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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

November 19, 2004 - 6 Kislev, 5765

845: Vayetzei

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

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  844: Toldos846: Vayishlach  

Winning Through Losing  |  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

Winning Through Losing

Nobody likes to lose. Whatever we're playing - baseball, scrabble, chess - we want to win. Whenever we're buying - an antique, a tchatchke in the flea market, a car, a house - we want to feel we've struck the best deal.

Ask professional competitors, though, and they'll tell you they learned more from their losses than their victories. In fact, some say that's the only way to learn - through making mistakes. Pick any field. Chess: You learn about the back rank checkmate by falling victim to it. Baseball: You learn to wait or step back on a fly ball to center field after one goes over your head because you started running in.

We make misjudgments in learning, too. When we get a test back and look at our grade, we first check to see what we got wrong. We want to get it right the next time.

Is it harder to lose once we start winning? In some ways. But it's certainly hardest to lose when we're certain of winning. The hardest loss is a won game - when you've got the lead and, through a momentary lapse of attention, or maybe falling for a ruse or a trap, we suddenly lose the game. Maybe we were overconfident, maybe the opponent bent the rules, maybe we lost our edge, that competitive drive, knowing we ought to win.

Losing a close game where the advantage is all yours can be as devastating as losing to someone or a team clearly inferior. You feel crushed, destroyed, hopeless and useless. Sometimes it takes a long time to recover.

But often such losses are necessary. They force us to take account of ourselves. Are our strengths as strong as we thought they were? Are our priorities - in training, in life - where they need to be? Have we really fixed that weakness?

Close losses, near wins, blown opportunities, being on the wrong end of a big upset - these are humbling experiences.

But painful as they were, we need them. Not all the time, obviously, but occasionally. They keep us honest with ourselves. They force us to re-evaluate, in ways that winning just can't do.

The examples above all illustrate a concept - "descent for the sake of ascent." Because, if we take advantage of our losses to learn their lessons, we will be better, more prepared next time. (Even if the opponent fudges the rules.)

This concept of descent for the sake of ascent, of crushing and humbling the ego so that we may re-evaluate ourselves, climb higher in an endeavor, applies to - in fact, it derives from - our approach to our Divine service.

One place where we see complacency, easy victories, not exerting ourselves to the utmost when locked in strategic combat, is in the dullness of heart that occasionally occurs during prayer. Our hearts become heavy as stones, insensitive, unable to beat the the evil inclination, and conquer the material concerns that attack and depress us.

For this, the Alter Rebbe in Tanya quotes a passage in the Zohar: "A wooden beam that will not catch fire should be splintered; a body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed."

This advice applies, as the Alter Rebbe explains in chapter 29, to when we "lose" at prayer. But we can apply it to our everyday experiences, as well. As the Baal Shem Tov has taught, everything we encounter is a lesson in our Divine service.

A crushing or unexpected loss can - once we get past the wound to our ego - be a most important lesson, the descent that, unbeknownst to us at the time, will lead to an ascent, a victory we could not have imagined or achieved otherwise.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion Vayeitzei, relates that as Jacob left Israel to journey to Laban's home where he would marry and establish his own household, he "encountered the place." Our Rabbis interpret this as referring to the future site of the Holy Temple. There Jacob prayed.

Jacob had lived in his father's home and afterwards had studied under Shem and Ever, the spiritual luminaries of the age. Now he was going to Charan, an idolatrous environment, where he would labor, not study. Faced with such an awesome transition, Jacob turned to G-d, asking for success in the new phase of activity he was undertaking.

There is no way a person can insure success solely on the basis of his efforts. Material reality reflects only one dimension of our existence. Prosperity is a multi-faceted Divine blessing and cannot be guaranteed through our efforts alone. Even when all the fundamentals add up, there are times when a business deal doesn't work out and other situations, where for no apparent reason, one's efforts bring him success.

This is not mere chance. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, taught that even a leaf turning in the wind is directed by G-d's will. Certainly it is true when speaking of what happens to man. Therefore, particularly when we set out on a new road, we ask G-d's assistance through prayer.

On the surface, however, such prayers are self-serving. Man is asking G-d for something for his own self. He is not praying for G-d's sake; he is praying because of his own needs or wants.

Is that spiritual? And is this what G-d desires?

Yes. G-d's intent in creating our world was to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds; that His presence be revealed within the realm of material things. He didn't create angels to inhabit this physical world. He wants a world where man interacts with the physical and in so doing, understands that it is controlled by G-d.

That is precisely the awareness generated when a person prays for his material well-being. He is concerned with everyday things, and He is asking G-d to grant Him success in this realm. Instead of relying on his own resources, he is looking to Him.

These prayers are extremely sincere. When a person asks for spiritual things, his requests may not come from his inner core. But when he prays for his material well-being, he puts his whole heart into his prayer. He is turning to G-d with all of his attention and asking for His help. In doing so, he consummates the purpose of creation, connecting G-dliness with the most mundane dimensions of worldly existence.

One of the primary focuses of our daily prayers is the Redemption. More than 100 times each day, we turn to G-d with requests for Moshiach and the Redemption. These requests should be made with the same sincerity as those for healing or livelihood. Redemption is just as real a need for us as physical health or material well-being, and it should be felt as strongly. Even when a person prospers and enjoys good health, he is lacking. He is missing the fullness of life that the Redemption will grant him. He should pray that G-d grants this fullness to the entire world with the coming of Moshiach.

From Keeping in Touch: Torah Thoughts Inspired By The Works Of The Lubavitcher Rebbe, by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English.

A Slice of Life

by Bracha Sara Goldschen

Although I was fortunate to have grown up with a strong Jewish identity, many components of my Judaism were like puzzle pieces that never fit. Yet, somehow on the surface I felt content. I was content with my seven years of Hebrew school. I was content with praying once a week on Shabbat, wearing a kipa and a talit (prayer shawl). Most importantly, I was content with being Jewish when I was in the synagogue and leaving it behind when I stepped out the door. For the most part, I was satisfied with where I was in life, never fully paying attention to the subconscious yearning for something more.

When I went off to college at UC (University of California at) Berkeley, I came in contact with a world outside my own for the first time. The world of colleges and universities is a world of exploration, searching, self-discovery and open-mindedness. In fact, as I discovered, some people can be so open-minded that their brains fall out.

Day after day throughout my college experience I trudged down hallways of splattered brains, slipping and sliding, fighting to keep my balance. Somehow I managed to end up standing opposite a sign which read "Ask the Rabbi," propped up on a folding table. Behind the sign was a man with a long beard. Rabbi Yitzchok Kaye, an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was available for Jewish students on their own turf and would often end a conversation with a question of his own: "Would you like to join us for a Shabbat meal?"

Once the rabbi had my phone number, he called me each Thursday evening over the next few months to invite me to join his family for a Shabbat meal. Eventually, Rabbi Kaye convinced me to show up for a Friday night dinner. Stepping into an Orthodox environment was not something I felt at ease with, coming from an egalitarian Conservative background.

That evening there were many experiences that were new to me, and certain customs in particular that I had never before seen. The Rebbetzin, Soro Leah, was not at all what I had envisioned an orthodox woman to be, i.e., oppressed and secondary to her husband. Instead she was confident, intelligent, and the queen of her household, managing three young children and entertaining a room full of guests.

After this experience, I began to stop by the rabbi's table on campus more frequently, trying to find ways of stumping him with my questions and impressing him with my knowledge. At the time I was also a Hebrew school teacher, and felt overconfident about my knowledge of Judaism.

A pivotal moment in my life occurred one day when he asked me if I would be interested in helping him by teaching another girl how to read Hebrew in conjunction with a study group for students to learn together in pairs about different topics of their choice in Judaism. Flattered by the offer, I agreed. When I arrived on the first day of the class, the girl whom I was meant to teach had not yet shown up. In the meantime, Rabbi Kaye offered me the chance to study something of my choice with him while I waited. Admittedly, I thought I knew everything at the time and needless to say I humored him by accepting. In reality, I had never before in my life received such an offer by another person willing to extend himself in this way for me.

My "student" didn't show up that night but I was blissfully unaware. After a drop of Torah study through the lens of Chasidic philosophy, I was no longer "content" with where I was. I realized then and there that my Hebrew school education was not going to be enough for me, since I was given a taste of the vast expanse of knowledge and growth that lay ahead.

I still marvel at Rabbi Kaye's persuasive power, for eventually he convinced me to attend Yeshivacation, a 10-day journey of Torah study, interacting and exploring Judaism at Machon Chana Women's College in Brooklyn. At Yeshivacation I met other young women like myself who had also managed to catch hold of the guard rail before slipping head first in the surrounding heap of splattered brains.

I was struck by the fact that so many women from all over the world came in search of something deeper within themselves. I was awed that such a place exists where women can truly explore their identities and discover themselves in an atmosphere of the ultimate expression of open-mindedness - ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew). For the first time in my life I "opened" my mind to the notion that life has a higher purpose, and that I have a unique mission to fulfill in this world. I "opened" my mind to the notion of using my talents for holy purposes. I "opened" my mind to the notion that a woman possesses unique strengths that empower her to achieve spiritual heights without needing to assume the role of a man. The world I came from warned me of closed-off people living in the ancient past. At Machon Chana I experienced an open-arm invitation to practice what it means to truly live with the times.

As a current full-time student of Machon Chana, I am forever grateful to the Rebbe for sending his shluchim (emissaries) to open up my mind and awaken my Jewish soul and to G-d for always reminding me never to be satisfied or content with the spiritual level I am on. There is always more a person can achieve. If a person isn't growing then he isn't truly alive. I am blessed to have this opportunity in my life to truly live.

For more about this year's Yeshivacation, taking place from Dec. 23, 2004 - Jan. 2, 2005 call (718) 735-0030 or visit For the men's Yeshivacation contact Hadar HaTorah Yeshiva at (718) 735-0250 or

What's New

New Emissaries

The Chabad House at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles), which has been serving students on that campus since 1967, recently welcomed Rabbi Shmuly and Sora Hayes. A new Chabad-Lubavitch Center on Campus has opened at Marseilles University in France under the leadership of Rabbi and Mrs. Eliyahu Altabi. Rabbi Dov and Bas-sheva Oliver will soon relocate to Australia where they will direct Chabad of R.A.R.A (Rural and Regional Australia). They will be available to the 6,000 Jews living in the farms, countryside, small towns, and Australian outback. Rabbi Eli and Beila Goodman recently moved to Long Beach, New York, where they will be serving the Jewish communities of Long Beach, Atlantic Beach and Lido Beach.

The Rebbe Writes

From a letter written in 1964

Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:

Thank you very much for your letter of July 29th. I wish to express again my regret at having had to defer the pleasure of receiving you personally during your recant visit. It happened to be a time when, according to long-standing custom, no personal visits are arranged, for reasons which are beyond this letter. Moreover, I was gratified to note in your letter that the circumstances were well taken by you.

It was with a great deal of pleasure that I read about your impressions of the Farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] in which you participated, and your sharing same with others back home. May you go from strength to strength in all your efforts to strengthen and spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism].

I trust you will receive favorably also my following remarks, since I wish to tell you my pleasure when reading in your letter that your children attend Gan Israel Camp. This gives me the confidence that you have your wife's concurrence in your "involvement" in Chabad (a matter I had hesitated to broach for reasons of discretion) and - what is no less Important - that your children are reaping the benefits thereof. For, as is self-evident, where children are concerned, every benefit accruing to them in childhood is multiplied as they grow into adulthood. May G-d grant you and your wife much true Yiddish Nachas [Jewish pleasure] from them....

With blessing,

P.S. You refer, in passing, to my letter relating to the theory of evolution. I am prompted to reveal to you that the letter was written in reserved and guarded terms, inasmuch as my purpose is to win adherents to the Jewish viewpoint. Hence I try to avoid anything which might deter some individuals from a deeper commitment to Yiddishkeit. In writing to you, however, I will be more candid, being certain that you will not take my remarks amiss.

You write that your secular background and scientific training [deter] you from immediate acceptance of some of the concepts outlined in my said letter (although acceptance or non-acceptance of some in no way modifies your obligation to perform Mitzvos [commandments]). Frankly, it surprises me very much that you cannot accept those concepts.

My said letter does not appeal to "belief"; its premises are scientific, based on my years of scientific study, first at the University of Berlin, and later at Paris. I upheld the possibility of the Creation account in Bereishis [Genesis] on scientific grounds. On the other hand, I pointed out, that the so-called scientific arguments which purport to deny the possibility of the Torah account of Creation are not scientific, since in truth science does not, and cannot, make such a claim. Moreover, modern science declares that it can never offer an unequivocal scientific solution to this and similar problems.

The reason for this is not that modern science is still incomplete, but rather because of the very nature of science which can never speak in absolute terms; it can only offer working theories and hypotheses.

Science can only examine and classify phenomena, and make probable, deductions and predictions. If these are eventually substantiated by experiment, the theories are confirmed as approximate verities. But never can science claim to speak in terms of absolute truths, for it would be a contradiction in itself.

continued in next issue

Rambam this week

7 Kislev, 5765 - November 20, 2004

Positive Mitzvah 156: Removing the Chametz

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 12:15) "But on the first day, you shall remove leaven from your houses" This mitzva is one of the commandments regarding the holiday of Passover. We are commanded to remove all leaven (chametz) from our homes by the 14th day of the month of Nisan.

Prohibition 197: It is forbidden to eat Chametz on Passover

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 13:3) "No leavened bread shall be eaten" We are forbidden to eat chametz on Pesach.

Prohibition 198: It is forbidden to eat any mixtures containing chametz on Passover

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 12:20) "You shall eat nothing leavened" We are not allowed to eat any foods that contain chametz mixed in with them.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Monday is the ninth of Kislev, the birthday and yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Dov Ber (known as the Mittler Rebbe), the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.

In 1816, Reb Dov Ber established a settlement of Chabad chasidim in Israel in the city of Hebron. He encouraged the chasidim already living in other parts of Israel to resettle in Hebron. In addition, his own daughter and son-in-law moved with their family from Russia to Hebron.

But the history of Chabad-Lubavitch support of people, institutions and settlements in the Holy Land predates even 1816. For the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, vigorously encouraged his followers to support the Jews in the Holy Land.

Each and every Rebbe of Chabad has unequivocally supported the Holy Land and spoken out boldly concerning anything that might have the slightest impact on the security of the Jews there.

Without a doubt, and everyone can be sure of this, the Rebbe's policy has never changed regarding the Holy Land nor has it changed from that of his predecessors. Based on clear guidance from the Torah and Jewish law, the Rebbe continuously reiterated: No action can be taken that might negatively affect the safety of the Jews of the Holy Land.

In the merit of Rabbi Dov Ber, who established the first Chabad settlement in the Holy Land, may we be privileged to go together with Moshiach to the Holy Land, NOW.

Thoughts that Count

A ladder was standing on the ground and the top of it reached to heaven (Gen. 28:12)

Prayer is the ladder that connects our souls with G-d. Although it stands "on the ground," beginning with no more than acknowledgment of G-d's greatness, its top (the Amida, or silent prayer) reaches this level through the prior attainment of understanding inherent in the Shema itself.

(The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)

The numerical equivalent of "sulam" - ladder, is the same as "mamon" - money. From this we learn that money is like a ladder; we can use it to ascend and draw nearer to heaven or we can degrade ourselves with it. It is only dependent on how we use it and for what purpose it is employed.

(The Baal Shem Tov)

"How fearful this place is!" he exclaimed. "It must be G-d's house..." (Gen. 28:17)

A synagogue in a small city in Galicia was in a terrible, abandoned state of disrepair. One time, Reb Meir of Premishlan came into the shul. When he opened the door and saw its ruined state, he called out "How fearful this place is...It must be G-d's house." The people inside thought that Reb Meir was referring to very holy, esoteric matters of philosophy and they became quiet. Reb Meir saw that they did not understand his intent, so he explained: "'How fearful this place is' - one risks one's life to enter here; 'It must be G-d's house' - since there is no one else taking responsibility for fixing it. Strange, isn't it," he continued, "that all the private homes are perfectly maintained..."

And Laban answered Jacob, "The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, and the flocks are my flocks." (Gen. 31:43)

Laban's argument with Jacob, his son-in-law, was as follows: I have no complaints as far as you are concerned. You are from the "old generation." It is only fitting and proper that you conduct yourself according to your old beliefs and mores. But what do you want from the children? Why must you also drag them with you in your out-dated ways? "The daughters are my daughters and the sons are my sons. Just give me the children, and I will instruct them how to live in the modern world." Laban's attitude holds true in the business world as well: "I see that you conduct your affairs according to traditional principles. 'The flocks are my flocks' - let me teach you how to behave in the world of commerce, also..."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

One of the loyal Chasidim of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, who was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, was a successful merchant in the city of Petersburg. Every year he would travel to the great fair which was held in Nizhni-Novgorod to make his purchases. He made it an annual practice to first visit Lubavitch to see the Rebbe.

While in Lubavitch he drank in the vibrant atmosphere of the Rebbe's court, and listened to words of Torah which would serve to enrich his spiritual life for the rest of the year. Then, he would make a detour and continue on to the town of Dobromishl. In that town lived the old rabbi who had been his teacher many years before. This old rabbi looked forward to the yearly visit of his former pupil, enjoying the lively company and the stories his guest brought from the Rebbe's court. It wasn't every day that he had guests, and it was a happy event in the old man's life.

One year the merchant's plans for his yearly circuit through Lubavitch were disrupted. One of his biggest customers had trouble raising the money for his usual order, and the merchant was forced to postpone his departure. Finally, he received payment, and with his business now in order, he was able to set off. Even though the fair was well under way, the merchant couldn't imagine missing his yearly visit to the Rebbe, and he headed, as usual, to Lubavitch.

The merchant was invigorated by the time he spent with the Rebbe, and after a few days he prepared to continue on his trip. By this time he was becoming concerned about the business days he had lost at the fair, and he wondered if perhaps he should skip his usual visit to his old teacher. He felt guilty about not seeing the old rabbi, but figured that would be the only way to save time.

When he was about to take his leave from the Rebbe he consulted him about his decision. The Rebbe answered him, "Since it has always been your custom to visit your teacher it is not proper to change now."

The merchant took the Rebbe's counsel to heart and headed immediately to Dobromishl where he was warmly received by his old teacher. The old man's joy couldn't be contained as he rushed about his tiny kitchen heating up his samovar and setting out a plate of warm bread and butter. The merchant begged his teacher not to bother, as he had to be on his way after the afternoon prayers, but the old man would not forego this pleasure.

As the merchant was completing his prayers, the sky darkened and soon the village was pelted with a fierce downpour. His desire to finally get to the Nizhni-Novgorod fair had become so intense that the merchant was prepared to continue his journey in spite of the weather. The old rabbi implored him to stay overnight, since the local roads became thick with mud after a heavy rain. With one look outside, the merchant realized that it would be impossible to continue and so, he reluctantly agreed to stay.

A next day brought fair weather, but the merchant awoke feeling very ill. His head throbbed and he felt as if a fire burned in his eyes. A doctor was summoned from the nearby town of Orsha, and he diagnosed the illness to be typhus. The old rebbe sent a message to the merchant's family requesting help in caring for the sick man. And in addition, a letter was sent to the Rebbe in Lubavitch, asking that he pray for the merchant. The man lay ill in the old rabbi's house for close to two months before he recovered enough to leave for home.

But first he went to Lubavitch to present the Rebbe with his grievance. With tears running from his eyes the merchant entered the Rebbe's study and in a voice choked with emotion asked why the Rebbe had advised him to go visit his old teacher. Why, if he hadn't gone there and exposed himself to the terrible rain storm and caught a chill, he wouldn't have become so dangerously ill. So why had the Rebbe given him such advice?

The Rebbe looked at his distraught chasid and replied: "There is a teaching in the Talmud which says that 'A man's legs may be depended upon to take him wherever he is called to be.' This means that a man's feet will carry him to that place where he is destined to die, no matter where that is. But this verse may also be interpreted to mean that a man's feet will carry him to a place where there is someone to pray for him. Be grateful and know that your very life was saved by the prayers of your old teacher who entreated G-d on your behalf. He was able to intercede for you and save your life."

Moshiach Matters

When Jacob finally left Charan to return to Israel, he was a rich man with many possessions, though he had arrived there with neither silver, gold, nor cattle. Although at first glance it appears that Jacob's living amongst the idolators of Charan was a step backward, it was in this merit that he acquired his great wealth and established his family. So too, is it with this final Exile. Although the trials and tribulations have been many, when Moshiach comes and brings the Final Redemption, we will first realize the great advantage and good that came from it.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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