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L'Chaim
November 1, 1996 - 19 Cheshvan 5757

441: Vayeira

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


  440: Lech Lecha442: Chayeh Sarah  

Your action counts  |  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

Your action counts

It's that time of year again. The candidates have finished shaking hands, kissing babies, even debating. The main focus now is getting out the vote. (In some states, such as New York, a "motor voter" option was even instituted to make it easier to register: Just sign-up when you renew your driver's license!) So, with the elections just days away, the importance of every single vote is being emphasized.

This accent on the importance of each individual's vote brings to mind a similar idea with regard to our actions as Jews.

Moses Maimonides, the 12th century philosopher, doctor, Jewish legalist par excellance, explains that every person must consider himself and the whole world as if it were perfectly balanced between good and evil. Through one good deed, one word or one thought, a person can swing himself and the whole world to the side of merit and bring redemption to himself and the whole world.

That's a pretty powerful concept. After all, one wonders, does my mitzva really matter? So I put a penny or two in a tzedaka box every day. At the end of the year there will be maybe seven or ten dollars. That isn't going to clothe many orphans.

But those pennies do matter! Those two pennies that you put in the tzedaka box today just might tip the balance of the scale.

But one shouldn't err in thinking that we have to perform an actual physical act to tip the scale. By refraining from making a not-so-nice comment about a co-worker, we tip the scale. And even by stopping ourselves from dwelling on an inappropriate thought, we affect the world in a real, positive sense.

Each and every action we do causes a reaction. Long before the Law of Conservation of Matter was proposed, Judaism taught that nothing is ever lost. Every bit of energy we expend, whether thinking, speaking or doing, stays in this world.

Yes, each mitzva we do does matter.

A kind word, a smile, a penny in a pushka, another Shabbat candle, any of these actions might be the one that tips the scale and brings Redemption not only for the doer, but for the entire world. Every mitzva is a vote for a better world, the best world, the world of good and Moshiach.


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayeira, we read of Avraham's attempt to save the wicked city. When G-d told Avraham He was going to destroy the city of Sodom, Avraham tried everything he could think of to dissuade Him, as the Torah tells us, "And Avraham drew near and said, 'Will You then destroy the righteous with the wicked?'"

Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains the meaning of this verse: "Avraham attempted all these methods: speaking harshly, appeasement, and prayer."

Avraham was willing to do anything in order to save the city of Sodom. His first approach was to "speak harshly" to G-d. When that wasn't effective, he tried to appease Him, and when that didn't work he resorted to prayer and supplication. All possible means were attempted in Avraham's bid to persuade G-d to avert the decree.

Our Patriarch Avraham was referred to by G-d as "Avraham, the one who loves Me." How then could Avraham have had the audacity to address G-d harshly?

Also, why did Avraham begin his attempt to dissuade G-d from carrying out His plan with harsh words, rather than first trying to appease G-d in a more conciliatory manner, or with prayer? Wasn't Avraham characterized by his great kindness?

The key to understanding this lies in the fact that Avraham was faced with a matter involving the saving of lives. G-d had already issued His decree; the angels had already been dispatched to destroy the city. Thus Avraham saw no other choice but to demand that G-d change His mind, even if harsh words were required.

At such a time, Avraham did not allow himself the luxury of taking personal considerations into account. No method of persuasion was off-limits or out of bounds. The only thing that mattered was that the city of Sodom not be destroyed, and Avraham tried with all his might to prevent it from happening. Speaking harshly to G-d was the antithesis of Avraham's nature; nonetheless, he did not refrain from doing so in the hope that it would bring about the desired effect of saving the city and its inhabitants.

We, the descendants of Avraham, must learn from his example and emulate his ways.

Whenever the saving of a Jewish life is involved, be it in the physical or spiritual sense, bringing him closer to Torah and mitzvot, we cannot stop to weigh our choices or to calculate our options. The thing to do is act, and to act immediately. All of our efforts, all of our strengths and energy must be used to that end, even if it is contrary to our nature and even if harsh words are required. For all methods are permissible when it comes to saving the life of a fellow Jew.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 10


A Slice of Life

Sasha with a friend
by Jay Litvin

Sasha's birthday present may not have been on his wish-list, but it was certainly on his mother's. Her wish finally came true when the 25th flight of Chabad's Children of Chernobyl left Kiev at the end of this summer, carrying 18 children to Israel, with Sasha among them.

For one and a half years, Mrs. B. from Kiev had been asking Chabad's Children of Chernobyl to bring her son to Israel. Each time she heard of a flight being planned, she would trudge to the Kiev synagogue where applicants were interviewed. She would stand in line, waiting her turn with the other mothers, each hoping there would be room on the flight for her child. And each time, when she finally made it to the front of the line, she would be given the same answer: "We're sorry, but Israeli law does not permit us to bring children under six."

When Mrs. B. learned of the departure date for Chabad's 23rd flight in April, she packed her son's bags, took him to the airport, and begged Rabbi Yosef Aronov, Director of Chabad's activities in Israel, to please take her son to Israel. "She had tears streaming down her cheeks," Rabbi Aronov said. "'I'm so frightened for my child's life if he stays here,' she told me over and over again. 'Wait till he's six,' was all I could tell her, 'Then, I promise, we'll take him.'" Finally, her wish came true. Sasha turned six in August, and Rabbi Aronov kept his promise. Just one week after Sasha's sixth birthday, Mrs. B. was at the airport, and Sasha was put on board. This time, the tears in Mrs. B.'s eyes were tears of relief, mixed with concern and sadness for her small, young son going thousands of miles away.

Sasha looked too small to be traveling so far away from home by himself. "But what can I do?" explained Mrs. B. "He's sick and I'm scared for his future if he stays here." Undiagnosed sores covered Sasha's pale face. He boarded the flight carrying a bag of little toys and games which he still clutched in his hand during all the arrival excitement at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.

During his first meal at the boys' Children of Chernobyl campus in Kfar Chabad, he eagerly ate his breakfast and chattered about why he came to Israel. He said he wanted to learn Hebrew and wanted to see Israel, his homeland. Sasha's mother didn't tell him the real reason he'd been sent a thousand miles away. She thought he was too young to understand, so she told him only that he was coming for an adventure and to spend a few months learning.

After seeing the sores on Sasha's face, Dr. Masha Schwartzman, the Chabad Children of Chernobyl's pediatrician, asked to examine him right away. So after breakfast, when the other boys went to check out their new rooms, Sasha went to Dr. Schwartzman's office for the first of many medical exams to come.

In the next few days, Sasha, along with all the 18 boys and girls from Bryansk, Kiev and Gomel who arrived on the flight, underwent intensive medical examinations. According to pre-flight interviews, six of the children were suffering from liver ailments and the fathers of nine of the children were "liquidators," part of the thousands of people who were drafted to help clean up the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion.

One of these children is twelve-year-old Daniel. Daniel, also from Kiev, was two years old at the time of the Chernobyl disaster and is considered at highest risk among the contaminated children.

From a black vinyl bag strapped to his waist, Daniel pulled out a stack of papers and photographs during breakfast. Daniel's father was drafted to work at Chernobyl in the days after the disaster. A short time later his hands became paralyzed , and then parts of his arms. "Now he can't work," explained Daniel.

Daniel held up a piece of paper with Russian writing and two official looking stamps. "This is my paper that says I'm a victim of Chernobyl. Everyone in my family has a paper like this."

Daniel was eager to talk about himself and his family. "I, too, am sick," he said. "My heart is bad. And I have problems with my joints. I can't bend my arms easily and when I bend my knees, it hurts and I hear creaking and popping noises," he said through an interpreter.

Neither Sasha nor Daniel knows the full reason their mothers sent them to Israel. The don't know about the fear and worry that casts a dark pall over their parents' lives and darkens the dreams they have for their children. Nor do they know about their mothers' pain at having to send their young children away simply to give them the chance of the healthy future that every mother wants for her child.

Today, as they joined the 1,356 children brought to Israel by Chabad's Children of Chernobyl in the past six years, they only knew that they were on a grand adventure and that they were very excited to be in Israel.


A Call To Action

Encourage the Kids!

Do the doorposts of your children's rooms have mezuzas on them? If they do, point them out to the children and encourage them to kiss or touch the mezuza cover as they go in and out of the room. If not, purchase a hand-written mezuza scroll from a reliable Judaica store or your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. You can even let the child choose his or her own mezuza cover.

The Rebbe explained, "We see that children have a unique attraction to a mezuza, and kiss it eagerly several times a day. From the mezuza, one goes from one's house to the world at large as the Rambam writes, 'Whenever one enters or departs, one will confront the unity of G-d's name.'"

(18th of Marcheshvan, 5752)


The Rebbe Writes

Chanuka, 5732 [1971]

I duly received your correspondence, including your most recent letter of the 11th of Kislev, in which you write about your background and present situation, etc.

I was particularly gratified to read in your letter about your progress not only to enrich your knowledge of Yiddishkeit but, in accordance with the teaching of our Sages that the essential thing is the deed -- translating this knowledge and inspiration into the daily experience of Torah and mitzvot.

Needless to say, since the Torah is "Our life and the length of our days," and the mitzvot are the things Jews live by -- the experience of Torah and mitzvot must be a continuous process and can not be relegated to certain days in the year, such as Shabbat and Yom Tov.

With regard to various points and questions raised in your letter, it is, of course, difficult to explain such things adequately by correspondence. However, I will mention several salient points, after a brief introduction:

If one considers the world in which we live, the world at large, as well as the small world, namely man, it becomes evident that there is no uniformity, but many differences -- both external as well as internal. Moreover, every thing and every person has its own purpose or task, and this does not make anyone any more or less important, for all are important in the totality of things, just as every limb or organ of a body is important.

Indeed, if one member would wish to change his function, it would not only disturb his own personal harmony but would also disturb the total harmony.

Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if the brain would wish to do the work of the heart to pump blood; it certainly would be disastrous, for even an extra tiny drop of blood in the brain would be dangerous, whereas the heart must always have an ample supply of blood.

Similarly, if the heart would wish to do the work of the digestive organs, where even a tiny speck of food would be dangerous in the heart, and so on.

The same is true in regard to the Torah and mitzvot, as well as in regard to the destiny of the Jewish people and its place in the family of nations.

For reasons best known to G-d Himself, He wished that there should be many nations in the world, but only one Jewish people, a people who should be separated and different from all the other nations, with a destiny and function of its own. Even in the future Messianic era, as has been prophesied by our Prophets, there will be a distinction between the Jewish people and non-Jews, where the Jews will retain the 613 mitzvot, whereas the gentiles have to observe only seven commandments with all their ramifications, which is also no small thing, as explained in various sources.

The above, I trust, will answer your question why a Jew should separate himself and not be involved in the world at large. Indeed, if a Jew should completely separate himself from the world, it would be contrary to the Torah, since among the mitzvot which a Jew is duty-bound to fulfill, there is also the mitzva that he should try to do all he can to encourage the environment in which he lives that it will be permeated with the awareness of the above-mentioned seven commandments given to the children of Noah, that these Divine commandments with all their ramifications should be implemented in their daily life.

However, this does not mean that a Jew should take over functions which are not his, for the results would be as disastrous as in the analogy of the human body mentioned above. It is due to the failure to realize this, with the resulting confusion, that there is such a great incidence of intermarriage, etc., but it is difficult to dwell at length on such painful matters. I will only emphasize the point that one's personal convenience, desire or gratification is no justification to involve oneself in something which is wrong, especially to involve another person, least of all a loved one, in such a situation; even if the other party is agreeable, and sincerely so. For no person has the right to harm a second person, even if the latter desires to be harmed.

I trust you will not take amiss my writing on something which appears to be at first glance a personal and intimate matter, but since you wrote to me and brought the matter to my attention, I have no right to pass over it in silence.

I would strongly urge you to consult an Orthodox Rabbi, whose guidance would be in accordance with the Will of G-d as is clearly spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], and to inform him of all the aspects and details of the matter, with a view to rectifying it.

No doubt the Rabbi would also wish to later discuss the matter with your wife. You may rest assured that acting in accordance with our Torah, called Torat Chaim, the Law of Life and the true guide in life, will be of real benefit to all concerned.

In conclusion, I hope that you will accept the above in the spirit that it is offered, stemming from a deep concern which has to permeate one person for another, especially as the commandment of v'ahavata l'reacha kamocha [to love your fellow as yourself] is one of the great principles of our Torah. I would have been greatly remiss if I had not written to you the above, although it necessarily had to be conveyed in very brief terms, all too brief in relation to the importance of it.

Now that we are in the auspicious days of Chanuka, recalling the struggle and triumph of Jews over the forces of Hellenism and assimilation which had threatened the very existence of our people, every Jew can take heart from the message and inspiration of Chanuka to overcome all difficulties regardless of the odds, as is emphasized in the special Chanuka prayer recalling the victory of the few over the many, and the physically weak over the mighty and strong, etc.

Hoping to hear good news from you, and wishing you a bright and inspiring Chanuka


What's New

NEW CHABAD CENTERS

A report from the Shluchim Office, the central clearing house for Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries announced the names of seven couples who have joined the ranks of the Rebbe's emissaries.

Rabbi Yehuda Leib and Dina Kantor have established a new Chabad Center serving the Jewish community in and around Westport, Connecticut. Another young couple who has taken up a post as the Rebbe's emissaries are Rabbi Berel and Devorah Levertov, who are moving to S.Fe, New Mexico to start a Chabad Center there. Rabbi Shimon and Chaya Posner will be heading Chabad of Palm Desert, CA. In addition, four other young couples have recently joined the staff of existing Chabad Lubavitch Centers to enhance and assist in outreach activities. They are, Rabbi and Mrs. Shimon Freundlich, who are in Hong Kong; Rabbi and Mrs. Avrohom Laber, who are in Troy, New York; Rabbi and Mrs. Dovid Leib Myhill, who recently arrived in Las Vegas; and Rabbi and Mrs. Dovid Volfman, who recently arrived in Chicago.


A Word from the Director

This coming Shabbat is the 20th of Cheshvan, the birthday of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, also known as the Rebbe Rashab.

Rabbi Sholom Ber was the founder, in 1897, of the first Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva, which was the forerunner of the international Lubavitch Yeshiva system which exists today and has educated tens of thousands of Jewish children and young adults around the world.

After the deposition of the Czar in the early 1900s, the Rebbe Rashab was an honorary member of the council which was formed to help establish the new government's policy toward the Jews. In 1918, he traveled to Petersburg to participate in a council meeting. At one of the stops on the journey, he sent his attendant to buy a newspaper.

Returning with the newspaper, the attendant read to the Rebbe Rashab:

"The Communists have taken over, and the council has been abolished."

The Rebbe Rashab responded, "We must now establish yeshivot in every city. I do not see their [the Communists'] end, but ultimately, their end, too, will come..."

In the Soviet Union, as the Communist arm stretched forth with ever- increasing strength, the Lubavitcher yeshivot went underground. Today, there are thousands of people all over the world who were educated in those underground yeshivot.

In the last eight years, since Glasnost, yeshivot have been established in nearly two dozen cities in the CIS.

Dozens of Tomchei Temimim Yeshivot continue to educate young Jews in Canada, Australia, Israel, Venezuela, and throughout the United States.

The Rebbe Rashab called the students in these yeshivot Chayalei Beit David -- Soldiers of the House of [King] David. He explained that they would help fight the spiritual battles necessary to bring about the reinstatement of King David's heir -- Moshiach.

Just as we now see how visionary were the Rebbe Rashab's words concerning the ultimate demise of Communism, may we imminently see the culmination of the spiritual battles of Chayalei Beit David with the revelation of Moshiach.


Thoughts that Count

Avraham said to the young men, "Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go to that place. We will worship and then return to you." (Gen. 22:5)

The words "Stay here -- shvu lachem po" can also be translated as "you shall return." Avraham saw that the Holy Temple would be built and then destroyed, and that the Jewish people would be sent into exile. He also saw that Moshiach would bring us back and rebuild the Third Holy Temple. Avraham told them "you shall return" to rebuild the Third Holy Temple. "With the donkey" refers to Moshiach, who is described as "a humble person riding on a donkey."

(Bereishit Rabba 56:2 as quoted in Discover Moshiach)

"He looked and behold three men were standing over him." (Gen. 18:2)

According to Midrash Rabba (48:9), the three men were angels who appeared as a desert merchant, a produce merchant, and a captain of a ship. The world is divided into three parts: water, desert, and inhabited land. Each part of the world has an angel appointed over it. Thus, the three disguised angels represented the entire creation. The one dressed as a desert merchant was for the deserts, the ship captain was for the oceans, and the produce merchant represented the inhabited part of the world.

On the passage, "These are the chronicles of heaven and earth when they were created," our Sages say, "Read not 'behibaram,' but read 'beAvraham.' " This alludes to the fact that the entire world was created for the sake of Avraham

(Rabbeinu Bachya).

Thus, the angels, as representatives of the entire world, came to visit Avraham in whose merit the world was created.

(Yalkut HaDrush as quoted in Vedibarta Bam)

"And he said, my L-rd, if I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away from your servant." (Gen. 18:3)

According to the Talmud (Shabbat 127a), Avraham was speaking to G-d and asked Him to wait until he brought the guests into his home; for the mitzva of welcoming guests and taking care of their needs is greater than kabalat penei haShechina--welcoming G-d.


It Once Happened

Reb Chaim Ber, the Tzemach Tzedek's shamash (attendant), was suffering from a serious disease of the lungs. This malady, the doctors all agreed, was one that was beyond their powers to cure. "The only thing I can tell you is that you'd better get to Petersburg as soon as possible," stated the local doctor in the town of Lubavitch. "Maybe they can do something to help; I, unfortunately, cannot. But time is of the essence. If you do not leave at once, you'll be signing your own death sentence.

As the Torah's commandment to "carefully guard your soul" was foremost in Reb Chaim Ber's mind, he packed his talit and tefilin and some meager belongings and caught the first train that would take him to the capital.

Reb Chaim Ber arrived at the address the doctor in Lubavitch had given him. After a wait of several tension-filled hours, the chasid was called inside. His heart was pounding as he introduced himself to the doctor. The examination commenced and Reb Chaim Ber waited anxiously for the prognosis.

Much to the chasid's horror, the doctor merely nodded his head in confirmation of the first doctor's diagnosis. Reb Chaim Ber's lungs were too far gone. "I'm very sorry," the doctor stated. "But the most you can hope to live is another three months."

Reb Chaim Ber, however, was not discouraged. Doesn't it state that a doctor is given permission to heal, but not to pronounce judgment that recovery is impossible? For two weeks he visited doctor after doctor, but each one painted the same gloomy picture. Realizing that salvation was not to be found within the natural order, Reb Chaim Ber returned to Lubavitch. He would go to the Rebbe and ask him for his holy blessing.

As soon as Reb Chaim Ber entered the Rebbe's room, the chasid burst into bitter tears. He was comforted by the Rebbe's shining countenance, and he found himself capable of relating his entire story. With bated breath, he waited for the Rebbe's response. When the Tzemach Tzedek finally spoke, Reb Chaim Ber was sure that he was dreaming. "As the Beit Yosef is of the more lenient opinion when it comes to lungs [to ascertain whether or not an animal is kosher], and he is the determining authority in the Holy Land, it is advisable that you leave here to go live in the Holy Land."

Reb Chaim Ber was filled at once with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, the Rebbe was promising him that if he moved to the Holy Land he would live. But on the other, how could he live so far away from his Rebbe? He had been the Rebbe's faithful shamash for years. How could he suddenly cut himself off and go to the other end of the earth, never to behold the Rebbe's holy face again?

And then a very daring idea occurred to the chasid. "Rebbe," Reb Chaim Ber cried out. "I accept what you have told me. I will move to the Holy Land to live out the rest of my life. But Jewish law clearly states that a master who frees his servant must give him a gift. I've been your servant for so many years. By moving to the Holy Land, I will no longer be able to serve you. I only ask that you grant me this one request and give me a 'gift' before I depart."

"And what do you ask for?" the Tzemach Tzedek said gently.

"Rebbe, 'Our desire is to behold our king.' I would like the Rebbe to promise me that even in the Holy Land I will be able to see the Rebbe."

Silence filled the room. The Rebbe's face grew serious and Reb Chaim Ber was suddenly fearful that he had overstepped his bounds. Several minutes passed until the Rebbe again smiled and said, "So it shall be according to your words. I hereby fulfill the request you have made of me."

It was with a joyful heart that Reb Chaim Ber left the Rebbe's presence. He hurried home to tell his wife of the Rebbe's blessing and to prepare the family for their impending move. One thing, however: Reb Chaim did not reveal to a soul the special "gift" that the Rebbe had bequeathed to him.

Years passed and Reb Chaim Ber lived to enjoy nachas from his children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. One day Reb Chaim informed his descendants that he wanted them to gather at his house. When his entire family was assembled, Reb Chaim began:

"My dear children, I have gathered you together to deliver my last will and testament, so that you will know what to do after my death. I know with certainty that today is my last day on earth..."

Reb Chaim Ber was interrupted by one of his sons, "Tatte! What are you talking about. You are perfectly healthy and hale. Why must you speak about such things now?"

As if anticipating his son's question, Reb Chaim Ber began to relate the entire story of his illness and the blessing that the Tzemach Tzedek had given him so long ago. This time, however, he disclosed the secret of the "gift."

"Last night," Reb Chaim Ber concluded, "I saw the Tzemach Tzedek..."

That very day, the Rebbe's faithful shamash returned his holy soul to his Maker.

Reprinted from the weekly magazine Beis Moshiach


Moshiach Matters

About the coming of Moshiach, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (the first Rebbe of Chabad) said that it will be written in the newspapers. That is just an expression. The actual meaning is that every single Jew will be ready for the coming of Moshiach exactly as if it were written in the newspaper that Moshiach is already on the way!

(Torat Sholom of the Rebbe Rashab)


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