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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

December 24, 2004 - 12 Tevet, 5765

850: Vayechi

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

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On Hold  |  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

On Hold

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One of life's little frustrations. We are reduced, it seems, to pick-a-numbers. But what, really, is so annoying about being put on hold?

Well, there's the time wasted - but we could do a crossword puzzle or write a letter or read a book while waiting - if it wasn't for that obnoxious music.

And then there's the impersonal, mechanical, automated system - but so many of our calls are routine that the computer-operation works faster and saves us time. How much do we have in our account? Enter the account number and you've got it.

Perhaps the most annoying - or frustrating - part about being put on hold is that when someone finally gets around to talking to you, he or she is incompetent. The service representative doesn't provide any, can't answer your questions, and puts you on hold - again - while going to search for a manager.

Yet, like so many things in life, being put on hold has a lesson for us. Two lessons, actually.

First, we have to know what we want, know the options the menu provides.

Do we want to "open a new account" - move forward in our Jewish observance?

Do we want to "make a payment" - give extra charity?

Do we want to "find out about new features" - extend our learning, study a text or topic we haven't looked at before?

Do we have a "question about a bill" - is it time for a periodic spiritual accounting?

Do we have a "technical problem" - is there some detail of a mitzva (commandment) we're not getting quite right or could do better?

Do we want to speak to the "Customer Representative" - increase the intensity and focus of our prayers?

And then, when we are put on hold, when our efforts at self-improvement, at increasing our Torah study, our charity-giving, our prayers, our mitzvot, etc., get delayed - we should be frustrated. Because our spiritual time is too important.

And we should voice our frustration to the "Customer Representative." For when it comes to being put on hold, we've been on hold for far too long - for over two thousand years, in fact.

It's time to demand better service. It's time to refuse any more automated responses. It's time for G-d to take us off hold - and send Moshiach!

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayechi, relates that Jacob blessed Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Menashe, saying: "Through you Israel shall bless, saying, 'May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.'" Ephraim and Menashe are prototypes. They both represent Jewish children born in exile, away from the Holy Land. Nevertheless, they point to two different motifs.

The name Menashe was given because: "G-d has made me forget... my father's household." A Menashe Jew is concerned about losing the link to his father's household. He realizes that he lives in Egypt, in exile, and does not have the awareness of G-d inherent to those who live in the Holy Land. That bothers him. He is concerned about his forgetting and that makes him remember. Although he lives in exile, he is looking back to the time when his ancestors lived in Israel. This keeps him connected to his Jewish heritage.

The name Ephraim was given because "G-d made me fruitful in the land of my oppression." Ephraim does not look back; he looks forward. He takes exile, "the land of my oppression," and makes it fruitful, transforming it into a medium for the expression of G-d's intent. Certainly, living in exile is different from living in Israel. But there is a Divine purpose in that circumstance as well. While a person is in exile, he need not spend all his effort trying to recall Israel. Instead, he should do what he can to spread holiness in his surroundings, showing how there is no place and no situation in the world apart from Him.

For this reason, Ephraim is given the greater blessing. For the path of Divine service his name connotes is more comprehensive, allowing us to appreciate how His presence permeates every element of existence.

Before Jacob passed away, he told his sons: "Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days." Our Sages tell us that Jacob wanted to tell his children when Moshiach will come. Nevertheless, G-d did not desire that he reveal this and so He removed the spirit of prophecy from him. Thus, Jacob spoke to his sons about other matters.

There are many lessons from this narrative, most obviously, that G-d does not want the time for Moshiach's coming to be known. Some commentaries explain the reason being that it might lead to despair. If people know that they will have to wait for Moshiach, they might lose hope.

Others explain that it might make people lazy. If they know that Moshiach won't come until this and this time, they might be less inclined to apply themselves to their Divine service.

Maimonides says: "I await his coming every day," i.e., that every day Moshiach can come and indeed, we are looking forward to him doing so.

Therefore, there is no cause for despair. The matter is in our hands. If we apply ourselves, Moshiach's coming can become a reality. Conversely, there is nothing to be lazy about. Unless we apply ourselves, the world will not be prepared and Moshiach will be delayed.

The Biblical narrative also provides us with insight regarding one of the important preparatory steps. Jacob tells his sons: "Gather together." Unity is one of the fundamental breakthroughs Moshiach will introduce. By anticipating this oneness and making it part of our lives at present, we can precipitate the diffusion of this idea throughout the world and hasten Moshiach's actual arrival.

From Keeping In Touch, adapted by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Published by Sichos In English.

A Slice of Life

From Strength to Strength
by Tzivia Emmer

The first thing I learned about Peter Himmelman was that evenings are for his kids - no interviews. For someone in the entertainment industry, that's saying a lot. Family values may not usually take center stage for rock stars, but Peter is also an observant Jew for whom Shabbat and family life are essential.

Being the son-in-law of Bob Dylan is not very much of an issue these days - people ask him about the '60s icon a lot less than they used to, he says.

As a performer and songwriter, Peter has attracted a devoted base of fans who reputedly will follow him anywhere.

He has also made albums for children and written a number of scores for film and TV. Film and TV work give Peter the opportunity to spend time at home, off the concert trail.

Peter's commitment to Judaism began with a visit to a class of Rabbi Simon Jacobson (author of Toward a Meaningful Life) in the late '80s. A close relationship developed.

Peter's music has been called a "unique blend of personal insight with elements of mystical Judaism." With album titles like "Gematria" and "From Strength to Strength," it's clear that a stream of deep content runs through his work.

"When you can bring words together," says Simon Jacobson, "it's a tremendous kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name). It's transformational."

I asked Peter how it all began.

"When I was a kid in Minnesota I grew up in more or less of a Conservative Jewish home, and we went to Talmud Torah after school. I remember once when I was eight or nine, a Sukkamobile came to the Hebrew school, and there was this guy in a beard.

"He was so full of life, and so happy about this Jewish thing, waving this lulav - I actually thought at the time, I mean compared to the people that were teaching me, I thought he was an actor.

"That was my assumption and nobody disabused me of the notion. Because we never saw anybody with a beard in Minnesota. He had to be an actor. He was so happy, too.

"Years later when I was a young teenager a cousin brought me to see Rabbi [Moshe] Feller and I put two and two together and realized this was the guy who many years before had come by.

I thought at the time I would just throw him for a loop and get him off my back, and I said, 'Rabbi, with all due respect, whatever you're going to say is going to be a pretty moot point because I don't believe in G-d (the notions that I had learned about G-d, the construct that I had made for myself based on what I had heard).'

"He didn't even flinch. He said, 'So what? You can still put on tefilin!'

"I got it all in one second when he said that. I understood that he didn't take my rejection of this limited construct of G-d very seriously. With a sense of humor: You can still put on tefilin! We moved to New York and I didn't put the tefilin on very consistently because I didn't have any more input. But I did take them with me to New York. So it wasn't as though I had no Jewish experience."

How did you meet Simon Jacobson?

"A record producer friend named Kenny Vance brought me to the class. He thought it would be really off-putting to tell me that we're going to go to the house of an Orthodox rabbi - because I was so immersed, or so he thought, in the culture of rock and roll, and this would be so antithetical.

"And when I met Simon, it took only one night to get me on that course. He said something which I've quoted back many times, one line that to me was so resonant. He was talking about tzadikim - obviously he was talking about the Lubavitcher Rebbe - he said a tzadik isn't just like a really nice person but is someone for whom there is no self any more, that it's a completely selfless existence.... And then he said something provocative, which was that a tzadik can do anything.

"I said, 'Can he fly?' Then he said that he personally never saw anybody fly but you have to understand that to a tzadik the act of flying over the surface of the physical earth or walking on it, it's the same miracle.

"I said, 'Wow, is that really what Judaism's about, trying to see the miraculous in what we assume to be mundane existence?' It wasn't a new thing for me, it was always what my music, when it was at its most honest, was trying to get at.

"So I got going on a path of observance very quickly after that."

Was it difficult to incorporate the actual practices into your life?

"Nothing was very challenging because if you desire something it's not like a sacrifice. But there were some complexities.

"At about the time that I met Simon I had just made this record deal and it was a big thing for me, something I had been trying to do for years, and I went to Israel with the money that I got. Everybody around me was saying, 'What are you doing going to Israel instead of aggrandizing yourself in the style of rock stars'?

"The president of the record company said, 'What do you mean you can't play on Friday nights?' He actually thought I was kidding; it took me about 20 minutes to get him to stop laughing. Then he said, 'You can't mean that you're actually serious, you've finally arrived, and we're going to pour millions of dollars in promotion, and you can't go on a tour....' It didn't really stop me."

Where do music and Judaism intersect?

"I remember a metaphor I once heard, that the angels were upset when G-d gave music to man because it's a very powerful thing, like a sword in the hands of a child, and they thought that he would misuse it. But wielded skillfully it could be a very powerful tool to cut through people's layers of defense and artifice. And in that way it intersects."

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Press.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Naftoli and Henya Hertzel recently arrived in Lauderhill, Florida. They will be organizing special programs to meet the needs of the many Israelis living in the community. In addition, Rabbi Hertzel will head the Beit Medrash LeRabbanut rabbinical seminary program there. Rabbi Yaakov and Roza Hindy Weiss will be moving to Colonie, New York, where they will be establishing a new Chabad Center to serve the Jewish community of that eastern New York city. In addition, Rabbi Chayim Boruch and Brochie Oirechman are opening a Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Puerto Madero (Beunos Aires), Argentina. The center will be the first Jewish institution in that area.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letters

21 Menachem Av, 5710 [1950]

Greetings and Blessings!

In reply to your letter of 16 Menachem Av concerning your wife's health: You write of reasons for which she cannot conceive.

However, this appears to be incomprehensible, because the beginning of your letter mentions that in the month of Elul 5709 [11 months previous to the date of this letter] she was pregnant. If so, this can certainly be the case now, too.

It therefore seems to me that your wife should not undertake anything that would - according to what you write - be risky. Let her once again consult a medical specialist as to what she should do and he will no doubt find a moderate course of action. Through the agency of a particular doctor and a particular medication everything will pass, and the blessing of my revered father-in-law [the previous Rebbe] (May I serve as an atonement for his resting-place!) will be fulfilled - that G-d will gladden your hearts with healthy and viable offspring.

You write further that from this whole situation your wife has become nervous, and so on.

It should be explained to her that the Alm-ghty directs the world in the manner that is best. He knows what is best, and He wrote in the Torah that children are a blessing. Jews are therefore deserving of it. And if this blessing is sometimes delayed, it should be known that we all have a great Rebbe, my revered father-in-law, and in due course he will make all his blessings materialize for all those who are bound to him.

However, one must hold tightly on to the bonds of connection with him. If, instead, one begins to be apprehensive about the fulfillment of his blessings, and this makes one become nervous, this is an indication of weakness, G-d forbid, in one's trust and in one's connection. In particular, if it also affects one's health, it is certainly nothing more than the counsel of the [Evil] Inclination.

She and you yourself must be strong in your trust "in G-d and in Moshe, His servant," of our generation - that is, my revered father-in-law - and this in itself will help expedite and actualize his holy blessing for healthy and viable offspring and for all good things.

Before candle-lighting [on the eve of Shabbat], your wife no doubt makes a donation bli neder [without making an oath] to the charity that carries the name of Rabbeinu Meir Baal HaNess, and every day you no doubt recite bli neder the Rebbe's chapter of Tehillim [Psalms], which is currently chapter 71.

When your wife becomes pregnant, in a good and auspicious hour, you will presumably not publicize the fact at the early states, but you will immediately notify the Rebbe at the holy resting-place.

With blessings,

7 Adar I, 5711 [1951]

Greetings and Blessings!

In response to your letter dated Monday of the week of the Torah portion of Mishpatim and the pidyon nefesh:

One must be strong in his trust in G-d, Who conducts the whole world without exception. He will watch over you and protect you, and will ultimately settle your affairs well for you, both materially and spiritually.

In addition, one must have appropriate vessels to accommodate all these blessings. These vessels are Torah study and the observance of mitzvos [commandments]. Specifically: reciting Tehillim every day according to the division of the monthly cycle; studying a section of Chumash [the Five books of Moses] every day from the weekly portion, together with the commentary of Rashi (on Sunday what would be read for the first aliya, on Monday what would be read for the second aliya, and so on); and studying the daily reading of Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidism] as divided into an annual cycle by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe.

Why do you make no mention of plans for marriage?

May G-d help you to give glad tidings in the near future.

With blessings,

Rambam this week

17 Tevet, 5765 - December 29, 2004

Prohibition 52: The prohibition of intermarriage

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

Prohibition 361: It is forbidden to disable males from fathering children

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 22:24) "Neither shall you do this in your land" We are forbidden to disable a male - man or animal - from fathering children.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

With this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, we complete the first book of the Torah, Genesis.

Though the main part of the portion deals with the death of Jacob, it is entitled, Vayechi - and he lived. The naming of the Torah portions was not done in a haphazard manner. The portion's name gives us a hint as to its content. "And he lived," teaches us that real life is not limited to physical and material existence. There is life beyond that which we experience in this temporal world. When a person's values and teachings have continuity into the next generation, when his good deeds live on after his passing, then, truly, he continues to live.

The Talmud states "Jacob our father did not die. Just as his children live, so does he." Jacob raised his children in such a way that each and every one of them followed in his path of righteousness, dedication to G-d and Torah, and good deeds. And so, in effect, Jacob did not die. As we get older and the gray hairs or wrinkles start multiplying, we often begin to wonder what kind of an inheritance we will leave for our children. Some feel that if they leave a large enough monetary inheritance, they will be remembered and recalled fondly, with respect and love. But, in truth, a material inheritance is not enough.

We must set our sights on becoming like our ancestor Jacob. We must establish families which will continue our values and teachings, our good deeds and our dedication to Judaism. Then we can be sure that, just as our children live, so will we.

Thoughts that Count

And he blessed Joseph, and he said, "G-d...bless the lads..." (Gen. 48:15,16)

This verse opens by saying that Jacob blessed Joseph. Yet, we see from the next verse that Jacob blessed only Joseph's children! However, "G-d bless the lads" is really Joseph's blessing. For what greater blessing can one have then that one's children would be blessed?


I have given you one portion...which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow (Gen. 48:22)

The great commentator, Rashi explains that Jacob's words "my sword and my bow" are referring to "my wisdom and my prayers." A war takes place in the soul of every person. The "Amorite" is the tendency toward evil which is strengthened through speaking - "Amira" in Hebrew - about non-holy matters and idle chatter. How does one overcome this "Amorite?" Through speaking words of Torah - my wisdom - and words of prayer - my prayer.

(Torah Ohr)

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years (Gen. 47:28)

When the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was a child, he learned a commentary on this verse that these 17 years were the best years of Jacob's life. This surprised the boy, and he went to his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to find out how it was possible that the years spent in such a spiritually corrupt and abominable land could have been Jacob's best. Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: Before Jacob descended into Egypt, he sent an emissary to establish yeshivot and places of learning. Whenever and wherever a Jew learns Torah, he cleaves to G-d and achieves a true and meaningful life. Furthermore, precisely because Egypt was such an abominable place, the holiness and spirituality Jacob attained there shone that much brighter against the dark and evil background of his surroundings.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa's wrenching poverty was exceeded only by his great piety. He and his family often lacked even the barest necessities of life, but he refused assistance or charity from others. It was known that he himself subsisted on only a small basket of carobs from week to week.

Rabbi Chanina's wife was herself a great and righteous woman. In spite of their desperate plight, she never complained. On the day before Shabbat, when all the other women busied themselves buying wine, meat, and other necessities, she lacked even the flour with which to make her challot. Her neighbors were aware of her poverty, and their pitying glances caused her great distress.

One day she thought of an ingenious ploy to avoid this embarrassment. Every Friday morning, she prepared her oven exactly as if she were baking challot. The fire was lit, and the smoke rose through the chimney. Who would be able to guess that the oven was, sadly, empty, since the family had nothing to cook for Shabbat?

Her secret was safe until one Friday, her neighbor, a nosy and mean-spirited person, decided to get to the bottom of this mystery. She knew that Rabbi Chanina was desperately poor, so what could be going on in his kitchen Friday afternoons? She made up her mind to investigate, and went next door to spy on her neighbor. The sound of knocking sent Rabbi Chanina's wife running to hide, so fearful was she of discovery.

The neighbor, not to be thwarted, entered the kitchen and looked in the oven. To her surprise, it was full of beautiful, golden challot. She called to the rabbi's wife, "Run and get your oven-shovel. Your challot are about to burn!" And, in fact, the righteous woman was coming already, shovel in hand. You see, since miracles were so common in their household, she believed that G-d wouldn't allow her to suffer such embarrassment!

One day, Rabbi Chanina's wife could no longer bear to see the hardship of her poor children who lacked so many comforts. She approached Rabbi Chanina and said to him, "My husband, how much longer must we bear this terrible poverty?" The tzadik also felt his family's pain and replied, "What can we do to help ourselves?"

His wife answered, "Pray to the Master of the World, and beg Him to give us just a bit of our great reward which awaits us in the World-to-Come."

Rabbi Chanina, who was himself at a loss of how to deal with his family's problem, began to pray. "G-d, we can no longer bear this terrible suffering. Please grant us some of the great reward due us in Paradise, in this world."

Suddenly, a hand descended through the roof of the house, and grasped in the hand was a golden table leg!

Rabbi Chanina, who was accustomed to miracles, happily received the golden leg. When he showed it to his wife, she was filled with joy. No longer would she have to bear the wailing of her cold, hungry children. G-d had answered their prayers; they would be able to live without hunger or want for the rest of their lives.

That night, the whole family retired to bed in a happy frame of mind. Everyone slept well that night. Only the wife of Rabbi Chanina slept fitfully, her rest disturbed by a distressing dream.

In her dream, the rebbetzin saw Paradise, the World-to-Come. And there, in great glory, sat hundreds of sages and tzadikim, all seated at magnificent golden tables. The awesome sight was marred by just one shocking detail. As she studied the scene carefully, she saw amidst all these people, one lone couple who stood out from the rest. This couple was seated at a table with only three golden legs!

Looking at this couple with pity, she suddenly realized that it was none other than she and her husband.

She awoke with a start, and related the terrible dream to her husband.

Rabbi Chanina was also quite upset by the dream. He faced his wife and asked her: "Do you wish to sit in Paradise at a table with only three legs, while the other righteous people all have complete tables? Are you willing to lose even a small amount of your eternal reward for more comfort in this world?"

Pale and trembling with fright, she answered, "Of course not! Please ask G-d to take back the golden leg."

Rabbi Chanina immediately rose and uttered a heartfelt prayer to G-d to remove the golden table leg. And no sooner had he completed his prayer, than the leg disappeared.

The great rabbis of the time, upon hearing of this occurrence commented, saying, that although the first miracle of the table leg descending from heaven was very great, the second miracle was far greater. For, as a rule, G-d gives blessings more readily than He takes them back.

Moshiach Matters

Jacob blessed Judah that, "The scepter will not depart from Judah... until Shilo comes, and the nations obey him." Shilo refers to Moshiach who is from the tribe of Judah, and to whom all the nations of the world will gather and obey. He is called Shilo for a number of reasons: Shilo is similar to "she-lo" ("that which is his"). i.e., that true sovereignty belongs to him (Targum, Rashi); "shai lo" ("gift to him") - all nations will bring a gift to Moshiach. (Yalkut Shimoni); "shalva" ("peace") - In the days of Moshiach there will be world peace (S'forno); "shilyasa" or "sh'lil" ("newborn") - that he will be born to human parents.

(Rabeinu Bechaye)

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