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by Rabbi Yisroel Fried
This Shabbat we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson in whose memory the L'Chaim publication is dedicated. The number 25 is written in Hebrew letters as Kof-Hei, which spells the word "koh" - "thus."
The word "koh" appears at several important moments in the Torah, and particularly in the verse that introduces the Priestly Blessing. This blessing, still delivered in our times, by the kohanim on each major festival, consists of three Biblical verses: "The L-rd bless you and guard you. The L-rd make His countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. The L-rd turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace." These blessings are introduced with the words: " 'Thus (koh) you shall bless the Children of Israel; saying to them...' "
It would seem that the word "koh" is extraneous. However, the Midrash finds three key places where the word "koh" is used in the Torah that empower the Priestly blessing. From each of the locations where koh appears, we can learn something about the Priestly blessing.
The first was when Abraham complained that he was childless, and G-d told him, "Gaze toward the heavens and count the stars.... Thus (koh) shall be your children." This conveys the following lesson: When we survey the situations where we really need a blessing, we often find ourselves doubting whether it could truly help. By invoking the memory of the word "koh" - in the context of the blessing Abraham received from G-d that his progeny would multiply like the stars of the heavens - it brings home the message not to despair. A blessing can take us from a state of nothingness to the highest "stellar" state, in terms of both quantity and quality.
The second place where the word "koh" is mentioned is in the context of the binding of Isaac, when he was brought by his father Abraham to be sacrificed. Abraham said to his youths: "I and the lad will go yonder - "koh" - and we will prostrate ourselves and return to you." Abraham does not give his youths the exact location where he will be going with his son Isaac. Here, koh implies an approximate destination, as if to say, "I don't know exactly where we are going, but I do know that I am going with this youth." And presciently he added, "We will prostrate ourselves and return to you." Even when our destination throughout our long journey in exile was not clear - "koh" - we knew that we will always be accompanied by G-d, and we will ultimately return whole. The blessing, too, conveys the message that even when our future appears uncertain, and the blessings seem elusive, nevertheless, we can be assured that they will come true.
A third reference to "koh" is found in conjunction with Jacob. When G-d first introduced the Torah to the Jewish people, He said: "Thus (koh) shall you say to the House of Jacob," referring to the women. Why doesn't the Torah simply state, "Say to the House of Jacob"?
When G-d spoke to the women about the importance of Torah, it was enough for Him to speak to them in generalities. Not everything has to be spelled out for them; a mere hint suffices for the wise and sensitive. Although G-d communicated a finite number of words, they contained infinite knowledge. The women were better equipped than the men to appreciate this.
Indeed, this ability to draw inferences and to see more than meets the eye, is a trait specifically ascribed to women, as the Talmud states: "Greater understanding was given to women (than to men)." Women have a greater capacity to see the larger picture in the smaller frame.
This message of seeing beyond the surface applies to the G-dly blessings as well. When one surveys the blessings it can appear that they are limited. In truth, they contain infinite blessing.
Thus - koh - the Priestly blessings can take us from the nadir to the stars, get us to where we are going even if it appears that we are going nowhere, and without limit to their potential.
Rabbi Fried is program director at Chabad of the West Side.
This week's Torah reading, Yitro, contains the Ten Commandments, the ultimate distillation of G-d's revelation to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
The commandments themselves range from the highest theological and moral concepts - "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" and "You shall have no other gods before Me" - to "simpler," ethical concepts man would seemingly figure out on his own - "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," etc.
The juxtaposition of both types of commandments teaches us a very important lesson: All of G-d's commandments, be they of a "higher" or more mundane nature, must be carried out with the same intent, i.e., solely because G-d has so commanded us. The reason we do not commit murder or steal is only because the same G-d Who declared "I am the L-rd your G-d" is the One Who has commanded us not to - not because the concepts make sense to our human intellect.
The human mind is eminently pliant and malleable, its logic often determined by a wide range of factors. Relying on intellect alone can result in a person's convincing himself that an aveira, an out-and-out sin, is actually a very great mitzva!
Without the foundation of "I am the L-rd your G-d," a Jew's observance of the "lower" commandments will be sorely lacking.
For example, the spiritual corollary of "You shall not murder" is the prohibition against shaming another person in public, symbolically "shedding his blood." Likewise, the commandment "You shall not steal" applies equally to the theft of intellectual property and ideas.
It states, "Self-love will cover up a multitude of transgressions." Just as a small finger can obscure the entire world when it is placed right in front of the eye, so too does a person's love for himself often blind him to the true reality. Accordingly, a Jew's obligation is to ensure that his observance of all of G-d's mitzvot is thoroughly permeated with a sense of "I am the L-rd your G-d," even if the reason for a particular commandment appears to be perfectly understandable and obvious. With this basic principle in mind, all our deeds and actions will truly be imbued with G-dliness and holiness.
Adapted Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. 3
It Will be a Mazel Tov!
by Yehudis Cohen
Sorah Shemtov grew up in the Bronx, close to where she and her husband Rabbi Levi Shemtov now have their Chabad House in Riverdale, New York. Her family moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn when Sorah was 12 years old. In high school, just a few weeks after her younger sister Rivky was born, Sorah was privileged to meet Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson for the first time.
Sorah's father, Dr. Robert Feldman, was the private physician of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. Relates Sorah, "Rivky was born just before Passover. When she was a few weeks old, my father asked me to come with him on his weekly visit to the Rebbetzin. The Rebbetzin wanted to meet Rivky! I was to wait outside while my father brought in Rivky to the Rebbetzin, and then take her home while my father met with the Rebbetzin."
Everything went as planned, until Rivky started crying inconsolably. Dr. Feldman came outside and asked Sorah to come in, calm the baby, and hold her while the Rebbetzin visited with the newborn.
"I did not want to go in. I was very uncomfortable. I would have dressed in my Shabbat clothes and prepared myself in other ways had I known I would be going into the Rebbe's and Rebbetzin's home and meeting the Rebbetzin. 'You are the pediatrician,' I reminded my father. 'You are expert at getting babies quiet.' But for whatever reason, my father could not calm her down and insisted I come in."
Sorah went in and calmed her little sister. Despite her initial hesitation, Sorah found she was totally comfortable once she was in the Rebbetzin's presence.
"My sister often went with my father during his Friday visits. When Rivky was old enough, he would bring books that the Rebbetzin would read to her. On one Friday, when Rivky was three or four, my father told me that his visit would have to be very brief. He asked that I come and stay with Rivky after he left so that the Rebbetzin would have a chance to spend time reading and playing with her.
"At the time, we were just beginning to start thinking about shidduchim (dating for the purpose of marriage). I asked my father if it would be okay for me to speak to the Rebbetzin for guidance in this area. We posed the question to the Rebbe's secretariat and I was given the go-ahead."
Sorah will not divulge the advice she received from the Rebbetzin as she believes it was specific to her. However, she does relate her surprise about some information the Rebbetzin shared. Groups of yeshiva students had been sent to various Chabad-Lubavitch yeshivas around the world to bolster the local yeshivas. The Rebbetzin enumerated where each group was and the dates that they would return to Lubavitch World headquarters after concluding their assignments. "I was surprised that the Rebbetzin knew so many details about the yeshiva students' schedules. The Rebbetzin concluded our meeting by stating emphatically, 'There will be good news!'
A year later, on Friday night, Yud (10) Shevat, Sorah visited the Rebbetzin to tell her that she was hoping to soon get engaged. "I was very excited to share this news with her," recalls Sorah. "When I told the Rebbetzin that we would be writing to the Rebbe on Sunday to ask for his blessing for our engagement she showered me with 'mazel tovs' and I became flustered. I had always been taught that the engagement was not official, or even certain, until the Rebbe gave his approval. Not knowing what to say, I finally mustered the courage to say that it wasn't a 'mazel tov' yet as we hadn't gotten an answer from the Rebbe. The Rebbetzin assured me it was and would be a 'mazel tov.'
"I didn't use my future husband's name but referred to him the whole time as 'the bochur.' At one point in the conversation, the Rebbetzin very delicately said, 'May I ask the name of the young man?' I told her that it was Levi Yitzchak Shemtov."
"Bentzion Shemtov's grandson?" asked Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. When Sorah answered in the affirmative, "The Rebbetzin's face lit up! Then the Rebbetzin said, 'I am very happy because now I know that you will speak Yiddish to your children!'"
Sorah's mother tongue is English and all of her conversations with the Rebbetzin were in English. But the Rebbetzin's delighted response about speaking to their future children in Yiddish gave her the confidence and determination to make Yiddish the language that she speaks to her children to this very day.
That Sunday, the young couple wrote a letter to the Rebbe and received his blessing for their marriage. A small engagement party in the Feldman home was scheduled to be held a few weeks later.
Tuesday evening, nine days after Sorah and Levi Shemtov became engaged, Dr. Feldman accompanied the Rebbetzin to the hospital. The Rebbetzin was in tremendous pain and a group of doctors had determined that she needed to be hospitalized. Dr. Feldman later related that throughout the drive to the hospital, the Rebbetzin deflected the conversation from herself and her condition. Instead she asked Dr. Feldman to tell her how the young couple was doing, if they had found an apartment yet and to fill her in on how all the preparations for the wedding were going.
Soon after the Rebbetzin arrived at the hospital she requested a glass of water. Shortly after midnight, the Rebbetzin's pure soul left this world. The Rebbetzin's great-grandmother and grandmother had also asked for a glass of water before their passing. Jewish teachings explain that the righteous often ask for water before their passing. One explanation is that their souls thereby leave this world after reciting the blessing before water, "..everything is created through His word" and the blessing after "...Who creates many souls." This blessing will be said at the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Era.
Relates Sorah, "After the shiva (seven days of mourning), my father visited the Rebbe. The Rebbe brought up the engagement party. 'You should do it on the date originally planned and not make anything smaller than you had planned,' the Rebbe told my father. 'You should make not only what was planned but even more, not in a house but even in a rented hall, because that would make the Rebbetzin happy.'
The two families received a number of additional instructions from the Rebbe's secretariat: The engagement party should be catered, and real china and flatware should be used. (At that time engagement parties were held in homes and were simple, home-catered affairs.) There was to be live music and "it should be very freilich" (lively).
During the celebration, a family friend addressed those in attendance and explained that the venue and many of the details of the party had been specifically requested by the Rebbe "because that would make the Rebbetzin happy."
When asked to describe the Rebbetzin, Sorah hesitates, saying that it is difficult to ascribe words to such a unique person. But asked to try, Sorah describes the Rebbetzin as regal in appearance and mannerisms, very warm, loving, nurturing, caring, kind, sensitive and intuitive.
New Torah Scrolls
Marina Roscha celebrated the completion of a Torah scroll sponsored by Joseph Kobzon, a cantor who was known as "The official voice of the USSR" and today is a member of the Russian Parliament.
The Chabad House of Georgetown in Brooklyn, New York, welcomed a new Torah scroll with dancing and singing in the streets. The Jewish Center of Vasilyevsky Island in S. Petersburg Russia, began the writing of a new Torah scroll. Chabad of Nashville, Tennessee, celebrated the completion of a new Torah scroll. The Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, welcomed a new Torah Scroll into the Tabcinik Synagogue with singing and dancing despite -25 F outside.
Erev-Shabbos - Yisro, 5722 
The Ten Commandments unite within them laws of two apparently quite different orders: The first Commandments express and reveal the deepest truths about G-d's Unity (true monotheism); the others, on the other hand, contain such elementary injunctions as "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt not steal," which seem self-evident even to the average human intellect.
However, the truth is that even "self-evident" moral precepts, if left to human judgement alone, without the binding force of Divine Authority and Sanction, can out of self-love be distorted so as to turn vice into "virtue."
Indeed, interpreting the moral precepts of "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt not steal," from the viewpoint of selfish gain, many a nation in the world, as well as any individual, have "legalized" their abhorrent ends, not to mention that they have "justified" the means to those ends - as has been amply demonstrated, to our sorrow, particularly in recent years.
If by rejecting the Commandments of "I am G-d" and "Thou shalt have no other gods," or even by dissociating them from "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt not steal," the safeguard against bloodshed and theft, even their most brutal forms, were removed from humanity's conscience, it is certainly hopeless to expect safeguards against "Thou shalt not murder," and "Thou shalt not steal," in more "subtle" ways, such as the "bloodshed" of character assassination, or the "theft of the mind" (gnevas da'as) and the like.
The Ten Commandments emphasize, and experience has fully and repeatedly borne it out, that even the simplest precepts of morality and ethics must rest on the foundation of "I am G-d" and "Thou shalt have no other gods" - and only then can their compliance be assured.
This is one of the basic purposes of Torah-true education; to inculcate in our children the true way of life (Derech Chayyim) in accordance with the Law of Life (Toras Chayyim) - a way of life in every-day living, on the solid foundations of the Torah and Mitzvos (commandments). For the Torah and Mitzvos alone provide the true content of Jewish life, and are at the same time the fountains of life for every Jew and for all Jews.
Erev-Shabbos Parshas Yisro, 5738 
Blessing and Greeting:
...We are reminded of the familiar Sicha [public talk] of my father-in-law of saintly memory [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe] addressed to Jewish women (Riga, 5694), centering on the role of Jewish women in connection with Mattan-Torah [the giving of the Torah] and, subsequently, the Mishkon [the tabernacle in the desert]. On both occasions, as the Torah indicates, the women took first place, before the men.
The lesson of it, as explained in detail in the Sicha, is that women have a leading part in the preservation of the Torah and Mitzvos by reason of their impact on the family life, the conduct of the Jewish home, and especially the upbringing of the children, thereby also ensuring that G-d will always dwell in the midst of our people.
The Torah is eternal, and so are its teachings. The readiness of our Jewish women to accept the Torah, and their eager response in behalf of the Mishkon, gladly parting with their most treasured personal possessions, established the historic role of Jewish women in Jewish life for all times. Moreover, Kabbolas haTorah [receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai] was not a one-time happening in the distant past, but is an everyday experience. Likewise the building of the Mishkon - in terms of the inner Mishkon and Mikdosh [sanctuary] that is in the heart of every Jew is something that requires constant rededication on the part of each and every Jew, man and woman.
G-d has bestowed extraordinary gifts and privileges on Jewish women, and together with it - far-reaching obligations, of which you are all surely aware. There is no need for me to re-emphasize them here, except that our Sages prompt us to "encourage the energetic."...
With blessing for Hatzlocho [success]
Pearl (Shmelkes Reich) Loew was the wife of the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehudah Lowe. They became engaged when she was just 6 years old. From age 8 until they married when she was 28, she studied Torah for at least 5 hours each day. Pearl became an accomplished Torah scholar. After marriage, they studied together daily. It was Pearl who dealt with the Maharal's voluminous correspondence, reading the letters and sending his replies. She also arranged and edited her husband's huge opus of Torah literature. They had six daughters and one son.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is Chof Bet (22) Shevat, the 25th yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of blessed memory, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and daughter of the Previous Rebbe.
On the Rebbetzin's fourth yartzeit, the Rebbe explained: The Hebrew letters "chof" and "bet" are the same letters that make up the word "b'cha," in the verse, "Through you (b'cha), Israel will be blessed." This verse indicates that "through you," blessing will be drawn down to every Jew, generating positive activities, which, in turn, will lead to further activities of blessing in a pattern that will continue endlessly, forever.
The Hebrew word for "forever," "olam," also means "world." Olam is related to the Hebrew word "helem," meaning concealment. Our world is characterized by hiddenness, the concealment of G-dliness. This concealment allows for a soul - an actual part of G-d - to be concealed, that is, to depart from this world after its "days and years are completed" - after they have been endowed with fullness and completion through good deeds. In this context as well, the pattern mentioned above applies, as each good deed leads to more good deeds, in a never-ending sequence.
Chof Bet Shevat is the anniversary of the day when an "actual part of G-d" ascended from this world. Each year, on the day of the yahrtzeit, that soul ascends to a higher level, a level immeasurably higher than the peaks the soul had reached previously. This is reflected in reciting Kaddish on that day. Its recitation again on the day of the yahrtzeit, indicates a new ascent.
May the soul reach the ultimate level of ascent, the level to be reached at the time of the Resurrection. And may this take place in the immediate future. For ours is the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption.
Together with all the Jews of the present generation who will proceed to the Holy Land amidst health and joy, they will be joined by "those who lie in the dust," the souls of the previous generations, who "will arise and sing."
And Yitro rejoiced for all the goodness that the L-rd had done to Israel, that He delivered him out the hand of the Egyptians (Ex. 18:9)
What is meant by "that he delivered him from the hand of the Egyptians"? Shouldn't the Torah have used the word "them," meaning the Jewish people, rather than "him"? Yitro had served as one of Pharaoh's chief advisors, and now realized that he should have perished along with the rest of the Egyptians. Thus he was grateful to G-d for not only saving him physically, but for giving him the idea to convert to Judaism.
(Be'er Mayim Chaim)
Then you shall be My own treasure (segula) from among all the peoples (Ex. 19:5)
The Hebrew word "segula" means a characteristic or trait, i.e., something that does not depend on logic but is simply a "given" of nature. Similarly, G-d's love for the Jewish people has no rational basis, and exists solely because such was His will to choose them.
When the ram's horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain (Ex. 19:13)
When the Torah was given, all vestiges of idolatry had to be removed from the Jewish people, including the idea that any creation can have its own inherent holiness; only G-d can impart sanctity. Thus in order to make sure that no one thought that the reason the Torah was given on Mount Sinai was that the mountain itself was holy, G-d commanded that immediately afterward it revert to being a "regular" mountain, with animals grazing on it, etc. The "sanctity" of Mount Sinai lasted only as long as the Divine Presence rested upon it.
The people come to me to inquire of G-d. When they have a matter it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his fellow; and I make them know the statutes of G-d (Ex. 18:15-16)
Every Jewish leader of his generation fulfills three functions: He must pray on behalf of every individual Jew ("the people come to me to inquire of G-d"); resolve monetary disputes and disagreements ("judge between a man and his fellow"); and teach Torah to the Jewish people ("make them know the statutes of G-d").
Rachel, the grandmother of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, was a remarkable Torah scholar in an age when that was highly unusual. She was the daughter of Baruch Batlan who was a follower of the Baal Shem of Zamotsch, and was given an excellent and wide-ranging Torah education, in keeping with the unusual custom of Chasidim to educate their daughters.
Practically from the time she could speak, she learned Torah, progressing from the simplest blessings taught to all Jewish children, to more advanced studies, even mastering the intricacies of the Talmud. She became particularly expert in the study of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law.
Whether out of modesty, for fear that people would regard a learned girl as odd, or to avoid an "evil eye," Rachel's father kept her scholarship a secret. When Rachel became engaged to Rabbi Shneur Zalman (who did not approve of women engaging in serious study), her scope of knowledge was not mentioned. Thus, she merely smiled when her husband said to her he assumed that her mother had taught her all the laws that a Jewish woman was required to know.
Rachel's knowledge of Jewish law was so extensive that she knew the differences in the customs which prevailed amongst the various Jewish communities. Thus, what was regarded as a strict law in one town, was treated more lightly in another.
Soon after her marriage it happened that Rachel's whole family was walking home one Shabbat from shul. The men, Baruch Batlan, his son Benjamin and his son-in-law, were in front. The women followed behind, Rachel among them. They all wore gloves as there was an "eruv" in Posen [a marked area where carrying is permitted on Shabbat]. Benjamin was also carrying books which he had borrowed from the synagogue, so that he could study at home.
As they were walking, the synagogue caretaker ran up to them, calling out that the eruv had fallen. They all stopped in bewilderment, not knowing what to do with their gloves and with the books that Rachel's brother had under his arm [since without the eruv, carrying was no longer permitted]. Should they drop everything, or just remain where they were?
Baruch Batlan now called out to his daughter: "Rachel, you are an expert in Jewish Law. Tell us what are we to do?" Turning to the men, he remarked: "We are so busy studying Talmud and other such subjects, that when we are faced with a practical question of law, we do not know it. So, We must turn to Rachel."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman opened his eyes in wonderment! Was this a joke?
Rachel blushed. She feared that now her husband might be upset with her. She would not have given away her secret, but her father had "put her on the spot," and she had to answer him.
"There is no need to take off our gloves," she ventured quietly, "for this is a case of 'accidental,' and there can be no likelihood of anyone taking off his gloves and carrying them, for, as we are in company, it would immediately be noticed and the person reminded. As for the books, these should be transferred from hand to hand until we reach the yard of a non-Jew, where they can be handed from the zone of "public property" to that of "private property."
As Rachel had foreseen, her husband was adversely affected by this incident and took every opportunity to make sharp comments. Once he remarked: "The Talmud says that 'The wife of a scholar is regarded as if she too were a scholar,' but in my case, it would seem that I must be satisfied to reach the equal of my wife's status." Rachel was very grieved at his attitude.
Her father was aware of the situation and he once countered: "The Jerusalem Talmud says that 'The wife of a criminal is also considered so.' I have given my daughter to you. It now remains to be seen what you make of her. She can either become the wife of a 'scholar' or the wife of a 'criminal.' It is entirely up to you!"
Rabbi Shneur Zalman understood the implication of his father-in-law's words, and from that time, changed his harsh and critical attitude. On the contrary, he began to be proud of his wife, appreciating at last her scholarship and wonderful qualities.
Adapted from the Memoirs of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The efforts of Jewish women to serve as catalysts for the Redemption have historical precedents. In the Egyptian exile, it was Miriam who communicated the prophecy that a redeemer would emerge. Even when the leaders of the generation could not foresee an end to servitude and oppression, she spread hope and trust among her people. In a metaphorical sense, this narrative is relevant to all Jewish women. Concerned over the fate of the Jewish people, they anxiously await the Redemption. Ad Matai! How much longer must the Jews remain in exile?
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Yitro, 1992)