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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

December 4, 2009 - 17 Kislev, 5770

1098: Vayishlach

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

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  1097: Vayetzei1099: Vayeshev  

Chew Your Food  |  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

Chew Your Food

One admonition we've probably all heard is "chew your food." Our parents told it to us so often that we subconsciously tell it to ourselves when we notice that we're "wolfing" down the food.

Chewing your food, and chewing it well, contributes to good health. How so? First, digestion begins in the mouth. And good digestion is an important component of good stomach and intestinal health.

Chewing breaks down clumps of food into smaller particles. This does three things: it reduces stress on the esophagus (it's easier to swallow smaller than larger), it it makes the stomach's job easier (smaller bits digest easier) and it keeps the the food exposed to saliva longer.

Saliva contains enzymes that begin the chemical process of digestion. There are carbohydrate digesting enzymes in saliva, and fat-digesting enzymes, as well. And chewing protein-rich foods accelerates their digestion as well.

There are other effects if we don't chew our food. If we don't chew properly, and the food fragments give the stomach and intestines problems, not only do we not get the nutrients we need, but we create a "petri dish" for bacteria. And that "petri dish" inside us can produce indigestion, in addition to other ailments.

But chewing well has two other health benefits: it relaxes the lower stomach muscle, so the stomach can finish its job; indeed, chewing starts the whole digestive process.

Enough of all that, though. The main reason to chew your food is because if you don't, you can't taste it! Chewing your food allows you to appreciate the flavors and texture and even the smell of your food.

The concept "chew your food" applies in a spiritual context, as well. Our Sages make the analogy that Torah is the food of the soul: "Your Torah is in my inner parts" (Psalms 40:9).

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, in the Tanya, explains the verse: When one knows Torah, the Torah is absorbed in the soul and intellect. (Just like, when you "know" a subject you've internalized it, intellectually; it's within you, part of your intellectual being.) So, by analogy, Torah is called the "bread" or "food" of the soul: just like physical bread nourishes the body when it's eaten and digested, transformed into one's flesh and blood, so too knowledge of Torah, once the person has studied it well and deeply, becomes food for the soul.

So, the concept of "chew your food" exists in a spiritual sense, as well: It's not enough to study Torah in a way of "I get it" - listening and getting the ideas in a general sense. Rather one has to "chew" a Torah concept - to think about it, contemplate it, test it, argue over it - in short, to extend the metaphor, one has to "chew it over" to make sure the Torah learned is thoroughly examined and properly understood.

So if we really want to "taste" our food - to appreciate the richness, textures and subtleties in a Talmudic discussion or Chasidic discourse, we have to delve deeply and slowly. That's the only way to truly understand, to get the full flavor of Torah, G-d's wisdom.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, opens with the words "Jacob sent malachim before him to Esau his brother."

Although the word "malachim" is usually translated in this verse as "messengers," Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, tells us that Jacob sent "malachim" in the literal sense: "angels" - actual celestial beings.

Why did Jacob find it necessary to send the angels? Furthermore, in light of the principle that "one angel cannot perform two missions at the same time," by dispatching angels to Esau, Jacob was seemingly diverting them from their Divinely-appointed missions in the heavens.

Chasidic philosophy provides us with the answer by explaining the inner meaning of the angels' mission.

Jacob understood that the entire purpose of creation is the separation of good from evil and the restoration of the "sparks of holiness" to their G-dly source; indeed, this was his sole intention when he set out for the spiritually impure Charan.

Jacob also understood that his service alone was insufficient to achieve his goal; the participation of his brother Esau was also necessary.

Esau, described as "a man of the field," is symbolic of the highest G-dly light fallen to the lowest depths; thus, the ultimate Redemption with Moshiach will only come about when gentiles as well as Jews have reached a state of perfection.

After 20 years of service in Charan, Jacob was ready for the Redemption; he hoped that in the interim Esau had sufficiently refined himself and was ready as well. This is alluded to in Jacob's reference to "a donkey" upon greeting his brother - symbolic, as our Sages tell us, of King Moshiach, who is described as "riding on a donkey."

For such an important mission - indeed, the most important mission of all, the fulfillment of the ultimate goal of creation -- only the finest emissaries would do: celestial angels. For them, this was not an inconvenience at all; on the contrary, it was a very great merit, as they too joyously anticipated the Redemption.

Unfortunately, Esau had not yet completed his service. "We came to your brother," the angels told Jacob on their return, "to Esau." In other words, Esau is still the same person as he was 20 years ago, he hasn't changed. Hearing this, Jacob realized that the road to Redemption would be long and hard, as he told his brother, "I will go ahead slowly."

This, however, was long ago; today, after thousands of years of service, most particularly after the revelation of Chasidut, the preparation for Moshiach, the entire world is ready for the Redemption. All that is left is for it to become manifest in the physical world; may this occur at once.

Adapted from Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5752, Vol. I

A Slice of Life

From a speech by Zalman Velvel to college students

For the last 12 years, I have trained more than 5,000 people how to make a good living. I gave the money I earned from this training to my local Chabad, so they could teach people how to live good. Think about it ... there is a difference.

When I was 19 year old, something happened that changed me forever. I woke up the day after July 4th and this voice inside my head said, "Life is an adventure. Go out and see the world." So I hitchhiked around the country, 20,000 miles of it. That trip taught me, after meeting hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, about the infinite possibilities contained in our lives.

When I graduated college, I wanted to succeed in the business world. There was a recession in 1970, so I took the only job college prepared me for in the "real world" - I drove a taxicab in NYC.

I started handing out resumes to my fares. I eventually got a job from one of my fares as a data input clerk, another accident. I had a degree in physics, I could program in four computer languages, and I was doing a job that required the IQ of a carrot. I felt like I was the victim of some cruel joke, and I swore I would get real world skills so that would never happen again.

I acquired those skills, learned about business, and then met my wife, the best part of me. We created a family and I learned that having a family was a greater adventure than hitchhiking or business, with greater risks, and greater rewards. For four decades, I tried to get my fathering, grandfathering, and husbanding right, but I'm still making mistakes. Then, after 40 years, I woke up and the voice returned. It said, "Life is an adventure! Go out and see the world."

I was training a college student over the Internet. He was using my training to create a part time business that he would turn into a full time business after he graduated. Instead of worrying about getting a job in this economy, he decided to make his own job. I wondered if there were more like him, and in my travels I discovered there are thousands like him. So now I am on a mission to help college students acquire today's real world skills. But I have another mission as well.

I'm here because a few months ago, when I contracted to teach in LA, I went to the University of Southern California to see my friend, Dov Wagner, who has a successful Chabad House there. Dov and I have been friends since he was in the Miami rabbinical yeshiva. Dov is now Rabbi Wagner, and he teaches Torah to college guys, while his wife Runya teaches Torah to college girls with one hand, while holding a baby in the other, while their kids argue over the computer in Dov's office. Dov invited me to speak to his students. I came over and met some of them. One in particular, a brilliant engineering student, discussed with me why he would NOT wear a yarmulke. He said, "It's not worth the aggravation."

He and I went a few rounds, and unbeknownst to me, Rabbi Dov was listening to the conversation. When the student walked away, he said "Zalman Velvel, you should say those things to these students. They need to hear it."

I went next to the University of Florida at Gainesville. I went because I was told by many Chabad rabbis that a very special campus shaliach (emissary) resided there, Rabbi Beryl Goldman.

When I arrived, his wife Chani was holding a baby in one hand, fixing dinner for a hundred with the other, while their children were arguing over her computer. While we were chatting, her husband entered. Each Shabbat, he fills a huge white tent in his backyard with his boundless energy, along with 300 - 400 students.

Well, this amazing rabbi asked me to speak. I told him I really just wanted to listen to the students, but he wouldn't hear of it. He gave me great advice: "Just talk straight with them," he said. I realized what I most wanted to "talk straight" about is this yarmulke I'm wearing.

It was very difficult for me to begin wearing this yarmulke. However, once I decided to wear it, I did not have any problems and it became easier.

People come up to me at gas stations, airports, shopping centers, walking on the street, everywhere, and say "hello," and strike up a conversation. They say things like, "Where is the local synagogue?" or "I didn't know there were many Jews here." or "Where can you get kosher food?" The expression on their faces is one of relief. I think this yarmulke is like one of those road signs that says "Last rest area for 30 miles," only the yarmy says, "Last Jew for 100 miles."

And that gets to me! That is why I wear my yarmy. To make other Jews feel they are not alone. But I didn't always wear one. For 45 years I ran away from my Jewishness, hid from it. And then a Chabad rabbi, Yitzchak Minkowitz, entered my life. I started learning about our history, and our religion. Through that study, I saw with fresh eyes and newfound appreciation the profound effect Jews have made upon the world, for the better. Jews brought the world one G-d and a system of laws for men to live by, and the Jewish people have been improving the world for 4,000 years.

The rabbi gave me back my Jewish soul. For 45 years, my life was a materialistic swamp. I wasn't happy, and I didn't sleep well at night, but I didn't know any better. When I learned better, wearing a yarmy outside shul was proof to myself, and my friends and community that I had changed, and that now I was proud of our heritage.

Am I comfortable with all the obligations of a yarmy? Am I worried about looking like a hypocrite? Yes and no. Yes, I have lots of character defects. Each morning I look in the mirror and a very imperfect Jew stares back at me. So yes, I have many bad habits that are hard to break, and no, I'm not the finest specimen of Judaism.

If you think there are better Jews to be wearing this yarmy, I agree. I think some of you are better examples of mentchlichkite - good human beings - than I am. But if I take off this yarmulke while I work on myself, then who is going to be around to make all those Jews feel not so alone? So no, I cannot stop wearing it. I mean, who else is going to?

To read more, visit

What's New

New Emissaries

Two new emissary couples have arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, to work in the Yeshiva Gedolah Lubavitch there. Rabbi Pini and Rochie Pink and Rabbi Moshe and Toby Benshimon moved from New York to take up their posts in South Africa.

Rabbi Mendy and Chaya Sara Blachman will be arriving soon in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. They will be focusing on adult education.

Rabbi Mendy and Rochele Junik have moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where they will be joining the five other couples who live in the city and serve the Jewish community of Geneva and its environs.

The Rebbe Writes

13 Kislev, 5723 [1962]

I was pleased to receive the news of your forthcoming Dinner on the 20th of Kislev, the day after the historic Day of Liberation of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch and founder of Chabad.

It is both timely and meaningful to recall the following episode from his life and teachings:

The Alter Rebbe shared his house with his oldest married son, Rabbi Dov Ber (who later succeeded him as the Mitteler Rebbe). Rabbi Dov Ber was known for his unusual power of concentration. Once, when Rabbi Dov Ber was engrossed in learning, his baby, sleeping in its cradle nearby, fell out and began to cry. The infant's father did not hear the baby's cries. But the infant's grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, also engrossed in his studies in his room on the upper floor at the time, most certainly did. He interrupted his studies, went downstairs, picked the baby up, soothed it and replaced it in its cradle. Through all this Rabbi Dov Ber remained quite oblivious.

Subsequently, the Alter Rebbe admonished his son: "No matter how engrossed one may be in the most lofty occupation, one must never remain insensitive to the cry of a child."

This story has been transmitted to us from generation to generation; I heard it from my father-in-law of saintly memory. It was handed down because of the lasting message it conveys, one which is particularly pertinent to our time. It characterizes one of the basic tenets of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement - to hearken to the cry of our distressed Jewish children.

The "child" may be an infant in years, a Jewish boy or girl of school age, fallen from the "cradle" of Torah-true Jewish education, or it may be someone who is chronologically an adult yet an "infant" insofar as Jewish life is concerned, an infant in knowledge and experience of the Jewish religion, heritage and way of life.

The souls of these Jewish "children" cry out in anguish, for they live in a spiritual void, whether they are conscious of this or feel it only subconsciously. Every Jew, no matter how preoccupied he may be with any lofty cause, must hear the cries of these Jewish children. Bringing these Jewish children back to their Jewish cradle has priority over all else.

The Eve of Yud Tes Kislev, 5724 [1963]

...In one of his well-known letters, the Alter Rebbe declares that the happy tidings of his liberation reached him when he was reading the verse (Psalms 55:19): "[G-d] has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle against me, for many were with me."

This Providential coincidence surely carries a message for every one of us. Indeed, every individual is in need of a personal liberation from all the difficulties and hindrances encountered in daily life which hamper the attainment of the goals which should be achieved every day, in both material and spiritual endeavors.

Thus, our Sages make the following meaningful commentary on the verse: "Said the Holy One, Blessed Be He: He who engages in Torah, and in acts of loving-kindness, and prays with the congregation, is regarded by Me as if he redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world" (Talmud, Berachot 8a).

In this way, our Sages emphasize that the personal redemption of every Jew, as well as of the entire Jewish people, together with G-d (so to speak), is directly linked with the dissemination of Torah, acts of benevolence ("duties toward fellow-Jews"), and prayer ("duties toward G-d").

Thus, every man or woman who is involved in these three things brings liberation and redemption to himself as well as to our people as a whole.

The Eve of 19 Kislev, 5730 [1969]

The Festival of Liberation of the Alter Rebbe on Yud Tes (the 19th) Kislev, and the festival of Chanuka, though widely apart in historic perspective, have much in common in spirit and significance. It is therefore no accident that Divine Providence has brought both of them together in the same auspicious month of Kislev, within a week of each other.

The Alter Rebbe sought to illuminate Jewish life, even Torah life, with the inner light of the Torah and mitzvoth [commandments], giving a new dimension of vitality and meaning to each and every Jew in his daily life. However, the light of Chabad Chasidus was threatened with extinction just as the light of the Torah and mitzvoth was in danger in the time of Matathias. Thus, Yud Tes Kislev, the day on which the Alter Rebbe and Chabad were completely vindicated, may be considered a "festival of lights" much in the same way as Chanuka.

Similarly, both Yud Tes Kislev and Chanuka stress the importance of Jewish education in all its Torah purity, permeated with the spirit of self-sacrifice. It is no exaggeration to say that the dedicated workers of Chabad-Lubavitch are true heirs of the Hasmoneans of old. They render a most vital service in forming Torah outposts and strongholds in many parts of the world, in order to preserve and spread the light of the Torah and mitzvoth, and to strengthen the foundation of Torah-true education.

A Call to Action

Get Together!

Get together in honor of 19 Kislev, the "New Year" of Chasidut and anniversary of the liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe. Start by gathering yourself (i.e. gathering your own strengths and powers for good). Use these gatherings as an opportunity to inspire others or to be inspired to add in Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness. (From a talk of the Rebbe, 16 Kislev, 5752-1991)

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

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Sunday, Jews the world over will celebrate Yud Tet (the 19th of) Kislev, the Chasidic "New Year." On this date over 200 years ago the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, was liberated from the infamous Spalerno prison in Russia.

Not merely a personal event, his redemption was an ideological victory for the revelation of the inner aspect of Torah, and a significant milestone in preparing the world for Moshiach.

Before 19 Kislev, the inner, esoteric part of the Torah - the Torah's "soul," as it were - was in a concealed state. Only its outer aspect - the "body" - was revealed to the majority of the Jewish people.

Human beings are also composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. Unlike the body, however, the soul cannot be perceived by the senses, nor can the human intellect fully comprehend its essence. The soul's existence can only be determined by deduction - i.e., if the body is alive, there must a soul that is animating it.

With the redemption of Yud Tet Kislev, the Torah's "soul" became revealed and apparent. Anyone can now learn its inner wisdom, and understand it on an intellectual level.

Furthermore, as the Jewish people and the Torah are one entity, the innovation of 19 Kislev affected all Jewish individuals on a personal level as well. The advent of Chabad Chasidut enabled the Jewish soul to illuminate the body to an unprecedented degree, making it easier for every Jew to serve as a dwelling place for G-d's Divine Presence and fulfill his mission in the world.

On such an auspicious day, when the same spiritual energy that was originally present comes down into the world, it is appropriate to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all our deeds and actions help hasten Moshiach's revelation - the underlying purpose of the dissemination of Chasidut.

May everyone be inscribed and sealed for a good year in the study and ways of Chasidut.

Thoughts that Count

And Jacob sent messengers to Esau his brother (Gen. 32:4)

At that time, Jacob was fully ready for the Redemption. He had studied a great deal of Torah, served G-d with all his heart, and had observed the 613 commandments despite the many obstacles in Laban's house. For his part, he was prepared. Jacob sent messengers to check out the spiritual status of his brother Esau, to see if he was also ready for Moshiach. Unfortunately, they found that he had not repented of his evil ways. The Redemption was therefore delayed for thousands of years until our generation, when the nations of the world are now finally ready.

(Sichot Kodesh, Vayishlach, 5752)

"I have sojourned with Laban... and I have an ox, a donkey, flocks, servants and maids..."(Gen. 32:4,5)

In order to frighten Esau, Jacob told him that he had "an ox and a donkey." Why would Esau be afraid of a donkey? Jacob was referring to the donkey upon which Moshiach will ride. Moshiach will ride on a donkey because of his humility. He will also overcome all the nations of the world in a quiet way, without war, just as Jacob overcame Esau.

(Breishit Rabah)

These are the generations of Esau, who is Edom...these are the names of Esau's chieftains...chief Magdiel, chief Iram (Gen. 36:1, 40, 43)

The present exile is referred to as the exile of Edom for the Romans, who destroyed the Holy Temple marking the commencement of exile, descended from Edom. This exile is divided into two eras, governed by the above two kinds of leaders. Magdiel (lit., "he magnifies himself above every god"): In this first era, the Roman empire expanded throughout the world, seeking to overpower Judaism and make it difficult for Jews to observe Torah. Iram (from the Hebrew "to amass [treasures for the royal Moshiach]": This second era is the one close to the Messianic Era, when Rome will no longer oppress the Jewish people but will submit to holiness and even assist Moshiach. Rome will then realize the literal meaning of its name, related to the word "hitromemut" - exaltation.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vayishlach, 5751)

It Once Happened

In the early years of his leadership, the founder of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, would expound his teachings in the form of short, homiletic sayings. One of these early "short discourses" was based on the Talmudic passage, "All bearers of collars go out with a collar and are drawn by a collar." The Talmud is discussing the laws of Shabbat, on which it is forbidden for a Jew to allow his animal to carry anything out from a private domain to a public domain; however, it is permitted to allow one's animal to go out with its collar around its neck, and even to draw it along by means of its collar. But the Hebrew word the Talmud uses for "collar," shir, also means "song." Thus Rabbi Shneur Zalman interpreted the Talmud's words to say that, "The masters of song - the souls and the angels - go out in song and are drawn by song. Their `going out' in yearning for G-d, and their drawing back into their own existence in order to fulfill the purpose of their creation, are by means of song and melody."

This latest teaching by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, which quickly spread among his followers throughout White Russia and Lithuania, elicited a strong reaction from his opponents, who complained that the chasidim have, yet again, employed homiletic word play and outright distortion of the holy Torah to support innovations to Jewish tradition. The Talmud, said they, is talking about collars worn by animals, not about the singing of souls and angels!

Rabbi Shneur Zalman's words caused a particular uproar in the city of Shklov. Shklov was a town full of Torah scholars and a bastion of opposition to chasidism. There were chasidim in Shklov, but they were a small and much persecuted minority, and this latest controversy inflamed the ardor of their detractors. While the chasidim of Shklov did not doubt the Rebbe's words, they were hard-pressed to defend them in the face of the onslaught of outrage and ridicule this latest saying had evoked.

A while later, Rabbi Shneur Zalman passed through Shklov on one of his journeys. Among those who visited the Rebbe at his lodgings were many of the town's greatest scholars, who presented him with the questions and difficulties they had accumulated in the course of their studies. For even the Rebbe's most vehement opponents acknowledged his genius and greatness in Torah. The Rebbe listened attentively to all the questions put to him but did not reply to any of them. However, when the scholars of Shklov invited him to lecture in the central study hall, the Rebbe accepted the invitation.

When Rabbi Shneur Zalman ascended the podium at the central study hall of Shklov, the large room was filled to overflowing. Virtually all the town's scholars were there. Some had come to hear the Rebbe speak, but most were there for what was to follow the lecture, when the town's scholars would have the opportunity to pose their questions to the visiting scholar. All had heard of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's strange behavior earlier that day, when all the questions put to him were met with silence. Many hoped to humiliate the chasidic leader by publicly demonstrating his inability to answer their questions. In the background, of course, loomed the recent controversy over the Rebbe's unconventional interpretation of the Talmudic passage about animals' collars on Shabbat.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman began to speak. "All those of shir go out with shir and are drawn by shir. The masters of song," explained the Rebbe, "the souls and the angels, all go out in song and are drawn by song. Their yearning for G-d, and their drawing back to fulfill the purpose of their creation, are by means of song and melody." And the Rebbe began to sing.

The room fell utterly silent as the Rebbe's melodious voice enveloped the scholars of Shklov. All were caught in the thrall of the melody, a melody of yearning and resolve, of ascent and retreat. As the Rebbe sang, every man in the room felt himself transported from the crowded hall to the innermost recesses of his own mind, where a person is alone with the confusion of his thoughts, alone with his questions and doubts. Only the confusion was gradually being dispelled, the doubts resolved. By the time the Rebbe finished singing, all the questions in the room had been answered.

Among those present in the Shklov study hall that day was one of town's foremost prodigies, Rabbi Yosef Kolbo. Many years later, Rabbi Yosef related his experience to the chasid, Rabbi Avraham Sheines. "I came to the study hall that day with four extremely difficult questions - questions I had put forth to the leading scholars of Vilna and Slutzk, to no avail. When the Rebbe began to sing, the knots in my mind began to unravel, the concepts began to crystalize and fall into place. One by one, my questions fell away. When the Rebbe finished singing, everything was clear. I felt like a newly born child beholding the world for the first time.

"That was the day I became a chasid," concluded Rabbi Yosef.

Reprinted from The Week in Review, published by V.H.H.

Moshiach Matters

In these last moments before the Redemption, our Jewish souls are hearing a "wake-up" call on the alarm clock of life. But this awakening has to actualize something practical as well. The awakening of the core of our being must be reflected in a concern for the fundamental existence of every Jew.

(The Rebbe, 2 Kislev, 5752-1992)

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