Busy Signal | 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
It used to be that the most annoying thing about a telephone was the busy signal. In the olden days, one moved on, tried someone else and tried again later. But now, in an era of more instantly instant gratification, a sound intensely and intentionally obnoxious has become a personal insult. Ha-ha! We're too busy talking to someone else. Someone really important.
Bad as the busy signal was - and is - now the automated operators probably take its place. Press 1 if you want to go to menu 2. Press 2 if you want to go to menu 3. Press 3 if you want to go to menu 4. Press 4 if you want to go to menu 1. You may not hang up until you've been through the menu five time. If you try to hang up, we will automatically call you back until you enter each menu item.
Then there's voice mail. Phone tag. You're it. Some of us try to camouflage voice mail with cute or half-witty messages. Like commercials. But the real message gets through. We're not available. Even if we're home, even if we're watching the caller ID - we know who you are - we're not available.
The busy signal, the automated operator, voice mail - they all delay communication. There's no one to talk to. No one who will pay attention.
Sometimes it doesn't matter. The question was trivial, the answer can wait. Sometimes, though, it matters a lot - important news, life-altering decisions - these have to get through.
But the line is busy.
Prayer has often and famously been compared to a phone line with G-d, the difference being that you never get a busy signal when you call G-d. He's always available and always answers the metaphoric phone.
But let's look at our phone analogy from a different angle. Let's keep it between people.
What would it take to guarantee no busy signal, that you'd get through every time? Some sort of mental telepathy, obviously. Or some indication, some way of alerting the other person we want to talk or arrangement by which we'd know when both of us are free.
No such indicator exists because, well, we can't see the other person. Nor does the other person see us. Unless we arrange the call beforehand (see videoconferencing), we're talking blindly.
Too often, though, we get a busy signal when we "phone" the person next to us, a co-worker, a member of the family - even a stranger in line. Too often the person is tuned out, oblivious to those around.
And too often, those calling us get a busy signal. We come home from work, sit down with the paper or a good book and the child who wants to prattle on about how high the swing went or the discussion she had over fractions - gets a busy signal. Or the spouse, or the friend, or the neighbor signals - by expression, gesture and muttered words - the need to be heard. But we're too busy.
And a fellow Jew signals, by virtue of meeting us. And he wants to share with us a Torah thought, or ask us where a kosher restaurant is, or play Jewish geography. And we, well, of course we answer the "hotline," the "mitzva phone."
These small turnings, these trivial respondings, this conscious removal of our internal busy signal - these are the acts of goodness and kindness that transform the world.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, we witness a conversation between the aged patriarch Jacob and his son, Joseph. Joseph brought his two sons to Jacob for his blessing. He placed Menashe, the first born, near Jacob's right hand and Efraim, the younger of the two, near Jacob's left hand. However, when Jacob blessed the youngsters, he crossed his hands over and placed his right hand on Efraim's head and his left on Menashe's head.
Joseph explained to Jacob, "It is not so, my father." Moving Jacob's hands, he continued, "for this is the first-born."
"I know, my son, I know," was Jacob's reply. "Also he [Menashe] will become a people. He, too, will be great. But his younger brother will be greater than him."
According to our Sages, neither Jacob nor Joseph made a mistake. Rather, their priorities were different.
Menashe and Efraim symbolize two distinct aspects of a Jew's G-dly service. Joseph believed that the G-dly service represented by Menashe was more advantageous, whereas Jacob felt that Efraim's was higher.
Joseph named his oldest son Menashe - "For G-d has caused me to forget ("nashani") all of my toil and all my father's house." This name intimates Joseph's anguish over being distanced from his father's home and his native lifestyle. His younger son, he called Efraim - "For G-d has caused me to be fruitful [hifrani] in the land of my affliction." Here, Joseph thanks G-d for the benefits that he reaped specifically because he was living in exile.
When Joseph brought his sons for his father's blessing, his feelings of sorrow over being separated from his family ruled. The spiritual service this parallels is the desire to cleave to G-d, even in exile. Jacob, however, viewed the exile differently, represented by the name Efraim. He saw that there is an "advantage" of exile; in exile, one changes darkness into light. And the light which follows darkness is much brighter, much more noticeable.
The paths of Joseph and Jacob should both be manifested in our lives. We must realize that we are far away from our "father's house"; we are still in exile and the final Redemption has not yet come. Just as important, or possibly more important, is to realize that we can actually light up the darkness of exile. This comes about through studying Torah and observing the commandments.
When a Jew finds himself in a situation or surroundings which are uncomfortable, he must not only be troubled by it and think of the day when he can escape. Rather, he should work to his utmost ability to change that which is bad to good, the dark to light, for this is the entire purpose of being in exile.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Howard Kaplan
Yaakov Weiss, a young Lubavitch Hasid, would love to meet up with fellow Jew, Mayor Bloomberg. Weiss has a picture in his head of such a meeting. "I'd help him put on tefilin."
This isn't just talk. Weiss calls at the mayor's office every Friday afternoon, toting a black briefcase with tefilin inside. Not the mayor's main office, the one housed in City Hall, but the one set aside for him across the street in the Municipal Building.
Bloomberg is never there, but Weiss stops anyway and drops off a Lubavitcher bulletin called L'Chaim. The mayor's office is only one stop along Weiss' route, which starts on the 24th floor of the Municipal Building and ends on the 15th. It takes Weiss about three hours to do his route.
That's what all the lads call them - routes. They set out in pairs every Friday from Crown Heights, hundreds of boys in their teens and young twenties, each wearing the trademark hat of the Lubavitch: the black borsalino with the crown pinched just-so in direct emulation of the Rebbe's special pinch. Rabbi Schneerson - the Rebbe, as he is called - bid his young followers to go with their tefilin and seek out assimilated Jews in their workplaces. By putting tefilin on a Jew, one is nudging forward the coming of Moshiach.
Around three o'clock, when the boys start coming back, the No. 3 train is filled with their borsalinos and the question that passes as a greeting among them: "Did you have success?"
On a recent Friday afternoon, during the height of the lunch hour, Weiss was finding a lot of empty cubicles as he roamed the aisles. He only stuck his head in those cubicles that mattered to him. He knows where every Jew is secreted on a given floor.
For each Jew who wasn't in, he reached inside his black coat and pulled out one of his copies of L'Chaim. Like any savvy marketer, he knew where to put it. "The best place is right on the chair," he said. "Even if they don't read it, I would still leave it to show them that someone is thinking about them."
He had his best run on the 18th floor, in a single block of cubicles on the north end of the building. His three regulars in this one block were all in.
One of them was a bald man with glasses named Richard. Weiss asked, "May I help you put on tefilin first?"
On getting the nod, Weiss stepped into Richard's cubicle. As Richard started rolling up the sleeve of his left arm, Weiss got out a yellow pushke from his briefcase. Richard eyed the little yellow tin can in Weiss' hand and asked if he should give money before putting the tefilin on.
He should, said Weiss. "You know why?" he asked. "As one goes and asks requests from kings, before he asks, he gives the king a gift. So, too, before we pray there's a custom to give charity, which is the gift to G-d. This mitzva of charity, of tzedaka, makes G-d very happy. Now He's more willing to accept your prayers."
Richard gave a dollar, and the ceremony proceeded. Weiss lifted his borsalino, revealing a black yarmulke, which he took off and clapped onto Richard's bald head. Then he helped Richard on with the tefilin - the pair of black boxes, with straps hanging off them, worn during the morning service by the pious. Weiss kissed both boxes as he took them out of his briefcase.
Two minutes later he stepped back from Richard, who stood there with one box strapped to his left arm and the other box strapped into place on his forehead. Everything was done according to ritual - for instance, the number of times (exactly seven) the strap of the hand tefilin was wrapped around Richard's arm.
Weiss led Richard through a prayer in Hebrew, and then switched to one final entreaty in English.
"We." - "We."
"Want." - "Want."
"Moshiach." - "Moshiach."
"Now!" - "Now!"
Weiss has a handful of women on his route, and with them he has a different routine, by necessity. (Only males over the age of thirteen don tefilin.) On one floor, he looked in on a woman named Nancy. He told her the time for candle lighting. "You gonna be able to get home in time for that?"
The high point of Weiss' afternoon came at the end, after he'd put away his tefilin for the last time, on his way down to the lobby. He got on the elevator at the same time as another man, a heavyset fellow who looked around sixty. A watchcap was pulled down all the way to his eyebrows. As the elevator doors closed, Weiss addressed the old guy.
"Excuse me. Excuse me, sir. Are you Jewish, by any chance?"
The man was staring up at the elevator dial and he kept on staring at it even when he answered. His voice came out in a whisper: Yeah.
"Hi, how are you? My name is Yaakov. What floor are you on? You work over here?"
The heavyset man gave the smallest of nods.
"What's your first name?"
"Lester. Twentieth floor. Where do you work?"
"On the north end of the building."
Okay, I'll visit you next week, Lester."
"You don't need to visit me. It's okay."
Weiss whipped out a copy of L'Chaim. "This is for you. Something for Shabbos to read."
Lester took the literature but continued to protest. "It's okay. There are more important people who need your help."
But Weiss had the last word as the elevator doors opened and he stepped into the lobby. "I'll see you next week. Have a good Shabbos," he called over his shoulder.
Reprinted with permission from the New York Press.
Three new Chabad-Lubavitch Centers recently opened in diverse parts of the world. Programming at the centers will include adult education, holiday events, Shabbat programs, activities and classes for children, and more:
Rabbi Mendel and Esther Lifshitz have established Chabad-Lubavitch of Idaho. They will be based in the capital city of Boise.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman and Rochel Schneersohn have moved to Rovno, Ukraine. The Jewish population of Rovno is approximately 4,000.
Also new to Ukraine are Rabbi and Mrs. Benyamin Wolf, who arrived recently in Sevastopol. Sevastopol's Jewish population is about 10,000. Rabbi Wolf will be the first rabbi in that city in over 70 years.
Freely Translated Letters
21 Kislev, 5729 [December 12, 1968]
Rabbi Moshe Levinger
Greetings and Blessings!
In answer to your letter of 7 Kislev, in which you make mention of your earlier letter: the reason that I did not answer you is because of the instruction of our Sages: "One should not respond to malediction." You wrote regarding the fate of the Holy City, Hebron, and how, to our great anguish and also embarrassment, there is doubt over what will be with it. Of course, I do not mean the city's true fate, because it is the city of our forefathers and the site of the Cave of Machpeilah, one of the four Holy Cities in the Holy Land. This is especially highlighted by the Rebbes of Lubavitch throughout the generations. Among them, one finds a letter printed in the Epistles of the Mitteler Rebbe - the successor of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch - from the time he established the community in Hebron in 1822 (the letter was printed lately in the book Mea Shearim, p. 15). He ends off the letter saying, "He himself bought the small synagogue in that Holy City under his own name, in order that he should have property there as an inheritance." The Lubavitcher Rebbes after him acted in a similar manner.
As I said, I was not referring to the City's true fate, but to the secret bargaining which is taking place in the inner diplomatic circles - which is quite publicized amongst the gentiles - regarding which part of the liberated territories to surrender, and which parts not to surrender. Though they have been carrying out this perilous bargaining for over a year, and even at the outset there were many who were of the opinion to return it, lately this belief has become more rampant. I do not wish to expand upon this terrifying prospect. It was not my wish to put this in writing at all, especially since it is forbidden to imply that the power of G-d is limited. Just as until now it has not materialized - due to the open miracle of the non-Jews refusing to enter into discussion about surrendering territory. This occurred even though the only condition requested of them was to orally agree to make peace (and everyone knows that such oral concessions will have absolutely no bearing on their future behavior). This refusal is nothing but a clear miracle from Heaven, which totally transcends the usual workings of nature.
However, our sages have said that one is not to rely on a miracle (although I wish the miracle would continue ...). I am therefore not able to fulfill your request which you wrote to me. It is not the non-Jews I fear, for they have no free will, but rather the Jews, who do have free will, who are misled. It makes no difference if the delusion is unintentional, or forced upon them, for this does not change the practical outcome. There are even those Jews who have wrapped the deluded notion in the garment of a mitzva (you understand my meaning).
As I mentioned, there is room to expand on this subject in many ways, but I do not in any way wish to weaken you (and those with you in the territories), in your views and endeavors. Everything I have written here is only for the purpose of "being blameless before G-d and people of Israel" - in answer to the content of your letter.
Out of Respect and with Blessing ...
21 Cheshvan, 5731 [November 20, 1970]
Concerning your letter dealing with my words regarding Jerusalem, which were challenged, saying that there is no basis for what I said ... I only wish it were true. But to my sorrow, the present situation clearly refutes the contention, that there is no basis for my words. What aggravates this impression is that they (the Israeli government) are numbing public opinion - with the usual slogans. I warned about this also, and they know that the only thing which is holding them (the Israeli leaders) back now is lack of convincing propaganda, which will satisfy the Jewish masses. Now with regard to the politicians, they have already toyed with many different phraseologies, among them one which I mentioned (they want to turn The City of the Great King into "The City of Three Kings").
There is presently "no King over the Jewish people, and each man does according to what is right in his eyes," since we are, after all, living in a democratic society. [They will then decide the issue of Jerusalem] as "three partners," in order of quantity, of course, which is the deciding factor in a democracy; first come the Christians, then the Muslims, and only then ... (Yesterday, the most important newspaper here, the New York Times, printed the latest approach, which was taken from the words of the Foreign Minister in the name of the Government: "It is the desire of the Israeli Government to retain 'political control' over Jerusalem, and not to compromise on places upon which Israel's security depend, like the Golan Heights and certain other points on the West Bank of the Jordan." This is sufficient evidence for whoever understands.)...
Respectfully, with blessings for true health and good news in all mentioned here and with blessings of Mazal Tov on the birth of your grandchild, may he live and be well,
15 Tevet, 5764 - January 9, 2004
Positive Mitzva 212: To Be Fruitful and Multiply
This mitzva is based on the verse (Gen. 1:28) "Be fruitful and multiply." This Positive Mitzva commands us to have children.
17 Tevet, 5764 - January 11, 2004
Positive Mitzva 222: Divorce Procedure
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 24:1) "Then let him write her a bill of divorce and place it in her hand." The Torah teaches us the proper manner through which a Jewish marriage becomes a union of holiness. If for some reason a marriage must be ended, there are specific laws that must be followed. This Positive mitzva details the manner in which a couple may divorce.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 20th of Tevet, this year January 14, marks the yartzeit (anniversary) of the passing of the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), Rabbi Moses Maimonides, 800 years ago. The Rambam was an outstanding codifier, commentator, philosopher, physician to the Sultan and leader of Egyptian Jewry.
Approximately 20 years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe urged all Jews to study every day a section of the Rambam's Mishne Torah, or at least the briefer Sefer HaMitzvot. Hundreds of thousands of Jews undertook this great endeavor and are studying one of the above-mentioned works.
Although the Rambam passed away so long ago, he and his great wisdom are still with us. When a person sits down to study a chapter, or a law from one of the Rambam's works, his spirit and teachings remain alive.
About the Rambam, our Sages have said, "From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses!" This means that from the time of the Moses who took us out of Egypt, there has never lived a person who exhibited all of the Rambam's unique qualities.
Throughout the 50 generations from Moses our Teacher until Moses Maimonides, there was not even one person similar to Moses our Teacher in terms of transmission of the Torah until the arrival of the Rambam. This saying is engraved on Maimonides' gravestone, which implies that it was accepted by all of our Sages from all circles who came to visit the Rambam's resting place.
He blessed Joseph, and he said, "G-d...bless the lads..." (Gen. 48:15, 16)
This verse opens by saying that Jacob blessed Joseph. Yet, we see from the next verse that Jacob blessed Joseph's children! However, "G-d bless the lads" is really Joseph's blessing. For what greater blessing can one have than that one's children would be blessed?
I have given you one portion...which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow. (Gen. 48:22)
The great commentator, Rashi explains that Jacob's words "my sword and my bow" are referring to "my wisdom and my prayers." A war takes place in the soul of every person. The "Amorite" is the tendency toward evil which is strengthened through speaking ("amira" in Hebrew) about non-holy matters and idle chatter. How does one overcome this "Amorite?" Through speaking words of Torah - "my wisdom" - and words of prayer - "my prayers."
Gather yourselves together, and I will tell you what will befall you in the last days. (Gen. 49:1)
Jacob spoke to his sons in a seemingly spontaneous manner. This is the manner in which Moshiach will arrive - with people paying no attention, seemingly by chance. A person will be involved with his work, and all of a sudden, he will see that Moshiach has arrived.
(Baal Shem Tov)
And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Efraim's head, who was the younger. (Gen. 48:14)
It is precisely because he was the younger one that he needed the stronger right hand to be placed upon him. Our youth require supervision, and special attention and dedication, to encourage and strengthen them as much as possible.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, expected all members of his household to be sparing when it came to the way they spent money. "Since my household is supported by the public, and our Sages teach that the Torah looks askance at wasting Jewish money, it is only proper that we live frugally," he would explain.
One time, when one of his grandchildren came to him wearing an expensive belt, Rabbi Shneur Zalman questioned him, "Are you such a rich man that you should be wearing such an expensive belt?"
The grandson was silent so Rabbi Shneur Zalman continued questioning him concerning money matters. "How much money did you receive as a dowry?
"Two thousand rubles," answered the grandson.
"What are your plans for this money?" asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman further.
"I am planning on giving it to a successful merchant. In this way I will be able to earn something on it."
"Perhaps," countered Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "he will neither return you your capital nor any gain?"
"That is impossible," argued the grandson. "This merchant is very wealthy and reliable."
"What difference does it make if he is wealthy now?" argued Rabbi Shneur Zalman. "The wheel of fortune turns. In time, he could become poor."
"What do you suggest I do with my money?" asked the grandson, hesitantly.
"My advice to you," said Rabbi Shneur Zalman seriously, "is to put the entire sum into this box." And with that, the Rebbe motioned to a charity box.
The grandson was certain that the Rebbe was joking. Two thousand rubles was a tremendous sum of money. He didn't think his grandfather was one to joke about such things, but still...
"I really mean what I said. I suggest that you give the entire sum to charity. In this way, the 'capital' and the 'interest' will remain intact. I am afraid that if you invest with some wealthy merchant, you might lose both."
The grandson heard what the Rebbe said and nevertheless, decided to invest his money with a merchant who was not only trustworthy and wealthy, but a scholar, too. Several months later, however, a fire destroyed everything the merchant owned and he was reduced to poverty.
Later, when the Rebbe asked his grandson how his investment had fared, the young man related the catastrophe which had befallen the merchant.
"Why didn't you listen to my advice and put the money in this charity box?" admonished the Rebbe. "Had you done that, then the capital and the interest would have remained intact. Why do my Chasidim not trust the advice of their Rebbe? Let me tell you a story about the simple faith of the people of Volhynia.
"Once, in the midst of the bitter cold of winter, I was on my way home from visiting my Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch. I was nearly frostbitten by the time we reached a Jewish inn.
" 'How long have you been living here?' I asked the elderly innkeeper.
" 'For nearly fifty years,' he answered me.
" 'And are there other Jews nearby? Do you have a quorom to pray with, people with whom to celebrate the holidays?'
" 'Only on the High Holidays do I go to a nearby village to pray together with a congregation.'
" 'Why don't you live in that village so that you can be together with other Jews?' I asked.
" 'How would I make a living?' he questioned me.
" 'If G-d can sustain a hundred families, don't you think He can sustain one more?' I asked him. I also happened to mention to him that I am a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch.
"He left the room immediately. Not more than one half hour later, I saw a few wagons parked in front of the inn, loaded with all kinds of household items and furniture. I saw the innkeeper near the wagons and asked him, `What is going on here?'
" 'I am moving to that other town, just as you told me," the innkeeper answered simply.
"You see what strong faith that old man had in my Rebbe?" Reb Shneur Zalman challenged his grandson. "I only had to mention that I was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch and he dropped everything immediately, including his home and livelihood for fifty years. He was not even a chasid. And you heard from me twice that you should place the money in the charity box and yet you did not listen.
G-d told Abraham, "Listen to whatever Sara your wife tells you," for to quote our Sages, "Abraham was subordinate to Sarah in regard to prophecy." Similarly, in the Era of the Redemption, "a women of valor will be the crown of her husband," i.e., the feminine dimension will surpass the masculine. In Kabalistic terms, this is interpreted to mean that the Sefira (a channel of Divine energy or lifeforce) of Sovereignty will ascend higher than the other Sefirot. Since G-d "gave the Patriarchs a foretaste of the World to Come," they were also given the potential to anticipate the supremacy of the feminine dimension. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Vayechi, 5752-1992)