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"L'Chaim" is the Jewish way of making a toast, a hearty wish or blessing to friends.
L'Chaim is spelled with five Hebrew letters: lamed, chet, yud, yud and mem. The two "yuds" are symbolic of two "Yids" or Jews. Set these two letters aside, and you are left with the letters of the word "lechem" - bread.
When two Yids get together in brotherly love and bless each other, they generate G-d's blessing for each other in the area of "bread" which is symbolic of livelihood.
According to our Sages, though, bread does not only mean livelihood. It is symbolic of all one's needs, both material and spiritual. So when two (or more) Jews get together in a true spirit of love and unity, they engender G-d's blessings in all areas of life.
Chasidic custom places the saying of "l'chaim" most effectively at Chasidic gatherings devoted to brotherly (or sisterly) love.
In describing the virtues and benefits of such a gathering, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad-Lubavitch) said, "What a Chasidic gathering can accomplish, even the Angel Michael cannot accomplish!"
The fifth Rebbe of Chabad- Lubavitch, the Rebbe Rashab, explains how it is possible that a Chasidic gathering can be so powerful:
When a father looks at his children, and sees them living together with love, unity, peace and contentment - each one worrying about the good of the other in the same way that he worries about his own good - the father is filled with pleasure and he hurries to fulfill his children's requests.
What turns a random gathering into a "Chasidic gathering"? When those gathered are, or aspire to be, Chasidim.
When someone asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "What is a Chasid?" he answered: "A Chasid is one who foregoes his own good in order to do a favor for another."
A more detailed description of a Chasid can be garnered from the Rebbe Maharash.
Among the defining factors: A Chasid should be involved in doing favors for others; should be joyous; should relate to others good-heartedly; should know his own faults and the strong points of others; should consider the simplest person more worthy than himself; should be able to learn good behavior and positive qualities from every person; should conduct himself in a manner of peace, love, friendship and fellowship.
This issue of L'Chaim - and all of the L'Chaims published for the past 27 years in every country where they are printed and read - is dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe was once asked by a Jew who did not feel comfortable donning the outward garments of a Chasid, if he could still consider himself a Chasid. The Rebbe responded, "When a Jew endeavors to take a step forward in the service of G-d and the love of his fellow man every day, I am happy to consider him my Chasid."
So, L'Chaim brothers and sisters! May we gather at only joyous occasions to bless each other for the fulfillment of all of our needs, especially the most fundamental need - Moshiach, who will usher in the eternal era of personal and world peace, health, fulfillment and plenty.
The name of this week's Torah portion is Yitro, despite the fact that only a small part of the reading is actually devoted to Yitro (Jethro), Moses' father-in-law. Most of the portion pertains to the preparation for and giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which took place seven weeks after the Children of Israel had left Egypt. Certainly the Giving of the Torah is much more significant than the story of Yitro, "the priest of Midian" who "heard all that G-d had done for Moses and for Israel His people" and decided to become Jewish.
In truth, the Giving of the Torah is the central, most definitive historical event in Judaism. This week's portion includes many different narratives, and even contains the Ten Commandments. Nonetheless, the name of the Torah portion is Yitro.
This may be understood in light of the explanation in the Zohar (the mystical text authored by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) that Yitro's conversion to Judaism and his statement, "Now I know that the L-rd is greater than all gods," made it possible for the Torah to be given to the Jewish people.
Accordingly, the entire Torah portion (including those chapters which speak of the Giving of the Torah) is named after Yitro because of the central role he played in the giving of the Torah.
From this we learn a wonderful lesson to be applied in our day-to-day service of G-d:
Yitro is symbolic of the body and animal soul, whose only desire is the pursuit of physical pleasure. Every Jew possess this "Yitro" within him; it strives constantly to arouse his interest in material things.
When a Jew decides to utilize his "Yitro" for holy and spiritual purposes (as did the original Yitro), it is that much easier for him to learn Torah and perform mitzvot, for the animal soul assists him instead of hindering his actions.
This is within the reach of every Jew, as the Torah was given to each and every one without exception. Every Jew can actually induce his animal soul to want the same things his G-dly soul desires: to live a life of Jewish content and meaning, to perform mitzvot and study the Torah.
Furthermore, when a Jew successfully affects his animal soul in this manner, success will be his in all his other endeavors.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4
Children of the Book
An Interview with Devorah Leah Rosenfeld
Devorah Leah Rosenfeld is the Editor-in-Chief at Hachai Publishing, a children's book publishing house founded 26 years ago in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. L'Chaim, also founded in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, interviewed her for this issue of L'Chaim that coincides with the Rebbetzin's anniversary of passing.
When Hachai was founded 26 years ago, most homes didn't even have computers. Today's simplest phone is more powerful than the PCs of those days. How if at all has the digital age affected children's books in general and Hachai in particular?
DLR: My particular vision for Hachai is based on a very old fashioned love of classic children's books... the kind that children want to hear over and over again... and the kind that parents don't mind reading! For that reason, we've resisted turning Hachai titles into interactive games, cartoons, or recordings that children can use independently; there are CDs and DVDs for that purpose. Rather, we imagine that parents and teachers who value close contact and cozy story time with the children in their care will still reach for actual books.
In addition, for many families, Shabbat is set aside for reading time and conversation with their children. Real, hard copies of books with Jewish content will always play an important role for theose who celebrate Shabbat.
Do you see Hachai titles as exclusively for Orthodox children and families?
DLR: Absolutely not! Although Torah observant families make up the bulk of our customers, we've always aimed to make the books appealing to a wider Jewish market. Thousands of Jewish kids of all types have encountered our books in Hebrew schools, synagogue libraries, Jewish summer camps and Chabad Houses. There's been tremendous interest in the material from across a broad spectrum of Jewish educational and literary organizations. "Nine Spoons," a moving account of a memorable Chanuka in a Nazi labor camp, won the prestigious Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award for best picture book the year it was released. After that, numerous other titles received positive reviews and even made the AJL Annual Notable List!
The popular PJ Library Program, which sponsors Jewish books for Jewish families from all affiliations, has chosen five Hachai titles for distribution to its membership. These organizations have many other books and publishers to choose from, and it's gratifying to see that the high quality of Hachai material has opened doors for Torah-true values in the wider world of Jewish children's literature.
What is your favorite book and why?
DLR: Unfair question! They are all my babies! However, I do have a great soft spot for "Is It Shabbos Yet?" as one of my first discoveries as an editor.
I'm also amazed that "The Invisible Book" encapsulates what spirituality is all about in such a simple, child-friendly way. "Hashem is Truly Everywhere," "Messes of Dresses," and "Shabbos, Shabbos I Love You" represent the perfect blend of rhyme, rhythm, and illustration. They are really fun to read aloud! (I hope "Labels for Laibel" also makes the grade.)
The Toddler Experience Series ("I Go to School, Doctor, Dentist, Farm...") is deceptively simple, yet provides a profound look at the values we hold dear in the everyday fabric of our lives. I was especially touched to hear from the mom of a teenage son with autism. "I Go to a Wedding" helped her prepare him for a family wedding. On the night of the wedding, his behavior was impeccable, because he knew exactly what to expect. Told you I love them all!
What's the most difficult part about the process of publishing children's books?
DLR: The biggest hurdle is to be sure that a book or a particular topic is really Hachai worthy. We always try to create not only the best Jewish book on a given subject, but the best book by any standard!
For instance, when we published a telling time book, "Once Upon a Time," we didn't just address telling the hour and the half hour, but the way the minute hand indicates five minute intervals! I've yet to see a secular book that goes into that much detail. Then, of course it's chock full of Torah values about how to best utilize our time.
We faced the same challenge with our new "Bracha, Do You Know?" book. The topic of blessings is not complete without discussing the "philosophy" behind reciting blessings, as well. For example, Who is the One we are talking to when making a blessing?
In addition to all that, we are very careful with every detail of Jewish law and custom that impacts the illustrations. Is the mezuza in the illustration at the right height? Is the mom's skirt long enough? Is the character holding the food in the right hand when making a blessing? Do we see the tzitzit on men and boys? Can we get that child off his knees? Can we illustrate the scene with only kosher animals?
I try not to think of these requirements as difficulties, but necessary challenges.
How, if at all, has the fact that Hachai was founded in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka impacted on the publishing house (or on you)?
DLR: When making certain changes gets tiresome, or makes the illustrator feel the work would be cuter with less emphasis on Jewish custom and law, I picture myself handing a copy of each new book to the Rebbe.
It helps remind me and all of us - the managing editor, authors, illustrators, graphic designers - that we are not in the publishing business. We are in chinuch - Jewish education.
Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Hachai?
DLR: I'd like everyone to know that we publish and release new books on a regular basis, so it's a good idea to ask your local Jewish bookseller for the latest! However, the tried and tested books from years back are still in print and still beloved by a new generation of parents and children... So, ask for those, too!
Bracha-Do You Know?
It's exciting and interactive for children to guess the rhyming Bracha (blessing) riddles, then open the flap to reveal the answers in this lift-the-flap book. Cleverly designed so the very young can learn and review all the various food related blessings on different types of treats... and most importantly, remember Who is the One to thank! Bright colorful illustrations feature a family of happy children who enjoy and appreciate every opportunity to make brachos... so your kids will, too! Bracha - Do You Know? makes a great gift for home or classroom, joining other books in this valuable "Lift-the-Flap" series from Hachai Publishing.
Other titles: Purim Guess Who? Chanukah Guess Who? What Do I Say? What Else Do I Say? Written by Ariella Stern, illustrated by Patti Argoff
Freely adapted and translated
Erev Hilulo of Yud Shevat, Parshas Yisro, 5731 
To All Participants in the Ninth Annual Mid-Winter Conference of Neshei UBnos Chabad, Cleveland, Ohio
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to be informed of your forthcoming Mid-Winter Convention, taking place during the weekend of Parshas [the Torah portion of] Yisro, the Sidra [portion] of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah].
You surely know of the teaching of Rabbi Shneur Zalman [founder of Chabad Chasidism] to seek in the weekly portion directives and inspiration for the events of that week. Accordingly, you will recall the special role of Jewish women at the time of Mattan Torah. Our Sages, commenting on the verse "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and speak to the children of Israel" declare that the "House of Jacob" refers to the women.
Consequently, the Torah indicates that the women were approached first, before the men, when the Torah was about to be given. This emphasizes the women's primary role in the preservation of the Torah and Mitzvoth (commandments) in their homes, as well as for the Jewish people as a whole.
Commenting on another verse, "Charus Al Haluchos" ("engraved on the Tablets"), our Sages see in the word "Charus" the implication of "Cheirus" ("liberation"). They go on to explain that true liberation can only be achieved through the Torah, when it is truly engraved upon the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. For when a Jew lives his daily life in accordance with the Torah, he is truly free; free from servitude to his own natural temptations, free from anxiety, etc.
The Torah concept of freedom is the very opposite of what nowadays passes for "liberation," which really is nothing but a clamor for freedom to do as one pleases, in order to gratify the natural appetite without restrictions and inhibitions. This kind of liberation is nothing but an attempt to legalize the lowest animal passions, and there is surely no greater slavery than being a slave to one's own passions.
True liberation from enslavement to the self and to the negative aspects of the society in which one lives, can be achieved only by submission to the Will of G-d and the acceptance of the "yoke" of the Torah and Mitzvoth. Only in this way can the Jew attain the highest degree of spiritual development in his daily life, and make his life truly worth living. For it is the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life], which elevates the life of the Jew and gives life true meaning and fulfillment, so that the Jew can realize his destiny of being created in the image of G-d. Indeed, it has been explained that the Hebrew word "Adam" (man) is derived from the expression "Adameh l'Elyon" ("I will aspire towards the Supreme Being").
The Torah concept of freedom is the very opposite of what nowadays passes for "liberation," which really is nothing but a clamor for freedom to do as one pleases, in order to gratify the natural appetite without restrictions and inhibitions.
I trust the above few lines will lend further substance to the theme of your Convention, and, what is most important, that it be truly implemented in the activities of the Neshei uBnos Chabad, collectively and individually, in accordance with the traditional role of Jewish womanhood, as indicated above.
With all good wishes for your Hatzlocho [success], and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report always,
The first positive mitzva (commandment) is, in the words of Maimonides, "To know that there is a First Being, who caused the existence of all beings...The knowledge of this principle is a positive command, as it is said, I am the Eternal your G-d." This is a Mitzva relating to mind and intellect. True, every one of Israel believes in G-d with a simple faith, and his heart is whole with G-d; still it is the duty of the mind and intellect to bring this faith to a level of knowledge and comprehension....
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Many of our Sages make reference to the fact that a person's name indicates something about the person and can teach us about him or her.
If this is true for each of us, how much more so is it true for someone like Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson (the wife of the Rebbe), whose yartzeit is commemorated this week on the 22nd of Shevat (February 11 this year). In fact, the Rebbetzin's name teaches us not only about her holy life, but about our lives as well.
On the Rebbetzin's first yartzeit, the Rebbe spoke about her name, as well as the significance to us of the date of her passing:
"Chaya" means "life." The Rebbetzin's life was filled with mitzvot and acts of goodness and kindness. But her deeds did not remain in the realm of the spirit and were not for a select few. Her deeds affected even the lowest points of this world as indicated by her second name, "Mushka" - a name in a foreign language. This indicates that the Rebbetzin brought holiness into the world, even into the lowest parts of this world.
The 22nd of Shevat is the day of the Rebbetzin's passing. The number 22 alludes to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Jewish teachings state that G-d created the world using these letters. These 22 letters, in their myriad combinations, contain the essence of all bounty and good. The intent is to reveal in all matters of the universe the letters of the Torah which are inherent in the created world.
From the Rebbetzin's name and from the date of her passing we can take one combined lesson for ourselves and our lives. We should fill our days with acts of goodness, kindness, and charity that are not merely surface or peripheral but that permeate and penetrate even the lowest parts of this world.
With each individual working toward this end, we will soon see that G-dliness truly permeates this world with the revelation of Moshiach and the commencement of the long-awaited Redemption.
And Yitro [Jethro], the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law...and Yitro, father-in-law of Moses (Ex. 18:1, 2)
Why is "father-in-law" mentioned twice in describing Yitro? Yitro was an important man in his own right. As the "priest of Midian," he already enjoyed a high status. Yet he chose to be known as "Moses' father-in-law," for he knew this was his true claim to greatness.
You shall select out of all the people...men of truth, hating bribe (18:21)
You will have to search hard to find these people, Yitro counseled Moses, for men possessing these qualities usually run away from positions of honor and do not sit idle all day, enabling you to find them easily.
(Shaar Bat Rabim)
And Yitro heard...and he came...to Moses (18:1-5)
What did Yitro hear to cause him to seek out Moses? He heard of the miracles of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek. These events aroused in him a strong belief in G-d. Why did he need to see Moses personally? Yitro knew that to study Torah properly, he had to go to the leader of the generation and learn from him directly.
You shall sanctify today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their clothes (19:10)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught, "You shall sanctify today and tomorrow" refers to the sanctity that is bestowed from Above; "and they shall wash their clothes" refers to the effort that each person must make on his own behalf. His grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, elaborated: "The command to sanctify 'today and tomorrow' was given to Moses, and indeed, in every generation, the leader of that generation has the power to elevate the world and imbue it with more holiness. However, this must be preceded by the preparation of 'washing the clothes.' Each individual must first work on himself to cleanse the garments of his soul - his thoughts, deeds and actions - before asking for help from Above."
The first light had barely begun to erase the shadows from the sky. The young woman rose early today as every morning. She washed and hurriedly dressed, tossing on her cloak. She proceeded on her way, her attention taken up by thoughts of the future. Following the sound of melodious voices, she arrived at the House of Prayer, and took up her usual position outside. It was here she came every morning, to sit and allow the sounds to enter her and fill her soul.
From the moment she knew there was life within her, her plan was clear. She would go every day to the House of Prayer and then to all the Houses of Study. Her child, though still unborn, would gradually come to know the sounds of the holy words of Torah.
The chidings of her friends wouldn't stand in her way. "Where are you going so early, while it is still dark and cold?" When she would reply, "I am going to the House of Prayer, so that my baby can hear the holy words," they would look at her in surprise. No one could fathom her design; but to her it was perfectly clear.
On this particular cold, winter day, she sat immersed in her own prayer to the One Above to bless her child with wisdom and the ability to toil in His Torah. She sat until the scholars emerged from their devotions. Shyly, she approached the first, "Please, bless my child with wisdom." The old man smiled at the young woman whose presence no longer surprised him. "May your child shine with the light of Torah," he replied. She then continued onto the various Houses of Study where she would sit beneath the open windows, the words of Torah permeating her essence.
By the time the sun had risen to the highest point in the sky, she had made her way home to begin her day's work. The months passed; the sun rose later, the mornings were warm and sunny. The young woman still made her early morning rounds, but now she was accompanied by her small, new son, the apple of her eye, her precious treasure.
She still visited both the Houses of Prayer and the Houses of Study, but now she propped up the small baby in his cradle which she carried from home. And from the early morning until the heat of the day had passed, the tiny baby sat, dozed, ate, and dozed again while the sacred melodies of Torah learning filled the air, enveloping him and filtering into his consciousness. The young mother was joyful with her lot and confident in the future of her small child, Yehoshua.
Rabbi Yehoshua was tired. The road to Rome was long and difficult, especially in the dry season. But, praised be the Alm-ghty, his mission had met with success. His nerve-wracking debates with the vicious Hadrian had yielded the hoped for result - the severe decrees against the Jews had been rescinded. He could return home to Yavne in peace, with good news for his colleagues in the Sanhedrin and all his fellow Jews. Who could say what the evil Roman would come up with next time; now, at least, the Jews could breathe more easily, for a while. Rabbi Yehoshua was enjoying his repose. He had stopped to rest at an inn. He longed to return to the Holy Land, to resume learning Torah with his beloved comrades.
He was thus immersed in reverie when he was interrupted by a young Roman gentlewoman who stood before him with a saucy look on her face. "So, you are the famous Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania," she said with a look of disdain.
"So, I am," answered Rabbi Yehoshua, for even in his humility he was aware that his fame extended even here, to Rome. His wisdom, though, was equalled by his penetrating insight and deep-felt love for his fellowman. His response to her was gentle, almost diffident: "What it is that troubles you, my daughter?"
"I have heard many tales recounting your wisdom," she replied, "but never would I have imagined that G-d would pick such an ugly vessel for his wisdom!"
Rabbi Yehoshua smiled at the woman's easy insolence and rude, but honest description of his appearance; she was obviously a person of great wealth and position to possess such a haughty confidence at such a young age. "Tell me," he said, "does your father have old wine?"
"Of course. We have extensive cellars," the girl answered, a bit surprised at the question.
"Well," he continued, "how does your father store the wine?"
"In clay jugs, of course."
"Why is that? Can't he afford to buy silver casks?" asked Rabbi Yehoshua, feigning surprise.
"Everyone knows that wine will spoil if it is stored in silver. Clay is the proper material for preserving wine."
"You have your answer! The Creator of the World knows the proper receptacle for His wisdom, and thus has He created me! If you have a complaint, you must make it to my Creator!"
The Roman woman was both embarrassed and impressed by Rabbi Yehoshua. She took her leave, murmuring apologies. But Rabbi Yehoshua was unperturbed by the encounter. He stood up to resume his journey home.
The years accumulated greatness and honor, but Rabbi Yehoshua's aim never changed. One day, already an old man, he sat with his students exploring a question in the law. Was it incumbent upon the parents to bring their small children to hear the reading of the law? Rabbi Yehoshua related the story of how his mother would rise before dawn to sit beneath the open windows and allow her child to absorb the essence of the holy words. All his life, Rabbi Yehoshua continued, he recalled his mother with blessing, for it was she who instilled in him the holiness to which his soul became attached. Rabbi Yehoshua's comment sealed the halachic conclusion with his own beautiful truth.
The Prophet Isaiah states that in the Messianic Era, "Gd will wipe away tears from every face..." Tears, "dima" in Hebrew, is numerically equivalent to 119. Gd's positive activity of wiping away tears represents an increase causing the sum to reach 120, the years of a complete human life. Thus, when Moses reached 120 years, he said, "Today my days and my years are completed." This relates to every Jew, for every Jew possesses a spark of Moses. It also shares a connection to the portion of Yitro. Our Sages relate that after each of the Ten Commandments, "the souls of the Jews departed," a phenomenon parallel to death, and Gd revived them with the dew which He will use to resurrect the dead in the Era of the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, eve of 22 Shevat, 1992)