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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

December 4, 1998 - 15 Kislev, 5759

546: Vayishlach

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  545: Vayetzei547: Vayeshev  

You Are Here! Or Are You?  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

You Are Here! Or Are You?

The question posed decades ago, "It's ten p.m., do you know where your children are?" would bring looks of amusement from parents and disgust from most children today. Yet, a similar question was directed to you-"Do you know where you are?" you would likely suspect that the questioner was a little strange.

Aside from visits to malls, zoos, airports or amusement parks when we often have to refer to maps to find out where we are, we generally know where we are.

Or do we?

The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was imprisoned on trumped up charges of anti-government activities. His release from prison is celebrated on the 19th of Kislev (Dec. 8 this year). During his imprisonment, one of the Czar's officers - having heard of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's keen intellect and outstanding genius in all areas of life - engaged him in a conversation.

The officer had an unsolved question concerning a passage in the Bible. "It says that after he sinned by eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam 'hid.' When G-d wanted to speak with Adam, He asked him, 'Where are you?' Didn't G-d know where Adam was?" asked the officer.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, "The Bible is eternal and its message is for all times. G-d was inquiring of Adam, and of all his descendants for all time, "Where are you? Where do you stand in the fulfillment of your life's mission? How much have you accomplished today and what do you intend to accomplish tomorrow that will help you fulfill the special task with which you have been entrusted?"

The question "Where are you?" is asked every day of each one of us. Like the question, "Who are you?" the answer must come from a place that goes beyond names and titles and positions and affiliations and job descriptions. To be able to properly respond, our answer has to come from our very essence. For G-d does not direct the question to Adam or Eve, to Michael or Jennifer. He directs it to you: "Where are you?"

An important start in being able to answer this question is to understand who "you" are. The Chasidic teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman - the dissemination of which was the true cause for his imprisonment - explain that you are comprised of a G-dly soul and a body. Torah, primarily as elucidated by Chasidic teachings, can help us fully understand these two components of ourselves. Together with that understanding comes the ability to begin to answer the age-old and ageless question, "Where are you?"

The New Year of Chasidut commences on the 19th of Kislev. Make a New Year's resolution that you will never regret. Join a Torah class illuminated by Chasidic teachings.

Then you'll find out where you really are.

Living with the Rebbe

As we read in this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, the sons of Jacob found idols among the spoils of their encounter with Shechem. But Jacob told his children to get rid of them. "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and cleanse yourselves," he instructed them. This verse is cited by Maimonides as an allusion to our Sages' decree that idol worship defiles an individual.

At first glance, the very concept of idol worship defies comprehension. How could anything that negates G-d's absolute unity and dominion over His creation even exist? Indeed, this same question was asked of the Seventy Elders by the Greek King Ptolemy, to which they replied that G-d needn't destroy His world "just because there are fools" who worship the sun and planets.

But why did G-d create the world in such a way as to give man the option of worshipping idols? Why didn't He create a universe in which it is patently obvious that He and He alone is in charge?

The answer lies in the above-cited verse, "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and cleanse yourselves." The only reason G-d allows for the possibility of idolatry is for Jews to refute it. In other words, G-d wants the Jewish people to demonstrate to the entire world that idolatry has no meaning.

The prohibition against idol worship is essentially different from all other prohibitions in the Torah, as idolatry does not really exist. It is forbidden to eat non-kosher food or chametz on Passover; the non-kosher food and chametz are there, but the Torah forbids us to eat them or derive benefit from them. Idolatry, by contrast, is only an illusion. It is simply not possible for anything other than G-d to control or influence reality. A person who serves idols worships a fallacy; his thinking is deluded and false. But G-d doesn't want this to be imposed from Above. He wants man to discover it for himself, and to prove that idolatry has no true existence.

On a deeper level, not only doesn't idolatry have an independent existence, but nothing can exist independent of G-d. Seen in this light, all of creation is part and parcel of His unity, as the concept of "otherness" doesn't truly exist. The function of the Jewish people is to reveal this concept to the world at large, through the study of Torah and performance of mitzvot.

This recognition should serve to encourage us in our Divine service. A person may sometimes encounter difficulties and obstacles that seem to require a superhuman effort to overcome. Not so, the Torah reminds us; they are only an illusion. G-d is the only true existence in the world. All that is necessary is that we "put away" the "strange gods" among us, whereupon the underlying G-dly truth is revealed.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 30

A Slice of Life

Shabbat: Little by Little

by Cheryl Rhodes

It all started with lighting Shabbat candles. When a friend suggested that I light candles on Friday night, I told her that I didn't know how. Although I remember my mother lighting candles, she had never taught me. About a week later, a small package arrived in the mail. It contained two brass candlesticks, several short white candles and a prayer, written in English and in phonetic Hebrew. When I called to thank my friend for the gift, she told me, "Now you have no excuse."

I lit two candles on Friday night when I thought of it, which usually was as sunset approached, sometimes after sunset. I vaguely knew that candle lighting was some time around sunset. We lived in a seaside community and the town newspaper listed the high and low tides and sunrise and sunset each week, and I posted the information on the refrigerator. When I used up my initial supply of "short white candles," I bought tapers from a gift shop until I found out where to buy "real" Shabbat candles.

As time went on, I learned about the laws and customs concerning lighting candles for Shabbat, including that candle lighting time is 18 minutes before sunset and they must not be lit after the sun goes down. I learned where to place the candles and what to do before and after the candle are lit. It took me many years to put it all together in the right sequence.

Intuitively, I knew that G-d forgave the awkward and haphazard way I initially approached this mitzva, for each step I took brought me closer to Him. Perhaps He was amused to find one of His daughters so ignorant in our enlightened, information age.

Like a true metamorphosis, change occurred slowly. First, the candles came out on Friday night and were set on my kitchen table. I read the blessing for candle lighting phonetically, from the sheet my friend sent me. (I didn't think I'd ever be able to say the blessing by heart, without reading from that piece of paper.)

It occurred to me one week that it just wasn't right to place the candlesticks on a bare table, so I began to cover the table first. Using one of the lovely damask tablecloths I had inherited from my grandmother seemed appropriate. As long as there was a cloth and candles, why not have a nice family meal? The children enjoyed "eating by candlelight" and having a fancy dinner where we were the guests. One winter, I added the ancient tradition of baking challah; I enjoy baking bread and the aroma of fresh baked challah is so wonderful. How about some wine to complement the setting of food, tablecloth and candles? Later came a special cup for the wine, a meal and special songs to add to the festivity of the evening. While these changes evolved very slowly, one day I realized that I was "bringing in Shabbos" exactly the way Jewish women have for centuries!

During this time I was reading and studying on my own. Without a teacher, my only driving force was a strong desire to learn and the basic understanding that everything about Shabbat is supposed to be special. My hunger for experience was exceeded only by my thirst for knowledge. Some might have called me obsessed. (I remember driving two hours each way to the closest Judaica shop to buy a "real" kiddush cup!)

I was growing in my observance. The external changes in my home reflected the inner awakening of my neshama, my G-dly soul. I was beginning to understand the mystical, beautiful traditions of Shabbat, which is central to Jewish life.

Early in the week I start to plan for Shabbat-what foods to serve, with whom we will share the time, which clothes need to be cleaned, and so on. By Friday afternoon, I have already completed most of the preparation and begin to "wind down" in anticipation of the transition from the mundane to the sacred. To make the 25 plus hours of Shabbat special and distinctly different from the rest of the week, many routine activities are prohibited. Rather than being a constraint, I find it actually quite liberating. The unopened mail is piled high; the answering machine light beeps, bills and messages await our return. In exchange, we are free to study, question and wonder. Free to delve into the deeper meaning of Torah and imagine how the world will be when Moshiach is revealed.

My brass candlesticks have been replaced with silver. The original ones my friend sent me are now used by my daughters who, like their mother, are moving forward and upward with confidence, closer to our mission in life: to bring more light into the world. I can't help thinking that G-d is pleased by our efforts and progress.

The power and ultimate purpose of Shabbat is best described by our Sages: "If the whole of Jewry were to observe but two Sabbaths according to Jewish Law, they would at once be redeemed." May our efforts to bring light into the world move us closer to the time when every day will be Shabbat.

Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter

What's New


Days of Destiny: The Jewish Year under a Chasidic Microscope, is alert, instructive and concise. As the year's red-letter days appear in turn, this guide points out to the reader-with all the luminous depth that Chasidut uncovers-exactly what underlies a Jew's praying, fasting or dancing. Adapted and translated from the works of the Rebbe by Yosef Loebenstein and published by Sichos in English.


"You don't have to be religious to appreciate the insights of Keeping In Touch" says Senator Joseph Lieberman concerning this newest release from Sichos In English. Keeping In Touch is compiled from the bi-weekly In Touch fax-service which communicates a message iinspired by the works of the Rebbe, focusing on the weekly Torah readings and the Jewish holidays. To receive this free service either call 718-363-1619 or send a fax to 718-953-9720.

The Rebbe Writes

15th of Cheshvan, 5733 [1972]

To the Participants in the

Third Anniversary Dinner of the

Friends of Lubavitch Foundation

Glasgow, Scotland

I was pleased to be informed of your forthcoming Dinner celebration on the 20th of Kislev. It is significant that the event will take place on the day following Yud Tes [19th of] Kislev, the historic anniversary of the release and vindication of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], founder of Chabad. Moreover, the 19th of Kislev will this year also mark the 200th yahrtzeit anniversary of the illustrious Maggid of Mezeritch [Rabbi Dov Ber, disciple and successor of the Baal Shem Tov], whose disciple and successor the Alter Rebbe was.

Anniversaries in Jewish life are observed for the purpose of their instructive significance, so that each and every one of us can learn from and be inspired by the life and work of our great leaders of the past, and translate this inspiration into actual deeds in our daily life and conduct.

The two great luminaries, the master and his disciple and successor, led consecrated lives, dedicated to the material and spiritual betterment of Jews and Judaism. Their selfless dedication knew no bounds. Furthermore, they set out from the beginning to involve the masses, for their love of a fellow Jew embraced all Jews. They laid particular stress on the education of the young, both the young in years as well as the young in Jewish knowledge and experience, and instilled this spirit in all their numerous followers.

The same spirit of love, responsibility, and dedication animates all those who are associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch educational activities in the present day, reaching out to our fellow Jews everywhere.

The Jewish community of Glasgow, with a fine tradition of its own, is fortunate to have the opportunity of sharing in this vital work for the preservation and strengthening of Torah and tradition in its midst.

May G-d grant that the Anniversary Dinner should have the utmost Hatzlocho [success] in every respect, and may He also bestow His generous blessings on each and every one of you and your families, to enjoy health and prosperity, both materially and spiritually.

Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5735 [1974]

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 20th of Cheshvan, and enclosures, as well as your previous correspondence.

May G-d grant that all the activities about which you report should continue with great Hatzlocho, and in an ever-growing measure. And may this Hatzlocho be reflected also in the other Mitzvah campaigns, particularly the Candle Lighting Campaign where Jewish women and girls have a special opportunity, and therefore also a special Zechus [privilege], to accomplish a great deal. May you and all your co-workers carry on these activities with joy and gladness of heart.

Especially as we are now approaching the auspicious days of the 10th and 19th of Kislev, the significance of which you surely know. The Zechus of the Alter Rebbe, and of his son the Mitteler Rebbe [Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Chabad Rebbe], for whom the above days brought deliverance, will surely bring deliverance also to all those who follow in their footsteps to spread the Torah and Mitzvos with Chasidic dedication and inspiration. May this be so also in your case, and in a growing measure, as symbolized by the Chanukah lights which are kindled in growing numbers from day to day.

Rambam this week

15 Kislev 5759

Positive mitzva 208: the law of weights and measures

By this injunction we are commanded to have just weights, scales, and measures, and to regulate them with extreme precision. It is contained in the words (Lev. 19:36): "Just balances, just weights, a just epha, and a just hin, shall you have."

A Word from the Director

Happy New Year!

Yes, Rosh Hashana was a few months ago, but this Tuesday we'll be celebrating a different New Year: Yud Tet Kislev, the Rosh Hashana of Chasidut.

Yud Tet (19) Kislev is the anniversary of the release from prison of the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, known as the Alter Rebbe. Because the entire future of Chasidut was at stake, his liberation was not only a personal redemption, but the redemption of the entire movement.

Nothing happens down here in this world without a spiritual counterpart. In fact, the reason things happen in this world is because of what is going on "up above" in the higher celestial spheres. When the Alter Rebbe was freed from prison it was a vindication of his teachings - and a "green light" from Above to continue their dissemination full speed ahead.

The underlying purpose of Chasidut is to prepare the world for the Messianic era, when the knowledge of G-d will be commonplace. Maimonides explains that King Moshiach "will restore the entire world to serve G-d together, as it states, 'For then I will transform the nations...that they all call in the Name of G-d.'"

This point - that Moshiach is for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike - was emphasized in a letter the Alter Rebbe sent to the famous Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev upon his release. Rather than stressing the joy that was felt over the liberation of Chasidut from its bondage, the Alter Rebbe wrote that "G-d's Name was made great and publicly sanctified, particularly in the eyes of the officials...who also considered it a great wonder...and declared, 'It is from G-d that such a thing has happened.'"

May the holy day of Yud Tet Kislev, the preparatory redemption of Chasidut, lead to the ultimate Redemption of all mankind with the coming of Moshiach immediately.

Thoughts that Count

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed, and he divided the people who were with him (Gen. 32:8)

What caused Jacob to be distressed? The fact that the people who were with him were "divided." Jacob recognized that when the Jewish people are united, the forces of Esau can do them no harm. It's only when there are internal divisions and strife that Jews should worry. (Maayanot HaNetzach)

If you will become as we are, that every male of you be circumcised (Gen. 34:15)

Why did the sons of Jacob, who were physically strong and powerful, avenge what happened to their sister Dina in such a "sneaky" way? Why did they insist that the people of Shechem be circumcised? Had Jacob's sons attacked them as they were, the world would have reacted with an uproar. Once the people of Shechem nominally identified themselves as Jews, however, they could be killed with impunity. For surely no one would protest the killing of Jews... (Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz)

I am not worthy of all the kindness (Gen. 32:11)

Every kindness G-d shows a person should only serve to increase his humility. The Tanya explains that "everything that exists is considered by G-d as nothing." It follows then that the more a person can be said to "exist," that is, the more he is truly worthy, the greater his perception of himself as "nothing." Jacob, who was extremely humble due to all the acts of kindness G-d had already shown him, was therefore worried that he was not worthy of being saved from Esau. (The Rebbe, Igrot Kodesh Vol. 2)

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him (Gen. 33:4)

When a small flame is brought close to a burning torch, the smaller fire is nullified within the larger one. So too was it with Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the great light, whereas Esau contained tiny, hidden sparks of holiness. When Esau spotted Jacob these sparks were aroused, prompting him to run over and be nullified in the greater holiness. (Torat Chaim)

It Once Happened

Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, known as the Rebbe Maharash, once sent one of his Chasidim, a shochet, on a special mission.

"Go to the royal archives, where you will find the file which contains all the documents pertaining to the arrest and trial of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism]. Bring it to me." The Rebbe Maharash gave the Chasid explicit instructions, telling him exactly the room and the shelf on which the file was kept.

Despite the danger involved, the Chasid followed the Rebbe's instructions. After entering the archives, he discovered the desired file with little difficulty. As he attempted to remove it from the shelf, however, he was suddenly apprehended by a stern-looking high official.

"How dare you try to steal a file from these archives? Why, I'll have you arrested and sent off to Siberia in no time!" he bellowed angrily. "Now tell me, who sent you here? Someone must have told you exactly where to look for this file.Tell me which organization is behind this conspiracy, and what they are plotting. If you confess it all, your punishment will be more lenient."

"I'll tell you the honest truth," replied the Chasid a bit shakily. "In the city of Lubavitch, there is an honorable Chasidic leader, who is a direct descendant of the Rebbe to whom this file applies. He instructed me to obtain the file."

The official's face turned unexpectedly friendly. "Oh, it is Rabbi Schneersohn who sent you! In that case, I will not report you to the authorities."

The shochet turned to his interrogator in wonderment. "Why is it that at the mention of the Rebbe's name you allowed me to go free? Do you know him?"

"I do not know the present Rebbe," replied the man, "but I knew his father. I met him when he was called to Petersburg for a government conference on the future of Jewish education.

"Nikolai I was Czar at that time. He would frequently disguise himself as a commoner and attend these sessions incognito. Once, in the midst of one of the sessions that Czar Nikolai attended, Rabbi Schneersohn interrupted the translator and demanded that he relate everything he had said to the Russian authorities. After the translator continued, the Rebbe interrupted him again, claiming that again, his statements had not been translated in their entirety. This scenario was repeated again until finally the Russian official moderating the session demanded that the translator relate the Rebbe's statements in full.

"Having no alternative, the translator stated that the Rebbe had said that if the Russian government would impose their educational sytem upon the Jews, there would be a revolution in Russia within fifty years.

"Nikolai rose and signaled to the guards to arrest the Rebbe and treat him as befits a rebel against the government. At that time, I was a young soldier and the task of carrying out the Czar's orders was delegated to me.

"The Rebbe asked for permission to pray and recite his confessional prayers before I carried out the sentence, and I agreed. In the middle of his prayers, a messenger from the Czar appeared, with instructions to rescind the order and set the Rebbe free.

"Before the Rebbe was released, he blessed me with success in my military career. In the course of time, I rose through the ranks until I became a general. In my old age, I have been given the task of supervising these archives. It is in appreciation of the Rebbe's blessing, that I am setting you free."


"Why did your parents merit such outstanding sons?" Chasidim once asked Reb Yehuda Leib, the Alter Rebbe's brother. The sons to which they referred were the Alter Rebbe, Reb Yehuda himself (head of the Rabbinical Court of Yanovitch), Reb Mordechai (head of the Rabbinical Court in Arsha) and Reb Moshe (head of the Rabbinical Court in Rodnia).

"By virtue of our mother's exceptional character, her love of Torah, and fear of G-d," replied Reb Yehuda Leib. "Let me relate an incident which reflects her unique personality.

"Our father, Reb Baruch, was a businessman whose affairs required that he travel occasionally. On one of his trips outside Russia, he brought back a gift for our mother, an expensive, fashionable, overcoat.

"At that time, we were being tutored by a private teacher. Shortly after father's return, Mother noticed that our teacher was not as enthusiastic and motivated as usual. Sensitive to what was happening, Mother tactfully asked him about the change in his disposition.

"'My wife has been upset lately. She complains that I do not give her presents like Reb Boruch gives you,'" answered the teacher.

"Immediately, Mother went over to the closet in which the costly overcoat hung. She took it out and handed it to the teacher. 'Please give this to your wife. I hope she will be pleased. I have only one concern, that you study with my sons with joy and enthusiasm.'"

Reprinted from From My Father's Shabbos Table by Rabbi Yehudah Chitrik

Moshiach Matters

"Before Rabbi Shneur Zalman was imprisoned in Petersburg, his Chasidic teachings 'burned the world' one who heard him delivering his Chasidic discourses remained the same as before. But after Rabbi Shneur Zalman's's release, his Chasidic teachings were more able to penetrate. And even more so after the release from his second imprisonment in Petersburg. The main goal was the revelation of the inner aspects of Torah; for in the times of Moshiach these inner teachings will be fully revealed. Thus, at the time of his release, a foretaste and sample of the Days of Moshiach was revealed. (Torat Shalom, page 26)

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