New York (Jta) | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | A Call To Action
The Rebbe Writes | What's New | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Seven months later, Nachum Sassonkin has come home.
One of two Lubavitcher students shot in the head March 1, 1994 on the Brooklyn Bridge (Ari Halberstam died a few days later), Sassonkin, 18, suffered head wounds that had doctors giving him only the slightest chance to live.
Sassonkin was released from the trauma center at Philadelphia's Moss Hospital on October 19, 1994 where, since early May, he has been relearning the suddenly complex skills of walking and talking.
He still is hoping to overcome functional disabilities of the jaw, throat and swallowing reflex, but the Moss doctors say he is well enough to continue this therapy as an outpatient in New York's Rusk Institute.
The Sassonkin family, which had moved from New York and Israel to Philadelphia for the duration of Nachum's hospitalization, expects Nachum to soon resume his studies in an intensive yeshiva program in Crown Heights.
The introverted Sassonkin, considered a brilliant student and highly spiritual soul, says he would rather talk about the Messiah than about himself or Rashid Baz [May G-d erase his name], the Brooklyn Arab charged with the shooting.
Sassonkin is preparing to dedicate his life to disseminating the teachings of the seven Lubavitcher Rebbes, something that members of his family have been doing for generations around the globe.
"I gained some fame because of my injury. I have the opportunity now to spread the Rebbe's message that the Messiah is coming soon," he said.
Rabbi Moshe Spalter, emissary of the Rebbe in Toronto, Canada, said that he was moved to tears when a phone call came in to the Chabad House last month after Nachum's homecoming.
"An Israeli woman living here in Toronto told me that she never agreed with or understood why the Torah insists that we not 'pull the plug' or use heroic efforts to sustain life. 'Why can't they just be left to die in peace and dignity?' she had always argued.
" 'If Nachum Sassonkin had been my son,' the woman told me in a voice choked with sobs, 'he would not be alive today. Now I know that the Torah is emet -- truth.' "
The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything we see and hear is a lesson for us in our G-dly service.
Welcome Home Nachum, and good luck.
[P.S. On Thursday December 1, 1994 Rashid Baz was found guilty on all counts by a jury in Manhattan. Sentencing is scheduled in January, 1995.]
Nothing in the Torah is arbitrary, be it a word, a letter, a pause between sections or the lack of one.
Similarly, the name of each Torah portion reflects the contents and theme of the entire portion, and is not just a convenient way to distinguish between chapters.
(This helps to explain why certain portions are known by their initial word, whereas others receive their name from the second, third and subsequent words of the first verse.)
This principle is clearly demonstrated by the name of this week's Torah portion, Vayigash.
Our portion relates Judah's impassioned plea for the release of Benjamin, the reunion of Joseph with his brothers, the descent of Jacob and his sons to Egypt, and other occurrences.
A close look reveals that the common thread running through all these events is the theme of unity, summed up by the Hebrew word "Vayigash" -- "And he drew near."
"Vayigash" implies an actual physical meeting, one person approaching another to the point where they become one. According to the mystical Zohar, when Judah "drew near" to Joseph, it symbolized "the approach of one world to the other; the uniting of one with the other, till one entity was attained."
The theme of unity is also expressed in this week's haftora (which generally echoes the same theme as the Torah portion itself), which speaks of the unification of the divided Jewish people --the "kingdom of Judah" and the "kingdom of Joseph " -- that will take place in the Messianic Era. "And I will make them one nation in the land" the haftora reads, "And one king shall be king over them all."
"Vayigash" stands for the creation of unity in a place of discord and disharmony. Judah's offer to sacrifice himself on behalf of Benjamin demonstrated the unity and brotherhood that finally reigned between the sons of Jacob.
Joseph's revelation of his true identity likewise symbolized the unification of all twelve tribes -- forever granting their descendents the power to achieve true unity when Moshiach comes, speedily in our day.
The rest of Vayigash also expresses this theme, as the whole purpose of Jacob's descent into Egypt and his children's settlement there for hundreds of years was solely for the purpose of demonstrating G-d's unity in one of the lowliest places on earth. It was in Egypt, "the most corrupt among the nations," according to our Sages, that the Jewish people became a holy and unified nation.
Vayigash teaches us that unity is the essential foundation upon which Jewish life is built. But not only is unity the beginning, it is the objective of all our service as well, a goal that will be fully realized with the revelation of Moshiach.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, 5750
by Susan Raven
When I was asked what events brought Judaism into the equation of my life, I began the process of composing my life story, retracing my steps to pull together all the seemingly disjointed threads, for storytelling is fundamental to the search for meaning.
My husband Fred and I met when I was 14, and married eight years later while he was in the Army in Korea. I joined him there and worked as a teacher. We returned to the United States in 1968 and I continued teaching. In 1972, Jennifer was born. The first time I held her in my arms and looked at this very pink little girl, I was in awe of the act of creation.
When Jenn was 10 years old, she was accepted into the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center. I began taking her and my son Brian to Manhattan three and four times a week. There were late rehearsals and performances of "The Nutcracker" when we would be in the city every day until eleven o'clock in the evening.
This schedule was so encompassing that our family didn't have time to think about anything else or do anything else.
Ballet was our life.
When Jenn was 14 years old, she said to me, "You've ruled my life long enough. You've made all my decisions. I don't want to dance anymore."
Now I was forced to come face to face with myself and carve out my own identity. I needed to become Susan, not Jennifer's mother.
I needed to look within, to reflect and begin a path toward self- development. The student became the teacher; I learned from my daughter that it was time to move on with my life.
A co-teacher of mine used to meditate and talk about spirituality, and I began to engage her in conversation whenever we had a spare moment.
I read Eastern philosophy. Over the next few years a yearning for spirituality surfaced, but I felt like a wandering Jew, looking for the missing pieces but not having the vocabulary to express my needs correctly.
An unplanned visit to the gym brought me into contact with a Jewish acquaintance I hadn't seen for some time. The timing was no coincidence, and the small talk between us shifted to spiritual development.
I insisted that I was searching for something authentic, something I hadn't found at the Temple where my son was preparing for his bar mitzva.
Rachel and I started studying together. I absorbed information like a sponge. A tidal wave of new knowledge came to me whenever it was needed in the form of people, classes, books and experiences.
The real work began here -- the climb, the prayers, the learning, the tears, the dialogue.
I gave up along the way a number of times and was in despair a number of times. Rachel moved to Israel and I thought, "How will I approach the Jewish holidays without a guide?" I didn't know if I was going to be able to keep it up.
What happened next is that people began to call me, especially around Rosh Hashana time, when I was feeling very alone and not connected -- they would call and wish me well. It was obviously a message: "Don't give up!"
When Sara Karmely, who gave talks to Jewish women, spoke to me about mikva, I was not interested. It had been a difficult year and I was despondent at the time; this was one more piece of confusion for me. I couldn't sort out all the things coming at me.
I liked the way she spoke, but the actual doing was too much out of left field for me and I was not prepared for it.
She said a few things that I couldn't dispel -- that you can purify the souls of your children, and spoke about what a woman can do for her family.
It lingered with me for a very long time.
I continued to go to her class. Sara planted the seed and for that I'm very grateful. Because you don't know when the seed is going to germinate, and you can't wait for people to say, "Yes, I want to come to your house."
I'm not totally observant in the strict sense, because part of me is very resistant; I really have to process a lot of this and find out if I am losing myself in this process and where I fit into it. But I know that in this you are opening yourself to the Divine in a way unlike any other in your life. (For example, if you're not eating the correct food, you're out of whack.)
Recently someone from Lubavitch came to kasher my kitchen. So there's progress, even if not as swift as for other people.
In January, 1993, I went to the mikva for the first time. That first experience was so powerful and so mystical that my husband looked at me and said, "There's something about you that's different. You have an aura around you."
My husband is not a New Age type and does not talk that way. Others who know me well have also remarked that I am now a "totally different person."
I began to look at my husband differently. This mitzva does create a greater respect for one another, and he definitely looks at me differently. Even though I've been married a very long time and my husband has always professed his undying love for me, I think that this experience took our love to a different dimension. I think there is definitely more respect for what marriage is about, and what women are about, and I think that that message should really be disseminated: that intimacy in marriage is a very holy thing. It's not taught that way, and marriage is often improvised.
We've got to take risks, push the limits when we reach for spiritual growth. We have an awesome task.
To quote The Voice of Sara by Tamar Frankiel: "What happens through our Jewish practice is nothing less than a realignment of the world, preparing the world to accept goodness and truth that have never been revealed.
Women are spiritual midwives in rebirthing the world. Just how is a mystery, but this too is revealed to us, piece by piece, as we do the work itself."
The Fast of the 10th of Tevet: (Dec. 13, 1994)
"In addition to the regular observances of fast days...expressly for the sake of the security and strengthening of the Land of Israel, materially and spiritually...a special effort should be made in the area of Torah study, prayer and charity... specifically: to learn or add to one's learning after the morning and afternoon prayers; to say several chapters of Psalms after the prayers (even before study); to give charity before and after prayers, including charity for a sacred cause or institution in Israel.
IN VIEW OF THE SITUATION IN ISRAEL
Translated from a letter of the Rebbe
5 Tevet, 5736 (1976)
In reply to your inquiry and request for instructions in connection with the forthcoming Fast of Asara b'Tevet (10th of Tevet), in view of the situation in and around Israel--- You will surely be instructed by the rabbi of your congregation.
However, since you have also approached me in this matter, I will set forth at least several suggestions -- after the following introductory remarks:
Regrettably, there are people who claim that it is necessary to think and act "big," in terms of global dimensions and stupendous undertakings, etc.
Surely they mean well; and to the extent that such resolutions are practical and are actually carried out -- they are very helpful in improving the situation.
Yet, we must never overlook -- indeed, rather greatly emphasize-- the so-called "small and unsophisticated" things which each modest congregation, moreover each individual, can and must do -- beginning with the old, yet ever-new, Jewish way, collectively as one people and also as individuals.
This is the action of "the voice is the voice of Jacob" -- Torah and prayer -- which G-d Himself has shown us to be the first effective action to nullify the power of "the hands of Esau" -- in whatever shape or form they are raised against us.
Certainly this should find the fullest expression in a day which the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) declares to be a day of fasting, one to which the prophet Isaiah refers as a "chosen fast...a fast and time favored by G-d."
Now, in answer to your inquiry, and since the Fast of Asara b'Tevet is specially connected with the Holy Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem (recalling the siege of Jerusalem), my suggestion -- in addition to the regular "observances" on fast days, as set forth at length and in detail in Poskim [halachic adjudicators] and in books of Mussar and Chasidut -- is as follows:
During this day -- expressly for the sake of the security and strengthening of the Holy Land, materially and spiritually, and for the material and spiritual benefit of all Jews wherever they are -- in the Holy Land as well as in the Diaspora -- and particularly for the benefit of our brethren behind the "Iron Curtain" -- a special effort should be made in the areas of Torah, prayer, and tzedaka (charity).
Especially after prayer (both in the morning and at the afternoon service one should learn (and where there already are daily study groups, to add) a subject in Torah, including final ruling of Jewish law. Immediately following the prayers, even before learning, one should say several chapters of Psalms (in addition to the regular portion).
Before and after praying -- one should give tzedaka (in addition to the regular donation), including tzedaka for a sacred cause or institution in the Holy Land, the "Land of Living."
Needless to say, one who repeats the above again and again in the course of the day is to be praised.
And the more one does it (in quantity and quality), the more praiseworthy it is.
And, as in all matters of holiness, it is desirable that all the above be done b'tzibbur (with at least a minyan).
May G-d accept, and He will accept, the prayers and supplications of Jews wherever they are.
And soon, in our very own days, may the Promise be fulfilled that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness," with the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
Get a taste of what it's like to study in the intellectually stimulating atmosphere of a yeshiva.
Attend the winter Yeshivacation from Dec. 23 - Jan. 2 sponsored by Machon Chana Women's and Hadar HaTorah Men's Yeshivot in Crown Heights.
The menu of classes is appropriate for purveyors of Jewish knowledge at all levels.
For more info call (718) 735-0127.
WINTER SKI CAMP
The Chabad House in Goteburg, Sweden, is organizing a Winter Ski Camp for boys ages 13 - 18 in the beautiful Swedish Alps. The camp, which is offering winter sports in an atmosphere of Jewish spirit, is a first for Scandinavia.
SPIRIT OF THE LAW
If you live in the New York metro area you can tune in to "The Spirit of the Law" radio program hosted by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin. The program airs on Fridays at 2:45 p.m. on WEVD - 1050 on your AM dial.
This Thursday, the fifth of Tevet, is a day of celebration and rejoicing known as "Didan Natzach" -- "Victory is Ours."
It is the day, in 1987, when Judge Charles Sifton rendered his legal decision on the ownership of the enormous and valuable library of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
For three weeks during the previous winter, the judge had listened to testimony concerning whether the Previous Rebbe's library was a personal possession, subject to the laws of inheritances, or if it was the possession of "Chabad."
Judge Sifton was tremendously influenced by the statement of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory, daughter of the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe's wife, that "My father belonged to the Chasidim just as the books belong to the Chasidim."
There was great rejoicing on the day of the judgment, lasting for seven days. Each evening the Rebbe spoke publicly and expounded on the spiritual ramifications of the victory.
In one of these talks, the Rebbe said: "At the time of his imprisonment and redemption, the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman) found a Divine lesson in everything that had occurred.
One of his conclusions was the need to increase with renewed vigor and strength the dissemination of Chasidic philosophy.
The eternal Divine connection [of the Alter Rebbe's imprisonment and subsequent release] to this event is obvious.
Thus, especially because the charge was brought against Agudas Chasidei Chabad as a living and vital organization, we must strengthen even more the dissemination of the teachings of our Rebbes, learning them privately and in groups amidst great joy and enthusiasm, joy that breaks all boundaries..."
May we witness the ultimate breaching of limitations with the end of the exile and the ultimate joy of being united as one in the true and complete Redemption.
And his brothers could not answer him, for they were terrified at his presence (literally "face") (Gen. 45:3)
Joseph's face was identical to that of his father Jacob.
Yet when the brothers first met him in Egypt they did not recognize him, for Joseph kept his face covered with a mask. Upon revealing himself he uncovered his face, which frightened the brothers because he so closely resembled their father.
And behold, your own eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaks to you (Gen. 45:12)
This was the first time that Joseph was speaking to his brothers in their native language. Prior to this time the brothers had spoken to him in Hebrew, but Joseph had answered in the Egyptian tongue.
The only time a person can recognize another through his voice is when he has previously heard him speak the same language. When a person speaks a different language, his accent is different and it is difficult to identify him. Because Joseph was now speaking Hebrew his brothers would be able to recognize him.
For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad is not with me (Gen. 44:34)
Every Jew must ask himself: How can I go up to my Father in heaven "and the lad is not with me" -- without bringing the days of my youth? A person must be especially vigilant that he not squander away his younger years.
(Ma'ayana Shel Torah)
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my wanderings are one hundred and thirty years; the days of the years of my life were few and bad" (Gen. 47:9)
How could Jacob have said this when the average life span after the generation of the flood was one hundred and twenty years?
Jacob was the third of the Patriarchs and thus most intimately bound up with the third and eternal Holy Temple, to be built by Moshiach.
All his life Jacob yearned for the everlasting peace and tranquility of the Messianic era. For as long, then, as the Redemption did not come, Jacob regarded the years of his life as qualitatively few and meager, because they did not contain that which is most important of all.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Mikeitz, 5752)
Once Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander was having a Chasidic farbrengen (gathering) with his followers on the topic of humility. "If you want to know what real humility is," he said, "I'll tell you of an incident that happened to the Chief Rabbi of the Rabbinical Court of Frankfurt on Main.
"The man's name was Abraham Abish and aside from the many hours he spent occupied with rabbinical duties and scholarship, he occupied himself greatly with the mitzva of helping providing food and clothing to the poor. It was his custom to make the rounds of the wealthy citizens of the city and merchants who came to Frankfurt to conduct business to solicit charity which he later distributed to the poor, to widows and to orphans.
"One day as he made his rounds he stopped in one of the local inns and approached a merchant who was visiting Frankfurt on business. 'Excuse me, my good sir,' began the Rabbi. 'Could you please make a contribution to help the poor with food and clothing?'
"It seemed as if the merchant hadn't heard, for he didn't so much as raise his eyes to gaze at the supplicant standing before him.
"Rabbi Abraham, for his part, was too unassuming to announce his name, and so, he stood before the merchant patiently waiting. He made his request one more time. The merchant wasn't in the mood to be troubled by paupers, who seemed never to leave him in peace. He lifted his gaze and stared at the beggar who had the impunity to interrupt him. 'Go away. Get out of here and stop bothering busy people.' Rabbi Abraham said not one more word. He turned and left the inn, never insisting and never imagining to use his identity to coerce the unwilling donor.
"A few minutes later, when the merchant had finished perusing his accounts, he rose to leave and reached for his cane, but to his surprise it was nowhere to be found. This stick happened to be a prized possession of his and he was very upset to find it missing.
"It didn't take him long to assume that the pauper had stolen it in revenge. The merchant dashed out of the inn in hot pursuit of the thief. A few hundred yards away he ran right into the thieving pauper.
" 'Give me my walking stick, you no good thief!' he cried.
" 'I'm sorry, but I have not seen your stick, my good man,' Rabbi Abraham replied calmly. 'I would certainly never take anything from you.'
"But the merchant's anger, instead of being assuaged, only grew in ferocity and virulence until he even struck Rabbi Abraham. Still, the Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt didn't respond with anger; he merely picked himself up and continued on his mission.
"As Divine Providence would have it, the merchant was delayed longer in Frankfurt than he had anticipated. When the Shabbat approached he found himself still in the city. On the afternoon of the holy day all the Jews gathered to hear some words of Torah, and he decided to join them, for he had heard that the famous tzadik, Rabbi Abraham Abish would address the crowd and he very much wanted to hear the great man in person.
"The merchant entered the large hall and raised his eyes to the podium to catch a glimpse of the rabbi. To his great shock and dismay, he recognized the man at once, and the terrible, scene of a few days before appeared before him in a horrible new light.
"Unable to bear the shame, he fainted to the floor. When he regained consciousness, he was surrounded by the congregants all trying to bring him to consciousness.
"'What has happened?' they all asked him anxiously. To his great shame, he related to them the entire incident.
"'You must go to the Rabbi and beg his forgiveness,' was the advice offered from all sides. The merchant realized that he must do as they said.
"When the Rabbi had finished speaking he passed through the crowd, receiving the accolades of one and all. The quaking merchant stood a little to the side, speechless with embarrassment, as the Rabbi approached. The rabbi caught his glance, but said nothing; only his eyes had a glitter of recognition.
"Before the merchant could stutter an apology, Rabbi Abraham began speaking in a calm, conciliatory voice, wanting only to calm the man.
"Please, believe me, I didn't take your stick. I promise you on my word of honor."
"The Rabbi had no thought that the man might be coming to apologize to him. For he was so humble that he never considered his own honor above that of anyone else. The Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt was not above apologizing yet again to the thoughtless merchant, even before the eyes of his admiring congregants."
I heard from my teacher, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Segan Levia (the Chozeh of Lublin) that we can now hasten the Redemption without it being called "hastening the time prematurely."
(Kol Yaakov --Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Yalesh)