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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

Shemos Exodus

   600: Shemot

601: Vaera

602: Bo

603: Beshalach

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605: Mishpatim

606: Terumah

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608: Ki Tisa

609: Vayakhel

609: Avi's Bar Mitzvah Speech

610: Pekudei

Vayikra Leviticus

Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

March 3, 2000 - 26 Adar I, 5760

609: Vayakhel

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  608: Ki Tisa609: Avi's Bar Mitzvah Speech  

Ready And Waiting  |  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

Ready And Waiting

by Rabbi Yisrael Rice

Every element of creation contains within it a Divine reality. This is the hidden yet sustaining force of all life. The purpose of Judaism is to recognize this divinity and to draw it into the reality of our lives. When this is achieved, we transform the World and elevate ourselves.

This goal is not meant to be accomplished in one or a few generations; it is the statement of purpose for creation. Through the endeavors of each individual, at each moment through out all generations, the goal is reached.

It would seem that realizing this goal is an enourmous task. In our age, however, with each positive act, we can impact on and elevate thousands of components in the world. With the advances of technology, nearly everything we do has involved or is presently involving the efforts of many people through all stages of the process.

Think of making a phone call to say hello to your mother. How many people are involved in enabling this mitzva to be observed? Even Alexander Graham Bell, and that assistant of his has a piece of the action. Isn't it mind-boggling? Think about who actually designed the phone, the wires, etc. Each part is qualified when we are using it to do a positive act, which is an aspect of serving G-d. Through this act we are bringing out the Divine reality in all the components involved.

There is a story of a rabbi who was sent by the Baal Shem Tov to a particular place. The Baal Shem Tov told the rabbi the intended destination but gave no further instructions. The rabbi arrived at the spot and sat for a long time expecting something to happen. Seemingly, nothing did.

Upon returning to the Baal Shem Tov, the rabbi reported that he was unable to fulfill his mission. The rabbi assumed that he had not been worthy enough to fulfill the task and, therefore, nothing had happened.

The Baal Shem Tov asked the rabbi to repeat every detail of what he had done in the designated spot and asked him to mention every detail. This time, the rabbi included that he had been thirsty and had gone over to the nearby stream to get a drink of water.

"And did you recite a blessing?" asked the Baal Shem Tov.

"Of course," replied the rabbi.

"And did you recite a blessing afterwards?" asked the Baal Shem Tov.

"Certainly," replied the rabbi.

"You should know," the Baal Shem Tov continued, "that the stream from which you took the drink of water complained before the Alm-ghty. It was waiting since creation for a blessing to be recited over it. You have elevated the entire stream that has been waiting for so long."

What I find most amazing about this story is that these opportunities are to be found all around us every day. Often times we are looking for the cosmic act that will change our lives and the world.

G-d gave us mitzvot to accomplish this exact function. This is the way to elevate the world and all of the elements. Within the context of mitzvot we are lifting up ourselves and the world. To be sure, we still must make decisions of which mitzva to do and how to do it. But by knowing that this act is spiritually designed to transform, we are ahead of the game.

The cosmic act is here. It is ready and waiting for us.

Rabbi Rice is the director of Chabad of Marin County, California

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayakhel, describes the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert and its furnishings. Among the detailed instructions of how to make the Tabernacle is the following verse (Ex. 25:18):

"They shall make the stakes of the Tabernacle and the pins of the courtyards and their tying ropes."

Rashi explains that the stakes were inserted into the ground to fasten the edges of the curtains, so that they would not flap because of the wind, and the ropes were used for binding them.

There is a moral to be derived from this:

The generations that preceded us can be compared to the builders of the Tabernacle itself. Our own generation, the last one before the coming of Moshiach, can be compared to those who tie the edges of the curtains to the stakes in the ground so they will not flap loosely in the wind.

In the overall stature of Israel's history, our generation is the very "heel" - the lowest part of the body - while our predecessors are like the brains, heart and other "higher" parts of the body. Our task and mission is likewise the "last" or "heel"-labor to complete and finish all that is still required to bring about the Messianic redemption. Ours may be the "lowest" task, merely tying down the very edges of the curtains, some rather incidental and external details. Nonetheless, it is just this work that completes the whole job, and it is specifically what we do that will fasten the Tabernacle so that it may stand firm.

We are indeed the "heel"-generation, time-wise and quality-wise, compared to all those before us. This may raise the question: Is the generation worthy? Why should we merit the coming of Moshiach when our ancestors, who were greater saints and scholars then we are, did not? Nonetheless, the fact is that we are the ones who compete the work. The credit and merit, therefore, is attributed to our generation. Our sages thus said that a meritorious deed is attributed to him who does the last part of it and completes it (Sotah 13b).

Moreover, the edges of the curtains were to be tied to the pegs that were fixed in the ground, the earth. This alludes to the very purpose of the Sanctuary, namely, to bring about an indwelling of the Divine Presence in the Tabernacle which was to be a physical abode established specifically here on earth. This, indeed, is the very task and purpose of our generation. We are to draw the Divine Presence all the way down to the very earthiness of this material world, and this will happen with the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption.

From "Living with Moshiach" adapted by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet from the work of the Rebbe, published by Kehot Publication Society

A Slice of Life


Avi with his parents

By Yisroel Arr

Recently, I attended a Bar Mitzva that touched the very core of my being. The Bar Mitzva boy, Avi, is not your average 13-year-old boy. Avi suffers from autistic disorder.

Until the age of two Avi was like all other toddlers. But from when he was about two and a half, his development slowed down. A few days after his fourth birthday he began to lose his speech. The speech loss started subtly; he lost names of objects, names of colors, and words for common actions. Over the next six months, he went from losing words to being able to talk only in phrases he could pull out of his memory. His word for "car" was "let's get the car washed." His word for the holiday of Chanuka was "in the days of the Maccabees." Avi also began to scream blood-curdling screams for hours at a time. Over the next few months he lost his toilet training and lost so much weight he went down two sizes.

His parents, Bruce Semon and Lori Kornblum, were at a loss over what to do. It is painful just trying to imagine Bruce and Lori's anguish, watching their beloved child deteriorate so horribly. Avi was under the care of a world-famous psychiatrist, a psychologist, an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. He had seen three neurologists who had subjected him to countless tests. None of these experts could figure out what was happening to this precious child. His younger sister, then only two, spent many hours trying to comfort her big brother, holding and hugging him as only a child can do.

It wasn't until January of 1991 that his parents realized that by eliminating certain foods from his diet, they could eliminate some of his worst symptoms. But by this time, four year old Avi could not use his hands. He walked around with them curled up. He would sit in a swing spinning much of the day. He had lost all emotional contact except with his mother, and that was fleeting.

Bruce and Lori eliminated a number of foods known to cause migraines. Avi' symptoms of what they now knew to be autism began to diminish and his behavior improved, though he still suffered from tremendous pain and continued to lose his speech. Avi's speech disappeared totally in March 1991. He uttered no real words for five years.

His parents later learned that yeast and barley malt were also causing problems. Almost all food for Avi had to be homemade.

Through much experimenting and controlling Avi's diet Bruce and Lori were able to turn the tide before they lost Avi altogether. He was coming back, very slowly. It took two more years, and much more experimentation, to completely eliminate Avi's debilitating headaches.

So now you know Avi. He is an autistic child. At an age when most boys should be learning their Bar Mitzva portion, Avi could not even talk or control many of his actions. His usual way of communicating was by typing - one letter at a time - with his special "communicator."

Shortly before the High Holidays of this year, the Semon-Kornblum family joined Congregation Agudas Achim Chabad in Mequon, Wisconsin. Under the leadership of Rabbi Dovid Rapoport and his wife Fagie, Mequon Chabad had blossomed into a vibrant community known for its dedication to each individual.

I saw Avi attend services on Shabbat mornings. With my limited knowledge of autism, I was not familiar with his intellectual and emotional abilities, and so I had no idea if he was aware of the services and conversations going on around him.

By now Avi was almost 13 years old and he wanted a Bar Mitzva. This would be a real challenge. But for Avi and his parents, challenges were not a new thing. So with the total love and dedication of his parents and the help of his therapists, the Bar Mitzva preparations were underway. But most of all, it was Avi's effort and determination that made this day so special.

Though he could not give a speech or read from the Torah, Avi worked very hard to prepare. His parents spent many hours reading the Torah portion and Haftorah with its Midrashic commentaries. He spent many hours with the Rabbi and the therapists learning to say the blessings to the best of his abilities. He also practiced opening and closing the Ark and covering and uncovering the Torah.

Avi's mother and the Rebbetzin, along with many women in the community, prepared a complete Bar Mitzva menu- all from ingredients that Avi was able to eat.

Finally, the day of the Bar Mitzva arrived and Avi was called up to the Torah for his aliya. There was not a sound in the synagogue as Avi struggled to pronounce the blessings during his aliya. The entire congregation was moved by the effort which Avi made to say the blessings and his opening and closing of the Ark. But the highlight of the Bar Mitzva was yet to come, for Avi - completely on his own - had written a Bar Mitzva speech that he himself composed and wrote - well actually typed. It took him over three hours to type it out using his "communicator," one finger at a time. Of course, Avi could not read the speech himself, but there was not a dry eye in the sanctuary when his father stood at the podium and read his speech to the assembled.

When Bruce finished reading the speech, there was a long silence followed by tremendous applause. Needless to say, I left the Bar Mitzva inspired, touched and with a greater understanding of the beautiful, intelligent Avi, hidden behind the Avi we all see.

Incidentally the food was terrific.

Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter. You can read Avi's unedited Bar Mitzva speech in the electronic version of L'Chaim at

What's New


A Celebration of Renewal and Commitment was sponsored by the Bris Avrohom Center in Hillside, N.J., where three generations of women from the former Soviet Union received Jewish names. As part of the ceremony, each of the 50 women was presented with a certificate embossed with her name, candlesticks, a Hebrew-Russian prayerbook, a watch and a picture of the Rebbe. For more info about Bris Avrohom call (908) 289-0770.

The Rebbe Writes

14th of Sivan, 5724 [1964]

I am in receipt of your letter... in which you write about your background and some highlights of your life.

In reply, I will address myself at once to the essential point in your letter, namely your attitude towards religious observance, as you describe in your letter, and especially to the particular Mitzvah which is most essential for a happy married life, namely Taharas Hamishpocho [the laws of Family Purity]. You write that you do not understand the importance of this Mitzvah, etc. This is not surprising, as is clear from the analogy of a small child being unable to understand a professor who is advanced in knowledge. Bear in mind that the condition between the small child and the advanced professor is only a difference in degree and not in kind, inasmuch as the child may, in due course, not only attain the same level of the professor, but even surpass him.

It is quite otherwise in the difference between a created being, be he the wisest person on earth, and the Creator Himself. How can we, humans, expect to understand the infinite wisdom of the Creator? It is only because of G-d's great kindness that He has revealed certain reasons with regard to certain Mitzvoth, that we can get some sort of a glimpse or insight into them. It is quite clear that G-d has given us the various commandments for our own sake and not in order to benefit Him. It is therefore clear what the sensible attitude towards the Mitzvoth should be. If this is so with regard to any Mitzvah, how much more so with regard to the said Mitzvah of Taharas Hamishpocho, which has a direct bearing not only on the mutual happiness of the husband and wife, but also on the well-being and happiness of their offspring, their children and children's children.

It is equally clear that parents are always anxious to do everything possible for their children, even if there is only a very small chance that their efforts would materialize, and even if these efforts entail considerable difficulties. How much more so in this case where the benefit to be derived is very great and lasting, while the sacrifice is negligible by comparison. Even where the difficulties are not entirely imaginary, it is certain that they become less and less with actual observance of the Mitzvah, so that they eventually disappear altogether.

Needless to say I am aware of the "argument" that there are many non-observant married couples, yet seemingly happy, etc. The answer is simple. First of all, it is well known that G-d is very merciful and patient, and waits for the erring sinner to return to Him in sincere repentance. Secondly, appearances are deceptive, and one can never know what the true facts are about somebody else's life, especially as certain things relating to children and other personal matters are, for obvious reasons, kept in strict confidence.

As a matter of fact, in regard to the observance of Taharas Hamishpocho, even the plain statistics of reports and tables by specialists, doctors and socio-logists etc., who cannot be considered partial towards the religious Jew, clearly show the benefits which accrued to those Jewish circles which observed Taharas Hamishpocho. These statistics have also been published in various publications, but it is not my intention to dwell on this at length in this letter.

My intention in writing all the above is, of course, not to admonish or preach, but in the hope that upon receipt of my letter you will consider the matter more deeply, and will at once begin to observe the Mitzvah of Taharas Hamishpocho, within the framework of the general Jewish way of life which our Creator has clearly given to us in His Torah, which is called Toras Chaim, the Law of Life. Even if it seems to you that you have some difficulties to overcome, you may be certain that you will overcome them and that the difficulties are only in the initial stages.

I understand that in your community there are young couples who are observant and you could discuss this matter with them, and find out all the laws and regulations of Taharas Hamishpocho. If, however, you find it inconvenient to seek the knowledge from friends, there are booklets which have been published, which contain the desired information, also a list of places where a Mikvah is available.

Next I will refer to the various undesirable events which occurred in your family, which left you confused, as you write. In view of what has been said above, it is not entirely unexpected. For, inasmuch as the essence of a Jew is to live in accordance with G-d's command, it is clear that if one disturbs the normal flow of this kind of life by disobeying G-d's command, it is not surprising that one should feel confused, lacking the true faith in G-d, which is the only terra firma for a Jew. Moreover, inasmuch as the Mitzvoth are also the channels through which to receive G-d's blessings, it is not surprising that a lack of observance prevents the fulfillment of G-d's blessings.

I repeat, it is not my intention to admonish with regard to the past, but if you want to follow my advice, I urge you to begin from now on to live the Jewish way of life with a firm resolution and determination, and this will surely bring you the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.

...It is fitting to emphasize that the Jewish people received the Torah in the only fitting manner, namely "We will observe (first) and we will understand." In other words, we accepted the Torah and Mitzvoth without question and unconditionally, whether or not we understood the Mitzvoth, or whether or not they are to our liking. At the same time we know that we have to try to learn more about the deeper significance of the Mitzvoth. The same is true now, inasmuch as the Torah is ageless and eternal. May G-d grant that this should also be in your case, and may you have good news to report.

Rambam this week

26 Adar I 5760

Positive mitzva 5: worshipping G-d

By this injunction we are commanded to serve G-d. It is repeated several times in Scripture, such as (Ex. 23:25) "And you shall serve the L-rd your G-d" and (Deut. 13:5) "And Him you shall serve." The commandment imposes the specific duty of prayer, and according to our Sages, also includes "the study of the Law."

A Word from the Director

The Shabbat before the month of Adar (and in a leap year, Adar II) is called "Shabbat Parshat Shekalim," or simply "Shabbat Shekalim." On this Shabbat we read about the mitzva of the half-shekel.

G-d commanded every Jew to give a half-shekel to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. The sin of the Golden Calf was the sin of idolatry. Idolatry causes the Jewish people and G-d to be distanced and alienated from each other. The antidote, therefore, was to unite the Jewish people with G-d in true unison.

In essence, the Jewish people and G-d are one entity. Without G-d, the Jews are incomplete. They are only half of a single whole.

This fact was demonstrated by the mitzva of the half-shekel. The other "half" is G-d, and together they comprise a single unit. Rich and poor were commanded to give the same amount, for every Jew, no matter who he is, is only "half." Only by uniting with G-d do we become complete.

This is also connected to the month of Adar, in which the miracle of Purim took place. The Talmud explains that the spiritual reason for Haman's decree was that the Jewish people had become tainted by idolatry. The decree was nullified in the merit of the half-shekel.

When the Jews worshipped the Golden Calf, it gave the appearance that they had become disconnected from G-d. Their miraculous salvation refuted this notion, demonstrating openly that the Jewish people can never be separated from G-d.

The merit of the half-shekel aroused the Jews to observe Torah and mitzvot with even more devotion and self-sacrifice, making them worthy of the Purim miracle. May it be G-d's will that the merit of reading about this mitzva render us all worthy of the ultimate miracle, the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

Thoughts that Count

And they came, the men with the women, whoever was generous of heart.and every man who waved a wave offering of gold unto G-d (Ex. 35:22)

The Jews were so eager to make donations to the Sanctuary that they didn't stop to calculate the amount of gold they were contributing. Rather, they "waved it about" and gave with an open hand, like a rich benefactor who disburses his charity liberally. (Be'er Mayim Chaim)

And he made the altar of incense of acacia wood (Ex. 37:25)

A Chasid once came to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, and asked him, "Is it possible that the real intent behind the incense was only to dispel the smell of the animal sacrifices?" The Alter Rebbe told him that this was not so. "Whenever a person offered a sacrifice in the Temple," he explained, "the first thing he had to do was regret his sins and return to G-d with a whole heart. Then and only then were his sins atoned for. Sometimes, however, it happened that a person didn't repent completely, and there was still a trace of sin in the air. The purpose of the incense was to dispel its foul odor." (Shmuot VeSipurim)

Parshat Shekalim

Reish Lakish said: The Creator of the world knew that in the future, the wicked Haman would say to Ahasuerus (Esther 3:9), "If it please the king, let it be decreed that [the Jews] be destroyed, and I will pay (eshkol, from the same root as shekel) ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those who do the work." G-d therefore had His shekalim precede Haman's [as if to offset Haman's evil intent]. That is why "The [mitzva of] shekalim is announced on the first of Adar." (The Talmud, Megila 13:4)

It Once Happened

The study hall in the little town of Trosk was filled to capacity. The whole community was praying for the Rebbetzin, wife of the esteemed Rabbi Yoel, who was critically ill. For two weeks now her condition had deteriorated steadily. Barring a miracle, it seemed as if the saintly Rebbetzin would be returning her soul to its Maker within hours.

Everyone was reciting Psalms when suddenly the door to the elderly Rabbi's study opened. "You may all go home now," he announced. "Your prayers have been accepted on High. With G-d's help, the Rebbetzin will recover."

Sure enough, a few hours later the Rebbetzin opened her eyes. All of the townspeople considered it a miracle, and marveled over their Rabbi's prophetic vision. Only Reb Simcha, the Rabbi's son, seemed to take it in stride. They crowded around him and begged for an explanation.

"I can't really say for sure how my father knew," he began, "but let me tell you a little story. Then you can decide for yourselves.

"Throughout my childhood I learned Torah with my father. Day and night we would study, usually well into the late hours of the evening. It was obvious to me even then that my father was a tremendous scholar, but there was one thing I couldn't understand: It sometimes happened that in the course of our studies, a difficult question would arise that even my father couldn't answer. We would go off to bed with the problem unsolved. The next morning, however, my father would greet me with a smile and tell me the answer!

"I couldn't figure out how he did it. Whenever I asked him he was evasive, and always managed to steer the discussion onto another topic. But eventually he revealed his secret:

"One night we had just finished learning when the conversation turned to the subject of tzadikim [righteous people] to whom Elijah the Prophet had revealed himself. My father told me that there was a tradition that whoever fasted for 40 days and devoted himself solely to Torah study and prayer would also merit the revelation of Elijah.

"'You mean I could do it too?' I asked him excitedly. My father replied that it was certainly possible. After this conversation I tried several times to fulfill the conditions he set forth, but each time it proved too difficult. A few months later I decided to try again. No matter how hard it was I would persist.

"On the fortieth day I approached my father and asked him what to do. 'Go to the study hall and learn Torah,' he advised me. 'After midnight, try to see to it that you're the only one there.' I immediately obeyed.

"When I got to the study hall it was full of people, but eventually the hour grew late and the crowd began to thin. After the last few stragglers left I was finally alone. I opened a volume of the Talmud and began to study.

"Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door. My whole body was trembling in anticipation. I opened it a crack, but instead of seeing Elijah the Prophet my eyes beheld only Yisrael the glazier, who was half frozen from the cold. I was terribly confused, but had no choice but to let him inside. The grateful Yisrael stretched out next to the stove and went immediately to sleep.

"What a predicament! Midnight was approaching, and I was terribly afraid that I would miss my opportunity to see Elijah. I woke up the poor glazier and convinced him to go elsewhere.

"This time I locked the door after him, assuming that Elijah the Prophet wouldn't be deterred by such a mundane barrier. I returned to my seat, but a few minutes later heard another knock. Through a crack in the wood I could see a poor wanderer with a bundle on his back.

"I almost wept with frustration. How could it be that after 40 days of fasting I would miss my chance, all because of some anonymous beggar? The voice on the other side of the door pleaded to be let in, but I made believe there was no one there. Eventually the man gave up and walked away.

"I resumed my wait for Elijah. But the hours passed and dawn broke with no sign of him. I was bitterly disappointed.

"That morning, I related everything that had happened to my father. He listened quietly, but when I got up to the part about the beggar he suddenly interrupted. 'How could you have ignored the pleas of a frozen man?' he demanded. 'Because of this single action, your 40 days of fasting were in vain.'

"What anguish I felt, especially when my father told me that the poor wanderer had most likely been Elijah the Prophet himself. 'That is how he appeared to me my first time.' he revealed.

"I may not have merited to see Elijah," Reb Simcha concluded, "but at least one mystery had been solved. From that day on I knew exactly how my father was able to answer all those questions.

"So I can't tell you for sure, but I have a good idea where my father might have gotten his information."

Moshiach Matters

"Dear Brethren, it is one of the cornerstones of the Jewish faith that a Redeemer will arise who is a descendant of [King] Solomon. He will gather in our scattered ones, take away our humiliation, publicize the true religion and wipe out those who flout His commands. G-d promised this in the Torah." (From Rabbi Moses Maimonides' Letter to Yemen.)

  608: Ki Tisa609: Avi's Bar Mitzvah Speech  
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