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L'Chaim
November 22, 2002 - 17 Kislev, 5763

745: Vayishlach

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  744: Vayetzei746: Vayeshev  

Trapped  |  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

Trapped

We all know the feeling. A dead-end job, too much time with too little to do, a house too small with a mortgage too high. Too much house-work, too much school-work too much office-work, too much work-work. Too many bills, too little money. Too many responsibilities, too few resources. We have such potential, if only we had the opportunity.

And when these things overwhelm us - when one of these conditions dominates our thoughts - we feel trapped. Being trapped is different than being "stressed out." Stressed out means being under pressure, having deadlines and duties and tasks and working hard to meet them. The stress comes from the pressure, the need to get things done, the sense of urgency, the acceptance of accountability. If I'm being reliable and trustworthy, if others depend on me, then of course I feel the pressure. Of course I occa-sionally get "stressed out." When I've got some control over the situation and a stake in the outcome, naturally I'm a little anxious - or very nervous.

But feeling trapped is different. True, we also feel overwhelmed when we think we're trapped. True, we become obsessed with the circumstances that imprison us, so much so that we talk and think about nothing else. And that, paradoxically, intensifies the trap. Once caught, we corner ourselves, creating spiritual claustrophia. Once caught, the mind amplifies its imprisonment in a mental echo chamber. Circumstances may confine and constrict, but the self-imposed detention jails our souls.

How do we put ourselves in such a dungeon, and more importantly, how do we get out?

We can answer the first part by noting when we don't. When doesn't life get us down? When don't we respond to the exigencies and foibles with a desperate resignation? If we feel we have a chance, we respond. If we feel we have a choice, we act. If we sense what we do will decide, we attack. If we know we make a difference, we move forward.

But when we feel insignificant or, worse, irrelevant, we chain ourselves to the status quo. Better to have some meaning, some place - however self-worthless - than none at all. When "it" doesn't matter - which means we have no matter, no substance - we succumb to the malaise of incarceration. If life seems to stymy every move, we shackle our ambitions and lock away our hopes.

In short, while we are indeed prisoners of time and space, captives of the contingencies of birth and genes (which came first, the nature or the nurture?) we cage ourselves with the animal within.

But how do we get out? We can't climb our self-made walls - they're too slick, too well plastered. No, we need Someone outside to unlock the door of expectation and open the gate of purpose. And the Gatekeeper will always let us out, if we ask.

G-d creates the parameters. So if we're stuck someplace, if we try to escape the "dead-end job" and the "piles of laundry" but can't, it must be because G-d wants us where we are. And if G-d wants us someplace, if He wants us to do something, it must be pretty important. In fact, it must be cosmically significant - whether we see it now or not. Realizing that sets us free, springs the trap of inadequacy and irrelevance.

G-d never locks the door from the outside. We have but to turn the handle to release the key of consequence.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, begins, "And Jacob sent angels before him to greet Esau, his brother." Jacob entrusted the angels with a message: "Im Lavan garti - I have sojourned with Laban." In these words Jacob summed up the approach he had taken toward Laban throughout his years in Charan: "garti - I have sojourned," i.e., I was only a temporary visitor and never fully at ease.

To Jacob, the mundane affairs of this world were extraneous, removed from his true self and concerns. In Laban's household Jacob was like a ger - a stranger who was only passing through. His interest did not lie in the pursuit of wealth or material riches. Rather, Jacob's true "home" was in the realm of the soul, in Torah study and the observance of mitzvot (commandments). Jacob only felt himself at home, truly at ease and comfortable, when he was involved in the service of G-d.

The Torah states, "He built himself a house, and for his cattle he made booths." For "himself," his true self, Jacob built a "house" - a permanent dwelling. For his "cattle," his material possessions, Jacob built booths - assigning them only marginal importance, like a suka that is designed only for temporary residence.

In this light, we may better understand the explanation of Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, on the verse "I have sojourned with Laban": "And I have observed the 613 commandments."

In Hebrew letters the number 613 is written taf, reish, yud gimmel - the same letters that form the word "garti" - sojourned. Jacob was informing Esau that despite his extended stay in Laban's household he managed to keep all of the Torah's mitzvot. How? By relating to the physical world and to Laban as being only temporal and transient.

The Maggid of Mezeritch used to say: "At home, it is different." A person's home is his castle; a home must contain all the amenities of life. When a person travels, however, it is not so important if his temporary dwelling is furnished beautifully, for the time spent there is only minimal.

The Jewish people in exile are only "on the road." We are not yet in our true home; rather, we are more like strangers on a temporary visit to a foreign land. Our entire experience in exile is expressed in Jacob's message to Esau: "garti - I am only a sojourner."

The road we are on is the road to the Final Redemption, which, for the Jew, represents true life. In the Days of Moshiach, we will finally be at "home," in our permanent dwelling, engaged in our real task of serving G-d. Indeed, by relating to the physical world and its affairs with this in mind we hasten the Redemption, may it happen immediately.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot vol. 1 of the Lubavticher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

An Exemplary Human Being
by Feige Chana Benjaminson

My father, Moshe Gottlieb, was born 70 years ago. He grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and studied in yeshivot in the New York area. In 1954 he married my mother, Sheila Felcher, a teacher and an artist.

When I was four-years-old, my seven-year-old brother was diagnosed with asthma. My father became convinced that chiropractic could help my brother and decided to become a chiropractor. He left a good job in the family fur business, packed us up and moved to California in order to study at the best chiropractic school.

In 1972 we took a family trip to Israel for the first time. My parents instantly fell in love with the Land. Six years later, while I was studying in Kfar Chabad, Israel, my parents rented an apartment for two months in Jerusalem. They decided then that Israel was their true home. They went back to California, packed up their belongings, sold their home and made aliya (lit. ascended) to Israel. They lived happily for the next 23 years in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem.

My father wanted to continue his work as a chiropractor. Slowly, he built up a practice treating all different kinds of patients. He evolved from a traditional chiropractor to a holistic chiropractor, incorporating many alternative healing methods. He worked a lot with applied kinesiology and reflexology. Thank G-d he was blessed with special abilities for healing various ailments; people came from far and near for his treatments.

My father had something you don't see very often nowadays in doctors... true old-fashioned bedside manner. He listened attentively to each person's story. He exuded warmth and empathy, and clearly cared about each patient as a person.

During the last few years, he treated many Down Syndrome children and hyperactive children. This became his specialty, and these were his very special and dearest patients.

My father would get up every morning at 3:30 a.m. He studied Torah and then prepared a Mishna class that he taught in Yiddish to Russian immigrants. He taught from 5:00 - 6:00 a.m after which he prayed the morning service with the minyan. On Tuesday and Thursdays my father would do his volunteer work. He left the house on Tuesdays at 7:30 a.m. to go to Tel Chai, a home for chronically ill patients. He regularly took care of a woman in her thirties who had been in a vegetative state for 13 years. She had to be fed through tubes in her stomach. My father gave her chiropractic adjustments which clearly eased her distress. When my father came to visit us in New York he always bought new feeding tubes to bring back for her, as they were not available elsewhere.

From there he went to a hospital for the physically handicapped called Aleh. After Aleh my father would take a bus to Bnei Brak where he would treat one family who had three handicapped children. They loved when he came. He came to their house every week for thirteen years. Not only did he not charge this family for these visits, he would bring presents to the children.

At age 70, when many colleagues were retiring, my father was treating more and more patients. When his rabbi asked why he didn't slow down, he replied, "How can I, when so many people need my help?"

My father supported many institutions like Bayit L'pletot (orphanages for girls) and Chabad of Gilo. He supported a a few families with stipends so the husbands could continue their advanced Torah studies. He helped build and support his synagogue in Gilo where he was the gabbai. He was there to open and close it every day.

He gave charity to a number of institutions every month. If they didn't come for their check he would bring the money to them.

Even when visiting us in New York, my father kept helping people; I would book appointments for patients to be treated by him in my house. When they asked about his fees, he would answer, "Just make a donation to Tzivos Hashem." [Ed.'s note: The international Jewish children's organization run by Dr. Gottleib's son-in-law] He and my mother lived simply off the savings they had accumulated while working in America. Their only luxury, if you can call it that, were the trips they made to the U.S. to spend time with my family.

All was well until that fateful Tuesday, June 18th, 8 Tammuz, when my father was on his way to do his usual acts of chesed (kindness). He left the house at 7:30 a.m. as always and went down to the main road to catch the 32a bus. He always took Jewish books to study and Psalms to say on the long bus ride. He wasn't one to waste time. Every moment was filled with Torah and mitzvot (commandments).

My father boarded the bus. At 7:40 there was a huge bomb blast. My mother, may she live and be well, was on the phone with a friend. She looked out her window and saw a big ball of fire. She turned on the radio. At first they said it was a different bus, then they said it was indeed my father's bus. She started calling the hospitals to see if there was a casualty list. She knew my father had just left. My father didn't own a cell phone. She called the first place he usually goes to, Tel Chai, but even an hour later, he hadn't arrived. Everyone began searching for my father.

The next morning I found out that my father had been killed by a terrorist bomb, along with 17 other people. I traveled to Israel with my husband for the funeral. During the week of "shiva" people kept telling us beautiful stories, one after another, about how my father had helped them. Each one asked the same question. Who is going to take his place?

My father was an exemplary human being, and a beautiful Jew. He was very serious about his Torah and mitzvot, praying with a minyan, giving charity, and especially, his chesed work. May his memory be an inspiration to us all and may we merit to see him once again soon with the coming of Moshiach.

Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter


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The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letters

14th of Kislev, 5719 [1958]

Peace and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed about your forthcoming YudTes (19th of) Kislev celebration, and I send you my prayerful wishes for lasting success.

True and lasting success can be measured only in terms of spreading the Torah and mitzvos (command-ments) and the extent to which they actually pervade and vitalize every-day life, among every growing strata of the community at large.

An auspicious event is ordained for an auspicious day - the 19th of Kislev, the Liberation day of the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. May it result in increased effort, vitality and brightness in the work of your Branch, multiplying steadily throughout the year.

The story of Yud Tes Kislev is known to you. It is as meaningful today as it was significant 160 years ago, and even more. The observance of this day, year after year, must remind and inspire every one of us, especially in the present generation, towards serving G-d more fully and more meaningfully. Such Divine service is to be attained through the study of His Torah - both in its revealed and innermost aspects (the latter referring to Chasidism) - which unifies and attunes the whole Jewish soul - and through the observance of His precepts with animation and enthusiasm.

This must be based on the love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of each and every fellow-Jew - which are all one - as fully explained in the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, whose teachings triumphed and won full recognition on the 19th day of Kislev.


The Eve of Yud Tes Kislev, 5724 [1963]

...In one of his well-known letters, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman] declares that the happy tidings of his liberation reached him when he was reading the verse (Psalms 55:19):

"[G-d] has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle against me, for many were with me."

This Providential coincidence surely carries a message for every one of us. Indeed, every individual is in need of a personal liberation from all the difficulties and hindrances encountered in daily life that hamper the attainment of the goals that should be achieved every day, in both material and spiritual endeavors.

Thus, our Sages make the following meaningful commentary on the verse: "Said the Holy One, Blessed Be He: He who engages in Torah, and in acts of loving-kindness, and prays with the congregation, is regarded by Me as if he redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world" (Talmud, Berachot 8a).

In this way, our Sages emphasize that the personal redemption of every Jew, as well as of the entire Jewish people, together with G-d (so to speak), is directly linked with the dissemination of Torah, acts of benevolence ("duties toward fellow-Jews"), and prayer ("duties toward G-d").

Thus, every man or woman who is involved in these three things brings liberation and redemption to himself as well as to our people as a whole.


Rambam this week

22 Kislev, 5763 - November 27, 2002

Prohibtion 63: Desecrating the name of G-d

This commandment is based on the verse (Lev. 22:32) "Neither shall you profane My holy name." This prohibition describes three types of situations where a Jew might cause a Chillul HaShem - a desecration of G-d's name. The first type of Chillul HaShem is when the Jewish religion is challenged. If a proclamation is issued that Jews are no longer allowed to follow the Torah, obeying such a ruling would be considered a Chillul HaShem. The second type is when a Jew's behavior is disrespectful of Torah, even if he does not benefit from his actions. The third type involves an individual who is regarded as a religious person and upholds the Torah. If this person does something that even seems wrong it could be considered a Chillul Hashem.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was imprisoned on trumped up charges of anti-government activities. We celebrate his release from prison on the 19th of Kislev, Nov. 24 this year.

During his imprisonment, one of the Czar's officers - having heard of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's keen intellect and outstanding genius in all areas of life - engaged him in a conversation.

The officer had an unsolved question. "It says that Adam 'hid' after he sinned by eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. When G-d wanted to speak with Adam, He asked him, 'Where are you?' Didn't G-d know where Adam was?" asked the officer.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, "The Bible is eternal and its message is for all times. G-d was inquiring of Adam, and of all his descendants for all time, 'Where are you? Where do you stand in the fulfillment of your life's mission? How much have you accomplished today and what do you intend to accomplish tomorrow that will help you fulfill the special task with which you have been entrusted?' "

The question "Where are you?" is asked every day of each one of us.

The answer has to come from a place that goes beyond names, titles, affiliations and job descrip-tions. To be able to properly respond, our answer has to come from our very essence. For G-d does not direct the question to Adam or Eve, to Michael or Jennifer. He directs it to you: "Where are you?"

Being able to answer the question requires understanding who "you" are. The Chasidic teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman - the dissemina-tion of which was the true cause for his imprison-ment - explain that "you" are comprised of a G-dly soul and a body chosen by G-d at Mount Sinai.

Torah, primarily as elucidated by Chasidic teachings, can help us understand these components of ourselves. Together with that understanding comes the ability to begin to answer the question, "Where are you."


Thoughts that Count

When my brother Esau meets you, he will ask: To whom do you belong? Where are you going?... (Gen. 32:18)

Esau's question is remarkably similar to the Mishna in Avot: "Reflect on three things...know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a future account and reckoning." Why would the evil Esau suddenly adopt the pious tone of the Mishna? Rather, this question - "Where are you going?"- may be asked by both the Good and the Evil Inclinations. When asked by the Good Inclination, it prevents the person from committing a sin. The Evil Inclination, however, poses the same question in its attempt to bring the individual to despair. In such a case, one must remember that the mere fact that one is a Jew causes unlimited joy and appreciation Above.

(Chidushei Harim)


G-d has been kind to me and I have all (Gen. 33:11)

A fundamental characteristic of the Jew is that he is always content with his lot in life. Whatever he is given by G-d is exactly what he needs, no more and no less. This is why Jacob said, "I have all," whereas Esau declared, "I have enough."

(Chasidic Sages)


I am not worthy of all the kindness and faith that You have shown to Your servant (Gen. 32:11)

And what is the greatest kindness of all? That You have made me Your servant!

(Torat Avot)


The other band which is left may then escape (Gen. 32:9)

Approaching his brother Esau, Jacob divided his camp into three groups, each of which was for a distinct purpose: to appease Esau with gifts, to pray for G-d's help, and to prepare for war should it become inevitable. This parallels the commandment in the Shema in which we are enjoined to love G-d "with all your heart" (prayer); "with all your soul" (war); "and with all your might" (possessions and wealth).

(Sefat Emet)


It Once Happened

In the winter of 1906, it was alleged that Rabbi Mendel Horenstein, brother-in-law of the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Ber, fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe), burned down his own factory in order to damage merchandise belonging to a gentile. The charge was baseless, yet Reb Mendel was imprisoned to await trial. The accusations gave the many anti-Semites in Moscow a "reason" to oppress the Jews.

A few days after Reb Mendel's arrest, the Rebbe Rashab suddenly left Lubavitch. He travelled to Moscow and hired a top lawyer in an attempt to obtain Reb Mendel's release.

Everyone thought the Rebbe Rashab would return to Lubavitch in time to celebrate Yud Tes Kislev with his Chasidim. (Yud Tes Kislev - the 19th of the Hebrew month of Kislev - is the anniversary of the release from Czarist imprisonment of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, on trumped up charges.) But as days passed, the Chasidim began to doubt whether this would indeed be so.

Festive preparations for the "Holiday of Liberation," also known as the New Year of Chasidism, that was to take place on Shabbat, continued. The Chasidim hoped that perhaps the Rebbe would return to Lubavitch after all. A special committee of students was established to organize the festivities. Many guests streamed to Lubavitch for the big day. People were full of anticipation. Just maybe...

A few days before Yud Tes Kislev, two elder Chasidim discussed the possibility of asking the Rebbe to come back from Moscow especially for Yud Tes Kislev or whether, perhaps, everyone should travel to Moscow to be together with the Rebbe. In the evening they went to Rebbetzin Rivka, the Rebbe Rashab's mother, with the request that she ask the Rebbe to come to Lubavitch even for one day.

The Rebbetzin answered, "I am certain that if he could come, he would certainly do so." Then she added, "I cannot ask of him something with which his holy wisdom doesn't agree." The two Chasidim left heavyhearted.

On the 18th of Kislev, a letter arrived in Lubavitch addressed to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, son of the Rebbe Rashab and director of the Yeshiva. It was a letter explaining the fundamental significance of Yud Tes Kislev. It had been written especially for the grand farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) that would take place the next night, in lieu of the Rebbe Rashab's presence.

The yeshiva's hall was washed and decorated. Long tables and hundreds of chairs were arranged. Beautiful vessels were brought from the home of the Rebbe Rashab and placed on the tables.

The holy Sabbath descended on the city of Lubavitch. The Chasidim studied for an hour and a half, then the Kabalat Shabbat service welcoming the Sabbath Queen commenced. When the prayers were over, it was announced that the Rebbe Rashab's letter would be read.

With measured steps, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok walked over to the podium. All rose. Silence reigned as the only sound heard was the rustling of the pages of the letter. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok began reading aloud. Each word was golden, each letter a sparkling jewel. "My children, may you live," the letter began, and the loving voice of the father could be heard throughout the hall.

Concluding the reading, all the students sat and began singing a Chasidic tune. The melody poured forth sweetly, emanating from the hundreds of students in unison.

Later that evening, an elder chasid, Reb Dov Zev, rose to relate the story of the arrest and liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman. In vivid tones he described the pain experienced by the Chasidim when Rabbi Shneur Zalman was taken from them. He recounted the entire story up until the release of Rabbi Shneur Zalman from jail. He described the Chasidim somersaulting in the snowy streets of Petersburg, and the tremendous joy they all experienced.

Afterwards, an old Chasid by the name of Reb Shmuel Betzalel stood up and inspired the multitude with his heartfelt and fiery words of connection to the Rebbe. Reb Shmuel Betzalel raised a cup for l'chaim and his voice shook with emotion. The students gazed upon him, always in awe, for he had merited to see the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe.

After a brief break, the meal began, which continued until 2:00 a.m. It was a royal feast befitting the Rosh Hashana of Chasidism, Yud-Tes Kislev. At the end of the meal, all danced.

At 3:00 a.m., Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok blessed all present and was accompanied home with great love.

Adapted from Beis Moshiach Magazine


Moshiach Matters

When meeting his brother Esau, our forefather Jacob instructed the three groups of people accompanying him how to respond to Esau's queries. The verse describing this contains the word "gam - also" three times. Gam is spelled with the two Hebrew letters gimmel and mem. This alludes to the three (gimmel) redemptions of the Jewish people that will come about through one whose name begins with the letter mem: Moses (the redemption from Egypt); Mordechai (the redemption of Purim); and Moshiach, who will usher in the Final Redemption.

(Otzar Chaim)


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