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L'Chaim
December 16, 1994 - 13 Teves 5755

347: Vayechi

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  346: Vayigash348: Shemos  

Retirement  |  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

Retirement

The November issue of Kipling's Personal Finance Magazine contains an article entitled, "Retire Early and Do What You Want."

Among the many points made in the article is the importance of investing money properly so that you can retire at age 60, 50, or even 40, and spend the rest of your life doing what you truly want.

What if your plans are to work as long as your company allows?

In recent decades, a tendency has developed to view age as a serious handicap. Anyone over fifty is liable to be considered slightly over the hill; family and friends begin to suggest that a person start taking things easier. The older person soon begins to pick up subtle hints that he'd better consider retiring honorably now, before it becomes necessary for others to retire him.

When retirement age finally arrives, the person has come to accept second-class status as a fact of life.

The popular view of old people as incompetent and useless has influenced him to the extent that he himself feels superfluous and a burden to those around him. This has a negative effect psychologically: he gets depressed and resentful, with the resultant harmful effect on his physical health.

Most unfortunate is the fact that society thereby turns its back on the tremendous stock of hard-learned experience older people possess. Such a priceless store of knowledge is acquired only over the course of many years. Here is a person well-qualified to train and advise younger colleagues, who has often experienced similar problems to those they are now encountering, and who learned how to utilize the situation to its best advantage. By heeding his sound advice they could avoid costly mistakes.

There is a strong possibility that those who are now young will be called old by the next generation at least ten years earlier than the age at which they now consider their own predecessors old! In fact, this is alluded to in the Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and mother so that your days may be lengthened upon the earth that the L-rd your G-d gives you." If you want your own days lengthened, in respect and useful contribution to society, then honor and respect your own elders now.

In the Torah, longevity and old age are considered one of the greatest possible blessings.

"Many years bring wisdom," Job says in the Bible. "The older elderly scholars become, the more settled their minds become," states the Talmud. Members of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) would normally have to be at least seventy years old! Furthermore, the Code of Jewish Law enjoins us to rise before old people aged seventy or older out of respect for "the trials and tribulations they have undergone."

The concept of retirement simply does not exist with regard to Torah study. From birth till a person's last moment, the Jew is perpetually involved in serving his Maker and cannot resign his post or voluntarily retire.

On the contrary, the years of our lives that are free of the pressure to provide for a growing family and free from the hustle and bustle of the business world are an excellent opportunity for intensified Torah study and mitzva observance. One can finally make up for lost time!

Instead of burdening one's mind with supervising employees or pleasing higher-ups, instead of racking one's brains for ways to make more money or keep the business afloat, a person can truly be his own boss and devote several hours a day to Torah study and/or a more developed involvement in Jewish communal life and observances.

We should all foster a new approach toward retirement.


Living with the Rebbe

With this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, we conclude the Book of Genesis. "So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old...and he was put into a coffin in Egypt" is its final verse.

This conclusion to the entire Book is somewhat surprising, in light of the principle that "one should always end on a positive note." Why couldn't Genesis have concluded a few verses back, when we learn that Joseph lived a long life and merited to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

Why couldn't the description of Joseph's death have waited until the Book of Exodus?

We must therefore conclude that Joseph's passing is somehow related to the theme of Genesis itself.

The primary difference between Genesis and the other four Books of Moses is that Genesis relates the early history of our Forefathers and the twelve tribes -- the preparation for our existence as a distinct nation -- whereas the other four books contain a narrative of our history as a people.

The Book of Genesis begins with an account of the creation of the world.

The Sage, Rabbi Yitzchak, explained that although the Torah should have begun with a practical mitzva, G-d chose to commence with the Creation to refute the arguments of the Gentiles, who would one day claim that the Jews had stolen the land of Israel from the seven nations who lived there prior to its conquest.

To counter their assertion, the Jews will say, "The entire world belongs to G-d; He created it and divided it as He saw fit. It was His will to give it to them [the seven nations], and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us."

Surely G-d did not change the entire order of His Torah just to supply an answer to the arguments of the Gentiles. The comments of Rabbi Yitzchak must therefore contain a more fundamental teaching for the Jewish people as a whole.

The nations of the world are already cognizant of the Jew's uniqueness and his special mission. Their claim, however, is that precisely because Jews are different, they should limit themselves to the spiritual service of G-d and not tie themselves down to a physical land.

Because Jews are a nation like no other, they have no right to claim ownership of a homeland. To the non-Jew, the spiritual and physical realms are incongruous and incompatible.

"The entire world belongs to G-d," the Jew responds -- the worldly as well as the spiritual realm.

Both require sanctification through the light of holiness -- the sacred mission of the Jewish people.

With this concept the Book of Genesis begins, and on this note it concludes. Joseph's coffin remained in Egypt in order to give strength and inspiration to the Children of Israel in their Egyptian exile. The power of Joseph is symbolic of the ability of the Jewish people to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles, imbuing even the coarsest of physical matter with holiness and bringing the full and complete Redemption.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. XXX


A Slice of Life

Self-portrait by the artist
by Max Ferguson

I was raised in a home where being Jewish was something which I sort of happened to be. Nothing more.

Oh, I was bar mitzva, sort of, not being able to read a letter of Hebrew, but all these things were somehow meaningless rituals on the periphery of an otherwise secular life.

Growing up in a predominantly Jewish area of Long Island, I believed that three-fourths of the world's population was Jewish. It came as a shock to me when I learned, at the age of six, that we were but a tiny minority.

As I got older, I became a self-hating, self-denying Jew.

I went out of my way to down-play my Jewishness, to have primarily Christian friends, and to behave like them. I took it to such an extreme that I would happily tell and laugh along with anti-semitic jokes.

My most venomous hatred for all things Jewish was directed toward Chasidim. "Who are these guys anyway?" I would ask myself when they would invariably pass by when I was with my Christian friends.

Worst of all, I once asked a friend to what degree she differentiated in her mind between "Jews like me" and Chasidic Jews. Much to my horror, she asked, "What's the difference?"

A few years ago I spent quite a bit of time in Northern Europe. I met people who told me that I was the only Jew they had ever met.

Somewhat inspired by this heightened sense of being in the minority, I went to a synagogue in Copenhagen, the first time I had done so since my bar mitzva.

I read in the papers about Jewish cemeteries being desecrated or synagogues being bombed.

When I brought this up to friends, they were either disinterested or would ask me every Jew's favorite question, "Aren't you being paranoid?"

When I mentioned the frightening rise in anti-Semitism to an acquaintance, she said, "If all Jews were to intermarry, and all their children were to intermarry, eventually there would be no more Jews and no more anti-Semitism." This comment was from a Dane studying physics at the Niels Bohr Institute.

These and many other incidents began to make me a great deal more aware of exactly who and what I was.

In August of 1991 I was in Munich, about a half-mile from the building that had served as Gestapo headquarters during the war.

I was watching television reports about the failed coup in Moscow. Suddenly, the news cut to a story in New York.

My ears perked up.

A Chasidic scholar named Yankel Rosenbaum had been surrounded by a group of people chanting "Kill the Jew" in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and was stabbed to death. Unchecked rioting had broken out in the area as police stood idly by. I sat there in disbelief.

I had spent my entire life believing that these things did not happen in America. In Poland or Germany, fifty or a hundred years ago, perhaps. But surely not in New York City today.

I was wrong. That I was sitting in Germany watching this only added to the absurdity of it all.

When I returned to New York, I felt I had to do something.

I called information for the phone number of Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn. The operator gave me the number of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Crown Heights instead. I ended up speaking to Rabbi Shmuel Fogelman, the school's principal, and had the first of many conversations.

Rabbi Fogelman always included an invitation to visit Crown Heights. I procrastinated all I could, but eventually acquiesced.

While I felt strange going into the synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway for the first time, by the end of the day I could not help but be caught up in the wonderful sense of hope and optimism of these people, so rare among my own friends.

It was on my second trip that I first saw the Rebbe. "How will I know when he is going to enter?" I asked Chaim, Rabbi Fogelman's son. "You'll know," he answered me.

As people began pouring in from all entrances and the singing began, I knew. I knew that I was witnessing something very special. Someone whose spirituality and righteousness were clearly contagious. I received dollars from the Rebbe five days before he suffered a stroke.

I began working on my ongoing series of paintings of Jewish imagery. I realized that I had fallen prey to the "Irving Berlin Syndrome" -- someone who felt perfectly comfortable writing "White Christmas" but who did not write even one song about being Jewish. I was painting everything in New York except Jewish imagery.

I quickly decided that my series of paintings would focus on the more positive, spiritual side of things. So much of Jewish art and literature focuses on the negative aspects and suffering of Jewish history, that the joyous, more uplifting elements are often ignored. My first piece was of the matza bakery in Crown Heights.

I began to spend more time in Crown Heights, both because of my painting and also to visit people with whom I had become friends.

While I had always been under the impression that Chasidim thought they were better than other Jews and wanted to keep their distance, I found the opposite to be true in Lubavitch.

"It doesn't make a difference; a Jew is a Jew," I used to always hear. My biggest problem became having too many invitations for Shabbat. Each time I came I felt more and more at home.

As I learned more, what impressed me most is Judaism's joyous, celebratory nature. "The bottom line is that it's about joy," I once said to Rabbi Fogelman. Without missing a beat he answered, "It's the top line, the middle line and the bottom line, too!"


A Call To Action

Think about and do something on behalf of Jewish education:

"It is the absolute duty of every person to spend half an hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children, and to do everything in his power -- and beyond his power -- to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided."
(As quoted by the Rebbe in Hayom Yom)


The Rebbe Writes

Shevat 2, 5692 (1932)

(Translated from a letter of the Rebbe to the Previous Rebbe,
and from a personal notation the Rebbe wrote to himself.)

...I cannot refrain from asking for a good explanation, regarding an issue that I have had difficulty in understanding.

I hear it said repeatedly: "In Chabad, we are not interested in the performance of miracles by tzadikim." I have also come across similar remarks in the Rebbe's letters and writings on this subject. Chabad Chasidim are not particularly enthusiastic about miracle stories, and also tend to downplay any discussion of them.

Surely, the early Chasidim did not need [miracles], because their hearts and minds were pure and refined. But now, due to the difficulty and pressure of the times, hearts are heavy, and people are so absorbed with materialism that they are in sensitive to lofty matters of the soul. It seems that intellectual reasoning alone cannot affect them, because the reasoning is too refined for them to grasp.

Stories of miracles and wonders by tzadikim, however, elevate and uplift the soul, inspiring them to remove and shake off some of that materialism. Such stories can have a great positive effect...and are also beneficial for a person who finds himself in difficult circumstances.


It may seem, at first glance, that issues of logic and reasoning do not benefit from miraculous events. Matters of intellect must be founded upon a rational basis that is built on Torah and rabbinical logic.

A miracle provides no specific logical proof; it only serves as a general indication of the existence of a force that supersedes nature. It also testifies to the unique holiness of the tzadik who performed the miracle or to the truth of the issue which the miracles wished to prove.

All this can also give us a better understanding and logical grasp of the matter by rational means.

It also seems that nothing else can sublimate physical nature and provide spiritual uplift as a supernatural miracle, especially in these difficult times preceding Moshiach.

In the olden days, when people blindly followed false faiths and beliefs, the performance of a miracle made them realize their mistake. Back then, it was only necessary to prove that G-d is the only One, that His Kingdom reigns supreme in this world, and that all the planets and the solar system are "only an ax in the hand of the One who wields it." But faith itself did not need to be proven. Even ignorant people, with few exceptions, were all believers. The existence of the supernatural and the Divine control of nature were simply accepted.

During periods when people follow their intellect, however, claiming that there is nothing higher than rationale, miracles prove that there is indeed something higher than intellect -- an Existence that supersedes nature, rational and logical definitions. G-d, Who created logic and its definitions, also has the ability to alter and change it as He wishes, for G-d is beyond limitation or impossibility.

All agree that the physical world as we see it is only secondary and peripheral to the spirit. The essence of creation and the true reality is spiritual, but people do not fully appreciate the greatness of the supernatural. A miracle thus shows them their error in this regard.

These days, when atheism is so prevalent, common thinking holds that there is nothing else to the world but natural law. People think that the spirit is only the result of the material, a mere form of expression, which has no real existence of its own.

The People of Israel are all believers in One G-d. Yet, because of the pressure of the times, the average person's faith is only superficial, and is not recognized and felt in the person's daily actions.

People have become overwhelmingly absorbed in the constant struggle of working for a living. A person's mind is reduced to serving only as a tool and a means for earning a livelihood. In time, this inevitably numbs a person's sensitivities, and blocks his mind and understanding.

An obvious miracle can thus elevate a person, even if it is only for a short while, from the deepest pit to the greatest heights, for he suddenly sees a burst of light in the enveloping darkness surrounding him. He begins to realize that the physical world around him is really not so dark, for it is really the Divine spirit that constantly sustains him, and that above all, the Creator of everything also rules and dominates this physical and material world.


What's New

THE LADDER UP

The Ladder Up: Secret Steps to Happiness, by R.L. Kremnizer, A "self-help manual" for living a joyous, purposeful life.

Concepts from Chasidic philosophy for the beginner, it helps make order out of chaos by teaching one to tune out life' s stumbling blocks.

To order from the publisher send $12 to Sichos in English, 788 Eastern Parkway, Bklyn, NY 11213.

IN THE GARDEN OF TORAH

The essays in this book blend together several of the Rebbe's talks underscoring a lesson to be derived from the names of each of the weekly Torah readings.

This is the first volume in the series. To order from the publisher send $15 to Sichos In English (address above), or: e-mail for Sichos in English is: sie100@aol.com

CHABAD CLASSICS

From moving tunes of longing to soaring tunes of joy, this tape of Chabad nigunim (wordless tunes) captures the essence of the rich Chabad musical heritage.

To order from the producer send $10 for cassettes and $15 for cds to: Goldstein, 604 Empire Blvd., Bklyn NY 11213.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, whose yahrtzeit we will be commemorating on 24 Teves, taught that "a Jew has to live with the times" -- the "Jewish times" being the eternal Torah in its weekly Torah portion readings.

This week's Torah portion begins with the words: "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years." According to our Sages, these were Jacob's best years.

It is related that when the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe, learned this Torah portion as a boy, he asked his grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman: "How could our father Jacob have lived his best years in a place like Egypt?" (Egypt was known for its crass materialism and depravity -- utterly foreign to the spirit of our Patriarch.)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman replied: "In the preceding portion we are told that Jacob had sent his son Judah ahead of him to Goshen (in Egypt) to establish a Torah center for the twelve tribes and their children and grandchildren. Thus, wherever the Torah and mitzvot are studied and observed, a Jew can live his best years, even in Egypt."

Today we stand at a point in history where, because of the Rebbe's declaration that "The time of the Redemption has come" and "Moshiach is on his way," we prepare each day for the Messianic Era. And yet, we must live with the times. We must continue to learn from our Patriarch Jacob, and continue to establish centers of Torah study for young and old. In addition, the Rebbe has enjoined us to learn about the Redemption and Moshiach, so that even those places of study established long ago should "live with the times" and enhance their learning with the study of these subjects.

As the Rebbe expressed, "This is the way to hasten the Geula." May it happen immediately.


Thoughts that Count

Jacob lived (Vayechi) in the land of Egypt seventeen years (Gen. 47:28)

The best years of Jacob's life were equal to the numerical equivalent of the word "vayechi," which is thirty-four.

These were the seventeen years from Joseph's birth until he was sold, and the seventeen years Jacob spent in Egypt.

(Baal HaTurim)

I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel (Gen. 48:14)

"There are no poor, scribes or teachers of young children except from the tribe of Shimon," comments Rashi, the great Torah commentator. Jacob did not intend this only as a punishment, but as an antidote to Shimon's undesirable character trait of insolence. Jacob worried that if Shimon and Levi were wealthy, no one would be able to oppose them. He therefore decreed that they be poor, forcing them to come to their brethren for assistance and thereby curbing their arrogance.

(Kli Chemda)

And Joseph went up to bury his father (Gen. 50:7)

A person is judged with the same yardstick he uses to judge others. Joseph, the most respected of the brothers, involved himself personally in the burial of his father. He thereby merited that none other than Moses himself would later carry his bones back to the land of Israel.

(Sotah, 9:4)

Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days (Gen. 49:1)

The Talmud relates that Jacob wished to reveal the end (of the exile) but it was concealed from him. The literal meaning, however, is that Jacob wished to "reveal, i.e., manifest and bring about, the end."

In this context there is an important moral for every Jew.

We are to follow in the footsteps of Jacob, and wish and pray for the manifestation of the ultimate end -- the final Geula.

Seeking and contemplating this will of itself assist our service of G-d, inspiring us to attain our ultimate goal of Moshiach.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. XX)


It Once Happened

There was once a Chasid who travelled to his Rebbe every month to take in the atmosphere of holiness which filled the very air of Kozhnitz. He was happy with his lot in life; if only he had a child, he would be completely content.

Several times his wife had insisted that he ask the Rebbe for a blessing to cure their childlessness, but to no avail. His wife wouldn't desist from her pleas. "This time," she insisted, "you must not leave the holy Rebbe until he answers our request, for my life is worthless to me without children."

The man was forced to agree, and when he came to Kozhnitz and was admitted into the Rebbe's chambers, he told the Rebbe of their longing for a child. The Rebbe listened and offered him the solution his spiritual vision afforded him: "If you are willing to become a pauper you will be granted the blessing you seek." The man agreed to discuss the condition with his wife and return with her answer.

The woman didn't think for a moment. "Of course it's worth everything to me. What good is wealth without children?" The man returned to Kozhnitz and accepted the harsh prescription. But poverty was not the end of the Rebbe's advice; the man was sent on a long arduous journey to visit the famous tzadik, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin.

The Chozeh was known for his power to discern the state and provenance of a person's soul, and when he met the Chasid he studied his visitor long and hard before he spoke.

"I will tell you the source of your childlessness and then what you must do to correct the problem. Once, when you were very young, you promised to wed a certain maiden.

When you matured, she didn't interest you any longer and you broke your promise and left the place. Since she was your true intended, you have not been able to have children since. You must find her and beg her forgiveness. Go to the city of Balta which is very distant from here -- there you'll find the woman."

The Chasid wasted no time in embarking on the journey. But when he arrived there no one knew anything about the woman. He rented a room and waited to see the words of the tzadik materialize.

One day, he was walking down the street when he was caught in a sudden downpour. He ran to a nearby shop to escape from the rain and found himself standing near two women who were also seeking shelter. Suddenly, he was shocked to hear one say to the other, "Do you see that man? He was once betrothed to me in my youth and deserted me!" He turned to see a woman dressed in the richest fabrics and wearing beautiful and valuable jewels.

He approached her and she said, "Don't you remember me? I am the one you were engaged to so many years ago. Have you any children?"

He immediately poured out the entire story, telling her that he had come only to find her and beseech her to forgive him. He begged her to ask of him anything to atone for the terrible pain he had caused her.

"I lack nothing, for G-d has provided me with all I need, but I have a brother who is in desperate need. Go to him and give him 200 gold coins with which he can marry off his daughter, and I will forgive you. In the merit of marrying off a poor bride you will be blessed with children, as the tzadik told you."

"Please, you give your brother this money. I have travelled many months and I'm very anxious to return home."

"No," the woman adamantly refused. "I am not able to travel now, and it is not feasible to send such a sum of money. No, you must go yourself." With that, she turned and proceeded down the street, but as he was following her with his eyes, she seemed to disappear.

The Chasid ventured on yet another journey to a distant city where he was able to locate the woman's brother.

The man was in a terrible state of agitation which he readily explained: "My daughter is betrothed to a wealthy young man, but I have suddenly become penniless and unless I can find the dowry money, the marriage is off."

The Chasid listened to the heartrending tale and then said: "I will give you two hundred gold coins which will be more than enough for all your expenses." The man couldn't believe his ears. "What, you don't even know me -- why would you do such a thing for a total stranger?"

"I have been sent by your sister whom I met a few weeks ago in Balta. Many years ago I was once betrothed to her and I abandoned her, and the help I'm offering to you is my promise to her."

"What are you saying?" the man turned pale. "What kind of crazy tale are you spinning and why? My sister has been dead for fifteen years. I should know -- I buried her myself!"

Now it was time for the Chasid to be shocked. It was beginning to dawn on him that the Maggid of Kozhnitz and the Chozeh of Lublin had orchestrated this entire wondrous episode for his good and the good of this man. He handed him the golden coins and the man blessed him to be granted the blessing of many sons and daughters and a long and happy life of joy from them.


Moshiach Matters

The Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Shalom Dovber, said:

"Even the greatest minds must lay aside their intellect and not be ruled by reason and knowledge, for they are susceptible to being misguided by their intellect to the point that their end may be a bitter one.

"The essential thing in these times of the "footsteps of Moshiach" is not to follow intellect and reason, but to fulfill Torah and mitzvot wholeheartedly, with simple faith in the G-d of Israel."


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