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"And the living should take to heart." This verse, oft repeated by the Rebbe during the year after the passing of his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, means that we should learn from the life of a person who has passed on attitudes and modes of behavior we can incorporate into our own lives.
As we observe the 13th yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka there are, among many others, three significant lessons we can "take to heart" from three of her exchanges.
Don't Cause Pain to Others
In her last years, the Rebbetzin had considerable difficulties with her eyes. Once she was asked: "Jews from all over the world ask the Rebbe for a blessing. Why do you hold yourself back from asking for a blessing?" In answer, she said, "It is important for me not to cause the Rebbe pain."
It is improper for us, in order to relieve our own pain, to even inadvertently cause another person pain.
Really Feel for the Other Person
The Friday night before her passing was a bitterly cold night. During a conversation with her visitor, the Rebbetzin mentioned, "When I think that you have to go out [to go home], I become cold."
We should care so much about other people that we feel for them and even anticipate their dis-comfort. We can accomplish this by putting our own considerations aside, as did the Rebbetzin on this evening when she was already very ill, and focusing solely on the other person.
The Importance of Humility
One year, in honor of her birthday, the Lubavitch Women's Organization sent the Rebbetzin a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Together with the bouquet was an envelope that contained a list of names of people who were in need of a blessing. The intention was that the list be given to the Rebbe.
The person who accepted the bouquet gave it to the Rebbetzin and submitted the envelope to the Rebbe. The Rebbe looked at the envelope, upon which the Rebbetzin's name had been written, and asked why it was not given to the Rebbetzin. The person explained that it contained a list of names of people who were in need of a blessing. The Rebbe responded, "Nu, she can also bless them!"
But when the Rebbetzin communicated an answer from the Rebbe, she would always convey it verbatim, saying, "This was the exact answer." She refused to ever add an explanation but only repeated the Rebbe's words precisely.
No matter our own greatness or importance, our own abilities or position of power, humility is an essential character trait
In the merit of the Rebbetzin, may we immediately be privileged to see the conclusion of the Midrashic prophecy when Moshiach will stand on the roof of the Holy Temple and proclaim, "Humble ones, the time of your redemption has arrived."
In this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, we find the verse "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him." When the Jews left Egypt in the Exodus, they fulfilled the oath they had made to Joseph and brought his casket to the Land of Israel for reburial. "G-d will surely remember you," Joseph had made them promise, "and you shall carry up my bones from here."
At first glance, the Torah's repeated use of the word "bones" (atzmot in Hebrew) in connection to a tzadik (righteous person) seems somewhat odd and even unnecessarily strident. Why doesn't the Torah refer more respectfully to Joseph's "remains" or his "coffin"? The answer, as will be explained, is that the Hebrew expression "atzmot" has special significance.
The word "atzmot" is an allusion to "atzmiyut," meaning "essence." In the same way that a person's bones constitute the strength of his physical body, the phrase "the bones of Joseph" refers to Joseph's unique and powerful character. When the Torah tells us that Moses carried the "bones" of Joseph, it means that he took the essence of Joseph with him into the desert.
This "essence of Joseph" is alluded to in his name, as his mother Rachel declared when he was born: "And she called his name Joseph, saying, G-d will add to me another son (acher)." The function of Joseph is to "add" Jewish sons, and not just any sons, but even those who have fallen to the level of "acher," meaning "other." This essence of Joseph can restore even the most estranged Jew into a son of the Holy One, blessed be He.
When the Children of Israel left Egypt they became a nation, acquiring the status of G-d's "sons." The bond between a father and son is indestructible; no matter how far the son may roam, he will always remain his father's child. When Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, he utilized this special ability of Joseph to transform even an "other" into G-d's rightful "son."
We see this illustrated at the end of this week's portion, when the Torah describes how Amalek attacked the Jews at a place called Refidim. Amalek deliberately targeted those who were "weak" in faith and deed, and were "straggling behind" the rest of the Jewish camp. Nonetheless, Moses sent Joshua to fight Amalek, and even the weakest Jews were saved.
Indeed, we are promised that when Moshiach comes, not even one Jew will be left behind in exile. All Jews will be G-d's "sons," and together we will enter the Messianic era.
Adapted from Volume 26 of Likutei Sichot
Learning About Judaism in Moscow
by Yehudis Cohen
"I am from Rostov. I taught English at the Jewish school there," begins Naomi (Anastasia) Bortseva, when asked how she found out about Machon Chaya Mushka Women's University in Moscow, Russia. "I heard about the 'Machon' from one of the rabbis at the school in Rostov.
"My family did not observe any Jewish traditions when I was growing up, but now they are very interested. When I speak to my mother on the telephone I share with her many things I am learning. She now attends synagogue in Rostov and spends time poring over the books in the synagogue library!"
Naomi makes it clear that she is not typical of the 100 other women at Machon Chaya Mushka, as she already has her university diploma in linguistics. "I came here only for the intensive Jewish studies program," she explains, "and when I complete this year's studies I hope to return to the same school in Rostov. But this time, I will be teaching Jewish subjects."
Students at Machon Chaya Mushka major in either linguistics, economics or Jewish studies; professors from presitious universities coming to the Machon Chaya Mushka campus to lecture. Upon completion of four or five years of rigorous study, combining all of the requirements for a secular degree as well as a full course load in Judaic studies, a diploma is granted by a top government university. The average Russian university student has a course load of four classes per day, each class running approximately an hour and half. At Machon Chaya Mushka, the students take five to six classes each day, and attend evening and Sunday lectures.
So demanding, in fact, are Machon Chaya Mushka's criteria that the administration recently created a special preparatory program for students who found it hard to keep up with the highly challenging pace.
"We are giving some of the top minds in the former Soviet Union the opportunity to explore Judaism in a highly academic and intellectual environment, while pursuing a secular degree," explains Rabbi Avraham Bekerman. Rabbi Bekerman and his wife Frumi have directed Machon Chaya Mushka for the past seven and a half years. They were invited to head the Machon by Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Rebbe's head emissary in Russia and now the Chief Rabbi of Russia. Once accepted to the school, students attend free of charge. The cost for the entire four or five year course of study, including room and board, is underwritten mainly by noted philanthropists Levi Levayev of Israel, George Rohr of New York and Avraham Gast of Zurich.
Mrs. Bekerman points out that being accepted into the school is a highly competitive process. "We organize a special summer program (mandatory for the women who will be accepted for the coming school year) in a resort area where we have an opportunity to observe the girls before we make our final decision. In this way we can determine if they will be able to keep up with the very rigorous program, and weed out the ones who are only interested in a 'free ride.'
"The secret of our success with the women," continues Mr. Bekerman, "is that though we set very high standards, a warm Jewish atmosphere pervades the school and dormitory. For most of the women this is their first opportunity to experience the joy and beauty of Shabbat, Jewish holidays and family life. They know that we really care about each and every one of them."
Lea Livdansky graduated from Machon Chaya Mushka four years ago. Today she lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and is the mother of two children. "I am from Cheliabinsk, South Ural. When I met the Rebbe's emissaries there, they recommended that I attend Machon Chaya Mushka's summer program. I had already been studying in university for two years and I decided to apply." After completing her studies at the Machon, Lea moved to New York to study at Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva. Although not committed to Jewish observance themselves, Lea's parents are very supportive of her and recently moved to Brooklyn.
"It was a wonderful experience," remembers Lea. "The teachers were brilliant, the classes were challenging, and the subject matter was inspiring. The madrichot (dorm counselors) were amazing. They were our friends, our mothers, our mentors."
Currently, the school and dormitory (which houses 50 women) are located in rented facilities. "It's a quiet location with beautiful surroundings and a peaceful garden," says Mrs. Bekerman, "where the girls can relax when they need time out from their hectic schedules."
Rabbi Bekerman knows the history of Machon Chaya Mushka's first years through his sister, who was a madricha at the school when it was founded, in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.
"Machon Chaya Mushka was established ten years ago, at the same time dozens of emissaries were sent by the Rebbe to the former Soviet Union. Within days of its opening, simply by word of mouth, there were 30 women studying Torah full-time."
Out of curiosity, coupled with an unquenchable thirst for all things Jewish, young women "came to see what Judaism is all about." The Rebbe's emissaries in Moscow taught the classes, while the madrichot were brought especially from Israel. For the first few months the school was located in the Marina Rozscha synagogue, where all Chabad-Lubavitch outreach activities were based. A small building was later rented for the classrooms and dormitory.
"All of those first 30 students are now married, Torah observant, and living literally across the globe. Many of them are emissaries of the Rebbe, continuing the unbroken chain of fostering Jewish pride and imparting Torah knowledge," says Rabbi Bekerman.
Within a few short years, the face of Jewish life in Russia changed dramatically, says Mrs. Bekerman, and when that happened Machon Chaya Mushka had to be restructured. "Most Jews who had any connection to Judaism, any inkling of interest in Israel, any hint of a desire to study 'Jewish traditions' left Russia. Whereas we used to 'complain' that if we had 100 hours in a day it wouldn't be enough for classes and programs, we were now faced with apathy and disinterest. Those Jews who didn't leave Russia were not even interested in hearing about Israel!"
Responding to this new challenge, the directors of Machon Chaya Mushka created this highly academic and competitive institution that attracts some of the best and brightest women in the F.S.U. And the formula seems to be working, according to Mrs. Bekerman. "The women apply to our school because it has an excellent reputation. For each girl we accepted this year we had to turn two girls away."
In fact, concludes Rabbi Bekerman, "We are planning to build a Jewish institution for higher education that will be able to accommodate thousands of Jewish students."
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Excerpts of a freely translated letter of the Rebbe dated 24 Teves, 5703 (1943)
In connection with [setting up Jewish girls' schools] I will mention only a few points:
In the Mechilta, quoted in Rashi's commentary to the Torah, G-d addressed "the House of Jacob," the women, before "the children of Israel," the men. Shmos Rabbah 28:1 explains that the reason is "they are eager in their observance of mitzvos;" alternatively, "because they bring their children to the Torah."
Similarly, with regard to the reward received for their activities, our Sages declare that women will receive a greater reward than men. Certainly, this applies in the present age, the time when Moshiach's approaching footsteps can be heard. In this era, our nation's fundamental mission and task is charity, as stated in Tanya, which quotes our Sages' statement: "Israel will be redeemed solely through charity." And as our Sages taught (Taanis 23b), in this, women have an advantage over men, for they give food (which the poor person can partake of immediately), not merely money (in which instance, the poor person must purchase raw food and then prepare it).
This statement can be interpreted homiletically, in reference to our Divine service. There are two ways in which a person can influence a colleague - or his own animal soul:
- He seeks all sorts of methods to influence his colleague to carry out everything which he is obligated to do to fulfill the mission on which the Master of the world sent his soul in its descent to this material plane. And he seeks to impress upon his colleague the importance of acting with kabalas ol, i.e., even though he does not understand the necessity of the matter, and he does not have love and awe of G-d, he should observe the Torah and its mitzvos.
It is evident that a person whose own Divine service is characterized by kabalas ol has a sensitivity and a tendency towards this approach, and will easily find the words and the actions that will influence a colleague to adopt this path.
- Another method is that a person endeavors to explain to his colleague the greatness of the Creator, the importance of loving Him and being in awe of Him, until his colleague comes to the correct understanding and the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos on his own initiative. It is evident that this approach is favored by people of understanding and thinkers whose own conduct is based on a strong and unfaltering conception.
To explain the above in light of our Sages' statement in Taanis: "When we meet a poor person" - and as our Sages commented: "A poor person is poor solely in knowledge" - our approach must follow the directives of the prophet: "Distribute your bread to the poor.... If you see a naked person, clothe him."
Tanna D'vei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 27, states:
"If you see a naked person, clothe him." What is implied? If you see a person who does not possess words of Torah, bring him into your home and teach him the recitation of the Shema and prayer. Teach him one verse every day or one law. Encourage him to perform mitzvos. For there is no naked person in Israel except a person who does not possess the Torah and its mitzvos. He resembles one who is truly naked.
When a poor man encounters a man, one whose habit and nature is to go out, visit distant places, and deal with his silver and gold - note the parallels in our Divine service - when this man meets a poor person, he will give him money - in the analogue, love and fear of G-d. Since these emotions are "wings" - as explained in Tanya. The ultimate purpose, however, is Divine service motivated by love (i.e., not only feelings of love, but also deed). Hence, the poor person still must labor before he purchases his meal.
It is different when a poor man encounters a woman, of whom it is said: "Everything which a woman acquires, her husband acquires." "Her husband" refers to G-d, as it is written: "Your Husband is your Maker, the G-d of Hosts is His name." As explained in Torah Or, the love and fear such a person possesses are under the influence of the name Elokim (L-rd), like a servant, of whom it is also said: "Whatever a servant acquires, his master acquires." The Divine service of such a person is directed solely to "carry out the will of her Husband," i.e., it is the service of kabalas ol. Even the love and fear such a person possesses are dominated by this quality.
A woman, one whose Divine service is characterized by kabalos ol, gives a poor man bread which is ready to be eaten. For kabalas ol can be shared with a poor person whose spiritual level is of no consequence at all. See the Chasidic discourse which discusses the concept: "A woman was granted a greater measure of understanding than a man."
It is these qualities, self-sacrifice, kabalas ol, and the actual observance of the mitzvos, which reflect the advantage of the feet, i.e., they are the spiritual qualities necessary in this generation when Moshiach's approaching footsteps can be heard.
With the blessing "Immediately to teshuva (repentance), immediately to Redemption,"
Reprinted with permission from "I Will Write it In Their Hearts," trans. by Rabbi E.Touger, pub. by Sichos In English.
18 Shevat 5761
Positive mitzva19: grace after meals
By this injunction we are commanded to bless G-d after every meal. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 8:10): "And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd your G-d."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 22nd of Shevat (coinciding with February 15 this year) will be the 13th yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. The Rebbe said of the Rebbetzin, "Only G-d knows the extent of her great righteousness."
"The righteous person shall flourish like the date palm..." wrote King David in Psalms. A righteous person is compared to a date palm as it bears exceptional fruit. The fruit the Rebbetzin bore includes the mitzvot of all those whose lives have been touched by the Rebbe. For it was truly the Rebbetzin who gave the Rebbe to the world, encouraging him to accept the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch and being his constant help mate.
Dates are one of the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised. The Torah describes the Land of Israel as "a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olives that produce oil and honey (dates)." As we recently celebrated Tu B'Shevat, the "New Year" of trees, it would be fitting to briefly discuss these seven types of produce and how they connect with our spiritual service:
Wheat: Our Sages described wheat as "food for humans," an allusion to that aspect of our existence that makes us human - the G-dly soul. Like actual food, our G-dly soul's mission must be assimilated into the totality of our being.
Barley: Barley is described as "food for ani-mals." It refers to the elevation of the animal soul.
Grapes: Grapes are used to produce wine, which "gladdens G-d and people."
Figs: The Torah relates that figs were used to make the first garments worn by Adam. Later, G-d gave man "garments of leather" ("ohr" spelled with the letter "ayin"), which Rabbi Meir in the Talmud refers to as "garments of light" (spelled with an "alef"). From this we learn that a Jew's service must involve spreading G-dly light.
Pomegranates: We must always remember that every Jew is "as filled with mitzvot as a pomegranate is filled with seeds."
Olives: Olives are bitter. A Jew's life should be characterized by sweetness, but in times of introspection he must come to a state of bitterness when evaluating his spiritual achievements.
Dates: Dates refer to the Torah's mystical dimensions, the study of which strengthens the inner dimensions of the Jewish soul.
Through developing our spiritual potential that relates to all these qualities, and spreading these concepts to others, we will merit to be reunited with the Rebbetzin and to proceed to the Land of Israel with Moshiach, where we will "partake of its produce and be sated with its goodness."
And the Children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 13:18)
Nowhere in the Torah does it state that the Jews used weapons to defend themselves against the Egyptians. All we are told is that "the Children of Israel cried out to G-d." Concerning this, as the Chozeh of Lublin used to say that the Jewish people left Egypt armed with their traditional "weapon" of choice: their prayers and supplications to G-d.
And he made ready his chariot (Ex. 14:6)
Our Sages tell us that Pharaoh was so intent on pursuing the Jews that he readied his horse and chariot himself, even though it was considered beneath him to attend to such mundane matters. He was so consumed by the desire to bring them back that he was willing to forgo his honor as a king. Pharaoh realized that without the Jews he would no longer have any political power in Egypt; in fact, his authority was derived from subjugating and oppressing them, thereby bolstering his standing among his own people. Unfortunately, this has also been the tactic of other anti-Semitic leaders throughout history.
And they were very fearful, and the Children of Israel cried out (Ex. 14:10)
The reason the Children of Israel cried out was the fact that "they were fearful." It disturbed them greatly that they were afraid of the mortal Egyptians, rather than only of G-d.
And the people quarreled with Moses and they said, "Give us water" (Ex. 17:2)
Why was it considered a sin to have asked for water? What else could the Jews in the desert have been expected to do when their supply ran out? However, the Torah states, "And there was no water for the people to drink, and the people quarreled with Moses"; only later are we informed "and the people thirsted there for water." From this we learn that they started arguing with Moses even before they became thirsty.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Rebbe, was born in 1901 to Rebbetzin Nechama Dina, in the town of Babinovitch, near the city of Lubavitch. Growing up in the house of her illustrious father (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe) and grandfather (the Rebbe Rashab, fifth Chabad Rebbe) she absorbed in full measure their greatness.
In 1924, the Rebbetzin became engaged to the Rebbe, but because of the oppresive conditions that prevailed then, the marriage did not take place until five years later, the 14th of Kislev, 1928.
When the Previous Rebbe was arrested in 1927, the Rebbbetzin's quick thinking in alerting her fianc้, the Rebbe, to the presence of "honored guests" (Russian secret police agents) in their home, proved to be very instrumental in uncovering to which prison her father was taken. She also played a key role in the efforts to have his death sentence commuted.
When the Previous Rebbe was exiled to Kostroma, it was his daughter, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, whom he chose to accompany him there.
After their wedding, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin chose to live in Berlin, until the winter of 1933 when the Nazis came into power and they moved to Paris.
In Paris, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin lived in an apartment not far from the synagogues where the Rebbe prayed and studied. In their tiny, one-bedroom apartment, the Rebbetzin herself baked matzot for Passover, to be certain that the Rebbe's stringencies would be satisfied. There was only one butcher store in Paris that the Rebbe patronized, after personally investigating its rabbinical supervison and the butcher's knowledge of the intricate laws of preparing kosher meat. When the Rebbe found out that the butcher koshered the meat himself, he asked the Rebbetzin to accompany him to the shop and requested of the butcher that she be allowed to watch the kashering procedure. Only after the Rebbetzin indicated her satisfaction did the Rebbe become a steady customer at this store.
They stayed in France until 1941, when they were rescued from the Nazis (may their memories be erased) after months of perilous wanderings.
On the 10th of Shvat 1950, the Previous Rebbe passed on. At first, the Rebbe was firmly determined not to accept the leadership. It was the Rebbetzin who prevailed upon him to accept it, pointing out that it was unthinkable to let her father's 30 years of accomplishments amidst tremendous self-sacrifice deteriorate for lack of continuity. In later years, when the Rebbe frequently came home at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., the Rebbetzin was always patiently and uncomplainingly awake, waitng for him.
Despite the fact that she was the one who prevailed upon the Rebbe to become Rebbe and she was the one who sacrificed the most from her personal life for this gift to the Jewish people, nevertheless, until her last day, she remained determinedly and absolutely in the background, totally shunning any and all publicity.
The Rebbetzin's pure, holy soul returned to its Maker on the 22nd of Shevat, 1988. May she be a good advocate for the Jewish people and for the culmination of the Rebbe's life work to bring Moshiach NOW!
"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have established strength...to silence foe and avenger" (Psalm 8:3). The silencing of our foes is effected precisely by the mouths of children who study Torah in times when attempts are made to prevent that study, when difficulties and impediments are put in their way. The children who fortify themselves to overcome those obstacles will be the generation of the Redemption and the first to proclaim, "Behold, THIS is our G-d... THIS is G-d for Whom we hoped...!"