out, whereupon you shall return it to him.

3. So shall you do with his donkey, and so shall you do with his garment, and so shall you do with any lost article of your brother which he has lost and you have found. You shall not ignore [it]. (Deuteronomy 22)

But are there any limits to this obligation? Does one have to return a lost object even at great monetary expense to himself or at the expense of one's dignity? The Talmudic sages isolate the words of the first verse of the passage, "and ignore them", and teach that there are scenarios when one may ignore a lost object: 

The Sages taught in a baraita: It is stated with regard to the return of a lost item: “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep wandering and ignore them; you shall return them to your brother” (Deuteronomy 22:1). The tanna explains that the phrase “and ignore them” means that there are occasions in which you may ignore lost items and there are occasions in which you may not ignore them.

How so; under what circumstances may one disregard a lost item? One may do so in a case where he was a priest and the lost item is in the graveyard (Leviticus 21:1–4), or where he was an elderly person and it is not in keeping with his dignity to tend to the item, or where the value of his labor was greater than the value of the lost item of the other person, i.e., if the finder was to return the item, reimbursing him for his lost wages would cost more than the value of the item; therefore, it is stated: “And ignore them.” (Baba Metziah 30a)

Rabbi Moshe Alshich, the great 16th-century mystic, explains a deeper dimension of these passages. When seeing a lost object and realizing the cost of time and effort it would take to return it, a person's first instinct is to ignore it. Therefore, in the first verse, the Torah emphasizes "you shall not see… and ignore them" because a person's natural inclination is to be self-oriented and therefore "ignore" another's potential financial loss. Yet, after engaging in performing the commandment - as described in the second verse ("your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, you shall bring it into your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out, whereupon you shall return it to him") the person's nature is transformed. He becomes empathetic and sensitive to the other person to the extent that he can no longer ignore his fellow. This is expressed in the final verse of the passage, which, while commonly translated as "You shall not ignore", actually means "you will not be able to ignore”.

The portion of Ki Teitzei includes 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments, which cover virtually every area of life. Every Mitzvah further refines our character. From the natural inclination to be self-centered and ignore the people around us, we become people who "are not able to ignore".  


What Separates Successful People From the Pack? - שופטים

What Separates Successful People From the Pack?

"You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment."

This verse, the commandment to set up a justice system, is the opening statement of this week's Torah portion, the portion of Shoftim.

The Chassidic commentaries explain that it also has another meaning. Every individual person is called upon to appoint figurative "judges" and "officers" at their own "gates", at their eyes, ears, and mouth, the "gates through which we interact with the world. "Judges" refers to our intellectual ability to evaluate what stimuli we want to allow into our consciousness; our inner "Judge" differentiates between what is a productive or destructive interaction with the people around us. Yet, Judges are not enough because we often know which action is correct, but occasionally, that is not enough to motivate action because we choose the more comfortable, momentarily convenient path. The Torah, therefore, tells us to establish "officers" who are responsible for implementing the judge's verdict. The appointment of "officers" represents the ability to commit to taking the right action despite internal or external obstacles. 

Apparently this ancient wisdom is true not only for our spiritual growth and interpersonal relationships but also for achieving success in the material world. While reading the Chassidic commentary, my brother sent me an article from with the catchy headline: "Warren Buffett Says What Separates Successful People From the Pack Comes Down to 1 Simple Word”’ the article quotes him as saying: "The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything”, and it was the late Steve Jobs who said: "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done."


A Grammatical Error? - ראה


A Grammatical Error? 

The opening statement of the Parsha, the declaration of free choice, seems to have a grammatical error. Moses states: 

Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. (Deuteronomy 11:26)

In the original Hebrew, “see (behold)” (“Re’eh”) is in the singular form, whereas the continuation of the verse “before you” (“Lifneichem”) is in the plural. 

Moses commands the people that when they enter the land of Israel, they should create a ceremony of collectively accepting blessings and curses: 

And it will be, when the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land to which you come, to possess it, that you shall place those blessing upon Mount Gerizim, and those cursing upon Mount Ebal. (11:29)

When the Jewish people stood at Sinai and accepted the covenant with G-d, they did so as individuals; each individual Jew stood before G-d and heard the ten commandments, which were stated in the singular. Once they entered the land of Israel, however, the covenant was expanded, whereby each individual was responsible not only for himself but also for the entire community and nation. This explains the grammar of the verse: the covenant begins with the singular and shifts to the plural to highlight that every individual is responsible for the collective. 

When people form a nation, the danger is that the individual loses the sense of the power of his own actions. One may feel that he is only one person whose actions are inconsequential in comparison to the many. Judaism reminds the person of the incredible power of each and every action. Every effort can make a difference within himself and within the broader world. Sometimes the effect is spiritual, but often one action can have a tangible impact on the person's environment, whereby a positive act can ripple and begin a revolution of blessing and positivity.

As the Talmud states, and as codified by Maimonides and repeated countless times by the Rebbe:  

A person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and guilt, and the world as equally balanced between merit and guilt… if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others. (Maimonides, Teshuvah 3:4)

(Adapted from the Kli Yakar)

The Virtue of the Shema’s Second Paragraph - עקב


The Virtue of the Shema’s Second Paragraph


The commandments to study Torah, don Tefillin, and place a Mezuzah on the doorpost are stated in the first paragraph of the Shema prayer (which appears in last week's portion, Vaetchanan) and are reiterated in the second paragraph of the Shema (which is in this week's portion, Eikev). Rashi explains that the commandments are re-stated in the second paragraph in order to teach that even after the Jewish people are exiled from the land of Israel (a possibility mentioned in the second paragraph of the Shema), they should nevertheless continue to fulfill the commandments. 


Each of the Shema paragraphs expresses their respective portion's general theme. While the emphasis of last week's portion, Vaetchanan, was Moses' description of the Divine revelation of Sinai, when the people were in a state of holiness and righteousness, in this week's portion, Eikev, Moses describes the sin of the golden calf, the shattering of the tablets and how Moses carved out the stones for the second tablets. In other words, Vaetchanan represents the Divine revelation that inspires the person. In contrast, Eikev describes the people's return to G-d due to their own effort, in the aftermath of a spiritual downfall. 


This explains the difference between the first and second paragraphs of the Shema prayer. The second paragraph differs from the first in that, (1) it reiterates only the commandment to "love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and will all your soul", but omits "with all your might", (2) it introduces the idea of reward and punishment ("if you hearken to My commandments… I will give the rain of your land at its time… Beware, lest your heart be misled… "and you will perish quickly from upon the good land") (3) it mentions the commandment to put on Tefillin before the commandment to study Torah ("bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them…"). 


This is because in the first paragraph of the Shema, the person's inspiration is far more intense as it comes as a gift from above; it is a product of the Divine revelation that awakens his soul. By contrast, when in a state of physical as well as spiritual exile, (1) the love for G-d is not felt as intensely as the love in the first portion (2) the person needs to be inspired by reward and punishment (3) one must take action (Tefillin) even before he is inspired by study. 


Conventional wisdom says that the first paragraph of the Shema represents the greater level of holiness, for it describes the intense service of G-d resulting from the soul shining within the human consciousness. Yet, counter-intuitively, Chasidisim explains that there is an advantage in the second paragraph of the Shema. For when the Jew serves G-d while in spiritual exile, the less intense but self-generated inspiration is a testament that his connection to G-d has been internalized to the degree that it is not dependent on external factors. No matter where the Jew may be, in a physical or spiritual exile, the Jew can express his connection to G-d. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 9 Eikev 2 



Hand Tefillin vs. Head Tefillin - ואתחנן

Hand Tefillin vs. Head Tefillin 

There is a subtle but significant difference between how the Torah describes the commandment to don the hand tefillin and the head tefillin. In this week's Torah portion. The Torah states: 

And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:8)

The commandment to wear the hand tefillin is introduced by a verb "you shall bind", whereas the head tefillin are described as "they shall be", without a commandment to take a specific action. This led the gaon of Rogotchov to conclude that there is a distinction between the definition of the commandments. The definition of the Mitzvah of the hand tefillin is the act of tying. Therefore, the commandment applies only to the first moment one binds the hand tefillin. By contrast, the definition of the commandment to wear the head Tefillin is ongoing. "They shall be", implies that the Mitzvah applies not to the action of placing them on the head but rather to every moment that they are on the head. 

Although the Mitzvah to don the hand Tefillin applies only to the first moment, we nevertheless wear the hand Tefillin for as long as we wear the head Tefillin. But that is not because of the hand Tefillin per se, but rather as a result of wearing the head Tefillin. As the Talmud explains; 

The verse states: "And you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes," and it is derived from here: As long as the Tefillin of the head are between your eyes, the number of Tefillin you are wearing shall be two. (Talmud, Menachot 36a)

The varying definitions are a result of the spiritual significance of the commandments. The hand Tefillin, which is placed on the arm near the heart, represents emotions. Since a person can't control what he will feel, there can be no ongoing commandment regarding emotions. The commandment is only to "bind them". Binding is not an act of transformation; we are not commanded to transform our hearts, for that is impossible for most people, but rather, binding indicates that we keep our heart under control, not to allow negative emotions to take over our behavior. The head Tefillin, by contrast, represents thought and awareness, which are areas where a person does have absolute control at any moment to direct his thoughts toward holiness and positivity, thus the Mitzvah is constant and ongoing. 

Ultimately, we are, however, able to affect our emotions indirectly. While one cannot change how one feels at any given moment, over time, the awareness of the mind does trickle down and affect the heart. Therefore, we wear the hand tefillin, as a result of and for as long as, we wear the head tefillin, in order to help facilitate the effect of the mind on the heart, ultimately instilling the love of G-d within our emotive experience. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 39 Vaeschanan 2


Protesting the Blessing of Moses - דברים


Protesting the Blessing of Moses

Moses blessed the Jewish people, but they protested.  

At the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses retells the history of the Jewish people's journey through the desert, Moses blesses the Jewish people. He said to them: 

May the Lord God of your forefathers add to you a thousandfold as many as you are, and may He bless you, as He spoke concerning you! (Deuteronomy 1:11)

Rashi explains that when Moses blessed the people that they should increase one thousand fold, the Jewish people protested by telling Moses that he was limiting their blessing, as G-d had promised Abraham that his descendants would be too many too count:   

They {the Israelites} said to him, "Moses, you are limiting our blessings {i.e., our numbers being multiplied only a thousandfold}. The Holy One, blessed is He, already promised to Abraham, 'so that if a man will be able to count {the dust of the earth, so will your seed be counted}!'" [Moses] replied to them: "This [blessing of a thousandfold] is mine, but He will bless you as He spoke concerning you!" 

G-d offered the Jewish people a limitless blessing; why would Moses then add a limited one? What does Moses' limited blessing contribute above and beyond G-d's limitless one? 

Many spiritual seekers seek to grasp the infinite. Their soul feels confined by everyday reality; they desire to transcend reality and to be enveloped by the infinite light. Judaism, however, offers a radically different approach. Our relationship with G-d is a marriage between the finite and the infinite. In a healthy marriage, each partner contributes of their own unique identity to create something more significant than the sum of their parts. In our union with the infinite G-d, we must offer our unique and finite contribution, which is spelled out in meticulous detail in the laws of the Torah. 

Moses tells the Jewish people that while the Divine blessing is limitless, we must offer a limited blessing which is our limited input. Only then do we create a meaningful relationship with the Divine; only then do we reach true infinity, which is not confined to the realm of infinite but can express itself in the finite reality. 

This conversation between the Jewish people and Moses is recorded in the beginning of the fifth book as the Jewish people were listening to Moses' final words, preparing to cross the Jordan River and settle the land of Israel. Perhaps this conversation captures the challenge that lay ahead. For they were now being called upon to express the abstract, undefined, infinite sense of holiness and spirituality they experienced in the desert, within the confines of order and structure within the society they would create in the holy land. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Devarim 19:4

Engage or Disengage? - מטות -מסעי

Engage or Disengage? 

Rabbinic sources offer conflicting messages on whether or not asceticism is a Jewish value. On the one hand, our sages say, "Are not those things which the Torah has prohibited sufficient for you that you must forbid additional things to yourself?" On the other hand, the Mishnah declares "vows are a safety fence for abstinence", implying that vowing against engaging in worldly pleasure is a tool to becoming more sanctified. 

Jewish life is focused not on separating from the world but rather on elevating it. When the physical blessings and pleasures are used to enhance a life of holiness and devotion to G-d, they serve a higher purpose and are elevated and transformed into holiness. 

Yet, occasionally there is something that, for whatever reason, poses a challenge to a person, not only is the person incapable of harnessing the pleasure for a holy and productive purpose, but on the contrary, the experience will be destructive, undermining his ability to live a spiritual life. In that case, a vow to separate himself from that item or experience is the right thing to do. 

Our Parsha begins with a discussion about the laws of vows. A woman's vow is binding unless her father or husband chooses to nullify the vow. [The Rabbinic tradition asserts that a man's vow may be nullified by the court under certain circumstances.] The mystical interpretation of the laws of the nullification of the vows is as follows: 

If a woman makes a vow to the Lord, or imposes a prohibition [upon herself] while in her father's house, in her youth:

"A woman in her youth" refers to a Jewish person who has not yet reached full spiritual maturity, and therefore elements of the material world may pose a spiritual threat. Therefore, the person may vow to disengage from the spiritual danger.  

Since the ultimate purpose is not to flee and hide but instead to engage and elevate, the Torah offers two paths that would allow the person to grow to the point where the vow can be nullified, and the formerly prohibited object elevated: the nullification by the father and the nullification by the husband. 

As the Torah states: 

But if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. The Lord will forgive her because her father hindered her…

In Jewish mysticism, "father" is a metaphor for the level of wisdom ("Chochmah") which is accessible on the holy day of Shabbat. On Shabbat the Jew experiences a deeper awareness of the Divine reality. On Shabbat, a Jew can access a place within his awareness where the creation is nothing but an extension of the Divine. 

In addition to the father, there are cases when the husband can nullify the vow: 

But if she is [betrothed] to a man… if her husband hinders her on the day he heard it, he has revoked the vow she had taken upon herself and the utterance which she had imposed upon herself, and the Lord will forgive her.

"If she is betrothed to a man", explain the mystics, refers to a time when the Jew's relationship to G-d develops to the point that the latent, natural love the soul feels for G-d, develops into passionate yearning love, like the love between man and woman. When a Jew is drawn to G-d with passionate love, then, as the verse states regarding man and wife, "they will become one flesh", the Jew senses nothing other than the desire to cleave to G-d. At that point, the vows can be nullified since the person can elevate and sanctify the physical world. 

Adapted from Lekutei Torah, Matos 83:2



The Illogical Cow - חוקת

The Illogical Cow 

Did you ever look at somebody and wonder whether or not they are capable of spiritual healing? Whether or not they are capable of transformation? Did you ever look at yourself and wonder whether you can overcome your inner negativity and external challenges?

Well, Moses himself did wonder. 

The Midrash relates that when God told Moses about the impurity resulting from contact with a human corpse, Moshe’s face turned dark. “How will such a person regain ritual purity?” he wondered. What troubled Moses was the question of how could there be purity and healing for someone who touched a corpse, which symbolizes the most severe form of disconnect from G-dliness, which is synonymous with life. 

God responded by teaching Moses the laws of the red heifer. 

The Torah introduces the law of the red heifer with the words “this is the statute of the Torah”. Statute refers to a commandment that is beyond logic, a commandment that we perform only because G-d decreed it to be so. The red heifer defies logic, it represents God's compassion even to a person who is undeserving because he has strayed too far. The red Heifer defies not only human logic but it transcends Divine logic as well; it affects purity even where there is no logical formula for transformation and healing. The  red cow represents God's compassion that transcends logic, and runs deeper than calculated analysis.

How is this Divine boundless, unconditional compassion elicited?

One of the paradoxical features of the red heifer is that the person who prepares the red heifer to purify the impure, becomes impure himself. This is because G-d’s purifying compassion is elicited specifically when a Jew is prepared to sacrifice his own spiritual purity for the sake of another person. This devotion which transcends calculation and logic, evokes G-d’s unconditional, boundless love, which reaches every person no matter how far he strayed. 

In the words of the Rebbe: 

A person has to be willing to ignore his own concerns to do a favor for another Jew. Moreover, the help which he offers must be given freely, without thought of personal benefit. Our Sages teach: “More than the donor gives to the recipient, the recipient gives to the donor.” But when a person gives with such thoughts in mind ,he has not transcended his limits, and therefore it is impossible for him to draw down G‑d’s essence. When does a person draw down G‑d’s essence? When he does a favor for another person despite the knowledge that he will sustain a personal loss by becoming impure. 

Lekutei Suichos, Chukas vol. 4 

Mission Oriented - שלח


Mission Oriented 

It was perhaps the most dramatic part of the story. Caleb, one of the two spies who remained loyal to the land of Israel, stood up against the other ten spies and "silenced the Jewish people to Moses."

The twelve spies had just returned to the Jewish people in the desert after scouting the land of Israel and presented their report: 

"We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. The Amalekites dwell in the south land, while the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountainous region. The Canaanites dwell on the coast and alongside the Jordan." (Numbers 13:27-29)

At this point, the spies did not yet say anything wrong, in fact, they did precisely as they were instructed by Moses, who dispatched them to determine the fertility of the land and the quality of its produce, as well as the might of its inhabitants and the fortification of its cities. That is precisely what the spies addressed at this point. The spies' sin was only obvious later when they added a conclusion of their own and declared: "We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." Why then did Caleb interrupt them at the point when they were still offering their factual report? 

Caleb saw that the spies made a subtle but profoundly critical change from Moses' request. Moses first asked them to report about the might of the people and the fortification of the cities, and only then to evaluate the produce and fertility of the land.. The spies, however, changed the order. They first reported about the beauty of the produce ("flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit"), and only then did they talk about the might of the inhabitants ("However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty…")

When Caleb saw the spies making this change of order, he understood that he needed to silence them immediately. 

Evaluating the might of the native people was necessary in order to know how to engage in the battle of conquest and was therefore relevant to the mission of the Jewish people. The produce of the land, by contrast, represented the benefit that the Jewish people would receive for fulfilling their mission. To Moses, the task was primary, and the benefits were secondary. The spies, however, were primarily interested in the benefit, the produce of the land, and their interest in the actual mission was secondary. Caleb silenced them because he understood the danger of their attitude. A person who is focused on the benefit and not adequately committed to the mission is somebody who will look for the easy way out and will ultimately underestimate their own abilities and skills. 

Each of us is on this earth on a mission from G-d to transform the world into a “Holy Land,” a place of goodness and kindness. Like the biblical spies, we too face fears, worries, challenges, and obstacles. We sometimes question our ability and our resolve to fulfill our Divine mission. Caleb teaches us that when we focus on the goal and put our own concerns aside, we will ultimately be successful in completing our mission. The less we focus on “what’s in it for me”, the more we will be able to fulfill our purpose, and the more we will benefit from “the land that flows of milk and honey”, in both the spiritual and material sense. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Shelach 5710)

The Second Passover, Correct or Complete? - בהעלותך


The Second Passover, Correct or Complete? 

It was the very first anniversary of the exodus from Egypt. The people who could not offer the Passover offering, because they were ritually impure, approached Moses and protested the fact that they would miss the opportunity to offer the Pesach offering. G-d then instructed Moses that there would be a second chance to offer the Passover offering precisely one month later: 

The Lord spoke to Moses saying:

Speak to the children of Israel saying, Any person who becomes unclean from [contact with] the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you or in future generations, he shall make a Passover sacrifice for the Lord.

In the second month, on the fourteenth day, in the afternoon, they shall make it; they shall eat it with unleavened cakes and bitter herbs. (Numbers 9:9-11)

The message of this beautiful story is that it is never too late. In our spiritual connection to G-d, there is no such thing as a missed opportunity because one can always correct the mistake and fill in what he missed. 

Upon closer analysis, however, it seems that the definition of the second Passover is a matter of debate.

The Talmud (Pesachim 93a) presents a debate on the precise definition of the second Passover. Whereas some authorities define the holiday as either “a redress for the first {Passover}” or a “repair” for the {failure to offer the Paschal lamb on the} first {Passover}, The opinion of Rebbi is that the second Passover is “an independent festival”.  A ramification of this debate is in the case of a convert who converted to Judaism during the thirty days between the first and second Passover. According to the first two opinions, which state that the second Passover is a redress or a repair for the first one, the convert, who was not obligated to offer the first Passover since he was not yet Jewish, would not be required to offer the second Passover. However, according to the opinion that the second Passover is an independent festival (for those who, for whatever reason, did not celebrate the first Passover), the convert would be required to offer the Passover offering on the second Passover. 

Although the legal ruling follows the opinion that the second Passover is an independent festival, nevertheless, the theme of the holiday is that it is always possible to correct. That is because the Hebrew word for redress, “Tashlumin,” has two meanings: (1) to correct a deficiency. (2) To make something complete. This second definition applies even when something has no blemish or deficiency; even then, it can be improved and made more complete and more perfect. The connection between these two definitions is that, according to Judaism, one has a responsibility to reach their full potential since every person must develop their G-d given gifts to their fullest. It follows then that reaching one’s full potential, making oneself more "complete" (the second meaning of "Tashlumin"), is, in fact, “correcting a deficiency”, (the first definition of “Tashlumin”), since not developing our full potential is in itself a deficiency. 

In the final analysis, the commandment of the second Passover empowers us not only to correct the mistakes we may have made (“correcting a deficiency”), but, just as important, it inspires us and empowers us to reach our full potential (“making something more complete”).  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Behaaloscha 18 Sicha 4

Is G-d Bribing us to Keep the Torah? - בחוקותי

Is G-d Bribing us to Keep the Torah? 

In the final portion of the book of Leviticus, we read of the reward for keeping the commandments; the Torah relates G-d's words: 

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,
I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.
Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land. (Leviticus 26:3-5)

The commentators raise two questions: (1) Why does the Torah describe a reward that is physical, rain, an abundance of produce, etc., and not a spiritual reward in the afterlife? (2) Why does G-d promise a reward altogether? After all, our sages teach that one should serve G-d motivated by love and not by the ulterior motive of a reward.

One answer the commentators offer is that the Torah addresses most people who are not on the level of serving G-d for its own sake and need to be motivated by reward. This explains why the Torah only mentions the material reward and does not explicitly mention the spiritual award. Because the Torah is addressing the majority of people who do not relate to abstract spiritual reward and are motivated only by the tangible and materialistic. 

Chassidic philosophy offers a deeper insight. 

The purpose of life is for the Torah, G-d's will and wisdom, to penetrate every area of our life and every aspect of our personality. When the reward for keeping the Torah is manifest in material blessings, that demonstrates that every area of our life, not only the spiritual and sublime but also the physical and material, is permeated with the Torah, which is the conduit for Divine energy and blessing. 

This explains why Jewish writings emphasize the blessing and abundance that will be available in the Messianic era. Maimonides emphasizes that the "the good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust," and "the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d." Although people will be fully immersed and engaged in the spiritual pursuit of knowledge of G-d, nevertheless, it is essential to emphasize the material abundance in order to emphasize that in the Messianic era, the physical world itself will be in tune with its spiritual source. The pain and suffering that we experience during exile is a result of the unnatural disconnect between the physical world and its spiritual source. The Messianic era will heal the divide between the creation and its creator; thus, the connection to G-d, the source of life, will express itself in the material abundance of the physical world.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Bechukosai vol. 37

Legal Mechanism of the Jubilee - בהר

Legal Mechanism of the Jubilee  

In Biblical times, when all twelve tribes of Israel resided in the land of Israel, the commandment of the Jubilee year was in place. Every fiftieth year, all indentured servants were set free, and all land which was sold during the previous forty nine years would revert back to its original owner. As the Torah states: 

And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family. 
The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me. (Leviticus 25:10,23)

There are two possible ways to define the precise mechanism by which the Jubilee takes effect and causes all land to revert to the original seller. The first possibility is that it is, in the language of the Talmud, “a release of the King {a Divine decree}.” meaning that the sale in which the two parties engage in is a permanent sale, yet the Divine decree of the Jubilee intervenes and nullifies the sale. The second possibility is that the Jubilee is affected by the buyer and seller themselves. As a result of the commandment, the unspoken understanding of both parties is that the sale is a temporary transaction, which lasts only until the fiftieth  year. 

[There are practical implications between these two options. One interesting application was presented by the great twentieth century sage, the Ragatchover Gaon. Assuming the land was sold when the commandment of the jubilee was in effect, but by the time the fiftieth year came about the jubilee was no longer in effect (because the exile of the ten tribes nullified the practical application of the Jubilee).  According to the first perspective, the Divine commandment would only undo a complete and final sale in the event that the Jubilee year was in effect. In a case that the Jubilee year was no longer in effect, however, the Divine decree would not nullify the sale, and the land would remain in the possession of the buyer. According to the second opinion, however, the land would revert back to the seller, although the Jubilee was no longer in effect. Because at the time of the sale, the sale was only intended to be temporary, until year fifty.]

Just like every law of the Torah, the Jubilee applies within the spiritual service of every Jew. The equivalent of the jubilee in the soul of man is the freedom from inner bondage. The liberation from inner tension and negativity. The two possible mechanisms for the Jubilee to take effect represent two paths to achieve inner freedom. The first argues that inner liberation can come only as a gift from above. The second argues that the mechanism of the jubilee is man-made. And therefore, the inner freedom of the jubilee can be achieved through one's own efforts.

While in the legal realm only one of these perspectives are correct, in the spiritual realm both perspectives are true. The Jew is required to attain the freedom that he can achieve by his own efforts. When he does so, G-d bestows an even greater sense of freedom, that is a gift from on high.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, 12 Tamuz 5737

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