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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Try to remember a choreographed dance you once saw. Certain features of a "dance number" always leave a lasting impression.
There's the physical demands of the performance. The dancers have to be well-coordinated. The performers in a "dance number" must have endurance, stamina, strength. They must remain graceful for extended periods of time. A dancer must make even the most extraordinary moves seem effortless. Where athletes sweat, dancers smile.
There's another special feature of the dance, and that's the choreography. Dancers must stay in rhythm - in sync - throughout the whole performance.
So not only must they maintain perfect control over their move-ments, they must execute those movements in perfect harmony with all the other dancers.
Given all this, a carefully choreographed dance well executed may seem miraculous. All the dancers, the difficult steps, done in unison.
When we look at the works of creation, we also see a well choreographed dance, each "dancer" moving harmoniously. Our forebears noticed this "dance of the spheres." It's still there. Sometimes the chaos of our times distracts us, yet we have but to look to admire the facility of the dance.
Think of the heavenly bodies, how the planets dance around the sky while simultaneously rotating about themselves. And how the moons also rotate and revolve. And the comets.
And then outward, how the planets dance with their fellow stars. Who choreographed the galaxy?
And outward still again, as galaxies spin, step, swirl in coordinated unison. The Choreographer's artistry displayed on the grandest scale.
But the dance spirals downward, as well. There's the rhythms of nature, of course, but there's a dance choreographed within us, too. Each system - circulatory, respiratory, etc. - can be seen as a dancer, balanced, intertwining, each taking its turn "center stage" and then pirouetting into the background.
And so on down to the molecular level and lower, to the atomic and sub-atomic. Indeed, the latest theory in physics, string theory, proposes that creation develops from vibrations, as if the universe, all creation is but a movement, the emergence of a spiritual dance.
As the dancers needed a director, a choreographer to plan and direct and control the dance, its tempo, advances, retreats, twirls and revolutions, to balance the graceful tensions within and between the dancers, so, too, do we, does all of creation, have a Choreographer who directs and harmonizes the dances of our existence.
He creates a personal dance for each one of us as well and with His help we can dance with grace and confidence.
Our Torah portion this week, Vayechi, is the last portion in the book of Genesis. It contains the blessings which Jacob gave to his children right before his passing. When he had finished blessing his children, the Torah tells us:
"And Jacob finished commanding his sons, and he gathered up his feet into the bed, and expired, and was gathered unto his people." The Torah does not say "he died," and the Sages declared, "Our father Jacob did not die... just as his children are alive, so is he alive."
What forms the basis for the love and communion between two dear friends, between man and wife or between children and their parent? Not the physical body, which is flesh and bones and sinews, but the characteristics of the spirit, the true essence of man. It is only that man communicates with his fellow through the body and its limbs. Through his eyes, ears, hands, organs of speech etc., man gives expression to his thoughts, to his feelings, and to the characteristics of his spirit, and it is they, not the bodily tools of expression, that constitute his true essence and being.
It follows that in the World of Truth (the spiritual Hereafter) the soul of the departed has particularly great pleasure on seeing the members of his family recover from the tragedy, come to themselves, make every effort to set their lives in good order, and act as an inspiration and encouragement to others.
A bullet, a shell-fragment or a sickness can damage the body, but they cannot hurt or affect the soul. They can cause death, but death is only a separation between body and soul. The soul continues to live; it continues to have a connection with the family, especially with those who were dear and beloved. It shares in their distress, and rejoices at every joyous event in the family. It is only that the members of the family, living in this earthly world, cannot see the soul's reaction with their flesh-and-blood eyes, nor can they touch it or feel it with their hands - for the physical connection has been broken.
The neshama (soul) of the departed derives especial satisfaction from seeing his children being reared in the proper Torah-spirit, free of any feelings of despair or depression, G-d forbid, but rather (as the traditional expression goes)... to raise them to Torah, to matrimony and to good deed.
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to a woman who had lost her son in an Israeli war.
Gulag Survivor Relays What He Withstood in Defense of Judaism
by Joshua Runyan
Like so many other Chasidim living in the Soviet Union, Baruch Mordechai Lifshits was a target of the authorities from an early age. So, it came as no surprise when the 21-year-old, just newly engaged, found a swarm of KGB agents looking for evidence of his "subversive teachings."
They came to his home - displaying a piece of paper indicating they had been watching the Moscow-based shochet (ritual slaughtered) and mohel (circumcisor) - and barked, "Where are the Jewish books?"
As the now 89-year-old Brooklyn resident relayed to some 20 students and professors at the University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 10, the walls of his home were filled with volumes of the Talmud, commentaries on the Torah and books on halacha (Jewish law).
"They weren't interested in that," said Lifshits in Yiddish, translated into English by his grandson, Rabbi Levi Haskelevitch of Penn's campus Lubavitch House. "They were only interested in the literature from Schneerson, the Chabad literature that [I] had treasures of."
Lifshits, who is known by the worldwide Lubavitch community as Motl der Shochet (Motl, the ritual slaughterer), told those gathered at the Lubavitch House on Spruce Street that for following his rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, he was given a choice: inform on his fellow Chasidim, or be sent to a place "from where no one comes back."
" 'You're telling them to build secret ritual baths, to not join the military,' " he recalled his interrogators saying, before switching tactics. " 'The Soviet regime would like to get [you] away from all that. You're only 21 years old. Go home and think it over.' "
Lifshits did take the opportunity to think. He told the audience that he concluded that there was no way that he could deny Judaism or the rebbe.
Lifshits said that according to the midrash, Abraham went through fire for his beliefs. How much more should he, who was not as great as Abraham, endure Soviet punishment?
"When they called [me] back, I said there's nothing to consider. I have nothing to share."
What followed were seven years in captivity, the majority in Siberia. According to Haskelevitch, his grandfather spent three years of his sentence performing forced labor in a gulag.
Lifshits recalled that temperatures in the frozen tundra fell 50 below zero during the day. Prisoners died from the cold, as well as from sickness and starvation, but because the ground was frozen solid, the guards could not bury the dead.
They left the bodies on the side of the road, he said, to be devoured by bears.
"It's impossible to describe how human beings survived in those conditions," said Lifshits.
The mohel spoke rather briefly, but his recently published memoir in Yiddish, Zichronos fun Gulag, goes further, spanning more than 60 years spent in Moscow before coming to America in 1993. Whereas others were able to leave Russia long before that, he stayed behind on the orders of Schneerson's successor, Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
One of just three mohels in Moscow, Lifshits was told by the rebbe that he had the zchus - "the merit" - to bring Yiddishkeit to Russian Jewry.
In an interview after the event - translated by a Penn law student who just happened to be one of the thousands of babies Lifshits circumcised over the years - the author said that his story of mesirus nefesh, of self-sacrifice in the face of impossible odds, should resonate with American Jews.
"People today should appreciate the time they live in - a golden age," he said. "Nobody is stopping them from being religious, from being Jewish."
From the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent
The Book of Purpose
The short meditations in this book are based on the words and thoughts of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that uplifted and changed the lives of people from all walks of life. Adapted by Tzvi Freeman, author of the highly acclaimed Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, published by Class One Press.
In Good Hands
This collection of masterfully translated letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe are culled from the Rebbe's responses to people who had turned to him when they felt most alone. The letters, whether simplistic or philosophical, are candid, but always compassionate. Above all, they empower their readers with a rock-solid trust - that even at such times they are in good hands. Translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos In English.
The Jewish Mourner's Companion
This book will guide a person through the difficult times of illness and death, presenting Jewish tradition in a way that is both sensitive and instructive. This guide will help you know what to do when faced with these life-changing challenges. Includes easy-to-read English translations and transliterations of many prayers. Written by Rabbi Zalman Goldstein, published by the Jewish Learning Group.
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
22 Iyar, 5711 
Greetings and Blessings!
In response to the pidyon nefesh (lit. "Redemption of the Soul" - a request to the Rebbe to intercede On High for his soul) that you sent me: When I visited the holy resting-place of my revered father-in-law I mentioned your name in connection with your needs. He no doubt intercedes and arouses Divine compassion upon yourself and your wife - that you enjoy robust health, with peace of mind and body - particularly since, as you write, you have a letter from him with his holy blessing that you settle into a good life.
You write that you suffer from an ailment, though without saying what it is, and that at any moment you are likely to undergo a serious heart attack, etc., G-d forbid. (It appears to me that this is not the case, and that - begging your pardon - this is an extreme exaggeration.) You write further that a partition of iron is separating you from your Father in Heaven and that your prayers and charitable contributions have had no effect, and so on.
Without a doubt, you yourself also understand that all this is no more than fantasies. For even if there were a partition of iron, the Sages assure us in plain words that "even a partition of iron cannot separate the Children of Israel from their Father in Heaven."
The same applies to what you write about how your prayers and especially the tzedaka (charity) you distribute have had no effect. I saw in a little book - it's called the Tanach (Bible) - where it is written (Malachi 3:10) that the Holy One, blessed be He, says: "Test Me, please, in this," in the mitzva (commandment) of tzedaka - that if only people will give tzedaka, "I will pour down blessings upon you," and so on. The same applies to prayer, as is explained in many sources in the teachings of the Sages.
Above all, as is clarified in the works of Chassidus, this is one of the counsels by means of which the Evil Inclination topples a man into melancholy. And if melancholy stemming from spiritual reasons gives good cause for vigilance, how much more wary must one be of melancholy that comes from some other source, for there is nothing worse than that.
You should insistently fortify your trust in what even the most lightminded of Jews believe - that the Holy One, blessed be He, is not only the Creator of the world but that He also conducts it, and not only long ago, but also presently, every day and at every hour. Moreover, He conducts not only the big world but also all the affairs of the microcosm, man, and He is the ultimate good. Without a doubt, you will then finally see, even with fleshly eyes, that everything will be for the best, even in the kind of good that is manifest. For this, however, one must strengthen one's bonds of connection with the G-d of Life - by setting aside fixed times to study the Torah of Life; by serving Him through the service of prayer, through which you are benevolent toward your Soul of Life; and by fortifying your observance of the mitzvos, and of the comprehensive mitzvah of tzedakah, for "the truth of tzedakah is for life."
I hope that in the near future you will let me know of an improvement in your material situation and likewise of an improvement of your spiritual situation - namely, the disappearance of thoughts about a separating partition etc. etc. - and that you will make strenuous endeavors to fulfill the command of the Holy One, blessed be He: "Serve G-d with joy."
Enclosed is a copy of the address of Lag BaOmer that was recently published. You should ponder over it deeply.
In anticipation of glad tidings,
From In Good Hands, translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos In English
18 Tevet, 5766 - January 18, 2006
Positive Mitzva 119: Fruits of the Fourth Year
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:24) "But in the fourth year, all its (the tree's) fruit shall be holy for praise-giving to the L-rd"
A tree's fruit cannot be eaten for the first three years of its growth. The farmer must take the fruits of the fourth year to Jerusalem and eat them in the city. This helps him realize that, despite all his toil and labor, it is G-d who actually causes the trees to flower and the fruit to grow.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
When Jacob felt that he was approaching the end of his life, he called to his son Joseph and asked him to make sure that he was buried in the Land of Israel.
Jacob did not rely on Joseph's promise but asked him to swear. He had no peace of mind until he obtained that oath.
A promise differs from an oath. With a promise one will no doubt do his best to keep it at the appropriate time. Until then, however, one is not disturbed by the pledge. With an oath, however, one is concerned from the moment of swearing: the mind is constantly preoccupied with thoughts how to keep the oath, worrying about the fact that failure to do so would lead to the severe consequences of having violated an oath.
Jacob thus charged Joseph, and through him all of Israel, with a most important lesson how to relate to the exile.
To be sure, our exile was decreed by the Alm-ghty. Nonetheless, we on our part must sense that the exile is not the place where we belong.
A request or promise eventually to leave Egypt, therefore, is not enough. One must sense, and constantly be concerned, that any additional moment in Egypt is a painful burden. Thus one will not cease to pray and demand from the Alm-ghty - "Carry me out from Egypt!"
Even when comfortable in the exile with a materially and spiritually good and pleasant life, one must realize that the exile is not our place. There must be a profound sensing of exile, of being in an alien place where we do not belong.
Just as an oath deprives one from peace of mind until it is actually fulfilled, so one is not to cease from crying out and continuously demanding "Carry me out from Egypt!"
Gather together and I will tell you what will take place at the end of days (Gen. 49:1)
A Torah scroll is normally written with empty spaces between one portion and the next. The Torah portion of Vayechi is unique in that it is written "closed," i.e., without any space between it and the previous portion of Vayigash. Why is it written in such an unusual way? This teaches us that Jacob wanted to reveal to his sons the exact time of Moshiach's coming. But G-d "closed" his memory at that very moment. The Torah hints this to us by "closing" the beginning of the portion.
Jacob wanted to reveal to his children what would happen at the end of time. But, in the end, he told them something else. Rashi explains that this occurred because G-d's presence left him, making it impossible to see the future. Rabbi Chanoch Tzvi of Bandin asks: "If it was not permitted for Jacob to reveal this information, why didn't G-d just tell him so, instead?" Jacob was, in fact, permitted to reveal the future. But when he saw all of the troubles and afflictions that would affect his descendants, he became sad. And, according to our Sages, "The G-dly presence does not rest with a person unless he is happy." For this reason, G-d's presence left him.
Gather together and I will tell you what will take place at the end of days. Gather together and hear..." (Gen. 49:1-2)
Jacob told his children to "gather together" twice. This repetition was a hint to his children that the Jewish people will be "gathered together" from exile on two occasions: The first time we were gathered together was when G-d brought us back to Israel from Babylon. The second time will be when we will all be brought back to Israel with the final Redemption through Moshiach.
(Midrash in Torah Shleima)
And the Egyptians wept for him... (Gen. 50:2)
The Egyptians mourned Jacob for a total of 70 days. This is because a blessing came to the land of Egypt when Jacob arrived; the famine ceased and the waters of the Nile were blessed.
And let them multiply like fish in the midst of the earth. (Gen. 48:16)
A most striking characteristic of fish is that they multiply greatly. However, one of their faults is that larger fish eat smaller ones. The above blessing states only that they should "multiply like fish," - they should be like fish only in matters of increasing and not in other ways.
The father of the holy Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz would sign his letters with his name and the title, "Ohev Yisrael" - "lover of the Jewish people."
One time, when he was about to sign in his customary way, the pen fell from his hand. When he picked it up and tried to sign again, the pen fell again. The Rabbe realized that this wasn't by accident, and that Heaven was preventing him from signing. He burst into bitter tears and said, "Oy, the good trait that I crowned myself with, the attribute of ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew), was taken from me. What did I do wrong? Did I insult someone and is this my punishment?"
The Rebbe thought through everything that had happened that day, but did not find anything amiss. He called his family members and asked them, "Did I insult anybody unwittingly?"
The family remembered that in the morning, a coarse man wearing a peasant cap had come to the door, and he wasn't allowed to enter. The man was insulted and left.
The Rebbe immediately told his aides to go and find the man. The aides searched the town but did not find him. They looked in inns and hostels, but he was nowhere to be found. They asked passersby, but nobody knew where the man was. Finally, someone said he saw the man enter a place of sin. They went there and found him.
The aides told him to hurry, for the Rebbe wanted him, but the man refused to go with them. They grabbed him and brought him to the Rebbe, and told the Rebbe where they had found him.
The Rebbe acted as though he didn't hear what they said, and greeted the man warmly. He asked the man's pardon for insulting him, and then he asked his household to prepare a nice meal for the guest.
When the man saw how much the Rebbe honored him, he regretted his actions and became a penitent. It was only after the man departed that the Rebbe explained why he had given the man such honor.
"In the Days of Moshiach there will be Jews who do not want to greet Moshiach, and will stay where they are. Ultimately, the gentiles will take these Jews and carry them to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
"Who will these Jews be? These Jews will be sinners who have sunk to the 49th level of impurity, who will be brought as a gift to Moshiach. And we insulted such a gift! That is why it was so important to appease and honor him." (U'meivi Goel)
The chasid Rabbi Avrohom Vilny, one of the elders of Jerusalem, related:
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the rabbi of Jerusalem, had a class that took place every evening in the synagogue in the Battei Machseh neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim would speak a lot about Moshiach's imminent arrival, and would arouse his listeners to anticipate his coming.
One of the students asked, "But are you not delaying Moshiach by talking about him, because Moshiach will only come 'b'hesech ha'daat,' when we're not thinking about him?"
Rabbi Yosef Chaim answered, "Even now we are distracted from thinking about Moshiach. The proof is that even if the most reliable person came right now and said that Moshiach is on HaYehudim Street in the Old City, wouldn't you hesitate for at least a moment before you ran out to greet him?" Tzipisa L'Yeshuan
At the time of the end, doubt will disappear. The closer the time, the smaller the doubt. We know that the redemption must come before the seventh millenium. Therefore, in the past, there was little certainty and much doubt. However, as we approach the seventh millennium, there is more certainty and less doubt."
(The Malbim, 18th century Torah commentator)