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Welcome. Come right in. We're so happy you could make it. We're celebrating our fourth birthday with a farbrengen--a gathering (in the vernacular)--and you are invited to participate. As is done at all chasidishe birthday farbrengens, we'll say a few "l'chaims," discuss some thoughts from the Torah, make some good resolutions, give tzedaka, and scrutinize ourselves a little.
Is your glass ready? (Crystal-clear water will do just fine if you'll be driving after the farbrengen.)
May we all live long lives, in good health, and with good jobs and ample salaries. L'chaim, l'chaim!
In fact, may we have more money even than the tremendous wealth with which the Jews left Egypt--and may we merit G-d's blessings for wealth by resolving to give more than our usual amount of charity. L'chaim, l'chaim.
Now that we've loosened up with a few l'chaims, let's sing a chasidishe tune--a nigun. Yes, you know a nigun; historically, many secular tunes were adopted by chasidim and became nigunim--wordless tunes that prove the saying, "Music is the pen of the soul."
Do you know the "Marseillaise," the French national anthem? In 1973, with the arrival of the first large group of French Jews to Lubavitch World Headquarters, the Rebbe encouraged the singing of the "Marseillaise" in a Shabbat farbrengen. The lively march was quickly adopted within Lubavitch circles and frequently sung at gatherings. So hum it now, a few times, or sing it using "di-di-di" instead of words.
By now you're undoubtedly getting into the swing of things. But, since some of our guests might need to leave soon, let's discuss some Torah thoughts while everyone's still here; we can save the resolutions, tzedaka and introspection for a little later.
We're here, all together, celebrating the fourth birthday of L'Chaim, founded in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita.
Though the Rebbetzin passed away four years ago, in many ways she is still alive. How so? Concerning our ancestor Jacob it says: "Just as his seed are alive, so, too, is he alive." Most commentators interpret "seed" as "children." But seed can also mean any positive thought, word, or deed that a person plants, nurtures and brings to fruition.
When a person thinks of doing something positive, speaks about it with others, makes practical plans, and then actually executes those plans, he brings his 'seeds' to life. And when the good of these deeds continues on after the person passes from this world, then, in a very real sense that person is still alive.
Such was the case with the Rebbetzin. But, not only do her own innumerable good deeds continue on. Also, in her lifetime and after, she inspired others to do good deeds, too.
Each one of us can resolve to bring to fruition each kernel of good thought, each bud of positive discus-sion, to nurture and carefully tend each productive action until they affect not only our own lives, but also the lives of everyone around us.
And this, in fact, is the birthday resolution of the L'Chaim staff.
In the area of charity, we will send complimentary L'Chaim subscriptions to some of the Jewish inmates who have requested it.
As for sincere introspection which should, hopefully, lead to improvement in all areas, we'll pause now for a few minutes.
Thank you all so much for joining us at our birthday farbrengen.
But, before you go, please join us in one last l'chaim:
May we all merit to greet Moshiach and go together, as one, to the Holy Land, NOW. L'chaim!
The climax of the Exodus from Egypt and the purpose for which the world was created was the Revelation on Mount Sinai. It was there that G-d gave the Ten Commandments and the Torah to the Jewish People. In front of the assemblage of every single Jewish man, woman and child, and in the presence of the souls of every Jew that would be born throughout the millennia, G-d descended on Mount Sinai and said, "I am (anochi) the L-rd your G-d." These historic events are described in this week's Torah portion, Yitro.
The Midrash points out a curious fact: The word "anochi" is not Hebrew--it is an Egyptian word!
The Ten Commandments are a condensation of all the guiding principles of the Torah. Of these, the first two commandments, "I am the L-rd your G-d" and "You shall have no other gods," have an even greater measure of holiness, for they were heard by the Jews directly from G-d Himself, and not through Moses. The first of these two commandments, by virtue of the order in which it was given, has even more significance. Why, then, did G-d choose to express the most lofty and exalted concept, the "I," the very essence of G-d Himself, in a foreign tongue? Why didn't G-d use the Hebrew word for I--"Ani"--to begin the most important utterance ever heard?
In order to understand this paradox, we must first examine the purpose of the Revelation on Mount Sinai. The Torah was not given to guard the holiness contained in the Hebrew tongue; for this, no G-dly earth-shaking Revelation would have been necessary. G-d descended on Mount Sinai for one reason only--to enable us to elevate even the lowest and most mundane aspects of our lives and of the physical world, including the Egyptian language, the spoken words of the most corrupt and abominable nation.
Holiness existed before the Revelation, and Jews had long occupied themselves with the Torah. The innovation of the Revelation was the ability to "fuse" holiness with mundane, to imbue physical matter with spirituality. Even things that were seemingly far removed from the realm of holiness could now be used to bring G-dliness into the world.
The aim of the Revelation is pointedly emphasized by the use of the Egyptian word "anochi." A Jew's daily life involves elevating the physical and transforming it into a vessel for G-dliness. Prayer and Torah study enable us to reach only a limited level of spirituality; elevating that which is base and seemingly trivial, by adhering to the laws of the Torah, enables us to attain even greater heights of holiness.
When we fulfill G-d's will by elevating even the "anochi," as G-d Himself did, we fulfill the purpose of the Torah and carry out the world's Divine plan.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES
by Yehudis Cohen
I am sitting in a nursery school classroom. Bright, colorful pictures decorate the bulletin boards. Charts of colors, shapes, and numbers adorn the walls. There's a library corner and a creative corner, a scaled-down kitchen area and an area for twenty-two small cubbies. On the right-hand side of the front wall a big, white tooth smiles at a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. And smack dab in the center of the wall larger-than-life Shabbat candles, challahs, a kiddush cup and a wine decanter dance together gaily.
I'm in one of 6 nursery school classrooms at the Beth Rivkah school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. My attention is diverted from pondering the classroom decorations by squeals of delight from the 22 three-and-a-half and four-year-olds as "Morah Bassie" ("morah" is Hebrew for teacher) and Morah Devorah Leah pass out cereal and milk to the little girls.
"Mushkie, sit down please. Raizel, what do you need? Chaya, here are your cornflakes. Zahava, please turn around. Mushkie, good to see you back. Chaya Mushka, I'll pour your milk in a minute. No, Mushkie, you can't have another box of cereal. We're having a delicious lunch in a little while."
As I sit here, I wonder if the young students get confused with nearly half of the class named Chaya Mushka or some derivation thereof. I am here to interview these Chaya Mushkas, just ten of the thousands of little girls named for Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka who passed away four years ago.
The first Chaya Mushka I speak with is a perky blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl. I am confident that she will talk with me if she is anything like her boisterous mother and out-spoken grandfather. I ask her, "Do you know who Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was?"
I try again. "Do you know why your mommy and tatty ("Daddy" in Yiddish) call you Chaya Mushka?"
Silence. And then, almost defiantly, "My Tatty calls me Mushkie."
Hmm, this is not going to be as easy as I thought. To my mounting horror, none of the Chaya Mushkas I speak with say anything more than "yes," "no," or a nod of the head!
And then I think back to some things I've read about Jewish names and their significance. The Jewish name a person is given is intimately connected to one's soul and essence. It is the channel through which the soul's life-force flows to the body. Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Code of Jewish Law, said that one whose name is Abraham, for instance, will be inclined to do good like the Patriarch Abraham; one called Joseph is likely to feed others, both physically and spiritually, like Joseph did in Egypt, etc. Could it be that these little girls, named after a woman who was most private and humble, are unconsciously emulating her?
Somehow, I think not, especially since the chattering in the classroom, even from the Chaya Mushkas, never ceases. So I look desperately at Morah Bassie, a young, energetic teacher whom my own four-year-old was lucky enough to have last year. "Maybe you can ask the whole class questions about the Rebbetzin and then they'll feel more comfortable answering," I offer halfheartedly.
Morah Bassie agrees, and I settle back in my little nursery-size wooden chair, getting ready to write down what I hope will be an interesting dialogue.
"We all know who Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka is, don't we, girls?"
Twenty-two heads nod in agreement. "She was the..." and here, Morah Bassie pauses so that the girls can chime in "kallah"--bride, of the Rebbe, shlita.
"Where is the Rebbetzin now?" asks Morah Devorah Leah.
One girl points to the back wall where there is a copy of one of the only published photographs of the Rebbetzin, from when she was in her twenties. Another girl points above her head and says, "She's in shamayim [heaven]." A third little girl shouts out excitedly, "She's near Hashem [G-d]."
"That's right, girls," says Morah Bassie. "She's with all of the other great ladies and bubbies and zaidies."
"And when Moshiach comes," one of the little girls interrupts, "we'll see the Rebbetzin and our bubbies and zaidies and give them big kisses."
Zahava says in confusion, "My zaidy is still alive." Another girl adds, "So is mine, and my bubby, too."
"And may all the bubbies and zaidies who are alive have long, healthy lives," says Morah Bassi diplomatically.
A quick phone call to the mother of one of the first Chaya Mushkas--born the day the Rebbetzin passed away--brought out an inspiring idea. "With the birth of our Chaya Mushka I rejoiced not only in the newest addition to our family but also in the thought that the Rebbe's words during the shiva, 'And the living shall take to heart' were being actualized in a very real way," says Tzippora Vogel.
As I enter my house, I am greeted with a smile from my own Chaya Mushka, now a mature, eight months old. "Do you know why your name is Chaya Mushka," I ask her. She gurgles.
"Do you know who the Rebbetzin was?" I persist. She smiles and then gives me a knowing look, as if echoing the words of the Rebbe during the shiva, "Only G-d knows the true extent of the Rebbetzin's greatness.
by Tzivia Emmer
In the weeks and months following the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson on 22 Shevat, 1988, the picture of a remarkable personality began to come into focus. From the shared recollections of those privileged to have known this most private of women came a portrait of one whose presence was aristocratic, even royal, yet who was modest and self-effacing in all her dealings with people. The Rebbetzin put herself aside totally in order to be a steady support and helpmate to the Rebbe, shlita and to allow the Rebbe to devote himself to the Jewish people.
Daughter of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, descendant of a long line of tzaddikim and Rebbes, she never referred to herself as "Rebbetzin." It was always simply "Mrs. Schneerson"-- or even "Schneerson." She never claimed for herself those honors and privileges that would be expected to be her due as wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to the extent that few people even in the Chabad-Lubavitch community had ever seen the Rebbetzin.
Two ideas come to the fore: One, that the Rebbetzin was humble and unpretentious to an incredible extent. The other is that she was noble of bearing, proud of her heritage, and strong in her defense of Judaism and Chasidut. Because of her determination and moral courage, her saintly father, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, chose her to accompany him in his difficult and dangerous exile to Kostroma. That same moral courage was a constant source of inspiration and support to her husband the Rebbe during his almost four decades of leadership. When boldness was required, when it was a matter of speaking with assurance to the officers of the KGB in Russia or traveling into Nazi-Germany from the safety of Paris in the late '30s to obtain important papers the Rebbetzin was bold and unflinching.
Yet she always put herself in the background. Quietly and without fanfare she saw to the well-being of countless people, making phone calls that could easily have been delegated to others, inquiring about children, helping job-seekers. She personally concerned herself with those mundane things that are important yet are so easily overlooked. For herself the Rebbetzin wanted neither gifts nor honor, and was distressed if she thought anyone was going out of his or her way for her.
Sensitivity to another's feelings was always uppermost in the Rebbetzin's mind. On one occasion, a visitor from Florida arrived at the Rebbe's house on Purim in order to bring mishloach manot (Purim gifts) to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin. The Rebbetzin herself answered the door. When the man asked her who she was, she replied, "a housekeeper and relative," and invited him to come in. He spent the next 45 minutes telling her of his great love for the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin, and with tears streaming down his face offered the private use of a large comfortable house if only the Rebbe would agree to "take a vacation." In order not to embarrass or overwhelm the man, the Rebbetzin never let on who she was.
Even in the last hours of her life, when she was hospitalized and required care--and many would have felt privileged and honored to provide anything that she might have needed--the Rebbetzin was determined that no one be inconvenienced for her sake. One who was there at the time, Esther Sternberg, relates that she had to conceal her presence at the hospital lest the Rebbetzin be distressed that someone who had, after all, a large family to care for, was hovering nearby in order to be available to help.
The combination of self-confidence and humility in one person would seem at first glance to be a contradiction. But the type of humility shown by Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson is not something we readily understand. Humility is not a quality whose currency is highly valued in contemporary culture.
We do not see magazine articles which promise to teach us how to be more humble.
Is there, in fact, a contradiction? The Torah enjoins us, "Be very, very humble" (Ethics of the Fathers 4:4). Pride and arrogance are considered antithetical to Jewish values; the Talmud states, "The Holy One, blessed be He, declares, 'I and he (the haughty person) cannot both dwell in this world'." (Sota 5a) At the same time, the very opening chapter of the Code of Jewish Law tells us we must be "bold as a leopard." In other words, pride is needed in order for one to have a strong and determined approach to Torah and mitzvot and not to succumb to a sense of embarrassment before others.
The contradiction between humility and pride exists only if we have an incorrect understanding of the proper use of both of these traits. Low self-esteem, a problem frequently addressed in popular psychology, is not humility. Humility is not self-deprecation. Dickens wrote, "I'm a very 'umble man," and Uriah Heep became a name synonymous with hypocritical self-abasement. True humility, however, has nothing to do with putting oneself down.
Moses, the greatest of all the prophets and the only man to speak with G-d "face to face," was said to be the humblest of men. Moses was chosen to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt and to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai--surely he was aware of and acknowledged his exceptional qualities. To deny them would have been false.
Moses was in fact well aware of his mental and spiritual abilities, but regarded them as no more than gifts from G-d. Had anyone else been given such gifts, he felt, they would have done far more with them. Thus, Moses, the man who surpassed all others in his capacity for understanding, was able to be humble before everyone.
Taking full credit for one's talents and accomplishments, on the other hand, feeds a sense of egotism that is not necessarily accompanied by genuine self-esteem. Often people try to buttress their self-esteem with prestigious titles, wealth, fame, or simply calling attention to themselves. The need to surround oneself with external reminders of one's worth, as psychiatrist Rabbi Abraham Twerski has pointed out, often masks a lack of actual self-esteem. A Midrash describes the difference between valid self-esteem and the type of egotism that the Torah repudiates: The Euphrates River, when asked why it flows so quietly, replied, "I have no need to make any noise. People take notice of me by my deeds. A person plants a tree near my waters, and it sprouts in 30 days. If one plants vegetables near my waters, they begin growing in just three days."
The Tigris River, on the other hand, asked why it makes so much noise as it flows, said "I hope that people will hear my sounds and notice that I exist" (Bereshit Rabba 16).
The truth is that each of us has within him or her a spark of G-dliness, the Divine soul, and a G-d-given set of personal qualities and assets. If one denigrates one's value and considers oneself to be worthless, this is not humility and can even be considered a inverse form of arrogance, ascribing to oneself too much credit or blame for everything, and the result can be paralyzing. Each person's task is to fulfill his/her own potential. In putting oneself down, one denies one's own potential for good; if one is completely self-deprecating one will be depressed and will not be able to accomplish that which it is possible to accomplish.
The Baal Shem Tov said, "Excessive humility may cause man to go astray from the service of G-d! Because of a sense of self-deprecation he does not believe that man can bring about a Divine flow to all worlds by means of prayer and Torah. Indeed, even the angels are sustained by virtue of man's Torah and prayers. If man would sincerely believe this, he would serve G-d with joy and gladness of the heart more than for anything else.... "
True humility, then, knowing that everything flows from G-d, leads to a feeling of joy, while what the Baal Shem Tov called excessive humility leads to depression and heaviness of heart. This takes one away not only from Divine service but from the emotional well-being everyone seeks in daily life.
Understanding that each neshama has its own G-d-given mission to fulfill can enable one to avoid unhelpful comparison with others. There is a story about Reb Zusya of Annapol, a famous tzadik of the early days of the Chasidic movement who was known for his great humility. Reb Zusya said: "When my day comes and I will stand before the heavenly Throne of Judgment, I shall be asked: 'Zusya! Why were you not as good and great as the patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?'
But I shall not be scared by that question. I will answer quite simply: 'How can I be compared to them? I am but a simple person without any special qualities. The Patriarchs were holy men, like unto angels, endowed with sublime souls. There is no comparison whatsoever. The question is altogether unfair!'
"The same answer will apply to any other comparison with ancient or recent saints. I do not fear questions like these. One thing, though, I am very much afraid of and have no excuse for, namely, when I shall be asked: 'Zusya, why were you not Zusya?'"
By learning to recognize that all our talents, wealth, beauty, or intelligence come from G-d and that each person, each neshama, has a unique and important task to fulfill, we can achieve the balance of humility and pride that the Torah demands and which enables one to function effectively and to accomplish good in the world.
The ideal of a balance between pride and humility is present in the foundation of Torah itself, the fact that Moses "received the Torah from Sinai." A Midrash on the idea of "Mount Sinai" relates that all the mountains gathered and each claimed the privilege of having the Torah given upon it. Mount Tabor was the highest. Mount Carmel had assisted in the splitting of the Red Sea. The mountains were told: "Your self-esteem and arrogance renders you blemished. The mountain which G-d desired for His abode is Sinai, the lowliest of all mountains."
The question is asked, if lowliness is such a virtue, why, then, not a valley, or at least a level plain? The answer is that Sinai represents the union of two opposites. A certain element of elevation is needed. One needs to have enough pride in oneself and one's Jewishness to stand up to anyone who comes to mock or denigrate one's Jewish observance. One needs to have enough chutzpah to stand up and say, "I'm a Jew and I'm proud to act like a Jew." This type of pride is not arrogance; it is rather a very positive statement of valid self-esteem.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka had the confidence in her ability to rise to the challenge and spiritual demands of her role. It was she who urged the Rebbe to accept the mantle of leadership and thus thrust them both into the center of Jewish life. But her focus was never on herself as Rebbetzin; it was always on what needed to be done for her fellow Jews and for the world. Her own illustrious ancestry remained for her a source of inspiration and a reason for further humility, as evinced by the following story, told by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg at the Neshei Ubnos Chabad Convention in Kansas City:
"The Rebbetzin had in her home a leichter, a candelabra, from her great-grandfather, the holy Tzemach Tzedek. She once explained to someone why she didn't use the leichter: 'How can a simple person such as myself use them? Nevertheless, from time to time, I permit myself to gaze at it, and looking at it warms me, as it reminds me of my mishpacha--family.'
Who more than she was entitled to use the leichter? Yet, in her extreme modesty and humility, she would only gaze at it from time to time. This is true self-effacement, living life for the sake of others."
May we merit to learn from her example.
THE FIRST MINYAN
by Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie
There was a solemn silence in the room. The hard wood floors strained under the weight of seventy souls from throughout the world. They had all heard the phone ring in the middle of the night with a tearful voice at the other end: "The Rebbetzin is gone."
Running to airports, from California to Italy, they took whatever flight there was and rushed through the night to arrive for the funeral arranged for noon. The decision to leave was made in a split second, without much thought of why or even if they would arrive on time. In flight many began to question, why am I going, what of tomorrow's appointments and responsibilities. Calling from the plane, I astonished my secretary with the request that she cancel everything, because I was over Kansas on the way to New York.
Overriding the questions and doubts was the overwhelming need to be part of the loss, not from some distant town, but in New York, where the anguish was at its height.
When the tragedy occurred the Rebbe asked that the shluchim (the Rebbe's emissaries) be notified. Those who had heard this regarded the notification as an expression of the desire for their participation. Others, not knowing of this, felt that it was nevertheless essential to come. In everyone's heart was the desire to share the pain of their teacher and leader, the Rebbe.
Tens of thousands had attended the funeral and many had come to the Rebbe's home for the services. There was space for only a small number. The shluchim had been selected to make up the first minyan of the week of shiva. These were the men that the Rebbe had sent over the last two-and-a-half decades to cities and towns the world over to spark a renaissance of Judaism.
To the side of the room one of the elder chasidim was crying, but mostly one heard only the silence. A silence of waiting. This unusual group, ranging from their mid-twenties to early eighties, had shared a special bond with the Rebbe over the years. With apprehension they waited for the Rebbe to come into the room to lead the services.
In a moment the silence was ended with the slow, determined voice of the Rebbe as he started the Mincha service. Subdued, but strong, expressing a powerful belief in The One Above in the time of greatest sorrow.
At the end of the service the Rebbe went to sit on the special low bench according to the custom of mourning. As the assembled rabbis started to pass by the Rebbe and express the traditional statement of condolence, the Rebbe began to speak. Each man stopped in his place and strained to hear the words.
In a few short minutes the Rebbe explored the meaning behind the tradition of giving condolences to the mourner and connected it with the mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael--love and concern for one's fellow Jew.
The emissaries listened intently. The man who had dedicated his whole life to others was telling his followers that the response to the tragedy must be a greater commitment to the Jewish people. In his time of greatest misfortune the Rebbe was demanding that more must be done for those in need.
Between the lines was a deeper message, one of appreciation to the shluchim for their coming and sharing his grief. The Rebbe's style is never to be satisfied with what has been accomplished, but always to encourage more. In the past that encouragement was his way of giving credit for an accomplishment. This time the feeling of gratitude filled the room.
All the doubts about coming had been swept away in a few short moments. Most of us left within the next few hours. In the following days thousands came to console the Rebbe, but those few short intimate moments of the first minyan were shared with but a few.
As we traveled home our hearts carried the pain of the Rebbe's loss. But we also carried his inspiration to return to our communities with a renewed commitment for all Jews, seeking to help them in whatever way possible.
Rabbi Eliezrie is director of Chabad of Yorba Linda, California.
THE SHINING COINS
Freely translated from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the Lubavitch Women's Organization for their eighth annual convention.
In connection with the 150th yahrtzeit of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad Chasidic movement) I will relate briefly the well-known story about one of the Alter Rebbe's first chasidim, Reb Gavriel Nosei-Chein and his wife Chana Rivka.
Reb Gavriel was one of the most prominent Jews in Vitebsk. Twenty-five years after their marriage, he and his wife were still childless. Then, by reason of sustained persecution, he became impoverished. He was understandably upset therefore, when an appeal reached him from the Alter Rebbe to participate in a case of redeeming Jewish captives with a substantial contribution, as he was wont to do in former days, but which was now far beyond his means. When his wife learned of her husband's predicament, she sold her jewelry and raised the required amount. Then she scrubbed and polished the coins until they gleamed brightly, and with a prayer in her heart that their mazal brighten up, she wrapped the coins in a bundle which she handed over to her husband to take to the Alter Rebbe.
Coming into the presence of the Alter Rebbe in Liozna, Reb Gavriel placed the bundle of money on the table. The Alter Rebbe told him to open it. At once the coins shone with an extraordinary brilliance.
The Alter Rebbe become engrossed in thought, then said: "Of all the gold, silver and brass which the Jews contributed to the Mishkan (Sanctuary), nothing shone so brightly as the Laver and its Stand (which were made of the brass mirrors contributed by the Jewish women with selflessness and joy).
"Tell me where did you get these coins?"
Reb Gavriel revealed to the Rebbe the state of his affairs and how his wife, Chana Rivka bas Beila, had raised the money.
The Alter Rebbe placed his head on his hands and for some time was in deep contemplation. Then he lifted his head and bestowed on Reb Gavriel and his wife the blessing of children, long life, riches and extraordinary grace. He told Reb Gavriel to close his business in Vitebsk and to begin to trade in precious gems and diamonds.
The Alter Rebbe's blessing was fulfilled. Reb Gavriel Nosei-Chein became wealthy. He and his wife were also blessed with sons and daughters. He lived to the age of 110 years, and his wife survived him by two years.
When my father-in-law of saintly memory [the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn] related this story, he completed it with the teaching of the Alter Rebbe in connection with Sefira (the period of preparation for Shavuot--to receive the Torah):
It is written, "You should count--u'safartem lachem--unto yourselves." These words also mean "You shall illumine yourselves" (as in the Hebrew word sapir--sapphire, known for its purity and brilliance).
The message of this story, in addition to the other profound teachings which it contains, is: Although the coins for tzedaka--charity--are of a fixed quality and value, nevertheless, the very same coins, when they are given with selflessness and joy, assume an extraordinary value and brilliance, bringing life, and joy in life, even in this world, and certainly in the world which is all "light."
The same is true, of course, with spiritual tzedaka. Every effort and activity to spread the Torah and mitzvot, as illuminated with the light and warmth of Chasidic philosophy, and therefore inspired with selflessness and joy, are not only more successful in themselves, but also have a much greater effect and a much greater merit.
May G-d grant that each one of you, amongst our people, should experience "U'safartem lachem," as interpreted by the Alter Rebbe, and that everyone should illumine and purify himself, as well as the home and the environment, with the light of the Torah and mitzvot and Chasidic conduct in daily life. This will bring pure light into every aspect of life, the material as well as the spiritual.
What are some customs related to giving a baby a Jewish name?
Our sages say that parents have Divine inspiration when giving their child a Jewish name. It is customary to name a child after a close relative or friend, or after a person with outstanding virtues. One's Jewish name can be an indication of one's character, goals and essence. One's Jewish name is closely linked to the spark of G-dliness--the neshama (soul) within every Jew.
With this issue of L'Chaim we have completed four years of publication. With this anniversary comes the realization, too, that the Rebbetzin, to whom L'Chaim is dedicated, was taken from us already four years ago.
Soon after the Rebbetzin's passing, we often prayed that she would be a "gutte better"--a good advocate--for the Jewish people in the heavenly courts. And truly, she must be, for we hear from the Rebbe himself, and we see with each passing day, that we are coming closer and ever closer to the Final Redemption of the Jewish people through Moshiach.
The Mishna teaches that by repeating something in the name of the person who said it we bring the Redemption closer. If this is true, how much more so by repeating the name of a person who did something! Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire L'Chaim staff for their dedication, devotion and dependability in bringing out 200 consecutive issues of L'Chaim.
What would L'Chaim's impact be, however, without the crew of "special delivery" people. Through rain, sleet, snow and numerous subway delays, the young yeshiva students and "tankisten" [mitzvah tank crew] travel throughout the New York metro area to bring L'Chaim to Jews everywhere.
Many of you, however, do not receive L'Chaim through our special delivery crew, for, in addition to the fact that L'Chaim is reprinted on three continents, and parts of it are translated into Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, French, Portugese and the "Queen's" English, it is also "put up" on a computer bulletin board which can be accessed throughout all five continents.
May we soon merit to transfer the publishing of L'Chaim to the holy city of Jerusalem, where we will all go "loaded up" with mitzvot and Torah knowledge, following the lead of Moshiach, NOW.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The life of Queen Shlomit Alexandra was fraught with violent, political conflict and internecine strife. The saintly queen, however, survived to right the enormous crimes of her predecessors, and eventually became known as Shlomtzion--she who brought peace to Zion.
Her first husband, the ruthless king Aristobulus, seized power from his own mother, imprisoned his brothers and persecuted the Sages with great vengeance. After he died, having reigned only one year, the rule passed to his widow, Queen Shlomit Alexandra. She was the sister of the renowned Torah giant Shimon ben Shetach, the leading sage of the generation, and it was under his guidance that she did so much to repair the damage done to the Jewish people during this violent period.
The Queen's first act after the death of Aristobulus was to free his imprisoned brothers, the oldest of whom, Alexander Yannai, she married. Unfortunately, and to the terrible detriment of the Jewish nation, Yannai was no better than his short-lived brother. He devoted his energies to war, which took up most of his 27-year reign. His military exploits, however, were performed for his own lust for power and glory.
Far more serious for the Jewish people was the battle raging between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, tearing apart the fabric of the Jewish nation. The Sadducees, whose objective it was to eliminate the Oral Torah, strove in every possible fashion to seize power from the Pharisees, the ancestors of all Jews today. To that end, they exerted pressure on the rulers through political intrigue and even outright slander against their enemies. Eventually King Yannai used the mercenary troops which supplemented his own native army to mount a deadly persecution of these leaders of the Jewish people.
We can only imagine the terrible pain of Queen Shlomtzion, married to two Jewish kings of noble lineage, who perpetrated terrible crimes against the Torah Sages, the greatest of whom was her own brother. It was under her benevolent influence that Yannai was persuaded to relent in his war against the Pharisees for a time, and allow those remaining to return to Israel from their forced exiles. Once back in the Holy Land, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach and his sister the queen were able to do much to restore Torah to the people. They acted to restore the authority of the Sanhedrin and to insure the education of the young.
The pair were responsible for establishing the first system of public education known. In earlier times education was the domain of the parents. If the parents were poor, uneducated, or deceased, the child was not educated.
This respite in the persecution of the Sages did not last, however. In a desperate attempt to wrest power from the Pharisees, the king and his Sadducee allies staged a ploy which succeeded in enraging the populace and provided a pretext on which to enlarge their terrible, bloody designs. When this despised king finally died he transferred power to his queen, instructing her to make peace with the Pharisees, calling his erstwhile allies, the Sadducees, "hypocrites."
Now the Queen could finally do as she wished, and her accomplishments are her praise even to our generation. It is said that during the reign of Queen Shlomtzion rain descended every Friday night (as a sign of blessing). The produce of the Land was remarkable. Wheat grew as big as kidneys, barley like olives and lentils were the size of gold dinars (the largest coin of that time).
When the Queen assumed the throne all persecution of the Sages ceased and the Pharisees were restored to their rightful positions of power. Shimon ben Shetach sat at the head of the Sanhedrin, and in every area of life the queen and her brother worked diligently to restore peace and harmony to the Land. It was during her rule that the institution of the ketubah, the legal marriage contract, was established. This ensured that no Jewish woman would be left economically unprotected in the event of a divorce or widowhood. The courts were reorganized so that justice was again available to the people.
Her reign was a true "Golden Age" for the Jewish people in their land. The Sages even preserved samples of the amazing grains which flourished in her time to show succeeding generations the rewards of observing the Torah. Just as during the reign of the pious King Shlomo, now also, the Jews lived securely in their land, undisturbed by the nations which surrounded them.
And Yitro [Jethro], the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law...and Yitro, father-in-law of Moses (Ex. 18:1, 2)
Why is "father-in-law" mentioned twice in describing Yitro? Yitro was an important man in his own right. As the "priest of Midian," he already enjoyed a high status. Yet he chose to be known as "Moses' father-in-law," for he knew this was his true claim to greatness.
You shall select out of all the people...men of truth, hating bribe (18:21)
You will have to search hard to find these people, Yitro counseled Moses, for men possessing these qualities usually run away from positions of honor and do not sit idle all day, enabling you to find them easily.
(Shaar Bat Rabim)
And Yitro heard...and he came...to Moses (18:1-5)
What did Yitro hear to cause him to seek out Moses? He heard of the miracles of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek. These events aroused in him a strong belief in G-d, and he set off. Why did he need to see Moses personally? Yitro knew that in order to learn Torah pro-perly, he couldn't rely on second-hand information. He had to go to the leader of the generation and learn from him directly.
You shall sanctify today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their clothes (19:10)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi once said, "You shall sanctify today and tomorrow" refers to the G-dliness and holiness that is bestowed from Above; "and they shall wash their clothes" refers to the effort that each of us must make on his own behalf.
His grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, elaborated: "The command to sanctify 'today and tomorrow' was given to Moses, and indeed, in every generation, the tzadik and leader of that generation has the power to elevate the world and imbue it with more holiness. However, this must first be preceded by the preparation of 'washing the clothes.' Each individual must first work on himself to cleanse the garments of his soul--his thoughts, deeds and actions--before asking for help from Above."
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak), who lived over 500 years ago, described the period immediately preceding the Final Redemption thus: "All nations will one day come together and start talking peace amongst themselves. This talk of peace will have one underlying goal: to destroy Israel. And their rationale will be because they [the Jews] established for themselves their own government, and though the Jews will be in tremendous danger at that time, nevertheless they will not be destroyed; in fact, from that very situation they will be saved."