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                         L'CHAIM - ISSUE # 1002
                           Copyright (c) 2008
                 Lubavitch Youth Organization - L.Y.O.
                              Brooklyn, NY
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   Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.
        January 4, 2008          Vaera            26 Tevet, 5768

                            The Commonplace

The next time you're in a heated discussion, listen for the cliches.
That will tell you the beliefs, the basic position. For example, if
you're at a meeting discussing upcoming budget items and someone says,
"Well, you know, a penny saved is a penny earned," or something similar,
you know that person's more worried about what the project will cost
than what it will achieve. On the other hand, if someone else says
something like, "nothing ventured, nothing gained" or "let's seize the
moment," such a person doesn't concern himself with cost as much as the
result. If there's a possibility of success, he'll risk the loss.

These are called "common-places" in rhetoric, and they express who we
are - not just our individual beliefs, but our group identity. The state
of New Hampshire's motto is "Live Free or Die" and California's is
"Eureka!" These mottoes express the mood and political situation of the
state when it was founded.

We find commonplaces everywhere: in politics, in entertainment, in
relationships. We find them on bumper stickers and the internet. And
while not every cliché is a commonplace, at some point every commonplace
becomes, or is expressed as, a cliché.

Commonplaces belong to "demonstrative rhetoric" because they demonstrate
our values, define the group (or groups) to which we belong and serve as
a signal to others that we're "in." They embody a general truth, a
general truth that we agree with, that verbalizes the way we see the

Of course, Judaism has its own "commonplaces," statements or
declarations that express and demonstrate a core belief and our
religious identity.

For instance: Modeh Ani L'fanecha - I give thanks to you, the Living and
Enduring G-d - the prayer we say on awakening.

A number of years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe urged Jewish children (and
consequently adults) to memorize 12 passages from the Torah and our
Sages. These 12 verses and sayings express the commonplaces of Judaism,
basic concepts that form the core beliefs and express the identity and
purpose of the Jewish people.

Here they are, the "Jewish commonplaces," in abbreviated form:

 1. The Torah commanded to us through Moses, is the heritage of the
    Jewish people.

 2. Hear O Israel, G-d is our L-rd, G-d is One.

 3. In every generation one must look upon himself as if he
    personally had gone out of Egypt.

 4. All Israel have a share in the World To Come, as it is stated
    (Isaiah 60:21): "And Your people are righteous."

 5. It is within your close reach to follow the Torah in speech,
    feeling and deed.

 6. G-d stands over the individual ... and searches his mind and
    heart (to see) if he is serving Him as is fitting.

 7. In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.

 8. And you shall teach the Torah to your children, and you should
    speak about it when you are home and when you travel, before you lie
    down to sleep and when you wake up.

 9. If someone says, "I have worked hard, and I have been
    successful," believe him!!!

10. Rabbi Akiva says that, "To love your fellow as yourself," is a
    great basic principle of the Torah.

11. The purpose of the creation of every Jew and of all the worlds
    is to make a dwelling place for G-d in this world.

12. The Jews should rejoice in their Maker. Every Jew should share
    in G-d's joy, Who rejoices and is happy in His dwelling place in
    this world.

This week's Torah portion, Va'eira, narrates the encounter between Moses
and Aaron, and Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

Giving Moses certain instructions, G-d stipulated that if Pharaoh were
to ask him to demonstrate a "wonder," Aaron was to throw down his staff,
and it would be miraculously transformed into a serpent.

And so it came to pass. Yet, after Aaron performed this feat, Pharaoh
called for his wise men and magicians and asked them to do the same.
"And they cast down every man his staff, and they became serpents; but
Aaron's staff swallowed their staffs."

Although the entire incident demands further study, one question stands
out. Why was this "extra" miracle necessary - the swallowing up of all
the other staffs - and what is its special significance, considering
that G-d didn't mention it to Moses beforehand?

It must be understood that all of the miracles and plagues that were
visited on Egypt were not merely for the purpose of punishment, but to
break through the Egyptians' opposition to G-d.

Fundamental to the Egyptians' belief system was the notion that G-d has
no practical influence and involvement in the world.

After creating the physical universe, G-d "stepped back" and gave the
job of managing it over to the forces of nature, the Egyptians

Each one of the ten plagues was designed to refute a particular aspect
of this mistaken belief.

The miracle of Aaron's staff swallowing up the staffs of the magicians
expressed this central theme and served to prepare the Egyptian people
for what was coming.

In his encounter with Pharaoh, Aaron stood for the forces of sanctity;
his staff was symbolic of the G-dly power that is inherent in holiness.
The serpent is symbolic of Egypt, as it states, "Egypt is a great
serpent lying within its rivers."

When Aaron's staff was transformed into the serpent, he thereby
demonstrated to Pharaoh that the very existence of the serpent itself -
i.e., Egypt - was dependent upon G-d.

What was Pharaoh's answer? He immediately called for his magicians to
duplicate the feat, "proving" to Aaron that Egypt had powers of its own
and had no need for the G-d of the Jews.

When Aaron's staff swallowed up the others, it demonstrated for all to
see that the might and power of Egypt was only an illusion, without
independent existence.

With this miracle, G-d showed Pharaoh and his wise men that His
sovereignty over creation extended even to them, forming the first chink
in the Egyptian ideological armor. The ten plagues that followed
corresponded to the ten levels of impurity that were invalidated one by

Furthermore, an important lesson in our service of G-d may be derived
from this story, most notably the importance of emulating Aaron, who
"loved peace and pursued peace, loved mankind and drew them closer to

Even when necessity dictates that we deal in a strict manner with
others, we must always make sure that we employ "the staff of Aaron" -
and are guided solely by the highest principles of love for our fellow

                Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. XXVI

                             SLICE OF LIFE
                       The Last Jew on the Island
                           by Dr. Ruven Weiss

As an academic physician-scientist it is almost impossible to completely
avoid going to out-of-town conferences, even more so when one is the
chief of a department. Keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, and praying
with a minyan are the major reasons I think twice before accepting an
invitation to participate in a conference or give a lecture away from
home. Normally if the trip is totally unavoidable, I write a letter to
the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing and go armed with cans of sardines
and crackers and the telephone number of the Rebbe's emissary in the
city I am traveling to. Thank G-d, it usually works out fine, sometimes
even with an unexpected pleasure.

About a year ago I started to go into panic mode as a very important
meeting in my field (for which I was on the Organizing Committee) was to
take place in the town of Ponta Delgado on the island of San Miguel in
the Azores. The Azores is an archipelago of nine islands under the rule
of Portugal. They are located in the Atlantic Ocean midway between North
America and Europe. Not only is there no emissary of the Rebbe in the
Azores, there isn't any emissary in all of Portugal.  I knew this was
going to be a challenge.

(Not to sidetrack from the point of the story but one may be curious why
of all places a medical conference was taking place there. That is
another story, but it has to do with a certain genetic disease I study
that is found in the island population.) There is one direct flight from
and one direct flight to the United States each week - Friday afternoon
and Saturday afternoon. The only other option is to make 3 connections
in Europe. So nothing about this trip was going to be easy.

And now, for a little Jewish history of the island. A wealthy Moroccan
merchant, Moses Ben Saude, founded the island about 200 years ago. Ben
Saude's descendants intermarried with the island population to the point
that there was only one Jew remaining on the island. His name is Jorge
Delmar. The local Azorean physician who helped set up the conference
knew me and asked if I would like to meet the "the Last Jew on the
Island" and see the island's synagogue. Of course, I agreed.

Mr. Delmar met my wife and I at our hotel. Mr. Delmar is a man in his
60s who was born on the island.  He is married to a non-Jewish woman and
works as a salesman of beauty supplies. Upon meeting, Mr. Delmar
explained that due to the prosperity of the Azores in the 1800s, North
African Jews, among them Jorge Delmar's great-grandfather, immigrated
from Tangiers and worked in the Ben Saude tobacco factory. After a short
discussion, Mr. Delmar drove us to the synagogue; he is the only one
with the key.

On a small street in the downtown area there was an unmarked door that
blended in with the others. With difficulty the rusty lock opened and in
we went. We entered the synagogue which appeared to have suffered a
bombing. The floor was caved in at one point and the ceiling was also
caved in with the minimal amount to protect rain from coming in.  The
synagogue was last used 48 years ago and has been vacant since.  There
was a beautiful mahogany holy ark that was empty as the Torah scrolls
had been removed by the Lisbon Jewish community many years earlier.
There were also wooden and leather chairs in a circle around the bima.
Atop the ark was a gold-like replica of the two tablets of the Ten
Commandments. A large brass chandelier hung from the ceiling and there
was an upstairs women's section in a balcony that wasn't accessible, as
the stairs had caved in. On the bima was a Rosh Hashana machzor and a
few Gemaras that were dated with the Jewish year 5602 (1841).
Destruction of any community is tragic and even more so to see the
effects of intermarriage.  My wife and I felt heartsick to imagine that
what was once a synagogue is now so desolate.

Jorge asked if we were interested in seeing the Jewish cemetery, which
was five minutes away. And since he had the only key this would be our
only opportunity and a way to confirm if our guide was Jewish.   The
cemetery was a plot of land about 500 x 500 feet surrounded by a 15-foot
concrete wall located behind a fish packing plant. There were about 40
graves.  Mr. Delmar showed us the grave of his mother and grandmother
confirming that indeed Mr. Delmar was the "last Jew on the Island."
Other names seen were common Sephardic families such as Seabag, Delmar
and of course Ben Saude.

We thanked Mr. Delmar for his time and I asked him to do me one last
favor. I asked him to come up to my hotel room for a moment. I explained
it wouldn't take long. He happily agreed. Back in my room, I asked if he
would put on tefilin. He agreed and confided that he had never seen them
before. He  recited the blessing on the tefilin after me and the words
were obviously very foreign to him. But when saying the "Shema," the
words flowed very easily.  His eyes  started filling up with tears and
he thanked me profusely. I had packed a mezuza in my bag before leaving
home and  I asked Mr. Delmar if he would like to put the mezuza up on
his front door. He gladly agreed, saying that he remembers as a child
that his mother had one on her door.  I gave him instructions about how
to affix the mezuza and we said goodbye:  I to the "Last Jew" and he to
the "First Chabad emissary" on the island.

We left the Azores and took the only direct flight to Lisbon where we
spent Shabbat.  Throughout the holy day, my wife and I thought about
what we had seen; the dramatic destruction caused by intermarriage.

This past month I sent Mr. Delmar a menora for Chanuka in the hope that
a little light can dispel much darkness.

    Dr. Weiss, MD, PhD, is the Chief of Adult and Pediatric
    Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism Departments of Medicine and
    Pediatrics at the University of Chicago.

                               WHAT'S NEW
                             New Emissaries

Joining the ever-growing family of emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
are Rabbi Kivi and Zeesy Greenbaum, who have opened a Chabad House on
campus in Ewing, New Jersey, at the College of New Jersey. Rabbi Avi and
Michal Korer recently moved to Putnam County, New York, where have
opened a new Chabad Center serving the Jewish communities of Putnam
County. Rabbi Zalman and Raizy Mendelsohn will be moving shortly to
Jackson Hole, Wyoming where they will open a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center
to serve Jews throughout the state. Stay tuned for the names of the
emissaries who will be opening new centers in Anatolia, Turkey; the
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; the Dominican Republic; and Iasi,

                            THE REBBE WRITES
                       28th of Teves 5721 [1961]

I received your recent letter and the previous one. Needless to say, I
was somewhat taken aback by the tone of your letter. It is a good
illustration of how it is possible for a person to read and to learn and
to receive instruction from books and teachers, and yet when it comes to
actual experience all this instruction goes by the wayside.

I refer to the things which you have surely learned in the books of
mussar [ethics] and especially Chassidus about the tactics of the Yetzer
Hora (evil inclination) to instill a spirit of depression,
discouragement and despondency in order to prevent the Jewish person
from fulfilling his Divine mission. This is the most effective approach.
If the Yetzer Hora would attempt to dissuade a person directly from
fulfilling his mission, he would not be easily misled. However, instead,
the Yetzer tries to discourage the person in all sorts of ways, using
"pious" arguments which unfortunately often prove effective at least in
some degree.

This is exactly what has happened in your case and I am surprised that
you do not realize it. The proof is that from the information I have
received I can see that you have accomplished a great deal more than you

Let me also add another important and essential consideration. You
surely know of the saying of the Baal Shem Tov that a soul comes down to
live on this earth for a period of 70 to 80 years for the sole purpose
to do another Jew a single favor, materially or spiritually. In other
words, it is worthwhile for a Jewish soul to make that tremendous
journey and descent from heaven to earth in order to do something once
for a fellow Jew. In your case the journey was only from the U.S.A.
to..., and can in no way be compared to the journey of the soul from
heaven to earth; and however pessimistic you may feel, even the Yetzer
Hora would have to agree that you have done not only a single favor but
numerous good deeds, and even only your work with the children of the
Gan [kindergarten] would have justified it.

Considering further that every beginning is difficult especially where
there is a change of place and environment, language, etc., and yet the
beginning has proved so successful, so one is surely justified in
expecting that as time goes on and the initial difficulties are
minimized and overcome, there will be a more than corresponding
improvement in the good accomplishments.

As for your mentioning the fact that no one seems interested in your
work, etc., surely you will admit that G-d, whose knowledge and
providence extends to everyone individually, knows and is interested in
what you are doing, especially as you are working in the field of
education of Jewish children, boys and girls, which is so much
emphasized in the Torah. After all, to teach children to make a beracha
[blessing] and to say the prayers, etc., this is living Yiddishkeit
[Judaism]. (I need hardly add too that I am interested in your work). If
it seems to you that it has been left to you to "carry the ball"
yourself, it is surely only because there is confidence in you and that
since you have been sent to . . . you undoubtedly have the ability,
qualifications, and initiative to do your job without outside prompting,

Since one is only human, it is not unusual to relapse occasionally into
a mood of discouragement. But as has been explained in the [book of]
Tanya and in other sources, such a relapse should only serve as a
challenge to bring forth additional inner reserves and energy to
overcome the tactics of the Yetzer Hora and to do ever better than

I trust that since you wrote your letter, your mood and outlook have
considerably improved and that this letter will find you in a completely
different frame of mind. Nevertheless, I am sending you this letter
since one is only human and subject to changes of mind as mentioned

Finally I want to say that the above should not be understood to mean
that if you do find yourself in such a frame of mind you should try to
conceal it and not write about it, for our Sages say that "when someone
has an anxiety he should relate it to others" for getting something off
one's chest is a relief in itself. One should also bear in mind, as the
Old Rebbe has stated most emphatically in the laws of learning and
teaching Torah, that a person who is engaged in teaching children should
especially take care of his health since it directly affects the success
of his work. I trust therefore that you are looking after yourself in
matters of diet and rest, etc., and that you will always be in a state
of cheerfulness and gladness.

           Are there customs to be observed during pregnancy?

There are numerous prayers for various stages of pregnancy and
labor/delivery, some of which are said by the husband and others by the
wife. Among other things, the Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged pregnant
women to give charity every weekday, and on the eve of Shabbat to give
charity specifically to a Rabbi Meir Baal Haness charity fund, as well
as to have one's mezuzot checked at some point during the pegnancy. Some
customs to ensure an easy delivery are: to pray for an easy delivery; to
eat the special meal Saturday night in honor of the departure of Shabbat
(Melave Malka); and to bake challa for Shabbat. More customs and ways to
conduct oneself during this special time can be found at in "Kovetz
Minhagim" at

                        A WORD FROM THE DIRECTOR
                         Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the month of Shevat. The first day of Shevat is on
Tuesday, coinciding with January 8 this year.

Shevat is the eleventh month of the Jewish year, counting from the month
of Nisan (the first month for numbering the months). The number eleven
is a very special number. For, while the number ten represents
fulfillment and completion, eleven transcends all levels. It is even
higher than completion.

Jewish mysticism explains that the number eleven refers to Keter - the
Divine crown. Ten is connected with intellect and emotions. Just as a
crown is placed on top of the king's head, the crown symbolizes the will
and pleasure of G-d which transcends all limitations.

On the first day of Shevat, Moses began speaking to the Jewish people
the words which are contained in the book of Deuteronomy, known as the
repetition of the Torah. Moses spoke to the Jewish people for 37 days,
admonishing them for their past behavior, inspiring them for the future,
blessing. At the conclusion of these 37 days, on the seventh of Adar,
Moses, the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, passed away.

Other special days in the month of Shevat are: the tenth of Shevat,
which is the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe and the
ascent to leadership of the Rebbe; Tu B'Shevat or the 15th of Shevat
which is the New Year for Trees; the 22nd of Shevat which is the
anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.

May we very soon see the actualization of the lofty concept of Shevat,
eleven - completion, with the complete Redemption, NOW.

                          THOUGHTS THAT COUNT
But when Pharaoh saw that there was a relief, he hardened his heart (Ex.

Such is the behavior of the wicked: In the midst of their punishment
they cry out that they are vanquished, yet as soon as the agony has
passed they return to their evil ways.

                                                     (Shemot Rabba)

                                *  *  *

I will put a distinction between My people and your people (Ex. 8:19)

The Hebrew word "pedut" ("distinction") appears three times in our
Scripture. Twice it is spelled pei, dalet, vav, tav, but in this
instance the vav is omitted. This signifies that the redemption in Egypt
was less than perfect; the full and ultimate Redemption will only take
place when Moshiach comes.

                                                     (Baal Haturim)

                                *  *  *

But they did not hearken to Moses for anguish of spirit and for cruel
bondage... And G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them a charge unto
the Children of Israel (Ex. 6:9-13)

The nature of G-d's message is such that even when a Jew finds it
difficult to accept, due to the hardships of the exile, one must
nevertheless continue to repeat it. For in the end, G-d's words of truth
will have their desired effect, if not immediately, then certainly
later. Words of Torah are never uttered in vain; their holiness always
enters the heart of those who hear them. This is why G-d commanded Moses
and Aaron to continue their mission, even though the Jews "did not
hearken for anguish of spirit."

                                                       (Sefat Emet)

                            IT ONCE HAPPENED
The following story happened about four hundred years ago in the town of
Cracow, which, at that time, had one of the most important Jewish

The Jews were mourning the loss of their spiritual leader, and decided
that for a community like theirs no ordinary rabbi would suffice. Two
delegates were chosen to tour the country and find a suitable
replacement to serve as their rabbi.

After visiting many big towns and large Jewish communities, they at last
heard of a young man who was said to be the "star of the age," a
veritable genius. They lost no time in contacting this exceptional young
man and found him to be an eighteen-year-old rabbi by the name of Rabbi

Despite his tender years, they were immediately impressed with his
brilliant scholarship, his gentle bearing and his humility. They were
convinced that he was the man they were looking for and they finally got
him to agree to become the spiritual guide and leader of their Jewish
community to make the necessary arrangement for his reception.

At that time in Cracow it was the custom, a sort of courtesy gesture,
for the Jews to call on the bishop of the town and tell him of the rabbi
they had chosen for their community.

Thus it was that a suitable delegation called upon the Bishop of Cracow
and, in the most glowing terms, described the rabbi they had been
fortunate enough to find to become the spiritual leader of the Jews of
Cracow. The bishop was visibly impressed with their description of Rabbi

The delegates lost no time in making all the necessary arrangements for
Rabbi Moshe's coming. And when the date was set, they notified the
bishop as they had promised him.

Being rather fond of pomp and ceremony, the bishop had commanded that a
band go on foot in front of the carriages, so that the entry of Rabbi
Moshe should be announced by the beating of drums and the blowing of

At long last, the carriage of Rabbi Moshe appeared. The bishop already
had a picture in his mind of a sage and a patriarch. He was shocked when
out of the carriage stepped a lad, with hardly a suggestion of a beard,
thin, small, and not particularly impressive.

Nevertheless, the bishop made his speech of welcome with as good a grace
as he could muster, but inwardly he was seething with rage! He would
show the Jews that they could not lightly play jokes on him, the Bishop
of Cracow!

As soon as the bishop returned to his castle, he immediately sent a
letter to the heads of the Jewish community saying he must see them at
once. When they reached his home he told them that he was angry with
them for having put him in so humiliating a position.

"Now I shall put a proposition before you which will decide the issue.
If your rabbi is the great and wise person you would have me believe, he
will have to prove it conclusively. I am going to invite all the sages
and philosophers in the country to meet your rabbi. They shall ask him
any question on any subject they please, and it will be up to him to
give satisfactory answers. If, however, he fails in this public forum,
not only will your rabbi suffer the consequences, but the whole Jewish
community of Cracow will be driven out!"

The Jewish leaders were miserable. Of course Rabbi Moshe was a great
genius, but who could foresee what trouble lay ahead? They hurriedly
told Rabbi Moshe, who said, "Do not worry, this is not the first time
nor will it be the last, that such situations have arisen for us Jews.
The Almighty will surely grant me the necessary wisdom to answer all
questions put to me, so that our Jewish name not be put to shame."

The momentous day came. The hall was packed. Jew and non-Jew alike had
the same interest. The greatest thinkers and scholars had come at the
bishop's invitation: bishops, priests, scientists, all were there that

Rabbi Moshe looked pale but calm. His gentle eyes glowed with a light of
determination. With G-d's help, all would be well.

Rabbi Moshe faced his examiners and the questions began to pour forth.
But he was not flustered. His answers came unhesitatingly, clearly and
concisely. There was not a sound among the vast audience. As the hours
passed and Rabbi Moshe emerged the victor, the bishop announced that the
forum would be adjourned. The bishop apparently concluded that his own
honor had been upheld, and that they had indeed a remarkable genius
before them in the person of the youthful Moshe.

The bishop again made a public speech, this time with obvious pleasure.
He said that the city of Cracow, and indeed the whole country, could
regard it as an honor to have so distinguished a scholar among them. He
would regard it as a privilege to call upon Rabbi Moshe from time to
time. The bishop concluded with the hope that Cracow would always be
blessed with such great spiritual leaders and that the citizens of
Cracow would live together in peace.

Rabbi Moshe was none other than the great Rabbi Moshe Isserles, known as
the Rama.

                            MOSHIACH MATTERS
In the famous Biblical story of Aaron and Moses appearing before Pharoah
in a "contest" with Pharoah's magicians, Aaron's lifeless staff
"swallowed up their staffs" (Exodus 7:12). From Aaron's staff we learn
about the resurrection of the dead that will take place in Messianic
times: If a lifeless staff, a dry piece of wood, can be transformed into
a living entity, how much more so can a human being, consisting of a
physical body and soul, be restored to life!


                END OF TEXT - L'CHAIM 1002 - Vaera 5768

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