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Ahhh-choo. G-d bless you.
For the simplest things in life, like a sneeze which might be the precursor to a cold, we invoke G-d's name and verbalize our hope that G-d will bless the person with health, or at least the sense to take some Alka Seltzer and get an early night.
"G-d will surely bless you -- Barech Y'varechecha Hashem." The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters in this Biblical promise add up to 500, the number of the issue of L'Chaim you are reading.
Since its inception nearly ten years ago, L'Chaim has truly been blessed by G-d. What began as an educational out-reach newsletter distributed by the Lubavitcher yeshiva students on their "mitzva routes" each Friday afternoon in the New York Metro area has become an international Jewish publication of repute. Readers, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, receive L'Chaim in print or on-line. And, if the letters we receive from our readers are any proof, they too, feel blessed that they are able to glean and gain from L'Chaim's multi- faceted contents each week.
"G-d will surely bless you" is a promise. But, if G-d is assuring us of His blessings, i.e., good, why is it that we sometimes have difficulty seeing just how bountifully we have been blessed?
The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of "blessings": a blessing which is obviously a blessing and one which we do not perceive at first as a blessing, a "blessing in disguise."
We needn't give an example of the first type of blessing. Just take a moment to think of something good that happened to you today and what pops into your head will be from the "obvious blessing" category.
Now, try to think of something from the "blessing in disguise" genre. Come on, it's not that hard!
The Talmud uses an incident about Rabbi Akiva to teach about a blessing in disguise. On one of Rabbi Akiva's journeys, he had with him a lantern, a donkey, and a rooster. One evening, unable to find lodgings in a small village, he retired in the great outdoors. That night, a wind blew out his lantern. A little later, a lion pounced on his donkey, carrying it away. Soon after that, a wild cat nabbed his rooster and made off with it. How did Rabbi Akiva respond?
"Everything that G-d does is for the best." And, indeed, it was for the best, a blessing in disguise. For that very night, in the little village near the field where Rabbi Akiva was resting, murderous robbers attacked. Had Rabbi Akiva's lantern stayed lit, he would have been not iced. Had his donkey brayed or his rooster crowed, he would have been discovered.
Everything that G-d does is for the best. The trick is to train ourselves, like Rabbi Akiva, to say "it's really a blessing" even before we see just how much of a blessing it is.
Some blessings aren't exposed as quickly as with Rabbi Akiva. Some "blessings" wear their disguises for an awfully long time, even a lifetime. And some blessings take even longer to reveal, like the inherent blessing in the Jewish people's 2,000 year exile. May G-d continue to bless all of us, as He has promised, but may those blessings come to us in a totally manifest manner with the revelation of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption, may it be NOW!
This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, opens with the words "And Judah came near to [Joseph]." The Zohar comments that this encounter was not a simple meeting between individuals, but the symbolic coming together and fusion of two dynasties, that of Judah and of Joseph.
After the death of King Solomon, the Jewish nation split. Rechavam, King Solomon's son (a descendant of Judah), ruled in Judah, whereas Yeravam (of the tribe of Efraim, who was a son of Joseph) ruled the kingdom of Israel. The meeting between Judah and Joseph alludes to the reunification of the Jewish people in the Messianic era.
This theme is further elucidated in this week's Haftorah, in which the Prophet Ezekiel foretells of one king -- Moshiach, of the House of David (from the tribe of Judah) -- who will rule over a united Jewish people. The two "branches" of Judah and Efraim will be joined "one to another into one tree." "I will take the children of Israel from among the nations...and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land...they shall no more be two nations... David My servant shall be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd."
In addition to the literal meaning of the prophecy, however, lies a deeper significance.
Chasidut explains that Joseph is symbolic of Torah study and Judah represents the performance of mitzvot. Our Sages debated as to which is more important, and concluded that at present, the study of Torah which leads to actual deed is greater. Nonetheless, in the Messianic era, deed will be considered superior.
When Moshiach comes the world will be essentially different from the way it is today. Instead of having to pore over our holy books for guidance, the knowledge of G-d will be so obvious that we will not have to study to know what to do! In the same way that an animal does not have to be taught to avoid fire, so too will it be natural to avoid what the Torah prohibits and observe its positive commandments.
The text itself attests to this: The Torah puts Joseph on a higher level than Judah ("Judah came near to him"), whereas the Haftorah, alluding to the Messianic era, describes King David (of the tribe of Judah) as the greatest of all.
In truth, when Moshiach comes, our "deeds" will be superior to today's deed and Torah study put together. Nowadays, no matter how diligently a person learns Torah, it doesn't completely penetrate his inner consciousness. But in the Messianic era, G-dliness will be so open and apparent that observing Torah and mitzvot will be entirely natural. At that time, Joseph (deed) and Judah (Torah study) will be completely united into one entity.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot
An interview with Yehudis Cohen, editor of L'Chaim
Can you tell us some stories about how L'Chaim has affected people's lives?
What trickles down to us most frequently are stories related to us by the yeshiva students who give out L'Chaim in their respective cities each Friday afternoon or by various Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who have L'Chaim available in their Chabad Centers.
They tell us of people who read an issue of L'Chaim, often for the first time, and how an article in that particular issue really "hit the spot." Within a few weeks they were eagerly looking forward to each issue. Soon they began to participate in classes or other Jewish activities. L'Chaim had gotten the ball rolling.
A number of times I've heard from people (recently we printed an article by Jay Litvin on this topic) that they feel the letter from the Rebbe in "The Rebbe Writes" section was the answer for them to a question or problem they were currently dealing with.
A most poignant story is connected with one of the times that we presented the bound volume of L'Chaim to the Rebbe. That particular year we invited all of the people from Tova Press, the company that has been printing L'Chaim since the very first issue, to join us in presenting the book to the Rebbe. Months later, I mentioned to one of the women with whom I had become friendly at Tova Press how I still regretted that a particular employee hadn't been able to join us on that special day. I told her that I had especially had him in mind when we invited everyone to present the book to the Rebbe with us. "Maybe you thought that was why you invited everyone, but it was really so that I could come to the Rebbe," she said. I looked at her quizzically and she continued. "I had suffered some terrible personal losses in the months before and was going through a difficult time. When I passed by the Rebbe, and he smiled at me so beautifully, so gently, like such a loving Zaidy, I felt like a big weight was lifted off of my heart. I have been religious all my life, but beginning at that moment, I felt like a baales teshuva [returnee to Judaism]. Whereas in the past I did mitzvas out of fear of G-d and fear of punishment, I suddenly was filled with a great love of G-d. I was really able to understand and bring into my life the idea of serving G-d with joy."
What's the biggest misconception you've come across concerning L'Chaim?
I'd have to say it's that people think the editor is a man. "Dear Mr. Cohen," is usually the way letters to the editor begin. It's possible that people mistake my name for Yehuda or Yehudi which are men's names. But I think it's more likely that most of our readers are not personally familiar with Chabad-Lubavitch. Their notions of Chabad as a Chasidic movement (part of "patriarchal Judaism") preclude the possibility of a woman holding such a position. But, in truth, women hold key positions in many of the Chabad-Lubavitch organizations and institutions around the world.
Did you ever receive any instructions or blessings from the Rebbe regarding L'Chaim?
In 1991, when we brought the bound volume of the fourth year of L'Chaim to the Rebbe, Rabbi Butman introduced me to the Rebbe as the editor of L'Chaim and the Rebbe said to me, in English, "A double portion of benediction." In Hebrew, this phrase is "kiflayim l'toshia." Over the next few weeks, as I read in a Lubavitcher publication the Rebbe's blessings to people at Sunday Dollars, I saw that "k'flayim l'toshia," was the Rebbe's blessing especially for big projects or institutions. I realized then what an awesome privilege and responsibility it is to be involved with L'Chaim.
What kind of criticism does L'Chaim receive?
Once in awhile readers are troubled by something they've read. We recently received email from someone who took offence at the use of the phrase "good luck" as "luck" was a Greek god.
In general, though, we don't get negative feed-back because (much to the consternation of one of my colleagues) I try to make sure that L'Chaim is always upbeat and positive. I've even nixed stories for "It Happened Once" when they had sad endings. I figure that most people have enough worries, stress and heartache in their lives. I want L'Chaim to be a peaceful island for people, a positive retreat where they can go for a few minutes each week to unwind, feel good about Judaism, grow a little, feel their souls being nourished.
What's in L'Chaim's future?
We had wanted to start a small column (top right corner of the third page) where we would publish short submissions of descriptions of acts of goodness and kindness that friends, neighbors, family, etc. have done.
This relates to the Rebbe's statement that "Moshiach is ready to come now. It is only on our part to do something additional in the realm of goodness and kindness." But, though we publicized it a few months ago, we only got one submission! We're still open to such a column. You can mail them to: Goodness and Kindness, 1408 President Street, Bklyn, NY 11213 or email them to me at: email@example.com
We've had people ask if we have an issue ready to print for when Moshiach finally comes. But I explain that it's impossible to prepare such an issue, as we will perceive everything differently at that time. Whatever we write now, will certainly be passe and obsolete, even if it's written only an instant before. It will be my greatest privilege to work on that issue. Let it be now!
In 1984, the Rebbe initiated a system of daily study of the works of Maimonides which encompass the entire body of Jewish law. This enables every Jew to become familiar with all 613 mitzvot and simultaneously unites all Jews who join in this study schedule. Beginning with this issue we will present a mitzva selected from the study schedule of the week in which this column it is published.
1 Tevet, 5758
Positive Mitzva 208: Having Honest Measurements. This mitzva is derived from Leviticus 19:36:
"Honest balance, honest weights, an honest dry measure, and an honest liquid measure, you shall have."
The Torah commands us to ensure the use of exact measuring units, to make sure we deal honestly with each other.
Motzoei Shabbat Kodesh, of the week of Vayeitzei, 9 Kislev - birthday and yahrzeit of the Mitteler Rebbe [Rabbi Dov Ber, second Chabad Rebbe]
Saturday night of the week of Vayishlach, 10 Kislev - Day of Redemption of the Mitteler Rebbe, 5752 
To the Editorial Staff of "Kfar Chabad" In Our Holy Land, May it Be Rebuilt and Reestablished May G-d Be With You
Peace and Blessing!
I was pleased to be informed that "Kfar Chabad" magazine will be printing its five hundredth issue on the 10th of Kislev, G-d willing. This represents almost twelve years of uninterrupted publication, and testifies to the magazine's far-reaching influence among its readers.
I hereby send my heartfelt wishes and blessings to the editors, writers and readers of this important publication, may they live and be well, that G-d grant them continued success. May they go from strength to strength, and may both the magazine and its content be widely disseminated, that is, Judaism (the Torah and its commandments), and in particular, the wellsprings of Chasidut.
The significance of the number five hundred, as explained by our Sages and as elucidated by the inner light of Chasidut, is well known. And from five hundred may you merit to increase and double to one thousand etc....
All of the above has a special emphasis now, during a leap year, referred to in the Torah as "a complete year" because its months are full (i.e., both Marcheshvan and Kislev have thirty days).
From this we learn (and indeed, it imbues us with strength) that each and every individual must do all in his power whenever it comes to Judaism, Torah and mitzvot.
So too is it with regard to this magazine, whose entire objective is the dissemination of Judaism, Torah and mitzvot, and the wellsprings of Chasidut in particular...
May the blessing and prayer of Moses our Teacher on behalf of all Jews (end of Chapter 90 of Psalms) be fulfilled in you, together with all of Israel: "May the pleasantness of my L-rd, our G-d, be upon us -- establish the work of our hands." May it be G-d's will that the Divine Presence rest upon your handiwork, "and establish the work of our hands."
And may this also refer to the building of the Third Holy Temple, speedily in our day, with the true and complete Redemption by our Righteous Moshiach.
Respectfully and with blessings for success,
- (Back to text) In the footnotes to this letter, the Rebbe quotes from Torah commentaries who describe a connection between the number five hundred and one of G-d's names, as well as numerous references to the size of one heaven and the distance between the heavens as being "as far as a person can travel in five hundred years."
Erev Shabbat Kodesh Mevarchim Chodesh Nisan, Parshat HaChodesh, 5747 
To the Editors of "Di Yiddishe Heim" May G-d be with them, Blessing and greeting:
In answer to the notification that the upcoming issue of "Di Yiddishe Heim" will mark the 100th issue, I extend greetings and blessings to the members of the editorial staff, co-workers, and readers (may they all live many long, good years) of this worthy periodical.
Since one hundred is a significant number, because it is followed by a new computation and a higher level, as is hinted in the Talmud, and in the explanation in the holy book Tanya, about the difference between a person who has studied his chapter (lesson) one hundred times and the one who studied in one hundred and one times.
May the Almighty grant that the future issues of "Di Yiddishe Heim" may grow ever more in quality and in quantity, and be ever more widely distributed and bring the light of Torah, the "pnimiut" [inwardness] of Torah (Chasidut) into ever incr easing numbers of Jewish homes...
As part of the Rebbe's global campaign to encourage Jews to kindle the Chanuka menora, vehicles were transformed into Chanuka-mobiles. Cars, busses, vans, even mobile homes, are rigged up with giant menoras, thus advertising the holiday as they drive about town or even into army bases. Many local Chabad-Lubavitch Centers organized Chanuka - mobile "parades."
WATCH THE VIDEOS
You can see a glimpse of this on the Internet by going to the site: www.chabad.org/holiday/chanukah/
If you you have the "Real Video" plugin on your computer you can see the streaming video on the "Chanukah 97" link.
If you do not have the "Real Video" plugin, but you use Netscape as your browser, you can see the video's by clicking on the "NO PLUGIN" icon. (AOL Users: Some of you might be able to use the "no plugin" - depending on your default browser.)
Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace wants to thank: siteways.com and silliconcty.com for making the "NO PLUGIN" a reality.
The very first issue of L'Chaim, nearly ten years ago, rolled off the press in time to mark the end of the shloshim (thirty days after the passing) of our beloved Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka of righteous memory.
L'Chaim was established upon the Rebbe's request that institutions be founded in the Rebbetzin's name. L'Chaim is an acronym "Lzecher Chaya Mushka."
Since then, L'Chaim has grown from a modest weekly newsletter read by a few thousand New Yorker's to a unique international Jewish educational publication that has filled a much needed void. But, more importantly, L'Chaim is a unifying factor amongst Jews, for it is read and appreciated by Jews from all walks of life, at all levels of Jewish education and commitment, throughout the United States and around the world.
L'Chaim's subscribers hail from nearly every state in the United States. Our international subscribers hail from France, Italy, South Africa, Holland, Israel, England, Peru, Brazil, Hungary, and Australia. Enjoying the electronic version of L'Chaim via the internet are readers in countries as diverse as: Jordon, China, Bosnia, Congo, Poland, Russia, Japan, Czech, Sweden, Germany, Scotland... the list goes on.
We've all heard the saying that nothing of value comes easily. As the publisher of this imminent publication it gives me great pleasure to thank the able staff of L'Chaim for their devotion, dedication and hard work. In five hundred issues they've never missed a deadline!
Recognition goes, as well, to the Lubavitcher students in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, London, Manchester, Johannesburg and Melbourne, who spend their "free time" on Friday afternoons visiting people in their work places, encouraging them to put on tefilin or light Shabbat candles, and leaving them with the much enjoyed and appreciated L'Chaim.
Additional thank you's go to all of the subscribers to Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace who work so hard to print out the electronic version and get it distributed in their respective communities.
To all of you a great big Yasher Koach.
It is my most fervent wish, and surely that of the entire L'Chaim staff and readership, that even before we reach the ten year anniversary of L'Chaim, all Jews will be reunited with each other and Moshiach in the final Redemption.
His soul is bound up with his soul (Gen. 44:30)
Judah was pleading with Joseph not to imprison Benjamin, for it would be devasting to Jacob were Benjamin not to return. In trying to describe to Joseph the close relationship between Jacob and Benjamin, Judah made the above statement. The He brew word for "bound," keshura, has the same numerical value as the word "Torah." Through teaching Benjamin the Torah, Jacob and Benjamin's souls were bound, totally connected.
Joseph said, "I am Joseph, is my father still alive?" The brothers became frightened of him and were unable to answer. (Gen. 45:3)
Judah asked Joseph to have mercy on his elderly father, who might die of grief if Benjamin did not return, and release Benjamin. When Joseph revealed himself, he said, "I am Joseph -- whom you sold twenty two years ago. Is my father still alive ? -- and what of the grief you caused him by not disclosing my whereabouts to him all these years? You plead to me to have mercy on him; where was your mercy?" The brothers couldn't justify this to him.
(HaRav Shmuel Pesach Bogomilsky)
And they said to Pharoah, "We have come to sojourn in the land; for there is no grazing in your servants' flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan." (Gen. 47:4)
Jacobs sons were trying to point out to Pharoah how severe the famine was. In normal times, people eat the fruits and vegetables while the cattle eat the grass. The famine was so terrible that the people were forced to eat the grass, and there was nothing left for the cattle.
From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
In the ancient city of Mainz, there lived a young scholar named Rabbi Shimon Hagadol. He became renowned for his beautiful religious poems, known as piyutim. One day as he was composing a new poem, Elchanan, his little four-year old son, came in and looked at the paper.
"Father, you've written my name in the beginning of this poem!"
"Yes, my son. This verse, 'E-lchanan nachalato' means, 'G-d is gracious unto His heritage.' You see, every Jew has a share in G-d's heritage. If a Jew strays (G-d forbid) from this heritage, from the Jewish way of life, G-d, in His gracious love of His children, helps him to return." A tear appeared in the boy's dark little eyes. "I will never stray from my heritage," he exclaimed.
A few days later, little Elchanan fell ill. His fever rose and he lapsed in and out of consciousness. While his parents wept and prayed for his recovery, their Christian maid, Margaret, also wept, for she loved the bright little boy. She had always harbored the hope that one day she might convert him to Christianity. Now she vowed that if he recovered, she would take him to a monastery where he would grow up as a Christian.
By the time Passover arrived, the child had recovered, and although he was still weak, he managed to join in the family seder and even ask the Four Questions. The following morning, his parents went off to the synagogue, leaving Elchanan with the maid. When they returned several hours later, they were stunned to find that both Elchanan and Margaret were gone. Rabbi Shimon searched for the boy door to door, but no one had seen his precious child; he was lost.
Margaret brought the child to the monastery, but in his weakened state, he caught a chill and became even more ill than before, coming down with a raging fever. With the greatest care, Margaret nursed him back to health, but when he recovered, he had completely lost his memory. When he asked about his parents, he was told that he had been left at the monastery door. Eventually, he stopped asking.
The young boy, now known as Felix, was extraordinarily bright and within a short time, he was sent to Rome where he continually rose in the ranks of the Church, becoming a bishop, then a cardinal. When Pope Gregory VII died, Cardinal Felix was elected pope, choosing the name Victor III.
One day, Pope Victor received a petition from the Rabbi of Mainz, pleading for an audience. The Jewish community of Mainz was threatened by a cruel decree put in place by the local anti-Semitic clergy and the rabbi hoped for some justice from the pope. Pope Victor agreed to the audience, and the Rabbi of Mainz arrived. The rabbi recounted the plight of the community, and the pope was greatly moved by his account and agreed to annul the decree. The pope was attracted by the rabbi's stately appearance and dark, penetrating eyes. When the meeting ended, the pope asked the rabbi to return the following day to discuss a religious matter.
The next day, the old Rabbi of Mainz arrived and the pope received him warmly. They engaged in a lively and wide-ranging discussion. When the pope heard that the rabbi had a special interest in composing religious poetry, he asked to see some examples of it. But as the rabbi was about to hand the pope some manuscripts, a tear unexpectedly rolled down the old rabbi's face. "Excuse me, Your Excellency, but these poems always bring up an old sorrow. You see, I once composed a poem in honor of my beloved son who was kidnapped from us when he was only four years old. I carry it with me always."
The pope was deeply touched and asked, "May I see that poem?"
The rabbi handed him a parchment, which the pope carefully unfolded. As he began to read the words, "G-d is gracious unto His heritage," he paled.
"Father, dear father!" he cried as he embraced the old rabbi.
"My son!?" Rabbi Shimon whispered, but then he covered his face with his hands and said, "How can I call you 'son' -- you are no longer my son!"
"Oh no, father," did you not explain to me that G-d is always there to accept his wayward children who stray?"
"Yes, I remember. But do you recall your words to me that day?"
"Father, I was very ill and lost my memory. But now, the shock of being reunited with you has brought it all back to me. Father, I want to return to you!"
Several days later the cardinals assembled to await the pope's arrival at mass, but he never came.
There was much speculation about what could have happened to the Pope. Some said that he had ascended to Heaven. Others suggested that he had adopted a life of hardship and poverty to atone for the sins of Christians. But no one could have imagined that he had forsaken a life of wealth and power to return to his downtrodden and persecuted Jewish brethren.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
From a mystical dimension, the month of Tevet relates to the Era of the Redemption. Our Sages describe Tevet as "the month when the soul derives pleasure from the body."
Chasidic thought explains that in Tevet, G-d's essence derives pleasure from the service of the Jewish people within the realm of physical reality. This is the level of service which in a full sense will be realized in the Era of the Redemption, at which time, "the soul will derive vitality from the body."
(The Rebbe, 10 Tevet, 5752)