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January 23, 2004 - 29 Tevet, 5764

804: Vaera

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  803: Shemos805: Bo  

Follow the Leader  |  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

Follow the Leader

Follow the leader. We've all played the game. He or she leads us on a march. If the leader goes left, we go left. If he goes right, we go right. If he stops, we stop. And so on.

Why is that? Why do we follow the leader?

We follow the leader because, well, he leads. That's his job. It's like asking why do we let the mechanic work on our car, the electrician wire our house or the stock broker manage our money. We do so because that's their job, and we trust them.

That's a key element, trust, because we give the leader special privileges. Parking perks, titles and honors - the leader gets set apart. He can interrupt, but not be interrupted. A leader has access to people and information that others don't, and we trust him to use that access wisely.

Because the minute a leader becomes selfish, he's no longer a leader. The plumber can have a conflict of interest; he can recommend a competent contractor, knowing the contractor, if he gets the job, will hire him for the plumbing work. But a leader who benefits from his leadership role - or who benefits his friends - loses the right to be a leader.

In other words, it's not enough for a leader's first concern to be the welfare of the people he leads. That must be his only concern.

Even someone engaged in the loftiest personal pursuit - study of Torah - even the greatest scholar and deepest mystic - if he is a leader, he cannot withdraw, isolate himself, immerse himself in his own studies, his own burdens and troubles. He must put all this aside for the ones who trust him, who depend on him.

We see this with Moses. Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron, "Go take care of your own burdens." What burdens? As the Sages tell us, the tribe of Levi was not subject to the slavery of Egypt. Pharaoh meant, you, Moses and Aaron, belong to the tribe of teachers and scholars. Get involved with the burdens of scholarship and leave the people to their labors.

But as we know, Moses did not listen to Pharaoh. Moses our teacher exemplified the true leader, the true teacher. He put aside his concerns, his interests, his own "burdens," to teach, to lead the Jewish people.

A spark of Moses exists within each of us. While we are not constant leaders - we have times when we step into a different role - it remains true that more than we realize, sometimes, we must exhibit leadership. In a sense, we must all actively, yet reluctantly, pursue the job of leader.

For it's a "job description" that applies to every Jew. As Moses our teacher concerned himself not only with the scholar, but equally with the simple and unlearned, so we must take the initiative and teach what we know. As our Sages have told us: "If all you know are the Hebrew letters "alef" and "bet," find someone who only knows "alef" and teach him "bet." Since every Jew is responsible one for another, so every Jew must lead, one to another.

And as a nation of leaders like Moses, we will teach, each to those he or she can influence, ourselves, each other, and the nations of the world, the way to Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption.

Living with the Rebbe

The first seven of the ten plagues are enumerated in this week's Torah portion, Va'eira. The plagues were the prelude to the liberation of our ancestors from Egypt. The thrilling and dramatic way in which the Children of Israel experienced sudden and complete transformation occurred in both the physical and the spiritual realms.

Physically, the change was extremely dramatic. Imagine the bitterness of our ancestors' slavery: Egypt was a country from which no slaves had ever escaped or left; they were completely in the power of a Pharaoh who bathed himself in the blood of Jewish children to alleviate his leprosy; they were broken in body and spirit by the cruelest forms of forced labor. Yet, suddenly Pharaoh's power was broken. The entire people was liberated. The former slaves emerged from slavery as free people, bold and dignified, "with an outstretched arm... and with great wealth."

Israel's spiritual liberation was no less sudden and dramatic. After having sunk to the lowest degree of unholiness, to the point of pagan idol-worship, they suddenly - at the time of the crossing of the Red Sea - perceived G-d, revealed in His full Glory. Seven weeks later (commemorated today by the holiday of Shavuot), they all stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, on the highest level of holiness and prophecy. G-d spoke to each one of them individually, without any mediator, and declared; "I am the L-rd your G-d."

There is an additional reason for the hasty departure from Egypt. In theory, once Pharaoh gave them permission to leave, the Jews could have left Egypt at their leisure. However, the Exodus was not just from a geographic Egypt. It was primarily an exodus from the evil and impurity in which the Israelites had become immersed. For this reason, it was imperative for the Jews to leave swiftly.

Not just on the holiday of Passover, but each and every single day, we are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt. The instructive message to us all that stands out from the events in this week's Torah portion is that each Jew has the inner capacity and actual ability to transform himself in a short time, suddenly, from one extreme to the opposite.

Adapted by Rabbi I.M. Kagen (obm) from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

The Rabbi with the
by Doug McGill

You see him sometimes flying down Second Street, heading from S. Marys to the Mayo Clinic with the tails of his long black coat flapping behind him, a calm smile on his bearded face, a lidded cup of coffee in one hand, a black fedora on his head and a book of the Torah under his arm.

He is Rabbi Dovid Greene, and he stands by himself as striking proof that Rochester, far from being the "flyover country" we say to ourselves we are (almost hopefully), is in reality super-cosmopolitan.

Because Rabbi Greene is no ordinary rabbi. He is an emissary to Rochester of one of the fastest-growing Jewish organizations in the world, the Chabad-Lubavitch, based in Brooklyn, New York. The group descends from a mystical branch of Judaism that started in Poland in the late 18th century.

Brought to America by a handful of European Jews fleeing Nazism in the early 1940s, the Chabad-Lubavitch has since grown to number more than 200,000 worldwide - a number that's had an outsized influence due to the group's zealous focus and global reach.

In Rochester that takes the form of Rabbi Greene himself, who with his wife Chanie runs the Chabad House at 730 Second St. S.W. That's the house with the 10-foot menorah - the nine-branched candelabrum that symbolizes the role of Jews as a "light to the world" - planted in the front yard.

The Chabad House was opened in Rochester in 1988, when the Lubavitch community realized how much global traffic, including Jews from all over the world, came through the city seeking medical help. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews a year visit Mayo Clinic, Rabbi Greene estimates, and of those with whom the Chabad House has contact perhaps more than a thousand.

"We try to imitate Abraham who was known for two things - visiting the sick and welcoming guests," Rabbi Greene says. Many mornings thus find Dovid and Chanie making rounds to the Methodist and S. Marys hospital suites carrying brown paper lunch bags filled with kosher sandwiches, challah bread, and a small bottle of grape juice.

Those services are free, and Rabbi Greene supports the Chabad House with donations and from his work for local dairy farms that produce kosher foods, prepared under a rabbi's supervision.

A second part of his mission in Rochester, he says, is explaining Judaism to non-Jews or gentiles in the area. In this respect especially, the Chabad-Lubavitch break the mold of most orthodox Jewish sects, which see the secular world as a diversion from piety and thus emphasize retreat.

The Chabad-Lubavitch, by contrast, retain the intense piety and outward look of other orthodox Jews, yet stress that a full engagement with the world, including with non-Jews, is essential. While many orthodox Jewish sects have fought hard against assimilation into American culture, the Chabad-Lubavitch by contrast professes a twofold path - retaining religious identity within the context of a fully engaged civic life.

Therefore Rabbi Greene spends a lot of time in local schoolrooms. The goal is not conversion, he stresses, but simply the revelation and explanation of himself as a devout Jew. He has spent many class hours answering young children's questions about what his various items of clothing mean.

The small black skullcap called a yarmulke that he wears, for example. "We wear that to remind ourselves that there is always a higher power above us, something greater than our mind or our bodies, that is G-d," he explains.

And what about those white tassels hanging from his belt? "Those are called tzitzis. In Hebrew every letter has a number, and the word tzitzis adds up to 600. Then there are eight strings and five knots on the strings, for a total of 613. The tzitzis reminds Jews of the 613 commandments they must follow."

As the gasps subside, Rabbi Greene adds that the seven laws G-d gave Noah are the essential ones, and are recommended for people of all creeds. (For those who are interested: no idolatry, no blasphemy, no adultery, no murder, no theft, no cruelty to animals, and the creation of courts of justice.)

Zealous G-d-consciousness is the hallmark of all "Chabadniks," as they call themselves. There are prayers and readings and reminders of G-d's earthly presence made incessantly throughout the day.

But take a closer look at Rabbi Greene's yarmulke. There you'll find cosmopolitanism mixed with piety, as I mentioned earlier. Right there on the side, stitched in loud purple as big as the Metrodome, is the Vikings logo.

"Oh, I'm a big fan," the Rabbi says. "Let's not talk about the disaster last Sunday, OK? I was asked once to move to Australia to run a Chabad House. But I looked into it and I finally said 'thank you, but I just don't understand Australian Rules football. Just can't figure it out. I'm culturally Minnesotan, so I'd better stay right here.' And I'm glad I did."

Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report

What's New

Opening The Tanya

Opening the Tanya, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, is a groundbreaking book that offers an introduction, explanation, and commentary upon the Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy. As relevant today as it was when it was first written more than 200 years ago by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad, the Tanya helps us to see the many thousands of complexities, doubts, and drives within us as expressions of a single basic problem, the struggle between our G-dly Soul and our Animal Soul. Published by Jonathan David.

A Life of Sacrifice

A Life of Sacrifice, by Rabbi Elchonon Lesches, is the story of Reb Yitzchok Elchonon Halevi Shagalow. It is the story of a single man fighting against the relentless machinery of the former Soviet Union, a dedicated Chasid willing to suffer any inconvenience for the sake of Torah and its commandments. The only practicing mohel left in all of White Russia, Rabbi Shagalow was responsible for enabling the observance of the commandment of circumcision in the darkest of times as he traveled around the entire country to continue his holy work. Far from being intimidated by the Soviets, Rabbi Shagalow put his life in danger to live the Torah way and educate his children accordingly. More than 60 years have passed since Rabbi Shagalow was murdered in cold blood for his religious activities. His hundreds of Torah-observant descendants around the world today are the worthiest testimonial to this great man cut down in the prime of his life.

The Rebbe Writes

11th of Kislev, 5735 [1974]

Greeting and Blessing:

Your letter of the 22nd of Cheshvan reached me with some delay, and this is the first opportunity for me to acknowledge it.

Following the order of your letter, I wish to extend here my prayerful wishes that your wife should have a normal and complete pregnancy, as well as a normal delivery of a healthy offspring in a good and auspicious hour.

With regard to the business venture about which you write, it is clear that the general conditions which affect the problem, as well as those specific ones that you mention in your letter, are of a nature which change from time to time. Indeed, as you write, this is also the reason that caused the problem of financing. At any rate, it seems at this moment that the next step does not depend on you, as you don't seem to have any options to choose from.

The only suggestion I can make to you is one that may appear mystical, but it has been borne out by experience and proved quite practical. I have in mind the idea that when a Jew strengthens his bond with the Source of wisdom, which is in G-d, he gains wisdom and understanding also in mundane affairs, which helps him to decide what to do and what not to do in matter of business and the like.

Needless to say, by strengthening one's bonds with the Source of true wisdom and understanding, is meant the actual observance of the Mitzvoth [commandments] which G-d set forth in His Torah, of which it is written, "This is Your wisdom and understanding in the sight of all the nations."

As mentioned above, the advice that you should make an effort to strengthen your commitment and actual fulfillment of the Mitzvoth, which will also help you make the proper decisions, is at first glance of a mystical nature.

But looking at it from a practical point of view, we know that in everything else the important thing is the actual results which a certain measure brings about. If experience shows that doing such a thing brings such and such results in the vast majority of cases, then it is not so important whether one understands how and why those results are caused, for the important thing is the result itself.

The same applies also to Jews and their commitment to the Torah and Mitzvoth throughout the ages. Our long history has borne out the fact that the well-being of the Jewish people, as well as of the Jew as an individual, is intimately connected with his observance of the Torah and Mitzvoth in the daily life. And although the Torah and Mitzvoth should be observed for their own sake, as the commands of our Creator, it has been revealed that the Torah and Mitzvoth are also the channels and vessels to receive G-d's blessings for Hatzlocho [success] in the material aspects of life.

May G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to each and everyone individually, grant you the wisdom to make the right decisions, and to have Hatzlocho in all above.

With blessing,

P.S. Noting that you are an attorney at law, I would like to add a point that is no doubt quite familiar to you. This is that in matters of a legal suit, the best and weightiest legal argument is when one can cite precedents of judgment in similar cases, and there is no need to substantiate and explain the reason for the judgment further since the judgement speaks for itself.

P.P.S. Regarding the project in Nicaragua in general - in light of the world economic and political situation, it does not appear to be a practicable and realistic project in the near future.

Rambam this week

2 Shevat, 5764 - January 25, 2004

Prohibition 52: The prohibition of intermarriage. This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 7:3) "Neither shall you make marriages with them" We are forbidden to marry non-Jews.

Prohibition 55: We are forbidden to reject an Egyptian if he converts to Judaism.

This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 23:8) "Do not despise an Egyptian because you were a stranger in his land." The Torah forbids an Egyptian convert from marrying freely into the Jewish people until the third generation. The cruel slavery in Egypt affected both nations. Nevertheless, the Torah appreciates that Jacob's family was given refuge in Egypt. Also, it was there that they developed into a nation. Thus, we are commanded not to totally reject an Egyptian convert. The third generation of such converts may marry among the Jewish people.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is the first day of the new moon and month of Shevat. The Jewish people are likened to the moon. Just as the moon temporarily wanes from her glory, but is restored and renewed again, so will the Jewish people be restored from the present darkness of exile to a bright and shining luminary.

The comparison of the Jews to the moon is quite accurate. In describing the creation of the sun and the moon, the Torah says "...let them be for illuminate the earth." Thus, the true purpose of the moon is to illuminate the earth. Even when the moon is complete and physically perfect, if it does not fulfill its mission of illuminating the earth, it is, according to Torah, non-existent.

If the moon illuminates with one-quarter of its potential, it is called a quarter moon; if it illuminates fully, it is called a full moon. When the moon does not shine at all, in essence it isn't there. It is essentially in a state of preparation for renewal and for fulfillment of its real purpose-to illuminate the earth.

Physically speaking, the Jewish people always exist. Jews are eternal because they are a portion of their Creator who is eternal. But as long as they are in exile they cannot properly fulfill their essential function - to serve their Creator. In exile, Jews are like the "invisible" moon which though existing materially, is not fulfilling its mission of illuminating the earth.

In the Messianic World, we will be able to fulfill our mission completely, like the moon after it is renewed--when it achieves its destiny and illuminates the world. Let's be there to see it.

Thoughts that Count

And I appeared (va'eira) to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Ex. 6:3)

The word va'eira means both "And I appeared" and "And I will appear." This shows us that the G-dly revelation to the Patriarchs can be found, now, within every Jew. For, within the soul of every Jew there is Abraham (who epitomized love of G-d), Isaac (awe of G-d) and Jacob (mercy and compassion). When these traits are revealed, it is similar to G-d's revelation to the Patriarchs.

(Ohr HaTorah)

"And I will take you out... and I will release you... and I will redeem you... and I will take you...and I will bring you into the land. (Ex. 6:6-8)

The first four expressions of redemption allude to our redemption from Egypt, whereas the fifth expression, "I will bring you," alludes to the future redemption, the final one which we are now awaiting. Why is this mentioned, then, when foretelling our departure from Egypt? To teach us that ever since the time that we left Egypt, we have been slowly but surely approaching the Final Redemption.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

And I am of closed lips. (Ex. 6:12)

In this verse, Moses reminded G-d of his speech impediment. Why did he have a lisp? So that no one would say that his eloquence as a speaker caused the Jewish people to choose him as their leader or accept the Torah.

(Drashot HaRin)

And the L-rd said to Moses: "Say to Aaron, 'Take your rod...and he lifted up the rod and he smote the waters...' " (Ex. 7:19-20)

G-d had originally commanded Moses to smite the water. But Moses objected, "Is is right for me to smite the Nile? When I was placed in a basket there as a child, the waters did not let me drown." From Moses' answer we can learn the extent to which gratitude must be shown toward one who has been kind to us.

(Shemot Rabba, Tiferet Tzion)

Then the magicians said to Pharoah: "This is the finger of G-d." (Ex. 8:15)

The art of "black magic" originated in Egypt. G-d had granted previous generations the powers of magic to establish the equilibrium of Free Choice and to enable them to believe in or deny Divine Providence. Pharoah's magicians were able to duplicate the first two plagues-blood and frogs. But since magic has no power over an object smaller than a piece of barley, they were forced to admit that the plague was caused by G-d and not magic.

(Shemot Rabba)

It Once Happened

Shmuel had been a wealthy merchant for some years. But, despite his wealth, he remained the same pious person he had been when he was poor. Never did he forget that it is in G-d we must put our faith.

One Friday night, when Shmuel and his whole family were sitting around the Shabbat table, the maid appeared and said there was a messenger from the governor.

The messenger was called in and apologized for his interruption. He explained that some foreign guests were expected at the governor's house and it was necessary to purchase some rugs from Shmuel's store.

"But this is impossible," protested Shmuel. "It is our holy Sabbath and I never do business on the Sabbath. Please explain to the governor that I will be happy to carry out his request tomorrow evening as soon as the Sabbath is over."

Upon leaving, the messenger hinted that there would be trouble for everyone if Shmuel did not open his store.

Shmuel turned to his family and said, "My dears, let us not forget that tonight is Shabbat. Do not look so worried. Are we not told that just as the Jews keep Shabbat, Shabbat keeps the Jews?" And with that, he began singing a Shabbat melody.

A little while later, the maid entered the dining room once again to tell Shmuel that the messenger was back. This time, Shmuel left the room to meet with him. The messenger handed Shmuel a note which read: "Dear Sir, I hardly need to point out to you that I am one of your best customers. Considering my position, you also know that I have a great deal of influence. I am willing to give you a larger sum than you would normally charge, but I must have the rugs immediately. Since you say that you do not do business on your Sabbath, I will not ask you for the account now, but I must insist that you send the merchandise to me with my messenger. You may state your own prices when we clarify the bill after the Sabbath. Should you choose to disregard my request, I will stop doing business with you and encourage my friends to do the same."

Shmuel looked up after he finished reading the letter. "My answer remains the same as before," he told the messenger. "If the governor cannot wait until after the Sabbath, I must refuse his request. Please tell the governor that, though I hold him and his orders in the highest esteem, I must esteem G-d's orders still more."

There was little sleep or rest for Shmuel and his family that Sabbath. Disaster seemed to hang in the air.

As soon as Shabbat was over, the messenger arrived back at Shmuel's home with a request for him to appear at court right away. On his way to the governor's mansion, Shmuel thought to himself, "Why should I imagine that I am worthy to be a rich man forever? I was poor once, I can be poor again. Whatever the case, G-d will take care of us."

When Shmuel arrived at the mansion, he was astonished to see the governor greeting him with a broad smile and outstretched arms. "Welcome my friend," the governor told Shmuel. While leading Shmuel into his private study, the governor explained the previous day's events. "Some foreign dignitaries visited me this weekend. One of them stated that all Jews think about is money and how to make more of it. Nothing is more sacred to Jews than wealth, he said. I was the only one who denied his accusations. So I told him that I could prove that his charges were false. And that, dear friend," said the governor, patting Shmuel on the shoulder, "is why I sent you that urgent order by special messenger.

"Now, you have shown that I was correct. But more importantly you have shown those men that the Jews value their religion above all material gain. I will see to it that all of my friends give you their business in the future. Certainly a man who puts his values and beliefs before money and profit will deal with them fairly."

Moshiach Matters

In the Book of Exodus we read that G-d told Moses, "I will also fulfill the promise I made with them, to give them the land of Israel." To whom did G-d make a promise to give the Land of Israel? To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. How will G-d fulfill His promise to our forefathers? In the days of Moshiach our forefathers, together with all other Jews will be resurrected, and will behold the realization of G-d's promise to them.

(Yalkut Shemoni)

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