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Breishis Genesis

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October 29, 1993 - 14 Mar-Cheshvan 5754

290: Vayeira

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  289: Lech Lecha291: Chayei Sara  

Living With The Times  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New  |  Insights
Who's Who?  |  A Word from the Director  |  It Once Happened  |  Thoughts that Count
Moshiach Matters

"As a company committed to reducing the environmental impacts of the products we make, we at Patagonia thought these choices would be a simple matter of discovering that some of our fabrics were gentler on the environment than others. However, for each basic fabric we use--cotton, polyester, wool, nylon--there are environmental costs. We had to think harder and apply tougher standards.

"In the future, when we design a garment, we must ask, Is it necessary? Is it worth the environmental price? ... We ask questions about the effects of dyes, finishes, coatings, and washes. We spend time on details that make our clothes last longer... that survive one kid and several hand-me-downs.

"As individuals, too, we make complex choices about clothes we wear. Before we even consider a new shirt, we have to decide if we need one. What is the shirt made of? What energy, water, and other resources were expended in its manufacture? What pollution and waste were generated? Is it durable or will it fall apart as soon as our sister accidentally runs over it on her bicycle? Once we own the shirt, how do we care for it? What are the impacts of washing, dry cleaning?...

"As a company and as consumers, we must apply the 'impact' question--How does what we make and wear affect the planet we live on? Fully including environmental concerns in our ordinary lives gives something back to the world that sustains us."

All those questions on page 3 of a mid-West clothing manufacturer's fall catalogue!

Patagonia is asking these questions, making these changes, going through the trouble of considering the impact of dyes, fabrics, cleaning methods for every garment they produce. Nowhere does one detect an attitude of, "We're only a small clothing manu-facturer with a limited audience and limited influence." Or, "We're doing what we can but the environment will only be impacted if every other manufacturer joins."

According to Patagonia, everything counts. Everything matters. Everything has an impact.

Patagonia is in good company. Because Judaism also believes that everything has an impact, but not just on the environment and the world that sustains us.

The Torah and Jewish teachings are replete with examples of how everything we do has an effect on the world. Each mitzva we do--large or small, simple or difficult--always influences the spiritual realms and often impacts our physical world.

Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) even enjoins us to, "Remember three things and you will never come to transgress: Know what is above you--an Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and all of your deeds are recorded in a book." Everything you do has impact, import. It makes an impression. It makes a difference.

The penny you dropped in the tzedaka box not only joins 99 other pennies to make a buck; it not only makes an audible noise as it clangs together with the rest of the coins; it actually has a spiritual impact on you, on your hand that puts it in; and it could be the "good deed" that tips the universal scale to the side of merit.

The snide comment that the passenger didn't hurl at the obnoxious taxi-driver certainly and positively influenced the passenger. It also didn't contribute to the already overwhelming noise and nastiness pollution that abounds.

And the Shabbat lights (you can use wax, paraffin or oil--you figure which is most environmentally friendly) not only impact the Jewish home physically--by bringing actual light into the house, but spiritually as well. For the Talmud explains that they bring serenity and tranquility into the home and help foster shalom bayit--a peaceful marriage.

As part of the Jewish nation and as individuals, we must apply the "impact" question--How does what we think, say and do affect the planet we live on? Fully including Torah and mitzvot in our ordinary lives gives something back to the Creator Who sustains us.

With appreciation to Shlomo Lakein for bringing Patagonia to our attention.

Living With The Times

This week's portion, Vayeira, contains the account of the "binding of Isaac," Abraham's tenth and most difficult test. Commanded by G-d to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, Abraham responded with alacrity and devotion, but at the last minute was prevented from carrying out his task by a heavenly angel. "And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram...and he offered it up for a burnt-offering instead of his son."

Abraham intoned the following prayer at every stage of the service as he offered the animal: "May it be Your will that this action be considered as having been performed on my son." Abraham was not content to merely offer the ram instead of Isaac; he prayed for his actions to be considered by G-d as if he had actually sacrificed his son.

It was then that the angel called out to him again: " 'By Myself have I sworn,' says G-d, 'because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will greatly bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven.' " Abraham's offering was so favorable to G-d that He swore in confirmation of the blessings He would bestow on Abraham and his children.

What was so special about the offering of the ram, and why did the angel call out only after it was sacrificed? And, why was it so important to Abraham for G-d to consider it as if Isaac had been offered, as originally commanded?

The explanation for this lies in the difference between a person's willingness to do something and the actual performance of the deed. A person willing to sacrifice his life for the sanctification of G-d's name is not on the same level as one who actually does so.

When Abraham was commanded by G-d to sacrifice his son he was willing to obey without any hesitation whatsoever. When it came to actually performing the deed, however, Abraham was prevented from doing so. Abraham could therefore be credited with only the willingness to carry out G-d's will, but not with the actual deed. It was for this reason that Abraham prayed so insistently for G-d to consider it as if Isaac himself had been sacrificed.

Because of Abraham's extraordinary devotion in this regard he merited G-d's sworn affirmation of the blessings He would bestow. A blessing can be averted by a person's transgressions, but a sworn oath uttered by G-d can never be abrogated. This oath, in the merit of the "binding of Isaac," has stood the Jewish people in good stead throughout the generations, and will attain complete fruition when, "your descendants shall inherit the gates of their enemies," with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption, speedily in our day.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

As told to Dr. D.S. Pape by Rabbi Dovid Schochet

This story took place during the summer of 1951. Our family had recently moved to Toronto from Holland where my father, Rabbi Dov Yehudah Schochet, was offered a rabbinical position. Though we were not Lubavitcher chasidim, my father had friends such as Rabbi Eli Lipsker and Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who came over and discussed Chasidic philosophy into the late hours of the night.

My father had developed a strong admiration for Chabad long before coming to Toronto. He was ordained in Telshe Yeshiva in Lithuania, and while there, had learned Tanya, the prime book of Chabad Chasidut. He had also studied the teachings of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe.

One morning a terrible accident took place. My mother had boiled up a large pot of water and momentarily placed it on the floor. My little sister, a year and a half at the time, crawled to the pot and turned it over. The boiling water spilled all over her.

My sister's entire body was red like fire. We rushed her to the largest hospital in the city. Her condition became worse by the minute. The preliminary diagnosis was not good. The doctors said there was only a slight chance they would be able to save her life. She was swathed in bandages from head to toe and placed in an isolation room.

My father's friend, Rabbi Jacobson immediately called New York, to ask the Rebbe's blessing. The Rebbe answered that a Jew must always have faith, and the Alm-ghty would send a cure immediately.

When my father was informed of the Rebbe's answer, he did not calm down. He would have wanted a stronger and more reassuring answer from the Rebbe, like the one his friend, Lipsker, had received when his child had been in danger. On that occasion, the Rebbe had told him to make a kiddush!

The next day, we received a phone call from the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Hodakov, in New York. In the name of the Rebbe he enquired how the baby was doing. Since the accident had taken place on Thursday, Shabbat would be the crucial day, for my sister was not passing water. The doctors said that if this continued for three days, it meant that the kidneys had been burned and there was nothing that could be done to save her life.

Then on Friday, Rabbi Hodakov called again with further instructions from the Rebbe. On Shabbat my father should make a kiddush and my mother should also be involved in the preparations.

On Shabbat afternoon, our Lubavitcher friends began to drop in, say l'chaim, and soon a real Chasidic gathering ensued. My mother walked to the hospital and came back with the good news that nothing internally was burned.

My sister began the long, painful road to recovery, with numerous skin grafts and operations. She was confined to the isolation room, and it was forbidden for us to visit her there. Then, late one night, we were summoned to the hospital and told these were my sister's last moments. When we got to the hospital, only my father was permitted to enter the room. My sister's entire body was black, her face was bloated, and she was breathing heavily.

My father called the Rebbe's office and Rabbi Hodakov answered. On the line my father heard a sound as if there was someone else listening. "Who is this?" my father asked.

"This is Schneerson." It was the Rebbe himself.

My father explained to the Rebbe how serious the situation had become.

"Why are you worried?" the Rebbe said. "I told you she's going to be all right."

"But the doctors say there are only minutes left."

"Then something must be wrong! Go to the doctors immediately and protest! Tell them you are holding them personally responsible for what has happened!"

My father told the Rebbe that the doctors had been exceedingly kind. How could he make a scene?

"It doesn't matter," the Rebbe said. "You must protest in the strongest terms possible."

My father followed the Rebbe's instructions. He began to object stormily about the improper treatment. The doctors tried to calm my father, and took him with them to show him that everything was being done properly. To their amazement, they discovered that my sister was being given the wrong infusions!

The intravenous was quickly changed, and just a few days later, my sister began to recover. From then until this very day, she suffers no side-effects.

That year, at Chanuka time, Rabbi Jacobson was in New York. The Rebbe gave him a silver dollar, and asked him to give it to my little sister as Chanuka gelt.

A year later, my father went to thank the Rebbe personally for the blessing that had brought my sister's recovery.

Shortly after that, I got married. On that occasion, the whole family had a private audience with the Rebbe. The Rebbe gave my sister a golden coin of five rubles, saying that it was from the charity box of the Previous Rebbe! He told her that she should keep the coin and give it to charity on the day of her wedding.

Many years later, when my sister became engaged, the groom's family asked the Rebbe if the accident would affect her ability to have children. The Rebbe assured them that there was nothing to worry about.

Today my sister and her husband, Rabbi Yitzchak Newman, are emissaries of the Rebbe shlita in Long Beach, California, and the parents of 15 children.

Reprinted from the Moshiach Times, soon to be published in vol. II of Miracles and Wonders of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

What's New


Simferopol, the capital of the Crimea (in C.I.S.) is not exactly a place that will ever make any top ten vacation spot lists. This is a city far, far off the beaten trail. However, even here, Chabad-Lubavitch's influence--under the direction of Ezras Achim--is being felt. Rabbi Berel Actipis, emissary in Nikolayev--the closest big city to Simferopol--just recently established a youth group here which has already attracted over 100 boys and girls who are receiving their first taste of what being a Jew is all about.


Tenafly, New Jersey, has just welcomed Rabbi Mordechai and Malki Shain as the Rabbi and Rebbetzin of their new Chabad-Lubavitch Center. Though they just moved to Tenafly this past month, the Shains have been offering classes and Shabbat services since the summer, and High Holiday services were filled to overflowing. To find out more about the activities of Chabad of Tenafly, call 201-871-1152.


Exploring New Horizons is a successful course of Wednesday evening seminars at the Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Toronto. Currently in its fifth year, Horizons offers classes in The Chasidic Dimension, the Basics of Kabala, Talmud, "Hands On" Judaism, and Moshiach and the World to Come. For an exact schedule of classes contact the Center at (416) 731-7000.



From letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Week of the Torah portion Vayeira, 5730 (1969)

It was a Jewish custom to relate the events of the week to the weekly portion of the Torah, and thereby to derive true instruction from the Torah.

This week's Torah portion tells us of the birth and upbringing of the first Jewish child, born of Jewish parents, namely, Yitzchak, the son of Abraham and Sara, the first ancestors of our Jewish people.

The circumstances surrounding Yitzchak's birth were supernatural and miraculous. His circumcision took place when he was eight days old, and his upbringing was fraught with difficulties and trials.

Quite different was the case of Abraham's son Ishmael, whose birth was quite normal, and who was circumcised when he was 13 years old, i.e, at a mature age.

Yet is was Yitzchak whom G-d chose to be Abraham's true heir, from whom the Jewish people would descend.

Thus, the Torah teaches us that when new generations are to be born who are to ensure the Jewish future and continuity, the approach must not be based on natural considerations and human calculations. For Jewish existence is not dependent upon natural forces, but upon G-d's direct intervention and providence.

Similarly, the education and upbringing of Jewish children is not to be determined by the same considerations and criteria as in the non-Jewish world. Jewish parents do not wait until the child becomes mature enough to determine his behavior and find his own way to Judaism. He is given the strongest and fullest possible measure of Jewish training from infancy. Only in this way is it possible to ensure the "everlasting covenant" with G-d, to come through all difficulties and trials with strength, and endowed with G-d's blessings materially and spiritually.

Fifth day of the Torah portion Vayeira, 5731 (1970)

...This significant event, taking place on the day after the reading of the weekly Torah portion of Vayeira, is indeed related to the concluding highlights of the Torah portion, namely, the birth and upbringing of the first Jewish child, Yitzchak, born of the first Jewish parents, Abraham and Sara.

The Torah tells us that Abraham made a "great feast" (When Yitzchak was two years old), at which the leading dignitaries of the age were present (Rashi, quoting the Midrash). Some of those present thought the celebration unrealistic, seeing no future for a single Jewish child surrounded by a hostile world. Yet, G-d promised that this child would be the father of a great and holy nation; a nation which, though overwhelmingly outnumbered, would not only outlive its enemies, but would be a leader and a guiding light to the rest of mankind.

The cue to the fulfillment of the Divine promise is to be found in the passage immediately following the above narrative, where the Torah tells us of Sara's heartfelt concern for Yitzchak's upbringing and appropriate atmosphere even at that early age.

Thus the Torah sets the pattern for Jewish education. it teaches us that regardless of the odds, the future of the Jewish child, as of the Jewish people as a whole, is assured by Divine promises, provided the parents fulfill their responsibilities, even to the point of mesirat nefesh [self-sacrifice] if necessary. Not least, it teaches us that in matters of Torah and holiness, even "a small beginning flourishes exceedingly in the end."

Who's Who?

Chanoch lived during the lifetime of Adam, and according to our Sages, it was Chanoch who buried Adam. The Zohar states that Chanoch had a special book containing many secrets of wisdom. This book, together with a book of Adam's and a book of Abraham's, were passed on to Jacob. The Midrash says that Chanoch walked together with the angels in the Garden of Eden for 300 years.

A Word from the Director

An acquaintance told me that he helped organize a debate about Moshiach. He was planning on having "all the sides" there so it would be an honest, open, intellectual exchange. To get ready for the event, this acquaintance himself started checking into the Jewish sources about Moshiach. He commented to me, "I never realized how central the belief in Moshiach is to Judaism until I started studying about it myself.

This has been one of the main emphases of the Rebbe's Moshiach Campaign, and we hope that many people have availed themselves of the numerous opportunities for group or individual study on the subject.

But, once one has come to the correct realization that belief in Moshiach is central to Judaism, there is still further to go and more to explore.

For, the belief in Moshiach can be actualized in two ways. One could theoretically believe that eventually Moshiach will come. However, our greatest Sages all agree that the belief in Moshiach's coming means that one believes that he will come today. Maimonides, in his commentary on the Talmud (Sanhedrin; Chelek) says that one must believe "that he will not delay."

More recently, the great Torah scholars of Brisk explained that the mitzva to await Moshiach's coming every day means we do not today await Moshiach's coming someday but rather await Moshiach's coming today.

The great Mabit, a contemporary of Rabbi Yosef Karo--compiler of the Code of Jewish Law--spoke about the phenomenon that, "One who doesn't believe that he will come soon will not believe that he will come later, either."

From all of this we see clearly that the mitzva to believe in Moshiach means that we believe not in some abstract way that some day he will come , but rather that on this very day Moshiach can and will come to redeem the Jewish people and bring peace to the entire world.

One would think that in light of such an awesome belief, each of us, every single day, would try to be as ready as possible for his imminent arrival.

Shmuel Butman

It Once Happened

Reb Zusha had gone to visit his teacher and rebbe, the holy tzadik Reb Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch. After a fulfilling stay, drinking in his teacher's wisdom, Reb Zusha prepared to take his leave. When he went into his rebbe's study for a parting word, he mentioned to Reb Dov Ber that he needed to marry off his daughter. Now, Reb Zusha was as poor as could be, and to marry off a child required a considerable sum. Reb Dov Ber immediately took a sum of three hundred rubles and pressed it into his disciple's hand, wishing him mazal tov, and sending him happily on his way.

Reb Zusha was greatly relieved. Now, his wife and daughter would be at ease. Although he had taken money, which was not his habit or desire, it was a necessary thing, he thought to himself.

The trip home took Reb Zusha through many towns and villages, and as he passed through one tiny Jewish village he was startled by the sound of bitter weeping coming from a small hut. The other villagers were going about their business, and he stopped one and asked, "Who is that crying?"

"That is a poor widow who was about to marry off her daughter. But on the way to the chupa she lost the entire dowry. Now, the wedding is off because the groom and his family refuse to go on with it without the dowry. And how will she ever amass three hundred rubles again?"

Reb Zusha's tender soul was pained for the poor woman. Then he suddenly realized that three hundred rubles was exactly what he had with him. He walked up to the door of the hut and knocked. "My good woman, I think I may have found your money!" Her eyes widened in disbelief. "Can you tell me if this money had any distinguishing marks?" asked Reb Zusha.

"Why yes," she replied. "The money was in a packet of two fifties, and ten twenties, and it was tied with a red string."

"Yes, that's exactly what I found!" replied Reb Zusha. "I will go to the inn and get the money and bring it right back."

Reb Zusha ran to the inn and changed his money for the denominations the widow had described. Then he tied the bills together with a red string and ran back to the widow's hut. By the time he returned the little village was buzzing with the good news. The girl had changed into her bridal dress, and the neighbors were bustling about preparing the wedding feast. As Reb Zusha presented the widow with the money, he said, "I am keeping one twenty ruble note for my trouble."

She looked at him as if he was speaking a foreign language. The others who had overheard the remark stood with their mouths open. "What!" screamed the widow, finding her tongue. "How can you rob a poor widow of twenty rubles! And after you have just performed a most wonderful and holy mitzva!" The others converged around Reb Zusha screaming and yelling, "Thief! Stealing a widow's money! For shame!"

Reb Zusha, however, refused to budge. He clung to the twenty rubles as if to dear life. "This money is mine as a reward, and for my troubles!"

Relatives, friends and other townspeople berated Reb Zusha, and soon it seemed that they would tear him limb from limb to retrieve the money. Finally someone piped up: "Let's go to the rabbi. He will be able to settle this once and for all!"

Everyone agreed to follow the rabbi's ruling and they all trailed along to the rabbi's house. The rabbi listened to each side and then ruled: "Reb Zusha must give the widow the twenty rubles."

Still, Reb Zusha refused to give up the money. One young man put his hand into Zusha pocket and extracted the bill, Then Zusha was escorted to the edge of the village and unceremoniously kicked out..

Many months later the village rabbi happened to encounter Rabbi Dov Ber and related to him the incident with his disciple, Reb Zusha.

The Maggid turned to the rabbi, "You must go to Reb Zusha and beg forgiveness. That money didn't belong to the widow. I myself gave it to Reb Zusha to marry off his own child! He demanded twenty rubles because he wanted to avoid honor at any cost. He wanted this great mitzva to be completely pure."

The rabbi was shocked and ashamed when he heard this. He went to Anipoli to beg Reb Zusha's forgiveness. But Reb Zusha replied to him, "You don't need my forgiveness because I never was angry. I do not hold my honor high, but I will forget about the incident completely if you promise never to reveal the truth to the widow. I never want her to suspect that the money wasn't hers by right." The rabbi, of course, agreed and the incident was never mentioned again.

Thoughts that Count

And he saw them and ran to meet them (Gen. 18:2).

Although Abraham did indeed run to greet his guests, extending himself greatly to provide them with food and hospitality, the mitzva of hachnasat orchim [hospitality] was never actually performed, for the angels only pretended to eat and partake of Abraham's largess.

We learn from this that a person must always anticipate the needs of his guests to make their stay as pleasant as possible, even if later it proves to have been unnecessary.

(Sichat Hashavua)

Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great...their sin is very grievous (Gen. 18:20).

If the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, already accustomed to acts of violence and evil, are crying out, then certainly "their sin is very grievous," for their evil acts and behavior had already far surpassed the boundaries of morality.

(Chamesh Yadot)

Perhaps there are fifty righteous within the city (Gen. 18:24).

Why did Abraham specify "within the city"? Would not the merit of fifty righteous people living near the city of Sodom have been enough to save it from destruction? We learn from this that a righteous man who ignores the evil around him and distances himself from the sinful masses is no defense. Only a tzadik who lives within the people's midst, offering encouragement and taking a personal interest in the betterment of those around him can rescue the city....

(Mipi Hashmua)

And the angel of G-d called out to not lay your hand upon the lad (Gen. 22:11-12).

Although the command, "Take now your son," was said by G-d Himself, the order to sacrifice Isaac was countermanded by an angel.

The testimony of an angel was sufficient to prevent Isaac's death, but direct instruction from G-d was necessary when the harming of a Jew was involved.

(Rabbi Yitzchak of Dinov)

Moshiach Matters

The Chatam Sofer (Responsa on Choshen Mishpat, Vol. 6, Responsum 98) explained that in each generation, there is an individual who is fit to be Moshiach and "when the time comes, G-d will reveal Himself to him and send him." What is required of us at present is thus to be prepared to actually accept Moshiach and create a climate in which he can accomplish his mission and redeem Israel from the exile.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 25 Cheshvan, 5752--1991)

  289: Lech Lecha291: Chayei Sara  
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