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The Lamplighter Weekly

Volume 21 Issue 34
    September 15-21, 2019 - 15-21 Elul 5779
Torah Reading: Ki Savo
 Candle Lighting: 7:08 PM
Shabbos Ends: 8:00 PM
Pirkei Avos, Chapter 3 & 4
Shabbos Selichos

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


Parsha Synopsis

Ki Savo
Dueteronomy: 26:1-29:8

Moses instructs the people of Israel: When you  enter the land that G‑d is giving to you as your eternal heritage, and you settle it and cultivate it, bring the  first-ripened fruits (bikkurim) of your orchard to the Holy Temple, and declare your  gratitude for all that G‑d has done for you.

Our Parshah also includes the laws of the  tithes given to the Levites and to the poor, and detailed instructions on how to proclaim the blessings and the  curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival—as discussed in the beginning of the Parshah of  Re’eh. Moses reminds the people that they are G‑d’s  chosen people, and that they, in turn, have chosen  G‑d

The latter part of Ki Tavo consists of the Tochachah (“Rebuke”). After listing the blessings with which G‑d will  reward the people when they follow the laws of the Torah, Moses gives a long, harsh account of the  bad things—illness, famine, poverty and  exile—that shall befall them if they abandon G‑d’s commandments.

Moses concludes by telling the people that only today,  forty years after their birth as a people, have they attained “a  heart to know eyes to see and  ears to hear.”

A Word From the Rabbi



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And the Body Too!

Running late for an important business appointment a man repeatedly and desperately beseeched the Almighty to provide him with an immediate parking space on the extremely busy and crowded street. In the process he made all kind of deals and promises to G‑d. Suddenly the space right in front of him opens up, he looks heavenward and declares, “Never mind, I found my own space.”


A person with complete understanding knows that time in this world is really nothing. The sensation of time stems from deficient understanding. The greater one understands, the more one sees and comprehends that in reality, time does not exist.

We can actually feel how time flies like a passing shadow and a cloud that will soon disappear. If you take this to heart you will be free of worries about mundane matters and you will have the strength and determination to snatch what you can – a good deed here, a lesson there – in order to gain something that is truly enduring out of this life. You will gain the life of the eternal world, which is completely beyond time – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov Likutey Etzot 61.


“Do not all men desire happiness?” This rhetorical question was posed by Socrates to his students. The response was unanimous: “There is no one who does not!”

Socrates was clearly on to something. If there is a single common denominator that unites humanity, it is the quest for happiness.  Despite the myriad ways at which we come at it, happiness is the central objective of human existence – the essential and core objective for which all humans strive.

Centuries of pursuit notwithstanding, the search for this coveted attribute endures. A visit to any bookstore or library reveals the copious range of contemporary works that deal with this subject. The list includes titles like, The Science of HappinessThe Art of Happiness, The Pursuit of Happiness, Finding Contentment, A Journey to Contentment, In Quest of Contentment and on it goes. There are actually dozens upon dozens of volumes that wrestle with this pivotal issue.

The founding fathers have gone so far as to insert the “pursuit of happiness” into the Declaration of Independence, as an inalienable “right.” They have, in fact, set man’s freedom to pursue happiness, along with life and liberty, as the cornerstone and destiny of our nation.

To the founders, the ability for citizens to pursue and achieve happiness is the gauge by which the effectiveness and morality of the state are measured. Yet, while certainly not overrated, happiness appears rather obscure and elusive; elusive perhaps, because of its obscurity. What, after all, is happiness?

Some people confuse happiness with pleasure; this is obviously a critical error. While pleasure is sure to make us happy, it is a rather shallow and fleeting form of happiness – not entirely different from the pleasure acquired through the use of mind altering chemicals. The moment it wears off, it’s back to reality. To quoteWinston Churchill: “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” The only part of these chemicals that is sure to linger is its harmful toxins. 

Unlike that which is implied and espoused within every facet of western culture, happiness is not about finding a way to escape ourselves and reality but rather to make peace with it.

There are after all only so many vacations we can take, so many cruises on which to elope, so many gadgets to divert our attention. Sooner or later the distractions and diversions run out and we are left 

with our good-old-selves to contend, which often leaves us discontented and wanting. This condition is especially common among those who live in a world permeated by advertising that constantly reminds us of all the things we don't have and tells us how satisfied we would be with ourselves and our lives if only we would have the given product.

There is no limit to what we don't have, and if that is where we focus, then our lives are inevitably filled with endless dissatisfaction. Happiness in the end is to cherish the life that is, not the one that was or might be – it is to face oneself in the mirror and like what you see.

Still, while to achieve happiness we must first be able to define it – we can obviously not get to where we want if we don’t know where that is – however knowing what happiness is, is only half the salvation. We must proceed to follow the yellow brick road.   

Now that we know that happiness is an existential state of contentment and worth, rather than a never ending series of pleasurable pursuits and fixes, we must embark upon the journey – we must focus our attention on how to achieve it.

This week's Parsha – Ki Savo – begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim – the first fruits which are brought as an offering to Jerusalem: “And it shall be when you enter the Land… you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from the Land that the Lord, your G‑d, gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord, your G‑d, will choose… Then you shall call out before the Lord… And now, behold I have brought the first fruits of the ground that You have given me O Lord! And you shall lay it before the Lord your G‑d, and you shall prostrate yourself before the Lord your G‑d…” Deuteronomy 26:1-11.

In the following verse the Torah declares: “You shall rejoice with all the goodness that the Lord, your G‑d, has given you and your household – you and the Levite and the proselyte who is in your midst.” Subsequently, the Torah launches into a discussion regarding the tithe of the Levite, the poor and the helpless: “When you have finished tithing every tithe of your produce in the third year… you shall give to the Levite, to the proselyte, to the orphan, and to the widow and they shall eat in your cities and be satisfied…”

The assurance of our rejoicing is hence juxtaposed on one end with the call for appreciation – the need to recognize and express the blessings that G‑d bestows upon us. On the other end the promise of joy is connected to the responsibility of sharing. Couched in this sequence lies the key to a life of joy and contentment.

Happiness begins by focusing on part of the glass which is full, rather than on the part which is empty, as goes the old adage: “I used to cry that I had no shoes, until I met the guy who had no feet.” This is the ethos that lies behind the great Talmudic proverb: “Who is rich? He who rejoices in his own lot,” Avos 4:1. We must not look at the relative or neighbor that has a better car than us and start looking at the neighbor that’s driving the “Clunker” – who would give anything for a car like ours.

Our world is pretty messed up, there's certainly no shortage of justification for disappointment and cynicism. With all the violence, selfishness and crazy things people do, it would be easy to turn into grouchy old men without being either elderly or male. Still, we must stop looking at what’s wrong with the world and focus on what’s right.

Negative attitudes are bad for us. Gratitude, it turns out, makes us happier and healthier. Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages. If you choose to see a world that is mean and frustrating, you're going to get a world that is, well, mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life and put your attention there, you're going to be better off.

Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not. Gratitude works when you're grateful for something real. “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” – Max Planck.

If you seek a life of contentment and joy, says the Torah, you must begin by recognizing the blessings in your life and from whence it stems. The produce does not grow by itself. Were it not for G‑d's blessings, neither the farmer nor the land would exist and certainly not the produce. Sure this world gives us plenty of reasons to despair. But when we get off the fast track to morbidity, and cultivate instead an attitude of gratitude, things don't just look better; they actually get better.

It’s up to us to keep improving our motivation and our ability to give gratitude. All we get is what we bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day that we learn and apply new lessons.

But it doesn’t end there. Once we get out of our funk – once we realize how much we really have to be thankful for and to whom, we must realize how much others lack.

Connected on the other end of the Divine formula for happiness, are the instructions of the farmer’s obligation to give a percentage of his crops to the poor, the orphans and the widows.

The commentaries explain that true happiness is obtained only when we look after the poor and needy. The act of sharing with others and providing for the less fortunate is what allows us to enjoy what we have and the license to possess it. “Always give without remembering and always receive without forgetting” – Brian Tracy.

To live so that we can earn a living in-order to continue to live, just doesn’t cut it. We need to do something worthwhile with our lives, otherwise we feel unfulfilled and unhappy. Hence the Midrashic assertion: “The beneficiary does more for the benefactor than the benefactor does for the beneficiary.” – Vayikra Rabba 34:8.

An essential component in the pursuit of contentment is thus the satisfaction of making a positive difference in this world. Every human being, regardless of means, talent, intelligence, or education, longs for the deep and genuine reward that is derived from giving, as one wise man put it: “Being passionate about something is the key to success; but using that passion to help others is the key to happiness.”  

A poignant example of this is man's consistent historical willingness to enlist in battle against a common enemy, and the many people who risk their lives to rescue another person, knowing full well of the hazards involved. What inspires people to such enormous sacrifice is not their desire to be heroes. It is rather their need to make a difference.

Imagine if there were an evil plot by a group of terrorists to destroy a part of the world and that your expertise was needed in thwarting the plot. Would you not drop everything in your life and devote yourself to this endeavor? Would that not be the most important thing on your agenda?

Now take this hypothesis a step further. If you had actually played a role in preventing a terrorist attack, or in some other way help rescue a segment of humanity from disaster, would this not become the highlight of your life; something you would be proud to share with your grandchildren?

The above suggests that on our list of priorities in life, we place doing something for humanity at the very top of our list, even at great personal expense. From time immemorial, man has been willing to pay the ultimate price for what he perceived to be the "greater cause."

Judaism is well aware of the fact that man could have all the wealth and materialism in the world and still be miserable, unless he develops a sense of worth, as is evident from the following parable:

As part of a ten-year sentence in a primitive criminal penitentiary, a prisoner was required to spend several hours a day turning a heavy wheel that protruded from his cell wall.

Each day as he stood in front of the brick wall cranking the steel handle round and round, his mind would wander-off to the other side of the wall. He had all sorts of visions about what was happening there. At times he imagined that there was a great millstone hitched to the wheel. He saw mounds of grain being milled into fine flour. On other occasions, he imagined a big spinning apparatus revolving by the laborious rotations of his arms. He dreamt of heaps of fiber being spun into large spools of yarn.

As time passed, the man came to grips with his unfortunate lot. He even developed a measure of pride as a result of his daily chore. Unpleasant as it was, he could take comfort in the fact that many people were benefiting from his hard labor.

Then came the day when his sentence was completed. On his way out of prison, he pleaded with the guard to be allowed a quick peek behind the wall. He needed to know what was really happening on the other side. What he had accomplished with his ten years of labor.

Having caught the guard in a generous mood, his wish was granted. But when he opened the door, he found the room completely empty; no millstone, no spinning frame, no flour and no yarn. The only thing in the room was a heavy weight, which was fastened to the wheel. Upon seeing this, the man fell to the ground in a dead faint.

When he was finally revived, he explained to the astonished guard: "My ten years of hard work was far less painful than the knowledge that it was all in vain. The thought that I've accomplished nothing with all my toil is simply too much to bear!"

The Torah knows that we have an innate need to contribute to the betterment of the world – a desire to know that our lives count for something.

Our need to make a difference; to make a contribution to the world in which we live, is arguably our true self-identity and sense of contentment for which we all strive. This is the secret of true and enduring happiness, the rest is commentary!

May we merit the blessings of gratitude and generosity with 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 



It stands out very prominently in this week's Torah reading: fifty-five consecutive verses of nightmarish misery and torture, all destined to befall the Jewish people when they will be exiled from their land because of their sins. Many of the curses are so appalling that they are difficult to read. Indeed, the Baal Koreh (public reader of the Torah in the synagogue) is expected to read these verses quickly and in a quieter voice than usual. Astoundingly, these maledictions are included in Moses' parting words to the nation he loved so much, whom he lovingly shepherded for forty difficult years.

Some questions don't need to be asked – they jump out at you. Even if G‑d intended to bring all these punishments on His people, what is the purpose in describing them in the Torah in such gruesome detail? Furthermore, why does Moses use only fourteen verses to describe the rewards and blessings which G‑d will shower upon us when we will obey His commandments – less than a third of the verses used to describe the maledictions?!

Sadly, every one of these dreadful prophecies has come to pass. Indeed, if these verses wouldn't be part of the Torah, they could be mistaken for a Holocaust memoir written by a concentration camp survivor: "You will serve your enemies, whom the L-rd will send against you, [when you are] in famine, thirst, destitution, and lacking everything... And your life will hang in suspense before you. You will be in fear night and day, and you will not believe in your life. In the morning, you will say, 'If only it were already evening!' and in the evening, you will say, 'If only it were already morning!'…"

After experiencing such horrors it is only natural to ask, "Where was G‑d?" and, "If there really is a G‑d, how could He allow the inhumanity and cruelty of the Holocaust?" No one questions the source of our blessings, but after enduring excruciating pain, people begin to have doubts. Perhaps this is why all the suffering is so vividly portrayed in the Torah. How can the Holocaust be used to deny G‑d's existence when G‑d Himself informed us that this event will occur? This is not to say that we can possibly understand the reasons for our nation's tormented history, but we do know that it is all from G‑d – and therefore ultimately for our good.

It seems to me that Moses is doing much more than informing us of the troubles which we will experience, he is telling us not to lose our faith because of them. Reading this week's Torah portion and seeing how it has actually all come to pass offers us a measure of hope. It strengthens our belief that we will also certainly see the realization of the conclusion of this prophecy (in next week's Torah portion): "The L-rd, your G‑d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you… Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the L-rd, your G‑d, will gather you from there…And the L-rd, your G‑d, will place all these curses upon your enemies and upon your adversaries who pursued you."

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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Because you would not serve the L-rd your G‑d with joy and with gladness of heart... therefore, you will serve your enemies (Deut. 29:47)

We see from this that joy is such an important part of the Jew's service of G‑d that the harshest punishment of "you will serve your enemies" is not meted out for a deficiency in the service itself, but for worshipping G‑d without joy and vitality. When the Jew is happy, G‑d is happy, as it were, and even the harshest decrees are annulled - analogous to an earthly king granting amnesty to his prisoners when he is in a cheerful mood. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

The "Reproof Section" (Deut. 28: 15-68)

In truth, all the curses that are mentioned in this section are directed against the enemies of the Jewish people, as it states, "And G‑d will place these curses upon your enemies and upon those who hate you." This prophecy will ultimately be fulfilled in the Messianic era, when G‑d will cause "the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth." (Ohr HaTorah)

You will be mad from the sight of your eyes which you will see (Deut. 28:34)

Coveting everything one sees is indeed a terrible curse, for it is the root cause of all the other punishments that are mentioned in this Torah portion, eventually leading to "you will be only oppressed and crushed always." (Ohr HaTorah)

Once Upon A Chassid

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The Noseless Mirror

And there you shall build an altar to the Lord you G‑d, an altar of stones: you shall not lift up an iron tool upon them (27:5)

Iron was created to shorten the life of man, and the altar was created to lengthen the life of man. It is therefore not fitting that the shortener shall be lifted upon the lengthener. (The Talmud, Midos 3:4)

Its [the Torah's] way are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi once received a silver snuffbox as gift. But the Rebbe did not want to put it to its intended use, and remarked: "There is one part of the body which is not constantly seeking gratification - the nose. Should I train it, too, to be a pleasure-seeker?"

Instead, Rabbi Schneur Zalman found a more lofty use for the gift: he detached the snuffbox's cover and used it as a mirror to help him center the teffilin on his head.

This incident was once related to Rabbi Schneur Zalman's grandson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch. As the one telling the anecdote described how Rabbi Schneur Zalman "broke off" the cover of the snuffbox, Rabbi Menachem Mendel remarked: "No, no, my grandfather never broke anyone or thing. He merely removed the hinge-pin which connected the upper part to the lower."

Said the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

The deeper significance of Rabbi Menachem Mendel's clarification is this: Rabbi Schneur Zalman would never have "broken off" the cover. True, his entire life was devoted to sublimating the ordinary and elevating the mundane. But he taught that the way to deal with the material world is not to repress or crush it, but to gently detach the upper from the lower: to extract, by harmonious and peaceful means, its lofty potential from its lowly enmeshments.

Tid Bits
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The Tear Soaked Selichos of Reb Meir

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I can’t forget Reb Meir Levitt, the oldest member of our minyan in Vancouver, Canada in the 1990s. He was a survivor of Auschwitz, his life spared not only because he worked as a tailor, but through many open miracles which he would recount in awe.

As he aged, his memory reached back yet earlier, into the memory of Russian soldiers, soon to be replaced by German soldiers, sleeping on the earthen floor of his home in Poland during the First World War. With zeal and a young spirit, he would recite the pages of Talmud he had learned in cheder— all by memory, all without a fault.

But my most vivid memory of Reb Meir was one night after Selichot.

We had convened as usual on a Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, and at midnight we began our petitions to G‑d. Within 35 minutes or so, we were done.

But Reb Meir was shaking his head violently, waving his hands in the air, muttering epithets in his Polish Yiddish that I could barely understand.

“Reb Meir, what was wrong with our Selichot?” I asked.

For which I now became the target of his barrage of anger.

“Slichos?” he answered, correcting me with his old-timers' pronunciation. “This was Slichos?! Where? What? How do you call this Slichos?”

“Well, it’s our version, maybe not the one you used back home…”

“Slichos! I’ll tell you what Slichos is! Slichos is every man, woman and child waking from their beds in the middle of the night, coming to the shul, opening a Slichos—if they had one—and pouring a river of tears for two hours straight into that little book! That is Slichos! Even the floor was soaked with tears!”

He looked towards the floor, as if hoping to find at least a single teardrop glistening down there. Instead, his eyes caught a Book of Psalms lying on the table. He grabbed it, and even in his fury did not fail to kiss its cover.

“And this Tillim,” he continued. “Do you know what Tillim is?”

I dared not answer.

“Yes! You think it is a book of words that you mumble as fast as you can so you can leave and go to work.”

“This Tillim is where my mother cried fountains of tears over her lost children, where my father left tears of blood as he cried like a small child early in the morning before leaving to work in the factory.”

“This is not a book—it is a Jewish heart! And now, there is no heart. No one knows how to cry. Just a mumbling of words. And now you can all go back to your comfortable beds. Goodnight and sweet dreams.”

Jews have many books. They call us the People of the Book. We keep a scroll of the Five Books of Moses in the holiest place in our synagogues. We spend our days in yeshiva and our mornings and nights in places of worship everywhere in the world poring over the text of the Talmud.

But more than any book, the one we opened the most, the one every simple Jew knew as his or her closest companion, the one even an ignoramus could recite by heart, was the Tehillim.

If you want to find the wisdom of the Jews, together with the heart and soul of the Jews, all wrapped up as one, read the Book of Tehillim. But only if you can read it as did Reb Meir and his generation.

Whatever you do, don’t read the Selichot, not as I did that night. Open the faucets of your heart and pour out all that has built up inside over a year, over a lifetime—and do it with those words so precious to our great-grandparents, those words of Selichot.

That is prayer, to share with G‑d all that is in your heart. And if there’s one thing the world could use for a new year, it’s a Jewish heart.
Tzvi Freeman
 is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth and more recently Wisdom to Heal the Earth.



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