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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Nitzavim-Vayelech

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Dear Friend,

I am pleased to share this week's article entitled, "FROM THE KITCHEN TO THE MISHNAH" published in Here's My Story for Parsha Nitzavim-Vayeilech.

Mrs. Alice Zlotnick is a professional artist presently living in Jerusalem, Israel. She was interviewed in her home in December of 2006.

To read the article, please click this link:  http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/245.-Nitzavim-Vayeilech-5777.pdf

Be well. 

Have a good Shabbos. 

Warmly,

Rabbi S.B. Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin for Parsha Ki Tavo

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Dear Friend,
I am pleased to share this week's article entitled, "THE REBBE ASKED FOR A FAVOR" published in Here's My Story for Parsha Ki Tavo. To read the article, please click http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/244.-Ki-Savo-57771.pdf

Be well. 
Have a good Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | “The Sun, the Moon…and Millions in Awe”

“The Sun, the Moon…and Millions in Awe”
{Excerpts from Wall Street Journal Aug 22, 2017} 

“Up and down the street, all through the eclipse, people spontaneously came together – Shop workers and neighborhood mothers, kids and bank employees, shoppers and tourists. They’d gather in groups and look up together. Usually one or two people would have the special glasses, and they’d be passed around. Everyone would put them on and look up and say “Wow!” or “Incredible!” and then laugh and hand the glasses on.
 
There was something about it (eclipse) that left me by the end quite moved. Witnessing spontaneous human graciousness and joy is stirring. And we were seeing something majestic, an assertion of nature and nature’s G-d, together. It was tenderly communal. And it was this: Everyone was normal. These were the regular Americans being nice to one another and to whoever walked by. They were all ages, conditions, races, sizes. They were generous and kindly. No one kept their pleasure to themselves.”
 

“For two minutes, all eyes were on the sky”
{Title quoted from Seattle Times, Tuesday, August 22, 2017}
 
It was 8:45 AM the day of the eclipse; I was walking into a local QFC grocery store. It was quite empty (I guess people were out finding the perfect place to view the eclipse). A couple walked up to me and I engaged them in conversation about the coming eclipse. I asked them, “So what is the bottom line?” They looked at me awkwardly, not fully understanding what I meant. I asked them how this was going to help the homeless in our community. Jane looked at me and quietly responded, “It’s not.”
 

Tropical Storm Harvey
“America to the Rescue”
{Quoted from the New York Times, August 30, 2017}
 
Americans’ response to disasters has always been extraordinary. When our neighbors are in need, we are the first to respond and do so in truly admirable ways. Watching the people in their private boats pull up to rescue fellow citizens – irrespective of race, color, religion, or political affiliation – during a flood, gives us hope and brings out the common denominator that we are all made in G-d’s image.  The challenge then, for us is how to sustain this level of commitment to each other. As the writer Danny Heitman writes in his article After a Hurricane, the Cameras Move on and the World Forgets:  “The tragedy of Harvey has reminded me that compassion for catastrophic suffering shouldn’t be a momentary impulse, but a commitment of months, maybe years.”
 
This brings to mind some important questions: How does one maintain focused, consistent efforts to truly make a difference? How are we able to sit in reflection about important events and what those events, be they eclipses or hurricanes, mean? How do we internalize these events to then make a positive and lasting impact on ourselves and then to our fellow man? How do we stay engaged with our internal and external worlds?
 

A Biblical Perspective: The Splitting of the Red Sea
{The following are quotes from Parshas Beshalach 13/17/18}
 
“It happened when Paraoh sent the people that G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near, for G-d said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.’ And G-d took the people around toward the way of the Wilderness to the Sea of Reeds.”
 
Parshas Beshalach continues: “Egypt pursued them and overtook them, encamped by the sea – all the horses and chariots of Paraoh, and his horsemen and army […] Pharaoh brought himself close; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold! – Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem.
 
Hashem said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey! And you – lift up your staff and stretch out your arm over the sea and split it; and the Children of Israel shall come into the midst of the sea on dry land.
 
The children of Israel came within the sea on dry land; and the water was a wall for them, on their right and on their left.
 
Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to Hashem [and among the verses of this song is the following]: G-d’s strength and power to eradicate has been a salvation for me. This is my G-d and I will beautify Him; the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him.”
 
From Rashi: “This is my G-d. He revealed Himself to them in His glory, and they would point to Him with a finger. Even a mere slave-woman saw at the sea that which the prophets did not see.”
 

Revelation at Sinai
{The following are quotes from Parshas Yisro 19/1-3}
 
“In the third month from the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai. They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the Wilderness and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.” Rashi puts it: “And Israel encamped there, as one man, with one heart – but all the other encampments were with complaints and argumentation.”
 
So again, the question is: how do we maintain these lofty feelings of G-dly awareness, by witnessing miraculous events and retaining those powerful moments of awe or the feelings of love, unity and responsibility to others during a natural disaster?

The Month of Elul
 
We are now in the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and stocktaking – a time to review one’s deeds and spiritual progress over the past year, and prepare for the upcoming “Days of Awe” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
 
Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time of paradox – a time of what might be termed, “spiritual workdays.”
 
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains the paradox of Elul with the following metaphor: The king’s usual place is in the capital city, in the royal palace. Anyone wishing to approach the king must go through the appropriate channels in the palace bureaucracy and gain the approval of a succession of secretaries and ministers. He must journey to the capital and pass through the many gates, corridors and antechambers that lead to the throne room. His presentation must be meticulously prepared, and he must adhere to an exacting code of dress, speech and mannerism upon entering into the royal presence.
 
However, there are times when the king comes out to the fields outside the city. At such times, anyone can approach him; the king receives them all with a smiling face and a radiant countenance. The peasant behind his plow has access to the king in a manner unavailable to the highest ranking minister in the royal court when the king is in the palace.
 
The month of Elul, says Rabbi Schneur Zalman, is when the king is in the field.
The opportunity of Elul – where self-reflection and preparation for the New Year is an imperative – enables us to go deep into our spiritual DNA and in a focused, sustained manner, deal with our limitations and resolve to do better.
 
Appreciating in a very personal way, all that the good G-d provides us, launches us into a new reality – it offers the opportunity for real change. This can help us to maintain a sustained awareness of all the phenomena that we live through – whether an eclipse or G-d forbid, a hurricane – to bring out the best in us in our connection to G-d and sustained feelings of compassion and caring for our fellow human beings.
 
From our Holy Rebbe (obm), Ha Yom-Yom, Menachem Av 29: “There must be avoda (service) by one’s own efforts. Superior heights are attained when one is taken by the hand and led; it is more precious though, when it is by one’s own strength.”
 
Have a beautiful Shabbos. May Almighty G-d bless and provide for all the needs of our fellow citizens in Houston and beyond.
 
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin
 
{Quotes from Peggy Noonan were included in the first two paragraphs of this article.}

 

 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Shoftim

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Dear Friend,

I am pleased to share this week's article entitled, "Better Than the Original" published in Here's My Story for Parsha Shoftim.

To read the article, please click this link: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/242.-Shoftim-5777.pdf.

Be well. 

Have a good Shabbos.

Warmly,

Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Re'eh

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Dear Friend,

I am happy to share this article entitled, "No Need for Miracles" originally published in Here's My Story in 2016.

Lisette (Leah) Sayeg is a community social worker and shadchan who lives in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where she was interviewed in her home in June of 2010.

Check here to read the story: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/191.-Shoftim-5776.pdf.

Be well. Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,

Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Eikev

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Dear Friend,

I am pleased to share this article for Parsha Eikev entitled "The Rebbe's Generals" originally published in Here's My Story.

Mr. David Mayer lives with his family in Los Angeles, California, where he worked as an executive in the toy industry for over three decades. He was interviewed in the My Encounter studio in January of 2016.

Please click on the link to read the article: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/238.-Devarim-5777.pdf.

Be well. Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,

Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Va'etchanan

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Dear Friend,

I am pleased to share this week's article entitled, "Temporarily Permanent" from Here's My Story for Parsha Va'etchanan.

Please click this link to read the article: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/239.-Vaetchanan-5777.pdf.

Be well. Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,

Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin for Parsha Devarim "You Are Amazing"

While walking into my office earlier this week, I noticed several construction workers removing trees in front of our building. As I approached the front door, I greeted them in my usual manner and after a few minutes of banter, I shared with a couple of the men one of my favorite suggestions: “When you wake in the morning, say these three words to yourself: Thank You, G-d.” One young man seemed particularly struck by this and replied with a few words of his own: “You are amazing.” These simple, yet profound words took me aback, so I asked him what exactly he meant and he repeated: “You are amazing. You were made in the image of G-d.” I was floored. In all my years of interacting with people on the streets, no one has ever said these words to me.

Constructive Rebuke  

"The Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah, is devoted chiefly to Moses’ farewell addresses, which he delivered to the Jewish people shortly before his death and their entry into the Land of Israel. The first section of the book records his words (Devarim, in Hebrew) of rebuke to the Jewish people over various incidents that took place during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, and the lesson they must learn from their mistakes.

There are, in fact, two intertwined and overlapping strata of content in Moses’ farewell address. The first comprises his exhortations to the Jewish people to remain loyal to G-d; the second is a review of much of the legal subject matter contained in the preceding four books. Although we might expect from the first type of material to appear in the farewell address, why was it necessary to rephrase so much of the legal material that had apparently been clearly stated before?

Another striking feature of the Book of Deuteronomy is its literary form. Unlike the preceding books, Moses now speaks in the first person. The phrase we have heard continuously in the preceding books – 'And G-d spoke to Moses, saying . . .' – is almost entirely absent from Deuteronomy.

The sages tell us that although Moses transmitted the first four books from G-d verbatim and Deuteronomy 'in his own name', nevertheless, even in the latter case 'the Divine Presence spoke from his mouth.' In other words, the Book of Deuteronomy is no less Divine than the first four books of the Torah, but whereas the first four books are G-d’s words transmitted directly by Moses, Deuteronomy is G-d’s words transmitted through Moses. But if this is the case, why the sudden change in literary form between the first four books and the final one?

The answer to both these questions hinges on the fact that this book is addressed to the generation that will enter the Land of Israel. The abrupt change in lifestyle – from a nation of nomads sustained by G-d’s supernatural protection into a nation of farmers who must work the land – called for a practical restatement of G-d’s hitherto abstract teachings. The generation of the desert had been nourished with miracles, beginning with the ten plagues and the Exodus from Egypt, through the Splitting of the Sea, to the revelation at Mount Sinai, the manna, the [water] well of Miriam, and the protective Clouds of Glory. Their perspective on life had thus been elevated to a level quite above and beyond the ordinary; G-d’s normally invisible hand in nature had become a manifest reality for them. They were thus able to relate to the Torah in a concomitantly abstract, spiritual way, and that is how it was transmitted to them. All of this was about to change. G-d’s hand in the parameters of day-to-day life was about to become veiled in the garb of nature.

This transition was a natural and essential part of achieving G-d’s purpose on earth: to transform it into a holy place, in which not nature but G-d is understood to be the driving force. In order for the façade of nature to be removed, humanity, led by the Jewish people, had to now invest itself into the natural order and, in that context, retain consciousness of G-d, revealing the infinite within the finite.

This is why it was necessary for the Book of Deuteronomy to be transmitted in the first person. By communicating the message of Deuteronomy via the voice of Moses, G-d was telling us that even while remaining faithful to the Torah’s objective truth, we must see its subjective relevance to every individual and in every generation. In this sense, the first-person narrative of Deuteronomy indicates not a lesser Divinity than the other four books, but a greater one.

The Book of Deuteronomy is thus a lesson in keeping the Torah alive and relevant, the means by which we can recommence the study of the Torah on the new level of understanding. By ensuring that the Torah remain eternally relevant, we can read it from an always deeper, fresher, newer perspective, and thereby continually deepen, freshen, and renew our relationship with G-d."


In closing, Parsha Devarim is about bringing the purpose of Torah out into the world, by infusing the G-dly into the physical and mundane, to the extent that in the streets of Seattle in July 5777 (2017), a young man named Jason feels inspired to quote the bible to a Rabbi.

Be well. Have a good Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Matot-Massei

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Dear Friend,

I am pleased to send you this article, entitled "A Jew is a Catalyst" for Parsha Matot-Massei, from last year's issue of Here's My Story

Please click on this link to read the article: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/04-JEM-Matos-Maasei.pdf.

Be well. Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi SB Levitin

“The Enemy Triumphed and the City was Breached” | From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin

“The Enemy Triumphed and the City was Breached”

It was 4:30 a.m. on 21 Iyar (May 17, 2017) the earliest time that day when Shacharis (morning prayers) could be said at the Holy Wall referred to as the Kotel in Jerusalem. Standing there in the early morning light, facing the remains of the once magnificent Holy Temple, was (as always) a moving experience for me. I went to “my place” within the tunnel and saw familiar faces from three years earlier. The serenity, the holiness, and the tranquility were palpable. The opportunity for one on one communion with Hashem (G-d), at this holy sight, has the ability to lift a person to a whole different reality.

A Little History on this Holy Sight:

“After giving the Torah to the Jewish people, G‑d commanded them, ‘Make Me a Sanctuary,’ and promised them, ‘And I will dwell within.’ From that time onward, there was a place — or more particularly, a series of places — that served as a dwelling for G‑d’s Presence within our material world” (From the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson).

The Rebbe continues with a question:
“This concept, that a place on earth would serve as a dwell­ing for G‑d, is problematic. The difficulty is not the question: How can G‑dliness become manifest within the physical setting of our material world? For physical existence cannot interfere with the expression of G‑dliness. It is no less appropriate for G‑d to become manifest within the setting of our material world than within the spiritual realms. He is infinite and om­nipotent, and can manifest His presence wherever He desires. The difficulty is: Why is that manifestation confined to a single location? ‘The entire earth is filled with His glory.’ Why then is there only one place that serves as a dwelling for Him in this world?

The Open Manifestation of G‑dliness

One of the explanations frequently offered to resolve the above question is that although G‑dliness permeates every place within the world, this G‑dliness is not openly revealed. In the Beis HaMikdash, not only was G‑d present, His presence was evident.

This, however, is not an adequate resolution. Indeed, it reinforces the question. The revelation of G‑dliness is dependent on the service of the Jewish people, and that service can be carried out in any place throughout the world. Why then is there only one place which serves as G‑d’s dwelling?

The Ultimate of Perfection; Complete Infinity

The questions mentioned above can be resolved by focus­ing on the nature of G‑d — He whose presence is manifest in the Beis HaMikdash. The Avodas HaKodesh states that the Or Ein Sof (G‑d’s infinite light) is the ultimate of perfection. Accordingly, just as the Or Ein Sof possesses an infinite dimension, it possesses a finite dimension. For were it not to possess a finite dimension, it would lack perfection.

To explain: Infinity appears more representative of G‑d than finite existence, for finite existence has specific limits and G‑d is, by definition, unlimited and unbounded. Nevertheless, were G‑d to be only infinite, without having a finite dimension, He would also be limited, for the entire realm of finiteness would be apart from Him. In this sense, infinity would serve as a definition, confining and restricting the nature of His being.

In truth, however, G‑d is neither finite, nor infinite; He is what He is, in a realm totally above human conception. When coming into revelation, He employs both the infinite and the finite. The most complete expression of Him comes in the fu­sion of the finite and the infinite, joining together these opposite thrusts in a transcendent manner.

The Place of the Ark, the Fusion of Finiteness and Infinity

This transcendent union of opposites was revealed in the Sanctuary and in the Beis HaMikdash, the classic example being the ark in the Holy of Holies. The ark was two and a half cubits wide. There were ten cubits on either side of it, and yet the entire span of the Holy of Holies was twenty cubits. The two and a half cubits of the ark’s width did not take up any space at all. The fusion between finiteness and infinity was openly revealed.

What is most significant is that all the measurements of the sacred articles in the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash were required to be precise. If the size of the article exceeded the pre­scribed measure, or was smaller than it, they were not accept­able. Nevertheless, in this place where precise detail was so significant, a dimension of G‑d’s infinity which transcends the entire concept of space was revealed.

A similar concept applies regarding the Beis HaMikdash as a whole. Although it was part of our material world, miracles which reflect unlimited spirituality were revealed openly in that setting on a daily basis.

G‑d’s Dwelling: A Specific Place for Infinite Revelation

On this basis, it is possible to resolve the initial question: why was there only one place on earth for G‑d’s Presence to be manifest? The aim of the Beis HaMikdash is to enable the Jewish people to relate to G‑d’s essence, the level which tran­scends both finiteness and infinity. Therefore:

a) There is a restriction to a specific place — thus indicating that the revelation of His presence does not reflect merely the limited conception of infinity mentioned above.

b) Within that single place, there is an infinite revelation, demonstrating that the Beis HaMikdash reflects a level that tran­scends even the most perfect conception of finite existence. Through our sacrifices and our prayers, we seek to develop an active bond of closeness with this transcendent dimension of G‑dliness.

‘I Will Dwell Among Them’

Although the Beis HaMik­dash can only be built in one spe­cific place, ‘from there, light issued forth to illuminate the entire world.’ This influence grants the Jewish people the potential to create ‘sanctuaries in microcosm’ throughout the world.

This concept is implied by G‑d’s promise which was coupled with the command to build the sanctuary VeShachanti Be'socham translated above as ‘I will dwell within.’ Our Rabbis note that this phrase does not state ‘within it,’ i.e., the Sanctuary, but Be'socham, which means ‘among them. The construction of the Sanctuary enabled the Jewish people to bring the Divine Pres­ence into every dimension of their lives, as it is written, ‘Know G‑d in all your ways.’

In this manner, it is possible to experience an awareness of G‑dliness in the midst of one’s ordinary, mundane activities. To cite an example: The table on which we eat our food is consid­ered as equivalent to the altar in the Beis HaMikdash. 

This approach will lead to the ultimate fusion of the spiri­tual and the material which will take place in the Era of the Redemption. For then it will be revealed that the entire world is a dwelling for G‑d. May this take place in the immediate future.”

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (Corresponding this year to Tuesday, July 11th)

The fast of the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, known as Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, is the start of a three-week mourning period for the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Holy Temples.

The fast actually commemorates five tragic events that occurred on this date:

  1. Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf.
  2. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of sheep.
  3. Apostomos burned the holy Torah.
  4. An idol was placed in the Holy Temple.
  5. The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege. (Three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av.) **The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that this is also the date when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the first Temple.

“There are days when the entire Jewish people fast because of the calamities that occurred to them then, to arouse [their] hearts and initiate [them in] the paths of repentance” (Rambam, Hilchot Ta’Anoit Chapter 5).

The Rambam continues at the end of Chapter 5:

“All these [commemorative] fasts will be nullified in the Messianic era and, indeed ultimately, they will be transformed into holidays and days of rejoicing and celebration, as [Zechariah 8:19] states: ‘Thus declares the Lord of Hosts, the fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] will be [times of] happiness and celebration and festivals for the House of Judah. And they shall love truth and peace.’”

Let us all internalize the history and meaning of these days and look forward to the coming of our Righteous Moshiach – may it be speedily in our time.

Have a wonderful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Until the Last Drop of Blood

The 12th of Tammuz marks the 90th anniversary of the release from exile in Russia of the 6thLubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (obm); it is also the anniversary of his birthday. He was incarcerated at 2:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Sivan 5, 5687 (June 15, 1927) and sentenced to death.

 


 

They took an oath: the group of ten, including nine young Yeshiva students, were called together by the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (obm), to meet in secret (so secret, that today it remains unknown who exactly attended this meeting) somewhere in the former Soviet Union in the early 1920’s to swear to uphold Jewish life “until the last drop of blood.”

Of the participants in this secret meeting, only the Rebbe and two others survived. The seven remaining were either murdered or died in the infamous Gulag.

The events leading up to this meeting grew out of the Bolshevik revolution of November 1917. In his introduction to the book, The Heroic Struggle, *Dr. William W. Brickman, PhD, writes: “the teaching of religious doctrines in all state and public, as well as in private, education institutions in which general subjects are taught, is forbidden. So, decreed, in January of 1918 the Council of People’s Commissars.”

Dr. Brickman continues: “under the new basic law, religion was confined to houses of worship, but any public manifestation was forbidden. Even this minor measure of leniency, whether a concession to internal protest or an attempt to project a façade of tolerance to foreign nations, was very much mitigated by anti-religious forces in the state structure and the societal hierarchy [. . .] But the actual application of Communist power in the Jewish community (‘on the Jewish street’) was carried our by Yevsektzia (Jewish section of the Communist party), particularly the assault upon the beliefs and practices of the Jewish religion.”

Dr. Brickman also writes that “it was an irony of history, but not of the Soviet experience that the reward of these renegades was not a plaque on the wall of the Kremlin, but liquidation during the Stalin purges of 1936-1938.”

Leading up to his arrest and imprisonment, Dr. Brickman explains: “The narrative of the imprisonment and release of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (obm), describes his sufferings for his activities to spread Jewish religious education and observance behind the Communist Iron Curtain. His stubborn efforts contributed immeasurably to the perpetuation of Yiddishkeit in the former U.S.S.R. and ultimately to the current revival in the post-Soviet era. This was accomplished in the face of the Russian regime’s perennial policy of atheistic indoctrination and forcible prevention of the exercise of religious freedom. The enormity of the task and the significance of the achievement is especially evident given the history of Judaism in Russia.”

The Arrest

From the personal writings of the Holy Rebbe (obm):

“The date was Tuesday night, the 14th of Sivan, 5687 (June 14, 1927). It was already twelve o’clock at night, shortly after I had concluded receiving people for private audiences. It was my custom to receive people for these audiences three times a week – Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The meetings were scheduled for the hours of seven until ten at night, but usually extended for an hour to two more, particularly during the summer months, due to the many visitors. That particular night these sessions extended until half past eleven [. . .] I washed my hands in the traditional manner for the evening meal with the members of my household, a few moments after twelve o’clock (a.m.). About twenty minutes had passed when the doorbell rang forcefully. The door was opened, and two men burst into the dining room shouting: ‘We are representatives of the G.P.U. (a precursor organization of the KGB). Who is [Rabbi] Schneerson? And where is he?’ As they spoke, a contingent of armed men entered after them and stood in a line awaiting their commands. I answered calmly and clearly: ‘I do not know which Schneerson you seek. If you enter into someone’s home, surely you know in advance who dwells there, and this drama is pointless. Deliver your message and clearly state your wishes. The building superintendent, who knows the identity of all the people in this house, is here with you. What need is there for this clamor and disruption?’

‘I am not shouting,’ said the spokesman, ‘this is my normal manner of speech. It seems that you are not familiar with the methods of G.P.U. representatives. Show us through your apartment so that we can place an appropriate legal guard, and as master of the household, come with us to observe the search.’

‘True,’ I replied, ‘I am not fully aware of your methods, and I have no desire to know them. Either you are completely in error, or someone has fabricated a libel against us. In any event, it makes no difference to me. As for the emissaries from your organization, I have not feared, I do not fear, and I will not fear them. The building attendant can direct you about my quarters, and you may search as you wish in ostensible accordance with the law that you invoke.’ I then calmly added, ‘I am certain that you will not disturb me from my evening meal.’

My words, spoken evenly and without any betrayal of emotion, had a strong effect on the callous officials, and for a brief instant their wings drooped. They gazed at me with surprise, as silence prevailed in the house.’”

Before being taken into custody, the Rebbe said: “I demand permission to put on tefillin and pray, and also that kosher food be made available to me from my own home.”

In the Cell

The following is more of the Holy Rebbe’s (obm) personal account of his time in a Russian prison cell:

“The room was 2 ½ archin (former Russian measurement equivalent to twenty-eight inches) wide and five archin long and 2 ½ archin high. The walls were of stone and one arhcin in thickness. The door was of iron. High on the wall close to the ceiling and facing the courtyard was an opening for a window. This opening was one archin in length by half and archin in width, covered by vertical iron bars and one horizontal iron bar, forming an intersecting barrier. The window was imbedded in an iron frame; the glass itself was only a handbreadth by handbreadth.

There were three men in the room whose identity I did not know. Two of them reclined on boards supported by wooden frames, and one reclined on the metal bed attached to the wall. One of them was a Jew and the other two were gentiles.”

During his time in prison, the Rebbe’s (obm) tefillin was taken from him. In protest, he refused to eat or drink. Around the fourth day of his hunger strike, and after much suffering at the hands of prison officials, which included physical abuse, a Jewish member of the G.P.U. brought him his tefillin and sacred books. The Rebbe’s (obm) response was: “I will not eat the prison food, only the food which is brought from my home.”

Step One on the Road to Freeing the Rebbe: Exile to Kastroma

Worldwide efforts to free the Rebbe (obm), resulted in his being released from the prison cell and sentenced to exile. This miracle was of course, a blessing from The Almighty. On the third of Tammuz (July 3rd), after nineteen days in prison, the Rebbe (obm) was called to the prison office and informed that permission had been given for him to return home, where he could remain only for approximately six hours. At eight o’clock that evening he was to take the train for Kastroma (on the Volga River), a remote city deep in the interior of Russia, where he would be exiled for a period of three years.

The Rebbe arrived at the train station under heavy guard: there members of the CHEKA (the secret police), civil police, soldiers, and officers of the Civil Investigation Department. From the steps of the coach, the Rebbe (obm) turned to the large crowd that had gathered and spoke these words:

“We raise our lips in prayer to G-d, ‘May G-d be with us as He was with our ancestors, to neither forsake nor abandon us’ (I Kings 8:57) – and He will in fact be with us. Though our merit is not comparable to that of our ancestors, who endured intense self-sacrifice for the sake of Torah and its mitzvot. In the words of one of my revered ancestors in response to a governmental decree regarding Jewish education and the Rabbinate:

‘We did not depart from the Land of Israel of our own free will, nor shall we return to the Land of Israel by virtue of our own capabilities. G-d, our Father and King, has sent us into exile. He, may He be blessed, shall redeem us and gather in the dispersed from the four corners of the earth, and cause us to be led back firmly and proudly by Mashiach, our righteous Redeemer – may this occur speedily, in our times. This, however, all the nations of the world must know: Only our bodies were sent into exile and subjugated to alien rule; our souls were not given over into captivity and foreign rule. We must proclaim openly and before all that any matter affecting the Jewish religion, Torah, and its mitzvot and customs is not subject to the coercion of others. No one can impose his belief upon us, nor coerce us to conduct ourselves contrary to our beliefs. It is our solemn and sacred task to cry out and state with the ancient steadfastness of the Jewish people, with courage derived from thousands of years of self-sacrifice: Touch not My anointed nor attempt to de evil to My prophets.’

Thus spoke one utterly willing to endure self-sacrifice.”

The Rebbe, after delivering these words, boarded the train for Kastroma.

Step Two: Full Freedom

After only tens days in exile, the Rebbe was granted a complete reprieve. And when he next made his weekly visit to report to the local police station, the G.P.U. official greeted him with a friendly smile: “You no longer have to report here; you are completely free. And, by the way, I am happy to be the first to give you this news.”

The enormous outpouring of concern and support from all over the world across religious and political lines, combined with the prayers and efforts of the Jewish community, resulted in the release and full freedom of the Holy Rebbe (obm).

Shortly after his release, the Rebbe (obm) was encouraged to leave the Soviet Union and he settled, in Riga, Latvia, where he continued his clandestine activities to try as best as possible to maintain the Jewish life for his people in the Soviet Union through his chassidim and followers.

For over seventy years, and continued and broadened by his successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe (obm), the network of underground Jewish religious schools and associated Jewish traditions maintained the spark of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union.

Today, there are over 300 Shluchim with a vast array of Jewish institutions serving the needs of over 1.5 million Jews in the former Soviet Union.

As this day, the Twelfth of Tammuz, corresponding this year, to July 6th, is celebrated throughout the world let us rededicate ourselves to the ideals, practices, and teachings of our faith. May the history of this day, serve as inspiration to stand up for our beliefs against all forms of oppression.

Have a beautiful Shabbos. L’Chaim!

Warmly,
Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin

 

*Dr. William Brickman, who was born in Manhattan, was associated with New York University from 1940 to 1962. He was chairman of the History of Education department at New York University's School of Education from 1952 to 1957 and a professor of educational and comparative education from 1957 to 1962. He received his PhD from NYU in 1938 and was professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania where he taught educational history and comparative education.  He is survived by his wife, the former Sylvia Schnitzer; a sister, Zelda Pine of Queens; a son, Dr. Chaim Mann of Southfield, Mich.; two daughters, Joy R. Poupko of Waterbury, Conn., and Sara V. Soudry of Natanya, Israel, and seven grandchildren.

**For further information and video presentations from our Holy Rebbe (obm) please visit the Chabad.org site.

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin for Parsha Chukat

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Dear Friend,
I am pleased to share this article entitled, "An Enduring Marriage" recently published in Here's My Story.

Rabbi Meilech Leib DuBrow, a Kosherfit Master Coach, is the founder of Kosher Health & Fitness, based in Los Angeles, where he was interviewed in September of 2011.

To read this story, please click on this link: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/230.-Nasso-5777.pdf.

Be well. Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Article to Commemorate Yahrzeit of Holy Rebbe

“My beloved, My Brethren and Friends”
Epistile 27, Iggeret HaKodesh, Tanya, Vol. 4

In memory of the Holy Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn obm, on the 23rd anniversary of his passing. Gimmel Tammuz – 3rd Day of Tammuz. Corresponding this year, to Tuesday June 27th.

The title of this article, taken from Epistle 27, was written by the Alter Rebbe in his letter of condolence to his chassidim in 1788, after the passing of his colleague and mentor, the saintly R. Mendele of Vitebsk (or Horodok), who had settled in the Holy Land in 1777.

My wife and I just visited the Reb Mendele’s grave site on our recent visit to Eretz Yisroel before Shavous. My maternal grandfather, Zedi Nissan obm, and my two uncles, Reb Yisroel and Reb Meir obm, are buried not far from his holy grave site in Tveria (Tiberias).

From the Alter Rebbe:

 “Having first duly inquired after the welfare of those who love [G-d’s] Name. I have come to speak to the heart of the smitten, who are sighing and groaning over the passing of R. Mendele, and to console you with redoubled support with what my ear has heard from others and with what I have understood myself, regarding the idiom used by our Sages to signify the passing of a tzaddik (righteous person – holy) – he has left life for all the living. For a tzaddik lives by this faith and by the awe of G-d [which leads] to life, and by the flashing of fiery sparks of his love [for G-d, that is even greater] than life, investing in them – in his faith and awe of and love – the life of his Ruach [moreover, of his Neshamah] throughout his life.” [Epistle 27, 164-5.]

The Alter Rebbe continues:

“G-d elevates his Ruach and gathers up his soul unto Himself and he ascends from one elevation to the next, to the very highest of levels, he [then] leaves over the life of his Ruach, the deeds in which he has formerly labored with Israel, the labor of a tzaddik for life, to every living being, that is, to the soul of every living being who is bound to his soul by the thick ropes of a magnanimous love, and an eternal love, that will not be moved forever. For any man who eagerly desires life [and who seeks] to cleave to the living G-d, through his service his soul will cleave and will be bound up in the bond of life with G-d, in the life of the Ruach (literally, the life-giving ‘breath’) of our nostrils of which we have said, ‘In its [protective] shadow we shall live among the nations.” [Epistle 27, 166-8.]

These powerful words give us a glimpse into the life of a tzaddik and the impact that a tzaddik has on his generation.

“Found in All the Worlds More than During his Lifetime” [Zohar]

“This, then, is the meaning of the statement in the sacred Zohar, that ‘when a tzaddik departs he is to be found in all the worlds more than during his lifetime.’ That is, even in this world of action, (in the mundane world of which it is written), this day – to do them, the departed tzaddik is found more [than during his lifetime], because the action [of his disciples] continues to produce successive generations of offshoots.”

Gimmel Tammuz – Third of Tammuz, 5754, June 1994

I will always remember those tragic words, when I received the call from New York right after Shabbos: “der Rebbe is avek” (the Rebbe has passed away). It is very difficult, even today – twenty-three years later – to verbalize the feelings and emotions that pulsated through me as I heard those words.

Those first moments, hours, and days; while dealing with my personal emotions, balancing my responsibilities as the Rebbe’s Shliach to the Pacific Northwest, together with being a son, husband, father, already grandfather (thank G-d), was very difficult to say the least. Following the funeral, which hundreds of thousands participated in, and the seven day mourning period that followed, organizational meetings, etc. took place on all levels. The question echoed, “Where do we go from here?”

There is a quote from the Midrash about Jacob, our forefather, which says, “Because the seed of Jacob is alive, so he is alive.”

The absolute resoluteness among Chassidim, and especially among the Shluchim (emissaries) worldwide, was not only to perpetuate “the message,” but to expand it, deepen it and disseminate it on a broader level than ever before. Twenty-three years ago, social media was still in its infancy, but as these years have passed the vast teachings of the Rebbe in all areas of Torah have reached, impacted, and transformed literally millions and millions of people from within the Jewish community and mankind in general. The huge reach of global media communications, including Chabad.org, the largest Jewish media site in the world, has led the way in this dissemination.

The words of the Alter Rebbe: “because the action [of his disciples] continues to produce successive generations of offshoots” is living testament to the Rebbe’s spirit, guidance, and blessing continuing to permeate our collective and individual lives.

The Enduring Presence

From the very first recorded letters that the Holy Rebbe wrote to Rabbi Michoel Lipsker obm, after the passing of his holy father-in-law in January of 1950, 20th of Shavout 5710, “It is for sure the will of my holy father-in-law that there should G-d forbid, not be any slackening in our work.” And he then urges Rabbi Lipsker “as per my discussion with my father-in-law, a few days before his passing, concerning the education of Jewish children in the countries of Africa, you should be the one to assist in this holy endeavor.”

Rabbi Lipsker accepted the position and spent many years in Morocco and Tunisia developing a whole network of educational institutions in very precarious times and under very perilous conditions.  Rabbi Lipsker and the thousands and thousands of Shluchim who followed him are the embodiment of the Rebbe’s continued spiritual presence.

We all rededicate ourselves to continue this holy mission with joy and spirit, gaining our guidance from the vast Torah teachings of the Rebbe until the day of the coming of our righteous Mashiach speedily in our time.

Be well. Have a beautiful Shabbos,

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin for Parsha Shlach

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Dear Friend,
I am pleased to share this week's edition of Here's My Story for Parsha Shlach, entitled: "Remove the Dirt".

Mr. Louis Goldstein is the owner of A-Z Paper Products in Sydney, Australia, where he was interviewed in July of 2016.

Please click on this link to read this article: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/232.-Shelach-5777.pdf.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi SB Levitin

Beha’aloctecha (When You Raise Up) | June 2017

The name of this Parsha, Beha’alotecha (when you raise up), refers to how, after the princes of the 12 tribes offered up their sacrifices at the inauguration of the Tabernacle during the first 12 days of Nissan 2449, G-d had Moses instruct Aaron concerning how to kindle the wicks of the Candelabrum. Specifically, Aaron is told that when he kindles the lamps, he must ensure that each of them is able to continue burning on its own.

The Torah then continues describing the events of 1 Nissan by recounting how the Levites were installed into their office on that day: they had to be ritually purified from defilement, be shaved, and collectively offer up a special set of sacrifices. The community then had to lean on them and Aaron had to lift each of them up individually.

On the same day, G-d told the Jewish people that they would be expected to observe the rites of the Passover sacrifice in two weeks, the first anniversary of the Exodus. When the day came, however, there were a few Jews who were unable to observe the rites on the account of being ritually defiled. They complained about being left out, and for their benefit G-d instituted the compensatory holiday of the Second Passover, to be observed each year one month after Passover. Anyone who cannot participate in the Passover rites on time on account of being ritually defiled may do so on the Second Passover holiday.

The Torah then continues its description of how G-d readied the people for their journey from Mount Sinai. First, it describes how G-d would signal the people it was time to move: The cloud that continuously hovered over the Tabernacle would position itself at the head of the people’s encampment and lead them. Moses would then entreat G-d to protect them on their journey. Finally, the priests would blow trumpets in a specific musical sequence in order to signal the people to get ready to depart.

On 20 Iyar, 2449, the people set out from Mount Sinai. They miraculously covered three day’s journey in one day, but instead of acknowledging this miracle, some of the mixed multitude used it as an excuse to complain. G-d’s corrective response was immediate: fire broke out among them and among the elders who were responsible for teaching them proper attitudes, killing the guilty.

Unfortunately, once these individuals from the mixed multitude started complaining, their attitude spread – first among the rest of the mixed multitude and then among the Jews themselves. Some of them began to complain about their lack of meat (even thought they had plenty) and about the blandness of the manna (even thought it was delicious). The spirit of unjustified complaining even affected Moses, who complained to G-d about the impossibility of leading the people on his own. In response to the people’s and Moses’ complaints, G-d showed the people that He was indeed capable of providing for them. He further had Moses select 70 new elders to assist him, granting them the gift of prophecy.

So ended the events at the people’s first encampment, where they stayed for one month. They then journeyed to their second stop. Moses’ sister Miriam had overheard his wife Tziporah remark to no one in particular that he had separated from her. Miriam was unaware that Moses had done this at G-d’s bidding in order that he be ready at all times for Divine communication, which must be received in a state of ritual purity. Had Miriam confronted Moses personally, he would have explained this to her and thereby quieted her indignation over his apparent disregard for Tziporah. But instead, she chose to involve Aaron, and the two of them, jumping to conclusions, voiced their unjustified complaints against Moses.

In response to Miriam’s slander, G-d struck her with tzara’at, a supernatural disease that, as we have seen, afflicted people guilty of slander. Moses prayed for her recovery, and G-d told him to quarantine her for a week, after which she would be healed. Thus, the people remained at their second stop for a week. Despite their two delays, however, they were poised at the end of this Parsha to proceed directly into the Promised Land.

The connection between the optimistic mood of the preparations for travel described in the first half of the Parsha and the depressing series of complaints and Divine corrective punishment in the second half is found in the name of the Parsha. G-d’s instruction to make sure that the lamps of the Candelabrum burn on their own allegorically means that we should ensure that our own souls, the souls of those around us, and indeed the whole world be aflame with Divine consciousness. When this happens, we can elevate all aspects of our lives – even our rebellions and complaints – by revealing their inner, Divine source. Deep down, the reason we complain is because we know that we are not living up to our divine mission: the shallowness of our relationship with G-d leaves us profoundly unsatisfied, causing us to complain.

The lesson of Parsha Beha’alotecha, then, is that whenever we feel ourselves starting to complain, we should realize the deeper reason why we are doing so, and instead of giving free reign to our thoughts of mutiny, realize that what we must rebel against is our own inattention to G-d’s call to dedicate ourselves fully to making ourselves and our milieu into His true home. Our complaints, if we still have them, will then be properly motivated, and G-d will grant our requests, just as He gave the Second Passover to the Jews who complained about being left out of the rituals for no fault of their own.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

 

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