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January 16, 2015 - 25 Tevet, 5775

1355: Vaera

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1354: Shemos1356: Bo  

Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New  |  The Rebbe Writes
Today Is ...  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count  |  It Once Happened
Moshiach Matters

Mission - Possible

Impossible: preposterous, inconceivable, unthinkable, unachievable, undoable. The list in the thesaurus (shift F7) goes on and on. There seem to be quite a lot of synonyms to describe something that we consider impossible. But must you be Don Quixote to dream about doing the impossible? Must you be part of the IMF to accept a mission that seems impossible?

When a Jew undertakes an activity which is totally in concert with his inner self, he needn't be bothered by the seeming impossibility of the endeavor. Rather than being overwhelmed by any difficulties or challenges, he can be certain of success. Success might not be immediate, it can take time - maybe a month, a year or even more. But in the end he will be successful. For this is an assignment connected with his essence, and "A G-dly thing exists forever."

But what if this endeavor not only seems to be totally impossible, but actually is impossible according to nature? We should attempt it anyway, and eventually we will be totally successful, beyond our wildest, most quixotic dream.

Enough theory. How does this apply to life? An apt example is from the life of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, of blessed memory, mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When her husband, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, was exiled by the communist government in the 1930s, she produced ink out of herbs, so that he could record - in the margins of his books, for there was no paper - his esoteric commentaries and explanations on the Torah.

But, we haven't gotten to the impossible part yet. That happened after Rabbi Levi Yitzchok had passed away. Rebbetzin Chana undertook to smuggle his manuscripts out of communist Russia. This was truly an impossible task, not just seemingly impossible, but impossible according to everyone's calculations. And yet, somehow, she succeeded in smuggling out his voluminous library of holy manuscripts.

What kind of thoughts go through our minds when we are confronted with an impossible but crucial task such as the one just mentioned? We might think that it isn't appropriate to be involved in such an activity, for it is a pity to take time away from some simpler task which we are certain to complete successfully.

We should, however, keep in mind that everything that happens is Divinely ordained. If you find out that something needs to be fixed, then you have to try to fix it. There is no time for lengthy considerations; if you were dealt the card, it's in your hand and you have to play it.

When you are actually involved in the matter in question, you must take into consideration all the significant obstacles and limitations. You have to speak with certain people, try to influence others, while going about things in a very natural, organized way. However, the vigor and enthusiasm with which you attack the assignment needs to be above any considerations, boundaries or limitations. For this is an assignment from G-d.

It is because of this attitude that people take on impossible tasks and succeed! Their success does not affect only themselves, but the greater world as well. In the above example, through the efforts of Rebbetzin Chana in smuggling out the manuscripts, an effect was made on the whole world, for these manuscripts were later printed and innumerable people benefitted from the knowledge they contained.

An additional reason for our success when we put aside natural considerations and undertake impossible tasks: The Talmud states, "The emissary is like the sender." When a Divine assignment is sent your way, you have the Divine strength of the Sender.

Living with the Rebbe

The first seven of the ten plagues are enumerated in this week's Torah portion, Va'eira. The plagues were the prelude to the liberation of our ancestors from Egypt. The thrilling and dramatic way in which the Children of Israel experienced sudden and complete transformation occurred in both the physical and the spiritual realms.

Physically, the change was extremely dramatic. Imagine the bitterness of our ancestors' slavery: Egypt was a country from which no slaves had ever escaped or left; they were completely in the power of a Pharaoh who bathed himself in the blood of Jewish children to alleviate his leprosy; they were broken in body and spirit by the cruelest forms of forced labor.

Yet, suddenly Pharaoh's power was broken. The entire people was liberated. The former slaves emerged from slavery as free people, bold and dignified, "with an outstretched arm... and with great wealth."

The Jewish people's spiritual liberation was no less sudden and dramatic. After having sunk to the lowest degree of unholiness, to the point of pagan idol-worship, they suddenly - at the time of the crossing of the Red Sea - perceived G-d, revealed in His full Glory. Seven weeks later (commemorated today by the holiday of Shavuot), they all stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, on the highest level of holiness and prophecy. G-d spoke to each one of them individually, without any mediator, and declared; "I am the L-rd your G-d."

There is an additional reason for the hasty departure from Egypt. In theory, once Pharaoh gave them permission to leave, the Jews could have left Egypt at their leisure. However, the Exodus was not just from a geographic Egypt. It was primarily an exodus from the evil and impurity in which the Israelites had become immersed. For this reason, it was imperative for the Jews to leave swiftly.

Not just on the holiday of Passover, but each and every single day, we are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt. The instructive message to us all that stands out from the events in this week's Torah portion is that each Jew has the inner capacity and actual ability to transform himself in a short time, suddenly, from one extreme to the opposite.

Adapted by Rabbi I.M. Kagen (obm) from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

by Rabbi Mordechai Bulua

Who hasn't heard of the campaign that reached its peak this past September, known as the ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Ice Bucket Challenge? It's where someone is challenged to either make a donation to the ALS Association or have an ice-cold bucket of water poured over his head.

A week before Rosh Hashana this year, my cousin Rabbi Chaim Bulua who is a Lubavitcher Chasid, emailed me with an "ice bucket" inspired challenge. He challenged me to either get a fellow Jew to put on tefilin within the next 48 hours, or to give a donation to ALS.

I knew it wouldn't be easy, especially for me to ask a total stranger if he is Jewish, but I decided to take it on nonetheless. I'm always up for a challenge. I emailed him back that I accept.

The next day, I was in Monsey, New York, for a wedding. Before the wedding, my wife asked me to drive her to The Shops at Nanuet, a new shopping mall just outside of Monsey. After my wife entered a store, I got out of the car and said a silent prayer to G-d to help me fulfill this challenge. A moment later, I saw a 40-something, athletic man walking in my direction. I stopped him and asked if he was Jewish. When he replied in the affirmative, I asked him if he would like to put on tefillin.

"What are tefillin?" the man asked me. When I described what tefilin are, he told me that he had never heard of tefilin in his entire life. I told him that I have a pair of tefilin in my car. He got very excited and replied, quoting Nike, "Just do it!"

I rushed back to my car to get my tefilin. When I told the gentleman my first name, he told me that he hadn't heard his Hebrew name pronounced since his Bar Mitzva! We both shared the same Hebrew first name! Then and there we both agreed that our meeting was Divine providence. When I tried putting tefilin on the man's arm, I couldn't role up the sleeve of his thick sweatshirt. The man said it was no problem as he ran to his car and changed into a t-shirt. After helping him put on the tefilin, he repeated the Shema after me, both in Hebrew and English.

After I put the tefillin away, the man said that he felt different, and that he had never felt that way before! It was a good feeling. (The mitzvah obviously had an immediate effect!) He asked me again why I was doing this, and I told him the story. He then asked who else I had to put tefillin on. When I answered "You're it!" his response was "I'm it?" The man was in seventh heaven! He thanked me for giving him this opportunity, but I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to help a fellow Jew. I then wished him a Shana Tova and we went our separate ways.

When I came back home, I called my Lubavitcher cousin and related the story. He told me that it is extremely special to help someone who had never in his life put on tefilin. I found out later that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said (based on the Talmud in Rosh Hashana 17), that by wearing tefillin even if only once, a Jew becomes worthy of the World-to-Come! My cousin then asked me rhetorically: "Do you know what you are? Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "You're a full-fledged Lubavitcher!"

When my cousin further asked me to challenge at least 3 additional people, I told him that I didn't feel comfortable asking others to do what I had done. It hadn't been easy for me to ask someone if they're Jewish. I suggested a different challenge which my cousin agreed to. This past year, I officiated as rabbi during the High Holidays at a synagogue where all worshippers observe Shabbat.

Later I discovered an amazing connection between tefilin, Shabbat and the Torah portion of Noach, read on the week of the World-Wide Shabbat Project. The rainbow, mentioned in the portion of Noach (Gen. 9:13) is also referred to as a "sign." It is a sign of the covenant that G-d made between Himself and all of humankind that He would never destroy the entire world again.

In the Torah, Tefilin (Deut. 6:8) and Shabbat (Ex.31:17) are each called a "sign." Helping another Jew, whether to put on tefilin, or to experience Shabbat, is also a "sign" - of the times!

What's New

New Mivka in Petersburg

A beautiful new luxury mikva was opened in the Maor Center in Petersburg, Russia. Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau who was at the opening said about the unprecedented Jewish revival in Petersburg, "Is there any bigger victory of light over darkness?"

New Synagogue

In celebration of its 36th anniversary year on campus, the Chabad House at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, opened a Sephardi synagogue. The new Franco-Ashkenazi Family Sephardic Synagogue is the first Sephardi synagogue at any public college in the United States.

The Rebbe Writes

26th of Teves, 5725 [1965]

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter with the enclosure, in which you write about your problem of acute anxiety, and ask my advice.

The best and most effective thing to do, in a situation such as yours, is to study thoroughly those sections and chapters in our sacred books where the matter of Divine Providence and Bitochon [trust] are discussed, such as Chovos Halvovos, Shaar Habitochon, and similar. It is well to keep in mind those chapters and verses in the Tehillin [Psalms] which speak of these subjects, as well as the Midrashim and interpretations of our Sages on them. These things should be studied with such depth that they should become a part of one's thinking. In this way there will be no room left for any kind of anxiety or worry, and as King David said in the Tehillim , "G-d is with me, I shall not fear. What can man do unto me!"

As you well know the matter of Hashgocho Protis [Divine Providence] is the basis of true monotheism, a concept which to us means not only that G-d is one, but also is the Master, continually supervising every detail of His handiwork. The corollary of this is that there cannot be a single point in the whole order of the world which is separated from the Supreme Being, or in any way not subject to His control. At the same time it is obvious that the Supreme Being is also the Essence of Perfection and Goodness. And although many things in the world seem imperfect, and require completion or perfection, there can be no doubt that there is a perfect order in the world, and even the lowest in the scale of Creation, namely the inanimate things, display wonderful perfection and symmetry, as can be seen from the atoms and molecules of inorganic matter. Hence, the conclusion must be that even those things which require completion, are also part of the perfect order, and necessary for the fulfillment of the good, as all this is explained at length in the teachings of Chassidus. It is explained there that in order for a man to attain perfection, it is necessary that he should also have the feeling that he is not only on the receiving end, but also a contributor, and according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory, "A partner in the Creation." This is why many things have been left in the world for him to improve and perfect.

I also want to make the further observation, and this is also essential, that there is really no basis for anxiety at any time, and as you yourself mentioned in your letter, that you find no reason for it. Even in such cases where you think you know the reason for your anxiety, the reason is undoubtedly imaginary, or at any rate, not the real cause. For the real cause is that one's daily life is not in complete harmony with the true essence of a Jew. In such a case it is impossible not to have an awkward feeling that things do not seem to fit somehow, and it is this disharmony which is at the bottom of the anxiety, and it is in proportion to the discrepancy between his way of life and his true natural self.

Everybody recognizes that anxiety has to do with the psyche. But in the case of a Jew, the so-called psyche is really the Neshama [soul]. Some Jews have a particularly sensitive soul, in which case the above mentioned disharmony would create a greater anxiety. In such a case even subtle and "minor" infractions of Dikdukei Mitzvoth [fine points of commandments] would create anxiety. But even in the case of an ordinary soul for the average Jew, there must inevitably be created some anxiety if there is a failure to observe the fundamental Mitzvoth [commandments]. It is very possible that the above may have a bearing on your situation. If this is so, then all that is necessary is to rectify matters, and bring the daily life and conduct into complete harmony with the essence of the soul, through strict adherence to the Torah and Mitzvoth. Then the symptoms will disappear of themselves.

It is necessary to mention also that in your case, where your position gives you a great deal of influence on your environment, your influence is an integral part of your harmonious life, and it is therefore essential that your influence, too, should be in harmony with the Torah and Mitzvoth in the fullest measure.

I suggest that you should also have the Mezuzoth of your home checked, as also your Tefillin, and before putting on your Tefillin every weekday morning, to put aside a small coin for Tzedoko [charity].

Today Is ...

25 Tevet

Exodus from Egypt means leaving limitations and bounds, and Chassidut is to enable man to leave the restrictions of the material world. There is a difference: The Egyptian Exodus means shattering and then departure, which is why they went away from Egypt. The Chassidic exodus means purification and correction, stepping out of worldly limitations and bounds while remaining in the world. This means, while functioning within the world we must transcend its limitations. We are to remove the limitations and bounds, and perceive the truth - that the world per se is truly good, since, after all, the natural world is what G-d intended. This is attained through the avoda of Chassidus

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the month of Shevat. The first day of Shevat is on Wednesday of this coming week, coinciding with January 21 this year.

Shevat is the eleventh month of the Jewish year, counting from the month of Nisan (the first month for numbering the months). The number eleven is a very special number. For, while the number ten represents fulfillment and completion, eleven transcends all levels. It is even higher than completion.

Jewish mysticism explains that the number eleven refers to Keter - the Divine crown. Ten is connected with intellect and emotions. Just as a crown is placed on top of the king's head, the crown symbolizes the will and pleasure of G-d which transcends all limitations.

On the first day of Shevat, Moses began speaking to the Jewish people the words which are contained in the book of Deuteronomy, known as the repetition of the Torah. Moses spoke to the Jewish people for 37 days, admonishing them for their past behavior, inspiring them for the future, blessing. At the conclusion of these 37 days, on the seventh of Adar, Moses, the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, passed away.

Other special days in the month of Shevat are: the tenth of Shevat, which is the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe and the ascent to leadership of the Rebbe; Tu B'Shevat or the 15th of Shevat which is the New Year for Trees; the 22nd of Shevat which is the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.

May we very soon see the actualization of the lofty concept of Shevat, eleven - completion, with the complete Redemption, NOW.

Thoughts that Count

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

It is far easier to physically take the Jews out of galut (exile) than it is to remove the inner galut from within every Jew.

(Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Shpitovka)

These are Aaron and Moses...These are Moses and Aaron (Ex. 6:26, 27)

Aaron, the first kohen (priest), embodied the proper worship of G-d, and by extension, symbolizes prayer in general. The job of the kohanim was to offer the sacrifices in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; in our time, when we have no Temple, prayer must take the place of these sacrifices. Moses, on the other hand, epitomized and symbolized Torah learning. The juxtaposition of the two names and their repetition in the reverse order teaches us that there are times in our daily lives when one aspect takes precedence over the other. Sometimes we stress prayer, as a preparation for performing mitzvot and learning Torah, and sometimes we learn first in order to pray more effectively.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

But the wheat and millet were not smitten (Ex. 9:32)

Why didn't G-d destroy the millet and the wheat along with the rest of the crops in the field when He sent the plague of hail? The answer is that Pharaoh had to have at least something left to lose. A threat is only effective when something dear is being threatened. Had Pharaoh's land been totally decimated by the hail, he would not have been motivated to heed any further warnings issued by Moses.

(Yad Yosef)

It Once Happened

One Saturday night, after Shabbat had departed, Rabbi Moshe Alsheich (1521-1593) was walking down the street and overheard a conversation which was taking place inside the house of a poor couple. He heard the man wishing his wife "a good week," as is customary. Then the man began to sing the hymn "Eliyahu Hanavi," (Elijah the Prophet).

The musical tones were touchingly beautiful, but the singing was interrupted by the voice of the man's wife, who was complaining: "I can't understand you! Have you no heart? How can you sing when your children are facing yet another week with no food in the freezing cold house? Where is this Eliyahu you're singing about, and why isn't he helping us?"

Rabbi Alsheich was not only an outstanding scholar, but he was also a very wealthy man and a great philanthropist as well. He felt such sympathy for the poor family that he returned to his home and filled a small sack with gold coins. He then quietly approached the house of the poor couple and tossed the coins inside, quickly running away so to avoid being seen.

His act of selfless charity aroused the heavenly host, who clamored to reward the tzadik. The prosecuting angel wasn't going to allow such a tumult to continue unchallenged. "This isn't such a big deal," he said, and he suggested that since Rabbi Alsheich was such a great soul, it was only right that he should be subjected to a further test before receiving any reward. In fact, the prosecutor continued, he would go down and administer the test himself.

The very next Shabbat a poor stranger appeared in shul and declared: "I am very hungry. Who will bring me home for the Shabbat meal?" Rabbi Alsheich was the first to seize this opportunity for the great mitzva of hachnasat orchim (hosting guests) and invited the man to dine with him.

Upon their arrival, the poor man was seated at the fine table. The first course was placed before him and in a twinkling, he immediately devoured everything he had been served. As soon as he had downed the last bite he announced that he was still starving. Another portion was brought at once, and another, and yet another, but nothing seemed to quell his terrible hunger. Every delicious variety of food was put before the man, and he gobbled up every morsel. After each portion disappeared, he announced that he was still very hungry. Finally, with no more food in the kitchen, Rabbi Alsheich served him his own portion. When that had been eaten, the portions of the family were eaten one by one by the poor guest, but the man insisted he was still hungry.

Rabbi Alsheich didn't know what to do. He brought food from the neighbors in his courtyard to satisfy his guest, but the man was a bottomless pit of hunger. As Shabbat drew to a close, the man was still eating away, and declaring that he was not full yet. Rabbi Alsheich had exhausted all sources of food, but he promised the man, "When Shabbat ends I will make sure that you can eat your fill. You will not leave my house hungry."

After Shabbat, Rabbi Alsheich ordered that an ox be slaughtered, but upon examination it was discovered to be not kosher. He had another slaughtered, but it too was not kosher. The financial expenditure was enormous, but Rabbi Alsheich was unwilling to renege on his promise. He had another and yet another slaughtered, but each animal was found to be not kosher! Finally, on the fortieth try, the animal was kosher and could be prepared.

When at last the meal was prepared and served, the poor man had disappeared and could not be found.

This tremendous act of benevolence was unbelievable. Now, there was no question that the prosecutor's argument was null and void. Even the Adversary had to concede that Rabbi Alsheich possessed tremendous merits and deserved a reward. But what should be the reward of such a man? Of course the most dearly sought possession of a Torah scholar is a deeper understanding of Torah. And so, a decree came down from the Heavenly Court that Rabbi Alsheich merited to have one of the seventy facets of Torah revealed to him. A special messenger was immediately dispatched to impart this holy knowledge to him.

When these events transpired, Rabbi Joseph Caro (the redactor of the Shulchan Aruch - The Code of Jewish Law) was serving as the Chief Rabbi of Safed. On the following Shabbat, when he entered the synagogue, he noted that Rabbi Alsheich was not in his usual place. It had been revealed to him through his holy insight, that Rabbi Alsheich had ascended greatly in his understanding of Torah. He was impatient to see for himself, and he instructed the congregation to delay their prayers until Rabbi Alsheich entered.

When Rabbi Alsheich finally arrived, Rabbi Caro requested that he ascend to the pulpit and deliver the weekly Torah discourse in his stead, but Rabbi Alsheich refused. It was only when he was ordered to speak, that he acquiesced, and the words which he uttered astounded the entire assembly. The profundity of his discourse made it apparent that something radically new had occurred.

That day marked a change in the procedure of the Shabbat, for from that time forth, Rabbi Alsheich (who was later to be known as the "Holy Alsheich") delivered all the weekly Torah discourses. He also began to write down his Torah insights, Torat Moshe, which are studied to this day.

Moshiach Matters

G-d said to Moses, "And I will also fulfill the promise I made with them, to give them the land of Israel." (Ex. 6:4) To whom had G-d made a promise? To our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But if they had already passed away, how could they receive the land of Israel? This is one of the sources whence we learn about Techiyat Hameytim - the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Era. Even though our Patriarchs are no longer alive, the land will still be given to them because in the days of Moshiach, our ancestors, and all Jews, will come back to life.

(Yalkut Shimoni 6:176)

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