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This Torah Mailing is dedicated
by Davida Rivkah Levenstein and Chaya Bailenson
in loving memory of their brother:
Moshe Melech ben Shmuel Bailenson of blessed memory
who perished on flight 4184 enroute from Indianapolis to Chicago
on October 31, 1994. His Yahrzeit was on 26 MarCheshvan
May the kind acts and good deeds he performed in his lifetime, be
a source of inspiration to all who knew him and were touched by him.
Did you ever see those motivational posters that have awesome photographs of mountains, sunsets, trees, water or other magnificent examples of nature, together with encouraging or inspiring thoughts? One such reflection reads: "Soar with the eagles."
Someone with a great sense of humor got a hold of that saying and came up with one which reads: "It's hard to soar with the eagles when you're down here with the turkeys."
An apt Jewish teaching on the subject of soaring with eagles when you're around turkeys is recorded in the Mishna: "If you are in a place where there is no 'adam' [i.e., person, mentsch, human being] try to be a person."
According to Judaism, being around a bunch of turkeys is no excuse for lowering yourself to their level and behaving like them. Even when one is in a place where people aren't acting as they should, or where people are so inhuman that one would call them "turkeys" rather than "people," one must try to act appropriately.
The company we keep can impact on our behaviour, productivity and overall "mentschness." There are many other influences in our live, as well.
Open (or download) any newspaper and you're sure to find an article about yet another study of how the food we eat, the environment in which we live, even the thoughts we think, effect us.
Open (or download) any Torah book and you'll find the same. But it will be based on Jewish teachings that date back all the way to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai over 3,300 years ago.
In the tractate which contains the Mishna quoted above, there are suggestions as to what kind of company one should keep outside of one's home and who should be invited into one's home, guidelines for the neighborhood in which one should live , how to interact with friends or adversaries at high-stress moments, even some thoughts on dinner-table talk.
We alone choose for ourselves whether we will soar with the eagles or gobble, gobble, gobble through our days with the turkeys. As we work toward the time when we will all soar "on the wings of eagles" to the Holy Land and the Third Holy Temple, the Torah is the best guidebook on how to wing it.
In this week's Torah portion, Toldot, we read of our Matriarch Rebecca's barreness; the subsequent birth of her and Isaac's twin sons, Esau and Jacob; the twins' growth into adulthood; and the blessing of the firstborn which Isaac bestows upon Jacob.
Isaac became blind in his old age, as it states in this week's portion: "And it came to pass, when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see." Isaac remained sightless for many years, unable to even leave his home because of his infirmity. One explanation offered by Rashi (the foremost Torah commentator) for Isaac's blindness is that he lost his sight "so that Jacob could receive the blessings."
Isaac did not know that his son Esau was a rasha, an evil person; thus when he grew old he wanted to bless him. G-d, however, knew that Esau was unworthy and that the blessings should go to Jacob. What did He do? He caused Isaac to become blind, allowing Jacob to come to him in stealth and receive the blessings that were intended for Esau. Had Isaac been sighted he would have been able to distinguish between his sons, and Esau would have ended up the recipient of his blessings.
A question is raised: Why was it necessary for Isaac to suffer for so many years just to ensure that Jacob received the blessings? Couldn't G-d have arranged for Jacob to receive the blessings in another manner? Indeed, Isaac knew that Esau was not as virtuous as his brother; he realized that "the name of heaven" was not usually on Esau's lips. Surely G-d could have simply told him that Esau was an evil person; Jacob could then have received the blessings without Isaac's becoming blind. Why didn't G-d simply reveal the truth to Isaac?
The answer has to do with G-d's reluctance to speak lashon hara (slander), even against as evil an individual as Esau. Despite the fact that Esau was a rasha, G-d refrained from saying so outright. The Torah thus emphasizes the degree to which we must avoid committing this transgression.
If G-d could restrain Himself from speaking lashon hara against Esau, how much more so must we be careful to avoid speaking lashon hara about any Jew! For every Jew, in his heart of hearts, is good.
By emulating G-d's ways and being careful in what we say, we fulfill the mitzva of safeguarding our tongue.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 15
Life by artist Susan Portman
As I sit out on our balcony in Jerusalem, overlooking the busy city, I think about the events that brought me here to this moment in time. The men in their black hats, the many colored and textured kippot, the buses whose Hebrew letters are all too familiar would have been only a storybook image to the girl I once was.
I wonder about the genetic component, the subtle influences, the sudden leap of faith that changes one's whole philosophy and lifestyle. As far back as I can remember, the beauty of my maternal grandmother's Shabbat table had an effect on me. Every Friday evening she lit her candles, sang Shalom Aleichem and then made Kiddush in English.
A rabbi's daughter who came to the United States from Sweden at the age of one, she knew no other language than English. How proud she would be to see her great-grandsons learning Torah and conversing in Hebrew. She was a widow for thirty years, spending her days praying, giving charity, and writing to her loved ones who lived far away. She was also a colorful lady who fed the birds and squirrels, made cherry pies and went to movies (only happy ones). Her life had its share of problems: the loss of two children and one not well, but she always told her grandchildren to "Have a happy heart." She lived her life with love and fear of Hashem [G-d] until the beautiful age of eighty five. It is in her blessed memory that I have reached this moment in time.
As an artist, I always felt the inner need to express myself, to produce something worthwhile and enduring. It is my constant yearning to create that which would extend beyond my own limited self, reach up and raise me closer to the infinite. Life, like art, is a creative process; a subtle and sophisticated process of self development. It can be slow and painstaking, but satisfying in the end. Whether we appreciate our own talents or not, we are provided with the special instruments needed to create, form, shape and color our lives.
Indirectly, we also shape and color the lives of our family and people in our environment.
I grew up in a time and place that did not afford me the protection of an insular and homogeneous community. The pulls and pressures of the dominant secular society were overwhelming.
In order to gain altitude, I had to go against the tide and draw from inner resources. I also owe thanks to the opportunities and individuals who helped me rise higher and gave me a spiritual lift.
My final goal was sometimes clear, and sometimes evasive, as my personal growth went through several stages and took various turns.
Along the way, I learned to adapt and to incorporate Torah directives into my own specific situation and circumstances. I worked in several directions simultaneously, all the while taking care not to disturb my family's peaceful balance and harmony, and gaining my own confidence. At the same time. I also reached out and opened our home and family to fellow travelers, Jews who were searching.
As I observe my family's growth in Torah, I realize the effort it took for my children to interrupt their college studies, go to Israel to study at Yeshiva, and then return to complete their college education. As a result, my children were able to apply their acquired Jewish knowledge to their professional fields, benefitting the Jewish and general community.
What better way to produce art than to live a Torah way that enriches our heart and soul!
Over the years I was able to complete many paintings. But with G-d's help I am still in the middle of completing the larger canvas, of a life inspired by Torah and mitzvot.
Reprinted from the Jewish Holiday Consumer, published by N'Shei of Rockland County
As we enter the month of Kislev, whose theme is miracles -- as reflected in the Chanuka holiday celebrated this month -- we should "let these influences be apparent in our behavior.
We must show a miraculous order of behaviour, performing mitzvot in the most complete and beautiful manner possible... We should organize gatherings on three consecutive days at the beginning of the month of Kislev, thus establishing a chazaka [strengthening] of miraculous behavior."
(The Rebbe, Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5750)
JEWISH EDUCATION: NOT JUST AN INCREASE OF KNOWLEDGE
18th of Cheshvan, 5724 
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, shemotoch lo 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 a nd spread true Yiddishkeit to the utmost of your capacity.
20th of Cheshvan, 5732 
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 life-line 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,
"B'Machane Tzivot Hashem - In the Camp of Tzivos Hashem," a monthly magazine published by the Chabad Mobile Centers in Israel, just released its 100th issue. Tzivos Hashem, the largest Jewish children's organization in the world, has 340 branches in Israel. The magazine contains stories, cartoons, puzzles, a nature corner, questions and answers, Torah thoughts, all permeated with Jewish content. With Tzivos Hashem's theme song being, "We Want Moshiach Now," it should come as no surprise that everything in the magazine is also permeated with awareness of and longing for the imminent Redemption.
The International Conference of Shluchim (Emissaries of the Rebbe) is being held this weekend at Lubavitch World Headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Thousands of rabbis from the Chabad Lubavitch Centers world-wide will be attending the convention. The International Conference of Shluchot (women emissaries) will take place in February.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim, when we bless the upcoming month of Kislev.
Kislev is a month of celebration, when we commemorate many joyous occasions. A recurring theme throughout the festivities of Kislev is freedom.
On the 10th day of Kislev, 1826, the second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber (the Mitteler Rebbe), was released from his incarceration in Czarist Russia for his work in spreading Jewish teachings.
Decades earlier, on the 19th of Kislev in the year 1798, his father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidism, was released from imprisonment on trumped up charges of anti-government activities. (Two years later, when Rabbi Shneur Zalman was imprisoned once again, he was also released in the month of Kislev, on the third night of Chanuka.)
And on Chanuka, which is celebrated for eight days beginning on the 25th of Kislev, we celebrate the victory of the Jewish people over their mighty Hellenic oppressors, and their subsequent freedom to once again follow in the ways of the Torah. We also celebrate the freedom of our Holy Temple, which the Hellenists had defiled and desecrated. Once the Jews cleansed and purified the Temple, it was free to be used for its holy purpose, bringing the Jewish people closer to G-d.
Torah in general, and Chasidic teachings in particular, help free and liberate us from our personal or self-imposed "prisons." Throughout the month of Kislev, then, it is appropriate to increase in our study of Torah. Surely this study will help us reflect upon how best to use the opportunities available to us today because of religious freedom.
And let us pray that G-d speedily grant us the ultimate freedom, the revelation of Moshiach. For then we will truly be free to serve G-d, in the third and final Holy Temple.
"Please pour into me some of this red stuff" (Gen. 25:30)
It seems strange that someone as coarse and ill-mannered as Esau, would use the word "please." The Hebrew word for "please," na, can also be translated as "raw." Because Esau was so hungry and so lacking in manners, he gruffly ordered Jacob pour some of the "raw red stuff" down his throat.
And Jacob said, "Sell me this day your birthright." (Gen. 25:31)
This transaction took place on the day of Abraham's passing. But, while the whole world was mourning this great loss, his own grandson Esau was out hunting. When Jacob discovered this, he resolved to acquire the birthright, saying to Esau, "Sell me your birthright because of what happened this day. You are unworthy of so lofty a spiritual identity."
(Harav B. Berzan)
"And stay with him a few days, until your brother's fury turn away; until your brother's anger turns away from you, and he forgets that which you have done to him" (Gen. 27:44-45)
Rebecca was aware that Jacob hated Esau, just as Esau hated Jacob. So she repeated the words "until your brother's anger turns away." Jacob asked her how he would know when Esau was no longer angry at him, and Rebecca replied, "When you yours elf are no longer angry."
"May G-d grant you the dew of heaven... Nations will serve you... (Gen. 27:28, 29)
The first blessing Isaac gave to Jacob was the dew from the heavens. This refers to the special dew G-d will use to bring the dead back to life at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Messianic Era. Isaac also blessed Jacob that ot hers nations would serve him. G-d gave the same promise for the times of the Redemption, as it says in Isaiah, "Kings will be your babysitters and princesses your nursemaids."
Adapted from Vedibarta Bam - By Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
A young girl approached the rabbi of her village. With tears in her eyes she described her situation to the kindhearted rabbi. She was engaged, but her joy in her upcoming wedding was marred by the fact that she was an impoverished orphan, and her intended was also very poor. There was no money for a wedding gown or even a proper wedding feast.
The rabbi turned to her and said, "Don't worry, my child. With G-d's help we'll celebrate a fine wedding." The young girl went home, comforted by the rabbi's optimistic words.
No sooner had she left when the rabbi immediately donned his coat and set off to visit some of the wealthier members of the community to attempt to raise money for the wedding.
His first stop was at the home of a very wealthy and generous man, and the rabbi felt confident that he would find success there. When he arrived, the wealthy man greeted him warmly.
"Peace unto you, Rabbi," he said. "I am greatly honored by your visit. Please allow me to fulfill the mitzva of welcoming guests properly." With that, he offered the rabbi a seat and served him some fruit.
The rabbi pointed to the fruit and said, "While I enjoy the fruit that you have so kindly offered me, I want you to enjoy the fruit that I have brought."
The man looked puzzled, and the rabbi went on to explain:
"As we say in our morning prayers, 'These are the things, the fruits of which a man enjoys in this world and the remainder is held for him in the World to Come: Honoring one's father and mother, giving charity, hospitality, visiting the sick, endowering a bride...'
"You see, my friend, I am collecting money to enable a poor orphaned girl to get married, and I have come to offer you a chance to partake in this great mitzva, hachnasat kalla."
His host smiled at him and replied, "If you will stay and enjoy some refreshments, I will take upon myself the full expense of the wedding, And if your time permits, I would like to tell you a story which will explain why I'm so eager to fulfill the mitzva of hachnasat kalla."
The rabbi was indeed curious to know what motivated his host to make such a generous offer, settled himself comfortably and listened intently to the man's story.
"This happened soon after my own wedding had taken place. It was my first time heading out to the market to seek my fortune. I had a substantial amount of money in my pocket, and I was eager to get involved in the noise and excitement of trading in the marketplace.
"As I was about to get started, I noticed a poor woman standing off to the side, crying quietly. I was greatly affected by her obvious distress, and went over to her to uncover the cause of her sorrow. When I inquired as to what was wrong, she informed me that her daughter was to be married shortly, and she had no money to cover the expenses, and both she and her daughter were heartbroken.
"At that moment, the bundle of money in my pocket began to feel like a heavy burden. I took it out and handed it to the woman without saying a word, and then I left quickly before the woman could even thank me.
"I had no choice but to return home, as I had no money to purchase goods in the marketplace. As I made my way home, a stranger stopped me and greeted me warmly, and then he offered me some diamonds for sale. As my father had been a diamond merchant, I was able to examine the stones competently, and I judged them to be beautiful stones offered at a fair price. I told the stranger that I would be happy to purchase them, but I had no money.
"The stranger didn't seem surprised by that, and he said, 'I knew your father, and I know you to be an honest man. Take them on credit, and when you resell them you can pay me back. You will be able to find me in the study hall.'
"I had no problem selling the stones at a substantial profit. At the end of the day I hurried to the study hall to pay back my debt. I searched the study hall, but the stranger was nowhere to be found. When I arrived home, I calculated my earnings, and they were ten times what I had given that poor woman. I put the money aside, but I have not seen him since. Since then, I have, thank G-d, been very successful, and I have always been aware of the importance of this mitzva. Permit me then, rabbi, to arrange the wedding of the orphaned bride in my home."
With that, the wealthy man handed the rabbi an additional sum of money to pay for the wedding gown and to cover additional expenses of setting up a home.
The wedding was celebrated amidst great joy and festivity, and the young couple was able to set up a true Jewish home which was the pride of the community.
Reprinted from Talks and Tales, published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch
The numerical value of the Hebrew word "shaliach" (emissary) totals 348; add ten, corresponding to the 10 faculties of the soul, and the total is 358, the value of the word "Moshiach." Every Jew is G-d's shaliach and has the task of building a home for G-d in the world. This mission will reach perfection in the Messianic Era... When the shaliach actually harnesses the 10 faculties of his soul toward the fulfillment of his task, he brings the world closer to the Messianic Era which is the ultimate goal of his mission.
(Sefer HaSichot, 5748)