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January 20, 2006 - 20 Tevet, 5766

904: Shemos

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

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  903: Vayechi905: Vaera  

Waiting Room Distractions  |  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

Waiting Room Distractions

You're sitting in the airport waiting for your flight. You got there early, so you wouldn't have an anxiety attack about missing your plane while being hassled by security. Not to mention the traffic and parking.

So you take out a book, or review your presentation, or start to call home when something grabs your attention.

It's the earnest tone of the anchorwoman, her voice suddenly elevated. You're hooked. Until the attendants announce it's time to board, you're watching, even though it's the same news every fifteen minutes and most of it you saw in the paper that morning, and what you didn't is sensational or just stupid.

Or you're in the doctor's office. Waiting. Of course. You get there early, hoping to be taken on time when your appointment's scheduled, rather than half an hour later. You look around for something to do and you find the magazine rack, such as it is: a couple of tattered women's magazines, obscure, old outdoor magazines and a pile of year-old news magazines. You pick up one of the women's magazines - maybe it has a good recipe - when your attention gets diverted.

There's an inane video playing. It doesn't matter. You're hooked.

When the mind becomes distracted, or, more accurately, when it is mesmerized, absorbed with trivial irrelevancies, are we not wasting that which distinguishes us?

Our Sages recommended memorizing Jewish texts (chapters of Psalms or sections of the Mishne) and while walking in the street (the ancient equivalent of "waiting room time"), one could review them, thus making good use of one's brain time.

While we may not be able to memorize chapters or sections sufficient to occupy our minds during the "waiting room times" - although we should at least try - nowadays we have other tools at our disposal.

You can download Jewish texts to your palm [such as from] (and probably to your iPod as well). You can sync it and have the latest issue of L'Chaim or the entire magazine or essay or mystical Kabalistic teachings (at at your fingertips.

If you're technologically challenged, many Jewish texts today come in translated pocket-size versions that fit neatly in a briefcase, purse or (!) pocket.

It's hard to shut out the droning voice and the shifting images on a screen, but a good read absorbs all our attention; instead of being distracted by repetitive trivia, we become focused on learning new or reviewing essential concepts.

We can choose to watch an interview intruding into the lives of "next of kin" of the latest crime victim or we can share in King David's wonder at the majesty of nature. We can wonder about a lost cat a thousand miles away or get lost in truths a thousand years old.

We can turn "waiting room time" into "extra learning time," snatching seconds of Jewish knowledge while our lives are in idle.

Living with the Rebbe

At the end of this week's Torah portion, Shemot, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh to demand that he free the Children of Israel from bondage. Pharaoh answered them, "Why do you, Moses and Aaron, hinder the people from their work? Go about your own tasks."

Our Sages explain that Moses and Aaron, being members of the tribe of Levi, were not required to work like the rest of the Jewish People, and were exempted from the bitter decree of slavery. Pharaoh, in effect, asked the two of them: "Why do you involve yourselves in affairs that don't concern you? Let the rest of the Jews continue in their tasks, and don't disturb them."

Why did the Egyptians permit an entire tribe of the Jewish People to be exempt from the terrible bondage forced upon the rest? The Egyptians recognized that each nation must have its own leaders and teachers to whom the people could turn for spiritual guidance. Pharaoh therefore allowed the tribe of Levi to continue learning Torah and to disseminate its teachings among the rest of the Jews. It was accepted as a natural state of affairs that the spiritual authorities should enjoy a higher status and occupy an elevated position in society.

When Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh to demand that the entire Jewish nation be allowed to journey into the desert to worship G-d, they were disputing this commonly held notion. Pharaoh, for his part, claimed that it was sufficient that the upper class, the clergy, be allowed to learn Torah and carry out Jewish ritual. Pharaoh was the original proponent of the separation of "church" and state.

The Egyptian king did not object to the Leviim learning Torah; he did not seek to totally negate the spiritual and intellectual yearnings of the Jews. He merely sought to perpetuate the Egyptian world-view which saw the two realms of the religious and the civil as two opposing concepts.

As religious leaders, Moses and Aaron were allowed a certain amount of authority by the Egyptian regime, on the condition that they limit themselves to the synagogue and to the yeshiva.

When Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh with their request, it was seen as a total contradiction of the existing world order. They claimed that the Torah's very purpose was to show man how to conduct his daily, private life, and that its laws were applicable to each and every facet of a person's existence. Moses and Aaron radically challenged the man-made division between that which belonged in the spiritual realm and that which was outside of religious law. The Torah is neither limited in scope nor reserved for a select few.

From this we also learn the duty incumbent upon every Jew to help other Jews, even if he is not personally threatened. Aaron and Moses were not content to remain within the secluded tents of learning if the rest of the Jews were not allowed to participate. Because of their self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish nation, they were ultimately successful in ending the Egyptian exile and leading the Jews to Mount Sinai.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Blogging up a Shower of Sunshine
by Miriam Karp

What's a scooter cruisin,' cartoon scribblin,' joke crackin,' Southern drawlin,' Chasidic student making chicken soup with matzo balls in a crock pot doing on her parents' 300-acre farm in south-eastern Ohio's Appalachian country?

Yochana Coleman is a clich้ buster. From an early age, she was pushing boundaries. Her mother remembers her as a serious child, asking questions one just didn't ask, of her parents, Sunday school teachers and ministers.

Yo's Jewish mother and non-Jewish father didn't hide Yo's Jewish origins, but mentioned it insultingly. Her parents raised her as a Southern Baptist, being missionaries themselves. She recalls "just knowing in her DNA" that something was not right. Throughout Yo's childhood of active church training, those feelings remained.

Yo enrolled in Columbia Bible College, among the top in the world. "The church taught that Judaism is totally false, and if you believe or follow it you'll burn in Hell." That fearful teaching kept her cognitive dissonance more or less at bay. Even with the Southern Baptist veneer, however, "growing up Jewish meant I was different. Inside I knew that something was expected of me, though I wasn't sure what."

Mentors helped Yo keep her Jewish spark alive. "Throughout my journey, people from whom you'd never expect it would appear and say, 'Go for it!' There was a woman in the church who heard my questioning - she encouraged me to challenge and never give up.

"I wanted to learn Hebrew since I was a kid. My gentile Hebrew teacher at the college had a PhD from Hebrew Union College. When he saw my passion for Hebrew he told me to check out a nearby Temple.

"I spent my first Rosh Hashana at a synagogue and it clicked! It was amazing! I decided that I had to continue going there, but the school forbade it."

Another surprising advocate appeared, a teacher named Ginny Hoyt, who nudged Yo into kosher. She had invited a group of students over for dinner and then apologized to Yo for having prepared ham.

"No problem,' I assured her, 'I was raised on the stuff.'

"She gave me a stern look, 'But you're Jewish!'

" 'So, I'm a pagan Jew!' I said in exasperation.

"She said, 'G-d made you a Jew and expects you to live like it!'

"I pointedly ate the ham, took a second piece - and my body swelled up! Mrs. Hoyt gave me a clear 'I told you so!' look and I was so swollen that I was on crutches for three weeks!

"I was learning to keep kosher and working along with Chosen People Ministry when they told me 'We don't want you back - you're a freak; if you keep kosher you'll offend some of our gentile members!'

"When the Bible College where I worked as a librarian realized that I was really pursuing Judaism, they issued an ultimatum. 'Be like us or get out - we're not going to have a Jew working here!' They gave me a paper to sign, but I barely heard them, concentrating on my inner conversation in which a voice was asking, 'Will you deny My Oneness?'

My reply to the College came from the depth of my soul. I shredded the paper and proudly stated, 'I was born a Jew, I live as a Jew, and I'll die a Jew!'

'Sorry to hear that,' was the official's reply.

I grinned, and with an 'I'm not!' walked out.

Though broke, Yo felt a new freedom, and began pursuing Judaism in earnest. She tried several shuls (synagogues). One Friday evening she appeared at one in her kipa, leather jacket, jeans and sneakers. Yo was directed to the women's section this Orthodox shul. " 'Hey, I'm in the wrong shul,' I gulped. But then they started singing Lecha Dodi to welcome Shabbos - it was like all the angels came down, everything stopped!" she recalls.

After some learning, Yo bumped into while web-surfing one day in '96. "I spent 12 non-stop hours on the site. I found it! I cried at the keyboard." From then, everything fell into place. She connected with Chabad of Columbia to learn all she could.

Yo's next stop was Machon Chana Women's Institute in Brooklyn. She pursued her Torah studies in this yeshiva for women from diverse backgrounds, and fit into the warm and dynamic community. She began "buying books like an idiot, as though I am about to move somewhere where I won't have much access," her journal relates.

Yo's premonition was accurate, as the future brought this feisty gal a major life challenge and bump on the road. In 2002, Yo suffered three strokes and her MS came out in full force. For a while she was able to stay in New York, with the support of many friends - "if you ever saw a cute red scooter blasting down the streets or sidewalks... that was me!" New York's "interesting sidewalks" became too much of a maneuverability problem as Yo's MS symptoms increased, and eventually she moved back to the family farm.

Thanks to the Internet and one indomitable spirit, Yo spreads her wacky version of sunshine and humor to fans around this little globe. Her website, Yobee's Whacky World, is full of interesting and inspiring tidbits of wisdom spiced with a laugh. She sells her whimsical cartoons and cartoon-illustrated items at yobeeland! And she dispenses words of cheer, fortitude and poignant insight to a web-network of Machon Chana alumni scattered throughout the world.

Yo continues to pursue her Jewish education. She studies Talmud on CD, and keeps connected with tapes, videos, books and the net. Her solitary and simple Sabbaths are certainly treasured Above, as this Jewish daughter lights candles and gazes out over the pastures.

What's New

New Yeshiva in Poland

Ten yeshiva students arrived recently in Warsaw to establish a Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in that city. There had previously been a Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva there established in the 1920s until 1939, when it was disbanded because of WWII. The students had been studying until now at the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Montreal.

New Emissaries in Long Island

New shluchim (emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) will be serving faculty and students at a number of Long Island campuses. Rabbi Shmuli and Chavi Lieberman will be working with the Jewish population at Hofstra University, and Adelphi and Nassau Community College.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letter
10 Shvat, 5709 (1949)

Greetings and blessings,

I am surprised that we received notification from you regarding the participation of only yourself and Rabbi- in the division of the study of the Talmud [in honor of 24 Tevet, anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism]. After all the years that you have been in your community, have you not been able to bring even one person under your influence?... When will you finally begin doing your share to spread forth the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings outward? Moshiach is waiting for the activities each one of us will perform so that the answer he gave the Baal Shem Tov will be fulfilled and he will then come and redeem us from exile - the exile of the body and the exile of the soul.

My intention in posing the above questions is not merely to motivate you to find several people who will undertake to study selected tractates for the division of the Talmud. Instead, it is that you - and your friends in your community - should each create an environment that should be a Lubavitch corner which Divine providence has, for this time, implanted in your community. In this way, were the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman] to travel around the world and come to your community, he would not come to a foreign place. Instead, he would meet a group of people who identify with him and a house of study identified with him. There would be tattered pages of Chasidic texts on the floor, and the air would be filled with the letters of the Torah studied with the fear of Heaven in general, and with the letters of Chabad Chasidism in particular. For although the letters of study ascend upward, an eternal impression is left in the air. And as is well known, regarding every entity in the sphere of holiness, even if the entity itself is removed, the impression remains....

With regard to the question you posed regarding G-d's omniscience and man's free choice: Since ultimately the Holy One, blessed be He, knows what I will do tomorrow, there seems to be no way that I can do anything differently, for were that to be the fact, G-d's knowledge would be the opposite of the truth.

The explanation of this is simple. The idea of free choice is the concept of the potential to do whatever one chooses without being forced. This is also the case in the above situation.

Tomorrow, it is within my potential to do as I choose without any compulsion, and I have the ability to choose the opposite of what is known Above. For the knowledge Above does not compel me in any way and it is not at all related to my choice. The fact that I act in a particular manner is only because I choose to do so without being forced at all.

In addition to the example given in my previous letter (a clairvoyant who can foretell what another person will do in the future, in which instance his knowledge of a future act does not influence or compel that other person at all), it is possible to bring an example of the opposite of free choice, i.e., an instance when compulsion is involved. For example, so-and-so says that he knows that tomorrow when you throw a stone [in the air], it will ultimately fall to the ground.

When the stone does ultimately fall to the ground, no one would say that it fell because of so-and-so's knowledge and statement. Instead, the opposite is true. Since the stone will fall downward because of the natural laws that G-d implanted within the world, so-and-so knows that the stone will fall downward. If the natural laws were that the stone would rise, so-and-so would say that the stone would rise.

The same concept applies to the question you raised. Since I will choose to do such-and-such tomorrow without being compelled to do so, accordingly, there is knowledge Above that I will act in this manner. And tomorrow, were I to choose to do the opposite, there would be knowledge Above that I will act in the opposite manner.

The difference between this example and G-d's omniscience involves only the following:

We understand how so-and-so knows that the stone will fall, because his knowledge is dependent on his awareness of the laws of nature. We cannot understand, however, how it is possible to know in advance what I will choose tomorrow. Maimonides resolves this point by explaining that G-d's way of knowing is not understood, because He and His knowledge are one.

There is another question: How is it possible that the knowledge of the Creator that brings into being and maintains the existence of all the created beings at every moment does not influence them at all? For G-d's thought creates worlds, and in the spiritual realms potential is not removed from actual existence. This question is resolved by the explanation that this knowledge operates in a manner that does not permeate our awareness, as explained in Chasidic philosophy....

From I Will Write it in Your Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English.

Rambam this week

21 Tevet, 5766 - January 21, 2006

Positive Mitzva 133: Challah - Dough Offering

This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 15:20) "You shall offer up a cake of the first of your dough as a gift" G-d gave us a commandment that shows how our basic foods can be connected with holiness. The Torah commands us to separate a portion of the dough that we use to bake bread and present it to the priest. Today, this mitzva is fulfilled by separating a portion of the dough and burning it, as a remembrance of the offering in Temple times. There are laws concerning the types of dough used, the blessing to be recited, and what to do with the separated portion.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Tuesday is 24 Tevet, the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Author of the Tanya and compiler of the Shulchan Aruch, he established what later become known as Chabad Chasidut.

The goal of Chabad Chasidut - an acronym standing for chachma (wisdom), bina (understanding) and da'at (knowledge) - is to bring the Jew to an intellectual understanding of G-d through the contemplation of G-d's exalted nature and His relationship with the world and the Jewish people. It brings the loftiest concepts down into a framework the human mind can readily comprehend and assimilate.

For generations prior to the writing of the Tanya, the rarefied secrets of the Kabala were beyond the true grasp of the intellect. G-d sent the holy soul of Rabbi Shneur Zalman down into the world for the purpose of creating a body of teachings that would once and for all break through the barrier between the infinite light of the Creator and the limited intellect of His creatures.

Chabad Chasidut thus forged an entirely new path in fulfilling Moshiach's promise to the Baal Shem Tov to come when "the wellsprings of your teachings will be disseminated." Over the next seven generations, this new path in man's service of G-d was developed and broadened by the leaders of the Chabad movement. Each successive Rebbe added new insights, drawing from the bottomless well of Divine wisdom and bringing us closer to the Messianic era, when, as G-d has promised, "The world will be filled with G-dly knowledge like the waters cover the sea."

May it commence immediately.

Thoughts that Count

When G-d saw that he turned aside to see, G-d called him from the midst of the bush and said: "Moses, Moses." And he said: "Here am I." (Ex. 3:4)

Why when G-d called out to Moses from the burning bush did He repeat Moses' name twice? G-d was hinting to Moses concerning the two different eras in which he will teach Torah to the Jewish people: once in his lifetime and once in the days of Moshiach. In the future, the Jewish people will go to Abraham and ask him to teach them Torah, and Abraham will say, "Go to Isaac, he studied more than me." Isaac will tell them, "Go to Jacob, he studied more than me." When they will come to Jacob, he will say, "Go to Moses, he learned it directly from G-d." And Moses will teach the Jewish people. But there will come a time when all the scholars and righteous, including Moses and our patriarchs, will all come to Moshiach to hear him teach Torah.

(Shemot Rabba and Midrash Chachamim)

And she saw the child, and behold it was a weeping boy (Ex. 2:6)

We can learn (and emulate) three things from a child: He is always happy, he is always occupied and never sits idle, and when he wants something, he cries.

(Reb Zussia of Annipoli)

And Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro (Ex. 3:1)

A young goat once ran away from the rest of the flock Moses was tending in the desert. Moses followed the animal into a thicket that hid a pool of fresh water. Seeing the goat drinking he exclaimed, "I didn't realize that you were thirsty. You must be so tired now." After the animal had quenched its thirst, Moses tenderly picked it up and carried it to the rest of the flock. When G-d saw Moses' act of kindness toward his father-in-law's goat, He decreed that Moses was equally worthy of tending G-d's own flock - the Jewish People.

(Midrash Rabba)

It Once Happened

Rabbi Moses Maimonides, known also as the Rambam, was one of the greatest Jews of all times. During his life, he wrote numerous books in which he explained the laws and philosophy of the Torah. He was not only esteemed in the Jewish world, though. He was also known and well respected as a physician, philosopher and scientist.

The Rambam was born in Cordova, Spain, and moved as a young man with his family to Egypt. Because he did not believe in accepting monetary remuneration for his work as a Jewish scholar, he devoted himself to medicine in order to support himself and his family. The Rambam reached the peak of his professional reputation as a doctor when he was appointed to the staff of the court of Saladin as royal physician.

When the Rambam felt his end approaching, he instructed his family to bury him in the Holy Land. On the twentieth of Tevet, at the age of 69, the Rambam passed away. In Egypt, where he had been the chief rabbi, the Rambam was mourned by Jew and Moslem alike for three days. In the Holy Land and the rest of the world, where the Rambam had acted as guide and mentor to world Jewry, he was memorialized with special services and fasts.

People from all over gathered in Egypt to attend the funeral of the great Rambam. When the procession was over, a discussion erupted as to where to bury him. The Rambam's request had only been to bury him in the Holy Land. No mention was made as to which city or site should be his final resting place.

Because no solution to the problem at hand was in sight, everyone agreed to begin taking the coffin toward the borders of Israel, hoping that along the way they might be guided as to where tp bury him.

The coffin was perched atop a sturdy camel and, with hundreds joining the caravan, made its way toward the Holy Land. One of the most difficult and dangerous parts of desert travel was not necessarily the lack of water, nor sand storms. It was the constant fear of being overtaken by one of the many bands of highway robbers who attacked the innocent travelers.

As it began to get dark, the pace of the caravan quickened a bit. Everyone hoped that they would be able to find a relatively safe place to camp for the evening. Their fears were well founded though, for within a short while, the sound of hoof beats could be heard, coming closer and closer. "We're being attacked," cried out the leader of the caravan. Many of the people panicked and scattered in different directions. A few of the braver people remained with the coffin to guard it. But, they, too, were frightened away as the gang of vicious bandits came charging toward them.

The bandits approached the camel with the large box. It was obvious to them that this box must contain a huge treasure if so many people were guarding it. As much as they tried, though, the box could not be taken down from the camel.

"Grab the camel's reins," shouted the leader of the bandits. "We'll take it with us." Their efforts met with no success, though. They tried as much as possible to get the huge animal to move, but it would not budge.

"Open the box," commanded the leader.

One of the gangsters swaggered over to the box and began to pry off the lid. "There's a body in this box," he shrieked, as he ran away. The other bandits, too, became frightened at the thought of a dead body in a box in the middle of the dark desert and quickly made their exit.

The people from the caravan who had been accompanying the coffin slowly made their way back toward the camel. But, to their surprise, the camel began moving determinedly, as if it had a specific destination in mind.

The caravan leader cautioned the other people not to go near the camel. "Let us see what direction it takes." After a little while, it was obvious that the camel was heading straight for the border of Israel.

No one dared to go close to the camel. Instead, they followed from a distance behind. The people were amazed to observe how the camel kept on its course heading straight for Israel. By now, everyone was certain that there would no longer be a problem of where to bury the Rambam.

After reaching the borders of Israel, the camel continued to travel steadily. The camel came to the city of Tiberias in the Northern part of the country. It continued on through the narrow streets of the city until, at a certain spot, it suddenly stopped and began to kneel down on the ground.

The people understood that this was the place where they should bury the Rambam. Carefully, they removed the coffin from the camel's back and placed it on the ground. Immediately, the people began digging the grave. All who witnessed this strange event were amazed to see the wonderful miracle take place right before their own eyes.

The people of the city of Tiberias built a beautiful structure over the spot where the Rambam was buried. And every year, on the anniversary of his passing, thousands of people from all parts of the world come to visit his holy grave. For, the Talmud tell us that "He who prays at the grave of a righteous person is equal to one who has prayed in the Holy Temple."

Moshiach Matters

Moshiach has a certain superiority even over Moses. On the phrase at the beginning of the Torah, "and the spirit of G-d hovered...," the Sages teach, "This alludes to the spirit of the King Moshiach." That verse continues, "...over the surface of the waters," this intimates a level higher than that of Moses, who was so called "because from the water I drew him." And that is why this exile is so prolonged - in order that this lofty state be finally attained.

(The discourses of Rabbi Shneur Zalman on the Torah portions, p. 237)

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