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January 4, 2002 - 20 Tevet, 5762

701: Shemos

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  700: Vayechi702: Vaera  

Are You Computer Literate?  |  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

Are You Computer Literate?

Are you computer literate? Can you define DVD and CD-ROM? Do you know how to use an internet search engine? Can you get a virus from a giga-byte? If you're beginning to feel like you are one of the few people left who is techno-logically challenged, it would have to be that a) you are not interested in computers; b) you are afraid of computers; c) you are ashamed to admit your ignorance and become educated about computers.

If you fall in category "c," take note of the words of the great Sage Rabbi Gamliel who said, "A bashful person cannot learn." Since Rabbi Gamliel lived over fifteen hundred years ago, it's obvious that the great rabbi wasn't referring to computers. He was pointing out that a person who is too embarrassed to ask a question - whether because he does not want others to know that he doesn't know or that he's by nature shy - can never study the Torah properly.

Today, there are probably many more Jews who are computer literate than Jewish literate. Yet, Jewish illiteratacy stems from the same reasons as computer illiteracy: We have: a) we're not interested in Judaism; b) we're afraid of Judaism; c) we're ashamed to admit our ignorance and and become educated.

Many of us are Jewishly challenged; we don't know the difference between kaddish and kiddush, what's inside the mezuza case and those black boxes called tefilin, or how to wash our hands before eating bread.

The only way to overcome our illiteracy is by overcoming our hang-ups with Judaism. For some, it might mean overcoming the embarrassment of our lack of knowledge and simply asking questions. For others it means unlearning some things which turned us off to Judaism as young people. And yet others, it means overcoming the apathy and indifference that pervades so much of our lives.

One aspect of computers that often puts people off of even attempting to become knowledgeable about them is that every time you turn around there's something new on the market. Just when you get used to the new Windows they upgrade it. Months after you've spent a thousand dollars buying a faster, more powerful computer the company comes out with something even faster and more powerful. Then, the software you buy has a bug, or you need more memory to run the new program you just bought. The list goes on and on.

Thank G-d (literally speaking) there are no such problems in Judaism. No need to upgradeyour equipment - just yourself and your performance of mitzvot. Nothing faster or more powerful than authentic Torah study will be developed. If you have a problem with the "program," well, the preferred way to study Torah involves solving problems and answering questions.

And, don't worry if you don't think you can afford to "buy it" all at once - take your time, and do your upgrade one mitzva at a time. Before you know it you'll be "Judaism literate."

Living with the Rebbe

This week we commence the Book of Exodus (Shemot), which begins: "These are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt."

This is not the first time the Torah enumerates the names of the Children of Israel. The sons of Jacob have already been tallied several times in previous chapters. Why, then, does the Torah list their names again?

The Midrash offers two explanations:

Even though they were in exile, the Jewish people did not change their names for Egyptian ones.

The Jewish people are likened to the stars, about which it states, "He [G-d] counts the number of stars; each one He calls by name." Aside from denoting preciousness and value, once something has been counted it can never afterward be nullified.

Chasidic philosophy explains that a person's name relates to his most external aspects rather than his innermost being. (The reason a person has a name is so that others can call him by it; he himself, however, does not really need a name.)

To a certain extent, this describes the Jewish soul after it descends into the physical world and is invested in a body. However, not all of the soul comes down into the physical world: its essence always remains above, united with G-d, while only its external reflection descends to the physical plane.

This is alluded to in the verse "And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt." The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, comes from the word meaning constriction and limitation. Only the "name" of the Jewish soul, its outermost reflection, is subjected to the limitations of the physical world and the difficulties of the exile. The soul itself, however, remains unaffected and in full possession of all its powers.

The Jewish soul has never gone into exile. It is not contained or restricted in any way by the physical world, and its essence is always "free." Thus it is a perpetual source of strength for its reflection down below, enabling a Jew to overcome spiritual obstacles and cleave to G-d in all circumstances and situations.

It was this strength that empowered the Jewish people throughout their years in Egyptian exile, allowing them to remain faithful to their beliefs and retain their original Jewish names. Indeed, this is the connection between the two explanations in the Midrash: the Children of Israel were able to "stay Jewish" in Egypt precisely because the essence of the soul never goes into exile - a lesson that applies to our day as well.

Adapted from Volume 3 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Some Things are Worth the Wait
by Steve Hyatt

It seemed like a good idea at the time! Due to my extremely poor study habits when I was a boy, I had never learned my Bar Mitzva haftorah. So when Rabbi Choni Vogel of Chabad of Delaware "suggested" I learn the haftorah I should have chanted in 1967, I figured I could master it. I was now older, wiser, more studious and much more dedicated than I had been at 13. I would return to Delaware and chant my haftorah in the beginning of the summer.

I had thought, "How hard can it be?" I'd learn the words, memorize the tune and quicker than I could say, "More kugel please!" I'd be ready.

Suddenly a day that had seemed an eternity away was now a mere eight days away. Eight days! Although I put on a brave face, telling people I was ready for the big day, my insides were like mush. I had learned the words pretty well but not the tunes. Despite my best efforts I simply could not remember the tunes for the haftorah and the accompanying blessings. Every time I practiced, I was mortified to hear a new version of the melodies come out of my mouth. I was fine as long as I followed along with the tape cassette Rabbi Vogel had prepared for me. In my mind I sounded like a practiced yeshiva student. But as soon as I turned off the tape player I was in trouble.

In the months leading up to the big week, I had practiced at work during my lunch break, on airplanes and in my backyard as I mowed the lawn. I had even practiced during my weekly Sunday morning golf game. But I still couldn't master the tunes.

I kept telling Rabbi Vogel, "I don't think I can do this." He'd tell me to relax and would assure me I'd do just fine. He told me he had helped lots of Bar Mitzva boys through their haftorah and he'd help me, too.

Several days before the big event, my wife Linda and I traveled to my parents in Connecticut. I was determined that there, in the confines of my boyhood home, I would finally get it right. I sat out on their redwood deck, headphones in place, chanting my haftorah over and over again. My parents were very supportive. I kept whining that I was fine until I took the headphones off and then I was lost. My Dad chuckled.

Finally the big day arrived. During the entire five-hour journey from Connecticut to Delaware on Amtrak, I chanted the haftorah. Perhaps it was my imagination, but in the last hour or so before I arrived in Delaware, I thought I was actually starting to get it right. I arrived at the Chabad House about three hours before the start of Shabbat and immediately sat down to practice. At 7:00 p.m. I walked over to the Vogel's for Shabbat. After davening and eating more kugel than one human should ever attempt to eat, I walked back to the Chabad House to get in a little more practice. To my chagrin, without my headphones I was awful. Panic set in. What was I going to do?

That night I laid in bed staring at the ceiling listening to crickets chirp outside my window for what seemed like forever. As the sun rose above the horizon I found myself having a mental conversation with my departed great- grandfather Charles Cooper. I told him I had been practicing my haftorah for months but wasn't very confident in my abilities. I asked him if he could take a few moments to send his great-grandson a little assistance.

Finally, it was time to go to shul. When I walked through the door all of my Delaware friends were there. Although I was nervous, I realized I was among friends and I'd be all right even if my chanting was a little off key. Before I knew it, Rabbi Vogel was finished reading from the Torah and it was time. I said a little prayer asking G-d for help, gave a little wink in Great-grandpa Charlie's direction and anxiously walked to the lecturn.

Rabbi Vogel gave me the book containing the haftorah. I cleared my throat and began with the first blessing. As I chanted the first few words I heard an almost imperceptible humming coming from my left. For a few startling seconds I actually thought Great-grandpa Charlie was singing in my ear. Then I realized Rabbi Vogel was acting as my human cassette player, keeping me on track as I chanted my haftorah. Gaining confidence, my voice started to get stronger and I heard the melody I had been practicing for months flow out of my mouth! Before I knew it I was half way through and then, I was finished! What had seemed impossible only hours before was now history. The rest of Shabbos was one of the most joyous experiences of my life. When I left the shul that day I walked through the neighborhood with a huge smile on my face, my feet barely touching the sidewalk.

A dream 34 years in the making had now become a reality. Thanks to Chabad I had overcome my fears, doubts and lack of confidence to accomplish something I thought was beyond my abilities. Between smiles I kept thinking, "If I could do this, what else could I accomplish if I just dared to try?" As Shabbos drew to a close I felt empowered to take on the world. And I knew somewhere, someplace Great-grandpa Charlie was dancing with pride to a divine tune!

What's New

New to Estonia

Rabbi Shmuel Kot was installed as the official Rabbi of the Estonian Jewish community. Rabbi Kot and his wife, Chana, serve as the Rebbe's emissaries to this Baltic state. Among the many programs established by the Kots in the short time since they arrived are a Bar Mitzva Club and a Bat Mitzva Club, a presence on campus for Tallinn's Jewish students, holiday programs, a summer camp and arrangements for brissim (circumcisions) of Jewish boys and men who did not fulfill this mitzva under Communist rule.

Center Opens in Knoxville

Rabbi Yossi and Miriam Esther Wilhelm received a warm welcome from the small but active Jewish community of Knoxville, Tennessee. Since their arrival, the Chabad-Lubavitch Center has offered Shabbat and holiday programs, campus outreach, Kosher Week seminars and hands-on Jewish experiences like a shofar factory for Rosh Hashana. The Wilhelms are also reaching out to the Jewish community of nearby Gatlinburg.

The Rebbe Writes

Free Rendition

7th of Teveth, 5717 [1957]

To All Participants in the
Annual Dinner Celebration of the
United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth
Tomche Tmimim in America,
G-d bless you all

Greeting and Blessing:

I send my greetings and blessing to all participants in the annual Torah-celebration of the United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth in America this coming Sunday.

Recalling the well-known dictum of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch and the founder of Chabad Chasidism, to the effect that "a Jew should live with the times," i.e. according to the time and spirit of the weekly Sidrah [portion] of the Torah, I wish to dwell briefly on the first portion of the Sidrah Shemoth (in the book of Exodus), which is the "Torah-time" when the celebration is taking place.

We are told in this first portion of the Book of Exodus how a handful of Jews - seventy souls - managed to survive on the foreign soil of Egypt, in the midst of an overwhelmingly powerful and hostile people.

They survived not by imitating their non-Jewish neighbors and trying to hide their identity, but, on the contrary, by realizing that they were different and by guarding, most zealously and uncompromisingly, their identity and spiritual independence. Our Sages pointed out this secret of survival in their commentary on the first verse of the Sidrah: "And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt." "Because they did not change their names and their customs, they were redeemed from Egypt."

Moreover, not only did they manage to survive in such adverse circumstances, but they multiplied in number and grew strong in spirit, until they received the Torah at Sinai bringing light to the entire world and accomplishing the purpose of Creation.

This portion of the Torah, giving us the story of the first Jews in the first Golus (exile), contains the secret of Jewish survival in all dispersions and in all generations. The lesson should, especially, be remembered in our own day, when the Golus has become so tragically devastating both physically and spiritually. Jews dispersed throughout the world are everywhere surrounded by a demoralized and hostile world, a world in which basic principles of humanity and justice are trampled upon, a world so confused that darkness is mistaken for light, and light for darkness, a world living in fear of atomic self-destruction, G-d forbid.

In this dark Golus, we Jews must realize more than ever before, the teaching of our Torah, Toras Chaim (the Law of Life), that only through the preservation of our identity and spiritual independence, based on the solid foundations of our Torah and Mitzvos and nurtured through an uncompromising Torah-true education of our children, can we ensure the survival of our people, spiritually and physically, and, moreover, grow and prosper.

In the light of the above it is clear why the existence and continued growth of the Lubavitcher Yeshivoth is of vital importance to every Jew, and to our people as a whole. For in these institutions, permeated as they are with the spirit of their founder, my father-in-law of saintly memory, the spirit of non-compromise in Torah education, the spirit of self-sacrifice, of love and loyalty to our people, our Torah and our G-d - in these institutions and in this spirit thousands of students (may their number grow) are brought up and educated. Here is the home of Tmimim - whole Jews, Jews with a feeling of responsibility for their fellow-Jew and for the community in which they live.

Everyone must therefore consider it his personal duty... to support the Yeshivoth Tomche Tmimim with the utmost generosity, and to further its continued growth.

In the merit of this, everyone individually and our people as a whole, will earn the fulfillment of G-d's blessing kein yirbeh v'chein yifrotz, the blessing of growth and prosperity despite adverse circumstances, and we shall merit the true and complete Redemption through our Righteous Messiah, speedily in our time.

With esteem and blessing,

Rambam this week

21 Tevet 5762

Positive mitzva 10: reading the "Shema"

By this injunction we are commanded to read the "Shema" ("Hear O Israel, etc.") daily, in the evening and in the morning. It is expressed in the Torah's words (Deut. 6:7): "And you shall talk of them." The commandment is not obligatory on women.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Tuesday is the 24th of Tevet, coinciding with January 8th this year. The date marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism and a foremost disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, successor of the Baal Shem Tov.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, known by generations of Chasidim as "the Alter Rebbe" (the "Elder Rebbe") was a rationalist and a mystic, a Kabbalist and a Talmudist, a person utterly not of this world and at the very same time very much a man of the world. All of these qualities and more were harmoniously blended together in the Alter Rebbe.

At the tender age of five, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was accepted into the "Chevra Kadisha," or Holy Society of his community. When he was only nine years old he was considered accomplished in geometry and astronomy. He was so proficient in the complicated laws of the Jewish calendar that he was able to compose a 15-year calendar when he was only ten years old. At the age of 12, still a year short of his Bar Mitzva, he lectured publicly on Maimonides' intricate Laws of the Sanctification of the New Moon and the pre-eminent Torah-scholars of that time were utterly overwhelmed.

And yet, together with all of this great scholarship, erudition and wisdom was the ability to relate to every Jew, young or old, unlettered or scholarly, pious or in need of spiritual guidance.

A story is told of how devoted the Alter Rebbe was to every single Jew. It was on the Sabbath, or perhaps even on Yom Kippur. Despite his total preoccupation with his own prayers, the Alter Rebbe sensed that there was a Jew in need of assistance. He removed his prayer shawl and walked to a hut on the outskirts of town. There in bed was a woman who had recently given birth; there was no one at home to attend to her. The Alter Rebbe chopped wood, made a fire and fixed a hot meal for the new mother. When he was sure that she was taken care of, he returned to the synagoguge and his prayers.

It might be hard for us to glean a lesson for our own lives from the Alter Rebbe's attributes of piety, spirituality, scholarship, genius. But surely each one of us can take a lesson from this story and emulate the Alter Rebbe in his trait of Ahavat Yisrael-love of our fellow Jew.

Thoughts that Count

But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew (Ex. 1:12)

The literal translation of the Hebrew is actually in the future tense rather than the past: "But the more they will afflict them, the more they will multiply and grow." Indeed, the Torah promises that whenever the enemies of the Jewish people will seek to harm them, their actions will always have the opposite effect. And the greater the persecution and suffering, the more the Jews will ultimately be strengthened and empowered.

(Orach Chaim)

But the midwives feared G-d, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them (Ex. 1:17)

According to the dictum of "dina d'malchuta dina" ("the law of the land is binding"), a Jew is obligated to abide by the civil laws of whatever society he lives in. However, this is only when the law applies to all citizens equally; it does not pertain to strictures and decrees directed solely against Jews.

(Ketzot HaShulchan)

And when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid ("amata") to fetch it (Ex. 2:5)

As Rashi notes, an alternate meaning of "amata" is "her hand": When Pharaoh's daughter stretched out her hand to reach Moses' cradle, her arm was miraculously increased in length many cubits ("amot"). A question is asked: Pharaoh's daughter could not possibly have known that a miracle would occur. Why, then, did she attempt to rescue Moses in the first place? The answer is that when a person sincerely wishes to help another, he shouldn't stop to think if it "pays" or if it is even feasible. Rather, he must immediately do his part and "extend his hand" to his fellow man.

(Rabbi Yitzchak Vorker)

And he spied an Egyptian beating a Hebrew (Ex. 2:11)

Moses could not tolerate injustice against any human being, whether non-Jew against Jew ("an Egyptian beating a Hebrew"), Jew against Jew ("two Hebrew men struggled together"), or non-Jew against non-Jew ("and the shepherds came and drove them away.")

(Toldot Yitzchak)

It Once Happened

The events of this story took place in Poland before the establishment of the great universities there. In those times, various aristocrats supported private schools of science called academies.

In the province of Lithuania there were three such academies, each supported by different princes. One, located near Vilna, was owned by Prince Radziwill, another, near Vitebsk, was owned by Prince Sheksinski, and the third, located on the shores of the Dnieper, between Dobrovna and Liadi, was owned by Prince Decrit. In those days, the Polish people were not very accomplished in the sciences, and the actual instructors at these academies were brought in from France.

On the property of Prince Sheksinski there was a big palace, and in its courtyard was a sundial. For two years the sundial had not functioned properly, and would not tell the correct time between the hours of two and five in the afternoon. The prince had already consulted many leading experts, scientists, and professors about this problem, but no one could figure it out. When the prince learned that there was a very wise Jew who was well known for his problem-solving, he sent for the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidut) to come to his property and help him discover the cause of the sundial's malfunction.

At first, the Alter Rebbe refused to go, heeding the advice of our Sages not to get involved in political matters, but after he was reassured that no precious time devoted to Torah learning would be wasted, he agreed, and traveled to the palace.

Even though the Alter Rebbe spoke Polish well, he preferred to speak Yiddish, and so, his father-in-law served as translator. After examining the sundial several times during the problematic hours, he said, "It is brought down in the Talmud that the sun is directly overhead in the middle of the day, and that nothing can intercede between the sun and the earth during this time except for clouds. However, after noon, when the sun starts to go down, it is possible for various objects to interfere with the sun's rays. It is my opinion that there is a mountain to the south of us, at a distance of 12 to 15 parasangs. It seems as if the trees growing on its peak have grown too tall and are obstructing the sun's rays between the hours of 2 and 5, preventing them from reaching the sundial. When the sun sinks a little further, the trees are no longer in the way, and the sundial works properly after this time."

The prince was amazed at the Alter Rebbe's reasoning, and sent a special emissary to find the area described to see if indeed it was so.

Upon hearing this, the head of the prince's academy, a leading engineer by the name of Professor Marseilles, ridiculed the opinion of the Alter Rebbe. He laughingly said, "The Jews imagine that all wisdom is contained in their Talmud. Zelig the doctor learns his medicine from it, Boruch the gardener learns how to prepare the soil for planting, and Zanvil the merchant learns how to cheat the landowners from this Talmud... Now, this character imagines that the sun's rays only reach the earth according to the Talmud!"

The Alter Rebbe replied to his criticism, saying: "Empirical evidence is the axe which fells those who are arrogant in their belief in science."

"Is that also a saying found in your Talmud?" asked the professor.

"No," answered the Alter Rebbe, "it is attributed to the great Galinus, who also had to suffer with those who were arrogant."

Word leaked out about the Alter Rebbe's diagnosis of the problem, and before the prince could find the exact spot, a group of troublemakers found the trees which were obstructing the light and chopped them down without telling anyone. In this way they hoped to discredit the Alter Rebbe.

A few days later, when the grounds-keeper on the prince's estate reported that the sundial was in perfect working order, the prince was very surprised, but it was simply thought that the clock had spontaneously fixed itself.

Eventually, the Alter Rebbe's father-in-law heard the rumor that the trees had been chopped down in secret, and he found those responsible and brought them before the prince, demanding that they tell him what they had done. Admitting their guilt, the truth of the Alter Rebbe's wisdom was confirmed, and his fame soon spread among the ranks of the scientific community in Poland.

Moshiach Matters

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba) states, "In the Time to Come... all prayers will be annulled, but (that of) thanksgiving will not be annulled." In Messianic times prayers of petition will be discontinued, for G-d will provide us with all our requirements. However, prayers of thanksgiving and praise will still be recited in recognition of the Alm-ghty's kindness. Similarly, in the Messianic era "all forms of sacrifice are destined to be annulled with the exception of the 'thank-offering' " (ibid). Since men will be righteous, no sacrifice will be required to atone for their sins (Radak).

(From Insights by Rabbi Saul Weiss)

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