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Devarim Deutronomy

January 26, 2001 - 2 Shevat, 5761

654: Vaera

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  653: Shemos655: Bo  

Oops!  |  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


It's early in the morning. The doorbell is ringing incessantly and you're still in your pajamas. Should you ignore it and miss a possible delivery or should you...

Oops! You forgot that Aunt Esther is coming all the way from Florida and she is due to arrive soon. Could that be her? Hurriedly you throw on a robe, your slippers and a smile and run to the door. And there she is, Aunt Esther.

There's a moment of confusion. Do you go out, in your pajamas, and help the taxi-driver with the rest of Aunt Esther's packages or do you let him do the shlepping himself and tip him a few extra bucks? You choose the latter.

When everybody and everything is inside, you excuse yourself for a second to get dressed and make yourself more presentable. By the time Aunt Esther is settled in and you're chatting over a fresh cup of coffee you don't even remember the momentary embarrassment.

Some people are afraid of Moshiach. They've heard that if they weren't 100% observant of all of the mitzvot (and who can claim that they really are?) they're in for some bad times when Moshiach comes.

But Rabbi Moses Maimonides says about Moshiach, "He will not come to declare the pure impure or the impure pure, nor to disqualify people presumed to be of legitimate lineage or to legitimize those presumed to be of disqualified lineage, only to establish peace in the world."

When Moshiach comes, and his arrival-like Aunt Esther's-is imminent, we'll all be at various levels and degrees of readiness to greet him. Mitzvot, according to Chasidic philosophy, are likened to clothing. So, some people will be fully decked out in their best clothes. Others will be wearing their work-clothes and still others might be in their pajamas.

But, when that great day comes, Moshiach isn't going to be busy spending his time reprimanding us for not being dressed properly. He's not going to be saying who's "pure" and who's not pure, who's been "good" and who hasn't been so hot. He'll be doing more important things, like influencing the entire world toward universal peace. And teaching unique concepts about G-d and spirituality to a world that is finally able to understand them.

And we, for our part, aren't going to spend too much time in our pajamas. We'll hastily excuse ourselves for a moment and get dressed properly. We'll have to hurry to catch up with some of the others, but that we will be able to do.

O.K. Now that you're no longer paralyzed by fear over Moshiach's arrival it's time to rouse yourself from the inertia and inactivity and GET OUT OF THOSE PAJAMAS even before Moshiach comes. Because, after all, even though it's nothing to worry about, who doesn't want to be ready?

So, start learning more about Moshiach and the Redemption. Discuss the subject with friends or family, just to see what they think of the whole thing. Do a mitzva, any mitzva, to help better prepare yourself. The time to act is now!

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Va'eira, we read about the plagues G-d brought upon the Egyptians. On the simplest level, the plagues were intended to punish the Egyptians for enslaving the Jews and refusing to set them free. But the Torah tells us there was an even deeper purpose behind them: "And the Egyptians shall know that I am the L-rd."

The Egyptian people did not believe in G-d; the plagues were meant to educate them about the Creator and His power. As Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel explained, Pharaoh denied three things: the existence of G-d, the concept of Divine Providence (that G-d oversees and is intimately involved in everything that goes on in the world), and G-d's ability to perform miracles that transcend the laws of nature.

When G-d brought the plagues upon the Egyptians, all three of these erroneous beliefs were publicly disproved: The first three plagues demonstrated that G-d exists; the second three plagues established His Divine Providence; and the next three plagues taught Pharaoh that G-d can indeed act in a supernatural manner.

Significantly, however, the Torah mentions an additional reason for G-d's having brought the plagues: to teach the Jewish people about His greatness: "That you may tell in the ears of your child, and of your grandchildren, what things I have done in Egypt...that you may know that I am the L-rd." In other words, in addition to the effect they were supposed to have on the Egyptians, the plagues were meant as a lesson for the Jews, that they should "know that I am the L-rd." As Rashi notes, "The Holy One, blessed be He, brings punishment upon the nations in order that Israel should hearken and fear."

But why wasn't punishing the Egyptians and refuting their religious misconceptions enough of a reason? Why was it necessary for the Jews to be brought to a greater awareness of G-d?

The answer has to do with the reason G-d created the world in the first place. Our Sages teach that G-d created the world "for Israel and for the Torah." Accordingly, everything that happens in the world - every event and every little detail - has a direct connection to the Jewish people and the Torah, and is intended for their benefit.

For this reason, there had to be more "justification" than simply punishing the Egyptians and refuting their beliefs; the plagues would somehow have to be advantageous to the Jews. In fact, it was only when they caused the Jews to have a greater awareness of G-d that the Egyptian plagues completely fulfilled their objective.

Adapted from Vol. 36 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

A Day to Remember
By Steve Hyatt

When I was a young boy of six, my sister Nora was born three months premature. After months in the hospital our family was saddened to discover that she was severely disabled, both physically and mentally. Due to the severity of her challenges the doctors advised my family to place her in the loving hands of a local facility for the severely disabled. For reasons too numerous to go into, my sister Nora and I rarely saw one another over the course of the next 40 years.

One can only imagine the pain, guilt and anguish that results from this kind of situation. No matter where I went in the world, the sister I hardly knew always found her way into my thoughts and my heart. Throughout the last 40 years I have always felt an insatiable need to establish a relationship with Nora. But like many self-involved young people, I always found a selfish reason why something else took priority over her. When I finally felt ready to pursue a relationship, I didn't even know where to begin.

This past Rosh Hashana, as I prayed at the Chabad of Oregon shul in Portland, I couldn't help but wonder that despite the joy and peace I had found in my life, there was always a deep, agonizing hurt that refused to go away. As I stood before G-d asking for a bright, sweet year, I realized that it was time to summon the courage to face my innermost fears and end the pain. It was time to go see my sister.

Before heading off for Connecticut I called my friend and mentor Rabbi Chuni Vogel of Chabad of Delaware and asked him how, even though my sister could barely hear and could hardly see, I could bring a little Yiddishkeit into her life. I knew that no matter what the circumstance, though she had never been exposed to any kind of Jewish experience in her life, she was a Jewish woman.

Without hesitation he instructed me to recite the Shema to her when I went to see her. He said that despite her disabilities, this most holy of Jewish prayers would speak directly to her neshama, her soul. He told me that Jewish teachings have always expressed the belief that physically and mentally challenged individuals have unique, elevated neshamot that have been purposely placed in their special bodies. He assured me the Shema would be a wonderful way to bring the first bits of Yiddishkeit into her life.

Shortly after I arrived in Connecticut I met with my cousin Jennifer, who has had a long term, loving relationship with my sister; together we went to see Nora. When we parked the car and stepped onto the steps leading to the group home where my sister resides, my heart was pumping like a bass drum in my chest. I was excited, nervous and electrified all at the same time.

Before I knew what was happening we had walked through the front door, proceeded into the warm and comfortable living room and Jennifer was introducing me to my sister. In one explosive moment all of the guilt, all of the anguish, all of the pain flew out of my body as I put my arms around her and hugged her for the first time in 40 years!

It was amazing to see her. Despite her physical problems she looked instantly familiar. She was the spitting image of many of the women in my family; same face, same eyes, same smile. We spent the next hour and a half renewing a long-lost relationship. Communication was a challenge but where there is a will there is always a way. We took photographs together, sat next to each other and in general, enjoyed precious moments together. When it was time to go, my heart soared. After all these many years Nora and I had started on a new journey together, one that I was determined would last a lifetime.

As my cousin Jennifer was talking to the administrator of the facility I bent down next to Nora, who was watching television, and whispered the Shema into her ear.

"Shema Yisrael...Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One."

As I concluded this brief but oh so important prayer, my sister-a woman who can barely hear a sound-turned her head, looked me right in the eye, gently grabbed my face with her two hands and kissed me affectionately on the cheek.

When the moment had passed she gave me a gentle nudge and went back to watching the television show. I was absolutely stunned by her reaction. I was sure that deep inside, these powerful few words had reached the very essence of her being.

When I related this to my cousin Jennifer she told me that there was something else I might find interesting about my sister. She said that throughout the years, Nora would eat anything put on her plate, anything, that is, but pork. She said that no matter how it was prepared, Nora would look at it, push it away, and refuse to eat it.

As I walked out the door it was clear to me that the spiritual journey I had embarked upon the day I walked into my first Chabad House had taken me to some incredible places. None, however, was more powerful, more meaningful and more satisfying than the journey to my sister's front door.

For 3311 years the Jewish people have survived whatever the world tried to throw at them. In a few short, powerful moments I saw first-hand how they've managed to do so. For in every Jew there burns a fire so bright that no matter the circumstance, no matter the obstacle, it cannot be extinguished. On one memorable day in Connecticut, in a little obscure house in Connecticut, I saw first-hand the power of the Jewish soul!

What's New

Chabad House Expands

The Chabad House - Jewish Student Center at SUNY Binghamton (New York) is expanding. The expansion project will significantly enlarge the great room in which services and Shabbat and holiday dinners (for an average of 200 students weekly!) are held. It will provide, on the lower level, classrooms, a meeting and recreation student lounge, office and conference space, an enlarged book and Judaica shop area and other services.

Outreach Activities Strengthened in Israel

The Rebbe's shluchim (emissaries) in Judah and Samaria have increased their outreach activities with the aid of volunteers from the Lubavitcher yeshivas and Chabad communities throughout Israel. One emissary was himself a victim of Palestinian violence. He continues to drive to his appointments and classes in his car which was riddled with bullets.

The Rebbe Writes

2nd of Shevat, 5740 [1980]

Executive Director North American Jewish Students Network

Greeting and Blessing:

Your letter of the 16th of Kislev reached me with some delay. Subsequently, I was gratified to be informed by the Lubavitcher activists who participated in the Convention that it was both an impressive and stimulating event. Of course, as our Sages emphasize, "The essential thing is the deed," and real Hatzlocho [success] is measured in terms of actual accomplishments in matters of Torah and Mitzvos. And if this applies to every individual, how much more so in the case of a Convention to which hundreds of young Jews have been brought together from different parts of the country. Thus, the fullest measure of the Convention's success will be reflected in the actual results, in tangible deeds and activities into which the Convention's aims, resolutions and spirit will be translated.

In view of your leading position in the organization and, especially, since you and your colleagues undoubtedly invested an enormous amount of energy, time and effort into the Convention, and "a person treasures his handiwork," you will surely wish to see the Convention achieve the maximum tangible results.

Needless to say, the above will largely depend on the follow-up, as is customary in such a case. It would be highly desirable that every participating student, and especially the group leaders, should receive copies of the resolutions, with an encouraging cover letter that would stimulate the actual implementation of the resolutions to strengthen Jewish knowledge, identity and commitment among Jewish students in the fullest possible measure.

At this time, approaching the Yahrzeit-Hilulo of my father-in-law of saintly memory on the 10th of Shevat, whose life and work is surely known to you, every one of us will surely remember his total dedication to the spreading and strengthening of Yiddishkeit, and how much he urged everyone to be involved in this vital activity.

We recall, particularly, that one of the first public pronouncements which my father-in-law made immediately upon setting foot in this country forty years ago was, "America is not different" - not different from any other place insofar as a Jew's commitment to the eternal Torah and Mitzvos is concerned. And in keeping with the principle that "action is the essential thing," he immediately threw himself into a determined all-out effort to make his vision a reality. How well he succeeded, with G-d's help, in this vital task is a matter of open record, as anyone who is familiar with the American scene, as it was then, and as it is now, can clearly see, especially on the campuses of the colleges and universities in all parts of this continent.

With prayerful wishes for your continued Hatzlocho in all above, and hoping to hear good news from you,

With blessing,

2nd of Shevat, 5745 [1985]

To All Participants in the Annual Melava Malka Of the Hillel Academy of Passaic, N. J.

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed of the forth-coming Annual Melava Malka honoring Rabbi__ and other worthy honorees.

It is gratifying indeed to note that the Passaic and Clifton Jewish community appreciates the services of their Rav, rendered with a dedication and devotion that exceeds what is normally expected of a conscientious Rabbi and spiritual leader. But a graduate of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva demands of himself the very utmost and more. And Rabbi__ is one of the early graduates of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva founded by my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory - whose Yahrzeit-Hilulo will be observed on the 10th of Shevat. This, by the way, provides the significant timely connection with the Melava Malka event that follows it so closely. The Baal HaHilulo was the embodiment of real Mesiras Nefesh [self-sacrifice] in his boundless dedication to the dissemination and strengthening of Yiddishkeit, Torah and Mitzvoth, all throughout his lifetime. This spirit permeates the Lubavitcher Torah institutions and activities, as well as its students, of whom Rabbi Bobroysky is a living and inspiring example.

I extend prayerful wishes to each and all of you, especially to the worthy honorees, honorary officers and all community leaders, that the inspiration of the Melava Malka event be with you in all days ahead, to stimulate you, one and all, to even greater achieve-ments in the cause of Torah education and true Yiddishkeit, in an ever-growing measure.

With esteem and blessing,

Rambam this week

2 Shevat 5761

Prohibition 25: profiting from anything connected with idolatry

By this prohibition we are forbidden to increase our wealth from anything connected with idolatry; on the contrary, we must shun it, its houses of worship, and everything related to it. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 7:26): "You shall not bring an abomination into your house."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We have just entered the Hebrew month of Shevat. It was on the first day of this month that Moses began his final repetition of the Torah and alluded to the sins of the Jewish people throughout their 40-year sojourn in the desert. Moses completed this repetition over a month later, on the seventh of Adar, the day of his passing.

As "Moses was the first redeemer and Moses will be the last redeemer," it should not come as a surprise that this month of Shevat has many connections to Moshiach and the Redemption.

The name Shevat relates to the Hebrew word "shevet" which means "staff." Shevet is associated with the concept of authority and kingship, as it is written, "The shevet will not depart from [the royal family of] Judah." The most perfect expression of the concept of royalty will be in the Era of the Redemption, when Moshiach will reign. For this reason, on the verse "And a shevet will arise in Israel," Maimonides comments, "This refers to the King Moshiach."

The word shevet also means "branch" or "shoot." In this context there is also a connection to Moshiach. On the verse "A shoot will emerge from the stem of Jesse" which begins a renowned prophecy concerning Moshiach's coming, the Metzudat David commentary states, "a shevet will emerge... the King Moshiach."

The connection between the month of Shevat and the Divine revelations that the world will experience in the Messianic Era is also apparent from the fact that it is the eleventh month. All existence is structured in a pattern of ten, and eleven alludes to a revelation that transcends this structure.

In this month, which is so completely associated with Moshiach, may we finally merit the long-awaited Redemption, NOW!

Thoughts that Count

The L-rd ... gave them a charge to the Children of Israel (Ex. 6:13)

Despite the fact that the Jewish people hadn't listened "because of their anguished spirit and the cruel slavery," G-d commanded Moses and Aaron to keep on talking. For the word of G-d always makes an impression and has an effect: if not immediately, then sometime later. Holy words are never wasted, and are always ultimately heard.

(Sefat Emet)

And Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:7)

Why does the Torah need to tell us the ages of Moses and Aaron? To refute the common misconception that only young people can carry the banner of liberation and redemption. Older people, too, can be "revolutionaries," if G-d determines it is necessary and the proper time.

(Shaarei Yerushalayim)

And the frogs died in the houses, in the villages, and in the fields (Ex. 8:9)

When the plague of frogs was over, the frogs died. By contrast, after the plague of "various wild beasts" the animals did not die, but went back to wherever they had come from. The reason is that no "new" animals were created for the plague of "various wild beasts"; at G-d's command they left their natural habitat and converged on Egypt. When the plague ended, they were still necessary for the world's ecosystem. The frogs, however, were created especially for the plague; when it was over, there was no need for so many.

(Kehilat Yitzchak)

It is not proper to do so...shall we sacrifice what is an abomination to the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us (Ex. 8:22)

The Egyptians were extremely careful to avoid hurting animals; according to the Ibn Ezra, they did not eat meat and would not even use any animal products. It is therefore "not proper" when such "humanitarians," who are so filled with pity for four-legged creatures, think nothing about enslaving Jews and throwing their babies into the river.

(Imrei Chein)

It Once Happened

As told by Refael Ben-Zichri of Beersheba, Israel

I was born in Safro, Morocco, where I attended yeshiva until I was 16 years old. By then it was time to learn a profession, so I went to the city of Fez where there were more options. I decided to become a draftsman and enrolled in a special vocational school.

When the Second World War broke out it became very hard to find work - especially in my profession, and especially as a Jew. People were grateful to have any job at all.

One day I applied for a job at a huge woodworking factory that produced furniture and other items for the government. The plant was French-owned, and the workers were Arabs and Jews. Because it was wartime, the factory was open seven days a week.

As soon as I walked through the doors I vowed to myself that I would never desecrate the Sabbath, no matter what happened. I presented myself to the supervisor, and after a short interview I was hired.

For a whole week I worked very diligently, so much so that I received several commendations. But I could not stop worrying about the coming Shabbat. No matter how hard I tried, I could not come up with any solution to the problem.

On Shabbat morning I found my feet taking me in the direction of the factory. But I was determined not to do any actual prohibited work, even if it meant being fired. I thanked G-d for every moment that went by without the supervisor noticing me. When eventually he came over, I made believe I was busy solving an equation, but I could tell that he knew I was faking. I said nothing, and he continued on his rounds. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. My first Shabbat had passed without incident.

I continued to be very industrious. The second week passed as the first. My hands worked diligently, but my mind was elsewhere. All I could think about was the coming Shabbat.

Again I found myself in the same situation as before. I stood at my usual workplace, but did not touch any of the wood or machinery. Unfortunately, that day the supervisor showed up early in the morning. I don't know if it was a coincidence or he was checking up on me.

My heart started to pound as he walked over. "Why aren't you working?" he demanded. I didn't answer, and he repeated the question. When I still said nothing he told me, "If you do not start working you will have to leave. You'll have to find a job among the Jews..."

A few minutes later the supervisor returned, but this time he wasn't alone. Walking alongside him was the manager of the factory! My whole body started trembling.

The manager looked a little familiar to me, but I wasn't really sure and I couldn't remember where I might have seen him. The manager gave me the once-over from head to toe before whispering something in the supervisor's ear. The only word I could make out was "draftsman."

It was common knowledge that the plant's draftsman had quit several weeks before. Since then the factory was lacking a full-time draftsman, and the work supervisor, who had been formally trained as a draftsman, was trying to fill two jobs at once. It had never occurred to me to apply for the senior position, as I was too shy.

Suddenly, I found myself being addressed by the manager. "If I'm not mistaken, I signed your diploma from draftsmanship school," he said. At that moment I realized why he looked so familiar. "Yes," I answered.

"Report to my office first thing tomorrow morning," he said, and went back to his other duties.

The next day I began my career as the plant's official draftsman. I was delighted by the unexpected promotion, but still worried about keeping Shabbat. I had a feeling that the whole happy adventure would be coming to an end that Saturday...

Shabbat came. This time I decided to take the initiative. I went to the manager's office and announced, "I don't work on Saturdays." His faced paled, and for a whole minute he was dumbstruck. In the end he didn't say anything and just nodded his head slightly in agreement.

I worked in that plant for many years. And never again did my feet cross its threshold on Shabbat.

One time, in a rare moment of candor, the manager confided, "You should know that never in my life has anyone won an argument with me. You are the first person who ever succeeded, and got me to back down. Can you believe it? A little Jew, barely an adult, got the best of me..."

Moshiach Matters

Whoever does not believe in the involvement of Divine Providence in every aspect of this world, is enslaved to the shell that covers and conceals Divine Providence. This is the inner meaning of Maimonides' statement that "There will be no difference between the current age and the Era of Moshiach except our emancipation from subservience to the gentile nations." In the future, however, when the spirit of impurity will be removed from the earth, everyone will see how every occurrence derives from G-d.

(Keter Shem Tov)

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