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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏

Parsha Pinchas | Here's My Story - Mr. Zacks‏

I am pleased to send you this week’s (Pinchas) edition of Here’s My Story.  

In 1969, Mr. Gordon Zacks was the chairman of United Jewish Appeal’s Young Leadership Cabinet and served on the George Bush Presidential Library Board of Trustees. He was interviewed in August of 2007.

Colorhttp://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/07/185.-Balak-5776.pdf

Black and White:http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/07/185.-Balak-5776-BW.pdf

Warm wishes for a good Shabbos, 
Rabbi Levitin 

Parsha Balak | Here's My Story - Rabbi Majeski‏

Weekly Interview for Parsha Balak – The week of the 12th of Tammuz (Yud Beis Tammuz).

This week’s interview is from Rabbi Shloma Majeski who was a Yeshiva student of the Central Chabad Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

In June of 1969, the 8th of Tammuz, Rabbi Majeski and eight other Yeshiva students, including Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin, were in a vehicle that was involved in a horrific accident on its way home to Brooklyn from a wedding in Boston.

Thank G-d all nine miraculously survived and recovered from their injuries.

For Rabbi Shloma Majeski’s story, please follow a link below.

Colorhttp://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/02/163.-Ki-Sisa-5776.pdf

Black and White: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/02/163.-KiSisa-5776-BW.pdf

The accident happened the week of Yud Beis Tammuz (12th of Tammuz), which is celebrated throughout the world as a day of the liberation of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn obm, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe from Soviet prison in 1927. The Rebbe had been imprisoned and sentenced to death (G-d forbid) for his leadership, inspiration and maintaining the traditions of Judaism under the communist regime, especially in regards to the education of Jewish children. Miraculously the Rebbe was released after a tortuous 19 days in prison.

Please go to http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2994/jewish/The-Rebbes-Prison-Diary.htm for more information about the Rebbe’s amazing journey, and why it’s important to commemorate these events.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Parsha Chukat | Zei Gezunt (Be Well) – Zei Gebentshed (Be Blessed)

The Crown Heights section of 1950’s Brooklyn New York, into which I was born, was a middle to upper middle class area mostly populated with Jews with strong progressive ideals. The Chassidic community was very small, as the large influx of post-war immigrants from the DP (Displaced Persons) camps was just beginning.

Our family moved to 763 Eastern Parkway (a large complex with over 120 units) in 1952. We were only the SECOND Chassidic family permitted to move into the building. Many of the tenants were Jews with some Italians and Irish mixed in. There was a man named Mr. Joslin (an Irishman) and his handyman Carl (an Italian) who ran that building with an iron fist. When Sukkos came and the Sukkah had to be built for those who observed Sukkos, Mr. Joslin was not going to allow this Sukkah to be built. Meetings were held in our two bedroom apartment- as my father was a prominent figure in the small Chassidic community- to strategize how we were going to convince Mr. Joslin to allow this to happen, my father even brought home kosher steaks in order to sweeten the deal! Eventually Mr. Joslin acquiesced and allowed the Sukkah to be built, but it took a lot of convincing and we weren’t sure it was going to happen.

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I remember one day looking at the park benches in front of the building. There were a group of people seated on a particular bench; a few Jewish ladies and some others. An elderly African American man approached and very gingerly sat down on the very end, taking extra care to keep an appropriate distance from the person next to him. His extreme level of caution was very shocking to me. I went home and asked my mother why he was so careful to keep space between him and the person next to him, to the extent that he didn’t even have both of his legs over the front of the bench!

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Fast forward. It was 1967-68, the neighborhood was radically changing. Many Jews have left, property values had plummeted, and many more minority ethnic groups have moved in. The Holy Rebbe obm, made a public statement that he will remain in Crown Heights and urged all of his fellow Chassidim (and others) to also remain. There was strife in the streets and the area of our apartment complex became dangerous to venture out into at night. There was an active gang operating in the complex and young Chassidic women and girls (including my sisters) were very fearful of having to be out after dark. I befriended the head of the gang, Josè, (he was a Dodger fan and I was a Yankee fan) and worked out a deal with him that everyone would be able to feel as safe as possible in the complex.

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In the summer of 1970 the Jewish Community Center on Kingston Ave was firebombed. The, then, mayor of New York City, Mr. John Lindsay, immediately came to the site to assess the damage. Understandably, the Jewish community was very shaken. The Shabbos following that event, the Holy Rebbe blessed the community and said, “We will rebuild even greater than before.”

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1991. Rioting began in Crown Heights due to escalating tensions between blacks and Jews. The mayor of New York City, Mr. David Dinkins (the first, and remains, the only African American to hold that office) came to the Rebbe and asked for a blessing for peace “to both sides”- Jews and blacks. He said to the Rebbe, “You have blessed me in the past and your prayers have helped.” The Rebbe told him, “We are not two sides; we are one side. We are one people living in one city under one administration and under one G-d. May G-d protect the police and all the people of the city.” (New York Times, August 26, 1991, Article:  “Dinkins call for Healing in Brooklyn” by Todd S. Purdum)

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This past week I was in Crown Heights for the Holy Rebbe’s 22nd Yahrzeit. Thousands of people from all walks of life had been gathering at the Rebbe’s graveside in prayer and introspection. I went shopping for my mother on Sunday and I went into a market. This market had been owned and operated by Chassidic Jews for as long as I can remember. Standing behind the counter was a young African American man; all of the other employees in the store were also African American, the store was comfortable and welcoming and everyone seemed to be mingling naturally. They are, obviously, completely trusted and valued employees by the current owners. I stood at the counter to purchase my items and upon leaving, I said to him, “Zei Gezunt” (Be well) He immediately responded, “Zei Gebentshed” (Be blessed). I was a bit taken aback! I said to him then, “Far Shteis Yiddish?” (You understand Yiddish?) He responded, “A Bisel” (A little).

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Crown Heights, the same neighborhood I grew up in, where 50 years ago you couldn’t GIVE away a house, due to conflict and instability; now the same houses are going for more than a million dollars.

The Rebbe’s vision of one people, of maintaining relationships with all, each one with their own, individual traditions and beliefs, has made progress over these years. Yes, we still have a long way to go. But looking back at my neighborhood over the last 50 years, one cannot say it is even close to the same environment I grew up in, much has been accomplished and things have certainly changed for the better. Two steps forward, one step back is still traveling in a positive direction.

 As we are still experiencing the tragedies of the last few weeks, let us remember the above as an example of positive change; two steps forward, one step back.

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We are coming closer to the Messianic period. The period where Rambam writes in Hilchot Melachim chapter 11: “When Meshiach will come he will then improve the entire world motivating all the nations to serve G-d together, as Zephaniah 3:9 states: ‘I will make the people pure of speech that they all will call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose.’”

Chapter 12 states: “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d.”

May this happen speedily in our time.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin - Community Invitation!‏

In tribute to our dear Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, of righteous memory, on the 22nd anniversary of his passing. Gimmel Tammuz, Parsha Korach.

“He knows, he knows…”

(Excerpted from The NewYork Times, Monday July 4th edition. Article by Joseph Berger. And Chabad.org, article “I Shall Teach you to sing” by Michael Chighel)

Elie Wiesel, the Auschwitz survivor who became an eloquent witness for the six million Jews slaughtered in World War II and who, more than anyone else, seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience, died on Saturday [July 2nd, 2016] at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.

Mr. Wiesel, a charismatic lecturer and humanities professor, was the author of several dozen books. But he was defined not so much by the work he did as by the gaping void he filled. In the aftermath of the Germans’ systematic massacre of Jews, no voice had emerged to drive home the enormity of what had happened and how it had changed mankind’s conception of itself and of G-d. For almost two decades, the traumatized survivors – and the American Jews, guilt-ridden that they had not done more to rescue their brethren – seemed frozen in silence.

“Wiesel is a messenger to mankind.” [His] Nobel Peace Prize citation said. “His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed,” Mr. Wiesel wrote. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my G-d and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as G-d himself. Never.”

Mr. Wiesel went on to write novels, books of essays and reportage, two plays and even two cantatas. While many of his books were nominally about topics like Soviet Jews or Chassidic masters, they all dealt with profound questions resonating out of the Holocaust: What is the sense of living in a universe that tolerates unimaginable cruelty? How could the world have been mute? How can one go on believing?

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During his life Mr. Wiesel frequently met and corresponded with the Holy Rebbe. In 1992, Wiesel spoke at a congressional dinner in Washington DC on the occasion of the Rebbe’s 90th birthday. “I hope I will always remember what I felt when I was first introduced into his study, some 30 years ago, and what we said to one another,” recalled Wiesel. “Time in his presence begins running at a different pace. You feel inspired, you feel self-examined, you are made to wonder about the quest for meaning which ought to be yours. In his presence nothing is superficial, nor is it artificial. In his presence you come closer in touch with your inner sense of gravity.”

“Thanks to the Rebbe, a Jew becomes a better Jew, thus a better human being, thus making his fellow human beings more human, more hospitable, open to greater sense of generosity.”

One of Mr. Wiesel’s books, The Gates of the Forest has a full section detailing a specific meeting he had with the Rebbe. The following is a letter the Holy Rebbe wrote to Mr. Wiesel in response to that meeting.

“I agree with you, of course, that the complaint “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justice?” [Gen. 18:25] can be authentic and can have its proper force only when it breaks forth from the pain-filled heart of a deep believer. Moreover we find that indeed the first one who ever expressed this complaint was Abraham our father, the greatest believer and the father of “believers, sons of believers” [Shabbat 97a]. We are also told by the sages that the first to have posed the question of “the righteous one who suffers, the wicked one who prospers” was none other than our teacher Moses [Berachot 7a], the same one who explicated to the Jews, and to the entire world, the idea of “I am the L‑rd your G‑d” and “you shall have no other gods” [Exod. 20:2], where the category of “other gods” includes the human intellect and understanding, when one makes these into idols and supreme authorities.

For this reason I was surprised that you did not see the course of thought through to the end and bring out its conclusion. After all—as you know—the answer to the complaint of Moses our teacher— according to the account of our sages, of blessed memory, when shown how Rabbi Akiva’s flesh was ripped off with iron combs, etc., Moses our teacher burst out: “This is Torah, and this is its reward?!”—the answer to this was: “Silence! Thus it arises in the supernal Mind!”

[ . . . ] Nevertheless, this did not weaken the faith of Moses our teacher, nor that of other authentic questioners and men. On the contrary, this only served to strengthen their faith, something to be found explicitly in the case of Job; likewise in the case of Abraham our father, who not only stood fast by his faith but was also able to withstand every test; and likewise the other “rebels” who maintained a deep faith until the last day of their lives.

I think you will agree with me that it is no mere coincidence that all authentic questioners retained their trust in G‑d. Rather, it could in no way be otherwise. So long as the question is asked with integrity, it is logical that such a deep feeling can come only from the conviction that true justice is the justice that stems from asuper-human source, that is, from something higher than both human intellect and human feeling. It is for this reason precisely that the question unsettles not only a person’s emotion and intellect, but also his interiority and the essence of his being.

But after the initial tempestuous assault, he has to realize that the entire approach on which the question is based, and of wishing to understand with the intellect that which is higher than the intellect, is something that cannot take place. Moreover, he must—after a rattling outrage and a thorough grieving—ultimately come to the conclusion: Nevertheless I believe [ani maamin]! On the contrary—even more strongly.”

This is the subtext, the full content, of the Rebbe’s rhetorical response, “How can you not believe in G‑d after Auschwitz?”

One must read it over a few times, especially the last line, to appreciate the radical and revolutionary character of the Rebbe’s response to the question of Auschwitz. Whereas various writers on Holocaust theology have suggested in various ways that a Jew must continue to believe in G‑d despite Auschwitz, not a single voice has had the temerity, or the radical logic, to suggest that a Jew must continue to believe in G‑d because of Auschwitz. For the Rebbe, Auschwitz is not something that should weaken one’s belief and trust in G‑d. “On the contrary,” says the Rebbe, Auschwitz should bring one to place one’s faith in G‑d “even more strongly!”

Yes, we must prosecute G‑d for Auschwitz. Yes, we must demand from G‑d that He give us an explanation. (After all, we cannot explain it with our human intellect.) But in order to prosecute G‑d, we must believe that G‑d is there, and that G‑d is inherently benevolent. Without those two fundamental assumptions, the question cannot be asked at all. In the very demand for an explanation, we affirm our trust in G‑d and in His goodness. What the Rebbe wished to impress upon Wiesel was the already operative reality of the emunah, the faith and trust, upon which Wiesel’s own fury was premised in all his arguments against G‑d.

In light of this extraordinary epistle, those who are familiar with Wiesel’s writings can see how that long night in the Rebbe’s quarters in Brooklyn was indeed, as Wiesel says, “a turning point in my writing.” Wiesel not only went on to write many books on biblical, Midrashic, Talmudic and Chassidic themes. In retrospect, he came to appreciate his entire corpus as an expression, howbeit gnarled and broken, of emunah. As he states in his Memoirs:

“I have never renounced my faith in G‑d. I have risen against His justice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith and not outside it. I admit that this is hardly an original position. It is part of Jewish tradition. [ . . . ] Abraham and Moses, Jeremiah and Rebbe Levi-Yitzhak of Berdichev teach us that it is permissible for man to accuse G‑d, provided it be done in the name of faith in G‑d. If that hurts, so be it. Sometimes we must accept the pain of faith so as not to lose it.”

By the end of the long soul-searching session with the Rebbe, Wiesel came to confess, or rather to discover, why he really came to see the Rebbe. “. . . You asked me what I expect of you, and I said I expect nothing. I was mistaken. Make me able to cry.”

In the original Yiddish version of the book that came to be called Night, Wiesel recalls how the death of his father in Buchenwald had traumatized his capacity for tears. The light of his world was extinguished, he writes. “But I did not cry, and this is what causes me the most grief: this inability to cry. The heart had petrified; the fountainhead of tears had dried up.” When Wiesel pleads with the Rebbe, “Make me able to cry!” we understand that this is not some incidental request blurted out during that yechidus, or some flourish added to a fictional novel for dramatic effect. The request is nothing less that Wiesel’s secret reason for coming to the Rebbe. He did not come expecting the Rebbe to change the past. And if he came in order to challenge the Rebbe and to hear him fail to defend G‑d, he was disappointed in this, as we have seen. Wiesel came to the Rebbe for the same reason that anyone ever went to Rebbe: he went to discover his true request. And so the face-to-face with the Rebbe, the being-seen by the Rebbe, allowed him to see his true self, and to articulate his deep-felt need to become transparent to himself. “Make me able to cry!”

And the Rebbe’s response? Did the Rebbe put his arms around the broken man and allow him to experience his long-awaited catharsis? Did he come forth with his famous paternal love, and allow Wiesel to weep on his shoulder and mourn for the father lost in Buchenwald?

Again the Rebbe responded in an unexpected manner. Yes, he did encourage Wiesel to find the needed catharsis for his grief. But not in weeping. Because weeping is not an adequate form of catharsis for the colossal suffering of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The Rebbe shook his head.

“That’s not enough. I shall teach you to sing.”

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In 1982, Chabad of the Pacific Northwest sponsored an evening with Mr. Wiesel. After the memorable event at the Seattle Playhouse in Downtown Seattle I personally escorted him to the airport for his red-eye flight back to New York. As we were approaching the gate I asked him, “Do you write to the Rebbe about your visits to all these different places you speak at?”

He looked at me intently and said in Yiddish, “Er Veis. Er Veis.” (“He knows. He knows.”)

As we prepare for the 22nd Yahrzeit of the Holy Rebbe, this Shabbos, Parsha Korach (3 Tammuz, July 9th), let us remain steadfast to the Thirteen Principles of Faith based upon the formulation of Rambam, Maimonides in his commentary to Mishnah (Sanhedrin Chapter 10).

As the Holy Rebbe said to Mr. Wiesel, “Ani Maamin.” (“I believe.”)

Have a beautiful, transformative Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

 

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Here's My Story - Dr Serebro‏

Dear Friend, 

I am pleased to send you this week’s (Shlach) edition of Here’s My Story. In memory of Mrs. Magda Schaloum on her first Yahrzeit, 22 Sivan 5776.

Dr. Harold Serebro is a medical practitioner, entrepreneur and author of several books. He served as a trustee of President Mandela’s Empowerment Award Program. He was interviewed on our trip to Johannesburg, South Africa in August of 2014.

Colorhttp://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/06/177.-Bechukosai-5776.pdf

Black and White:http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/06/178.-Bechukosai-5776-BW.pdf

Warm wishes for a good Shabbos, 

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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