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L'Chaim
February 17, 2006 - 19 Shevat, 5766

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


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L'Chaim - to Life!  |  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

L'Chaim - to Life!

Welcome. Come right in. We're so happy you could make it. We're celebrating our eighteenth birthday with a farbrengen (that's Chasidic jargon for a "warm gathering") and you are invited to participate. As is done at all Chasidic birthday farbrengens, we'll say a few "l'chaims," discuss some thoughts from the Torah, make some good resolutions, give charity, and scrutinize ourselves a little.

Is your glass ready? (Crystal-clear water will do just fine if you'll be driving after the farbrengen.)

May we all live long, happy, fulfilling, healthy lives. May we be rich materially and spiritually. May we be redeemed from our personal and our national exiles! L'chaim, l'chaim.

Now that we've loosened up with a few l'chaims, let's sing a Chasidic tune - a nigun. What's a nigun? you ask. Well, it's a wordless tune that proves the teaching, "Music is the pen of the soul."

Do you know the "Marseillaise," the French national anthem? In 1973, with the arrival of the first large group of French Jews to Lubavitch World Headquarters, the Rebbe encouraged the singing of the "Marseillaise" in a Shabbat farbrengen. The lively march was quickly adopted within Lubavitch circles and frequently sung at gatherings. So hum it now, a few times, or sing it using "di-di-di" instead of words.

By now you're surely getting into the swing of things. But, since some of our guests might need to leave soon, let's discuss some Torah thoughts while everyone's still here; we can save the resolutions, charity and introspection for a little later.

We're here, all together, celebrating the eighteenth birthday of L'Chaim, founded in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Though the Rebbetzin passed away 18 years ago, in many ways she is still alive. How so? Concerning our ancestor Jacob it says: "Just as his seed are alive, so, too, is he alive." Most commentators interpret "seed" as "children." But seed can also mean any positive thought, word, or deed that a person plants, nurtures and brings to fruition.

When a person thinks of doing something positive, speaks about it with others, makes practical plans, and then actually executes those plans, he brings his "seeds" to life. And when the good of these deeds continues on after the person passes from this world, then, in a very real sense that person is still alive.

Such was the case with the Rebbetzin. But, not only do her own innumerable good deeds continue on. Also, in her lifetime and after, she inspired others to do good deeds, too.

Each one of us can resolve to bring to fruition each kernel of good thought, each bud of positive discussion, to nurture and carefully tend each productive action until they affect not only our own lives, but also the lives of everyone around us.

Let's move on to sincere introspection that should, hopefully, lead to improvement in all areas, we'll pause now for a few minutes.

Time's up!

Thank you all so much for joining us at our birthday farbrengen.

But, before you go, please join us in one last l'chaim:

May we all merit to greet Moshiach and go together, as one, to the Holy Land, NOW. L'chaim!


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Yitro, contains the account of the giving of the Torah. Torah from Sinai begins with the Ten Commandments. The first two, I am G-d, your G-d (the root and foundation of all positive mitzvot) and You shall have no other gods (foundation of all prohibitions) proclaim the unity of G-d. A precondition to the giving of the Torah was the internal unity of the Jewish people, as the Torah states "...and Israel encamped there facing the mountain." The verb "encamped" is written in the Torah in singular form as if referring to one person - "Israel." This indicates, Rashi notes, that they encamped "as one man with one heart."

At Sinai three "ones" interlocked. The essence of the Giving of the Torah is to realize in the material world the unity of G-d, through the "one nation on earth" (the Jewish people) fulfilling the 613 mitzvot of the one Torah.

How can such unity be achieved? After all, G-d Himself created mankind as diverse individuals, differing in their opinions and living in a world which He also created variegated in its climate and physical features. How can a whole nation attain true unity within itself and bring unity into such a diversified world?

The explanation is to be found in the verse, "And they stood themselves under the mountain" - all of the adult Jews, sons and daughters. Receiving the Torah was such an overwhelming experience, they accepted it so completely, that all other concerns ceased to matter to them; their enthusiasm and joy of receiving the Torah left room for nothing else. The "Mountain" was the same for all; all sensed the Torah and its Giver; all were permeated with the same feeling of joy, and this brought true unity into all the 600,000 individual Jews with their families, as well as bringing unity of G-d into the world through the one Torah.

The Jewish people began with one family, that of our father Abraham, and ever since then the Jewish family has been the foundation of our people. In the family, too, each member is a separate individual, with a particular function and purpose in life assigned by G-d to him and her. Unless there is unity in the family, there can be no unity of the Jewish people.

How is family unity achieved? In the same way as at the Giving of the torah: When all members af the family accept the one Torah from the one G-d in such a way that the Torah and mitzvot are essential, and all else is merely secondary - then there is true unity in the family.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, passed away on 22 Shevat, 1988. Many thousands of girls have been named for her, hundreds of Jewish institutions - especially girls' schools and mikvaot - bear her name, and numerous other endeavors (including this publication) were established in her memory.

After the passing of the Previous Rebbe, the elder Chasidim turned to the Rebbe in an attempt to convince him to accept the mantle of leadership. The Rebbe adamantly refused. It is said that the Rebbetzin was the one who convinced him to accept.

The Rebbetzin knew what it meant to be the wife of the Rebbe. Being the daughter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, she knew precisely what sort of self-sacrifice was required in this role. Yet, she encouraged the Rebbe all the same.

Shortly after the Rebbe accepted the leadership, the Rebbetzin made the choice to remain behind the scenes. She did this consistently and persistently. It was her desire and she lived this way until her last day.

Had the Rebbetzin chosen to live in the public eye, her biography could have filled many volumes. But she chose to live a very private life and precious little is known about her except for a few stories from a small circle of people with whom she was close. We share with you some of these stories.

NOBILITY

Rabbi Shalom Dovber Butman visited the Rebbe and Rebbetzin many times. He relates:

The Rebbe's grandfather and my grandfather were brothers, and I was invited many times to the home of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin.

One of the amazing things that characterized the Rebbetzin was her ability to listen. Whoever spoke to her remembers the good feeling she gave her visitors, and the interest she took in each one.

The Rebbetzin's uniqueness was seen in every expression on her noble face, in her hand motions, in her manner of speaking. She spoke for hours with people, inquiring, taking an interest, but mostly listening. The Rebbetzin never cut anyone off in the middle of a sentence. She always listened with her full attention and patience until the person finished speaking. Only then, did she say something or express her opinion.

Her special relationship with children is also well-known. Whenever I visited her, there were refreshments on the table, and when I visited her with my children, I could see that she made the effort to prepare snacks for them.

THE CHILDREN

Mrs. T. Holtzman: My husband remembers that as a child he innocently asked the Rebbetzin, "Why do the Rebbe and Rebbetzin need such a big house? There are no children here." Without waiting for an answer he said, "Ah, there were probably children here once who grew up and got married, and now the house is left for you alone ..."

Without displaying a hint of hurt, the Rebbetzin smiled and replied with an answer that he'll remember forever, "Richtig, richtig, alle Chassidim zainen dem Rebbe'ns kinder" (Right, right, all Chasidim are the Rebbe's children).

A SECRET VISIT

In 1954, the Rebbetzin made a secret visit to Paris that lasted a number of days, in order to gain information on the refugees then in Paris. A large number of Lubavitcher families lived there under strained circumstances.

The Rebbetzin was very concerned about the situation and took an interest in all the details, and even visited the place without anybody knowing, at night, in order to see things for herself. In her tone, in her questions, and in her general approach, one could see genuine concern as a mother has for her children. Her comments displayed concern as well as great wisdom. Each question was carefully worded. With that very same wisdom, she was also able to avoid speaking about anything she declined to discuss.

OUR PLEASURE

Somebody once said to the Rebbetzin that she and the Rebbe should merit to enjoy much nachas (pleasure) from the Chassidim. The Rebbetzin responded by saying, "Our nachas is when we hear that you have nachas ..."

ESPECIALLY CHOCOLATE

A yeshiva student once saw the Rebbetzin carrying bags and and took them for her into her house. When he brought them in, the Rebbetzin tried to give him a chocolate bar. He said, "I was raised in a Chasidic home and I was taught to do a mitzva in a complete manner and not to take a reward.

The Rebbetzin replied: "I was also raised in a Chasidic home and I was taught that when given something one should take, it especially chocolate!"

CARING ABOUT A FRIEND

Mrs. Mira Raskin relates: The Rebbetzin and I were in touch for many years. We spoke on the phone several times a week. The Rebbetzin had a daily routine and I usually knew when she would call me.

On 21 Shevat, 1988 [the day before her passing], the Rebbetzin didn't call me all day. The morning passed and then the afternoon, and it was evening but the Rebbetzin still hadn't called. I was very worried but I didn't want to call because I was even more afraid that I might disturb the Rebbe and Rebbetzin.

At eleven o'clock at night, after having gone to sleep, the Rebbetzin called and apologized for calling at that late hour. She told me she had gone out to take care of some things with a friend, and when she returned home, she didn't feel well. In her great concern for others, she didn't want to worry anyone and so she didn't tell anyone.

The Rebbe noticed something was amiss and wanted to call the doctor. The Rebbetzin refused but the Rebbe insisted. The Rebbetzin agreed on one condition - that the doctor check the Rebbe first. In the midst of all this, the Rebbetzin didn't forget to call to report to me what was happening, so I wouldn't worry. She put herself aside and put her energies into worrying about the welfare of others.

That night, the Rebbetzin's condition worsened, and she was taken to the hospital, where she passed away. May her merit protect us.

Adapted from Beis Moshiach Magazine


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The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the Lubavitch Women's Organization for their eighth annual convention, 1963
In connection with the 150th yahrtzeit of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad Chasidic movement) I will relate briefly the well-known story about one of the Alter Rebbe's first chasidim, Reb Gavriel Nosei-Chein and his wife Chana Rivka.

Reb Gavriel was one of the most prominent Jews in Vitebsk. Twenty-five years after their marriage, he and his wife were still childless. Then, by reason of sustained persecution, he became impoverished. He was understandably upset therefore, when an appeal reached him from the Alter Rebbe to participate in a case of redeeming Jewish captives with a substantial contribution, as he was wont to do in former days, but which was now far beyond his means. When his wife learned of her husband's predicament, she sold her jewelry and raised the required amount. Then she scrubbed and polished the coins until they gleamed brightly, and with a prayer in her heart that their mazal brighten up, she wrapped the coins in a bundle which she handed over to her husband to take to the Alter Rebbe.

Coming into the presence of the Alter Rebbe in Liozna, Reb Gavriel placed the bundle of money on the table. The Alter Rebbe told him to open it. At once the coins shone with an extraordinary brilliance.

The Alter Rebbe become engrossed in thought, then said: "Of all the gold, silver and brass which the Jews contributed to the Mishkan (Sanctuary), nothing shone so brightly as the Laver and its Stand (which were made of the brass mirrors contributed by the Jewish women with selflessness and joy).

"Tell me where did you get these coins?"

Reb Gavriel revealed to the Rebbe the state of his affairs and how his wife, Chana Rivka bas Beila, had raised the money.

The Alter Rebbe placed his head on his hands and for some time was in deep contemplation. Then he lifted his head and bestowed on Reb Gavriel and his wife the blessing of children, long life, riches and extraordinary grace. He told Reb Gavriel to close his business in Vitebsk and to begin to trade in precious gems and diamonds.

The Alter Rebbe's blessing was fulfilled. Reb Gavriel Nosei-Chein became wealthy. He and his wife were also blessed with sons and daughters.

He lived to the age of 110 years, and his wife survived him by two years.

When my father-in-law of saintly memory [the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn] related this story, he completed it with the teaching of the Alter Rebbe in connection with Sefira (the period of preparation for Shavuot - to receive the Torah):

It is written, "You should count - u'safartem lachem - unto yourselves." These words also mean "You shall illumine yourselves" (as in the Hebrew word sapir - sapphire, known for its purity and brilliance).

The message of this story, in addition to the other profound teachings which it contains, is: Although the coins for tzedaka - charity - are of a fixed quality and value, nevertheless, the very same coins, when they are given with selflessness and joy, assume an extraordinary value and brilliance, bringing life, and joy in life, even in this world, and certainly in the world which is all "light."

The same is true, of course, with spiritual tzedaka. Every effort and activity to spread the Torah and mitzvot, as illuminated with the light and warmth of Chasidic philosophy, and therefore inspired with selflessness and joy, are not only more successful in themselves, but also have a much greater effect and a much greater merit.

May G-d grant that each one of you, amongst our people, should experience "U'safartem lachem," as interpreted by the Alter Rebbe, and that everyone should illumine and purify himself, as well as the home and the environment, with the light of the Torah and mitzvot and Chasidic conduct in daily life. This will bring pure light into every aspect of life, the material as well as the spiritual.

With blessings for success in all above,


Rambam this week

19 Shevat, 5766 - February 17, 2006

Positive Mitzva 161: Counting the Omer

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 23:15) "And you shall count for yourselves...seven weeks" When the Jewish people came out of Egypt, they counted the days, impatient for that special event of the Giving of the Torah. Today, too, we count the 49 days/7 weeks between Passover and Shavuot.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was a jewel, a true queen. Not merely by virtue of her noble ancestry (descending from all the first six Rebbes of Chabad) nor even of her exalted position as Rebbetzin of the Rebbe. She was a true queen in her own right, too.

She was a queen in her exalted qualities of character. The Rebbetzin was sensitive and compassionate to others without being in any way condescending. For every person she met, every visitor to her home, even young children, she always had the right words to suit the situation.

The Rebbetzin was a queen intellectually, too. Coming from a long line of great Torah scholars, she was, not surprisingly, a true intellectual. She was learned and erudite, fluent in seven languages, well-versed in many fields of knowledge, with solidly-based opinions on a variety of subjects.

When her father passed away in 1950, the Chasidim called upon her husband as the obvious successor. But the Rebbe refused to even consider it. When the pressure became strong, he threatened to depart into self-imposed exile.

It was the Rebbetzin who finally convinced him: "You can't let my father's thirty years of self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people go to waste," she pleaded. Very reluctantly, the Rebbe accepted the mantle of leadership.

When her husband was chosen to be Rebbe, the Rebbetzin knew exactly what to expect. She knew what it would mean to her own personal life. For, as the Rebbetzin stated publicly about her own father, the Previous Rebbe, he had "belonged to the Chasidim." Yet it was the Rebbetzin who had the awesome courage to finally persuade the Rebbe to take on the responsibility of leadership.

The famous Rabbi Akiva said of his wife Rachel - "Mine and yours are hers," that his own Torah and the Torah he taught his thousands of students were thanks to Rachel's self-sacrifice. So, too, do we owe the prodigious accomplishments of the Rebbe's Chasidim throughout the world, that have touched the lives of millions of Jews, to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka's self-sacrificing devotion to her husband for almost 60 years.

As we mark her eighteenth yartzeit this coming Monday, we pray that her merit protect us and that we may learn from her shining example.May her great memory be blessed.


Thoughts that Count

The Torah portion Yitro

In what merit did Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, have a Torah portion named after him? He advised Moses, Aaron and the seventy elders to appoint Judges over the people to oversee all minor matters. Only the major questions and problems would be brought to the seventy elders, Aaron or Moses.

(The Midrash)


You shall not have any other gods before Me (Ex. 20:3)

Rabbi Yochanan said: At Mount Sinai, G-d gave strength to the idols, and they stood up and actually bowed down to G-d! We speak of this in Rabbi Yudan said: The same thing will happen in the days of Moshiach. The idols will bow down to G-d, and all the people who served them will be ashamed. Rabbi Pinchas said: When Moshiach comes, G-d will even make the idols speak! They will reprimand the people who served them and say, "You left G-d and eternal life and bowed down to idols that can't even speak!"

(Midrash Shocher Tov)


G-d will descend on Mount Sinai in the sight of all people (Ex. 19:11)

The great commentator Rashi, quoting the Mechilta, explains this to mean that those who were blind, were healed and able to see. In the era of the Redemption, when there will be the Resurrection of the Dead, G-d will bring everyone back to life as they passed away. If they were blind or deaf, He will bring them to life also blind or deaf. But then He will make them all healthy. This is because even after the Resurrection of the Dead there will be those who will try to deny that people came back to life. "If the person passed away deaf and came to life able to hear," they will claim, "it must be a different person!" Therefore G-d will resurrect the person still deaf, and only then make him hear again.

(Bereshit Rabba)


It Once Happened

In the last years of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, there lived a woman named Ima Shalom "the Wise." She was born into a family of scholars descended from Hillel and was related both by marriage and birth to the greatest Sages of her time.

Once, a Roman nobleman visited Ima Shalom and began to ridicule the Jewish religion. He said to her: "I have read the account of your G-d's creation of Eve. I really wonder how you Jews can believe in a G-d who is no more than a thief."

Feigning anger, Ima Shalom replied: "I am going to the Roman consul to seek justice. Do you know, last night a thief entered my house and stole all my silver cups and bowls and left vessels of gold in their place!"

The Roman laughed, "You certainly can't call him a thief-he is a friend."

"That's true, " replied Ima Shalom. "And it is the same with G-d, who took a single rib from Adam's body and left in its place a wonderful and valuable gift. Adam received a good, beautiful wife to be a comfort and helpmate and to save him from loneliness."

But the Roman still objected. "Why, then," he countered, "did your G-d first put Adam to sleep and then steal from him like a thief in the night?"

Ima Shalom called her servant and instructed him to fetch a piece of raw meat from the butcher shop in the market place. She then took the meat, seasoned it and cooked it while the Roman looked on. When it was well-cooked, she served him a portion and invited him to eat. He refused, saying, "I have no appetite for the food you have prepared, since I recall how disgusting it looked just a little while ago when it was raw."

Said Ima Shalom, "Do you think Adam would have been pleased to receive Eve if he had been able to see her being created from his own rib?" The Roman had to agree that Ima Shalom had bested him in the dispute.


Long, long ago in the Land of Israel in the city of Sichon, lived a wealthy Jew and his wife. They lived together in perfect happiness, loving each other with a rare, deep love. The only sadness in their life was that they had not been blessed with children.

One day, a dark shadow eclipsed their happiness. Their tenth year of marriage passed and still they had no children. In those days the practice followed was that such a couple divorced and remarried in order that they might be fortunate and have children. But the husband had no desire to send his wife away, although he felt obligated to do so. He could never love another woman no matter how many children she might bear him.

One of the greatest rabbis of the day, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, was visiting the town of Sidon, and the sad couple went to him to ask his advice. In his wisdom, he knew that this couple shouldn't be divorced, but instead of telling them this directly, he presented them with an unusual plan.

"Your marriage was celebrated with a wonderful feast. Now, although you must part, why don't you give another banquet in honor of the happiness you shared all these years."

The couple found his advice strange, but they returned home and set about preparing an elaborate feast. They invited their many friends and acquaintances, who marveled at this strange paradoxical celebration. The tables were laid with great splendor. The guests were regaled with the finest meats, rarest wine and the most exquisite entertainment.

As the guests began to leave, the man turned to his wife and said, "I know of no gift fine enough to give you. But when you go tonight to your parents' house, take the most precious possession you desire from my house."

At last, a glimmer of light shown in his wife's sad eyes. She said nothing, but then asked leave to return to her private quarters so that she might prepare a parting toast for her husband. She soon returned with a tall silver goblet filled with wine. Her husband drained the cup and then retired to the couch to rest from the strain of the evening. He had drunk perhaps too much throughout the evening... He drifted off into a deep sleep, and when she was sure that the strong drink had taken affect and he wouldn't awaken, his wife had her servants carry him to her father's house.

The next morning when he opened his eyes, he didn't know where he was. He cried out in alarm, "Why am I here?"

But, his smiling wife appeared from the next room. "You granted me permission to take for myself the most precious possession in our home. But I have no desire for gold or jewels - you are my only treasure."

Now, they understood the wisdom of Rabbi Shimon's advice. He had wished only for their happiness. The wife returned to her husband's house, and they lived together even more happily than before. Their happiness was crowned by the birth of a child who was the reward of their abiding faithfulness and love.


Moshiach Matters

As in the experience of giving birth, women focus on the ultimate goal of this transition, the coming of the Redemption, and are not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenges this transition presents. Moreover, a woman's sense of forevision enables her to bring the awareness of the Redemption into her life today. For the essence of the Era of the Redemption is the fusion of the material and the spiritual - that we do not see the world as an independent physical entity, but appreciate its inner spiritual content.

(Overview to "Women as Partners in the Dynamic of Creation" by Malka Touger)


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