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L'Chaim
December 20, 1996 - 10 Teves 5757

448: Vayigash

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


  447: Mikeitz449: Vayechi  

Fresh air, fresh food, fresh water.  |  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

Fresh air, fresh food, fresh water.

Imagine taking more than a few breaths in a room filled with air made stale from a party the previous evening. Or consider the taste of a corned beef on rye (hold the pickle, it has too much sodium) that's been in the fridge for a whole week. And who would even dream of taking a sip of water that had been sitting out for a whole month!

Though you might not become ill from breathing stale air for a few minutes or eating one questionable corned-beef-on-rye, you could become very sick from constantly breathing old air and eating old food.

Fresh air, fresh food, fresh water.

These commodities are necessary to live not only healthy lives, but to life in general.

Jewish teachings are collectively assigned the name "Torah" and Torah is often referred to as Torat Chaim -- the Living Torah. Judaism is a living religion. For us to feel the vibrancy of Judaism, we must live it on a daily basis.

This means that in order to maintain our Jewish health, yesterday's "air" and last week's "food" are not enough.

The memories of a family Passover seder of years gone by are great for reminiscences, but what have I done freshly Jewish TODAY?

Chewing over, for weeks, a thought heard at a Jewish lecture attended last month is great, but what have I done TODAY that will be like a breath of fresh air for my soul?

Remembering on Friday night the Sabbath candles Bubby lit and the fresh challa Zaidy blessed is beautiful and will bring tears to many an eye, but lighting Sabbath candles this Friday before Shabbat and saying the blessing over the challa this Friday evening will be a refreshing and restful way to end a stress-filled and tiresome week.

Our Sages teach that "Every day the Torah should be as new." This does not mean that we should bend and bow every time a new translation of the Bible comes out, or fawn over a new "retelling" of the story of the Creation. It also does not mean that we can change, reshape, or alter those parts of Torah and Jewish tradition we feel are not conducive to life, today.

For, by calling Judaism a living religion we do not mean to say that it can grow and change without restrictions.

The Living G-d gives us a living Torah which is true and relevant for all times and all places.

Living Judaism means that Judaism is alive and that we are truly alive when we live it on a daily basis.

Throughout the day, breath deeply the fresh, life-supporting air of mitzvot. Savor the fresh taste of daily Torah study.

Experience Living Judaism.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, begins with the words "Yehuda came near."

Yehuda approached Yosef and asked that his younger brother, Binyamin, be released so that he could bring him to their father, Yaakov.

Our Sages tell us that Yehuda was prepared for all possibilities when he approached Yosef, even the possibility of war. Yehuda was willing to do all that was necessary to free Binyamin and return him to his father.

Why did Yehuda adopt such a strong stance? The answer is that Yehuda was personally responsible for Binyamin's welfare, as he explained, "For your servant became surety for the lad." Yehuda had promised his father that he would take care of Binyamin and bring him home; thus he was willing to do anything, even wage battle, to fulfill his promise.

But how could Yehuda have even imagined that he could win a confrontation with Yosef? Yehuda and his brothers were few in number. Yosef, by contrast, was the second highest ruler in all of Egypt, with the entire populace of the country under his command.

In truth, Yehuda could never have been victorious in a war conducted against Yosef. Nonetheless, Yehuda was ready to take even this drastic step should it become necessary. He knew he was responsible for Binyamin, and accepted his role as guardian without question.

True, Yaakov had other remaining sons, all of whom were healthy and sound. But Yehuda realized that self-sacrifice is required when the life of even one Jewish child is at stake.

To save Binyamin, Yehuda was willing to give up his own life. This contains an important lesson for every Jewish father and mother. When G-d grants them the blessing of a child, it carries with it a great responsibility. Sometimes it is even necessary for parents to demonstrate self-sacrifice, to make sure that nothing untoward ever happens to even one of their offspring, G-d forbid.

One area in which the greatest efforts must be expended is that of education. Providing a Torah-true education for Jewish children is so important that parents must be willing to demonstrate even the highest levels of self-sacrifice in order to make it possible.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 1


A Slice of Life

by Michael Chernack

Every person's journey is different. I sometimes like to think that my encounter with Chabad is "typical," but it's probably not. The only thing that is typical is the Divine Providence that brings us to our destination.

I am a lawyer by education, but I have seen few days in a court of law. For several years I worked for the Jewish community.

Subsequently, I went into the business of importing Italian textiles. I have always been involved in Jewish causes going back to my early teens: B'nai Brith, Soviet Jewry rallies, demonstrations in support of Israel, etc.

My family wasn't observant, but like so many other in my milieu, we found ourselves in one shul or another for the "de rigueur" High Holy Days.

After our marriage in 1975, my wife Barbara and I took a more active interest in establishing a synagogue connection. We synagogue-hopped, never really finding a synagogue "niche." Disenchanted and increasingly frustrated, shul, religion, and G-d became more and more distant. Yet, the desire to be spiritually connected never waned.

About four years ago, a Lubavitcher neighbor persuaded me (after considerable cajoling) to attend our local Chabad House, called the Montreal Torah Centre, for Shabbat services. I reluctantly accepted the invitation, mostly not to disappoint my persistent neighbor. I don't remember much about that first Shabbat at MTC. I recall that it was crowded. I remember the large picture of the Rebbe with his deep, penetrating eyes. I couldn't follow the services and I was having a form of "culture shock." I was called up to the Torah, but the experience remains a total blur. Yet, I came home with a tremendous feeling of warmth. In the following weeks I returned to MTC often. Today, it is an integral part of my family's life.

For years I had expressed my Jewishness in various ways, but I was like a leaf without branches and roots. I had been on a journey full of dead-ends and detours, but in the end the Rebbe was there to greet me and my family and welcome us home.

I am still strongly community-minded and committed to Israel, but I believe those commitments have been fortified and given a proper context by my growing involvement with Judaism.

The Rebbe has touched me and my family in a profound way. He ignited an ember that had become far too cold. Now, our family life has become immeasurably enriched. Shabbat is a day of prayer, reflection, and abundant joy for all of us.

We spend quality time together with family and friends. We walk, visit other families on Shabbat, learn, sing, and of course, we eat! The serenity of Shabbat spills over to the rest of the week, giving us the spiritual strength to tackle the challenges ahead.

With the Rebbe's help, we are trying to live a life of Torah and Yiddishkeit. It's not always easy and there are obstacles to overcome, but in the end the rewards are precious. For that, I will always be grateful, and above all, determined to do whatever I can to complete the Rebbe's mission -- the imminent coming of Moshiach.


by Edward C. Wolkove, C.A.

I was born and raised in a "traditional" Jewish family. We observed the dietary laws of kashrut, candles were lit Friday night, we made the two Seders on Passover, Chanuka was celebrated with candles and latkes, and on Purim we enjoyed delicious hamantashen.

Synagogue attendance was limited to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

My Hebrew education was limited to reading Hebrew and translating the prayerbook and Torah from Hebrew to Yiddish. This religious education ended with my Bar Mitzva.

As a founder and officer of the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue in 1951, I realized that synagogue attendance should be more often. I began to attend Saturday and holiday services regularly.

I had my first contact with Lubavitch in 1960 when I met Leibel Denburg, a garment industrialist, and Rabbi Leib Kramer of the Lubavitch Yeshiva. During my professional visits to the offices of Leibel Denburg we would discuss matters of halacha (Jewish law) pertaining to the holidays and festivals. We would also discuss the work of Lubavitch and the impact the Rebbe has on world Jewry. In addition to these conversations, we used to have lengthy discussions during our travels to and from our summer homes in the Laurentians.

But not until I met Rabbi Zushe Silberstein in the mid 1980's did I realize that religious study should not end at the age of Bar Mitzva; Jewish education should continue throughout one's life. I joined Rabbi Silberstein's lunchtime study group and have found it to be a stimulating experience.

In August 1991 I joined Rabbi Silberstein in a weekend trip to New York to visit the Rebbe. I went to learn more about the Lubavitch community, to participate in their services, and to learn more about the Rebbe and his work for world Jewry. The Shabbat weekend was a wonderful religious experience.

During those three days I lived a totally observant, religious way of life. I had the opportunity to learn about the worldwide network of Chabad programs to bring Judaism to the most desolate corners of the globe. But most important was the fact that I had the privilege of meeting the Rebbe face-to-face. Although we exchanged only a few words, I could sense the depth of this man's commitment to bring Judaism to all Jews in the entire world.

What has Chabad-Lubavitch and the Rebbe meant to me? I became convinced that religious study should not stop at the age of thirteen. Everyone, young and old, men and women, should continue their studies daily, weekly, or monthly depending on their time limitations. I believe we must all lend Chabad our financial support. Chabad must continue its work, both local and international, of building a solid foundation for Judaism and the Jewish community.

Reprinted from Chabad Press, Montreal, Canada

[Editor's note: Please send us your story and a picture of yourself, your family and any special activities you are involved with, so we can feature your "Slice of Life" in one of the L'chaim's. The printed version has photographs included.]

A Call To Action

Action for the Tenth of Tevet

The Tenth of Tevet, December 20 this year, is a fast day commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem which ultimately ended in the destruction of the First Holy Temple.

The Rebbe advises, "Before and after davening to give tzedaka (in addition to the regular donation), including tzedaka for a sacred cause or institution in the Land of Israel, Eretz HaChaim--the `Land of the Living.'

(From a letter dated 5 Tevet, 5736)


The Rebbe Writes

DON'T OVERDO IT

5 Tammuz, 5743

I have just received your letter of 3rd of Tammuz.

To begin with a blessing, may G-d grant that henceforth you and all your family should have only goodness and benevolence --in the kind of good that is revealed and evident.

At the same time, you must make every effort to regain the proper state of mind, despite the pain.

You should remember the teaching and instruction of the Torah, which is called Torat Chayim, the Guide in Life, and Torat Emet, the Torah of Truth, meaning that what it teaches is not just to ease the mind, but the actual truth.

Thus, the Torah, taking into account human nature/feelings, in a case of bereavement, and the need to provide an outlet for the natural feelings of sorrow and grief, prescribes a set of regulations and periods of mourning.

At the same time, the Torah sets limits in terms of the duration of the periods of mourning and appropriate expression, such as shiva [the first seven days], shloshim [thirty days], etc.

If one extends the intensity of mourning which is appropriate for shiva into shloshim, it is not proper, for although shloshim is part of the overall mourning period, it is so in a lesser degree.

And since the Torah says that it is not proper to overdo it, it does no good for the neshama [soul] of the dear departed. On the contrary, it is painful for the neshama to see that it is the cause for the conduct that is not in keeping with the instructions of the Torah.

A second point to bear in mind is that a human being cannot possibly understand the ways of G-d. By way of a simple illustration:

An infant cannot possibly understand the thinking and ways of a great scholar or scientist -- even though both are human beings, and the difference between them is only relative, in terms of age, education and maturity.

Moreover, it is quite possible that the infant may some day surpass the scientist, who also started life as an infant. But the difference be tween a created human being and his Creator is absolute.

Therefore, our Sages declare that human beings must accept everything that happens, both those that are obviously good and those that are incomprehensible, with the same positive attitude that "all that G-d does is for the good," even though it is beyond human understanding.

Nevertheless, G-d has made it possible for human beings to grasp some aspects and insights about life and afterlife.

One of these revealed truths is that the neshama is a part of G- dliness and is immortal. When the time comes for it to return to Heaven, it leaves the body and continues its eternal life in the spiritual World of Truth.

It is also a matter of common sense that whatever the direct cause of the separation of the soul from the body (whether a fatal accident, or a fatal illness, etc.) it could affect only any of the vital organs of the physical body, but could in no way affect the spiritual soul.

A further point, which is also understandable, is that during the soul's lifetime on earth in partnership with the body, the soul is necessarily "handicapped" -- in certain respects -- by the requirements of the body (such as eating and drinking, etc.).

Even a tzadik (righteous person) whose entire life is consecrated to Hashem [G-d] cannot escape the restraints of life in a material and physical environment.

Consequently, when the time comes for the soul to return "home," it is essentially a release for it as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer restrained by a physical body and physical environment.

Henceforth, the soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being near to Hashem in the fullest measure. That is surely a comforting thought.

It may be asked, if it is a "release" for the soul, why has the Torah prescribed periods of mourning, etc.

But there is really no contradiction.

The Torah recognizes the natural feeling of grief that is felt by the loss of a near and dear one, whose passing leaves a void in the family, and the physical presence and contact of the beloved one will be sorely missed.

So, the Torah has prescribed the proper periods of mourning to give vent to these feelings and to make it easier to regain the proper equilibrium and adjustment.

However, to allow oneself to be carried away by these feelings beyond the limits set by the Torah --- in addition to it being a disservice to oneself and those around, as well as to the neshama [soul], as mentioned above, would mean that one is more concerned with one's own feelings than with the feelings of the dear neshama that has risen to new spiritual heights of eternal happiness.

Thus, paradoxically, the overextended feeling of grief, which is due to the great love for the departed one, actually causes pain to the loved one, since the neshama continues to take an interest in the dear ones left behind, sees what is going on (even better than before), rejoices with them in their joys, etc.

One thing the departed soul can no longer do, and that is, the actual fulfillment of the mitzvot, which can be carried out only jointly by the soul and body together in this material world. But this, too, can at least partly be overcome when those left behind do a little more mitzvot and good deeds -- in honor and for the benefit of the dear neshama.

More could be said on the subject, but I trust the above will suffice to help you discover within you the strength that G-d has given you, not only to overcome this crisis, but also to go from strength to strength in your everyday life and activities in full accord with the Torah.

In your case there is an added G-d-given capacity, having been blessed with lovely children, long may they live, with a strong feeling of motherly responsibility to raise each and every one of them to a life of Torah, chupa [marriage] and good deeds, with even greater attention and care than before, and in this, as in all good things, there is always room for improvement.

Now to conclude with a blessing, may G-d grant you much Yiddishe nachas from each and every one of your children, raising them to Torah, chupa and good deeds in good health and peace of mind, and in comfortable circumstances.

P.S. I do not know if you were aware of it when writing your letter on the 3rd of Tammuz. But it is significant that you wrote the letter on the anniversary of the beginning of the geula [redeeming] of my father-in-law of saintly memory -- an auspicious time for geula from all distractions and anxieties, to serve Hashem wholeheartedly and with joy.


What's New

CHASIDIC DIMENSION: vol. 3

The Chasidic Dimension, vol. 3, like the previous volumes, condenses over 100 talks of the Rebbe. Each essay provides the reader with the main thrust of the original talk, which uncovers the Chasidic dimension within the weekly Torah portion. Published by Sichos in English and available by sending $17 to: SIE, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.

THE REBBE'S TREASURE

The Rebbe's Treasure is a work by the students of Seminary Bais Menachem in Montreal. Each concise chapter contains a short story from the Talmud and commentaries of the Sages. These are followed by an interpretation on the story by the Rebbe.

The Rebbe's powerful perspective provides deep insights into the stories. The book is available by sending $5 to: S.B.M., 6445 Boul. Decarie, Montreal, Qc., Canada H3W 3E1


A Word from the Director

This Friday is the Tenth of Tevet. It commemorates the day when Jerusalem came under siege, which marked the beginning of the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem and of the Holy Temple.

We fast on this day, not only to express our sorrow, but, more importantly, to be urgently reminded that we must increase our efforts to rectify the cause of the destruction and exile, namely, in the words of our familiar prayer, "Because of our sins (neglect of Torah and mitzvot) we have been exiled from our land."

One of the basic lessons of the Tenth of Tevet is that had our ancestors in those days been truly moved by the siege to change their complacent attitude towards the threatening danger (even if it were slow in coming), the whole destruction could have been averted from the start.

In a letter to the United Lubavitcher Yeshivot annual dinner, the Rebbe pointed to an additional and more pressing lesson that we must learn from the Tenth of Tevet.

"There is surely no need to point out that Jewish people everywhere are spiritually besieged on all sides. But nothing is more threatened than the future of our young generation -- the future of our Jewish people. The only answer to it is Torah-true education. It must begin at the earliest age, and continue consistently in every aspect, without compromise. Sometimes it may appear that a particular detail is not all that important to insist on it strongly, or that there is time to deal with it later on. But the truth is that the slightest neglect at an early stage becomes a serious problem later, and conversely on the positive side: every little extra care and benefit in the early years is multiplied manifold later in life."
As we commemorate the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple, let us not become discouraged. For, in these days, surely we can appreciate the strengthening and invigoration of the Jewish people which is taking place as so many young people return to their Jewish roots. And certainly, in the very near future, the Rebbe's prophecy of the imminent Redemption will be fulfilled and we will truly celebrate with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.


Thoughts that Count

Yosef said to his brothers, "I am Yosef; is my father still alive?" (Gen. 45:3)

The first time the brothers came to Egypt, Yosef asked about his father. The second time they came he asked again. This time, Yosef wasn't just asking about his father. He was revealing himself as their brother by saying, in effect, "I am proving to you that I really am Yosef, because I'm only asking about my father, not my mother. I already know that my mother died many years ago. If I was an impostor, I wouldn't necessarily know that."

(Imrei Yehuda)

The brothers were unable to answer him because they were frightened of his face. (Gen. 45:3)

The brothers were not merely frightened of him, they were actually frightened of his face. Up until now, whenever Yosef spoke to his brothers, he covered his face with a veil. When he revealed himself to his brothers, he said," I am Yosef," and removed the veil. It was then that the brothers saw the exact resemblance to their father, Yaakov.

(Zichron Yisrael)

And they told him saying, "Yosef is still alive and he is the ruler over all the land of Egypt." (Gen. 45:26)

Yaakov had yearned for many years for Yosef, and one can imagine his joy at learning that Yosef was alive. That Yosef ruled over Egypt should have been insignificant next to the fact that he was alive. The brothers knew that Yaakov was concerned about Yosef's spiritual welfare as well. They were telling Yaakov that Yosef did not let the environment of Egypt influence him; he was "ruler over Egypt," Egypt did not "rule over him."

(Rav David Hollander)

Then Yehuda came near to him (Gen. 44:18)

The word the Torah uses for "came near," vayigash, implies that Yehuda and Yosef came very close together. Many years later the descendants of Yehuda and Yosef split, and actually formed two separate kingdoms. Vayigash alludes to the time of the Redemption when we all will unite as one kingdom under one king, Moshiach.

(Bereishit Rabba)

From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky


It Once Happened

Once, there was a wealthy man whose daughter had reached marriageable age. As befitting his station, he sought a groom who was a great scholar, and he travelled to one of the famed Torah academies to find such a young man.

The head of the academy recommended a worthy young scholar named Rabbi Yaakov, and upon meeting him, the prospective father-in-law was very pleased. The young scholar, however, made three conditions before agreeing to the proposal: he must have a room where he could study undisturbed; his wife must allow him unlimited time for his studies; and he would have permission to leave his wife for a year to take care of some important business.

The wealthy man agreed to the requests, but he returned home to obtain his daughter's agreement. After her father described the young man's excellent qualities, the girl agreed, and the couple was married. The groom studied Torah day and night, and his new wife was impressed with his character and his behavior. Indeed, the match was right in her eyes, and she was content.

After the first year of marriage had passed happily, Rabbi Yaakov reminded his wife and father-in-law of the promise they had made to allow him to travel on business for a year's time. They accompanied him to the outskirts of town, and he continued on his way to Rome and to his mysterious mission.

In Rome, the ruler had an intelligent son whom he had betrothed to a foreign princess. The princess was also bright, and she stipulated that she would only marry a man who was well-versed in all the knowledge of the world. She proposed that he undertake a course of study before their marriage, and she would do the same.

She began to study under the tutelage of a priest who was vicious anti-Semite. The priest instilled in the girl such a hatred of Jews, that she asked her future father-in-law to force all the Jews to convert, or else to expel them from his realm. He considered her request, and in addition, decided to invite the Pope to deliver a sermon against the Jews at the royal wedding.

On the very day that the royal wedding was announced, Rabbi Yaakov arrived in Rome. News of the arrival of a Torah scholar of great repute spread through the city, and even reached the ears of certain notables close to the Pope, who mentioned it at the Papal court. The Pope became curious to meet this young scholar, and summoned him. The Pope was very impressed with the depth and breadth of Rabbi Yaakov's knowledge. Soon, word of this wise Jew reached even the royal court, and he was summoned to the king.

Rabbi Yaakov received favor from everyone who saw and heard him, and of all the scholars in the kingdom, he was selected to instruct the betrothed prince. This was, of course, the mission for which he had come to Rome.

Elijah the Prophet at times reveals himself to certain select Jews, and now, he appeared to Rabbi Yaakov, saying, "The Pope is a secret Jew, a descendant of Marranos." Elijah told him where and when he could find the Pope deep in prayer, wearing his talit and tefilin.

When Rabbi Yaakov appeared at the door of that room, the Pope was filled with fear. Immediately, Rabbi Yaakov calmed his fears. "Elijah the Prophet has sent me to you on a matter of great importance to the Jews of Rome. You will be commanded to deliver a sermon attacking the Jews at the royal wedding. You must not speak until I come to you again."

The day of the wedding finally arrived, and guests from every realm filled the great halls of the palace. As word spread that the Pope himself would soon deliver a sermon, excitement began to build. The Pope, however, did not appear, as he was awaiting Rabbi Yaakov.

Suddenly the renowned Jewish scholar appeared before the guests -- in the company of the Pope -- carrying a closed bag. He summoned the prince, and in front of the entire assemblage, he announced that he would like to show them a wonder. He bid the prince put his hand into the sack and withdraw from it whatever he would find within. The prince put in his hand and withdrew a beautiful, gem-encrusted crown. The crowd cheered.

Then, he asked that the princess come and do the same. She was happy to oblige, but when she withdrew her hand, she was grasping a frightful snake, which at once entwined itself around her neck. She uttered the most horrible cries, but everyone was rooted to their place in terror.

Rabbi Yaakov began to speak, "The prince has received what he deserves, and the princess has received her just reward as well. Princess, if you order the annulment of the evil decrees you have instigated, you will be saved, if not, you will perish."

Needless to say, the princess acquiesced to his demand. Rabbi Yaakov then departed; not a soul dared approach him. The King arose from his throne, still enthralled by what he had just witnessed. Before all his subjects and before the prince and princess, he vowed never to harm the Jews of his realm. Rabbi Yaakov, his mission completed, returned to his home and his happy wife.


Moshiach Matters

Whoever does not believe in the involvement of Divine Providence in every aspect of this world, is enslaved to that which covers and conceals Divine Providence. In the future, however, when the spirit of impurity will be removed from the earth, this Providence will become manifest; at that time, everyone will see how every single occurrence derives from G-d.

(Kesser Shem Tov)


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