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January 20, 2012 - 25 Tevet, 5772

1205: Vaera

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  1204: Shemos1206: Bo  

All Dressed Up  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Who's Who  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

All Dressed Up

Did you ever hear the phrase, "All dressed up with no place to go"? If not, it's not surprising. Most of us don't have that problem. And certainly not when we're standing in front of the closet trying to decide what to wear as we get ready for a night out.

None of the outfits in the wardrobe seem just right, or the tie that you usually wear with that special suit is nowhere to be found, or your favorite suit is at the cleaner.

Finding clothes that fit well, feel good, look great and don't put us in debt is not an easy task. That is, of course, when you're talking about garments made of cotton, rayon, silk, wool, polyester, etc.

But what about those garments known as "garments of the soul"?

Your Divine soul is, to be quite frank, sort of naked. Just as a person has to put on clothing before he goes out and interacts with people and the world around him, the purely spiritual Divine soul must also clothe itself in thought, speech and action before it can interact and relate to this physical world.

When involved in Jewish studies your soul is enclothed in the "garment" of thought. When praying or talking about Jewish subjects you are dressing your soul with the garment of speech. And every time you do a mitzva - eat a kosher hot dog, put a coin in a tzedaka (charity box, help a little old lady across the street - your Divine soul is able to relate to this world because it is enclothed in action.

Let's consider another phrase relating to standard garments which also relates to your Divine soul's garments: "Clothes make the man."

First, it's important to remember that clothes are not the person, but simply "make" the person. The same is true with the garments of thought, speech and action. Your soul is a G-dly spark regardless of whether or not it enclothes itself in garments in order to do mitzvot. However - and this is a big however - take a look around you and think about with whom you'd rather interact. Would you rather do business with the guy whose three-piece suit is immaculate with a tie that matches and whose shoes are polished - someone who obviously takes pride in himself and his appearance - or with the person who looks like a shlump?

Note, please, that we're not advocating a shopping binge, we're not using as an example a person who spends huge sums of money to look good. We're talking here about someone who is caring and conscientious about his appearance.

It's rather obvious that the same can be said about our Divine souls. Do we want them to look "put-together" or shlumpy? Does our souls' appearance and do our souls' garments not deserve to have as much pride and thought put into them as we do into our thread, button and material variety?

One last thought about clothing.

When Moshiach comes, the clothes that we'll wear will - so to speak - be the mitzvot, good deeds and Torah we've studied throughout our lives. Start adding on to your wardrobe of mitzvot today, so you'll have what to wear when we all get together for the Ultimate Night Out of Exile.

Living with the Rebbe

One of the main reasons that the Exodus from Egypt occupies such a central role in Judaism (we mention it daily in our prayers) is that this original exodus symbolizes the daily spiritual exodus which must take place in the life of a Jew. The Hebrew word for Egypt, "Mitzrayim," comes from the root word "meitzar," meaning limitations and obstacles. It is up to every individual to liberate himself from his own internal limitations and boundaries, thus freeing his G-dly soul to express itself and seek spiritual fulfillment.

This week's Torah portion, Vaeira, tells of the very beginning of the events which led up to the Jews' triumphant liberation from bondage. By studying the circumstances of the Egyptian exodus, we see how we can apply these lessons to our own personal and spiritual journey as well.

The first plague to afflict the Egyptians was blood; every drop of water in the land was affected. Therefore, the first step toward spiritual liberation must also somehow be connected with transforming "water" into "blood."

Water symbolizes tranquility, coldness, and lack of emotional excitement. Blood, on the other hand, is a symbol of warmth, enthusiasm and fervor. The Torah asks every Jew: Do you truly want to leave "Egypt," to overcome your self-imposed limitations? The first thing you must do is turn your "water" into "blood." Transform your apathy and inertia into enthusiasm and love of Torah and mitzvot (commandments). Infuse your life with a warmth and fervor directed toward G-d and holiness.

A person may claim, "Is it not enough that I simply perform the mitzvot, learn Torah, and avoid that which is forbidden? Am I not a good Jew even if I don't feel any enthusiasm for what I do?"

Chasidic philosophy explains that coldness and apathy are the source of all evil. When one is cool toward something, it means that he is totally uninterested in it. We see that when something truly close to the heart is mentioned, our pulse quickens and we "warm" to the subject. Coldness signals the mechanical performance of the commandments and leads to eventual spiritual deterioration.

The first action to be taken toward spiritual liberation is to replace our lukewarm dedication to Judaism with warmth and enthusiasm. We should be at least as equally enthused about Judaism as we are about other facets of our lives.

One of the practical ways this expresses itself is when we perform a mitzva in a particularly nice way. The desire to enhance our observance leads to our observing the precepts of Judaism out of love. This, then, is the first step towards going out of our own personal Egypt and ending our collective exile.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

Coming Full Circle
by Hillel Schrier

I became acquainted with Rabbi Sholom Harlig of Inland Empire Chabad in California through unusual circumstances. (See previous L'Chaim issue #1204). Within minutes of meeting him, the rabbi had told me that he and his family were now "my family" on the West Coast!

Within a short period of time, Rabbi Harlig sensed I was ready to intensify my quest for knowledge and love of Judaism and recommended that I attend a summer program at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. Being a father of young sons, a full time public school teacher and principal of our local Hebrew school, I just did not see how I had the time to attend a month-long yeshiva program. However, an unexpected change in my summer schedule, along with the rabbi's persistence, resulted in me attending the Tiferes program during July 2007.

After only one day in the program, I realized that it was going to be the most educational and spiritual experience of my life. I encountered caring and helpful study-partners, rabbis, and a program director (Rabbi Boruch Hecht), who made time to guide me and answer my endless questions.

Climbing the stairs of the dormitory one day led me to cross paths with Eli Winner. Eli was a student in a different program on campus and he was half my age. Our conversation revealed that we both shared Crown Heights, Brooklyn, as a birthplace and fraternal twins in common. (I am the father of fraternal twins and he is a fraternal twin - one of two sets in his immediate family).

During our dinner break, Eli and I conversed and I shared with him my desire to continue to wear a yarmulke upon returning home from my month in yeshiva. In addition, I wanted to start wearing tzitzit. After supper we climbed the stairs to Eli's room, where with much fanfare, he presented me with my first pair of tzitzit. It took 40 years, but I was finally wearing the tzitzit I had longed for as a boy when, on my visits to relatives in Crown Heights, I would see Lubavitcher boys my age wearing them. I have found one can't rush certain things. The summer ended but Eli and I continued to learn and talk on the phone nearly every day over the next year.

Later that year, I told Rabbi Harlig that I planned on attending an art show in Las Vegas over the weekend. He encouraged me to contact his brother Rabbi Mendy Harlig, of Chabad of Green Valley, for a place to spend Shabbat. When he told me that there would be a special guest speaker at the Chabad House, Rabbi Shimon Freundlich from Beijing, China, I nearly fell over. Years earlier, Rabbi Freundlich had helped a widow, enabling her late husband to have a Jewish burial in California. That mitzva had started me on my exploration of Chabad-Lubavitch!

My weekend in Las Vegas now had an even more inspiring purpose. After a Friday night dinner for 60 plus people, Rabbi Freundlich addressed the group and shared some touching stories about the far-reaching and unintended effects that performing a mitzva can have.

As he finished, I stood and asked our esteemed speaker if he remembered helping a non-Jewish Chinese woman obtain a travel visa to the U.S. to attend her husband's funeral in Los Angeles. He did remember, and proceeded to recall some of the details. I then shared the far-reaching effects that his mitzva also had on me and my family. When I was done sharing some of the details of my own journey, which had begun after that funeral, the rabbi stood there for a moment with his mouth open before coming over to hug me and thank me for inspiring and touching his life in an unforgettable way.

I returned to the Tiferes program in Morristown the following summer. My friend Eli Winner was working at a camp in upstate New York, but he had arranged for me to spend Shabbat at his parents' home in Crown Heights.

As I approached Eli's house, I froze when I realized that his backyard was adjacent to the backyard of my childhood home on Empire Boulevard. I rang the bell as Eli's mother, Faige Winner, was heading out to run an errand. Faige gave me a quick tour of the house including the smorgasbord of food I could partake of until she returned. Then she left me alone in her home after meeting me for the first time not five minutes earlier. I was in awe of such hospitality and trust. This was not what I was used to growing up on Long Island or where I now live in California.

When Eli's step-father, Rabbi Dovid Hertzel, arrived home, he warmly greeted me, "Welcome Home Hillel, so glad to finally meet you." Soon, we were off to the mikva. (Many men have the custom to purify themselves through immersion in a mikva on the eve of Shabbat or daily before prayer). The mikva that we went to was at, of all places, the Empire Shteibel, the synagogue my Zeyde (grandfather), of blessed memory, attended more than 50 years earlier.

I must admit that there is nothing that can compare to the spiritual bliss that overtook me when Rabbi Hertzel brought me to pray at the Empire Shteibel on Shabbat morning. I was honored to be called up to the Torah for the "kohen" aliya in my Zeyde's shul (synagogue). I could almost feel my Zeyde, who passed a year before I was born, watching over me with a huge smile and glow on his face. As we walked home together, Rabbi Hertzel repeated the words, "Hillel, you have come full circle in the footsteps of your Zeyde, back to your home. Welcome home Hillel."

Rabbi Shimon Freundlich was so right in the words he shared that Friday night, now four years ago; "You just never know how far reaching a mitzvah may be." It's been a long and fulfilling journey, and while it's far from over yet, it feels so good to be Home.

Adapted from an article in the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter

What's New

Moshiach: Day by Day

Moshiach, Day by Day covers a wide range of topics and concepts, from the connection between Moshiach and personal liberty, to the link between Moshiach and the new moon. Every page features a clear, concise thought for the day that walks the reader through every aspect and stage of Moshiach and Redemption in an inspiring yet practical way. Published by the International Moshiach Campaign, a Project of the Kinus Hashluchim and a Division of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letter

19 Tammuz, 5710 (1950)

Greetings and blessings,

In response to what you wrote on 8 Sivan and the Monday of Parshas Behaalos'cha - my reply was delayed because of my manifold involvements and because of the matters associated with Yud-Beis/Yud-Gimmel Tammuz:

In your circles, you have a good opportunity to become effective in fulfilling the mission for which Divine providence has led you to this place.

One should not be discouraged if it appears that only a small number of individuals allow themselves to be influenced and even with these few, the influence is less than one would desire.

With regard to quantity: We have to understand that every individual is an entire world and it is worthwhile for the entire world to devote itself to saving even one individual Jew with regard to material matters and how much more so, in spiritual matters.

In addition, the good influence that the recipient is granted does not remain sequestered in his possession. In a direct or indirect manner, he has a positive effect on the other people in his close or broad circles of influence. To illustrate, just as every organ is a part of the body as a whole, every individual is a part of the community as a whole.

Thus the spiritual improvement of one person strengthens the well-being of the entire community as a matter of course.

With regard to quality: There is no way we can appreciate the greatness of the good accomplished for a person when we help him lift himself up even a little bit higher!

Aside from the immeasurable worth that results from performing even one less sin and doing one more mitzvah, a sin would have led to another sin and one mitzvah (commandment) leads to another mitzvah. Moreover, with each mitzvah, one becomes more fit to properly appreciate a true Torah concept and to have the potential to apply that concept in actual life. In practice, this means having one Jew put on a yarmulke, another, tefillin, a third, tzitzis, a fourth, inspiring him towards love for his fellow man and proper character traits, a fifth, encouraging him to observe taharas hamishpachah (the laws of Jewish marriage), a sixth, to teach his children Torah, and so on.

You certainly meet Jews whom G-d has granted the ability to give generous financial support to the work of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel, which my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, hk"m, founded and entrusted with the broad mission of doing everything necessary to bring all those who have strayed and who are weak in general, and particularly the youth, back to Yiddishkeit (Judaism). By giving Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel the potential to publish and disseminate printed matter in different languages, for example, one becomes a partner in this tremendous, lifesaving work which the donor himself could never perform. It is obvious that this merit makes him more fit for the spiritual influence that he personally needs.

It is difficult in a letter to tally all of the particular areas where you have potential to make yourself more effective. What is most fundamental is, as my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, hk"m, would say: "We have to talk less and do more."

All of the above concerns your work with others. It is, however, with regard to one's work with his own self that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) presents the greatest obstacles. We will leave that topic, however, for another time.

Awaiting good tidings,

Who's Who

Who was the Baal Shem Tov?

The Baal Shem Tov, meaning "the Master of the Good Name," was born Yisrael, son of Eliezer and Sara on Elul 18, 1698. His teachings, emphasizing the worth of every Jew in G-d's eyes, lifted the spirits of the Jews of his time and encouraged them in their Divine growth. He also attracted some of the greatest spiritual giants of his age to his doctrine of Chasidut. Two of his main teachings are: to love every Jew regardless of his status; and everything that happens is a result of Divine Providence. When the Baal Shem Tov ascended to the heavenly chamber of Moshiach, he asked, "When will you come?" Moshiach replied: "When your teachings will be spread out."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Wednesday is the first day of the new month of Shevat. The name itself means a branch or a stick, yet there are many other words in Hebrew that express the same thing: makeil (staff), mateh (rod), eitz (a piece of wood), etc. Sheivet, by contrast, refers to a branch that is soft. It is obvious that our Rabbis chose this name for the month because on the Fifteenth we will celebrate Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees.

The word Shevat is also related to the concept of a royal rod or staff. In the same way that a king is blessed with riches and all of life's pleasures are accessible to him, so too is every Jew considered a prince or princess, deserving of the very best. This is reflected in the delicacy and assortment of fruits we eat on Tu B'Shevat. Also, just as Moses disciplined the Jews with love and compassion rather than severity, we must always temper our authority (our "royal scepter") with kindness and concern.

Another interesting connection exists between the month of Shevat and the mezuza. Every letter in Hebrew has a numerical value. If you add up the letters of the word Shevat (shin-vet-tet) it equals 314, the same as Sha-dai (shin-daled-yud), one of G-d's Names. This Name is found on the outside of the mezuza, our protection from harm. In the month of Shevat, when we are blessed with a great deal of affluence (as demonstrated on Tu B'Shevat), we must ask G-d for special protection to guard us from taking our good fortune for granted. A Jew must always recognize his special mission in life, that G-d has put him here to refine and elevate the world for a higher purpose. When we live up to this responsibility and take up our "royal scepter," we will indeed serve as a "light unto the nations" and have a positive influence on all our surroundings.

Thoughts that Count

I will take you out...and I will release you...and I will redeem you...and I will take you...and I will bring you into the land (Ex. 6:6-8)

The first four expressions of redemption allude to our redemption from Egypt, whereas the fifth expression, "I will bring you," alludes to the future redemption, the final one which we are now awaiting. Why is this mentioned, then, when foretelling our departure from Egypt? To teach us that ever since the time that we left Egypt, we have been slowly but surely approaching the Final Redemption.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (Ex. 6:6)

The Jewish people possess an extra measure of patience, a special capacity for enduring the trials and tribulations of exile. And yet, when the exact time for redemption comes, they find it impossible to continue. This in itself is a sign that the redemption is imminent.

(Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop)

The L-rd ... gave them a charge to the Children of Israel (Ex. 6:13)

Despite the fact that the Jewish people hadn't listened "because of their anguished spirit and the cruel slavery," G-d commanded Moses and Aaron to keep on talking. For the word of G-d always makes an impression and has an effect: if not immediately, then sometime later. Holy words are never wasted, and are always ultimately heard.

(Sefat Emet)

It Once Happened

In the ancient city of Mainz, there lived a young scholar named Rabbi Shimon Hagadol. He became renowned for his beautiful religious poems, known as piyutim. One day as he was composing a new poem, Elchanan, his little four-year old son, came in and looked at the paper.

"Father, you've written my name in the beginning of this poem!"

"Yes, my son. This verse, 'E-lchanan nachalato' means, 'G-d is gracious unto His heritage.' You see, every Jew has a share in G-d's heritage. If a Jew strays (G-d forbid) from this heritage, from the Jewish way of life, G-d, in His gracious love of His children, helps him to return." A tear appeared in the boy's dark little eyes. "I will never stray from my heritage," he exclaimed.

A few days later, little Elchanan fell ill. His fever rose and he lapsed in and out of consciousness. While his parents wept and prayed for his recovery, their Christian maid, Margaret, also wept, for she loved the bright little boy. She had always harbored the hope that one day she might convert him to Christianity. Now she vowed that if he recovered, she would take him to a monastery where he would grow up as a Christian.

By the time Passover arrived, the child had recovered, and although he was still weak, he managed to join in the family seder and even ask the Four Questions. The following morning, his parents went off to the synagogue, leaving Elchanan with the maid. When they returned several hours later, they were stunned to find that both Elchanan and Margaret were gone. Rabbi Shimon searched for the boy door to door, but no one had seen his precious child; he was lost.

Margaret brought the child to the monastery, but in his weakened state, he caught a chill and became even more ill than before, coming down with a raging fever. With the greatest care, Margaret nursed him back to health, but when he recovered, he had completely lost his memory. When he asked about his parents, he was told that he had been left at the monastery door. Eventually, he stopped asking.

The young boy, now known as Andreas, was extraordinarily bright and within a short time, he was sent to Rome where he continually rose in the ranks of the Church, becoming a bishop, then a cardinal, and eventually Pope Andreas.

One day, Pope Andreas received a petition from the Rabbi of Mainz, pleading for an audience. The Jewish community of Mainz was threatened by a cruel decree put in place by the local anti-Semitic clergy and the rabbi hoped for some justice from the pope. Pope Andreas agreed to the audience, and the Rabbi of Mainz arrived. The rabbi recounted the plight of the community, and the pope was greatly moved by his account and agreed to annul the decree. The pope was attracted by the rabbi's stately appearance and dark, penetrating eyes. When the meeting ended, the pope asked the rabbi to return the following day to discuss a religious matter.

The next day, the old rabbi of Mainz arrived and the pope received him warmly. They engaged in a lively and wide-ranging discussion. When the pope heard that the rabbi had a special interest in composing religious poetry, he asked to see some examples of it. But as the rabbi was about to hand the pope some manuscripts, a tear unexpectedly rolled down the old rabbi's face. "Excuse me, Your Excellency, but these poems always bring up an old sorrow. You see, I once composed a poem in honor of my beloved son who was kidnapped from us when he was only four years old. I carry it with me always."

The pope was deeply touched and asked, "May I see that poem?"

The rabbi handed him a parchment, which the pope carefully unfolded. As he began to read the words, "G-d is gracious unto His heritage," he paled.

"Father, dear father!" he cried as he embraced the old rabbi.

"My son!?" Rabbi Shimon whispered, but then he covered his face with his hands and said, "How can I call you 'son' - you are no longer my son!"

"Oh no, father," did you not explain to me that G-d is always there to accept his wayward children who stray?"

"Yes, I remember. But do you recall your words to me that day?"

"Father, I was very ill and lost my memory. But now, the shock of being reunited with you has brought it all back to me. Father, I want to return to you!"

Several days later the cardinals assembled to await the pope's arrival at mass, but he never came.

There was much speculation about what could have happened to the Pope. Some said that he had ascended to Heaven. Others suggested that he had adopted a life of hardship and poverty to atone for the sins of Christians. But no one could have imagined that he had forsaken a life of wealth and power to return to his downtrodden and persecuted Jewish brethren.

Adapted from Talks and Tales

Moshiach Matters

"I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I shall deliver you from their slavery, and I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I shall take you to Myself as a nation...And I shall bring you to the land..." (Exodus 6:6-8) These verses cite five expressions of redemption. The first four relate to the Egyptian exile and the three exiles following thereafter, including the present one. The fifth - "I shall bring you.." - relates to an additional, second level of ascent that will follow the initial redemption by Moshiach.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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