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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Have you ever, while walking or driving, noticed a building that really caught your attention? So much so that you had to stop, or pull over, and admire it? What did you think to yourself? Did you say "What a beautiful building?" Or did you say, "I wonder who built that?"
When something attracts our attention we have these twin impulses, in a way complementary, in a way contradictory. On the one hand we admire the object itself - the building, the painting, the song, the well-cooked meal, the piece of furniture. On the other, we want to know who made it.
Sometimes, the name means everything. The work itself - whether in the field of architecture, literature, music or art - is not as significant as who composed or made it. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that the quality of the work is assumed. The artist - or whatever - has already made a name, already has a reputation. So even if the song, for instance, isn't up to the usual standards, it still has value because of who did it.
Sometimes, it doesn't matter who composed the song, wrote the poem, designed the building, crafted the bookcase. It's beautiful and meaningful and powerful and functional, regardless. We admire the object first. Indeed, even when we find out who did it, we focus still primarily on the thing itself. The artist gets credit, of course, but the object is what truly excites our interest and admiration.
Curiously, the former can lead to envy or hero worship. We want to be like - or be - the person we so admire. Or we want to follow in his or her footsteps. But what we may not realize, or recognize, is what that person had to do - the dedication and sacrifices required - to achieve what he or she achieved. And also, of course, it may be a question of talent, of an innate skill or gift that cannot be duplicated.
In the latter case, though, our attention remains on the object and so we are interested not in being the person, but in remaking the object. We focus on the task, on making a copy of the thing we admire. Personality - who did it, who does it - becomes irrelevant. Yes, there's a person, but he or she is essentially "behind the curtain," not the center of attention. In short, the self disappears.
When it comes to performance of mitzvot (commandments), we have the same issue to confront: On the one hand, a mitzva, by definition, requires a person to perform it. After all, a mitzva is a commandment from G-d to an individual (within the larger group of the Jewish people - or the world - as a whole). Performance of a mitzva connects that person to G-d. On the other hand, the main thing is the action, getting the job done. It doesn't really matter who gets credit, as long as the commandment is fulfilled and the mitzva is done. In a sense, too, either no one gets credit, if G-d forbid the mitzva is not observed, or everyone gets credit, for everyone who was somehow involved made it happen. Without each contributor, nothing results.
We see this most readily on the stage. The actors, and possibly the director, get all the attention, the applause, the accolades. But without the people behind the scenes, those working behind the curtain, there would be no play - indeed, no theater or audience or script or costumes or lights or - anything. Despite - perhaps because of - their anonymity, they make sure the task is done.
Among the many lessons we can learn from Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka (to whom this issue of L'Chaim, and all 956 previous issues have been dedica-ted), is this one: that as important as the self might be, the main thing is getting the job done. That the anonymous, self-effacing individual working "behind the scenes" makes a valuable, indeed, an invaluable and essential contribution, without which - nothing.
And the job of our times, the goal we labor for "behind the scenes," is the coming of Moshiach.
The climax of the Exodus from Egypt and the purpose for which the world was created was the Revelation on Mount Sinai. It was there that G-d gave the Ten Commandments and the Torah to the Jewish People. In front of the assemblage of every single Jewish man, woman and child, and in the presence of the souls of every Jew that would ever be born, G-d descended on Mount Sinai and said, "I am (Anochi) the L-rd your G-d." These historic events are described in this week's Torah portion, Yitro.
The Midrash points out a curious fact: The word "anochi" is not Hebrew - it is an Egyptian word.
The Ten Commandments are a condensation of all the guiding principles of the Torah. Of these, the first two commandments, "I am the L-rd your G-d" and "You shall have no other gods," have an even greater measure of holiness, for they were heard by the Jews directly from G-d Himself, and not through Moses. The first of these two commandments, by virtue of the order in which it was given, has even more significance. Why, then, did G-d choose to express the most lofty and exalted concept, the "I," the very essence of G-d Himself, in a foreign tongue? Why didn't G-d use the Hebrew word for I - "Ani" - to begin the most important utterance ever heard?
In order to understand this paradox, we must first examine the purpose of the Revelation on Mount Sinai. The Torah was not given to guard the holiness contained in the Hebrew tongue; for this, no G-dly earth-shaking Revelation would have been necessary. G-d descended on Mount Sinai for one reason only - to enable us to elevate even the lowest and most mundane aspects of our lives and of the physical world, including the Egyptian language, the spoken words of the most corrupt and abominable nation.
Holiness existed before the Revelation, and Jews had long occupied themselves with the Torah. The innovation of the Revelation was the ability to "fuse" holiness with mundane, to imbue physicality with spirituality. Even things that were seemingly far removed from the realm of holiness could now be used to bring G-dliness into the world.
The aim of the Revelation is pointedly emphasized by the use of the Egyptian word "Anochi." A Jew's daily life involves elevating the physical and transforming it into a vessel for G-dliness. Prayer and Torah study enable us to reach only a limited level of spirituality; elevating that which is base and seemingly trivial, by adhering to the laws of the Torah, enables us to attain even greater heights of holiness.
When we fulfill G-d's will by elevating even the "Anochi," as G-d Himself did, we fulfill the purpose of the Torah and carry out the world's Divine plan.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rich, Full Years
by Henya Laine
A remarkable woman, a matriarch of the Chabad-Lubavitch community world-wide, passed away this past month at the age of 106. The "Shloshim" (30 days from the passing) of Rebbetzin Maryashe (Garelik) Shagalow is 20 Shevat (February 8 this year). We are greatly privileged to share with our readers a brief glimpse of some highlights of this unique woman's life, through the eyes of one of her granddaughters (one of nearly 1,000 descendants).
I was thinking about the legacy that Bubbe Maryashe left all of us; it is a legacy that she lived every day of her life. One: A deep and sincere belief and trust in G-d. Two: a very strong and committed connection to the Rebbe. Three: An ability to instill in all those around her a love for Torah, mitzvot (commandments), and the Chasidic way of life.
Bubbe Maryashe was always b'simcha, joyous. She had a great sense of humor. She always looked at the positive side of life. Whenever she was around, you felt the presence of joy and happiness. Bubbe always sang and praised G-d. She loved to sing and to dance. One of her favorite songs was one whose words were simple, expressing only her desire to sing and praise G-d, and to acknowledge that G-d is everywhere.
Life under the Czar and subsequently under the Communist regime was very difficult for young Maryashe. Her father died in a pogram as did her grandparents. Maryashe's three brothers studied in the Lubavitcher yeshiva. One day, they brought home a friend, Yitzchak Elchanan Shagalow. When he saw the young Maryashe reciting Tehillim (Psalms) he said "This is the kind of wife I want: religious, devoted, careful in the Chasidic ways." Zaide Yitzchak Elchanan was a Chasid who was devoted heart and soul and had utter self-sacrifice for everything the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe held dear.
After Zaide Yitzchak Elchanan was taken away to prison by the KGB, never to be heard from again, Bubbe had the sole responsibility to raise and support her six children. One of the stories Bubbe told us is that every month Zaide would give 10 rubles to a certain widow for her upkeep. As he was being led out by the KGB, he whispered to Bubbe where the money was hidden and that she should give it to the widow.
Now Bubbe was in a dilemma. What should she do? The 10 rubles were the only money in the entire house. Bubbe called a family meeting of her six children and asked them, "What should we do with this money?"
Bubbe explained to the poor, starving children, "We have hands and feet and each other and G-d will help us. But the poor widow has nobody." Unanimously, the children agreed that the money should be given to the widow.
On her way back from delivering the money to the widow, Bubbe had a conversation with G-d. "You are the great G-d. I did what I had to do. Now you do what You have to do." Bubbe looked down and noticed something on the floor. It was a 100 ruble note. She ran to the market, bought sugar, butter, flour and potatoes. She said to the children, "Now, do you see how good G-d is to us?" And she divided the food into smaller portions and sent the children to sell it. From this money they were able to live throughout the entire winter. In addition, with the extra money, she immediately hired a teacher to study Torah with her children.
At one point, Bubbe and her six children were forced to hide in the women's section of the shul. Yet, she managed to be positive! The roof was leaking, the rats were running loose, the place was freezing. Bubbe called all the children together and said, "Look how lucky we are that we found a place to live." When the children said, "This? How can we live here? She answered, "We will sing and dance while we clean this place up. People can take everything away from us, but not our spirit."
This spirit of Bubbe we saw at all times, even when it was difficult to talk. She would still bless all of her grandchildren whenever they visited with the most beautiful blessings, full of joy and life.
On Saturday nights, Bubbe was meticulous about drinking a cup of tea brewed from a kettle that had been filled with water after Shabbat. "Let the faucet water run," she would say. "Boil a cup of tea and drink it. It brings blessings and healing. The water of Miriam's well flows into all waters on Motzie Shabbat (Saturday night)."
In the early years, at "770" World Lubavitch Headquarters, very few women went to shul Friday night. Bubbe used to go with her good friend, Mrs. Mussia Nemoytin. One Friday night, Bubbe asked some of her granddaughters to join her. The girls were embarrassed. So they lit the Shabbat candles and then hid. But Bubbe wasn't put off. She just kept on calling their names over and over again. "I'm waiting. The Rebbe is davening. You must come." They had no choice but to join Bubbe.
The girls enjoyed the Friday night services. The following week, people saw them walking on Eastern Parkway and asked where they were going. Little by little, the girls and women in the neighborhood started going to shul Friday night. That's how the women's section began to fill up with hundreds and hundreds of girls and women each week.
Bubbe purchased for the women's section prayer books, Psalms and Chumashim for the Torah readings. She purchased these in memory of her husband Yitzchak Elchanan. In big, bold letters Bubbe wrote on the front of the holy books, "Ezrat Nashim" (women's section). When someone asked her why she didn't write it on the inside cover, Bubbe responded that she wanted the books to remain in the women's section! And sure enough, if she was upstairs in the women's section and she noticed that there was a book in the men's section that belonged upstairs, she would march right down into the men's section to retrieve it.
Bubbe had problems with her feet. They didn't "work" so well. When Bubbe would walk up the four flights of stairs to her apartment, she would stop on the first step and say, "Thank G-d, thank G-d. When she got to the second step, she would say, "Thank G-d, thank G-d." With each step, she repeated, "Thank G-d, Thank G-d." When she got up to the top of the stairs, she would burst out singing the Chasidic song, "Didan Notzoch" ("Victory is Ours").
Every year on Passover, Bubbe would walk down the four flights of stairs to open the door for Elijah the Prophet. No mitzva was too hard for Bubbe. It was always a pleasure. It was always exciting. It made you feel special to do do a mitzva. She always thanked G-d for giving her the opportunity to do mitzvot, no matter how tired or how hard it was.
Where is Communism today? Gone. Where are the Nazi's today? Gone. Where is Stalin (may his name be erased) today? Burning in gehenom. Where is Hitler (may his name be erased) today? Burning in gehenom. But where is Bubbe Maryashe? The Torah teachers, "When his (her) seed are alive, then he (she) is alive." She is alive through her almost 1,000 descendent who are continuing her holy work and are emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe all over the globe.
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2 Tammuz, 5730 
After the long interval, I was pleased to receive your letter of last week, with the enclosures.
For various reasons, I am replying in English, one of them being that you may wish to show the letter to some of the friends of Chabad in your community, for whom Hebrew text may not be so easy.
Referring to the main topic of your letter, namely the dissemination of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] among the Jewish women, I can hardly overemphasize that this activity is one of the most basic and vital efforts for the general strengthening and spreading of Yiddishkeit.
The role of Jewish women in Jewish life goes back to the time of Matan Torah [the giving of the Torah], as is well known from the commentary of our Sages on the verse, "Thus shalt thou say to the House of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel - the 'House of Jacob' meaning the women." (Mechilta on Yisro 19:3 quoted Rashi on this verse.)
In other words, before giving the Torah to the whole people of Israel, G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] to first approach the women, and then the men. This emphasizes the primary role of the Jewish wife and mother in preserving the Torah.
Ever since, and throughout the ages, Jewish women have had a crucial role in the destiny of our people, as is well-known. Moreover, the Jewish housewife is called the Akeres Habayis - "the foundation of the house."
In addition to the plain meaning of this term, namely, that she is the foundation of her own home, the term may be extended to include the whole "House of Israel," which is made up of many individual homes and families, for, indeed, this has been the historic role of Jewish womanhood.
Being acutely aware of this role of Jewish women in Jewish life, especially in the most recent generations, my father-in-law of saintly memory, frequently emphasized this, so much so that immediately after his liberation from Soviet Russia in 1927, when it became possible for him to publish his teachings, he published a number of discourses, talks and addresses in Yiddish, in order to make them more easily accessible to Jewish women and daughters. There is no need to elaborate further on the obvious.
In the light of the above, and since this has been the consistent policy of all Chabad activities, it is hardly likely that any Chabad worker would not be interested in this area, and there can only be a misunderstanding if this is the impression in the particular case.
I am confident that by discussing the matter together, it will soon be discovered that there has been a misunderstanding, and the reasons that have given rise to such a misunderstanding could be cleared up and easily removed.
Needless to say, you may show this letter to whom it may concern. I may add, however, that judging by your writing, that person seems to have a heavy burden of activity on his shoulders, and this may be the explanation why little has been done in the area of disseminating Yiddishkeit among the women as you write, simply for lack of manpower and time, etc.
At any rate, I trust that you will get together and clear this matter up, in accordance with the verse - Az Nidbiru Yirei Hashem [So shall those who fear G-d speak], etc....
I was pleased to read in your letter about the advancement in your position, and may G-d grant that you continue to advance from good to better and best, since there is no limit to the good.
In our days there is the additional important consideration, and that is when a Jew, a Shomer Torah and mitzvos [one who observes the Torah and its mitzvot], attains prominence in his field, regardless what his field may be, this gives him an additional opportunity and capacity to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit, all the more so a person who is already active in the dissemination of traditional Yiddishkeit of the Torah and mitzvos.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above, and together with your wife, to bring up your children to a life of Torah, Chupah [marriage] and Good Deeds, in good health and happy circumstances.
P.S. Acting on your request, this letter is being sent to you on a priority basis.
What are some customs related to giving a baby a Jewish name?
Our Sages say that parents have Divine inspiration when giving their child a Jewish name. It is customary to name a child after a close relative or friend, or after a person with outstanding virtues. One's Jewish name can be an indication of one's character, goals and essence. One's Jewish name is closely linked to the spark of G-dliness - the neshama (soul) within every Jew.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
When the famous Rabbi Akiva returned from the great yeshiva in Jerusalem to his humble home after 24 years of intense and unceasing Torah study, he brought with him his 22,000 students. When his wife Rachel approached him through the crowd, Rabbi Akiva announced "All that I have, and all that you have, we owe to her." These words of Rabbi Akiva are recorded in the Talmud (Ketubot 63a).
In another Talmudic Tractate (Yevamot 62b) it says that Rabbi Akiva's disciples saved the Torah at that time.
In a beautiful letter from the Rebbe to the Lubavitch Women's Organization for one of their annual conventions, the Rebbe explains that these two Talmudic teachings are interconnected. "This means that the entire edifice of the Oral Torah, the very basis of the existence of our Jewish people and its way of life, is ultimately to be credited to a Jewish woman," the Rebbe writes there.
This Shabbat, the 22nd of Shevat, we commemorate the nineteenth yahrzeit of a most unique, righteous Jewish woman, the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.
Upon the passing of her father, the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbetzin strongly encouraged the Rebbe to assume the mantle of leadership. This entailed tremendous self-sacrifice and unimaginable devotion on the part of the Rebbetzin. Although we cannot fully understand just how much of a sacrifice it was, she certainly understood. For, during a U.S. court case concerning the ownership of the library of the Previous Rebbe, it was the Rebbetzin's decisive statement that "the library belongs to the Chasidim because my father belonged to the Chasidim" which helped the Lubavitch movement win the case so that the stolen books were returned to "770."
Thus, when the Rebbetzin encouraged the Rebbe to accept the entreaties of the tens of thousands of Chasidim world-wide who were requesting that he become Rebbe, she knew that from that time forth the Rebbe would belong to the Chasidim and to world Jewry at large.
We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Rebbetzin.
You shall select of all the people... men of truth, hating bribe (Ex. 18:21)
You will have to search hard to find these people, Yitro counseled Moses, for men possessing these qualities usually run away from positions of honor and do not sit idle all day.
(Shaar Bat Rabim)
And Yitro heard...and he came...to Moses (Ex. 18:1-5)
What did Yitro hear to cause him to seek out Moses? He heard of the miracles of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek. These events aroused in him a strong belief in G-d, and he set off. Why did he need to see Moses personally? Yitro knew that in order to learn Torah properly, he couldn't rely on second-hand information. He had to go to the leader of the generation and learn from him directly.
You shall sanctify today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their clothes (Ex. 19:10)
The first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, taught: "You shall sanctify today and tomorrow" refers to the G-dliness and holiness that is bestowed from Above; "and they shall wash their clothes" refers to the effort that each of us must make on his own behalf. His grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, elaborated: "The command to sanctify 'today and tomorrow' was given to Moses. Indeed, in every generation, the leader of that generation has the power to elevate the world and imbue it with additional holiness. However, this must first be preceded by the preparation of 'washing the clothes.' Each individual must first work on himself to cleanse the garments of his soul - his thoughts, deeds and actions - before asking for help from Above."
Because the L-rd descended upon it in fire (Ex. 19:18)
The fire that accompanied the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai teaches us that everything connected with Torah study, the performance of mitzvot and the worship of G-d, must be done with the warmth and enthusiasm that are derived from that original blaze.
Rabbi Yehuda Lowe of Prague, known as the Maharal, was born in 1512 and was the descendant of famous scholars. He could trace his lineage back to King David. Recognized as a genius from early childhood, he was engaged at the age of 10 to an equally remarkable woman named Pearl. A scholar in her own right, she was a loyal partner of her husband and epitomized the Jewish ideal of a "woman of valor."
It was customary in those times for matches to be arranged while the couple was still very young, the marriage itself taking place sometimes only years later.
And so, the Maharal, at the age of ten, was engaged to Pearl, the daughter of the wealthy and influential Shmuel Reich. She was only six at the time. According to the marriage agreement, the Maharal continued his studies, illuminating one of the outstanding yeshivot of his day. After the agreed upon years of study expired, he requested permission to continue, since his fiancee was still only fourteen.
Pearl was a girl of exceptional intellectual capacity. At the age of six she was sufficiently mature enough to appreciate the great genius of the Maharal, and she, desirous of being a worthy partner, embarked on an intensive program of study. She learned secretly all the years of their engagement, until, when he returned, the Maharal was delighted and amazed to discover the extent of her accomplishment. He returned with her permission, to his yeshiva studies, but before leaving, he prepared a syllabus for her to follow in his absence.
During the period of the Maharal's absence, financial disaster struck Shmuel Reich, leaving him impoverished. The Maharal received a letter from his future father-in-law explaining the situation and releasing him from his promise to marry Pearl. In his immediate reply, the Maharal, while expressing his sympathy, reiterated his intention to marry Pearl regardless of financial considerations, unless, she was unwilling to wait for him.
More time passed, until the year 1543 arrived, bringing with it a war in Bohemia. The Maharal returned home to his fiancee who was now supporting herself and her parents by running a food store. Pearl, who had been studying Torah during the twenty-two years of their separation, had become an extraordinarily accomplished scholar. She was now twenty-eight years old, and the Maharal thirty-two. Finally, they began their married life. To enable her husband to pursue his studies, Pearl continued to work in her store, learning Torah after her work was done.
The Bohemian war continued unabated until it reached Prague. One day, an armed soldier entered Pearl's store and demanded that she furnish him with a large amount of food which he loaded into his carriage. However, when she asked for payment, he refused, saying he had no money.
Pearl, whose very livelihood was at stake, explained to him that this store was the only source of support for her family, and he was moved by her words.
He gave her a beautiful embroidered garment as a pledge, promising to return in a few days to redeem it. If unable to come, he said, the garment would be hers to keep.
Days passed and the soldier failed to appear. Knowing that in dire times people sometimes hid jewels in their garments, Pearl opened the lining of the soldier's coat and discovered a large number of precious stones. The couple waited longer for the soldier's return, but when he failed to come, the garment and gems were theirs.
No longer in a precarious financial state, Pearl was now freed from the burden of supporting her family. Pearl used to say that she had since the age of eight studied Torah each day for no less than five hours. Now, she could continue, unhampered, studying with her illustrious husband topics ranging from Talmud to ethics and metaphysics.
It was Pearl who dealt with the Maharal's voluminous Jewish legal correspondence, reading the letters and sending his replies to the many communities which turned to her husband for his decisions. It was also she who arranged and edited her husband's huge opus of Torah literature. It is said that in at least eight places she discovered errors in the Maharal's writings.
Pearl was the mother of a son and three daughters. Her husband applied to her the quotation: "Many daughters have done well, but you surpass them all."
Today, as we stand at the threshold of the ultimate redemption, it is once again the woman whose song is the most poignant, whose tambourine is the most hopeful, whose dance is the most joyous. Today, as then, the redemption will be realized "in the merit of righteous women." (Talmud, Sotah 11b) Today, as then, the woman's yearning for Moshiach - a yearning which runs deeper than that of the man, and inspires and uplifts it-forms the dominant strain in the melody of redemption.