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The question of decades ago, "It's ten p.m.. Do you know where your children are?" might bring more looks of exasperation today than in the past. Yet, if someone directed a similar question to you -- "Do you know where you are?" we would think that the questioner is a bit daft.
Aside from visits to malls, zoos or amusement parks, when we often have to refer to the map at the information center to find out "you are here," we always seem to know where we are.
But do we really know where we are?
The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was imprisoned on trumped up charges of anti-government activities. (We celebrate his release from prison on the 19th of Kislev, Nov. 22 this year.)
During his imprisonment, one of the Czar's officers -- having heard of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's keen intellect and outstanding genius in all areas of life -- engaged him in a conversation.
The officer had an unsolved question. "It says that Adam 'hid' after he sinned by eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. When G-d wanted to speak with Adam, He asked him, 'Where are you?' Didn't G-d know where Adam was?" asked the officer.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, "The Bible is eternal and its message is for all times. G-d was inquiring of Adam, and of all his descendants for all time, 'Where are you? Where do you stand in the fulfillment of your life's mission? How much have you accomplished today and what do you intend to accomplish tomorrow that will help you fulfill the special task with which you have been entrusted?'"
The question "Where are you?" is asked every day of each one of us.
Like the question, "Who are you?" the answer has to come from a place that goes beyond names and titles and positions and affiliations and job descriptions. To be able to properly respond, our answer has to come from our very essence. For G-d does not direct the question to Adam or Eve, to Michael or Jennifer. He directs it to you: "Where are you?"
An important start in being able to answer the question is to understand who "you" are. The Chasidic teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman -- the dissemination of which was the true cause for his imprisonment -- explain that "you" are comprised of a G-dly soul and a body chosen by G-d at Mount Sinai.
Torah, primarily as elucidated by Chasidic teachings, can help us fully understand these two components of ourselves. Together with that understanding comes the ability to begin to answer the age- old and ageless question, "Where are you."
The New Year of Chasidut commences on the 19th Kislev.
Make a New Year's resolution that "you" will never regret. Join a Torah class that includes Chasidic teachings. Find out where you really are.
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, contains the episode of Dina's violation by Shechem, and her brothers' vindication of the crime. Finding idols among the spoils his sons had taken, Yaakov (Jacob) instructed them, "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and cleanse yourselves."
Maimonides cites this verse to support the ruling that the worship of idols renders a person spiritually unclean and impure.
The fact that Maimonides brings this verse as proof is unusual, for he rarely cites a textual basis in his writings.
Interesting, too, is the fact that the Talmud cites totally different verses to support the Jewish law that idolatry causes spiritual defilement, whereas Maimonides quotes a little-known Midrash. We must therefore conclude that Maimonides' intent was to teach us something else about the nature of idolatry and its consequences.
The very existence of idolatry raises certain fundamental questions.
How can an entity even exist whose sole purpose is to conceal the Oneness and Unity of G-d and His dominion over creation?
This very question was asked by the ancient King Ptolemy of the seventy Sages whom he forced to translate the Torah into Greek.
Their answer was that G-d is in no way required to destroy His world just because some foolish people choose to worship the sun and the moon.
And yet, one may still wonder why the world was created in such a way as to leave room for people to worship false gods. Why didn't G-d make His presence and rulership over the world more obvious, so that no one would ever be led astray and the futility of idol worship would be immediately apparent?
The answer lies in the above verse itself: "Put away the strange gods that are among you."
The existence of paganism was allowed by G-d solely for the purpose of it being rejected and refuted. G-d wants the Jewish people to actively fight the notion that any power can exist aside from Him, and to constantly demonstrate His Oneness.
The prohibition against idolatry is different from all other prohibitions in the Torah, for it proscribes something which does not really exist; laws such as those against eating non-kosher food or possessing leaven on Passover deal with actual entities that the Torah forbids us to eat or derive pleasure from.
Idol worship, however, is only an illusion, for in reality, nothing can exert any influence over creation aside from the Creator Himself.
G-d's desire is that man, through his service, uncover this truth and come to the realization that idolatry is false.
On a deeper level, not only does idolatry have no independent existence, but neither can any entity outside of G-d; the entire world is but a part of G-d's Unity. The Divine mission of the Jew is to reveal this underlying reality through the medium of Torah and mitzvot.
This realization should give us much encouragement in life, for no matter how many obstacles we may encounter in our service of G-d, we must always bear in mind that they are just as illusory as the worship of idols; G-d is the only reality that truly exists.
All we need do is "put away the strange gods" that are among us and the truth will be revealed.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. XXX
Rabbi Y.M. Lipszyc, Leah Lipszyc, and family
by Leah Lipszyc
When my husband, Rabbi Yitzchok Meyer Lipszyc, and I were shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe) in Alabama we regularly visited Jewish prisoners at a federal, minimum security prison. Every Wednesday evening my husband gave a class; thank G-d there weren't many Jews, but those who were there attended.
The first year Rabbi Lipszyc went to prison to lead the High Holiday services they were short a minyan for Rosh Hashana. There were six Jewish prisoners, two shochtim (men who perform the ritual slaughter of meat) from Montgomery, Alabama, and Rabbi Lipszyc. But nine doesn't make a minyan.
Everyone thought hard when Rabbi Lipszyc asked if there wasn't maybe one more Jewish person somewhere in the prison.
"Gene's mother was Jewish but his father was Catholic," someone mentioned. "But Gene considers himself Catholic."
Rabbi Lipszyc found Gene. "Is it true that your mother was Jewish?" he asked Gene.
"Yeah, but I'm Catholic," Gene told him.
"According to Jewish law, you're Jewish," Rabbi Lipszyc tells the surprised Gene. "We need a quorom -- ten men -- in order to say our prayers," he continued. "Will you try it tonight? We won't press you to stay if you feel uncomfortable."
During the services that first night of Rosh Hashana I noticed that Gene had tears in his eyes. At the meal after the services, someone asked him if he would come back the next day.
Gene informed us that he had a parole board meeting in the morning and, though he was pretty pessimistic about the outcome, he wanted to go all the same.
One of the shochtim said that there is phrase which is a "segula" -- beneficial to say before a court case.
Gene was eager to try anything and asked for pen and paper to write it down. But it was Rosh Hashana and Rabbi Lipszyc explained to him that we don't write on Rosh Hashana.
Rabbi Lipszyc offered to meet Gene just before the parole meeting at 8:00 a.m. and say it together with him.
When Rabbi Lipszyc arrived a few minutes before eight, Gene was already looking at his watch with great concern. Rabbi Lipszyc said the words three times, "Ima d'Avraham Avinu Amtalya bas Karnavo. The mother of Avraham our Father was Amtalya the daughter of Karnavo." Gene repeated it word for word.
Gene went in to the parole board meeting and Rabbi Lipszyc went back to begin the Rosh Hashana services -- without a minyan. A little while later an ecstatic Gene came back to the minyan.
"They let me off two months earlier than I even asked for!" he told all of us.
Gene stayed with the services for the whole of Rosh Hashana. After that he started coming to Rabbi Lipszyc's weekly class and put on tefilin each time. After Gene got out we kept in contact with him for a while and he was still putting on tefilin the last time we spoke to him.
Six years ago, when my husband went to arrange and lead Yom Kippur services, an interesting incident happened.
Just before the last Yom Kippur prayer, Neila, Rabbi Lipszyc explained to everyone that the Heavenly gates of prayer would soon be closing. He suggested that everyone take upon himself a new mitzva for the coming year, thus accompanying his prayer with a good resolution.
There was silence for a few moments while everyone considered the mitzva he would take on and then the Neila prayer began.
After Yom Kippur, as everyone broke their fast, someone who had never been to any class approached Rabbi Lipszyc.
"I need help with a mitzva," he told the rabbi. "What mitzva did you take on?" the rabbi asked. "Shabbat," was the simple reply. "And what help do you need?"
"Well," began Curt, "I don't know anything about Shabbat. It's the only mitzva I ever heard of, though. So, if you can give me some books on it I would appreciate it."
The following week Rabbi Lipszyc brought Curt a few books in English about Shabbat.
Curt began coming to Rabbi Lipszyc's Wednesday night class. A few months passed. One Wednesday night Rabbi Lipszyc noticed Curt's absence and asked the other prisoners where Curt was.
"You won't believe what happened to him," someone responded. "You had given Curt these books about keeping Shabbat and he started doing whatever he was learning in the books.
"Well," continued the person excitedly, "it says in one of those books that if all Jews would keep two Sabbaths they would be redeemed. You also taught us that everything that applies to all the Jews applies to each one of us as individuals as well.
Curt figured that if he would keep two Sabbaths perfectly he would be let out. He read everything and kept two Sabbaths exactly the way it says in the books.
That very week the federal prisons initiated a new program allowing people who have committed white collar crimes to be released under house arrest.
Curt was the first one they let out under that program. When we had our little minyan last Friday night we all danced and sang with him. Just the other day he actually left!"
As soon as Curt got out of jail he called us in Alabama.
He asked us a few questions, including a few about Shabbat. We're still in touch with him and every year he takes on a new mitzva on Yom Kippur.
Our congratulations and good luck to the Lipszycs who recently became the Rebbe's emissaries in Crimea.
Gatherings should be held in honor of 19 Kislev -- the "New Year of Chasidut" and anniversary of the liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, in every Jewish community.
Participate in as many gatherings as you can. They needn't be huge assemblies -- begin with yourself (i.e. a gathering of one's own strengths and powers for good).
At these gatherings an emphasis should be placed on inspiring each other to increase Torah, prayer and deeds of kindness.
(From a talk of the Rebbe, 16 Kislev, 5752-1991)
20 Kislev, 5719 (1959)
Yesterday we celebrated Yud Tes [the 19th of] Kislev, the Redemption of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, and together with him the triumph of all matters connected with Chabad.
The day inspires every one of us to greater efforts in living up to the concepts of Chabad, the basis of which is the love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of our fellow-Jews, all of which is truly one.
This is connected with the basic teachings of Chabad, requiring everyone of us to do our utmost to bring our fellow-Jews closer to G-d and to Torah and mitzvot, in their purest form, without compromise or concession, though the approach to each individual may differ in accordance with his spiritual state and background.
One cannot expect a Jew who has drifted from the Jewish way of life to transform himself suddenly, and it is necessary to bring him closer to G-d by stages, yet we have to present to him the true aspects of our Torah and mitzvot, not in any diluted form.
It is only then that the Jew is responsive to the truth, as is expressed the well-known saying of the Alter Rebbe that "No Jew wishes, nor can he, sever himself from G-d."
The 19th of Kislev, therefore, reminds us every year of these basic principles, and inspires us towards their fulfillment.
I know your late father of blessed memory, and I also had the opportunity to meet with you and your wife when you visited here.
My personal knowledge of the members of your family gives me every confidence that every one of you will do your utmost to work for the spreading of Torah and mitzvot in your community, in the spirit of the founder of Chabad, and his teachings.
The work of Chabad in every field of Jewish endeavor has always been on a non-sectarian basis and not confined to any particular group, but embraces all our fellow Jews.
It is because of this that it has remained free from outside influences and pressures, and it is because of this that it has succeeded so well, with the help of G-d.
Translated from a telegram of the Rebbe
17 Kislev, 5752 (1991):
To all those participating in the major gatherings of Yud Tes Kislev,
L'Chaim, L'Chaim Velivracha -- "To life, to life and blessing."
Beginning today, the 17th of Kislev (whose numerical equivalent in Hebrew, tov, means "good"); continuing on the 18th of Kislev (whose numerical equivalent in Hebrew, chai, means "live"); and on the 19th of the month, Yud Tes Kislev itself; may you be inscribed -- and may that inscription be sealed -- for a good year in the study of Chasidut and in the Chasidic ways of conduct.
May it be G-d's will that the verse, "He redeemed my soul in peace" [the verse of Psalms which the Alter Rebbe was reciting when he was informed of his release] come to complete fruition for each and every one of you.
May you succeed in making vessels for this blessing, as reflected in our Sages' interpretation of the above verse as referring to one who is occupied in Torah study (both the revealed dimension of Torah law and the Torah's mystic dimension), in deeds of kindness, and in prayer.
Additional emphasis on the above is granted this year, for Yud Tes Kislev falls on a Tuesday, the day on which the expression "And G-d saw that it was good" was repeated. And as our Sages explain, this refers to a twofold good, "Good for the heavens" and "Good for the created beings."
The above activities should all be brought to fruition energetically, in a manner of Ufaratzta: "And you shall spread forth westward, eastward, north-ward, and southward," beginning with each of the mitzva campaigns.
There is added emphasis on all of the above in the present year, for it is a leap year, which the Torah describes as a "perfect year"....
And from these days, we will proceed to the days of preparation for Chanuka and to Chanuka itself, whose message is, which indeed, grants the potential for it to be actualized, for each and every person to kindle "the lamp of mitzva and the light of Torah," "at the outside of the entrance to his home," and to increase the light shining at the entrance to his home from day to day, causing it to shine outward throughout the entire year...
May this be realized in the building of the Third Holy Temple -- speedily in our days, in the true and complete Redemption led by Moshiach. May this take place in the immediate future.
CHANUKAH LIVE - November 27 1994 - 3:00pm EST
Watch "Chanukah Live" on your local Cable TV. For more info call 1-800-CHANUKAH (1-800-242-6852) or call 718-771-2100.
Wondering what to get the kids for Chanuka?
A CHANUKA STORY FOR NIGHT NUMBER THREE
Join Mattisiyahu Dov Ber Chaim Tzvi whose birthday is on Chanuka night number three. Have fun with him as he makes the biggest latka ever and then shares it with new-found friends in the hospital. Written in rhyme by Dini Rosenfeld and illustrated by Harris Mandel. HaChai Publishing (Brooklyn, NY)
THINGS I LIKE TO SEE ON HANUKAH
A board book for the littlest one in the family, the bright drawings are attention grabbers. Conceived and illustrated by Yehudis Illions. Feldheim Publishers (NY, NY)
ONE HANUKKAH NIGHT
The same menora that shone in Bubby and Zaidy's house so long ago now glistens in a modern home. In this warm book, Chanuka traditions pass from one generation to the next. The colorful work offers a look at the many ways families can celebrate Chanuka. Written and illlustrated by Aidel Backman.
The 14th of Kislev is the wedding anniversary of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. I would like to share excerpts from the diary of a yeshiva students of that time about this event:
"The good news that the marriage of the Previous Rebbe's daughter, Chaya Mushka, to the Rebbe would take place in Warsaw brought great joy to all...
"The hall was silent as the Previous Rebbe began a discourse before the wedding ceremony. 'It is well known that at the time of a wedding, the souls of the ancestors of the couple from three generations back come to bless the couple. There are times, though, that ancestors from even earlier generations come. As an invitation to our holy Rebbes and ancestors, I will say a discourse which contains within it teachings from each of them: the Alter Rebbe; the Mittler Rebbe; the Tzemach Tzedek -- my father's grandfather; the Rebbe Maharash -- the bride's great- grandfather; the Rebbe Rashab -- the groom's great, great- grandfather and the bride's great-grandfather.'
"Following this introduction, the Previous Rebbe began a Chasidic discourse after which he went into a private room with the groom. He then accompanied the groom to the badekin and from there they went to the chupa which was in the yeshiva's courtyard. Over 5,000 people were in the courtyard.
"The wedding feast was in one of the largest halls in Warsaw and the Previous Rebbe walked among the tables and said 'l'chaim' to everyone. He delivered a talk to the yeshiva students and then afterwards danced with the administrators and teachers of the yeshiva. The Previous Rebbe then delivered another Chasidic discourse which lasted until after midnight. Only then did all of the guests begin their meal.
"Far away, in the city of Dnepropetrovsk, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson -- the Rebbe's parents -- were celebrating with the people of their city. They had been forbidden by the government to attend the wedding of their eldest son. The entire night the festivities continued in their home."
Once, on his anniversary, the Rebbe said, "This is the time that I became connected to you -- the Chasidim." May everyone soon experience the complete connection to the Rebbe with the commencement of the Messianic Era.
And Yaakov sent messengers to Esav (Esau) his brother (Gen. 32:4)
At that time, Yaakov was fully ready for the ultimate Messianic Redemption. He had learned a great deal of Torah, served G-d with all his heart, and had observed the 613 mitzvot despite the many obstacles encountered in Lavan's house.
For his part, he was ready and prepared.
Yaakov sent messengers to check out the spiritual status of his brother Esav, to see if he was also ready for Moshiach.
Unfortunately, they found that he was still wicked and had not repented of his evil ways. The Redemption was therefore delayed for thousands of years until our generation, when the nations of the world are now finally ready.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Vayishlach, 5752)
"I have sojourned with Lavan... and I have an ox, a donkey, flocks, servants and maids..."(Gen. 32:4,5)
In order to frighten Esav, Yaakov told him that he had "an ox and a donkey."
Why would Esav be afraid of a donkey?
Yaakov was referring to the donkey upon which Moshiach will ride.
Moshiach will ride on a donkey because of his humility. He will also overcome all the nations of the world in a quiet way, without war, just as Yaakov overcame Esav.
These are the generations of Esav, who is Edom...these are the names of Esav's chieftains...chieftain Magdiel, chieftain Iram (Gen. 36:1, 40, 43)
The present exile is referred to as the Exile of Edom because the Romans, who brought about the exile with their destruction of the Holy Temple, were mostly descendants of Edom. This exile is generally divided into two eras, governed by the above two kinds of leaders:
Chieftain Magdiel (lit., "he magnifies himself above every god"):
In this first era, the Roman empire expanded throughout the world, seeking to overpower Judaism and make it difficult for Jews to observe Torah and mitzvot.
Chieftain Iram (from the Hebrew "to amass [treasures for the royal Moshiach]":
This second era is the one close to the Messianic Era, when Rome will cease to subdue Israel, submitting to holiness and even assisting Moshiach. Rome will then realize the literal and sacred meaning of its name, which is related to the word "hitromemut" (exaltation).
(The Rebbe, Parshat Vayishlach, 5751)
At the age of six, Shlomo, a Jewish boy from the town of Smilian was stricken with blindness. His parents sought out the finest doctors available. Unfortunately, after trying various treatments, the doctors concluded that there was no hope of his eyesight returning.
The little boy loved music and asked his father to arrange music lessons. He had innate talent and, as he grew into manhood, he became an accomplished musician. He did not, however, regain his sight.
When word of the miraculous powers of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe" reached the town of Smilian, Shlomo's father decided to take him to Liozna in the hope that the Rebbe would help his son.
When father and son were granted an audience with the Alter Rebbe, the Rebbe opened the holy text, the Zohar. "Here, read from this page," the Rebbe told Shlomo.
"I cannot see a thing," answered the young man sadly. The Rebbe closed the book and opened it again. "Now read," he said.
Shlomo could not believe his eyes. Although the words were unclear, he could actually make out some letters. "It is very blurred," he said anxiously.
A third time, the Rebbe closed and reopened the holy book. "And now?" he prompted the young man.
Shlomo read the words easily, his voice quivering with excitement.
"Study to become a shochet and move to Shoshnik," the Alter Rebbe instructed him. The young man followed the Rebbe's advice and became one of the mainstays of the Chasidic community in that town.
Reb Shlomo was one of the many musicians who played at the famous wedding in Zshlobin (the marriage of the grandchildren of the Alter Rebbe and Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev). He played his violin masterfully as the Alter Rebbe, Reb Mordechai of Tchernobyl and Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev danced.
The Rebbe of Tchernobyl called Reb Shlomo to him and said, "You play very well. However, undesirable thoughts enter your mind. Look at me and they will no longer bother you."
On another occasion, Reb Shlomo played at a wedding held in the courtyard of the Alter Rebbe. The Chasidim sang and danced to the tunes of his violin. Inspired by the celebration, the Alter Rebbe came out and recited a Chasidic discourse on the verse, "And it came to pass as the musician played his music..."
When his last days approached, Reb Shlomo called the Chevra Kadisha (the burial society) to his home.
"I will pass away today," he informed them. "How do you know?" they inquired.
Reb Shlomo replied: "Twenty years ago, the Angel of Death demanded that I surrender my soul. I told him, 'How dare you make such a request of me! I was instructed by the Alter Rebbe to reside in Shoshnik for a specific amount of time. That time has not yet passed.' I took a wooden board and bashed him on the shoulder, leaving him hunchbacked. Today, the hunchback came back with his demand, and I have no reason to dismiss him."
In the days of the Alter Rebbe, the Chasidim living throughout Russia and Lithuania began to gather to pray in Chabad minyanim (quorums).
Besides joining for prayer, members of these groups would also collect contributions for the Rebbe's charity funds and send them to him together with a list of the contributors.
Once, a member of one of these minyanim failed to overcome the challenges posed to him by his evil inclination, and began to conduct himself in a manner that was not fitting for a member of the Chasidic community. His former colleagues shunned him, and the next time the Rebbe sent out an appeal, they did not seek his contribution.
When the list of contributors reached the Rebbe, he took notice of the missing name. "What happened? He always participated previously," asked the Rebbe. The Chasid who delivered the contribution explained that the man had been ousted from the minyan.
"Rejecting him is not the proper approach," responded the Rebbe. "You have no idea how much being part of a Chasidic minyan can affect an individual. Even if you see no change in his behavior afterwards, the time he spends together with you is precious. You cannot appreciate how pleasing it is for G-d for a Jew to be prevented from having even one improper thought."
GOOD YOM TOV.
MAY YOU BE INSCRIBED AND SEALED
FOR A GOOD YEAR IN THE STUDY OF
CHASSIDUS AND THE WAYS OF CHASSIDUS
Four of the blessings to be said when Moshiach comes are:
- "Blessed are You...Knower of secrets (a blessing pronounced upon seeing 600,000 or more Jews together);
- "Blessed are You... Who has apportioned of His wisdom to those who fear Him";
- "Blessed are You... Who has apportioned of His honor to those who fear Him";
- and Shehecheyanu.