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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
November 17, 2000 - 19 Cheshvan, 5761

644: Vayera

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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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  643: Lech-Lecha645: Chayei Sara  

The Current Situation  |  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

The Current Situation

It is our most fervent hope that by the time this issue of L'Chaim is distributed, the following prophetic words of the Rebbe, spoken ten years ago, regarding the current situation in Israel will be relegated to history and there will be a true and lasting peace in the Holy Land.

In recent days the seventy nations of the world have gathered together in order to accuse Israel with an ancient accusation: "You are thieves for you have conquered the land of the seven nations [the Land of Israel]."

This is as the Midrash predicts that when Moshiach comes, "The nations will all be in an uproar..." And when they call the Jews "thieves," they are not just referring to Gaza or Samaria, but even to Judea, which means Jerusalem, the city of David, the capital of the Land of Israel!

Rashi, in his commentary makes it crystal clear that this verse means, that there will be a time when the nations of the world will rise up to accuse the Jews, saying, "You are thieves!"

Therefore, the Torah begins by telling us how to reply. "We must state boldly, Bereshit - In the beginning! All of the earth belongs to G-d. He created it. And He gave it to whomever He wanted. First He gave it to them, and then He took it from them and gave it to us!"

Incredibly, we see that the nations who come to accuse the Jews include our friends as well as our enemies. Even nations that have championed the cause of righteousness and justice in the world. Even nations who went to war in the Persian Gulf to prevent one person from stealing from another, and one country from stealing from another country.

And yet, now, even these righteous nations who normally pursue justice, have unjustly come to accuse the Children of Israel of being thieves! And this, at a time when we are witnessing open miracles in the world!

Perhaps we can suggest the following explanation for the paradox.

There is an order which G-d established in the world, by which darkness precedes light. Thus, we should not be dismayed when the "nations raise an uproar" since, as the verse concludes, "it is all in vain." As the Midrash comments: "The One who dwells in Heaven will laugh! G-d will mock them." Therefore, the Jewish People must stand confident and firm, and remember that the whole of the Land of Israel, especially Jerusalem, belongs to the Jews, for "all of the earth is G-d's. He created it... and He gave it to us." As for "the nations making an uproar": This is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it is one of the signs of Redemption!

As Rashi comments: "Our Sages explained that the struggle for the Land of Israel, with the nations rising up in an uproar to accuse the Jews of being thieves, refers to nothing less than the struggle which will be fought by King Moshiach!"

From a talk delivered on Shabbat Bereshit, the day after Simchat Torah, 5751 (1990).


Living with the Rebbe

Our Sages explain the verse in this week's Torah portion, Vayeira, "Abraham was old and well advanced in age," to mean that Abraham utilized every day of his life in the service of G-d. Not one day of his life span on earth was deficient.

We are also told, however, that Abraham did not recognize the Creator until the age of three. (Other statements in the Midrash cite different ages, 40 and 48 respectively, at which Abraham recognized the One true G-d.) How then can our Sages have said that all of Abraham's days were spent in Divine service, when there was obviously some length of time (depending on the interpretation) before he came to worship G-d properly?

In truth, the same question can be asked of each and every individual Jew. The obligation to observe the Torah's commandments begins only at the age of 13, or 12 for girls. Does this mean that before the age of Bar of Bat Mitzva, when a child is first learning about Torah and mitzvot, that his service of G-d is somehow imperfect?

Not at all. A child's formative years of Jewish education are not only not considered deficient in any way, but are an integral part of the preparation necessary for living a full adult life. When a child is taught how to observe Torah and mitzvot, his childhood is being utilized to its fullest potential. Whenever the Torah commands us to perform a certain action, whatever preparations we need to make ahead of time are also considered part of the mitzva.

One cannot make the argument that the first 12 or 13 years of a Jew's life are spiritually lacking, simply because G-d exempts him from punishment. Rather, it is G-d's will that this period of time be spent learning how to observe Torah and mitzvot most fully in later life.

The same principle can be applied to our ancestor Abraham. True, he only came to recognize G-d at a certain chronological age, but all of the time leading up to this was spent in the pursuit of truth, as Maimonides writes, "His mind began to range...until he perceived the path of truth." Abraham's early years were therefore not flawed, but an important and necessary stage in his Divine service. He may not have perfected his worship of G-d until a certain point, but in terms of utilizing his time and effort to the maximum, he was as perfect as could have been expected of him.

In fact, the entire period of our exile can be considered as preparation for the spiritual perfection we will attain in the Messianic era. But it is precisely now, by "educating" ourselves properly, that we will achieve the very highest levels of perfection with the Redemption.

Adapted from Vol. 35 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

Samara: No Longer Closed
Shlomo and Dena Deutch and family

Dena Deutch

There is a story told of Rabbi Mordechai Dubin, one of the greatest Chasidim of the Previous Rebbe, who escaped the KGB and fled to a far-off city. Arriving with his last ounce of strength and literally starving, he made his way to one of the Jewish homes in town. He knocked on the door but the host, fearing the harsh punishment received by any Jew who was caught hiding a fellow Jew, did not open the door.

Reb Mordechai was ready to pass out right then and there. But a voice within him screamed, "No! What will happen tomorrow morning, when the host will open his door and find a fellow Jew dead in front of his home? What guilt and pain I will have caused him!" And so, Reb Mordechai mustered up enough strength to knock harder and even harder until the door opened. Reb Mordechai remained in this city, hiding and learning in its shul, for five years. This city, then called Kobishov, now Samara, is the city in which we live.

Yes, the city in which we live is called Samara. Not Samarkand, not Samalya, but Samara. It is located in central Russia, along the Volga River, and is the third largest city in Russia.

Surprisingly, many people, even those from Russia, do not recognize its name. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, Samara's name before the fall of Communism, as mentioned above, was Kobishov, making the name Samara a relatively new name for a rather old city.

The second reason people do not recognize the city is that during World War II, Samara became Russia's second capital. It is there that Stalin built himself an amazing bunker, 12 floors deep underground, in case he would have to run for his life. It is to there that 39 embassies moved, afraid to remain in Moscow. And it is there that all the Russian war planes and ammunition were manufactured. To the outside world, Samara was a closed city. The only people allowed into Samara at the time were refugees deported there to work in the factories.

Of the estimated 20,000 Jews in Samara today, few are original Samarans. Most are from Poland or Germany. In fact, there are some elderly Jews who learned in cheder in their youth. Although they do not currently observe Shabbat, kashrut, or anything else, they can pray from memory, read from the Torah, and even "learn a piece of" Mishnayot or Talmud. They can sing all of the old Yiddishe songs, like Toombalalai, Mein Shtetle Belz, Itzik Shoin Chasuna Gehat, A Sukale A Kleina, and so on.

But as beautiful as this sounds, the Rebbe did not send emissaries to far-flung and desloate places like Sarama to live in the past. He sent us to build a future. And that, dear friends, is no easy task.

In 1908 the Jews of Samara put their hearts and souls into building a big and extravagant shul in the center of Samara. However, in 1917 the shul was confiscated by the Communists and turned into a bread factory, ruining and demolishing the entire interior. Along with all the walls that Stalin demolished, he destroyed the beautiful Judaism in the lives of our brethren behind the Iron Curtain. He destroyed and ruined, and we have to rebuild.

A 90-year-old woman, one of the first people in whose homes my husband put up a mezuza, explained that before Stalin came to power, Samara had two shuls. The main shul, which is the big beautiful shul mentioned above, and the Chasidishe shul, which is quite a bit smaller in size but was open consistently all through those terrible years. It is also the shul we are presently using. It is quite interesting to note that in the courtyard of this Chasidishe shul, underneath the bathrooms, we have found a complete mikva, very small but properly satisfying all the requirements of a kosher mikva. And on this very piece of land today there stands a nearly completed, brand-new modern mikva, which we have thank G-d been successful in constructing.

Today, the Chasidishe shul serves as the center for all of our activities, such as Shabbat and holiday services, kiddushes, our Sunday School, and a soup kitchen feeding all those hungry people. Even our exciting yearly women's evening (for which we hired Samara's Jewish Klezmer band for dancing) takes place in shul. Although we could hold some of these events and programs in other places, we hold them specifically in the shul. Why? Because in Russia, people have an impression of a shul as a dark, dingy, smelly place, and our goal is to change that perception. We want to bring them to shul for every happy occasion and show them what a bright and joyous place a shul can be.

But there is more! Today, after a series of open miracles, the Governor of Samara decided to return the now dilapidated building which used to be the magnificent main shul to the Jews of Samara. Out of the 31 Jewish organizations in Samara, he chose to give it to Chabad. And so, a $3 million project has begun, as we transform this four-floor building into the future Jewish Community Center of Samara.

What is life like for us personally in Samara? The first summer we were here we had to overcome serious Mafia threats; my husband has to slaughter our chickens himself; our only trustworthy doctor in Samara is G-d; there are months without hot water; the only food, shoes and clothes we have is what we bring with us from outside of the FSU.

But through it all, and with the constant blessings of the Rebbe, we have managed to cut through all kinds of red tape and have opened a school as well as a dyamic and exciting overnight summer camp (which had 140 children enrolled this past summer).

When local people or visitors ask us how long we plan on being here, we tell them "We are here to stay... until the coming of Moshiach, now!"

Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter


What's New

STUDY BUDDIES

Study Buddies is a bi-weekly program of learning and study with a partner at the Lubavitch Center of Essex County (New Jersey). Held on alternate Thursday evenings from 8:45 to 9:30 p.m., this program is a perfect opportunity to explore the topic of your choice and work at your own pace. For more info call (973) 243-6111 or call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out about similar programs in your area.

TASTE OF YESHIVA

Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva will hold two "Taste of Yeshiva" Shabbatons. The weekends Nov. 23-26 and Feb. 15-19 offers one-on-one learning, skill building workshops and classes with expert teachers focusing on topics thorugh textual analysis. For info call (718) 735-0030 or e-mail info@machonchana.org


The Rebbe Writes

2nd of Marcheshvan, 5725 [1964]

Blessing and Greeting:

I was pleased to receive your letter of the 26th of Tishrei, containing a report of the activities with the girls' groups, as well as N'shei Chabad, and the Camp, all of which I read with much interest.

May G-d grant that the attainments of the past should stimulate an increased activity and even greater results in the future, exceeding by far the plans and expectations.

As we are now reading in the Torah about Avrohom Ovinu [Abraham our father], it is well to remember the lesson which, our Sages say, we have to learn from Abraham, namely that his actions always exceeded his words, and he always did a great deal more than he promised. It befits us, who are called the children of Abraham, to follow in his footsteps.

May G-d grant you and all your co-workers the utmost success.

With blessing,


7th of Adar, 5721[1961]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter recently, in which you write about your background and your present studies, as well as about your desire to enter a Yeshiva in due course.

Needless to say, this is a very good idea, for learning at the Yeshiva offers more than the acquisition of knowledge in Torah, Mussar and Chasidus, but it also offers the proper environment and influences which are no less important than the actual Shiurim [lectures], especially in regard to the daily life. For, after all, the essential thing is not the theory but the practice, as the Mishnah states, and as also stated by our Sages in a few words.

I firmly hope that you have already arranged your life in accordance with the Torah, which is called Toras Chaim, in its plain meaning referring also to life on this earth, and in accordance with the Mitzvos by which Jews live. May G-d grant that you will make additional efforts in this direction, for there is always room for improvement in matters of Torah and Mitzvos, which derive from G-d, the En Sof [Unlimited].

I hope you participate in the get-together arranged by the Chabad in your neighbourhood on special occasions.

Wishing you a happy and inspiring Purim,

With blessing,


7th of Adar, 5740 [1980]

Mr. -

Greeting and Blessing:

Your letter of the 24th of Shevat reached me with a delay. May G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all the matters about which you wrote, including, of course, advancement in all matters of Yiddishkeit, Torah and Mitzvos, in the everyday life.

All the more so since two essential aspects have been added, namely your preparations for marriage in a happy and auspicious hour, which will have an important bearing on your whole future and, secondly, that by Divine Providence you won the raffle for a visit here, which means that you will be representing all those who participated in the raffle, with whom you have to share the inspiration and benefits of this trip. Certainly it imposes on you additional obligations to show a shining example. It is also certain, of course, that since the Hashgocho Protis has singled you out for this privilege and responsibility, it has also provided you with all the necessary capacities to carry them out in the fullest measure, with joy and gladness of heart.

As requested, I will remember in prayer all those you mention in your letter. I trust you will be able to explain to them that since all blessings come from G-d, and the channel to receive them is through the everyday life in accordance with His will, every additional effort in matters of Torah and Mitzvos widens the channels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs. And there is always room for advancement in all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, which are infinite, being connected with the Infinite.

With blessing,


Rambam this week

20 Marcheshvan 5761

Prohibition 259: employing a Hebrew bondsman for unnecessary work

By this prohibition we are forbidden to employ a Hebrew bondsman for unnecessary or "rigorous" work, i.e., except when we are compelled by the necessity of having the particular work done. It is derived from the Torah's words (Lev. 25:43): "You shall not rule over him with rigor." [One is not allowed to say, "Warm me this drink" when it is not necessary, etc.]


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is the 20th of Marcheshvan, the birthday of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, who was born in 5621 (1860). Often referred to as "the Maimonides of Chasidut" for his terse and practical summarizations of complex subject matter, he also founded Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim in 1897, which continues to flourish around the world today.

It was during the years of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership that the famous Mendel Beilis blood libel case occurred in Russia. Accused in 1911 of the age-old charge of ritual murder when the body of a Christian boy was found near a brick oven owned by a Jew, Mendel Beilis, an innocent employee, was arrested and ordered to stand trial, despite the absence of any incriminating evidence. A two-year anti-Jewish campaign ensued, culminating in the trial itself. The judges had been carefully selected for their narrow-mindedness, and the jury consisted of ignorant peasants who believed in the myth of Jewish ritual murder.

The Rebbe Rashab was instrumental in helping the Jewish defense attorney, Oscar Gruzenberg, prepare his case, providing him with some 33 books to consult. In a letter of encouragement and support, the Rebbe also instructed him to conclude his defense with the verse "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad" ("Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One"). The Rebbe also gave Gruzenberg a blessing to succeed in his objective.

Oscar Gruzenberg listened to the Rebbe's advice. At the end of his very lengthy presentation in court, he turned to the prisoner sitting on the defendant's bench and said, "Mendel Beilis! Even if these judges close their ears and their hearts to the truth and find you guilty, do not be discouraged. Be as willing for self-sacrifice as every other Jew who ever gave up his soul for the sanctity of G-d's name with the declaration, 'Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!' "

Mendel Beilis was acquitted.


Thoughts that Count

He lifted up his eyes... and behold, three men were standing by him (Gen. 18:2)

To Abraham the visitors appeared as men, but to Lot they looked like angels. Our ancestor Abraham was generous and kind, welcoming rich and poor into his tent with equal enthusiasm. Lot, by contrast, would only allow important people into his home. Thus there was no need for the strangers to appear to Abraham as angels, as his hospitality extended to everyone.

(Nifla'ot Chadashot)

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him (Gen. 18:19)

According to Rashi, "For I know him" is "an expression of love...for he who knows someone brings him near to himself, and knows him and understands him." Why did G-d love Abraham so much? Unlike other righteous people who lived before his time, Abraham understood that the objective in serving G-d is not to attain individual perfection through contemplation, but to actually have a positive effect on the world. G-d knew that Abraham would "command his children and household after him" to go in the way of the Torah, and thus loved him dearly.

(Our Sages)

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian...laughing (Gen. 21:9)

As Rashi explains, the word "laughing" in this context denotes "idol worship, illicit relations and murder." To a wicked person like Ishmael, even the gravest sins were a big "joke." Isaac, however (whose Hebrew name Yitzchak is derived from the same word meaning "to laugh"), laughed at the petty stratagems of the Evil Inclination...

(Chidushei HaRim)


It Once Happened

In 5665 (1905), when war broke out between Russia and Japan, all Russian males below the age of 50 were commanded to report to their local draft boards. Many Jews did whatever they could to escape the draft, for in those years it was impossible to serve in the anti-Semitic Russian Army and live as a mitzva-observant Jew. Of course, a significant number were unable to avoid being drafted, despite their mighty efforts. One of these was Mendel Dovid Gurevich, a teacher in the city of Valitch and already the father of a large family.

Mendel Dovid was a Chasid of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber, known as the Rebbe Rashab. As soon as he received his draft notice, he hurried to the Rebbe. He told him of the disastrous event, the extreme difficulties it would cause his family, and how distressed they all were at the evil that had befallen them. The Rebbe blessed him and said, "G-d Al-mighty will redeem you from their hands."

But Mendel Dovid's agitated heart felt no relief from the Rebbe's words. "Rebbe, a blessing is not enough for me; I need a promise!" he pleaded.

The Rebbe looked at him intensely, and then replied, "A promise I don't have for you but a blessing I do," and he repeated his original words. Mendel Dovid refused to be discouraged and again requested an explicit promise, but the Rebbe merely repeated the same words for a third time.

Mendel Dovid respectfully took his leave of the Rebbe and returned home. He strengthened himself and his faith in the Rebbe's blessing, and tried to be optimistic about the future. Nevertheless, he felt he had no choice but to make his own plans for when he would have to appear at the draft board.

The dreaded day arrived. Mendel Dovid reported to his assigned draft center. Thousands of new soldiers converged there with him. They passed through a series of medical tests and other examinations, under the supervision of officers who would determine who would be shipped off to battle and who would be assigned non-life-threatening duties at the home front.

All Mendel Dovid's attempts to gain an exemption were fruitless. Indeed, he was even found fit to be sent to a battle regiment. His only hope was the blessing of the Rebbe Rashab, even though it was impossible to imagine how it could possibly be fulfilled at this point. What would happen to his abandoned family? What would become of him? It seemed he needed a miracle.

At the conclusion of all the tests and classification procedures, all the draftees were assembled for their first military inspection. The officer in charge was a General Kazaroff. With a fiery speech, he attempted to enthuse his new troops about the great merit that had fortunately come to them: to be privileged to defend with their lives their dear, beloved mother country.

When he finished speaking, the draftees turned to go their respective ways. The general indicated to them that they should remain where they were for just a few more moments. He strode into his headquarters, and then quickly emerged. They could see that he was holding a piece of paper in his hand.

The General glanced at the note. "Who is Gurevich Mendel?" he called out.

Mendel Dovid began to tremble uncontrollably from fright. He took a moment to try to figure out what could possibly be the reason the general was singling him out in front of thousands of soldiers, but couldn't think of anything. He doubted if it could be good. Hesitatingly, he stepped forward and presented himself. The General merely glanced in his direction and said, "You are discharged. You may go home." He turned on his heels and left, leaving a stunned but ecstatic Jew momentarily frozen in place.

After a few moments, Mendel Dovid was able to accept that it wasn't a wistful dream. It really was true! He was free to go! "I believed in the Rebbe's blessing," he said to himself as he joyfully set out for Valitch, "but I never imagined it could come true so quickly or in such extraordinary fashion."

The following Shabbat Menachem Dovid sponsored a large Kiddush at the Chabad shul. He told them the whole story: how the Rebbe had repeated his blessing three times in identical wording, and the wondrous manner in which he had obtained his speedy release. Everyone listened in rapt attention and sincerely shared in the joy of his deliverance.

Then one of the Chasidim rose, and offered to shed light on how the Rebbe's blessing had become enclosed in this particular natural-seeming guise.

"This General Kazaroff," he began, "used to live in our city. The rented apartment he dwelled in was owned by a Jew. A few months ago his landlord passed away. The heirs made clear their intention to raise the rent. Kazaroff very much wanted to continue living there, but did not want to pay any additional money. He approached the heirs and proposed that if they agreed to not increase his rent, he would repay them in a different way. In the upcoming large draft, he would exercise his powers as a General to obtain the release of a Valitch Jewish soldier.

"His new landlords accepted this unusual offer, and Kazaroff continued to live in the apartment for the same amount of money. About a month ago, however, he moved out. Since war had erupted, he was forced to leave Valitch and relocate nearer to the front. In the meantime he was appointed in charge of the draft, and it seems he didn't forget his promise. He must have perused through the draft list for a Jewish-sounding name from Valitch, and the first one he came across presumably was that of our friend, Mendel Dovid Gurevich."

Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sichat HaShavua www.ascent.org.il


Moshiach Matters

When Moshiach comes, the body will see Divinity with palpable sense-perception. The physical eye will see the light and the Divine life-force which are the essence of every created thing. In our times, the soul is the fount of spiritual energy, and the body receives its life-force from it; that is to say, the material is the recipient of the benefactions of the spiritual. When Moshaich comes, however, the body will be the benefactor. (Likutei Diburim of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe)


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