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February 2, 2001 - 9 Shevat, 5761

655: Bo

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  654: Vaera656: Beshalach  

The Rebbe is in Touch  |  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 Rebbe is in Touch

By Rabbi Eli Cohen

When a chasid waxes poetic about the Rebbe on an occasion such as Yud Shevat, the anniversary of the Rebbe's ascension to leadership, the reader who is not a chasid often rolls his eyes. The whole notion of a Rebbe is, to many, a subject of some wonderment. People have questioned the idea that any human being could be viewed with the type of awe and reverence which Chasidim accord to the Rebbe. Others wonder at the unquestioning obedience and acceptance of the Rebbe's advice and instructions. How does that allow for personal responsibility and autonomy?

And yet no one can help but marvel at the way that one human being inspires an army of thousands of men, women and children to be willing to set aside their material comforts and embrace a more austere life of service to the Jewish community. It is hard to deny that the Rebbe has breathed life into many Jewish communities large and small, when others were ready to write off entire populations. And it is hard to contest that the Rebbe's structure and organization has become the blueprint for various outreach groups that have adopted the Rebbe's enthusiasm and faith in the future.

What is the Rebbe? A leader? A teacher? A great scholar? A visionary? Yes, but none of these appellations really says it all.

For the chasid, it is a very personal relationship. The Rebbe connects with each of us and puts us in touch with our true selves, our potential, and our mission in life. He does not impose his aspirations, or his desires. Rather he helps us identify and fulfill ours. He does not ask us to work for him, rather to join with him in repairing the world.

However, the bond to the Rebbe is not limited to those who consider themselves his followers. Visitors from every corner of the world have been amazed when they were in the Rebbe's presence and found him intimately familiar with the fine points of the welfare of Jewish life in their community.

On the personal level, there are countless stories of individuals far from any Jewish center and further from Jewish life, and the Rebbe has not only been conscious of their cries but has actually responded and reached out to them. The point of telling these stories is not to savor the miraculous turn of events that were often involved as much as to appreciate the connectedness and sensitivity of the Rebbe to the needs of every Jew.

The Rebbe has been described as the heart, the pulse, the generator. Whatever metaphor we choose, the point is the same: The Rebbe is in touch with each one of us, encouraging us, strengthening us and channeling G-d's blessing to us so that we can achieve whatever it is we are here to do.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Bo, contains the very first commandment given to the Jews as a people - the mitzva of Rosh Chodesh, the new moon: "This month shall be to you the first of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you." According to Jewish law, the new month is determined by witnesses who testify to the appearance of the new moon. The Jewish court then formally establishes and sanctifies it as Rosh Chodesh.

In general, the main effect the Torah's mitzvot have on the physical world is to imbue it with G-dliness. When a mitzva is performed with a physical object, the object itself becomes holy, and the material plane of existence is sanctified.

The mitzva of the new moon is unique in that instead of physical objects, it relates to the dimension of time. Through this mitzva, a "regular" day is transformed into Rosh Chodesh, a day with special sanctity. When the Jewish court decides to establish a particular day as Rosh Chodesh, time itself is elevated and made holy.

In this respect, the mitzva of sanctifying the new moon has an advantage over all other mitzvot. The ability of other mitzvot to bring sanctity into the world is limited, and exists on many levels and gradations. For example, an object directly used to perform a mitzva becomes a "tashmish kedusha," literally "a utensil of holiness." Other aspects of the physical world are elevated when a Jew uses them "for the sake of heaven." Then there are things that are only considered "tools" as preparation for the performance of an actual mitzva.

However, the mitzva of Rosh Chodesh is more far-reaching than all of these. When the Jewish court establishes a certain day as Rosh Chodesh, the effect is felt throughout the month, and indeed throughout the entire year, as the court also determines the occurrence of a leap year.

Another advantage to affecting the dimension of time is that time is generally thought of as something over which we have no control. Time cannot be made longer or shorter; it cannot be hurried up or slowed down. Nonetheless, G-d gives the Jew the ability to sanctify time and transform it into "Jewish time," time that is thoroughly imbued with holiness.

"Conquering" time in this way hastens the time when the entire world will be suffused with holiness, in the Messianic era. When Moshiach comes and gathers in the exiles of Israel, the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court) will be reestablished in Jerusalem, and the laws of Rosh Chodesh will again be in effect.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 26


A Slice of Life

Touching the World

From a speech by Carol Nelkin. Ms. Nelkin is a civil trial lawyer and a Managing member of Viridian Environmental, LLC. She is a National V.P. of the American Jewish Committee and a member of the Advisory Council of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. Ms. Nelkin is a former President of the Houston Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
A little over 26 years ago, my husband and I attended our first study group at the home of Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Chiena Lazaroff in Houston, Texas. That's when we got our first inkling of what shluchim (emissaries) of the Rebbe are.

That first class was followed by many other classes and many long discussions in which the Lazaroffs patiently answered our questions, questions newcomers always ask.

In those early days there were also a lot of questions about the role of the Rebbe, for the concept of a Rebbe is not one that comes easily to a secularly educated Jew.

I first had the opportunity to be in the Rebbe's presence when my oldest son celebrated his Bar Mitzva. That first private yechidus (audience) was such an overwhelming experience. When the Rebbe looked at me, it was so apparent that he knew everything there was to know about me.

Of course, it becomes easier to appreciate who the Rebbe is when one experiences the direct fulfillment of the Rebbe's blessing, an experience my family and I have had on several occasions.

One time when my husband and I were in Crown Heights, we had the opportunty to personally hand a letter to the Rebbe seeking his advice and a blessing. Shortly before this I had been told by a well-respected ophthalmologist that I had a certain eye disease that could result in a loss of eyesight. The Rebbe's response was to seek a second opinion.

Upon returning to Houston, I went to another well-respected ophthalmologist and told him the first doctor's diagnosis. After examining my eyes, the second doctor said that not only did I not have the disease, but he could not understand how anyone could have made such a mistake, as that disease was one where a special "footprint" is left in the eye which would always be visible.

Someone could say that the first doctor had just made a very serious mistake. But I know that I was the recipient of the Rebbe's blessing.

Another time when we visited Crown Heights for a particular event, it was anticipated that after the Rebbe spoke to the large crowd in attendance everyone would have the opportunity to give the Rebbe a letter seeking advice and a blessing. On this occasion, it seemed to me that the Rebbe was speaking in a different manner than I had previously heard, and although there was a theme which held his discourse together, the Rebbe seemed to go from topic to topic in a much looser fashion than usual.

When the Rebbe finished speaking, everyone in the room was stunned. Within a few moments it became apparent that the Rebbe had answered everyone's questions before they had been asked.

I don't wish to give the impression that the Rebbe only had an impact on me through miracles. In truth, my family and I have also greatly benefited from the Rebbe's more rationally explained actions, although there is an element of the miraculous in these accomplishments of the Rebbe as well.

For example, our lives were enriched beyond measure when the Lazaroffs suggested that we start a Day School in Houston. At first, the student body consisted of four Lazaroff children and two Nelkins. That school became Torah Day School. Many years later, Torah Day School continues to create knowledgeable and G-d-fearing Jews in a place not previously known for its Jewish education.

That such a school exists in Houston is nothing short of a miracle. The fact that similar Lubavitch day schools exist all over the world is equally miraculous. Who could have imagined such a phenomenon 50 years ago! And who could have imagined the number of Lubavitch summer camps, yeshivot, Chabad Centers, mikvas and outreach programs of all kinds? Who could have imagined the success of the Mitzva Campaigns and the number of Jewish publications in so many languages? Who could have imagined the number of Jews who would return to their Jewish heritage?

The answer, of course, is the Rebbe. Not only could he envision all of these institutions and programs, he understood how to make it all happen.

The primary way the Rebbe saw to it that these extraordinary tasks were accomplished was by sending his emissaries to spread Judaism throughout the world, and to see to it that the needs of Jews in these communities-wherever they might be-were met, no matter what those needs were.

There have been so many delightful Shabbat meals graciously offered to us whenever we could not make it home for Shabbat. Recently, we were fortunate to celebrate Shabbat with Chabad in Venice, Italy, among a lively group of students from the Lubavitcher yeshiva in a city where only 500 Jews live. In the place where the first ghetto in the world was begun, Judaism is not only alive, it is positively glowing, thanks to the Rebbe.

Lubavitch seems to be everywhere. I remember when my husband and I were traveling with a delegation of Jews to meet with members of the Tunisian government to discuss the importance of opening formal diplomatic relations with Israel. When we arrived at the home of an important Jewish industrialist who had close ties to the government, we saw prominently displayed in his home a large portrait of the Rebbe, and we learned that the Rebbe had sent his emissaries to Tunisia decades before.

Recently my husband and I were asked to accompany a group of non-Jewish United States Congressmen on a trip to Israel. The delegation was chaired by a Jew who is a high-ranking staff member of an important Congressional committee. A few days into the trip the man whispered to me, "You're close to Lubavitch, aren't you?" When I said yes, he whispered, "Levi Shemtov (the Rebbe's emissary in Washington D.C.) is my closest friend." You never know where or when you will meet people whose lives have been affected by the work of the Rebbe.

Several years ago, this fact was illustrated to me in a unique way when we were in Arizona at a "Kosher for Passover" hotel. During the intermediate days of the holiday, activities were planned for the hundreds of guests. One activity was a boat trip. We were randomly assigned in groups of 12 - 14 people to a boat. After a few minutes in the boat, the four families from different cities all realized that we had close ties to Lubavitch.

We were all amazed because it seemed unlikely that the random selection would result in an entire boat load of "friends" of Lubavitch. We all felt the moment to be very special and decided to study Torah together in the Rebbe's name because we each realized that whatever we thought our purpose was in going down the river, it was surely for some spiritual reason we had not realized at the time.

I often think of that boat trip as a metaphor for what Lubavitch has done for Jews like myself during the five decades of the Rebbe's leadership.

For through the Rebbe's work, Jews from all over have been brought together and have begun to understand that truly we are in the same boat, and that if we only see to it that the boat is pointed in the right direction and filled with Torah, we will together gather the sparks that will bring Moshiach. May that be speedily and in our days.


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The Rebbe Writes

16th of Shevat, 5723 [1963]

New England Convention of N'shei u'Bnos Chabad

Blessing and Greeting:

I trust that all of you - delegates and members of the various branches convening today - come imbued with a goodly measure of inspiration drawn from the two very recent auspicious days of this month, the Yahrzeit-Hilulo [anniversary of the passing] of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory - on the 10th, and of the New Year for Trees - yesterday.

Among the topics discussed at the Farbrengens [gatherings] on both these occasions, occurring within one week, was the affinity between these two notable days, and how their instructive messages are related.

The Torah likens a human being to a tree, and the Tzaddik [a righteous person] to a flourishing date palm. In a remarkable statement in the Talmud our Sages declare, moreover, that a Tzaddik lives on forever, "for just as his seed is alive, so is he alive." It is noteworthy that the word "seed" is used here, rather than "descendants" or "children," or "disciples," though all these are included in the word "seed." In choosing the word "seed" in this connection, our Sages conveyed to us the specific images and ideas which this word brings to our minds:

The wonderful process of growth, which transforms a tiny seed into a multiple reproduction of the same, be it an earful of grains or, in the case of a fruit seed, a fruit-bearing tree; the care which the growth process requires, and how a little extra care at an early stage is multiplied in the final product; the fact that the more advanced and more highly developed the fruit, the longer it takes to grow and ripen, so that grain, for example, takes but a few months to reproduce itself, while it takes a fruit-bearing many years to mature, etc.

All these principles apply in a very practical way in the performance of our daily service to G-d, which, of course, embraces our whole daily life, since it is our duty to serve G-d in all our ways.

The ... Convention... will surely give full expression to the spirit of the Yahrzeit-Hilulo of the Rebbe and to the feeling that it is a branch of his planting. I hope and pray that each and every one of you will endeavor to emulate his dedicated work, and to live up to the high esteem and great expectations which he so often and so earnestly expressed in regard to the Jewish woman in general, and the Chabad woman in particular.

Wishing you the utmost success,


24th of Teveth, 5722 [1962]

To the Participants in the Annual Dinner of the Lubavitch Foundation, London,

Greeting and Blessing:

The Annual Event, taking place in such close proximity to Yud Shevat, the Yahrzeit-Hilula of my father-in-law of saintly memory, will, I trust, bear the imprint of his influence and inspiration.

In the course of his allotted life span on this earth my father-in-law had seen, and contended with, many different worlds. But whether it was under Czarist Russia or under Soviet Russia, during the two World Wars or during their aftermaths, in the Old World or in the New - he was always the indefatigable Manhig Yisroel [Jewish leader], dedicated heart and soul to the spiritual and material well-being of our people.

...My father-in-law was as vitally concerned with the Aleph-Beis ["beginner"] child as with the advanced Yeshivah students and his love for his disciples and followers to whom he expounded the inner secrets of the Torah was only matched by his love for his fellow Jew in some distant country, deprived of the most elementary educational facilities.

Jewish education was his primary concern, and the same spirit of dedication permeated his emissaries who pioneered in many an edu cational field under his inspiring initiative and guidance. This work truly expressed the unity of our people through the Torah which, on every level from Aleph-Beis to Raze-dirazin (Innermost secrets), is the unifying forces uniting the one people by means of the one Torah to the One G-d.

...The preservation of the Jewish way of life, according to the Law of Life (Toras Chaim) is surely the responsibility not only of the leaders of the community but also of every Jewish individual, man and woman. I prayerfully hope that everyone whom this message reaches will want to have a share in this most worthy endeavor, and thus bring G-d's blessings to the community at large, and to themselves and their families in particular, materially and spiritually.

With blessing,


Rambam this week

10 Shevat 5761

Positive mitzva 5: worshipping G-d

By this injunction we are commanded to serve G-d. This commandment is repeated several times in the Torah, e.g. (Ex. 23:25) "And you shall serve the L-rd your G-d"; (Deut. 13:5) "And Him shall you serve"; (Deut. 6:13) "And serve Him" and (Deut. 11:13) "And to serve Him." It imposes the specific duty of prayer, and as our Sages explained, the study of Torah.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In 5710 (1950) the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, had written a four-part Chasidic discourse based on the verse from Song of Songs, "Basi L'Gani - I have come into My garden, My sister, My bride." The Previous Rebbe directed that the first part be released in advance of and to be studied on the tenth of Shevat. That day marked the anniversary of the passing of his grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivkah, wife of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

It came to pass, however, that the tenth of Shevat was the date of the Previous Rebbe's own passing.

As "all the effort of a person for which his soul toiled during his life...becomes revealed...at the time of his passing," it is clear that this series of discourses summarizes the parting message of the Previous Rebbe. In fact, the Rebbe later stated that the Previous Rebbe released the discourse for his own passing.

On the tenth of Shevat, one year after the Previous Rebbe's passing, the Rebbe expounded upon the discourse in his own, first public discourse. This marked the Rebbe's formal acceptance of and ascendancy to leadership.

Just as the original discourse was a summarization of the Previous Rebbe's life work, the Rebbe's explanation of the discourse was a preamble of what would be his mission and the mission of our entire generation:

"We are now very near the approaching footsteps of Moshiach, indeed, we are at the conclusion of this period, and our spiritual task is to complete the process of drawing down the Shechina (Divine Presence)-moreover, the essence of the Shechina-within specifically our lowly world."

The drawing down of the Shechina into this world will culminate at the time of the Redemption. Our task, as outlined by the Rebbe in that first discourse and from then on, is to enhance our observance of mitzvot-especially acts of "ahavat Yisroel" love for another Jew, increase our study of Torah, and prepare in all ways possible to greet Moshiach, may it happen immediately.


Thoughts that Count

And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days...they saw not one another (Ex. 10: 22,23)

The worst kind of darkness is when people refuse to "see" each other and are uninterested in knowing about their fellow man. Indeed, the world is darkened when every individual lives only for himself.

(Eshkol Maamarim)

And the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people (Ex. 11:3)

There are many different kinds of public figures: Some personalities are better appreciated by the upper classes, while others are more popular among the common folk. Everyone, however, recognized Moses' greatness, from the highest-ranking Egyptian ministers to the lowest level of society.

(Rabbi Boruch Epstein)

But against any of the Children of Israel, a dog shall not whet its tongue (Ex. 11:7)

Animals, and particularly dogs, are the first to be aware of the approach of a natural catastrophe; their frenzied barking is often the first indication that anything is wrong. Thus when the dogs in Egypt remained silent, it demonstrated that the slaying of the firstborn was a supernatural plague rather than an outbreak of illness or natural epidemic.

(Kol Omeir Kera)

The dog is the most faithful and empathetic of all domestic animals. If someone in the household should die or be injured, a dog will make the most heart-rending noises to express its grief. Thus, after describing the terrible confusion that the slaying of the firstborn would cause - "there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more" - the Torah reassures us that the dogs in the Jewish sector would have no reason to bark.

(Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz of Vienna)


It Once Happened

Rabbi Shlomo Kazarnovsky was a Chasid of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, whose yartzeit is the tenth day of Shevat (corresponding to Februrary 3rd this year). Many years ago, Rabbi Kazarnovsky and the Rebbe's son-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, were sent on a mission to Toronto, Canada. When they arrived there they discovered that all public transportation had come to an abrupt halt. A blizzard had hit the city, with accompanying gale-force winds. There was no choice but to stay in their hotel room and wait until the storm passed.

But they were not alone for long, as a few other Chasidim and supporters of Lubavitch soon joined them. One of them was a local rabbi in Toronto, who told them the following story:

Not long ago, a member of the rabbi's synagogue had been suddenly stricken with paralysis. When the rabbi heard what happened, he went to visit him in the hospital. The man's condition was very grave, and he could barely speak. The members of the man's family, huddled together outside his room, told the rabbi he couldn't even enter to see him. Standing in the hospital corridor, they proceeded to fill him in on all the sordid details of his illness.

When the patient heard the rabbi's voice, however, he instructed the nurse to allow him to enter the sickroom. As soon as he stepped inside the man found his voice. "I heard that the Rebbe of Lubavitch is now in the United States," he said. "Please write to him for me and ask him what I can do to redeem myself and regain my health." The rabbi immediately wrote a letter describing the man's condition, and received an equally speedy reply from the Rebbe.

The Rebbe had answered: "Tell him that a branch of Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim is now being built in Montreal. Advise him to donate the sum of one thousand dollars. The angel of one hundred is not the same as the angel of one thousand, as it states, 'If there be but one interceding angel out of a thousand [accusers], etc.' "

As soon as the Rebbe's answer arrived the rabbi hurried back to the hospital to show the sick man the letter. The relatives were very surprised that it had come so fast. However, after the rabbi told them what the Rebbe had advised, the man's brother-in-law commented in English, "You see? They're already trying to squeeze money out of him. You know what kind of people these are..."

The rabbi would not give him the dignity of a response. He walked straight into the man's room and read him the Rebbe's letter. When he had finished reading, the man turned to his son sitting next to the bed and said, "Son, I want to live. Take a thousand dollars and go to Montreal." The son did exactly as he was told and left for Montreal.

Several days later one of the hospital's leading specialists came in to examine the patient. After checking his condition, the doctor left the room in a fury. Confronting the man's family, which had maintained a steady vigil ever since he was stricken, he demanded, "Who gave you permission to bring in outside doctors and interfere in the patient's treatment? What kind of medications have you been giving him?" The man's relatives were stunned. They did not understand what he meant, as no other doctors had been called in on the case, and no special medications had been prescribed. They insisted that they had done absolutely nothing.

"If that's the case," the doctor continued, "then a genuine miracle has occurred. The patient's condition has undergone a radical change for the better. He is almost ready to be discharged."

Although he needed the assistance of crutches to get around for a short time, they were eventually discarded. The man experienced a complete recovery from his illness.


Moshiach Matters

At the present time, when the world trembles, when all the world shudders with the birth-pangs of Moshiach, for G-d has set fire to the walls of the Exile... it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask themselves: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total Redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach?

(From a letter of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn)


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