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Devarim Deutronomy

January 3, 2003 - 29 Tevet, 5763

751: Vaera

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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Idle Time  |  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

Idle Time

What do you do when stuck in traffic? Listen to music, perhaps. Or maybe you listen to "talk radio." (Politics, left or right. Advice. All-news. All-sports.) Maybe you talk on the cell-phone. (Conducting business, making plans, talking to the kids, calling ahead, ordering, reporting the breakdown that's got traffic backed up just before the exit in front of you, which you can't get to anyway because you're in the far left lane.) Or maybe you just sit there, daydreaming at first, but slowly getting more and more frustrated, then more and more angry.

What about when you're stuck in a doctor's office? (Actually, the question applies to any office we're stuck in - government, business, legal - but surely the most notorious office to be stuck in is a doctor's.) Do you read the magazines (out-of-date, already read, too technical, too popular, boring subjects - and always missing the last page of the story)? Do you watch the TV (wondering why nobody changes the channel to the more interesting test-pattern? Do you watch the fish in the aquarium? Or do you try to fall asleep (usually half-eavesdropping on the three conversations around you)?

What do you do when stuck in a line? (You knew that one was coming.) Do you bring a book wherever you go, just in case (standing in line at the bank, at the check-out, at the service desk, for a driver's license and of course at the post office)? Do you bring a walkman and plug in? Do you stare around the room, counting this (How many ceiling tiles) or that (How many phone calls will the clerk take before taking a customer?) to pass the time? Do you try talking to the person ahead of you, behind you or last in line? Or do you stand there, daydreaming at first, but slowly getting more and more frustrated, then more and more angry that after each customer the clerk disappears for five minutes. Poof.

We spend a lot of time waiting, a lot of time put on hold (now don't get me started about phone calls), a lot of time stuck in idle - like a car with the engine on but the gears disengaged. The minutes come, the minutes go, the minutes pass.

Sometimes we use them well, sometimes not. But idle time need not be futile time, empty time - or even business time. There's a way to make idle time Jewish time.

Read a chapter of Psalms. They're short. They're translated. And every verse reverberates throughout the spiritual realms.

Read a mishna or two. They've also been translated. With commentary. When do we start saying Shema in the evening? Who is wise? If two people find a tallit, both grab it and claim they found it, who gets it? How does one greet another person?

Read a Jewish law from the Mishneh Torah. Maimonides makes scholars of us all.

Read a bit of Tanya. Download it and print and carry it with you. Learn about your two souls, what it means to love your fellow Jew as yourself, how to fight laziness or depression. Discover the anatomy of the soul.

Call it one minute Judaism. Or, Judasim To Go.

Living with the Rebbe

One of the main reasons that the Exodus from Egypt occupies such a central role in Judaism (we mention it daily in our prayers) is that this original exodus symbolizes the daily spiritual exodus that must take place in the life of a Jew. The Hebrew word for Egypt, "Mitzrayim," comes from the root word "Meitzar," meaning limitations and obstacles. It is up to every individual to liberate himself from his own internal limitations and boundaries, thus freeing his G-dly soul to express itself and seek spiritual fulfillment.

This week's Torah portion, Vaeira, tells of the very beginning of the events which led up to the Jews' triumphant liberation from bondage. By studying the circumstances of the Egyptian exodus, we see how we can apply these lessons to our own personal and spiritual journey as well.

The first plague to afflict the Egyptians was blood; every drop of water in the land was affected. Therefore, the first step toward spiritual liberation must also somehow be connected with transforming "water" into "blood."

Water symbolizes tranquility, coldness, and lack of emotional excitement. Blood, on the other hand, is a symbol of warmth, enthusiasm and fervor. The Torah asks every Jew: Do you truly want to leave "Egypt," to overcome your self-imposed limitations? The first thing you must do is turn your "water" into "blood." Transform your apathy and inertia into enthusiasm and love of Torah and mitzvot (commandments). Infuse your life with a warmth and fervor directed toward G-d and holiness.

A person may claim, "Is it not enough that I simply perform the mitzvot, study Torah, and avoid that which is forbidden? Am I not a good Jew even if I don't feel any enthusiasm for what I do?"

Chasidic philosophy explains that coldness and apathy are the source of all evil. When one is cool toward something, it means that he is totally uninterested in it. We see that when something truly close to the heart is mentioned, our pulse quickens and we "warm" to the subject. Coldness signals the mechanical performance of the commandments and leads to eventual spiritual deterioration.

The first action to be taken toward spiritual liberation is to replace our lukewarm dedication to Judaism with warmth and enthusiasm. We should be at least as equally enthused about Judaism as we are about other facets of our lives.

One of the practical ways this expresses itself is when we perform a mitzva in a particularly nice way. The desire to enhance our observance leads to our observing the precepts of Judaism out of love. This, then, is the first step towards going out of our own personal Egypt and ending our collective exile.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Eli Wake Up

On Friday evening, February 15, 2002 Eli Dorfman returned his soul to his Father in heaven...again. Eli's soul had ascended a year earlier, when he was hit by a truck. But at that time, the heavenly court granted him another year of life.

That is when he was revived. During that year, Eli received more love and respect from the world than he did in his first twelve years. In return, he gave the world tremendous hope and courage, through his tenacity to survive against the odds.

The following is an excerpt from the words of Rabbi Moshe Feller, the director of Lubavitch-Chabad of the Upper Midwest, at Eli's funeral.

King David writes in Psalms (73:22): "I was a boor and did not understand, like an animal was I with You. Yet I was always with You."

In terms of understanding G-d, we are like animals. Yet though the performance of G-d's will - the commandments - "we are always with You."

In the Chabad-Lubavitch tradition, we don't eulogize. The departed is in the world of truth while we are in the world where falsehoods abound. If at the funeral something is said about the departed that is not entirely true, it pains him.

However, we do say words of Torah Inspiration. I am going to tell you a true story that took place about two years ago. The story was told at a gathering that we had in our synagogue last year on the occasion of the Rebbe's birthday. It was told by a colleague of mine who heard it from Rabbi Mendel Gluckowsky - Rav of the Chabad community in Rechovot, Israel.

Rabbi Gluckowsky related that the mother of a young child who was stricken with Leukemia was upset that he would not give a Jewish legal ruling that would allow the child to be taken off of life support. It was evident that the child would pass away within a few days. What was the purpose of keeping the child alive for a few more days? They could not bear to witness what was transpiring before their eyes. The child did pass away a few days later as foretold by the physicians and Rabbi Gluckowsky was aware of the mother's resentment.

The family of the child has an open home and their Shabbat table is always full with guests. A few months after their child's passing, a young woman was a guest at their home. She asked if she could tell a wondrous story that had occurred recently.

A noted physician who worked in B'nai Brak had suddenly become a returnee to observant Jewish living because of a series of dreams that he had on successive nights. A twelve-year-old child who was in a coma, was taken off life support by this doctor's instruction a few days before he would have died even with life support. The night after the child died he came to the doctor in a dream and said, "Why did you kill me?" The doctor answered him, "I didn't kill you, you would have died in a few days anyway!"

The child responded, "Because you ended my life two days before my Divinely designated lifespan on earth, I cannot enter the portal in heaven which was destined for me." The doctor awoke in a sweat but during the day he dismissed the dream. When the dream repeated itself the next night and the following night the doctor asked the child in the dream, "What can I do now to make amends?" The child responded "If you will begin putting on tefilin, eat kosher and keep Shabbat, I will be ushered into Heaven."

The doctor immediately bought a pair of tefilin, started to keep Shabbat and eat kosher and all of B'nai Brak was a buzz with this astounding happening.

The young woman had no idea that she was relating this story in a home that had recently lived through a similar tragedy just a few months earlier.

After Shabbat the mother called up Rabbi Gluckowsky to tell him this story and to thank him for not allowing her child to be taken off life support.

Eliezer Aaron ben Mordechai Reuven enters his designated place on high at the conclusion of his Divinely designated lifespan. He enters without sin, escorted by the hundreds of thousands of chapters of Psalms recited by Jews world-wide. He enters his place on high with the thousands of good deeds of compassion and self-sacrifice by the selfless, noble volunteers, Jew and non-Jew alike, who did all they could to keep Eli alive and comfort the family.

But above all, he goes on high with the unparalleled devotion, dedication, and love of his parents and family. Mordechai and Chira, you who were always exemplary in your Judaism, your outreach, you brought so many close to Torah and mitzvot, and you will continue to do so in the merit of Eli. You taught all of us the true meaning of faith and trust in G-d and self-sacrifice for children. You personified the primacy of halacha (Jewish Law) in Jewish life, halacha that dictated that you proceed with Eli exactly as you did.

We pray that your separation from Eli is short. Very soon Moshiach will arrive, the 12th principal of our faith, followed by the 13th and final principal, that of the resurrection of those who have passed on. Then we will be reunited with Eli, with all our loved ones and with our Revered Rebbe at our head we will return to our Holy Land and to the Holy Temple.

For more about Eli visit

What's New

A reader, Dr. Lawrence M. Kamhi, writes:

I have a young friend David, a Lubavitch Rabbinical student who includes me in his weekly visits to Court Street. He has made sure, among his many other mitzvot, that I don't forget to put on tefilin at least once a week.

One Friday afternoon, I got a glimpse into the meaning of bashert (predestined) during one of David's weekly visits. He had arrived at my office very close to Shabbat, and we quickly proceeded to lay tefilin and to say the requisite prayers. The hour grew late and rather than chance going home in a taxi, David decided to spend Shabbat at a local synagogue and left his backpack with me.

I said to David as he was about to leave, "I think there is a meaning in the fact that you arrived late today. Maybe it was to remind us that we must abide by rules, and we must obey the deadlines of life.

Outside the Torah world, we secular Jews forget this. We cannot celebrate Shabbat on our time, or when it conveniences us; we are to observe Shabbat when the clock informs us that it is Shabbat." David smiled politely, kissed the mezuza on my door, wished me a good Shabbat and hurried out.

Moments later I realized I hadn't lit my Chanuka menora for a few days. Had David not arrived late that day I would have forgotten the final day of Chanuka! I searched for candles but couldn't find any. I realized the fortuitousness of the fact that David left his backpack with me over Shabbat -surely there would be candles in it and he wouldn't mind if I used them. I lit the menora and it filled the evening with its comforting, holy light.

At which point I realized: Sometimes a friend's lateness is bashert - David's mitzva of leaving his backpack with me to preserve the commandment of Shabbat was responsible for saving one more Jew's Chanuka. Each mitzva creates a new one...

The Rebbe Writes

In the Days of Chanukah, 5721 [1961]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your recent letters and for various reasons my reply was unavoidably delayed.

With regard to the question in which you are apparently most interested at the moment, namely, the purchase of merchandise from Hong Kong, the important consideration is, of course, whether the merchandise will be suitable for your market. It is also no less important to know whether the people down there are reliable.

Since you are interested in finding a source of relatively cheap merchandise, it may be better for you to explore the possibility of buying in Japan, a country which has the reputation here of being able to manufacture merchandise at low cost. Of course, this may not apply to every kind of merchandise.

I was gratified to read in your letter that you have again had occasion to see the benevolent Providence in being able to sell quantities of your stock. May G-d continue to show you His benevolence in the future and in a greater measure.

However, I am somewhat concerned that while you mention about things done from on high, relating to the sales, you do not mention at all about the things that have to be done here below (and which are entirely in your hands because "All is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven"). I refer to your Tzedoko [charity] contributions from your business profits. One should remember that according to our holy books one should not be tardy in remitting that which belongs to Tzedoko. On the contrary, it is even advisable to remit in advance of future profits, since the Alm-ghty's credit is always good.

Thank you very much for letting me know about your daughter's activities. I also hope that the health of your wife has improved considerably...

Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5719 [1959]

Greeting and Blessing:

On the first day of Shevat, as the Torah relates (Deut. 1:3), Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] began the recitation of the Book of Devorim [Deut.] - Mishne Torah [Repetition of the Torah].

The timing of the Repetition of the Torah was significant for the Jews in that it served to prepare them for their entry into the Promised Land. On the verge of leaving a place where for years they had no material care, since all their needs in the way of food, clothing and shelter had been miraculously provided (by means of the Manna, the Well, the Clouds of Glory, etc), and before settling down in a land, and way of life, which necessitate tilling, sowing, reaping, and all other mundane preoccupations - the Jews had to receive a special measure of spiritual invigoration and admonition, so that they should not become materialistic and debased in the material world that lay ahead, but - on the contrary - would instill holiness into, and spiritualize and elevate, the material aspects of daily life, transforming the material into the spiritual, by means of the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], Tzedoko and acts of lovingkindness.

Such is also the function of yeshivoth, especially in recent generations.

Some people think that the main purpose of a Yeshiva is to train Rabbis, Shochetim [ritual slaughterers], and other Jewish clergymen. This is not so, for the essential and main purpose is to create Jewish laymen, who, before going out into the world of business, trade, or profession, would be imbued and permeated with Torah and Yiras Shomayim [fear of heaven], and later, living within this world, would be capable of elevating their entire environment by inspiring every Jew they come in contact with, with love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of fellow-Jew - in actual daily practice.

Rambam this week

4 Shevat, 5763 - January 7, 2003

Prohibition 320: It is forbidden to work on Shabbat

This commandment is based on the verse (Ex. 20:10) "You shall not do any manner of work". What work is forbidden? That which G-d, through the Torah, defines as work. The Torah defines 39 forbidden activities that are called "melacha" - work that may not be done on Shabbat. Using those rules as a base, the Sages have complied a code of laws instructing us how to observe and celebrate Shabbat. We are not allowed to do any of those activities that the Torah considers to be melacha on Shabbat.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the new month of Shevat. The name Shevat relates to the Hebrew word shevet meaning "staff." A staff is connected with the concept of rulership, as it says in the Torah, "The shevet will not depart from Judah." It is associated specifically with the rulership of Moshiach, as we see in the verse, "And a shevet will arise in Israel," upon which Maimonides comments, "This refers to the King Moshiach."

The word shevet also means "branch" or "shoot." Here, too, we see a connection to Moshiach. For, on the verse "A shoot will emerge from the stem of Jesse [the father of King David]" the Metzudat David comments "a shevet will emerge... the King Moshiach."

The connection between the month of Shevat and the Messianic Era is also hinted at by the fact that it is the eleventh month. All existence is structured in a pattern of ten and eleven alludes to that which transcends the natural order of things.

Shevat also contains the Previous Rebbe's yahrzeit. In Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman describes a tzadik's yartzeit as the day on which "all of his deeds, Torah, and service which he carried out throughout his entire life are revealed... and 'bring about salvation in the depths of the earth.'`"

One year after the Previous Rebbe's passing, the Rebbe accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch. The Rebbe's entire life, from the time he was a young child, has been focused on bringing about the long-awaited Redemption.

May this month associated with Moshiach and Redemption be the month of the ultimate Redemption and may it commence even before the new month begins.

Thoughts that Count

These are Aaron and Moses...These are Moses and Aaron (Ex. 6:26, 27)

Aaron, the first kohen (priest), embodied the proper worship of G-d, and by extension, symbolizes prayer in general. The job of the kohanim was to offer the sacrifices in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In our time, when we have no Temple, prayer must take the place of these sacrifices. Moses, on the other hand, epitomized and symbolized Torah study. The juxtaposition of the two names and their repetition in the reverse order teaches us that there are times in our daily lives when one aspect takes precedence over the other. Sometimes we stress prayer as a preparation for performing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, and sometimes we study first in order to pray more effectively.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

And I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt (Ex.6:6)

It is far easier to physically take the Jews out of galut (exile) than it is to remove the inner galut from within every Jew.

(Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Shpitovka)

And I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you from their bondage (Ex. 6:6)

Would it not have made more sense for G-d to mention the release from bondage first, and then promise the Jews that they would be redeemed? Were they not first physically released from slavery before they left Egypt? However, it was only after the fact, after the Jews had actually left the Egyptian exile, that they could appreciate precisely how bitter it had been. Only then could they truly understand what it meant to be delivered from bondage.

(Tiferet Uziel)

Behold, the Children of Israel have not hearkened unto me (Ex. 6:12)

What does G-d answer when Moses complains that the Jews will not listen to him? "These are the heads of their fathers' houses." The Jewish people were not to blame for their inattention to Moses' message; the fault was that of the Jewish leaders, who were closed to the idea of the Redemption and unwilling to spread the message.

(Ohr Hachaim)

It Once Happened

The Chasidim wanted to call a doctor; maybe there was still something that could be done to help their ailing Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum. But Rabbi Teitelbaum would not here of the suggestion. Instead, he said, "Let me tell you a story."

Rabbi Yoel Sirkes, later to be reknown as the "Bach" (for his book Bayit Chadash) one day visited his son-in-law, Rabbi David ben Shmuel HaLevi, later to be reknown as the "Taz" (for his book Turei Zahav.)

When Rabbi Yoel arrived, the entire town went out to meet him and welcome him with the traditional greeting of "Shalom" except for one young scholar, who did not step forward.

"What nerve," Rabbi David objected to the young man.

"I was informed by Elijah the Prophet himself that Rabbi Yoel has been placed in a ban of excommunication by the heavenly court, and for this reason I did not extent a formal greeting to him," replied the young man.

Rabbi David was shocked and asked the scholar for more details.

"Once, Rabbi Yoel was passing through a certain town. Two men were arguing about a wagon full of wood that one man had sold to the other. The purchaser claimed that he had agreed to a price of three gold coins while the seller was adamant that he had sold it for 3 1/10 gold coins.

"When the two men saw Rabbi Yoel, they asked him if he would arbitrate their claim.

" 'What among of money is under dispute,' asked Rabbi Yoel.

" 'One-tenth of a gold coin,' they responded.

" 'I should delay my journey and be inconvenienced for one-tenth of a gold coin?' Rabbi Yoel remonstrated.

"The accusing angels in heaven had a heyday with the rabbi's flippant comment, for our Sages teach 'A suit involving one copper coin is to be treated as earnestly as a suit involving a hundred coins.' "

Rabbi David hurried to his father-in-law to ascertain whether or not this story was true. Indeed, Rabbi Yoel remembered the incident as it was out-of-character for him to have made such a comment.

The two men realized that this young scholar had been brought by Divine Providence into their midst on this day in order to help Rabbi Yoel do teshuva (repent) and set things right. They convened a rabbinical court that immediately annulled the heavenly ban.

Rabbi Yoel then approached the young man and asked him a favor. "I see that you are an upright and G-d-fearing person in the eyes of heaven. I therefore would like to give you my manuscript, a commentary on the Arba Turim (a section of the Code of Jewish Law) that I plan to publish under the title Bayit Chadash. Before I publish it I would like you to look it over and give me your opinion."

The young man agreed.

I little while later, Rabbi Yoel approached the young man and asked him if he had had a chance to look over the manuscript and was ready to return it.

"I will not return it to you even in twenty years," responded the young scholar.

Shocked, Rabbi Yoel asked for an explanation. "Does my work not meet your approval? If so, tell me what is wrong with it for I gave it to you so that you would look it over with a critical eye."

The young man said, "Your book is good and does good. However, as soon as you publish it and it is distributed around the world, you will have completed your life's mission and there will be no reason for you to live in this world. Therefore, I will do all I can to delay its publication so that you remain here with us in this world."

"If that is the reason why you have withheld your comments, then I will not delay its publication," said Rabbi Yoel. "For, as you yourself noted, the world needs it."

The young man had no option but to return the manuscript to its author, who set about publishing it, volume by volume. Over the course of nine years it was published. In 1640, soon after the publication of the final volume, Rabbi Yoel Sirkes passed away.

Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum completed his story. Then he added, "So it is with me. If with G-d's help I have completed my mission here in this world, then I have nothing to do here and do not want you to call another doctor."

Moshiach Matters

Even if those sinners who never dreamt of repenting... are informed that Moshiach is coming, they will definitely believe and repent completely, and even regarding those apikorsim who will not repent just because of tidings, when "a great shofar will be blown, then those lost and led astray" (Isaiah 27:13) will also return.

(Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin in Machshevot Charutz 33:2)

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