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L'Chaim
November 26, 1993 - 12 Kislev, 5754

294: Vayishlach

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  293: Vayetzei295: Vayeshev  

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

Do you remember the little engine that could? Surely as a child someone must have read you the story about a tiny little train engine that, despite all odds, managed to pull a whole row of train cars filled with toys up a hill and then down the other side for the waiting children.

Positive thinking has unlimited potential. "Think good and it will be good," is a famous teaching of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the second Chabad Rebbe, known as the "Tzemach Tzedek." The Tzemach Tzedek charged Reb Michoel, one of his chasidim whose son was deathly ill, with the challenging task of thinking positively, that everything would be well, and of his son as fully recovered. The chasid accepted the Rebbe's difficult advice. During the entire, long journey home, Reb Michoel thought positively about the imminent recovery of his son. Upon arriving on his doorstep, none other than Reb Michoel's ill son--already almost fully recovered--greeted him.

The present Rebbe, shlita, has also mentioned time and again--in private audiences and during public talks--the advantages and necessity of "thinking good" and how positive thinking ultimately brings a positive outcome:

During the winter of 1959 when Avraham Rothenberg of Bnei Brak, Israel was living in Crown Heights, he received notice that his father had suffered a heart attack and had been in critical condition for a few days already. Mr. Rothenberg wrote a letter describing the situation to the Rebbe and concluded, "I don't know what to think."

The Rebbe's reply was to live with the teachings of the previous Rebbes to think positively and the outcome will be good. 'I await good tidings' the Rebbe added.

The Rebbe's answer helped Mr. Rothenberg pull himself together and, though his father's condition was serious, he was filled with hope and positive thoughts.

Three days later, following the afternoon prayers, the Rebbe asked Mr. Rothenberg if he had good news. Mr. Rothenberg told the Rebbe that he had just received word from Israel that on Thursday evening his father had passed the crisis.

"And when did you begin thinking positively?" asked the Rebbe.

"Immediately upon receiving the Rebbe's reply--Thursday evening."

"May such events never occur again," the Rebbe blessed Mr. Rothenberg. "But always remember the importance of thinking positively."*

The Baal Shem Tov taught that in the place where a person's thoughts are, that is where the person actually is. When we are thinking positive thoughts--despite all odds and disregarding the fact that we are only tiny little engines trying to pull a heavy load up hill we can succeed--we are succeeding, we are in that very positive place and effect positive results.

Modern psychology has recently "discovered" this phenomenon and has found that it greatly affects the subconscious. Studies have shown that even during surgery, while a patient is unconscious, if the medical team is speaking positively about how quickly the person will recover, etc. the patient actually does recover more quickly!

Though a difficult, maybe even seemingly overwhelming task to think positively when things are really bad, keep in mind this helpful teaching of our Sages: The path on which a person wants to go, that is the way G-d leads him.

So, if you really do want to think positively and be successful at it, you'll have more than a little help from a true Friend.

*From May the Righteous Flourish Like a Palm Tree, S.I.E. Pub.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, narrates Jacob's victorious struggle with the angel and the subsequent changing of his name to Israel. "Not Jacob shall your name any more be called, but Israel, for you have striven with G-d and with men, and prevailed."

The names "Jacob" and "Israel" are used to refer to the entire Jewish people; each of the two terms emphasizes a particular characteristic of the Jewish nation. According to Chasidic philosophy, "Jacob" and "Israel" symbolize two levels in the Jew's relationship with G-d.

Jews are referred to as both servants of G-d and as G-d's sons. As "servants," they are called "Jacob"--"Hearken unto Me, Jacob my servant." As "sons," they are called "Israel"--"My son, My firstborn, Israel."

The difference between a servant and a son is obvious. When a son fulfills his father's wishes, he does so happily and out of love. A servant, however, is not necessarily overjoyed at the opportunity to carry out his master's command, quite frequently doing so only because he has no choice in the matter.

Both situations apply to our own lives, in our own personal service of G-d. A Jew can pray, learn Torah, observe the mitzvot and serve his Father like a son, or he can perform the very same actions without joy, like a servant serves his Master. When a Jew stands on the level of "Israel," he willingly fulfills his Father's commands, experiencing no inner conflict with the Evil Inclination. When, however, a Jew is on the level of "Jacob," it means he is forced to grapple with the Evil Inclination in order to properly fulfill his Master's command, quite frequently doing so only out of a sense of obligation and submission.

Obviously, the level of "Israel" is the one toward which we all strive, yet one cannot reach this level without first passing through the level of "Jacob." If a Jew is not always enthusiastic in his service, sometimes finding it difficult to serve G-d properly, he should know that this is only natural when one embarks upon a new course. The Evil Inclination is not vanquished all at once, and it takes time to transform the will of G-d into one's own personal will. At first (and this stage may last for years!), the Evil Inclination howls in protest, attempting to divert the Jew. But when a Jew consistently stands up for what is right and refuses to despair, the Evil Inclination is eventually conquered.

This is also one reason why, even after Jacob received the name Israel, he is sometimes referred to in the Torah by his old name. For although the level of "Israel" is superior, the level of "Jacob" is nonetheless a necessary component in the spiritual life of the Jew.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

by Valerie Diker

People don't talk about G-d very much, especially Jewish people. They talk about a way of life--history, laws, customs--but not about how they feel spiritually. My friends, my family, my teachers, even my rabbis, were scarcely able to share their personal feelings. I turned to books, and sought, with little success, others who could share their feelings. As my own spirituality began emerging, I was unable to ignore the stirrings of my soul, and I began to write my own sentiments and to find solace by reading them often. Poetry objectified my feelings: it confirmed and validated them. Where did these powerful feelings come from? How did they emerge? I seek to share that with you now.

Many people turn to spirituality when their lives become unmanageable. Burdened with physical or emotional trauma, they turn to G-d. I turned to G-d when my own world was filled with worldly pleasures which no longer satisfied my deeper needs. Married, secure, successful: wealthy husband, healthy children; with all of this I felt an emptiness. In the fullness of my life an abyss was opening. I had what many desired; still, I felt a void I could not understand.

Born to parents who were second and third generation Jewish Americans, living in a large city, I grew up in a home where religion was never discussed. No Yom Kippur, no Passover, no traditions, no prayers. We learned old-fashioned American ethics: honesty, achievement, manners, cleanliness, and above all, nothing in "excess."

As a child I learned Catholicism from Tessie the maid, and Mademoiselle took me to Mass. During World War II, our family's concern was about the German occupation of France. The Holocaust was not discussed. I gave up candy for Lent and bemoaned my unsmudged forehead on Ash Wednesday. My Easter basket overflowed. Each Christmas, my parents bought the biggest tree on the block. I never heard of Chanuka.

When I was seven, my brother became a Bar Mitzva in a Reform ceremony. The memories linger... his arguments with my mother, her prodding him to prepare, his lack of interest, hundreds of thank-you notes. The day itself labored on. Judaism was not discussed again.

When I was 28, my father died. The funeral was held in a Reform temple because it was the only place large enough to hold the 2,000 people who came. Kaddish was not recited.

I didn't think much about being Jewish again until my eldest son turned thirteen. I had no wish to repeat the sham of my brother's experience; however, my husband persisted and I agreed. On the day my son became a Bar Mitzva, a tiny flame ignited in me.

August of that same year, I accompanied my husband to Israel. It was a time of political upheaval. Invited by the mayor of Jerusalem, we stayed at the King David Hotel while Henry Kissinger negotiated the Sinai. It was a week that changed my life; I came home concerned and proud to be a Jew.

I began traveling to Israel twice yearly to fulfill philanthropic and social obligations. Inevitably, I began meeting Holocaust survivors who had remained observant. I was fascinated. Why? How? What was it that kept them faithful? I needed answers that they were unprepared to verbalize. I began to seek more specific Jewish experiences. I saw the hill where Saul fell. I stood by the brook where David slew Goliath. I attended services.

A wise woman in Jerusalem spoke to me one day of prayer. We did a visualization in which I saw myself praying. Alone in a desert cave, I "spoke" with G-d and gained a new awareness. This "waking dream" remained with me for months. When I returned to America, I felt driven to discover more about the powerful world of prayer, to learn the active faith which had sustained the Jewish people for over 4,000 years. I studied privately and in class; I attended different synagogues. I hired a Hebrew teacher, and learned the sweet side of Torah from Chasidic Rabbis. Within weeks I realized that the religion I sought was a way of life, not an intellectual exercise; I knew I must reshape my lifestyle around Judaism. This came as a surprise to me and as more than a surprise to my family.

Friday night became Sabbath, a night of family observance. Saturday Sabbath continued, an oasis of prayer and rest. One day blue and red tape appeared all over our pristine, white kitchen to distinguish "meat" from "dairy." Menus changed; blessings accompanied meals and snacks; morning prayers began each day. Ritual laws informed my life. I was elated. My family was caught off guard.

From these acts came enhanced commitment. Every week was a new unfolding of knowledge and treasured understanding. Every day brought a new way of being, of dealing with issues thoughtfully and intentionally. I gained a different perspective in which I was no longer the center of my world. Rather, I was a crucial part of a large, G-d centered universe, a world with purpose beyond human ambition; a world ordered by faith, in which people could be open, honest, responsive. Fragments of feelings, murmurs of the heart threw my inner life into kaleidoscopic patterns. I was dazzled by the colors, touched by emerging truths.

My search for spiritual intimacy continued; but I was unprepared for the intensity of the moment when I first felt G-d's presence. It happened in the exquisite solitude of the New Mexican desert. There, in the silence of prayer I experienced G-d.

Surely I know that G-d is everywhere, especially when the heart is open. Now I am determined to preserve the intimacy and clarity I felt in the desert, to live each day with the challenge of mindfulness and simplicity, preserving a sense of His nearness, allowing His light to reflect in my life.

From the introduction to Journey to the Heart, a book of poetry by Valerie Diker, M. Evans & Co., NY, NY.


What's New

GIVE A HAND

"Ten Yad," which means "Give a Hand," was established 11 years ago in honor of the wedding anniversary on the 14th of Kislev (Nov. 28 this year) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka (of blessed memory). Ten Yad was founded by a group of young women in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who were themselves beginning the preparations for their own weddings. Their goal was to assure that their peers be able to start homes with all of the items necessary to set up a kosher kitchen and basic household furnishings for the Jewish home. Ten Yad has extended its involvement in what our Sages consider one of the greatest mitzvot--Hachnasat Kalla (assisting brides)--to include helping dozens of brides each year in the C.I.S. For more info about how you can get involved in this tremendous mitzva write: Ten Yad, 1249 Carroll St., Bklyn, NY 11213 or call (718) 756-1482.


The Rebbe Writes

From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

21 Shevat, 5718 (1958)

I was pleased to receive your letter of January 30, in which you wrote about your spending your vacation at home, after which you plan to return to your studies in New York. I am gratified to note that you do not content yourself with your own progress in Hebrew studies, but you are trying to use your good influence with your friends in that direction. This kind of benevolent effort expresses in the best possible way the commandment of "Love thy fellow-Jew," which is the great principle of our Torah. For, if helping a fellow-Jew in material things is so great a mitzva, how much more so helping one spiritually, in matters of Torah and mitzvot, which are eternal.

Moreover, the mitzva of Sabbath observance, that you write about, is one of the most fundamental ones and as the Rabbis state in the Talmud ( Yerushalmi, Nedarim 3:9) that the Sabbath equals in importance all the other mitzvot combined. By the same token Sabbath transgression is one of the greatest transgressions, so that the Rabbis have ruled that he who publicly desecrates the Sabbath is regarded as if he was desecrating the entire Torah.

I mention this particularly in reference to your inquiry regarding the Sabbath desecration which is perpetrated by the Jewish ocean liners. The claim that everything is done automatically during the 24 hours of the Sabbath is absurd, and I state it with the fullest authority, being an engineer myself and having studied marine mechanics. For one thing, certain machinery can not be operated automatically, especially those connected with the steering, radio communications, services and similar functions.

Secondly, even if those machines can operate automatically, they are required by their very operation as well as by international law, to be checked every few hours, which involves direct Sabbath desecration a corresponding number of times during the 24-hour period of the Sabbath.

Thirdly, certain so-called automatic machines, including some of the boilers, require a change of parts periodically, approximately every six hours, when the affected sections of these machines are stopped and restarted for the said purpose, diminishing or starting it again.

In addition to the above, there are so many instances on a ship plying the high seas which involve Sabbath desecration, as any one who is familiar with the technical aspects of modern shipping will know. For instance, the water which is supplied for drinking, and even running water in the cabinets, is derived from the sea by a process of distillation, which, as you no doubt know, means the boiling and the evaporation of the water and converting it back to distilled water by cooling. The water supply is not stored for days ahead, not even for 24 hours, because of the storage space it would require, but is produced continually by process of distillation. In other words, even if the entire crew consisted of non-Jews, the water could not be used several hours after the Sabbath has begun, because the water supply from before Shabbat would have been exhausted and the crew should be providing fresh water on the Sabbath, specifically for the Jewish passengers, the use of which Jewish law forbids until several hours have elapsed after the termination of the Sabbath. The same is true of the lighting system. The law would apply even if only the majority of the passengers were Jews, how much more so if it is as in this case of the Jewish ships which carry almost exclusively Jewish passengers, for it is on their behalf that the ship is operated and the machines are regulated, involving a flagrant violation of the Sabbath. Only one who has no conception of how such machines are operated can be made to believe the absurd claim that an ocean liner can be operated automatically, without any Sabbath desecration.

The question has been asked, if the operation of the Jewish ships involves such a violation of the Jewish law, why is there no storm raised in protest in the Holy Land to stop it? The answer will become self-evident from the following instance:

For some ten years the supply and distribution of milk in the Holy Land has been in the hands of the cooperatives and farms, many of whom have been known to raise pigs, and under very strong suspicion of mixing pigs' milk with the cows' milk (for economic reasons) which therefore made it treifa [non-kosher]. Yet, until late last summer, nothing was done about it, until finally, Rabbi Nissim [one of Israel's chief rabbis at the time this letter was written] stepped in and banned such milk, inducing the farmers to give up their pig breeding, since they would not want to give up the more lucrative milk business. No doubt you have read about it in the papers. Surely no one would declare cow-milk mixed with pig-milk kosher, yet this went on for this disgraceful amount of years.

I want to mention that last year, a group of girls who were planning go to the Holy Land on one of these ships, when learning of the Sabbath desecration it involved, changed their plans and went by air instead. These girls certainly deserve credit. Actually, it would be ridiculous were it not for the grave issue involved, for a person desirous to go to the land which is regarded as holy, even by the non-Jews, that he choose a way of transportation which involves an open violation of one of the Ten Commandments, namely, the commandment of "Keep the Sabbath day Holy," which, as we noted before equals all the Commandments combined.

I trust that you surely know the Code of Jewish Law begins with the admonition, "Do not be influenced by the scoffers." I sincerely hope that this will be so in your case, and may G-d help you to save others from open desecration of the Sabbath.


Rambam this week


A Word from the Director

"It'll happen when it happens," some people say, concerning the ultimate Redemption.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a), in fact, does discuss the possibility of Moshiach coming at a preordained time, regardless of the worthiness of the generation. This is referred to as "b'ito"--in its time.

However, in the very same discussion, the Talmud also says that G-d declares, "I will hasten it--achishena." This means that the Redemption can come before the ultimate, preordained time.

The idea that we should hope for, pray for and even do something about hastening the Redemption is based, in part, on one of Maimonides' 13 Principles of Jewish Faith: "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even if he tarries, every day I await his coming." This means that each day we await his coming that very day. Thus, to say, "It'll happen when it happens" contradicts this foundation of Judaism.

Additionally, in the silent "Shemona Esrei," the central prayer of the three daily prayer services, we state: "We hope for Your salvation all day long." It would be more than a little bit ridiculous for us to hope all day long for the Redemption if we knew for a fact that it was not going to happen for many years or maybe even within our lifetime.

Maimonides, in his Laws of Repentance, declares that through repentance (teshuva) we can bring Moshiach immediately. Peppered throughout the teachings of our Sages are various other ways to hasten the redemption, such as giving charity, Torah study, keeping Shabbat, unity of the Jewish people.

In future issues we will discuss these more in detail.


Thoughts that Count

When Esau my brother will meet you, and ask you saying: Whose are you, and where are you going? (Gen. 32:18)

Esau's question is remarkably similar to the Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers: "Reflect on three things...know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a future account and reckoning." Why would the evil Esau suddenly adopt the pious tone of the Mishna?

Rather, this question--"Where are you going?"--may be asked by both the Good and the Evil Inclinations. When asked by the Good Inclination, it prevents the person from committing a sin. The Evil Inclination, however, poses the same question in its attempt to bring the individual to despair. In such a case, one must remember that the mere fact that one is a Jew causes unlimited joy and appreciation Above.

(Chidushei Harim)

Because G-d has dealt graciously with me, and because I have all (Gen. 32:11)

This is a fundamental characteristic of the Jew, who is always content with his lot in life. Whatever he is given by G-d is exactly what he needs, no more and no less. This is why Jacob said, "I have all," whereas Esau declared, "I have enough."

(Chasidic Sages)

And Esau said: Please let me leave with you some of the people that are with me (Gen. 33:15)

Esau suggested that he leave special teachers with Jacob and his family, to teach them the finer points of "civilization"--social conventions, foreign languages and popular fashions--so that they could quickly climb the social ladder, but Jacob refused his brother's offer. "What need is there?" Jacob replied. "I have no interest in assimilating, to find favor in your eyes or the eyes of the nations."

(Chasidic Sages)

I am not worthy of all the kindness...which You have shown to Your servant (Gen. 32:11)

And what is the greatest kindness of all? That You have made me Your servant!

(Torat Avot)


It Once Happened

Before King David was anointed king, he was a shepherd and he spent his time tending his flocks in the hills, fields and forests of the land of Israel. His brilliant mind delved into all that he saw, and he tried to understand G-d's world. Many of G-d's creatures were beautiful, others were useful to man.

One day David saw a madman wandering through the fields. His clothing was torn, and the distracted look in his eyes bespoke a total loss of reason. David began to reflect on the man's condition. "G-d, you have created a world filled with beauty and perfection. Your creatures are wondrous to behold, but this I do not understand. Why did You create madness, which is good for nothing. Here I have seen a poor, destitute man who wanders completely bereft of reason. What purpose could insanity serve in Your world?"

G-d replied to David, saying, "David, do you really believe that I have created insanity in vain? One day you will see what it is for. One day you, yourself will be in need of madness and you will pray that I grant it to you."

When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel he was force to flee from King Saul who sought to kill him. David fled to the land of the Philistines, where King Achish gave him refuge. Achish didn't know that David was the new king, and he had hoped that David would help him defeat Saul.

Others in the king's court, namely the brothers of Goliath, whom David had slain, recognized him. They bided their time until they felt that the king would give David over to them, and said, "This is the very same man who killed our brother. Let us have our revenge on him."

But the king was unwilling to have his guest murdered. After all, it was likely that the young warrior would help in the war to defeat the Jewish king. He responded to them by denying their identification of young David. "It couldn't be David. He would never come to us for help. Besides, even if it was him, he killed your brother fairly, in battle."

The two brothers were angrier than ever and determined to get their revenge. They stirred up discontent among the other members of the king's royal guard, and taunted the king, saying, "Since one of the conditions of David's battle with my brother was that the winner would rule over the loser. Are you willing to become David's vassal?"

The king began to fear for his crown. He called David into his private chamber and cross-examined him about the death of Goliath. David saw that the king was no longer his ally, and he was frightened. He turned to G-d and prayed, "Please, Master of the Universe, help me now."

"What are you asking of Me; what kind of help do you require?" G-d responded.

"Let me become truly mad so that the king will not want to kill me."

"Do you remember when you asked Me why I created insanity? I told you that one day you would ask me to make you insane. Now, that has happened and you understand very well."

Immediately, David became obviously insane. The brothers of Goliath tried to bind him and bring him before the king, but he whirled and spun in circles. He spit and screamed and tore at his hair. He took a piece of charcoal and scribbled all over the palace doors, "Achish owes me a hundred times ten thousand pieces of silver. His wife, the queen, owes me fifty."

David ran through the palace from end to end. Achish had a daughter who was insane. She was kept in a locked room in the palace. When she heard David scream, she would scream back, and when she would scream, David would answer. The ruckus was unbearable to the king.

"Aren't I surrounded by enough insanity? Do I have to have this madman here as well? Get him out of here! It is obvious that this can't be David. David is a brilliant scholar and soldier; this man is completely insane."

Everyone at court agreed with him. Even Goliath's brothers saw that this was the wrong man. David was forcibly expelled from the palace. When he found himself free and no longer threatened his sanity returned to him. And he understood that everything that Hashem does is good and has its purpose in the world.


Moshiach Matters

When a child is born into a Jewish home, he or she is the element of Moshiach in that home.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Tevet, 5741--1981)


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