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440: Lech Lecha

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October 25, 1996 - 12 Cheshvan 5757

440: 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.

  439: Noach441: Vayeira  

by Rabbi Abraham Kass, M.A.  |  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

by Rabbi Abraham Kass, M.A.

There is a well known international human potential coach who teaches people how to walk on fire. After mental preparation the participants in his weekend retreats take off their socks and shoes and walk across red hot coals. These fire walkers experience no discomfort or burns. They learn they are capable of far more than they had ever considered possible.

In fact, this is the point of the entire exercise. In and of itself, fire walking is useless. As a lesson in going beyond one's self-imposed limitations it is a lesson par excellence.

Life presents all of us with continuous challenges. Some are minor irritations and others appear as potentially major calamities.

Judaism teaches that everything in the world happens for a reason and ultimately for good. Nothing can happen or exist beyond G-d's dominion. The hand of G-d is in everything. When something "bad" happens it only appears as "bad" because we, using our limited human intelligence, cannot recognize the good.

Judaism also insists that we serve G-d with joy. But how can we do that if "bad" things happen to us, as the natural response to trauma and calamity is despair and depression?

In addition, Judaism teaches that we must be happy with our portion in life. But if things are not the way we want them to be how can we be happy? The response to these problems is: Become a fire walker! The great Rabbi Akiva was once traveling on the road. He took with him a donkey to ride, a rooster to wake him in the morning and a lantern to light up the dark night. After traveling the entire day he arrived in a small town. As the town had no inn, he approached the townspeople for a place to spend the night. Each one refused.

Rabbi Akiva was forced to sleep outdoors, though the area was inhabited by robbers. In the middle of the night, a lion sprang from the forest and tore apart his donkey. Next, a wild cat ate his rooster and a strong wind blew out his lantern. But Rabbi Akiva was a "spiritual fire walker."

In spite of everything that happened, he responded with his belief that "everything that G-d does is good." Rabbi Akiva then heard heart wrenching screams coming from the town; a gang of vicious robbers had entered the town. If he had slept in the town or the donkey had brayed or the rooster had clucked or the lantern had lit up the dark, he too would have been a victim.

Though every story from our Sages has many levels of meaning and interpretation, the simple lesson of this story is that things only appear to us as bad; in essence everything is good.

However, because it is so difficult to behave as if something good is happening when it appears bad, we pray that G-d give us good that we can see is good. Nevertheless, when seemingly bad things happen we have the potential to believe and behave as if it was revealed good. By being happy with the portion in life that G-d gives us, as we are directed by the Torah, we can find true happiness and peace.

If not, we are forever searching and wanting more. Acting on the belief that events that appear as "bad" occur for a good reason is the spiritual equivalent of fire walking. If the Torah instructs us to do it, then it is possible.

Deep within ourselves is the ability to challenge our intrinsic nature. We can be calm even during a crisis or trauma. We can rise above our animal nature and behave in a supernatural way.

Living with the Rebbe

The seventh of the Jewish month of Marcheshvan always falls in the week in which the Torah portion of Lech Lecha is read.

On the seventh of Marcheshvan we begin to pray for rain, for it is the day on which the last pilgrims who had come to the Holy Temple for Sukkot returned home. We wait until this date to ask G-d for rain so as not to cause undue hardship for the pilgrims who are still traveling.

The seventh of Marcheshvan is thus symbolic of descent, for it signifies the Jews' departure from the Temple--the epitome of holiness--and their return to their own places.

Lech Lecha, by contrast, is symbolic of ascent. In this Torah portion, Avraham leaves the land of his birth and goes to the land of Israel. It thus signifies the ascent from Charan to the higher level of holiness of the land of Israel.

What exactly did the Jews do during their thrice-yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem? They basked in the Temple's holiness, witnessed the Ten Miracles that occurred there regularly, and in general perceived G-dliness in a revealed manner. The enjoyment that was derived, albeit of a sublime and spiritual nature, was nonetheless a personal enjoyment.

The Jews' return home marked an end to this exclusive preoccupation with G-dliness, Torah and mitzvot, and Divine service. Each person had to resume the more mundane labors of his livelihood, plowing and sowing his individual plot of land. Yet G-d wants the Jew, through his actions, to establish a "dwelling place" for Him in the "lower realms"--the material plane of this physical world.

Thus, in essence, the seventh of Marcheshvan--the "descent" of the Jew from the holiness of Jerusalem to the more ordinary affairs of his daily life--is actually a very great "ascent," for it is only upon his return home that he can begin his task of establishing a "dwelling place" for G-d in earnest.

It wasn't until Avraham arrived in the land of Israel that his work to reveal G-dliness within the world commenced on an unprecedented scale. True, Avraham had strived to foster an awareness of G-d even prior to this time, but his efforts had been more limited in scope.

The seventh of Marcheshvan always coincides with Lech Lecha to teach us that the descent it symbolizes is really a step up, providing us with a lesson we can apply in our lives:

Although the Jewish people are in exile, this should not cause us to be saddened or despair. On the contrary, it is precisely through the "descent" of exile that we may effect the greatest "ascent": fulfilling the will of G-d by serving Him within the context of the physical world, thereby making a suitable "dwelling place for G-d" in the lower realms.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 20

A Slice of Life

Yosef Zeev began life as Sayed Yousef Hashimi in Afghanistan. "Sayed" is the name given to Mohammed's direct descendants, and on his father's side, Yosef Zeev is, indeed, a direct descendant of Mohammed. Today he is a bearded, black-hatted Lubavitcher.

The family of Yosef Zeev's mother was Chasidim in Russia and Poland. In America, the family remained observant -- all except Yosef's grandparents.

His mother grew up in Detroit and Phoenix and attended university in Tucson. His father, Hashimi, was born in Afghanistan into a wealthy family, attended an elite school in Egypt and, at the age of 24, arrived at the university in Tucson, Arizona, to continue his studies.

There, the two young people met and decided to marry. In December 1966, they traveled to Afghanistan and were married in a Moslem ceremony.

The following year, their first child was born and named Sayed Yousef.

Before their marriage, the parents had agreed that if they lived in Afghanistan they would raise their children as Moslems. Should they reside in America, the children would be educated as Jews.

According to Jewish law, of course, the children were Jewish.

When Yosef was two years old, his parents decided to leave Afghanistan (Hashimi had a government post there in charge of developing the nation's waterworks) and move to Phoenix, where Yosef's grandparents lived.

The family settled down and shortly after two daughters were born.

As agreed, the children were raised as Jews. The family celebrated some of the Jewish holidays but not in the traditional Jewish manner.

Like many young Jews with this background, the next step in the development of Yosef's Jewish identity was an identification with Israel.

This in itself seems an amazing thing for a boy with a Moslem father, but Yosef's father always encouraged him to be proud of his Jewish identity. Yosef's interest in Israel developed in a roundabout fashion.

When he was seven, an older cousin came to live with them. Several years later, when this cousin began university, he became involved in Zionist groups. His visits back to Yosef's home were punctuated with arguments about Israel. Yosef's father felt that a strong Israel was important, and initially it was Yosef who argued against his father and his cousin.

The arguments, however, forced Yosef to learn more about Israel in order to buttress his positions, and gradually he began to identify with the Jewish State. At about the same time, Yosef's knowledge of Judaism was strengthened through true Divine Providence.

It just so happens that one day the Chabad Rabbi in Phoenix, Rabbi Zalman Levertov, was looking for a used car to buy. Somebody told him that Hashimi would be a good person to talk to since he owned a garage.

Rabbi Levertov went to the garage and discovered the owner was Moslem. But as soon as he heard that Hashimi was married to a Jew, he realized his visit was no mistake. Over time, a strong relationship developed between the two men.

Rabbi Levertov taught a weekly class in Chasidic philosophy at Yosef's Hebrew high school. Although at the time, the class seemed to make little impression on him, in later years he was surprised to realize how much he had absorbed. Yosef began studying at Arizona State where he majored in aerospace engineering. The focus of his Jewish identity was still Israel, so he joined the small nucleus of Zionist students on campus. At about the same time, Yosef's connection to Chabad was renewed by the arrival on campus of a new Chabad emissary, Rabbi Yossi Kahanov, and his family.

Yosef became an active participant in the Shabbat activities and classes. He began wearing a kippa and keeping kosher. At the age of nineteen, Yosef traveled to Israel for the first time, via Crown Heights. On Shabbat he went to the Rebbe's farbrengen (Chasidic gathering). There he suddenly became aware of the Rebbe's penetrating gaze on him.

Yosef still remembers feeling that the Rebbe saw into his soul, somehow sensing his confusion. Yosef continued on to Israel. When he disembarked from the plane, he kissed the tarmac. Then he boarded a bus to a nearby army base where he was to volunteer for three weeks.

After completing his volunteer service, Yosef joined a Young Zionist Leadership tour of the country, which was followed by 3 weeks at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Afterwards, as he sat on the plane home, he wondered when he would be able to come again.

The final stage in Yosef's transformation began five years later, when he started graduate school at Harvard in Boston. Yosef was aware of a certain spiritual vacuum.

He and Tamar, a woman he had met earlier, had discussed their desire to increase their connection to Judaism. Together they began attending activities at the Boston Chabad House. Gradually they became increasingly involved, and after two years, when both were fully observant, they were married. Last year they celebrated the birth of their first child, Gavriel.

Yosef and Tamar now reside in Baltimore. Yosef works in the Washington D.C. area for the National Science Foundation awarding grants to small businesses doing hi-tech research. However, his real satisfaction each day comes from being an active member of Baltimore's Lubavitcher community and building an observant Jewish home with Tamar.

Reprinted from the Chabad Magazine

A Call To Action

Send a Letter:

"It would be advisable that everyone publicize the teachings of famous Torah scholars concerning the obligation to hope for and anticipate and demand the coming of Moshiach.

This can be done by sending a letter (including such quotations) to ten fellow Jews, with the suggestion and request that each of them send a copy of it to another ten Jews, and so on."

(The Rebbe, 7 Marcheshvan, 5746-1985)

For a copy of a letter that is currently being circulated contact the Moshiach Resource Center at (514)343-8375 or fax (514) 343-8382.

The Rebbe Writes


18th of Cheshvan, 5724 [1963]

I received your letter of the 14th of Cheshvan with the enclosure. You are, of course, quite right in writing that the purpose of education is not merely the increase of knowledge but the actual training and upbringing to live the Jewish way of life.

This is especially true in our day and age, in view of the adverse influence of the environment, etc., which makes it all the more imperative to instill a goodly measure of Yirat Hashem [fear of G-d] into the children. Indeed, this is the purpose of the Torah and mitzvot, as it is written, "G-d commanded us to do all these decrees--to fear the L-rd, our G-d, to return all the days," etc.

There can be no difference of opinion as far as the purpose of Jewish education is concerned, which applies everywhere. There can only be a difference of approach and method as to how to attain this goal, and this may vary from generation to generation, from city to city and sometimes even from classroom to classroom.

Another point to remember is that inasmuch as parents are not always permeated with the idea that true Jewish education is truly vital for their children, it is necessary to follow the approach suggested by our Sages, of blessed memory, "A person should always say, metoch shelo lishma bo lishma [from doing something not for its own sake one comes to do the thing for its own sake]." This is why it is often useful to emphasize the good side effects of Jewish education, until they will eventually understand also the essential aspects involved.

With regard to the question which you write towards the end of your letter, namely, about your present job and your difficulty with parnasa [livelihood], etc., an improvement would depend on those who must be approached and who have the final say. Therefore, it would be well for you to consult fully with such persons that know them personally, and who can judge their reaction to any particular approach.

May G-d, who feeds and sustains the whole world out of His generous and ample Hand, also give you your parnasa with kashrut [in a permissible manner] and peace of mind, so that you should be able to concentrate on your efforts to strengthen and spread true Yiddishkeit to the utmost of your capacity.

20th of Cheshvan, 5732 [1971]

I was pleased to be informed of the forthcoming Dedication Dinner of the Lubavitch House--the Merkos Center of the Twin Cities [S. Paul and Minneapolis] and surrounding region.

Jewish education in the spirit of our Torah and Tradition has always been the lifeline of our people, and it is more than ever so in the present day of confusion, drifting and alienation. It is therefore surely unnecessary to emphasize at length the vital importance of the educational work of the Merkos Center.

I am particularly gratified to note that this most essential and indispensable work is recognized and appreciated by prominent businessmen and industrialists in the community.

Indeed, it is to be expected that good businessmen would recognize a good "investment," and there is none better and more profitable than investing in our children and adolescents. For this is the kind of investment where the original capital not only yields the highest dividends, but the dividends themselves become investment capital of the highest yield. Thus the children and youths who benefit from the Merkos Center today, will later become active investors in Torah-true education, in a cumulative and continuous process, yielding "fruits and the fruit of fruits" for the community and for our people at large.

I am confident that all friends and supporters of the Lubavitch House will continue to give it their unstinting support, not only financially, but also with personal dedication, and in a growing measure. Thus, the Dedication Dinner will indeed be a fitting occasion to celebrate not only the dedication of the Stillman Building, but also the dedication of its sponsors, supporters, and friends.

With prayerful wishes of the utmost success of the event and for the growing expansion of the activities of the Merkos Center, and may G-d bestow His generous blessings upon all participants and their families, materially and spiritually,

What's New


Donny isn't sure what his grandmother thinks of him, she is so proper, and his behavior is far from perfect. Yet, when Donny gets tangled up in trouble, grandmother reveals the secret that grandmothers and grandchildren share. This warm tale of inter-generational love is complimented by heartwarming, full-color illustrations.

Red, Blue and Yellow Yarn is a new release from HaChai Publishing, written by Miriam Kosman and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev.


"To read a talk of the Rebbe is to take a journey. We are challenged and forced to move: where we stand at the end is not where we were at the beginning... Each talk is a Chasidic journey of descent and ascent, climbing and returning, through Torah, the universe and the soul."

Thus begins Torah Studies, adapted by Great Britain's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, from talks of the Rebbe on the weekly Torah portion. This amazing book was recently re-released by Kehot Publications.

A Word from the Director

In this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, we read of G-d's promise to Avraham that he would inherit the lands of the ten nations--the seven Canaanite nations as well as three other lands, the lands of the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni.

Avraham and his descendants took possession of all seven Canaanite lands. However, they never took possession of the lands of the other three nations. The triumph over these nations and the possession of their lands will take place when Moshiach comes in the Era of the Redemption.

Chasidic philosophy explains that a person's powers and abilities are divided into ten categories, seven of them being in the realm of emotion and three being in the realm of intellect. In spiritual terms, the ten lands described above refer to the refinement of our 10 personal powers. The seven emotive powers are the seven Canaanite nations and the three intellectual powers are the lands of the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni.

In the pre-Messianic Era, we have "possession" of our seven emotive powers. And, though we obviously use our intellectual powers, it is not to our fullest ability, for we have not conquered, nor do we totally possess them. This will take place only in the Messianic Era. It is then that our intellects will find their true expression and fulfillment. The Messianic Era is described by the Prophet Isaiah as a time when "the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed."

Thus, when Moshaich comes our intellectual potential will reach its fulfillment. May that happen NOW!

Thoughts that Count

"And I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you, I will curse." (Gen. 12:3)

Why doesn't the Torah write both in the same order, i.e., "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you?" The Talmud (Kiddushin 40a) says that G-d gives credit to one who plans to perform a mitzva, even if circumstances prevent the realization of the plan. However, for a transgression, one is punished for plans only when they are carried out.

When a person blesses or curses, he first thinks about it and then expresses verbally what he has in mind. Therefore, G-d is saying to Avraham, "I will bless those who bless you as soon as they plan to bless you, even if they have not yet blessed you. However, those who curse you will be cursed only after they actually curse you, but not merely for thinking."

"And I will make your children as the dust of the earth." (Gen. 13:16)

A Rabbi who intensely fought the missionaries in his town was visited by the bishop and asked, "Rabbi, why do you oppose us so strongly?" The Rabbi replied, "When you convert someone to your religion, you sprinkle him with your 'ritual water.' Jews are compared to the dust of the earth. When one mixes water with earth, mud results. I cannot sit idly and see someone trying to make mud of my people."

"If so much as a thread or a shoestrap; or if I shall take anything of yours." (Gen. 14:23)

The Talmud (Sota 17a) says, that because Avraham refused to take from the king of Sodom even a thread or a shoestrap, his children (the Jewish people) merited to receive from G-d two mitzvot: the mitzva of putting a thread of techelet [a special blue dye] in the tzitzit and the mitzva of putting retzuot (straps) in the tefilin.

According to the Talmud, Avraham originated the concept of praying to G-d each morning (Shacharit). Therefore, during his prayer we wear the talit and tefilin. When Avraham spoke to the king of Sodom, he first mentioned the thread and afterwards the shoestrap, thus, we first don the talit, which has in it the thread of techelet, and afterwards the tefilin, which have the leather straps.

Reprinted from V'Dibarta Bam complied by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky

It Once Happened

In the city of Vitebsk lived two tea merchants, both named Hoshia. One was known as "Big Hoshia and the other, "Little Hoshia." Big Hoshia was a wealthy man, with a large, respectable establishment. Little Hoshia was a small-time operator, forever scrambling for loans to keep his business afloat.

One day a message arrived that one of Little Hoshia's tea shipments had been confiscated at the border by customs officials. For the poor man, this spelled utter ruin. Not only would he lose everything, he would be left with crushing debts which he would never be able to repay.

"I was there," Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, daughter of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, third Rebbe of Lubavitch told, "when they broke the news to Reb Hoshia, who was in Lubavitch at the time. The unfortunate man collapsed in a dead faint; time and again they revived him, but as soon as he remembered what had occurred, he would pass out once more.

"We ran to my father and told him of Reb Hoshia's state. Father instructed that when Reb Hoshia is again revived, we should tell him that the messenger is mistaken. Shortly thereafter, the matter was indeed clarified. It turned out that the confiscated shipment belonged to the other Hoshia, the tea merchant, Big Hoshia, who would hardly feel the loss.

"Father always maintained that he never performed miracles. Now, the Chasidim who had witnessed the incident claimed that they had caught him red-handed with a supernatural feat. 'You are mistaken,' replied Father. 'There was nothing miraculous about my prediction.

You see, our Sages tell us that whenever the AlmIghty causes a person to undergo a challenge or trial in his life, He always provides him with the capacity and fortitude to bear it and to learn from the experience. So, when I saw a calamity which Reb Hoshia was not equipped to deal with, I understood that it was not meant for him. Obviously, there must have been some misunderstanding...'"

From the diary of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe

It is an hour since I returned from visiting the abandoned old park and its ancient trees. The walks between the rows of trees are overgrown with thorns and nettles, and wherever you turn in the park and square -- desolation and ruin.

Little wonder that the hamlet of Serebrinka, and its park in particular, are extremely precious to me, for many are the pleasant memories from the summer of 5660 when we lived in Serebrinka, as recounted in my journals of that year. How pleasant it is to stroll along the walks and trails which we then walked, to sit on the benches on which we then sat, for only they can evoke many details of the talks that I heard at the time from father--the nuances of the heart cannot be captured in writing.

So, immediately upon our arrival here today at six-thirty in the evening, I yearned to visit the park.

For an hour and a half I luxuriated in strolling through the park, sitting on its benches, gazing at the sky, and drowning in memories--until I heard the voice of my three-year-old daughter Chana, may she live, calling to me: "Father, Father, where are you...? Father, Father, answer me...," repeating her call twice and three times.

Her call interjected most aptly into my thoughts: At that very moment I had been thinking about my father's discourse of the past Sabbath, entitled "G-d Descended Upon Mt. Sinai." In it, Father [Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber, fifth Rebbe of Chabad] cites a metaphor to explain the difference between the Divine flow which comes in response to one's Torah study and observance of mitzvot, and G-d's response to one's 'service of the heart,' one's prayer.

The service of Torah and mitzvot draws a Divine response comparable to a father's pleasure in a son who toils in his father's business to increase his father's wealth. But the response evoked by prayer is like a father's response to his small child who yearns for him and cries: "Father, Father, answer me..."

Hearing my own daughter's cries, I sensed in myself how a child's call of "Father, Father" awakens an inner delight that is incomparably greater than the pleasure accorded by the older son's most impressive accomplishments.

The calling continued: "Father, Father, where are you? Father, Father answer me, hug me." I followed her voice and she hugged me and told me that grandfather, grandmother and mother were all waiting for me for the evening meal. She, too, will eat with us, she said with pride, but her younger sister, Chaya Mushka, (may she live) is already asleep -- in fact, she slept through the entire trip from Lubavitch and doesn't even know that we have arrived in the country! --and she laughed in delight.

Reprinted with permission from Once Upon A Chasid, by Yanki Tauber

Moshiach Matters

In time to come, Divinity will be revealed in this world at a level more sublime than the level at which it is revealed in the Higher Garden of Eden. This is why even the loftiest tzadikim [righteous people] such as Avraham and Moshe, whose abode is at the zenith of the Higher Garden of Eden, will become vested in corporeal bodies and will arise at the Resurrection of the Dead.

(Likutei Torah)

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