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L'Chaim
January 12, 2007 - 22 Tevet, 5767

953: Shemos

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


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  952: Vayechi954: Vaera  

Because I Said So  |  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

Because I Said So

When you were a child did you always do what you were told? The first time? Of course not. Like all of us, you constantly questioned your parents' rules and directions, contradicted them, argued with them and came up with a thousand excuses.

But when it came down to it, at the end of all the pleading, begging, resisting, manipulating and reasoning - especially at the end of all reasoning - you ended up doing what your father (or mother) demanded, asked or commanded after the four irrefutable words: "Because I Said So."

Now truthfully, sometimes you obeyed resentfully. And sometimes you did what you were told because after those seemingly all-powerful words, there wasn't any choice. It wasn't a question of how you felt; the job needed to get done and that was that. So in fact, you focused on the task at hand. If you felt anything, it was your concentration. Or the presence of your father's will, your mother's desire. But your own emotions - the ones that had motivated all the hesitation, reluctance and defiance in the first place? They were just - gone.

And sometimes, you felt a kind of relief. It was as if those words - "Because I Said So" - released some hidden wellspring, allowed to reach a deeper relationship with, a more overpowering love for your parents. Perhaps not often, but there were those moments when "Because I Said So" transformed your feelings - not just your feelings, but your interactions, your perceptions, your very sense of who you were and why you were. And so something that had seemed so onerous and unbearable became a source of meaning, of energy, of ultimate relevance.

"Because I Said So" is also a basic concept in Jewish thought, both legal and mystical. The Hebrew term is kabalat ol malchut shamayim - acceptance of the yoke of the kingship of heaven - or more commonly, kabalot ol - acceptance of the yoke.

For instance, there are three types of laws - Mishpatim (statutes) - civil and criminal laws that resemble those of any civilized nation and appear logical (don't steal); Eidut (testimonies) - regulations of a national character, historically based and testifying to the unique nature of the Jewish people (Passover); Chukim (ordinances) - laws that have no rational basis, but exist simply because "G-d said so." (Kosher).

Ultimately we follow all the laws because G-d said so, and G-d being Infinite, we cannot fathom His reasons. But while we might argue about the rationale for the other laws, the Chukim make it very clear: Because G-d said so.

Chasidic philosophy discusses the concept of kabalat ol in many works and at great length. But we can give a brief synopsis here of one aspect: Chasidism explains that we can serve G-d as His child or as His servant. This idea is expressed in the phrase, Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father, Our King.

The difference, simply put, is this: When serving G-d as a child, we can feel the greatest and deepest love; but we still have a separate existence - we experience, in the act, our love. When serving G-d as a servant, however, we have no feelings at all, no existence of our own. We become unified, one with the King. And then, as the commentator Rashi explains, "the servant of a king is king."

What this means is that when the Jewish people serve G-d with kabalot ol, that service will affect and penetrate the whole world, to the point that everyone will recognize G-d's presence in and rulership over all creation.


Living with the Rebbe

"These are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt," begins this week's Torah portion, Shemot. The Midrash explains that the names of the Twelve Tribes which follow, enumerated when they made their descent into the land of Egypt, are mentioned in connection to the Jewish people's eventual redemption from that land.

We see that the narrative which follows tells of the beginning of the Jews' servitude, seemingly the direct opposite of their liberation and redemption. What is the meaning of this apparent contradiction?

Secondly, another opinion in the Midrash states that the names of the Twelve Tribes are mentioned to emphasize that they descended into Egypt with the names Reuven, Shimon... and ascended after the redemption with these very same names. The emphasis is on the merit of the Jewish people, that throughout the Egyptian exile, they did not change their names.

The implication of both these passages is that one must understand the descent into Egypt as a phase in the redemption of the Jewish people, and indeed, as connected with the ultimate redemption which will take place with the coming of Moshiach. In that context, the obligation to recall - and relive - the exodus from Egypt every day serves as a catalyst to bring about Moshiach's arrival.

The Jews' redemption from Egypt, the first of their four exiles, "is a great fundamental principle...of our Torah and faith," according to our Sages. That first redemption represents the opening of the potential for all future redemptions. The freedom which was granted at that time continues at all times.

In a spiritual sense, the exodus from Egypt represents the liberation of the G-dly soul from the limitations of the body, and in general, of the triumph of the spirit over the limitations inherent in the material world. Our obligation to remember the Exodus every day therefore consists of the following:

  1. Every day, each of us must strive to go beyond his own personal boundaries and limitations;

  2. Our obligation to recall the Exodus at night refers to carrying out our service of G-d during the long "night" of our exile; and

  3. We will also be obligated to recall the exodus from Egypt after Moshiach comes, even though the final redemption will far surpass the one which took place in Egypt. The potential for evil will be totally eradicated, and the Jewish people will never again be exiled.

In fact, the entire period of time from the Egyptian Exodus until the Future Redemption is described as "the days of your exodus from Egypt," for the exodus which began in Egypt will not be complete until the ultimate redemption is realized.

In practical terms, one must therefore anticipate the redemption and experience a foretaste of it in our daily lives by bringing a consciousness of Moshiach into all our actions, for doing so will act as a catalyst and hasten the actual coming of the redemption.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

This weekend, Kansas City, Missouri, is hosting the 45th annual Lubavitch Women's Organization Mid-Winter Convention. In honor of the convention, we offer our readers a peek at two articles, both personal stories, that appear in the convention journal. The first article highlights the work of Chabad in Kansas City, while the second article, written by a member of the Jewish community in Kansas City, highlights the global work of Chabad-Lubavitch.

Being Welcomed by Chabad
by Cheryl Choikhit

Chabad House of Kansas City was just a name, a building, nothing more to me. Until one day they offered an art contest at their Chanuka Wonderland. My twin daughters Ashley and Brittany, entered this contest and won first prize, a computer!!

A few years later they joined the Bat Mitzva Club and soon we knew that Chabad House was something wonderful! The girls had so much fun and were learning in the process. The Bat Mitzvah Club taught the girls about Shabbat, something that our family didn't participate in. The girls brought the light and warmth of the Shabbat candles into our home. They also brought a new meaning of what is to be a Jew. Luckily, both our girls were always interested and enjoyed being Jewish, but the Bat Mitzva Club brought to them a new understanding of so many important things about being a Jewish woman.

I knew that Chabad House was something special and I too, wanted to be part of this warm and caring family. I soon involved myself with Chabad in many ways. I would substitute teach in the nursery when needed, I helped organize the Yachad Food Pantry, and I have helped plan the Purim festivities for the past four years!

Believe me, its hard work, but I have enjoyed helping such a lovely group of people who always open their doors to everyone. They offer so many wonderful programs that fit so many needs. I especially have enjoyed their cooking programs and bringing home all the delicious recipes!

Our family was brought up in the Reform Movement, but that didn't stand in the way to being welcomed by the entire Chabad House family. They didn't look differently upon us; they only opened their arms around us. They made us feel welcome and special in every way.

I want to thank Rabbi Sholom and Blumah Wineberg, Rabbi Mendy and Devorie Wineberg for all the beautiful Shabbat Dinners they have shared with my family, and for all the things they have helped us to learn to bring Judaism closer to our hearts. Especially for all they have done for our daughters to make them feel even more special about being Jewish Women!


From Kansas City to Finland
by Arnold Kort

It happened on the sixth day of a Baltic Cruise. They called it a myocardial incident and I was immediately rushed to a private hospital in Helsinki, Finland, for an angeogram. The test results were shocking. I had 100% blockage in one artery and 90% blockage in two more arteries. I was scheduled for quadruple by-pass surgery in a hospital whose name I couldn't pronounce, attended by doctors and nurses who spoke Finnish and Swedish, in a country whose history to me was vague and foreign.

My wife, Joanie, reached out for help in the Jewish community. The rabbi of the Helsinki synagogue was out of town, but Joanie was put in contact with the Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Benjamin Wolf. Rabbi Wolf appeared almost at once at the hospital. He offered reassurance that the hospital was a fine institution with an excellent reputation and convinced us that we were lucky to be in Finland rather than S. Petersburg, Russia, which would have been our next stop. Rabbi Wolf gave us spiritual comfort as we laid tefilin together and prayed to G-d, thanking Him and asking for His blessings for a complete recovery.

Rabbi Wolf was a frequent visitor to my hospital room, both before and after my surgery. He told us the remarkable history of the Jews of Finland and brought practical gifts such as an electrical adapter and candles for Shabbat.

Rabbi Wolf's wife, Eta, sent delicious gifts from her kitchen, which we enjoyed and shared with the wonderful nursing staff.

Rabbi and Eta graciously offered home hospitality and were a great comfort to us at a very difficult time.

My surgery was successful and I was able to recuperate for a week at the hospital and thereafter for a week at a hotel before returning home. Rabbi Wolf continued to call and visit. When it was determined that I was too weak to celebrate Rosh Hashana at the synagogue, Rabbi Wolf brought his shofar so that we could hear the call of the shofar.

Thank G-d, my recovery has been excellent and my wife Joanie and I think often of the wonderful Rabbi Wolf and his wife Eta and their two children in an outpost so far away.

We speak of Rabbi Wolf and Eta with great affection but more importantly, we admire his dedication to his mission of bringing Judaism to the Jews of Helsinki.


What's New

Winter or Summer Camp?

Hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch Centers around the world have completed Camp Gan Israel winter camp sessions. CGI transformed the winter vacation into a fun and exciting Jewish camp experience for thousands of children. CGI Running Springs, California, which opened for its first winter season, is still in session with exciting outdoor activities like skiing and snowboarding on site. In the southern hemisphere, many CGI summer camps are in in full swing, affording children an opportunity to spend their sunny summer days in a dynamic Jewish atmosphere that instills Jewish pride and enthusiasm into campers.


The Rebbe Writes

26th of Teves, 5742 (1982)

Greeting and Blessing:

This is my first opportunity to acknowledge receipt of your letter of Dec. 15, 1981. In it, after kindly paying tribute to the work of the Lubavitch movement, you express your reservations about the "Tzivos HaShem" [lit. "G-d's Army] Campaign, on the ground that it in based "on the glorification of the military and an aggrandizement of arms, war, and battlefields."

A letter is hardly the proper medium to explain fully the reasons that impelled us to introduce the establishment of the Tzivos HaShem organization, the purpose of which is to bring young Jewish children closer to Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], as I am glad to note you fully recognize. Needless to say, it was done only after due deliberation, which I can only briefly outline in this letter.

To begin with, "Tzivos HaShem" - as you surely know - is not a "foreign" idea. It is first mentioned in the Torah in reference to "G-d's Hosts" who were liberated from Egyptian bondage. The term is clearly not used in the strict military sense. Rather it indicates that the Hosts who had been enslaved to Pharaoh to serve him, were now G-d's Hosts, free to serve G-d, and G-d alone.

Of course, the Torah does not glorify militarism, war, and the like. On the contrary, "Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace." And, as our Sages declare, "the Torah was given to bring peace into the world," and "there to no greater Divine blessing than peace," and much more in this vein.

Parenthetically, with all the emphasis on pacifism, the Torah (from the root Hora'ah [guidance]) also provides guidance in situations where military action is necessary, and prescribes the laws of warfare, as you are, of course, aware. To be sure, Rabbi Akiva's fame rests on his spiritual contribution, but there was a time when he found it necessary to be Bar Kochba's "arms-bearer," as the Rambam notes in his Code (Hil[chos] Mlochim 11:2).

When the "Tzivos HaShem" was instituted recently, careful consideration was given to using a minimum of military trappings, and only such as would be consistent with the spirit of the Torah. For example, "spying missions," which you mention in your letter as one of your objections, was categorically excluded. Furthermore, the whole Campaign is limited to children of pre-Bar Mitzvah and pre-Bat Mitzvah age. The idea is that reaching that age they become full-fledged Jews, and by then they will have had the benefit of the experience, and will realize that it had served its purpose for them.

The question is: Since the term "Tzivos HaShem" would seem to some people to smack of "militarism," what were the overriding reasons that out weighed such reservations as you expressed in your letter? Could not the same results be achieved through other means or other methods?

This brings us to the core of the problem.

As an educator, you know that children need activation, but that is only one aspect of the problem. The most important aspect, in my opinion, in this day and age, is the lack of Kabolas Ol [accepting the yoke], not only of Malchus Shomayim [the kingdom of Heaven] but also general insubmission to authority, including the authority of parents at home and of teachers in school, and the authority of law and order in the street. There remains only the fear of punishment as a deterrent, but that fear has been reduced to a minimum because there has in recent years been what amounts to a breakdown of law enforcement, for reasons which need not be discussed here.

On the other hand, American children have been brought up on the spirit of independence and freedom, and on the glorification of personal prowess and smartness. It has cultivated a sense of cockiness and self-assurance to the extent that one who is bent on mischief or anti-social activity, feels that one can outsmart a cop on the beat, and even a judge on the bench; and, in any event, there is little to fear in the way of punishment.

continued in next issue


Customs

What is a "mizrach" sign?

"Mizrach" is the Hebrew word for east. When a Jew prays he or she is supposed to face Jerusalem. Since most Jews live west of Jerusalem, they face east, or "mizrach" when they pray. Many people hang in their homes a decorative plaque, wall-hanging or other artwork with the word "mizrach" on it to show which direction is east.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Sunday is the 24th of Tevet (coinciding with January 14 this year), the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman opened a new path which allowed the teaching of the previously hidden aspects of the Torah - P'nimiyut HaTorah - to be comprehended through the intellect and thus reveal additional G-dliness within the world.

But Rabbi Shneur Zalman was not only a master in the area of the more esoteric aspects of the Torah. Even as a child he was considered a great scholar of the revealed parts of the Torah - nigle d'Torah, as well.

This quality of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's is alluded to in his name, Shneur, which can be broken up into two Hebrew words, "Shnei" and "ohr" which mean "two lights." Rabbi Shneur Zalman illuminated the world with his greatness in the two light of the Torah.

In Rabbi Shneur Zalman's magnum opus, Tanya, he writes: "The Messianic Era... is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created." This means that our spiritual service will reach its full completion only with the fulfillment and culmination of the entire creation which will take place when Moshiach is revealed.

The entire purpose, in fact, of the revelation of Chasidic philosophy was to hasten and prepare the world for the Messianic Era.

Thus, when each one of us studies Chasidut, whether the more sublime aspects or the most esoteric concepts, we prepare ourselves and the world around us for Moshiach.


Thoughts that Count

Behold his hand was as leprous and white as snow...and behold it was turned again as his other flesh. (Ex. 4:6,7)

Leprosy is symbolic of Exile and healthy flesh symbolizes the Redemption. Through this sign, G-d hinted to Moses that the leprosy-exile would be transformed into healthy flesh - the redemption, and could occur in the blink of an eye.

(Ohr HaTorah)


But according to the amount that they will afflict them, so will they multiply and spread out. (Ex. 1:12)

It does not state "afflicted them," but rather "will afflict them," in the future tense. We learn from this an eternal truth - whenever the People of Israel are afflicted and tormented, the result is the opposite of the desired effect - "so they multiply and spread out."

(Orach Chayim)


These are the names of the Children of Israel coming into Egypt (Ex. 1:1)

The verse says "coming," in the present tense, rather than "who came," in the past tense. For the duration of the 210-year exile in Egypt, the Jews felt as if they had just arrived in that land. They never adopted Egyptian ways and always considered their sojourn temporary.

(Ohel Yehoshua)


For I am heavy of speech, and heavy of tongue (Ex. 4:10)

The fact that Moses had difficulty speaking shows that his leadership was accepted solely because he carried G-d's message, and not because he was a skillful orator and master of rhetoric.

(Drashot Rabbenu Nissim)


And he [Moses] said, "Oh L-rd please send by the hand of whom You will send." (Ex. 4:13)

Moses asked G-d to send Moshiach. He wanted G-d to spare the Jews the Egyptian bondage and allow them to immediately experience the Redemption through Moshiach. G-d refused because the exile of Egypt was a preparatory stage to receiving the Torah, and through these two events the Jews would merit the coming of Moshiach.

(Likutei Sichot)


It Once Happened

by Menachem Ziegelboim

Rabbi Tomer is a distinguished rabbi in Ramle, Israel. He recounted this story while constantly repeating words of praise and thanks to G-d.

"It was a week after Chanuka 2001, and a small group of us - Shlomo Edery, Ezra Degaga, Ovadia Tomer (my brother) and I - decided to visit the gravesites of tzadikim (righteous people) in Ukraine. We had in mind to pray at the holy graves of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and other tzadikim.

"It wasn't easy traveling in Ukraine. We experienced hard times but we overcame them all. One morning we went on a tour with a local driver whom we had hired for this purpose. We traveled for hours from one grave to another, and in each place we beseeched G-d for His mercies. At 1:30 a.m. we arrived in Haditch, a tiny village, that we could barely make out in the complete darkness.

"We were getting out of the car to go to the holy resting place of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism and author of Tanya) when we noticed that Ezra had not left the car. We asked him why he didn't get out, and he said he was too tired to go down the hillside. We could understand his feelings, as the cold was bone-chilling - several degrees below zero, there was a strong wind, darkness, and a steep climb down hill. He also complained that his feet hurt, 'Go down and pray on behalf of yourselves and for me, too,' he asked us.

"We refused to leave him behind. We didn't want him to stay alone in the car with a stranger in a strange place. And also, we had finally gotten to this holy place and we didn't want him to miss the opportunity to pray here in Haditch. We just couldn't leave him.

"After a little more cajoling, Ezra agreed to go with us. We went down the hill, and when we got inside we lit candles and began to pray with much feeling.

"As we were praying, I heard the sound of something falling behind me. I quickly turned around and saw Ezra on the ground making agargling sound. Ezra has a great sense of humor and I thought he was joking around. I said, 'Ezra, this is a holy place. It's not a place for jokes,' but he didn't answer me. That's when we realized something terrible had happened. Ezra was white. He continued to make the gargling noise and was frothing at the mouth. Ezra took a deep breath and then was utterly silent.

"I have seen people in their final moments of life and I knew this was the stage Ezra was in. We were losing him right before our eyes!

"None of us were doctors nor did any of us know C.P.R. We stood there helplessly as the cold of two o'clock in the morning got even colder. We just stood there.

"My thoughts raced furiously. What happened? How did he suddenly die? How will we bring him back home? What will we tell his wife? How will I be able to look his children in the eye? All these thoughts ran through my mind.

"Instinctively I turned towards the Alter Rebbe's resting place and prostrated myself on it and burst out, "Rebbe! I ask and plead for Ezra Degaga. We came here to you, to a great tzadik, as four living Jews. We came to pray at your grave, and we ask and plead that you do a miracle so that we four Jews can walk out of here. Do it in the merit of the prayers that we offered here and in the merit of the Tanya we have studied.

"I prayed from the depths of my heart, and after a short time I heard a sound behind me. I turned around and saw Ezra opening his eyes. The others quickly poured water on him to revive him a bit. Within a few minutes he was even able to get up.

"The whole thing took ten minutes, but it took much longer for us to recover. The driver came down to see what had happened to us. We all turned to the Alter Rebbe and thanked and praised G-d and His loyal servant, the great tzaddik.

"When we returned to Israel a day later, we told our friends about the great miracle that had happened to Ezra. They all looked at him as a walking miracle."

Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine.


Moshiach Matters

The Divine light to be revealed in the days of Moshiach will be the light the Jewish people will have drawn earthward by serving G-d through the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvot. The Divine light that will be revealed at the time of the Resurrection, however, will outshine it by far: its source will be a level of Divinity that is beyond the reach of any mortal service.

(Or HaTorah)


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