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L'Chaim has reached another milestone: Issue #600 is "hot off the press" and in the hands (and email) of hundreds of thousands world-wide.
Nothing happens by chance, Judaism teaches. Thus, it is not coincidental that our 600th issue coincides with the yartzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism and author of the Tanya.
Six hundred is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "sas"-"pleased." G-d's pleasure and our joy at being in G-d's presence are discussed in a prominent chapter in Tanya.
To clarify these concepts, we present excerpts from The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (published by Jason Aronson Inc.):
"The soul of man has a profound need for an intrinsic joy. To be sure, this hunger for gladness is felt more acutely when a person has fallen into a dark and bitter frame of mind and is feeling a certain alienation from everything. But there are also times-frequent enough-when one simply gets bogged down, when thoughts and actions seem to be clouded over and obscured. Then, too, one feels the need to 'purfiy and illuminate the soul.'...
"G-d is not a mental or moral entity; His nearness and support do not depend on whether one is good or deserving, or whether one is correctly observing Torah and mitzvot. G-d is always present, and He is closer than anything else...
"To be sure, the nearness of G-d is not a matter of any measurable distance, just as approaching Him is not an act that is even approximately physical. He is always where I am. The question is whether I am here. To what extent am I conscious of G-d's presence? For instance, there are a great number of things in us that the mind is not aware of; we have to learn that they exist. For example, we begin to notice the heart only if it gives us trouble, and this in spite of the fact that it is quite noisy and physiologically involved with everything we do. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be any relation between the objective reality of anything-it's vital necessity or even it nearness-to the fact of our being conscious of it. On the contrary, there seems to be a curious paradox about it all; what is close, so intimate as to be inseparable, requires a greater amount of training and effort in order to get to know it.
"G-d is present then, and He dwells within one, just as He dwells in the world as a whole. Except that I do not know of this Divine inner presence. As soon as I become conscious of it, however, I realize the purpose of Creation-"to be a dwelling place for Him in the world." G-d creates the world in such a manner that G-d, being invisible, cannot be taken for granted. He has to be sought out...
"The difficulty for many of us is that we are separated from Him by a great abyss of terror. Who can dare to approach Him? Who can say that he has the right to be in any sort of relationship with G-d, much less to be a 'dwelling place for Him.' The distance is indeed unbridgeably, immeasurably vast. No matter how tremendous one's efforts, or how great one becomes, one remains an insignificantly small creature.
"That is only one aspect of the relation, however. The other is that G-d is always present and that one can be as near to Him as one chooses. If, however, one endeavors to approach Him by one's own efforts, it is hopelessly impossible. In relation to the Infinite, even moral and spiritual qualities have no meaning. It does not matter whether one is Moses, the Lawgiver, or an ordinary mortal-all stand at the same zero point before G-d.
So that the great joy of the soul is savored when G-d comes to me, when the immeasurably great descends and fits Himself to my littleness. And the miracle is that G-d remains with one always; He becomes the one reality exceeding all else."
By meditating on the above thoughts, one brings pleasure to G-d and can effect an inner joy as well. As the saying goes, "Happiness is an inside job."
The first time the Jewish people are referred to as G-d's "children" appears in this week's Torah portion, Shemot. "And you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus said the L-rd: My son, My firstborn, is Israel."
Not only are the Jewish people considered G-d's "sons," but each and every Jew is a "firstborn," with all the weight and import that implies. (Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, notes that the word "firstborn" is "an expression of greatness.")
There are times, however, that the Jewish people are described as G-d's "youngest son." Our Sages interpret the verse "For Israel is a child, and I loved him" as meaning that G-d loves the Jews precisely because they are "young" and small. In fact, our Rabbis use the metaphor of "a king who has many children, yet he loves the youngest one the best."
What, then, are we to learn from the use of the word "firstborn" in our Torah portion?
It sometimes happens that a father loves his eldest son not simply because he is his child, but because the oldest child actually possesses good character traits, honors his father, is intelligent, etc. This type of love is based on a logical rationale; the greater the reason, the more the father will love the child.
By contrast, a father's love for his youngest child is independent of the child's actual qualities. When a young child honors his father, it isn't necessarily a sign of good character, as it is the nature of most young children to be obedient. Rather, the father loves him only because he is his son, with an essential and basic love that has nothing to do with other factors.
G-d's love for His children, the Jewish people, combines both of these elements: When Jews serve G-d as He wants them to, studying His Torah and performing His mitzvot, the level of love that pertains to an adult, mature son is revealed. This love is dependent on our actions.
At the same time, G-d continues to love His children even when their behavior doesn't necessarily warrant it, which is the level of love a father has for his youngest child. In the deepest sense, G-d doesn't need any external reasons to love us. He loves us simply because we are His children.
In truth, both types of love complement each other. No matter how pious a Jew is or how much Torah he has learned, he should always consider himself a "little child" who obeys his Father with pure "acceptance of the yoke of heaven." This arouses G-d's essential love for the Jewish people.
Nonetheless, we should always be aware that we are G-d's "firstborn," and that G-d values our observance of Torah and mitzvot and loves us because of it. Furthermore, it is on the level of "firstborn" that our essential connection to G-d as a single entity with Him is ultimately revealed.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 21
by Tzvi Freeman
I design software. Like the rest of us, I don't really know what's going to happen on January 1, 2000. I don't know who's telling the truth about the Y2K Bug and who's just covering themselves. One thing is certain, however. January 1, 2000 is Shabbat.
Shabbat is a state of mind. And on that Shabbat, we'll need to sit down and talk about entering a new state of mind. Personally, I don't believe we can continue with a mindset that consciously coded the entire technological framework of civilization to simultaneously sabotage itself; the very mindset that also brought us an unsustainable relationship with our environment and a sterilized human culture.
We are at the end of an era. The Era of Progress. The era to begin goes beyond that. Beyond Progress.
For most of history, we've had two primary modes to follow: stand still or progress. You either took your canoe 'round and 'round the lake, not really going anywhere, or you pressed forward along one of Time's promising rivers.
Lately, Progress has been travelling some awesome whitewater rivers. So rapid, we lost contact with where we came from. So all-consuming, we stopped thinking about what's around the next bend. No past. No future. Just now. Now. Now.
Take us techno-gurus, for example. We saw our job as rendering everybody else's work obsolete, and we accepted the fact that in a few years' time, whatever we had done would be obsolete as well. Go back to 1970-something, when we were writing all that code your tax dollars are now paying us to fix. If you had tried try to tell us that the future would inherit the mess we were making, we'd have given you a condescending smile. Or maybe we'd have just called you stupid. "There's just no way our code will be around by the year 2000," we'd say. As late as 1990, some of us were still chanting that mantra.
With that mindset, where the past undergoes a perpetual burial in the backwash of a runaway future, there is no legacy, no permanence, no responsibility for the future. It is a mindset that says, "We have buried the past and the future shall bury us."
So the Y2K problem is not "a bug." That's a cop-out. It's just a matter of bad design. We designed our code to become obsolete. Not much unlike the way we designed our entire society.
Good design transcends the boundaries of time. Good design-even in its most maverick form-always resonates with what came before. And becomes legacy itself. The Macintosh Desktop. The VW Beetle. Corn Flakes. Beethoven's 9th. Enviro-friendly manufacturing. And of course, Shabbat. Shabbat is the paradigm of good design. A model of a world Beyond Progress.
On Shabbat, my PowerBook G3 has a rest. So does my ADSL portal to the Net. On Shabbat, I walk through a door into a place where the rivers of time converge. Adam and Eve are still in the Garden, and we are there with them. Abraham and Sarah sit at our table. So do our ancestors from Poland, from Baghdad, from Babylonia, from the Temple of ancient Jerusalem. Moses teaches us Torah and when we sing, David sings with us. And when the sweet, rich kiddush wine passes our lips, we drink in the sweetness of all that river. All of it, all at once.
On Shabbat, the present is reconciled with the past. So too, lifestyle is reconciled with the ecology that nurtures it. I do not build, I do not tear down. I do not plant or reap or sort or order or pull any of my passel of techno-magic tricks. I am relegated to the role of observer. I must say to Nature, "I am not your ultimate master. I am a part of you as well. Let us both bow down before the wonder of the Infinite that brings us every moment into being from the void."
It's considered uncool these days to keep traditions just because your grandparents did. But traditions are neat. Ritual is good. It's just another sign of the obsolescence-by-design mindset that got us into this Y2K mess and company. Now we're going to grow up and get past that. Beyond bad design. In the flawed mindset of progress and "planned obsolescence" we are all isolated, autonomous cells, without origin, without destiny, sealed cars on an endless highway. In the Shabbat mindset, we are rivers, streams and tributaries, fed and nurtured by what came before us upstream, gushing forth to the one ocean where all our waters will mingle once again.
Precious treasures traveled this river with us. There is deep wisdom in the past from whence we came. It's okay to do something just because your great-grandparents did it. That's beautiful. We don't need to make up new wisdom just because we've progressed to WebTV and video conferencing. We can go beyond time. We can have all their wisdom and all ours, too. And we can hand that legacy down to our children. We can have it all. We can go Beyond Progress. It may be the only way for civilization as we know it to survive.
January 1, 2000. The world might be going berserk. Or it might be okay. Whatever happens, I'll be observing Shabbat. My grandparents observed it in the Old World. I observe it in a New World. My grandchildren will observe it in a world I cannot yet imagine. And it was/is/will be just as relevant to all of us. As a matter of fact, Shabbat has already passed its own Y5K plus a couple of hundred years, in virtually every geo-socio-political circumstance of global history. Now that's good design. That's beyond progress.
Tzvi Freeman is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth/365 Meditations of the Rebbe.
Wellington, New Zealand
Rabbi Shmuel and Chana Zajac recently arrived in Wellingston, New Zealand. In conjunction with responsibilities as rabbi of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation Beth-El, the Zajacs are launching a host of outreach programs and services under the auspices of Chabad-Lubavitch to bring education and enhanced Jewish pride to this community of 150 Jewish families.
Sunrise, Florida, located in Greater Fort Lauderdale, is the setting for a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center under the directorship of Rabbi Yossi and Chani Leibovitch. Their activities include a Sunday school and summer camp for children, holiday programs, adult Torah classes and a host of other Jewish educational and outreach projects.
Teves, 5718 
... Since the Torah and Mitzvos and the Jewish way of life comes from G-d and his infinite wisdom, they are not subject to man's approval and selection. Human reason is necessarily limited and imperfect. Its deficiencies are obvious, since with time and study it improves and gains knowledge, and personal opinions change. To confine G-d to human judgment would do violence even to common sense.
In our long history we have had the greatest human minds possible, who nevertheless realized their limitations when it came to the knowledge of G-d and His laws and precepts. We have had great thinkers and philosophers, who not only fully accepted the Torah and Mitzvos, but have been our guiding lights to this day, while the dissident groups and individuals (whose number are very few) were cut from our people and either disappeared completely, or, worse still, continued as painful thorns in the flesh of our people and humanity at large. Anyone who is familiar with our history requires no illustrations or proofs of the aforesaid.
I trust you will reflect on the above and you will cherish the great and sacred knowledge which has been handed down to each and every one of us, in the midst of our people, generation after generation, from the revelation at Mount Sinai to the present day.
Accepting this sacred tradition unconditionally and without questions does not mean that there is no room for any intellectual understanding.
Within our limitations there is a great deal which we can understand, and which we can further enrich, provided the approach is right. For G-d in His infinite grace has given us insight into various aspects of His commandments, an insight which grows deeper with our practicing them in our daily life and making them our daily experience. In this way the Jew attains true peace of mind and a harmonious and happy life, not only spiritually but also physically and fully realizes how happy one is to be son or daughter of this great and holy nation, our Jewish people.
Hoping to hear good news from you, and
* * *
24 Teves, 5729 
One of the basic principles of the Chabad philosophy and way of life, is that the head and the heart (the intellect and emotions) should govern and inspire the daily life of the individual in complete mutual harmony, and in a way that the mind should rule the heart. Where this inner harmony between the intellect and emotions prevails, then all the varied activities of the person, in all details of the daily life, both the mundane and the sacred, the material and the spiritual, are carried out properly, without conflicts, without contradictions, and without vacillations.
There can be no doubt that the fearful confusion and insecurity besetting the young generation of today, in this country and elsewhere, frequently erupting in defiance and open revolt against the very elementary laws of human society, is the result of the inner split and disharmony between reason and emotions, often giving way to unrestrained misconduct. It is also a sad fact that these symptoms have affected some segments of our Jewish youth.
In these critical times there is especially a vital need to strengthen among our Jewish youth their spiritual equilibrium, and the only way to attain this is through Torah and Mitzvos, with unity and harmony between the intellect and emotions, and the mastery of the mind over the heart.
For us Jews, the said inner unity is more than the secret and foundation of a satisfactory personal life. This subject is treated in depth and breadth in the teachings of Chabad.
The said unity is the key to unity in the world at large, and is intimately correlated with the concept of G-d's Unity (monotheism), the realization of which in actual life is the special task of every Jew and the Jewish people as a whole. This is alluded to in the words, "A people One on earth," which the Alter Rebbe explains (Iggeres Hakodesh, 9): "The Jewish people which is one brings into reality the Oneness of G-d, to achieve oneness (in life) on earth."
25 Tevet 5760
Positive mitzva 246: the law of litigants
By this injunction we are commanded concerning the law of plaintiff and defendant. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 22:8): "For every matter of trespass...whereof one says, this is it." This law embraces all cases of claims arising between people where admissions and denials are involved.
This Sunday is the 24th of Tevet, the yartzeit of the founder of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. The Alter Rebbe, as he was known, was an outspoken critic of Napoleon in his campaign against Russia. While acknowledging that a victory by the French conqueror would greatly ease the plight of the Jews in the material sense, the Alter Rebbe recognized in Napoleon an even graver threat to their spirituality.
"Do not be intimidated, and pay no attention to the temporary victories of the enemy," he encouraged his fellow Jews in a letter, "for the ultimate victory will be the Russian Czar's."
The Alter Rebbe did not want to leave his home in Liadi, primarily because his presence there was reassuring to the Jewish community. Eventually, however, he was forced to flee into the Russian interior, together with some 300 Chasidic families and their Russian military escorts. They escaped shortly before Napoleon's forces arrived; the French Emperor himself came looking for the Alter Rebbe. But the Alter Rebbe had ordered that his house and all his belongings be burned, rather than fall into the hands of Napoleon.
For 140 days the Alter Rebbe and his group wandered about until they reached the town of Piena, where the local residents welcomed the weary travelers and their 60 wagons with open arms. As many of Piena's menfolk had gone off to war, there was ample lodging for everyone, which the generous people of Piena provided free of charge.
But the journey proved too much for the Alter Rebbe, and he passed away shortly after Shabbat on the 24th of Tevet (December 1812). As his son and successor Rabbi Dov Ber wrote, "With a clear and tranquil mind, and cleaving wondrously to his Maker, he recited Havdala...and then after Shabbat he was united in a perfect bond with G-d."
May we soon be reunited with all the great tzadikim of all generations, with the complete Redemption.
And these are the names of the children of Israel coming [to Egypt] (V'eileh shemot b'nei Yisrael habaim) (Ex. 1:1)
The final letters of these Hebrew words, rearranged slightly, spell out "Tehilim," Psalms. From this we learn that reciting Tehilim, sincerely and from the depths of the Jewish heart, is the surest way to overcome all difficulties and troubles, may G-d protect us. (Yikahen Pe'er)
And they made their lives bitter with hard labor (Ex. 1:14)
The Egyptians embittered the Jews' spiritual existence (the true meaning of the word "lives") by making it difficult for them to observe mitzvot, which was why it was later manifested in physical subjugation. Had the Jewish people resisted the Egyptians' spiritual pressure, they would never have become enslaved in the literal sense. (Likutei Sichot)
And behold, his hand was leprous, white as snow...and behold, it was turned again as his other flesh (Ex. 4:6,7)
Moses' leprosy was symbolic of exile; the healthy flesh, of redemption. (The underlying cause of both exile and leprous afflictions is a withdrawal of the light of holiness.) With this miracle, G-d was alluding to Moses that not only would the Jewish people's exile be transformed into redemption, but that ultimately, all "flesh" will come to bow down before the one true G-d, in a transformation that can be equally instantaneous. (Ohr HaTorah)
My son, my firstborn is Israel (Ex. 4:22)
A firstborn son receives a double portion of his father's inheritance, as he is the one responsible for "making" him a father in the first place. Similarly, the Jewish people is G-d's "firstborn," having "made" Him the Father of all mankind by being the first to recognize G-dliness and Divine Providence in the world. (Meshech Chochma)
Centuries ago, the residents of Jerusalem were dependent for all their water needs on the city's large cisterns. The winter rains would annually fill the cisterns, and the people would draw water from them the entire year.
Once, in the early 1600s, there was a serious drought. The earth was dry and cracked in the unyielding gardens and fields, and the water level of the cisterns was dropping at an alarming rate. The winter season was drawing to an end, but still, no rain. The elders of the city couldn't recall such a rainless year as this.
Jews, Moslems and Christians alike became increasingly worried. The dread specter of famine now loomed in addition to the immediate problem of water shortage. They gathered in their respective Houses of Prayer and prayed to the Al-mighty to have mercy on the holy city and its inhabitants. The rabbis of Jerusalem proclaimed days of fasting and special prayers.
But, no rain. The cisterns had almost completely dried up. The Arabs started to blame the Jews for the lack of rain. This obvious choice of scapegoat quickly spread throughout the Muslim community, and quickly became an absolute certainty in all their minds.
The instigation against the Jews eventually reached the palace of the pasha, the governor, of the Jerusalem district of the Ottoman empire. Soon thereafter, the pasha summoned the famed scholar and kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Galante. The pasha said, "I know that it is solely because of you Jews that G-d has not let it rain. You say you are His chosen people; you call Him 'Father' and refer to yourselves as 'His children.' Therefore you are totally to blame.
"I am warning you. If it doesn't rain by the end of three days, it will be clear that it is all the fault of the Jews; I shall expel all of you from Jerusalem."
Rabbi Galante left the palace and called an emergency meeting. Everyone knew that Rabbi Galante had been summoned to the governor. When he informed them what had transpired, they groaned under this new burden. Was the trial of thirst they were undergoing not enough? Now they also had to have the wrath of the pasha and the Arab population hovering over them?
Rabbi Galante declared a three-day fast. A spirit of gloom descended upon the Jews of Jerusalem as the possibility of expulsion from the holy city loomed before them. With broken hearts and flowing tears they recited Psalms and prayed for mercy from Above.
One day passed, and a second. On the third day the skies were as blue and cloudless as ever. Hungry and thirsty, still fasting, surely their desperate cries pierced through all the heavens.
The final hours of the afternoon were slowly dwindling. Rabbi Galante announced that everyone should proceed together outside the city walls to the tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik, the great sage and high priest from the early years of the Second Temple, to pray one last time for rain. He also made another demand that startled all that were present: everyone should put on their boots, wear raincoats and hats! Why? Lest they get drenched in the expected downpour!
Despite their shock and amazement, everyone complied faithfully. At the designated time the Jews of Jerusalem left, dressed in their boots and raincoats, and carrying umbrellas. When the police officer in charge of the area saw this strange parade, he burst into laughter. But then, when he heard they were marching through the streets dressed in their raingear only because their rabbi had ordered them to do so and promised them a heavy rainstorm, he became furious. He caught up to the rabbi, slapped him severely in the face, and screamed: "The people of the city are suffering so much, and you dare to waste their time and strength in such foolishness!"
Rabbi Galante disdained to respond, and kept walking.
When they arrived at the gravesite, the rabbi prostrated himself on the tombstone and remained there, immersed in profound concentration. All the other people cried out in prayer from the depths of their hearts.
Suddenly, a soft, gentle breeze began blowing! Then, rather quickly, the breeze became a real wind, which began to blow furiously. A storm wind!
The sky turned grey and filled with dark clouds. It began to drizzle, and soon after that to pour. The Jews opened their umbrellas. In no time at all, they were in the mist of a torrential shower. They joyfully hurried to take shelter.
Peering through the deluge, they saw to their surprise a man running towards them. It was the police officer! He made straight for Rabbi Galante and threw himself down in the mud before his feet. "Forgive me, please, for how I insulted you," he begged. "I didn't realize you were such a great, holy person."
In order to display his sincerity and make amends, he lifted the rabbi onto his shoulders, marched with him at the head of the Jewish procession back to town, and carried him all the way to the door of his house.
The rainstorm continued all the night. By dawn, all the cisterns were filled to overflowing. Later in the morning, the pasha himself came and apologized for threatening to expel the Jews. He proffered more words of appeasement and then stated emotionally, "Now I know that your L-rd is the true G-d, and that you Jews really are His treasured people."
Reprinted from the Ascent Quarterly. Visit their website at www.ascent.org.il/
Psalm 126 states: "Those who sow in tears will reap with joyous song. He goes along weeping...he will surely return with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves." On these verses Rashi explains: Those who sow in a dry land may worry that the crop will not be successful and when it is, they reap the harvest with joy. So too will the Jewish people, who sow righteous deeds before G-d in exile, reap in joy their reward at the time of redemption.