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China has completed its first return mission to the moon with the successful re-entry and landing on Earth of an unmanned probe. It is the first trip around the moon and back since U.S. and Russian flights of the 1970s, 40 years ago.
We've gone from people thinking there's a man in the moon to putting a man on the moon, stationing lunar rovers on the moon and probing the moon.
Why the big fixation with the moon?
Are you ready for some out-of-this-world insights into the moon?
For starters, G-d is likened to the sun and the Jewish people are like the moon. How so? G-d is constant and unchanging, while the Jewish people's fortune waxes and wanes as does the cycle of the moon. The light of the moon is merely a reflection of the light of the sun; thus the sun gives and the moon receives. Similarly, the Jewish people are the receivers of G-d's goodness, bounty and Infinite Light.
The light of the moon is constantly renewed, hinting to us that, though our light may be dim in comparison to that of the sun, though at times our "light" may be completely lacking, we have the eternal capacity for renewal.
The renewal of the Jewish people, which will take place in its fullest and most complete sense with the arrival of Moshiach, is alluded to by the rebirth of the moon each month. The moon's rebirth also hints at the resurrection of the dead which will take place during the Era of the Redemption.
There is a special ceremony called "Kiddush Levana" - Sanctifying the Moon - which we perform each month. Did you ever hear the words, "David Melech Yisrael Chai, Chai V'Kayam," perhaps in Sunday School or Hebrew School? If so, you already know part of the Kiddush Levana prayer. These words mean, "David, King of Israel, lives and endures." We say them as an allusion to the renewal of the Kingdom of the House of David which will take place with the coming of Moshiach (Moshiach will be a descendant of David).
In fact, most of the Kiddush Levana ceremony hints at the Messianic Age. The greeting "Sholom Aleichem - Peace unto you" is exchanged with those nearby. It is said because the Redemption will be accompanied by peace throughout the entire world.
We continue with a verse from the Song of Songs, "The voice of my beloved! Here he comes, leaping over the mountains, skipping over the hills." It is explained that "the voice of my beloved" refers to Moshiach. He comes and tells the Jewish people "You will be redeemed this month."
Each mitzva (commandment) we do hastens Moshiach's arrival. Maybe if we all participate in Kiddush Levana we will truly be redeemed this month.
In this week's Torah portion, Toldot, we read of how Isaac wanted to bless Esau but was prevented from doing so by Rivka, his wife. It was through her intervention that the blessings were bestowed upon Jacob instead.
A fundamental question is raised by this incident. How could Isaac have possibly preferred Esau over Jacob? True, our sages tell us that Esau repeatedly tried to deceive his elderly father into thinking he was G-d-fearing and observant, by pointedly asking questions about religious law, but it is still hard to imagine Isaac being fooled by Esau's ruse. In fact, when Jacob presented himself to receive his father's blessings, Isaac declared that "the voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau," recognizing how unusual it was for Esau to address him in such a civil manner or even to bring G-d's name into the conversation. Isaac surely realized that something was amiss. But if Isaac was well aware of Esau's serious shortcomings, why did he nevertheless want to give the blessings only to him?
The truth is that Esau, the firstborn twin, possessed an extremely lofty soul capable of incredible spiritual accomplishments. In certain respects, Esau was on an even higher spiritual level than his brother Jacob. Jacob was born to be a "dweller in tents (of Torah)," protected from the outside world, enclosed within the four walls of the yeshiva. Esau, however, was "a man of the field," blessed with the spiritual strength to venture forth into the coarser material world to wage war against evil and impurity, bringing G-dliness and holiness down into the physical realm. It was Esau, therefore, who possessed the greater spiritual might.
This, then, explains Isaac's desire to bless Esau, despite his knowledge that his son was abusing these spiritual gifts: Isaac hoped his blessings would cause Esau's considerable talents to be brought out and revealed. Not only would Esau repent of his evil ways, but the entire world would benefit from his actions.
G-d, however, knew it was too late for Esau to repent and live up to his potential. Instead, the blessings were given to Jacob, and with them, the power to overcome evil and transform it into good, and to illuminate the world with the light of Torah.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Those Mysterious Squiggles
by Miriam Karp
Excerpted from Painting Zaidy's Dream
One day, the Chabad Rebbetzin at the University of Michigan, Esther Goldstein, asked if I'd like to learn to read Hebrew. Me?
Sounded intimidating. Sounded interesting. Dad had tried to teach me a few times over the years. We learned the first two letters, alef and bet. But we never got further with those mysterious squiggles.
Here were letters again. But now they were more relevant to my life. Why not, I figured, might as well try. It seemed to be one of those things people did when they were seriously thinking of getting serious about their Judaism.
So Esther gathered a group around her table one Tuesday afternoon. We worked haltingly, embarrassed in our fumbling efforts, but she encouraged and we persisted. A new world slowly began to open up, of sounds, images, and nuanced rich meaning that I never would have experienced the same way in English.
Those letters, those letters...
Little squiggles, swirls and crowns, ascending up, dipping below.
What about them was so powerful, so evocative; that grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go? Those letters, dots, and dashes seemed almost atomic, packed full of compressed and unleashed power.
Neshama letters, soul letters, souls in forms, souls on paper or parchment.
Marveling as its treasures shyly revealed themselves, like a sweet young bride would to her beloved, I struggled to court those letters, learn their shapes. Esther's young son whipped through the letters and vowels, then zoomed off reading with an easy laugh as I sat in the dust trying to put a sound together. That was humbling.
Some days my eyes and lips skipped smoothly through the verses, while on others, they were like lead. I felt learning disabled, disjointed, my tongue and mouth not quite making the right shape, my eyes seeing those jumping dots not quite right.
But I pushed and dragged through, sound by sound. Something compelling and magnetic beckoned. Loshon Hakodesh - the holy tongue. Those letters... those sounds.
You kind of know what they mean, way before you can explicitly translate them. The black shapes whisper to your eyes, the sounds whisper to your ears; they tickle your soul. There's a gleaning and absorbing, even if you don't know what many of the words mean.
These Hebrew jewels slowly became part of my vocabulary. How, when did I start spouting these terms? When I had to go back to English - just fell flat. I heard the emptiness, the hard edge and sterility of the English word that came the closest but was still so off the mark.
Bracha - blessing. Chessed - kindness. Rachmanut... pity. The English was a sad approximation. I was hungry to uncover more of these jewels.
What must it be like to pick up a prayer book, Psalms, a holy Jewish book written in Hebrew, and read them with fluency?
As I sat at Esther's table slowly spitting out vowel-and-letter syllables, going over and over to commit those little shapes to memory, time slowed.
I built up, one halting sentence after another. Read one blessing. Then one fine day, I got to the point where I could try reading the whole first paragraph of bentching, the lengthy blessing after eating bread.
After most foods I had learned to say a short after-blessing thanking G-d for the sustenance. But bread was a special food, the staff of life. It required more. A lot more. There was a multi-paged liturgy, full of meaning.
After a few weeks I'd learned alef, bet, gimmel, daled - all 22 letters - the twelve vowels, and worked up to stringing together one, two, even three syllable words. I decided to be bold, and to plow through reading the whole first paragraph of the bentching.
I was alone at the Arboretum on a balmy summer day, sitting by a stream, my bike resting on a rock. I took my brand-new prayer book out of my backpack, and carefully pronounced (and tried not to butcher) one precious sound after another. Some ten minutes later, I finished, savoring the feeling of accomplishment and connection.
Several weeks later I decided to attempt the whole prayer. I was sitting at the Shabbat table after lunch. The Goldstein children had flown through the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals), and ran off to play.
Shabbat afternoon after the meal was a golden, relaxed time; sweetness redolent in the air. Folks pushed back from the abundant food and conversation and wandered off for a chat or nap.
For what felt like an interminable time I sat alone at that table reading the Birkat Hamazon. I stumbled and mumbled and finally finished some 30 minutes later. A friend smiled and commented, "Before you know it, you'll be whizzing through it"
That day came to pass soon enough, when I could casually whip off the words with the best of them.
But that struggle wasn't all pain. The hidden depth of those letters was whispering to me the whole time, singing and encouraging. Like practicing piano, sitting there was a labor, yet the joy of the sounds good company and pleasure along the way. And these sounds were building a path into that hidden world, one letter, one syllable, one word at a time.
Painting Zaidy's Dream was the winner of 2013 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award: First Place for Excellence in Writing About Women.
News from the Former Soviet Union
This past month, new Jewish community center in Krasnodar, Russia, was officially opened. the center contains a beautiful Synagogue, banquet hall, library, kosher Cafe, mikva and a children and youth educational center. At the dedication ceremony the community also welcomed a new Torah scroll.
A week earlier, Moscow inaugurated a new spacious state-of-the-art yeshiva building for Cheder Menachem. Since its opening 15 years ago, Cheder Menachem has educated hundreds of students, producing a generation of proud Jews. The new facility includes spacious classrooms, as well as the luxurious new Synagogue, dining hall, library and recreation rooms.
The following two letters were addressed to famed sculptor Chaim Yaakov (Jacques) Lipchitz
4th of Adar, 5723 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
After not having heard from you for some time, your letter of February 22 was particularly welcome, following the regards which I had previously received through Mrs. Weill.
I am very pleased to note that you have resumed your work, and are working with inspiration.
In connection with your forthcoming exposition, I wish you unqualified success, and for many, many good and happy years to come may G-d grant you to use your gifts to the credit of our Jewish people, and of our Jewish values in particular. For there are many ways in which a Jew can serve G-d, and one must serve Him in all, in accordance with the principle "Know Him, and make Him known, in all your ways." You have a unique privilege of doing so through your own medium, which to certain circles is the only medium of learning something about Jews and Judaism.
A propos of the above, I trust you will not take it amiss, though it may sound somewhat chauvinistic, but it is nevertheless true, that Jews, as Jews, can be justly proud. For although we declare, and pray for, three times a day - in the famous hymn "Oleinu l'shabe'ach": "To establish the world under the kingdom of the Almighty, and all mankind shall invoke Thy Name," this is preceded by "It is our duty to praise the Lord of all things... Who hath not made us like the nations of other lands," etc. Any doubt that one might have had about the inherent distinction between our people and other nations, in this 20th century of enlightenment, science and philosophy, has tragically been dispelled by our experience at the hands of a nation which claimed first place in the arts and sciences in our generation, while the other "advanced" nations hardly did anything to avert or stop the mass slaughter. This is too painful to contemplate.
I will conclude on a happy note, having entered the joyous month of Adar, highlighted by the festival of Purim, may you, we all in the midst of all our people enjoy - to quote the Megillah - "light and gladness, joy and honor."
Your check was turned over to the special Purim fund, for "gifts to the poor," in the spirit of the Megillah.
5th of Teves, 5725 
Greetings and Blessings:
After the considerable interval, which already made me wonder at your prolonged silence, I was pleased to receive your letter of the 3rd of December.
I was particularly pleased to note that you are back at work, now that you have returned from abroad. May G-d grant that you should continue your work to a ripe and happy old age, and thus utilize the gift with which you have been blessed to animate, so to speak, even the inanimate. And as you no doubt expect me to connect this with the concepts of our Torah, I can indeed say that it is one of the foundations of our Torah, Toras Chaim, to "spiritualize" the material, inasmuch as everything in this world has to be used as an instrument to glorify the Name of our Creator.
I must say that I sometimes feel embarrassed at finding your check for Tzedoko [charity] in your every letter, as if you thought that you cannot write to me without including a donation for our cause. Thus every time I write to you may entail an expense on your part. I would feel better if you would separate the two, namely your correspondence and contributions. I do not, of course, wish to discourage you from sending Tzedoko, which is one of the greatest Mitzvoth [commandments], and there can never be too much of it, but you do not necessarily have to include a check whenever you feel like writing to me.
With prayerful wishes for your good health, and with kindest personal regards,
The concept of Divine Providence is this: Not only are all particular movements of the various creatures directed by Providence, and not only is that Providence itself the life-force and maintained existence of every creature - but even more, the particular movement of any creature is in general terms related to the grand design of Creation... The aggregate of all individual acts brings to completion G-d's grand design in the mystery of all Creation. Ponder this: If the swaying of a blade of grass is brought about by Divine Providence and is crucial to the fulfillment of the purpose of Creation, how much more so with regard to mankind in general, and Israel (the people close to him) in particular!
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On the holiday of Shemini Atzeret in 1977, the Lubavitcher Rebbe suffered a serious heart attack. For the next five weeks, the Rebbe remained at Lubavitch World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway, where he received top medical care for his condition. On the first day of the Jewish month of Kislev, the Rebbe returned to his home on President Street in Brooklyn for the first time since his heart attack.
Kislev 1 is celebrated amongst the Rebbe's Chasidim as a day when the Rebbe returned to full health and it is thus, an opportune time to share a few thoughts of the Rebbe on this topic.
The day after the Rebbe's heart attack, the Rebbe insisted on teaching at a public gathering (farbrengen) as he had done on that particular day for the previous 38 years.
The doctor warned the Rebbe not to exert himself thus, saying, "You must take care of your health. If not, there is a 25% chance of a relapse." The doctor then asked if the Rebbe understood what he had said.
The Rebbe smiled and nodded his head, "You said that even if I don't take care of my health - which, I assure you, I will - there is a 75% chance that there won't be a relapse."
A positive outlook can do wonders! So can increasing in mitzvot observance when we are in need of Divine assistance. The Rebbe advised a person who was not well: "As you may know, in order to receive G-d's blessings it is necessary to prepare receptacles. It would have been impossible for us to know the receptacles, but for G-d's mercy and infinite kindness, having given us the Torah and having revealed to us that Torah and mitzvos are the proper receptacles for us to receive His blessings... The important thing is to do better then at present in the religious observances, which will surely bring an improvement in your condition."
May we all merit in this month of Kislev to return to full health, with the coming of Moshiach and the end to all illness, NOW!
That my soul may bless you (Gen. 27:4)
Why did Isaac want to bless Esau instead of Jacob? Jacob was "a pure man, a dweller in tents (of Torah)," and even without a blessing he would stay away from evil. Esau, however, was very likely to fall into bad ways, and needed the assistance of his father's blessing.
And you shall stay with him a short time ... until your brother's fury turns away ... until your brother's anger turns away (Gen. 27:44, 45)
Rebecca advised her son Jacob what to do: "Run away to my brother Laban and wait until your brother gets over his anger. How will you know when that time has arrived and he is no longer angry at you? When you yourself stop holding a grudge against him." Rebecca understood the reciprocity of human emotions: Love is reciprocated with love, and hatred elicits a like response in others.
And one people shall be stronger than the other (Gen. 25:23)
Rashi comments: When one rises, the other falls. Jacob and Esau symbolize the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, between a person's good and evil inclinations. When a Jew's G-dly soul is dominant and exerts itself, there is no need to combat the animal soul - it "falls" by itself. Light does not have to fight darkness to illuminate - as soon as it appears, the darkness vanishes. So too, does the light of holiness dispel all evil.
Rabbi Gershon, the brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov, had finalized his plans to travel to the Holy Land. A disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, he conferred with him before his departure and was told: "When you arrive in the Holy Land make sure to attend the yeshiva of Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, known as the holy Ohr Hachaim in Jerusalem. He has two separate yeshivas there - one in which they study the revealed Torah, and another, known to only a very few people, where he teaches the esoteric secrets of the Kabbala. Do everything you can to be admitted to the second yeshiva short of divulging your identity, unless you have no choice."
Rabbi Gershon's journey was successful and he arrived in Jerusalem and proceeded directly to the Ohr Hachaim's yeshiva. Anxious to see how they learned there, he attempted to join the students as they reviewed their study. But each time he approached them, he was told that it was permissible to attend the yeshiva only with the explicit permission of the Ohr Hachaim himself. When the Ohr Hachaim would enter the study hall to deliver his daily lesson, all strangers would be asked to leave.
Rabbi Gershon decided to approach the Ohr Hachaim personally and request his permission to learn. "Who are you?" inquired the Ohr Hachaim.
"I am a Jew who has come from Poland and I desire very much to study in your yeshiva," answered Reb Gershon.
The Ohr Hachaim gave him a penetrating, critical look and asked, "Are you fluent in the study of the Five Books of Moses and the Talmud?"
"Yes, I am," replied Reb Gershon.
"Then I give you my permission to remain here, and I will instruct my staff to accommodate you," the Ohr Hachaim said.
Rabbi Gershon was pleased with the outcome and settled down for the week to learn in the yeshiva of revealed Torah. All the while he was inquiring as to how to gain admittance to the yeshiva of Kabbala. He discreetly asked various students about the secret yeshiva, but none of them had the slightest idea what he was talking about. Those few who were the privileged students, refused to answer his repeated questions. So, Rabbi Gershon was forced to approach the Ohr Hachaim again and ask for permission to attend the yeshiva of esoteric study.
The Ohr Hachaim was surprised by the request. "How do you know about the other yeshiva?" he asked, as he stared into Reb Gershon's eyes, plumbing the depths of his soul.
Reb Gershon, wanting to avoid a detailed response, just looked down and said, "I was told by my brother-in-law." He hoped that his answer would pass without further comment.
"What is his name?"
"Oh, his name is Yisrael," was the matter-of-fact reply.
"I don't know him, but you may come to my lecture tonight," was the reply.
For the next three nights Reb Gershon learned Torah with the select group of students, but on the fourth night when he presented himself to the doorkeeper, he was refused admittance. He was astonished and turned to the doorkeeper crying, "Why have I been refused admittance, when I have the permission of the Head of the Yeshiva to attend?"
"I'm sorry, but I am following the instructions of the holy rabbi. He said that you are unworthy of learning the secrets of the Torah , since you have not attended to the needs of the Sages."
Reb Gershon turned away, puzzled, but resolved to do whatever was necessary to rescind the decree of the Ohr Hachaim. He noticed that the Ohr Hachaim donned a special pair of shoes and head covering before entering the bathroom. The next time he saw the Ohr Hachaim put on the special hat, he ran quickly and brought him the shoes. The Ohr Hachaim noted Reb Gershon's actions, but said nothing.
From that time forth, Rabbi Gershon was allowed to resume his midnight studies. He remained happily drinking in the learning at the Ohr Hachaim's yeshiva for the next few months. One day, he told the Ohr Hachaim that his own brother-in-law was a holy man.
"What is his name?" inquired the Ohr Hachaim.
"His name is Reb Israel Baal Shem Tov," Reb Gershon said.
"Oh," cried the Ohr Hachaim, "Of course I know him well. I see him very often in the supernal worlds. He is a holy man of unsurpassed greatness."
"Now I understand what happened to me in the Heavenly Court," continued the Ohr Hachaim. I had been sentenced to have some terrible calamity occur to me because of using a respected student of the Baal Shem Tov to perform a menial task for me. It was only through the intercession of the Baal Shem Tov that I was saved. If you had told me your true identity at once, I would have been saved the entire incident."
After this conversation, the Ohr Hachaim no longer permitted Reb Gershon to study in his yeshiva for, as he said, "You do not need me to teach you, if you have the Baal Shem Tov as a rebbe."
On the verse, "Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it," Rashi writes: "Take heed to remember the Sabbath day constantly, so that if you encounter something special [such as a delicacy, in the course of the week], set it aside for Shabbat." The same applies to the future Redemption. Even when we are still in the weekdays of the exile, we should constantly keep in mind and prepare for the Redemption, for the day which is described as "entirely Shabbat and repose for life everlasting."
(The Rebbe, 11 Sivan, 5744-1984, From Exile to Redemption)