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January 10, 1997 - 2 Shevat 5757

451: Va'eira

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  450: Shemot452: Bo  

Boating  |  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

Boating

by Yanky Tauber

People love to boat.

Offer them a spell out on the water -- be it a luxury cruise or a sail across the lake -- and most will readily forsake terra firma for a floating, wave-tossed vessel that will hold their lives hostage until their return to shore. And they will thoroughly enjoy every minute of the experience.

Man is a land fish; a fish cannot survive for long out of water -- man cannot, unaided, survive in water. To brave the nautical expanses that surround and thread our continents, we need a boat -- a vessel that holds us above water, insulates us from its dangers, and navigates its seething surface.

Boats, come to think of it, greatly inhibit our freedom. On land, we can venture forth miles on end; on a boat we rarely have more than a few square yards at our disposal, and the greatest ships give us, at most, an acre or two of elbow room.

A great many rules and restrictions govern our behavior on a boat, including how and where to sit, stand, or walk, what to wear, where to sail and when.

The sailor must consult weather charts and tide timetables, be proficient in the proper use of the litany of signals and maneuvers, and faithfully record every action in the ship's log.

Yet boating is a thrill and a pleasure, despite the danger and discomfort it entails. For this is what we love to do; to pit ourselves against an alien, threatening environment, and conquer it.

The boat, and the regulations that govern its use, are our arms in such a war of survival. These are a burden of joy, because battle with the adversary is the underlying source of pleasure to us in everything we do, whether we ostensibly label it "work," "sport," or "recreation."

The soul of a man is a sailor. Its natural habitat is the world of spirit, a world pulsating with Divine light and life; a world where its relationship with its Creator stands on firm ground. Yet the soul ventures forth from the shores of heaven to brave the turbulent waters of a material world -- a cold and dark sea that threatens to quench the "candle of G-d" that is the soul of man. A sea of apathy that threatens to suffocate all that is holy, warm and alive; a sea of anxieties and cares -- great and petty, real and imagined -- that threatens to overwhelm the soul's memory of its origins and its commitment to its mission in life.

To navigate these turbulent waters, the soul is provided with a craft that keeps it afloat of the engulfing materialism of physical life, and enables it to ride its eddies and swells, and propels it on its course across this alien environment.

This boat is the Torah and its mitzvot, with which man constructs a vessel of sanctity to hold him, open to the heavens but sealed against the waters about and below. With this vessel, man is empowered to traverse the length and breadth of the material world; but should he, G-d forbid, forsake the boat, or allow a breach or fissure to develop in its hull, or make light of its rules of operation -- he endangers his spiritual life and jeopardizes his very voyage.

There are those who, forgetting who they are and whence their true life derives, might look upon their boat and its regulations as constraints on their "freedom." But the sailor who remembers that material life is a voyage from spiritual shore to spiritual shore, who knows the thrill of challenging the sea and is knowledgeable of its dangers and trained to overcome them -- to him or her, sailing the craft is a vital skill, a labor of love, an exhilarating battle. And a pleasure.

Based on an address of the Rebbe. Reprinted from The Week in Review, published by V.H.H.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Va'eira is very long in comparison to other Torah portions. It has numerous verses, yet they all share a common theme for the simple reason that they belong to the same Torah portion. This is expressed in the name of the portion itself (literally, "And I appeared"), which comes from the Hebrew word meaning sight. What does this teach us? That a Jew must serve G-d in a manner of "seeing."

The body and soul and antithetical; they are darkness and light. The body is darkness, yet the soul illuminates it with the light of Torah and mitzvot. And just as the physical body "darkens" the spiritual soul, so, too, does the phenomenon of exile obscure the light.

In truth, the darkness of exile is so intense that it prompted Moshe to challenge G-d. "Why have You done evil to this people?" Moshe asked. Why must the Jewish people suffer so?

In exile the Jew is anguished and tormented. His absorption in his suffering is liable to deplete his strength and crush his spirit, preventing him from serving G-d in the proper manner.

G-d's answer to this question was "Va'eira." A Jew must actually see G-d. It's not enough to know that G-d exists and to believe that He oversees the affairs of the world. A Jew must have such a strong awareness of G-d's presence that it is as if he can actually see Him.

When a person sees something he is sure that it exists. If he hears something, he may later come to think that he has heard incorrectly. Seeing, however, is different. Once a person has seen something he can never be persuaded to change his mind. With the very first glance he absorbs the entire entity. He notes all its details and gets the full picture.

A Jew should always perceive G-d in a manner of "Va'eira." He must see the G-dliness that exists in the world, despite the concealment of the exile. This is the only way of serving G-d which ensures that the exile will not sap his strength.

Everything that is written in the Torah contains a lesson for us to apply in our daily lives. Just as Moshe challenged G-d by saying, "Why have You done evil to this people," so, too, must we never accept our state of exile or become acclimated to it.

Yes, a Jew can certainly learn Torah and perform mitzvot in exile, but we must never come to terms with our present situation or concede that it continue. Like Moshe, we must cry out to G-d from the depths of our heart, "Why have You done evil to this people? The time for our Redemption has arrived!" At the same time we must continue our Divine service with full faith and confidence, "seeing" the G-dliness that exists all around us.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 2


A Slice of Life

Rabbi Yisroel Rubin
by Susan Rabinowitz

At the beginning of the semester, as we were leaving home for college, our parents encouraged (pestered/implored/suggested) us to join a synagogue or Jewish organization in our new place.

Some of us, good little boys and girls, listened to our parents. We became members, or at least sometimes attended events, at the official and established organizations.

But we were in for quite a surprise here at SUNYA (State University of New York at Albany). We found an 'unadvertised special' in a small frame house tucked away on Fuller Road, right outside campus on the way to Stuyvesant Plaza.

It doesn't look very impressive from the outside. But, typically, Shabbos House emphasizes the inside, rather than the outside.

Shabbos House is tiny by SUNYA standards. The Assembly Hall itself could hold five of them. Yet, while only five minutes walk from Campus Center, Shabbos House offers respite from the concrete forest of Towers, Quads, high and low rises and endless halls.

Its simplicity contrasts with SUNYA's monotonous architecture, cell- like columns and sterile design. It's an escape from dreariness, a living room, actually, a place to be yourself, not just another Registrar's statistic.

Here we found a sense of kinship, mystical in spirit. Personally, it helps me cope with campus life and keeps me in touch with my roots.

Fifty (and sometimes as many as a hundred) of us find warm shelter here on Shabbat. We help prepare the Friday night dinners, with the Shabbat peace shutting out the hectic weekday life outside. When school pressures weigh us down, it's nice to know we can enjoy Friday night with friends. Kiddush (the Shabbat blessing over the wine) and L'chaim certainly beat drowning our sorrows in beer and alcohol.

The big thing at Shabbos House is the traditional Friday night dinner. It has a warmth that the frozen kosher TV dinners, cold cuts, and packaged snacks don't have. The place definitely has atmosphere. The Shabbat candles glow, and there's good homemade food like challah and cholent (Shabbat stew). There's lively song, good talk, and just plain shmoozing.

Shabbos House isn't pushy; they don't check ID's, and no one feels on edge. It makes us feel comfortable with Judaism. There's no official membership; if you're Jewish, you belong. We all participate, regardless of affiliation, observance, and background. It offers a good taste of Judaism that we may have missed at Hebrew School.

Despite its name, Shabbos House really functions all week. Shabbat is not only a period of time, but also a state of mind. It is a peaceful rest from daily anxiety, exams, deadlines, and courses. Shabbos House is an oasis, a home away from home.

At holiday times, Shabbos House also provides us with tall, bright menoras for the cafeterias, apples and honey before Rosh Hashana, and hamantaschen on Purim. For those interested, Shabbos House also helps with the Monday and Thursday morning minyans (prayer quorums) at Chapel House.

Shabbos House facilities are provided by Rabbi Rubin of the Capital District Chabad Center, and maintained by individual donations from parents, and from the Albany community.

But the real center of all the action is the Schreiber family, Pinchas and Yehudis and their lovely children.

They give the Shabbos House its unique charm and personality. They are part of our group, vital to our chevra and inspiration. Truthfully, the Schreibers are more 'religious' than the rest of us, but they don't pass judgement. They speak our language.

Yehudis Schreiber is a Julliard graduate. A professional violist who toured the world, she has played with the Jerusalem Symphony.

Pinchas has a Master's degree in math from the University of Illinois, and he is also an accomplished juggler and long distance runner, Actually, Shabbos House is where Phil (as Pinchas was then known) first connected with Judaism as an under graduate at SUNYA in the 70's.

The little Schreiber kids provide their own side show. Today we hear all the political stuff about "family values," but here it is for real, what they call good role models. We all become extended family.


A Call To Action

Learn to Say "Thank You"

By saying blessings before we eat food we are thanking G-d for providing us with our sustenance. There are only six different blessings over the thousands of types of food we eat. If you would like to have a copy of the six blessings (in Hebrew, English and transliterated) as well as beginner's prayers, send $1 to: My First Siddur, c/o NCFJE, 824 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213


The Rebbe Writes

12 Shevat, 5744 [1984]

Since your letter of May 25, 1983, I have not heard from you. I trust it is a case of "no news is good news," and that the problem you wrote about, namely, facing a crisis of faith on account of certain doubts and uncertainties, has been over come, or at least substantially eased, as indeed most often happens in such cases.

This is one of the reasons -- the main one being pressure of duties -- why my reply to your letter has been so inordinately delayed. Also because it is difficult to discuss such a topic in a letter.

Actually, there is no need for it, inasmuch as it is not an unusual problem, and there is a whole body of literature (also in English) that deals with the questions raised in your letter. It is surely possible to discuss them personally with a knowledgeable person, such as a learned practicing Rav [rabbi].

Since you have already written to me, I will endeavor to clarify (within the limits of a letter) some of the uncertainties mentioned in your letter, such as how to understand the diversity of religions in the world, why are Jews committed to keeping all 613 mitzvot of the Torah, while the rest of mankind only seven of them, the so-called Seven Noahide Laws (with all their ramifications, of course -- which also constitute quite a substantial Divinely ordained moral code); how can a Jew be certain that the Jewish religion and way of life is the true one and superior to any other, etc.

Let me begin with an illustration:

A person looking at his hand will, first of all, think of it as part of his anatomy, which is capable of performing a variety of manual jobs. Thinking further, one will see that the hand is comprised of many parts, such as fingers and muscles that have their particular functions as well as cooperative functions in conjunction with other parts, enabling the hand to carry out more delicate tasks, like writing, for example.

On a still deeper level, there are nerves and vessels that connect the hand and fingers to the brain and heart, which influences the quality of the handwriting, to the extent of expressing the writer's thoughts and feelings, and even revealing hidden aspects of his character, as is known to handwriting experts.

One could carry the analysis still further, to the level of atoms, electrons, etc. Thus, one can speak of the human hand and its functions on different levels, from the simplest to the most complex, which are not mutually incompatible, as long as each part carries out its functions in the proper and wholesome manner.

If there are such complexities, gradations, and levels in the physical world, yet with an underlying unifying factor, they are certainly present in the world of the metaphysical and spiritual.

When it comes to contemplating the existence of G-d, one must, first of all realize that finite human beings (even the wisest of men) cannot grasp the "mind" and "thoughts" of the Creator, whose attributes are essentially as incomprehensible as Himself -- except to the extent that He willed to reveal in the Torah. But what is revealed in the Torah is as clear as light, which is why the Torah is called Torah Or [Torah of light]; indeed much of it has become common sense.

Now, insofar as the human is concerned, the Torah tells us that it has evolved by the design of the Creator, into a variety of components, rather than one massive uniform block -- just as the physical human body consists of a variety of organs and parts, each with its own purpose and function, nothing in it is useless or superfluous. For, as our Sages tell us, "The Creator has not created anything useless in this world."

Of course, one may wonder why did G-d choose one nation out of all mankind to give it His Torah and mitzvot and designate it as "A kingdom of kohanim (G-d's servants) and a holy nation"? Or, why does He permit such a variety of religious beliefs and practices, some of which are in direct conflict with His ordained order? But this would be like asking, why must the human body consist of such a variety of different parts, from the brain and heart to the foot and sole? Or, why does G-d permit malfunctions in an organism that is otherwise perfect?

As for the question, in view of the various religions and creeds of the world, each claiming to be the truth and superior to all others, how is a Jew to be certain that his religion is the true one?

This and related questions have already been dealt with at length in the famous 12th century classic, the Book of Kuzari by the great Jewish philosopher Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, which is available also in English translation. It is well documented and based on proofs that would stand up to the scrutiny of scientific method and common sense.


What's New

KAZAN SYNAGOGUE RETURNED

The synagogue in Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, Russia, has finally returned to the Jewish community nearly 70 years after it was confiscated by the Communist authorities. Rabbi Avraham Lerer, the Rebbe's emissary to Tatarstan and Chief Rabbi of Kazan, was involved in the efforts to regain possession of the synagogue. Years of neglect necessitate massive renovations which will be necessary before the building can be used. Efforts continue to regain possession of synagogues in other parts of Russia . The Russian law on restitution of property that belonged to religious communities was signed more than five years ago, but most of the country's synagogues still have not been returned.

JEWISH STUDENT CENTER

The Beit Menachem Jewish Student Centre was recently dedicated at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The University's president, Dr. Peter George, welcomed the new center and the U.J.A. co-chair brought greetings from the Jewish Federation of Hamilton.

Rabbi Zalman and Faige Itkin, the Rebbe's emissaries to Hamilton, who have been involved in outreach to students at McMaster University for nearly two decades, are eager to ensure that the center will be a "home away from home" for the Jewish students there.

NEW IN COCONUT CREEK

Chabad of Coconut Creek recently opened a new center in the Coconut Creek Shopping Center on Coconut Creek Parkway. The Center, under the direction of Rabbi and Mrs. Yossi Gansburg, serves the Coconut Creek and Pompano communities. The center features daily minyan services, an array of weekly classes, an after-school Talmud Torah program, as well as hands-on holiday programs and an extensive library of Jewish books.


A Word from the Director

The second day of the month of Shevat is the yahrzeit of Reb Zusya of Anipoli, a disciple of Reb Dov Ber of Mezritch (The Mezritcher Maggid), and colleague of Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe.

The fact that illness and utter poverty were Reb Zusya's lot did not in the least effect his piety, humility, and love of G-d for which he was renowned.

A story is told of Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg, who approached Reb Dov Ber of Mezritch and asked him how it was possible to follow the injunction of our Sages to "make a blessing upon hearing bad news just as one would make a blessing upon hearing good news." Reb Dov Ber told Reb Shmelke to go to Reb Zusya, and he would answer his question .

Reb Shmelke went to Reb Zusya, upon whom poverty and illness had left their physical marks. When Reb Shmelke posed his question to him, Reb Zusya was surprised. He replied, "This question should have been brought to someone who has actually experienced unfortunate events, G-d forbid. Thank G-d, I have only had good things happen to me for my whole life."

The answer to Reb Shmelke's question was that someone should rejoice in his lot to the point that he is not even aware of harsh events. This was the hallmark of Reb Zusya's life.

Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi held Reb Zusya in such high esteem that before printing his magnum opus, the Tanya, he sent a copy of it with a special messenger to Reb Zusya for his approbation.


Thoughts that Count

Moshe spoke this to the children of Israel; but they did not listen to Moshe because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage (Exod. 6:9)

Moshe brought good tidings to the Jews, but they didn't heed his words. Originally, G-d told Avraham that the Jews would be enslaved for 400 years, but Moshe appeared to them with the good news after only 210 years. G-d chose to take them out of Egypt earlier for two reasons.

First, the Jews had declined spiritually to the point that they were in danger of assimilation. Second, the Egyptians exploited them so harshly that it was as if they had worked for 400 years. The Jews knew that they were supposed to be enslaved for 400 years, so when Moshe told them of their imminent liberation after 210 years, they didn't believe his explanation that it was due to "anguish of spirit" -- spiritual decline, and "cruel bondage" -- excessive labor.

(Pardes Yosef)

Aharon threw his staff in front of Pharoah and his servants, and it became a snake (Exod. 7:10)

Pharoah claimed that the Jews had sinned and therefore didn't deserve to be taken out of Egypt. Moshe and Aharon responded that a person's environment plays a very important role in his development. Even a holy staff can turn to a vicious snake in the company of Pharoah.

On the other hand, a "snake" in the company of Moshe and Aharon can transform itself into a holy staff.

(HaRav Meir Shapiro M'Lublin)

The magicians said to Pharoah, "This is the finger of G-d." (Exod. 8:15)

Only after the plague of lice did the magicians say that the plagues were indeed "the finger of G-d." The first two plagues, blood and frogs, originated from the water. The magicians then told Pharoah that G-d's power is limited only to the water. G-d responded with a plague of lice, extremely minute creatures that come from the earth. Upon seeing this, the magicians were forced to concede that G-d is indeed Omnipotent.

(Shaar Bat Rabim)

I will make a distinction between My people and your people (Exod. 8:19)

Only concerning the plague of arov (wild animals) did G-d specify that there would be a distinction between the Jews and the Egyptians. This plague went against nature in that animals from different species roamed the land together. One might have concluded that since G-d removed all natural boundaries and distinctions, Jews and Egyptians would be allowed to mix. G-d insisted that even in a time when mixture and confusion are prevalent in the world, it is forbidden for Jews to assimilate.

(The Rebbe)

Adapted from Vedibarta Bam - By Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky


It Once Happened

The Chasid Reb Yehuda Leib was on his way home to Vitebsk after having visited the Rebbe Maharash (the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel). Sitting in the train station, he noticed a bearded Jew pacing back and forth. Every few minutes he would look toward him as if he wanted to communicate something to him.

Suddenly, the Jew stopped pacing and approached him. "Are you a Chasid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?" the Jew asked.

When Reb Yehuda Leib answered in the affirmative, he continued, "Then you should know that your Rebbe is a holy man, who possesses Divine knowledge. Please allow me to tell you my story. It relates very closely to the Rebbe, and I'm sure you will find it very interesting. And the man continued:

"I was born into an observant family and lived in one of the small towns which dot this region. I learned in yeshiva like all of my friends, and I was an excellent student. My memory and facility in Torah learning marked me as one of the best students of our group. However, at that time, when I was young, many of my fellows were attracted to the glamour and excitement of the big cities. They wanted to acquire secular knowledge, and many left their small towns and traveled to the big cities.

"I was no exception and I, too, wanted to expand my knowledge: I, too, wanted to see the world and not be 'trapped' in our little town. So, I left home and went to Petersburg, where I was accepted as a medical student in the university there.

"I was very successful. I completed my studies easily. Then, I married a non-Jewish woman and within little time, I assimilated completely into the society of the Russian intelligentsia, who were my new friends and companions. They accepted me fully and it wasn't long before I completely forgot about being Jewish altogether.

"Everything was going along quite well, and I was enjoying my life until one night. On that night my whole life changed. That night I dreamt that my father came and begged me to repent of my ways.

"I ignored that dream, for after all, it is a known thing that dreams are mere fantasies. But the dream repeated itself night after night until I was consumed by it and could think of nothing else.

"One evening my wife and I were invited by some friends to attend a soiree. The party was in full swing, the orchestra was playing and elegant couples circled the dance floor. Suddenly, the old Jew from my dream appeared accusingly in front of me. I always carried a pistol with me, and, in a burst of anger, I drew it and fired at the phantom.

"At once the music stopped and everyone looked at me in horror. For myself, I returned home, mortified at my own senseless behavior. After a sleepless night of reflection, I decided to change my life.

"The following day I headed for Lubavitch where I intended to beg the Rebbe to guide me and prescribe a path of repentance for me. But when I entered his room, he abruptly stood up and turned away from me. Without a glance in my direction, he said, 'What is a man who murdered his father doing in my home?'

"I nearly fainted. Before me stood a holy man who saw with Divine insight, who knew everything that was in my heart. I burst out in bitter tears which sprung from the depths of my broken heart, and I begged the tzadik to tell me how I could repent.

"He commanded me to sell all my possessions quietly and move to a location where no one knew me. He also gave me very specific directions for the atonement of my soul.

"Before I departed from the Rebbe, I asked him how I would know that Heaven has forgiven my sins. He gave me a specific sign. Since that time many years have passed, during which I have fulfilled his instructions to the letter, all the while waiting and hoping to see that sign. A short time ago the sign which the Rebbe gave me was fulfilled. Now I am on my way to inform the Rebbe of the good news. Since you are the first Chasid I met on my way, I felt I had to share this story with you. I hope you found it interesting."

Adapted from Journey with the Rebbes


Moshiach Matters

The Midrash relates that when Moshe noticed that a lamb had run away from the flock and had strayed in the wilderness, he ran after it in order to bring it back. From this we learn how meaningful every Jew is in the eyes of Moshe, even if he is a Jew who has run away from the flock... And since "the first redeemer is also the last redeemer," it is clear that what is true of Moshe is likewise true of Moshiach -- every Jew, wherever he may be, is precious.

(The Rebbe, 5743)


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