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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Even seemingly insignificant "coincidences" contain profound lessons. The Baal Shem Tov also said that everything one encounters is a lesson in Divine Service.
And so it is with L'Chaim, which is publishing its 1200th issue - may it increase and grow. But the timing of that issue! It occurs in the week leading up to Chanuka - and what could be more appropriate?
Why, you may ask? What is the connection between Chanuka and the 1200? And even if we discover a meaningful connection, what does that have to do with L'Chaim?
Let us begin with Chanuka: The story is well known, but perhaps the meaning of the word is not. "Chanuka," from the Hebrew word "chinuch" (dedication) refers to the dedication of the Temple. And "chinuch" also means education. Indeed, in a sense the story of Chanuka is a story about Jewish education - the willingness of the Maccabees and the Jewish people to fight against assimilation, to insist that holiness be part of the curriculum, that understanding the meaning of and how to observe Shabbat and the kosher dietary laws were as important to a person's character - more - than being able to solve quadratic equations.
Chanuka is a children's holiday not because of the dreidels, but because of the Torah - the dedication to educate children. And when it comes to Torah study, whatever our age, we are all children.
But there's another connection between Chanuka and chinuch - between dedication and education. In order to educate, or be educated, we must dedicate ourselves. The time devoted must be completely devoted; the Torah must be given our undivided attention.
Our Sages say that even a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening is sufficient to fulfill the command to study Torah daily. Of course, if we have more time and energy, we should increase our learning - going from strength to strength.
But for many, dedicated time is hard to find - work, family, community responsibilities, etc. And then there's the concentration time.
Studies have shown that the average person can maintain full concentration for 20 minutes. After that, the mind needs a short break - perhaps no more than a glance out the window and then back to the text (task) for another 20 minutes.
Time is precious. Every second is precious. and 20 minutes equals - 1200 seconds!
So here is the first connection: for 20 minutes a day - for 1200 seconds - we should dedicate ourselves to educate ourselves: 1200 seconds of Torah a day.
But where does L'Chaim come in? First, L'Chaim is a "mini-Torah" course. It's a sample of Chasidic teachings, the weekly Torah reading, Midrash, Jewish Law, and inspiration. Second, "L'Chaim," as is well known, means "to life" - and Torah is the source of life. So L'Chaim, by providing a few moments of insight, introspection and inspiration, connects to Torah.
And finally, it takes about 20 minutes to read L'Chaim - 1200 seconds. And there's the connection: dedicate - Chanuka - educate - Torah - 1200 seconds - 1200 issues - L'chaim!
This week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, recounts the birth of Peretz and Zerach, the twin offspring of Judah and Tamar. The Torah relates that when Zerach "put out his hand first," the midwife tied a red thread around it as a sign, saying, "This one came out first." But Zerach drew back his hand; Peretz "broke forth" and was the first to be born.
The Torah's stories are not merely historical accounts of our progenitors. Rather, by virtue of their inclusion, they allude to events occurring later in Jewish history and reveal teachings pertinent to us in every day and age.
Our Sages teach that, by right, Zerach should have been the firstborn of the two brothers. His birthright was forfeited, however, because of a grave sin one of his descendants would commit generations later, during the time of Joshua. The sin was so great, affecting all Jews, that the twins' birth order was switched, and Peretz was born first.
The twins' names hint to an even deeper significance. The name "Zerach" comes from the Hebrew for "shining forth," like the light of the sun which illuminates the entire world. "Peretz," literally "breaking forth," was the progenitor of King David, from whom Moshiach will descend. On a more profound level, "Zerach" and "Peretz" stand for the two types of service of G-d - the service of tzadikim (righteous), and the service of baalei teshuva (penitents).
Each type of service has an advantage not present in the other. The tzadik's worship of G-d - "Zerach" - is steady and dependable. Each day, the tzadik methodically ascends the spiritual ladder, attaining higher levels of holiness. The service of "Zerach," however, is that of those whose yearning toward G-d occurs only after an initial distancing. At such times, the baal teshuva's thirst for holiness is even greater than the tzadik's, and his service is even more impassioned. The service of the baal teshuva contains the power to "break forth" and overcome the harshest of limitations. "In the place where baalei teshuva stand, even perfect tzadikim cannot."
G-d desires every Jew to serve Him in righteousness; accordingly, Zerach's hand was extended first. But because the world was created in such a way as to accommodate sin, it was necessary for Peretz to be born first, indicating the value of the service of the baal teshuva.
Furthermore, the Final Redemption is dependent on the service of the baal teshuva, which is why Moshiach is a descendent of Peretz. The long Exile served to expiate the sins which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple, thus placing the Jews in the category of baalei teshuva. Indeed, Maimonides states that when the Jewish nation sincerely returns to G-d, "immediately they will be redeemed."
Adapted from Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 30.
My name is Aron Adler and I'm writing from the Israel/Gaza/Egyptian border. I am 25 years old, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Efrat, Israel. Though very busy, I don't view my life as unusual. Most of the time, I am just another Israeli citizen. During the day I work as a paramedic in Magen David Adom, Israel's national EMS service. At night, I'm in my first year of law school. I got married in October and am starting a new chapter of life together with my wonderful wife Shulamit.
Two to three weeks out of every year, I'm called up to the Israeli army for reserve duty. I serve as a paramedic in an IDF paratrooper unit. My squad is made up of others like me. The oldest in my squad is 58, a father of four girls and grandfather of two; there are two bankers, one engineer, a holistic healer, and our 24-year-old commander. Most of the year we are just normal people living our lives, but for 15-20 days each year we are soldiers on the front lines preparing for a war that we hope we never have to fight.
This year, our reserve unit was stationed on the border between Israel, Egypt and Gaza in an area called "Kerem Shalom." Above and beyond the "typical" things for which we train - war, terrorism, border infiltration, etc., - this year we were confronted by a new challenge. Several years ago, a trend started of African refugees crossing the Egyptian border from Sinai into Israel to seek asylum from the atrocities in Darfur.
What started out as a small number of men, women and children fleeing from the machetes of the Janjaweed and violent fundamentalists to seek a better life elsewhere, turned into an organized industry of human trafficking. In return for huge sums of money, sometimes entire life savings paid to Bedouin "guides," these refugees are promised to be transported from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African countries through Egypt and the Sinai desert, into the safe haven of Israel.
We increasingly hear horror stories of the atrocities these refugees suffer on their way to freedom. They are victims of extortion, rape, murder, and even organ theft, their bodies left to rot in the desert. Then, if lucky, after surviving this gruesome experience whose prize is freedom, when only a barbed wire fence separates them from Israel and their goal, they must go through the final death run and try to evade the bullets of the Egyptian soldiers stationed along the border. Egypt's soldiers are ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to cross the border OUT of Egypt and into Israel. It's an almost nightly event
For those who finally get across the border, the first people they encounter are Israeli soldiers, people like me who are tasked with a primary mission of defending the lives of the Israeli people. On one side of the border soldiers shoot to kill. On the other side, they know they will be treated with more respect than in any of the countries they crossed to get to this point.
The region where it all happens is highly sensitive and risky from a security point of view, an area stricken with terror at every turn. It's just a few miles south of the place where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. And yet the Israeli soldiers who are confronted with these refugees do it not with rifles aimed at them, but with a helping hand and an open heart. The refugees are taken to a nearby IDF base, given clean clothes, a hot drink, food and medical attention. They are finally safe.
Even though I live in Israel and am aware through media reports of the events that take place on the Egyptian border, I never understood the intensity and complexity of the scenario until I experienced it myself.
In the course of the past few nights, I have witnessed much. At 9:00 p.m. last night, the first reports came in of gunfire heard from the Egyptian border. Minutes later, IDF scouts spotted small groups of people trying to get across the fence. In the period of about one hour, we picked up 13 men - cold, barefoot, dehydrated - some wearing nothing except underpants. Their bodies were covered with lacerations and other wounds. We gathered them in a room, gave them blankets, tea and treated their wounds. I don't speak a word of their language, but the look on their faces said it all and reminded me once again why I am so proud to be a Jew and an Israeli. Sadly, it was later determined that the gunshots we heard were deadly, killing three others fleeing for their lives.
The refugees flooding into Israel are a heavy burden on our small country. More than 100,000 refugees have fled this way, and hundreds more cross the border each month. The economic, social, and humanitarian issues created by the refugees are immense. There are serious security consequences for Israel as well. The influx of African refugees poses a crisis for Israel. Israel has yet to come up with the solutions required to deal with this crisis effectively, balancing its sensitive social, economic, and security issues, at the same time striving to care for the refugees.
I don't have the answers to these complex problems which desperately need to be resolved. I'm not writing with the intention of taking a political position or a tactical stand on the issue.
I am writing to tell you and the entire world what's really happening down here on the Egyptian/Israeli border. And to tell you that despite all the serious problems created by this national crisis, these refugees have no reason to fear us. Because they know, as the entire world needs to know, that Israel has not shut its eyes to their suffering and pain. Israel has not looked the other way. The State of Israel has put politics aside to take the ethical and humane path as it has so often done before, in every instance of human suffering and natural disasters around the globe. We Jews know only too well about suffering and pain. The Jewish people have been there. We have been the refugees and the persecuted so many times, over thousands of years, all over the world.
Today, African refugees flood our borders in search of freedom, better lives, and some for fear of their lives. It is particularly noteworthy how Israel deals with them, despite the enormous strain it puts on our country on so many levels Our young, thriving Jewish country, built from the ashes of the Holocaust, and the Jewish people do not turn their backs on humanity. Though I already knew that, this week I again experienced it firsthand. I am overwhelmed with emotion and immensely proud to be a member of this nation.
See You There!
Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th St. in NYC. Tuesday, Dec. 20 - Thursday, Dec. 22, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, the menora will be lit at 3:40 p.m. Saturday night, Dec. 24, menora lighting will be at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 25 - Wednesday, Dec. 27, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. On Sunday there will be live music, free hot latkes and chocolate Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 778-6000. For public menora lightings in your area visit chabad.org
Free Translation of a letter to the Executive Director of the Chabad House, S. Paulo, Brazil
10 Shevat 5743  Hilulo [anniversary of the passing] of my saintly father-in-law,
I was pleased to be informed that you are planning shortly to publish the one hundredth issue of your periodical, after you have been privileged and successful, thank G-d, in publishing it without interruption for about a hundred months.
First of all, this fact itself is good news, for it demonstrates the periodical's beneficial influence on its readership. We have been assured that "words coming from the heart enter the heart" and have their intended effect, especially when accompanied by the actual deeds and living example of the Chabad House activities.
May there be fulfilled in you the saying of our Sages, of blessed memory which is especially appropriate for this occasion: "He who has one hundred zuz, wants two hundred..." and may He do the will of those in awe of Him - may G-d fulfill the desires of your heart for good to reach the above number.
Of course, it is utterly certain that our righteous Moshiach will come long, long before then. However, even in the era of Moshiach, the mitzvah (commandment) "Love your fellow as yourself," the "great principle of the Torah," will continue to apply with full force, including beneficial influence on every man and woman who can be reached, in the most total manner in all their affairs, by living their daily lives in accordance with our Torah, which is "the Torah of life."
As often mentioned, the service of G-d and preparation most appropriate for speeding the arrival of Moshiach and the true and total Geula [Redemption], are through deeds similar in some way to the way of life which will be then, which is "to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty."
In simple terms, this means spreading Yiddishkeit [Judaism], studying Torah and observing its mitzvot in a manner of constantly increasing illumination, based on the rule that "action is most essential" - observing mitzvot in actual deed.
Although this is a laborious task, yet it is also a beloved task, and its success is guaranteed when it has a lasting effect on others, including influencing the readers that they too try to become lamps that illuminate, casting light upon every man and woman in their location and environment with "the lamp of mitzvoth and the Torah of light."
Chanukah, 5715 
...In this connection, and apropos of Chanukah, it would be timely to reflect on the significance of the Chanukah Lights. Although all Mitzvoth issue from One G-d, the perfect Unity, there are many aspects to every Mitzvah, just as the complexity of our physical world is likewise created from His Mitzvah. Nevertheless, the performance of the Mitzvah, accompanied by an appreciation of its significance, is definitely beneficial.
With this in mind, I wish to point out what I consider very significant in connection with the significance of Chanukah, as it is emphasized by the Chanukah Lights, specifically by the two conditions attending the performance of this Mitzvah: (a) The light is to shine forth "outside" and (b) the light is to grow every night by the addition of one more candle each night of Chanukah. Thus, the message of Chanukah is to bring home to every Jew his duty to spread the "light" of the Torah and the "candles" of the Mitzvoth, especially in times of darkness, and to do so with ever growing effort.
A man's influence is generally limited, either to his immediate environment, his family and friends, or if he is a teacher or lecturer, to a wider circle. The journalist, however, whose words and thoughts enjoy wide currency through the printed word, enjoys a much greater influence; he is less limited in space, since the printed word travels far, and in time, since it endures on record.
Thus you are privileged to have far greater opportunities in exercising influence than the average person, to help illuminate the darkness of the night with, I trust, ever growing effect. These are not mere opportunities, for as everything in Nature strives to transform itself form a state of potentiality to actuality, so all human potentialities must be actualized for the general good, the true good. The way of Providence is inscrutable. Although logically, as the Chanukah candles indicate, one should begin by lighting up his home first, and then seeing to it that its light dispels the darkness outside as far as possible, the process is sometimes reversed; bringing light to others far away, brings success in carrying the light closer home.
I send you my prayerful wishes for success in your personal affairs, which is closely associated with your public work and your influence, all the more so, since in addition to being a son of the "kingdom of priest and a holy nation," you are actually a kohen among Jews.
MESHULAM means "complete, whole." Meshulam (Nehemiah 8:4) returned with Ezra and Nechemya to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. According to the Midrash, Meshulam was another name for Zecharya, whose deeds were "whole." Another Meshulam was a sixth century b.c.e. scribe (II Kings 22:3) during the time of King Josiah.
MILKA means "queen." Milka (Gen. 11:29) was the wife of Nachor (Abraham's brother) and grandmother of Rebecca. Another Milka was one of the five righteous daughters of Tzelafchad (Num. 26:33).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The very first issue of L'Chaim, nearly 24 years ago, rolled off the press in time to mark the end of the shloshim (30 days after the passing) of our beloved Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka of righteous memory. L'Chaim was established upon the Rebbe's request that institutions be founded in the Rebbetzin's name. L'Chaim is an acronym "Lzecher Chaya Mushka."
Since then, L'Chaim has grown from a modest weekly newsletter read by a few thousand New Yorkers to a unique international Jewish educational publication that has filled a much needed void. But, more importantly, L'Chaim is a unifying factor amongst Jews, for it is read and appreciated by Jews from all walks of life, at all levels of Jewish education and commitment, throughout the US and around the world.
L'Chaim's subscribers hail from nearly every state in the United States. Our international subscribers hail from France, Italy, South Africa, Holland, Israel, England, Peru, Brazil, Hungary, and Australia. Enjoying the electronic version of L'Chaim via the internet are readers in countries as diverse as: Jordon, China, Bosnia, Congo, Poland, Russia, Japan, Czech, Sweden, Germany, Scotland... the list goes on.
We've all heard the saying that nothing of value comes easily. As the publisher of this imminent publication it gives me great pleasure to thank the able staff of L'Chaim for their devotion, dedication and hard work. In 1,200 issues they've never missed a deadline!
Recognition goes, as well, to the Lubavitcher students in NY, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, Toronto, London, Manchester, Paris, Johannesburg and Sydney, who spend their "free time" on Friday afternoons visiting people in their work places, encouraging them to put on Tefilin or light Shabbat candles, and leaving them with the much enjoyed and appreciated L'Chaim.
Additional thank yous go to all of the subscribers to Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace who work so hard to print out the electronic version and get it distributed in their respective communities. To all of you a big Yasher Koach.
It is my most fervent wish, and surely that of the entire L'Chaim staff and readership, that even before we reach the 24 year anniversary of L'Chaim, all Jews will be reunited with each other and Moshiach in the final Redemption.
Go now and see if it is well with your brothers (Gen. 37:14)
When Jacob sent Joseph to look for his brothers, he enjoined him to see only that which was "well" - the goodness and positive qualities they had. In such a way would the brothers maintain their unity.
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa)
There has been no harlot here (Gen. 38:21)
No element of impropriety surrounded the birth of Peretz and Zerach; the entire incident was all part of the Divine plan that would lead to the birth of Moshiach, who will be a descendant of Judah. The reason for the circuitous and concealed manner in which this came about was solely to divert the attention of the Satan.
(Rabbi Meir of Premishlan)
How then can I do this great evil and sin against G-d? (Gen. 39:9)
As Rashi explains, gentiles as well as Jews were forbidden by G-d to commit licentious acts. Being that the prohibition thus applied to Potiphar's wife as well as to Joseph, would it not have been more correct for Joseph to say "we" instead of "I"? In truth, however, Joseph was referring to himself. His piety was such that he refused to speak directly to her; even one word alluding to something they shared in common was abhorrent.
The good news spread throughout town. Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl would be visiting to celebrate the first days of Chanuka! In addition to the usual excitement that a Chasid feels upon being in his Rebbe's presence, there were others things to be excited about, as well.
The Rebbe would honor one of his Chasidim with hosting him for the evening tea. At this "tea party," which all of the chasidim would attend, the Rebbe share words of Torah that would delight the souls of his followers.
In addition, the Rebbe would bless the host at the end of the evening with material and spiritual bounty. Lastly, everyone knew that the 18 rubles that the Rebbe "charged" for the honor of hosting him would be given to charity. Thus, the host would give charity through the Rebbe's own holy hand.
Itche the Miser went with all of the other Chasidim to greet the Rebbe when he arrived in town. Itche's father had been a prominent businessman. Like his father, Itche was also a Chasid. Unlike his father, Itche's main focus in life was his business, his luxurious home and all of its exquisite furnishings. Also unlike his father, Itche found it hard to part with even a copper for charity. So, one can only imagine how Itche felt when the Rebbe arrived and suggested, "Itche, would you like to host me for tea?"
Of course, Itche said, "It would be my honor Rebbe." Inwardly, though, Itche panicked. Tea with the Rebbe and all of his Chasidim! They would destroy his home! Then an idea came to him; he would stand at his front door and allow only the Rebbe in. A marvelous plan! Itche was relieved. It would cost him 18 gold rubles but at least his expensive carpets and antiques would remain intact. Itche was sure his idea would work until the Rebbe said, "Itche, could you please personally transport me to your home?"
Now Itche's mind worked feverishly. If he drove the Rebbe in his carriage and they travelled quickly to Itche's home, they would arrive long before the Chasidim who were walking and he would still have time to bolt the front door so that no one else could enter. Ahhh, Itche sighed in relief.
Finally it was the first night of Chanuka. Itche lit the Chanuka menora with his family. He sat by the Chanuka lights for a little while. He took one last look at his beautiful home and then went to pick up the Rebbe. When Itche arrived, the Rebbe lit the Menora and recited the blessings after which the Chasidim all answered "Amen." Then they began to sing nigunim, wordless soul melodies, as the Rebbe meditated on the light of the small flame. An air of tranquility permeated the room, except in Itche's corner.
Finally, the Rebbe motioned to Itche that they would go now. Itche pressed his coachman to drive as quickly as possible, certain that with G-d's help he could put a fair distance between his carriage and the Chasidim.
But, halfway through the journey, the Rebbe ordered the carriage to stop. He turned to Itche and said, "I didn't realize your house is so far. Such a long journey was not included in my original price. If you want me to come any further you must pay me another 18 gold rubles." With the Chasidim nearly catching up, Itche had no choice but to agree. Eighteen gold rubles was still less than it would cost to replace his precious carpets and furniture!
Within a few moments, they arrived at Itche's home. The Rebbe stared intently at the 15 steps that led up to the door. "I had no idea you had so many steps, dear Itche. That was not included in my original price. If you want me to go inside your home, you must pay me 18 gold rubles for each step!"
Itche nearly fainted. Before he had a chance to respond, the Chasidim - who had caught up - accompanied the Rebbe up the stairs and inside.
The scene that unfolded before Itche's eyes was just as he had imagined. He was not able to concentrate on even one holy word that the Rebbe taught about Chanuka. The evening finally came to an end and Itche breathed a sigh of relief. As the Rebbe was about to leave, Itche suddenly remembered to ask the Rebbe to bless his family. Surely this would make up for everything.
Quickly Itche gathered together his children and grandchildren and requested, "Rebbe, please bless my family."
"Bless your family?" the Rebbe looked at Itche in surprise. "I have no blessing for them," he said, and sadly turned away.
Itche felt as if the earth had opened beneath his feet. "Rebbe," Itche cried out, in a voice filled with desperation. The Rebbe looked at Itche long and hard. "In order for me to bless your family, you will have to sign over your entire fortune to me," the Rebbe said seriously.
How could he sign over everything to the Rebbe? He would be penniless! Moments of eternity passed. But then, he looked into the Rebbe's eyes and saw within them compassion. With his last ounce of strength he said, "If that is what I must do, then I will do it." And then he fainted.
In a haze, Itche heard the Rebbe saying, "Mazel tov, Itche!" The Rebbe began to bless Itche and his entire family. "May you and your family know only joy and health and prosperity from now on." For many moments, blessings flowed from the Rebbe, each one greater than the previous one.
"Know, Itche, that you have just fought a great battle with your evil inclination. Until a few moments ago, you did not own your wealth, your evil inclination owned it! When you agreed to give me all of your possessions, I was able to wrest your wealth from your evil inclination. I now return it to you as Chanuka gelt (money). Use it well, dear Itche."
Itche thanked the Rebbe and began to take hundreds of gold ruble notes from his wallet. But the Rebbe declined. "I only accept 18 rubles for tea."
Henceforth, Itche was a changed man. Itche generously shared his "Chanuka gelt" throughout the entire year.
In the spiritual realms, the Holy Temple is already in its place. Soon it will descend to the material world in the ultimate Redemption, led by Moshiach. This will be made possible by the preparations of "the Era of Moshiach," the time period in which we are presently found. "All the appointed times for Moshiach's coming have already passed" and all the service necessary has been completed. All that is necessary to do is open our eyes and we can see that the Redemption is already here.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 21 Kislev, 5752-1991)