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A cold winter morning, when darkness masks the hour and night seems still entrenched. Snow on the ground, the wind whistling now and then, branches outlined in shadow sway, sometimes slapping the roof.
You lay in bed, having fought the alarm to a stalemate: it no longer assaults your consciousness, but your mind remains awake. And so the debate to get up begins. It's a silent battle, really, a jumble - a wrestling and grappling and tumbling of words in the head. Suddenly, without warning, your feet touch the floor - the cold a signal, a triumphant recognition that you have moved.
Modeh Ani L'fanecha -
I give thanks to You
You sit at your desk, all the utensils laid out before you, like physician's instruments before surgery. The book is open, the note cards arranged, the highlighter within easy reach, the pen open on top of the notes. The computer is on, the word processing program open and you've even written the title. The browser has already found a dozen web pages to be surfed for support, information and research.
But the radio commentator has an interesting piece. And the "you've got mail" icon is flashing. It might be important, so suddenly you find your-self reading - even re-reading - email - jokes, trivia, petitions, etc. Just to get in the mood, to clear the head. A new email comes in - a piece of "spam."
Surprisingly, you delete it without looking, close the mail program and start typing away. The report flows. Sure it will need revision, but you look forward even to that - the work having rejuvenated you.
Melech Chai v'Kayam -
Living and Eternal King
A week's worth of laundry waits to be washed. The dishes from last night's gathering - and a few left over from Shabbat - need to be washed. The floors need mopping. The books need dusting. There's a musty smell in the bathroom - time for some disinfectant cleaner - not to mention the bits of toothpaste little ones left around the sink.
But it's Sunday morning, the coffee's brewed, and the paper's before you - the comics and the crossword puzzle. You sit down with the coffee, a piece of cake and a pencil. Just fifteen minutes to get the day started.
More than half an hour later, you're still stuck on 15 Down. The quarter cup of coffee is less than room temperature and that fourth piece of cake is tempting. You sit there, mind drifting from 15 Down to the sink to the telephone.
And then you're at the dishwasher, arranging the silverware in its tray.
Sh'he'chezarta Bi Nishmasi B'chemla -
for You have faithfully restored my soul within me
You need to make that appointment. You need to call your aunt. You need to make that call. You need to get the groceries, go to that meeting, cut the grass. So many little things, so many needs that, ignored, postpone the minutes of life.
Raba Emunasecha -
Your faithfulness is great.
Charity, tefilin, Shabbat candles, Kosher food, mezuza, mikva, Jewish books, Torah Study. visiting the sick, welcoming guests, honoring one's parents.
Laziness insults the soul.
Yehuda ben Tema said: "...Everyone must, in the morning, overcome his inclination, like a lion, to arise from his sleep before the morning light to serve his Creator."
With this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, we conclude the Book of Genesis. "So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old...and he was put into a coffin in Egypt" is its final verse.
This conclusion to the entire Book is somewhat surprising, in light of the principle that "one should always end on a positive note." Why couldn't Genesis have concluded a few verses back, when we learn that Joseph lived a long life and merited to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
Why couldn't the description of Joseph's death have waited until the Book of Exodus?
We must therefore conclude that Joseph's passing is somehow related to the theme of Genesis itself.
The primary difference between Genesis and the other four Books of Moses is that Genesis relates the early history of our Forefathers and the twelve tribes - the preparation for our existence as a distinct nation - whereas the other four books contain a narrative of our history as a people.
The Book of Genesis begins with an account of the creation of the world.
The Sage, Rabbi Yitzchak, explained that although the Torah should have begun with a practical commandment, G-d chose to commence with the Creation to refute the arguments of the Gentiles, who would one day claim that the Jews had stolen the land of Israel from the nations who lived there prior to its conquest.
To counter their assertion, the Jews will say, "The entire world belongs to G-d; He created it and divided it as He saw fit. It was His will to give it to them, and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us."
Surely G-d did not change the entire order of His Torah just to supply an answer to the arguments of the Gentiles. The comments of Rabbi Yitzchak must therefore contain a more fundamental teaching for the Jewish people as a whole.
The nations of the world are cognizant of the Jew's special mission. Their claim, however, is that precisely because Jews are different, they should limit themselves to the spiritual service of G-d and not tie themselves down to a physical land.
Because Jews are a nation like no other, they have no right to claim ownership of a homeland. To the non-Jew, the spiritual and physical realms are incongruous and incompatible.
"The entire world belongs to G-d," the Jew explains - the mundane as well as the spiritual. Both require sanctification through the light of holiness - the sacred mission of the Jew.
With this concept the Book of Genesis begins, and on this note it concludes. Joseph's coffin remained in Egypt to strengthen and inspire the Children of Israel during their exile there. Joseph is symbolic of the ability of the Jewish people to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles, imbuing even the lowliest physical matter with holiness and bringing the long-awaited Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 30
May it be Your Will
by Yehudis Cohen
It's Friday afternoon. The snow is coming down thick and fast and a sense of nostalgia overtakes me. We don't usually see snow like this in New York.
I look at my watch. It's an hour until it will be time to light Shabbat candles. I get into the car and drive home. Actually, I am driving back to my parents' home in University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. But, like the saying goes, "Home is where mom is." And, though married nearly 22 years, in a certain sense my parents' house will always be "home."
I hurry Dov Ber and Chaya, two of my children who were given the treat of visiting Bubby and Zaidy, into the house. They bathe and change into their Shabbat clothes. I taste the steaming chicken soup and add a little more salt. I check the cholent (stew eaten for Shabbat lunch) and decide that maybe I'll give in and buy a crockpot, eventually.
Electric timers for lights: set. Make-up: on. Money: dropped in the charity box. Candles: ready to be lit.
Chaya lights one candle. The Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the Shabbat Candle Lighting Campaign in 1972. At that time, the Rebbe urged the re-establishment of the Jewish custom of girls lighting candles from the age of three, or as soon as they can recite the blessing. The custom had been neglected during the war years when it was difficult enough for the mother to procure the minimum two candles let alone get hold of candles for her unmarried daughters.
My mother lights two candles. I watch as she covers her eyes and then I begin the process of lighting 12 candles, one that I have been lighting since I was a young girl, one that I added when I got married, and ten that I have added over the past 20 odd years as each of my children were born. One candle for each child. One physical light symbolizing the spiritual light that each child brings into the world. Because "the lamp of G-d is the soul of a person."
I say the prescribed prayers and many fervent personal prayers, for the moment of candle lighting is a very auspicious time for women's prayer.
I open my eyes and see my mother reading from an orange card. I wonder what special prayer formula is on that card.
Later, after the kiddush on wine and the hamotzee on challa bread, after the gefilte fish and salad and soup. After the chicken and kugel and sautéed vegetables. And after the Grace after Meals, I retire to a luxurious read on the recliner. And then I remember the card. I go over to the buffet, pick up the card and return with it to the recliner.
"Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, great, mighty and revered. G-d, we beseech You, in Your abundant mercy restore the world unto its true basis, under the guidance of kings and rulers who shall reign with justice and righteousness, without discrimination between nation and nation, race and race.
"We beseech You, O merciful and gracious G-d, guide our illustrious President whom You have chosen leader of these United States. Strengthen and encourage him and his honorable ministers and counselors of state and the honorable representatives of the citizens in both houses of Congress. Bless their efforts to save this land and the neighboring lands from war and destruction, and wherever they turn in the cause of humanity and in behalf of this land and for the benefit of Your people Israel, send the angels of blessing and success to welcome them, and cause war and its calamities to be ended and an era of peace and justice with its blessings to begin even in their and our days. Amen"
"Prayer for the Welfare of the Nation by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)" the card says. "Written in approximately 1940 and is very relevant today," it notes. I nod to myself in agreement.
I look on the other side of the card. A paragraph entitled "Prayer for Peace" is printed there.
"May it be Your will, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers that you establish everlasting peace in Israel with goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness, and compassion upon us and upon all of Your people Israel. Please hear my supplication at this time in the merit of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel as we connect with all women in the lighting of Shabbat candles - mothers, grandmothers, daughters and sisters - across time and across space - and cause our light to illuminate forever and never let it be extinguished. In memory of all the innocent victims who were needlessly murdered - answer us Hashem for we are in great distress - do not ignore our prayers for You, Hashem, are the One who responds in times of distress. He who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us, and upon all Israel - and let us say Amen. Blessed are you Hashem, who responds in times of distress."
The prayer is preceded by a note: "Traditionally women have utilized the lighting of Shabbat candles as a unique moment for the recitation of personal prayers and requests. Now, more than ever, we must take this opportunity to include a prayer for peace in Israel - a prayer to stop the killings and the violence - a prayer to bring everlasting peace to the Land of Israel and to the people of Israel, wherever they reside."
The card was created and distributed by Chabad House Women of Cleveland.
I am sitting in my office in Brooklyn, typing in the prayers to share with readers of L'Chaim. The snow is coming down thick and fast and a sense of nostalgia overtakes me. We don't usually see snow like this in New York.
As the snow swirls outside the window the words from both prayers weave themselves together in my mind: "May it be Your will, Hashem, my G-d... that you establish everlasting peace in Israel with goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness, and compassion upon us and upon all of Your people Israel ...cause war and its calamities to be ended and an era of peace and justice with its blessings to begin even in their and our days. Amen"
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The author of the Slice of Life article in L'Chaim 747 entitled "The Promise" is Aliza Seigel
15th of Tammuz, 5723 
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to receive your letter with the enclosure. I am gratified to note that you found the children well and happy, and that all is well also in the educational work.
I was, of course, also pleased to note that after our conversation, you felt much encouraged in regard to your work for spreading Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. In regard to your writing that you had the feeling that you could conquer the world, may I add that this is not only a manner of speaking, but has a basis in fact, as indicated in the Gemara (Kiddushin 40b), and also the Rambam [Maimonides] states something to that effect, as a matter of halachah [Jewish law], when he says that a person should always consider his positive and negative deeds as equi-balanced, and so the whole world. If one does an additional mitzvah [commandment], he places himself, as well as the whole world in the scale of zechus [merit], outweighing the negative side.
The above is true, of course, also in the matter of spreading Yiddishkeit, and not only for the purpose of out-balancing. For the activities in chinuch [Jewish education], starting in a sincere and hearty way, create a chain reaction, and eventually the students themselves become sources of influence, whether as teachers of in other active capacities, with the same enthusiasm and inspiration....
25th of Cheshvan, 5742 
Greeting and Blessing:
Your letter of Oct. 4th reached me with considerable delay, and many thanks for the good news it contained.
With regard to your question about your acquaintance with a lady who has a health problem related to M.S., and whether you should pursue the acquaintance with the intention of matrimony - this, first of all, is a matter of personal feelings on the part of both parties. At the same time, it is necessary to be careful not to encourage false hope or wishful thinking.
However, since you are a physician, there is no need to point out to you that intensive research is being conducted in all branches of medical science, particularly in the area of M.S., especially in its early stages. But, as mentioned, the final decision depends on mutual feelings.
If you will let me know your full Hebrew name, together with your mother's Hebrew name, as is customary, and the same in regard to the lady, I will remember you both in prayer that G-d should lead you both in the way that is truly good for each of you.
I trust it is not necessary to emphasize to you at length that the everyday life conduct in accordance with the Will of G-d, Who is also "The healer of all flesh Who works wondrously," in addition to it being a "must" for its own sake, is the way to receive G-d's blessings in all needs, including also the making of the right decision in all problems, particularly such a serious one as marriage. Therefore, every additional effort in matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and Mitzvoth, widens these channels.
P.S. Recently it came to my attention that a new approach to the treatment of M.S. has been made by means of the drug "Interferon." Although at present it is believed ot be helpful in controlling the disorder, it is expected that in similar situation it will prove helpful also as a cure.
15 Kislev, 5763 - November 20, 2002
Positive Mitzvah 214: A Newly Married Couple
This commandment is based on the verse (Deut. 24:5) "He shall be free at home one year and shall cheer his wife whom he has taken" The Torah commands that the husband remain at home during the first year. He should be free to concentrate upon setting up his home and creating a pleasant atmosphere for his new wife.
Prohibition 311: It is forbidden to assign military service or any other duties to a bridegroom in his first year of marriage
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 24:5) "Neither shall he be charged with any business" We are cautioned not to assign any military service or any other duties to him during this first year of his marriage.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, our ancestor Jacob tells all of his children to gather together so that he can tell them "what will happen to you at the end of days."
The Talmud relates that Jacob wished to reveal the end of the exile but it was concealed from him. The literal meaning, however, is that Jacob wished to "reveal, i.e., bring about, the end."
Jewish teachings explain that the actions of the ancestors are a guiding light for the Jewish people throughout all the generations. Herein lies an important lesson for each one of us. We are to follow in the footsteps of Jacob, and hope and pray for the manifestation of the ultimate end - the final Redemption. Contemplating this will of itself assist our service of G-d, inspiring us to attain our ultimate goal of the revelation of Moshiach.
Hoping and yearning for Moshaich actually hastens Moshiach's coming. This is clearly seen in the translator/commentator Onkelos' rendering of the verse in Isaiah (64:3) "G-d will act for him who waits for Him." As Onkelos paraphrases, "for those who hope and wait for Your Redemption."
How does our yearning hasten the Redemption?
If we hope and pray for the Redemption, sincerely and earnestly, we live more ethical, moral, G-dly lives. By virture of each individual's good actions and deeds, the Jewish people as a whole are found to be increasingly worthy, and the long-awaited Redemtpion is hastened.
Gather yourselves together that I may tell you what will befall you in the end of days (Gen. 49:1)
Rashi explains that Jacob wished to tell his children when Moshiach would come. However, "the Divine Presence departed" and he was thus unable to do so. But why was it necessary for the Divine Presence to depart? Why didn't G-d simply forbid Jacob from revealing this information? What happened, however, was that Jacob foresaw all the suffering his children would be forced to endure throughout the exile, and became sad. As "the Divine Presence only rests on a joyful person," it departed as a result of his mood.
(Rabbi Chanoch Tzvi of Bendin)
Let them grow into a multitude (yidgu) in the midst of the earth (Gen. 48:16)
This blessing alludes to the fact that the existence of the Jewish people is not dependent on the forces of nature, but is supernatural. The word "yidgu" is derived from the Hebrew word for fish - "dag," the intent being that there should be as many Jews as there are fish. Fish, however, cannot live "in the midst of the earth"; Jacob's blessing therefore intimates that his children will survive even under conditions that would annihilate another nation.
And Joseph went up to bury his father (Gen. 50:7)
A person is judged with the same yardstick he uses to judge others. Joseph, the most respected of the brothers, involved himself personally in the burial of his father. He thereby merited that none other than Moses himself would later carry his bones back to the land of Israel.
Reb Nota was hired by a simple villager to teach his two sons. Everything about Reb Nota seemed rather ordinary. He taught, he prayed, he studied, he ate, he rested. On Shabbat he would join the family at their Sabbath meal and then retire to his room, to enjoy a little Shabbat rest.
One Friday, the lady of the house woke up at midnight and heard noise. She quietly followed the sound. After a moment of confusion, she realized that it was the melodious voice of the tutor and he was singing the Shabbat evening prayers! She resolved to observe the tutor more closely the next day.
At the daytime Shabbat meal, the woman noticed that Reb Nota was only pretending to eat. Every so often he would place a few morsels of food onto a handkerchief on his lap. How had she never noticed this before? After the meal she listened again by Reb Nota's door. This time, too, she heard the same beautiful voice singing the Shabbat morning prayers with great devotion. Through the keyhole she saw that after Reb Nota completed his prayers, he made kiddush on wine, washed his hands for bread and said the hamotzee blessing. He then partook of the modest meal he had set aside in his handkerchief.
The woman realized that Reb Nota was no simple tutor and revealed to her husband everything she had seen and heard. Together they approached Reb Nota with the following offer: "We know that you are a holy man. We ask that you remain with us and we will provide your every need. You can pray and study to your heart's delight. Our sons are simple like us and we know that they will never be great Torah scholars. We only ask that in return you spend time with them each day, imparting the weekly Torah portion, simple laws and ethical teachings so they can live upright lives filled with love of G-d and love for their fellow Jews."
Reb Nota agreed to the couple's generous offer. Time passed and the villagers began to take note of Reb Nota's modest yet holy ways. They turned to him for advice and Torah teachings. The villager and his wife graciously welcomed into their home the scholars who began coming from afar to hear Reb Nota's Torah teachings. G-d blessed the couple and their business prospered.
Eventually the elders of Vladova asked Reb Nota to move to their town and Reb Nota agreed. A few years later the community of Chelm in Poland invited Reb Nota to be their rabbi. Reb Nota acceded to their request and it was there that he became renown as the rebbe, Reb Nota of Chelm.
Years passed and the villager's business began to flounder. Eventually he had to resort to selling his possessions until he had nothing left to sell. At this point, his wife said to him, "Perhaps you should travel to Reb Nota of Chelm and ask for his blessing. Surely Reb Nota will remember us and he will bless us."
The villager traveled to Chelm. Imagine the good man's surprise when he arrived at Reb Nota's court and, after waiting in line to be received by Reb Nota, was greeted in the same identical way as all of the other visitors!
The villager reminded himself that it was the eve of the Sabbath and that Reb Nota was busy. Surely it would be different later. Throughout Shabbat the villager was accorded the same kindness and recognition as every other person who had come to spend the Sabbath with Reb Nota, but nothing more.
The villager was so disappointed he could hardly contain himself. When it was time to take leave of Reb Nota, he presented his note as did all of the other visitors. Reb Nota read the note and blessed him, as he did all of the other visitors.
The villager could contain himself no longer. He mustered his courage and said, "Rebbe, I have a question that is bothering me."
"Ask," said Reb Nota gently.
"Every day, during each of the three daily prayers, we mention the merits of the Patriarchs. In the days preceding Rosh Hashana, we also ask that G-d 'Remember the covenant You made with Abraham and the binding of Isaac.' From Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur, we ask G-d to help us because of the merits of the Patriarchs. Finally it is Yom Kippur and throughout that day we remind G-d of the merit of the Patriarchs. In the last prayer on Yom Kippur, Neila, we remind G-d of, 'Our father (Abraham) who knew You from his childhood.' Haven't we mentioned Abraham, Isaac and Jacob enough? What is added here?"
Reb Nota smiled, "Surely you have an answer. Please share it with me."
"Well," began the villager, "at the climax of Yom Kippur, we are concerned that a prosecuting angel will say, 'What of the merit of the Patriarchs? Had they never existed everyone would still know the greatness of G-d, Who created heaven and earth and sustains them.' And this is why we say, 'Our father who knew You from his childhood.' Abraham recognized G-d's greatness when no one else recognized Him. It was Abraham who first made G-d's name known.
"It is the same with me," the villager continued bashfully. "Without me, the Rebbe would have still been a holy man. But who knew of the Rebbe and who had ever heard of the Rebbe years ago. Was it not I who made the Rebbe's name renown? Why then, Rebbe, do you not take care of me when I am in such need?"
Reb Nota smiled his kind smile once more. "Go in peace and G-d will surely make your business prosper henceforth."
And so it was. From that time forward the villager's business prospered until he once again attained his former wealth.
Reb Nota would recount this incident to his Chasidim, praising the simple villager and his speech. The Chasidim, for their part, added that it was not for naught that Reb Nota withheld a warm welcome from the villager. For it was through this that he merited to have such a powerful insight.
On the verse "The scepter shall not depart from Judah... until Shiloh comes" (Gen. 49:10) the Zohar points out that "Shiloh" is the numerical equivalent of "Moses" (345); "until Shiloh comes" is the equivalent of "Moshiach" (358).