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L'Chaim
December 28, 2007 - 19 Tevet, 5768

1001: Shemos

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


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  1000: Vayechi1002: Vaera  

Maintaining an Advantage  |  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

Maintaining an Advantage

Grandmaster Boris Gulko, the only person to win the chess championship of both the United States and the former Soviet Union once said: "When a good position begins to collapse, it normally collapses not into equality, but into ruins."

Everything depends on the stronger player, the one with the better position. If he maintains his advantage (or increases it), there's little the other player can do.

A small lapse in attention, a misjudgment, and the position suddenly "collapses into ruin"? How does this happen?

There are many ways, of course, but perhaps the most common is over-confidence, a sense that "I know it all," that one no longer needs to struggle not just to grow - but to even maintain an advantage!

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe said: "There is no one for whom to pride oneself. We must toil strenuously. With patience and friendliness we can prevail in all things, with G-d's help. With a denigrating attitude toward others and inflating our own importance we lose everything, G-d forbid."

Let's explore the parallel in Jewish observance.

Generally, we grow in our observance - increasing our Jewish knowledge, adding to our repertoire of mitzvot (commandments) - in small increments. We accumulate advantages, adding a mitzva here (a coin in a charity box on weekdays, the Hamotzee blessing on bread, the Modeh Ani prayer upon arising, a family Shabbat meal on Friday night) or some Torah study there (a prerecorded Torah thought on the phone, an article from L'Chaim in print).

And as these "small advantages" add up, we have a big advantage. We have a "winning position" that enables us to live a life of edifying and holy pursuits in a distracting world.

In other words, during the struggle to accumulate the "small advantages," to increase our observance, we remain alert, and are able to withstand the pressures to compromise - or abandon - our hard-earned mitzvot.

But once we've reached a certain level of observance - a winning position, if you will - it becomes surprisingly easier to let down our guard, to assume that we will never become less Jewishly involved. We get over-confident and stop being vigilant. We may even become arrogant and prideful toward others - toward those who do/know less or even toward those who do/know more!

Then suddenly, it's possible for our Jewish position to collapse, and not into neutrality, where it was before, but into ruins, into an actual lesser commitment, lesser level of study.

That is, as the pride in our accomplishments grows, so does our "denigrating attitude toward others and inflating our own importance." And in life, in Judaism, as in chess, this leads to a rapid "collapse into ruin," a situation where we can "lose everything, G-d forbid."

Yet the observation itself teaches us how to avoid the "collapse into ruin." If the position is good - if we maintain the advantages - the collapse won't begin at all.

How did we begin accumulating the advantages - increasing our observance of mitzvot and study of Torah? By striving strenuously. By acting with patience and friendliness. By putting aside our pride and ego.

We must continue to do those things as we grow Jewishly. Only then can we "maintain the advantage," transform it into a "won" ending, that is, "prevail in all things, with G-d's help," leading to the real and actual victory, the coming of Moshiach and the Redemption.


Living with the Rebbe

This week we begin the Book of Exodus with the Torah reading of Shemot. Our portion opens with a list of the names of the Children of Israel who went down to Egypt, describes the slavery that began after the death of Jacob and his sons, and narrates the birth of Moses, the Redeemer of Israel.

As every Jew is obligated to remember and "relive" the exodus from Egypt every day in the spiritual sense, it follows that each stage in the Jewish people's historical descent to and liberation from Egypt contains deep significance and meaning that is pertinent to our daily lives.

The primary threat of the entire Egyptian experience was expressed in Pharaoh's decree: "Every son that is born you shall cast into the river."

The mighty Nile River, upon which all of Egypt was dependent for its sustenance, is symbolic of the laws of nature. Venerated as a god by the Egyptians, the Nile's waters periodically rose to fertilize their otherwise parched land.

The objective of the Egyptians was for the Jews to reject a G-d Who transcends nature and join them in their devotion to natural phenomenon.

While still in their own land, such a possibility was inconceivable to the Jewish people.

In Israel, the direct relationship between man and G-d was open and apparent: Whenever rain was needed, the Jewish people had only to pray to G-d, and He sent His blessing. It was not hard to perceive that all good emanates from G-d alone. It was only after emigrating to Egypt, a land fertilized by the natural, periodic rising of the Nile, that the possibility for error could even arise.

The subjugation of the Jews could not begin while Joseph and his sons still lived, for that generation had personally witnessed Divine Providence and understood that the forces of nature are only G-d's tools. Slavery, in both the physical and spiritual sense, could only take root in a new generation that had not merited to live in the land of Israel.

It was then that the true descent into Egypt began and Pharaoh was able to issue his evil decree - the aim of which was the immersion of the Jewish people into the idolatrous worship of natural law.

Moses, G-d's "faithful servant," was the one who gave the Children of Israel the strength to break the bonds of servitude and abandon the lure of Egyptian idolatry.

Moses instilled in his brethren a pure and holy faith in G-d, at a time when it was difficult for them to even imagine that such holiness could exist. In the merit of their belief the Jewish people overcame the decree of Pharaoh and were redeemed from Egypt.

This process is experienced by every Jew in his daily life as well. By beginning the day with prayer and Torah learning, a Jew is able to perceive his direct relationship with G-d, and maintain this perception throughout the rest of the day.

The attribute of Moses that exists within every Jew reminds him that everything - including those things that appear to be perfectly natural phenomena - comes solely and directly from the One Above.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. XVI


A Slice of Life

Options
by Yehudis Cohen

Sara is a vivacious, upbeat young woman who knows where she's going and how she's getting there. But if you had met her a few years ago, you wouldn't have gotten the same impression of this former Israeli police officer who is now a student in a women's yeshiva.

"I was born in Canada and spent my earliest years there," begins Sara. "When I was still very young, my parents started to become more involved in Judaism and eventually became fully Torah observant. Within a few years, they decided to move to Israel.

"We moved to a settlement in the Shomron. My four siblings and I went to religious schools in the settlement." Sara continued in the local schools until she reached high school age. "As we didn't have a high school in our settlement, I began attending a religious high school in Petach Tikvah. The other students there were also from religious-Zionist background."

Although religious girls in Israel can be exempt from regular army service, amongst the religious-Zionist, girls are encouraged to fulfill "Sheirut L'Umi" (National Service). At the end of high school, most of Sara's friends chose to do Sheirut L'Umi. "By that time, I had become a bit of a non-conformist, and I decided to do regular army service. To be honest," Sara says with a smile, "I just wanted to be able to have an excuse to trade in my skirts for pants!"

Sara's parents were less than happy with her decision to do regular army service. "Unfortunately, I wasn't prepared for life in the non-religious world of the army." Sara's observance of mitzvot (commandments) quickly waned. By the end of her first year in the army, Sara stopped going home for Shabbat and spent weekends off with friends. When she finished her three-year army service, she no longer kept any semblance of a religious lifestyle. She decided to move to Tel Aviv and found a job as a manager in a security company. "My time was divided between work and home, with not much else in between. I was working 16 hours a day."

But a few years of the work/sleep/work cycle made Sara realize that she needed more meaning in her life. Sara decided that she would become a police officer and she served for a few years in the most crime-ridden area of Tel Aviv. Then she got a notice in the mail that would eventually be the push to help her find true meaning in her life.

"As a police officer, I received a draft notice to help the Israeli forces in the 'Disengagement,' the expelling of Jewish families from their homes in Gush Katif. This hit me hard; even though I was no longer religious, I had a strong love of Israel. I knew I would not be able to evacuate my fellow Jews from their homes. I was told by my superiors that I had two choices: either to serve or to go to jail for disregarding a direct order."

Sara chose a third option. "I moved to Canada, to live with my grandmother. But the reality of my life quickly hit me. I was jobless, 27-years-old and single. When I arrived in Canada, I hardly knew anyone. I asked some people where I could find fellow Israelis. I was told that the best place to start was the Chabad House for Israelis in Montreal called MADA." Sara met many young Israelis who, like her, were not particularly religious but were looking for a "home away from home."

Sara attended events periodically at MADA, though she didn't change her lifestyle very much. She did, however, become close with Reut and Barak Chitzroni, staff members (and more) at the MADA Center. She eventually decided to spend a Shabbat with the Chitzronis and to observe the entire Shabbat. "From the minute we lit the candles until the Havdala ceremony at the end of Shabbat, I just could not stop crying! As a former police officer in the toughest area of Tel Aviv, I wasn't one to cry. I couldn't figure out why I was crying. But it finally occurred to me that I was crying because I had restarted my journey for real to find true meaning in my life."

Sara quit her job that required her to work on Shabbat and started teaching at the Lubavitch girls elementary school in Montreal, Beth Rivkah. "I taught 5th grade. I was in charge of praying with them every day and I taught them Hebrew language and Prophets. I taught for six months and loved every day of it.

"Reut encouraged me to attend Machon Chana Women's Institute in Brooklyn, a yeshiva primarily for young women who had not grown up in observant homes. But I wasn't ready to leave my comfort zone."

Throughout the summer, Sara received many job offers in Montreal and in Israel. She also wanted to finish her university studies. She discussed the various options with a woman in Montreal whom she had met through her teaching in Beth Rivkah and whom she had begun to consider her "mentor."

"She told me that of all of the options there was one I had not considered but that she really believed was best for me - to become a student at Machon Chana. I decided to follow her advice and moved to New York a few weeks later."

Before leaving Montreal, Sara went to say "goodbye" to her grandmother. "My grandmother handed me a dollar bill and said that it was for me from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Then she explained that 30 years earlier she had joined a group of people from Montreal who were traveling to the Rebbe. The Rebbe had distributed to the group dollar bills that they were to give to charity. (In general, people kept the dollar from the Rebbe and gave a dollar or more from their own money to charity.) The Rebbe handed my grandmother three dollars: One for herself, a second for her husband, and a third one, explaining it was for her granddaughter who would need it one day. 'I think this is the right time,' my grandmother told me."

Sara nods her head. Yes, this was the right time and Machon Chana is the right place.


What's New

New Construction in the Former Soviet Union

In the North Caucaus city of Ufa, Russia, construction is in the final stages for a Jewish Community Center. The center will include a synagogue, offices, a kindergarten, Jewish day school, kosher restaurant, and a soup kitchen. In Novosibirsk, Russia, the capital of Siberia, headway is being made on the construction of a new Jewish Community Center. The 3,000 sq. meter center will feature a synagogue, library, internet café, kosher restaurant, sports complex, classrooms for a Sunday school and kindergarten, as well as a computer room, soup kitchen and and other humanitarian aid efforts, and meeting rooms for clubs for youth, women, and senior citizens.


The Rebbe Writes

24th of Teves, 5729 [1969]
To All Participants in the Dedication
of the New Youth Center
Oak Park, Michigan

Greeting and Blessing:

I was very gratified indeed to be informed by your distinguished co-chairmen, Mr. Yitzchok Starr and Mr. Chaim Karp, of the forthcoming Dedication of the joint New Youth Center, attached to the Lubavitcher Shul.

The occasion is particularly significant, for we are all aware of the fearful confusion and insecurity troubling the ranks of youths in this country and elsewhere. This is expressed in rebelliousness against the so-called establishment, and often takes the form of open revolt against the most elementary laws of a healthy human society. Underlying this acute tension is, unquestionably, the inner disunity and disharmony between reason and emotion, giving way to misconduct etc.

Sad to say, these tragic symptoms have also affected some segments of Jewish youth.

In these critical times, it is obviously a vital necessity to strengthen, among our youth, the inner spiritual equilibrium, and the only road to attain this is through Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], with unity and harmony between the mind and the heart in a way that gives the mind mastery over the heart.

Indeed, this is what Chabad teaches and is trying to inculcate into everyone. Its message - which goes back to the great and saintly Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], and Founder of Chabad, on whose day of Yahrzeit [anniversary of passing] this letter is being written - has never been more timely, more pressing, and more practical than it is today.

The Youth Center which you are privileged to dedicate, and which will undoubtedly help many youngsters (and adults) attain the said inner balance with mastery of the mind over the heart, clearly fills an urgent need. Its dedication is a cause for true Simcha [joy] for every Jew who has the future of our youth at heart.

I send hearty congratulations and best wishes to you and all others who have helped to make the New Youth Center a reality, and who will surely continue to support its activities and programs and in a growing measure. May G-d bless each and every one of you and them in all needs, materially and spiritually.

With esteem and blessing,


Freely translated and adapted
21st of Teves, 5720 [1960]

Greeting and Blessing:

This year's Annual Dinner of the United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth "Tomchei-Tmimim" takes place on the auspicious day of the 24th of Teves, the Yahrzeit of the Old Rebbe, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, founder of Chassidus-Chabad.

Yahrzeit is the annual remembrance of the last day of life on this earth of a Jewish neshama (soul), and of its return to its Creator. This day marks the summation of the whole span of life, the conclusion of the soul's mission on earth.

Like all remembrances in Jewish life to which the Torah calls attention, Yahrzeit is not just a reminder which is to remain in the realm of memory.

It recalls and demands practical deeds in the spirit of the soul's mission of the person whose Yahrzeit is commemorated, and by means of such practical deeds in that spirit one becomes part and parcel of the creativity and eternity of the individual whose Yahrzeit is being commemorated.

According to the explanation of my venerated father-in-law and of his father, of saintly memory, the inner aspect of the soul's mission and of the life and work of the Old Rebbe - as reflected also in his name - Schneor, "two lights" (shnei-or) united (in one word) - was to fuse together the two Divine Lights: the revealed light of the Torah (Nigleh she'b'Torah) and the hidden inner light of the Torah (Nistar she'b'Torah), in such a way that the innermost should permeate, irradiate and shine forth through the outer (revealed) light, resulting in a whole and complete Torah - Torah Tmimah.

And, as explained in the Zohar, this is also the means whereby, in the same way, the innermost aspect of the soul is merged with its outer aspect - the revealed part of the Jewish soul with its inner Nekudath HaYahadus (Divine spark)...

Such is also the inner purpose of the Yeshivoth "Tomchei-Tmimim" Lubavitch, namely, that the students should become Tmimim (whole and complete), in the spirit of Torah Tmimah, as defined and expounded by the Old Rebbe, whose Yahrzeit is commemorated today.

All those who adequately participate in the Annual Dinner of the United Yeshivoth Tomchei-Tmimim on this auspicious day of the 24th of Teves, including those who were unable to participate in person but take an adequate share in the supporting, strengthening and expanding of the Lubavitcher Yeshivoth, thereby contribute to, and become an integral part of, the creative deeds and accomplish ments of the Baal-haYahrzeit.

May G-d grant that such participation be in a growing measure, with a steadily rising vitality and devotion.

And the Zechus of the Baal-haYahrzeit, the Old Rebbe, will surely stand you all in good stead, men and women, who take an active share in the support and expansion of the Yeshivoth Tomchei-Tmimim which are conducted in his spirit and in his system, and it will bring you the Divine blessings in all your needs, both material and spiritual, which go hand in hand together.

With esteem and blessing,


Customs

Why do we use a simple, round ring during the wedding ceremony?

The shape of the ring signifies that just as a circle has no beginning and no end, so may the devotion and love of the new couple for each other be never ending. Some even have the custom to have any engraving (such as 14k) polished off so that the ring is completely smooth.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The 20th of Tevet, this Shabbat, is the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam.

In his major work, the Mishne Torah, the Rambam enumerates and details all the 613 laws of the Torah. He places the laws relating to the Jewish king, and Moshiach, at the very end of his work. The Rambam defines Moshiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah and the mitzvot to its complete state.

For many, this would seem a rather novel approach. Yet, the Talmud states that "the world was created solely for Moshiach." This being the case, we certainly must do everything in our power to hasten his arrival.

The 24th of Tevet (Wed. January 2 this year) is the yartzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism.

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

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 arrival of Moshiach. Thus, the fulfillment and culmination of the entire creation 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.

In the merit of these two great luminaries and in our own merit as well, may we be privileged to greet Moshiach NOW!


Thoughts that Count

And she put it among the reeds by the banks of the river (Ex. 2:3)

According to our Sages, Moses was born on the seventh of Adar; three months later, on the seventh of Sivan, when he could no longer be hidden from the prying Egyptians, his mother placed him among the reeds. It was on that day - the seventh of Sivan - that Moses received the Torah at Sinai; this future merit was what allowed his life to be saved.

(Talmud, Sotah)


And she stretched out her hand (amata) and fetched it (Ex. 2:5)

Rashi explains that a miracle occurred: When Pharaoh's daughter stretched out her hand to reach the box, it became many cubits (amot) long. The Torah is thus teaching us that when it comes to saving a Jewish child, one must not stop to think whether or not it is actually possible. When a Jewish child is in danger we must do everything possible to save him. Once this is done G-d will assist us, and the seemingly impossible will be accomplished very easily.

(Reb Bunim M'Pshischa)


And G-d saw the Children of Israel, and G-d knew (Ex. 2:25)

When G-d saw that the Jews were persisting in their faith - retaining their Jewish names, their distinctive manner of dress and their Jewish language - despite the terrible adversity they encountered in Egypt, He took cognizance of them and brought about their exodus.

(Maayana Shel Torah)


And he returned to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the staff of G-d in his hand (Ex. 4:20)

While Moses certainly demonstrated to Pharaoh the proper honor due a king, he nonetheless "took the staff of G-d in his hand" in all his dealings with him - prideful in his Jewish heritage, imbued with an attitude of G-dly assurance, and without any feelings of inferiority.

(Likutei Sichot)


Moses returned to G-d and said, L-rd! Why have You mistreated this people? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he made things worse... You have not saved this people at all (Ex. 5:22-23)

We are not allowed to resign ourselves to our present situation of exile with the excuse that "such is the will of G-d." The harshness of the exile is a sign that the Redemption is near, yet it is still bitter and painful. Therefore, even while reaffirming our absolute faith in the principle that "The ways of G-d are just," we are also to express our anguish with the prayerful outcry "Ad Matai?" - "How much longer?" and ask for the immediate coming of Moshiach.

(The Rebbe, Parshat Va'eira, 5743)


It Once Happened

Reb Zalman Senders was one of the prominent chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. He was a very successful merchant who was openhanded in his philanthropy with both family and strangers. Then, suddenly his business dealings began to fail one after the other. Things finally came to such a terrible point that he became completely bankrupt.

His debtors swarmed around him demanding repayment, and his problems overwhelmed him. To complicate things further, he had two daughters of marriageable age as well as several poor relatives who also needed suitable matches. What could he do? He decided to take his problems to his rebbe, and so he set out for Liadi.

He arrived late in the evening, and after reciting the prayers with a minyan (prayer quorum), he sat down to wait his turn for a private reception with the Rebbe. When he was finally ushered into the Rebbe's study he poured out his heart, relating all that had befallen him, how all of his various business endeavors had failed and left him penniless.

"Rebbe," he said, "if it is will of Heaven that I be reduced to poverty, I am ready to accept the decree with love, but if I am unable to pay off my debts and marry off my daughter and the other young girls who are looking to me for their salvation, then I cannot accept it. For in that case it would be a desecration of the Divine Name (Chilul Hashem). It is one thing if G-d has decided to punish me in this manner, but why should He do it in a way that brings shame to His honor? The one thing that I ask is that I be allowed to pay all of my creditors and find suitable matches for my daughters and young relatives. After that, I am willing to live in poverty forever, if that is the will of G-d."

Rabbi Shneur Zalman was listening intently to Reb Zalman Senders' recitation of his terrible problems. When it had finished he looked deep into the eyes of his brokenhearted chasid and said: "You certainly know how to talk about all the things that you need, but you have no interest whatsoever in what you might be needed for!"

Poor Reb Zalman Senders felt as if he had been pierced through the heart by his Rebbe's words. He gasped inaudibly and fell down in a faint. Chasidim, hearing the thud on the floor, rushed over to him to try to revive him. One offered water, another, vodka, but when Reb Zalman regained consciousness he had no need for anything. When he rose to his feet he was radiant with joy and infused with a new approach to life.

His put all of his problems behind him and instead focused his energy into learning Torah, both the revealed and the mystical aspects. He attended every lecture that was given, prayed with great fervor. All of his actions were infused with the deep-felt happiness and contentment of a man who is at peace with his lot.

The following Shabbat, Rabbi Shneur Zalman delivered his lecture on Kabbalistic concepts. He also used the occasion to pray on behalf of his chasid, Zalman Senders who sat listening to the Rebbe's every word. It was as if the Rebbe's prayers entered Reb Zalman's heart even as they ascended to the higher realms, for in the course of his stay in Liadi, Reb Zalman attained the strength to overcome all of his difficulties.

It was one week later that the Rebbe blessed him and instructed Reb Zalman to return to his home. Upon his arrival he resumed his normal routine and sure enough, his business began to pick up. Within a relatively short length of time, he had rebuilt his life and was thriving even more so than before.

When word reached Rabbi Shneur Zalman about the good fortune his chasid was once again enjoying he quoted a passage from his masterwork, The Tanya, in reference to the subject of trials and tribulations: "When one is at any time bothered by mundane worries,...it is the appropriate time to transform the sadness by becoming a 'master of accounts' (spiritual 'accounts'),...and to act on the counsel of the Sages' to constantly excite the Good Inclination against the Evil Inclination. In that way he will eliminate the melancholy engendered by the mundane problems, and then, he will attain true joy."


Moshiach Matters

When the Israelites were unable to endure the harsh exile in Egypt, they cried out to G-d. Indeed, G-d heard their cry and sent Moses to redeem them. So it is with us in our present exile. When we cry out, "Take us out of exile and bring Moshiach!" G-d will certainly hear our cry and send the Redeemer. Moreover, our mere being in a state of readiness to call upon G-d is already enough for Him to respond, as it states in Isaiah, "Before they call, I will answer, and while yet they speak I will hear."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Tavo, 5751)


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