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With this issue of L'Chaim we complete our seventh year of publication. "All sevenths are precious," our Sages stated.
We hope the issues in L'Chaim's seventh year have touched Jews from all walks of life, on every continent in the world, and have conveyed the preciousness of the Rebbe's message -- not only to his emissaries or his Chasidim, but to every Jew and the whole world -- to prepare for the imminent Redemption.
Through subscriptions or foreign editions, each time you read L'Chaim you are uniting with Jews in South Africa, Israel, England, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Peru, Hong Kong, Argentina, Venezuela, New Zealand and Canada, as well as 35 of the 50 United States.
Using Internet (and through the efforts of Chabad Lubavitch of Cyberspace) you are also connecting with your fellow readers in places as exotic as Latvia, S. Petersburg Russia, Siberia, Finland, Iceland, Japan, the U.S. Armed Forces in South Korea, Westpoint Military Academy, Thailand, Slovenia, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Tasmania, Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Hungary, Paraguay, and with ten Jewish students at Alfred University in Alfred, New York (70 miles northwest of Rochester).
As indicated in the box on the bottom right hand corner of page two, L'Chaim was established in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, wife of the Rebbe. Though precious little is known of the Rebbetzin, the few statements of hers that are public convey her brilliance, wit and personal insight:
A young bride-to-be from a distinguished Chasidic family could not be convinced by her grandfather to uphold a little-practiced custom that was not the vogue at her wedding.
The grandfather asked the Rebbetzin to speak with the bride. When the young woman protested that none of her friends had acted in accordance with the custom and that she would be looked upon as being different, the Rebbetzin responded, "It's very modern to be different."
"It's very modern to be different."
From safety pins in the ears to "earrings" in other parts of the anatomy, from assertiveness training to personalized trainers, we strive, and to some extent succeed, to be modern, i.e., different.
But how many of us have the courage to be "modern" when it comes to Judaism?
The next time a book about a new spiritual path tops the best seller list, be modern and buy a book about the Jewish spirit.
The next time a friend asks you to sign up for a lecture series at the local university, be modern and sign up for a lecture series at the local Chabad Lubavitch Center.
The next time suggestions for restaurants are offered for that high- powered lunch, be modern and suggest a kosher restaurant (most major cities nowadays have at least one kosher restaurant).
And think of the Rebbetzin, who was so utterly modern that she cared not a bit about what "modern" conventions say. She remained the Rebbe's most ardent and devoted follower, so much so that the Rebbetzin once stated, "His [the Rebbe's] will is my will."
"G-d alone knows the full extent of her greatness," the Rebbe said during the shiva for the Rebbetzin.
As the Rebbe stated in his first public discourse, all sevenths are precious... we are the seventh generation... the last generation of exile and the first generation of the Redemption.
In the Redemption, when the G-dly essence of everything will be revealed, we will surely appreciate the Rebbetzin's true greatness.
This week's Torah portion, Yisro, contains the narrative of the most definitive event in human history -- the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
In order to understand what happened at Mount Sinai, we need to examine the concept of Torah itself.
As wisdom, the Torah is Divine, and therefore higher than any other body of knowledge on earth -- "For it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations."
As a moral guide, the Torah is the epitome of all virtue, superior to any code of ethics that can ever be devised by man.
All man-made ideologies and schools of philosophy contain an admixture of good and evil, truth and falsehood; in fact, any element of truth found in a particular ideology is merely a derivative of the eternal truth of Torah.
Yet the greatness of Torah far supersedes our human and therefore limited perception.
The Torah is intimately connected to all of existence, as G-d created the world according to the "blueprints" contained in the Torah. Its minutest details directly affect all of creation, determining the amount and type of G-dly influence present in the world.
Observing this fundamental relationship between Torah and reality, King David declared in Psalms, "Your statutes were music to me in my dwelling place."
And yet, as explained in the Talmud, G-d was not pleased by these words of praise. King David was reprimanded for comparing the Divine wisdom of the Torah to something as mundane as song. The Torah is even greater than the mere fact that physical reality is dependent on it.
What then, is the essence of Torah?
Chasidic teachings explain that Torah is simply the wisdom and will of G-d, united with Him in absolute unity.
G-d and the Torah are one entity. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, has granted us the opportunity to grasp the Divine by allowing us to partake of His eternal wisdom.
All other attributes and characteristics of Torah -- its unlimited enlightenment, its ethical superiority, its direct influence on existence -- are only secondary to this fact, the logical outgrowth of its essential nature.
As Torah is a part of an infinite, omnipotent G-d, it is only natural that its perfection extends to all these other areas as well.
This eternal quality is most obviously manifested in the inner, esoteric part of the Torah, the teachings of Chasidut.
Chasidut is not limited to one particular realm, but rather animates and illuminates all of Torah, which is why it is known as "the light of the Torah." The study of Chasidut therefore serves to prepare the world for the revelation of Moshiach and the Era of Redemption, when "the knowledge of G-d will cover the world like the waters of the ocean cover the sea bed."
From Kuntres Inyana Shel Torat HaChasidut of the Rebbe
Devorah Leah Rosenfeld
by Yehudis Cohen
[Editor of L'Chaim]
Just six months after the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, HaChai Publishing was founded in the Rebbetzin's memory.
HaChai is the publishing house of Tzivos Hashem -- the largest Jewish children's organization in the world, which is directed by Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson.
Senior editor at HaChai, Devorah Leah (Dina) Rosenfeld, is herself the author of nearly a dozen treasured children's books. She shared some of HaChai's criteria in choosing manuscripts for publication and spoke about their goals:
"We look for highly original story lines and that extra spark that makes a book special," Devorah Leah begins, "but that's not enough. We want it to be entertaining and very positive.
"Specifically, we try to make sure that our books convey positive behavior, without using negative behavior to make the positive lesson more obvious."
"The editorial board of HaChai is comprised of mothers, educators, rabbis and editors. Like many of the other women on the editorial board, I have my own children whom I can use to test-market the manuscripts."
"HaChai books are formulated to be "kosher" for all children to partake of their delights. When applicable, the books have glossaries to define Hebrew words used in the text. We try our best to make the books reader-friendly for everybody, regardless of his background or Jewish education," Devorah Leah clarifies.
In the three dozen titles HaChai has published to date, there is a mixture of books about good deeds, holidays, Shabbat, and universal moral and ethical values, such as sharing and kindness, that transcend all cultures.
Devorah Leah, who started writing "as soon as I could write -- poetry, stories, anything," wrote her first children's book when she was teaching nursery school a dozen years ago.
"There were very few books in those days that conveyed the beauty of Judaism and its mitzvot in an appealing, attractive way. So I wrote The Very Best Place for a Penny (published by Kehot Publications), about a penny that gets lost and winds up in all the wrong places, until it reaches the very best place for a penny -- a tzedaka box."
Having had three of her own books published before starting at HaChai gives Devorah Leah an additional measure of understanding when it comes to working with authors on their manuscripts.
"Since I'm an author as well as an editor I realize that the creator of a story wants to have input, even once it has left the author's hands. We offer as many opportunities as possible for the author to express his or her opinion."
Does Devorah Leah see any significance in a woman being senior editor of a publishing house which is dedicated to the Rebbetzin's memory?
"As a matter of fact, I do! The Rebbetzin took a very strong interest in the education of children. It's told that the Rebbetzin wrote the feature 'Nature's Wonderland' for the bimonthly Talks and Tales magazine. I think she would have appreciated the HaChai series, The Wonderful World of Hashem. Our pilot book was all about birds using sources in Torah as a starting point. The photography in the book was stunning. Work has begun on the next two books in this series, one on insects and the other on light. Stories from the Torah and Midrash are used to illustrate and illuminate the subjects. The books also convey the fact that everything in the world was created by G-d for a purpose."
On a more personal note, Devorah Leah adds that her mother sent copies of The Very Best Place for a Penny and her second book to the Rebbetzin, "just so my mother could share her nachas with the Rebbetzin," Devorah Leah explains.
On the subject of projects underway, Devorah Leah speaks animatedly.
HaChai currently has about a dozen books in progress. Some manuscripts are in the final editing stage, while others are at this very moment on a boat being shipped in. Messes of Dresses, Devorah Leah explains, is one of these current projects.
"The moral of this truly delightful story is something children of all ages, from three to 93, need to learn: be satisfied with what you have. Shimmy the Youngest is about learning how to deal with not getting everything right away -- learning how to wait."
One series of books from HaChai that my children especially love, and that I thoroughly enjoy reading to them, is called The Little Greats.
Written by Devorah Leah, A Little Boy Named Avraham and Kind Little Rivkah are delightfully illustrated and beautifully executed.
The story of David the Little Shepherd is soon to be released.
Devorah Leah explains, "David was chosen to be king of the Jewish people not because of his strength or might, but because of how he cared for each individual sheep. That's the quality of a Jewish hero. We see that this motif runs throughout the Torah's descriptions of all our great ancestors and ancestresses -- the gentle attributes of our great heroes and heroines. They are not warriors, dashing around on horses and killing lots of people. They are gentle, caring, kind, thoughtful human beings. And they are role models for every man and every woman. They transcend gender."
After the Rebbetzin's passing, the Rebbe regularly urged, "The living -- hachai -- shall take to heart..."
The living should learn and do in the merit of the Rebbetzin.
Our compliments to Tzivos Hashem for taking this suggestion of the Rebbe to heart and founding HaChai. May all of these books, together with all of the knowledge and values they teach and all of the hours of enjoyment children derive from reading and looking at them, tip the scale and bring Redemption to the entire world.
Get Comfortable With Your Jewish Name:
One of the three customs upheld by the Jewish people during their exile in Egypt was using their Jewish names.
Know what your Jewish name is (and your mother's and father's if possible).
Start getting comfortable with it by using it once in a while, even if just when talking with yourself! If you don't have a Jewish name choose one yourself.
A WOMAN'S IMPRINT
In commemoration of the yahrtzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka (on the 22nd of Shevat) we present translated excerpts of two letters the Rebbe wrote to the annual Lubavitch Women's Convention.
Lag B'Omer, 5727 (1967)
Attention has been called on several previous occasions to the special significance of this year, a year of Hakhel -- the special mitzva in the post-Shemita year to gather all Jews, men, women and children, for the purpose of fostering fear of Heaven and the observance of mitzvot in daily life.
The mitzva of Hakhel was connected with a certain time and place (the Holy Temple), yet, by virtue of the eternity of the Torah, this mitzva, too, is, in its spiritual concept and content, valid at all times and in all places, and today perhaps more than ever before.
The spiritual concept and content of the mitzva of Hakhel is: to reinforce the eternal bond between the eternal Torah and the eternal core within every Jew and all Jews, to wit, the Divine soul, an "actual part of G-d above," which animates all Jews, men, women and children.
...The role of the Jewish woman and Jewish daughter in strengthening the attachment between Jews and Torah is particularly underscored in the mitzva of Hakhel, by the fact that not merely were women required to participate in this mitzva, but they were also required to bring the very small children as well.
Indeed, the raising, care and education of Jewish children, from birth until school age, falls largely upon the woman. She, the Jewish mother, leaves her imprint upon the child and molds his early inner development...
In the days of Sefira, 5728 (1968)
...The Torah tells us that when the Jewish people finally reached Mount Sinai, they attained a state of complete unity, as indicated in the words, "and Israel encamped there" (in the singular person), all of them as one, united and unified by the singular thought of receiving the Torah and mitzvot.
The significance of that moment is pointed out by our Sages of blessed memory, declaring that the unification of the Jewish people was the condition for receiving the Torah.
It has often been emphasized that there are crucial moments in the life of our people, especially in the area of Torah and Judaism, where the Jewish woman plays a most important role. One of these areas is the unity of the family.
Here the woman holds the main keys of harmony between the parents and the children, the parents vis-a-vis each other, and the children in relation to one another.
In this area the wife and mother clearly has a decisive role, and in most cases, even a more decisive role than the husband and father. This is one of the reasons why the Jewish woman bears the title of akeret habayit (foundation of the home).
It is likewise clear that Jewish unity in a broader sense -- unity between one family and another, and unity on a national level -- is dependent upon harmony within the family unit. Where harmony is lacking within the family, G-d forbid, surely no harmony can prevail between such a family and another.
However, even where there is complete harmony within family groups, there still remains the problem of achieving unity on the national level. Let us therefore remember that the basis for true Jewish unity is the Torah and mitzvot.
If throughout the ages it has been no easy task to achieve unity, the problem has become much more complicated in this age of "freedom" in the "free" countries of the world, where people are no longer restricted in their choice of domicile, occupation, educational facilities, free expression of opinions, ideas, etc.
All these diversities and dispersions -- geographic, social, cultural, etc. -- are "by-products" of the contemporary "free" society in which we live. The newly-created conditions have created new problems and difficulties, which, however, must be viewed as challenges. With the proper approach and a determined will, they can be resolved...
GREAT JEWISH CHILDREN'S EXPO
In the 15 months since it began traveling, the Great Jewish Children's Expo has visited over 50 cities in the United States. Recent host cities include Atlantic City, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit. Multi-media exhibits start all the way back at the Six Days of Creation and culminate with the Redemption Messianic Era. The traveling Expo also includes arts and crafts, a video and a Jewish game show. For more information please call 718-221-0500.
THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE
A provocative seminar to break your stereotypes of man and G-d, The Jewish Experience is being sponsored in Manhattan's Upper West Side by Chabad of the Upper West Side.
The Reality of G-d, Secret Codes of the Torah, Mysticism, and the Divinity of the Torah are some of the topics that will be covered in this day-long seminar on Sunday, February 26.
Featured lecturers are Dr. Immanuel Schochet, Miryam Swerdlow, and Rabbi Aaron Raskin. For reservations and more info call (212) 864-5010.
This week we commemorate the yahrzeit of our beloved Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, wife of the Rebbe.
It is with tremendous gratitude that I look back on the times my family had the privilege of meeting with the Rebbetzin. I would like to share with you the thoughts of one of our daughters, written soon after the Rebbetzin's passing:
My family and I were privileged to meet the Rebbetzin on four separate occasions. We cherish each moment spent with her as a priceless treasure. I remember walking into her home and thinking it resembled a palace. And there, at the head of the table, stood the queen.
We stood at attention, not daring to breathe. She must have sensed our discomfort, for she smiled a warm, beautiful smile, and with her gentle sense of humor invited us to sit down. It was as though she was being honored to have us!
In her own special way, the Rebbetzin gave me more than anyone else in the world. The moments spent with her are irreplaceable. She showed a sincere interest in each of us, asking us what grade we were in and what we were learning in school.
She spoke softly and personally, making each of us feel as though no one else in the room existed except the Rebbetzin and the person to whom she was speaking.
I remember when my father called the Rebbetzin to tell her of the passing of his father, my grandfather (of blessed memory). After expressing her deepest sympathy, she suddenly asked, "And how is your lovely daughter?" To the Rebbetzin, we were all lovely, all special, all unique. I was just one of her many lovely daughters.
Certainly the Rebbetzin continues, in an even stronger way now, to support all of the Rebbe's work, especially his life goal, to bring G-dliness into this world in a real, tangible way, through the revelation of Moshiach. We pray that very soon we will be reunited with the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin, and Moshiach will lead us to the long-awaited Redemption.
And Yitro heard (Exodus 18:1)
Yitro was not the only person to hear of the miracles G-d had wrought for the Jewish people, as it states, "The nations heard it and trembled." Yitro, however, was the only one who acted upon what he heard and became a Jew.
(The Kotzker Rebbe)
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8)
Explains Rashi, the great Torah commentator: Take heed to remember the Sabbath at all times, so that if you happen to find something special, set it aside for Shabbat. Likewise, our Sages state that we are not to give special names to the weekdays, but to refer to them in the context of Shabbat ("first day to Shabbat, second day to Shabbat," etc.). Thus we are constantly conscious of the upcoming Shabbat and prepare for it every day.
The same applies to the Messianic Era, the "day that is entirely Shabbat and rest for life everlasting." Throughout the present "weekday" of exile we must constantly remember and remain conscious of the "Shabbat day" that is coming, preparing ourselves and everything around us for the arrival of Moshiach.
(The Rebbe, 11 Sivan, 5744)
For by the very thing in which they sinned was punishment brought upon them (Exodus 18:11)
A person's punishment is determined by his own judgment of others: When a Jew sees someone transgressing and immediately "sentences" that person in his heart, he is thereby fixing his own sentence, as the sin most certainly exists in him as well.
(Baal Shem Tov)
Thus you shall say to the House of Jacob and tell the Children of Israel (Exodus 19:3)
Our Sages state that the "House of Jacob" refers to the Jewish women, and the "Children of Israel" to the men; when G-d gave the Torah to Israel, He told Moses to first approach the women and the men only thereafter.
Because the exodus from Egypt occurred by virtue of the pious women of that generation, when it came to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the women were given preference.
The Messianic Redemption, too, will be by virtue of the righteous women of Israel, as the Midrash states: "All generations are redeemed by virtue of the pious women of their generation."
Thus the women will again be first to receive the wondrous teachings to be heard by Moshiach.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Yitro, 5749)
Devora Leah was the aunt of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, known as the Alter Rebbe. Her mother, Rachel, was a very unusual woman for her time.
Educated secretly by her unconventional father, Rachel eventually mastered not only the Bible, but the Talmud and the writings of Maimonides, and was especially expert in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law.
Her erudition in Jewish legal matters is illustrated by an incident in which her husband and father were walking on Shabbat.
Suddenly, someone came running to tell them that the city's "eiruv" (the marker which delineates the area where carrying is permitted on the Shabbat) had broken.
The two rabbis stood still, unable to remember the law under such circumstances. Rachel's father asked her what they should do.
At first she didn't want to reply, since it was frowned upon in those days for a woman to be learned and she didn't want to alienate her new husband.
But when her father pressed her, she answered and everyone abided by her instructions.
Upon returning home they consulted the Shulchan Aruch and verified that Rachel's pronouncement had been correct. When Rachel had her own daughter, it was only natural that she educate her in the same manner in which she had learned from her father.
Rachel began teaching Devora Leah regularly and systematically.
In the course of time, Devora Leah also became quite a scholar.
She grew up with the wonderful qualities so exemplified by her mother: fond of her fellow-beings, always interested in her neighbors, ready to help everyone. Her brother, Baruch, on the other hand, was cold and reserved, preferring his own company to that of others.
Because of Baruch's cold nature, there was no bond between the two siblings. Devora Leah was grieved at her brother's attitude. Her mother saw it and realized it was wrong, but it was beyond her comprehension. She was pained by Baruch's behavior and thought it might do him good to hear something of the family history that she had already told Devora Leah. But he seemed so unapproachable that she kept putting it off. Unfortunately, Rachel waited too long. She became gravely ill and passed away.
At the time of the death of her beloved mother Devora Leah was only sixteen years old. She found some consolation for her loss by immersing herself in the care of her father, brother and household.
Not long after the passing of her mother, Devora Leah's father succumbed to his emotional travail, and after a protracted illness, he too passed away.
Devora Leah, now an orphan, went to live with her aunt and uncle.
Her brother Baruch disappeared without telling anyone of his destination.
One day, Devora Leah's aunt and uncle announced that they had located a suitable match for her -- a young Torah scholar named Yosef Yitzchak.
The young girl immediately ran to the graves of her parents and poured out her heart, asking for their blessings only if the match was one which would be successful. Afterward, she agreed to meet the young man.
Devora Leah was very frank with him, explaining that she was inclined to follow the ways of her mother's family, who followed the teaching of Kabala and Chasidism. The young man listened attentively, and then, to Devora Leah's happy surprise, he told her that he had long ago made the acquaintance of a certain disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and was thoroughly knowledgeable with his teachings. In fact, he was entirely in sympathy with the Baal Shem Tov's path of Divine service.
Even more astonishing, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak told her that he had himself met the Baal Shem Tov.
The tzadik had told him that he would meet his intended in Vitebsk -- an orphan girl from a fine family.
Devora Leah was thrilled with all he told her and saw Divine Providence in their meeting. She had no doubt that this fine young man was her Divinely-chosen mate.
The two went together to Devora Leah's parents' graves and secretly agreed to marry on the following conditions: Yosef Yitzchak was to learn Torah with her two or three times a week; He was not to object to her continuing with her sewing and allow her to contribute monetarily to their household; They were to share equally in all they did relating to Torah and mitzvot; They were to keep the fact that she was studying Torah a secret; They were to live as followers of the Baal Shem Tov; From all their earnings they would put aside a tenth part for charity; They were raise their children in the Chasidic way; If they had daughters they would teach them Torah.
After their marriage, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was appointed as head of the Vitebsk Yeshiva, and Devora Leah was very happy with the life she and her husband had undertaken.
Adapted and excerpted from Memoirs of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe
The time of the future (i.e. the Messianic Era) will see the fulfillment of the verse in Proverbs, "A woman of valor is the crown of -- and hence higher than -- her husband.'"
(The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)