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We usually find deceit reprehensible. After all, most of the time we have to take a person's word, at least at first. Sure, for some things we'll investigate before accepting his say-so. We'll check out a doctor's credentials, for instance, or compare insurance policies. But even then at some point we trust what we're being told. How often do ask for a second opinion? Only if our family doctor-who's known us all these years-diagnoses a grave illness or recommends some radical procedure. Otherwise, of course we trust him. And the lawyer who's handling my case - he has my best interest at heart.
Some professions seem to thrive on deceit and so we distrust them unless proven otherwise. Used car salesmen come immediately to mind. Insurance salesmen. Lawyers, too, although they usually deceive others, not us. Politicians deceive all the time. They lie to get into office and lie to stay there. All except the candidate I voted for, of course. Most of the time we know the politicians are deceiving us, but we go along with it. Why?
In fact, a lot of the time we know when someone is dissembling. We have a gut instinct that something's wrong. We have misgivings, qualms, doubts, uncer-tainties. The deal is too good to be true. Or there's something we're not being told. But we put aside our suspicions. We reason away our reservations. Such a nice young man wouldn't lead us astray. She sounds so knowledgeable she must know what she's talking about. It seems like a bargain. If it wasn't legal, they wouldn't be allowed to say it. Try it, you'll like it.
But then when the seller, the advisor, the friend betrays our trust, we rail against the deceit. And the argument often comes down to: he knew and I didn't. He took advantage of me, because he had inside information.
And yet most of the time - the vast majority of the time - we recognize that a deal too good be true is just that. We had a sense we were being set up. We should have known.
We allow ourselves to be fooled, to be duped, conned and tricked even though we knew better, because we deceive ourselves.
That's an unpleasant truth. As much blame as the deceiver deserves, we have opened the door and invited him in. And ironically, it's our mind - our logic and our reason - that proves our undoing. Our pride and joy - our intellect - betrays us.
We deceive ourselves about our limits and our capabilities. At the moment of greatest conceit, of greatest satisfaction, of greatest accomplishment - we stumble over ourselves. Our egos - our self - our animal soul - our yetzer hara betrays us.
The yetzer hara - the evil inclination - is called a "wise fool." Wise, because it knows its craft. It knows well our weaknesses, how to lead us astray, how to confuse and deceive. A fool, because it focuses on diverting us from Torah and mitzvot, because it thinks the Jewish soul, our very essence, can be severed from its Source.
But we've also known the satisfaction of deceiving the deceiver, of turning the tables. What irony and justice in the reversal!
Yes, we all have a yetzer hara, an evil inclination, and so we all possess the tools of the liar, the skills of the swindler and the weapons of the fraud. But unlike so many things about which we deceive ourselves, these we can control. These we can redirect.
How? By using the technique of deceit to do a mitzva (commandment). I'm not going to keep kosher, I'm just not going to eat a cheeseburger today. I'm not going to get religious, I'm just going to put on tefilin today. I'm not going to keep all the laws of Shabbat, I'm just going to light candles or hear the blessing over the wine Friday night. I'm not some tzadik, some holy person. I'm just going to give a dollar to tzedaka (charity). I'm not changing, I'm just going to do this one mitzva.
And this next mitzva. And this next. Let's be the "gamblers." Let's be the con artist. Let's "deceive" ourselves and trick our yetzer hara.
It's a great deal. Too good not to be true.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, begins by focusing on Jacob's spiritual service while in an undesirable environment. Jacob is forced to leave the Land of Israel and go to Charan. He is forced to work for the deceitful Laban, and marries and establishes his family, laying the foundation for all future generations of the Jewish people. Even after leaving Charan, Jacob's path is fraught with difficulty when he must confront his brother Esau.
At first glance, it seems unusual that the Torah would concentrate on these aspects of his life instead of centering on Jacob's activities in the sphere of holiness. But the narrative of Jacob's difficulties is included in the Torah precisely because "the deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign for their descendants." There is much for us to learn from Jacob's trials and tribulations.
The Torah states, "He (Jacob) encountered the place. He slept there because the sun set; he took from the stones of the place and put them around his head. He lay down in that place."
The concealment of G-d in this material world causes us to "lie down." When a person lies down, his head and his feet are on the same level. In contrast, when a person stands, and even when he sits, his head - his intellectual faculties, are above the rest of the body.
As applied to us, the concealment of G-dliness in the world, particularly now when we are literally on the threshold of the Redemption, causes the revelation of a person's conscious powers to be hindered to the extent that one's head and feet are on the same level.
Yet there is a positive aspect to lying down as well. When Jacob chose that site to lie down and sleep, it was the first time he had slept in many years. We are taught that during the 14 years Jacob spent learning in the House of Study, and likewise, during the 20 years he worked for Laban, he did not sleep at night but instead read the book of Psalms. Also, that very place where he chose to sleep was none other than the future site where the Holy Temple would be built in generations to come.
Although lying down would usually imply a descent, a lowering of the level of one's higher, spiritual powers, it can also be interpreted in a positive manner, for the revelation of G-d's essence is above all particular qualities and is simultaneously reflected in them. In relation to the greatness of G-d, head and feet are on the same plane.
This level of connection to the infinite can continue even after a person arises and stands on his feet. Although his conscious powers assume control, he will still recognize the fundamental equality which stems from a connection to G-d's essence. Thus, the Jew confirms that not only can the material never obscure the spiritual, and in fact, is a vehicle for its expression, but he can reach a level above all limitations, establishing a unity between the material and the spiritual.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Vayeitzei, 1991
The following letters were written to the Prisons Department of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, headed by Reaching Out.
You organization is the only one, I think, that has really cared about Jews in prison. Many of the others pay only "lip service" and do essentially nothing. Thank you for being there for the Jewish people. I work constantly on my legal matters and hope to walk out of this terrible place someday in the not too distant future. It is truly encouraging to know "someone cares."
....Your words always find a way to soothe our souls here and we just ignore the rest of what goes on. I try in these trying times to get closer to being a better Jew, as I know that will let me understand things better where I will not hate so much. I am learning how to conquer the things you mentioned and I know it will be a long journey but I will get through it. Although things can be frightening as you say I know I can overcome them and I am not the type of person who would believe that I'm incapable of conquering any demons, addictions, or any problems that I may encounter. I am stubborn but you and others have told me this is not a bad thing for a Jew to be. I only hope I can one day make it to the Promised Land.
I know every problem can be conquered and I have the tools to do it and the tenacity to never give up. You are right that a mitzva plays an important role and knowing that makes me one up when things come my way,
Kim, Northern Nevada CC
Carson City, NV
Today the warden stopped me and told me that he spoke with you yesterday. You must have done your magic. He told me, and later the Chaplain told, me that the sukkah will be built just outside the Chapel... where it was located for 60 years before I arrived. Strange that I had to go to the hole three times to get staff to go back to the future. Then again, if I did not have to go through this I wouldn't have met you. G-d does give us gifts in very strange packages, since you have been a very special gift for me.
Perhaps with your help we made life easier for the next poor Jew that will arrive here.
Today, they also approved my keeping a shofar in my locker and approved my blowing it each day. They also approved the fast for Yom Kippur. They got us honey and apples for Rosh Hashana, and the lulav and etrog have been ordered. They say branches will be obtained for the sukkah, and we will have fruit and challah to eat in the sukkah.
Without your help none of this would have been possible. You truly do G-d's work. Thank you again for your help and for your spiritual support.
With the Sukkah behind me I can focus on my case and studying Torah, Talmud and Tanya.
Without your help none of this would have been possible.
Gershone, Fed. Corr. Inst.
A note of gratitude for adding my name to your mailing lists as well as the gift of the most recent issue of "Reaching Out." Per your request, I have completed the necessary application and have enclosed it herein.
I enjoy your insight and presentation of Torah, Rabbi. Just today I was discussing keeping kosher with a fellow inmate and found that my ability to convey why we feel that it is important was sorely lacking. I had no problem describing the prohibition of mixing dairy and meat and pointing out why we don't eat shellfish, etc...
But when posed with the question, "Why?" my only answer was "because G-d tells us to."
Your commentary was quite enlightening. I was familiar with the Kabbalistic explanation that whatever we consume becomes a part of us both physically and spiritually. However, I had never had it explained in such a way that made sense to me.
You were successful. I was particularly interested in the relationship between the animal that chews its cud to thinking twice before we speak. I have been studying the concepts and laws of proper speech as formulated by the Chafetz Chaim and have come to understand the necessity of guarding one's speech. I have witnessed the irreparable damage of one who speaks lashon hora (talebearing) and have committed myself to making all my words for the sake of Heaven. Unbeknownst to Mordechai, his example of proper speech had a real impact on me over the last year. A positive impact to say the least. He and Tzvi committed themselves to quelling all lashon hara and I am happy to say that it has rubbed off on me. I admittedly am not where I would like to be spiritually but as I have learned "One mitzva bring about another mitzva and one sin brings about another sin." I'm moving towards more mitzva and fewer sins.
I look forward to hearing from you in the future,
Ariel, MacCracken CountyJail
I have been considering all my drastic and minimal crimes and sins that I have done in the past.
It is time for me to make extreme changes in my life. I am in prison for using drugs. It has been a big problem for me in the past. I was even using drugs while in my studies. I am in a prison drug program called Kash Box. I have been learning about drugs and how important it is to abstain from them. I plan to delve back into my studies of Torah.
Michael, Waiawa CF
Pearl City, HI
Where Does Food Come From
At the heart of mastering the blessings on food is understanding the origin of each type of food. This unique picture book - specially lami-nated so that it can be brought to the table! - details the growing and processing of bread, grape juice, baked goods, fruits, vege-tables, and more. Now, youngsters can understand how familiar foods appear on their plates... and who gets a "thank you!" Written by Dina Rosenfeld, illustrated by Rina Lyampe and published by HaChai Publishing.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5735 
Blessing and Greeting:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 20th of Cheshvan, and enclosures, as well as your previous correspondence.
May G-d grant that all the activities about which you report should continue with great Hatzlocho [success], and in an ever-grow ing measure. And may this Hatzlocho be reflected also in the other Mitzvah campaigns, particularly the Candle Lighting Campaign where Jewish women and girls have a special opportunity, and therefore also a special Zechus [privilege], to accomplish a great deal. May you and all your coworkers carry on these activities with joy and gladness of heart.
Especially as we are now approaching the auspicious days of the 10th and 19th of Kislev, the significance of which you surely know. The Zechus of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, who was liberated from Czarist imprisoment on the 19th of Kislev], and of his son the Mitteler Rebbe [Rabbi Dov Ber, who was released from imprisonment on the 10th of Kislev], for whom the above days brought deliverance, will surely bring deliverance also to all those who follow in their footsteps to spread the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] with Chasidic dedication and inspiration. May this be so also in your case, and in a growing measure, as symbolized by the Chanukah lights which are kindled in growing numbers from day to day.
The date for this letter was unavailable
Greeting and Blessing:
You write that you find yourself in great emotional difficulties, and that you find gratification in your work and do not know how to overcome this, etc.
Such emotional upsets are fully discussed in Chassidus, and even secular science has lately given much attention to what is called the subconscious. A person may not consciously be aware of his true spiritual state and what he lacks, having suppressed certain inner drives, so that all he is aware of is a feeling of frustration and unfullfillment.
I refer, of course, to the fact that the Jew always has an inner drive to express his Divine Soul. Those who are in a position of influence, have an inner urge to exercise this influence to the utmost possible degree, to bring their fellow-Jews closer to our Torah, closer to the tradition of their fathers and to the Jewish way of life. The fact that one becomes superficially absorbed in some activity which only resemble that of true Jewish education, or a religious activity which stresses the Jewish heart and rightly so, but neglects to vigorously stress the real essence of Judaism - the daily performance of the Mitzvah, and then religion becomes a three day affair, or a matter of Yahrzeit and Memorial Services, etc., such activities do not provide real justification for the soul, and, hence the inner urge is not fulfilled.
No doubt you have heard the explanation of the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman] when he was asked by a Gentile scholar, what is the meaning of "where art thou?" which G-d asked Adam; surely nothing is hidden from G-d. The Old Rebbe then replied that when Adam committed the sin, he experienced a Divine call demanding "where art thou?" Do you realize what you have done and what you have been supposed to do?
The question "where art thou?" is always asked of every individual, especially the Jew who has been endowed with Divine soul. It calls for introspection and self-searching, in order to find one's self again.
It is clear from the above that it is quite unjustified to think that you have permanently lost contact, etc. G-d does not demand the impossible, and having set forth a program and a goal, He has simultaneously given the full ability and capacity to fulfill them. It is only that He wants everyone to fulfill his purpose in life out of his own free choice, in spite of temptations and difficulties. If you will, therefore, realize that you have it in you to overcome then you will find yourself again and the contact that you are missing at present.
May G-d grant that you succeed.
10 Kislev, 5763 - November 15, 2002
Prohibition Mitzva 166: A Priest (kohein) may not come into contact with a dead body except for his immediate family
This prohibition is based on the verse (Lev. 21:1) "He shall not become impure for the dead among his people." The Torah allows the priest to become impure only if it involves one of his six closest relations: mother, father, son, daughter, sister (not-yet married), brother. The Sages also allow him to become impure for his wife. He may attend their funerals. Additionally, he may bury a Jew if there is no one else to do so.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The ninth of Kislev is the birth and passing of the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber (the second Lubavitcher Rebbe). The Mitteler Rebbe was one of those select tzadikim whose birth and passing occured on the same day.
In the summer of 1827 (5587) Rabbi Dov Ber made the journey to the village of Haditch, the resting place of his father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. Although Chasidic insights usually flowed from his lips, on this occasion he was silent and meditative.
He had been heard to express certain apprehension concerning the year 5588 (1827): "My father passed on at the age of fifty-four. He had been presented from heaven with a choice: either death or severe suffering. He chose the second [he was subsequently imprisoned]; it seems that he left the first to me." All of this presaged unhappy events.
The High Holidays had arrived by the time Rabbi Dov Ber arrived in Haditch. Soon it would be 5588. Chasidim arrived in droves and assembled in the House of Study that Rabbi Dov Ber had built near the grave of his father to hear his Chasidic discourses. After one session, the Rebbe remained at the grave to pray and meditate. When he had finished, he emerged with a radiant appearance and announced to his startled Chasidim, "I have persuaded my father to promise that I will be relieved of my position of Rebbe."
The Chasidim didn't know what to make of this announcement, but it was assumed that the Rebbe was indicating to them his intention to fulfill his long-held desire to travel to the Holy Land. They were completely distraught, and asked one another, "How could the Rebbe leave us like this, a flock without a shepherd?"
But when they voiced their fears to the Rebbe himself, he replied, "But you will have my son-in-law Mendel, who will be a faithful shepherd," referring to the Tzemach Tzedek.
The Rebbe continued his journey going by way of the town of Niezhin, where he became ill. His illness progressed and finally he passed away there. It was 9 Kislev, 5588 (1827) the Rebbe's 54th birthday.
And Jacob lifted up his feet ("raglav") (Gen. 29:1)
The Hebrew word for foot, "regel," is related to the word meaning habit, "hergel." Jacob "lifted up" and elevated his daily, mundane actions and transformed them into holiness. "If you turn away your foot because of the Sabbath," said the Prophet Isaiah, "I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father." If you make an effort to rise above and transform your baser instincts in order to bring holiness into the world, you will be rewarded by G-d for your actions.
(Baal Shem Tov)
And Jacob went on his way (Gen. 32:2)
Every Jew, no matter who he is, is entrusted with the special mission of going from "strength to strength" in the path of the Divine King. We learn this from the above passage. The name "Jacob" comes from the word meaning "ankle," symbolizing that this mission applies equally to all Jews, as one ankle is indistinguishable from another. The word "went" teaches us that a Jew must always be on the move, growing and ascending higher and higher in his service of G-d. "On his way" indicates the way of G-d's Torah and its laws, for which purpose an individual's soul is brought down into this world.
Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Charan (Gen. 28:10)
Rabbi Pinchas said, in the name of Rabbi Abahu: According to the Torah, whomever a person marries is predestined by G-d. Some people must go out to meet their mate; others have their mate come to them. Isaac's wife, Rebecca, came to him: "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field...and he lifted up his eyes and saw, behold, there were camels coming. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and she saw Isaac." Jacob, however, had to travel to Charan to meet his future wives.
And he reached (vayifga) a certain place (Gen. 28:11)
The Hebrew word "vayifga," "and he reached," implies prayer. It was especially necessary for Jacob to pray for guidance as he set out for Charan, for he knew that the challenges he would find there would be far more trying than those he had experienced in the rarefied atmosphere of the yeshiva. He therefore prayed for the strength to withstand the difficult trials he would encounter.
The day is yet long (Gen. 29:7)
Such is the way of the world: When a person is in his prime, he sees no need to hurry, as he still has plenty of time to devote to refining his character - "the day is yet long." When that long-delayed time comes, however, he finds that the day is almost over.
(Maharish of Mezritch)
Rabbi Peretz Chein was a great Torah scholar and a Chasid of Rabbi Dov Ber Shneuri, the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch known as the Mitteler Rebbe. Reb Peretz was sent by the Mitteler Rebbe to be the rabbi in the city of Beshenkowitz.
Reb Peretz was very uneasy about taking on the position in Beshenkowitz; a man by the name of Reb Aharon had caused grief to all the previous Chasidic rabbis of the town. Reb Aharon was a great scholar in his own right and was vehemently opposed to Chasidism. He used his genius to confound the rabbis and ultimately to get rid of them.
Reb Aharon's way of operating was as follows: He would present all manner of difficult questions to the rabbi upon his arrival in Beshenkowitz. After the rabbi would render his decision, Reb Aharon and his friends would present a strong case for an opposing position. If at any time, a rabbi conceded that he had erred, he was ridiculed by Reb Aharon and his cronies until he left the town in disgrace.
Therefore, when the Mitteler Rebbe assigned Rabbi Peretz to become the rabbi of this town, it was no wonder that the latter was nervous. He told the Rebbe his concerns, saying that under the circumstances he did not think he could go there. The Rebbe told him that "they had approved of this in Heaven," but Rabbi Peretz was still apprehensive. The Rebbe finally told him to go there, "oif meina pleitzes" (on my shoulders). Hearing this, Rabbi Peretz rejoiced and said, "Rebbe, I'm going! If it's on the Rebbe's shoulders, I have nothing to fear."
Rabbi Peretz arrived at Beshenkowitz and began leading the town as its rabbi. Reb Aharon, of course, began sending all sorts of questions his way through his various emissaries, but Rabbi Peretz always managed to prove the validity of his legal decisions.
Reb Aharon once sent him a particularly complicated question. Rabbi Peretz scrutinized the item in question and pronounced it kosher. Reb Aharon immediately galvanized his friends into action. They attacked the rabbi's decision with strong, convincing proofs. Rabbi Peretz worked arduously to justify his position.
At the height of the debate, the antagonists repeatedly demanded, "What's your source? From where did you derive your decision?" Finally, Rabbi Peretz pointed towards a packed bookcase and said, "From there."
Rabbi Peretz had meant that, in general, his decision had been based on the holy books housed in the bookcase, but evidently one of his opponents understood him to be referring to a particular book. So he took the book out and opened it up to see what it said.
Lo and behold, this was a book of Jewish legal responsa, and by an incredible instance of Divine Providence, the place he opened to was precisely the topic they were discussing! There the author referred to the sources the antagonists were quoting in attempt to disprove Rabbi Peretz, and it went on to explain how each point was taken out of context. In the book of responsa, the final ruling was in accordance with the opinion that had been derived by Rabbi Peretz.
When Reb Aharon and his cohorts saw the proof in black and white with their very eyes, they meekly left the house. From then on, they no longer persecuted Rabbi Peretz.
"That's when I saw," said Rabbi Peretz afterwards, "that the Rebbe had indeed taken me on his holy shoulders."
Adapted from a story in Beis Moshiach Magazine.
"This day I have given birth to you" (Psalm 2:7) alludes to Moshiach. Birth, in essence, is the revelation of an infant who had been concealed in its mother's womb. With the coming of Moshiach, the name of G-d that is now concealed (Havaya) in the Divine Name "Elokim" will be revealed. When a Jew stimulates the revelation of the Name "Havaya" by his fulfillment of the commandments, he brings nearer the self-revelation which will take place in time to come.
(Torah Ohr Hosafot of the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber)