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1402: Vayechi

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Devarim Deutronomy

December 25, 2015 - 13 Tevet, 5776

1402: Vayechi

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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

On Hold

"Please listen carefully as our menu has changed: If you are calling to open a new account, press 1; If you are calling to make a payment, press 2; If you are calling about our new features or to add to your service, press 3; If you are calling with a question about a bill, press 4; If you are calling about a technical problem, press 5; If you are calling to speak with a customer representative, press 6; We value your business and appreciate your patience. Please continue to hold."

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"There may be a delay. Your call will be answered in approximately infinite minutes. In the order in which it was received."

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"We value your business and appreciate your patience. Please continue to hold."

One of life's little frustrations. We are reduced, it seems, to pick-a-numbers. But what, really, is so annoying about being put on hold?

Well, there's the time wasted - but we could do a crossword puzzle or write a letter or read a book while waiting - if it wasn't for that obnoxious music.

And then there's the impersonal, mechanical, automated system - but so many of our calls are routine that the computer-operation works faster and saves us time. How much do we have in our account? Enter the account number and you've got it.

Perhaps the most annoying - or frustrating - part about being put on hold is that when someone finally gets around to talking to you, he or she is incompetent. The service representative doesn't provide any, can't answer your questions, and puts you on hold - again - while going to search for a manager.

Yet, like so many things in life, being put on hold has a lesson for us. Two lessons, actually.

First, we have to know what we want, know the options the menu provides.

Do we want to "open a new account" - move forward in our Jewish observance?

Do we want to "make a payment" -give extra charity?

Do we want to "find out about new features" - extend our learning, study a text or topic we haven't looked at before?

Do we have a "question about a bill" - is it time for a periodic spiritual accounting?

Do we have a "technical problem" - is there some detail of a mitzva (commandment) we're not getting quite right or could do better?

Do we want to speak to the "Customer Representative" - increase the intensity and focus of our prayers?

And then, when we are put on hold, when our efforts at self-improvement, at increasing our Torah study, our charity , our prayers, our mitzvot, etc., get delayed - we should be frustrated. Because our spiritual time is too important.

And we should voice our frustration to the "Customer Representative." For when it comes to being put on hold, we've been on hold for far too long - for over two thousand years, in fact.

It's time to demand better service. It's time to refuse any more automated responses. It's time for G-d to take us off hold - and send Moshiach!

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, Jacob, on his deathbed, makes a last request of his son Joseph. "Bury me not, I pray you, in Egypt!" he implores. "I will do as you have said," Joseph promises his father. But Joseph's promise is not enough. "Swear to me!" Jacob insists, and Joseph does.

Why was Joseph's promise insufficient? Was Jacob worried that his son would not fulfill his promise? What is the difference between a promise and an oath?

An oath differs from a promise in the sense of obligation and urgency it imposes. When a person makes a promise, he most certainly intends to carry out his word when the opportunity presents itself, but he does not spend all of his waking hours thinking about the promise and wondering how to implement it. But when a person utters an oath, it becomes the single most important motivating factor in his life. An oath is so serious, in fact, that the person dare not divert his mind from the matter for even a moment.

Jacob realized that what he asked of Joseph was so difficult and fraught with obstacles that the force of an oath was necessary.

This exchange between father and son also underscores an important difference between Jacob and Joseph: Jacob refused to be interred in Egypt, insisting that his body be brought back to the land of Israel for burial. Joseph, however, before his death, made the Jews swear they would take his bones back with them to Israel when the time for redemption came. His casket remained in Egypt for the duration of the exile.

It is erroneous to conclude that Jacob's request was made for selfish reasons; that he preferred to be buried in the holy soil of Israel while his children languished in Egyptian exile. Rather, Jacob's concern was for the welfare of the entire Jewish people.

"The prisoner cannot free himself from prison," our Sages have declared. The Jewish people, subjugated and enslaved, needed an outside force to free them from exile in Egypt. This outside force was the merit of Jacob, whose rightful place was the holy land of Israel, from where the Jewish people drew strength and spiritual sustenance.

Joseph, however, was exiled in Egypt with the rest of his brethren. His positive influence came from within and was therefore closer and more immediate. When he passed away, his remains stayed in Egypt, affording the Jews an additional merit. Jacob wanted to forestall the possibility that Joseph would want his body to remain in Egypt for this reason, and insisted that he swear to his request.

We learn from this that although the Divine Presence has indeed accompanied us throughout our exile, a Jew must nevertheless cry out for the galut to end and for all of us to be "carried out of Egypt." With faith and trust in G-d we will merit the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption, speedily in our day.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot vol. 25

A Slice of Life

In Those Days, At this Time

Chabad-Lubavitch had more than 15,000 public Menoras in cities throughout the world this Chanuka, including the World's Largest Menora in New York City sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization. Nearly 1,000,000 Menora kits and 2.5 million holiday guides in 13 languages were distributed globally. There were also over 5,000 Menoras on top of vehicles parading in cities as diverse as Philadephia, Moscow, London and Migdal Haemek. Hong Kong's public Menora celebrated a special anniversary this year. (All photos are from their festive Chanuka event):

It's been 30 years since a Giant Menorah was fist lit against Hong Kong's famous skyline. At this year's lighting, over 1,000 people attended in contrast with only first 40 at the first lighting.

In 1985, as Rabbi Mordechai and Goldie Avtzon were planning the original Giant Menorah lighting, someone told them, "A Giant Menorah is for Brooklyn, not for the Far East." That year was the first time that anyone had publicly lit a Menorah in Hong Kong, in China, or in all of Asia for that matter.

But as proven by the crowds of people who showed up to this year's lighting, a Giant Menorah is just as appropriate in the Far East it is in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Eiffel Tower, Vietnam, Beunos Aires, or 15,000 other locations where Chabad-Lubavitch Centers light Giant Menorahs. Hong Kong's Giant Menorah went up 30 years ago - a first in the city, in China, and a first in Asia. Only forty people attended that first lighting because the rest of the community stayed home.

Despite concerns about weather and security - one would-be attendee posted on Chabad of Hong Kong's facebook page that fear shouldn't keep people away from celebrating the Festival of Freedom and Lights - a record crowd showed up. "Celebrating 30 years of lighting up the skyline of Hong Kong" was what the publicity boasted and everyone agreed that not only was the Hong Kong skyline lit up, but many souls as well.

The Chanukah extravaganza, which took place in Chater Garden, began with a carnival featuring over 10 new attractions over previous years!

The carnival was followed by the Menorah lighting by Rabbi Avtzon and Mr. Ephraim Zion, one of those people who - 30 years earlier - believed that a Giant Menorah does belong in Hong Kong! Rabbi Avtzon shared a message with the crowd about the power of one small candle and how much light it can bring into the world. A memorial video for victims of terror was shown after which Rabbi Avtzon and Mr. Zion were lifted into the air by a "cherry picker" to light the Giant Menorah.

The Giant Menorah Lighting was only one of eight events organized by Chabad of Hong Kong over the eight days of Chanukah, with public lightings in three different locations, and additional programs for kids, teens, women and young professionals.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Pinny and Chaia Super were recently appointed the directors of Chabad Young Jewish Professionals in Melbourne, Australia. Chabad Young Professionals - Melbourne, will be focused on building a new community of young professionals by hosting religious events, Jewish classes, beginner services, Shabbat dinners, social events, business and networking events as well as encouraging young adults to get involved in local Jewish community service initiatives around Melbourne.

Tefilin Selfies

A Tefilin campaign in connection with this special Year of Hakhal is aiming to post 10,000 selfies of people putting on Tefilin. To date, eight Chabad-Lubavitch Yeshivas around the world have joined in this unique project. The yeshiva students are committing to encouraging Jewish boys and men who they meet to put on Tefilin, take a selfie, and post it on instagram at The picture can also be emailed to or posted via the website

The Rebbe Writes

From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Chasidic artist Henoch Hendel Lieberman (1900-1976). Freely translated

I was very pleased to read that you are utilizing your artistic talent, that you are preparing an exhibition and that the art critics wrote favorably of you in the newspapers. I am sure you will continue to progress in these endeavors and that you will fully utilize your G-d-given talents to strengthen Judaism and religious feeling. The most important part of the letter is your complaint about your situation. You feel very broken; from time to time you fall into a mood of despair; you find no place for yourself.

You do not write what has caused your current mood and I therefore cannot go into detail to show you how these causes are really the product of your imagination and arise from your yetzer hara (a person's inner inclination to evil); not that the cause does not exist - it may indeed have some foundation. But as a reason for depression and despair - it is false. It is a trick of the yetzer, that evil inclination whom my father-in-law, the Rebbe, used to call "the Cunning One" because he approaches each person with words designed to appeal to that particular individual. Again however, since you do not write the particular causes which seem to justify your dejection, I will limit myself to a general discussion of the whole matter, taking support from the well-known teaching of the Baal Shem Tov (which my father-in-law, the Rebbe, often repeated), namely, that everyone can learn a lesson in G-d's service from everything he sees and hears. I will apply this lesson to shed some light on your particular case:

You know, I am sure, that the genius of the artist in sketching, drawing and painting is his ability to detach himself from the externality of the object he is portraying. The artist must be able to look deeply into the inner content of the object, beyond its external form, and to see the inner aspect and essence of the object. He must then be able to express that "inner essence" in his portrayal, so that whoever views the painting sees revealed for him the inner aspect of the object, an "essence" which he, the viewer, had never noticed in the object itself, for it had been obscured by non-essential, external aspects. An artist reveals in his art the essence and being of his subject; the viewer examining the result can now see the object in a completely different light and realizes that his previous impressions of the object were erroneous.

The above is an exact analogy to describe one of the cardinal principles in a person's service of his Creator. All creation is derived from "the word of G-d" which brings matter into being and sustains it every instant continuously. However, the parallel G-dly force of contraction and concealment obscures the Divine creative force; as a result, all one can see is the external form of the physical. Service of G-d, aided by the simple belief that "there is nothing aside from Him," mandates an honest effort by each of us to "bring to the surface" the G-dliness inherent in everything in our lives, and to remove as much as possible the mask of physical externality obscuring the inner G-dliness.

The same applies to each individual; his inner "essence" is G-dliness. "You are the children of G-d your G-d." It is explained in the Tanya that just as the child is drawn from the mind of his father, so is the soul of every Jew drawn from the Alm-ghty's wisdom and thought (which is synonymous with His Essence, for He and His Wisdom are one). The essential being of each and every Jew - including you - is G-dliness.

The Alm-ghty did not want the soul to eat "bread of shame," (i.e., sustenance given gratuitously, without having been earned by the recipient); He therefore made it possible for man to serve Him in a meaningful way with toil of body and soul. Through our endeavors in avoda (G-dly service) we are Divinely enabled to earn all manner of goodness up to and including the highest levels of spiritual achievement. And do not think that some individuals will not accomplish the ultimate goal of avoda; that is not the case. Even if one initially serves the Alm-ghty for ulterior motives, his involvement in G-d's service will eventually lead to performance for the proper motivation and " one will ultimately be rejected by Him."

Such is the pattern and the purpose of Man's creation. Obviously, one must take great care to see that the secondary "external" matters of his life should not obscure the essence of a person and the ultimate goal and purpose of his creation.

Continued in the next issue of L'Chaim.

All Together

"Hakhel - Gather the nation, the men women and children" (Deut. 31:12) For the mitzva (commandment) of Hakhel, the Torah commands the parents to bring even their small children to hear the King read various sections from the Torah. Although the small children might disturb the Torah reading, and the parents might not be able to concentrate as well, you should still bring them! The Torah is teaching us that the Jewish education one's children is sometimes more important than the parents performing the mitzva in a more complete manner.

(Rabbi Nosson Adler, Chasam Sofer Yeshiva)

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

With this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, we complete the first book of the Torah, Genesis.

Though the main part of the portion deals with the death of Jacob, it is entitled, Vayechi - and he lived. The naming of the Torah portions was not done in a haphazard manner. The portion's name gives us a hint as to its content. "And he lived," teaches us that real life is not limited to physical and material existence. There is life beyond that which we experience in this temporal world. When a person's values and teachings have continuity into the next generation, when his good deeds live on after his passing, then, truly, he continues to live.

The Talmud states "Jacob our father did not die. Just as his children live, so does he." Jacob raised his children in such a way that each and every one of them followed in his path of righteousness, dedication to G-d and Torah, and good deeds. And so, in effect, Jacob did not die. As we get older and the gray hairs or wrinkles start multiplying, we often begin to wonder what kind of an inheritance we will leave for our children. Some feel that if they leave a large enough monetary inheritance, they will be remembered and recalled fondly, with respect and love. But, in truth, a material inheritance is not enough.

We must set our sights on becoming like our ancestor Jacob. We must establish families which will continue our values and teachings, our good deeds and our dedication to Judaism. Then we can be sure that, just as our children live, so will we.

Thoughts that Count

And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger (Gen. 48:14)

It was precisely because Ephraim was the younger that Jacob placed his stronger hand upon his head to bless him. For young children always require more attention, supervision and encouragement than older people.

(Techiyat Yisrael)

I have given you one portion...which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow (Gen. 48:22)

The great commentator, Rashi explains that Jacob's words "my sword and my bow" are referring to "my wisdom and my prayers." A war takes place in the soul of every person. The "Amorite" is the tendency toward evil which is strengthened through speaking - "Amira" in Hebrew - about non-holy matters and idle chatter. How does one overcome this "Amorite?" Through speaking words of Torah - my wisdom - and words of prayer - my prayer.

(Torah Ohr)

Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise (Gen. 49:8)

The blessing Judah received from Jacob contains every letter of the Hebrew alphabet except for one: the letter "zayin," which means literally a weapon. This is an allusion to the eventual restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Messianic era, which will come about through a descendant of Judah (in the person of Moshiach). The absence of the letter zayin indicates that Moshiach's victory will be accomplished without the help of the sword, as it states, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the L-rd of hosts."

(Rabbeinu Bachya))

It Once Happened

Hillel ran a tavern, which he rented from the wealthy non-Jewish landowner. His customers, the local peasants, appreciated Hillel's service and honesty. Only one peasant showed open animosity toward the Jewish tavern keeper. Stefan, a coarse, foul-mouthed lout who was almost always drunk, resented the fact that Hillel, as he was known affectionately, refused to serve him more whiskey when he had had too much.

Stefan swore revenge on the Jew. And so, he decided to implicate Hillel in a crime. Stefan went to the government authorities and told them that Hillel was not collecting the proper tax on the whiskey he sold. To back up his accusation, he provided the names of several of his fellow Jew-hating peasants willing to swear that Hillel sold them "illegal" whiskey.

An investigation was launched. The false witnesses appeared and swore their false statements. The judge, an anti-Semite himself, took this opportunity to condemn all Jews for their thievery and trickiness, and imposed the harshest sentence possible on the hapless Hillel.

Hillel, of course, denied any wrong-doing. With tears in his eyes he claimed that he was the victim of a vicious plot. Many of his customers came and gave testimony as to Hilke's good character, and even the landowner himself spoke warmly of "his" Jew. The investigators saw that Hillel was indeed, not guilty, but what could they do? They couldn't simply ignore the sworn testimony of Stefan's friends. The case dragged on for almost a year, during which time Hillel became depressed and broken, staying in his house much of the time reciting Psalms.

Hillel's wife, Devorah Leah, watched as her husband grew more and more discouraged. Her father had been a chasid of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch. She requested her husband travel to Lubavitch to seek the advice and blessing of the Rebbe.

Hillel, however, did not come from a Chasidic family, and had never visited a Rebbe, and wasn't anxious to do so now. But, as the date of the trial drew nearer, he decided to listen to his wife and set off for Lubavitch.

In Lubavitch, Hillel saw many people waiting for days to see the Rebbe privately, so many that Hillel was discouraged and almost returned home. It was only after explaining the urgency of his situation to the Rebbe's secretary that he managed to get an appointment for the following day.

When he entered the Rebbe's room, Hillel suddenly felt at a loss for words. He began to weep as he poured out his heart to the Rebbe, explaining the terrible plot which had been instigated against him.

The Rebbe listened patiently, and then said, "Don't cry, Hillel. G-d will surely help you. Everything in the world, every single creature, was created for a particular purpose. Even mice sometimes benefit man. Go home, Hillel, and put your trust in G-d."

Hillel left the Rebbe encouraged, though he did not exactly understand the Rebbe's words. Hilke's wife was equally mystified, but she trusted that G-d would fulfill the blessing of the tzadik.

The day of the trial arrived, and Hillel and Devorah Leah traveled to the courthouse which was filled to overflowing with people eager to hear the verdict. Hillel sat on the defendant's bench, pale, reciting Psalms with such an intensity that he became oblivious to his surroundings.

The trial opened, and Stefan was brought in. He repeated all his false accusations but when he was questioned by the defense lawyer, he became confused and was caught in his own contradictory statements. He wasn't worried, though, since he was sure that the testimonies of the other witnesses would wrap up the case.

But when the names of the next witnesses were announced, there was a long silence. Not one of Stefan's gang members had shown up; it seemed that something had happened to each one to prevent him from appearing.

Things were going well for Hillel, but the prosecutor wouldn't give up. He requested the original documentation, and so, the judge sent his clerk to bring the papers from storage. All present waited impatiently for the clerk to return, but when he did, he was empty-handed. He whispered something to the judge, who roared back, "Bring whatever there is!"

"But Judge," said the clerk, "There is nothing left. Mice have eaten up the whole file!"

"That's impossible," roared the judge. "Go and bring me the whole drawer." The clerk soon returned with a large, heavy drawer filled with shredded bits of paper.

And so it was that although every other document in the drawer was in perfect condition, only the file of Hillel had been completely destroyed by the mice.

Hillel, absorbed as he was in reciting Psalms, had no idea what had happened, and was surprised by the crowd of well-wishers and relatives who ran to him wishing a mazel tov. When he learned that the charges had been dropped, he thanked G-d for having saved him from this terrible plot. As they returned home, his wife filled in all the details of what had transpired in the courtroom, and only then did Hillel begin to understand the words of the Rebbe.

Moshiach Matters

When Joseph told the Jews that the time for their redemption was near, he gave them a sign by which they would recognize their redeemer. "G-d will surely remember you (pakod yifkod)," he said, doubling the verb "to remember" for added emphasis. For true redemption must free both body and soul, liberating the Jews from physical and spiritual enslavement. Physical freedom alone is not enough; even return to the Holy Land is insufficient without the spiritual component which signifies true redemption. So it was in Egypt, and so is it today...

(Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin)

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