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A Shabbat candle illuminates the room. Nowadays, electricity brightens the house, turning night into day at any time. But we've all been in a darkened room and lit a candle. The effect is, each time, eye-opening. Everything changes because of the candle's light. And have you noticed that, even nowadays, with the incandescent or fluorescent bulbs burning or glowing, the Shabbat candles still attract us? They still inspire us and create an atmosphere. In a brightly lit room, the Shabbat candles still illuminate.
Maybe that's because the light of the Shabbat candle is more than a physical light. When a woman or a girl lights the Shabbat candle and makes a blessing, thus ushering Shabbat into the home, she is illuminating the house - and through it the neighborhood and, in a change reaction of illumination, the whole world - with "the candle is a mitzva and Torah, light." That is, the Shabbat candle illuminates not just with an external, physical light, but also with an internal, spiritual light. For lighting Shabbat candles is a mitzva and doing so bring kedusha - holiness - into the home, and by extension - since light continues to spread forth - into the whole world.
In other words, when a Jewish woman or girl lights a Shabbat candle, it fills the room, and all within it, with holiness. Part of the uniqueness of the mitzva lies in this. For other mitzvot remain separate one from another. Each mitzva does its thing, so to speak, but doesn't spread holiness by its very nature. The mere presence of the Shabbat candle - merely being in the presence of the Shabos candle - fulfills a mitzva and fills one with kedusha.
Simply put, lighting candles initiates Shabbat - this mitzva comes before prayer, before Kiddush. And Shabbat, as the Torah tells us, is a special sign of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. The Sages of the Talmud note the importance of Shabbat candle with the following observation: "It is written, 'for a candle is a mitzva and Torah light.' Through the mitzva-candle of Shabbat comes the light of Torah." This means that the Torah learning of the sons and husbands, who don't light the Shabbat candles, depends on and derives from, the mitzva of the women and girls who do. The private mitzva - private yet of universal influence - precedes the public Torah.
The gematria (the numerical value of the Hebrew letters) of "candle" alludes to this effect. The word "ner" - candle has the numerical value of 250 - equivalent to the 248 positive commandments as they are penetrated by and enacted with love and fear.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose passing we commemorate with this issue (and whose life we honor with the L'Chaim publication), illuminated her surroundings. Though very much a private individual, she had a universal influence. Through her, holiness spread forth and penetrated the world. Because of her, the Jewish people received the teachings of the Rebbe.
What a tribute it would be to the Rebbetzin for all of us to increase in areas connected to Shabbat candles: to increase the love and fear of G-d, to influence others light Shabbat candles, to be more receptive to the holiness ushered in through candle lighting.
For light - like Torah, like mitzvot, like love for a fellow Jew - is one thing that never diminishes by giving itself to another.
In this week's Torah portion, Yitro, we read about one of the most momentous events in Jewish history - the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
The Ten Commandments unite within them laws of two apparently quite different orders: The first commandments express and reveal the deepest truths about G-d's Unity (true monotheism); the last, on the other hand, contain such elementary injunctions as "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt not steal," which seem self-evident even to the average human intellect.
However, the truth is that even "self-evident" moral precepts, if left to human judgment alone, without binding force of Divine authority and sanction, can, out of self-love, be distorted so as to turn vice into "virtue."
By rejecting the Commandments of "I am G-d" and "Thou shalt have no other gods", or by disassociating them from the societal, moral commandments such as not to murder or steal, society ceases to be safeguarded against bloodshed and theft, their most brutal forms. But, certainly, then, it is also not safeguarded against more subtle forms such as the "bloodshed" of character assassination, or the "theft" of knowledge, and the like.
The Ten Commandments emphasize, and experience has fully and repeatedly borne it out, that even the simplest precepts of morality and ethics must rest on the foundation of "I am G-d" and "Thou shalt have no other gods" - and only then can their compliance be assured.
If, in previous generations there were people who doubted the need of Divine authority for common morality and ethics, in the belief that human reason is sufficient authority, then our present generation has, unfortunately, in a most devastating and tragic way, refuted this mistaken notion. For it is precisely the nation which had excelled itself in the exact sciences, the humanities and even in philosophy and ethics, that turned out to be the most depraved nation of the world, idealizing murder and robbery, etc. Anyone who knows how insignificant was the minority of Germans who opposed the Hitler regime, realizes that the German cult was not something which was practiced by a few individuals, but had embraced the vast majority of that nation, who considered itself the "super race," etc.
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Timmy Rubin and her family
by Sam Lipski
Although the secular life she led in Australia and overseas as a self-described young "rager" in the 70s and into the 80s is behind her, Timmy Rubin knows first-hand about its distractions and disillusionments, its highs and lows. Of the unrestrained life Timmy Rubin can say: "Been there, done that" and it's history.
As a baalat teshuva, one who became Torah-observant, Timmy believes "history" gives her a degree of empathy not only with other baalei teshuva, but with the increasing number of otherwise non-observant women whom she encounters as the director of the Chaya Muska Schneerson Mikve in Melbourne, Australia.
Married to Kalman, a baal teshuva whom she met while living and studying in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Timmy sees her role as the director of the mikve as integral to the Jewish community.
This is because the Torah regards mikve as on the same level as synagogue and cemetery in defining a Jewish kehillah or community. Melbourne currently has four mikvaot.
An immersion pool filled only with springwater, rainwater, or other "living" source, such as snow or even melted ice, the mikve - the word literally means "collection" - dates back to Biblical and Temple times.
Today the basics of the mikve are the same as for thousands of years. But in the "new age" mikvaot the presentation, surroundings, and creature comforts have been updated and modernized to he point where some would compete with the trendiest health clubs and women's spas.
At the Chaya Mushka Schneerson Mikve on Empress Road, East St Kilda, she is eager to show any visitor how the concerns for privacy, relaxation and cleanliness have received special attention. There are spa baths, a hairdrying room, a waiting room and two mikvaot filled with crystal clear water which is regularly changed every night.
She wants every woman who uses the mikve to see it as a place of physical, psychological and spiritual retreat and renewal. Moreover, for Mrs. Rubin the significance of the laws of mikve, goes beyond the ritual of immersion itself into the human relationships that develop.
"Every woman who comes through this door is precious. When a woman immerses in a mikve, her soul is revealed.
"When a woman immerses, she is carrying out G-d's will, so her ego goes out the window. Physically, too, she nullifies herself into the water, celebrating a mitzva which reaffirms her femininity and celebrates life."
She maintains that, for a woman, immersion in the mikve is the most profound way she can express herself as a Jew.
"In the waters of that pool we flow back and forward in time. We join up with our sisters, mothers, great-grandmothers and matriarchs."
How does she react to those who would argue that the laws surrounding mikve restrict women in their relationships with their husbands?
It's just the opposite, she insists.
"What is more liberating for a woman than to undertake the laws of family purity ordained by the Torah?
"These laws not only give a woman space, power and freedom but the entire mitzva connects us to our foremothers Sarah, Rachel, Rivkah, Leah and of course, Eve. The first mikve was in the garden of Eden from which we were created."
And she has no doubt that the mikve benefits the husband as much as the wife and, more importantly from a religious perspective, elevates the relationship.
"Fulfilling the mitzva of Taharat Hamishpacha (Family Purity) enables a man and a woman to attain the highest degree of fulfillment in their marriage," Mrs. Rubin said.
"Physical intimacy is the most powerful, all pervasive force in human experience. It may be intensely personal and meaningful and creative at one moment and depersonalized, meaningless and careless the next.
"Therefore true intimacy can only be fully experienced when it includes an element of discipline and consistency. G-d teaches us how to love and respect our spouses. He created rules within a relationship to prevent crossing the boundaries and respecting one another to the maximum."
Mrs. Rubin notes that using the mikve is becoming more and more popular not only because the numbers of Orthodox women in Melbourne are growing, but because women from all walks of life are undertaking this mitzva.
"Each woman, no matter her observance of mitzvot in other areas, discovers the most wonderful part of her feminine self. The joy and richness of being a woman is protected and developed," Mrs. Rubin said.
In fact the demands on the Chaya Mushka Schneerson mikve have grown so much in the last couple of years extensions are now underway.
Mrs. Rubin, who lives in another section of the mikve property, is presiding over the extensions and the immersion "boom" in the community with the same lighthearted contentment and humor, sometimes rollicking good humor, that bounces through her interview.
But she leaves you in no doubt that when she says her best times come whenever she recites a special blessing over every woman immersing in the mikve, she is being very serious indeed.
This article first appeared in the Australian Jewish News, Melbourne Edition.
Over One Thousand Women Convene
Over 1,300 women are expected to attend the annual "Kinus HaShluchot" conference of Chabad-Lubavitch women. The conference for women emissaries of the Rebbe, coincides with the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. Lectures, workshops, panel discussions and working sessions provide strategies and advice in a number of areas. Education, administration, women's topics, counseling, fundraising, are among the topics presented. The Shluchot come from all over the world to attend the conference at World Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn. Hailing from as close as NYC or as far as Japan, Australia, Ukraine, Israel, Hawaii and all points in between, the conference is also a tribute to continuous growth of Chabad-Lubavitch work.
17th of Shevat, 5732 
To the Participants in the Tenth Annual
Midwinter Convention of the Neshei u'BnosChabad
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased0 to be informed of the forthcoming Convention, taking place during the auspicious weekend of Parshas [the Torah portion of] Mishpatim.
Commenting on the first verse of this Sedra, Rashi quotes our Sages: "Just as the previous laws (the Ten Commandments in the preceding Sedra of Mattan Torah) were given by G-d at Sinai, so are these from Sinai.
In view of the fact that Mishpatim ("Judgments," dealing mainly with inter-human relations) are so-called "rational" laws, which human reason can understand and appreciate, the question arises, why is it necessary for our Sages to emphasize that these too are Divine laws coming direct from Sinai?
The answer is: Precisely because they are "rational," they must have the force of Divine authority. For, it is clear, and experience has amply borne it out, that in as much as a human being is partial to himself, he cannot be objective in his judgment where his relationship to others is concerned. He may easily be blinded by self-interest, to the extent of completely misinterpreting and corrupting such "rational" judgments, so much so that he may mistake iniquity for justice and justice for iniquity - or, to quote a well known Posuk [verse] - "Call light - darkness, and darkness - light."
Consequently, so-called "rational" laws cannot have validity unless they are derived from the Divine source, and are accountable to G-d, the Creator and Master of the world, whose Hashgocho Protis [Divine Providence] extends to each and every detail in the daily life of each and every individual.
Indeed, this is also indicated in the Ten Commandments, where the "rational" laws of "Honor your father and mother," "You shall not steal," etc., can have validity only if their source and foundation is "I am G-d your G-d," "You shall have no other gods."
Jewish life, both insofar as our people as a whole is concerned, as well as the individual, is based on this very fundamental concept that the Mitzvoth [commandments] pertaining to man's duties to G-d and the Mitzvoth pertaining to man's duties to fellow man, are inseparable and of equal Divine authority. This is also the basis of Jewish home life. It is the absolute loyalty and adherence to this principle in the daily life that is the key to Jewish survival throughout the ages and under all conditions.
As has often been mentioned before, the Jewish woman has a particular role in the preservation of the Torah and Mitzvoth, as has also been emphasized by the fact that before the Ten Commandments and the Torah and Mitzvoth in general were given to all the Jewish people, G-d told Moshe Rabbenu [Moses] to speak first to the women, and only afterwards to the men.
I send my prayerful wishes that the Convention be carried out with the utmost Hatzlocho [success], and that it will stimulate the Neshei u'Bnos Chabad everywhere to greater practical accomplishments in meeting the challenges of our day by strengthening and spreading the observance of the Torah and Mitzvoth permeated with Chasidic light and vitality, both within the family and in the environment at large.
26 Shevat, 5764 - February 18, 2004
Positive Mitzva 93: Nazirite Offering
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 5:13) "When the days of his Nazirite vow are fulfilled." When his Nazirite period is over, the Nazir is commanded to bring a sacrifice and cut his hair. He must follow the procedures specified in the Torah for presenting his sacrifice.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson was a jewel, a true queen. Not merely by virtue of her noble ancestry (descending from all the first six Rebbes of Chabad) nor even of her exalted position as Rebbetzin of the saintly and admired great leader of hundreds of thousands. She was a true queen in her own right, too.
She was a queen in her exalted qualities of character. The Rebbetzin was sensitive and compassionate to others without being in any way condescending. For every person she met, every visitor to her home, even young children, she always had the right words to suit the situation.
The Rebbetzin was a queen intellectually, too. Coming from a long line of great Torah scholars, she was, not surprisingly, a true intellectual. Those who knew her well and remembered her father, the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), considered her to have inherited his penetrating intellect and analytic mind.
When her father passed away in 1950, the Chasidim called upon her husband, the Rebbe, as the obvious successor. But the Rebbe refused to even consider it. It was the Rebbetzin who finally convinced him: "You can't let my father's thirty years of self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people go to waste," she pleaded. Very reluctantly, the Rebbe accepted the mantle of leadership.
Over a year before she passed away, the Rebbetzin stated that her father, the previous Rebbe, had "belonged to the Chasidim." Yet it was the Rebbetzin who had the awesome courage to finally persuade the Rebbe to take on the responsibility of leadership. She was prepared to accept all personal difficulties for the sake of the Jewish people. Her sacrifice was indeed awesome.
Rabbi Akiva said of his wife Rachel - "Mine and yours is hers," that his Torah knowledge and that which he taught his thousands of students were thanks to Rachel's self-sacrifice for 24 years. So, too, do we owe the prodigious accomplishments of the Rebbe's Chasidim throughout the world, that have touched the lives of millions of Jews, to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka's self-sacrife and devotion to her husband for almost 60 years!
As we mark the Rebbetzin's 16th Yartzeit this Shabbat, may her merit protect us and may we learn from her shining example.
And Yitro heard... (Ex. 18:1)
Yitro had been called by seven different names, one of which was Yeter. When he became a convert to Judaism and fulfilled the commandments, one letter, vav, was added to his name.
In many instances the Torah adds a letter to a person's name as a sign of his having acquired greatness. For instance, letters were added to Abraham's and Sara's names when they achieved greater spiritual heights.
And Yitro heard... of all that G-d had done for Moses and for the people Israel... (Ex. 18:1)
What Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, heard was heard by many other people, too. But only he concluded to accept the one G-d and join the Children of Israel. There are some who hear, but their hearing isn't really hearing; the words don't really enter their ears, hearts and souls. Yitro's edge was that he heard and he understood what he heard.
(Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk)
Israel encamped opposite the Mountain (Ex. 19:2)
Why was the Torah given on a mountain, specifically? A mountain and a plain are both made of earth; a mountain is just higher. The intention of giving the Torah was so that the Children of Israel would elevate and spiritually purify the physicality of the world. This is hinted to by the mountain, which is dust of the earth but is high, symbolizing the elevation of matter and its purification.
The Rebbetzin, the wife of Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak, the Chozeh of Lublin, tried not to cry, she tried to stay cheerful. But what would she do if Shabbat arrived and she still had not procured the few coins she needed in order to purchase candles for the holy Sabbath?
All of the drawers had been checked. All of the pockets had been examined. There were no coins in the house. The minutes ticked away. Now it was but a few moments until candle lighting. The Rebbetzin ran into the street, to share her pain with the wind and the darkening sky.
At that moment a carriage passed by. Inside the carriage sat a young Jewish man who had for many years not been home to see the light of Shabbat candles burning in his parents' home. He was more touched by the lights that burned in the taverns and gambling halls that he frequented most Friday nights. In fact, at that moment he was on his way to meet his friends for a night of entertainment and revelry. But when he looked out his carriage window and saw an old Jewish woman crying softly, he stopped his carriage and asked her why she wept.
"It is because I have no coins to purchase candles for the holy Sabbath," the Rebbetzin whispered, "and I fear I will be unable to fulfill the mitzva commadment of lighting the Shabbat candles."
"Dear woman, take these coins. Light the candles with a joyous heart and enjoy your Sabbath," said the young man as he began returning to his carriage.
The Rebbetzin called out to the young man who stopped and turned around. "You have done a tremendous commandment. May the Almighty repay you by allowing a divine light to shine into your heart forever," the Rebbetzin blessed him. The young man smiled and entered his carriage.
Quickly the Rebbetzin purchased candles, returned hom and lit them with a truly joyous heart. As she watched the flames dance and leap, her heart filled to overflowing with happiness and gratitude to G-d.
A short while later in the synagogue, the Chozeh of Lublin began saying the prayers welcoming the Sabbath. His heart, too, danced and leapt in joy and gratitude to G-d. Whenever the Chozeh prayed, his soul soared higher and higher in the heavenly spheres. Tonight, he saw that heavenly court was in an uproar, and the Chozeh was the one at whom all were pointing an accusing finger.
"Is it not enough that you, the holy Rebbe, bless all kinds of unworthy people? And being that you are a tzadik (righteous person), we are required to make sure that your blessings are fulfilled. Now, your wife, too, pours blessings upon undeserving people!"
And with that, the heavenly court told the Chozeh about the young man who had given his wife a few coins for Shabbat candles and how his wife had blessed him that a divine light should always shine in his heart. "Such a magnificent gift should be bestowed upon one who is now, on the Sabbath, not celebrating or marking the holy day in any way?" they complained.
The Chozeh responded, "Perhaps it is true that at this moment the young man is not worthy of the great gift of which you speak. But who am I to argue if my dear wife saw so clearly revealed the precious spark of G-d, the soul, within him. Should we not at least give him a chance? Shine a divine light upon him for one half hour. Let his soul bask in G-d's glory and see if he is influenced by it. If after one half hour, nothing has changed, then I agree that you should be absolved of fulfilling my wife's blessing." The heavenly court agreed.
In a carriage outside of Lublin, the young man began to feel a strange sensation. He looked around him and felt as if he was seeing the world for the first time. There was clarity to everything. His mind wandered to the encounter that had taken place earlier. Something inexplicable was urging him to return to that little street in Lublin, to the home where the old woman had surely already lit the Shabbat candles. He ordered his driver to turn the carriage around.
As soon as the carriage arrived at the home of the Chozeh, the young man told the driver to stop. He quickly got out of the carriage and walked up the path to the Chozeh's home. He looked inside through the window and saw the Rebbetzin sitting at the Shabbat table reciting her prayers with joy and devotion, waiting for the Rebbe to return from the synagogue.
The young man lifted his hand to knock on the door but hesitated, not wanting to interrupt the Rebbetzin's prayers. Perhaps she would be finished in a few moments and he would not have to disturb her. The minutes ticked away.
The heavenly court watched in interest as the last moments of the half hour slipped by. The Rebbetzin had finished her prayers. The young man raised his hand once again to knock on the door but stopped himself. He looked around. "What am I doing here?" he asked himself.
For a few seconds the young man stood motionless, unable to decide what to do. Involuntarily he shook himself, as if to shake off the last vestiges of indecision. He turned his back on the house and headed toward the street. But then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Rebbetzin's Shabbat candles. The flames of the candles danced and leapt in joy.
The rustling wind sounded like a sigh of contentment emerging from the heavens above as the young man knocked gently on the door.
The Rebbetzin was delighted when she saw the young man. She invited him in. He stayed for the meal and for many meals after. With time he became a devoted chasid of the Chozeh of Lublin. Eventually he helped illuminate the path for many others with the Divine light that is found in every Jewish heart.
The concept of redemption is intrinsically related to women. Our Sages teach that "In the merit of righteous women, the Jews were redeemed from Egypt." The same applies to later redemptions. And as to the future, we have been promised, "As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders." The holy Ari writes that the generation of the ultimate Redemption will be a reincarnation of the generation of the exodus. Since the future Redemption will therefore follow the pattern of that archetypal redemption, it will also come as a result of the merit of the righteous women of that generation.
(From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)