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1399: Vayeshev

December 4, 2015 - 22 Kislev, 5776

1399: Vayeshev

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1398: Vayishlach 

Spiritual Pyromania  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Teachings  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Spiritual Pyromania

by Izzy Greenberg

Chanuka offers a tremendous opportunity to meditate by the lights of the menora, and the flame of a candle makes a beautiful visual analogy for the experience of life on earth. If you stare into the flame of an oil lamp or candle, you become fixated by the flickering fire, the way the flame defies gravity in its graceful movements. It seems to want to fly away, pulling upwards as if inhaling a breath of fresh air, yet it remains anchored to the wick below. Each upsurge is followed by a corresponding retraction, followed by an even greater resurgence... until it seems as though the flame is going to burst forth off the wick and explode into a psychedelic skyscape. But then the flame is calm once again.

This is the ebb and flow of life.

Our Soul, the core of our being, is like a flame. It wants to always surge upwards, to disengage from the limitation of its wick, the body and the physical world that keep it grounded; it wants to engage in unbounded inspiration beyond what the body can contain, and return to its spiritual source. It reaches for ever-increasing extraordinary heights, reaching an ecstatic climax that puts it at the brink of bursting out of its bodily box. But at that very moment, the Soul comes down to earth against its will. It knows that the ultimate purpose is to make all that inspiration and ecstasy dwell down here in the physical world.

In this vein, we struggle for a lifetime, dancing on the fine line between our desire for otherworldly euphoria and our mission to plough through the rough earth and make this world a spiritual continent.

Without oil, the wick will quickly burn out, utterly consumed by the intensity of the flame. It is the oil that enables the two to coexist, and fuels the flame while it is attached to the wick. So, too, the oil of Torah, especially the way it is illuminated by the mystical teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidut, provides fuel for the Soul's fiery existence and enables it to perform its ultimate mission - to remain united with the body and be spiritual within a physical world.

The giving of the Torah 3300 years ago was the wedding day of G-d and the Jewish people, and it is an event that is relived every time a Jew plunges into the wisdom of G-d. Every day presents us with the opportunity to experience the energy of our cosmic wedding day - exactly the way it was originally, and even higher - by experiencing the light of studying the inner dimensions of Torah.

May we have a Chanuka that is infused with spiritual pyromania, riding the waves of light to a future where our awareness of the Infinite will permeate the earth like the waters cover the sea - literally.

Izzy Greenberg, a writer, scholar and teacher, and the Creative Director of Tekiyah Creative. To learn more and to read his writings, visit

Living with the Rebbe

The main part of this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, deals with the jealousy of Jacob's sons towards Joseph which caused them to sell him into slavery. In the midst of this narration, we read how Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law, was informed that he was about to come to the town of Timna to shear his sheep. In the words of the Torah: "And it was related to Tamar, saying, `behold, your father-in-law is coming up to Timna to shear his flocks'."

The Torah does not detail the nature of a person's coming and going if not absolutely germane to the content of the narrative. Why, then, does the verse specify the ascent in the story of Tamar?

The great sage, Rashi, in an innovative interpretation of the above verse, explains that Timna was a town located on the slopes of a mountain. He states: "You ascend to it from one direction and descend to it from the other."

The expression of ascent, therefore, is pertinent in the story of Tamar. Since Timna was on the mountain-slope, and Tamar was planning to go and meet Judah, she would not know from which direction he was coming unless the direction was mentioned.

A person's spiritual service is like ascending a mountain. A mountain climber cannot stop mid-way on the steep slope, for in that position it is almost impossible to prevent himself from losing his footing and falling. He must climb steadily upward without pause. Similarly, in ascending the "mountain of G-d" (Psalms 24:3) a constant upwards movement is vital, not only for the purpose of going higher, but also to ensure that one does not fall lower. One should not be satisfied with his present spiritual level, for such complacency is the beginning of descent.

The upcoming mitzva (commandment) of the Chanuka lights lends particular emphasis to this teaching. Every night of Chanuka a new light must be added, for spiritual affairs must always be in ascendancy. If one failed to add an additional light on the fourth night of Chanuka (for example), he has not merely failed to ascend higher on that day - he has slipped down from the previous day's level. Yesterday he lit three candles, an increase from the day before; he fulfilled the mitzva with the extra devotion required; he was on the upswing, in ascendancy. Not so today. His level has fallen. To observe the mitzva today with the same devotion as yesterday, he must increase his commitment!

From A Thought for the Week - Detroit, adapted by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Kagan

A Slice of Life

A Train Crash, A Missing Spouse, A Day in the Life of Two Chabad Rabbis
by Baila Olidort

Sunday morning, 11:00, Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Riverdale, NY was at the funeral of Rabbi Dr. Jack Sable, founding rabbi of The Riverdale Jewish Center, in Riverdale, NY, when his smartphone vibrated urgently.

It was Houston calling.

Rabbi Mendel Blecher, of Chabad of The Woodlands needed his colleague's help. A woman from the Houston area was injured in the Metro-North train crash in the Bronx, a mile and a half from Chabad of Riverdale. Her husband was frantically trying to get in touch with her. Could he help locate her?

Sunday was a particularly packed day on Shemtov's calendar. The funeral, a bar mitzvah, and preparations for the grand menorah lighting event later that evening at the Bell Tower Monument in the Bronx would consume most of his day.

Then he got this text about the woman in the train crash. And then a phone call from a community member whose mom had just died at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Would the rabbi please go there to do whatever rabbis do to ensure that the body is properly handled?

Shemtov prayed silently for a Chanukah miracle that would allow him to be there for both.

A flurry of text messages and phone calls between the two Chabad rabbis ensued as they each did their own research to find the hospital Sherrill was taken to.

At home in Houston, Chase Patton was in distress. He got a call from his wife Sherrill at 6:29 central time Sunday morning. The Metro-North train she and her two friends were riding had crashed in the Bronx. Banged-up and bruised, she was alive. Then the phone line went dead.

Chase, a postal worker, tried calling back but there was no answer. An hour later, she called again saying that she and her friends were being taken to separate hospitals. She hung up abruptly.

Two hours later with no word from Sherrill and no way of reaching her, Chase began to stress. "That's when news reports started to come in about the dying victims," said Chase in a phone interview with "It was pure panic."

Four people were killed in that accident. Traveling with friends to New York for a 30th year high-school reunion, Sherrill was among 60 injured passengers.

"I knew that she always underestimates her injuries," said Chase. "After losing a child [their eldest son passed away 12 years ago] and not knowing what's going on with my spouse, I felt the fear of losing her."

Chase called the police. He called two local television stations. He called his Chabad rabbi.

Chanukah Sunday would be a busy day for most Chabad rabbis. Rabbi Blecher got an early start preparing for the grand menorah lighting at Market Street in The Woodlands, a township 30 minutes north of Houston, when he got the call from Chase.

Gravitating to the warmth he found with Rabbi Blecher, Chase recently began coming to Chabad. Now he was desperate to find his wife, and amid the panic "the thought of calling Rabbi Blecher popped into my head."

The rabbis worked their phones. Shemtov narrowed it down to two hospitals: Montefiore or Columbia Presbyterian. Blecher called them both and texted Shemtov with his findings.

Blecher: 622 w 168th St adult emergency room Section D

Shemtov: I will be there in 15 minutes.

Rabbi Shemtov felt a nod from G-d. Both exigencies were at Columbia Presbyterian.

Stopping first at the hospital mortuary at Columbia Presbyterian, Shemtov made arrangements for shmira, the traditional vigil over the body, and for a Jewish burial. Then he made his way to the emergency room.

He had no idea what Sherrill looked like. With all the patients behind curtains, the best he could do was call out her name. "I walked around calling 'Sherrill' until someone answered my call."

A bruised, but very much alive Sherrill Patton introduced herself to the rabbi. Her face lit up. "Oh my Chabad rabbi, Mendel Blecher must have sent you," she said.

She had no cell service, she told Rabbi Shemtov.

Shemtov tried a hospital landline but that didn't work either. Now his phone had no reception either. He suggested that Sherrill come out with him to the lobby, where perhaps he'll get a signal so that her husband can hear her voice. The two walked together until the rabbi's phone bars lit up.

Rabbi Shemtov called Chase.

"Your wife is fine. I am here with her."

Overcome with relief, Chase choked up, speechless.

Shemtov handed the phone to Sherrill.

It took a few minutes for Chase to regain his composure, before husband and wife could speak.

Before the day was over, Rabbi Shemtov would be greeting hundreds at the Bronx's tallest menorah at the Bell Tower Monument lighting. It was five lights that night, an especially auspicious night for miracles.

In Houston, Chase Patton was in his own celebratory mood. When he and his two children joined Rabbi Blecher and 300 others at the Market Street lighting in The Woodlands, local Channel 2 news pulled Chase aside for an interview. He spoke about his ordeal and his own Chanukah miracle.

"What the police couldn't do for me, and what the media couldn't do for me, Chabad did," a very relieved, grateful man offered.

Reprinted from - Lubavitch International

What's New

World's Largest Menora

Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. Sunday, Dec. 6 through Thursday, Dec. 10, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, the menora will be lit at 3:40 p.m. Saturday night, Dec. 12, menora lighting will be at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. On Sunday there will be live music, free hot latkes and chocolate Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 778-6000. For public menora lightings in your area visit

The Rebbe Writes

Chanukah, 5735 [1974]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased, as usual, to receive regards from you through our friend Rabbi S.B. L-, though it was with mixed feelings that I received the special message which he conveyed in your behalf regarding the vital Torah institution which it was your great Zechus [privilege] to help create, support and develop to the present stage, with exemplary dedication and enthusiasm.

I say "mixed feelings," because the fact that it has run into a deficit is a good sign of its rapid growth in terms of student enrollment and program expansion. At the same time it gives impressive evidence of its vital service to the community. Ultimately - in terms of real values and services - it is this side of the balance sheet that is important, while the financial deficit is surely of secondary importance, or less. There is no need to enlarge on this assessment to you, since we have discussed it more than once, personally and by correspondence.

I was further pleased to receive your message during Chanukah, the events of which occurred "in those days," but they are just as valid "at this time." Chanukah teaches us - to paraphrase the prayer of "V'al Hanissim" - that the "few" and the "weak" (in a material sense) do overcome even overwhelming odds, and so decisively as to bring about a "great deliverance and redemption." And the reason for this is that they represent the "pure," "righteous," and "those engaged in Thy Torah."

A further, and general, point is to look at such a situation realistically, as I believe we also had occasion to mention it. It is that a deficit in terms of students, namely if even one boy (or girl) is turned away, can be an irretrievable loss, for that boy (or girl) may become a casualty of the pernicious forces of assimilation, etc., whereas a financial deficit can always be made good, if not today then tomorrow, or the day after, with Gd's help. Here, too, a successful American businessman like yourself knows very well what the real score is.

In light of the above, my opinion is that if it is possible to make some economies where there is duplication and the like, it may be justified, provided that it in no way whatever jeopardizes the institution to affect even remotely the enrollment of students and the vital programs. These may be affected not only directly, by lowering the educational standards or limiting scholarships, etc., but also indirectly, by giving a mother a possible excuse for not enrolling a child by finding fault with the material and physical aspects of the institution.

Thus, the administration can determine what can be done to effect economies, as above, but not at the expense of the students, those dear souls of whom our Sages said that each Jewish soul is like a whole world.

As mentioned above, I was particularly pleased to receive your message in the days of Chanukah, for the Festival of Lights truly sheds light on this problem too. Chanukah reminds every one of us of the vital need to kindle lights in growing numbers from day to day. "Light" for a Jew is the eternal light of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] (Ner-Mitzvo v'Torah-Or). These are auspicious days for every Jew to help increase this light, and I want to take advantage of this opportunity to have a Zechus in helping reduce the deficit by the enclosed check from one of my special funds.

Having done this, I am emboldened to express my hope and confidence that not only will there be no limitation on the absorption of students, but, on the contrary, every effort will be made to increase the student body and illuminate these young souls, which are also called "lights," as it is written, "The soul of man is the candle of Gd," namely lights which Gd has sent down to earth to light up the darkness of this world. And may all this be in a steadily growing measure, in accordance with the teachings of the Chanukah lights which we kindle in growing numbers from day to day, as mentioned above.

Because of the urgency and importance of this matter, the letter is sent to you by airmail special delivery.

With warm personal regards and with blessing,

P.S. In view of the fact that your message was received during Chanukah, and so is this letter written in these auspicious days, I take the liberty of fulfilling an old Jewish custom of sending Chanukah-Gelt [money]. I trust you will do me the pleasure to accept it for yourself, Mrs. L- and your son, about whom you wrote to me.


Ever since the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash we lack many of the conditions that allow for the mitzva (commandment) of Hakhel to be performed properly thus rendering it halachically inapplicable in our times. (Sefer Hachinuch mitzva 612) None of these absences, however, have any effect whatsoever on the relevance of the mitzva's essence and goal, namely to "encourage them to scrupulously observe the mitzvot and tighten their hold on to the religion of truth."

(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, laws of Chagigah 3:1)

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Once again this year, the Lubavitch Youth Organization will be lighting the "World's Largest Menora" on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Ninth Street near Central Park in Manhattan. The three-story, 4000-pound steel Menora, designed by Yaacov Agam, proudly stands thirty-two-feet high.

Thirty-two feet, or 20 cubits, is the maximum height established by our Sages for a menora. They instituted this maximum height so that people who pass by would be able to lift their eyes naturally and see the Chanuka lights.

The Chanuka lights are a reminder to every Jew that G-d performed two miracles for us over 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel. The first miracle, the more "famous" of the two, was that the oil for the Temple menora lasted not one but eight days until new, pure oil could be procured. The second miracle is, perhaps, just as well known, though not always recognized as a miracle. It is the miracle of the few over the many, the success of the small Jewish army against the great Greek military machine.

When we lift up our eyes, "naturally" to see the lights of the Chanuka menora, let us remember the obvious miracle which the eight-branched candlabra symbolizes. And also, let us not forget the less publicized miracle that G-d wrought for our ancestors, a miracle He performed because of their zealousness for Him.

May we merit this year to light the Menora in the Third Holy Temple with Moshiach, NOW!

Thoughts that Count

These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph (Gen. 37:2)

The name Joseph (Yosef) is from the Hebrew meaning to add or increase. Jacob is symbolic of every Jew. The lesson to be derived is that a Jew must never allow himself to stagnate, but must always climb upward along the spiritual "ladder" of Judaism.

(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov)

They hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him (Gen. 37:4)

The main component of all controversy is the absence of dialogue, the unwillingness to listen to what someone else has to say and understand it from his perspective. If people would really know how to talk to each other, most of the time they would discover that they have nothing to argue about.

(Rabbi Yonasan Eibeschitz)

When she gave birth there were twins...and he called his name Peretz, ... he called his name Zerach (Gen. 38:27-30)

Our Sages compare Zerach to the sun and Peretz to the moon. The sun continuously shines in an unchanging manner; thus it symbolizes the constant way that the righteous serve G-d. The moon's appearance, however, waxes and wanes. The moon thus symbolizes ba'alei teshuva (penitents), who strayed and then returned. The royal house of David, the very source of Moshiach, is precisely from Peretz (the moon), because Moshiach will bring even the righteous tzadikim to return to their Divine source.

(Likutei Sichot Vol. XXX)

And on the vine were three branches (Gen. 40:10)

According to our Sages, the Jews are likened to the vine, the fruit of which "gladdens G-d and man." For within every Jew exists this attribute of "wine" - the innate ability to delight in G-dliness, an inheritance from our ancestors. This love for G-d is hidden deep inside, much like the wine is hidden in the grape. Likewise, just as squeezing the grape releases the treasure within, so does personal refinement and self-nullification reveal this inner love and bring it to its potential.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

Everyone knew of the tzadik (righteous person) from Sassov, Rabbi Moshe Leib. Thousands of people constantly streamed to him to ask for blessings and advice on personal and business matters, and he never refused them his precious time.

Once, when Rabbi Moshe Leib was visiting the town of Brod, a wealthy woman came to him to ask him to pray for the recovery of her daughter who was seriously ill. When the woman introduced herself and mentioned her father's name, Rabbi Moshe Leib realized that he knew of her family, who were famous for their generosity to the needy.

As the conversation progressed the wealthy woman described her child's illness, and the tzadik promised to pray for her. As it was customary to give the tzadik a monetary donation to distribute among the poor or for a specific urgent cause, the woman removed an envelope from her purse and placed it on the table, but Rabbi Moshe Leib refused to accept it. "I don't want money from you!" he said.

"But Rabbi, what do you mean? What is it that you want from me? I will do anything in the world to help my daughter!"

"I know that you have a very beautiful and precious Chanuka menora. That is what I want!" Rabbi Moshe Leib said quietly.

"Rabbi, I do have the menora you describe, but it is a family heirloom and my most precious possession. However, if you want it, I will gladly give it to you!"

The Rebbe listened carefully, nodding his head. "I am aware that the menora is very special and precious to your family. If you agree to let me have it, you must mean this most sincerely; you must give it to me with no compunctions or inner doubts whatsoever."

"I understand completely, and I agree wholeheartedly. The menora is yours; I will bring it to you today," the woman said in a strong, firm voice.

That evening, when she came and presented the menora to Rabbi Moshe Leib, his students were buzzing with amazement. How had the Rebbe known about the menora's existence? Why had the Rebbe asked for a gift, something so far out of character? And why in the world did he want it anyway, when it was a known fact that he used only the menora he had received from his teacher and Rebbe, Reb Shmelke of Nicholsburg?

On the first night of Chanuka, as the Rebbe prepared to light the first wick, Reb Yechiel Tzoref the silversmith stood at his side. He had no idea why he had been chosen for this great honor, but he was beaming with happiness. After the light was kindled, the Rebbe beckoned to Reb Yechiel to enter his study. "I want to tell you a story about your grandfather, may he rest in peace, for whom you were named.

"When the time came for your grandfather to arrange a match for his daughter, he was so poor, he couldn't find a suitor. No one would lend him money, since it was obvious he could never return the loan. After exhausting all of his acquaintances he decided to approach a certain very wealthy man. When he asked him to lend him money to arrange a marriage for his daughter, the wealthy man replied, 'I know you will never be able to repay me, but I will make a deal with you. I know that you own a very beautiful menora, the likes of which I have never seen. If you will give it to me, I will give you 10,000 gulden, enough for the marriage and even more!'

"When Reb Yechiel heard the demand, he was shocked. It was his most precious possession. He, himself, had made it from silver coins that his Rebbe, Reb Zushe of Anipoli, had distributed to his Chasidim each year as Chanuka 'gelt.' Reb Yechiel had collected the prized coins year by year. When he had amassed quite a collection, Reb Yechiel melted them down and formed from them a magnificent menora. It was this menora which the rich man wanted. No, thought Reb Yechiel, he couldn't even think of relinquishing it.

"Having refused the rich man's offer, Reb Yechiel went everywhere to try to borrow the money, but in the end he failed. He had no choice but to accept the rich man's terms and part with his beloved menora. When the wealthy man passed away and stood before the Heavenly Court there was great confusion as to how to rule in his case. On the one hand, the rich man had certainly performed the mitzva (commandment) of giving money to help poor brides. But on the other hand, he had coveted the prized possession of a poor man and caused him great pain.

"Finally, the Court reached a decision. The wealthy man's reward would be withheld, since the mitzva was intertwined with the sin of coveting the possession of another.

"That is why I have arranged to return the menora to you, his grandson. The sin has now been atoned for, and the wealthy benefactor of your grandfather will rest in peace, enjoying his eternal reward."

Moshiach Matters

Each night of Chanuka, we add a new candle. Even though the previous night, we carried out the mitzva (commandment) in the fullest and most complete manner possible, tonight another candle has to be lit, for "one must always proceed further in holy matters." A parallel to this concept applies regarding our behavior. When we carry out G-d's mission we must realize that G-d both commands and grants the potential for us to "proceed further in holy matters," generating more light, each day according to the light that existed the day before. This course of behavior will lead to the time when G-d will "show us the candles of Zion" and we will dedicate the third Holy Temple.

(The Rebbe, first day of Chanuka, 1980, to the Children of Tzivos Hashem)

  1398: Vayishlach 
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