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December 31, 2004 - 19 Tevet, 5765

851: Shemos

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

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Seeking the Heart  |  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

Seeking the Heart

Before the advent of the Chasidic movement, prayer and Torah study were primarily cold and cerebral. The Baal Shem Tov set the souls of the Jewish people on fire, stirring them to a higher level of love for G-d and enabling them to develop deeper bonds with their fellowmen.

He sent great scholars to learn from simple laborers who were untrained in book knowledge but masters in expressing their love for G-d and for their fellow Jews. He gave every person tools to tap the reservoir of spiritual feelings in the depths of his heart and bring them to the forefront of his experience. He and his followers made the Talmud's teaching: "G-d seeks the heart," an operational message, not a theoretical ideal.

Why this emphasis? Because our emotions reflect who we really are and what truly motivates us. If there is no spiritual expression for these qualities, our personalities will be disjointed. We will intellectually understand and identify with Jewish values, but our feelings will focus on material things. Such a dichotomy would undermine any attempts to advance spiritually. Instead, our hearts should actually beat faster because of our love for G-d, and we should taste genuine awe and dread with the realization that we are constantly in His presence.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, and his successors, perpetuated the Baal Shem Tov's legacy and expanded its scope, accentuating how, in order to channel the emotions in G-d's service, the mind must harness even the most powerful of our emotional resources.

Based on that premise, Chabad Chasidic philosophy has always viewed emotions as a tool to bring about a more encompassing purpose. Emotional expression in and of itself was never considered the ultimate goal. Instead, the emphasis has always been on avoda, using the power of intellect to direct the flow of emotions. Then, like a dammed river whose force is employed to produce energy, the strength of our emotions can be used to drive the turbines of our souls and refine and develop our characters.

The term avoda literally means "service" or "work." Avoda molds and refines the coarseness of our characters, and in the process, transforms the way we relate to ourselves, our fellow man, and G-d. It makes the concepts that we study real, not only intellectually, but emotionally, unlocking the restraints we have within our hearts.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman also contributed another dimension to the concept of serving G-d through the heart, focusing on those times when our hearts do not respond as we would like them to. He explains how even when insensitivity dulls our emotions and we do not experience genuine spiritual feeling, we can remain aligned with our mission and conduct ourselves according to the inner truth that we grasp. Though our understanding is not powerful enough to transform the way we actually feel, it can still guide our conduct.

From the forward to A Knowing Heart, a collection of essays based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published by Sichos In English

Ed.'s Note: There's no better time to begin learning how to apply these teachings than today. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for their schedule of classes and unlock your heart.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's portion is Shemot, the first portion of the Book of Exodus. Near the beginning of Shemot we read, "Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: 'Every son that is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall keep alive.'"

Pharaoh's main concern was that the boys be cast into the Nile River for he had been informed by his astrologers that a Jewish child would redeem the Children of Israel from Egypt. In decreeing death to male babies, the fate of the girls should not even have been mentioned by Pharaoh. In truth, however, the decree concerning the girls was just as harsh as that of the boys.

Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to cast the boys into the river in order to cause their physical death. The same Egyptians were also told that they must keep the girls alive, that is, raise them in the Egyptian way of life. This would cause not physical death like the boys, but a spiritual death.

Since the Torah mentions both decrees together in the same verse, this indicates that "every daughter you shall keep alive" is a decree no less harsh than "every son that is born you shall cast into the river." To destroy the soul is as bad as to kill the body, in fact worse - for spiritual death has an absolute finality that physical death does not.

The Nile was one of the Egyptian's gods. The Egyptians worshiped the Nile for the simple reason that it was the very source of their livelihood. "Cast the children into the river" indicates the two aspects of the Egyptian Exile. There was the physical exile in which the body was destroyed, and the spiritual exile in which the Jews were cast into the idolatry and hedonism of Egypt. The Egyptian Exile is the root of all subsequent exiles. Thus, the harsh decrees of this first exile are found in every subsequent exile, including our present one.

Today, too, there is a "Pharaoh". He can be found in the prevailing spirit of the times with its pressure to throw Jewish children into the "river" of the customs and practices of our society. Children become immersed in today's "Nile" because of the assumption that the "Nile" will assure them of a secure livelihood. Of the first redemption it is said that "by virtue of the righteous women of that generation our ancestors were freed from Egypt." What was the special virtue of those women? They raised a generation of Jews. They reacted to Pharaoh's decree to throw every new-born son into the river by arguing that no attention should be paid to it. If there is a Divine command, it alone must be heeded without calculating possible eventualities. By virtue of these righteous women our ancestors were freed from Egypt.

It is precisely by ignoring the present day "Pharaoh's" decree that we save our own children and will speedily bring about the general redemption for the Jewish people as a whole through our righteous Moshiach.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Immanuel Schochet.

A Slice of Life

On Inspiration
by Sara Karmely

Ed.'s Note: Sara Karmely speaks internationally on the topic of Taharat HaMishpacha, the Torah's laws governing married life. This article is excerpted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter where Sara has a column in which she relates inspiring stories she has heard during her travels.
It was late on Shabbat afternoon. I was a guest in the home of the Rebbe's emissaries in the city where I had gone to teach women about Taharat HaMishpacha and Shalom Bayit - having peace within one's marriage and home. The rabbi and other male guests had gone to the synagogue to pray the afternoon mincha service and the women were relaxing with the children, drinking tea and talking.

I could not help noticing one of the guests, an intelligent and elegant lady not so young in years, a medical specialist, who had on her lap a little boy of about three-years-old. He could have been her grandchild, but I was told he was her son. Both mother and son were specially tranquil and happy, smiling and close. When I showed interest in them, she confided in me... and allowed me to print her story, albeit without her name.

"Years ago, I did not look like I do now," she started, pointing to her wig modestly covering her hair, with a smile. "I was far from observant, and had no idea what Torah and mitzvot (commandments) were. My husband and I were living in Greenwich Village in Manhattan when I decided, on my fortieth birthday, that I wanted to have a child before it was too late. After many months of trying to conceive without success, went to the top fertility specialists. As I was working in a hospital, and I am in the medical profession, I could get the best care possible, But it was all in vain. I was well past 40 by now. All the specialists discouraged me - my age, constitution and genetic problems all went against me. My pain at hot having started earlier was intolerable. I agonized that might never have a baby, G-d forbid.

"One evening, I was out on the balcony, and I was crying tears from the bottom of my heart. Impulsively, I raised my face up to the sky and said, "G-d, if You are really there, please answer me - what should I do to have a baby?

"Suddenly, an apparition came just about here, above my left shoulder," and here she paused, to point to her shoulder, forming a large oval with her hands. "It was a blinding white light, with a voice speaking so kindly to me from the midst of the light. The voice said simply, but insistently, 'Go to the mikva.' I answered, helplessly and in awe, "What... where... is the mikva?" Because it was the first time I had ever heard this word. But all I heard was: 'Go to the mikva.'

"The very next morning at work, I got online and found out what the word mikva meant, and phoned a number I found. It was a Chabad-Lubavitch number. The woman who answered sounded extremely busy. 'Look, if you are truly interested in learning the laws of mikva, I will teach them to you, but if not, please don't both me because I have to go on a trip and I don't have time to waste.' Only after I had assured her of my sincerity and begged her to take the time to teach me before her trip, did she relent and take me seriously. But after my first class was over, I sat with a heavy heart. How would I ever be able to convince my completely non-observant husband to keep these laws that seemed so foreign? I highly doubted he would consent to such outlandish practices! Again, I asked G-d to help. And again, He did. My husband just looked into my worried face, and said, 'We have to do what we have to do!'

"So we began keeping the laws of Family Purity, and soon I went to the mikva for the first time. And nine months later..." and here she couldn't continue speaking, just gave her a son a tight squeeze.

My newfound friend smiled through her tears. "How can you give a child like this non-kosher food? So we began learning about how to keep kosher, and soon koshered our kitchen. Going to mikvah, keeping kosher, and yet no Shabbat? So we began observing Shabbat, for him. We found Chabad, and we feel comfortable here. For our son's sake, we learn as much as we can, and we keep adding to the mitzvot we do."

As she sat there telling me this story, light seemed to emanate from her face, so softly framed by her modest attire setting off the whole picture. The loving looks she bestowed on her precious child reminded me of the saying of the Baal ShemTov that every Jew is as dear to G-d as and only child born to parents in their old age.

What's New

The Path of Your Commandments

Derech Mitzvosecha, roughly translated as "The Path of Your Commandments," is the newest release by Sichos In English. The book contains selected mystical discourses of the third Chabad Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek. The discourses are translated into English and are printed side-by-side the original Hebrew text. It includes mystical perspectives on the commandments of tefilin, the beard, hair-covering for women, and more.

The Rebbe Writes

5 Teves 5732 [1972]

I was saddened to learn of the passing of your venerable father __, of blessed memory. Having been blessed with such a ripe old age and a full life, serving Jewish communities in the Old and New Worlds, your late father, peace to him, will certainly be missed by many. I extend to you, and to all the bereaved family, my sincere condolences, and the traditional blessing:

May G-d comfort you in the midst of all the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.

The text of this blessing to the mourner, hallowed by tradition of many generations, is significant and meaningful.

At first glance, the relevance of personal mourning to that of national mourning is somewhat incongruous, since the former is fresh and vivid, while the latter, though unforgettable, is nearly 2000 years old.

However, precisely in the coupling of the two together lies the inner aspect of the comfort. For just as the loss of the ancient glory of Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdash [Holy Temple] is shared by all Jews, so a personal loss is shared by all Jews, inasmuch as the Jewish people is like one family, indeed like one organism, as our sages expressed it.

Furthermore, just as the consolation for the national bereavement is sure to come with the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Holy City, and of the Beth Hamikdash, as has been faithfully promised by G-d through His sacred prophets, so assuredly will G-d fulfill His promise for the resurrection and the awakening of the Sleepers in Dust, to rise and sing G-d's praises.

Finally, there is another point which is shared by both the personal bereavement and the national bereavement: Just as in the case of Zion and Jerusalem, it was only their material aspects, the wood, stone, gold and silver, that were consumed, while the real sanctuary, "The Beth Hamikdash" that abides in the heart of each and every Jew remains intact, for it is indestructible - so in the case of the personal loss of a near and dear one, only the physical body is mortal, while the soul is eternal, merely departing for a higher world, the World of Truth.

Consequently, every Mitzvo [commandment] and good deed performed here on earth by those left behind, which accords with the Will of the Giver of Life, is also a source of gratification for the departed soul; indeed a credit and Zechus [merit] for the Neshama [soul].

May G-d grant that henceforth you should know of no more sorrow, but only goodness and kindness be with you and yours always.

With esteem and blessing,

25th of Teves, 5723 [1963]

Sholom u'Brocho:

I received your letter of the 20th of Teves, and am pleased to note that you are making progress in your learning. I trust that you will not be content with accomplishments in the past, and will make every effort to do better, in according with the principle Maalin b'Kodesh [ascending in holiness], and since the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] are from G-d, the Creator of Man, it is certain that he gave the ability to fulfill what is expected. At the same time that is the channel to receive G-d's blessings in a growing measure, including the matter about which you wrote.

No doubt you noted the 150th Yahrzeit of the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], Baal HaTanya and Shulchan Aruch, which we observed yesterday. Your father must have also surely told you about the importance of the Old Rebbe, following in the footsteps of the Baal Shem Tov, attached to Chinuch [Jewish education]. I hope you will be a living example and source of good influence to your friends.

With blessing,

Rambam this week

24 Tevet, 5765 - January 5, 2005

Prohibition 186: It is forbidden to cook meat and milk together

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 23:19) "You shall not boil a kid in the milk of its mother" This prohibition forbids us to cook milk or dairy products together with meat or meat products. The Torah mentions this prohibition thee times, from which the Sages derive that there are three elements of the prohibition. It is forbidden to cook the mixture, to eat it, and even to benefit from it.

Prohibition 187: It is forbidden to eat meat and milk together

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 34:26) "You shall not boil a kid in the milk of its mother" This verse teaches us that we are not allowed to eat meat and dairy foods together. We must wait a certain amount of time after eating meat, before we may eat milk products.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The 24th of Tevet (coinciding with January 5 this year). It is the yartzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman's works incorporated the whole spectrum of Jewish thought. The philosophical system he created is a synthesis of the mystical and revealed aspects of Judaism. But Rabbi Shneur Zalman was not "merely" a cold, analytic scholar, as the following story reveals.

Once, Rabbi Dov Ber, Rabbi Shneur Zalman's son, was studying late at night, his infant son in a cradle nearby. Rabbi Dov Ber was so immersed in his studies that when the baby fell out of the cradle he did not hear the child cry. Rabbi Shneur Zalman was also studying in another part of the house. But he heard his grandson's cry and quickly went to pick him up.

"You must always hear the cry of a child," Rabbi Shneur Zalman rebuked his son.

This simple admonition is like the rallying cry of all of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's descendants and followers since then. Rabbi Shneur Zalman devoted his life to hearing the cry of every child-regardless of his chronological age. Indeed, within each one of us there is a child crying out to his Father in Heaven, waiting to be picked up, brought close. Rabbi Shneur Zalman's teachings, especially his main work, the Tanya, were written to help enable one to achieve that very closeness.

Thoughts that Count

These are the names of the children of Israel coming into Egypt (Ex. 1:1)

The verse says "coming," in the present tense, rather than "who came," in the past tense. For the duration of the 210-year exile in Egypt, the Jews felt as if they had just arrived in that land. They never adopted Egyptian ways and always considered their sojourn temporary.

(Ohel Yehoshua)

Rashi explains that even though they were already counted while they were alive, the Jews were again counted after their passing, to show how dear they were to G-d. They were likened to the stars, each of which G-d counts and names, as it states, "Who takes out His hosts by number, to each He calls by name." From this comparison to the stars we learn that every Jew should realize the full extent of G-d's love for him. Furthermore, the same way that the stars were created to light up the surrounding darkness of the night, so is each Jew created in order to spread the light of Torah and holiness throughout the darkness of the physical world.

(Sefat Emet)

An angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thorn bush, and he looked, and behold the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed (Ex. 3:2)

Man is likened to a tree in a field; Torah scholars are likened to fruit bearing trees, while unlettered Jews are likened to trees that do not bear fruit. The "flame of fire" was burning in the humble bush - the simple Jew. The simple Jew, who prays and recites Psalms with a simple faith in G-d, even without understanding the meaning of the words, has within him the "flame of fire," a holiness because of his purity of heart. The bush was also "not consumed." This fire can never be extinguished, for it is the simple Jew who is forever thirsty for Torah, always burning with a desire and longing for Torah, while the scholars quench their inner fire with the waters of Torah.

(Baal Shem Tov)

It Once Happened

In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia, and the route of the invasion led through White Russia. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, leader of the Chasidic movement in White Russia, who had twice been accused of high treason, turned out to be a most loyal patriot. Although the French conqueror was hailed in some religious Jewish quarters as the harbinger of a new era of political and economic freedom, Rabbi Shneur Zalman saw in Napoleon a threat to basic religious principles and spiritual values.

The Rebbe had nothing but contempt for the man whose arrogance and lust for power knew no bounds, and who represented to the Chabad leader the antithesis of humility and holiness. The Rebbe urged his numerous followers to help the Russian war effort against the invaders in every possible way. With the aid of his followers behind the enemy lines, some of whom were employed by the French Military Command, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was also able to render valuable intelligence service to the Russian generals at the front.

When the French armies approached Liadi, the Russian generals advised Rabbi Shneur Zalman to flee. In August (1812) the Rebbe hastily left Liadi, leaving everything behind, and fled with his family towards Smolensk. For some five months Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his family suffered the hardships and perils of the road and of an unusually inclement winter, until they reached a village in the district of Kursk. Here the Rabbi succumbed to a severe illness in the final stages of the harrowing journey, and passed away at the age of sixty-eight.

Traditions and records preserved in the family of Rabbi Shneur Zalman provide interesting details in connection with the Rebbe's last and fateful journey. From an account by Rabbi Nachum, grandson of the Rebbe, relating his personal experiences, we learn the following details:

It was on Friday, the 29th of Menachem Av that the Rebbe fled from Liadi on the advice of the generals commanding the Russian armies in that area. Sixty wagons were put at his disposal, but they were not enough, and many had to walk on foot. A number of armed troops were assigned to accompany and protect the caravan. In view of the rapid advance of the French army, the generals suggested that the best route for the flight of the Rebbe would be through the town of Bayev. But the Rebbe decided to head for Krasna, urging the caravan to make the utmost haste, in order to cross the river Dnieper at the earliest possible time.

After covering a distance of about two miles, the Rebbe suddenly requested the accompanying troops to let him go back to Liozna. Arriving at his deserted house, he ordered his men to search the house carefully to make sure that nothing whatever, however trivial, had been overlooked. The only things found were a pair of worn-out slippers, a rolling pin and a sieve, which had been left in the attic. He ordered these to be taken along, and to set the house on fire before the enemy arrived, first removing the sacred Torah scrolls from the adjacent synagogue. Then he blessed those of the townspeople who remained in the town, and speedily departed again.

No sooner had he left the town on the road leading to the Dnieper, then the avant-coureur of Napoleon's army reached the town from the opposite end. Presently, Napoleon himself with his entourage entered the town on their galloping steeds. Napoleon inquired after the house of the Rebbe, but when he reached it, he found it ablaze, the fire burning beyond control. Napoleon wished to have something which belonged to the Rebbe and offered a rich reward to anyone who could bring him anything. But nothing was there. [It seems that Napoleon practiced some sort of sorcery for which such an object was required.]

During all his long and arduous journey Rabbi Shneur Zalman kept in touch with the situation of Russian Jewry caught in the gigantic Franco-Russian war. The retreating Russian armies, using the scorched earth policy in order to deprive the enemy of vitally needed supplies, exacted a tremendous sacrifice from its own people. At the same time the invading armies plundered everything they could lay their hands on. Starvation and ruination were the order of the day, and the Rebbe's heart went out to his suffering brethren, who were the most hard-hit victims of the invasion.

The Rebbe had foreseen Napoleon's invasion of Moscow as well as his defeat there. He also predicted that Napoleon's final defeat would be at the hands of his own compatriots. At the same time he knew that the retreating French armies, starving and desperate, would plunder the Jewish communities which lay in their path. Arriving in Piena, the Rebbe embarked upon a relief campaign to aid the Jewish victims of the war, including resettlement plans, fund raising, and relief distribution. For ten days after his arrival in Piena the Rebbe worked feverishly on his plans and projects to alleviate the plight of his brethren. Then, he fell ill, his condition worsening day to day. At the conclusion of Shabbat he composed a letter full of mystical allusions, and a few minutes later he returned his soul to his Maker.

Reprinted from Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Kehot Publication Society

Moshiach Matters

In the book of Exodus (this week's Torah portion of Shemot) we read of G-d afflicting Moses' hand with leprosy and then making it healthy again "Behold his hand was as leprous and white as snow...and behold it was turned again as his other flesh" (Ex. 4:6,7) Leprosy is symbolic of Exile and healthy flesh symbolizes the Redemption. Through this sign, G-d hinted to Moses that the leprosy-exile would be transformed into healthy flesh-the redemption, and could occur in the blink of an eye.

(Ohr HaTorah)

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