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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
January 14, 2005 - 4 Shevat, 5765

853: Bo

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


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  852: Vaera854: Beshalach  

True Leadership  |  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

True Leadership

"To the victor belongs the spoils." "The winner makes the rules." How often do we conceive of leaders as winners - on the battlefield, on the playing field, in the boardroom?

Certainly we value the ability to be decisive - although decisiveness doesn't necessarily make a leader, let alone a good one. Many people can decide quickly - and wrongly. So decisiveness must be tempered with discernment - the ability to decide correctly.

A leader can and should inspire his followers, motivate them, give them confidence, a sense of mission, determination and a belief in themselves - a surety of their rightness and their competence.

In order to inspire his followers, a leader must be firm and loyal. The leader must be loyal and dedicated not only to the cause, or the goal, but also to his followers.

Let us summarize the apparent traits of a leader: A leader is a winner, he's decisive, he motivates and inspires, he's confident and he's loyal.

Certainly, properly proportioned - an important stipulation - these traits characterize a leader. At least, it seems no one can be a leader without them. Yet too often the goal or the charisma justifies the leader, even when, despite the superficial accumulation of traits, he lacks the two essential ingredients, the sine qua non (without which, nothing), of leadership.

A true leader is first a role model, an example - a living example, to translate the Talmud's term. It goes without saying he is consistent, the same in private as in public. His unguarded conduct - when we see him relaxed, casual, off-the-record - is the same as when we see him in public. A leader's public persona is true to his private life - and vice versa. He is, in other words, whole. This wholeness, or whole-heartedness, in turn leads to a type of humility, an indifference to the externalities of leadership.

But a true leader must do more. He undertakes what he asks others to do. He is a model of self-sacrifice. Wealth, power, notoriety - these are not even side-effects. The true leader leads - he is in the forefront of the struggle. A leader unwilling to make the sacrifices he demands of others is no leader.

A true leader seeks the good of even those who oppose him. A true leader looks at a person's current situation and asks: What kindness can be done for this individual, regardless of his or her feelings toward the leader or views of the leader's ideals? What will arouse a person, not to become a "true believer," but to work for the good of others? How can the person be inspired to realize, to utilize his or her talents in a way that increases goodness and kindness in the world? How can the spiritual uniqueness be revealed? The leader involves himself not just for the goal, not just to "win," but for the sake of each individual.

The tenth of Shevat is a day when we celebrate leadership - the culmination of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's life of leadership and the commencement of the Rebbe's leadership. True leadership.

When the Previous Rebbe asked young Jews to commit themselves, even at the risk of their lives, to open a school or other communal institution, they did so knowing he himself had made that same commitment and had risked his own life. And the Rebbe inspires thousands of emissaries to share his vision of making Judaism available, even as he made himself accessible to all.

May the tenth of Shevat also be a prelude to the ultimate true leadership - the coming of Moshiach.


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Bo, we read of the Exodus from Egypt. Generally, it is explained that just prior to their departure from Egypt, the Jews eagerly circumcised themselves and offered the Paschal sacrifice. The Midrash Lekach Tov says otherwise. It explains that when Moses told the people to take a lamb and prepare to bring the Paschal sacrifice, his words fell on deaf ears.

The people simply were not interested. They were grateful to be freed from slavery, but leaving Egypt and going out into the desert did not allure them. On the fourteenth day of Nissan, Moses was the only one to bring a Paschal sacrifice.

So, why were the Jews redeemed? The Lekach Tov continues, stating that the savory aroma of Moses' sacrifice spread throughout the entire land of Goshen where the Jews lived. Slowly, somewhat shamefacedly, each one appeared at Moses' door, requesting: "Your roast smells so good. Can I have a piece?"

Moses told them to circumcise themselves. So anxious were they to taste the meat that they complied. He then explained that this was not simply a piece of roasted meat, it was a sacrifice to G-d. They nodded in agreement, recited the blessing, and with appetite partook of the sacrifice.

When there is a difference of opinion among the Rabbis, our Sages say: "These and these are the words of the living G-d." What that means is that both opinions have important lessons to teach us in our Divine service.

From the Lekach Tov we can learn that it was Moses - and only Moses - who was interested in redemption. The people at large had other concerns. What motivated them to seek redemption? Moses' influence.

Let's explain: Obviously, the people did not relish being slaves in Egypt. Nobody likes being compelled to perform labor by a taskmaster.

But the exile began well before they were slaves. When they lived as free men in Egypt, they were not upset. After all, Egypt was a nice country with a thriving economy. Would it be so bad if that situation continued forever?

Moses differed. He himself was never enslaved. Nevertheless, he wanted to lead the people out of Egypt because the whole motif of exile was foreign to him.

What's the difference between Egypt and the Holy Land? In Egypt (exile), the water supply is from the Nile, while in the Holy Land, it comes from rain. In Egypt, you think there is a natural source for maintaining your existence, and in the Holy Land, you must look heavenward.

Moses wanted the people to look beyond the Nile and realize that it and other "natural, dependable sources" of influence also come from G-d. So, Moses says, "Wake up and live with the truth. Don't let Egypt and its norms control the way you think!"

The people didn't listen to Moses because they didn't understand. After all, they were raised in Egypt and that setting defined their mentality. Moses was simply speaking about a completely different frame of reference. But Moses wanted and ultimately succeeded in getting them to accept his level of understanding. When this happened, they were redeemed.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, reprinted from Keeping in Touch


A Slice of Life

To Ignite the Soul
by Yehudah Avner

Yitzhak Rabin was a straight-as-a-die agnostic, and shy to a fault. So, when on a spring day in 1972 he was kept waiting at 770 Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for his appointment with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he became fidgety.

He was distinctly uncomfortable among the multitude of bearded men bustling to and fro around him, all identically clad in black suits and fedoras, and all seemingly indifferent to the peeling paint, cracked linoleum, and indefinable odor of the Tudor-style edifice that housed the headquarters of the world Lubavitch movement.

Yitzhak Rabin was then Israel's ambassador to Washington, and his president, Zalman Shazar, had asked him to convey his greetings personally to the Lubavitcher Rebbe - Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson - on the occasion of the Rebbe's 70th birthday. So there Rabin sat, a blue and gold velvet bar-mitzva yarmulke perched precariously on his head, like an alien in a foreign land.

When he was finally ushered into the inner sanctum, the Rebbe's face beamed. It was an angelic face, half curtained by a square gray beard, and topped by the trademark black fedora, with the effect of a bastion that protected the mind from iniquitous invasions.

But what lured Rabin most were the eyes. They were wide apart, sheltered under heavy brows and arched over by fine eyebrows. Their hue was the azure of the deep sea, intense and compelling, exuding wisdom, awareness, kindness, and good fellowship. Yet, as I was later to learn, when the Rebbe's soul turned turbulent, they could dim into an ominous gray, like a leaden sky.

These were the eyes of one who could see mystery in the obvious, poetry in the mundane, and large issues in small things; eyes that enthralled believers until captivated in gladness, and joy, and sacrifice - all of which was wacky to the no-nonsense, secular diehard, Yitzhak Rabin.

He and the Rebbe spoke mainly of Washington affairs; but when the sage turned to things celestial, like Torah, eternity, and spiritual destiny, the ambassador's eyes glazed over. Dogmas of this sort were too inscrutable for this Palmach-bred, austere old soldier to whom reality was a physical phenomenon, not a metaphysical marvel.

Nonetheless, he was impressed. Exiting, he confided to me, "That man knows more about what's going on in Israel and the Middle East than most members of the Knesset."

President Shazar was pleased to hear of the encounter. As a youngster, Shazar had been nurtured in Lubavitch lore; and now, in the twilight of his life, he was elated to rediscover its enchantment, like some forgotten bead from a broken thread.

On his rare visits to New York he would abjure diplomatic protocol, choosing to call on the Rebbe in Brooklyn as a disciple, rather than solicit the Rebbe to call on him at the Waldorf as a head of state. This aroused the ire of members of the Israeli government and press, prompting an exasperated Shazar to exclaim one Purim eve en route to 770, while lolling in a limousine escorted by siren-shrieking NYPD outriders, "What do they want of me back home? I may be the president of Israel, but I'm also a simple hassid going to meet his rebbe. Who can object to that?"

Some time later, on a balmy July day in 1977, Menachem Begin was similarly confronted. A bushy-haired reporter in a baggy suit asked him with Village Voice effrontery, "You are the newly elected prime minister of Israel, so why have you come to see Rabbi Schneerson? Surely, protocol requires he come to you."

This altercation took place on the steps of the Lubavitch headquarters, where the Rebbe was welcoming Mr. Begin amid a blaze of photo flashes. "Why, indeed?" the prime minister began with easy rapport. "A good question."

And then, with an air of deep reverence, "I have come here because I am en route to Washington to meet president Jimmy Carter for the first time. So it is most natural for me to want to seek the blessings of this great sage of the Jewish people. Rabbi Schneerson is one of the paramount Jewish personalities of our time. His status is unique among our people. So yes, certainly, his blessings will strengthen me as I embark on a mission of acute importance for our future."

"Would the rabbi care to comment on that?" asked the reporter.

He said, "Only to reiterate my fullest blessings. And to add, I accept the honor of the prime minister's visit to me not on my own account but in recognition of the Lubavitch movement's dedicated work in spreading the love of God and His Torah among our fellow Jews, wherever they be."

The two men had been friends for years, and they closeted themselves for a good hour, at the end of which Mr. Begin informed Rabbi Schneerson that I would return to New York from Washington to brief him on the White House talks.

Thus it was that five days later I found myself ensconced alone with the Rebbe in his wood-paneled chamber, its simple furnishings antique with time-worn distinction. Dog-eared Talmud tomes and other heavy, well-thumbed volumes lined his bookshelves, redolent of centuries of scholarship and disputations conducted by generations of swaying, chanting, thumb-stabbing, skull-capped learners, inhabiting an academic world in which students don't study and teachers don't teach. Everybody learns.

We spoke in Hebrew - the Rebbe's classic, mine modern. And as he dissected my Washington report, his air of authority deepened. It came of something beyond knowledge. It was in his state of being, something he possessed in his soul, something given to him under the chestnut and maple trees of Brooklyn rather than under the poplars and pines of Jerusalem - to which, mysteriously, he had never journeyed.

The presentation, interrogation, and clarification had taken close to three hours. It was now after two in the morning, and I was exhausted. The Rebbe, full of vim and vigor, asked me to communicate the following message to Mr. Begin: "By maintaining your firm stand on Eretz Yisroel in the White House, you have given strength to the whole of the Jewish people. You have succeeded in safeguarding the integrity of Eretz Yisroel while avoiding a confrontation with the United States. That is true Jewish statesmanship: forthright, bold, without pretense, or apology. Be strong and of good courage."

He dictated this in a voice that was soft but touched with fire.

And now relaxing, he made a tent of his slender fingers, fixed me with his eyes, and said with a surprisingly sweet smile, "How come you visit us so often and appear to be so close to us, yet you never became a Lubavitcher? Why?"

I sat back stunned at the directness of the question. It was true. This probably was my third or fourth meeting with the Rebbe. Over the years I had become a sort of unofficial liaison between various Israeli prime ministers and the Lubavitch court.

Swallowing thickly, I muttered, "Maybe it is because I have met so many people who ascribe to the Rebbe powers which the Rebbe does not ascribe to himself."

Even as I spoke, I realized I had presumed too much. I could hear my voice trailing away.

The Rebbe's brows knitted, and his deep blue eyes grayed into sadness. Softly, he said, "Yesh k'nireh anoshim hazekukim l'kobayim - There are evidently people who need crutches."

A long and pregnant pause followed. Perhaps his secret threads of perception and communication were tracking my thoughts, for what he said next answered my unspoken question.

Raising his palm in a gesture of reassurance, and with an encouraging smile, he said, "Let me tell you what I try to do. Imagine you're looking at a candle. What you are really seeing is a mere lump of wax with a thread down its middle. So when do the thread and wax become a candle? Or, in other words, when do they fulfill the purpose for which they were created? When you put a flame to the thread, then the candle becomes a candle."

As he was speaking, a rhythmic cadence crept into his voice in the manner of a talmudist poring over his text, so that what he said next came out as a chant: "The wax is the body, and the wick the soul. Ignite the soul with the fire of Torah and a person will then fulfill the purpose for which he or she was created. And that is what I try to do - to ignite the soul of our people with the fire of Torah."

A buzzer had been sounding periodically, indicating that others were awaiting their audience. So I rose and took my leave, pausing at the door to ask, "My candle - has the Rebbe lit it?"

"No," he said, clasping my hand. "I have given you the match. Only you can light your candle."

The writer, a veteran diplomat, served on the staffs of four prime ministers.
Reprinted, with permission of the author, from The Jerusalem Post


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The Rebbe Writes

13th of Shevat, 5722 [1962]

Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:

I am in receipt of your letter of Jan. 10th. On the day of the Hilulo [anniversary of the passing] I was at the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory and remembered you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.

I note that while you were writing your letter you sold an additional order of old stock. May this be a good beginning to increase your sales at an accelerated pace.

I looked in vain for some word about the preparations for Yud Shevat, but I take it for granted that this is an omission only in writing, but in fact you had a very inspiring gathering in observance of this auspicious day. This day once again emphasizes that a Jew must never despair no matter what the odds seem to be. A more unequal battle than that which my father-in-law waged against the might of so ruthless a dictatorship, can hardly be imagined. Yet he came out victorious, and the fruits of his victory can be seen to this day. For when a Jew is attached to G-d he partakes of supernatural powers and becomes master over the natural forces.

The lesson for all of us who, thank G-d, are not faced with such odds, not a fraction of them, is obvious. May the inspiration of this day accompany every one of us throughout the year.

Looking forward to good and better news from you,

With blessing,


12th of Shevat, 5721 [1961]

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you very much for your cable on the occasion of the Yahrzeit Hilulo of my father-in-law of saintly memory.

May the remembrance of this day inspire every one of us to follow in the footsteps of the Ba'al Ha-hilulo [the one who passed on], to continue his work with dedication and selflessness, for the strengthening of the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] and the teachings and way of life of Chassidus, both within one's immediate surroundings and the environment at large.

With blessing,


8th of Shevat, 5734 [1974]

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence, regards and Purim Kit. Thank you very much for your thoughtfulness and attention.

No doubt you will receive a full report, as well as personal regards, through the visitors from Manchester, especially your children. Nevertheless, At this time on the eve of Yud Shevat, I want to extend my prayerful wishes to you and all yours for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all your affairs, both personal and general. All the more so as this is also in reciprocation of your good wishes, which your letters always contain, thus making you eminently eligible, in the light of G-d's promise, "I will bless all who bless you," to receive G-d's direct blessings in a most generous measure.

With reference to your writing that you want to get ready for special actions in connection with Purim, it surprises me somewhat that it did not occur to you that there would be special actions from Chanukah to Purim, or that I might not let Yud Shevat pass without some special action, without waiting for Purim.

I am sure, however, that you and all those who take their cue and guidance from you, will fully participate in the special activities which Yud Shevat will bring forth.

Wishing you and all yours an inspiring Yud Shevat, and may the Zechus [merit] of the Baal HaHilulo stand you and all of us, in the midst of our people Israel, in good stead.

With blessing,


Erev Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, 5739 [1979]

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence....

As we are approaching the auspicious month of Shevat, and of Yud-Shevat, it is surely unnecessary to remind you about making suitable preparations for it, and I only mention it in light of the saying of our Sages, "Encourage the energetic."

Looking forward to hearing from you further good news, both in your public as well as personal affairs, and, as mentioned above, both in regard to your children and grandchildren, and in due course also great grandchildren.

With blessing,


Rambam this week

4 Shevat, 5765 - January 14, 2005

Positive Mitzva 7: Taking an oath in G-d's name

This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 10:20) "And swear by His name" In a Rabbincal Court, a Jew may be required to take an oath confirming that he is telling the truth. When taking an oath, he is commanded to swear by the name of G-d. He will be using G-d's holy name to convince the court of his honesty.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Thursday, Yud Shevat (January 27 this year) is the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, and the ascension to leadership of his son-in-law, the Rebbe.

On the day of his official acceptance of leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch, the Rebbe recited a Chasidic discourse that stated uniquivocally that our generation is the last generation of exile and the first generation of the Redemption. This statement, and the campaign to bring about the Redemption, set the entire tone for the Rebbe's leadership.

A little more than four decades after the first discourse, the Rebbe issued the following impassioned call to his followers and to the entire Jewish and world community: (translation by meaningfullife.com)

"How is it that Moshiach has still not come? Why are we still in a state of galut (exile)? Why is our world still a place in which evil and suffering still prevail?

"Why is it acceptable that the Redemption should not come tonight, nor tomorrow, nor the day after, G-d forbid? The Jewish nation are 'a stiff-necked people.' Were there to be found even a few individuals who would adamantly insist on bringing Moshiach, he would have certainly long arrived!

"What more can I do? I have done all I can to bring the world to truly demand and clamor for the Redemption. But it seems that all my efforts have been in vain. We are still in exile and, more significantly, in an internal galut of clouded vision and distorted priorities.

"I have done all I can. I am handing over the task to you: Do everything in your power to bring our righteous redeemer, immediately!

"It is not sufficient to mouth slogans. You must take action. It is my fervent hope that amongst you there will be found one, two or three people who will figure out what to do and how do it.

"I'm leaving it to you. It is up to each and every one of you to bring about the Redemption. It is in your hands to bring Moshiach."

At this auspicious time, let each one of us consider what we can do to bring about the Redemption and Moshiach, NOW!


Thoughts that Count

Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt (Ex. 13:3)

Many people ask why the Exodus from Egypt was so great that we are constantly told to remember it; in our daily prayers it is mentioned numerous times. Certainly, other nations and rulers besides Egypt oppressed us. The answer lies in the fact that the Exodus from Egypt actually changed the nature of the Children of Israel. Their souls became the souls of free people. Though other nations enslaved us, they enslaved our bodies only. Our souls have never again gone into bondage.

(The Maharal of Prague)


They emptied out - vayinatzlu - Egypt. (Ex. 12:36)

The purpose of the descent of the Children of Israel to the land of Egypt was to elevate the sparks of holiness-nitzutzot (from the same root as vayinatzlu) that were in the land. Indeed, the Jews succeeded to such an extent that when they left Egypt, they "emptied it out" and left it bare of all the holiness it had contained.

(Torah Ohr)


"For I have hardened his heart." (Ex. 10:1)

Pharaoh's evil decrees and the trials and tribulations of the Jews during the Egyptian exile did not come about because Pharaoh had so decided of his own accord. Rather, G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart, eventually causing all of His wonders and miracles to be revealed. The lesson we can learn from this is that everything comes from G-d; when a Jew encounters something that prevents him from properly serving G-d, this is meant only as a test, whose purpose is to awaken the powers hidden within the person's soul. When the person overcomes this test, and perseveres in his holy mission in life, he is then rescued from all difficulties.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


It Once Happened

by Yehudis Cohen

After the passing of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1950, the Rebbe encouraged Chasidim and admirers to continue their connection with the Previous Rebbe, stating unequivocally that the Previous Rebbe would "find a way" to answer. What is true for the Previous Rebbe is true now too, as all those connected to the Rebbe or desiring to be connected continue to write to the Rebbe and receive answers. Some find their answer after placing their question randomly in a collection of the Rebbe's letters (Igrot Kodesh), and finding a matching answer to a similar question on that page. Others find inspiration or a miraculous change in circumstances after visiting the "Ohel," or resting place.

A young man told me of his visit to the Ohel. After saying the prayers that are commonly said at kivrei tzadikim (the resting place of the righteous), he then read a letter that contained a number of questions he had for the Rebbe. Upon completing the reading of his letter, he tore it up and left the paper fragments at the Ohel, as is customary.

Upon returning home, the young man regretted that he hadn't made a copy for himself of his letter. He would have liked to have placed the letter in a volume of the Igrot Kodesh and read the Rebbe's response on that page. But the letter was not available.

"I called my mashpia (mentor)," the young man related to me, "and began catching him up on what was going on in my life."

In 1986, the Rebbe initiated a campaign whereby people would implement the instruction of our Sages (in the Mishna) "Aseh lecha Rav - Make a teacher for yourself." The Rebbe urged every Jew - man, woman and child - to seek out a mashpia - a mentor. The mashpia, using Torah knowledge and life-experience, advises the person in matters both practical and spiritual, like a "personal trainer" of the soul.

The young man continued, "I was amazed that, though I had not told him about any of the questions I had posed to the Rebbe, through the course of our conversation he answered every single question I had asked the Rebbe."

Another person told me that she had a number of questions she had wanted to discuss with her mashpia. It was close to Passover, so she she decided to wait with her questions so as not to disturb the mashpia while her entire extended family was visiting for the holiday. Days passed and a few of the questions became more pressing. Not wanting to "trouble" her mashpia, she began to think of other women whom she respected and had, at times, called for advice. "Mrs. A. would be too subjective," she thought. "and Mrs. Z. wouldn't understand the situation properly." Regarding every person, it seemed, there was a reason why it wasn't suitable to ask her advice.

"Ahh," she hit on the perfect plan! "I will write a letter to the Rebbe with all of the questions and place it in the Igrot Kodesh."

So, write the letter she did. And when she placed it randomly into a volume of Igrot Kodesh, wonder of wonders, right at the top of the page was her custom-made answer! The Rebbe had written, "I don't understand why you say there are no mashpiim to ask your questions to. Surely you can find someone suitable to whom you can direct your questions."


Moshiach Matters

When Moses announced to the Jewish people the impending redemption, they: "Moses, how can we be redeemed? Didn't G-d tell Abraham that we will be enslaved for 400 years? We are now only at 210 years!" Moses responded: "If G-d wants to redeem you, He will overlook your calculations. A similar conversation will take place with Moshiach. When Moshiach tells the Jewish people, "In this month you will be redeemed," they say to him: "Moshiach, how can we be redeemed? Didn't G-d say that we will be enslaved by all 70 nations?" Moshiach will respond: "If only one of you will wander to Barbaria, and one of you to Britannia, it is considered as if all of you have wandered there."

(Psikta Rabsi Parshat Hachodesh Hazeh)


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