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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

November 20, 2009 - 3 Kislev, 5770

1096: Toldos

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1095: Chayei Sara1097: Vayetzei  

Climate Change  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  A Call to Action  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Climate Change

A new Ice Age. Global Warming. Things are getting hotter; things are getting colder. The ice caps are melting but the temperature's dropping. Who's responsible for the greenhouse gasses - volcanoes, cars, cows - or hot-aired politicians?

It's easy to mock the concept of climate change. Not all scientists agree that it's occurring, and among those who do, many differ about the rate or proportions of cause.

So how do we make sense of "climate change"? Where's the iceberg hiding?

Let's start with the concept of global warming: The sun pours energy onto the earth. Some of that energy gets blocked out, some gets through the atmosphere, giving the world light - and heat. The earth radiates that heat back into space only - the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere trap the heat, like a blanket, keeping the earth just warm enough to sustain life - not too hot, not too cold.

It's a delicately balanced cycle: the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must match the amount of heat radiated by the planet. There has to be enough carbon dioxide (and methane, etc.) to trap enough heat to keep the planet livably warm, but not so much that things start cooking.

A small climate change - such as the introduction of massive amounts of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, begun during the industrial revolution - can trigger an avalanche.

Climatologists agree we're on the verge of triggering an avalanche. Like an avalanche, most of the change occurs unseen; the mass of snow stands delicately balanced until - a slight change - a step, a shout - upsets the balance and...

Our spiritual lives are also subject to "climate change." Like atmospheric climate change, our spiritual "climate change" often occurs subtly, slowly, unnoticed, through minor variations that at first glance don't seem to have much of a cumulative effect.

Of course we could talk about "climate change" for the worse, and that spiritual inferno would parallel what scientists predict may happen without changes in worldwide energy and environmental purpose. Thus, a mitzva (commandment) missed here, a Torah study session skipped there - one thing leads to another.

But, creation is also in a spiritual balance. For every negative, there's a positive, at least spiritually. So we can create a "global warming" in a spiritually positive way. Let's talk about that.

One mitzva leads to another, the Mishna teaches. And so, we can change the "climate" by a small act - lighting Shabbat candles, putting tefilin on, attending a Torah class, visiting the sick, giving charity, etc. These mitzvot "trap" the warmth, the liveliness and vitality of Judaism.

Each act individually may not seem like much. But cumulatively, they prevent goodness and kindness and mitzvot and awareness of G-dliness from "leaking away" into the vast empty vacuum. They "heat up" the metaphorical world - for the Talmud tells us that each human being is like a complete world.

In short, through mitzvot, Torah study and acts of goodness and kindness, we can create a spiritual climate change, a positive climate change that increases the temperature of Judaism. And when Moshiach comes, we'll have a global warming of G-dliness.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Toldot, begins with the words, "These are the generations of Isaac, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac."

According to the Talmud, one of the reasons for the repetitiveness of this verse is to emphasize the fact that, according to natural law, Abraham was unable to father children at that age.

When Sara conceived and gave birth to a son the nations of the world scoffed, intimating that Abraham was not the biological father.

G-d therefore fashioned Isaac's facial features to look exactly like his father's, thereby proving his paternity and dispelling any misconceptions.

"The nations of the world" had no difficulty accepting Abraham's ability to father children in the spiritual sense - spreading the belief in One G-d and fostering good deeds among mankind.

What they found impossible to believe, however, was that Abraham - by virtue of his faith in a G-d Who transcended natural law - could overcome his physical limitations and father a child in the literal sense as well.

The miraculous birth of Isaac demonstrated to the entire world that the physical body of the Jew - not only his soul - exists beyond the confines of nature and is created and directly sustained by G-d.

It is in this light that we can understand the words of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe, which he uttered before being exiled to the far Eastern provinces of the Soviet Union, where he was sentenced by the Communist regime for the "crime" of spreading Judaism.

Addressing the assemblage of Chasidim who had come to see him off, the Rebbe declared, "...And let all the nations of the world be apprised that it is only our physical bodies that are in exile and subject to the yoke of the nations. Our souls are not in exile and can never be subjugated! No one can exert any influence over us when it comes to matters of Torah, mitzvot (commandments) and Jewish practice!"

But what good does it do us to know that our souls are not in exile, if our physical bodies - the only medium through which we can observe mitzvot and spread the wellsprings of Judaism - suffer the hardships of the exile?

The answer to this question comes from Abraham, the very first Jew. Abraham proved that whenever a Jew uncovers the supernatural dimensions of his soul, its G-dly light will illuminate his physical being as well.

In this way the physical body is elevated above the laws of nature, to a plane on which no power on earth can exert any influence.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. III

A Slice of Life

Jews for Hashem
by Jeff Neckonoff

I was raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn, in an area so Jewish that for the first few years of elementary school, I thought that non-Jews were a minority in the U.S. Though we were brought up secular, being culturally Jewish was an important part of our close knit family. Religious or spiritual mandates were viewed as ancient rules and traditions - nice to know about, but basically impractical and irrelevant.

In fifth grade, I began attending Hebrew school. I learned Jewish history and to read Hebrew but did not learn much about G-d. I had my Bar Mitzva and ended my Jewish education.

In junior high, my social circle suddenly opened, and I had plenty of friends from various backgrounds. I had a vague notion that Christians believed in some guy who said that he was G-d. It seemed even less relevant to my life than Judaism was. It was also at this point that my hobby of collecting 12" disco records became somewhat lucrative. I bought some professional DJ equipment, and began to actually get hired to spin at events. I continued doing this through high school and college.

I went to Baruch College. There, I took a course on comparative religion. The professor was a devout Zen Buddhist; the material he taught was slightly subjective. The class, however, instilled in me a curiosity about G-d. I enjoyed reading what was required, but I put G-d on the back burner for almost a decade more.

During my second-to-last semester I met Maria, my future wife. We started dating steadily but we hardly discussed G-d or religion.

After graduation, I acquired the much-coveted position of DJ at a nightclub called Jamz. I was having a great time mixing disco and freestyle dance music for 1,200 people a night, drinking and getting home at 4:30 am. G-d was the last thing on my mind.

In July of 1993 Maria and I were married by an ultra-liberal rabbi and priest. I agreed we would raise our future children Catholic. I was basically agnostic, and truly believed that if G-d existed, He was not concerned with my life.

My curiosity about G-d was rekindled in February 1994, and took me quite by surprise. My wife and I had just come home from seeing the very moving Schindler's List. As I was flicking through the cable channels I came across a show about the Holocaust. I had never seen the program before, nor heard of the host. I sent away for two books he offered, expecting them to be from a traditional Jewish viewpoint.

When I received the books I was enraged to find that they were Christian books, posing as something Jewish. I planned on sending them back the next day, but instead, I actually began reading them. My curiosity became a deeply felt need to know more about this weird Christianity mixed with Jewish stuff. I began reading all kinds of materials from many sources, including the Christian Bible, Hebrew-Christian authors, andcounter-missionary literature.

I clearly remember the first Shabbat morning, in 1995, when I attended the messianic church that became my congregation. There were about 90 people there, with all the men wearing yalmulkes and tallaisim. There was an ark with a Torah scroll and traditional Hebrew prayers that I remembered from my Bar Mitzva preparatory days. There was also joyful singing and some people dancing with tambourines. When the Torah was paraded around, there was a feeling of joy and fellowship that I had never experienced before. So many people came to greet and welcome me. I started attending regularly and continued for the next five years.

The pastor, Donald Resnick (a pseudonym) was extremely charismatic, intelligent and a nice guy. He was different than the other messianic congregational leaders I'd met. He wore tzitzit and a yarmulke at all times. He came across as being sincere and honest. He was so convinced about the Christian messiah, so embracing of my questions and friendship, that I was wide open to be spiritually manipulated by his training as a Christian missionary. After meeting with him weekly for two months, I was hooked! Plus, what better way to combine my Jewish heritage with my wife's Christian faith system. We never identified ourselves as Christians, but as completed "Messianic Jews."

I needed to know more and more about "Messianic Judaism" so we attended the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregation's conference in Washington DC. I also went to two separate UMJC intensive "yeshiva" weekend classes in Connecticut, with the goal of eventually becoming a messianic "rabbi" myself.

Life remained status quo until something really bother me. I noticed that out of the 100+ in attendance on Shabbat at our messianic congregation, six or seven were actually Jewish. Why weren't more Jews streaming in, especially the Orthodox who should have been seeing things as clearly as I did? It suddenly dawned on me that all I was learning about Judaism was from the messianic and Christian worlds. Shouldn't I learn about Judaism from Jews?

The catalyst for my spiritual back flip was a book by a convert to Judaism. I read "The L-rd Will Gather Me In" by David Klinghoffer. Reading his book pushed me to buy tefillin, which I had never even put on before.

Major doubts started nagging me even more, and I felt like I was betraying G-d, my soul, my heritage, my people and my family. An acquaintance lent me Rabbi Tovia Singer's cassette series called "Let's Get Biblical." I saw with extreme clarity that the Nazarene was not the messiah or G-d.

I sought out teachers and found Rabbis Yossi Korngold and Binny Freedman of Isralight, Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Manhattan Jewish Experience and Gateways. I discovered that Torah Judaism had all I was seeking those six years.

I needed to find a local synagogue as I was trying to drive less and less on Shabbat. I went "shul-hopping" for two years. When I attended a lecture with Rabbi Laibl Wolf of Australia I was introduced to the teachings of Chabad-Lubavitch. The numerous Chabad Houses I visited were warm, vibrant, and friendly, with those in attendance wanting to actually be there. The rabbis were welcoming, non-judgmental and down-to-earth. We went to many classes and Shabbat services with Rabbi Saacks in Dix Hills, Rabbi Paltiel in Port Washington, Rabbi Perl in Mineola and Rabbi Lipszyc in Woodbury.

It was in November 2003 that we found Rabbi Zalman and Chanie Wolowik of Chabad Five Towns. We started attending Chabad regularly. Maria took a huge step by deciding to officially study for conversion under the auspices of the most strict halachic authorities. For three solid years, she studied one-on-one, learning how to live like a Torah Jew. In July, 2008, Maria (now Meira) and our children underwent an Orthodox conversion. In August, 2008, Meira and I were married according to Jewish law.

To read Mr. Neckonoff's entire story, from where this was condensed, visit his website He can be reached at

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The Rebbe Writes

10 Tammuz, 5726 [1966]

I am in receipt of your letter, and I was subsequently also informed of the telephone conversation which you had with our office.

Needless to say, I am gratified to note that you are taking such a profound interest in the affairs of the congregation and in the functions of the rabbi and of spiritual leadership in general. No doubt this interest finds expression to the utmost in helping strengthen the congregation, in particular, in elevating the synagogue, so that it be imbued with the proper spirit causing it to reflect its essential function, that is, that it be a place where everyone can feel its holiness. That it be a synagogue where everyone would be conscious of the dictum: "Know before Whom you are standing." Such a synagogue is truly a source of inspiration and Divine blessings, both spiritually and materially.

You mention some matters which, in your opinion, would enhance the leadership of the rabbi. In the light of your description of the situation, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize that the ultimate aim of spiritual leadership is to influence the daily conduct of the members, to bring it more fully in accord with the Torah and mitzvoth [commandments]. Now, in a situation where the rabbi is a relatively young man, and he has among his congregants older members, he will often be more successful if he does not impose his leadership too heavily, but rather develop it gradually and steadily, in order to create a situation where the members will themselves come to the decision as to how to conduct themselves, both in matters of the congregation, as well as in the privacy of their homes. Obviously, with the cooperation of the members, both men and women, the results of the right policy will be realized all the sooner.

The rabbi himself is, of course, the best judge as to the most effective approach to take in developing his leadership and extending his influence.

You are, of course, quite right that a synagogue should be open whenever possible. As a matter of fact, as my father-in-law of saintly memory expressed himself, a synagogue should be open not only all day, but both day and night. For in a Jewish congregation, there should be members who study the Torah also at night, and when the Torah is studied in the synagogue where the prayers are recited, a special significance is added to this study. On the other hand, in view of what has been said above, the rabbi has to consider the prevailing circumstances and factors, and he must decide how the interests of the members would be served best, whether by sitting alone in the synagogue, or by spending that time in some other way. He must also consider what impression his lonesome vigil in the synagogue might have on the congregants, if his presence may be needed somewhere else, and in some other activity.

Finally, let me also say that there is no perfection in the world, and that every human being who takes over a new position in a new place, under new circumstances, requires a certain period of time to adjust himself and lay the foundations for a fruitful and growing activity. This applies also to rabbis. And judging by your letter, it is very possible that the rabbi is using his discretion to good advantage to ensure successful spiritual leadership.

I am confident that your interest in the affairs of the synagogue and congregation, and your participation in their growth and development, will be a source of Divine blessings to you and yours, and may G-d grant you success.

A Call to Action

House Full of Jewish Books

In 1972 the Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the campaign that every Jewish home be a bayit malei sefarim - a home full of Torah books. Buy Jewish books for children, friends and relatives for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. (Chanuka is coming up!) Treat yourself to a browse at your local Jewish bookstore or on-line and pick up a few for yourself.

In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Torah portion we are told about the wells which Isaac dug. Though the first couple of these wells fell into enemy hands, Isaac was undeterred. He continued digging until he found water in an uncontested area.

When one digs wells, he removes the dirt and rocks until water is found, filling the well with fresh, living waters. The physical digging of wells which Isaac performed paralleled his spiritual conduct; in a spiritual sense Isaac also dug wells. He removed the "dirt and stones" of the physical world to reveal the latent waters of spirituality that were hidden within.

The actions of our patriarchs and matriarchs are a lesson for us in our lives today. We have been entrusted with the job of finding the spirituality and holiness in our day-to-day lives, our mundane actions, our interaction with others. By delving deeply, beyond that which meets the eye, uncovering the superficiality of our physical world, we, too, become diggers of wells, we become like our ancestor Isaac. But, like Isaac, we must be undeterred by those who might stand in our way or try to dissuade us from realizing our goal. Then, ultimately, we will uncover for ourselves and others, true, refreshing living waters, the life-giving waters of Judaism which are free and plentiful for every Jew to enjoy.

Thoughts that Count

That my soul may bless you (Gen. 27:4)

Why did Isaac want to bless Esau instead of Jacob? Jacob was "a pure man, a dweller in tents (of Torah)" and even without a blessing he would stay away from evil. Esau, however, was very likely to fall into bad ways, and needed the assistance of his father's blessing.

(Ohr HaTorah)

And you shall stay with him a short time ... until your brother's fury turns away ... until your brother's anger turns away (Gen. 27:44, 45)

Rebecca advised her son Jacob what to do: "Run away to my brother Laban and wait until your brother gets over his anger. How will you know when that time has arrived and he is no longer angry at you? When you yourself stop holding a grudge against him." Rebecca understood the reciprocity of human emotions: Love is reciprocated with love, and hatred elicits a like response in others.

(Baal Hahaflaah)

And one people shall be stronger than the other (Gen. 25:23)

Rashi comments: When one rises, the other falls. Jacob and Esau symbolize the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, between a person's good and evil inclinations. When a Jew's G-dly soul is dominant and exerts itself, there is no need to combat the animal soul - it "falls" by itself. Light does not have to fight darkness to illuminate - as soon as it appears, the darkness vanishes. So too, does the light of holiness dispel all evil.

(Sefer Hamaamarim)

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you (Gen. 26:3)

The Torah uses the word "sojourn" instead of "dwell" to teach us that one must always consider oneself a temporary resident of this world. "The Shechina (G-dly presence) does not move away from one who considers himself a stranger in this world," we are taught. The second part of G-d's promise, "I will be with you," will be fulfilled when Jacob thinks of himself in this manner.

(Vayechakem Shlomo)

It Once Happened

A fierce looking man ran out of the house, his eyes burning with murderous rage at the coach full of Jews. In his hand he carried a revolver. At his heels a massive black dog yelped and snapped at the carriage.

One of the passengers approached the angry householder, who drew his gun and began to shoot at the coach. The gun clicked - but no bullets emerged. Again and again he pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.

Just then, a calm, holy face appeared at the window of the carriage. With a fascinated stare, the angry one lowered the gun and pulled the trigger. A bullet spewed forth and struck the black dog, killing it instantly.

One of the passengers approached the householder. "Sir, we are chasidim traveling with the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev," he stammered. "It is time for our evening prayers and we would like to ask your kind permission to pray in your house."

"The Holy Rabbi of Berditchev? Why yes, of course, you have my permission," said the man, as if in a dream. With that, he turned and strode into his house without a backward glance at his beloved dog.

The servants and friends were puzzled. They expected to enjoy the massacre of the Jews - these Jews who seemed not to know or care that no Jew dared step onto this property since the owner's murderous reputation had become known. The disciples of Reb Levi Yitzchak were perplexed, too. Why had their Rebbe asked them to accompany him to this unknown place, leaving Berditchev very early, traveling quickly and stopping only once along the way to say Psalms? The homeowner himself was also confused. "I know the gun was in perfect order, and yet it would not shoot when I pointed at the carriage. It must be the power of that holy Rabbi," he muttered to his friends.

News of the arrival of Reb Levi Yitzchak and the estate owner's seeming change of heart reached the Jews living nearby. They began gathering at the estate to see Reb Levi Yitzchak and pray with him. Many non-Jews also joined the gathering since Reb Levi Yitzchak's holiness was known by the entire countryside.

Reb Levi Yitzchak led the evening prayers himself. Before saying the opening words, "And He is merciful, He forgives sin, and will not destroy. He turns back His anger many times and does not arouse his wrath," the Rebbe began to sing a moving melody. It was sad and poignant and had a haunting effect on all who listened. It turned everyone's thoughts to their own private world, contemplating past regrets and the evil and folly of a person's actions. Each heart was full of despair and bitter regret. The disciples understood the melody to depict the suffering of the pure and holy soul, forced to leave the beautiful heavens, and come to this evil, false world.

But just as the notes seemed to fade into the very abyss of doom, the Rebbe raised his voice in a triumphant call of hope and salvation. The words, "Oh G-d, save. The King will answer us on the day we call," were sung in a joyful tune, stirring everyone to confidence and hope. But, before the Rebbe had sung the last of the sad notes, the host cried out hysterically and fell to the ground in a faint.

Everyone was mystified by the events. The chasidim now understood that the purpose of the journey had to do with their host. But what were the redeeming qualities of this Jew-hater that he merited the special attention of Reb Levi Yitzchak?

A few hours later, the chasidim saw the host emerge, his eyes red and his face tear-stained. In broken Yiddish, the host stammered, "I am a Jew. I, too, am a Jew." In wonder, they listened to his story:

"I was born in Germany to Jewish parents. As a young man I joined the Kaiser's army. The higher I rose in rank, the looser my ties to Judaism became. By the time I was a personal guard of the Kaiser, I had totally disassociated myself from Judaism. Finally, I became a Jew-hater and relished every opportunity I had to persecute Jews.

"Now, with you and your Rebbe here, I remember that I am a Jew. I want to be a Jew again. Please, I beg of you, ask your holy Rebbe to teach me how to behave like a Jew again!"

The next morning, prayers were lead with a festive atmosphere. The host joined the Jewish villagers. He borrowed a talit and tefilin and asked to be shown how to use them. After prayers, he was closeted with the Rebbe for several hours, their conversation remaining a secret. The Rebbe warned his chasidim never to breathe a word about this journey.

A short time later, the former Kaiser's guard sold his estate and disappeared. Around the same time, a stranger came to live and study in Berditchev. He became a close disciple of Reb Levi Yitzchak and the father of one of the finest Jewish families.

Moshiach Matters

Isaac intended to reveal to Esau the day Moshiach would come, in the hope that it would cause him to leave his evil ways. At that very moment G-d hid it from Isaac and said, "In the future I will conceal this information from Jacob's sons, and I should let it be known to this wicked man, Esau?"

(Sefer HaParshiot)

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