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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

   539: Bereshit

540: Noach

541: Lech-Lecha

542: Vayera

543: Chayei Sarah

544: Toldot

545: Vayetzei

546: Vayishlach

547: Vayeshev

548: Miketz

549: Vayigash

550: Vayechi

Shemos Exodus

Vayikra Leviticus

Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

January 1, 1999 - 13 Tevet, 5759

550: Vayechi

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

  549: Vayigash551: Shemot  

Super Bowl Mysticism  |  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

Super Bowl Mysticism

by Mordechai Siev

In 1997, I watched the Super Bowl with a group of students at Tel-Aviv University. As the Packers advanced on the Patriots, I racked my brain to think of some words of Torah I could present at half-time to inspire the students and turn the affair into a holy gathering.

The ending horn sounded. After some refreshments, I opened my remarks by saying that the most important thing on a football team is unity and a support system. The many individuals have to make sacrifices for the good of the whole team. As an ex- offensive tackle, I can attest to that strongly! Similarly, Chasidut demands of us the same kind of self-sacrifice and humility, even for a Jew you have never met before, and tells us that ahavat Yisrael (love for every Jew) is the basis of the whole Torah.

Here is another parallel. Chas-idut teaches us about diminishing our bodily needs as a way to get closer to our spiritual potential. In football too, you sometimes have to "give up your body" to break the wedge or throw a down-field block, which is a kind of self-sacrifice for the cause.

There is also an idea in football that in order to advance the ball, you may have to take a step back or go on an end-around in order to run a long distance just to get back to cross the line of scrimmage where you started, and hopefully gain some yardage. Chasidic doctrine explains that the soul has to make a descent into a body in order to accomplish an ascent after 120 years in this world. Although you may take one step back by failing a test in Judaism, you can then go two steps forward. We should always be in the process of moving even if it temporarily knocks us down, rather than just remaining at the same level.

Finally there is the idea in football (and in all sports) of a comeback, the "cardiac kids" who never give up or ever think that all hope is lost. Chasidut tells us that a Jew is never lost no matter how far away from the Torah "team" he or she seems to be. The soul-spark inside always remains pure and holy, and is never disconnected from its source.

This also applies for any level of teshuva (return); it is never too late.

All the times I've watched football I could never really understand why it captivated me so totally. Now, after putting together a parallel between football and Chasidut that the kids at Tel-Aviv University could understand and relate to, it all comes together.

I realize that we have to learn to see how all aspects of our lives are interconnected, and how G-d is part of every one of these aspects, even the most mundane. We need to integrate, harmoniously and in a practical manner, the spiritual and physical in our lives. Moshiach NOW!

Reprinted with permission from The Ascent Quarterly, Safed, Israel

Living with the Rebbe

When the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Chabad Rebbe) was a young boy he learned the verse in this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years." His teacher explained that these years were the best of Jacob's entire life.

When the Tzemach Tzedek came home from school he asked his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, how this was possible. How could those years be the best of Jacob's life? Wasn't Egypt the most corrupt and immoral place on earth?

In response, Rabbi Shneur Zalman quoted another verse from the Torah: "And Judah he sent before him to Joseph, to direct him to Goshen." The Midrash relates that Jacob sent Judah to Egypt to establish a yeshiva. Throughout the time they spent in Egypt the Tribes devoted themselves to the study of Torah. By learning Torah, a Jew draws near to G-d; it was therefore possible for Jacob to "live," even in as base a country as Egypt.

* * *

The finest years of Jacob's life were the 17 he spent with Joseph in Egypt. When Jacob saw that his son was alive, and that despite the intervening years he had continued to conduct himself in a manner befitting the son of a Patriarch, it brought him great joy.

This joy was even more pronounced as it came after many years during which Jacob could not see his son and did not know if he was still a tzadik, a righteous person. This joy is likened to a light that follows the darkness.

Light is always preferable to darkness, but the advantage it contains is much more striking when it comes in the wake of total darkness. The more intense the darkness, the brighter the light appears when it finally arrives.

Furthermore, the advantage is that much greater when the light not only dispels the gloom, but actually transforms the darkness that had prevailed previously into light. In this instance, the darkness itself becomes illuminated.

This helps to explain Jacob's joy upon being reunited with Joseph, and indeed describes the nature of the Tribes' Divine service in Egypt. Egypt was a place of darkness, to which Jacob and his sons brought light. But not only did they illuminate their surroundings, they caused Egypt itself to become a source of light through their devotion to Torah.

Thus the years Jacob spent in Egypt were the best of his life, even better than the ones he had spent in the land of Canaan. For a light that follows the most intense darkness (like the light of Moshiach, may it soon illuminate the entire world) is the very brightest light of all.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 10

A Slice of Life

The Silent Kohen

by Simon Jacobson

A few years ago, at a Passover seder, I was seated near a French Jew who, during the course of his lifelong spiritual search, had discovered Zen. I sensed that Julian, a self-proclaimed atheist, was resisting any attempt to be engaged in the table's discussion about Judaism. He shared with me-almost to demonstrate his antipathy to anything Jewish-that he had always been absorbed by Zen thought, particularly its koans (theoretical mental exercises). There were, however, two koans that continued to elude him:

Koan #1: A hand slips down into the water, but the sleeve does not get wet. How?"

Koan #2: "A bull crashes through a window. Its head, body and legs come crashing through, but not its tail. Why?"

I asked Julian if he was familiar with the original and foremost koan: the Hebrew word "kohen" means priest, referring to the kohanic priests who served in the Holy Temple.

In the Holy Temple, there were two types of service: that of the Kohanim and that of the Levites. The Levites served G-d through song. The Kohanim served in silence. However great the power of song, it cannot compare to the power of silence. The hush of the kohanic service accessed the most intimate dimension of the Divine, which cannot be contained even by the most beautiful melody.

From our limited perspective, sound is louder than silence. From the perspective of true Reality, however, silence is more powerful than sound. Not because G-d is closer to silence than He is to sound, but because silence allows us the ability to rise above our limited perception and senses to experience the sublime.

This is the real kohen. The holy kohen.

"Now," I said to Julian, "Let's get back to your first koan: 'A hand slips under water, but the sleeve does not get wet. How?'

"Can water get wet? No. Water is wetness. From our limited perspective, a dry hand and sleeve that slips into water gets wet, because dry and wet are two different states. Reality, however is neither dry nor wet, and therefore includes and integrates both. When we sublimate ourselves (tevila, submersion in a mikva, has the same Hebrew letters as bittul, self-nullification) in the 'pure water of knowledge' and experience silence, then our sleeve and arm and entire being cannot get wet, for we are wetness itself.

"To your second koan: 'The entire bull crashes through window and the tail does not. Why?'

"Let me ask you, 'Why not? Why should the tail follow?'

"A philosophy professor asked his graduate students to write their dissertation responding to a one-word question: 'Why?' One student received an A for answering 'Because.' The other received an A+ for replying 'Why not?'

"All our 'why' questions originate from the fact that we begin with defined principles that are 'givens' and therefore we ask 'Why?' However, from G-d's perspective, one which is beyond all definitions and paradoxes, any 'why' question, and for that matter any question, is absurd. Before G-d, 'Why not?' is the more appropriate question.

"The bull, our aggressive side, crashes through a window. We expect all of it to come crashing through. When the tail does not, we ask, 'Why?'

"'My friend,' I said, 'Suspend your logic and be silent. And now, 'Why not?'"

For silence is the secret of the holy kohen.

The Frenchman jumped from his chair, "Of course! After all these years-of course, of course..." He continued muttering to himself in between brief bursts of laughter... "Why not? Why not?"

He sat still for some time. He looked at me in silence. A silence that was louder than any words. And he said, "So why did this G-d-your G-d-allow the Holocaust?"

I was quiet. Then I said to him, "You just struck the greatest koan of all. Having spent your entire lifetime searching for the mysteries of the koan, your are troubled by the ultimate koan, the ultimate paradox." He leaned closer to me, staring into my eyes, listening with everything he had. "Why are you ready to accept the transcendental experiences that result from the intrinsic paradoxes inherent in all koans, yet are unwilling to accept the paradox of a good G-d allowing for evil? If G-d is Reality-the entirety of Reality-is it not possible that G-d transcends our limited definitions of good and evil? Namely, that G-d is neither good nor evil (in ways that we define the terms), neither wet nor dry, neither yes nor no, and we therefore cannot ask 'why' or even 'why not?'

"The reason that you-and I, and everyone, for that matter-agonize over this koan is that this one hits home. Other koans are theoretical exercises that are intriguing and may even lead to some greater truth. But at the end of the day, we live and sleep peacefully knowing that our logic does not comprehend the sound of one hand clapping or the dry hand in wet water. However, we cannot sleep peacefully when we know and feel the agony of innocent children being mercilessly gassed, their ashes blown away in the wind, their helpless blood being absorbed by the grasses of the Bavarian soil.

"This, my friend, is the ultimate koan. And I have no answer for it. None of us ever will. Indeed, G-d Himself may never have an answer that we can understand and G-d too, does not sleep peacefully. When the Romans were putting to tortuous death the greatest Sages of their time, the celestial angels cried to G-d: 'This is Torah and this is its reward?!' G-d did not go into any theological explanations. He simply said, 'Be silent...'"

Silence. The only response.

Julian looked at me for an eternity and did not utter another word all evening. Neither did I.

But before he went home he said to me at the door, "It is so difficult. The pain is so deep."

Not until later did I learn that this French Jew and Holocaust survivor is a kohen, a holy kohen.

Reprinted from Farbrengen, published by Chabad of California.

What's New

Psalms with Translation

The Psalms ("Tehilim") of King David have been the classical language of Jews when they wish to pour out their hearts to G-d. This new translation, published by Otsar Sifrei Lubavtich, contains the Metzudas Dovid commentary as well as notes from Chasidut. Following the text are letters, stories and customs from the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe.

The Announcement of the Redemption

The Announcement of the Redemption is a translation of excerpts of the Rebbe's talks containing the pronouncement that "The time for your Redemption has arrived." These excerpts represent some of the Rebbe's most riveting statements from 1991 and 1992. The Rebbe personally edited the original talks and asked that they be publicized world-wide. Published by Vaad L'Hafotzos Sichos.

The Rebbe Writes

5th of Nissan, 5735 [1975]

I am in receipt of your correspondence, and trust that you received my regards through your brother R. Zalman who was here for the Yud Shevat observance.

I must reiterate again what was said when you were here in regard to bitachon [trust] in G-d that all that He does is for the good. It is not easy to accept the passing of a near and dear one, but since our Torah, which is called Toras Chesed and Toras Chaim [the Torah of Kindness and Life], our guide in life, sets limits to mourning periods, it is clear that when the period ends it is no good to extend it-not good, not only because it disturbs the life that must go on here on earth, but also because it does not please the soul that is in the World of Truth.

A further point which, I believe, I mentioned during our conversation, but apparently from your letter not emphatically enough, is this: It would be contrary to plain common sense to assume that a sickness or accident and the like could affect the soul, for such physical things can affect only the physical body and its union with the soul, but certainly not the soul itself. It is also self-evident that the relationship between people, especially between parents and children, is in essence and content a spiritual one, transcending time and space-of qualities that are not subject to the influence of bodily accident, disease, etc.

It follows that when a close person passes on, by the will of G-d, those left here can no longer see him with their eyes or hear him with their ears; but the soul, in the World of Truth, can see and hear. And when he sees that his relatives are overly disturbed by his physical absence, it is saddened, and conversely, when it sees that after the mourning period prescribed by the Torah a normal and fully productive life is resumed, it can happily rest in peace.

Needless to say, in order that the above be accepted not only intellectually, but actually implemented in the everyday life, it is necessary to be occupied, preferably involved in matters of "personal" interest and gratification. As I also mentioned in our conversation, every Jew has a most gratifying and edifying task of spreading light in the world through promoting Yiddishkeit. Particularly, as in your case, where one can be of so much help and inspiration to children and grandchildren, who look up to you and your husband for encouragement, wisdom, etc.

Here is also the answer to your ques-tion, what you can do for the soul of the dear one. Spreading Yiddishkeit around you effectively, displaying simple Yiddish faith in G-d and in His benevolent Provi-dence, doing all the good work that has to be done, with confidence and peace of mind-this is what truly gratifies the soul in Olam Ha'emes [the World of Truth], in addition to fulfilling your personal and most lofty mission in life as a daughter of our Mothers Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, and thereby also serving as an inspiring example for others to emulate.

It is possible to enlarge upon the above, but knowing your family background and tradition, I trust the above will suffice. I might add, however, that one must beware of the yetzer hara [evil inclination] who is very crafty and knows that certain people cannot be approached openly and without disguise. So he tries to trick them by disguising himself in a mantle of piety and emotionalism, etc., saying: You know, G-d has prescribed a period of mourning, which shows that it is the right thing to do; so why not do more than that and extend the period? In this way he may have a chance to succeed in distracting the person from the fact that at the end of the said period, the Torah requires the Jew to serve G-d with joy. The yetzer hara will even encourage a person to give tzedakah [charity] in memory of the soul, learn Torah and do mitzvos in memory of the soul, except that in each case it be associated with sadness and pain. But, as indicated, this is exactly contrary to the objective, which is to cause pleasure and gratification to the soul.

May G-d grant that, inasmuch as we are approaching the Festival of Our Freedom, including also freedom from everything that distracts a Jew from serving G-d wholeheartedly and with joy, that this should be so also with you, in the midst of all our people, and that you should be a source of inspiration and strength to your husband, children and grandchildren, and all around you...

Rambam this week

In Memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman (yblc"t)

14 Tevet 5759

Positive mitzva 236: penalty for inflicting injury

By this injunction we are commanded concerning a person who wounds his fellow man. It is contained in the words (Ex. 21:18) "If men contend, and one smites the other, etc." The principle behind the laws on penalties is that a person must pay the monetary equivalent of the harm he has caused.

A Word from the Director

According to the Jewish calendar, we're halfway through the month of Tevet. "Jewish time" marches to the beat of a different drummer for, unlike the Gregorian (or the earlier Julian) calendar, the Jewish calendar is based on the moon, not on the sun. And it's no coincidence either (there is no such thing as coincidence!), as the Jewish people itself is likened to the moon.

Sometimes the moon appears whole and at other times it seems to vanish. Similarly, throughout our history the Jewish people has sometimes appeared at the height of its powers, and at other times seemed to exist in a reduced state.

The exile is a time of concealment, similar to the waning phase of the moon. At one point all that is visible in the sky is a tiny dot. But just as the moon is eventually renewed in all its glory, so too has G-d promised that after the exile we will merit the wondrous revelations of the time of Moshiach.

The restoration of the moon is symbolic of the restoration of the light of Israel that will take place in the Messianic era, when the Jewish people "will be renewed just like [the moon]."

Furthermore, just as it is easiest to suffer the moon's absence in the final moments of Erev Rosh Chodesh (the Eve of the New Moon), so too is it easier to endure the exile when we know that the Redemption is right around the corner.

The Rebbe has stated unequivocally that Moshiach is on his way, that ours is the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption. May the ultimate renewal of the Jewish people take place at once, after which the entire world will be "sunny" forever.

Thoughts that Count

And let my name be called on them, and the name of my fathers (Gen. 48:16)

With these words Jacob blessed his grandsons Menashe and Ephraim that they grow up to be a credit to the family. When children do not follow the right path, G-d forbid, the parents and grandparents are embarrassed that their offspring carry their name. Jacob's blessing was for his grandchildren to be worthy of perpetuating the name of their holy progenitors. (Our Sages)

Which I took out of the hand of the Emorite with my sword and with my bow (Gen. 48:22)

As Rashi notes, the sword and bow Jacob was referring to were his "wisdom" and "prayer," for allegorically, the Emorite is identified with the Evil Inclination. This battle takes place in every Jew's soul. The Emorite, from the Hebrew word meaning speech, becomes powerful when we speak inappropriately or entertain extraneous thoughts. The way to conquer him is with "wisdom" and "prayer," uttering words of Torah and praying to G-d. (Torah Ohr)

For in their anger (literally "with their nose") they slew a man (Gen. 49:6)

A great Rabbi was once talking to someone when the name of certain individual came up in the conversation. The man immediately wrinkled his nose in distaste but said nothing. "What, you think you're allowed to speak lashon hara (slander) with your nose, as long as you don't move your lips?" the Rabbi admonished him. "The Torah states, 'For with their nose they slew a man' - with a wrinkle of the nose you can also murder someone's reputation!"

And when he saw that the resting place was good...he bent his shoulder to bear (Gen. 49:15)

Issachar recognized that although leisure is a good and pleasant thing, it can also be dangerous. In times of peace and tranquility the Evil Inclination intensifies its efforts to lead a person astray, which can lead to disaster. Issachar therefore "bent his shoulder to bear" the yoke of Torah, for Torah study is the antidote to this pitfall. (Likutei Diburim)

It Once Happened

There were once two wealthy men who lived in the same city, each of whom had a daughter of marriageable age. Both daughters married yeshiva students who continued their Torah studies after the wedding, supported by their fathers-in-law. One bridegroom was widely recognized as a great genius; the other was a more simple fellow, yet G-d-fearing and pious. The father-in-law of the ordinary bridegroom was very jealous of his friend's more brilliant son-in-law.

One day, as the more learned of the two young men was studying in the synagogue, the door opened and an obviously distraught man walked in. He opened the holy ark and began to weep. He had come to say good-bye, as it were, before drowning himself in the river. He was at the end of his rope and saw no way out except suicide, he mumbled through his tears.

Having overheard the man's words, the scholar rushed over to convince him that such a step was unnecessary. "Please tell me what the problem is."

"I am the treasurer of a communal fund in a certain town," the man answered. "I am responsible for large sums of money, yet I was gullible enough to be taken in by unscrupulous people. When they approached me for a loan I readily agreed, and gave them all the money in my charge. They immediately absconded. The date has already come and gone, and there is no way I can repay the loan. I see no alternative but suicide," he cried.

"You must put these thought from your mind at once!" the son-in-law replied, attempting to calm him down. "Do not worry about anything - I will give you the money. G-d forbid you should entertain such a notion!" The grateful man accepted the kind offer and was mollified.

The son-in-law, however, had no money of his own. He had made the promise to save the man's life. Where would he get such a large sum of money? His father-in-law certainly wouldn't give it to him. An idea formed in his head: He would go to his father-in-law's friend and appeal to him for money, without, of course, revealing why he needed it. Surely he wouldn't turn down his request.

The "friend"saw this as a perfect opportunity to "get even" with his colleague. "I will give you the money," he said, "on one condition: You must wear this chalat ( he indicated an old, ragged article of clothing) through the streets of the city." His intent was to humiliate the young scholar: people would see him wearing the torn and filthy garment and assume he had lost his mind.

The young man readily agreed and the two shook hands. The son-in-law raced back to the synagogue and gave the money to the man whose life he thereby saved. Now it was time for him to keep his part of the deal. He donned the despicable garment and paraded through the city as he had promised.

The reaction was predictable. Just as the rich man had intended, everyone assumed that the young man had become unhinged. When he arrived home his in-laws angrily demanded an explanation, but he remained silent, further validating their fear that he was mentally unstable. After several weeks of otherwise "normal" behavior, however, they saw that they had been mistaken. The incident was eventually forgotten.

Meanwhile, the rich man who had perpetrated the disgrace on an innocent person gradually lost his wealth. Day by day his assets shriveled till he was forced to sell his household belongings in order to feed his family. Among the other items he sold was the old, torn chalat.

The garment was purchased by a poor tailor, who laundered it carefully, patched it up, and fashioned a set of tachrichim (funeral shrouds), to be used after his death. As the garment was slightly too short, the tailor took a piece of fabric from another source and made an alteration to lengthen it.

Many years passed. The tailor eventually died and was buried in the tachrichim he had prepared for himself.

A few days after the burial the tailor appeared to his son in a dream, asking him to open the fresh grave and remove the small piece of cloth he had once used to lengthen his garment. It was imperative he do this, the father explained, as it was only due to this small bit of fabric that the destructive angels were able to cause him harm.

When the son awoke he went straight to the rabbi and related his dream. "If your father appears again, tell him to come to me," the rabbi instructed. That night the son had the same dream. In it, he told his father what the rabbi had said. The tailor then appeared to the rabbi and repeated his request, exacting a promise from him to remove the offending cloth. After the deed was done, the deceased appeared once more to the rabbi and thanked him.

The rabbi was perplexed by the entire incident. He began to wonder about the significance of the cloth, and made inquiries about the tailor's funeral garments. Where had he purchased them, and to whom did they previously belong? After much effort he succeeded in uncovering the story of the brilliant son-in-law and the good deed he had done at the expense of his own honor. The garment possessed a special measure of holiness, for through it, the great mitzva of saving a Jewish life had been accomplished, accompanied by great self-sacrifice. In this merit, it had the ability to protect its wearer from all harm.

Moshiach Matters

The belief in the future Redemption is part of the belief "I am the L-rd your G-d," which is included in the first and foremost of the Ten Commandments. Concerning the belief in G-d... we find that at times we are involved and speak about it. However, when it comes to the belief in the coming of Moshiach and the Resurrection of the Dead, we shy away from discussing it at all, as if we were ashamed to be connected with the subject! It is not relevant to our daily lives...Whoever is not totally involved in the complete belief of the Redemption and the Resurrection of the Dead is far from any true belief in G-d!

(Ohr Yechezkel, Rabbi Yechezkel Lowenstein, Ponoviz Yeshiva)

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