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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

November 30, 2001 - 15 Kislev, 5762

696: Vayishlach

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  695: Vayetzei697: Vayeshev  

Hide and Seek  |  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

Hide and Seek

Do you remember playing "Hide-'n-Go-Seek" as a child? Where was your favorite place to hide? The bathtub? Under the bed in your parents' room? Behind the coats in the hall closet?

Were you ever "it" and couldn't find anyone and called out in exasperation, "Come out, come out, whereever you are. Where is everybody?"

"Where are you?"

"'Where are you?' G-d asked Adam and Eve after they sinned. Did G-d not know their exact whereabouts?" questioned a Russian official, a Biblical scholar, during the imprisonment and interrogation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad movement, asked the interrogator, "Do you believe that the Bible is Divine and has a relevant message to every person then as now?" When the official answered affirmatively, Rabbi Shneur Zalman explained, "The question of 'Where are you?' is G-d's eternal call to each one of us, every day. Where are we? Where do we stand? How far have we advanced toward achieving our soul's mission in life?"

Are we playing hide-n-seek with G-d? Are we playing games with ourselves? Are we the one hiding or are we "it," in search of our true essence?

Once, while walking in the forest, though deep in thought and meditation, the holy Baal Shem Tov heard a child crying. Following the cry, the Baal Shem Tov finally found a little boy, frightened and shivering in the dark.

"Why are you here in the forest all by yourself?" he asked the child gently.

Looking into the man's kindly face, the child was calmed. "I was playing hide-n-seek with my friends. I waited and waited for them to find my hiding place but none of them discovered it. Now it is dark and they have all gone home! And I am alone and frightened." With that, the boy began to sob sorrowfully once more.

"Do not cry, little boy, I will bring you home," comforted the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov explained that this incident is truly a metaphor for G-d and the Jewish people. Since our beginnings as a people, we have actively searched for G-d and sought out a meaningful relationship with Him. Even when we were exiled from our land and G-d was forced to "hide" Himself, we still sincerely searched for Him.

But now, G-d, like the small lost child, cries out to us, "I wait and wait for you to look for Me, to find the goodness and G-dliness in everything you do. But it seems you have tired of the search. In the darkness of today's world, in the confusion of the forest of your mundane lives and material aspirations, you have all gone home and I am alone."

Ultimately, when Moshiach comes-may it be very soon-we will be reunited with G-d. No longer will we play games like hide-n-seek, be involved in Trivial Pursuits, or put ours and our children's souls in Jeopardy. But until then, we must remember that G-d is calling to us, begging us, beseeching us to look for Him. All we need to do is take the initial step, for His fervent cry of pain and loneliness will lead us to Him.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob recounts his years in Laban's household. Among other things he states, "I have ox(en) and donkey(s)." According to the Midrash, this is an allusion to the donkey of Moshiach, whom the Torah describes as "humble and riding upon a donkey."

A question is asked: Why did Jacob choose to allude to the Final Redemption in precisely this way?

The use of a donkey enables a person to travel more easily, conveying his belongings to a higher or more distant location. In the spiritual sense, it symbolizes the conquest and transcendence over materiality. ("Chamor," the Hebrew word for donkey, is related to "chomer," physical substance). Through refinement of the physical world, the soul is able to attain higher spiritual levels than it could otherwise achieve.

The donkey Moshiach will ride is the same animal that Moses made use of, as it states, "And he mounted them [his family] upon a donkey." It is also the same donkey that was used by Abraham when he went to the binding of Isaac, as it states, "And he saddled his donkey."

Abraham and his servants walked by foot, employing the donkey only to carry their belongings: the pieces of wood and the knife. Neither did Moses ride upon the donkey himself, but only mounted his wife and son on the animal's back. Moshiach, by contrast, will actually ride the donkey.

In the times of Abraham, before the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, the physical world was not yet sanctified. When the Patriarchs performed mitzvot with physical objects, the physical objects remained unchanged. Materiality did not yet have the power to spiritually elevate. Abraham thus utilized the donkey only for carrying, as the holiness in the objects was limited to the actual time he used them for sanctified purposes.

In Moses' time, the ability to transform materiality into spirituality (through the performance of mitzvot) was granted. The lowest levels of human existence could thus be elevated. This partial conquest of the physical world is symbolized by Moses' mounting his wife and son upon the donkey.

It is only in the era of Moshiach that the superiority of the body over the soul will be fully revealed. At that time, even the highest levels of the soul will be elevated through the refinement of physicality. For this reason, Moshiach will actually ride upon the donkey.

Jacob's declaration thus alludes to his successful refinement of the physical plane of reality during his sojourn with Laban. Indeed, it indicated his readiness for the next step up - the elevation of the soul that follows such refinement.

Adapted from Volume 1 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Fishing for Judaism in Alaska
by Batsheva Williamson

Seldovia, Alaska may seem like an unlikely place for a Torah-observant family such as ours to vacation. However, we come here with a special purpose-to visit my husband's elderly parents. Though he now leads a life so different from his upbringing in this Alaskan fishing village, Seldovia-located five hours south of Anchorage in an area accessible only by plane or boat-is still home.

You may wonder about the story behind these unusual circumstances. In fact, there are two stories, two people on their journeys to Jewish observance who met on the way. I will begin with my own story.

My parents, who had met at a Jewish YMHA in the Bronx (New York), soon savored their first taste of non-kosher food. From there they set out to taste the world! New York was not for them, so they moved to Fresno, California, where I was born. I was the only Jewish child in the school, though my family did not practice any religion. Having neither a Jewish life nor a Christian one, I grew up looking for peace and searching the world for meaning. When I was 21 and living in Palo Alto, California, I met up with a group of Jewish young people from the East Coast. They talked about getting together for Shabbat, and asked me if I could bring the challah. "What is challah?" I asked.

Thus began a whole discussion about Shabbat and I realized there was so much more to Judaism than I had imagined. I made it my mission to find out more. The first task was to replace my roommate and her ten-foot Christmas tree in the living room. So ads went out to the Jewish papers and cards were posted at the Jewish Community Center. Then the call came that would change my life.

"Hello, I saw your ad for a Jewish roommate. Is your mother Jewish?" What an odd question, I thought, and replied, "Of course my mother is Jewish; who are you?" It was Rabbi Yosef Levin, a new emissary of the Rebbe in Palo Alto, California. Three hours later, we were still on the phone. He was answering spiritual questions that I had been asking for years. I thought this Rabbi must be at least 80 years old to be so wise and knowledgeable. He invited me to a class on the weekly Torah portion. I went and, to my surprise, I found out that the "old" Rabbi was younger than I was (24 years old)!

I savored every class and wept when I heard Chasidic melodies for the first time. I was a jazz buff and I knew that I had found true soul music.

Since I was raised as a religious skeptic, it took me a few years to start keeping Shabbat and kosher. Rabbi Levin introduced me to a young man from Alaska, who had recently become a convert to Judaism. He had traveled by motorcycle down the Alaskan highway to attend Stanford University in California. He grew up in a small fishing village in Alaska. When he started college, he found that the friends that he made were Jewish. He attended Hillel functions and read books on Judaism. The Rabbi at Hillel said that he was becoming too serious for Hillel and told him to make contact with the Chabad Rabbi in Palo Alto.

This young man was also attending the weekly class that Rabbi Levin taught. The match was made, and we were so excited to date "the Chabad way." We married within a few months.

Five children, three grandchildren and much nachas later, we find ourselves once again far from any religious community. But for us, these summer visits to Seldovia from our home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are an important part of our Torah observance. Both my husband and I feel that maintaining our connections with our parents is important, especially since we are both only children. So every year, we travel to California to visit my parents, who live near Yosemite National Park, and to Alaska to visit my husband's parents.

Since my mother-in-law has cancer, we are staying to provide hospice for her. Everyday observances present unique challenges for us. We are very far from the Rebbe's emissaries in Anchorage, but Rabbi Yosef and Esti Greenberg are only a phone call away. We speak about the things so many take for granted, like how to acquire kosher food, where to find a mikva, etc. As seasoned veterans, they know all the tricks of the trade...

I take a deep breath as I quickly scribble my second page of notes. There are some familiar comforts, though they require considerable efforts to obtain. Gourmet Specialists, a friendly kosher store in Seattle, worked very diligently to make sure my family had kosher hot dogs for Lag B'Omer. They arrived on three separate planes!

My husband is a determined engineer and, after consulting with an authority on building mikvas, he worked for three days digging a hole around our natural spring. He even devised a heating element, since all the water here is below freezing. We then found out that we had not understood the instructions correctly. Thank G-d, ground was broken for a mikva in Anchorage in May and it is now complete.

I am not complaining. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be so fully aware of every mitzva that my family does. Nothing becomes routine here.

Through our example, our children learn about the importance of caring for parents. My oldest daughter, who just turned 25, was not with us, but took on the mitzva of helping others in her own way. She began teaching a Torah class based on the Rebbe's teachings and is volunteering at a local hospital, putting on make-up for teens with cancer.

Through the beauty of our surroundings, we try to instill a love for G-d's creations in our children. They enjoy themselves as well - riding their bikes or playing hide and go seek in the bushes, fishing or picking blueberries to make pies. My 12 year-old daughter sewed quilted pillows all summer and made a tidy profit at the local Fourth of July celebration. We even occasionally have the opportunity to have house guests.

On the first Shabbat after we arrived, we heard a knock on our door. It was a young woman who is interested in Judaism and wanted to meet an observant family. I connected her with the Greenbergs in Anchorage. This year, for the first time, 40 girls from Camp Emunah, a girls overnight camp in Upstate New York, stayed with us. We look forward to our next visitors, hoping to again have many memorable expereinces.

Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter

What's New

New Chabad Centers
Alexandria, Virginia

A new Chabad Center, under the directorship of Rabbi Mordechai and Yehudis Newman, opened recently in Alexandria, Virginia. Within two short weeks of its opening, the Center hosted Shabbat Services, holiday programs and numerous informative and inspirational classes.

Iowa City, Iowa

Rabbi and Mrs. Avremel Blesofsky have opened a Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Iowa City, Iowa. The Blesofskys will be serving the local Jewish community as well as being involved in campus outreach.

The Rebbe Writes

19 Kislev, 5711 [1950]

On the occasion of Yud-Tes (19th) Kislev, the anniversary of the liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, I take this opportunity to send you greetings and good wishes.

This day, as you are surely aware, does not commemorate a personal triumph of a great teacher and leader, for with its founder the entire movement and teachings of Chassidism received a new lease on life.

The Chabad movement experienced birthpangs by far more acute than any movement would normally expect. To the same degree its triumph showed all the more clearly that it was the victory of Truth brought about by Divine Providence.

If in those days, some 150 years ago, the full impact of Chassidism upon Jewish life could not be envisaged by all, it is now quite evident that Chassidism has been a vital necessity for our entire people.

My father-in-law, our late Lubavitcher Rabbi of sainted memory, wrote in one of his latest circulated letters dated 10th of Kislev (the anniversary of the liberation of Rabbi Dov Ber, the son of the founder, who, like his father, was persecuted for his leadership and dissemination of Chabad Chassidism) that Chassidism is not an exclusive philosophy for any particular group, but a way of life for all our people, young and old.

The custom, practiced by many, of observing the anniversary of an important event in their life, has a deeper explanation in our sacred books. It is based on the idea that the same spiritual forces which were operative at the time of the original event reassert themselves at the time of the anniversary. It is therefore an opportune time to benefit from those forces and revelations.

In this light we observe Yud-Tes Kislev. And although all of us-and I feel sure that I can include you among us-are still grief-stricken for our revered Rabbi of sainted memory, we know that the dissemination of the teachings of the founder of Chabad, the hero of the occasion, must not be relaxed. Now, more than ever, we must appreciate our responsibility to spread the light of Chabad far and wide so that it permeates every aspect of Jewish life. Whoever knew my father-in-law of sainted memory, even slightly, can have no doubts that this is his will and testament to us.

19th of Cheshvan, 5733 [1972]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed of your forthcoming Dinner celebration on the 20th of Kislev. It is significant that the event will take place one day following Yud-Tes Kislev, the historic anniversary of the release and vindication of the Alter Rebbe [the "Elder" Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman], founder of Chabad. Moreover, the 19th of Kislev will this year also mark the 200th Yartzeit anniversary of the illustrious Maggid of Miezricz, whose disciple and successor the Alter Rebbe was.

Anniversaries in Jewish life are observed for the purpose of their instructive significance, so that each and every one of us can learn from and be inspired by the life and work of our great leaders of the past, and translate this inspiration into actual deeds in our daily life and conduct.

The two great luminaries, the master and his disciple and successor, led consecrated lives, dedicated to the material and spiritual betterment of Jews and Judaism. Their selfless dedication knew no bounds. Furthermore, they set out from the beginning to involve the masses, for their love of a fellow Jew embraced all Jews. They laid particular stress on the education of the young, both the young in years as well as the young in Jewish knowledge and experience, and instilled this spirit in all their numerous followers.

The same spirit of love, responsibility, and dedication animates all those who are associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch educational activities in the present day, reaching out to our fellow Jews everywhere.

Rambam this week

15 Kislev 5762

Prohibition 291: a witness acting as an advocate

By this prohibition a witness is forbidden to act as an advocate in a (capital) case. Even though he may be learned and well-informed, he must testify concerning that which he has seen and be silent, while the judges make use of his testimony as they deem fit. It is derived from the Torah's words (Num. 35:30 and Deut. 17:6): "One witness shall not testify against any person that he die" and "At the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Tuesday we will celebrate Yud Tet (the 19th of) Kislev, the "New Year of Chasidut."

In connection with this date, the Previous Rebbe once declared: "Yud Kislev is the day of a Chasid's birth; Yud Tet Kislev is the day of his brit mila (circumcision)."

The mitzva of brit mila has three components: 1) the ritual itself; 2) the fact that it renders a Jew "circumcised"; 3) the Jew is no longer in the category of "uncircumcised."

These components also exist on the spiritual level. Through a Jew's Divine service (actual physical deed) he becomes "circumcised," revealing the goodness that is within him. He is then no longer "uncircum-cised," as the Evil Inclination has no sway over him.

Yud Tet Kislev is the day of liberation of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut. The above three principles form the basis of his teachings:

  1. Chabad Chasidism demands that a Jew work hard on his spiritual self-improvement. Innate goodness is not enough; it must be revealed through individual effort. Nor can one rely on a Rebbe or spiritual leader to do the work for him. As in brit mila, actual, real actions are required.

  2. Spreading Torah and mitzvot everywhere. In the same way that a brit renders a Jew circumcised, Chabad demands that a Jew's heart be circumcised as well. A Chasid must always look for opportunities to help a fellow Jew.

  3. As the Alter Rebbe explained, the entire aim of Chasidut is to change and improve the natural character attributes a person is born with. The Jew then becomes "no longer uncircumcised."

For the Jewish male, the connection with G-d begins with the mitzva of mila. (Girls are considered "already circumcised" at birth.) In the same way that holiness is drawn into the physical body through the performance of this commandment, so too does Chabad Chasidut demand that we serve Him with our innermost self, till it fully permeates our entire being.

Surely we will soon see fulfillfed what the Previous Rebbe once wrote in connection with Yud Tet Kislev, "May G-d...have compassion on us and lead us along the good and righteous path."

Thoughts that Count

I have sojourned ("garti") with Laban (Gen. 32:5)

Comments Rashi, "The letters of 'garti' are the same as 'taryag' [613, the number of the Torah's commandments]. Jacob declared, 'With the wicked Laban I sojourned, but the 613 commandments I observed.'" With the word "garti" Jacob also implied that throughout his experiences with Laban he viewed himself as a ger (stranger), never even once considering himself "at home." Laban is symbolic of worldly affairs. When a Jew feels that he is only a "stranger" in this world, whereas his true "home" is in matters of Torah, the physical realm does contradict or oppose his spirituality.

(Likutei Sichot)

I am not worthy of all the mercies and of all the truth You have done with Your servant (Gen. 32:11)

The more benevolence G-d demonstrated to Jacob, the more it made him feel humbled and small. When G-d bestows His loving-kindness upon a person, it indicates a special closeness between the individual and G-d. Thus the closer one's relationship with G-d, the more humble and self-effacing he must be.


And the terror ("chitat") of G-d was upon the cities that were around them (Gen. 35:5)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Chabad Rebbe known as the Tzemach Tzedek, related: "In 5603 [1843], when I was summoned to participate in the Rabbinical Commission in Petersburg, I went to pray at the gravesite of my sainted mother [Rebbetzin Devorah Leah] in Liozhna. She told me that in the merit of her self-sacrifice for Chasidim and Chasidut, she had been permitted to enter the celestial chamber of the Baal Shem Tov, and had asked him for a special segula [merit or virtue] that I be able to stand up to my opponents. The Baal Shem Tov had replied, 'Your son knows the Five Books of the Chumash, Tehillim [Psalms] and Tanya by heart, the first letters of which spell chitat [terror]. Whoever knows the letters of these books can overcome all kinds of Divine concealment.' "

It Once Happened

In a little town in Eastern Europe lived a Jewish couple who managed an inn they rented from the local poritz (landowner). They earned a meager livelihood but their expenses were few, as they had not yet been blessed with children.

As our story begins, the elderly priest who lived in the village was no friend to the Jews, but by the same token, he did not go out of his way to incite his parishioners. The priest was a steady customer at the inn. However, he had one annoying habit: he would always "forget" to bring his wallet - a fact he invariably recalled only after he had finished several shots of whisky. Over the course of time the priest ran up a considerable bill, but the Jewish innkeeper figured it was prudent to remain silent.

Any hopes he might have had about being paid were dashed when the priest died. The priest's successor was a younger seminarian who was a confirmed anti-Semite. He could not abide the fact that in "his" village a Jewish family was being permitted to live undisturbed. After several failed attempts to convince the Jewish innkeeper to renounce his faith, he began to preach openly about what a terrible crime it was to patronize a Jewish establishment. Slowly but surely the local peasants stopped coming by, and within a short time the innkeeper was unable to pay his rent.

Coincidentally (although everything happens by Divine Providence), at the same time the young couple faced eviction, the innkeeper's wife discovered she was expecting. When the news became public, the priest, aware of the couple's dire financial straits, resolved to turn the situation to his advantage.

When the final date the rent was due had come and gone, the poritz had the Jewish innkeeper and his wife imprisoned in an underground cell designed for such purposes. The priest, who had meanwhile ingratiated himself to the poritz, convinced him that the couple did in fact have money, which could be wrested from them by force. By this time, the woman was due to give birth.

At that point the priest visited the couple and presented his plan: If they accepted Christianity, not only would the poritz let them go but they could also live rent-free for several years. Otherwise, they would languish in prison forever, as no one knew of their whereabouts.

The Jewish man and his wife adamantly refused to even consider it. The priest promised to return the next day, confident that time was on his side.

No sooner was the priest gone than the woman went into labor. The innkeeper begged the guard to summon a midwife, and the woman gave birth to a baby boy. The following day the priest returned, and found three unfortunate Jewish souls instead of two. This time, when the priest urged them to convert and take pity on an innocent child, the innkeeper finally gave in, but on one condition: that the infant first be circumcised according to Jewish law.

"But that doesn't make any sense!" the priest replied. "Why make the baby suffer if he's going to be a Christian anyway?"

"What do you care?" the father replied. "Besides, isn't it a greater victory to convert an already circumcised Jew?" The priest agreed.

The father then instructed the priest to travel to the next town, and ask the Rabbi there to send a mohel (ritual circumciser) on the eighth day after the baby's birth. The priest delivered the message, adding that the Jewish family with the newborn baby was planning on converting anyway. Yet for some peculiar reason, the father was insisting that the baby first be circumcised.

When the priest refused to divulge any further details, the Rabbi explained that it is customary for the mohel to examine the baby several days before the brit to make sure that he is healthy. Having no other choice, the priest gave him his own address before departing. "Tell the mohel to come directly to me and I will take him to the family."

Immediately the Rabbi called an urgent meeting in the synagogue and told everyone what had happened. "The only explanation is that the 'converts' are trying to send us a message," he surmised. An appeal was made for money, and everyone donated generously for the mitzva of redeeming captives.

The next day the mohel went to the priest's house and found him in bed in agonizing pain. On the return trip the priest's wagon had overturned, breaking his arms and legs. Unable to personally accompany the mohel, the priest revealed the location of the underground prison.

The back rent was paid to the poritz with the money the Jews had collected, and the innkeeper and his family were freed. And not only that, but when the mohel explained to the poritz how the priest had deliberately misled him, he insisted that half the debt be forgiven as compensation for their suffering.

Thus was a Jewish family saved in the merit of the mitzva of brit mila.

Moshiach Matters

The Talmud states, "The mitzvot will be annulled in future time." This means that the mitzvot in their present form will be of no account relative to the revelations of the future. The degree of Divine energy elicited by the performance of a mitzva today is infinitely inferior to the degree of Divine energy that will be elicited by the performance of a mitzva in the future.

(From a Chasidic Discourse of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch)

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