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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏ | Appreciation and Love

This week’s Torah Thought comes from Chayenu-Daily Torah Study
Excerpted from: The one-volume Synagogue Edition of the Kehot Chumash, based on the works of The Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Translated and adapted by: Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky
General Editor: Rabbi Chaim N. Cunin
Produced and copyrighted by: Chabad House Publications
Published by: Kehot Publication Society Available for purchase at 

Parshas Eikev- Wednesday 20th Av, 72nd Yahrzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn obm. Father of our Holy Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, obm. Please follow this link to find out more about the life of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn.

Appreciation and Love
Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

In the third section of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses continues his farewell address to the Jewish people. He exhorts them to observe even what appear to be minor commandments, which a person would be likely to figuratively trample with his heel (eikev, in Hebrew). He then continues his review of the events of the Jewish people’s 40-year trek in the desert, emphasizing the lessons to learn from them.

Parashat Eikev begins, “If you will hear…” Hearing is a lower level of perception than seeing. Indeed, the name of this parashah, Eikev, literally means “heel,” the lowest extremity of the body and perhaps it’s most insensitive part. On the other hand, hearing involves our interpretive efforts more than does seeing, since seeing is a more direct experience than hearing. We are more staunchly convinced of the truth of what we have seen than the truth of what we have merely heard. Attaining knowledge through hearing requires more effort.

The same holds true for Divine perception in the manner of “seeing” versus in the manner of “hearing.” The advantage of attaining Divine awareness via “hearing” is that it requires us to reach deeper into our personalities, forcing us to forge a more profound relationship with G-d than that which is accomplished through “seeing.” “Seeing” Divinity is more direct, more immediate, and more overwhelming, but it is at the same time more transitory. In contrast, “hearing” Divinity requires us to dig deeper, to work through our entire system of belief, until we reach the very bedrock of our Divine soul, which then serves as the basis of our commitment to our Divine mission in life.

This, perhaps, is why the verb “to listen” means not only “to hear with the ears” but also “to accede.” When we “hear” a truth consummately- in the very fiber of our being- we become committed to that truth.         

Paradoxically, then, it is hearing, rather than the more riveting experience of seeing, that enables us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly and totally to our Divine calling. This is one reason why the word for “if” in the opening phrase of this parashah (“If you will listen…”) literally means “heel”: the heel, as we noted, is the least sensitive limb of the body, and is thus a metaphor for raw commitment, the least emotionally engaging form of fulfilling our Divine mission.         

Raw commitment and self-discipline, essential though they may be as the immutable basis of our relationship with G-d, are not intended, of course, to be either the entirety or quintessence of that relationship. We are bidden to progress from “hearing” to “seeing” since the experience of seeing overtakes our entire consciousness; all our faculties of intellect, emotion, and expression are imbued with this heightened energy.

The culmination of this process is alluded to the following parashah, Re’eih, which opens with the words: “See, I have placed before you this day…” The implied promise is that if we fully and truly “hear,” as detailed in parashat Eikev, then even in the overall exilic context of “hearing,” we will be granted the ability to consciously experience the subconscious Divine sight that is implanted within us. Nonetheless, it is the work we do while only “hearing” that enables our subsequent “seeing” to remain a permanent feature of our psyches, rather than the fleeting glimpse of higher reality that it is by itself.

Thus, in this parashah, Moses continues his review of Jewish history with the immediate aftermath of the Giving of the Torah (which he recounted inparashat Va’etchanan): the incident of the Golden Calf and the mechanism of return to G-d and reconciliation with Him- teshuvah. Teshuvah is the underlying theme of the entire Book of Deuteronomy, but it receives particular emphasis inparashat Eikev, since it is the struggle to “hear” G-d, rather that the ecstasy of “seeing” Him, that characterizes the process of teshuvah.

The opening phrase of parashat Eikev is thus interpreted in the Midrash to refer allegorically to the messianic era. This is because “hearing,” aside from leading to “seeing,” also prepares us for the future messianic Redemption. As noted, “hearing” enables us to reach our own essence, and the result and reward of manifesting our Divine essence is the revelation of G-d’s essence that will occur after the final Redemption.

Have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Levitin

Vaeschanan - Nachamu | Here's My Story - Rabbi Schochet‏

Dear Friend, 

I am pleased to send you this week’s (Va'etchanan) edition of Here’s My Story

Rabbi Dovid Schochet has served the Jewish community of Toronto since 1957 and is presently the president of the Toronto Rabbinical Council. He was interviewed in his home in June of 2012.


Black and White:

Warm wishes for a good Shabbos, 
Rabbi Levitin 


Parshat Devarim 5776 – Tisha B’Av

This is Mesorah!

It was the night of Shemini Atzeres in the fall of 1966. My very close friend Rabbi Leibel Kaplan obm and I were on the way to Hakofis (the celebration of the conclusion of the Torah) with our Holy Rebbe. There was time for us to stop in his parents Sukkah for Kiddish; as we entered we saw his father speaking with another Rabbi. As we sat down and joined them, the other Rabbi said to me, “What is your name?” I told him and he asked, “Are you the grandson of Reb Shmuel Levitin?” I answered, “Yes!”

He said to me, “I will tell you a story about your grandfather.”

He proceeded to tell us that he had arrived in America as a young Yeshiva student in the early part of 1938; his family had sponsored his passage to America before the War started. He was from Lithuania and learned at the famous Yeshiva of Telz. He remembered that my grandfather had arrived before the Jewish New Year in summer 1938 as a personal emissary of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn obm. He told us that my grandfather was invited to lead a Chassidic Farbrengen at the famous Yeshiva Torah Vodaas by the Dean, Rabbi Mendlowitz obm.

He continued his story, “There was a huge crowd and your grandfather entered at about 8pm and sat down with us until about 5 in the morning. I had the good fortune to sit across from your grandfather and I did not leave his side until he concluded. For the entire night your grandfather shared with us insights into a vast array of Torah thought and learning, interspersed with L’Chaim and beautifulChassidic songs.”

“At the end of the night, he turned and, in front of those that were left, pointed to me and said, ‘THIS is Mesorah (Tradition)! Here is young man who has not moved for over 9 hours, listening to words of Torah that I have shared with you. have not said anything new. I have shared words I have heard from my Rebbe and what I have learned in my Yeshiva, imbuing it with Chassidic vitality and soul. But I am merely a conduit, and that’s what the Jewish people are. We carry on the Mesorah from generation to generation.’”


In that same spirit I am sending out to you this story about Reb Elchonon. I also sent this out last year during this time and it remains relevant today. 

47 years ago, Thursday evening the 3rd of Tammuz, I was privileged to have a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, OBM). In the course of the instructions that the Rebbe was sharing with me, he mentioned the great and Holy Rosh Yeshivah Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (OBM). Between the wars, Reb Elchonon was the Rosh Yeshivah (Dean) of the famous Yeshivah located in Baranovich Lithuania. The Rebbe spoke of Reb Elchonon with great reverence and his holy persona manifested the deep respect the Rebbe had for Reb Elchonon.

Reb Elchonon (OBM)

Tishah b’Av - Texts, Readings and Insights. A presentation based on Talmudic & Traditional Sources.Compiled by: Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer and Rabbi Shimon Finkelman. Pages 53-55.

Published 1992 by Mesorah Publications LTD. Brooklyn, NY 11232.


Reb Elchonon was martyred in the Kovno ghetto in 1941, after returning to Poland in the summer of 1939 from a trip to the United States. R’ Elchonon was fully cognizant that to return home was to risk death, yet he did so because he knew that his students needed him during those perilous times.

Among the first American troops to enter the death camps in the United States Army’s sweep across Europe was First Lieutenant Meyer Birnbaum, an Orthodox Jew who served in the United States Signal Corps. Birnbaum performed heroically to help save lives and bring comfort to the starving, stricken survivors. One day in Buchenwald, a gaunt Jewish survivor approached him and asked whether he had ever heard of R’ Elchonon. Lt. Birnbaum told the man that he remembered R’ Elchonon well from his stay in the United States from 1938-39. The Jew was happy that he had found a listener. He proceeded to tell his new friend that he had been with R’ Elchonon during those frightful, final days in Kovno. The fugitive had asked R’ Elchonon to explain why these horrors were befalling them. R’ Elchonon spoke, and this is what he said:

Once a man who knew nothing at all about agriculture came to a farmer and asked to be taught about farming. The farmer took him to his field and asked him what he saw. “I see a beautiful piece of land, lush with grass, and pleasing to the eye.” Then the visitor stood aghast while the farmer plowed under the grass and turned the beautiful green field into a mass of shallow brown ditches.

“Why did you ruin the field!” he demanded.

“Be patient. You will see,” said the farmer.

The farmer then showed his guest a sackful of plump kernels of wheat and said, “Tell me what you see.” The visitor described the nutritious, inviting grain – and then, once more watched in shock as the farmer ruined something beautiful. This time, he walked up and down the furrows and dropped kernels into the open ground wherever he went. Then he covered the kernels with clods of soil.

“Are you insane?” the man demanded. “First you destroyed the field and then you ruined the grain!”

“Be patient. You will see.”

Time went by, and once more the farmer took his guest out to the field. Now they saw endless, straight rows of green stalks sprouting up from all the furrows. The visitor smiled broadly.

“I apologize. Now I understand what you were doing. You made the field more beautiful than ever. The art of farming is truly marvelous.”

“No,” said the farmer. “We are not done. You must still be patient.”

More time went by and the stalks were fully grown. The farmer came with a sickle and chopped them all down as his visitor watched open-mouthed, seeing how the orderly field became an ugly scene of destruction. The farmer bound the fallen stalks into bundles and decorated the field with them. Later, he took the bundles to another area where he beat and crushed them until they became a mass of straw and loose kernels. Then he separated the kernels from the chaff and piled them up in a huge hill. Always he told his protesting visitor, “We are not done, you must be more patient.”

The farmer came with his wagon and piled it high with grain, which he took to a mill. There, the beautiful grain was ground into formless, choking dust. The visitor complained again. “You have taken grain and transformed it into dirt!” Again, he was told to be patient.

The farmer put the dust into sacks and took it back home. He took some dust and mixed it with water while his guest marveled at the foolishness of making “whitish mud.” Then the farmer fashioned the “mud” into the shape of a loaf. The visitor saw the perfectly formed loaf and smiled broadly, but his happiness did not last. The farmer kindled a fire in an oven and put the loaf into it.

“Now I know you are insane. After all that work, you burn what you have made.”

The farmer looked at him and laughed. “Have I not told you to be patient?”

Finally, the farmer opened the oven and took out a freshly baked bread – crisp and brown, with an aroma that made the visitor’s mouth water.

“Come,” the farmer said. He led his guest to the kitchen table where he cut the bread and offered his now-pleased visitor a liberally buttered slice.

Now,” the farmer said, “now you understand.”
G-d is the farmer and we are the ignorant visitors who do not begin to understand His ways or the outcome of His plan. Only when the process is complete and Redemption is a reality will the Jewish people know why all that transpired during this long and bitter exile had to happen. Until then, we must be patient and have faith that everything – even when it seems destructive and painful – is a part of the process that will produce goodness and beauty.


Some Laws and Customs of Tisha B’Av on Shabbos/Sunday (please go for ALL laws and customs relating to Tisha B’Av)

1. One may eat normal Shabbos meals but must end the third meal before sunset. Check sunset times in your community.

2. In all cases when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday (this year), it is forbidden to study Torah starting with Shabbos midday (aside from those sections of Torah which are permitted to be studied on Tisha B’Av).

3. Havdalah is recited on Sunday night. In the Saturday evening prayers, the usual Shabbos night insertion, “Atah Chonantanu,” is included. The prayer “Vihi Noam” is omitted. Those who have not recited the evening prayers should say, before doing any activity that is forbidden on Shabbos, “Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol” (“Blessed is He who separates between the holy [day of Shabbos] and the mundane [weekday]).

4. All bathing for pleasure is prohibited even in cold water including the hands, face and feet. 

5. Shoes made of leather (even partially) are prohibited. Shoes made of rubber, cloth or plastic are permitted.

6. The ill or elderly, as well as pregnant and nursing women should consult their Rabbi regarding fasting.

I hope you all have a wonderful Shabbos and an honest, contemplative reliving of the destruction of the Temples on this Tisha B’Av and the lessons we are charged with carrying forward to our future generations and (G-d willing) our eventual redemption.

Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Matot-Massei, Rosh Chodesh Av.

The Banquet  

I was attending a wedding approximately 15 years ago in Seattle. Everyone was in a jovial, happy mood. The joy and spirit was palpable and the music and food were wonderful. After a time, a Rabbi, who was in town from Israel, entered the wedding (uninvited) and made his way around the room quietly soliciting donations for his cause. One of the hosts approached him and asked him to leave. I overheard this exchange and immediately said to the host, “He can have my seat and portion of the meal. I am fine.” I beckoned the Rabbi to my seat. The host, though initially taken aback, later acknowledged me for my sensitivity


A Time of Mourning and Reflection

Today is Rosh Chodesh Av. (Friday, August 5 2016), which begins the “nine days” culminating with the Fast of Tisha B’Av. The Nine Days is a time where we relive and remember the Holy Temples (First and Second) and mourn their devastating destruction, which BOTH happened on Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) approximately 400 years apart. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the second by the Romans.

Talmud Gittin 55-2 says, “The incident which led to the destruction of the Second Temple:

As a result of the incident involving Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed. A certain man, who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza, made a banquet. He told his attendant, ‘Go and bring Kamtza to join me at the banquet.’ The attendant went and mistakenly brought him Bar Kamtza. When the host arrived at the banquet and found Bar Kamtza sitting there, he said to Bar Kamtza, ‘Look here, you are the enemy of me, what do you want here? Get up and get out!’ Bar Kamtza said to him, ‘Since I have come, let me stay, - and I will give you the value of whatever I eat and drink.’

The host said to Bar Kamtza, ‘No, I will not let you stay!’

Bar Kamtza responded, ‘I will give you the value of half your banquet.’

Again, the host said no.

Bar Kamtza said, ‘I will give you the value of your entire banquet.’

The host said, ‘No!’ and grabbed hold of Bar Kamtza with his hand, stood him up and ejected him from the banquet.

Bar Kamtza said to himself that the Rabbis who were seated at the banquet did not rebuke [the host] for the way he treated me, -it is evident that what [the host] did was acceptable to them. I will go and spread slander against the Rabbis in the royal palace.

He went and told Caesar, ‘The Jews have rebelled against you!’

Caesar said to him, ‘Who says so?’

Bar Kamtza said, ‘Send them an animal as a sacrifice and see whether they offer it in their Temple!’

Caesar went and sent a fine calf with Bar Kamtza. As he was going to Jerusalem, Bar Kamtza caused a blemish in the calf’s upper lip. The blemish was in a place where it is considered a blemish for us, i.e. for offering in the Temple, but is not considered a blemish for them, i.e. for offering outside the Temple. Although the animal was unfit to be offered in the Temple, the Rabbis considered offering it for the sake of peaceful relations with the Roman government. R’ Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, ‘But people will then say that blemished animals may be offered on the Altar!’ The Rabbis considered killing Bar Kamtza so that he would not be able to go and tell Caesar that the offering had been refused. R’ Zechariah said to them, ‘But people will then say that one who blemishes consecrated animals is put to death!’

R’ Yochanan said, ‘The tolerance displayed by R’ Zechariah ben Akvulas in refusing to have Bar Kamtza put to death destroyed our Temple, burned down our sanctuary and exiled us from our land.’”

The Macharam Schif clarifies: “In fact, the destruction of the Temple had already been Divinely decreed. This incident was effective only in causing the destruction to take place at that particular time.” The Maharsha adds, “Alternatively: Only the exile had already been decreed (as punishment for the unwarranted hatred that festered among the people). As far as the Temple was concerned, Caesar would have spared it had his sacrifice been offered in it. Now that his sacrifice was refused, he decided to destroy the Temple, arguing that it served him no purpose.”


Baseless Hatred

The Gemara, Yoma 9b states: “In the era of the second Temple, the people studied Torah and performed Mitvos, so why was the second Temple destroyed? Because there was baseless hatred among the people.”

The first Temple was destroyed because of, “three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed. (Yoma 9b). The second Temple was destroyed because, “Therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.” (Yoma 9b).


The Power of Love

The Torah records, following the birth of the twins Esau and Jacob– Parshas Toldos - their relationship was strained to the point of animosity. “Now Esau harbored hatred toward Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself (Parashas Toldos 27/41): ‘The days of mourning for my father will draw near, then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Rivkah, their mother seeing the hatred that Esau had toward Jacob, sent Jacob away. “So now, my son, heed my voice and arise; flee to my brother Laban, to Haran. And dwell with him for a few days until your brother’s wrath subsides.”

Jacob dwelled with Laban for many years. He married two of Laban’s daughters and had many sons. The time came for him to return to his father Isaac and the Land of Canaan. Parashas Vayeitzei 31/17, “Jacob arose and lifted his sons and his wives onto the camels. He led away all of his livestock and all his possessions that he had amassed.” On his return to the Land of Seir “Jacob sent angels before him to Esau.” “The angels returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother, to Esau; moreover, he is heading toward you, and four hundred men are with him. And Jacob became very frightened, and it distressed him. He took, from that which had come into his hand, a tribute to Esau his brother: She-goats, two hundred, and he-goats, twenty; ewes, two hundred, and rams, twenty; nursing camels and their young, thirty; cows, forty, and bulls, ten; she-donkeys, twenty, and he-donkeys, ten. He instructed his servants saying, ‘When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, “Whose are you, where are you going, and to whom are these that are before you?” You shall say, “Your servant’s, Jacob’s. It is a tribute sent to my lord Esau, and behold he, too, is behind us.”’(Parashas Vayishlach 32/4-9). Rashi elucidates that, “Jacob readied himself for three things: for paying tribute, for prayer and for war.”

Parashas Vayishlach 33/1, “Jacob raised his eyes and saw- and behold, Esau was coming, and with him, four hundred men… He went on ahead of them and bowed earthward seven times until he reached his brother. Esau ran toward him, and he embraced him, and fell upon his neck; and kissed him; and they wept.” Rashi elucidates on “He embraced him.” The Tanna R’ Shimon bar Yochai said: “It is a given fact that it is known that Esau hates Jacob, but his mercy was warmed at that time, and he kissed him with all of his heart.”

The Torah records that they went their separate ways at that time and Jacob did not have to resort to defense of his family from an attack from Esau.


A more recent example of what the effect of love and compassion on a hateful soul can accomplish come from the events of last year when a young man named Dylan Roof walked into a bible study group of African Americans in South Carolina and opened fire, killing nine people and wounding three.In the aftermath of the shooting, authorities said they found a racist manifesto Roof had posted on his website and modified just hours before the rampage. This site was filled with racial stereotypes and diatribes against black, Jewish and Hispanic people. What you might not remember are his words after the fact. From a Washington Post article dated June 19, 2015:

“Yet Roof also acknowledged to authorities that he had briefly reconsideredhis plan during the time he spent watching the Bible study group after entering the building, two people briefed on the investigation said.

‘Roof said he, “almost didn’t go through with it because they were so nice to him,’”

Although this horrific act was not avoided; for an ultra-radicalized neo-Nazi to admit that he nearly didn’t commit this act of hatred and violence it clearly says something about the power of love, acceptance and compassion.


“Arise and Renew”- Rambam

Tradition tells us that the Messiach is born on Tisha B’Av. Let us re-double our efforts in love and sensitivity to each other to undo the baseless hatred which caused the destruction of the Temples. To hasten that perfected time we must all be aware that our actions have an ability to change the course of the world and heighten our sensitivity and respect in a non-judgmental approach to our fellow man. We must embrace even those whom we don’t otherwise agree with or understand. May we merit that which the Rambam writes: “In the future, the Messianic King will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, returning it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel.” (Chapter 11 Hilchot Melachim) As Isaiah 11:9 states, “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the sea fills the ocean bed.”

Have a good Rosh Chodesh, and a transformative Shabbos.

Rabbi Levitin

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