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The Lamplighter Weekly

Volume 21 Issue 25
      July 7-13, 2019  4-10 Tammuz 5779
Torah Reading: Chukas
 Candle Lighting: 8:13 PM
Shabbos Ends: 9:11 PM
Pirkei Avos: Chapter 5
  

Parsha Synopsis · A Word From the Rabbi
Essay ·
Thoughts That Count
Once Upon A Chassid · Tid Bits · Happenings · Notes From Israel

 

Parsha Synopsis

Chukas
Numbers: 19:1-22:1

Moses is taught the laws of the  red heifer, whose ashes purify a person who has been contaminated by contact with a dead body.

After  forty years of journeying through the desert, the people of Israel arrive in the wilderness of Zin.  Miriam dies, and the people thirst for  water. G‑d tells Moses to speak to a  rock and command it to give water. Moses gets angry at the rebellious Israelites and  strikes the stone. Water issues forth, but Moses is told by G‑d that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land.

Aaron dies at Hor Hahar and is succeeded in the high priesthood by his son  Elazar. Venomous snakes attack the Israelite camp after yet another eruption of discontent in which the people “speak against G‑d and Moses”; G‑d tells Moses to place a  brass serpent upon a high pole, and all who will gaze heavenward will be healed. The people sing a  song in honor of the miraculous well that provided them water in the desert.

Moses leads the people in battles against the Emorite kings  Sichon and Og (who seek to prevent Israel’s passage through their territory) and conquers their lands, which lie  east of the Jordan.

A Word From the Rabbi

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THE POTION OF LIFE
Nothing Happens Until Something Moves

…The fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success.

I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life…

(Excerpts from Commencement Address by J.K. ROWLING, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association)

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According to Kabbala the essence of life is based on Rutzo and Shuv, which translates into “To and fro” (literally, “Running and returning”). The latter refers to a rhythmic motion that permeates man’s entire being; physically, emotionally and spiritually, i.e., one’s service of the Almighty.

The Rutzo and Shuv phenomenon is not confined to the human experience alone. It is actually far broader in scope,  it is in fact ubiquitous; an essential law of physics that applies to every facet of creation – whether it be electricity, which is current; a flow of electric charge, or sound, which is basically vibration – all energy, somehow on some scale, involves rhythmic motion. To use thermal energy (heat) as an example, it involves the motion of individual atoms and molecules.

Nuclear energy, likewise, involves the motion of subatomic particles, as does chemical energy the motion of bound electrons between atoms, and electromagnetic energy (including light) the motion of photons. Electrical energy, by its very definition, involves the motion of free electrons, as does acoustic energy (sound) the periodic motion of air molecules as waves pass through them.

Nor is it just energy that is rhythmic rather than static, fluctuation is at the root of actual matter, since matter consists of molecules which are always moving; they bounce off of each other like the ball in a pinball machine. This, I’m told, (not that I really understand it) is because they consist of two or more atoms with all kinds of internal, dynamical “Vibrations,” thermally induced or otherwise inherently present. This arrangement causes a constant, quasi-cyclic natural shifting of molecular position with respect to the immediate environment. Accordingly matter is the very product of rhythmic motion.

In the human arena, the idea of Rutzo and Shuv begins on the biological level, with the rhythm of the physical heart and lungs. The heart muscle pumps blood throughout the blood vessels by repeated rhythmic contractions, the lungs must continuously inhale and exhale. The heart’s beats and lung’s fluctuations are what keep us alive.

As stated above, the human pulsation phenomenon is not limited to our physical state. It is rather present within our emotional state as well.

To use the attribute of love as an example, the emotion of love consists of a continuous rhythmic interplay between the selfless desire to give and unite with the other and the selfish satisfaction that one derives from doing so, which is the primary motivation of giving in the first place.

It is, parenthetically, for the very same reason that Rutzo and Shuv exist on the cosmic level, why every element and fiber of creation – constantly being brought into existence by G‑d – is permeated with an inner pulsating energy.

It is so the case because, metaphorically speaking, the very motivation and impetus for His creation of the universe is a desire to bestow kindness upon His creations, which are (at least from their perspective) outside and independent of Himself. Given the above, it is no wonder that this quality is imbued in every facet of the product – creation. This pulsating Divine energy, when properly analyzed, can explain a lot of life’s mysteries.

Getting back to the human side of things, it is needless to say that the aforestated inherent rhythmic fluctuations are a prominent reality within our spiritual dimension. It is why when yearning to escape our corporeal existence we are inevitably driven back by the sobering fact of our material dimension. Our “Run” towards spirituality, is met with a “Return” to the lower reality.

Not unlike a flickering flame striving to pull itself away from its base, only to be drawn back down by its material wick and oil, our drive to rise above the material trappings; our yearning to transcend and become unified with our source, is met with a draw of return to earth – a rhythmic flash of inevitable self awareness and self benefit. To use the Chassidic vernacular, we feel the “Self” that “Wants.”

The point is rather clear: life, on all levels, consists of a constant tug-and-pull, between emanation and withdrawal, surge and resistance, positive and negative, kindness and restriction, pleasure and pain, harmony and adversity, etc. This to-and-fro is not just a byproduct of life it is the source and cause of life, much as there can be no electrical energy without the motion of free electrons.

In the above light, we can have a glimpse into the elusive Chok (statue) which is the theme of our Parsha, Chukas: the purifying formula made from the ashes of a red heifer mixed with water.

Our Parsha begins by declaring “Zos Chukas Ha-Torah”– these are the statutes of the Torah. Instead of delving straight into the laws of the red heifer, the Torah pauses to apprise us of the fact that the following laws are the statutes of (all) the Torah. Only then does the Torah actually enumerate the laws of the Parah Adumah (red heifer). This brief introduction establishes the general notion of Chok as an important dimension of Torah observance and study. Depicting the Torah as a repository of Chukim – statutes, dramatically expands the theme.

Rashi cites the remarks of the Talmud (Yoma) and Midrash that one is not permitted to ponder the validity of Chukim. The commentaries note that Parah Adumah is the quintessential Chok since the very process that purges the ritual impurity also triggers another's impurity. Accepting this mystery with equanimity constitutes an impressive act of faith and commitment.  

Leading Rabbis and codifiers debate whether or not one should seek to understand any part of a Chok that may lend itself to explanation. R. Yehudah Ha-Levi (Sefer ha-Kuzari) argues that one should ideally accept the Chok on faith, without even attempting to fathom its purpose. This approach again accentuates the importance of submission in the service of the Almighty.

On the other hand, the Rambam (laws of Milah) and Ramban (Chukas and the laws of Kan Tzippor, Devarim 22:6) strongly advocate that one should try to penetrate the mystery of the Chok. Even the most irrational decree has its rational elements that can be analyzed by the human mind and derive a lesson in life, as Maimonides states: “Although all the Chukim of the Torah are supra-rational decrees... it is fitting to contemplate them, and whatever can be explained, should be explained. However, this effort should be rooted in the principle of faith and surrender as well.

This is to say that the obligation to strive to comprehend the Chok does not primarily reflect man's intellectual sovereignty; it is instead a testament to man's awareness that even his intellect has to be shaped and refined by Torah. The pursuit of fathoming the Chok should be perceived as the ultimate act of intellectual-spiritual surrender and submission.

Chassidic philosophy actually maintains that every Mitzvah is in essence a supra-rational Chok, and at the same time, every Mitzvah is also a comprehensible Mishpat (logical law or Judgment). The Rambam writes that the Mitzvah to blow Shofar is a Chok. It is a rule without an apparent reason. We blow the Shofar because G‑d told us to. Still, the Rambam writes that there is an important message in the Shofar: It is a wakeup call, telling us to repent.

The Rambam seems to be saying that there are two levels to every Mitzvah: There is the Chok – the fact that we do it just because G‑d said so and then there is the reason that we can relate to, that talks to us, and that we can comprehend.

Listening to one’s parents is another example. It is also called a Chok and a Mishpat: Usually listening to our parents makes logical sense: we owe them and they are older and wiser than us. Other times, we just shrug our shoulders in bewilderment and listen anyway. In this way, honoring parents is both a Chok and a Mishpat: logical, but not totally within our comprehension.

G‑d created the human mind and the logic by which it operates. Obviously, then, it would be nothing less than ridiculous to assume that G‑d desires something because it is logical. Rather, the reverse is true: something is logical because G‑d desires it. In other words, the reason the commandment “Do not kill” is logical to us is that G‑d desired a world in which life is sacred, and molded our minds in accordance with His vision of reality.

The Chok then challenges us to penetrate the inner logic of Torah as we set aside popular and pragmatic modes of conventional thinking. Thus, Torah study is the most powerful method of Divine service.

The above having been said, let us return to the lesson that we can take away from the Para Adumah; the ultimate Chok, which is fundamental to life and in some way represents the entire Torah.

The laws of the Parah Aduma dictate that if a person becomes impure by coming in contact with a corpse, the most serious level of impurity, the only way for him to become pure again is to find a pure red heifer, slaughter it and burn it, mix its ashes with water and sprinkle them over a period of seven days. After seven days, the person who is sprinkled becomes pure.

The red heifer formula exhibits the combination of Rutzo and Shuv. First the cow is completely burned, representing the passionate ascendency of Rutzo, but then its ashes are used to make sprinkling-water, resembling Shuv since water flows downwards until it settles in a flat place.

The lesson that is couched herein is that the remedy for a person who has come in contact with death – whose life smacks with a lack of living energy, because of a broken spirit, due to life’s challenges and burdens; due to what seems like overwhelming Shuv, an inexplicable descent – is the cleansing formula of the Parah Aduma, the fact that life consists of both fire and water.

The person who has comes in contact with spiritual or emotional death must understand the dynamic tension between Rutzo and Shuv. He must understand that Shuv-descent is a must, but only because of the rhythmic pulsation inherent in life; the rhythmic pulsation that is the root of life. He must know that every Shuv is a preparation for the next Rutzo and that the greater the Shuv, the greater is the ensuing Rutzo. Most importantly he must take to heart that just like the Shuv is inevitable so too is the Rutzo because they are both part of the DNA with which the world is imbued.

Let us take the lessons of the Parsha to heart, especially those of the Parah Adumah which is  referred to as the statutes of the (whole) Torah, by doing so we will become purified and reenergized with new life and hasten thereby the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.  

Gut Shabbos 

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Rabbi Kahanov is the founder/director of Chabad in Northeast FL, consisting of 6 Chabad Centers
He is also the author of "What Chabad Really Believes"
If you like this, you might be interested in purchasing his book click here for more information 

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Family Feud

Sitting on the plane this Wednesday, all I wanted to do was read or sleep, but the chatty gentleman in the aisle seat had other plans.

He launched into an interminable description of the week-long trip he was taking back to Melbourne to visit his aged mother for her 80th birthday. He described her current nursing home in great detail and then told me the age and family circumstances of each of her children and grandchildren.

I feigned polite interest as he droned on, but I must confess I only started paying real attention to his ramblings when he began describing the complex choreography that his extended family had engineered to ensure that he and his younger sister would never see each other during his visit, or even be in their mother’s house together at the same time.

They aren’t talking, you see. They’ve hated each other for years. The spouses have also bought into the fight over time, and their respective children have never met. The fight erupted decades ago over something quite minor and escalated into full blown war.

What a tragedy for the family, I thought to myself. An old mother forced to sit through two separate parties, probably never having the satisfaction of seeing all her descendants at peace. The other siblings forced to take sides, and imagine the toll those years of bile and anger must be taking on the protagonists themselves.

But as he wound his way through the byways of his family history, I began to realize that his mother and siblings were far from blameless. It seemed from the way he told the story that they had inadvertently fanned the fires of resentment by faithfully reporting each nasty gibe or comment back to its target. In his words; “I can trust my brothers to tell me everything that that (expletive deleted) is saying about me.”

I wondered at the time why anyone would feel duty bound to pass on information that they know is just going to inflame an already unhappy situation. Why would you repeat every piece of malicious gossip you hear? If you know you’re not helping the situation, surely you are always better off saying nothing than saying too much.

We parted ways at the airport, with me still stuck pondering his family dilemmas. I was still wondering why so many families fall out of love and degenerate into petty infighting, when, the very next day, I came across a fascinating story about the first Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and his famed contemporary, Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibuzh.

Rabbi Boruch was a great iconoclast, a fiery character inclined to absolutism who was engaged in a number of running battles with various rabbinic leaders throughout his time in public office. Rabbi Boruch was not a man to compromise or back down on what he believed to be the truth, and consequently, he was frequently embroiled in conflict.

Rabbi Boruch once complained to Rabbi Shneur Zalman that a number of false allegations against him (Rabbi Boruch) had recently been circulated by his enemies, and although Rabbi Shneur Zalman had been aware of these slurs, he had failed to inform him.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman admitted that he had indeed heard the aspersions, but rather than apologize for not having passed on the details, he defended his right to silence.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman reminded Rabbi Boruch about the incident of the snakes, found in this week’s parsha. The Israelites complained about G‑d and Moses, and in consequence G‑d sent a plague of snakes to attack them (Chukat 21:6). Unlike other occasions where G‑d discusses the proposed punishment with Moshe in advance, this time Moshe was unaware of the reason they were being attacked until the Israelites themselves approached him; We have sinned, for we spoke against G‑d and you. Pray to G‑d to remove the snakes! (21:7).

Of course Moshe, as the kind and ever-forgiving leader, prayed for them and the plague was averted, yet we have to wonder why did G‑d hide the cause of the plague from him in the first place?

Obviously, concluded Rabbi Shneur Zalman, not only is there no mitzvah to let people know the harsh things that others are saying about them, but we learn that you really shouldn’t repeat that type of gossip.

I’ve personally seen too many instances where well-meaning people have caused small arguments to develop into huge fights by playing the role of so-called honest broker. More often than not people would have worked out their own issues if left alone long enough to cool off. It’s the people who “feel it their duty” to pass on tattle, who are often the cause of the never-ending disputes.

I’m so tired of hearing about family fights where the people in the middle are surrounded by those on the outside alternatively egging them on or enabling them. How about resolving not to contribute to the mess? If you’re unfortunate enough to hear some juicy gossip, sit on it and don’t pass it on; it won’t help and will probably hurt.

Spare a thought for the poor mothers sitting alone and crying over the breakdown of their once happy families. Have pity on the rabbis and psychologists who have to sit through the stories and, most importantly, keep your conscience clean by resolving to never pass on damaging news.

 

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.

Thoughts That Count
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... you shall take to yourself a Red Heifer (Num. 19:2)

We find a puzzling aspect to the laws of the red heifer which is unique among the laws of the Torah. The same ashes which purified the spiritually impure rendered unclean the pure. A similar uniqueness can be found in the trait haughtiness. There are some who justify their lack of adherence to the laws of Torah by saying that they and their acts are of little significance to G‑d. For them a little pride would be in order. On the other hand, if one who does observe the Torah allows his piety to go to his head he will undoubtedly drag himself down. (Baal Shem Tov)

They wept for Aaron thirty days, all the House of Israel (Num. 20:29)

The men and the women all mourned Aaron for he used to pursue peace, and bring love among men of strife and between a husband and wife. (Rashi)

If two people were involved in an argument, Aaron would approach one and say, "My child, I was just with your friend. He was berating himself for the way he had treated you." Aaron would not move from the spot until the person agreed to make peace with the other one. Then Aaron went to the second person and said similar things until he, too, agreed to make peace. When the two met, they would hug each other like old friends. (Yalkut)

And running (living) water shall be put on it in a vessel (Num. 19:17)

The people of Israel are likened to water: Water can accomplish great things - flattening mountains, straightening rugged places, forming crevices, overcoming everything which is in its path. But, this only occurs when the water is flowing. If it is frozen it has no such power. The same is true of the Jewish people. When they are enthusiastic and inspired they can accomplish anything. But when they are frozen and cold, they cannot achieve a thing. (Rabbi Shapiro of Lublin)

Once Upon A Chassid

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The Path of Fire

This is the Torah (law): A man who dies in a tent… (19:14)

The Torah is only acquired by those who kill themselves for it in the tents of study. (The Zohar)

It happened in the winter of 1798 or 1799, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch was a child of eight or nine. Every Friday night Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi would deliver a discourse of chassidic teaching to a select group of disciples. Little Mendel begged to be allowed in, but his grandfather refused.

The dwelling of Rabbi Schneur Zalman consisted of two two-room buildings, joined by a connecting passageway. In one of the wings, a large wood-burning stove, used for heating and occasionally to bake bread, was set in the wall between the two rooms. The stove opened into the outer room, and also protruded into the inner room which served as Rabbi Schneur Zalman's study.

One Friday night, the Rebbe was delivering his weekly discourse in his study. It was an exceptionally cold night, so a gentile was summoned to heat the oven. For some reason, he found it difficult to push the logs all the way in to the oven, so he built the fire near the opening of the stove. As a result, the outer room soon began to fill with smoke. Once again, he tried to push the burning logs further in, but they wouldn't budge. The poor man had to start all over again. He put out the fire, pulled out the logs, and peered into the stove to see what was preventing the logs from going in.

His shouts and shrieks summoned the entire household. The session in Rabbi Schneur Zalman's room was disrupted; those in the second building also came running. Inside the stove lay a young boy. A small lamp was the only source of light in the smoke-filled room, so it took some time until the child was identified as the Rebbe's grandson, little Menachem Mendel.

For some weeks now, the child had discovered that he could hear his grandfather's words through the thin wall of the stove. Every Friday night he would clamber deep into the large stove, and listen to the profound and lofty words of the Rebbe's teachings. And now, because of the bitter cold, his listening post had been discovered.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman's daughter-in-law, Rebbetzin Sheina, who was present at the time, related:

"When they pulled the child out of the stove, he was paralyzed with fright. My mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Sterna, cried to my father-in-law, the Rebbe: 'See what could have happened! A tragedy! Strangers you allow to enter, but when your own child begged you, you wouldn't let him in!' Father-in-law replied: 'Sha, sha. Moses reached Mount Sinai only by beholding fire - only then did he merit that the Torah be given through him. Torah is acquired only through self-sacrifice.' "

Tid Bits
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Is it Unlucky to Sit at the Corner of a Table?

tid bit
Question:

In my family, it is strictly forbidden for any unmarried person to sit at the corner of the table. We were told from a young age that if you do sit there, you will never get married. To this day, I can't bring myself to sit at a corner or let anyone else do so. Is this a Jewish belief?

Answer:

This belief is widely held and has been handed down for generations in a range of cultures. If your grandmother is Polish, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, or Ukrainian, there is a good chance she grew up with this superstition. The fact that many Jewish families originate from these countries may explain why so many share this belief, but it doesn't come from a Jewish source.

Judaism forbids the adoption of beliefs and practices that are not sourced in our own tradition, unless they are backed by logic. So if a black cat passes in front of you, we don't believe that indicates bad luck. But walking under a ladder may bring bad fortune—if you bump the ladder and someone falls on you.

Avoiding ladders makes sense; avoiding black cats doesn't. What about table corners?

Intensive statistical study into the single status of corner-sitters has yet to produce any conclusive results. But using logic alone, one could argue that sitting at a corner may actually make you more marriageable, not less. It depends on your motive.

If the table is crowded, and you choose the corner spot to make more room at the table for others to sit, then you are a great candidate for marriage. Making space for another is the first step in any relationship.

On the other hand, if you sit there because you can't make up your mind which side to sit on, then perhaps this indicates an indecisive personality. Someone who finds it hard to take a position on anything—who is never here nor there but always lost in between—might have a harder time committing to a relationship. That is a corner you don't want to get stuck at.

Source: Rabbenu Nissim on Sanhedrin 66a

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.

 

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