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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

December 28, 2001 - 13 Tevet, 5762

700: Vayechi

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Can You Really Go On Vacation?  |  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

Can You Really Go On Vacation?

In the days before cellular phones, beepers, palm pilots, lap-top computers and fax machines, it was much easier for a person to cut himself off from the work back home while vacationing.

Today, however, as two cell-phone families become the norm and a cell-phone for every family member is becoming more common, it requires a determined single-mindedness to ensure a real respite.

How many workaholics do we know (maybe we even count ourselves amongst them), who would be so bold as to totally detach himself from work for the duration of a vacation? How many really want to? The person who eats, sleeps, relaxes and even dreams "work" is the rule nowadays rather than the exception.

The the Mishna known as Ethics of the Fathers, the great Sage Rabbi Meir declares: "Minimize your aisek - business activities and asok - occupy yourself with the Torah."

The Hebrew words "aisek" and "asok" are from the same root. It would seem then, that Rabbi Meir is suggesting that there is a relationship between business and Torah.

In fact, throughout Ethics of the Fathers any one of various forms of the word asok is used when speaking of a person's involvement in Torah.

In conjunction with this interesting terminology, the Rebbe notes that there are two types of people involved in business. One is a worker and the other is a "ba'al esek" - or businessman. What is the difference between the two people? After all, they both work for a living.

The distinction has to do with the extent of their involvement in their jobs. In general terms, the worker "watches the clock." He (she) makes sure to take exactly 30 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for coffee breaks if that's what he's entitled to. He's at his desk at 9 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m. Often, he doesn't think about his job before or after hours.

The ba'al esek, on the other hand, lives, breathes and dreams work. He certainly takes his cellphone and probably even his lap-top with him on vacation. He is totally involved and totally committed to his job, regardless of whether or not he's the boss.

And this, explains the Rebbe, is what our involvement with Torah - studying Torah and living Torah - should be. It should be like that of the businessperson who lives, breathes and dreams Torah, who not only never disconnects himself from Torah, even while on "vacation," but doesn't even want to. Moreover, by bringing along his high-tech office equipment, he facilitates easy access and communication.

Just how hard does a Jew have to work at the business of Judaism? Rabbi Tarfon, also quoted in Ethics of the Fathers, used to say, "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the 'work,' yet you are not free to desist from it. Your Employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward for your labor, but know that the giving of the reward to the righteous will be in the World to Come."

Living with the Rebbe

In the Torah portion of Vayechi, Jacob tells Joseph: "Your two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, who were born to you in the land of Egypt...are mine; as Reuven and Shimon, they shall be mine." As will be explained, the names Ephraim and Menashe are symbolic of two different approaches to our Divine service.

Menashe comes from the word meaning "to forget." Joseph gave his son that name because "G-d...has made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house." Menashe symbolizes Jews who, because of the spiritual and physical difficulties of the exile, are in danger of forgetting their roots and Jewish tradition.

However, the name itself helps them not to forget! "Menashe" reminds us of the very real danger that exists, and causes us to be more careful in a negative environment. This path, of preventing spiritual damage from outside influences, is known as "avoiding evil."

Ephraim was so-called because "G-d has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." Whereas Menashe still remembered his "father's house" and struggled to remain connected, Ephraim's mentality was completely "exile" in nature. However, this was also G-d's will, as the purpose of the exile is to illuminate the darkness of the world with the light of Torah and mitzvot. Thus despite Ephraim's being "in the land of my affliction" he was extremely "fruitful," actively disseminating the holiness of the Torah wherever he went. This path of Divine service, transforming the darkness itself into light, is known as "doing good."

The service of Ephraim is superior to the service of Menashe. For while Menashe concentrated on protecting himself from harm, Ephraim actually turned the world into holiness. Of course, in order to succeed in such a mission, Ephraim needed an extra measure of help from Above. That is why Jacob placed his right hand (symbolic of strength and dominance) on Ephraim's head when he gave them his blessing.

Jacob declared that both of his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, would be considered as "his." Both would attain exalted spiritual levels and succeed in their Divine service in exile, in the same way that the Twelve Tribes succeeded with their advantage of being in close proximity to our forefathers. Moreover, the service of Ephraim and Menashe would be even greater in one respect, for it would stand out in stark contrast to their Egyptian surroundings, "like the advantage of light that comes from the midst of darkness."

Every Jew can relate to the respective paths of Ephraim and Menashe, which is why we bless our children, "G-d make you as Ephraim and as Menashe."

Adapted from Volume 5 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Outreach in Montevideo, Uruguay
by Rochi Shemtov

My husband, Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, tells people that we came to Montevideo, Uruguay, as emissaries of the Rebbe to build a "swimming pool" of Torah and mitzvot. Some people jump in at the end, some like to swim in the middle, some just wet their feet, and some watch the others swim!

People often ask me how we ended up in Montevideo, Uruguay, as the Rebbe's emissaries.

My husband and I got engaged right before the summer 17 years ago. I had just finished my schooling and went to South Africa to run a day camp with a friend. My soon-to-be husband went to Uruguay with a group of yeshiva students to visit small Jewish communities there. He spoke Spanish fluently as he had studied for two years in the Chabad Yeshiva in Caracas, Venezuela.

The Jewish community was very happy with the work that Eliezer and his friends had done during their visit. Community representatives asked Merkos/Lubavitch World Headquarters if they would send a young rabbi to Montevideo, to live and work in the community on a permanent basis.

A few months later we were newly married and living in Crown Heights. I was expecting our first child and had a cast on my leg from dancing a bit too vigorously at a friend's wedding. My husband wrote to the Rebbe about the offer he had received from Merkos to become the Rebbe's emissary in Uruguay. The Rebbe answered, "mahir - urgent."

My cast came off, we paid for our tickets and shipments, and off we went. When we arrived in Uruguay, I did not speak any Spanish and I would just tag along to the classes my husband gave. Every time I would walk into a room full of people, they would stare at me open-mouthed. It was definitely great for my self-esteem. They were shocked and couldn't believe that I was "Rabbi Shemtov's wife."

When I had mastered a little Spanish, I started telling them, "My husband is 23 years old. Whom do you think he would marry, a 70-year-old bobbe? He married a 20-year-old girl!"

Uruguay has one of the highest literacy rates in South America, and the level of education is very high. Thank G-d, our Gan Chaya Mushka Nursery, Rambam Day School and High School have reputations for being top-notch institutions. The High School is trilingual (Hebrew, Spanish and English), and we teach some Yiddish as well.

Last year, a teacher approached me about participating in a writing competition called "Visionaries of the Millennium," which was co-sponsored by Unesco, DisneyWorld and McDonalds. I discussed it with my husband and we decided not to participate. When I got back to the teacher with our response, she told me that she had misunderstood me and many of the students had already submitted compositions. We decided to send them in. One of our students, Sruli Kacowicz, was among the winners. He wrote about how older people can organize themselves and entertain each other, an idea he got from watching his mother run the program for the elderly in our Chabad House. It was a tremendous kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name).

Sruly was sent on a kosher trip with his mother to DisneyWorld, where he met with the other 1,999 visionaries of the world. Sruly proudly wore his yarmulka and tzitzit, as he does all the time. When the award was presented to him, he asked if he could say something. "I never ate at McDonalds," he said. There was a horrible silence.

The ceremony was being broadcast on television and the representative from McDonalds was starting to get very nervous. "Because," Sruly continued, "I am an observant Jew. I have one request from McDonalds: Please open a kosher one in Uruguay!"

Four years ago, we had an overnight winter camp. In the middle of the night, one of the cabins caught on fire. It was a miracle that we all got out safely, seconds before the entire cabin blew up. We immediately wrote to the Rebbe, asking for a blessing that this near-tragedy not ruin our otherwise impeccable reputation. Thank G-d, the parents of the girls took everything pretty well. We thought the whole incident ended there. But a few weeks ago, the owner of the camp announced that he was suing us for over $50,000! The fault was obviously theirs: There was no steam heat in the cabin so the room was warmed by a fireplace and all the walls around it were made of wood. It was painful to have to relive the whole episode, and the owner's audacity to sue us was unbelievable.

I considered how to approach the problem. I remembered an article I had read in the the N'shei Newsletter (the Lubavitch women's magazine) that inspired me very much. It was about the father of a sick child. He was about to read a letter at the ohel (the Rebbe's resting place) asking for a blessing that his son should be able to receive treatment as soon as possible. But then he thought to himself: If I believe that the Rebbe can help my son, why am I asking for a blessing for quick treatment? I should ask for a blessing that this terrible illness should go away as suddenly as it came. That is what the father asked for, and, thank G-d, that is what happened!

I wrote a letter to the Rebbe. I asked the Rebbe that this case should not exist. That night, I was at a celebration that our lawyer was having in honor of his daughter's Bat Mitzvah. He said that he would see me on Wednesday at the hearing. I told him no, for me there was no case... He answered, "Have you lost your mind? This case exists and it will take at least two years to fight it. The best thing we can do is counter-sue."

Wednesday came and went. I didn't go to the hearing. My husband, who was in New York, called to ask me how it went. He was shocked when I told him that I didn't go. He asked me to call the lawyer to find out what had occurred. The lawyer told me a miracle had happened. The owner of the campsite had simply changed his mind and dropped the case.

I know what you are all thinking. I should have asked for Moshiach. Believe me, I did. And surely the Rebbe will fulfill his promise that Moshiach will be here momentarily.

Adapted from the N'Shei Newsletter

What's New

Tanya Printed in Vietnam

As part of a campaign initiated by the Rebbe nearly two decades ago to print the Tanya wherever Jews are found, this basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy was printed recently in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Two rabbinical students from the Lubavitch Yeshiva/Chabad House of Thailand spent a number of weeks in those countries in order to print the Tanyas and to study it together with the young Israeli tourists who frequent the area.

Eight New Schools

Eight new educational institutions across the former Soviet Union opened this year under the auspices of the Ohr Avner Foundation, bringing the number of such institutions in the region to 62. One of the newest schools, in Zaporozhe, Ukraine, has already received accolades for its educational standards.

The Rebbe Writes

20th of Teveth, 5715 [1955]

Blessing and Greeting:

I received your letter of 12th of Teveth, and I learned subsequently that you went away for a while, but have now returned. I was pleased to learn also that you took tithe on the day before you left, and I take this opportunity to wish you and your husband Mazel Tov and much joy in your new home, which you are soon to build, with G-d's help.

I am sure that your physical home will have its proper counterpart in a fine and happy spiritual Jewish and Chasidic home. And as the physical home is designed to keep out any harmful cold in the winter and heat in the summer, so spiritually, too, your home will be immune to any harmful outside influences which try to cool down the inner sanctuary of the Jewish home, or to bring in "strange fire" from outside. But on the contrary, you will make your home so that its influence will be like a landmark in your new community.

Your check was turned over for a Kiddush in the shul as requested.

With prayerful wishes, and with blessing,

27th of Teveth, 5721 [1961]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter and enclosures.

It is explained in many places in Chasidus, beginning with the Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy], about the negative aspects of all forms of sadness, depression, despondency, etc. It is also clear from experience that these attitudes belong to the bag of tricks of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination] in order to distract the Jew from serving G-d. To achieve this end the Yetzer Hora sometimes even clothes itself in the mantle of piety.

The true test, however, is what the results are, whether these attitudes actually bring about an improvement in, and a fuller measure of Torah and Mitzvos, or the reverse. This should be easy to determine.

On the other hand we have been assured that "He who is determined to purify himself receives Divine help." The road to purity and holiness, however, is one that should be trodden step by step, and by gradual and steady advancement.

Needless to say, the idea of your continuing at the Yeshivah for some time is the right one. As for the question how and what to write to your parents, I suggest that you consult with Rabbi Joseph Wineberg, who knows them personally, and who could give you some useful suggestions.

Hoping to hear good news from you in all above,

With blessing,

13th of Teveth, 5723 [1963]

Sholom u'Brocho:

I received your letter, in which you ask what occupation to choose.

Generally speaking one should choose a line in which one has either knowledge or connections or both. If there is any doubt, it has been said in such a case that "help comes with a multitude of advice," i.e. from talking things over with as many qualified people as possible. The important thing is that the choice made and the actual effort put into its materialization should come together with the fullest trust in G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to everyone, and this will ensure the success of it.

With blessing,

25th of Tevet, 5723 [1963]

Sholom u'Brocho:

I received your letter of the 20th of Teves, and am pleased to note that you are making progress in your learning. I trust that you will not be content with accomplishments in the past, and will make every effort to do better, in accordance with the principle Maalin b'Kodesh [ascending in holiness], and since the Torah and Mitzvos are from G-d, the Creator of Man, it is certain that He gave the ability to fulfill what is expected. At the same time that is the channel to receive G-d's blessings in a growing measure, including the matter about which you wrote.

No doubt you noted the 150th Yahrzeit of the Old Rebbe, Baal [the author of] HaTanya and Shulchan Aruch, which we observed yesterday. Your father must have also surely told you about the importance of the Old Rebbe, following in the footsteps of the Baal Shem Tov, attached to Chinuch [Jewish education]. I hope you will be a living example and source of good influence to your friends,

With blessing,

Rambam this week

13 Tevet 5762

Positive mitzva 209: honoring scholars and the elderly

By this injunction we are commanded to respect scholars and to rise before them in order to do them honor. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 19:32): "You shall rise in the presence of an old person and you shall honor the presence of an elder."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

A story is told of the Tzemach Tzedek, who was to become the third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. As a young child he was studying the Torah portion of Vayechi, this week's Torah portion, and had just learned that "Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years." The teacher explained that from this verse we learn that the 17 years Jacob spent in Egypt were the best years of his life. The Tzemach Tzedek asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, how it was possible that Jacob could have lived his best years in such a place as Egypt?

The Alter Rebbe replied: "We have been taught in the previous Torah portion (Vayigash) that Jacob had sent his son Judah ahead of him to establish a yeshiva in Goshen. Therefore, since learning Torah brings a Jew closer to G-d, it is possible for a Jew to truly live even in a place like Egypt and that those years can even be considered 'good' years."

This story has an eternal message for every one of us:

"Egypt" is the prototype of all the exiles our people have experienced during our long history. The Hebrew word for Egypt is "Mitzrayim," which is connected with "metzarim"-constraints. Egypt thus indicates all situations in which a Jew finds himself constrained and limited in the development of his true Jewish spirit. If it were not for the Torah, the Jewish spirit would languish and lose vigor and vitality in the darkness of exile, whether external or internal. It is the Torah and mitzvot that illuminate Jewish life and provide the strength and vitality to overcome all constraints and hindrances, enabling every Jew-man, woman and child-to live a bright and meaningful life even in the midst of outside darkness.

May we merit very soon to live truly bright and meaningful lives.

Thoughts that Count

And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger (Gen. 48:14)

It was precisely because Ephraim was the younger that Jacob placed his stronger hand upon his head to bless him. For young people always require more attention, supervision and encouragement than older people.

(Techiyat Yisrael)

And let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 48:16)

Jacob was afraid that the younger generation (especially Joseph's children, who were born and bred in Egypt and accustomed to the wealth of the royal palace) would assimilate among their Egyptian neighbors. To prevent this from happening, he insisted that his grandchildren keep their original Jewish names. Changing one's name is the first step toward assimilation.

(Imrei Chein)

And let them grow into a multitude ("veyidgu") in the midst of the earth (Gen. 48:16)

The Hebrew word "veyidgu," which means to increase and be plentiful, is etymologically related to "dag," meaning fish. Commented the 18th century sage known as the Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer): "The existence of the Jewish people is above and beyond nature, in the same way that it is not natural for a fish to live on dry land, 'in the midst of the earth.' "

Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise (Gen. 49:8)

The blessing Judah received from Jacob contains every letter of the Hebrew alphabet except for one: the letter "zayin," which means literally a weapon. This is an allusion to the eventual restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Messianic era, which will come about through a descendant of Judah (in the person of Moshiach). The absence of the letter zayin indicates that Moshiach's victory will be accomplished without the help of the sword, as it states, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the L-rd of hosts."

(Rabbeinu Bachya)

It Once Happened

Reb Moshe Meisels was a loyal Chasid of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, and was ever ready to undertake any mission the Rebbe would assign to him.

In the year 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, Reb Moshe received a secret letter from the Alter Rebbe. In the letter, the Rebbe informed his trusted Chasid that it was most important for the spiritual well-being of the Jews that Czar Alexander win the war against Napoleon.

When Napoleon's armies reached the gates of Vilna, Reb Moshe "found himself" in the occupied zone. He became friendly with the French officers who were impressed with his wide knowledge of languages and general education. When an interpreter was needed to question captured soldiers and officers, or to deal with the local populace, or to issue public notices and proclamations, Reb Moshe was much in demand to help carry out these tasks. It did not take long before Reb Moshe enjoyed the fullest confidence of the French general staff.

Thus, Reb Moshe was able to learn many important military secrets, and through his connection with other Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, he was able to transmit important information to the Russian generals on the battlefront.

Once, when Reb Moshe happened to be in the French Generals Headquarters, the generals were making plans about their next attack. Huge maps were spread out on the table, and the generals debated heatedly about the various possibilities of distributing their military forces on the battlefront in order to give the Russians an unexpected blow.

Reb Moshe pretended not to hear or see what was going on, and the generals paid no attention to him.

Suddenly the door burst open and in came Napoleon. The generals sprang to their feet and stood at attention. With one glance Napoleon took in the whole scene.

"What is this stranger doing here?" he demanded, pointing to Reb Moshe. Without waiting for a reply, Napoleon rushed up to him, exclaiming, "You are a spy!" Saying which, he pressed his hand to Reb Moshe's chest to feel if his heart was beating rapidly at having been unmasked.

But Reb Moshe's heart was not pounding and his face did not pale, as he calmly replied in perfect French:

"Your Majesty, your generals appointed me to be their interpreter, and I await their orders."

His cool manner and calm voice completely disarmed Napoleon, and his suspicions were immediately dispelled. Reb Moshe was saved from certain death.

When Reb Moshe related the episode of his encounter with Napoleon, he declared that the "alef-beit" (most basic teachings) of Chasidut had saved his life at that particular moment. He explained:

"The Rebbe has taught us that the 'alef' of Chasidut is that a Jew has to use his natural powers for the service of G-d. One of these natural powers is that the brain rules the heart. In other words, according to the nature which G-d created in man, reason is basically stronger than feeling; a person has the power to control his emotions. However, it is not enough for a man to know this; he must persistently train himself to exercise this power in his daily life and conduct, until it becomes a natural habit with him. In actual practice this simply means that whenever one feels a strong desire for something, one should say to oneself, 'I can do without it.' The exercise of such self-control is the 'alef' of Chasidut and having mastered this 'alef' one can steadily advance further.

"Thus I have schooled myself to achieve absolute self-control, so that in everything I think, speak, and do, I let my mind rule my heart. And where it is important for the heart to express its feelings, the mind, too, must have its say, to make sure that the feelings do not get out of control.

"And so I trained myself to control my feelings, not to get excited under any circumstances, and not to be overwhelmed by anyone or anybody.

"And this 'alef' of Chasidut saved my life."

Moshiach Matters

The Talmud states: "The righteous are destined to rise dead in their own garments." Comments Rabbi Saadia Gaon, "When this idea became widespread among our nation, certain people went to such extremes in their expenditures on the shrouds of the dead that it produced great hardships. Those who could not afford them would abandon their dead and flee. This condition continued until Rabban Gamliel instituted an ordinace for the nation by having himself buried in starched linen garments, and all the people followed his example."

(From Insights by Rabbi Saul Weiss)

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