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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

November 26, 2004 - 13 Kislev, 5765

846: Vayishlach

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

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  845: Vayetzei847: Vayeshev  

Hide and Seek  |  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

Hide and Seek

Do you remember playing "Hide-'n-Go-Seek" as a child? Where was your favorite place to hide? The bathtub? Under the bed in your parents' room? Behind the coats in the hall closet?

Were you ever "it" and couldn't find anyone and called out in exasperation, "Come out, come out, where ever you are. Where is everybody?

"Where are you?"

" 'Where are you?' G-d asked Adam and Eve after they sinned. Did G-d not know their exact whereabouts?" questioned a Russian official, a Biblical scholar, during the imprisonment and interrogation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad movement explained, "The question of 'where are you?' is G-d's eternal call to each one of us, everyday. Where are we? Where do we stand? How far have we advanced toward achieving our soul's mission in life?"

Are we playing hide-n-seek with G-d, with ourselves? Are we the one hiding or are we "it," in search of our true essence?

Once, while walking in the forest, though deep in thought and meditation, the holy Baal Shem Tov heard a child crying. Following the cry, the Baal Shem Tov finally found a little boy, frightened and shivering in the dark.

"Why are you here in the forest all by yourself?" he asked the child gently.

Looking into the man's kindly face, the child was calmed. "I was playing hide-n-seek with my friends. I waited and waited for them to find my hiding place but none of them discovered it. Now it is dark and they have all gone home! And I am alone and frightened." With that, the boy began to sob sorrowfully once more.

"Do not cry, little boy, I will bring you home," comforted the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov explained that this incident is truly a metaphor for G-d and the Jews. Since our beginnings as a people, we have actively searched for G-d and sought out a meaningful relationship with Him. Even when we were exiled from our land and G-d was forced to "hide" Himself, we still sincerely searched for Him.

But now, G-d, like the small lost child cries out to us, "I wait and wait for you to look for Me, to find the inherent G-dliness and holiness in everything you do. But it seems you have tired of the search. In the darkness of today's world, in the confusion of the forest of your mundane lives and material aspiration, you have all gone home and I am alone."

Ultimately, when Moshiach comes - may it be very soon - we will be reunited with G-d. No longer will we play games like hide-n-seek, be involved in Trivial Pursuits, or put ours and our children's souls in Jeopardy. But until then, we must remember that a G-d is calling to us, begging us, beseeching us to look for Him. All we need to do is take the initial step, for His fervent cry of pain and loneliness will lead us to Him.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, relates Jacob's statement that, "I have sojourned - garti - with Laban." The great commentator Rashi notes that the word garti has the numerical equivalent of 613. Thus, by using the word garti, Jacob implied that, "Though I sojourned with the wicked Laban, I have observed the 613 mitzvot (commandments)."

"Sojourned" implies that Jacob lived as a stranger with his father-in-law. All aspects of Laban, all the physical objects of oxen, donkeys, flocks, menservants and handmaids, were to Jacob no more than garti - something alien, strange, transitory. They were not his true self.

Where was Jacob not a stranger? Where did he not merely sojourn, but live? His true home was his soul and its involvement in studying Torah and performing mitzvot.

Once, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch (whose birthday we celebrate this coming week on the 19th of Kislev), was asked why his home was furnished so sparsely; it contained only a table and chairs which converted into a bed at night.

The Maggid explained, "At home, one needs everything. On a journey, though, it doesn't matter if the temporary dwelling and furniture are not so beautiful; and after all, it is just a journey." And for him, his life was just a transition, a journey to the eternal world of truth.

By keeping his material concerns in a state of "strangeness," Jacob assured not only that they would not interfere with his spiritual life, but also that a dimension of spirituality would be infused even into the material - transforming matter into something spiritual and holy.

The Torah and its instructions are everlasting, relevant to every Jew in all times and places. The lesson of the above is as follows:

Every Jew must realize that although his environment, the world, may hardly be perfect, each individual can prepare himself and everything related to him for the complete redemption.

This preparation is by means of "I have sojourned with Laban": the realization that all of this world is no more than garti - furnishings and baggage that one needs on a journey.

No matter what the duration of a person's life, whether seventy, eighty, or a hundred and twenty years, these years are no more than a stranger's temporary sojourn. From this perspective, the physical is not in conflict with the spiritual. In fact, this attitude will result in having prosperity even in the physical sense.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

I Love Being Jewish!
by Zalman Velvel

I love being Jewish! But for 45 years, I didn't.

It started when I very very young. There was a party, my family was there, and I smelled lox and herring for the first time. Then some strange man with a beard and a yarmulke came up to me. Eight days old and already it was no fun to be a Jew.

Thirteen years later, I was standing in synagogue, getting bar mitzvahed in front of 200 people, scared out of my wits, knees knocking, singing something I memorized from a record. They told me afterwards, "Now, you are a man."

The truth is, Judaism didn't make sense to me, growing up in America. It seemed like this big collection of don'ts: Don't eat pork or shrimp. Don't eat milk with meat. Don't eat anything on Yom Kippur. Don't work on Shabbat; don't even turn the lights on. Don't talk in synagogue, stop fidgeting!

To me, the only good thing about being Jewish was eating bagels. I loved bagels. I stayed that way for over 30 years; I had a 13 year old boy inside me who didn't like the Jew inside of him. By the time I was 45, I didn't go to synagogue, I didn't observe any holidays, not Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, and I ate bacon cheeseburgers at McDonalds.

Then one day another strange man with a beard and a yarmulke entered my life, from an organi-zation called Chabad. He walked into our real-estate office and asked if we could help him find a good deal on a building, so he could start a synagogue.

"Of course we can help you, Rabbi." It was commission time! Finally, I hit the Jewish Jackpot! "How much do you have for a down payment?"

He said, "Whatever we need, we will get."

I thought, this is going to be a BIG commission. "I'm glad you have a wealthy congregation, Rabbi. How much was pledged so far?"

He whispered, "Nothing ... yet."

"Excuse me?"

He looked up and said, "G-d will provide."

G-d will provide? "But Rabbi, what if G-d is a little short of cash right now?"

I'll never forget what he said. "Zalman, there is a G-d in this world, and this is a good thing. How could G-d not let this good thing happen?"

I never heard a Jew talk like that. I had to see what would happen. You know what? A short time later G-d did provide, and the rabbi had a synagogue.

Me, I had no commission. G-d didn't provide that. And my savings account was drained. Guess where part of the down-payment came from? It turned out G-d was a little short of cash, too.

Then the rabbi started to sell me something. What was he selling? A Jewish education. A tough product. A very tough product.

I was a product of the secular education system: you get good grades, so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job. And then (sing) "Make happy...make happy."

But no matter how much money I made, something was still missing, under the surface. I think the rabbi sensed that. First he suggested I learn Hebrew. "Why should I learn Hebrew, Rabbi? Oh, the Torah is in Hebrew. Okay, let's learn Hebrew. Rabbi, what's the Torah? It's the Bible? Then why don't we call it the Bible? Okay, I'll shut up and read." I wasn't an easy student.

We studied Torah, and after that, the rabbi suggested we study Kabala. Jewish mysticism? You mean you Chasidic guys do magic tricks? Can you do card tricks, too? Oh, Kabala is the study of joy and meaning. Hey, I can appreciate that. Excuse me? Did you say you'd like to make a 'l'chaim' and talk about it? Hey, I can really appreciate that!

After studying, the rabbi suggested we make a trip to Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Okay, I thought, let's see how the Chasids really live.

What I saw shocked me! I saw a society where couples get married only once, for life. I saw children who study, don't watch tv, don't take drugs, and actually like their parents. I saw a society that re-spects its elders, and takes care of its disadvantaged. I saw that being Jewish isn't just a list of don'ts. Being Jewish is a set of values that pulls a family close, pulls a community close, and makes life more than chasing after money-not that Chasidim don't like running into some money every now and then.

After visiting Crown Heights, I felt encouraged to start practicing Judaism. At home, I announced that on Friday night we would have a Shabbat meal.

"Can't you make it Sunday night, Dad, like the rest of the world?"

"Sorry, Shabbat is Friday night."

"But Friday is movie night!"

My family was less than enthusiastic. We muddled our way through Shabbat for two or three months before something interesting happened - we learned to enjoy each other's company. After a busy week, it felt good to relax and catch up with the people we loved most.

Elevated by this small success on the family front, I ventured next into the Jewish community. I began showing up at synagogue on Saturday.

After muddling my way through services for a few months, I made some new friends. The highlight of my week became farbrenging with the rabbi after services. Sometimes, after pouring a little l'chaim, we would pour out a little of our hearts, and I would feel close to my people, and a little closer to G-d.

I also learned to enjoy the holidays, the crazy ones like Purim, and the difficult ones like Yom Kippur. The rabbi talked me into dressing like Judah Macabee at a Chanuka festival at a local mall, and posing for pictures holding a plastic sword.

Five years ago, I went to Israel, along with my rabbi. I felt the power of the Land and a closeness to G-d that exists only there. Three years ago, I became a citizen of Israel. In the near future, I expect to move there because, ultimately, a Jew belongs in Israel.

So, now I love being Jewish! For me, the benefits have been a closer family, a closer community, and feelings of fulfillment. And I thank G-d for making me a Jew. It's taken me 53 years to be able to say that, but the journey was worth it.

Reprinted with permission from

What's New

Mission: Possible!

A Shabbaton weekend for teenage girls from across the country is scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 30 - Jan. 2. The Shabbaton features "unconventional Jewish learning with Rabbi Manis Friedman," workshops, activities, and more. Sponsored by Bais Chana, the Shabbaton will take place in Morristown, NJ. For more info call (800) 473-4801 or (718) 604-0088 or e-mail

Been There, Done That....

Shabbat Discovery Weekends presents Been There, Done That, Now What?! Dec. 24-26. Singles, couples and families can enjoy a Shabbat with the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Brooklyn. Featured lecturers are Rabbi Manis Friedman and Mrs. Chana Rachel Schusterman. For more info call (718) 953-1000 or visit

The Rebbe Writes

Continuation of a letter from the previous issue, written in 1964

The above is true in all areas of scientific inquiry. When it comes to the theory of evolution, dealing with an effort to reconstruct the distant past, science lacks even that decree of probability which it has in regard to future predictions, as explained at some length in my said letter. Here science can only speculate. If such speculations are represented in text-books as "facts," then it is a gross and unscientific misrepresentation.

To cite one illustration: For years the Ptolemaic system was accepted as true, according to which the sun revolves around the earth. Later Copernicus evolved the theory that the earth revolves around the son. This is the theory which is now given in all text-books as an indisputable fact.

But what are the facts? Aside from the fact that even the Copernican sun centered system is no more than a theory, subject to a variety of reservations, as all scientific theories must be apart, also, from the fact that the Copernican theory did not presume to settle all the situations relating to astrophysical, observations, but only answered more questions, and more simply, than the Ptolemaic - modern science has reached some revolutionary conclusions in the wake of the General Relativity Theory. Specifically, modern science is now convinced that when two systems are in motion relative to one another, it could never be ascertained, from the scientific view point, as to which is in motion and which a rest, or whether both are in motion. Let it be remembered that that the General Relativity Theory has bean accepted as fundamental to all exact sciences without dissent.

Yet - and it is surely no revelation to you - this new orientation in science is ignored in discussions relating to the Ptolemaic and Copernican theories on the high school level, but men in specialized studies of astronomy and physics in colleges and universities. In other words, science in many domains is still taught in terms of a scientific orientation which prevailed at the close of the 19th century, when two cardinal principles of science were yea unknown, namely the relativity theory, and that all scientific conclusions necessarily belong in the realm of probability, not certainty.

I once asked a professor of science why he did not tell his students that from the viewpoint of the relativity theory the Ptolemaic system could claim just as much validity as the Copernican. He answered candidly that if he did that, he would lose his standing in the academic world, since he would be at variance with the prevalent legacy from the 19th century. I countered, "What about the moral issue?" The answer was silence.

In discussing this question with another scientist, he expressed surprise that there should be an individual in the 20th century who could still think that the earth stood still and the sun revolved around it. When I protested that from the viewpoint of modern science this could be as valid as the opposite theory, he could not refute it.

Please excuse the length of the above remarks, which have bean prompted by your statement relating to the acceptance or non-acceptance of the concepts expressed in my letter on evolution. I invite your further reactions.

Rambam this week

16 Kislev, 5765 - November 29, 2004

Positive Mitzva 153: The New Moon - Calculating the Months and Years

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 12:2) "This month shall be to you the beginning of months" The Torah commands the Rabbinical Court to calculate the months and declare the necessary leap years. The manner in which it was done applies only to the time of the Great Sanhedrin in the Land of Israel. Today, we follow the Jewish calendar which was established by Rabbi Hillel HaNasi, a descendant of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. We rely on his calendar until the arrival of Mashiach, when we will return to the original method of the eye-witness report.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

On Thursday of this coming week, the nineteenth of Kislev, we will be celebrating the "Holiday of Liberation," when Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was released from his incarceration in Czarist Russia.

On the simplest level, the event leading up to the nineteenth of Kislev was the arrest of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad chasidism. His arrest was instigated by those who opposed the Chasidic movement when they fabricated lies against Rabbi Shneur Zalman, causing his arrest and a threat to his life and the survival of the Chasidism.

The spiritual reality of the nineteenth of Kislev, however, was a charge against Rabbi Shneur Zalman on High for expounding Chasidism and disclosing the mysteries of Torah.

Traditionally, the secrets of the Torah were studied only by a select few whose piety matched their scholarship. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, began disseminating the hidden aspects of Torah to even the simplest, unlettered Jews. His successor, the Maggid of Mezritch, continued in this vein. Both of these great leaders were faced with strong opposition to their "innovation."

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, a disciple of the Maggid, revealed the mysteries to an even greater extent than his predecessors, in order to reach every Jew. In Heaven, this brought about a tremendous accusation, which was reflected in the physical arrest and trial of Rabbi Shneur Zalman.

The liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, then, indicates the spiritual approval of all the Rebbe's actions, on the physical and spiritual level.

We celebrate the nineteenth of Kislev because it was the physical liberation of the Rebbe, his life was no longer endangered. But, more importantly, it is a day of celebration for it shows Divine approval of Chasidism.

Thoughts that Count

Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem... (Gen. 33:18)

The great sage Rashi explains that "in peace" - shalem - is to be interpreted as whole. Jacob came to Shechem whole: in body because he was healed of his limp; in wealth since, though he gave a large gift to appease Esau, he lacked nothing; and in his Torah [knowledge] because he did not forget any of his learning during his stay in Laban's house.

Rashi explains this to mean that Jacob was sound in body, his wealth was intact, and his Torah-observance was uncompromised. We learn from Jacob to always strive for excellence in all areas of our lives. Even a person whose primary path in the worship of G-d is through practical mitzvot - charity and good deeds - should also strive to be perfect in study.

(Likutei Sichot)

Now, let my master go ahead before his servant, and I will move at my own slow pace, according to the pace of the work that is before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my master, to Seir. (Gen. 33:14)

Jacob promised to visit Esau at his home in Seir. However, he never went to Seir. Did Jacob lie? No. For he will go in the days of Moshiach, as it is says (Obadiah 1:21): "And saviors shall ascend Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Esau."


And You said, "I will surely do good with you" (Gen. 32:13)

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov used to say: "Master of the Universe! Everything You do is most assuredly good, but there is a good which is immediately apparent, and a good which does not seem to be so at first. May it be Your will to bestow upon us only that type of good which is immediately revealed!"

I am not worthy of all the mercy...that You have done (Gen. 32:11).

The Hebrew for "I am not worthy" can also be translated, "I have become small." Jacob our ancestor said: The great mercy which G-d has done for me has caused me to become more small and humble. The mercy which G-d shows toward a person brings him closer to G-d, and the closer one is to G-d, the more humble he becomes.


It Once Happened

A very wealthy man, about 50 years-old, lived in St. Petersburg. He had been born into a family of Chabad Chasidim but was now not only far from the traditions of his family, but from all aspects of Jewish life. However, since his family had been prominent and devoted chasidim, when pictures of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, (known affectionately as the Alter Rebbe) the first Chabad Rebbe, and his grandson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, became available, he commissioned an artist to make copies for him which he framed and placed in his study.

One day, he had urgent business that involved a Chabad Chasid and decided to visit the Chasid in his home. As he walked inside, he saw tables set for a festive meal and the whole house was alive with singing and rejoicing. When the Chasid saw his business associate arrive, he immediately welcomed him and ushered him into his office. There they discussed the business at hand.

When the business was concluded, the guest decided to ask his host the reason for the celebration. "Is it a family simcha (happy occasion), perhaps? If so, I would like to wish you mazel tov (congratulations)."

"It is indeed a family simcha," replied the host. "We are speaking, right now, with our fathers and grandfathers in the Garden of Eden. And we were so glad to hear regards from there that we decided to celebrate."

The guest was dumfounded. He, of course, had absolutely no idea what his host was talking about.

Seeing the guests confusion, the host explained, "Today is the nineteenth of Kislev. You might remember from your childhood that this is the anniversary of the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from the Tainy Soviet where he was imprisoned on false charges of anti-government activities. In the area of the Garden of Eden where the Alter Rebbe now resides, there is tremendous rejoicing. All of the righteous have assembled there to wish him mazel tov on his liberation and on the tens of thousands of people who have become Chasidim.

"Our fathers and grandfathers, who used to have to travel long distances to visit their Rebbe, are with the Alter Rebbe for the big celebration, too. We, their children, are rejoicing together with them."

The Chasid's words penetrated his guest's heart. He remembered his childhood, when Chasidic gatherings such as this one used to take place in his own father's home. He felt inspired to join in this gathering, if only for but a moment. But then he thought to himself, "How can I, coming from where I was and being where I am now, even consider joining in this spiritual celebration?"

The host, sensing the guest's feelings, invited him to join them. "While you're in there, you'll get regards from your father and grandfather, too!" The Chasid made the man feel right at home.

An hour passed, then two and three. The guest forgot that he had plans to meet some acquaintances at the theater that evening. He was drawn so deeply into the joy and excitement of the celebration that he even imagined himself a young boy, once more, back in his parents' home. He remembered the celebration that was held each year in his grandfather's shul. He recalled the festive meal that his grandfather held each time he came home from a visit with his rebbe in the far-off town of Lubavitch.

After many hours had passed, the businessman went home. He went into his study and took a long, hard look at the picture of the Alter Rebbe and Rabbi Menachem Mendel which hung there. Then he took out a prayer book and prayed the evening service, sobbing from the deepest recesses of his heart.

Within a few days, he had bought himself new dishes and had made his entire kitchen kosher. He was taking the first steps in returning to his roots.

Moshiach Matters

Jacob went to meet with his brother Esau even though he knew that his life might be endangered by the encounter. But he didn't discuss the matter with anyone, or think twice about it. He just did it. From this we learn how important it is to DO things, because DOING is what will bring Moshiach.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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