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December 27, 2002 - 22 Tevet, 5763

750: Shemos

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  749: Vayechi751: Vaera  

Hypertext Souls  |  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

Hypertext Souls

Anyone who's spent time surfing the web knows about hypertext. It's the "ht" in http://. (The "tp" is "transfer protocol," since you asked, and I don't know why it needs a colon, double-slash.) Hypertext is the language used to author web sites. It tells the computer what will be on the page and how it should look. Through the language protocols one controls graphics, special effects, texts and links.

It's the links that makes hypertext "hyper." "Hyper" here doesn't mean the text is overexcited or high-strung. Rather, it refers to the unique way websites present information: they go beyond a textual or linear approach. They do so by internally linking pages. For example, a site about Shabbat may have a picture of a woman lighting candles and a description of the mitzva (commandment). In the paragraph, the word "blessing" is in a different color. Click on the word and you're linked to another page, say one that has the blessing in Hebrew and transliterated with a recording of someone reciting the blessings. When you're finished listening, you click another link to go back to the beginning or go to another page.

Through links, websites also connect to each other. You can go from one site to another to another to another - ad infinitum, if you like. This is known as "surfing the web." You can end up very far from where you started; you can 'double-back' on yourself, retracing your path, encountering the same site again (and sometimes again and again); you can even link around in a chain to the original site. What makes the web so versatile, so useful, so fascinating and so informative are the links - the intra and inter-connectedness. No longer does one thing lead to another, but everything leads to everything else.

Of course, that's also why the web can be a very dangerous place. The links don't always go where we expect them to - or where we want to be taken. Even innocent detours can prove detrimental. We can get sidetracked into irrelevancies. Five hours later, we still haven't read that article from L'Chaim. We wasted it playing games or going hither and yon (virtually speaking) looking and listening to trivia (or worse!).

Hypertext provides a metaphor for the concept "All Israel is responsible one for another." In the world of the world wide web, everything links to everything else in some way. Eventually, each web site connects to and interacts with every other website. So, too, every Jew connects to, interacts with and affects every other Jew. Positively or (G-d forbid) the opposite.

That's because every Jew has a Divine soul, an "actual part of G-d above," as it says in Tanya. (http://Tanya, chapter 2.) There's a unity between the souls. Recognizing this also leads (links us to) an easy way to fulfill the mitzva, "Love your fellow as yourself." Since, spiritually speaking, we are "all of a kind and all have one Father - therefore all Israelites are called real brethren by virtue of the source of the their souls in the One G-d."

We have to be careful not to damage another "website" by imbedding broken, bad or misleading links in our own. For, to continue the analogy, our actions link us. When we violate a mitzva, do something we shouldn't or don't do something we should, we not only break an internal link, we disconnect other Jews. For, if we're linked together, who know whose soul goes through our actions?

But when we do a mitzva we not only strengthen our spiritual connections, intra with G-d, we also create links and connections, inter with other Jews. So affixing a mezuza, putting on tefillin, giving charity, learning Torah - all this (and more) creates links and gives strength to Jews far away in physical space, but very close in spiritual space.

Living with the Rebbe

One of Pharaoh's harshest decrees against the Jews was his order to throw every newborn boy into the Nile, as related in this week's Torah portion, Shemot. The Passover Hagada, read each year at the seder, adds the following insight: " 'And our burden'-this recalls the drowning of the male children, as it is said, 'Every son that is born you shall cast into the river, but every daughter you shall keep alive.' "

Our Sages explain that the word "burden" is equated with the raising and educating of children, implying the preeminent responsibility resting on Jewish parents. Our Sages understood that great effort must be expended in order to rear Jewish children properly. Parents and teachers must share involvement in this holy task, investing much time and energy to ensure a younger generation that will continue the Jewish way of life.

And yet, together with the recognition that raising Jewish children is hard work, the Torah promises that the rewards we reap will be well worth the effort. In fact, the more self-sacrifice a parent has on behalf of his children's Jewish education, the more he is assured that his children will be strong in their Judaism and untouched by Pharaoh's evil decree, whether thousands of years ago or today. It was precisely those Jewish children born under the threat of extinction in Egypt who were the first to recognize G-d at the splitting of the Red Sea, declaring, "This is my G-d and I will extol Him."

Why should raising Jewish children require so much effort? Because our children are the foundation upon which the entire Jewish nation rests. This secret has long been known to our enemies. It was for this very reason that in communist Russia the authorities tried especially hard to suppress Torah learning in schools attended by the youngest of Jewish children. "They have plenty of time to learn Torah when they grow up," the communists claimed, knowing full well that the Jewish child's formative years spent in a Jewish atmosphere posed the greatest threat to the atheistic regime.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla is remembered because of his educational innovation - the institution of publicly funded Torah classes for children, commencing at the age of five or six, in all locations where Jews dwelled. Thousands of years later his name is still revered because of this accomplishment.

Jewish parents must therefore do all in their power - physically, spiritually and monetarily - to ensure that their children are enrolled in schools where they will be instilled with our timeless Jewish values. For the education of our children is indeed our "burden"; at times, personal sacrifice may be required. In the merit of this, we will raise a generation of Jews who will again be the first to recognize G-d, in the complete and Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.

Adapted from the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 1

A Slice of Life

The Warmth of the Jewish Home
by Masha Arshinov

I was born in S. Petersburg, Russia, 33 years ago to Yuri and Sonya Ivreison. As a little girl, I knew two things: that I was a Jew, and that being Jewish in Russia was a burden, something that needed to be suffered through and, with hard work, overcome.

I showed musical talent very early in life; by the age of five I was performing Bach's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Throughout my childhood, I continued to study very hard, practicing several hours per day, every day.

By the time I was 18, the music did not satisfy me. I wanted more out of life. I wanted to taste the world, and find some happiness, some meaning, other than the applause at the end of a performance. I felt strongly that something was missing in my life, and I thought that that "something" was marriage.

I became serious with a non-Jewish boy. My parents tried to convince me not to marry him. "He is not Jewish!" they cried. "So what?" I cried back. Being Jewish was only a burden; why let it dictate whom to marry? My parents could not explain it, as it was only a feeling: One does not marry out of the faith. But without a "why" I could not be dissuaded.

I always knew that we had relatives in New York who were very religious. I was secretly proud of the fact that I had religious relatives. The idea that they lived by their principles appealed to me even though I had no inkling what those principles were.

While I was preparing for my wedding to my fiancé, the telephone rang. It was my father's first cousin, Mrs. Mirel Deitsch from New York. She suggested that before I marry a non-Jew, I should come to New York and see how the Jews there live.

At first I refused, as I was busy both with my musical career and with preparations for my wedding, and also I did not want to be dissuaded from marrying my fiancé. But Mira was persistent and finally I went.

The fall of 1989 found me in Crown Heights. My first impression was of a large, loving, and close family. I saw how Mira's children and their spouses cared very much for their widowed mother, and I was warmly welcomed by them and by the extended family. There was so much love and warmth in their homes. You could feel it the minute you walked in.

On Sunday, I went to 770 to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the first time. Mira's daughter-in-law, Cyrel Deitsch, went with me.

There was a long, endless queue. The two women just ahead of me asked the Rebbe a question about some family matter, and the Rebbe was giving them answers. How could he give advice on such short notice, and with so little information? Did he have some special intuition about people? Did G-d whisper the answers in his ear? I was intrigued.

When my turn came, I said "I came from Leningrad." The Rebbe responded, "In a good hour."

That was the first time I saw the Rebbe. The second time was a few days before I was due to go back to Russia. Mira took me to 770. It was a cold and very windy day. The Rebbe was crossing the courtyard alone, and he stopped in front of us. Mira did not mince words. She said, "Rebbe, this girl is my cousin from Russia, and she is engaged to a non-Jew."

The Rebbe turned to me and said harshly, "You should never do it, as you will bring unhappiness to yourself, and also misfortune to him." Then the Rebbe quickly walked away. At first Mira and I just stood there in shocked silence. Neither of us was prepared for the strength of the Rebbe's reaction. A second later, I burst into tears. It seemed that the Rebbe was angry with me, and I couldn't handle this.

Mira invited me to stay on to pursue my musical career in New York. She urged me not to return to Russia, to my fiancé. But I decided I had to return. I felt I still loved him. I wanted to marry him and I did. But after less than two years of marriage we got divorced.

I was by now an accomplished concert pianist. I also taught piano at the Music College. I traveled a lot for performances, and saw many different countries. But the more I traveled and performed and taught, the more I realized that something was missing. I was unhappy despite my growing success. Only later did I realize that my soul was thirsting for Torah.

Suddenly, the idea came to me: I will go to New York again. Mirel had passed away so I called her daughter-in-law, Chanie Deitsch. I had no definite plan, only a feeling that this is what I should do. I came to the home of Chanie and Yaisef. Once again, I felt the purity and holiness of a Jewish home. Only this time, I was ready to take the lesson to heart in my own life.

When I returned to Russia I was a changed person. Now I was ready to sate my thirst with the clear, refreshing water of Torah. In Petersburg there lives an emissary of the Rebbe, Sara Pewzner. Sara played a decisive role in my becoming observant. She became my mentor and showed me true love and kindness. In her house I found the same treasure I had experienced at Chanie's house; the inimitable atmosphere of a Jewish, Chassidishe home. If anyone reading this has not yet experienced it, I urge you to try it.

I began to study at Machon Chana, the school for girls and women in Petersburg. Dovid and Esther Segal were teachers there. They were planning a trip to the city of Lubavitch. (They were married six years and did not yet have children, and they were planning to pray at the holy gravesites there.) They invited me to come along. I prayed to G-d that I should find the right man to marry, a religious Jew with whom I could create the Jewish home I craved. There was one unmarried man in the group, Avrohom Arshinov. We met in Lubavitch. We married four months later. On the fourth night of Chanuka last year, we were blessed with a son. A few months earlier, the Segals were blessed with quintuplets. They now live in Jerusalem, where we will all live with the arrival of Moshiach speedily in our time!

Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter

What's New

Out of the Inferno

Out of the Inferno chronicles the efforts that led to the rescue of Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn and his family from war-torn Europe in 1939-40. The book was compiled and annotated from the archives of Rabbi Yisroel Jacobson by Rachel Altein. The book speaks in the voice of over 270 communications, letters and memoranda with minor editorial guidance. Included are facsimiles of some of the documents, photographs of the key figures involved in the rescue effort, as well as many others mentioned in the book. Maps of the rescue trail that began in Otwock, Poland, and ended at the shores of New York, round out the presentation. Published by Kehot Publications.

The Rebbe Writes

24th of Teves, 5721 [1961]
Yahrtzeit of the Old Rebbe
Author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch

Greetings and Blessings:

On this day, the Yahrzeit [anniversary of the passing] of the saintly Old Rebbe (the founder of Chabad) [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi], I recall a story related by my father-in-law of saintly memory, an episode in the life of the Old Rebbe which has a timely message for all of us.

When the "Tzemach Tzedek" [the third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel] was a little boy learning Chumash [the Five Books of Moses - Torah], and he reached the first verse of the [Torah portion] sedra Vayechi - "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years" - his teacher explained to him (in accordance with the commentary of the Baal HaTurim) that the Torah indicated thereby that these were Jacob's best years of his life. Returning home, the boy asked his grandfather, the Old Rebbe: "How is it possible that the best years of our father Jacob, the chosen among the Patriarchs, should have been experienced in exile in Egypt?"

The Old Rebbe replied: "The Torah tells us that before going to Egypt, Jacob had sent his son Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to lead the way to Goshen. Here the Torah indicated - as explained in the Medrash, and quoted by Rashi - that Jacob had sent Judah to establish a place of learning, a Yeshivah where Jacob's children would study the Torah. By studying the Torah one becomes closer to G-d and he lives truly and fully, even in a place like Egypt."

The message for each and every one of us is: When Jews are about to settle in a new place, at any country at any time, the first and foremost step is to establish there a place for learning Torah, where the Torah would be studied and observed not only by the older generation (Jacob, the father) but also and especially by the children. When Jews realize that the very foundation of Jewish life, and of a Jewish Settlement, is the Torah, and acting on this conviction they maintain and cultivate a flourishing Torah center, then they ensure that the new era would be the best years of their lives, irrespective what the external conditions may be.

Furthermore, by becoming closer to G-d, the Master of the Universe, one creates the channel through which G-d's blessing flows in a growing measure not only to those occupied with the study of Torah, the teachers and students, but to all those who support and expand the Torah institutions and thus actively participate in the spreading of the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] in a growing measure.

Rambam this week

5 Cheshvan, 5763 - October 11, 2002

Prohibition 241: It is forbidden to take a security from a widow

This commandment is based on the verse (Deut. 24:17) "Nor shall you take a widow's garment as security" The Torah forbids us to demand any security from a widow for a loan she has taken. Rather, we should be kind and trust that G-d will help her repay the loan. This prohibition applies regardless of whether a widow is poor or wealthy.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Our Sages describe the current Jewish month in which we find ourselves, Tevet, as "the month when the body derives pleasure from the body." Chasidic teachings explain that this means that in this month, G-d's essence derives pleasure from the service of the Jewish people within the physical world. In its most complete sense, this service is revealed to us by tzadikim-the righteous.

The 24th of Tevet (this year coinciding with Sunday, December 29) is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism. Rabbi Shneur Zalman opened a new path which allowed the teaching of the previously hidden aspects of the Torah - Pnimiyut HaTorah - to be comprehended through the intellect and thus reveal additional G-dliness within the world.

The number 24 written in Hebrew letters is "kaf-dalet." On the eve of the 24th of Tevet, 5752 (1992) the Rebbe noted that kaf-dalet relates to the verse, "I will make your windows shining rubies - kadkod." In Chasidic thought, kadkod is associated with the expression from the Midrash, "I will do as this and as this," i.e., that there are two approaches to G-dly service, one beginning with the revelation from above, and the other beginning with the elevation of the worldly plane. The ultimate level of service is to fuse the two.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman was not only a master in the area of Pnimiyut HaTorah. He was a gaon, a great scholar, of the revealed parts of the Torah as well.

This quality of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's is alluded to in his name, Shneur, which can be broken up into two Hebrew words, "shnei" and "ohr," meaning "two lights." He illuminated the world with his greatness in the two lights of the Torah.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who illuminated the world with the revealed and hidden lights of Torah, also fused the two approaches to G-dly service.

Thoughts that Count

And behold, it was a weeping boy... and she said, "This is one of the Hebrews' children" (Ex. 2:6)

How could Pharaoh's daughter have recognized that the child was Jewish, just from his cry? This is because a Jewish cry is unique; even when he weeps, a Jew is filled with hope.

(Rabbi Mordechai Chaim of Slonim)

And an angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of the thorn bush; and he looked, and behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not consumed (Ex. 3:2)

A person is likened to a tree of the field: the Torah Sage is a fruit-bearing tree and the simple Jew is like a tree that does not give fruit. Nonetheless, the "flame of fire" burns precisely in the "thorn bush" - in the simple Jew. A Jew who prays and recites Psalms with simple faith in G-d possesses a fire of holiness derived from purity of heart, even if he does not understand the words. Furthermore, the "thorn bush is not consumed"; the burning flame of the simple Jew can never be extinguished, as he is perpetually thirsty for Torah.

(The Baal Shem Tov)

He returned to Egypt; and Moses took the staff of G-d in his hand (Ex. 4:20)

While Moses certainly showed Pharaoh the proper honor due a king, he nonetheless "took the staff of G-d in his hand" in all his dealings with him; he was prideful in his heritage, imbued with an attitude of G-dly assurance, and without any feelings of inferiority.

(Likutei Sichot)

Moses returned to G-d and said, "L-rd! Why have You mistreated this people? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he made things worse... You have not saved this people at all" (Ex. 5:22-23)

We mustn't resign ourselves to the present exile with the excuse that "such is the will of G-d." The Redemption is near, yet it is still bitter and painful. Therefore, even while reaffirming our absolute faith that "the ways of G-d are just," we are also to express our anguish with the prayerful outcry "How much longer?" and ask for the immediate coming of Moshiach.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 5743)

It Once Happened

After the passing of the Maggid of Mezritch, when the spheres of influence in spreading the teachings of Chasidism were divided up, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism (known also as the "Alter Rebbe") was allotted Lithuania and White Russia. However, being as Reb Shlomo of Karlin had followers in the towns of Beshenkovitz, Tzeshnik and Liepli, he was allowed to continue visiting there.

When Reb Shlomo decided that he wanted to permanently move to Beshenkovitz, he first asked permission of Rabbi Shneur Zalman. The Alter Rebbe agreed with the following conditions: 1) Reb Shlomo would not demean those who devoted themselves seriously to the study of the revealed parts of the Torah; 2) Reb Shlomo would not disparage those who had an innate fear of Heaven; 3) Reb Shlomo would teach his own Chasidim that faith alone in the tzadik (righteous person) is not sufficient to enable one to ascend to higher spiritual levels but that one must personally toil in one's G-dly service.

Reb Shlomo was willing to agree to the first two conditions but could not come to terms with the third, for he taught his Chasidim that those who are bound to the tzadik are elevated by his service; the mission of their Divine service is simply to be enthusiastic about the study of Torah and the observance of its commandments. His teachings conflicted with the school of thought, known as Chabad Chasidism, established by the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe taught that each individual must personally exert effort in understanding G-d and His world and in one's Divine service.

Thus, Reb Shlomo did not move to Beshenkovitz, though he continued to visit there periodically.

Despite their disagreements and differences, a number of years later when Reb Shlomo visited the Alter Rebbe on a communal matter, the Alter Rebbe treated him with utmost respect and deference. When Reb Shlomo left to travel to Beshenkovitz for one of his visits, the Alter Rebbe sent a number of young scholarly Chasidim to accompany him, among them Reb Binyamin of Kotsk. Along the way, Reb Shlomo and the Alter Rebbe's Chasidim engaged in deep discussions of all areas of Torah. Reb Shlomo was very impressed with the depth of knowledge of his escorts. Upon their arrival in Vitebsk, the Alter Rebbe's Chasidim got ready to return to Liozna but Reb Shlomo asked Reb Binyamin to travel with him to Beshenkovitz. Reb Binyamin agreed.

When it was time for the afternoon prayer, Reb Shlomo asked his wagon driver to stop the coach so that he could pray. Reb Shlomo climbed down and looked for a stream to wash his hands but there was none nearby. He climbed back up into the coach and sat there for many moments in meditation. Suddenly the horses started to gallop undirected. Before long they stopped near a stream, whereupon Reb Shlomo descended and washed his hands. He prayed the afternoon service with his usual fiery devotion and then alighted upon the wagon.

When the wagon driver informed Reb Shlomo that he had no idea where they were, Reb Shlomo told him to allow the horses to proceed on their own. The horses galloped along until they came to a highway. From there they traveled until they arrived at an inn. Reb Shlomo told the wagon driver to stop at the inn. He and Reb Binyamin prayed the evening service followed by Tikun Chatzot in remembrance of the destruction of the Holy Temple. At dawn they prayed the morning service and then continued on their way. They arrived in Beshenkovitz on Thursday afternoon, in time for the afternoon prayer.

At this point it was impossible for Reb Binyamin to return to Liozna in time for the Sabbath and so, he decided to stay in Beshenkovitz for Shabbat. Throughout Shabbat, Reb Binyamin met many of his fellow Chasidim. They were amazed that the Alter Rebbe had accorded Reb Shlomo so much honor as to send such a scholar as Reb Binyamin to accompany him. Thereafter, they accorded Reb Shlomo much more honor than they had previously.

Reb Binyamin remained in Beshenkovitz for another two days, walking around as if in a daze from everything he had learned from Reb Shlomo and from everything he had seen in Reb Shlomo's prayers and Divine service. He had even had a fleeting thought to stay on in Beshenkovitz to spend more time in Reb Shlomo's company. Reb Binyamin decided against staying and called on Reb Shlomo to take his leave.

Reb Shlomo spoke to Reb Binyamin for many hours, entreating him to stay and become one of his Chasidim. Reb Shlomo promised that he would share with him wondrous secrets of the Torah and he would hand pick a group of students for Reb Binyamin to teach would be worthy of his keen intellect.

Reb Binyamin listened and responded by quoting a Ukrainian rhyme (for Reb Shlomo would often spice his conversation with Ukrainian sayings):

The master's a master - but he's not mine; The lad's a lad - but he's not thine." And he returned to the Alter Rebbe in Liozna.

Moshiach Matters

When the Israelites were unable to endure the harsh exile in Egypt, they cried out to G-d. Indeed, G-d heard their cry and sent Moses to redeem them. So it is with us in our present exile. When we cry out, "Take us out of exile and bring Moshiach!" G-d will certainly hear our cry and send the Redeemer. Moreover, merely being in a state of readiness to call upon G-d is already enough for Him to respond, as it states in Isaiah, "Before they call, I will answer, and while yet they speak I will hear."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Tavo, 5751)

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