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"Wait a minute," you might be thinking as you scratch your head and scrunch your eyebrows. "Isn't it a little late for Rosh Hashana greetings? And it's certainly a little early for uhh, Tu B'Shvat, the New Year for Trees, right?"
If this is what you were thinking, then you're on the mark. Except that there is another "New Year" of sorts, one that is celebrated on the 19th of Kislev (December 18th this year). It is known among Chasidim as the Rosh Hashana of Chasidut. Chasidim greet each other with a "Happy New Year" and other appropriate salutations.
On the 19th of Kislev, 199 years ago, the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was released from prison. He had been incarcerated for 53 days on trumped up charges of anti-government activities. But, in fact, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was imprisoned because he was teaching Chasidut and making it available to all Jews.
Chasidut is the inner dimension of the Torah. Study of Chasidut helps one understand the inner secrets and mysteries of G-d's creation, our G-dly souls, our purpose here in this world, how to connect to the Divine.
Today, some say that space stations like Mir, books about angels and celestial prophecies, "honesty" in relationships, are helping us unravel some of the mysteries of creation. But there are still some very practical mysteries left to penetrate.
One is the mystery of how Jewish children living in free countries throughout the world, continue to grow up with little or no Jewish education!
Jewish children today aren't living in Czarist Russia, nor Communist Russia. And most of the population of Jewish kids today aren't living in post-Communist C.I.S. either. (At least in the C.I.S. one can attribute a lack of Jewish education to the fact that freedom of religion has only been around for a little over a decade).
What can we do about this important question? Need we chalk it up to one of life's mysteries?
A well-known saying among Chasidim is that a Chasidic farbrengen (a warm, comradely gathering arranged to inspire and prod its participants) can accomplish even more than Malach Michael -- the guardian angel Michael.
This year, in honor of the 19th of Kislev, make a different kind of New Year's party. Arrange a "Chasidic farbrengen." Break out the bubbly and discuss solutions to vitally important problems like the lack of enthusiasm and Jewish pride in many of our Jewish youth. Try to figure our the mystery of how to get Jewish kids the Jewish education they need and deserve. Let's all make some "New Year" resolutions, and stick to them.
This week's Torah portion is Vayishlach. The 19th of the month of Kislev, which occurs this coming week, is the date on which Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, was liberated from prison.
Known among Chasidim as the Festival of Liberation, it always falls out in close proximity to the week when Vayishlach is read. As "nothing happens by chance," we must conclude that the Festival of Liberation is alluded to in Vayishlach.
The main idea of the 19th of Kislev is spreading the wellsprings of Chasidut outward. The "wellsprings," the innermost part of Torah, must not remain at their source, but must flow "outward" and inundate even the lowest parts of the earth. Furthermore, not only must the waters of Chasidut be carried everywhere, but the wellsprings themselves must be conveyed to every single Jew, no matter where he/she is.
The 19th of Kislev teaches us the necessity of bringing the life- giving waters of Torah, and particularly the innerpart of Torah as expounded in Chasidut, to every Jew.
The name of this week's portion, "Vayishlach," means "And he sent."
A shliach, an emissary (from the same root as vayishlach), is a person who is dispatched in the sender's stead; moreover, "a person's emissary is just like him." In other words, when an emissary is sent to a certain place to carry out his mission, it is the same as if the sender himself has made the journey.
This concept of "spreading the wellsprings outward" is expressed in the word "vayishlach," the name of our portion. The wellsprings must not stay at their source, but must be sent ever outward to reach as many people as possible.
The concept of Vayishlach exists in every age and in every generation.
G-d "sends" the soul down from the celestial spheres to be enclothed within a corporeal body, to enable the person to serve G-d within the context of the physical world. This shlichut (mission) began with Adam and Chava (Eve), and is continued by their descendants.
The phenomenon of sending emissaries has existed throughout the generations. We find that many Torah giants sent shluchim to carry out various holy missions.
The concept of shlichut was further emphasized by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidut and his spiritual "descendants," especially Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his successors; they, in turn, entrusted every Jew with the holy mission of "spreading the wellsprings outward."
In fact, the Previous Rebbe declared that shlichut is the unique mitzva of our generation. Every Jew must be a shliach to spread the wellsprings of Torah and Judaism wherever he or she goes. This is the unique role of our generation.
Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 25
The Token Jew
by Dr. Ilsa J. Bick
When I was eight, I was the only Jew in my school. At least that's the way it seemed to me; whether or not this or any other memory is true matters very little in the physics of a child's attributions of cause and effect. A child's world is circumscribed, her identity comprised in small part by ill-defined longings and a nebulous, egocentric grandiosity but more completely of saturation with parental expectations, teachers' restrictions, and friends' sometimes genial, oft-times cruel exhortations. Above all, a child longs to fit in, or, more importantly, not to be very different.
Being Jewish was different. Every Christmas was a time when I was forcibly reminded of that because, as the only Jew in my school, I was always trotted before an assembly of parents and teachers for the annual holiday program to sing one or two Chanuka songs before returning to my seat in the chorus. I, the token Jew, always lit a token menora and recited a token blessing in a language neither I nor anyone else in the audience understood.
My family lived in a small town in the south, and everyone else was Christian. My best friend lived down the block. She was German, and she had a heavy accent. Maybe we became friends because we were both so different, not only from one another but from everyone else.
Not only was I different, I was unique. I was the child of a Holocaust survivor. To me, Jewishness was synonymous with the Holocaust, my very existence a victory over Nazism, my life a curious rebuttal of the most inexplicable sort of death. It would be easy to lay responsibility for this at my father's door; he was, after all, the survivor. But he didn't regale me with tales of Nazi atrocities, although it might have helped if he had.
What I had instead was absence. Silence. I had no grandparents or real family on his side, no stories within which my place in an historical chain could be linked, for my father never spoke about his own past and was resistant to my clumsy adolescent attempts to get at some version of a truth.
The tension between hiding difference and extolling it formed our family's ethos. The emphasis in our family was to achieve, to be better than those around us, to value learning. This wasn't arrogance so much as a more sophisticated version of a survivalist mentality. So I worked hard in school, I got good grades, and I was universally recognized as one smart cookie, and, of course, I was Jewish. You might say that it was almost a given that my intelligence was a direct reflection of my Jewishness, perhaps even its raison d'etre. Nevertheless, our family led a curiously schismed existence.
While I was told to be so very different, we were, for most of the year, "just like" anyone else. We blended. We went to synagogue rarely. We didn't keep kosher. My mother knew no Hebrew. But I was Jewish because I stood alongside a culture; Jewishness leaked into the semi-permeable membrane cocooning my consciousness by osmosis, by virtue of who I was -- or more to the point, what my father had been and it never occurred to me that anything more like effort or systematized learning might be involved, necessary, or even desirable.
I called myself Jewish, and what was more, I wasn't "just" a Jew. I was a child of a survivor. Judaism per se had nothing to do with it. My identity hinged upon a single historical event.
Characteristically, one sees oneself best in the eyes of one's children, and it was only when I had children of my own and saw that they engaged in the same meaningless rites divorced from their history and asking of me questions to which I didn't know the answers did I realize that I had to go back to school and decide if that was all there was to Judaism. Osmosis was no longer sufficient.
Not an easy task, nor one I approached without a fair degree of ambivalence and skepticism. Most American Jews cease their formal Jewish education at age 13; ironically, they become "adults," forever encumbered with an adolescent's knowledge. For most, Jewishness is detachable, something into which one can shrug, like a tight coat. And I was saddled with not enough knowledge and just enough accumulated arrogance to believe that because I had excelled in my profession and my secular studies, I could easily master an arcane, antiquated religion simply by virtue of osmosis.
In keeping with my more general themes of things hidden and things different, I chose the Internet as my forum. The Internet was attractive. I could click in, click out; I could "lurk;" I could venture nothing, absorb what I chose, expel the rest. And, of course, a smart cookie like me could get it all without the need to engage in discussion.
The transformation hasn't been revelatory. I haven't been hit by a blinding light, dissolved into hysterical tears, or undergone some great catharsis. I argue regularly with my rabbi. I am also delighted to report that I'm not the only Jew in school, virtual or otherwise. There's a very real community of Jewish souls on the Internet, all hungry to learn more about who we are. A click of the mouse brings me to interactive samples of Talmud or virtual schools devoted to Torah study, mysticism, Jewish history, and Jewish philosophy.
I correspond regularly with a Chasid I've never met, and through him and his organization, Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace (www.chabad.org), I've rediscovered my difference in a new way. What's more important is that I've discovered what I don't know, and more to the point, I refuse now to be defined as the product only of a traumatic event. And I've learned that one can't be Jewish by osmosis.
Being Jewish takes effort, as much as any secular study, and maybe more because the balance between the two can be tricky. Being Jewish isn't a barrier to be breached; it's part of me and central to my identity, as inextricable and indivisible as my eye color, my height, my general appearance, and the way I want others to view me. In particular, I want this difference to be manifest in the way in which I treat myself and other people, and I want this difference to be a source of pride for me and my children.
If I turn a critical eye to the juxtaposition of those things I remember from being eight -- to that tiny menora, to my lone voice, to those staring eyes -- I discover in that solitary Jewish child the internal dialectic not only of difference and the perils of being different but of the need to make sense of these disparate pieces of history, to push past a collective, systematized, ritualistic trauma.
History, not a Holocaust, makes identity.
A person can't know where she's going until she understands where she's been, and a Jew can't know her Jewishness without reaching beyond the nexus of the Holocaust to the thousands of years of history, tradition, and culture which came before and which, taken in sum, are distilled into the laws of kashrut, the injunctions to one's fellow man, the forms of observance and study, and the concrete manifestations of that menora, that language, those songs.
Sometimes I wish I were eight again, not because I want to go back into hiding or let my Jewishness leak in and out in dribs and drabs, but because I think now that my songs would sound that much sweeter, my voice be that much stronger, and those tiny candles burn ever brighter.
Ilsa J. Bick, MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist practicing in Fairfax, VA.
Keep your tzedaka box in a visible place
Even on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when the charity box may not be touched, its visible presence in the house serves as a source of education and inspiration (especially for the children) as to the greatness of charity about which we are taught, "Israel will be redeemed only through tzedaka."
You don't like "clutter?" Get a tzedaka box that is specially designed to be attached to the wall and hang it in your home. You'll be fulfilling an additional directive of the Rebbe, to make acts of kindness permanent fixtures in your home.
14th of Kislev, 5717  Blessing and Greeting:
I am pleased to receive periodic reports of the activities of the Women's Group for the strengthening of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in your community. As in all things, where the sign of life is to be found in growth and development, I trust that your group is likewise growing, both in membership and in the scope of work.
Approaching the historic Liberation Day of the Founder of Chabad (Yud Tes -- 19 -- Kislev), it is well to bear in mind that the lives of our great and saintly rabbis of each generation are "sign-posts" guiding us in our own lives. While we cannot attain their lofty heights, we can nevertheless emulate them by trying to do our very best, as they did theirs.
The great and saintly founder of Chabad exemplified the three loves which are the foundation of our Jewish way of life: ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew), ahavat HaTorah (love of the Torah), ahavat Hashem (love of G-d). He showed us how all three are so interlocked as to form one harmonious whole.
For from the love of G-d must necessarily follow love of the Torah which He has given us, as well as love of fellow Jews who are His children. There can be no true love for a fellow Jew, nor for a fellow man in general, if it is not derived from love of G-d and the loving fulfillment of His laws and precepts in the Torah.
Scientific and technological progress will not, in themselves, generate even basic love for humanity, as has been amply demonstrated in our own generation, when precisely the nation that boasted of the highest degree of scientific and technical attainment showed itself to be the most inhuman and depraved nation, using such "progress" for the perfection of implements of destruction and wholesale murder.
Only real faith in the Creator and Master of the world, expressed in daily living through the fulfillment of His precepts, can qualify a human being to become a member of the human society and enable one to contribute, constructively and in the fullest measure, to the welfare of one's environment and society as a whole.
The "Alter Rebbe," the founder of Chabad, of whose inspiration we partake on Yud Tes Kislev, not only showed us how to live a useful and harmonious life, but he has placed within the reach of every Jew the greatest spiritual treasures of our sacred heritage, from some of the profoundest thoughts of the Torah to their implementation in the simplest details of our daily life, thus purifying our whole being in thought, word, and most important of all, deed.
The special privileges and responsibilities of the Jewish woman are obvious, since it is the Jewish housewife that determines the general atmosphere of the Jewish home and its very character to a substantial degree, and it is the Jewish woman who also largely determines the upbringing of the children, not only in childhood but in adolescence as well.
I am sure that you are particularly conscious of them, since you are, as yet, the few out of many in your community, who are actively aware of them.
Please convey to every one of the entire group my prayerful wishes for the success of each one of you in the work to strengthen Yiddishkeit in your community; to illuminate and vitalize your homes with light and warmth of chasidut, to make every home into what our sages called a "Beit Mikdosh Me'at" -- a sanctuary and abode for the Divine Presence, a model and inspiration for the entire community.
With blessing for the material and spiritual welfare of every one of you and your families,
Visit the "Festival of Light" Chanukah Celebration on the Internet: festival.chabad.org
This Shabbat is the wedding anniversary of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.
The Rebbe has spoken many times about the sanctity of a Jewish marriage and the importance of shalom bayit, which refers to a harmonious relationship between husband and wife. In our morning prayers, we say that there are certain things of which one reaps the benefits in this world and the remainder is left for him in the world to come.
One of those mitzvot is bringing peace between a husband and wife. There are hundreds of letters from the Rebbe in response to questions about general or very particular problems in the area of shalom bayit.
(The Rebbe's advice will be beneficial not only in marriage but in other interpersonal relationships as well.)
An excerpt from one such letter (freely translated) reads:
"It is certain that every person can approach and influence another person in this matter, when proper thought is put into it and when one searches for the appropriate method that suits this particular person... If the occupation of the above-mentioned couple permits, it is sensible to say that a trip for several weeks of vacation, spent together in a manner of a second 'honeymoon' would rectify the entire situation."
In another response, the Rebbe advises:
"It is understood according to the ruling of our Rabbis of blessed memory, how great is peace between a man and his wife; you must put as much effort into this as possible... it is emphasized in the teachings of Chasidut and specifically in the well-known talk of my father-in-law, that a person is created with a right eye and a left eye. The right eye teaches that one must always look at another Jew with a good eye, to see what is best and most pleasant in him, etc. Being that we have been so commanded in our Torah, a Torah of life, certainly we have been given the capacity and the possibility to fulfill the command, and there is nothing that stands in the way of the will."
May we imminently begin that era when there will only be peace, peace in the world at large, peace in our communities, peace within our families, with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
I have sojourned with Laban and lingered until now. And I have oxen, and donkeys and flocks, and men-servants and maidservants, and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes (Gen. 32:5-6)
Jacob thought that Esau might ask his messengers, "If Jacob is such a good brother, why hasn't he contacted me until now?" Jacob told them that they should reply that he "lingered until now" and didn't come to meet Esau earlier because he was an impoverished shepherd who worked for Laban, and he didn't want to distress his brother by revealing his indigent status. However, now that he was arriving with "oxen and donkeys, etc..." he is sure his brother Esau would be happy for him.
The Hebrew word for "donkeys" is actually written in the singular form in this verse. Jacob's donkey is the same donkey upon which Moshiach will ride. He will arrive in a humble, modest way, overcoming the nations of the world quietly just as Jacob did to Esau.
(Bereishit Raba, Zacharia, Metzudot David)
Lest he come and strike me down, mother and children (Gen. 32:12)
The word "mother" in this verse is singular, even though Jacob has four wives. Many people assumed that since Laban had two daughters and his sister Rebecca had two sons, the sons would marry the daughters; Esau, being the eldest, would marry the eldest sister Leah. For many years Leah cried and pleaded to G-d that she not be forced to marry the wicked Esau, and G-d accepted her plea. Jacob was worried that Esau would hold a particular grudge against Leah for not wanting to marry him and would smite her. Thus, he did not want to emphasize that he had more than one wife.
(Be'er Mayim Chayim)
And he took from what came to his hand...a present for Esau his brother (Gen. 32:14)
The words "what came to his hand" seem unnecessary. When Jacob began to prepare the animals as gifts for his brother, the animals were reluctant to be given to Esau, an idol-worshipper. Jacob had to take them with his hand and persuade them to go.
Adapted from Vedibarta Bam - by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
When the government authorities came to the house of Rabbi Shneur Zalman (the Alter Rebbe), founder of Chabad Chasidut, to arrest him for the first time, he slipped out the back door and went deep in the fields, thus temporarily avoiding arrest. When the police did not find him at home, they left. A short while later, the Alter Rebbe returned home.
Reb Shmuel Munkes considered the situation and decided that he must speak with the Alter Rebbe. He knocked on the door of the Alter Rebbe's room and identified himself. The Alter Rebbe allowed him in and he asked Reb Shmuel if he was aware of the seriousness of the situation. Reb Shmuel began relating the following story:
Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Horodok had a Jewish wagon-driver whom he frequently employed. At one point, however, Rebbe Menachem Mendel did not travel for many months. The wagon-driver and his family suffered from this lack of income. Finally, the wagon driver sold his horse and carriage and bought a dairy cow with the money. With the proceeds from the sale of the milk, the former wagon-driver was able to eke out a living.
Time passed and Rebbe Menachem Mendel suddenly called the man. "I would like you to take me on a journey," he requested.
"I'm truly sorry, Rebbe," the man explained, "but I sold my horse and carriage and have bought a milking cow in order to provide for my family."
"Sell your cow and purchase a horse and carriage," Rebbe Menachem Mendel instructed him. "I need to set out as soon as possible."
Without any hesitation, the man did as the Rebbe requested. As they traveled, the Rebbe pressed the driver, "I am in a hurry, let us go faster."
The driver whipped the horses and the carriage sped onwards. Soon, they were going downhill very quickly, with the driver barely able to control the galloping horses. To his horror, he saw they were heading straight toward a palatial house at the bottom of the hill. His efforts to slow the horses were unsuccessful and the carriage went right through the yard and stopped only after it broke a window of the house.
The poritz who owned the mansion was enraged and stormed out toward the carriage, pointing his rifle at the driver. "You did this!" he shouted.
"No, no! Not me!" cried the terrified man. "It's not my fault, but his!" he said, pointing to Rebbe Menachem Mendel who was sitting behind him meditating, oblivious to the entire incident.
The poritz aimed his rifle at the Rebbe. As he was about to fire, he suddenly froze, unable to move a limb in his body. The other members of the household had also come running outside. When they saw the poritz paralyzed, they begged the Rebbe for forgiveness and asked him to remove his curse.
"If he will promise never to harm a Jew, he will be cured," answered the Rebbe.
The poritz indicated his consent by nodding his head slightly, and his ability to move was restored. Later, as they continued their journey, Rebbe Menachem Mendel turned to the driver and asked, "How could you do this! Why did you put the blame on me? The poritz almost killed me!"
"Rebbe," replied the driver in all sincerity and with utmost respect, "when you didn't travel for months, I accepted it. Then, when you instructed me to sell my cow, I immediately did so. Though my family was left without an income, I trusted that you were a Rebbe and had reasons for making the request. When you told me to go more quickly I did so, though no wagon-driver allows his horses to run downhill.
"So, when the poritz came out, I figured, if you are truly a Rebbe, he will not be able to harm you. And if you are not, then you would have deserved everything you would have gotten. For, how could you have left an entire family going hungry for bread?"
Concluding his story, Reb Shmuel said to the Alter Rebbe, "If you are a Rebbe, you have nothing to fear by being arrested. If you are not, what right did you have to deprive thousands of Chassidim from enjoying the pleasures of this world?!"
Reprinted from Early Chasidic Personalities by Rabbi Sholom Ber Avtzon
We are commanded to await Moshiach just as a person anxiously awaits an inevitable event. This idea is affirmed by the verse in Isaiah, "The grass dries out, and the blossoms wither, but the word of our L-rd is eternal."
(The Chofetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)