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To many readers (and to most of our staff), what comes to mind when hearing the word "L'Chaim" is this four-page, weekly newsletter packed with information bites that educate, entertain and inspire.
It's a link connecting Jews all around the world (including those who don't read English but receive foreign language editions) as well as those Jews above the world in Cyberspace.
But had you asked the L'Chaim staff or any avid reader a mere eight years ago (when this publication was founded) what "l'Chaim" means, the only fitting response would have been: "It's the Jewish way of making a toast, a hearty wish or blessing to friends."
L'Chaim is spelled with five Hebrew letters: lamed, chet, yud, yud and mem. The two yuds are symbolic of two "Yids" or Jews. Set these two letters aside, and you are left with the letters of the word "lechem"--bread.
When two Yids get together in brotherly love and bless each other, they generate G-d's blessing for each other in the area of "bread" which is symbolic of livelihood.
According to our Sages, though, bread does not only mean livelihood. It is symbolic of all one's needs, both material and spiritual. So when two (or more) Jews get together in a true spirit of love and unity, they engender G-d's blessings in all areas of life.
Chasidic custom places the saying of "l'chaim" most effectively at farbrengens, gatherings devoted to brotherly (or sisterly) love.
In describing the virtues and benefits of such a gathering, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad-Lubavitch) said, "What a Chasidic gathering can accomplish, even the Angel Michael cannot accomplish!"
Rabbi Shneur Zalman's great-great grandson, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad- Lubavitch, the Rebbe Rashab, explains how it is possible that a Chasidic gathering can be so powerful:
When a father looks at the behavior of his children, and sees them living together with love, unity, peace and contentment -- each one worrying about the good of the other in the same way that he worries about his own good -- the father is filled with pleasure and he hurries to fulfill his children's requests.
You're probably wondering how you can become a card-carrying Chasid so that you can benefit from, and help others benefit from, Chasidic gatherings. Don't worry, there's no need to run out and buy a black fedora or a sheitel (wig): those outward accouterments are not what a Chasid is, anyway.
When someone asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "What is a Chasid?" he answered: "A Chasid is one who foregoes his own good in order to do a favor for another."
A more detailed description of a Chasid can be garnered from the Rebbe Maharash.
Among the defining factors: A Chasid should be involved in doing favors for others; should be joyous; should relate to others good- heartedly; should know well his own faults and the strong points of others; should consider the simplest person more worthy than himself; should be able to learn good behavior and positive qualities from every person; should conduct himself in a manner of peace, love, friendship and fellowship.
The fifth Chabad Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab said: "A Chasid is a Lamplighter." [In those times, street lamps were lit by a person who had a lit flame at the tip of a stick and he would go around and light the street lights as the evening fell."
The Rebbe explained: "A Chasid who only clings to, and is given over to the Rebbe, even to the greatest extent, is still considered a weak Chasid. A true Chasid is one who is given over to the Rebbe's activities and lights the darkness around him."
L'Chaim (this publication) is given over to the Rebbe's activities. The focus of L'Chaim has always been -- and continues to be -- to inspire and educate people concerning all of the Rebbe's activities, the culmination of which is the revelation of Moshiach and the Redemption, may it take place imminently.
This week's Torah reading, Yitro, contains the Ten Commandments, the ultimate distillation of G-d's revelation to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
The commandments themselves range from the highest theological and moral concepts -- "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" and "You shall have no other gods before Me" -- to "simpler," ethical concepts man would seemingly figure out on his own -- "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," etc.
The juxtaposition of both types of commandments teaches us a very important lesson: All of G-d's commandments, be they of a "higher" or more mundane nature, must be carried out with the same intent, i.e., solely because G-d has so commanded us. The reason we do not commit murder or steal is only because the same G-d Who declared "I am the L-rd your G-d" is the One Who has commanded us not to -- not because the concepts make sense to our human intellect.
The human mind is eminently pliant and malleable, its logic often determined by a wide range of factors. Relying on intellect alone can result in a person's convincing himself that an aveira, an out-and-out sin, is actually a very great mitzva!
Without the foundation of "I am the L-rd your G-d," a Jew's observance of the "lower" commandments will be sorely lacking.
For example, the spiritual corollary of "You shall not murder" is the prohibition against shaming another person in public, symbolically "shedding his blood." Likewise, the commandment "You shall not steal" applies equally to the theft of intellectual property and ideas.
It states, "Self-love will cover up a multitude of transgressions." Just as a small finger can obscure the entire world when it is placed right in front of the eye, so too does a person's love for himself often blind him to the true reality. Accordingly, a Jew's obligation is to ensure that his observance of all of G-d's mitzvot is thoroughly permeated with a sense of "I am the L-rd your G-d," even if the reason for a particular commandment appears to be perfectly understandable and obvious. With this basic principle in mind, all our deeds and actions will truly be imbued with G-dliness and holiness.
Adapted Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. 3
Ten plus eight plus five is 23. Add to that 40, 6, 200, 100 and 1 and you have the number 470. But 470 isn't just the sum of a random set of numbers. In Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value. And the numbers listed above are the numerical values of the Hebrew letters that spell the name of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe's wife, whose eighth yahrzeit we commemorate this week.
One of the very first activities initiated in memory of the Rebbetzin was "Project 470," a division of the Lubavitch Women's Organization Candle Lighting Campaign.
Esther Sternberg, coordinator of the campaign since its inception at the Rebbe's behest in 1974, tells about the background of Project 470.
"We had scheduled our annual fund-raising event for the 26th of Shvat that year (5748-1988). We sent the invitation to the Rebbe and received the Rebbe's blessing. When the Rebbetzin passed away just days before the event, which meant that it would take place during the shiva (the week of mourning), we thought to postpone it. But, as we had already received the Rebbe's blessing we decided to go ahead.
"At the evening itself," remembers Mrs. Sternberg, "we announced that we were establishing a special fund in the Rebbetzin's memory which would be devoted exclusively to publicizing, through newspaper and radio ads, the special mitzva of Shabbat Candles."
At that point, the project did not yet have a name. It was through a comment made by the Rebbe that this far-reaching project received its name.
Explains Mrs. Sternberg, "Right after the Rebbe got up from shiva, we were told that the Rebbe wanted to see my father and myself. My father and I were both with the Rebbetzin in her last moments, and we thought that maybe the Rebbe wanted to ask us some questions. When we arrived in the Rebbe's office he was holding the invitation to our evening. Someone had informed the Rebbe about the fund. The Rebbe wanted to give $470 'al shem hanifteres' -- in the name of the departed -- and another dollar that the project should be a success."
Animatedly, Mrs. Sternberg describes the rest of the audience with the Rebbe: "The Rebbe gave many, many blessings for the Candle Lighting Campaign and said that anyone who inspires others to light Shabbat candles, as well as those who begin to light Shabbat candles, 'yair mazalon -- their fortune will shine.' The Rebbe showered blessings on anyone who would be involved."
The main undertaking of Project 470 has been a classified ad on the front page of the New York Times every Friday reminding Jewish women and girls to light Shabbat candles. The ad includes the correct time for candle lighting that week in New York City as well as the computerized telephone system (718-774-3000) that gives the candle lighting time for any location in the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. This classified ad has run consecutively for the last 8 years. Mrs. Sternberg notes that she constantly receives calls for candle lighting times around the world, which is not surprising, as the front page of the New York Times is duplicated in all foreign editions as well. A system to allow callers to receive computerized information for the entire world is currently being created for Project 470.
Although there are hundreds of stories connected to the Candle Lighting Campaign in general (which we hope to share soon in L'Chaim), Mrs. Sternberg retells one unique incident:
"Exactly 18 years ago, I was going to Israel. I saw many Jewish college students who were also on their way to Israel in the El Al area at the airport. Always eager to encourage more Jewish girls and women to light Shabbat candles, I approached the young women and asked them if they light Shabbat candles. They all answered affirmatively. They were very proud and excitedly told me about their interaction with Chabad on their college campuses around the country. I was elated by their positive responses."
Continues Mrs. Sternberg, "In those days the El Al security system included booths that were electronically monitored. As I was planning on going to a few European countries after Israel to talk about the Candle Lighting Campaign, I had an entire suitcase full of candlesticks with me. I was afraid the metal detectors would be set off by the candlesticks, so when I was about to enter the cubicle, I told the security guard in Hebrew, 'I'm afraid to go in.' He told me not to be afraid. He saw I was in a very good mood and commented on it. 'You can't imagine how happy I am,' I told the officer, truly exuberant over my conversations with the college students and my trip to Israel.
" 'So madam, maybe you have neshek?' the officer asked me with a twinkle in his eyes. I was sure that he had seen me talking with the students and had seen me pull out some candlesticks from my suitcase."
In Israel, the Candle Lighting Campaign is well-known as Mivtza Neshek. Neshek, which literally means 'weapons' is an acronym for Neirot Shabbat Kodesh -- Holy Shabbat Candles. "We consider `Neshek' as one of the `weapons' in the Rebbe's war against assimilation and apathy.
"I said proudly, 'Of course I have Neshek, a whole suitcase full!' Instantly an alarm was sounded and within seconds five police came running to the little cubicle to arrest me."
With a chuckle, Mrs. Sternberg remembers, "I opened the suitcase and showed them what was inside. 'I am talking about a different kind of Neshek altogether,' I told them innocently."
May the Shabbat candles of the millions of Jewish women and girls around the world illuminate our way until we very soon see the fulfillment of G-d's promise, "If you guard the lighting of Shabbat candles, I will show you the lights of the Redemption."
"The yahrzeit should, as is Jewish custom, be connected with deeds undertaken in memory of the departed. The Hebrew expression for this intent, l'ilui nishmat, means "for the ascent of the soul." Our deeds help elevate the soul of the departed. Then, the higher levels that the soul reaches, are drawn down and influence this world....Also, it is proper that gifts be given to charity in multiples of 470, the numerical equivalent of the Rebbetzin's name.
(The Rebbe, 22 Shevat, 5750-1990)
20th of Tishrei, 5718 
This is in reply to your several questions:
- You asked, how long is it since I assumed my present office?
This was after the year of aveilut [mourning] from the day my father-in-law of saintly memory passed on, on the 10th of Shevat, 5710.
- You asked, why do Jewish women wear a sheitel [wig]?
You should bear in mind, first of all, that when it comes to any one of the many mitzvot which G-d has given us, no man can understand all the reasons for it, because a man's understanding is limited, while G-d's Wisdom is without end.
For example: A small child could not understand the wisdom of a big professor, even if the professor tried to explain it to the child. Remember, both of them are human beings, and the only difference between the professor and the child is in the number of years each one of them has been learning things: The baby has been learning for a number of days only, and the professor has been studying for many years. Yet it would be silly for the baby or child to ask to understand a deep and difficult theory of the professor. Much, very much greater is the difference between a man, who was created by G-d, and the Creator Himself, Who is eternal, and Whose Wisdom can in no way be compared to that of man, even the wisest of men, who has been learning even to 120 years. Therefore, the wise man and the smart child will not question or worry about all the reasons of a mitzva, but will do it willingly and joyfully.
However, there are mitzvot where G-d in His kindness has disclosed a reason, only one or two of the infinite number of reasons. In connection with the sheitel, one of the reasons (but by no means the only one) is that it makes the marriage between a man and his wife a holy union, and the two of them become like one. This brings them G-d's additional blessings making it a happy marriage, and that the children should also be well and happy, and well provided for in all their needs.
- You asked, finally, why isn't a lady a Rabbi?
You surely know that there were Jewish women who were leaders of all our people, such as the prophetess Deborah, and others. But these were exceptional cases. For, when G-d created the world, He gave each creature something special to do, and to the woman he gave the most wonderful of all things -- to be a mother and raise children, and bring them up in the true Jewish way, so that among these children many will grow up to be leaders of our people Israel. This is a full-time and life-time responsibility, and it leaves no room for other responsibilities which take up all one's time for the rest of one's life.
In conclusion, it should be remembered that in trying to increase one's knowledge one should have one's mind on such things that will help him, or her, in daily conduct to serve G-d all the better. Things of immediate importance should come first, and things which are not of immediate importance should come later, at their proper time.
The thing which is of immediate importance to you is to try to improve your daily conduct, for there is always room for improvement, and to show a good example to your friends by devoting yourself to your studies and conduct, and G-d will surely bless you with success.
A special evening entitled "Beautiful Beginnings" took place recently to benefit the Ten Yad Organization. Ten Yad helps brides in need establish their Jewish home, supplying them with everything necessary to set up a kosher kitchen. Brides in Brooklyn, as well as in the CIS, are beneficiaries of Ten Yad's important work.
MYSTICAL TU B'SHVAT
One of the most popular seminars at the Ascent Institute in Tzfat, Israel, is the Mystical Tu B'Shvat Seder (Feb. 2-5 this year) which included studying throughout nearly the entire night of Tu B'Shvat while partaking of dozens of different fruits. At Ascent Seminars include a walking tour of Tzfat as well as Shabbat hospitality in the Ascent Centers facilities. For info about other Ascent Seminars or programs call 972-6-921-364, fax 972-6-921-942 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rebbetzin, whose eighth yahrzeit we commemorate on 22 Shevat, was a true queen. Not merely by virtue of her noble ancestry (descending from all the first six Rebbes of Chabad) nor even of her exalted position as the wife of the Rebbe. She was a true queen in her own right, too.
She was a queen in her exalted qualities of character. The Rebbetzin was sensitive and compassionate to others without being in any way condescending. For every person she met, every visitor to her home, even young children, she always had the right words to suit the situation.
The Rebbetzin was a queen intellectually, as well. Coming from a long line of great Torah scholars, she was, not surprisingly, a true intellectual. Those who knew her well and remembered her father, the Previous Rebbe, considered her to have inherited his penetrating intellect and analytic mind. She was learned and erudite, fluent in seven languages, with well-founded opinions on a variety of subjects.
When the Previous Rebbe passed on in 1950, the Chasidim called upon her husband, the present Rebbe, as the obvious successor. The Rebbe refused to even consider it.
It was the Rebbetzin who finally convinced the Rebbe, though she knew what it would mean to her own personal life and how she would have to forfeit everything a spouse takes for granted.
And through all this, the Rebbetzin remained a queen. As much as she tried, even succeeded, in concealing her great qualities, her entire demeanor in all her deeds and words bespoke royalty. But is was utterly effortless on her part, an inborn, integral part of her personality.
As we mark the Rebbetzin's eighth yahrzeit this week, we pray that her merit protect us and that she remains a shining example to all of us until the revelation of all that is truly royal with the ultimate Redemption.
You shall be unto me a treasure (segula) above all nations (Ex. 19:5)
A "segula," by definition, is something that has an intrinsic value but no logical, rational reason for it. G-d's love for the Jewish people falls into the category of "segula," as it has no rational basis; the only reason it exists is because it so arose in the Divine Will to select the Jews as His chosen people.
Moses spoke (yedaber), and G-d answered him (Ex. 19:19)
The word "yedaber" is actually in the future tense, implying "Moses will speak." It is also etymologically related to the word "yadber," meaning "he will lead and guide" -- a reference to the "reflection of Moses that exists in every generation ."
(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)
I am the L-rd your G-d (Ex. 20:2)
This first of the Ten Commandments was given in the singular ("your G-d"), as each individual's conception and understanding of G-d is different, depending on his capacity for spirituality, knowledge of Torah, and individual service. Accordingly, each person who was present at Mount Sinai understood the commandment differently.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work (Ex. 20:9)
In truth, is it possible to complete all one's work in only six days? Rather, the intent is that a person must desist from labor on Shabbat, and consider it as if all his work was already done.
Throughout the ages, we find great women who have been respected Torah scholars. Although they have been the exception rather than the rule, they attest to the exalted heights women can attain through Torah study.
The renowned Sefardic Torah giant, Rabbi Chayim Yosef David Azulai (known as Chida, 1724-1806) in his bibliographic work Shem Gdolim, has a special listing for "Rabbanit" ("Rebbetzin")!
He quotes the Talmud (Megilla 14a) that the Jewish people had seven prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Devora, Chana, Avigayil, Chulda and Esther (Rashi, on Bereishis says that all the Matriarchs were prophetesses).
The Chida mentions the renowned Bruria, daughter of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon and wife of Rabbi Meir (both Tannaim -- Sages mentioned in the Mishna). The Talmud says she would review 300 teachings of 300 Torah masters in a single day! She knew so much that she could express her own opinion in questions of Halachic law, disagreeing with respected Tannaim, while others endorsed her opinion.
So authoritative was Bruria considered, that eminent Tannaim would reverently quote how she rebuked them for not adhering properly to the teachings of the Sages.
On occasion she would even rebuke students for poor learning habits, giving as her source her interpretation of a scriptural verse, an interpretation that the Talmud later quoted.
Rashi had three daughters -- and no sons. Besides marrying renowned Torah scholars, they were known to be outstandingly knowledgeable in Torah. Once, Rashi lay sick, with no strength to write a profound and complicated Halachic reply to a query he had received. He therefore asked his daughter Rachel to write it. This may mean that he dictated it to her; even so, it reveals Rashi's confidence in her ability to accurately transcribe the complicated subject matter, for which she must have bee n a considerable scholar.
MaHaRShal, Rabbi Shlomo Luria (c. 1510-1573), one of the greatest Torah authorities in a generation of great luminaries, writes of an ancestress of his, some seven generations back.
"The Rabbanit Miriam, daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro and sister of Rabbi Peretz of Kostenitz, of a continuous line of Torah scholars tracing its ancestry to Rashi...who had her own Yeshiva, where she would sit with a curtain intervening, while she lectured in Halacha before young men who were outstanding Torah scholars"!
Nor was this phenomenon confined to the Ashkenazi lands where the prevailing non-Jewish mores were more tolerant of women in positions of prominence.
Rabbi Pesachya of Regensburg, Germany (c. 1120-1190), one of the Baalei Tosafot contemporary with Rambam, traveled extensively, and an account of his travels still exists. In Baghdad -- where, as a Moslem city, they were far stricter in such matters -- he observed that, for reasons of modesty, "no woman would be seen there [outside], and no one would enter the home of another man so as not to meet his wife."
Rabbi Shmuel Halevi ben Ali, Rosh Yeshiva of Baghdad in those days, had an only daughter known to be expert in both Tanach and Talmud. Despite the extraordinary prevailing emphasis on modesty, she would teach young men Tanach! She would sit indoors near a window through which she could be heard, while her male students would listen outside on a lower level where they could not see her!
Another woman of this period who is recorded as being Torah knowledgeable was Dulce, the saintly wife of Rabbi Elazar of Worms (1160-1238), renowned author of Sefer Rokeach and other works and one of the greatest "Chasidei Ashkenaz" (the pious German Kabbalists of the 12th-13th centuries).
Together with her two daughters, she died a martyr's death in 1197 at the hands of Crusaders who entered their home and murdered them in her husband's presence. He mourned her in a touching elegy in which he describes her as extremely pious and wise, hospitable to the Torah scholars, expert in the rules of Torah prohibitions, and as one who would preach every Shabbat -- to women, we assume.
Historians mention other women of this period who were very knowledgeable in Torah. Usually they are known only by the Torah books they wrote in the Yiddish vernacular for other women to study, or for their translations of classic Torah works into Yiddish.
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory writes, "Several women in the generations of the Tannaim and Amoraim, and also in generations closer to us, were knowledgeable in Torah." The Rebbe might have had in mind his ancestress Perel, the scholarly wife of the renowned Maharal, Rabbi Yehuda Liva ben Betzalel of Prague (1512- 1609).
The Maharal was ten years old when he was engaged to Perel, who was then six (this was common practice at the time). Realizing his great genius, she immediately decided to work hard at studying Torah so that she would never be an embarrassment to such a great husband.
She once said that, from the age of eight, no day passed when she did not spend at least five hours studying Torah! Perel arranged and redacted all 24 of her husband's renowned works. It is said that in no less than eight places she found errors in his works where he had misquoted either Talmudic Sages, or Rashi or Tosafot!
Reprinted from an article in the Yiddishe Heim
The righteous women who left Egypt were so confident that G-d would perform miracles, that they took tambourines into the desert. So, too, with the final Redemption, the righteous women must -- and certainly do -- trust so completely in the imminent Redemption, that they will begin immediately in the last moments of exile, to play music and dance for the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, 13 Shvat, 5752-1992)