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L'Chaim
February 1, 2002 - 19 Shevat, 5762

705: Yisro

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


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  704: Beshalach706: Mishpatim  

Your Mission...  |  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

Your Mission...

The story is told of a chasidic master who went around with two pieces of paper, one in each of his two pockets. On each paper a different meditation was written. One read, "I am but dust and ashes." The second contained the words, "The whole world was created for me."

These two teachings, based on verses from Jewish sources, epitomize the life-goal of every Jew; we each have a unique mission the accomplishment of which the whole world waits, and yet, we are nothing in comparison to our Creator. Great Jews of every generation have somehow always managed to synthesize the two thoughts into their lives.

This special issue of L'Chaim-our fourteen year anniversary issue-marks the 14th anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, a very great Jew of our generation to whom this entire publication is dedicated.

It has been said of the Rebbetzin that she was a person elusive in her lifetime and is none-the-less so since her passing. The Rebbetzin could have been in the limelight, her every move watched, her every word listened to by the hundreds of thousands of her husband's devoted followers. And yet, she actively chose to remain hidden, off-stage, behind the scenes.

"It is the duty of chasidic wives and daughters to stand in the first rank of every activity dedicated to strengthening religion and Judaism in general," wrote the Rebbetzin's father, the Previous Rebbe.

"The task of bringing Jews closer to Judaism is especially relevant to women for it obviously requries a special approach in terms of compassion, loving-kindness, gentleness, and the like-qualities with which women are generally endowed in a larger measure than men," wrote the Rebbetzin's husband, the Rebbe.

In light of her father's and husband's expression of the special duty and responsibility of the Jewish woman, we might wonder how such an intensely private person, uninvolved openly in Jewish communal life, accomplished this.

And so, we come back to the two pieces of paper. For, in essence, not only do each one of us have a unique mission for which we were specifically created, we each have a unique way in which to accomplish this mission. Another great person's mission might be accomplished by specifically being "in the limelight," or publicly involved in Jewish activities. The Rebbetzin's, however, was not accomplished in this manner.

Perhaps this is why our understanding of her remains just as hidden after her passing as before. For, generally, soon after the passing of a great person, we are deluged with numerous articles about them, stories, anecdotes, and biographies of their amazing lives. Yet, we have none of these concerning the Rebbetzin. Through her very elusiveness, she is reminding us and encouraging us to fulfill our unique mission in our unique way.


Living with the Rebbe

As we read in this week's Torah portion, Yitro, just prior to the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai G-d commanded Moses: "Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob, and tell to the Children of Israel." The Midrash explains that the "House of Jacob" refers to the Jewish women. Moreover, the command to "tell" the men implies harsh speech, whereas the command to "say" to the women connotes a gentler manner of imparting information.

This is not the only difference in the way Moses was commanded to transmit the Torah to the women and to the men. In fact, Moses was instructed to communicate the "general principles" to the women, whereas the men were to receive the "laws in detail."

At first glance, this seems to imply a diminution of the value of Jewish women, as if the assumption is that they will not understand the minutiae of Jewish law. However, an in-depth analysis of the Midrash reveals something quite different:

"General principles" does not mean simple or nominal matters. On the contrary, it implies essential fundamentals and rules. In other words, G-d commanded Moses to transmit to the Jewish women the basic foundations of the Torah, from which all the smaller details he was to convey to the men are derived.

"General principles" is thus synonymous with the Torah's very essence. Similarly, at the giving of the Ten Commandments, the first two contained the "general principles" of the other eight. ("I am the L-rd your G-d" is the source of the Torah's 248 positive commandments; "You shall not have any other gods" is the source of its 365 prohibitions.)

Seen from this perspective, the Jewish women received the quintessence of the Torah, whereas the men "only" received its laws and ordinances, which obviously represent a lower level. The Torah is thus emphasizing a certain advantage women have over men.

In truth, the qualities of simple faith and awe of G-d are more openly revealed and manifested in women. G-d created women in such a way that their intellect does not override or control their personalities - who they really are - nor can it weaken their basic faith in G-d. Women are therefore more closely connected to the Torah's essence, which is why being Jewish is determined by the mother and not the father. (A person whose mother is Jewish is Jewish; a person whose mother is not Jewish is not Jewish, even if his father is.)

This also relates to the Final Redemption: In the same way the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the righteous Jewish women, so too will Moshiach come in the merit of the righteous women of our generation, may it happen immediately.

Adapted from Volume 31 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

Legacy of Jewish Libraries
By Yehudis Cohen

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve time spent with my father in our synagogue library. I remember watching as my father perused the vast number of books on Jewish history and heritage. In those days, Jewish children's books were not yet available in abundance. I recall a book called K'tantan, about the antics of a tiny little boy just 3 or 4 inches tall, and two picture books about a brother and sister named Jack and Judy.

The evening after I read Jack and Judy Say Shema, I asked my sister if she had remembered to say the prayer. And from then on, saying "Shema" and reminding my sister to do the same became part of my nightly ritual. Thinking back to those days I am still amazed at how much of a positive impact a simple, Jewish picture book had on a young, impressionable child.

Today, all of my children have bookshelves in their rooms filled with Jewish books - picture books, histories, scholarly works, Torah commentaries, Jewish law, novels, mysteries.

As "the people of the Book" it's not surprising that Jews respect and value Jewish books. Especially when we consider how much they can influence our lives. And it's equally understandable that a highly regarded way to honor Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson has been to establish libraries in her memory.

Within the month after her passing on the 22nd of Shevat, 5748 (1988) a library was established at the Chabad Jewish Student Center in Binghamton, New York. "An advantage of a library over other types of educational programs," explains Rabbi Aaron Slonim, founder and director of the Chabad Center at Binghamton University together with his wife, Rivkah, "is that the participant advances his studies at his own pace." The books, tapes and videos in the Chaya Mushka Library cover a vast array of subjects and levels. The library is used by students and faculty, as well as the local community of Binghamton, New York.

"People find it amazing that Judaism has so much to say about any topic imaginable. Our library gives them an overview of the Jewish approach to just about everything," says Mrs. Slonim.

The Jewish community is kept informed of the Chaya Mushka Research Library through an informative brochure, the Chabad Center's website, and at classes and lectures that take place regularly in the Center after which people are encouraged to visit the library.

Twenty years ago, the main Chabad Center in Seattle, Washington, set up a small Jewish library. After the Rebbetzin's passing, the Lubavitch Women's Organization of Seattle took over its operation, expanding it and naming it in memory of the Rebbetzin. At that time, the library housed about 1,500 books and 400 audio tapes.

A decade later, the library's collection had swelled to 2,700 books and 650 tapes. At that point, Rabbi Alter Levitin came up with the idea of creating a library with an "ambiance." Sofas, refreshments, and an attentive and knowledgeable librarian made the Chaya Mushka Jewish Public Library an inviting place for the entire spectrum of the Jewish community. The first floor of a centrally located apartment building was rented, and "Lunch 'n Learns," classes, evening lectures and an entertainment room for children were started and continue to draw sizeable crowds.

Last year the library moved to its permanent home in the newly renovated Chabad Center. "The beauty of having a public Jewish library," says Rabbi Levitin, "is that we are accessible to those who are unaffiliated or 'afraid' to call a synagogue to get answers to their questions. We often receive random phone calls from people who are used to calling their public library for information and are comfortable doing the same for Jewish information."

Rabbi Nechemia Vogel of Chabad of Rochester, New York, had a particularly unique reason for wanting a Jewish library in the Chabad House he directs. "My father often traveled to Grenada on business. One time, during a private audience with the Rebbe, the Rebbe spoke to my father about the importance of a Jewish library and asked my father to start one in Grenada. The Rebbe told my father, 'Maybe a Jewish boy will meet a Jewish girl there.' Since then, I have always wanted to establish a library."

The Chaya Mushka Library of Rochester began 11 years ago in a facility that Chabad was renting at that time. Today, it is housed in the 170-year-old landmark building the Chabad House has called home since 1995.

The Chabad House is located directly across the street from a public high school whose student body is one third Jewish. The Chabad House funds a kosher cafeteria three days a week and the students who come to eat there, some of whom are not Jewish, often take a few moments to read an interesting book or Jewish periodical in the library.

"The library also has a full array of Jewish videos for children that are very popular," says Rabbi Vogel. The library does not employ a librarian; books, videos and tapes are borrowed on an honor system which "works 90% of the time," according to Rabbi Vogel.

Establishing an entire library in the Rebbetzin's name is not the only way to encourage and facilitate reading Jewish books ane the Jewish education and commitment that go hand-in-hand with that reading. In Manchester, England, the Lubavitch Women's Organization donated dozens of volumes of Jewish children's books to the local public libraries in the Rebbetzin's memory, making them easily accessible to the community at large.

When it comes to exploring Judaism, information is increasingly available. Nevertheless, the ability to actually hold a book and read it is something very precious. What better or more fitting tribute can there be to the Rebbetzin's continuing legacy?


What's New

Judaism: Key Facts

Contained in this small book written by Rabbi N. D. Dubov are the essential Key Facts every Jew should know about Judaism. The book is specifically aimed at boys and girls approaching their Bar/Bat Mitzva, and provides an excellent syllabus, revision notes and questions for a pre-Bar/Bat Mitzva test. It will also be helpful as an introduction to Judaism beginners. Published by Sichos In English, www.SichosInEnglish.org


The Rebbe Writes

28th of Shevat, 5724 [1964]

Blessing and Greeting:

I am in receipt of your letter of the 23rd of Shevat with the enclosure. You request a prayer in behalf of two women, sisters. I will remember them in prayer, in accordance with the contents of your letter.

I hope you will be able to explain to them that the daily conduct, in accordance with the Jewish way of life, the way of the Torah and Mitzvoth, in addition to being a must for its own sake, is also a channel to receive G-d's blessings. Therefore, when a special Divine blessing is required, a special effort should be made in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth, where there is always room for improvement.

It seems that the sisters are living on their own, and no doubt they light the candles on Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov [the eve of Shabbat and holidays]. It would be well that they should put aside a small coin for Tzedoko [charity] before they light the candles. I also suggest that they should have the Mezuzoth of their apartments checked.

With blessing,

P.S. Enclosed is a copy of a message to Jewish women. Although it was written in connection with Chanukah, it is timely throughout the year.


21st of Shevat
Erev-Shabbos Yisro, 5726 [1966]

To the Participants in the
Camp Emunah Reunion
G-d bless you all!

Blessing and Greeting:

I was pleased to be informed of your forthcoming Annual Reunion. A reunion of Jews is always welcome, especially one that is designed to strengthen Torah education and Torah observance, such as the reunion of the great and happy Camp Emunah family.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Hilulo (passing on) of the saintly Rebbe and outstanding genius of Talmud and Chasidus, author of the monumental work Tzemach Tzedek (which made him so famous that he is called by this name) and numerous other sacred volumes. In addition to being the head of all the Chabad Chassidim, he was everywhere recognized also as the leader of the Jewish people. Busy as he was with his studies and writings and communal duties, he regularly took time out to spend with his grandchildren to encourage them in their Torah studies and daily conduct. He was equally concerned with the Torah education of all Jewish children, boys as well as girls, and strenuously fought to preserve the purity and holiness of Jewish education and upbringing.

None of us can match his greatness and dedication, but each one of us can and must follow his example to the best of our ability.

In this connection, Jewish girls and women have a special duty and privilege, as indicated in this week's Sidrah [Torah portion] of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah]. For, when G-d was about to give the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, He told Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] to speak about it first to the "house of Yaakov" (the women) and then to the "sons of Yisroel" (the men).

I hope and pray that this year's Reunion will serve as a source of lasting inspiration to each and every one of you, to make full use of your youthful enthusiasm and energy in the abovementioned direction. And may you also be a living example and active inspiration to others. All this is a "must" for its own sake, being the will and command of G-d; but it is also the channel through which to receive a constant flow of G-d's blessings to you and all your dear ones, in all your needs.

With blessing,


Rambam this week

22 Shevat 5762

Positive mitzva 164: fasting on Yom Kippur

By this injunction we are commanded to fast on Yom Kippur, the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It is derived from the Torah's words (Lev. 16:29), "You shall afflict your souls, etc."


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Monday is the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and daughter of the Previous Rebbe. Extremely modest, queenly in bearing, sensitive, compassionate and intelligent, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was the embodiment of Jewish womanhood.

After the Rebbetzin's passing in 1988, the Rebbe began to speak about "a new era" having commenced. Although the Rebbe had always stressed our generation's unique role in preparing the world for Moshiach, at that point the Rebbe declared that the only thing left in our Divine service is to actually greet Moshiach himself.

As the Rebbe further explained, this "new period" we are now in is especially significant for Jewish women and girls, whose task is not only to establish a "dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms" (as is every Jewish person's), but to ensure that it is a "beautiful" dwelling. When a "beautiful dwelling" is established, G-d "puts Himself" into the dwelling in an entirely different manner, not just "dwelling there" but uniting with it, as it were. G-d's dwelling place in the lower worlds becomes not only nullified to the "Owner," but one with Him.

This is reflected in the special mitzvot of Jewish women and girls, with their emphasis on light (Shabbat and Yom Tov candles), purity and holiness (kashrut and the laws of family purity), and warmth (providing children with a Torah-true Jewish education, the main objective of which is to instill enthusiasm for Judaism). In other words, Jewish women and girls are the ultimate "interior decorators" in establishing a "beautiful dwelling."

In these last few moments of exile, it is therefore crucial that all Jewish women and girls be aware of their tremendous role in hastening the Final Redemption, which will come "as reward for the righteous women of the generation."


Thoughts that Count

The people come to me to inquire of G-d. When they have a matter it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his fellow; and I make them know the statutes of G-d (Ex. 18:15-16)

Every Jewish leader of his generation fulfills three functions: He must pray on behalf of every individual Jew ("the people come to me to inquire of G-d"); resolve monetary disputes and disagreements ("judge between a man and his fellow"); and teach Torah to the Jewish people ("make them know the statutes of G-d").

(Nachmanides)


The hard matter they brought to Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves (Ex. 14:26)

In the Jewish system of law, "the law of a penny is the same as one hundred." The only criterion is whether a case is straightforward or complicated, the more complicated ones requiring the greater and more skillful Torah sages.

(Rabbi Chaim Berlin)


And you shall be My own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine (Ex. 19:5)

The Jewish people's status as G-d's "treasure" is not dependent on the behavior of the nations of the world; i.e., whether or not they worship idols or recognize false gods. Even in the Messianic era, when all mankind will accept G-d's sovereignty ("For then I will convert the peoples to a clear language, that they may all call upon the name of the L-rd, to serve Him with one accord"), the Jews will continue to be the "chosen people."

(Yakar Mipaz)


You shall not take the Name of the L-rd your G-d in vain (Ex. 20:7)

Do not assume the Name of the L-rd your G-d in a false manner. It is wrong to try to appear more righteous or G-d-fearing than others simply because one possesses the truth...

(Ohr HaChaim)


It Once Happened

Reb Alexander Sender was a Chasid of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidim), whose job sometimes required that he travel to other countries outside of Russia. When the Alter Rebbe once asked Reb Alexander Sender why he didn't engage in business in a particular town in Galicia (Poland), he took it to mean that he should go there, which he immediately did.

As this was the first time he had ever visited the region, Reb Alexander inquired as to where he could stay and take his meals. He was told that there was one particular place frequented by Jewish travelers where the food was prepared to the highest standards of kashrut, an inn run by the daughter of the late Rabbi of the town, who had been known for his piety and scholarship. After the Rabbi passed away, his young daughter, a girl of fine intellect and character like her father, was married off by the heads of the Jewish community to a local talmid chacham (Torah scholar). Their home was kosher to the highest and most strict specifications. Reb Alexander Sender decided to stay there.

When he sent a messenger to arrange for his accommodations, however, he learned that the young woman's husband was out of town and that she could therefore not allow him to stay. It was only after it was made clear that Reb Alexander Sender was accompanied by ten other people that she agreed to put him up.

That Friday night, Reb Alexander and his business associates, all of whom were also outstanding Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, sat down to their festive Shabbos meal. The house fairly reverberated with their joyous singing of Chasidic melodies and zemirot (special songs for Shabbat). Suddenly, Reb Alexander heard the sound of weeping. Following the sound he found the young woman in the next room, unable to contain her tears. When he asked her why she was crying she told him that she had not experienced such a moving Shabbat table since her saintly father passed away. Hearing her guests' singing brought back such pleasant memories of her father, whom she still missed very much, she explained.

As they were talking she revealed something very close to heart: As a Jewish mother, she was terribly concerned about the fate of her 7-year-old son, for in Galicia, at that time, it was against the law to send children to cheder for religious instruction. She then inquired if the government was just as restrictive in Russia, where Reb Alexander Sender came from. "Not at all," he replied. "The Russian authorities do not interfere in such matters. It is permissible to provide the best Jewish education for one's children."

The woman implored Reb Alexander to take the boy back with him to Russia so he could learn Torah. "But what about your husband?" Reb Alexander asked. "Would he agree to send the child so far from home?" The woman assured Reb Alexander that the most important thing in the world to the two parents was that their son learn Torah in a yeshiva and grow up to be an educated Jew.

Reb Alexander Sender then understood why the Alter Rebbe had suggested he do business in that particular town. He wrote on his passport that the boy was his son, and so, 7-year-old Elchanan accompanied the group of businessmen back to Russia. Elchanan learned in yeshiva, distinguished himself in his studies and went on to establish a fine family of G-d-fearing Jews.

[This Elchanan was the father of Reb Peretz Chein, a well-known Lubavitcher Chasid in Russia.]

The Previous Rebbe, father of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, whose yartzeit occurs this week on the 22nd of Shevat, once spoke about the self-sacrifice parents must have to provide the proper Jewish education for their children. On Purim in the year 5686 (1926) he said:

"We must continue to establish chadarim and yeshivot, for who knows which children will be affected and influenced? Rabbi Yekutiel, the father of Rabbeinu Gershom, brought his son to Tulitila in Morocco, which then became a center of Torah learning. In the same manner, the father of Peretz Chein, Reb Elchanan, fled his native Galicia to attend cheder in Russia. This came about because of his mother's self-sacrifice on his behalf, when she sent him away in order to learn Torah. Because of her actions he became the progenitor of this Torah-true family."


Moshiach Matters

Each generation is redeemed only in the merit of the righteous women of that generation

(Yalkut Shimoni Ruth)


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