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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

   641: Bereshis

642: Noach

643: Lech-Lecha

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
November 10, 2000 - 12 Cheshvan, 5761

643: Lech-Lecha

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


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  642: Noach644: Vayera  

Welcome to the World  |  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

Welcome to the World

by Rochel Yaffe

The infant draws its first breath and emits a weak cry. The umbilical cord is cut, severing the newborn from its mother, and a living, breathing, autonomous child enters the world. Every step of an embryo's development is shrouded in mystery and beset by paradox. Each stage is nothing less than miraculous-beginning with the tiny drop that holds every facet of a human being, continuing through the growth inside the womb, and culminating in the transformation at birth from an appendage to its mother into a person with a life of its own.

All of us who have been blessed with children have experienced that moment of awe and wonder when the pain of labor is forgotten with the overwhelming recognition that we have just witnessed a miracle...

"Had we not seen it (a child's birth) with our own eyes," writes Maimonides, "and someone had just told us about it, we would have denied it." (Moreh Nevuchim, Part II, Chap. 17)

According to the Kabala, there is a parallel between the birth of a child and another great mystery. The child in the womb resembles the world in the state of galut (exile). And the moment of birth is like that of deliverance.

The unborn child lies curled in the darkness of the womb, its head resting between its knees. It possesses all of its organs, but does not have the use of its senses. The eyes cannot see; the ears cannot hear; the breath of life will not enter its lungs until the moment of birth. Thus the child remains powerless, unable to emerge into the light and fulfill its potential.

While some associate the warmth of the womb with comfort and security, the Kabbala views it as a place of confinement. The darkness of the womb symbolizes the spiritual darkness of our exile when G-d's presence is concealed in the world and we, His creation, may seem separate from Him. In fact, the Hebrew term for the world, olam, comes from the same root as the word helem, or concealment.

Like the unborn child, the world is only half-alive in exile. Mankind has eyes but does not see the inherent spirituality in this world; we have ears but pay no heed to the voice of the soul; we have lungs but not the breath, the spirit of life, that gives vitality to the heart and mind. Our physical desires and love of material things obscure the light of the soul and the intellect. This bleak picture is, of course, incomplete.

Let us return for a moment to the embryo. True, it is a limited creature and a long way from achieving its potential as a complete human being. But there is no other period in a person's life as crucial to future development as those months in the womb; the slightest variation in environment can do great harm or untold good.

Galut then, like pregnancy, has a meaningful purpose. At a time when the world is in spiritual exile-beset by pain and suffering-even a single good deed shines forth with great brilliance, for light is infinitely more precious when it comes forth from darkness.

And just when the pain of labor becomes unbearable, the child is born. All obstacles melt away-and all suffering is transformed into joy.


Living with the Rebbe

In the Torah portion of Lech Lecha we read about the "Brit Bein Habetarim - the Covenant of the Pieces," that G-d made with our forefather Abraham. It was then that G-d promised to give Abraham the land of Israel as an inheritance for his descendants forever.

Among the many things G-d told Abraham was that his children would one day be exiled in Egypt. However, G-d promised that their exile would end. Not only would they return from their exile but "afterwards they will go out with great wealth."

The intent of G-d's promise of "great wealth" was not simply as payment for their suffering. In truth, G-d's statement that "afterwards they will go out with great wealth" revealed the entire purpose behind their descent into Egypt.

At first glance this is difficult to understand. Had G-d asked the Jewish people to relinquish the "great wealth" they were promised in order to hasten the end of their suffering they would have surely agreed. Nonetheless, we find that G-d did not offer them this choice, as the "great wealth" they were to obtain in Egypt was of particular significance.

What was this "great wealth" that required the Jewish people to endure a bitter exile for hundreds of years, and why was it so important?

The inner purpose of the Jews' descent into Egypt was that through their service of G-d, the "sparks of holiness" that that country contained would be refined and elevated. Indeed, the Jews' Divine service was successful, as it states, "And a mixed multitude (erev rav) also went up with them," for the numerical equivalent of "rav" is 202 - i.e., all 202 sparks of holiness that Egypt possessed were successfully purified.

This, then, is the "great wealth" that the Jews brought out of Egypt with them. Indeed, it was for the Jewish people's own benefit; had it not occurred, Abraham would have had a valid complaint to level against G-d.

But what was the benefit that they derived?

Every soul has its own unique role in the mystical process of "elevating the sparks." By purifying the specific "sparks" he encounters throughout his life, the Jew brings redemption to his own soul, and to the world at large.

The lesson to be derived from all this is that the Jew's function is to involve himself in the material world for the express purpose of elevating these hidden sparks of holiness. For with these sparks we will merit to greet Moshiach imminently.

Adapted from Volume 3 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

EMPOWERED BY LUBAVITCH

Remarks by Newark City Councilman Cory Booker at the National Founders' Dinner of the Rabbinical College of America, Morristown, New Jersey.

I come to you today truly humbled by my life experience. Right now I am living with a group of young activitists in a small mobile home on Victory Avenue and Garside Street in Newark. That corner is one of the most notorious drug corners. We are going to be moving the mobile home from street corner to street corner, talking to people about their potential and power. We truly hope to help some neighborhoods be taken back, person by person, street by street.

But the reason why I say that I am humbled to stand before you is that I am truly empowered by the Lubavitch movement, and specifically by a number of Lubavitcher rabbis I have come to know over the last few years. They helped me take seeds that were planted by my elders, my parents and my grandparents, and nurture them in a way that allowed those seeds to flourish and blossom into the kind of work to which I have dedicated my life.

The seed my parents planted was that they told me that every child is born with some of G-d's genius within his or her heart. No child is born stupid. We were all created in the image of G-d. We must realize that we all have an obligation to nurture the divinity within ourselves-to nurture G-d-given genius, and then to unleash it onto the world, proudly, boldly and if necessary, even brashly.

Many years after I was taught this lesson by my parents I began my adult educational career. It took me from Stanford to Oxford to Yale and finally, back here to Newark.

I did not realize that in those travels I would meet so many rabbis who would become important to me. In fact, if you had told me that I, Cory Booker, would one day be the co-founder of the Yale Chai Society or be the co-president of the Oxford L'Chaim Society, I would have laughed much harder than some of you are giggling right now.

But I still remember the day at Oxford when a student came to me and said, "Cory, I want you to come to dinner with me." Later, she left me a note that read "Cory, please meet me at the L'Chaim Society."

I did not know what I would be walking into that evening. When I knocked on the door and walked in, it was like one of those E.F. Hutton commercials: everybody stopped eating and looked at me, and I looked at them. There were about five Lubavitcher rabbis sitting around a table. I thought to myself, these people must be wondering what this big black man is doing here. I was wondering that myself.

A young woman, the wife of one of the rabbis, said to me, "Cory, the person who said she would meet you here called to say that she could not make it." I answered that I would leave and I turned around to walk out, about to make probably the biggest mistake in my life. But thankfully she said, "Would you like to join us?"

I must tell you the truth, never in my life have I searched harder for a reason why I could not join someone for dinner. But I could not find a reason, so I sat down at a table full of rabbis, their wives, and a number of other people for a celebration called Simchat Torah. It turned out to be one of the most joyous days of the Jewish year, and I could not help but be enraptured by the words being spoken at the table, the values that were being articulated, and the joy that was expressed in that room. By the end of the night, I was wearing a kipa and dancing with a bunch of men as I had never danced before. That began my involvement in Jewish life.

I came back to Lubavitch regularly on Shabbat. I became an enthused participant of this community as I began to study religion and theology and to learn so much about myself. I began to drag Jewish friends of mine, who had never so much as lit a Shabbat candle, and ended up bringing dozens and dozens of Jewish friends to this organization.

When I left England and got to Yale, I had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Shmully Hecht. He told me he wanted to start a society at Yale University, grounded in Jewish values but reaching out to non-Jews as well as to Jews. He told me what I already knew in my heart. He said, "Cory, what the Lubavitch movement is about is first and foremost grounding people in their values, their beliefs, their histories, and their understanding." He said that what he understood from the Rebbe was that the Jews are supposed to teach the world about G-dliness and goodliness, to be a light unto nations. Before he could even finish his thought, he and I began to embark on starting a small society that began as five or ten people sitting around a Shabbat table in a little apartment. Now we have almost half a city block in New Haven and the Chai Society has become the most popular society at Yale, with people from all races and religions coming and discovering the power, the wisdom and the divinity of Jewish teachings.

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned was exhibited by a late night conversation at the Chai Society. A young Jewish man was sitting there, who had known nothing of his own faith. Next to him was a young Mormon, who knew a lot about his faith. There was a Catholic man sitting there as well. Each person, in turn, thanked the rabbi. The way they thanked him still touches me to this day. The Mormon said, "Because of who you are, because of your knowledge, because of the boldness with which you live Jewish principles, you have strengthened my own religious feelings." The Catholic man agreed. The Jew turned to the rabbi and said, "You have made me love myself and my faith." This is what real power is about, and this is what I believe the Rebbe had in mind. That you have to, in every single way, reach out and love the world, to be a light of goodness and love and a light of G-d's light, because this country of ours needs it, because this world of ours needs it.

Right now, I am on the streets of Newark, battling what I think is one of the most important battles in the city, in this nation, to try to make the spirit of G-d alive and well. As one of my rabbi friends told me - to try to truly bring about, through effort and sweat, or whatever necesary - the Messianic Era.


What's New

NEW CENTER IN GUATEMALA

Chabad-Lubavitch of Guatemala was recently established to serve the 2,500 Jews of this Central American country. In the short time since they arrived in Guatemala City, Rabbi and Mrs. Sholom Pelman have organized Shabbat and holiday programs which include hosting dozens of people for festive meals. They also teach ten adult education classes each week and have established a kosher food co-op.

VOLUMES OF L'CHAIM

Limited quantities of bound volumes of the last five years of L'Chaim are available. They make wonderful gifts and are excellent for resource material. To purchase copies indicate which volume (8 - 12) is requested and send $28 per volume to L'Chaim Books, 1408 President Street, Bklyn., NY 11213.


The Rebbe Writes

Free Translation

Tuesday, Parshas Lech Lecha, 5704 [1943]

In response to the invitation to your wedding: I send my blessing, a blessing of mazal tov, mazal tov. May you build a house in Israel on the foundations of the Torah and its mitzvos.

It is possible to explain that the terms chasunah [wedding] and chasan [groom] are associated with the concept of descent as our Sages say nachus darga, "go down a step." It is explained in several sources (including the HaYom Yom, p. 78) that the phrase "as you go on your way" refers to the soul's descent from above and its journeys in this world until old age.

These journeys involve two factors: a) proceeding on one's way, and b) knowing where to proceed.

The actual progress is undertaken by the body. It is, however, the soul which determines the straight path on which to proceed. This concept can be understood in terms of the example our Sages (Sanhedrin 91a,b) give for the body and the soul, that of a blind man and a lame man. The soul compensates for the impediments of the blind man, the body, and the body compensates for the impediments of the lame man, the soul. It is through joining them together that a person gains the ability to proceed. This union can be described with the analogy of the marriage of a man and a woman. For this reason, our material world is called a Hilula (Eruvin 54a), a term which means "wedding feast," as reflected in the Zohar (Chayei Sarah, I:181b). The purpose of this journey is to achieve love and fear of G-d (which are "wings") for the Torah and its mitzvos.

On the surface, a difficulty can be raised: Based on our Sages' statements (Bereishis Rabbah), it would appear that "a journey" would not serve the above purposes, because a journey minimizes three things:

  1. one's reputation - this refers to a reduction in one's involvement in the mitzvos, as Rashi and the Matnos Kehunah comment on the Midrash;

  2. one's wealth - this refers to a reduction in one's love and fear of G-d which are called gold and silver. For even if a person will be a perfect tzaddik [righteous], he will not attain the level of close connection to G-d his soul enjoyed before it descended to this material world as stated in Tanya, ch. 37;

  3. one's capacity to reproduce - this refers to a reduction in one's occupation in Torah study as indicated by our Sages' statement (Bechoros 44b): "You will not have a barren one among the Torah scholars."

For in this material world, there are several impediments to the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.

This difficulty is explained by the Midrash, which states that the Holy One, blessed be He, blesses Abraham (the soul, as stated in the Zohar, Chayei Sarah, loc. cit.) so that, on the contrary, the journey will lead to "I will bless you," bringing an increase in financial resources, reputation, and the conception of offspring.

In general, the concept parallels the idea that "Every day, a person's natural inclination offers him a powerful challenge, and were G-d not to help him, he could not overcome it" (Sukkah 52b). The "blessing" granted for the journey is the assistance mentioned in the above quote. See the root of this matter as discussed in Kuntres U'Mayon, 13:22 and 14:1.

When this assistance is granted, through the descent of the soul into the body, a person attains the love of G-d with all his might (money). Similarly, the mitzvos (reputation) were given only on this material plane. And with regard to Torah study, our Sages said (Pesachim 50a): "Happy is he who comes here with the Torah (the conception of offspring) which he studied in this world in his hand."

Of these three elements which represent the ultimate of progress on the path of life, the fundamental unity achieved in the sublime realm is through the Torah and its mitzvos. For love and fear are merely wings for the Torah and its mitzvos as stated in Tanya, ch. 40.

Within the Torah and its mitzvos themselves, the mitzvos are referred to as eirusin, consecration, while Torah represents nisuin, the consummation of the marriage bond (Lik-kutei Torah, Bamidbar). This is the ultimate purpose of this world, for it was not created for the sake of chaos, but was formed to be settled.

In addition to the concept of journeying that relates to our physical world in general, there is also the concept of exile.... Therefore before any other matter, attention must be paid to the ascent from exile, which involves teshuvah [repentance]. Just as the descent into exile is not at all gradual; so, too, the ascent, through teshuvah, should be a spring forward that knows no gradation. (The parallel in our Divine service can be comprehended.)

With the blessings of mazal tov, and with the blessing, "Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee

From I Will Write It In Their Hearts published by Sichos in English


Rambam this week

12 Marcheshvan 5761

Positive mitzva 236: penalty for inflicting injury

By this injunction we are commanded concerning the law of a person who wounds his fellow man. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 21:18) "If men contend, and one smites the other, etc." [All such laws are based on the verse (Lev. 24:19) "As he has done, so shall it be done to him," meaning that a person must pay the monetary equivalent of the harm he has inflicted, including putting someone to shame.]


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We are now in the month of Marcheshvan, the name of which has many interesting interpretations. One meaning of the word "mar" is "bitter," because this month, which has no holy days or festivals, lacks the sweetness that is derived from the holidays. Another translation of the word "mar" is "a drop [of water]," because Marcheshvan marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. According to linguists, "Cheshvan" is etymologically related to "chashrat mayim," meaning an abundance of water.

In Hebrew, however, "mar" also means "sir" or "master." The Midrash relates that King Solomon finished building the First Holy Temple during the month of Marcheshvan, but it was not inaugurated for 11 months, until the following Tishrei. G-d rewarded the month of Marcheshvan by promising that the Third and Eternal Holy Temple, which will be revealed with the coming of Moshiach, will descend from heaven and be dedicated during Marcheshvan. We therefore refer to this period with the respectful title of "master" or "sir" to honor an event that will signify our greatest joy.

Chasidut explains that the Hebrew language - the "holy tongue" - is unlike all other languages, in which the words that are used to describe things are arbitrary. In Hebrew, the word for an object is that object, the holy letters being the channel for its life-force and very existence. Aramaic, a related Semitic language that was the lingua franca of Jews in ancient times (and in which most of the Talmud is written), is described as the intermediary or bridge between the holy tongue and all other languages. In Tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud, it is explained that Marcheshvan means "the movement of the lips." During the month of Tishrei, when a Jew is consumed with praying and intense study of the Torah, his mouth becomes a conduit for G-dliness. The impact of these holy vibrations of the lips are still felt in the month of Marcheshvan, and G-d willing, throughout the year to come.


Thoughts that Count

And the L-rd said to Abram, go out from your country, and from your family, and from your father's house (Gen. 12:1)

There are some lands that produce naturally strong and robust people, but as G-d implied to Abraham, a Jew mustn't rely on his inborn strength. Nor should he content himself with the positive character attributes he inherited from his family, or with the fact that his father was holy and righteous. Rather, every Jew must "go out" and expend his own efforts, as it states in Psalms (128:2), "For you shall eat the labor of your hands; happy shall you be, and it shall be well with you."

(Daat Moshe)

And the land was not able to bear them that they might live together; for their possessions were great, and they could not live together (Gen. 13:6)

It was not poverty but prosperity that drove Lot and Abram apart and destroyed their peace. In fact, most antagonism and dissention between people can be directly attributed to wealth - i.e., from being jealous of someone who has more of it...

(Ohr HaTorah)

And he believed in G-d, and he counted it to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6)

Not only did Abraham believe in G-d, but he was appreciative of G-d's kindness and generosity in giving him the intelligence to have faith.

(Avodat Yisrael)


It Once Happened

Rabbi Aharon Rokeach of Belz, of blessed memory, would eventually escape the Nazis and survive the Second World War. But for many years he was forced into hiding on both sides of the German-Russian border, and his entire family - children and grandchildren included - was murdered.

In the course of the Belzer Rebbe's travails there were many times when it seemed as if the Angel of Death had finally caught up with him. Each time, however, the Belzer Rebbe miraculously escaped his grasp. The following story of one such incident involves a Jewish agent of the Gestapo (!) who unfortunately, had descended to the lowest depths of evil and depravity.

The Belzer Rebbe had just arrived in Vishnitz, a tiny hamlet that had been largely ignored by the Nazis. The Belzer Rebbe was living under an assumed name, while his relatives did all they could to conceal his presence.

One day an agent of the Gestapo arrived in Vishnitz on a mission to determine where the Jews lived, in preparation for their internment by the Germans. The Belzer Rebbe's relatives were terrified, especially when they learned that the agent was none other than the infamous Shpitz - a Jew!

There was no explanation for Shpitz's behavior. Outwardly, he looked like any other Nazi murderer, strutting through the streets in high black boots and wielding a whip. There was no question that it was only a matter of time until he discovered where the Belzer Rebbe was hiding.

Frantically the Belzer Rebbe's relatives tried to devise a plan to avert the impending disaster. One relative, Reb Mordechai Ehrlich, even went so far as to suggest a meeting between Shpitz and the Belzer Rebbe, in the hope that it would arouse a feeling of repentance in the renegade Jew. But regrettably, the invitation had the opposite effect. "I'm too busy right now," Shpitz replied with ill-concealed contempt. "But don't worry, the day will surely come when the two of us will meet face to face..."

Once the secret was out and Shpitz knew for sure that the Belzer Rebbe was in Vishnitz, the situation turned even more dangerous. At that point another person became involved, Reb Eliezer Landau, whom the Germans had appointed in charge of the labor camp in the Buchnia ghetto. Reb Eliezer decided to go to the Gestapo headquarters in Cracow, to try to determine how much information the Germans actually had.

Reb Eliezer was allowed to speak with Ubersturmfuhrer Kunda, head of the Gestapo's Jewish Division. The first thing the German told him was, "Are you aware that Rabbi Rokeach is hiding in Vishnitz?" As Reb Eliezer's face paled he added, "Surely you know that he recently crossed over from the Russian side of the border."

This was even worse news, as the worst thing a person could be accused of by the Nazis was spying for the Communists. All refugees from Russian-controlled areas were automatically under suspicion and faced death.

The next day Shpitz paid a surprise visit to the apartment where the Belzer Rebbe was living. The terror his appearance caused was palpable. Everyone knew that Shpitz would eventually turn up, but the fast pace of events was an ominous sign. The Gestapo officer sauntered from room to room, like a wild animal in search of prey.

The Belzer Rebbe's relatives tried pleading with him, but this only angered him more. "I thought that rabbis like yourselves would be smart, but you are all fools. What did you expect from me? Have you ever heard it said that Shpitz did a favor for a Jew?"

His actual encounter with the Belzer Rebbe lasted only a few seconds, during which the Belzer Rebbe gave him an extremely penetrating glance before averting his eyes. The Gestapo agent left immediately afterward, still spouting a non-stop stream of invective and threats.

A few days later he returned and made an announcement: "The Belzer Rebbe cannot stay here any longer." The Belzer Rebbe's relatives were thrown into panic as he added, "You must find a different apartment for him to live in, one that is more suitable for a Rebbe." Everyone protested that the apartment was fine, and begged him to forget about the matter.

From that point on Shpitz became a regular visitor in the Belzer Rebbe's home. In the street he still swaggered about like a regular Nazi, but as soon as he entered the Rebbe's presence his appearance changed. His face became softer and more refined - more Jewish. From time to time he brought news of the Gestapo's activities and plans.

Then one day the head of the Gestapo's Jewish Division and his deputy showed up at the Belzer Rebbe's home, having been persuaded by Shpitz to meet the Rebbe themselves. Deeply impressed by the Belzer Rebbe, they arranged for him to escape to the Buchnia ghetto. Indeed, this move saved the Belzer Rebbe's life, as a short time later the Nazis swept through Vishnitz and massacred its Jewish population.

During his visits with the Belzer Rebbe, Shpitz would often bemoan his rotten luck. More than once he burst into tears and confided his fear that the Gestapo was planning on eliminating him.

Not long afterward it was learned that the Gestapo had sent Shpitz on a contrived mission, during which he was indeed murdered by another agent under orders to liquidate him.


Moshiach Matters

It should be noted once again, as I have said many times, that the Rabbis must publicize the legal decree that "all the appointed times have passed" (Talmud Sanhedrin 97b). In regard to repentance [as the Talmud continues, "the coming of Moshiach depends only on repentance], repentance has already been done and all aspects of Divine service have already been completed. All that remains now is the true and complete Redemption in actual reality. (The Rebbe upon greeting Harav HaGaon Mordechai Eliyahu, 6 Marcheshvan, 5752-1992)


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