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   551: Shemot

552: Vaera

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
January 15, 1999 - 27 Tevet, 5759

552: Vaera

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


  551: Shemot553: Bo  

Why Didn't I Think Of That?  |  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

Why Didn't I Think Of That?

Hasn't it happened to all of us at one time or another? Whatever problem needs to be solved, whether big or small, quality of life related or something quite silly, someone comes along, looks at the situation from a different perspective, and in a split second offers a solution. The other person's sizing up of the situation in a new light allows you to look at it totally differently.

You feel as if you were blind and suddenly you can see. And for the next little while you go around saying to yourself, "Why didn't I see that?"

But you couldn't have seen it, because your preconceived notions, habits or assumptions obstructed your vision.

This scenario is an apt description of the state in which we presently find ourselves. The Rebbe said that we stand poised on the threshold of the Redemption. All we need to do is open our eyes and we will see that everything is ready and waiting for the long-awaited era of peace, prosperity, health, knowledge and spiritual fulfillment that all nations of the world will experience in the Messianic Era.

If we don't see it, it's because we have yet to open our eyes to what is happening around us; our view is obstructed by preconceived notions, habits and assumptions.

The first step in clarifying our vision is education. Just as a driver with poor eyesight needs corrective lenses to see the street signs and traffic lights as he travels along, similarly, we need to know what Jewish sources have to say about Moshiach and the Redemption in order to clearly see where we're going and the direction in which all the signs are pointing.

The second step in being able to see just how close we really are to the Messianic Era is by focusing on the "mile markers" that let us know we're almost there:

Yes, there is still illness in the world, but did you know that 50 percent of all medical advances have been developed in the past ten years?

People are starving in Honduras and food has become scarce again in the former Soviet Union, but as recently as 1940, one American farm worker produced only enough food to supply a dozen people, whereas a single worker now turns out enough food for about 80.

Peace does not yet reign supreme in the Middle East, or in a few other hot spots around the world. But worldwide military spending is down $945 billion this decade. And the attitude of the international community has changed to the extent that war and aggression are no longer looked upon as a sign of power.

The percentage of girls in Third World countries enrolled in school has jumped from 38 to 68 percent.

New York City's crime rate is down 39 percent since 1993.

Air pollution levels are down one-third since 1970.

But, at the same time we open our eyes to the imminence of the Messianic Era, or even before, we need to act. Maimonides taught that "If a person fulfills one mitzva, he thereby tips the scales in favor of himself and of the whole world, and brings about redemption and salvation for himself and for the whole world." If we act now, we won't have to look back and say, "Fool, why didn't I realize!"


Living with the Rebbe

The Torah portion of Va'eira recounts the plagues that G-d inflicted on the Egyptians. Most lasted one week, with the exceptions of the plague of darkness and the slaying of the firstborn.

Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, provides the timetable: In general, each plague occupied a period of one month. The first week was the plague itself, followed by three weeks during which Moses repeatedly warned Pharaoh about the plague to come.

At first glance, this categorization seems odd. Wouldn't the three weeks of warning belong to the next plague, rather than the one which preceded it? No, Rashi insists, the three weeks in which Moses admonished Pharaoh and forewarned him about the coming plague relate to the plague that was already visited upon the Egyptians.

Here we see the deeper significance of Moses' actions: In warning Pharaoh, Moses' intention was not merely to prepare him for the next round of punishment, but to "break" him. The whole purpose of the Ten Plagues was to shatter Pharaoh's arrogance, to intimidate him. In fact, the warning phase that followed each plague was an integral part of this process.

By reprimanding Pharaoh immediately upon the completion of each plague, the fear and damage inflicted by that plague was intensified manyfold. With each warning, Pharaoh came that much closer to being "broken."

The Torah relates that even before the plagues began, Moses was sent before Pharaoh and his magicians to perform the miracle in which his staff turned into a serpent. The very next day, with the impression still fresh in Pharaoh's mind, Moses warned him about the plague of blood.

Concerning this mission, G-d commanded Moses, "The staff that turned into a snake, you shall take in your hand" - thereby emphasizing the connection between the miracle and Moses' words of admonition. With Pharaoh still under the influence of what he had witnessed, Moses' warning made the miracle seem that much more wondrous.

Pharaoh is symbolic of the obstacles a Jew encounters in his service of G-d; the plagues represent his efforts to wage war against them. Applying the above principle to our lives we see that it's not enough to "attack" these impediments; we must "break" them completely until total victory is attained.

Chasidut explains that this desire to prevail is deeply rooted in the soul. And just as a king will spend vast amounts of money to be victorious in war, G-d opens His "treasury" and grant the Jewish people storehouses of strengths.

We, the generation of the "footsteps of Moshiach," are particularly equipped with the strength to overcome difficulties. And by standing strong we will attain the ultimate victory of all: the Final Redemption with Moshiach.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 31


A Slice of Life

HOW MUCH DOES A KIPPA WEIGH

by Aaron Cohen

The air has turned crisp, the days have grown short. Winter, alas, is on the march. On goes the furnace, out comes the Thinsulate, and onto my head goes a hat. It can get chilly up there for a balding guy like me, especially at night, when the thermostat throttles back, and the house becomes cool and quiet after the kids have gone to bed. This is the best time to write, when it would be dark even if it were summer. But summer it's not, so late nights at the keyboard demand layers of clothing: a lined vest, slipper socks, and something to don on top, to keep the warmth from dissipating from my pate.

No need for a brim sitting in the kitchen, where I like to write. So my outdoor hats, and Indiana Jones fedora and myriad sports caps, are out. Alas, my fez, souvenir of a long-ago sojourn in Istanbul, doesn't fit. My old checked kaffiyeh? The one I bought in the Old City of Jerusalem before the Yom Kippur War? That would do the job, had it not become a threadbare shmatte by the time Camp David rolled around. A beret might fill the bill except the Israeli Army one I bought for my son is too tight, too military, and the French one purchased for my daughter is too floppy, too foo-foo, even for wee hours spent alone in the kitchen.

Not to worry. Saving me from chapeau angst is a growing army of kippot-yarmulkes-which are real troopers when it comes to combating cranial chill. Amazing, really, how a little fabric frisbee flips my head back into the comfort zone, even as the mercury drops. Lest you think me cavalier or even blasphemous, I don't take this kippa-wearing lightly. The kippa, you see, warms my keppele in more ways than one. I look for any excuse to wear one besides a cold night of typing in the kitchen.

Recently I've taken to keeping one in my pocket, like a little security blanket. I'm ready to put it on at a moment's notice, just in case I enter a shul, say a prayer, or learn a little Torah. More and more I'm tempted to wear it just because I feel like it. What's going on here? I'm hardly observant, but out of the clear blue, I want to whip out that kippa, and clip it to my last holdouts of hair. Is this something over which to drey a kop, Dr. Freud?

On some days I find myself reaching into that pocket, running my fingers over the kippa, feeling the clips, turning the fabric in my hand, and wondering, How about now? Should I put it on? What would it mean? What would people think? Would it be an affectation, or a statement, perhaps misunderstood? Would it be an invitation to a mugging at the hands of some skinhead punk? Would secular people read too much piety into it?

How I envy my Orthodox brothers, for whom a kipa is just a kipa, and not a microcosm of the Universe. But a kippa, even if it is just a kippa, is no ordinary hat; it's a cap with a 'tude. It says, "Hey, I'm a Jew."

Consider what happened in East Wilmette right before Rosh Hashana. It's early morning, I'm walking to the train, and the kippa urge overwhelms me. No one's around, so I slip it on my head. No sooner done when out of nowhere a car screeches to a halt by the curb. Down goes the passenger window. The driver yells something at me.

"What?" I ask, dazed. Is she asking directions, or is it something more ominous?

"Shana Tova!" she calls again. "It's rare to see a guy wearing a kippa around here. Where do you daven [pray]? Where do you live? What's your name?"

She gives me her and her husband's names, says she hopes to see me in shul, basically invites me to join a community. I'm at once thrilled, delighted, and taken aback.

"Whoa," I say to myself. "There's power in this here yarmulke."

I feel a little like an imposter, as though my kippa promises more than I deliver. I feel a little like I'm playing a trick, like I'm pulling a rabbi out of my hat.

"But I have an urge to wear my kippa," I rationalize to myself. "I'm a Jewish man, and Jewish men should cover their heads." No one told me so, it's just primal knowledge, something I feel in the kishkes. When I wear my kippa, I feel more at one with my Creator, more connected with my people. Sometimes it makes me feel better about myself, and helps me see more clearly how far I must yet travel, to close the gap between what I think I believe and what I do.

If you see me (or anyone else for that matter) walking down the street wearing a kippa, please, make no assumptions. That kippa may simply be a kippa, case closed. Or the guy under it may be trying to carry the weight of the world on his head.

Reprinted, with permission, from the Jewish United Fund monthly magazine, Chicago, Illinois, of which Mr. Cohen is the editor


What's New

STORYTELLER

The Storyteller is a collection of wide-ranging stories that first appeared in the popular children's monthly Talks and Tales. The present work is the fifth volume of the series. The Storyteller leaps from tales of Torah and festivals to the mystical world of Eastern Europe, back to the era of the prophets, and on to adventures behind the Iron Curtain. Many of the stories were previously available only in Hebrew or Yiddish. Now retold in a clear and straightforward style, these fascinating tales will entrance children and adults alike. Written by Nissan Mindel and published by Kehot Publication Society.

TO LIVE WITH MOSHIACH

To Live with Moshiach takes a look at some of the events that have taken place in the past decade and how these events emobdy the beginnings of the fulfillment of a number of prophecies concerning the era of Moshiach. Written especially for young readers by Alexander Zushe Kohn and published by Mendelsohn Press.


The Rebbe Writes

26th of Teves, 5725 [1965]

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter with the enclosure, in which you write about your problem of acute anxiety, and ask my advice.

The best and most effective thing to do, in a situation such as yours, is to study thoroughly those sections and chapters in our sacred books where the matter of Divine Providence and Bitochon [trust] are discussed, such as Chovos Halvovos, Shaar Habitochon, and similar. It is well to keep in mind those chapters and verses in the Tehillin [Psalms] which speak of these subjects, as well as the Midrashim and interpretations of our Sages on them. These things should be studied with such depth that they should become a part of one's thinking. In this way there will be no room left for any kind of anxiety or worry, and as King David said in the Tehillim , "G-d is with me, I shall not fear. What can man do unto me!"

As you well know the matter of Hashgocho Protis [Divine Providence] is the basis of true monotheism, a concept which to us means not only that G-d is one, but also is the Master, continually supervising every detail of His handiwork. The corollary of this is that there cannot be a single point in the whole order of the world which is separated from the Supreme Being, or in any way not subject to His control. At the same time it is obvious that the Supreme Being is also the Essence of Perfection and Goodness. And although many things in the world seem imperfect, and require completion or perfection, there can be no doubt that there is a perfect order in the world, and even the lowest in the scale of Creation, namely the inanimate things, display wonderful perfection and symmetry, as can be seen from the atoms and molecules of inorganic matter. Hence, the conclusion must be that even those things which require completion, are also part of the perfect order, and necessary for the fulfillment of the good, as all this is explained at length in the teachings of Chassidus. It is explained there that in order for a man to attain perfection, it is necessary that he should also have the feeling that he is not only on the receiving end, but also a contributor, and according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory, "A partner in the Creation." This is why many things have been left in the world for him to improve and perfect.

I also want to make the further observation, and this is also essential, that there is really no basis for anxiety at any time, and as you yourself mentioned in your letter, that you find no reason for it. Even in such cases where you think you know the reason for your anxiety, the reason is undoubtedly imaginary, or at any rate, not the real cause. For the real cause is that one's daily life is not in complete harmony with the true essence of a Jew. In such a case it is impossible not to have an awkward feeling that things do not seem to fit somehow, and it is this disharmony which is at the bottom of the anxiety, and it is in proportion to the discrepancy between his way of life and his true natural self.

Everybody recognizes that anxiety has to do with the psyche. But in the case of a Jew, the so-called psyche is really the Neshama [soul]. Some Jews have a particularly sensitive soul, in which case the above mentioned disharmony would create a greater anxiety. In such a case even subtle and "minor" infractions of Dikdukei Mitzvoth [fine points of commandments] would create anxiety. But even in the case of an ordinary soul for the average Jew, there must inevitably be created some anxiety if there is a failure to observe the fundamental Mitzvoth. It is very possible that the above may have a bearing on your situation. If this is so, then all that is necessary is to rectify matters, and bring the daily life and conduct into complete harmony with the essence of the soul, through strict adherence to the Torah and Mitzvoth. Then the symptoms will disappear of themselves.

It is necessary to mention also that in your case, where your position gives you a great deal of influence on your environment, your influence is an integral part of your harmonious life, and it is therefore essential that your influence, too, should be in harmony with the Torah and Mitzvoth in the fullest measure.

I suggest that you should also have the Mezuzoth of your home checked, as also your Tefillin, and before putting on your Tefillin every weekday morning, to put aside a small coin for Tzedoko [charity].


Rambam this week

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

3 Shevat 5759

Positive mitzva 197: lending money to the poor

By this injunction we are commanded to lend money to a poor man so as to help him ease his position. It is a greater obligation than charity, as the poor beggar, whose need forces him to ask openly, does not suffer such acute distress as one who has never had to ask. It is contained in the words (Ex. 22:24) "If you lend money to any of My people, even to the poor with you, etc."


A Word from the Director

This Shabbat, 28 Tevet, is the birthday of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, o.b.m., the Lubavitcher Rebbe's mother. Born into an aristocratic rabbinical family in 5640 (1880), she married Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the Rebbe's sainted father, in 5660 (1900).

In 1939 Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was arrested and sent into exile in Kazakhstan for the "crime" of upholding Yiddishkeit. Disregarding the considerable danger (indeed, her husband would pass away there a few years later), the Rebbetzin chose to accompany him to the far reaches of the Soviet Union and suffered along with him.

In all, Rebbetzin Chana was separated from her son, the Rebbe, for 20 years. The following are some anecdotes she related about him as a young child:

* One evening when the Rebbe was two-and-a-half years old, a minyan gathered in their house to daven. The Rebbe jumped out of his crib and joined them, prompting the Rebbetzin to race over and remove him from the room (lest anyone give him an ayin hara).

* During a pogrom in Nikolaiev, many women and children had taken shelter in a certain hiding place, among them the Rebbetzin and her sons. When some of the children began to whimper the Rebbe went over and calmed them down one by one, this one with a pat on the cheek, another by covering his mouth with his hand for a few seconds. The Rebbe was not even five at the time.

* When the Rebbe was ten years old he competed with his brothers as to who could learn the most languages, studying in places where it was inappropriate to learn Torah. It took the Rebbe only a few weeks to master each new language. In fact, the Rebbe once saved someone's job by translating a Russian letter for him into English.

* A short time before she passed away, the Rebbetzin remarked to a relative, "May G-d give [the Rebbe] strength. Listen to what I'm telling you: you don't know what you have. I'm not saying this because I'm his mother, but because it's true."


Thoughts that Count

And G-d (Elokim) said to Moses...I am G-d (Havaya) (Ex. 6:2)

The innovation in this verse is not that G-d revealed that His Name is Havaya (the ineffable four-letter Tetragrammaton); Moses was already aware of that. Rather, with these words G-d was telling Moses that the two Names - Elokim (G-d within nature), and Havaya (G-d as He transcends nature) - are united, essentially one and the same. In truth, this is the purpose of creation: that the revelation of the Name Havaya illuminate the Name Elokim. (Sefer HaMaamarim Tav-Reish-Ayin-Beit)

I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (Ex. 6:6)

The Jewish people possess an extra measure of patience, a special capacity for enduring the trials and tribulations of exile. And yet, when the exact time for redemption comes, they find it impossible to continue. This in itself is a sign that the redemption is imminent. (Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop)

These are Aaron and Moses...these are Moses and Aaron (Ex. 6:26-27)

Moses is symbolic of Torah study; Aaron is symbolic of prayer. (As High Priest, Aaron's function was to offer up the sacrifices, in whose stead our prayers are recited today.) There are times when "Moses" should precede "Aaron," and times when "Aaron" should precede "Moses." When a person first learns Torah and performs mitzvot, it enables him to pray with a sense of love of G-d. Conversely, by first arousing this innate love, he can afterward study and do practical mitzvot properly. (Likutei Torah)

And it shall become lice throughout the land of Egypt (Ex. 8:12)

G-d's punishment is measure for measure. G-d brought the plague of lice upon the Egyptians because they didn't let the Jews visit their bath houses, and their clothing became infested with vermin. (Baal HaTurim)


It Once Happened

The young, newly married couple were happy in every respect. But when the young man lost his job, their joy was clouded over. An expert mechanic, he just couldn't find another job, and their panic increased from one day to the next as they grappled with their financial difficulties.

One day, the young man was speaking to some of his acquaintances, who happened to be Chasidim of Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber (the fifth Chabad Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Rashab). "Why don't you go to see our Rebbe. He is very wise, and he will help you."

The young man, who was not a Chasid, responded, "What does the Rebbe know about being a mechanic? How can he possibly help me?" But, as time passed and no job appeared, the proposition gained credibility in his mind. After all, the young man reasoned, what could I lose? He went to the Chasidim and told them that he was now ready to see their Rebbe. Everyone contributed a little and soon they had enough money to send the young mechanic to Lubavitch.

Eventually, the mechanic had his chance to speak privately with the Rebbe. He described his terrible plight while the Rebbe listened attentively. Then the Rebbe said, "You and your wife should go to [a certain city]. There you should open a hat store." The Rebbe blessed them with much success, and the confused young man departed for home.

When he returned, he confronted the Chasidim: "Your Rebbe gave me the strangest advice! He told me to go to a city I never heard of and sell hats - something I know nothing about!" The Chasidim were not in the least put off by the seemingly irrelevant advice. "A Rebbe is not like other people," they told him. "If he gives you advice, listen to him, even if it makes no sense to you. The Rebbe sees further than we do," they concluded.

The young man left, and after discussing it with his wife, they decided that maybe they should try the Rebbe's advice. Another collection was taken up, and soon the young people were on their way to what they hoped would be a new beginning.

When they arrived in the town they looked for a suitable property, but all they could afford was a very small place on the outskirts of town. How would anyone ever find out about their shop? Would anyone come to buy hats from them? Their doubts were confirmed as days and weeks went by. They sat in their tiny shop and looked at their beautiful hats, but no one came. They began to wonder if they had made a mistake by listening to the Chasidim and the Rebbe.

Then one day, a luxurious coach pulled up in front of their shop. A well-dressed man entered their modest shop and said, "I am returning home from a business trip, and I'm looking for a gift for my wife." He began selecting hats and placing them on the counter. Within the space of several minutes the man had amassed a great selection of hats. In fact, almost every hat in the little store was sitting on the counter.

"How much do I owe you?" he asked.

The young proprietors stood tongued-tied. If they charged him the actual price, he would surely change his mind about his extravagant purchase, so they mentioned a very low price. "What!" the wealthy man exclaimed. "That can't be the correct price!"

"Actually, sir," replied the man, "We are giving you the wholesale price."

"No, I insist on paying a fair price for your merchandise," said the buyer, taking in the apparent lack of activity in the tiny shop and the nervous look on the proprietors' faces. He counted out a generous sum to cover the many hats he had chosen, and was about to leave, when he stopped.

The young man looked so sad. "What," he asked solicitously, "is the reason for your downcast appearance?"

The wealthy man's inquiry elicited a detailed explanation. "I'm a mechanic," the young man said, "and a very good one, too. But a few months ago I lost my job and couldn't find another one. The Chasidim in my town convinced me to go to their Rebbe, and the Rebbe told me to move to this town and set up a hat business. Your purchase has set us on our feet. But really, sir, I am a mechanic, not a shopkeeper."

"I may have the perfect solution!" cried the wealthy man. "My brother owns a factory and two of his most valuable machines stopped working almost six months ago. He's at his wits' end since no one seems to be able to fix them. Maybe you'll be successful." The wealthy man then gave him a letter of introduction and lent him the money for traveling expenses.

A week later the young man reported to the factory, and two days later, to the great relief of the factory owner, both machines were up and working. "You're the only one who was able to repair the machinery, and I'd like to offer you a position. How would you like to be the manager of my factory?" The young man was overcome with happiness at his change of fortune. Some months later, the young couple returned to their hometown and the Chasidim anxiously gathered around them wanting to be filled in on their progress. The happy couple recounted the whole story and they drew the obvious conclusion: the Rebbe was right, and so were his loyal followers.


Moshiach Matters

We all believe with complete faith that tomorrow morning the sun will shine and bring light. One can wonder, How do we know this? Does the sun's shining today necessitate its shining tomorrow? Yes, for it is written so in the Torah: "Day and night shall not cease." Is there any greater faith than this? G-d declares in the Torah, "I swear that My glory will fill the entire world!" Our G-d guarantees that there will be a day when the glory of G-d will fill the entire universe...We should believe in the establishment of G-d's Kingdom in the entire world with the same certainty with which we await the daily rising of the sun. It is upon us to await and anticipate that great day. (Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulay, the Chida)


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