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Devarim Deutronomy

December 29, 2006 - 8 Tevet, 5767

951: Vayigash

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  950: Miketz952: Vayechi  

Chanuka and Beyond  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Customs  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Chanuka and Beyond

The story of Chanuka is familiar to us all, of course: the Maccabees, the fight against assimilation and for Torah, the small jar of oil, the miracle of eight days, and the Talmudic injunction to publicize the miracle. It is, as our prayers describe it, a time when G-d "delivered the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous..."

But what happens after Chanuka? After the lights of the menora are no longer lit and we move into the month of Tevet, a month of (in some locales) cold and darkness. Where are the lights, but in our memories?

And indeed the month of Tevet might be called a "month of anguish." True, Rosh Chodesh Tevet - the first of the month - is also the end of Chanuka. But the joy and light of Chanuka does not seem to carry over, to suffuse the month. In fact, the anguish, historically, begins even on the first of Tevet, for on that day, during the times of the Babylonian siege and destruction, Yechoniah, King of Judah was exiled, along with the Sages and the nobles of Jerusalem.

Three of the first ten days were so calamitous that many fast on all three - and the last is one of the public fasts. On the 8th of Tevet, King Ptolemy ordered the Torah translated into Greek. The problem was not just that any translation is inadequate; Ptolemy separated seventy-two scholars, hoping that the variations in translation would give him ample opportunity to mislead the Jewish people and present a pretext for ancient pogroms. (Only a miracle, whereby G-d inspired them to all translate exactly the same, averted a complete tragedy.)

On the 9th of Tevet, Ezra and Nechemyah, who, after the destruction of the First Temple, led the return from the Babylonian captivity back to Israel, passed away.

And on the 10th of Tevet, Nebuchadnezzer, King of Babylon, laid siege to Jerusalem. Three years later he breached the walls (on the 17th of Tammuz) and three weeks after that, on the 9th of Av, destroyed the Temple. The 10th of Tevet is the first of the four public fasts connected with the destruction of the Temple.

So we can ask, why do not the lights of Chanuka illuminate the darkness of those days?

The answer, of course, is they do. That Chanuka comes first in the calendar (Kislev is the 9th month, Tevet the 10th) means that it carries over and influences the next. Indeed, as we noted, Chanuka ends on the first of Tevet, indicating that in a sense the spiritual illumination culminates and is most revealed in - Tevet.

What does this mean? If we look at each of the events, we can see how the lights of Chanuka push away the darkness of early Tevet.

8th of Tevet: the translation of Ptolemy - Chanuka occurred because the Jewish people refused to deny the holiness of Torah.

9th of Tevet: passing of Ezra the scribe - During the Chanuka period, the Jewish people studied Torah, taught it to the children, at great risk and personal sacrifice.

10th of Tevet: siege of Jerusalem - Chanuka culminated in the rededication of the Temple, the re-lighting of the Menorah, foreshadowing the ultimate Redemption and the building of the Third Temple.

The lesson is simple: The lights of the Menorah are for more than Chanuka, they are for the dark days that follow, which can be illuminated through them. The light of the Menora - Chanuka and beyond.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, contains the verse, "And [Jacob] sent Judah...before him to Goshen - l'horot - to make preparations." According to the foremost commentaries, Judah was sent to establish a yeshiva. (L'horot is from the same root as hora'a which means "instruction.")

When G-d told Jacob to go to Egypt, Jacob first ensured the presence of Jewish schools. Despite the fact that G-d promised Jacob He would be with him in the Egyptian exile, only once the yeshivot were established did Jacob bring his family with him to Egypt, for Jewish education is the foundation and mainstay of Judaism.

In all times and places where Jews lives, even in the terribly harsh exile of Egypt, there were centers where Torah was studied, for Torah study is the life of the Jewish people.

The Egyptian exile was the most severe of all exiles, including the present one, for several reasons. However, regardless of all the difficulties, Jews were never without a yeshivas.

The Torah is not a history text-book. Every subject and episode, every letter of the Torah, offers direction for all times and places.

Some people claim that this is not the time to be sending children to Jewish day schools; today, afternoon Hebrew school or Sunday school are sufficient.

The Egyptian exile and this week's Torah portion thus instruct us: Conditions in Egypt were far more difficult than those at present, but were disregarded and Torah was studied. They disregarded not only the severe physical conditions of the exile. They also dismissed the fact that, because the Torah had not yet been given collectively to all the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, they were not capable of reaching the tremendous heights to which we can aspire today.

All of the above applies, too, to the question of support for Jewish education. There are those who claim that financial conditions are worse than ever. When conditions improve, they will support Jewish education and maybe even have the "self-sacrifice" to send their own children to a yeshiva.

We must all remember, in Egypt the exile was far worse. There our ancestors did not have even stubble for bricks and had to wander through a foreign land to search for it while Pharoah's taskmasters stood over them lashing out with their whips. They had no straw, but they had a proper Jewish education!

Translated from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet.

A Slice of Life

A Mother Observes...
by Davida Siegel

There are some experiences in life you simply want to be "special." You picture the moment; perhaps a person of experience or wisdom passing something down to the younger generation. As the parent, looking on, hoping the experience will "click..."

For awhile, my husband Mark and I had been promising Ethan that we would take him to purchase tefilin for his upcoming Bar Mitzva and for life. We pictured it to be a special day. Initially we were encouraged to go to a particular Jewish bookstore in Chicago's Jewish neighborhood. Later on, we received more information about another place where we could go that might be even better.

As plans continued to unfold for this long-awaited day, we lovingly began to put together a group of people who would accompany us in helping Ethan purchase his tefilin. I was so glad that Mr. Goffen, my life-long friend Lauren's father, would be able to join us. Additionally, Ethan's Hebrew school teacher, Mr. Meyers, a wonderful mentor and friend was also available to assist us with this process. We set the date to go. Each man agreed to give so kindly of his time and love to Ethan. Each did research to make sure that what we were to purchase would be the best, but give us price options. What a blessing.

Together with all of this joy was a touch of sadness for me and the question "why." Why couldn't my own father (or even one of my own grandfathers) be there? Or my mom?

I picture the joy that each of them would get from Ethan. No doubt my mother's bias and endless love would radiate. I see my father kvell with an unfair amount of pride. I see him have patience with Ethan as they discuss and laugh. And I see my dad step outside his box to go to synagogue with Ethan and pray with him... enter his world of structure and knowledge and understanding. When Ethan asks him, "Why don't you believe?" My dad quietly answers him and smiles. And although he believes he is too old to change, he goes along with Ethan because he grew up in a traditional Jewish home and is familiar enough and they can connect for just that moment. This is a good day!

We arrived at a small holiday art fair at B'Nai Shalom. Ethan's Bar Mitzvah tutor, Ken Miller, will be there. He is a very kind and special man. In addition to Judaica and Jewish art, there was a wonderful Lubavitcher rabbi there from Chicago Mitzvah Campaign selling kosher scrolls for mezuzot and tefilin. Ethan and I stopped by to speak with him. Ethan asked many questions. We all asked a lot of questions and Rabbi Aron Wolf explained everything, showing us how the tefilin are made and adding that he purchased scrolls only from certified scribes in Israel. We must have stopped back at the booth at least three times, by Ethan's choice, of course.

Gently, Ethan asked me, "What should I do? I don't want to upset Mr. Goffen or Mr. Meyers, but I think I would like the tefilin from the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign booth." I told him that he needed to make the decision, and that I would tell Mr. Goffen and Mr. Meyers and they would understand. Ken Miller purchased a pair of tefilin from Rabbi Wolf. Ethan was deep in thought about what to do.

We took our last trip back to the booth. Ethan and I stood across the table from Rabbi Wolf, a very kind and traditional-looking man with a long beard. Ethan said to the rabbi, "I don't know which set to buy; the good set or the better set." Rabbi Wolf replied saying that he could not make the decision for Ethan. Ethan looked at me and I said that he could have either set if he made a commitment to use it for more than his Bar Mitzva. I could see him deep in thought. I LOVE that! To see your own child deep in the thinking process... that is a gift. I silently watched in awe of his mind working with care. Ethan makes decisions about a thing he is serious about with passion and that is a good thing.

So Rabbi Wolf asked him what made him want one pair of tefilin vs. the other. And Ethan said, "Well, if I put some money in and my mom and dad pay some and the better set can last a lifetime, then over a lifetime, the $50.00 I put in isn't a lot, because I will make a lot more money than that in my life. So I think I want the better one."

Rabbi Wolf and Ethan chatted and Ethan picked out a nice bag to hold his tefilin. Then Rabbi Wolf congratulated Ethan on his purchase and decision. Then, Rabbi Wolf said, "Because your parents made an investment and you made an investment, now I would like to make an investment in your tefilin." Ethan looked up at Rabbi Wolf with curiosity. Rabbi Wolf said he would like to have Ethan's name monogrammed on his tefilin bag. "...And I will pay for it and mail it to you. Do you want your English or Hebrew name?" Ethan said he wanted his Hebrew name on the bag.

Later, after we left the synagogue with the tefilin, Ethan told me how excited he was and that he could not wait until his next Bar Mitzva tutoring session to learn and practice putting them on. He also said something to me that I thought was unusual and special for a 12-year-old boy. "Mom," he said, "Rabbi Wolf is very warm." I agreed with him and told him that I thought it was great that he noticed.

On a very special day, just a few months before our son's Bar Mitzva, we all grew a bit closer and perhaps grew a little more on that exceptional day.

What's New

Jewish Women Taking Action

Jewish women are invited to treat themselves to the 45th Mid-winter Convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization, a spa for the body, mind and soul. The weekend retreat includes study with Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson and Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, noted authors and lecturers; sessions with Esther Piekarski from Tel Aviv, a sought-after marriage counselor, lecturer and Israeli TV personality; workshops with Jewish spiritual counselors, Sara Karmely, Devorah Alevsky and Shaindy Jacobson. The convention will take place at the award-winning Hilton Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri January 12-14, 2007. Register on-line at www For more info email or call Blumah Wineberg (913) 649-6736 or Rivi Feldman (718) 467-6146.

The Rebbe Writes

5th of Teves, 5712 [1952]
Students' Study Group
New York

Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and blessing]:

In reply to your request for a message in connection with Chanukah, in view of your recent visits I trust I may regard our conversation on that occasion as having, in part at least, satisfied your request.

However, inasmuch as Chanukah extends to the beginning of this week, belonging to the weekly Sidrah [Torah portion] of Vayigash, I take this opportunity to convey to you a thought apropos of this Sidrah, which may serve as a message not only for the festival of "Dedication," but which is also of fundamental significance in our daily life.

The Sidrah of Vayigash contains the climax of the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, as you no doubt recall, had been torn from his happy home in the Holy Land and delivered into slavery in Egypt. However, he overcomes all trials and temptations, being guided by the high moral code he brought along with him from his home. Eventually he emerges as the Grand Vizier and ruler of all Egypt, who not only saves his brothers from famine, but also all Egypt and the world around. When finally his identity is revealed to his brothers he tells them - and herein lies the key to the great and mysterious drama - not to feel sorry for all that had befallen him, "For G-d has sent me as a sustenance for you."

There is a profound message in these words for all humanity and for Jews in particular. The whole episode may serve as an illustration and answer to the mystery of our life on this earth. It is man's soul that represents the essential part of his existence. The soul, which is a "part of G-d above," is torn from its heavenly abode, its real "Holy Land," and sent down to the earthly and corporal world (its "Egypt"), where it becomes largely enslaved by the physical body.

Needless to say, the purpose of it is not to torture the soul. The soul is sent down to be a "Joseph" who both in slavery and glory remains loyal to his fatherly home in the "Holy Land." It should never acquiesce or despair in slavery, but should remember its mission, to become the ruler of "Egypt" and the giver of sustenance - Divine Food - to his own body and to all with whom it comes in contact.

The way to achieve this is to be constantly conscious of one's origin and "home" and always remain receptive to the vibrating influences emanating from the parental home in the "Holy Land," until the moments when the shackles of slavery are completely broken and the soul - Joseph - becomes ruler of "Egypt" - body - the materialistic world, and the Divine goal is thus fully attained.

I trust that each one of you will try and be a "Joseph" in this sense.

With blessing,

12 Teves, 5739 [1979]
c/o Telshe Yeshivah
Wickliffe, Ohio

Sholom u'Brocho:

Your letter of Rosh Chodesh Teves reached me with some delay. In it you write that you stopped shaving, with the intention to grow a beard.

I trust you have seen the Sefer [book] Hadras Ponim Zoken, whose author is a talmid [student] of the Mirer Yeshivah, which was published recently, with Haskomos [approbations] by prominent Rabbonim, on the great significance and the must and importance of growing a full beard. The Sefer includes also Teshuvos beruros [clear responses] by Gedolei Yisroel [great rabbinic authorities] who had been asked for an opinion in this matter.

May Hashem Yisborach [G-d, may He be Blessed] grant you Hatzlocho [success] that in addition to preserving the sanctity of Hadras Ponim you should go from strength to strength in Torah learning and the observance of its Mitzvos with Hiddur [enhancement], which is also one of the teachings of Ner Chanukah [the Chanuka lights], kindled in growing numbers and brightness from day to day, reflecting Ner mitzva v'Torah Or ["a mitzva is a candle and Torah is light], and may you be a source of true Nachas-ruach [pride] to your Roshei Yeshivah [deans] and Mashpiim [mentors].

With blessings,

P.S. Since you have written to me on this matter, it is my duty and Zechus [pprivilege] to refer you "also" to the Teshuvo "Tzemach Tzedek" (Yore-Deah, par. 93), as well to his Sefer "Yahel-Or" on Tehillim (in the Miluim, on the verse "Vehu Rachum," p. 626).


What exactly is a Bar or Bat Mitzva?

On the day a boy becomes thirteen he becomes a "bar mitzva," literally son of commandment; a girl on her twelfth birthday becomes a bat mitzva--daughter of commandment. From then on they are subject to the obligations and privileges of an adult as pertains to mitzvot. The earliest reference to any celebration is by a 15th century authority saying that a father must make a festive meal on the day his son becomes a bar mitzva. There is no basis for the contemporary custom of celebrating with lavish parties.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Sunday, the tenth of Tevet (December 30) is the anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezar, King of Babylon. The siege eventually resulted in the destruction of the First Holy Temple in 422 b.c.e.

A number of years ago, someone wrote to the Rebbe requesting of him instructions in connection with the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet.

The Rebbe's suggestions are as valid now as then and are as follow:

During the fast day, to help insure security and strengthen the Land of Israel, materially and spiritually, and also for the material and spiritual benefit of all Jews wherever they are, a special effort should be made in the areas of Torah study, prayer, and charity.

Charity, in particular, should be given in the morning and afternoon, and it is especially appropriate to give tzedaka for an institution in Israel.

A person who does any of the above mentioned activities throughout the day is to be praised. And the more he does, the more praiseworthy he is.

If each one of us performs these three important mitzvot to the best --and even a little better than our ability--then very soon, the promise will be fulfilled that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness."

Thoughts that Count

Then Judah drew near and said, "My lord - bi adoni..." (Gen. 44:18)

The Hebrew words "bi adoni" may also be rendered "the L-rd is within me."A Jew must always remember when he prepares himself to pray that he has an actual part of G-d inside him, his Jewish soul, on whose behalf he is communing with his Maker.

(Ohr Torah)

G-d has made me - samani - lord of all Egypt (Gen. 45:9)

What was this message to Jacob from his long-lost son Joseph supposed to impart? Was this news meant to be reassuring? The Hebrew word "samani" may also be read "sam ani" - "I have caused G-d to be lord of all Egypt." It is through my public prominence that G-d has become known, Joseph implied. This indeed was a comforting thought to Jacob when he at last heard from his beloved son.

(Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin)

And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt (Gen. 47:14)

When Joseph was sold into slavery, the exile was effectively shortened from 400 years to 210 years; the last 86 years were the harshest and most severe. Joseph, who was on a higher spiritual plane than his brothers, went down to Egypt before them to pave the way. By elevating the sparks of holiness, the exile was shortened for the entire Jewish people.

(Ohr Hatorah)

And Benjamin wept upon his neck (Gen. 45:14)

"For the Tabernacle at Shiloh (in Joseph's portion of the land) that would one day be destroyed," comments Rashi. Why did Benjamin weep over the destruction of the Tabernacle, located in his brother's portion of Israel, and not over the destruction of the two Holy Temples, located in his own territory? Because the sorrow of others should be even more keenly felt than one's own suffering.

(Rabbi Yechezkel of Kozimir)

It Once Happened

Once Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander was having a Chasidic gathering with his followers on the topic of humility. "If you want to know what real humility is," he said, "I'll tell you of an incident that happened to the Chief Rabbi of the Rabbinical Court of Frankfurt on Main.

"The man's name was Abraham Abish and aside from the many hours he spent occupied with rabbinical duties and scholarship, he occupied himself greatly with the mitzva (commandment) of helping providing food and clothing to the poor. It was his custom to make the rounds of the wealthy citizens of the city and merchants who came to Frankfurt to conduct business to solicit charity which he later distributed to the poor, to widows and to orphans.

"One day as he made his rounds he stopped in one of the local inns and approached a merchant who was visiting Frankfurt on business. 'Excuse me, my good sir,' began the Rabbi. 'Could you please make a contribution to help the poor with food and clothing?'

"It seemed as if the merchant hadn't heard, for he didn't so much as raise his eyes to gaze at the supplicant standing before him.

"Rabbi Abraham, for his part, was too unassuming to announce his name, and so, he stood before the merchant patiently waiting. He made his request one more time. The merchant wasn't in the mood to be troubled by paupers, who seemed never to leave him in peace. He lifted his gaze and stared at the beggar who had the impunity to interrupt him. 'Go away. Get out of here and stop bothering busy people.' Rabbi Abraham said not one more word. He turned and left the inn, never insisting and never imagining to use his identity to coerce the unwilling donor.

"A few minutes later, when the merchant had finished perusing his accounts, he rose to leave and reached for his cane, but to his surprise it was nowhere to be found. This stick happened to be a prized possession of his and he was very upset to find it missing.

"It didn't take him long to assume that the pauper had stolen it in revenge. The merchant dashed out of the inn in hot pursuit of the thief. A few hundred yards away he ran right into the thieving pauper.

" 'Give me my walking stick, you no good thief!' he cried.

" 'I'm sorry, but I have not seen your stick, my good man,' Rabbi Abraham replied calmly. 'I would certainly never take anything from you.'

"But the merchant's anger, instead of being assuaged, only grew in ferocity and virulence until he even struck Rabbi Abraham. Still, the Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt didn't respond with anger; he merely picked himself up and continued on his mission.

"As Divine Providence would have it, the merchant was delayed longer in Frankfurt than he had anticipated. When the Shabbat approached he found himself still in the city. On the afternoon of the holy day all the Jews gathered to hear some words of Torah, and he decided to join them, for he had heard that the famous tzadik, Rabbi Abraham Abish would address the crowd and he very much wanted to hear the great man in person.

"The merchant entered the large hall and raised his eyes to the podium to catch a glimpse of the rabbi. To his great shock and dismay, he recognized the man at once, and the terrible, scene of a few days before appeared before him in a horrible new light.

"Unable to bear the shame, he fainted to the floor. When he regained consciousness, he was surrounded by the congregants all trying to bring him to consciousness.

"'What has happened?' they all asked him anxiously. To his great shame, he related to them the entire incident.

"'You must go to the Rabbi and beg his forgiveness,' was the advice offered from all sides. The merchant realized that he must do as they said.

"When the Rabbi had finished speaking he passed through the crowd, greeting everyone graciously. The quaking merchant stood a little to the side, speechless with embarrassment, as the Rabbi approached. The rabbi caught his glance, but said nothing; only his eyes had a glitter of recognition.

"Before the merchant could stutter an apology, Rabbi Abraham began speaking in a calm, conciliatory voice, wanting only to calm the man.

"Please, believe me, I didn't take your stick. I promise you on my word of honor."

"The Rabbi had no thought that the man might be coming to apologize to him. For he was so humble that he never considered his own honor above that of anyone else. The Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt was not above apologizing yet again to the thoughtless merchant, even before the eyes of his admiring congregants."

Moshiach Matters

Our rabbis, of blessed memory, envisioned the end of our Exile as a period in which the Jewish people would have to endure many troubles and sorrows, a time referred to as "the birth-pangs of the Moshiach." That is why, in our daily prayers we entreat G-d "that our eyes should see Your return to Zion with mercy." We long for the time when our own eyes will witness the return to Zion, but we ask G-d to make it come about in a merciful way, one in which we will be able to withstand the pre-Messianic tribulations.

(Imrei Tzadikim)

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