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December 23, 1994 - 20 Teves 5755

348: Shemos

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


  347: Vayechi349: Va'eira  

The Best Seller  |  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

The Best Seller

by Rabbi Eli Hecht

I had a mentor who taught me that to find out what Americans are thinking you just need to look at the "best sellers" list.

When you find a book listed as one of the 10 best sellers for 67 weeks you take notice; the book I refer to is a compilation of near death and out of body experiences.

A second book, on the best sellers list for the past 36 weeks, claims to help men and women better their relationships.

As a rabbi, I wonder what possesses my fellow Americans to read such books.

A common denominator of both books can be one's search for a better life. Whether alive or dead, things have to get better. So the search is on.

We search all over the world for a way to cope with our lives.

Ultimately, the message of both books is that if we want to, we can make things better (especially if G-d gives us a second chance). In the end, the answer is within ourselves. We have had it all along.

I believe we may have forgotten that we already have the very best seller, the Torah; it's sold millions and millions of copies in 70 different languages.

Have you ever looked all over your house for your car keys and at the last moment you found the keys in your pocket? I believe something like that happens when we look for guidance and instruction. We go to the book store and buy a handful of books from the best sellers list. We think that we will find the quick answer. After all, we live in a world where we can get everything instantly, why not expect the same from reading a book. We have instant dinners, instant coffee, instant replay, instant money machines. So why not instant answers and solutions?

The all-time best seller, the Torah, and its commentaries, speaks of Abraham and Sara. It discusses how they interacted with each other. To me, they are the classic model of married life.

In the Torah we are told about the following incident: G-d tells Abraham and Sara they will have a child and Sara laughs. When Abraham asked his wife Sara why she laughed, Sara answered, "I did not." Her husband knew differently. He corrected her, saying, "Yes, you did." But he stopped there. There was no lengthy argument, no condemnation. Abraham understood Sara's feelings; he was 100 years old and Sara was 90 years old.

He did not seek out a marriage counselor, nor did he walk out of the marriage. It didn't matter to him if she would think of him as a "man from Mars" or if she was a "woman from Venus." There we have examples of spousal communication.

Jewish teachings tell of Isaac being offered on the altar by his father, Abraham. Issac had an out-of-body, near death experience. When he saw his father raise the knife his pure soul left his body. He experienced a spiritual level of self-sacrifice and then was told to return to his body. It was only after he attained this level that he married and fulfilled the Divine command of creating the Hebrew nation.

Isaac knew that he had a father and a mother who loved him. He respected and revered his father even after the altar incident. There is no discussion of child abuse or inner child syndrome, or repressed memories.

There is no censorship in the Torah.

All episodes are told in complete, humanistic terms. And Jewish teachings and commentaries help us find lessons in even the most minute detail or nuances.

So my friends, enjoy the best sellers if you like. But for real answers and advice that's proven successful for generations, look into the original best seller, the Torah!


Living with the Rebbe

This week we begin the Book of Exodus with the Torah reading of Shemos.

Our portion opens with a list of the names of the Children of Israel who went down to Egypt, describes the slavery that began after the death of Jacob and his sons, and narrates the birth of Moses, the Redeemer of Israel.

As every Jew is obligated to remember and "relive" the exodus from Egypt every day in the spiritual sense, it follows that each stage in the Jewish people's historical descent to and liberation from Egypt contains deep significance and meaning that is pertinent to our daily lives.

The primary threat of the entire Egyptian experience was expressed in Pharaoh's decree: "Every son that is born you shall cast into the river."

The mighty Nile River, upon which all of Egypt was dependant for its sustenance, is symbolic of the laws of nature. Venerated as a god by the Egyptians, the Nile's waters periodically rose to fertilize their otherwise parched land.

The objective of the Egyptians was for the Jews to reject a G-d Who transcends nature and join them in their devotion to natural phenomenon.

While still in their own land, such a possibility was inconceivable to the Jewish people.

In Israel, the direct relationship between man and G-d was open and apparent: Whenever rain was needed, the Jewish people had only to pray to G-d, and He sent His blessing. It was not hard to perceive that all good emanates from G-d alone. It was only after emigrating to Egypt, a land fertilized by the natural, periodic rising of the Nile, that the possibility for error could even arise.

The subjugation of the Jews could not begin while Joseph and his sons still lived, for that generation had personally witnessed Divine Providence and understood that the forces of nature are only G-d's tools. Slavery, in both the physical and spiritual sense, could only take root in a new generation that had not merited to live in the land of Israel.

It was then that the true descent into Egypt began and Pharaoh was able to issue his evil decree -- the aim of which was the immersion of the Jewish people into the idolatrous worship of natural law.

Moses, G-d's "faithful servant," was the one who gave the Children of Israel the strength to break the bonds of servitude and abandon the lure of Egyptian idolatry.

Moses instilled in his brethren a pure and holy faith in G-d, at a time when it was difficult for them to even imagine that such holiness could exist. In the merit of their belief the Jewish people overcame the decree of Pharaoh and were redeemed from Egypt.

This process is experienced by every Jew in his daily life as well. By beginning the day with prayer and Torah learning, a Jew is able to perceive his direct relationship with G-d, and maintain this perception throughout the rest of the day.

The attribute of Moses that exists within every Jew reminds him that everything -- including those things that appear to be perfectly natural phenomena -- comes solely and directly from the One Above.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. XVI


A Slice of Life

Nechie King
by Nechie Rochel King

In May of last year I set off with a friend to attend the Spring Yeshivacation at Machon Chana. I could not help but marvel that I was actually about to study for a week in Crown Heights. Nothing in my background made such an undertaking likely.

I was raised in a Jewish family that emphasized the fact that we were Jews, but rejected all religious observance. I fulfilled my parents' hopes for me by excelling in school, marrying a nice Jewish boy, and giving them a grandson and a granddaughter.

I exceeded their expectations by earning a Ph.D. and becoming a member of a university faculty. They remained proud of me and confident in my success until about ten years ago, when I became interested in Jewish practice.

My interest in Judaism began when the time for my son's bar mitzva approached. My determination to celebrate his bar mitzva surprised me and amazed my family. My son was happy to meet with a tutor for a year, and I was able to find a congregation that accepted this arrangement as adequate preparation.

The congregation's one additional requirement stipulated that each family produce its own prayer book for the service. I was told to include the "important standard parts" but informed that I could also include poems and songs that suited our family. This task overwhelmed me! Since the only Saturday morning service I had ever attended was my brother's bar mitzva some twenty years earlier, I couldn't begin to guess what the "important standard parts" might be.

Fortunately, a group of congregants met every Saturday morning, and I joined this informal service. We used booklets from previous bar mitzva services, read the Torah scroll, discussed the Torah portion (sometimes heatedly), and enjoyed wine and cookies together after the service.

At first I was self-conscious about my abysmal ignorance. But it soon became obvious that, though most of the people in the room knew more than I did, none of us knew very much.

My family and I eventually produced a booklet and celebrated my son's bar mitzva together. Even after achieving this goal, however, I did not stop attending the services. I found that I loved the prayers, I loved the Torah discussion, and I loved setting aside this time in a special way. This was an unanticipated consequence!

We had no Orthodox rabbi in our small city, so when I met an Orthodox rabbi from Baltimore, I began to call him with my questions. He answered me patiently, and recommended books for me to read. With his help I began to move slowly, always keeping shalom bayit -- peace in the home -- as a high priority.

My family was, at first, tolerant: "Remember when she took up tennis and played three nights a week. That passed and this will too, if we are patient." Their tolerance soon turned to alarm: "This is getting worse, not better. Now she wants to have an especially nice dinner every Friday night." Eventually they became incredulous. "I thought you were too smart for this sort of thing" -- and a bit angry: "But we always used to go shopping on Saturday afternoon." Finally they became more understanding: "I can see how happy the mitzvot make you," and even a little proud: "My mother always eats kosher food. She's very strict about it."

Ten years ago, Hillel and Chanie Baron came to our small city and established the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education.

They have made wonderful changes in our community. The Barons' arrival also made a big difference in our family. My husband now attends services regularly and is an active member of the congregation.

Even my parents, who were the least understanding members of my family, have softened their rejection of my choice to become observant. Still, given their previous reactions, I did not tell them that I planned to attend Machon Chana.

My week in Crown Heights exceeded all expectations.

I was unprepared for the intensity of my experience in every area of my religious growth. The learning was extraordinary.

As an academic, I study and teach for a living and I love intellectual challenges. My teachers at Machon Chana provided learning that challenged me to think deeply about new ideas and to make sense of difficult concepts. So much for the myth that Orthodox women are not intellectually active.

Spiritually, my week at Machon Chana deepened and extended my attachment to a Torah life. My female teachers were role models of modest, learned, caring women who taught me as much by their example as by their lectures. Their energy, their optimism, their focus and their certainty lifted me and their other students to new levels of understanding and commitment.

Socially, it was a great treat to be able to live with a family in Crown Heights and to be part of the hustle and bustle of life in a large religious family. I also enjoyed meeting and getting to know other students, as well as other members of the Crown Heights community.

We spent our days learning, talking, attending lectures and discussion groups, shopping, and talking some more. The days were long and we were busy. I thought I would need a week at home to recover, but this was not the case. Although I was tired, I was also energized.

I returned home with a renewed eagerness for doing mitzvot that amazed me. My exhilaration has lasted and the effects of my week at Machon Chana are still being realized.

I cannot thank my teachers at Machon Chana and the community in Crown Heights enough for all they contribute to sustain the commitment of baal teshuvas like myself. With their help, I hope that I will be able to continue to do my small part in bringing holiness to this world.


A Call To Action

Study Tanya

Tanya is the basic work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy.

As it is divided into 54 chapters, corresponding to the 54 Torah portions, Chasidim of old customarily studied one chapter each week.

The Previous Rebbe divided the Tanya into daily portions and instituted its daily study and the Rebbe has repeatedly encouraged this study.

The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Lessons in Tanya by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg, and Themes in Tanya by Rabbi Yekutiel Green are works in English that expound on Tanya.

There are also Tanya Tapes by Rabbi Manis Friedman and Rabbi Yosef Goldstein.

Pick up the original, a book that teaches Tanya, some tapes or attend a class at your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.

The Daily portion of Tanya is also available electronically via the listserv@chabad.org.

The Listserv uses the "Lesson in Tanya" version. E-mail to: listserv@chabad.org and request to be subscribed to: D-1 .


The Rebbe Writes

A FOOLS' PARADISE

24 Tevet, 5722 (1962)

The annual event, taking place in such close proximity to Yud Shevat, the yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, of saintly memory, will, I trust, bear the imprint of his influence and inspiration.

In the course of his allotted life span on this earth, my father- in-law saw and contended with many different worlds. But whether it was under Czarist Russia or under Soviet Russia, during the two World Wars or during their aftermaths, in the Old World or in the New -- he was always the indefatigable leader of the Jewish people, dedicated heart and soul to the spiritual and material well-being of our people.

Exemplifying a pattern of leadership which is the heritage of his illustrious ancestor, the Old Rebbe, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch (on whose yahrtzeit this letter is written), my father-in-law was as vitally concerned with the child learning alef-beit as with the advanced yeshiva student, and his love for his disciples and followers to whom he expounded the inner secrets of the Torah was only matched by his love for his fellow Jew in a distant country, deprived of the most elementary educational facilities.

Jewish education was his primary concern, and the same spirit of dedication permeated his emissaries who pioneered in many an educational field under his inspiring initiative and guidance. This work truly expressed the unity of our people through Torah which, on every level from alef-beit to razin d'razin (innermost secrets), is the unifying force, uniting the one people by means of the one Torah to the One G-d.


20 Kislev, 5745 (1984)

I am in receipt of your letter, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me since it is well known that the various Chabad institutions are completely financially independent of our central office. This is also an obvious necessity, in view of the fact that there are hundreds of such institutions the world over, and it would be impossible to direct them all from headquarters.

In light of the above, you will surely understand that I cannot do anything in the said situation.

I must make special reference to your remark about your personal feeling that there is "no further use for me," etc.

Needless to say, there is no room or justification for such a feeling, G-d forbid, for this would be counter to one of the basics of Judaism in general, and of Chabad in particular, which declares that every Jew is like a complete world, as the founder of Chabad emphasizes in chapter 32 (the numerical equivalent of which is "lev" -- "heart") of Tanya.


11 Kislev, 5735 (1974)

Your letter of the 12th of Cheshvan reached me with some delay. In reply to your question:

It is written, "Increasing knowledge increases pain." One of the explanations of this is as follows: A fool may be altogether unaware that he lacks anything, and may therefore be satisfied with himself, or, as the saying goes, he may live in a Fools' Paradise. But the person who strives to increase his or her knowledge of Judaism and increasingly appreciates the great good and preciousness of Torah and mitzvot finds that, with the increase of this knowledge, comes an increased longing and thirst for more and more; hence the impatience and dissatisfaction with oneself, etc.

These are the natural "growing pains" of spiritual advancement...


What's New

OMISSION

The Slice of Life in #346 entitled "Composing a Torah Life" by Susan Raven was reprinted from Jewish Marriage and Family Newsletter published by JEWELS. For a copy of JMF call (718) 756-5700. Outside NY call (800) 860-7030.

READERS SHARE

We would like to periodically feature readers' own experiences with the Rebbe. If you would like to submit an article or short story send it to L'Chaim: 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213 or fax (718) 773-3837 or via the internet to: echoen@dorsai.org

INSPIRATION AND CONNECTION

Chabad of the West Side (Manhattan) hosted Rabbi Leibel Groner, of the Rebbe's secretariat, for an evening of inspiration and connection to the Rebbe. Over 200 people attended and were riveted as Rabbi Groner shared insights and related stories about the Rebbe's interaction with all kinds of people. Rabbi Groner suggested that all present resolve to do something daily to bring Moshiach.


A Word from the Director

On the 24th day of Tevet, 5573, Rabbi Schneur Zalman ben Baruch of Liadi -- the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidism, passed away in the village of Piena.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, known also as "The Alter (Elder) Rebbe" was renowned not only for expounding on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Magid of Mezritch, but also for his brilliance in Talmudic studies and Jewish law. As has been pointed out, this dual-faceted genius is alluded to in the Alter Rebbe's first name, "Schneur."

For Schneur is a combination of two words -- "shnei" meaning "two," and "ohr" meaning "light."

The Alter Rebbe is the author of both the Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, and the Rav's Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law.

Concerning Rabbi Schneur Zalman's passing, his son and successor, Rabbi Dov Ber, wrote: "Until the day of his rest, 'his mouth did not cease from the study of Torah.' With a clear and tranquil mind, and cleaving wondrously to his Maker, he prayed the evening service; he recited Havdala...and then after Shabbat he was united in a perfect bond with the Holy One, Blessed Be He."

In one of his discourses, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber, the fifth Chabad Rebbe, discusses a Chasid's conduct on the anniversary of the passing of one of the Rebbes: "It is certain that on the day of their yahrtzeit, the Rebbes of past generations arouse Divine compassion for all Chasidim, as well as for their wives and children. However, this is only an arousal of a general nature; those Chasidim who, on that day, set aside a time for study and for a Chasidic farbrengen, may be considered to have handed a pidyon nefesh to the Rebbe whose yahrtzeit is then being observed."


Thoughts that Count

And he returned to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the staff of G-d in his hand (Ex. 4:20)

While Moses certainly demonstrated to Pharaoh the proper honor due a king, he nonetheless "took the staff of G-d in his hand" in all his dealings with him -- prideful in his Jewish heritage, imbued with an attitude of G-dly assurance, and without any feelings of inferiority.

(Likutei Sichot)

G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob (Ex. 2:24)

When the Israelites were unable to endure the harsh exile in Egypt, they cried out to G-d. Indeed, G-d heard their cry and sent Moses to redeem them. So it is with us in our present exile.

When we cry out, "Take us out of galut and bring Moshiach!" G-d will certainly hear our cry and send the Redeemer. Moreover, our mere being in a state of readiness to call upon G-d is already enough for Him to respond, as it states in Isaiah, "Before they call, I will answer, and while yet they speak I will hear."

(The Rebbe, Parshat Tavo, 5751)

And she put it among the reeds by the banks of the river (Exodus 2:3)

According to our Sages, Moses was born on the seventh of Adar; three months later, on the seventh of Sivan, when he could no longer be hidden from the prying Egyptians, his mother placed him among the reeds. It was on that day -- the seventh of Sivan -- that Moses received the Torah at Sinai; this future merit was what allowed his life to be saved.

(Talmud, Sotah)

Moses returned to G-d and said, L-rd! Why have You mistreated this people? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he made things worse... You have not saved this people at all (Exodus 5:22-23)

We are not allowed to resign ourselves to our present situation of exile with the excuse that "such is the will of G-d."

The harshness of the galut is a sign that the Redemption is near, yet it is still bitter and painful. Therefore, even while reaffirming our absolute faith in the principle that "The ways of G-d are just," we are also to express our anguish with the prayerful outcry "Ad Masai?" -- "How much longer?" and ask for the immediate coming of Moshiach.

(The Rebbe, Parshat Va'eira, 5743)


It Once Happened

Anticipating Napoleon's evil designs to attack and conquer Russia, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch), instructed his family to be ready to flee at a moment's notice.

The famous spiritual mentor, Rav Shmuel Gronem, noted: "The Alter Rebbe said, 'Napoleon is a very powerful evil force, and I fear that I will have to have mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) in order to humble him."

Secretly the Alter Rebbe instructed his Chasidim to spy against Napoleon's army. The Alter Rebbe wanted nothing less than a total collapse of Napoleon's power.

In his eyes, the French leader was the greatest threat to the heart and soul of Judaism. Behind his abolishing the restrictions that existed was a veil hiding his true intentions. What Napoleon wanted to accomplish with his revolution was a refusal to accept any authority, which in turn would weaken religious adherence.

For this reason, the Alter Rebbe refused to live in Napoleon's conquered domain for even a short period of time. When he heard of the approach of the French army he fled with his entire family, assisted by the Russian forces.

The Alter Rebbe insisted that every possession of his be removed from his house, no matter how insignificant; he then gave instructions that it be burned down. Some say that the Alter Rebbe had reason to believe that Napoleon engaged in sorcery, and took stringent precautions that none of his things would fall into Napoleon's hands.

The rapid advance of Napoleon's army made it impossible for the Alter Rebbe to rest, and he was forced to constantly be on the run. His hope was to reach the Jewish community of Poltava before Rosh Hashana.

The Mitteler Rebbe wrote: "On Erev Rosh Hashana my father, the Alter Rebbe, confided to me, 'I am extremely pained and worried about the battle of Mazaisk [known as the battle of Borodino], since the enemy is becoming stronger, and I believe he [Napoleon] is also going to conquer Moscow.' He then wept bitterly, with tears streaming down his face.

"On Rosh Hashana, my father again called me to him and happily told me the sweet and comforting news: 'Today, during my prayers, I had a vision that the tide has changed for the better and our side will win. Although Napoleon will capture Moscow, he will eventually lose the war. This is what was written today in Heaven.' "

With the rout of Napoleon's army, the Alter Rebbe could proceed toward Poltava. On Friday, the eighth of Tevet, the entourage arrived in the city of Piena. As soon as he arrived there the Alter Rebbe changed his plans. He began organizing a relief campaign to aid all Jews who had been affected by the war, sending out emissaries to raise funds and organize and coordinate efforts.

No one could foresee the rapid deterioration of the Alter Rebbe's health. As the Rebbe for many thousands of Chasidim, the Alter Rebbe finally paid the heavy price of worrying about the sufferings of the Jewish community, the difficult traveling conditions (especially for someone of advanced years) in an unusually cold winter and his anguish in general about Napoleon's influence and effect on the Jewish nation. On Monday, the 18th of Tevet, he became bedridden with a gall condition.

Five days later, on the 24th of Tevet, after Havdala, he wrote a note stating that one of the main purposes of a soul's descent into this world (in addition to Torah study) is to do a favor for another Jew in whatever way possible. A short while after writing this he passed away.

The Mitteler Rebbe noted that in one of the greatest acts of mesirat nefesh, the Alter Rebbe put his own life in mortal danger against the evil ways of Napoleon.

Indeed, the Alter Rebbe's ill-fated prophecy about Napoleon came to be, for the humbled last remnants of Napoleon's army retreated from Russia the exact time of the Alter Rebbe's passing.

Shortly before his passing, the Alter Rebbe said: "Anyone who will hold on to my door handle, I will do him a favor in this world and the world to come."

The Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, explained that "my door handle" does not merely mean learning Chasidut, for the Alter Rebbe, through his self-sacrifice, instilled in Chasidim the practice of ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew) -- and we must follow in his ways.

Excerpted from "Dates in Lubavitch" by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon


Moshiach Matters

One must always think to himself:

"What have I done and what am I doing now to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the complete Redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach?"
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe)


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