True Conquest | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | Rambam this week
The Rebbe Writes | What's New | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."
No matter how often you've heard that phrase in response to being a "sore loser," no matter how many times you've said it to someone else to soften the disappointment of defeat, somehow it doesn't ring 100% true.
Is it merely "environmental" conditioning that inculcates us with the desire to be on top? Or is there more to the passion for winning, succeeding, conquering?
In the very beginning of the Torah, in the book of Genesis, G-d gives humanity its raison d'etre, "Conquer the earth. Dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that walks the land."
People were put into this world with the express purpose and mission of conquering it. Why, then, are most of us turned off by people who are aggressive, pushy, or domineering? Afterall, these are traits that would seemingly bring one more quickly to the aforesaid goal than being laid back, relaxed, or serene. After all, it would seem that it should come naturally for a person to want to conquer.
Every individual is a miniature world. Thus, Jewish mystical teachings explain that before conquering the world at large -- the earth, the fish, the birds, the beasts -- we must first conquer the world in microcosm, ourselves. A person must master himself first before he can set out to master the world. This is accomplished through the subjugation of the "earthly" and "beastly" in his own nature.
In the Mishna (Ethics, ch. 4), the Sages ask three pointed questions concerning titles that most people would be happy to wear. "Who is wise... who is mighty... who is wealthy." Our Sages answer that a strong person is one who conquers his inclination and they quote Proverbs which teaches that a patient person is better than a strong man and one who masters his spirit is better than one who conquers a city."
G-d created the first person as a single individual to show us clearly that one person -- each and every person -- is potentially capable of "conquering the world."
What is this world conquest? The individual and universal mission. To elevate the whole of nature to the service of humanity. Not humanity driven by greed, selfishness, ego, But humanity infused and illuminated by the Divine Image, by the spark of G-dliness, the soul which is veritably a part of G-d above.
The ultimate purpose of this conquest of self and world is so that the whole of Creation will recognize the Creator. This mission will find its fullest expression in the Messianic Era when, as the Prophets foresaw, the world will be filled with the recognition and knowledge of G-d.
This week's Torah portion, Bo, enumerates the details of the Passover offering. The lamb had to be selected, watched for four days, slaughtered, and then eaten roasted with matzot and bitter herbs.
In his Sefer Hamitzvot, Maimonides counts the mitzva of the Passover offering as two separate commandments: 1) slaughtering the lamb at dusk on the 14th of Nisan, and 2) eating it on the night of the 15th.
These two mitzvot are connected to each other and interdependent. Thus, at first glance, it is not clear why Maimonides counts them as two separate commandments.
The exodus from Egypt was a pivotal event for the Jewish people, as it was then that they were born as a nation. No longer were they slaves to Pharaoh; instead, they were transformed into the servants of G-d.
The purpose of the Passover offering was to prepare the Jews for the exodus. Every detail was significant, for each one readied them in a different way for the great event.
Precisely because it is so fundamental, the mitzva of the Passover offering is reckoned as two separate commandments: the sacrifice itself, and the eating of it. Both particulars were required to prepare for the departure from Egypt and the Jews' transformation into servants of G-d.
In ancient Egypt the lamb was worshipped as a deity. By offering it as a sacrifice, the Jewish people shook off their yoke of subjugation. It took a great deal of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the Jews to publicly take that lamb and kill it in front of their horrified neighbors. But in order to be a true servant of G-d, self-sacrifice is necessary. This was the mitzva of slaughtering the Pesach offering.
The second mitzva was to actually eat the lamb. When a Jew ate the Passover offering, which had been sacrificed with mesirat nefesh, its flesh was transformed into his own. The substance of the offering was digested and became one with his physical body. Self-sacrifice has to be the central theme in the life of the Jew; it must surround him, permeate his being and fill him completely, spilling over into the physical plane of his existence. In this manner, mesirat nefesh became part and parcel of the Jew's being, preparing him for the exodus from Egypt and enabling him to become a "servant of G-d."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 16
Kosher in Austin
by R. Michelle Breyer
The bearded, bespectacled man walks with purpose through the Randalls supermarket at 5311 Balcones Drive like a sleuth -- a culinary Columbo in a black hat.
He makes a beeline for the bakery on the side of the store, intently peering into the glass bakery case at colorful sheet cakes and cookies. He picks through bins of bagels and breads. He steps into the walk-in freezer, looking through the racks. He kneels to inspect every bag of flour, every stick of margarine, every bucket of fruit filling.
Then he flips the switch on the large oven.
Rabbi Yosef Levertov, rabbinic administrator for the Austin Kosher Association, repeats this ritual every week. And he's more than glad to do it. It's the price one pays for having a kosher bakery. And to have a kosher bakery in Austin is a blessing.
When the Orthodox rabbi moved to Austin in the summer of 1984 from Crown Heights in Brooklyn, an area with a kosher butcher shop or bakery on nearly every corner, it was all but impossible for him to find kosher products.
He shipped in frozen meat from New York and frozen chickens from Pennsylvania. His wife, Rachel, baked all their bread.
Two years ago, Randalls opened its kosher bakery. H-E-B followed suit by opening its first kosher store within its supermarket at 7025 Village Center, featuring a kosher meat market, deli and a large assortment of other kosher foods. The store even sells steaming cups of kosher-blend coffee.
"Now it's heaven on earth," Levertov said. Young families, transplanted high-tech workers and other newcomers have caused Austin's Jewish population to swell. It has jumped from 4,500 to 8,000 over the past five years -- a 78 percent increase.
This growth of Austin's Jewish community hasn't gone unnoticed by local grocers, who have logged an increasing number of requests for kosher products.
In their quest to keep their edge in Austin's increasingly competitive market, both Randalls and H-E-B have set aside significant space in some stores for kosher items. Other supermarket chains in the Austin area, including Albertson's, Whole Foods Market and Fiesta, also stock kosher food on their shelves.
"This is a very exciting time for the Jewish community," said Levertov, who is also supervising rabbi of the Kosher Store. "For thousands of years the Jewish people have kept kosher as a holy Divine commandment. Many have given their lives to be able to keep kosher."
Levertov has been instrumental in helping supermarkets set up their kosher programs.
He flew on H-E-B's private jet last summer to Iowa to find a source for meat. He is diligent about checking and authorizing all kosher supplies and briefing new employees on operating procedure that must be followed to make sure the store is truly kosher. Although H-E-B has its own mashgiach [kosher food supervisor], Avraham Bercovice, on the premises, Levertov serves as the supervising rabbi of the Kosher Store.
He takes his weekly job at Randalls seriously. Although he usually arrives at the store Wednesday nights after the store has closed, he sometimes comes in at random.
"I trust them, but they have to know I can come in at any time," he said. "By being here I'm guaranteeing it's kosher."
In addition to assuring that the bakery and all of its ingredients are kosher, it is his responsibility to make sure that the premises are kept kosher. On one occasion, the wrong kind of margarine found itself into a batch of cookies.
"I made them blowtorch the pans on which the bread was baked," he said. "And the bread wasn't sold as kosher."
Every product must meet his strict standards. If it has a "K" and "U" with a circle around it, it's OK, he said. He doesn't accept some of the other kosher symbols.
"My strict standard makes it available to everyone," Levertov said.
Randalls opened its kosher bakery two years ago when the store was remodeled. This meant ordering all new equipment.
H-E-B opened it blue-and-white tiled Kosher Store after receiving numerous customer requests. It was installed in a part of the store previously occupied by a Chinese restaurant.
The store has been a popular addition, with loyal customers flocking to the store for everything from kosher tortilla soup to kosher party trays.
For people like Reuben Kogut, chairman of Reuben's Wines and Spirits and a resident of Austin for more than 40 years, keeping a kosher household has meant ordering frozen meat from out of state. Now, the Koguts can go to an H-E-B or Randalls within blocks of their house in Northwest Austin to buy fresh kosher meats and freshly baked breads.
Reprinted from the Austin American-Statesman
4 Shevat, 5758 Mitzva 232: The Jewish slave
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 21:2) If you buy a Hebrew slave..."
A Jew became a slave for one of two reason:
- If a person stole and no longer has the item nor the money to compensate for the item, the court sold him as a slave and payment went toward paying back the theft.
- If a person was so poor that he sold himself as a slave. This mitzva involves the many laws which the master must abide by concerning a Jewish slave or maidservant.
19th of Sivan, 5735 
..... handed to me your second manuscript, with the few lines which you added reporting on the opinion of Professor......... I appreciate the time and trouble you have given it.
With regard to the first manuscript, I am enclosing a reprint of an article. Apart from the meager data in the footnotes, I have not been able to obtain additional information, in the absence of which I do not wish to state more. However, under the circumstances, I trust that those few lines will serve the purpose.
I take this opportunity to express again my appreciation of your efforts in the past, which will hopefully be consistent also in the future.
P.S. I would be remiss not to mention again my gratification at receiving the reports about Mrs.......'s efforts, and especially the successful affair on behalf of FREE [Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe]. Although I have become "used" to receiving such reports, it is always particularly satisfactory to hear of an additional accomplishment.
7th of Tevet, 5736 
.....First of all, I want to thank you, once again for your effort and attention and love which you put into the work of preparing the manuscript of my late brother of blessed memory, for publication. Although the subject matter is not directly in my field, it is quite obvious to me how much effort and devotion you have given this matter. I want to thank you also in anticipation of your continued efforts in this matter, so as to have it published in the proper manner and medium, since it is in your sphere.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge receipt of Mrs. ......'s letter of the 3rd of Tevet and previous correspondence. I will remember you all in prayer for the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good in accordance with the contents of your letter, above all for good health, physically and spiritually, and to have true Yiddish nachas [Jewish pleasure] from all your children, and to receive it in happy circumstances.
The zechut [merit] of your activities in general, and especially in behalf of those coming in from behind the Iron Curtain in particular, will surely stand you and all yours in good stead. With blessing,
P.S. As I do not know if you have retained a copy of the manuscript, I have requested to send it to you.
2nd of Adar, 5742 
.......This is to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence, including the latest of the 28th of Shevat. May G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all matters about which you wrote.
Special good wishes to Mrs........ on the occasion of your birthday. No doubt you followed the usual customs connected with the birthday (an extra donation for tzedaka [charity] on the day and some special effort in Yiddshkeit [Judaism], as well as reading the particular Psalm in Tehillim [Psalms] corresponding to one's age plus one. E.g., a girl reaching the age of Bat Mitzva reads Psalm 13; on the next birthday -- Psalm 14, and so forth).
Many thanks for the good news your letter contained, especially about your successful activities in general, and your recent visit in Toronto in particular. May G-d grant that you should always have good news to report...
With esteem and blessing,
WELCOME TO WHITE MEADOW LAKE
Rabbi Boruch Cohen has been appointed Director of Education at the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey in White Meadow Lake. He gives classes, Bar Mitzva lessons, edits the Kol Chabad Newsletter and helps organize special events. His wife, Ita Leah, is a teacher in the Chabad Center's afternoon Hebrew school. For more info about Chabad of Northwest New Jersey call (973) 625-1525.
USHERING IN A NEW ERA
Life's Challenges: Opportunity for Growth is the talk Rivka Goldstein will be giving at the annual women's event sponsored by Lubavitch Women of Rockland and N'Shei Chabad of New City. The evening, entitled Jewish Women Ushering in a New Era, will take place on Feb. 1 at the Holiday Inn of Suffern, New York. For reservations call (914) 425-5745 or (914) 634-4136.
In this week's Torah portion, Bo, we read about the mitzva of tefilin. In fact, two of the paragraphs from our portion are among the four paragraphs handwritten on parchment by a scribe and contained within the tefilin boxes. The verses are: "These words must also be a sign on your arm and a reminder between your eyes. G-d's Torah will then be on your tongue. It was with a show of strength that G-d brought you out of Egypt." (Ex. 13:9) and "These words shall also be a sign on your arm an d an insignia between your eyes. All this is because G-d brought us out of Egypt with a show of strength.
"Have you put on tefilin today?" That question has become a standard opening by Chabad-Lubavitch Yeshiva students and volunteers around the world as part of the Rebbe's tefilin campaign.
In 1967, just prior to the Six Day War, the Rebbe initiated the famous Tefilin Campaign.
At that time, the Rebbe stressed that the fulfillment of the mitzva of tefilin, in addition to its essential aspect as a commandment, is especially imperative at this time. It is important not merely for its protective quality as indicated in the Torah, "and they shall fear you" -- the fear that is instilled in the hearts of the enemies of Israel as a result of the observance of this mitzva -- but even more so for the Divine strength which the mitzva of tefilin bestows upon defenders of Israel to vanquish the enemy in the course of battle.
The Rebbe appealed that each and every male of 13 years and older should observe this mitzva. He also urged that by every possible means, everyone should spread and foster the observance of this precept among his fellow Jews, particularly those in the Israeli military defense forces, their relatives and friends.
"Living with the times" this week includes literally living with the mitzva of tefilin. So, have you put on tefilin today (or encouraged your brother, son, husband or friend to do so) ?
And there was a thick darkness in all of Egypt for three days (Exod. 10:22)
The plague of darkness lasted for six days, three days of darkness when no one was able to see anyone else, and "a thick darkness... for three days" which was so dense that the Egyptians were unable to move. All of the other plagues (aside from the death of the first-born which lasted only one day) were seven days long. G-d saved the last day of darkness for when the Egyptians chased after the Jews in the desert. When the Jews travelled at night they were guided by a pillar of fire, but when the Egyptians chased them, G-d punished the Egyptians by causing them to travel in darkness.
And G-d said to Moses and Aaron..."This month shall be for you the head of the months." (Exod. 12:1-2)
The Jewish calendar follows the lunar system. The solar calendar is 365 days, and the lunar calendar is approximately 354 days. To make up for the deficiency, seven years in every 19 year cycle are leap years. Thus, in some years, the lunar year is actually a few days ahead of the solar year. The leap year serves as a reminder that everyone has an opportunity to make up for what he has failed to accomplish in the past. Furthermore, just as the leap year not only makes up for the deficiency, but provides an "advance" on the future, a Jew must also intensify his efforts in his service of G-d and store up additional merits.
And he called for Moses and Aaron at night and he said, "Rise up, go out from among my people." (Exod. 12:31)
When Moses approached Pharaoh after the plague of darkness, Pharaoh angrily said to him, "I am warning you not to see my face anymore, because on the day when you will see my face you will die." Thereafter Moses didn't return to Pharaoh. After the plague of the firstborn Pharaoh summoned Moses but Moses refused to come because Pharaoh had said Moses would die if he saw his face again. Pharaoh, knowing that he needed to see Moses, began to plead, "Now it is night. Since it is dark and hard to see my face, please come speak to me and take the Jewish people out of my country."
Adapted from Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
A prominent Jewish merchant, Reb Yaakov from Vilna, known to be an accomplished Torah scholar, once passed through Mezritch. Having heard of the greatness of the Mezritcher Maggid, Rabbi Dov Ber, Reb Yaakov decided to visit him, although he was not an adherent of the Chasidic movement. Reb Yaakov was eager to engage the Maggid in a learned discussion, and he was not disappointed. But, as Reb Yaakov had no interest in Chasidic philosophy, the subject was not broached.
As Reb Yaakov was about to leave, the Maggid suddenly said: "Remember Yaakov, what our Sages of blessed memory said, that G-d sends His cure to a patient through a particular doctor and a particular medicine. Sometimes the One Above sends His cure not through the medication which the doctor prescribes, but through the doctor himself. As you know, a doctor receives his healing powers by authority of the Divine Torah, as it is written, 'And he shall surely cure him.' Therefore, the doctor has a healing angel at his side, and a very great doctor is accompanied by the chief healing angel, Rafael, himself."
As he traveled back to Vilna, Reb Yaakov thought about this strange parting remark, which seemed to come out of the blue. Reb Yaakov was, thank G-d, in very good health. He had never needed a doctor before, and he hoped he would not have to consult one in the future. He hadn't asked the Maggid for medical advice, so why had the Maggid mentioned doctors? Unable to solve this puzzle, he soon dismissed the entire episode from his mind.
Several weeks later Reb Yaakov returned home and soon fell into his normal routine. After a few days, he awoke feeling quite ill. His condition worsened rapidly and although all the best doctors were called in, each offering a different medication, nothing helped.
Word of his condition spread quickly. His friends and acquaintances were devastated, for Reb Yaakov was a kind and charitable man. Then a ray of hope appeared. The Jews of Vilna heard that the king would be arriving in town, and his personal physician, who was a wayward Jew, would be accompanying him. If only they could persuade the king's doctor to pay a call on their beloved friend, maybe this great doctor could save his life.
The community leaders dispatched a delegation to the king and petitioned him to allow his royal physician to visit Reb Yaakov. The king received them graciously and agreed to their request. The hopes of his family and friends soared when the famous doctor entered the sickroom, but were soon dashed. When the doctor looked at Reb Yaakov he said disdainfully, "Am I G-d that you have brought me here to revive a dead man?"
To everyone's horror, the doctor turned to leave. The distraught family begged him to prescribe some medication. "Nothing can help this man," he replied brusquely, casting a parting glance at the dying patient. But something caught his eye and he turned to look again. A slight bit of color could be seen on the patient's pale face. The doctor quickly took his notepad and scribbled a prescription. "Run to the pharmacy and bring this medication at once!"
Hope sprang again into the hearts of the man's family and friends. The royal physician remained at the man's bedside, his eyes fixed on the sick man. He was amazed to see further signs of improvement. He pulled out his pad and prescribed another medication. But no sooner had he written it out than the patient's eyes began to flicker. The doctor had never seen such a thing in all his experience. Suddenly, the erstwhile dying man sat up in bed and addressed the physician, "I beg you, dear doctor, don't go yet. Stay a while longer, and I'll feel much better. The Angel Rafael must be at your side."
The physician was completely overwhelmed. He stared at the patient in utter disbelief, and although he didn't believe in angels, he could almost believe the patient's words. As if reading the doctor's thoughts, Reb Yaakov began to relate his visit to the Maggid of Mezritch and especially the Maggid's puzzling remark at the end of the visit.
"I can see now, that his remark was completely prophetic and true," Reb Yaakov remarked.
The king's doctor, who had listened intently to the whole episode, sat engrossed in thought. It occurred to him that, great healer though he was, he needed a lot of healing himself -- healing of a spiritual nature.
"I would like to meet this saintly man," he finally said. "When you are fully recovered, I would like you to take me to meet him."
Not very long after, the two of them, Reb Yaakov and the king's physician, traveled to Mezritch -- Reb Yaakov to become a Chasid and the physician to return to his faith.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
A person who can find good in everyone is in the category of Moshiach...
Moshiach will come to the defense of all of Israel, even the wicked. We now stand at an especially propitious time, for we have recently witnessed many miracles and great wonders around the world, and the tzadikim of our generation have given testimony that we are on the threshold of the Redemption.
(Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz)