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Legal holidays, bank holidays, national holidays. For many, these days conjure up images of long weekends, no mail, 24-hour banking machines and sales.
In Jewish tradition, however, a holiday, special event, or the birthday or anniversary of the passing of a great person, has a different type of significance. Our Sages have taught that all the days of the week are blessed through the Sabbath. Chasidic philosophy takes this concept one step further and reveals that each and every special day in the Jewish calendar can have its own special impact on a person's life and the entire year.
For example, from the holiday of Passover one receives the strength to break out of one's own Egypt, one's own limitations. From the upcoming holiday of Chanuka, we derive the power to rededicate ourselves to G-dly service just as the Hasmonian Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple after it had been desecrated.
the above is true because the same spiritual forces in effect at the time of the original event reassert themselves at the time of the anniversary of the event. An anniversary of an event is therefore an opportune time to benefit from those forces.
This coming Sunday (December 10 this year) is the ninteenth of Kislev. The 19th of Kislev is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Dov Ber, also known as the Maggid of Mezritch, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov. It is also the day of liberation for Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Maggid's disciple and the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.
One might think that these dates are important only to Chasidism. But in truth, they affect all Jews and, through us, the entire world.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was arrested by the Russian government at the instigation of those who were opposed to the Chasidic movement and its teachings. In regaining his freedom, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was able to continue his teachings and work.
"Every Jew is a brother ... Every individual Jew is important... A Jew is, by his very nature, inseparable from G-d, regardless of how much circumstances have temporarily overshadowed this connection... a Jew possesses a soul, an actual part of G-d." These were some of the basic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov expounded upon and disseminated by his chief disciple, the Maggid, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
The spiritual energy inherent in the nineteenth of Kislev energizes us to explore the Baal Shem Tov's teachings. From understanding and being a catalyst to recognize the intrinsic unity of the Jewish people to the more esoteric and mysterious aspects of the Torah as explained in Chasidic philosophy, the day contains a rare opportunity that surely we would all do well to tap into.
Contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or or visit chabad.org, meaningfullife.com or inner.org to learn more!
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, tells us of Jacob's eventual return to Israel after the many years he spent working for Laban, and after the fateful confrontation with his brother Esau on the way back. The Torah states: "And Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem." Rashi explains that Jacob was sound and "whole" in three ways - sound in body, for his limp had healed; perfect in means, as his wealth was still intact; and whole in Torah, for he had not forgotten any of his vast Torah knowledge during his absence.
It would certainly seem that the Torah could have found a more direct way of saying that Jacob emerged unscathed by his experience with Laban. What are we to infer from the Torah's somewhat indirect way of telling us this? Furthermore, in light of the fact that G-d had already promised Jacob that He would protect him from both Laban and Esau, why does the Torah need to tell us that Jacob was indeed unharmed?
Rather, the words "and Jacob came whole" do not refer only to Jacob's escape from the cunning of Laban and the wrath of Esau, but refer to a different type of wholeness entirely.
Our Sages taught that the story of Jacob's sojourn with Laban symbolizes the saga of the Jewish people in exile. Jacob's success in overcoming his own personal experience with Laban has served as an example and source of inspiration for us, his grandchildren, as we pass the long years of spiritual deprivation it was decreed that we suffer prior to the coming of Moshiach.
Not only are the nations of the world unable to destroy the eternity of the Jewish people (just as Jacob was untouched by the schemes of both Laban and Esau), but we are assured by the Torah that the Jewish nation will eventually emerge "whole," in the same three senses of the word, when our exile is over.
"Whole in body" - Although our present exile is characterized by terrible trials and tribulations, their purpose is to arouse the Jew's innate resources and desire for self-sacrifice. G-d has promised that despite all our suffering, the Jewish people will be perfect and uninjured after Moshiach comes to establish the Messianic era.
"Whole in means" - Just as Jacob amassed a great fortune while in the employ of Laban, so too shall the Jews amass great wealth during their years of hardship. The whole purpose of exile is for us to utilize the world's physical assets in the service of G-d, elevating the sparks of holiness which are to be found in even the most lowly and mundane objects we encounter.
Furthermore, we are assured that all the time and energy which was spent in the pursuit of perfecting our worldly affairs will not have been wasted, and will also be elevated and transformed into holiness with the coming of Moshiach.
"Whole in Torah" - Lastly, we are assured that the Jewish people will not lose any of their former spiritual greatness and love of Torah. Just as Jacob's long years of toil did not cause him to forget what he had learned, so too will the Jewish people eventually triumph, untouched by the stark realities of our struggles in exile.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Army of the Rebbe in the former Soviet Union
Across 10 times zones and 8.65 million square miles (22.4 million square kilometers), the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) of the former Soviet Union reaches out to millions of Jews in the CIS with social, humanitarian, religious, educational and financial programs. through the efforts of 454 centers that are member communities of the FJC, Jewish life has been revitalized and continues to expand.
"I didn't realize there are still so many Jews in the former Soviet Union," is a common comment by people who are not aware of what is going on in the countries that were formerly behind the Iron Curtain. But one need only hear the stories that unfold daily in the offices and homes of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries in the FSU to understand that tens of thousands of youth, young adults and even "middle-age" people are only now finding out that they are, indeed, Jewish. As grandparents and great-grandparents approach the end of their lives, they reveal to their family the "secret" of their Jewishness that they hid until now because of a heritage of oppression and fear.
To read about the myriad programs of the Rebbe's emissaries in the FSU visit fjc.ru, updated daily with new information. Below, we share with you just a few items.
A medical center was opened by the FJC Jewish community center in Pervomaisk for Jewish pensioners. "We estimate that the new medical center will be visited by at least 100 people per month at the beginning and we will be introducing more medial services as the demand grows," said Pervomaisk's Rabbi Levi Perelstein.
Students at the Ohr Avner Chabad School visited the local school for the deaf. Through sign language and lip-reading, the deaf children learned from their peers about the subjects that the Ohr Avner Chabad students are studying. Questions were asked about Shabbat, tefilin, charity, and other Jewish observances. the OAC children also presented a small skit.
Members of the Jewish Youth Club and pupils of the Mozdok Sunday school took part in the annual "Youth Festival of Nations" in the North Caucasus. Each nationality represented their community with songs, dance, costumes and traditional food. The Jewish youth sang traditional songs in Hebrew and prepared a performance as part of their participation.
The Jewish Sunday School of Birobidjan, serving the Jewish community for the past 15 years, has an enrollment of 120 students. Recently the Sunday School received a high-tech computer room presented to the school by the government of Haegan, Birobidjan's brother city, and the Academy of Social Sciences of Harbin, China.
Always looking for exciting and innovative ways to get Jewish youth interested in their Judaism, Rabbi Meir Bruk of Baku established the Jewish boys choir of Baku, "Bnei Levi." the choir produced a music video. One of the songs on the video expressed thanks to the people of Azerbaijan for its positive interactions with the Jewish community and the song was shown on all channels of Azerbaijan television.
Over 580,000 free meals have been served to senior citizens of the Jewish community of Bobruysk during the four-and-a-half years since the Soup Kitchen opened in the under the directorship of Rabbi Baruch Lamdan. Soon after beginning his activity in the ancient Belorussian city, Rabbi Lamdan decided that a priority was to help the elderly of the community. "I immediately organized free kosher meals, which are served every day after morning prayer," said Rabbi Lamdan. The food is prepared in the kitchen of the cafeteria of the local Ohr Avner Chabad day school.
The Ohr Avner Chabad school of Tashkent, one of more than 200 schools in this educational network in the FSU, recently marked its 10 year anniversary. The high-quality Jewish and secular education the children receive in the school has enabled them to take their rightful positions as active members of the Jewish community as well as to enter prestigious universities.
The FJC's Winter Relief Fund "miracle boxes" are being eagerly awaited by the elderly poor of this city. Distributed by the local community center, the boxes contain blankets, boots, scarves, hats, gloves and even heaters. Twenty thousand boxes are expected to be sent out to Jews in over 300 cities.
Enjoy a Yeshivacation
It's time to treat yourself to a unique and meaningful vacation! This winter Machon Chana Women's institute and Hadar Hatorah Men's Yeshiva can take you on a journey to the warm reaches of your Jewish soul. The Yeshivacation program is being held from Dec. 21 - 31, 2006, in the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Yeshivacation is an intensive learning program for Jewish men and women from all walks of life, at all levels of Jewish study and observance. To contact Machon Chana call (718) 735-0030, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.MachonChana.org To contact Hadar HaTorah call (718) 735-0250, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.hadarhatorah.org
Saying Mazel Tov!
Modern medical wisdom recognizes that good health depends on a patient's emotional state and mental attitude. For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our declaration of dependence upon the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. To get a color print of the Psalm call Taharas Hamishpacha Int'l. at (718) 756-5700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg.
Yud Kislev, 5711 
Greetings and blessings!
"This is a day of glad tidings" and it is drawing near - Tuesday, the nineteenth of Kislev, the day on which the righteous cause of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism] (the author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch) was publicly vindicated, together with the righteous cause of the teachings of Chabad Chassidus and the teachings of Chassidus at large.
In a letter dated Yud Kislev, 5710 , two months before his histalkus (passing), my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, writes: "Studying the teachings of Chassidus is relevant not only to a particular category of Jews; it is an obligation that relates to the entire Jewish people, and to Torah scholars in particular." Chassidim, moreover, have an obligation to actively engage in disseminating the study of Chassidus. This means that such endeavors should be incessant, so that this goal remains central to all one's activities, no matter how peripheral - "just as a man is engaged in his business all day, and not only during the specific times during which it occupies him directly, because it is so meaningful to him; he is involved in it at all hours and at all times."
Elsewhere the [Previous] Rebbe explains at length how the stipulation made by Moshiach, viz., that "the wellsprings (of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings) be disseminated far afield" - is a prelude and a preparation and a vessel for the coming of Mashiach.
This stipulation, which obliges each and every one of us to exert himself to the utmost, comprises three elements:
- To disseminate: This implies teaching Chassidus over so wide a spectrum that it reaches every part of the environment in which one teaches.
- The wellsprings: The teachings of Chassidus that one disseminates must retain the characteristics of a maayan (lit., "a wellspring"). A wellspring has two main characteristics:
The conditions for the dissemination of these teachings are the same: Quantity is not what counts. What is crucial is that the teaching should be alive with a vitality of the soul and with an inward exuberance, and that it should well forth from its source - from the innermost core of the soul of the person who is disseminating these teachings, whose heart of hearts is bound with the Rebbes of the teachings of Chassidus.
- its waters are alive, welling forth uninterruptedly from its source;
- quantity is not what counts: the wellspring at its source yields a mere trickle.
- Far afield: We should not be satisfied with teaching merely in a study hall or shul; rather, this should also take place when one is traveling or sitting in his store or whatever. Likewise, one's students should not be restricted to certain ideological categories or particular kinds of people. For the simplest of people is also obliged to study the teachings of Chassidus, just as the greatest of the great is unable to plumb its depths.
As to those who are presently beyond all pales of Jewish commitment, even in places that the Torah itself calls far afield, - there, too, the wellsprings must be disseminated.
The merit of our endeavors to disseminate the wellsprings widely will precipitate - and enable us to receive - the blessings which my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, gave every one of us in preparation for the last Yud-Tes Kislev before his histalkus, and which he is no doubt giving us now, too, in preparation for this Yud-Tes Kislev. He expressed it in the second person, as follows: "May you be blessed by G-d with a good year in the study and dissemination of Chassidus - you, your households, your sons and your daughters (May they all live in the ways of Chassidus!). May you and your families and all those who are close to you be blessed with all your needs both material and spiritual."
With blessings for success in avodah (Divine service) and for all manner of good,
From Proceeding Together, translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, published by Sichos In English
On which arm are tefilin worn and why?
In the Torah's description of the commandment to wear tefilin, the word "your arm" is spelled in an unusual way that can also be read "the weak arm." Therefore a right-handed man wears them on the left arm and a left-handed person on the right arm. Another reason is that tefilin helps us control our heart's desires and directs them towards serving G-d in a better manner. Since the majority of people are right-handed, the tefilin are placed on the same side as the heart, thereby reminding us of this aspiration. This is the meaning behind the phrase in the Shema, "Place these words of Mine upon your heart."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 19th of the month of Kislev, which occurs this coming week on Sunday, December 10, is the date on which Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, was liberated from prison. It is also the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, successor of the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe of Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
The main idea of the 19th of Kislev is spreading the wellsprings of Chasidut outward. The "wellsprings," the innermost part of Torah, must not remain at their source, but must flow "outward" and inundate even the lowest parts of the earth. Furthermore, not only must the waters of Chasidut be carried everywhere, but the wellsprings themselves must be conveyed to every single Jew, no matter where he/she is.
The 19th of Kislev teaches us the necessity of bringing the life- giving waters of Torah, and particularly the inner part of Torah as expounded in Chasidut, to every Jew.
Known among Chasidim as the Festival of Liberation, the 19th of Kislev always falls out in close proximity to the week when the Torah portion of Vayishlach is read.
"Vayishlach," means "And he sent."A shliach, an emissary (from the same root as vayishlach), is a person who is dispatched in the sender's stead; moreover, "a person's emissary is just like him." In other words, when an emissary is sent to a certain place to carry out his mission, it is the same as if the sender himself has made the journey.
The concept of Vayishlach exists in every age. G-d "sends" the soul down from the celestial spheres to be enclothed within a corporeal body, to enable the person to serve G-d within the context of the physical world. This shlichut (mission) began with Adam and Chava (Eve), and is continued by their descendants.
Every Jew must be a shliach to spread the wellsprings of Torah and Judaism wherever he or she goes. This is our generation's unique role.
And Yaakov sent messengers to Esav (Esau) his brother (Gen. 32:4)
At that time, Yaakov was fully ready for the ultimate Messianic Redemption. He had learned a great deal of Torah, served G-d with all his heart, and had observed the 613 mitzvot despite the many obstacles encountered in Lavan's house. For his part, he was ready and prepared. Yaakov sent messengers to check out the spiritual status of his brother Esav, to see if he was also ready for Moshiach. Unfortunately, they found that he was still wicked and had not repented of his evil ways. The Redemption was therefore delayed for thousands of years until our generation, when the nations of the world are now finally ready.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Vayishlach, 5752)
And so he commanded also (gam) the second, also the third, also all those who followed the flocks (Gen. 32:19)
The Hebrew word "gam," spelled gimel-mem, appears three times in this verse, alluding to the three (gimel) redemptions of the Jewish people that will come about through a tzadik whose name begins with the letter mem: Moshe (the redemption fro m Egypt); Mordechai (the redemption of Purim); and Moshiach, who will usher in the Final Redemption.
And Jacob was left alone (Gen. 32:25)
This concept of "alone," of the absolute unity and Oneness of G-d, was bequeathed by Jacob to his descendants forever. For whenever the Jewish people would be forced to do battle with Esau, they would yearn for the time when G-d's Oneness will be manifested openly, i.e., the era of Moshiach.
(Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibozh)
When Rabbi Yehuda Leib Segal of Vitebsk took Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, as a son-in-law, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was already known as a remarkable prodigy. As the father-in-law of such a promising young man, Reb Yehuda Leib expected to receive a great deal of pride and pleasure from the new member of his family. Before they were married, he promised to support the couple for many years so Rabbi Shneur Zalman could continue learning without distraction.
For a while everything went according to plan. Rabbi Shneur Zalman studied Torah night and day, and everyone was satisfied with the arrangement. People marveled over the illustrious husband Reb Yehuda Leib had found for his daughter, Rebbetzin Shterna Sara. But later, when it became known that Rabbi Shneur Zalman had traveled to Mezeritch and had "fallen in" with the Chasidim, his father-in-law was furious. All his hopes for honor and prestige were dashed before his eyes. Many rabbis had excommunicated the fledgling Chasidic movement. To Reb Yehuda Leib, it appeared as if his son-in-law had abandoned the proper path.
People tried to convince Rabbi Shneur Zalman of his folly, but to no avail. The young groom persisted in following the ways of Chasidism and influenced others to do the same. He refused to consider changing his mind.
When Rabbi Shneur Zalman's father-in-law realized that being nice wasn't working, he demanded that Rabbi Shneur Zalman divorce his daughter. Rabbi Shneur Zalman agreed to give her a get, provided it was what she really wanted. But Rebbetzin Shterna Sara insisted that there was no reason to divorce. In her opinion, her husband was righteous, his conduct was entirely in keeping with the Torah; he was completely innocent of wrongdoing, and everyone was persecuting him unjustly.
One of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's practices was to pray at length on Friday nights. By the time he came home from the synagogue, everyone else in the household had already eaten and gone to sleep. Only the Rebbetzin would wait up for him to hear Kiddush.
One time, Rabbi Yehuda Leib decided to teach his son-in-law a lesson. After their Friday night meal, he locked up all the food, wine and other drinks in the house so his son-in-law wouldn't be able to make Kiddush. For extra measure, he even put away all of the drinking glasses.
That night, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was greeted by the Rebbetzin, who tearfully explained what her father had done to punish him. Although she had conducted a thorough search, she was unable to find anything over which it was permissible to make Kiddush.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman told his wife not worry, and started to look around for himself. Their efforts paid off. In the cellar they found a bottle of vodka that Reb Yehuda Leib had overlooked. And without any wine available, it was permitted to make Kiddush over the beverage of the country.
Now, however, they had another obstacle to overcome. With all the utensils and dishes under lock and key, they had no cup into which to pour the liquor. Furthermore, there still wasn't any food, and one can only make Kiddush in the same place as the meal. Without food for a meal, the Kiddush wouldn't be valid.
But necessity is the mother of invention. A huge cup for ritually washing the hands was transformed into an impromptu Kiddush cup. Rabbi Shneur Zalman filled it to the brim, recited Kiddush, and drank.
Afterwards, relying on the Jewish legal opinions that an additional cup of wine may substitute for a meal, and that the beverage of the country may be used instead of wine, Rabbi Shneur Zalman downed another reviis (approximately 4 ounces) of vodka to fulfill his obligation.
The next morning, the Rebbetzin's father asked if her husband had finally learned his lesson, and was very angry when the Rebbetzin told him what they had done. "I suppose your husband got very drunk and went right to sleep," he said mockingly.
"On the contrary," the Rebbetzin replied, "it was then that I saw his true greatness. My husband stayed up the whole night studying Torah, the same as always..."
Reb Yehuda Leib was very surprised; but unfortunately, Rabbi Shneur Zalman's unique conduct that night did not improve their relationship.
Years passed. Rabbi Shneur Zalman had moved to Liozna and become world-renowned, attracting followers from all over the world. His father-in-law, Reb Yehuda Leib, had passed away, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman's mother-in-law asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman to move back to Vitebsk with all of his Chasidim. She was very wealthy, and promised to take care of all his needs.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman responded: The baby in his mother's womb is well taken care of. Physically, he eats whatever his mother eats, and is warm and snug and well protected. Spiritually, a candle is lit by his head, and he is taught the entire Torah. Nonetheless, once he emerges and breathes on his own, there is no turning back; he can never return to the womb. This is for two reasons:
- he is now too big, and
- his former place has grown too small...
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach magazine
In future time, when the world is refined to the point that it becomes an actual vessel for the Divine light, it will serve G-d as a home, a real dwelling place. During the revelation at the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, by contrast, since the world had not yet been refined it was merely called "a lodging place for the Al-mighty," just as an inn is not a traveler's real home.
(Or HaTorah, Sukkos, p. 1749)