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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

   840: Noach

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843: Chayei Sara

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Devarim Deutronomy

November 5, 2004 - 21 Cheshvan, 5765

843: Chayei Sara

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  842: Vayera844: Toldos  

Promises  |  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


"But you promised."

"Well, I didn't really promise. I only said I would do it."

"That's the same thing!"

"You gave me your word."

"I know. And I meant it, too. Only circumstances changed. How could I foresee that happening?

At one time or another, we have all made a promise that, for some reason, we could not keep. We've given our word and not kept it. And we feel bad. Even though we didn't put anything in writing, we didn't sign a contract, we committed ourselves. "We had an agreement."

Then there have been times when, against all odds and common sense, we've gone to extraordinary lengths, gone beyond all reasonable expectations, to keep our word. Our resolve has been questioned by others, but, even to our financial detriment or physical discomfort, we did what we pledged to do. After all, we committed ourselves. We made an agreement.

Woe to those, then, who renege, who give their word, can fulfill their pledge and willfully don't.

And praise to those who go beyond a promise, fulfill the intent as well as the meaning of their words, who anticipate their guarantee.

What is the power of a promise? We may say it is soul speaking to soul.

We may say a promise declares we are trustworthy. Or, put another way, a promise elicits trust. And trust, as Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakuda said in Duties of the Heart, creates a "tranquility in the soul," for trust engenders "a sure confidence" in the other person.

A broken promise shatters the tranquility of our souls. A fulfilled promise reinforces that tranquility.

If we're on the topic of promises, let's look at one of the first promises that G-d made to the first patriarch of the Jewish people. G-d said to Abraham even before Isaac was born, "I will establish My covenant with him [Isaac] for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him." And yet, G-d later told Abraham, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac...and offer him [literally, bring him up] there for a burnt-offering."

Did G-d break His promise, fail to keep His word?

No, for later, G-d said, "Do not lay your hand upon the lad, nor do anything to him."

Something seems amiss here, but Rashi, the foremost Biblical commentator, confronts the dilemma thus: G-d explains to Abraham: "I shall not profane My covenant and the utterance of My lips I shall not change. When I said to you 'Take," the utterance of My lips I shall not change. I did not say to you 'Slay him,' but 'Bring him up.' You have brought him up, now bring him down." [Rashi's commentary is based on the double meaning of the word Olah, which means to raise, elevate or bring up, but also means, in reference to the sacrifices, to offer an Olah-sacrifice, an offering that is completely burnt.]

Sometimes it may seem as if we're not keeping our word. Sometimes it may appear impossible to fulfill our pledge. But if we promised from the heart, if we made a commitment soul to soul, creating trust - tranquility of soul - in another, then surely a way must exist - if not now, then at some point - to make real the guarantee.

And in this regard, we may rest assured, we have tranquility of soul, we may trust that G-d will keep his word. He has promised us the complete and final Redemption, and we have a right to see the fulfillment of that guarantee. We can, as the Rebbe has told us, declare our desire. For G-d, Who has not our limitations of time and space which interfere between word and deed, can make expression of a promise, completion of the promise.

And so, we can tell G-d, fulfill You word, for we want Moshiach now!

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, begins by informing us of the passing of our matriarch Sara. It continues with an account of our forefather Abraham's purchase of a burial place for Sara.

Abraham, bought a field from Efron in the Land of Israel "in the presence of the Hittites"; everyone agreed that it belonged to Abraham. This purchase represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews.

Abraham bought the Cave of the Machpela, in Efron's field, as a burial place for Sara after her passing. Saying to Abraham that he was a "prince of G-d," the Hittites collectively, and Efron personally, offered to give Abraham the land free of charge. But Abraham demurred: "If you really want to help me bury my dead... Let him sell me the Machpela Cave, which belongs to him, at the edge of his field. Let him sell it to me in your presence for its full price, as a burial property."

Let no one think that Abraham got a "bargain," or that Efron was swindled. According to the Code of Hammurabi, a year's wage for a working man was between six and eight silver shekels. Considering land values at the time, this was a highly excessive amount.

Abraham paid Efron 400 shekels of silver for the field. The commentary Pa'ane'ach Raza explains that with the 400 silver shekels that Abraham paid (Gen. 23:16), our ancestor purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of the Jewish people. For by the estimation of "the seed of a chomer of barley at 50 silver shekels" (Lev. 27:16), 400 silver shekels redeem exactly 600,000 square cubits.

The 400 shekels of silver paid by Abraham acquired for every Jew a part in the Land of Israel.

Though a Jew may live outside of Israel, he still has an inheritance there. Every Jew owns a portion of the land. His name is on it - the Land of Israel - for every Jew is Israel. G-d, Himself, called it the Land of Israel, and declared, "From the Great River unto the river of Euphrates shall be your borders."

The redemption of the Jewish people began then and there. What remains for us to do is to reveal G-d's involvement in our daily lives in order to bring about the redemption in a visible manner.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

We Are Insanely Jewish
by Rabbi Moshe New

Providence had led me, this past spring, to initiate and lead a daily, early morning, prayer service in one of our local Jewish high schools.

The voluntary service, held in the library, was made up of students, primarily of the graduating class. A number of them participated in the March of the Living. I was the first to greet them in school when they returned from their sojourn in Poland and Israel. They all exuded, to one degree or another, a stronger connection to the people of Israel and to the land of Israel; a heightened nationalistic awareness. They returned with a deeper, spiritual identity. Their faith had been profoundly stirred and was manifest for many in their newly found passion to begin observing mitzvot (commandments).

I was curious to know what place or moment was responsible, more than any other, for this outpouring of the soul. The answers shocked me. "Auschwitz." "The Kaddish at Auschwitz."

A few weeks later, several of them came to the Montreal Torah Center for Shabbat morning services. In my sermon I related the aforementioned conversation and posed the obvious question: How is it possible for one to discover a new level of faith in G-d in Auschwitz?!

Unable and unwilling to constrain my emotions, I intoned the opening words of the Kaddish prayer and explained its meaning. The Kaddish expresses our faith in G-d's promise of a perfect world. It talks about G-d's presence being manifest on earth, glorified and praised by all existence. Underlying the Kaddish prayer is the doctrine that G-d has a plan, that life is sacred and that He governs His world justly.

And so I asked: If there is one place on earth whose very existence protests the notion of justice; if there is one word that renders the whole concept of purpose to life meaningless - it is Auschwitz. Faith out of Auschwitz?!!... We are insanely Jewish I concluded.

I ventured to suggest that the source of our craziness is the Al-mighty Himself. Our souls are a part of Him. And so in the same way that He cannot be explained, so too, one cannot explain the mystery of being a Jew.

Among the congregants were Mr. G and Mr. R, guests of a simcha that was being celebrated that morning. Both are Holocaust survivors. Mr. R. left the service at its conclusion, not staying for the festive Shabbat meal in honour of the simcha for which he had come.

Several weeks later I attended the inauguration of Montreal's new Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had to give a class that evening and was compelled to leave before the program ended. Slowly making my way out of the darkened auditorium, I noticed Mr. G. sitting at the end of the last row, near the exit for which I was headed. I respectfully nodded my head in greeting. As I passed him, he grasped my sleeve, looked at me, and with a smile that I cannot describe, whispered, "Crazy."

The next time I met Mr. R. was at the wedding of his great-grandson. Over the din of the music he took me aside and shared a memory of his post-liberation days in a DP Camp in Mitenwald, Bavaria in June of 1945: "One day we were asked to assemble in a huge field at the center of which stood a large elevated platform ringed by loudspeakers. We had no idea what to expect, but having nothing else to do, everyone turned out. Thousands of us stood there surrounding the empty stage upon which stood a lectern and atop it a microphone. At length a man ascended the stage and, standing at the lectern, began to recite the Kaddish. First there was silence. And then began the wailing. From everywhere. Before or since, I have never heard such cries. People were calling out, 'Mammeh.' 'Tatteh' - father. Names of children. Brothers. Sisters. 'Tatteh in Himmel' - Father in Heaven. 'Ribono Shel Olam' - Master of the World.

"You see," continued Mr. R., since our liberation, none of us had expressed any kind of emotion. We had survived. But inside we were dead. Then, for the first time since my arrival in Auschwitz, I cried. "The Shabbat that I came to MTC, that morning before coming to shul, for some unknown reason, I remembered that moment. And then in shul you spoke... And when you said the Kaddish I could not believe my ears. Did you see into my heart? That is not possible. I was overcome. I did not stay for the meal. I couldn't. I did not need food for my body. My soul was overflowing."

A final thought. The upshot of being crazy is that one's behaviour requires no justification. So if you turn around one day and out of the blue decide, "I'm going to eat kosher." Or, "I'm going to start keeping Shabbat," don't worry. It's fine. You're okay.

Rabbi New is co-founder of the Montreal Torah Center-Beis Menachem in Canada.

What's New

New Construction

This past month three Chabad-Lubavitch Centers celebrated milestones in construction of their facilities:

The Beth Rivkah Academy in Montreal, Canada, has completed construction on their new campus. The school, which has a student body of 600, is also celebrating their 50 year anniversary.

Construction began in the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a mikva and a soup kitchen. Due to the difficult economic situation in Argentina, a soup kitchen was opened by Chabad of Flores 3 years ago in a rented building. With the assistance of local donors, a plot of land was purchased and building has begun on a facility that will house the soup kitchen as well as a mikva.

The first stages of construction for the Jewish Community Center and Synagogue in Ufa, Russia, have begun. Completion of the 3 million dollar building is slated for 2006. The three-story synagogue and community center will G-d willing satisfy the needs of the 13,000 Jews residing in Ufa and surrounding communities. When completed, the building will be 5,700 square meters and will include a synagogue, Jewish kindergarten, day school, Sunday school, sports complex, offices, library, mikva and kosher soup kitchen.

The Rebbe Writes

13th of Cheshvan, 5734 [1973]

To the Students of Form 5
Lubavitch Grammar School for Girls
London, N.16, England.

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to receive your letter and first issue of your magazine.

I congratulate you on your initial effort, and may G-d grant that you should continue to spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism] through the magazine, as well as by personal example as to how a Jewish daughter should conduct herself in the daily life, in speech, in dress, and in general behavior according to the Torah-way, as befits a daughter of Israel, bearing the time-honored title of being a daughter of Sarah, Rivkah [Rebecca], Rachel and Leah, the Mothers of our people. And while all of our four Mothers were Tzidkonios [righteous women], each had special traits and virtues, which they bequeathed to all Jewish daughters, so that every Jewish daughter can be like them, as the saying goes, "Like mother like daughter."

To be sure, no one can presume to actually equal them, but after they had shown the way, and had trodden the path, they made it easier for their descendants, at least to be approximately like them - not only like one of them, but like all of them, by combining all their great virtues to a high degree.

Wishing you Hatzlocho [success] and hoping to hear good news from you,

With blessing,

22nd of Mar Cheshvan, 5720 [1959]

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your two letters dated the 10th and 12th of November.

I was very gratified to read about the progress which you have been making in business, and may G-d grant that you continue to enjoy a growing success from G-d's "full, open, holy and ample Hand," and that you and your family use the earnings in good health, on matters of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], and the like.

I was especially gratified to read also about your interest in the communal affairs and the Zechus Horabim [merit of the multitude] will surely stand you in good stead to succeed. All the more so as we have entered a new year, and one that marks the 200th Anniversary of the Histalkus [passing] of the Baal Shem Tov. It is well known and recorded that the Baal Shem Tov came out among the hidden Tzaddikim [righteous] with the plan of helping the Jews materially, which will also help them spiritually, as a matter of course. My father-in-law of saintly memory expressed it in this way, "When G-d will give Jews what they need (materially), they will show what they can do (spiritually)."

May G-d grant that this auspicious year will see increased efforts on the part of everyone of us towards the realization of the "Dissemination of the Fountains," and thereby hasten the True and Complete Redemption through the righteous Moshiach.

Hoping to hear good news from you about your communal as well as personal affairs, and that you and your wife have much Yiddish Nachas [Jewish pleasure] from your children,

With blessing,

Rambam this week

22 Cheshvan, 5765 - November 6, 2004

Prohibition 320: It is forbidden to work on Shabbat

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:10) "You shall not do any manner of work" Before the first Shabbat of the world, G-d completed His work of creation and declared the seventh day a holy day of rest. What work is forbidden? The Torah defines 39 forbidden activities called "melacha" and may not done on the Shabbat. Using those rules as a base, the Sages have taught us a code of laws instructing us how to keep Shabbat. We are not allowed to do any of those activities which the Torah considers to be melacha on Shabbat.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, we learn that our ancestress, Rivka (Rebecca), started kindling Shabbat lights from the age of three. In addition, she was endeared to her new husband, Yitzchak, when he saw that, like his mother Sarah, the light from her Shabbat lights lasted an entire week.

Every daughter of our people is called "A daughter of Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah." Every Jewish girl, even a three-year-old, inherits this wondrous power of illuminating the house through her candle lighting, for the entire week, till the next Erev Shabbat.

True, the lights which Sara and Rivka kindled, lasted (by a miracle) physically and shed a physical light for the whole week; but the inner effect of today's children lighting the Shabbat candles is the same. Although we cannot see it with our flesh-and-blood eyes, the Shabbat candles lit by the Jewish daughters in our age fill the home with light all week long.

In the merit of the Shabbat candles of the Jewish daughters, may we see, speedily in our days, the light of our righteous Moshiach, NOW!

Thoughts that Count

One hundred years and twenty years and seven years, were the years of Sara's life (Gen. 23:1)

The commentator Rashi explains, "The years of Sara's life - they were all equally good." But a question begs to be asked: Weren't the majority of Sara's years filled with hardships, longing for children, living in exile, imprisoned at the hands of Pharoah and Avimelech? How can we say that all of her years were equally good? During her entire life, concerning everything that was seemingly bad, Sara said, "This too is for the best." She saw G-d's kindness in everything.

(Rabbi Zusia of Anipol)

And G-d blessed Abraham in everything (Gen. 24:1)

There are some tzadikim (totally righteous) whose main concern is with themselves, that their own relationship with G-d will be perfect. But this is not the case with true tzadikim. As we see with Abraham, our father, who was blessed with the trait of "everything." His concern was not only with himself, but for everything and everyone.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)

Let it be that the maiden to whom I will say: "Lower your pitcher that I may drink." And she will say, "Drink, and I will give your camels to drink, also." (Gen. 24:14)

When looking for a wife for Isaac, why did Eliezer examine Rebecca in this area specifically? There is a significant difference between holiness and impurity: The objective of holiness is to give, to enliven others, to influence. Impurity, on the other hand, takes, receives. Rebecca wasn't satisfied just to give Eliezer water but watered his camels, too. From this act Eliezer saw an indication and proof that Rebecca was connected with the "side" of holiness and fitting to bond with the descendants of Abraham.

(Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of Tanya)

And Isaac brought her into his mother Sara's tent, and took Rebecca, And she became his wife; and he loved her (Gen. 24:67)

Rashi comments: That is to say, "He brought her into the tent and, behold, she was like Sara, his mother! While Sara was alive her Shabbat lights miraculously used to burn from one Friday to the next...." Rebecca was only three years old when she married Isaac. She was therefore not obligated to fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of lighting the Shabbat candles, especially since Abraham had been doing it since Sara's death. However, Rebecca was not satisfied to participate in the candle lighting of Abraham. She herself lit the Shabbat candles. The above is a clear indication to us that before marriage, and even before bat mitzva - from the age of three years, Jewish girls should light a Shabbat candle.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

Long ago in Babylonia there were two wise men - Shmuel, a famous Jewish scholar who knew the entire Torah, and Avlet, a wise gentile who could predict the future by looking at the stars. He knew what would happen the next day, the next week, or even the next year.

One day, Shmuel and Avlet sat by a roadside near a lake. As they were talking, a group of laborers walked towards the lake. They came to cut the reeds that grew in the shallow waters and along the shore. They sold them to the townspeople for carving flutes, weaving mats and making vessels.

As the workers were passing, Avlet pointed to one of them and said to Shmuel, "Do you see that man? He is going to the lake but I know that he will not return alive. I saw in the stars that he will be in a serious accident."

"If he is Jewish," answered Shmuel, "He will return in peace. He will pray to G-d, or do some other mitzva (commandment), and the G-d of Israel will protect him from misfortune."

Meanwhile, the laborers reached the lake and began to cut and tie the reeds. They worked for several hours. When they were hungry and tired, they stopped to eat their lunch in the shade of a tree. Now these workers had a wonderful custom. They put all their food into one basket and divided it evenly among themselves so that everyone had an equal portion, and no one would go hungry or be jealous of another.

That day, the worker whom Avlet had pointed to noticed that one of his friends was sad and depressed. He saw that the man's lunch bag was empty. Obviously, he had no money to buy bread and he would be embarrassed to ask the others for some of their food. The worker wanted to help his friend.

So he took the bread basket and said, "Today is my turn to collect the bread and divide it."

His friends agreed, and he went around to each of them, collecting their food as he passed. When he came to the poor man with no bread, the worker put his own food in the basket, pretending to take it from the poor fellow. Then he divided the portions equally among the workers, but he took a very small portion for himself so that there was enough for everyone. Thus no one realized the the poor man had nothing to give.

When they finished their meal, the men continued their work. In the evening, they bundled the reeds and carried them to town on their backs.

Meanwhile, Shmuel and Avlet came back to the roadside to watch the workmen on their way home. They wanted to see if the worker Avlet had pointed to was missing. They saw that all the men who had left town in the morning were coming back. They all seemed well and happy; Avlet's prophecy had not come true.

Avlet was surprised. Had he made a mistake? He went to the workman and said, "Please let me see the reeds you cut today."

The worker was surprised, but set down his bundle and opened it. Avlet examined the reeds and found a poisonous snake which the workman had apparently killed by mistake and unknowingly placed in the bag! Avlet turned triumphantly to Shmuel and said, "You see, my prophecy was correct. If the snake had bitten the workman, he would not have returned alive, just as I predicted. But I do not understand how his life was spared."

Shmuel turned to the worker and asked, "Did you do something special today? Try to remember."

The worker told Shmuel how he had divided the bread without embarrassing his poor friend.

"You have fulfilled the mitzva from the Torah of 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' " said Shmuel. "Because of this mitzva you were saved from death."

Moshiach Matters

After Sara's passing, Abraham married Ketura and they had six sons. All six grew up to be idol worshippers. How could Abraham who was renown as a G-d-fearing, righteous person, and his wife Ketura (who according to the Midrash was also wholly righteous) have had such children? Before the Redemption, it can happen that righteous people will have some children who grow up to be righteous and others who grow up to be evil. But in the Days of Moshiach, all will be righteous, as it says (Isaiah 60:21), "They shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of my planting and the work of my hands of which I take pride."

(Beraishit Raba 61:4)

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