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Devarim Deutronomy

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February 5, 2010 - 21 Shevat, 5770

1107: Yisro

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1106: Beshalach1108: Mishpatim  

It's About Time  |  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

It's About Time

Time is relative. When you're "on hold" for the operator or customer service rep, each minute is an endless source of annoyance. However, when you are frantically finishing an exam, 60 seconds is far too short. When you're late for an appointment and caught in traffic, each second is a year. But when you're doing the finishing touches before the "company" arrives, every second is a windfall.

Time can also stretch and shrink. For children, the months of the school year drag on interminably while the vacation days seem to instantly disappear. As we get older, though, we speak in terms of how "time flies." Days, weeks, months, years, blur together. And though we feel as if just yesterday we were in high school, we receive invitations to attend 10, 25, or 50 year reunions.

In every day there are seconds, minutes and hours. And every instant of all of our days should be filled with meaningful pursuits. "Wasting time" is not a phrase traditionally found in the Jewish lexicon. One might even go so far as to say that time is not ours to waste. For the Jewish concept of time is that it is a precious gift given to us by G-d. As the saying goes, "The past is history, the future is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it's called 'present.'"

Not using the gift of time in a manner deemed appropriate by the Gift-giver is, in essence, saying that the gift is not valued. Time not used, or not used properly, is lost; and lost time can never be regained.

Time, Chasidic thought teaches, must be guarded. Every bit of time, each day that passes, is not just a day but an entire lifetime. As Jewish teachings express, "The day is short, the work is much... and the Master is pressing." (Avot 2:15)

The "day" referred to in the above teaching is a person's lifetime. When a person realizes the nature of the work before him - to conduct his entire life in accordance with the Master's will - he understands that one day, one lifetime, is indeed short.

And because life is so short, we must make use of every moment: the moments of our days and of our nights; the moments of our youth and of our maturity; the moments when we have the vigor to "burn the candle at both ends" and the moments when the candle is flickering and fading.

A thoughtful incident about time and the last moments of a candle's light is told concerning Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. One evening, Rabbi Salanter passed the house of a shoemaker, and saw him working by the light of a candle that was almost dying out.

"Why do you work so late?" Rabbi Salanter asked. "The candle will soon go out, and you won't be able to do anymore."

"It does not matter that the candle will soon go out," the shoe-maker replied. "While the candle burns, I can still make repairs."

Rabbi Salanter was deeply impacted and concluded, "A person works for material sustenance all the while that the candle is burning. So, too, should he work for the needs of his soul and repair as much as he possibly can as long as the lamp of G-d, which is the soul of person, is still burning."

This issue of L'Chaim marks the 22nd yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters of her name is 470, the same as the numerical value of the Hebrew word "eit" - time.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah reading, Yitro, narrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. About this central event in the history of the Jewish people the Torah states, "And G-d spoke all these words, saying." Our commentators ask a logical question: What is the meaning of the seemingly superfluous word "saying"?

Throughout the Torah, wherever the word "saying" appears, the intent is for those words to be transmitted and repeated to those Jews who were not present at the time when G-d uttered them.

However, at the giving of the Torah, every single Jew was present. Everyone was there at Mount Sinai, everyone heard the Ten Commandments - even the souls of Jews yet to be born in future generations were present. Why then, in this instance, does the Torah employ the word "saying"?

The Maggid of Mezeritch, Rabbi Dov Ber, successor of the Baal Shem Tov, answered this question as follows:

"Vayedabeir - And G-d spoke" alludes to the Ten Commandments.

"Leimor - saying" alludes to the Ten Utterances by which G-d created the world.

The intent of the verse "And G-d spoke all these words, saying" is that the Torah was given for the purpose of drawing down the Ten Commandments into the Ten Utterances of the physical world, i.e., that the light of Torah would illuminate the world to such an extent that it is perceived on the physical plane of existence.

This job was given to the Jewish people when G-d gave them His Torah. Our task as Jews is to cause the light of Torah ("And G-d spoke") to illuminate the world ("saying"). We must never think that the Torah and the world are two separate entities. It isn't enough to conduct ourselves according to Torah when studying and praying. Rather, the light of Torah must be brought down to even our most mundane affairs. Everything a Jew does, no matter how worldly, must be carried out in accordance with the Torah's dictates and performed in a spirit of holiness.

This, then, is the core of the giving of the Torah: bringing the light of Torah, the Ten Commandments - "And G-d spoke" - not only into the realm of Torah, but also into the realm of physical existence, into the world that was created by the Ten Utterances - "saying."

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1

A Slice of Life

A Time to Reflect

The following two stories came into our mailbox just in time for this special issue marking the 22nd yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is surely Divine providence that we received these stories now, as both the Mitzva Tank and the L'Chaim publication are projects that were established in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.
by Larry L.

The first time I saw a Mitzva Tank was in 2007 on Park Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan. As I hurriedly walked along the sidewalk, a young Chasid asked me if I was Jewish. An extremely detached and secular inclination within me impelled me to respond with an emphatic "no," after which I kept walking on.

It was nearly a year later when I was again "accosted" by one of these upstart Chasidim. However, this time, as I walked along Park Avenue, I was in mid-freefall toward the depths of despair. This time there was no hesitation. "Yes. Yes, I am Jewish."

I was escorted across the street to a custom-made RV, also known as a "Mitzva Tank," where I was greeted warmly by two Lubavitcher Chasidim and a young boy. One of the Chasidim wrapped tefilin around my arm and my head and assisted me with the recitation of the Shema prayer.

It was not long afterward that I was introduced to the person who was to become my rabbi. He turned me on to Judaism and Chasidic teachings. I can honestly say that since the moment when I first stepped foot in the Mitzva Tank, my life has improved steadily, although in a measured pace, as I have learned more about Jewish teachings and observance.

The second blessing in the Amidah prayer which I now recite three times daily, praises G-d as the One "worthy to restore the dead." My interpretation of this reference is the "spiritually dead." I was one of these. I have since been restored to spiritual life, thank G-d! I have begun to observe Shabbat and mitzvot (commandments). My otherwise busy days are interspersed with prayer, Torah study, and the performance of mitzvot. Shabbat is my Island in Time and I consider it a treasure.

My life has purpose and meaning and everyday is spent involved in acts that remind me of G-d's warmth and graciousness.

Miracles do occur and they are the work of our Creator. Clearly, the Mitzva Tank is an important instrument for G-d's sublime intents. I thank you all and wish you continued fortification in your pursuits.

by Rabbi Zushe Silberstein

As an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Montreal, I regularly visit a number of jails in the Montreal area. Each Friday, before Shabbat, I visit the inmates in the Bordeaux Jail. This past Friday, one of the inmates was especially glad to see me. He asked me to make sure to have a few moments so that I could speak with him privately. Near the end of my visit, he pulled me aside and excitedly told me the following:

"Rabbi Silberstein, when you were here last Friday, I had wanted to spend a few minutes privately with you, because there were a number of things that I had wanted to discuss with you.

"You came and spoke with all of us Jewish inmates together, as a group. As usual, you gave each one of us a copy of the L'Chaim publication. Before we knew it, the time was up and we were all escorted back to our cells. I was really disappointed that I hadn't had a chance to speak with you privately.

"When I got back to my cell, I took out the L'Chaim and began to read it. Rabbi, all three of my questions that I had wanted to ask you were answered in that issue of L'Chaim! One question was to ask you what advice you could give me in my relationship with my girlfriend, and the front page article was all about the importance of honor, esteem and respect in relationships! The other two questions were similarly answered in that same issue!"

I must tell you that for some of the prisoners whom I visit, the L'Chaim has literally changed their lives. It is their one bit of Jewish teachings, their one link to Judaism, each week.

One fellow had, unfortunately, been in prison for quite a while. Each week, he would save the L'Chaim I gave him until he had quite an impressive collection! Recently he was released and is now living in our rehab center, Maison Bellfield. One of his most proud possessions that he took with him out of jail is his collection of L'Chaims.

What's New

New Emissaries

This year, 47 couples became emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Israel. Today, in every major town and city there are Chabad Houses, with many emissaries in smaller communities, as well. Rabbi Yisrael and Chanchy Kugel moved recently to the West Side of Manhattan where they will be especially involved in creating programming for Jews who had little or no involvement in Jewish activities until now. Rabbi Tzali and Chana Mala Borenstein will soon be arriving in the North East of Toronto, Ontario, specifically the Durham Region, where they will establish a new Chabad House serving the Jewish community in the cities of Pickering, Ajax Whitby and Oshawa.

The Rebbe Writes

2 Tammuz, 5730 [1970]

After the long interval, I was pleased to receive your letter of last week, with the enclosures.

For various reasons, I am replying in English, one of them being that you may wish to show the letter to some of the friends of Chabad in your community, for whom Hebrew text may not be so easy.

Referring to the main topic of your letter, namely the dissemination of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] among the Jewish women, I can hardly overemphasize that this activity is one of the most basic and vital efforts for the general strengthening and spreading of Yiddishkeit. The role of Jewish women in Jewish life goes back to the time of Matan Torah [the giving of the Torah], as is well known from the commentary of our Sages on the verse, "Thus shalt thou say to the House of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel - the 'House of Jacob' meaning the women." (Mechilta on Yisro 19:3 quoted Rashi on this verse.)

In other words, before giving the Torah to the whole people of Israel, G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] to first approach the women, and then the men. This emphasizes the primary role of the Jewish wife and mother in preserving the Torah. Ever since, and throughout the ages, Jewish women have had a crucial role in the destiny of our people, as is well-known. Moreover, the Jewish housewife is called the Akeres Habayis - "the foundation of the house." In addition to the plain meaning of this term, namely, that she is the foundation of her own home, the term may be extended to include the whole "House of Israel," which is made up of many individual homes and families, for, indeed, this has been the historic role of Jewish womanhood.

Being acutely aware of this role of Jewish women in Jewish life, especially in the most recent generations, my father-in-law of saintly memory, frequently emphasized this, so much so that immediately after his liberation from Soviet Russia in 1927, when it became possible for him to publish his teachings, he published a number of discourses, talks and addresses in Yiddish, in order to make them more easily accessible to Jewish women and daughters. There is no need to elaborate further on the obvious. In the light of the above, and since this has been the consistent policy of all Chabad activities, it is hardly likely that any Chabad worker would not be interested in this area, and there can only be a misunderstanding if this is the impression in the particular case. I am confident that by discussing the matter together, it will soon be discovered that there has been a misunderstanding, and the reasons that have given rise to such a misunderstanding could be cleared up and easily removed.

Needless to say, you may show this letter to whom it may concern. I may add, however, that judging by your writing, that person seems to have a heavy burden of activity on his shoulders, and this may be the explanation why little has been done in the area of disseminating Yiddishkeit among the women as you write, simply for lack of manpower and time, etc. At any rate, I trust that you will get together and clear this matter up, in accordance with the verse - Az Nidbiru Yirei Hashem ["So shall those who fear G-d speak"], etc....

I was pleased to read in your letter about the advancement in your position, and may G-d grant that you continue to advance from good to better and best, since there is no limit to the good. In our days there is the additional important consideration, and that is when a Jew, a Shomer Torah and mitzvoth [one who observes the Torah and its commandments], attains prominence in his field, regardless what his field may be, this gives him an additional opportunity and capacity to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit, all the more so a person who is already active in the dissemination of traditional Yiddishkeit of the Torah and mitzvoth.

May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above, and together with your wife, to bring up your children to a life of Torah, Chuppah [marriage] and Good Deeds, in good health and happy circumstances.

With blessing,

P.S. Acting on your request, this letter is being sent to you on a priority basis.

A Call to Action

Do Positive Deeds

On the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson in 1990, the Rebbe encouraged the following: "The yahrzeit should, as is Jewish custom, be connected with deeds undertaken in memory of the departed. The Hebrew expression for this intent, l'ilui nishmat, means 'for the ascent of the soul.' Our deeds help elevate the soul of the departed. Then, the higher levels that the soul reaches, are drawn down and influence this world....Also, it is proper that gifts be given to charity in multiples of 470, the numerical equivalent of the Rebbetzin's name.

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

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and daughter of the Previous Rebbe. Extremely modest, queenly in bearing, sensitive, compassionate and intelligent, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was the embodiment of Jewish womanhood.

After the Rebbetzin's passing in 1988, the Rebbe began to speak about "a new era" having commenced. Although the Rebbe had always stressed our generation's unique role in preparing the world for Moshiach, at that point the Rebbe declared that the only thing left in our Divine service is to actually greet Moshiach himself.

As the Rebbe further explained, this "new period" we are now in is especially significant for Jewish women and girls, whose task is not only to establish a "dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms" (as is every Jewish person's), but to ensure that it is a "beautiful" dwelling. When a "beautiful dwelling" is established, G-d "puts Himself" into the dwelling in an entirely different manner, not just "dwelling there" but uniting with it, as it were. G-d's dwelling place in the lower worlds becomes not only nullified to the "Owner," but one with Him.

This is reflected in the special mitzvot of Jewish women and girls, with their emphasis on light (Shabbat and Yom Tov candles), purity and holiness (kashrut and the laws of family purity), and warmth (providing children with a Torah-true Jewish education, the main objective of which is to instill enthusiasm for Judaism). In other words, Jewish women and girls are the ultimate "interior decorators" in establishing a "beautiful dwelling."

In these last few moments of exile, it is therefore crucial that all Jewish women and girls be aware of their tremendous role in hastening the Final Redemption, which will come "as reward for the righteous women of the generation."

Thoughts that Count

Because the L-rd descended on it in fire (Ex. 19:18)

The giving of the Torah at Sinai is closely associated with fire, to teach us that a Jew should always worship G-d with a fiery enthusiasm, eagerness and warmth - the ability for which was conferred at Mount Sinai.

(Sefer HaMaamarim, 5701)

And Mount Sinai was altogether smoke (ashan) (Ex. 19:18)

The three letters of the word ashan, ayin-shin-nun, stand for olam (world - the dimension of place); shana (year - the dimension of time); and nefesh (soul - the energy that animates the physical plane). The revelation at Sinai signified that from that point on we were given the ability to refine and elevate these two dimensions (through Torah and mitzvot - commandments), and infuse them with a G-dly light and vitality.

(Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism)

Honor your father and your mother (Ex. 20:12)

A basic principle in Judaism is that a person should always acknowledge and appreciate the good that is done for him. When a person considers that his father and mother are the reason he exists, having brought him into the world and taken care of him as a child, he will realize that it is only right that he repay their efforts to the best of his ability. This will, in turn, lead him to a greater appreciation of G-d, the Father of us all going back to Adam.

(Sefer HaChinuch)

It states in Psalms (128:6), "And may you see children born to your children; peace upon Israel." The way of the world is that children always complain that their parents aren't providing them with enough. It isn't until they grow up, have children of their own, and hear the very same complaints that they begin to understand their parents, and there is "peace on Israel."

(Alei Zayit)

It Once Happened

Years ago in the city of Minsk there lived a man named Shmuel Nachum. Although his main occupation was studying Torah, his mind was so acute in business matters that he became an arbiter and legal advisor in all sorts of business disputes. In fact, this is how he made a comfortable living.

Shmuel Nachum and his wife had one surviving daughter, named Devorah, on whom they doted. Devorah was an unusually bright child and her father assumed total responsibility for her education. By the age of eight she was studying the Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) and the Prophets. Her progress continued and by age ten she knew the whole Bible and began learning Mishna and the Code of Jewish Law. In addition she learned mathematics, Polish, and was able to read and write. By the age of fifteen she was studying Talmud with the commentaries of Rashi.

At 18, Devorah married a fine young man and was a happy new bride. Her husband succeeded in business and she shortly gave birth to two girls and one boy. Suddenly, tragedy struck her in a series of terrible blows. Her two little girls died in an epidemic and within the same year her husband also died. Broken-hearted, the young widow returned to her parents' home with her little son. But three years later, her son also, was taken from her.

What did Devorah have left to live for? All day she tried to hide her grief from her parents, but from time to time she would closet herself in her room and weep for hours. After some time she realized that she must take charge of her shattered life, and she threw herself into her studies more than ever. She also began to involve herself in the social welfare of the local women.

Together with two of her childhood friends, Devorah established study-circles among the young women of Minsk who had not been as fortunate as she in learning Torah. Indeed, her learning groups became popular and spread throughout the city, making her a sought-after lecturer. Devorah found great solace in her work for, in helping others, she at the same time stilled the dull pain in her aching heart.

One day her father was approached by a certain man named Tzadok Moshe with a suggestion for a match between Devorah and his rebbe, a notable Torah scholar from Vitebsk named Nachum. Devorah expressed an interest in meeting the man, and it was arranged that he should travel to Minsk to meet this extraordinary woman. Within a short time they became engaged and thus began a new episode in the life of this unusual woman.

Having been used to the high level of Torah scholarship amongst the women of Minsk, Devorah was appalled at the ignorance of the women in Vitebsk, and she set about remedying it. Again she arranged study-circles as she had in Minsk. In addition, she established institutions for the sick and needy. She was very happy in her new life, filling her time with study, social service and managing her husband's business.

Nachum was not merely astonished to find that his wife was such a capable manager of his business affairs, but her extensive Torah knowledge astounded him! He began to realize more and more what a treasure he had in such a wife, and his respect and admiration for her increased enormously. He began to realize what a change her coming had made, not only in his own home which had become a veritable "Open House and Council of Wise Men," but in Vitebsk at large, where her influence was felt and appreciated in every sphere of social and educational activity! What he did not know was that Devorah found time every day to study Talmud and that she was studying it in its entirety for the second time!

Devorah was not satisfied to concentrate on the women alone; her ambition was to see Vitebsk as a whole become a center of Jewish learning. To that end she devised a plan in which a number of promising students from the small Vitebsk yeshiva would be supported to learn in one of the great yeshivas in another town where they would prepare themselves to serve their home town upon their return. In the interim, she convinced her husband to import and maintain at his own expense, a group of teachers and their families to come and educate the people of Vitebsk. This plan took time to implement, but within a year ten teachers were installed in Vitebsk and the sweet sound of Torah could be heard throughout the whole town.

Devorah had made her home in Vitebsk for ten years and her dream of making it a Torah center was slowly becoming a reality due to her efforts, foresight, and rare abilities.

Adapted from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs.

Moshiach Matters

Redemption is intrinsically related to women. Kabala explains that the Sefira (Attribute) of Malchut ("sovereignty") reflects the feminine dimension. During exile, Malchut is in a state of descent and does not receive direct influence from the other Attributes. Conversely, in the Era of the Redemption, "a woman of valor [will be] the crown of her husband" (Proverbs 12:4). The higher source of Malchut will be revealed, the direct bond between Malchut and the other Attributes will be reestablished, and Malchut will become a source of vital influence, renewing the totality of existence.

(Shulamit Tilles, The Jewish Feminine Dimension)

  1106: Beshalach1108: Mishpatim  
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