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L'Chaim
November 3, 1995 - 10 MarCheshvan 5756

391: Lech Lecha

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  390: Noach392: Vayeira  

Collecting the Leaves  |  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

Collecting the Leaves

Many folks from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains will be going on nature walks, drives through the mountains, or strolls in parks over the next few weeks to enjoy the change of colors and scenery that autumn affords. Kids in particular enjoy collecting the fallen autumn leaves.

Sometimes it's for a school project (having to identify which leaves came from which trees?), an art project, or a personal project (trying to find leaves in as many different colors and shapes as possible?).

Do you remember one of those "nature/art projects" that many of us did as kids? You took leaves and put them under a sheet of paper. With the edge of a crayon you rubbed the paper over the leaf and were able to recognize not only the shape of the leaf but even its main stem and veins. You couldn't rub it too lightly or too firmly, though, or it wouldn't work.

Jewish life is like one big leaf collecting project if you consider that mitzvot are very much like leaves. They come in all different colors and shapes and sizes and textures. And, as Jewish teachings explain, just as no two faces are exactly the same neither are there two temperaments or opinions that are exactly the same.

Thus, individuals are attracted to different mitzvot. But, despite one's propensity for a certain shaped or colored leaf, if the teacher said you had to collect ten different leaves you had to collect TEN different leaves.

Similarly, though we might enjoy doing one mitzva over another mitzva, or five mitzvot rather than 13 mitzvot, when the Teacher says to collect 13, you gotta collect 13.

Similar to the way we execute the art project, we should be neither too firm nor too light in doing these mitzvot, but should follow the rules and tread the middle path; if we don't then the project won't work. It's not a punishment either, it just won't work.

Often people ask, "But isn't the main part of the mitzva the intent? After all, G-d desires the heart!"

Intent and sincerity are a major part of the mitzva but not the main thing. The actual doing of the mitzva, and doing it according to the rules, is the major part.

If you do it wrong, you won't get punished, it just won't come out right. Like the art project with the leaf which doesn't work if you rub too hard or too soft (or not at all), there won't be an image on the paper. And with the mitzva, if it's not done right there won't be an image on your soul, or on the environment, or on the world. That's not a punishment, it's simply a fact. Too little or too much, too light or too hard, too hot or too cold. If you don't do it right it just won't work.

But, there's always next time to try again.

Keep on collecting those leaves and those mitzvot. Enjoy them. Appreciate them. Have favorites that you especially treasure and look for at every opportunity. Eagerly anticipate the times of year when certain mitzvot are more readily available or easily discernible than at other times.

Take a stroll, or a walk or a drive through the glorious colors and scents and textures of mitzvot every single day of your life.


Living with the Rebbe

The Torah portion of Lech Lecha opens with G-d telling to Abraham: "Go from your land and birthplace... I will make you into a great nation."

Why does the Torah not preface the command by mentioning at least briefly Abraham's piety, righteousness and self-sacrificing devotion to G-d, similar to the way Noah is introduced with, "Noah was a righteous man"?

The Jewish nation begins with Abraham. His selection by G-d from among all the people only came about when G-d said, "Go from your land..."

The Torah begins its narrative with this command, rather than his sterling qualities, in order to indicate the essential qualities of Abraham in particular, as well as of the Jewish people as a whole.

The relationship of all the other nations with the Creator results from their knowledge and understanding of Him. This causes them to bring themselves to Him and obey His laws.

By contrast, the Jewish people's relationship with G-d and their own existence as a nation is primarily based on the fact that it was G-d who chose them, not that they uplifted themselves to know Him and to bind themselves to Him.

Since this relationship emanates from G-d and not from man, it is readily understandable that Jews are a qualitatively different category of created beings.

All created beings are and remain created entities; Jews, however, are essentially a G-dly entity that is found within the context of creation.

The same is true with regard to the contrast between the mitzvot given to the Jewish people and those commanded to other nations. There is not merely a quantitative difference, but a qualitative difference as well.

The main function of the commandments given to non-Jews is to ensure an orderly world and to refine man, so that both the world as a whole and man in particular conduct themselves properly.

The mitzvot given by G-d to the Jewish people are quite different. Not only are they given for the sake of purifying man and the world, but most importantly in order to effect "unification and attachment" with G-d.

Since Creator and created are separated by an infinite gulf, it is self-evident that just as created begins are as nothing in G-d's eyes, the same is true of their service.

The only way that "unification and attachment" can be achieved between Creator and created is for G-d to choose this unification as a result of the fulfillment of His commands.

This concept is stressed in the Torah at the beginning of the first Jewish relationship with G-d.

It was not Abraham's own unique qualities and his divine service that singled him out; rather, G-d chose him. His "unification and attachment" to G-d resulted from his being chosen and commanded by G-d, and from his fulfillment of His commands.

From The Chasidic Dimension, adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 25


A Slice of Life

The Children's Sefer Torah

Fourteen years ago the first Jewish Children's Torah Scroll was completed in Jerusalem amidst much fanfare and celebration.

Less than six months earlier, on the 11th of Nissan of that year (5741), the Rebbe called for a new campaign, specifying that a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) be specially written with children's participation and the scroll be finished before the Hakhel year was over.

Today over 904,000 Jewish children have purchased letters in one of four Children's Torah scrolls, the third scroll completed just a few months ago at the end of the most recent Hakhel year.

The Rebbe related the primary reason for this new campaign: To cause unity between Jewish children. "It is easier to achieve unity among Jewish children," the Rebbe explained.

To underscore this idea of unity, the Rebbe asked that the price of each letter be the same for everyone -- one dollar -- "to emphasize and strengthen the unity of all Jewish children."

Rabbi Shmuel Greisman, an emissary of the Rebbe in the Holy Land, was appointed to head the "Children's Sefer Torah Campaign" as it became known. It wasn't long before he learned just what his "appointment" entailed.

A week after the Rebbe initiated the campaign, Rabbi Greisman received a phone call from Rabbi Binyamin Klein, one of the Rebbe's secretaries.

The Rebbe had directed Rabbi Klein to call Rabbi Greisman "and ask him how many children have been registered. Not how many letters the scribe has written so far, but how many children have already purchased letters in the Sefer Torah."

Recalls Rabbi Greisman, "I told Rabbi Klein I would check and get back to him. The next day I called 770 to give him the results of my inquiry. A few minutes later Rabbi Klein called me back to tell me that the Rebbe had expressed his surprise. 'Is that all that resulted from the whole commotion?' the Rebbe had said. 'Tell him to inform us of the results next week too.'

The Rebbe continued to speak about the new campaign regularly at gatherings over the next few months. Early that summer the Rebbe told the following story:

" 'Papa, shto takoya Sefer Torah -- what is a Sefer Torah?' " a little Jewish boy asked his father in a small Russian town.

" 'I don't know,' the father answered. 'Go ask the elders. Perhaps they've heard of it.'

"The father's curiosity, however, was already aroused. He asked his son where he had heard the strange words mentioned, and was told that someone had approached the boy and asked him to buy a letter in a Sefer Torah that was being written for all Jewish children around the world. The father, who was born well after the Russian Revolution, had no idea what he was talking about.

"The elders whom the boy approached explained as much as they themselves knew about Judaism. Some time later, when the family happened to be in Moscow, they decided to 'sneak' into a shul on Shabbat to see a Torah scroll for themselves. Thus an entirely new world was opened up to them, and the family's quest to uncover their roots began in earnest.

"This apparently, is the power of a letter of a Torah being written in Jerusalem."

The Rebbe's repeated urging had the desired effect: 304,805 children, the exact number of letters in a Torah scroll, were soon signed up.

On the evening after the gala completion ceremony, the Rebbe spoke about the ceremony that had taken place earlier that day in Jerusalem, and declared that "it has caused and continues to add unity and peace among the Jewish people."

Rabbi Daniel Danan of France tells an interesting story that took place in connection with the Rebbe's desire and interest in every Jewish child having a letter in the Torah scroll:

"A French woman who had recently found her way back to Judaism decided to go to the Rebbe for dollars. When it was her turn the Rebbe gave her an extra dollar 'for her husband,' and then handed her three additional dollars 'for the children.' "The woman was very disturbed by this, for in fact she had five children and not three. Why had the Rebbe given her only three dollars? Quite upset, she submitted a letter to the Rebbe asking for an explanation.

"In his answer, the Rebbe wrote that he had given her the dollars for those children who had a letter in the Torah scroll! As soon as she received the answer the woman called France. Sure enough, she found out that only three of her children had purchased letters!"

Rabbi Greisman adds that he has heard of many similar incidents. Many times when a person wrote to the Rebbe asking for a blessing for a child's recovery from an illness, the Rebbe would ask if he had a letter in the Sefer Torah, this being a channel for receiving G-d's blessings.

Another point the Rebbe made has particular relevance at the present time.

In light of the dangerous situation in the Holy Land, he stated, it is necessary to increase our efforts in the realm of Jewish unity. It is therefore an especially auspicious time for Jewish children to unite by buying letters in this Sefer Torah.

For this very reason it was decided to complete the third Torah scroll by the end of this past Hakhel year, 5755.

"I am positive," Rabbi Greisman concludes, "that if everyone realized the Rebbe's special interest in this matter, every Jewish child would have a letter. I therefore appeal to all Jews around the world to make sure that every Jewish child has a letter in the special Children's Torah Scroll. In this way we will hasten the full and immediate revelation of Moshiach."

A letter can be purchased for children under the age of Bar/Bat Mitzva by sending $1 per child to Children's Torah Scroll Campaign, 332 Kingston Ave., Bklyn, NY 11213.

Include the child's Hebrew name and mother's Hebrew name if possible, birthday, and address to where the beautiful certificate from Israel should be mailed.


A Call To Action

Take a Tip from the Kids when interacting with G-d:

Children have a unique manner of relating to G-d and they understand that the awareness of G-d has to be connected with physical entities. Thus they understand the importance of reciting blessings: thanking G-d for the food that they eat.

Similarly, we see that children have a unique attraction to a mezuza, and kiss it eagerly several times a day.

Also, through having a tzedaka pushka and holy Jewish texts in their rooms, they transform their room -- and the entire house -- to a "sanctuary in microcosm."

(The Rebbe, 18 Cheshvan, 5752)


The Rebbe Writes

Dated: 28th of Tevet

I received your recent letter and the previous one. Needless to say, I was somewhat taken aback by the tone of your letter. It is a good illustration of how it is possible for a person to read and to learn and to receive instruction from books and teachers, and yet when it comes to actual experience all this instruction goes by the wayside.

I refer to the things which you have surely learned in the books of mussar and especially Chasidut about the tactics of the Yetzer Hara [inclination toward evil] to instill a spirit of depression, discouragement and despondency in order to prevent the Jewish person from fulfilling his Divine mission. This is the most effective approach.

If the Yetzer Hara would attempt to dissuade a person directly from fulfilling his mission, he would not be easily misled. However, instead, the Yetzer tries to discourage the person in all sorts of ways, using "pious" arguments which unfortunately often prove effective at least in some degree.

This is exactly what has happened in your case and I am surprised that you do not realize it. The proof is that from the information I have received I can see that you have accomplished a great deal more than you imagine...

Let me also add another important and essential consideration.

You surely know of the saying of the Baal Shem Tov that a soul comes down to live on this earth for a period of 70 to 80 years for the sole purpose to do another Jew a single favor, materially or spiritually.

In other words, it is worthwhile for a Jewish soul to make that tremendous journey and descent from heaven to earth in order to do something once for a fellow Jew.

In your case the journey was only from the USA to O and can in no way be compared to the journey of the soul from heaven to earth and however pessimistic you may feel, even the Yetzer Hara would have to agree that you have done not only a single favor but numerous good deeds and even only your work with the children of the Gan [kindergarten] would have justified it.

Considering further that every beginning is difficult especially where there is a change of place and environment, language, etc., and yet the beginning has proved so successful, so one is surely justified in expecting that as time goes on and the initial difficulties are minimized and overcome, there will be a more than corresponding improvement in the good accomplishments...

As for your mentioning the fact that no one seems interested in your work, etc., surely you will admit that G-d, whose knowledge and providence extends to everyone individually, knows and is interested in what you are doing, especially as you are working in the field of education of Jewish children, boys and girls, which is so much emphasized in the Torah.

After all, to teach children to make a bracha [blessing] and to say the prayers, etc., this is living Yiddishkeit. (I need hardly add too that I am interested in your work). If it seems to you that it has been left to you to "carry the ball" yourself, it is surely only because there is confidence in you and that since you have been sent to O you undoubtedly have the ability, qualifications, and initiative to do your job without outside promptings, etc.

Since one is only human, it is not unusual to relapse occasionally into a mood of discouragement. But as has been explained in the Tanya and in other sources, such a relapse should only serve as a challenge to bring forth additional inner reserves and energy to overcome the tactics of the Yetzer Hara and to do ever better than before.

I trust that since you wrote your letter, your mood and outlook have considerably improved and that this letter will find you in a completely different frame of mind. Nevertheless I am sending you this letter since one is only human and subject to changes of mind as mentioned above.

Finally I want to say that the above should not be understood to mean that if you do find yourself in such a frame of mind you should try to conceal it and not write about it, for our Sages say that "when someone has an anxiety he should relate it to others" for getting something off one's chest is a relief in itself.

One should also bear in mind, as the Old Rebbe has stated most emphatically in the laws of learning and teaching Torah, that a person who is engaged in teaching children should especially take care of his health since it directly affects the success of his work.

I trust therefore that you are looking after yourself in matters of diet and rest, etc. and that you will always be in a state of cheerfulness and gladness.


What's New

FIFTH ANNIVERSARY PARTY

U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, surprised the crowd when he took out his guitar to play and sing with 31 children from Chabad's Children of Chernobyl Medical Relief Program at the fifth anniversary celebration.

Ambassador and Mrs. Jill Indyk hosted the children at their home in Herziliyah. "We are delighted to see the children so well cared for by this fine humanitarian effort," said Jill Indyk.


A Word from the Director

This week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, describes G-d's promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. It also describes Abraham's travels through the land whereby he acquired it for his descendants forever. Abraham's traversing of the land was not a necessary prerequisite for his taking possession of it as G-d's promise itself sufficed to transfer ownership of the Holy Land to Abraham.

It has been mentioned numerous times that the Rebbe's statements regarding the Holy Land, and his staunch position not to give back even one inch of land to the Arabs, has nothing to do with Biblical promises nor Messianic visions.

Rather, the Rebbe has made these statements and taken this position because of Pikuach Nefesh -- the imminent danger to life -- of Jews in the Holy Land.

Unfortunately, the Rebbe's stand has been shown to be absolutely true. And yet, of course, there are spiritual as well as mundane lessons to be learned from this week's Torah portion. There are spiritual implications, the Rebbe explains, of G-d's promise to the Jewish people via Abraham:

"There is a particular relevance to G-d's promise in the present age, the era immediately preceding Moshiach's coming. For G-d promised Abraham the lands of the ten nations, including not only the land of the seven Canaanite nations conquered by the Jews after the exodus from Egypt, but also the lands of the Keini, the Kenizi, and the Kadmoni people. G-d promised -- and thus gave -- the Jewish people all these ten lands at the same time. Nevertheless, in the present era, we were granted only the lands of seven nations and the fulfillment of this promise in its full sense will not be until the Era of the Redemption...

"In the Era of the Redemption, by contrast, not only all the Jews of that generation but also all the Jews of all previous generations who will arise in the Resurrection, will live there."

With the situation as it is now in Israel, the only solution is that G-d fulfill His promise and give possession of the entire Holy Land to the Jewish people under the leadership of Moshiach. May we merit this now!


Thoughts that Count

Fear not Abram, for I am your shield (Gen. 15:1)

Our forefather Abraham was the epitome of unlimited loving-kindness; in his eyes everyone was good and had merit. Unfortunately, however, looking at the world in such an undiscriminating fashion precludes the entire purpose of creation, i.e., the eradication and nullification of evil. For this reason G-d promised Abraham that He would put a "shield" on his loving-kindness, to make sure it would be applied with the proper discretion.

(Torah Ohr)

And Abram took Sarai his wife... and all the souls they had made in Charan (Gen. 12:5)

As Rashi explains, this refers to the people whom Abraham and Sarah "brought under the wings of the Divine Presence. Abraham converted the men [to the belief in one G-d] and Sarah converted the women."

Because this took place before the Torah was given at Sinai, the concept of conversion did not exist as it does today; according to halacha, Abraham and Sarah were considered "Children of Noah." Thus Rashi uses the unusual phrase "brought under the wings of the Divine Presence" to establish this fact before using the word "conversion" in a non-literal sense.

(The Rebbe)

For their wealth was great, so that they could not dwell together (Gen. 13:6)

Not poverty but wealth, and the jealousy it engenders, is the cause of most of the dissension and conflict in the world.

(Likrat Shabbat)

Your reward will be exceedingly great (Gen. 15:1)

The reward a Jew receives for doing mitzvot is vastly out of proportion to the deed itself: a finite and limited action is rewarded with an eternal and everlasting dividend.

(The Rebbe)


It Once Happened

There is hardly a town or townlet in the whole of Europe that is not bound up with the Jewish past or the Jewish present, that cannot tell something of Jewish history, and where the stones and the soil are not soaked with Jewish blood and Jewish tears.

The very names of certain towns and townlets bring to life for us the great Jewish personalities who for generations distinguished themselves by their knowledge of the Torah, by their good deeds, or by their martyrdom.

Some towns represent in themselves complete movements and complete periods in Jewish life. Such a town, or rather townlet, was Lubavitch in Russia.

During 102 years and 3 months, Lubavitch was the seat of four generations of Chabad rabbis, and the center of Chabad Chassidism with hundreds of thousands of followers all over Russia as well as in other countries.

Although Lubavitch only began to figure in the history and development of Chabad with the second generation of the Schneersohn dynasty, this townlet nevertheless played the main role in the formation of Chabad, and perhaps even of the whole of Chasidism.

Indeed, its role began much earlier, when mystics and tzadikim influenced Jewish life and prepared the way for the saintly Baal Shem Tov.

The huge, dense forests which surrounded it made Lubavitch an ideal setting for those of a particular spiritual bent who sought isolation from the outside world.

Here, those spiritual souls could devote themselves completely to the study of Torah and the service of G-d or start a new life based on the highest and purest ethical principles of the Torah.

In Lubavitch the oldest study hall was named "Benjamin's House of Prayer," and this very Benjamin was a remarkable person who lived about 400 years ago and figures as a protagonist of our story.

Benjamin was a peddler who went from village to village selling his wares. He and his wife were not blessed with children, and they lived quietly in a house surrounded by a large vegetable garden near the river's edge.

Benjamin was known to be a G-d-fearing person, careful in performing mitzvot, but otherwise unlearned. One incident, however, was to cast a different light on this unassuming man.

This incident occurred when the area surrounding Lubavitch was plagued by a maurauding band of robbers. Every traveler who passed through the forest was attacked and when travelers were scarce, the robbers didn't hesitate to rob people in their homes.

One day they staged a brazen robbery, entering a house on the outskirts of Lubavitch. A thirteen year old girl was alone in the house when they burst in and began grabbing everything of value.

Terrified, she began to scream, as she ran for the front door. One of the robbers, however, blocked her way, holding her in an iron grip whilst muffling her cries with his enormous hands. The girl, realizing the terrible danger she faced, began fighting with all her might, biting and scratching her attacker.

Her screams seemed to be in vain, for no one lived very near, but Benjamin, the peddler was drawn to her doorstep, as if by some hidden power. Hearing her cries, Benjamin threw open the door to see the girl, struggling with a huge man, blood streaming down her face.

When the robbers saw the puny Jew, they saw he was no match for them. But Benjamin, slowly turned to them and uttered a few words known only to the mystics. The two robbers suddenly sank to the floor in a faint. The stricken girl looked in shock at her erstwhile attackers, but she couldn't fathom what had occurred.

The townspeople heard that Benjamin had rescued the girl through some magic of some sort, but knowing the simple peddler, it sounded so unbelievable, that the incident was simply forgotten.

One reason Benjamin was forgotten so soon, is that another stranger took up residence in Lubavitch at about the same time, and this was Wolf, the cobbler. The two simple workmen soon became close, almost inseparable friends.

This Wolf became a regular member of the group that met early every morning to recite Psalms, and he also gathered with the other workers to read the Psalms before the morning service in the House of Study.

He became a regular in the circles that met to learn Torah, but he would always just sit very quietly and listen, and no one knew if he grasped even the simple meaning of the lessons.

Now, if the alleged mystic was a friend of the totally unlettered cobbler, what could that mean? Only that the incident with the robbers was blown out of proportion, and Benjamin and Cobbler were simple "birds of a feather," and the townspeople spoke no more of the mysterious incident with the robbers.

Continued next week

Adapted from the Memoirs of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe


Moshiach Matters

Because of the imminence of the Redemption, it is possible to experience a foretaste of that era in the present day. On the most basic level, this means that although the Redemption is not yet manifest, the awareness of this imminence should inspire joy.


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