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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

 FROM THE DESK OF RABBI LEVITIN.jpg

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.

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