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December 26, 2003 - 1 Tevet, 5764

800: Miketz

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

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  799: Vayeshev801: Vayigash  

800  |  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


Ahh, issue 800 of L'Chaim, the "publication for every Jewish person." Many times in these past 799 issues of L'Chaim we have quoted the Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chasidism), that we can learn something from everything we see and hear. Surely, then, we can learn something from the number 800 that will help us live more Jewishly.

Let's begin with the number eight. This 800th issue of L'Chaim is being published for the eighth night of Chanuka. What is the significance of the number 8?

According to Jewish teachings, the number eight is intimately associated with the Messianic Era, the time of universal peace, prosperity, health and knowledge that we all (consciously or subconsciously) await. The Talmud, for instance, states that the "The harp of Moshiach will have eight strings." This is but one of many refer-ences in Jewish works to the number eight and its connection to the Messianic Era.

According to Jewish mystical teachings, the number eight represents a level of existence that is higher than nature. Seven represents the natural order, typified by the cycle of time: the seven days of the week. The number eight represents a level that is higher than nature and above time. This is the level of the miraculous, which is not bound by the laws of nature. In the Messianic Era, the miraculous nature of the world will be revealed, miracles that take place within the realm of nature and those that are above and beyond nature.

But we're living here, for the moment, not yet in the Messianic Era. What can we do to actualize our own potential, to harness our power and the positive energy of the world for Moshiach?

This is where the two zeros come in. Take a look at the first zero up above. It is the world. The Talmud teaches that each one of us should live with the realization that "The whole world was created for me." Far from being an excuse to extend the "Me" generation another few decades, we are being enjoined to appreciate and take care of everything in the world, as if it were created with me in mind. "Handle with care" isn't just a label to stick on a fragile package mailed out too late to reach its destination on Chanuka. It's a mind-set that has to permeate our interactions with our world and the people who populate it.

In addition, our Sages also teach that if a person saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world. Each one of us is a world. Each one of us matters. We are all part of G-d's plan for good. When we do whatever we need to do to internalize these teachings and to live according to them, we are coming ever closer to the eight, to the Messianic Era.

Then there is the other zero, the "zero" zero. Because the flipside to "the whole world was created for me" is "I am but dust and ashes." We must live humble lives, we must be grateful for all of the good that G-d bestows upon us, for every little blessing or smile He sends our way. Because, after all, what are we?

Humility, mind you, does not mean that if you have a talent, a special quality, a skill or some unique attribute, that you shouldn't use. After 120 years (to paraphrase the very humble Chasidic master Reb Zushe), you won't be asked why you weren't Moses, but you will be asked if you were everything you could be, if you accomplished everything you could accomplish, if you used the gifts G-d gave you. You will be expected to have grown and stretched and transformed yourself, in a humble manner that doesn't include everyone around your knowing just how hard you've worked on growing and stretching and transforming yourself.

The "humble" zero helps us come ever closer to the eight, as well. For, as the Midrash states, "Moshiach will stand on the roof of the Holy Temple and proclaim, 'Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived.'"

Together we can do it! Let's start now!

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion of Miketz we read that Jacob reluctantly acceded to his sons' request that they be allowed to return to Egypt together with their youngest brother, Benjamin. The viceroy, whom they did not recognize as their brother, Josef, had ordered them not to return to Egypt for more grain unless they brought Benjamin. Jacob's reply to his sons was: "May G-d, Alm-ghty grant that the man have pity on you and release your other brother and Benjamin."

Jacob's fear and trepidation was greater than that of his children. Although they, too, were aware that this whole event had unfortunate undertones, as they themselves said, "We deserve to be punished because of what we did to our brother...that is why this great misfortune has come upon us," nevertheless, they looked upon it as a personal misfortune.

Jacob, however, saw this event as a continuation of his previous hardships. Jacob viewed all events that transpired with, or were related to, him as a "sign" and forerunner of events that will occur with later Jewish generations.

The tribes, however, were only able to view them in terms of a personal misfortune.

Since Jacob was on a far superior spiritual plane than the tribes, he was able to see these events as they transcended the boundaries of nature.

This closely relates to the festival of Chanuka. Although the events surrounding Chanuka actually came about through miraculous means, superficially one may think that these miracles were bounded by nature. One my be led to think so, because the salvation of the Jewish people and their deliverance from the hands of the Syrian-Greeks involved actual physical warfare.

In truth, the victory involved nothing less that miracles that completely went beyond the realm of nature. The reason for this is that the victorious Jews overcame vastly superior odds - "the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few..." (from the Chanuka Al HaNisim prayer).

Whenever a Jew engages in something, even if it seems to be completely within the realm of nature, he should not think that one's only response is the natural. His actions must always be preceded by prayer to G-d that he should succeed in his actions.

When a Jew acts in this manner he merits to see the miracles that are clothed in the garments of nature, the miracles that totally transcend nature, and ultimately, the miracles that will be revealed with the coming of our Righteous Moshiach.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Leibel Cohen on the set of Advice and Dissent
by Yehudis Cohen

It probably wouldn't make the most exciting script for a screen play:

A creative, witty and intelligent young man from Boston who grew up in a secular Jewish home gets invited to his first ever Shabbat dinner in his senior year of college. He is so intrigued by the wholesomeness of the experience (in contrast to the typical weekend social scene on campus) that he spends the summer studying more about Judaism in a yeshiva in Israel. Upon his return to the United States, he meets the newly arrived Chabad rabbi at Boston University and hangs out with him as he pursues graduate studies in film. An older brother follows in his footsteps and beyond, becoming a Chabad rabbi himself.

Cut. Fast forward about 10 years.

Our hero, known as Leibel Cohen, works in the family overcoat business and, when that is sold, becomes a computer programmer. Now married to Tanya, a Russian émigré whom he met at the Chabad House and the father of two, Leibel starts reading about former classmates in film school who have "made it" in Hollywood. He begins to wonder if he's got what it takes...

Okay. It definitely doesn't work as a screenplay. So how about a conversation with Leibel Cohen.

"I majored in film studies. Then, senior year, I learned about G-d, and His Torah. Soul explosion. Suddenly, I had a lot of catching up to do. After collecting my diploma, I packed my bags, and marched off to yeshiva to fill in the gaps in my Jewish education.

"In yeshiva I learned from our sacred texts, but after 3 years, I felt it was time to move on to the 'real' world. Problem was," as Leibel puts it, a degree in film doesn't exactly prepare you for a "real job."

For six years Leibel worked in the family business. "I knew what it says in the holy books about a man's occupation being merely a means to provide for his family and give charity, but I could not shake that nagging feeling that I was not using my unique abilities.

"My angst was compounded when I learned that some former classmates had become big names in the film industry. 'That could have been me,' I thought. Or could it? Did I really have what it took to make it 'big time'? Or, as some asserted, had I used the pursuit of religion as a way to avoid confronting the question?"

Leibel wrote a number of screen plays, "But the magic wand of tinseltown was never waved over my head."

Tinseltown or not, Leibel was using his creative juices, and not just waiting for a screenplay to sell. In 1996, way before there were hundreds (thousands?) of Jewish websites, Leib founded, the first and probably still foremost Jewish website to use RealAudio technology for lectures and classes of Jewish interest via the internet.

Then, in the spring of 2000, Leibel heard a rabbi give a talk on relationships. "At the end of the talk," says Leib, "the rabbi illustrated his point with an old folk tale about a man who goes to a rabbi and asks him for a curse so that his wife die. It was perfect for a short film. I went home and wrote the first draft."

Six months later, Leibel announced his intention to turn his screenplay, "Advice And Dissent," into a film. "The resolve to do it is half the battle," he says.

Some early encouragement came from Conundrum Entertainment, the production company headed by the Farrelly Brothers, the famous comedy writing/directing team. They offered to send Leibel 35mm short ends from one of their productions. "That's when I decided to go the [more professional] 35mm route," explains Leibel. "I looked at it as a sign of positive things to follow."

At one point, Leibel and Tanya decided that Hollywood actress Rebecca Pidgeon would be perfect for the part of the Wife. Leibel contacted Pidgeon's manager, Jean Fox, and sent her the script. To his surprise and delight, Fox called back two weeks later to say that Pidgeon loved the script and would like to be in the film. With Fox's valuable assistance, Leibel managed to sign on John Pankow as the Husband and veteran actor Eli Wallach to play the Rabbi.

"Advice And Dissent" has been well-received by audiences at Jewish film festivals across the country. Leibel says it's ironic: After trying to break in writing stories the secular world would enjoy, his first real break came by making a Jewish film.

The experience with "Advice and Dissent" made Leibel stop and re-evaluate: "Why try to please the whole world? Jewish parents and their kids have a need for kosher entertainment, so I set out to create a uniquely Jewish adventure series which is first and foremost fun, but with Jewish values and ideas, delivered in a non-didactic manner."

The result is, "The Adventures of Agent Emes." Agent Emes ("emes" means "truth") is an 11 year-old secret agent (played by Leibel's son Sholom Ber) who studies in yeshiva by day, and battles the forces of evil at night.

Almost all of the actors in the video are local Pittsburghers, the city the Cohen family now calls "home."

"The response has been phenomenal," says Leibel. "Two 30-minute episodes have come out already. I'm proud to put the Agent Emes series together with my other movie."

Leibel is also pleased that the audience crosses all levels of Jewish observance. One family that watched it told him, "So often we think of religious people as being 'them' and your video allowed us to see that religious people are regular, just like us." Adds Leibel, "There is potential to this project that I didn't even consider.

"Judaism teaches that there is nothing in this world that cannot be used for a holy purpose. It just takes some of us a little longer to figure out how!"

What's New

New Emissaries

Last month, the annual convention of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim (Emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) took place at World Lubavitch Headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. One of the highlights of the conference was the announcement of new Chabad-Lubavitch Centers that will be opening in the new few weeks. Among the new emissaries are Rabbi Nochum and Mrs. Leah Kurinsky, Jacksonville Beaches, Florida; Rabbi Chanoch and Mrs. Sara Chana Sufrin, North Shore of Sydney, Australia; Rabbi Shaya and Mrs. Sara Benjaminson, Glenview, Illinois; Rabbi Shaul and Mrs. Esther Wilhelm, Oslo, Norway; Rabbi Shneur and Mrs. Chana Segal, Krasnodor, Russia. There are over 4300 Chabad-Lubavitch Centers world-wide.

The Rebbe Writes

In the Days of Chanukah 5721 [1960]
Hon. Ben West, Mayor

City of Nashville

Greeting and Blessing:

Your letter of December 2nd reached me with some delay. I want you to know that I appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending me a report of your visit in Kfar Chabad.

I was especially gratified to note from your letter that although your visit at Kfar Chabad was necessarily limited, you were quick to sense the inner aspects of the Kfar Chabad, which is also the secret of its success, namely, the dedication of the set-tlers to the fulfillment of their task. It was also gratifying to read that you were very much impressed with the high ideals of the villagers and their intense dedication to the various and colorful educational institutions in the village, in which hundreds of youngsters from various parts of the world are educated and trained to take their rightful place among our Jewish people.

It is one of the fundamental characteristics of Kfar Chabad that the work of integrating youngsters from different backgrounds is carried on in a spirit of true love and brotherhood. Considering the limited financial means at the disposal of the Kfar Chabad, the process and accomplishment are all the more remarkable.

I sincerely regret the fact that we could not meet personally when you passed through New York. I hope that before long our distinguished Rabbi S.A. Kazarnovsky, the honorary American representative of the Vocational Schools of Kfar Chabad, will visit Nashville and have an opportunity to convey to you my personal regards and good wishes.

As we are now in the auspicious days of Chanukah, which Jews observe, among other things, by kindling the Chanukah lights in growing numbers, may the Almighty send you and yours a growing measure of light and happiness, materially and spiritually, as well as a measure of success in your work for the Jewish community of Nashville and that of the City at large.

With blessing,

Chanukah, 5725 [1964]

Greeting and Blessing:

I duly received your letter of the 22nd of Kislev, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness in letting me know about the success of the Supper in behalf of the Lubavitch institutions. I read with considerable pleasure about the various preparations which were made for this affair, and how it came off.

May G-d grant that the success of this affair should stimulate all endeavors to strengthen and spread the work of the Lubavitch institutions in London, and this should be a source of blessing to each and every one of your family. This includes, of course, a speedy cure and lasting good health to you and all the members of your family. All the more so since good health is a necessity for a Jew also spiritually, since a healthy body is needed for a healthy soul, and however satisfactory the spiritual life may be at any particular time, there is always room for improvement.

This is also one of the lessons of Chanukah, the Festival of Light, which is celebrated by kindling growing numbers of Chanukah lights each night of Chanukah, indicating the need to increase and spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life in a steady and ever-growing manner.

With blessing,

3rd day of Chanukah, 5719 [1958]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of December 4th with the enclosure, for which receipt is enclosed. I was pleased to read in your letter that you had a pleasant vacation in Florida.

As we are at present celebrating Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which are kindled in increasing numbers every night of Chanukah, symbolizing the growing illumination of the Light of the Torah and Mitzvos, may these auspicious days bring increased light and happiness in your life.

In the light of the above, I trust that your daily routine will not remain "quite content," as you write, but will be improving daily in all matters which we discussed when you were here.

With blessing,

Rambam this week

1 Tevet, 5764 - December 26, 2003

Positive Mitzva 153: The New Moon - Calculating the Months and Years

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 12:2) "This month shall be to you the beginning of months." Determining the new month is very important to the Jewish calendar as G-d commands us to celebrate specific holidays in their set seasons and on particular dates. In ancient times, the new moon was determined by the Sanhedrin after two witnesses had approached them having seen the new moon. Today, we follow the Jewish calendar which was established by Rabbi Hillel HaNasi. He calculated the precise arrivals of the new moon and the years which would be considered leap years. We rely on this calendar until the arrival of Moshiach, when we will return to the original method of the eye-witness report.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Friday evening we will again be lighting both Chanuka and Shabbat candles. These are two types of lights which play a significant part in Jewish life. A third type of light significant to Jewish life was the seven-branched menora that was lit daily in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

It would be interesting to compare the differences between these three types of lights:

The Shabbat candles sit proudly on the Shabbat table. The Temple menora's place was also inside, in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. But the Chanuka lights are kindled in a place where their light can be seen from outside.

The Shabbat candles must be lit before sunset. The Temple menora was lit even earlier. But the Chanuka lights are lit after sunset (except on Fridays when they must be kindled before the Shabbat lights so as not to desecrate the Sabbath).

Finally, of all three types of lights, only the Chanuka lights increase each day.

The lesson of the Chanuka lights is manifold but clear. It is not enough to light up one's home (like the Shabbat candles), or even the synagogue or Jewish school (like the Temple menora) with Judaism. Every Jew has the responsibility to be a shining light to the outside, to one's social and business environment, too.

In addition, it is especially when it is already dark outside --after sunset -- when conditions are not as favorable, that we must kindle the lights of Judaism. At that time, in times like ours, it is not sufficient to kindle the same number of lights each time, as with the Temple menora or Shabbat lights. We must increase our light, as with the Chanuka candles. This is accomplished through the ever-steady increase of Torah and mitzvot.

Thoughts that Count

Suddenly seven handsome, healthy-looking cows emerged from the Nile, and grazed in the marsh grass. Then another seven, ugly, lean cows emerged from the Nile, and stood next to the cows already on the river bank. (Gen. 41:2-3)

Pharoah's dream is compared to our current time of exile. In Pharoah's dream he dreamt of handsome, healthy cows and ugly, lean cows - two opposites. In exile we are continuously faced with opposites and contrasts. One minute we are inspired to be involved in holy matters and then next minute we want to be involved in matters that distract us from holiness. When the Redemption comes, we will no longer be carried away by our desire to do that which contradicts G-dliness. We will see how everything in the world is only here in order to help us serve G-d.

(Likutei Sichot)

The Torah portion Miketz and Chanuka

The Torah portion, Miketz, is always read during Chanuka, a holiday on which it is customary to give "Chanuka gelt (money)" to children. Interestingly enough, money is discussed numerous times in this week's portion: When the famine struck, people from all over brought money to Egypt to buy grain; Joseph secretly put back the brothers' money to their sacks; when the brothers returned to Egypt for more grain, they took with them double the original sum of money; after Joseph revealed to his brothers who he was, he gave them gifts and money.

(Likutei Levi Yitzchak)

Chanuka - A vessel of oil

There are those Jews who say that they are ready to bring another Jew closer to G-d if they can see that there is a chance that the spark of Judaism within can be lit. But if they think that igniting the spark will be only temporary, they are not interested. Chanuka teaches us that we must ignite that spark, even if it seems to us that it will only burn for one day. The truth is, that this small spark will eventually grow and become a steady flame.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

It was the first night of Chanuka. Rabbi Baruch of Mezibuz, the son of the Baal Shem Tov, stood with a group of his Chasidim. With great concentration, he said the blessing over kindling the Chanuka lights and lit the first candle.

The Chanuka candle was burning steadily when Rabbi Baruch and his Chasidim sat down around the menora to sing Chanuka melodies. Suddenly, the flame began to shake and leap. It seemed to dance around in irritation. And then, the flame just disappeared. The candle didn't go out; no smoke arose. It was as if the flame flew away to another place.

The Rebbe's assistant stood up to relight the Chanuka candles. But the Rebbe stopped him. "The Chanuka flame will return to us," he told his surprised Chasidim. "It has gone on an important mission," said the Rebbe quietly, mysteriously.

Rabbi Baruch instructed his chasidim to continue singing and discussion Torah thoughts. Close to midnight, a cry startled everyone. The Chasid who was sitting next to the menora called out, "Rebbe, the flame has returned!"

Within moments, the group heard the faint sounds of a wagon. One of the Rebbe's chasidim entered the house. His clothes were torn, his hair disheveled, it was obviously painful for him to walk. But in direct contrast to his appearance, his eyes shone with happiness.

"Just a few days ago, I left my house to come to our holy Rebbe for the Chanuka festival," began the chasid. "This is not the first time I have come to the Rebbe, and I know the way well from my many journeys. But this time, my traveling was very slow. I became worried that I would not arrive in time so I decided to travel day and night and eventually I would reach Mezibuz.

"This was a foolish thing to do. But I realized that too late. Last night, a gang of bandits stopped me. They were overjoyed to find me. They were certain that if I was traveling at night I must be a very successful merchant who had important business to attend to which could not wait. They insisted that I give them all of my money.

"They would not believe me when I told them I only had the few coins which were in my bag. They cross-examined me and tortured me so that I would reveal where the rest of my money was. I, of course, had nothing to tell them.

"After many hours of torture they sent me to a dark cellar. When their leader came to me, I tried to explain to him the great joy that one experiences when with the Rebbe and how important it had been to me to be with the Rebbe for Chanuka. It would seem that my words entered his heart or, perhaps, after he saw that all the tortures were futile, he began to believe me. Whatever the case, he told me:

" 'I see that you are a person who believes in G-d and longs for his rabbi. Go on your way. But be advised that the path through this forest is very dangerous. It is filled with wild beasts. Even we do not travel through it alone.

" 'If you succeed in making it through the forest, take your handkerchief and throw it in the ditch on the side of the road just after the signpost for the city. I will send a messenger tomorrow to see if it is there. In this way I will know that you have reached your destination. And, if you have, I promise you that I will leave my band of robbers and change my ways.'

"I became frightened anew. But what choice did I have? When I thought of lighting the Chanuka candles with the Rebbe, though, I was strengthened. I retrieved my horse and wagon and resumed my journey through the pitch-black forest.

"Not long after I began traveling, I saw ahead of me a pack of wild wolves. My horse refused to go any further. Suddenly, a tiny flame appeared in front of my horse and began leaping about. The flame went forward and the horse advanced. The rest of the way, the animals on all sides ran from before us as if the flame drove them away.

"This flame was with me until I arrived here. I threw my handkerchief in the ditch, and who knows? Maybe in the merit of this Chanuka candle, the band of criminals will return to a better path.

The Chasid finished his story. And so the group of Chasidim understood to where their Rebbes Chanuka flame had mysteriously disappeared.

Moshiach Matters

For twelve years Joseph was imprisoned in the dungeon. No one took notice of him or concerned themselves with him. However, when the time came that G-d had ordained for Joseph to be freed, "he was rushed from the dungeon." He was not subjected to that place for even one extra minute. The same will be true when the time arrives for the final redemption. G-d will not wait even a split second longer than necessary. He will rush to redeem us and bring Moshiach, it should be speedily in our days.

(The Chofetz Chaim)

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