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Reb Mendel Futerfas was a renown and beloved Chasid who passed away in 1995. Many stories abound of his five years of hard labor in a Siberian prison camp for the "crime" of teaching Jews about Judaism and his two decades as the spiritual mentor of the Lubavitch town in Israel, Kfar Chabad.
Reb Mendel, as this wise yet humble man was known, once related a story that he remembered from when he was a five-year-old schoolboy. One day, one of his classmates forgot to bring his bottle of ink to yeshiva. He asked the boy next to him if he could use some ink. "No," replied the child. "I don't have enough. You should have remembered to bring yours." The reprimanded youngster turned to another child and managed to get some ink from him.
The teacher noticed the exchange but said nothing. A little while later, he asked the boy who had refused to share his ink, if he could show the class the first three letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The child quickly pointed out the Hebrew letters "alef," "bet," and gimmel."
"Wrong," said the teacher.
The child was utterly confused. "But teacher," he said, "this is what you have been teaching us since we were three years old!"
"No," the teacher repeated. "You are wrong. 'Alef' is: When your friend asks you for ink, you share it with him. 'Bet' is: When your friend asks for ink, you share it with him. 'Gimmel' is: When your friend asks for ink, you share it with him."
The 10th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat is the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
For Jews today, however, the primary significance of Yud Shevat is that it is the day on which the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, accepted the reigns of leadership of the movement.
At the gathering when the Rebbe accepted the mantel of leadership, the Rebbe charged his Chasidim with two responsibilities that were utterly and inseparably intertwined: ahavat Yisrael, love of one's fellow Jew, and preparing the world for the imminent Redemption through Moshiach.
"'Alef' is: When your friend asks you for ink, you share it with him because Moshiach is ready to come now and our part is to add in acts of goodness and kindness. 'Bet' is: When your friend asks for ink, you share it with him because we refine ourselves and prepare ourselves to greet Moshiach through ahavat Yisrael. 'Gimmel' is: When your friend asks for ink, you share it with him because then he will be more receptive to studying with you about Moshiach and the Redemption, and studying about Moshiach and the Redemption is the 'straight path,' to greeting Moshiach."
Each one of us has a part to play in making the Redemption a reality. The anniversary of the Rebbe's acceptance of leadership is a time to renew our commitment to this mission and take the initiative.
This week's Torah portion, Bo, enumerates the details of the Passover offering. The lamb had to be selected, watched for four days, slaughtered, and then eaten roasted with matzot and bitter herbs.
In his Book of Commandments, Maimonides counts the mitzva (commandment) of the Passover offering as two separate commandments: 1) slaughtering the lamb at dusk on the 14th of Nisan, and 2) eating it on the night of the 15th.
These two mitzvot are connected to each other and interdependent. Thus, at first glance, it is not clear why Maimonides counts them as two separate commandments.
The exodus from Egypt was a pivotal event for the Jewish people, as it was then that they were born as a nation. No longer were they slaves to Pharaoh; instead, they were transformed into the servants of G-d.
The purpose of the Passover offering was to prepare the Jews for the exodus. Every detail was significant, for each one readied them in a different way for the great event.
Precisely because it is so fundamental, the mitzva of the Passover offering is reckoned as two separate commandments: the sacrifice itself, and the eating of it. Both particulars were required to prepare for the departure from Egypt and the Jews' transformation into servants of G-d.
In ancient Egypt the lamb was worshiped as a deity. By offering it as a sacrifice, the Jewish people shook off their yoke of subjugation. It took a great deal of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the Jews to publicly take that lamb and kill it in front of their horrified neighbors. But in order to be a true servant of G-d, self-sacrifice is necessary. This was the mitzva of slaughtering the Passover offering.
The second mitzva was to actually eat the lamb. When a Jew ate the Passover offering, which had been sacrificed with mesirat nefesh, its flesh was transformed into his own. The substance of the offering was digested and and became one with his physical body. Self-sacrifice has to be the central theme in the life of the Jew; it must surround him, permeate his being and fill him completely, spilling over into the physical plane of his existence. In this manner, mesirat nefesh became part and parcel of the Jew's being, preparing him for the exodus from Egypt and enabling him to become a "servant of G-d."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 16
by Rabbi Leibl Groner
I heard the following story from a man in his mid 60s who lives in Los Angeles, California:
"When I was a teenager, I was drafted to serve in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. We trained for many months and then we were given a two-week furlough to go home before we were to be sent to Vietnam.
"While at home, my parents told me, 'Being that you are here (We lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, though we were not Lubavitcher Chasidim), let's go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing that you should come home safely.'
"During our private audience with the Rebbe, the Rebbe told me, 'I want to give you tefilin to take with you when you go overseas.'
"I told the Rebbe, 'Rebbe, I am religious. I put on tefilin everyday. I have my own tefilin.'
"The Rebbe became very serious. He said, 'Do you hear what I say! I want to give you tefilin to take with you.' My father and mother started to tremble at the strong way the Rebbe was speaking. The Rebbe said just as strongly, 'You will come home healthy.'
"A few days later, I was called by the Rebbe's office to pick up a package. I went to the Rebbe's office and they had prepared tefilin for me.
"My two-week furlough came to an end. I left my tefilin at home and packed the tefilin that the Rebbe had given me. I reported to my base as commanded. My battalion was scheduled to board a plane that would take us to Vietnam. We were waiting to board the plane when a general approached our commander and told him that he had to get on our plane as he was needed at the front immediately. Our commander explained that every seat was already taken by one of his men and that there were no empty seats on the plane.
"The general told the commander that one of the soldiers would have to stay behind and fly out to vietnam with the next battalion. I was standing nearby, which is how I happened to hear the entire conversation. The general pointed to me and told the commander, 'He will stay behind and I will take his place.' And that is what happened. I went back to the base and remained there until the next battalion left about 10 days later.
"When I arrived in Vietnam, the first thing I tried to do was to locate my battalion. After all, we had trained together for six months and we were as close as brothers. I went up to one of the commanders and asked him how I could find my battalion. 'Tell me which group you are talking about,' the commander said. I told him our battalion number and that our group had come 10 days earlier and that there had been a general on the flight.
"A strange look came across the commander's face. 'You didn't hear?' he asked me quizzically. 'That plane got lost. It fell into the ocean. There were no survivors. They never arrived...'
"It took me some time to get over the initial shock; all of my buddies were gone. But once I came back to myself, I recalled a Jewish teaching that I had learned. The Torah explains that everything from Moses is permanent; it can never be lost or destroyed. That is why all of the vessels of the sanctuary that Moses helped build in the desert still exist today, though hidden in special tunnels under the place where the Holy Temple stood. Now I understood why the Rebbe had insisted that I take the tefilin that he was giving to me. His tefilin could not be lost. And if his tefilin could not be lost, then I could not be lost..."
A few days ago, a woman called me from Israel. Her daughter had been dating a young man and both the mother and daughter were having some reservations as to whether the young man was suitable or not. Separately, the mother and the daughter wrote letters to the Rebbe, asking the Rebbe for his advice regarding the shidduch (match). Separately, the mother and daughter put their letters into a volume of the Rebbe's personal correspondence published as "Igrot Kodesh." They called me to help them translate the letters.
The letter of the Rebbe on the page that the mother had randomly turned to stated that when it comes to a shidduch it is only the young man and the young woman who make the final decision. The parents should explain to the young people that no one is perfect and therefore one must know what one's priorities are. The Rebbe concluded the letter by quoting from the book of Proverbs, "A woman who fears G-d, she is praiseworthy."
The letter of the Rebbe that the young woman had randomly opened stated, "I am again urging you not to prolong the idea of marriage. Get involved in a shidduch and get married as soon as possible."
The mother understood that, having already discussed with her daughter the importance of establishing one's priorities in looking for a husband, she now needed to bow out. And the daughter understood that she should put aside her reservations and continue dating.
by Rabbi Meshulam Weiss
Many years ago I was diagnosed with skin cancer on my lower lip. I had the cancer removed, along with 1/3 of my lip. I am extremely careful not to cut any part of my beard. That is because the Torah commands us to allow our beard to grow and there is a prohibition not to shave one's beard. The surgeon, Dr. Frieman, was very sensitive to this fact. He did not touch even one hair of my beard in the course of the surgery.
About two years ago, I noticed a sore developing on my lip again. When my wife saw it she became very concerned, since it was on the same spot as the first one was. We waited a few days to see if it would go away, but instead it started to grow and spread. In fact, it started to spread downward toward my chin. All the skin under the sore became discolored. I showed it to my doctor and he was quite alarmed. He sent me to a specialist at the Mayo Clinic. The doctor examined me, diagnosed it as a skin cancer, measured it with a special ruler and took pictures of it with a digital camera. He said that he would have to operate, not just on the lip like the first time, but also down toward the chin.
My wife asked Dr. Remington if he would have to shave my beard, and he said that he would have to remove at least part of my beard. I was in shock. My wife told the doctor that we understood that due to the severity of the illness and the nature of the procedure, it would not be possible to completely avoid shaving part of my beard, but that still under no circumstance was he to use a razor; and he would have to use an electric shaver, as there are some leniencies in Jewish law for using an electric shaver. The doctor agreed and scheduled the surgery for 7:30 a.m. the following Thursday.
I left the doctor's office trembling. I wasn't upset about the surgery, nor even that my cancer had returned. What sent me to tears was that my beard, even part of it, would have to be shaven. Until that moment I never realized how important my beard was to me.
On Sunday I called the Chabad House at the Ohel (the Lubavitcher Rebbe's resting place) and asked them to inform the Rebbe what was happening and to ask the Rebbe for a blessing. I added that I wanted them to tell the Rebbe how sorry I was that part of my beard would have to be shaved.
Sunday night the sore on my lip stopped hurting and a crust started to form. Monday morning the crust fell off and the sore was gone. By Monday night the entire discoloration under my lip started to fade. I woke up Tuesday morning, looked into the mirror, and to my amazement I could see no trace of anything.
I left a message at Dr. Remington's office and Wednesday morning I got a call from his nurse telling me that under the circumstances, the doctor was canceling the surgery for Thursday. However, he wanted to see me in his office at 9:00 a.m. to do a biopsy. I went to the doctor's office on Thursday and the doctor looked at me. He began to examine my whole lip, all the while muttering to himself. He glanced at my chart with the measurements and pictures, looked at my face again, sighed and sat back on his chair.
My wife asked him if he was going to do the biopsy now, and he turned to her and said, "On what? It's all gone. There is nothing there."
The doctor then turned to me and asked, "What medicine have you been taking?" I told him "none." He asked, "What ointment did you put on your lip?" Again I said, "None."
By now he was getting pretty frustrated. "You had to have done something," he said, "cancer doesn't go away by itself."
"Well," I said, "I prayed a lot and I called my Rebbe in New York to pray on my behalf."
"Pray? You prayed? And that's why you were cured?"
" I guess so."
The doctor looked at me and asked, " If I give you a list of names, will you pray for them also?"
"By all means," I said.
He started to laugh. "Dr. Remington," I said, "I am being serious." He then told me to call him again if I need him (G-d forbid). I thought to myself, "Don't worry, I'll know who to call."
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Last Day of Passover, 5710 
From a talk of the Rebbe that was later checked and approved for publication by the Rebbe, translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun for Sichos in English.
The Talmud records: "Before the passing of R. Yehuda HaNasi, he said: 'I need my sons!... Let the lamp continue to burn in its usual place; let the table be set in its usual place; let the bed be made in its usual place.' " ...
What is novel here is that it was at the time of his passing that R. Yehuda HaNasi said, "I need my sons"; Since at this moment he was embarking on a mode of divine service that was infinitely superior to what had preceded it, it would have been reasonable to assume that he would no longer have any connection with us.
In order to forestall such an assumption, at the moment of his passing R. Yehuda HaNasi said: "I need my sons." As if to say: "Even though I am now ascending to divine service of a transcendent order, I nevertheless remember you, and I shall remember you wherever I shall be. Moreover, in whatever lofty levels of ascent I may find myself, your divine service matters to me - 'I need my sons.' " Not only are the sons in need of him, but he, moreover, is in need of his sons.
In light of the above, each of the objects concerning which it was customary to turn to the Rebbe [here the Rebbe refers to the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, who had passed on two months earlier], remains in its accustomed place - "Let the lamp continue to burn in its usual place; let the table be set in its usual place; let the bed be made in its usual place."
Generally speaking, people used to enter the Rebbe's study for yechidut [the communing of the two souls in a private audience] concerning two categories of subjects: correction and sustenance in spiritual matters, and correction and sustenance in material (though not materialistic) matters. Each of these categories comprises three components - lamp, table, bed.
At yechidut, requests relating to material matters focus on three concerns: children, health (lit., "life"), and livelihood. These correspond to lamp, table, and bed, as follow: Chayei (health, or life) is represented by a lamp, as it is written, "The soul of man is a lamp of G-d"; mezonei (livelihood) is represented by a table; banei (children) is represented by a bed.
All three elements continue to stand in their usual place. Even after his passing, the Rebbe can answer; he answers as he did in the past, and directs Divine benefactions as he did in the past.
The same principle is true of requests made at yechidut relating to spiritual matters....
As is widely known, in order for a Rebbe to be able to give a response at yechidut, he must first be able to find within himself some relationship - at least a subtly spiritual equivalent - to the subject of the request...
Since in the past the Rebbe was garbed in a physical body in this world, one can conceive of his finding within himself some tenuous spiritual relationship with such requests... Now, however, when he has no connection with physicality, how can be respond to such requests?
Before we answer this question, there is another question that has been asked: How is it at all appropriate to address requests to the Rebbe? Is this not putting him in the position of an intermediary?
The answer to the question regarding intermediaries is as follows.
Just as "Israel and the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one" - i.e., not only is Israel connected to the Torah and the Torah is connected to G-d, but they are all absolutely one - so, too, in the bond between chasidim and their Rebbe, these are not like two entities which unite, but they become absolutely "all one." And the Rebbe is not an intermediary who intercepts, but an intermediary who connects. Accordingly, for the chasid, he and the Rebbe and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one....
Accordingly, the query regarding intermediaries ceases to be problematic, since we are speaking of the Essence and the Being of G-d Himself, as He has garbed Himself in a body....
In the same way as the above query [about intermediaries] ceases to be problematic, the earlier query - as to how the Rebbe can respond to requests concerning the rectification of matters pertaining to the body - likewise ceases to be problematic. For the bond between Rebbe and chasid is a bond that is rooted in the very essence of each.
Are there special blessings that we will recite when Moshiach comes?
According to many opinions there are five blessings that will be applicable when Moshiach comes. They all begin: "Baruch Ata Ado-nai Elo-heinu Melech Ha'olam - Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the World..." They continue, "Ga'al Yisrael - Who redeems Israel," "Shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higiyanu lizman hazeh - Who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time," "Shechalak m'chachmato l'rei'av - Who has given wisdom to those who fear Him," "Shechalak m'kivodo l'rei'av - Who has given honor to those who fear Him," "Chacham Harazim - the Wise One of secrets."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion, Bo, opens with G-d's command to Moses to "Go to Pharaoh." Moses followed G-d's order fearlessly. He boldly approached the mighty Egyptian ruler and demanded that Pharaoh release the Jewish people. Moses was not afraid of Pharaoh; Jewish lives were at stake, the Jewish people were counting on him. Moses was not concerned with the general (Egyptian) public opinion, either. "What will the neighbors think?" did not even enter his mind.
Moses was the epitome of the Jewish leader, showing selfless concern for each and every single person. He served as an example for all future leaders of the Jewish people. Moses' approach and attitude toward Pharaoh and the Egyptians should therefore be the position of every Jewish leader. A Jewish leader's only concern must be with the Jewish lives entrusted to him/her. Public opinion is not a consideration when dealing with the spiritual and physical aspects of Jewish lives.
The concept of a Jewish leader is not limited to the Moses' of each generation. For, each and every Jew - man, woman and child - is a Jewish leader in some sense. In every part of our lives in which we find ourselves influencing or directing others, we are leaders. We must therefore, behave as did Moses, the Jewish leader par excellence. When dealing with any aspect of Jewish life, ours, our children's or friends', we must boldly and fearlessly demand that we be released from any deterrents to our observance of Judaism.
And, as we read in the end of this week's portion, through this resolute stance, we will eventually be redeemed and ultimately brought to the Promised Land, where we will rebuild the Holy Temple, together with Moses and all of the leaders of all the generations.
Sanctify unto Me all the first-born (Ex. 13:2)
Just as the first-born is especially holy to G-d, so too must the first few minutes of the day be dedicated to G-d and to His Torah. Once a person has established this firm foundation, the rest of the day will likewise be secure.
(Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin)
And they despoiled Egypt (Ex. 12:36)
After 210 years of extremely harsh exile in Egypt, the Jewish people received "reparations" in the form of "vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments." Later, at the splitting of the Red Sea, they received five times as many riches - precious gems and pearls. We in our generation are about to leave a longer and even harsher exile than our forefathers endured. Accordingly, the "reparations" we will receive from G-d will be infinitely greater. Keeping this in mind should cause us to be even more generous in giving charity.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Vayechi, 1992)
With our young and with our old we will go...we are to hold a feast unto G-d (Ex. 10:9)
For in truth, what kind of a holiday would it be without our children? Any holy celebration that does not include the younger generation is no celebration at all...
by Chaya Sara Silberberg
Last year my husband was sitting shiva (the seven days of mourning) for his mother in Lakewood. After the morning prayers, an elderly gentleman came over to him and said, "I see that you are a Lubavitcher chasid. May I tell you a story that happened to me with the Frierdiker (Previous) Rebbe?"
My husband indicated that he was interested, and the stranger began:
"My name is Mordechai G. I grew up in the city of Munkatch, Ukraine. Although there were no Lubavitchers there, I knew and respected Lubavitch because my Rebbe - the holy Munkatcher Rebbe - held very highly of the Baal HaTanya (the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch) and other Chabad Rebbes.
"I lived through the War and all its horrors, including time in Auschwitz. After the War I spent time in a DP camp, got married, and had a child. In 1949, under the sponsorship of HIAS, I finally was able to come to America. They arranged a place for us to stay in a hotel in Manhattan, together with a number of other Jewish immigrant families. We were glad to be here, but it was very difficult for us to find jobs, with our minimal knowledge of English. Months passed but I could not find work.
"Every morning the Yiddish newspaper arrived at the door of my room. On Sunday morning, Yud Shevat, 1950, the headlines announced that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, had passed away and the funeral would take place in front of "770" (the central Lubavitch synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn). I decided to go, and found a friend who wanted to come with me. We had absolutely no money to get there, but we spoke to a number of people, and someone finally gave us enough money to pay for a taxi.
"When we arrived at 770, there was a huge crowd of people. Someone was announcing that only those who had immersed in a mikva that morning were allowed to touch the aron (casket) of the Rebbe. I hadn't - but I pushed my way forward to the aron anyway. Someone stopped me and asked if I'd been to the mikva that day. I pulled up my sleeve and showed him the number tattooed on my arm by the Germans, may their names be erased. 'I haven't immersed in water today - but I've immersed in fire.' He stepped aside and let me through. As I touched the holy aron, I whispered 'Rebbe, parnasa (livelihood).' I even managed to carry the aron a few steps, all the time whispering "Rebbe, parnasa."
"I managed to get to the cemetery, made my way to the front, and was able to put my hands on a shovel. With each shovelful of earth that I threw on the grave, I whispered 'Rebbe, parnasa. Rebbe, parnasa.'
"After the funeral I walked from car to car to see if I could find a ride back to my hotel. At one point I struck up a conversation with a gentleman and found myself telling him that I needed a job. He told me that he wasn't going to Manhattan - but he handed me a card and said 'If you want to work, come to this place tomorrow morning, and you will have a job.'
"I went there the next morning, and worked at that job until I retired. As far as my fellow immigrants in the hotel - it took them many more months until they were able to find work..."
Mr. G.'s story poignantly reminded me of the words in the Zohar that a tzadik (righteous person) is more present in this world after his passing than during his physical lifetime here. May we soon be reunited with the Frierdiker Rebbe, as well as with our beloved Rebbe, with the revelation of Moshiach Now.
Rabbi and Mrs. Elimelech Silberberg are the Rebbe's emissaries in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
At the time of the ninth plague, that of darkness, "For all the Children of Israel there was light in their dwellings" (Ex. 10:23) This unique light not only illuminated their own homes, but accompanied the Jews wherever they went. Exile is a time of spiritual darkness that intensifies the closer we get to Moshiach's revelation. Nonetheless, just as our ancestors enjoyed "light in their dwellings" even before their redemption from exile, so too does every Jew possess an aura of holiness now, just prior to the Final Redemption, which accompanies him wherever he goes.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Korach, 5751-1991)