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L'Chaim
January 25, 2008 - 18 Shevat, 5768

1005: Yisro

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


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  1004: Beshalach1006: Mishpatim  

Especially Chocolate  |  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

Especially Chocolate

A yeshiva student once saw Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, carrying bags and took them for her into her home. When the student brought them in, the Rebbetzin tried to give him a chocolate bar. He said, "I was raised in a Chasidic home and I was taught to do a mitzva (commandment) in a complete manner and not to take a reward."

The Rebbetzin replied: "I was also raised in a Chasidic home and I was taught that when given something one should take it, especially chocolate!"

This week marks the twentieth yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka on 22 Shevat (January 29 this year).

Since you are reading this issue of L'Chaim you are already following the Rebbetzin's advice: when someone gives you something, you should take it. Someone gave you this L'Chaim at work, or hand delivered it to your door, or mailed it to you, or emailed it, and you took it. So, you're connected! (And it didn't hurt a bit, did it?)

Now, let's take this advice one step further: "Torah tziva lanu Moshe - the Torah that Moses commanded us, is an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob." The Torah was given to each one of us, to every Jewish man, woman and child. It is an inheritance, an eternal Divine present, to be taken, valued, acted upon, studied, enjoyed, contemplated.

Certainly good manners dictate that if one is given a cherished possession, an invaluable gift, one should accept it, appreciate it, and derive pleasure from it. This is the Torah. Ours for the accepting. Ours for the keeping. Ours for the taking, as the Rebbetzin so wisely advised.


A chasid who visited the Rebbetzin in her home many times, related: "One of the amazing things that characterized the Rebbetzin was her ability to listen. Whoever spoke to her remembers the good feeling she gave her visitors, and the interest she took in each one. The Rebbetzin spoke for hours with people, inquiring, taking an interest, but mostly listening. The Rebbetzin never interrupted anyone off in the middle of a sentence. She always listened with her full attention and patience until the person finished speaking. Only then did she say something or express her opinion."

The Rebbe understood the Rebbetzin's passing as the beginning of a new phase in the imminence of the coming of Moshiach and the Redemption, an era of world and personal peace, prosperity, health, knowledge and G-dliness. The Rebbe emphasized the importance of increasing in acts of goodness and kindness, as well as behaving today in a manner that befits the ahavat Yisrael - love of a fellow Jew - that will be experienced in its completeness in the Messianic Era.

We can emulate the Rebbetzin by taking an interest in others, by listening, by being patient. Perhaps these small but important acts will be the final good deeds that will tip the scale, and bring Moshiach NOW!


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Yitro, contains the narrative of one of the greatest historical occurrences of all time: the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. Yet this is not readily evident by the name of the portion, which is called by the name of Moses' father-in-law.

Every word, letter, and subtle grammatical nuance in the Torah teaches us volumes; how much more so, the names of the portions themselves. What then, is so significant about Yitro that the Torah portion containing the Ten Commandments is given his name?

Yitro, described in the Torah as "a priest of Midian," was not merely a highly respected official in his native land. Yitro was the high priest of idolatry, who had explored every type of idolatrous worship and philosophy in the world. The Zohar explains that the Torah could not be given to mankind until Yitro had rejected each and every false god, and had publicly accepted G-d's sovereignty. Yitro was the symbol of the power ancient man invested in gods of wood and stone. It was only when Yitro declared "Now I know that the L-rd is greater than all the gods," that truth prevailed, and the Torah could be given.

The most dramatic contrast occurs when darkness itself is transformed into light. In Hebrew this is called "the superiority (yitron) of light over darkness," a light which shines forth from a place it had previously been unable to reach. It is also interesting to note that Yitro's name is linguistically related to this as well.

Yitro's acceptance of G-d also reflects the reason why the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Prior to that time, the Patriarchs were already following the Torah's commandments, and Jews had studied Torah while in Egypt.

What was innovated at Mount Sinai was the power to infuse the physical world with holiness, to combine the spiritual and the material simultaneously. The G-dliness concealed within the physical world could now be uncovered and revealed, according to G-d's plan.

When Yitro not only rejected his false idols, but joined the Jewish people in their faith, it paved the way for future generations to transform darkness into light and to build a dwelling place for G-d in this world. A Jew's task is to sanctify his physical surroundings and imbue them with holiness.

Yitro therefore merited that an entire portion of the Torah bear his name, for he personified the mission of every Jew and the reason for the giving of the Torah.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

Our Encounters with the Rebbetzin

The following are excerpts from "My Encounter with the Rebbe" by Zalmon Jaffe, culled from Mr. Jaffe's 24 years of diaries. Mr. Jaffe had a unique relationship with the Rebbe and the Jaffe/Lew family had a special relationship with Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe's wife.
  1. I asked the Rebbe for permission to invite his Rebbetzin - Chaya Mushka - to the wedding of my daughter Hindy and son-in-law Rabbi Shmuel Lew. The Rebbe said: "You can invite her. She will be delighted; although, she will not come physically. She does know of you, since you always 'say it with flowers'." (The Rebbetzin did not like appearing in public. However, we had for some time now been sending her and the Rebbe flowers before Yom Tov).

    Just over a week before the wedding, the groom and bride and ourselves were granted the honor and privilege of meeting the Rebbetzin in her home for the first time. One incident comes to mind, illustrating the wonderful and perfect hostess she was.

    Shmuel accidentally knocked over a glass of red fruit punch. Shmuel's face turned the color of the now bright red table cloth. The Rebbetzin immediately assured him that it was a wonderful siman bracha (sign of blessing) and so on. She seemed so happy about it that I was tempted to knock over my glass, too!

  2. Friday afternoon, Sivan 1 (June 5), at 3:00, was one of the highlights of our trip to Crown Heights, a visit to our charming and gracious Rebbetzin, the Rebbe's wife, Chaya Mushka. It is something to which we always look forward and we always make certain that we are not one second late.

    We were privileged and honored this year to be allowed to take with us Hindy, Shmuel and their five children. (Yossi and Mendy were very shy, Golda Rivka and Pinchas were good, but Yenta Chaya was terrific. She was singing songs for the Rebbetzin all the time). We had nice fruit juice, cream cake and so forth. After half an hour, Hindy and Shmuel left with the children. We stayed for two hours altogether.

    We had a very good, enjoyable and happy afternoon, laughing and joking and occasionally being serious, too.

    The Rebbetzin talked about Susan and Avrohom [Jaffe, Reb Zalmon's son and daughter-in-law], who had visited her last Purim. She had "watched Susan waiting for Avrohom outside 770 for hours!" She adored their "lovely children." We informed the Rebbetzin how impressed Susan had been with the friendliness and courtesy of the Rebbetzin, and how much "at home" one was made to feel.

    On Sunday, Sivan 3 (June 7), at three, we had the delightful pleasure of visiting with our beloved Rebbetzin again. We went alone this time; so we had tea instead of fruit juice.

    We all agreed that it was a pity that the yeshiva boys and the men did not take an example from the Rebbe in cleanliness, tidiness, punctuality and doing everything with a "seder," (orderly manner). Also, the Rebbe was the perfect gentleman. He still greeted Roselyn with "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" and touched his hat whenever he met her in the street. We had a jolly good time for two and a quarter hours and the Rebbetzin asked us to come again next year, please G-d.

  3. We were again privileged and honored to be received by our dear Rebbetzin at the Rebbe and Rebbetzin's home on President Street. We spent over two and half hours with the Rebbetzin. The Rebbe is generally not at home during those visits; he is hard at work in 770.

    The Rebbetzin seems to gain in stature and charm every year. She receives regular letters from our daughter-in-law, Susan. She said, "Susan is a very wonderful, wonderful girl." (She once referred to her as a "wonderful kid" and explained to me that this is an American term!)

    I told the Rebbetzin how disappointed I was that the Rebbe had discontinued having his Yom Tov (holiday) meals with his chasidim. I missed those "private and homely gatherings." On the other hand, I was extremely delighted for the Rebbetzin's sake: after all those years she, finally, had her husband with her for Yom Tov. It must have been a real mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) for her all those years, all alone without her husband (the Rebbe) at her table.

    The Rebbetzin always asks about our grandchildren. Susan had sent photographs for her, too, which were very much appreciated.

    The Rebbetzin told us (what the Rebbe had already told us at the yechidut - private audience) that the Rebbe had brought Roselyn's letter about the apartment home, to show her. The Rebbetzin said she was very pleased that Roselyn had written such a nice letter to the Rebbe.

    The time passed very quickly, but we had the pleasure of visiting the Rebbetzin again for another hour or so before we left for home.

    Just before Shabbat, there was a knock on the downstairs door of our apartment. When I opened the door, there was Mr. Halbershtam with a parcel. It was a Shabbos gift from the Rebbetzin, a lovely cream cake. It looked delicious and as sweet as our dear Rebbetzin. It was very gratifying to be reminded that someone was thinking of us. It was delicious.

  4. We again had the zechut (privilege) to visit our dear Rebbetzin at her home. Actually we had a double zechut, because we were fortunate to visit her on two separate occasions, as we did last year.

    Her house had just been redecorated. It was very nice and bright. Our Rebbetzin also looked very nice and bright; she seemed much younger than last year. She oozes charm and graciousness. To quote an expression often used by the Rebbetzin herself, which translates as exceptional, "umberuffen." We feel proud and privileged to again be in her company.

    She inquired about our children and grandchildren, especially regarding Susan, for whom we delivered another letter to the Rebbetzin. In her letters, Susan describes the daily happenings which occur at home in Manchester.

    We spent a very pleasant couple of hours together. I read out excerpts from last year's diary, my Israel diary and parts of this Shavuos trip's diaries, which I am writing now (I had brief notes).

    The Rebbetzin praised my work (it was not just politeness, she is obviously a real lady), and remarked that I had talent and a gift for writing. She recommended that I have all my diaries printed in one volume.

    On our second visit with the Rebbetzin, time simply fled. The two hours seemed like 30 minutes and it was time for mincha (the afternoon service).

    The Rebbetzin confirmed that the Rebbe does enjoy seeing me and everyone at the davening (prayers). Although it did seem that the Rebbe does not notice anyone, the Rebbetzin assured me that he saw everybody and it made him very happy indeed.

Reprinted with permission. To read more, visit myenounter.com


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The Rebbe Writes

Freely adapted and translated
Erev Hilulo of Yud Shevat, Parshas Yisro, 5731

Blessing and Greeting:

I was pleased to be informed of your forthcoming Mid-Winter Convention, taking place during the weekend of the Torah portion of Yisro, the portion of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah].

You surely know of the teaching of Rabbi Shneur Zalman [founder of Chabad Chasidism] to seek in the weekly portion directives and inspiration for the events of that week. Accordingly, you will recall the special role of Jewish women at the time of Mattan Torah. Our Sages, commenting on the verse "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and speak to the children of Israel" declare that the "House of Jacob" refers to the women.

Consequently, the Torah indicates that the women were approached first, before the men, when the Torah was about to be given. This emphasizes the women's primary role in the preservation of the Torah and Mitzvoth (commandments) in their homes, as well as for the Jewish people as a whole.

Commenting on another verse, "Charus Al Haluchos" ("engraved on the Tablets"), our Sages see in the word "Charus" the implication of "Cheirus" ("liberation"). They go on to explain that true liberation can only be achieved through the Torah, when it is truly engraved upon the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. For when a Jew lives his daily life in accordance with the Torah, he is truly free; free from servitude to his own natural temptations, free from anxiety, etc.

The Torah concept of freedom is the very opposite of what nowadays passes for "liberation," which really is nothing but a clamor for freedom to do as one pleases, in order to gratify the natural appetite without restrictions and inhibitions. This kind of liberation is nothing but an attempt to legalize the lowest animal passions, and there is surely no greater slavery than being a slave to one's own passions.

True liberation from enslavement to the self and to the negative aspects of the society in which one lives, can be achieved only by submission to the Will of G-d and the acceptance of the "yoke" of the Torah and Mitzvoth. Only in this way can the Jew attain the highest degree of spiritual development in his daily life, and make his life truly worth living. For it is the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life], which elevates the life of the Jew and gives life true meaning and fulfillment, so that the Jew can realize his destiny of being created in the image of G-d. Indeed, it has been explained that the Hebrew word "Adam" (man) is derived from the expression "Adameh l'Elyon" ("I will aspire towards the Supreme Being")....

With all good wishes for your Hatzlocho [success], and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report always,

With blessing,


In the days of Sefira, 5728 (1968)

...The Torah tells us that when the Jewish people finally reached Mount Sinai, they attained a state of complete unity, as indicated in the words, "and Israel encamped there" (in the singular person), all of them as one, united and unified by the singular thought of receiving the Torah and mitzvoth.

The significance of that moment is pointed out by our Sages of blessed memory, declaring that the unification of the Jewish people was the condition for receiving the Torah.

It has often been emphasized that there are crucial moments in the life of our people, especially in the area of Torah and Judaism, where the Jewish woman plays a most important role. One of these areas is the unity of the family.

Here the woman holds the main keys of harmony between the parents and the children, the parents vis-a-vis each other, and the children in relation to one another.

In this area the wife and mother clearly has a decisive role, and in most cases, even a more decisive role than the husband and father. This is one of the reasons why the Jewish woman bears the title of akeres habayis (foundation of the home).

It is likewise clear that Jewish unity in a broader sense - unity between one family and another, and unity on a national level - is dependent upon harmony within the family unit. Where harmony is lacking within the family, G-d forbid, surely no harmony can prevail between such a family and another.

However, even where there is complete harmony within family groups, there still remains the problem of achieving unity on the national level. Let us therefore remember that the basis for true Jewish unity is the Torah and mitzvoth.

If throughout the ages it has been no easy task to achieve unity, the problem has become much more complicated in this age of "freedom" in the "free" countries of the world, where people are no longer restricted in their choice of domicile, occupation, educational facilities, free expression of opinions, ideas, etc.

ll these diversities and dispersions - geographic, social, cultural, etc. - are "by-products" of the contemporary "free" society in which we live. The newly-created conditions have created new problems and difficulties, which, however, must be viewed as challenges. With the proper approach and a determined will, they can be resolved...


Customs

What are the "three mitzvot" (command-ments) of the Jewish woman?

The three special mitzvot (commandments) that were entrusted to the Jewish woman are challa (separating a portion of the dough when baking bread in remembrance of the portion that was given to the priests in the Holy Temple); nidda (the laws of Family Purity which include immersion in a mikva for married women); hadlakat haneirot (lighting candles for Shabbat and holidays). The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, said of these three mitzvot, "All that is sacred to the nation of the G-d of Abraham and is fundamental to the house of Israel was entrusted, by Awesome and Revered G-d for preservation and development, to the woman of Israel.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Many of our Sages make reference to the fact that a person's name indicates something about the person and can teach us about him or her.

If this is true for each of us, how much more so is it true for someone like Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson (the wife of the Rebbe), whose yartzeit is commemorated this week on the 22nd of Shevat (January 29 this year). In fact, the Rebbetzin's name teaches us not only about her holy life, but about our lives as well.

On the Rebbetzin's first yartzeit, the Rebbe spoke about her name, as well as the significance to us of the date of her passing:

"Chaya" means "life." The Rebbetzin's life was filled with mitzvot and acts of goodness and kindness. But her deeds did not remain in the realm of the spirit and were not for a select few. Her deeds affected even the lowest points of this world as indicated by her second name, "Mushka"- a name in a foreign language. This indicates that the Rebbetzin brought holiness into the world, even into the lowest parts of this world.

The 22nd of Shevat is the day of the Rebbetzin's passing. The number 22 alludes to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Jewish teachings state that G-d created the world using these letters. These 22 letters, in their myriad combinations, contain the essence of all bounty and good. The intent is to reveal in all matters of the universe the letters of the Torah which are inherent in the created world.

From the Rebbetzin's name and from the date of her passing we can take one combined lesson for ourselves and our lives. We should fill our days with acts of goodness, kindness, and charity that are not merely surface or peripheral but that permeate and penetrate even the lowest parts of this world.

With each individual working toward this end, we will soon see that G-dliness truly permeates this world with the revelation of Moshiach and the commencement of the long-awaited Redemption.


Thoughts that Count

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8)

" 'Remember' and 'keep' the Sabbath were said in one utterance," comments Rashi. There was once a chasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who was a particularly simple and unlearned man. Despite that fact that he didn't know the meaning of many words in the prayer book, he spent hour after hour engrossed in daily prayer. He soon became the object of scorn. What could he possibly be thinking about, untutored as he was in even the simple translation of the Hebrew words? his fellow congregants sneered. One day someone got up the courage to ask him. "Whenever I pray, I constantly keep in mind something I once heard from the Rebbe on the saying 'remember and keep were said in one utterance.' With every word I utter, I try to remember and keep that oneness."

(The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn)


And G-d spoke all these words, saying (Ex. 20:1)

"Saying" in this instance implies the obligation to repeat and continue what was said (when G-d gave the Torah) in future generations, for when Jews apply eternal Torah law to the needs of their everyday lives, it is as if the Torah is given anew each day. "Blessed are you, O G-d, who gives the Torah."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


G-d said to Moses: "Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow" (Ex. 19:10)

"Sanctify them in such a way that the holiness will permeate their lives and last until tomorrow, when they leave this place," G-d requested. This teaches us that it is not enough to feel a spiritual awakening only when learning Torah and listening to sermons.

(Pardes Yosef)


It Once Happened

The following story was related by Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka of blessed memory: There was a family, relations of the Rebbe, who lived in Boro Park, Brooklyn. They asked the Rebbetzin whenever they had a question and she passed the question on to the Rebbe. Afterwards, she related the Rebbe's answer to the family. One day, she received a phone call that the mother was very sick and after many tests in the hospital, the doctors concluded that she needed an operation. They were calling to ask for the Rebbe's consent and blessing for the operation.

When the Rebbetzin conveyed the message to the Rebbe, the Rebbe said they should not do the operation. The Rebbetzin told the family the Rebbe's answer, but a few days later, they called again. They said that the doctors said that because they refused the operation, her condition deteriorated and her life could be endangered. They asked whether she could ask the Rebbe again.

The Rebbetzin said that in Lubavitch you don't ask twice. "I consider myself a Chassid of the Rebbe and I do as the Chasidim do, and so I cannot ask again," she said. The family was distraught, so the Rebbetzin said that if the Rebbe came home and asked whether she had heard anything from the family, she would repeat what they had told her, but she would not ask again.

When the Rebbe came home for supper, he asked the Rebbetzin whether she had heard from the family. She told the Rebbe what they had said and then added, "I'm not asking; I'm just telling you."

The Rebbe looked serious and after a pause he said, "I repeat, they should not operate!"

The Rebbetzin conveyed this clear answer to the family and a few days later they called again. They said that the doctors said her condition had deteriorated further and her life was in immediate danger. They were asked to sign that they took full responsibility for the woman and absolved the doctors and the hospital of any responsibility.

The Rebbetzin said, "The Rebbe said two times already not to operate."

When the Rebbe came home, the Rebbetzin told him the latest events and the Rebbe said, "Why don't they try medication?"

The Rebbetzin immediately called the family to tell them. They in turn mentioned it to the doctors, who laughed at them in response. "The rabbi knows better than we do about medicine? We say that only an operation can save her and it's not a matter of medication."

The family believed the Rebbe and went from department to department, looking for a doctor who would understand them. Finally, they found a doctor who thought for a moment and then said, "I think I know which medication the Rebbe has in mind, and since I wear a white jacket and can go wherever I want, I will visit your mother and give her an injection and let's see what happens."

A few days later, the doctors said her condition had suddenly stabilized. They did not know what had happened, but she was no longer deteriorating. The doctor was optimistic and told the family that apparently he had used the medicine the Rebbe was thinking of. He gave the woman another injection and two days later the doctors who had been treating her admitted she had improved somewhat. Every so often, the doctor would come by and give her medication until she was out of danger and was released from the hospital.

The family kept in constant touch with the Rebbetzin. When the Rebbetzin told the Rebbe that the woman had returned home, the Rebbe said, "When they asked me about an operation, I saw that if they did it, she wouldn't make it off the operating table, which is why I adamantly opposed an operation. When they asked again, I thought the doctors would see that the family was adamantly opposed to an operation and would try medication. When I saw that they weren't thinking along those lines at all, I explicitly suggested medication."

The Rebbetzin related this and said that the Rebbe had added, "Now you see how important it is to listen to whatever we say, even when the experts say the opposite."

Another story that is related: Someone asked the Previous Rebbe whether his son should travel or not and the Rebbe said No, but the son did not listen. He boarded a ship and after a few days the ship sank.

After the week of mourning, the brokenhearted father came to the Rebbe and said, "If the Rebbe would have explained why he negated the trip, I am sure my son would have listened." The Rebbe said, "Believe me that not every time I say something, do I know why I am saying it. I just convey what I am told from Above. But this I know: when I say it, you have to follow it - or else..."

As told by Rabbi Leibl Groner, reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine


Moshiach Matters

At Mount Sinai, G-d healed everyone. The blind could see and the deaf could hear. When there will be the Resurrection of the Dead, G-d will bring each person back to life in the same condition as when he passed away. Why won't G-d bring them back to life already healthy? Because when Moshiach comes, even after the Resurrection of the Dead, there will be those who will try to deny that there had been a Resurrection. If the person passed away deaf and came to life able to hear, they would claim, "It is a different person!" For this reason, G-d will bring a person to life still deaf, and only after heal him.

(Bereishit Rabba 95:1)


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