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Devarim Deutronomy

December 23, 2016 - 23 Kislev, 5777

1452: Vayeshev

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  1451: Vayishlach1453: Miketz  

Reliving Chanuka  |  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

Reliving Chanuka

Once upon a time, taking along a video recorder on vacation almost meant bringing a luggage carrier just to shlepp the equipment with you. Over the years, they got smaller and smaller, until today almost every phone has an excellent video camera built in. Now it's easier than ever to preserve those memories and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will be saved in your mind, your heart and your come back to haunt you in social media. Months or years later, you can watch the clips and remember the good times.

While we have ways to keep memories alive, is it actually possible to relive an experience?

Haven't we all wished, at one time or another, that we could capture a moment and actually relive it at a future date?

"These days are remembered and experienced." A basic Jewish teaching is that not only is a holiday or holy day a commemoration of an event that took place many years ago, but the actual event is re-experienced yearly on the anniversary of its happening.

The upcoming festival of Chanuka is no exception. The same "spiritual energy" that was present at that time is in the world once again. This means that we can tap into those forces and make them "work" for us in our lives today. We can actually relive the miracles and lessons of Chanuka.

What Chanuka energy are we able to remember and experience?

One of the Chanuka miracles was that a small band of Jews who were devoted heart, body and soul to G-d and to the Torah were able to vanquish the strongest army of the day. On Chanuka we experience this same devotion and enthusiasm about Jewish life and living. We can devote ourselves heart, body and soul to a special mitzva we have long wanted to do, and we will successfully integrate that mitzva into our lives.

The second miracle of Chanuka was when a small amount of oil kept the rededicated Temple menora lit for a wondrous eight days until more oil could be produced. There was, in fact, other oil readily available. However, it had been tampered with by the Greeks and though permissible to use, the Jewish victors would not accept compromises for the rededication of the Temple. They wanted no traces of corruption or decay.

We relive this Chanuka miracle when we refuse to compromise our Judaism, even under extenuating circumstances. The Maccabees' resolve to use only pure oil gives us the strength to enhance our Jewish living by being uncompromising in our performance of mitzvot, whether it's putting a few coins in a charity box daily, befriending a lonely person, affixing mezuzot to our doorposts, speaking only kindly of others, or setting aside time for Jewish learning.

As one of the Chanuka blessings states, G-d performed miracles for us "in those days at this time." On Chanuka we can expect that G-d will perform miracles for us in our days at this time, culminating in the ultimate miracle-the peace, plentitude, health and Divine wisdom for the entire world that will be experienced in the Messianic Era.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, we read about Jacob and his 12 sons. Joseph receives preferential treatment from his father, causing his brothers to be jealous of him.

Two of the brothers plot to kill Joseph, but he gets thrown into a pit and eventually sold into slavery instead.

Joseph is taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, one of Pharoah's officers. G-d blesses everything Joseph does but he eventually winds up in jail on false charges. Even in jail Joseph's abilities are recognized, and he is appoint to a position of authority in the prison.

Despised by his brothers, sold into slavery, and thrown into jail on false charges. Orphaned of his mother, alone in a foreign land. Yet you don't get the feeling that Joseph was depressed or down. He seems able to rise above and succeed in every situation.

How is Joseph able to stay positive? How can we be like Joseph and stay positive?

There are several approaches one can take when confronted with challenges. One can become a life long victim, the "woe is me" mentality. This type of existence is a miserable one. Than there is the guy who can get up after being knocked down. Although this sounds admirable, it can be exhausting, and it is very difficult.

A third option is the "Joseph" approach. Joseph's paradigm was the key to his positive outlook. Joseph saw himself as part of G-d's plan, he saw every situation as part of the plan. When you perceive the world from this perspective, every so-called "challenge" is nothing more than part of the plan and thus positive. You are never pounded to begin with.

Our perspective is the key to our happiness. When we only see ourselves, we are stuck with the difficulty of being beaten, the pain, the hurt, the anguish, the suffering, etc.

However, when you see everything as part of G-d's plan, every situation is seen as an opportunity. The crazier/stranger the situation, the more meaning to find in it. Instead of being clobbered, you are uplifted.

It is not easy to get past ourselves, but by doing so, we can see things from Joseph's perspective. By seeing it all as part of G-d's plan, we can overcome life's challenges.

I have so much faith in our ability to be like Joseph, to always recognize that our challenges are purposeful. In this way, we can lead with wisdom and grace.

However, this life approach does not absolve G-d. We have too many challenges and we have seen too much pain. It is time for G-d to let us all know how well we have done, and bring Moshiach now.

Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.

A Slice of Life

Still Strong at 91
by Rabbi Yosef Rodal

The town of Jindabyne, a small village nestled in the foothills of Mt. Kosciuszko in New South Wales, Australia. The party of seven chatted comfortably. Tina, the hostess, glanced at her guests with pleasure.

Dr. Phillip Klein, who had recently retired in nearby Thredbo, had come with his wife Marina. Her friend Dianna sat nearby. At the far end of the table I sat with my wife Malki and our son Yitzchok. We had come to spend this Chanuka evening with the few Jewish locals.

Malki and I direct Chabad of RARA. We organize visits throughout Rural and Regional Australia, connecting with Jewish people and arranging holiday events, online education, and more.

Tina had been asking for a visit for a while and Chanuka was the perfect opportunity. During a previous phone conversation, 91-year-old Tina had shared that she was born Jewish, but had been a practicing Christian her entire life.

"About two years ago, I suddenly felt stirrings deep within me, prodding me to reconnect to my Jewish faith. I fought these feelings strongly. Eventually, I gave in and called you but I am not sure what I want from you."

I asked Tina to share more about her life. Tina kept everyone spellbound with her courageous story.

Tina's mother had passed away when she was eight years old, and her grandmother had adopted her. Grandma Marie converted to Christianity and was shunned by her Jewish family. So she packed up, took Tina with her, and settled in the mountainous region on the border of Austria and Yugoslavia

Tina has happy childhood memories of frolicking in the forest. But abruptly her peaceful life was shattered. The war had reached her doorstep, and as a young girl of 15, her life would never be the same.

Grandma Marie passed away around that time, and Tina moved in with a friend.

The leader of the Austrian underground (against the Nazis) contacted Tina. A teenage girl, living as a Christian, coupled with her intimate knowledge of the terrain, made her the ideal candidate to smuggle people over the border to safety

Tina threw herself into the underground work. Over the next few years, she smuggled more than 70 people over the border, most of them Jews. She married a Jewish man, Michael, and had a daughter. Throughout the pregnancy and even after the birth, she continued her lifesaving work of guiding refugees to freedom.

On one of her rescues, she was taking a Jewish couple to freedom. She led them into her hideout, a small cave dug out in the mountainside. The husband asked to light the menora that he had taken along with his meager possessions. She refused, as the light might attract unwanted attention.

The couple pleaded with her. Finally she acquiesced. With heartfelt longing, the couple lit the menora and sang Maoz Tzur. This was one of Tina's only Jewish experiences.

Many times she was almost caught and she exhibited tremendous courage under pressure. After the war was over she eagerly awaited news of her husband who had been sent to fight against Germany. His commanding officer came bearing terrible news. Michael had perished on the battlefield. All that was left was his coat, which his comrade had salvaged.

Heartbroken, Tina started rebuilding her life. She married a man who happened to be Jewish, and became pregnant a short while later.

Not long afterwards, her first husband returned from the dead. Michael had lent his coat to a freezing soldier, who had died on the battlefield!

Tina had to make a gut-wrenching decision. She decided to stay with her second husband and divorced Michael. But her second husband demanded that Tina give up her daughter to Michael. She refused, and the marriage ended in divorce.

Now, with two young children, Tina finally met her destined one. Arthur, who also was Jewish, respected her Christianity. Together they had another three children, raising them as Christians. In search of a better life, they immigrated to Sydney, where they lived for 40 years.

After Arthur passed on, Tina relocated to rural Jindabyne, where housing was more affordable and the climate reminded her of the Austrian mountains.

"So," she concluded, "I still consider myself Christian and have raised my children as such. As I said, I am not sure what a rabbi can do for me."

You are a heroine of the highest order," I told her. "The Talmud states that one who saves a life it is as if they saved the entire world. How much more so you who have saved dozens, maybe hundreds, of lives."

Regarding her claim that she was a Christian, I explained that no action of ours in this world can sever our bond with G-d. Yet our connection ebbs and flows, like a flame, and this would account for Tina's sudden stirrings.

Tina was quite interested in the theological discussion and soon the entire table was engrossed in heated yet respectful debate. Everyone sensed that it was a poignant moment.

On Malki's suggestion, a menora was set up. "Would you light for me?" asked Tina. "I would like to participate, but I do not feel able to perform it myself. Can you please have me in mind?"

The atmosphere was electric as I sang the blessings followed by Maoz Tzur. Tina's eyes clouded with tears. She remarked how this moment had transported her back to the cave on that night when she had experienced Chanuka for the first and only time. She insisted that we stay the night.

In the morning, Tina bustled around the kitchen, asking many questions about Judaism. When Tina stepped out for a moment to answer the telephone, her voice could be heard in the other room.

"Regina, you missed it!" we heard her say. "Last night was the best night of my life! I now know that my 'Jewishism' is who I am. I am sure that Grandma Marie is looking down and smiling at my choice."

We were dumbfounded. After just one night, Tina was rejecting the beliefs of her entire life. She was embracing what had been lying dormant all those years. Her essence, her Jewish soul, had won out.

Tina has officially reclaimed her "Jewishism," as she calls it. Many of her friends have cut off ties with her as a result, but this does not deter her. A Jewish soul can never be extinguished. It may be hidden, dormant, even for nine decades, but it always flickers in the heart of a Jew, waiting to be ignited.

Condensed and reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter

What's New

World's Largest Menora

Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. Saturday night, Dec. 24 and Saturday night, December 31 - 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 25 through Thursday, Dec. 29, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, the menora will be lit at 3:40 p.m. On Sunday there will be live music, free hot latkes and chocolate Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 778-6000. For public menora lightings in your area visit

All Fifty States

With the opening of a new Chabad Center in South Dakota, history was made! There are now Chabad Centers, manned by permanent shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe) in all 50 of the United States. Much success to Rabbi Mendel and Mussie Alperowitz in their work in South Dakota.

The Rebbe Writes

Chanukah, 5737 [1976]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to receive your book, which you were good enough to send me at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Prof.

Needless to say, your book evoked memories of my birthplace, the Ukraine, which is no doubt also your native land. And though I left it years after the Revolution, I vividly recall those turbulent rears. For this reason I took time out of my busy schedule to look through your book though the subject is not my field. May I commend you on the effort which you put into the said work.

I trust you will not mind my making several observations in passing.

Re Bibliography - almost all the titles are given in Ukrainian, though many of the cited reference texts were surely written in other languages as evidenced also from the first section of the book. It would have made it easier for readers and students to see the titles in their original languages.

A further point. I should have hoped that a prominent Ukrainian Jewish socialist had written on the attitude of the Ukrainian socialists to Jews, or, at any rate, to Jewish socialists. However, from his brief biography it would seem that he had nothing to say on this question. As I recall it was a painful let down and disappointment when quite a number of Ukrainian socialists appeared as active participants in the dreadful pogroms.

This matter is not merely of academic interest but quite relevant to the present. For, unfortunately, there are still some prominent Jewish socialists who place their trust in socialist countries and leaders, in the hope that belonging to the same party and "brotherhood" would discourage anti-Semitism. Having, apparently, learnt nothing from history, contemporary Jewish socialist leaders still base crucial policy decisions on this misplaced trust.

Be it as it may, if there is among his writings or manuscripts any material that has a bearing on this subject, I hope you will publish it by way of a supplement to your book, or as a separate study, to assess the position of the Ukrainian socialists vis-a-vis the Jewish question, and, for that matter, of those other countries, including Germany.

I need hardly explain that the subject is of timely and practical importance since it affects the policy making process of socialist leaders in Eretz Yisrael who still nurture hopes in their colleagues in Austria, Scandinavia and elsewhere, and in their Jewish counterparts - despite past disappointments.

I cannot bypass the opportunity without mentioning that Jewish experience in our own times has again, and all too sadly, confirmed the truth of the statement: "This (Jewish people) is a people that will dwell alone, and will not be recognized among the nations" (Num. 23:9). The sooner Jewish leaders, and Jews generally, realize that we cannot rely on the "kindness of nations," the better will be our chances to dwell in security. It is vitally necessary that Jews everywhere should turn their hearts and minds inwardly, and strengthen their identification with our great historic spiritual heritage, which has been the real unifying force of our Jewish people and has preserved our people through the ages - a tiny minority in a hostile world.

This is also the eternal lesson of Chanukah, which we are now celebrating, the history and significance of which you surely know.

Wishing you a bright and inspiring Festival of Lights,

With blessing,

P. S. One item in the Bibliography particularly attracted my attention, namely No. 105, which appears to refer to the religious life in the Holy Land. It brought to my mind, as I recall it, the time when the Duma of all the Ukraine was convened in Kiev, followed by s convention of Jewish leaders, among them communal leaders and Rabbis, also in Kiev. Surprisingly, these events are also not dealt with in your book, although being of the Poalei Zion you probably had closer contacts with Jewish circles.

All Together

Why the custom of giving Chanuka gelt?

"Chanuka" means "dedication." On 25 Kislev the Holy Temple was rededicated. It also means "education." Concerning the second meaning, it is customary to test children on their Torah knowledge during Chanuka and give them gelt ("money") as a reward. In addition, the Talmud states that if one doesn't have enough money for Chanuka lights and for Kiddush wine, the Chanuka lights take precedence. "Chanuka gelt" enables all to have enough money for both mitzvot (commandments).

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Torah portion, we read how Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law, was informed that he was about to come to the town of Timna to shear his sheep. And it was related to Tamar, saying, 'Behold, your father-in-law is coming up to Timna to shear his flocks'."

The great commentator, Rashi, explains that Timna was a town located on the slopes of a mountain. He states: "You ascend to it from one direction and descend to it from the other."

The expression of ascent, therefore, is pertinent in the story of Tamar. Since Timna was on the mountain-slope, and Tamar was planning to go and meet Judah, she would not know from which direction he was coming unless the direction was mentioned.

A person's spiritual service is like ascending a mountain. A mountain climber cannot stop mid-way on the steep slope, for in that position it is almost impossible to prevent himself from losing his footing and falling. He must climb steadily upward without pause. Similarly, in ascending the "mountain of G-d" (Psalms 24:3) a constant upwards movement is vital, not only for the purpose of going higher, but also to ensure that one does not fall lower. One should not be satisfied with his present spiritual level, for such complacency is the beginning of descent.

The upcoming mitzva of the Chanuka lights lends particular emphasis to this teaching. Every night of Chanuka a new light must be added, for spiritual affairs must always be in ascendancy. If one failed to add an additional light on the second night of Chanuka (for example), he has not merely failed to ascend higher on that day - he has slipped down from the previous day's level. Yesterday he lit one candle, an increase from the day before; he fulfilled the mitzva with the extra devotion required; he was on the upswing, in ascendancy. Not so today. His level has fallen. To observe the mitzva today with the same devotion as yesterday, he must increase his commitment!

Thoughts that Count

G-d was with Joseph and he was a successful man (Gen. 39:2)

Joseph was close to G-d when things were good for him, even when he was a "successful man."

(Rabbi Simcha Bunim)

There are some versions of the blessing made for the new month in which we ask, for "lives in which we will have the fear of Heaven and the fear of sin...lives in which we will have the love of Torah and the fear of Heaven." Why do we ask for fear of Heaven twice? Perhaps it is because in between the first and second request for the fear of Heaven we have requested "lives of wealth and honor." When riches and prestige enter the picture, sometimes the original fear of Heaven disappears and we must again ask Him for the fear of Heaven.

(The Chafetz Chaim)

His master saw that the L-rd was with him, and all that he did G-d made prosperous in his hand (Gen. 39:3)

G-d's blessings are dependent on the study of Torah and observance of commandments, as it says: "If you will walk in My ways...I will give you rain in its season." However, we do not always see the connection between the abundance that we receive from G-d and our actions because we are in exile. But, concerning Josef, everyone saw that his righteousness and good deeds brought down bountiful blessing and success from Above.

(Sefer Hama'amorim)

Joseph went into the house to do his business (Gen. 39:11)

According to the Targum (translation into Aramaic) of Onkelos, Joseph went in to "examine the accounts" (for which he was responsible) of Potiphar's household. Indeed, this was the greatness of Joseph: the ability to maintain the highest level of attachment to G-d even while actively involved in worldly pursuits.

(Derech Mitzvotecha)

It Once Happened

November 1945. The streets of Lvov (Lemberg) were swarming with refugees from all over Russia. Many of them, including several thousand Jews, had arrived hungry and penniless. Everyone, without exception, was looking for a way to cross over the border.

As the Second World War drew to a close, thousands of Polish citizens who had fled to Russia in the last days of the war were now trying to return home. Because the special Russian-Polish commission in charge of issuing exit visas was centered in Lvov, the city soon became terribly overcrowded.

Some Russian citizens, including Jews, had managed to obtain forged Polish passports, and succeeded in escaping the Communist oppression. This, of course, was not an easy thing to do, and it was also very dangerous. The forged documents were extremely expensive. Moreover, the Russian secret police, the N.K.V.D. (forerunner of the K.G.B.) was constantly on the lookout for counterfeit passports. Anyone caught with forged documents was severely punished. It was also against the law to remain in Lvov more than one day without official permission. Those who had been lucky enough to survive thus far could only hope and pray that the commission would grant them a visa.

Eliezer R. was a young Jew who had made his way to Lvov from Bukhara. When, in the course of his wanderings, he had met a group of Jewish youths who had banded together for support, he had quickly joined them. In Lvov they rented a tiny apartment, where they all lived together while awaiting their visas.

Unfortunately, before they even arrived in the city it was learned that the special Russian-Polish commission was no longer accepting applications. To the thousands of refugees with nowhere else to turn it was a terrible blow.

But Eliezer and his friends would not give up hope. After discussing the matter at great length they concluded that there was only one solution, even though it seemed to be a long shot...

For some time a rumor had been circulating among the refugees that the N.K.V.D. officer in charge of visa applications, Boris Sapokvini, was Jewish. It was also said that he was a very warmhearted individual, who went out of his way to help his Jewish brethren...

Boris Sapokvini worked in the N.K.V.D. headquarters at 3 Lenina Street. Whoever wanted an exit visa went to him first; if the application was approved, it was then forwarded to the commission at 10 Dombrovsky Street.

Everyone was well aware that the rumor was only speculation. But without any viable alternative, Eliezer and his friends decided to forge ahead with their plan.

The next night, Eliezer and another young man went to the N.K.V.D. headquarters. In exchange for a bribe, the watchman gave them several applications (though the date for their submission had passed), and the home address of Boris Sapokvini. They hurried back to their apartment and filled out the forms.

The following morning Eliezer and his friend were waiting on the sidewalk when Sapokvini left for work. As always, the officer's uniform was impeccable, his hair carefully coiffed. Despite the cold the two young men were drenched in sweat, terrified by the risk they were about to take. After taking a deep breath they blurted out, "We represent ten young Jews who wish to leave Russia. Please help us, for otherwise we will all commit suicide."

Boris Sapokvini gave no sign that he had heard them and continued walking. But a few yards later he stopped and spun around. "No! It's already too late. And who told you about me, anyway? How did you get my address?" The N.K.V.D. officer was clearly furious.

A full minute passed as Sapokvini scrutinized the two young men. Then, in a whisper he asked them, "Do you have the exit forms?" With a trembling hand Eliezer held them out. The officer stuffed them into his pocket and said quietly, "Eleven o'clock tonight. In my office," and walked on.

That evening, which happened to be the first night of Chanuka, Eliezer went to Sapokvini's office by himself. The officer quickly locked the door after Eliezer was inside. The two men sat on opposite sides of the desk and looked at each other. Suddenly, two tears rolled down the Russian's cheeks.

As if wishing to unburden himself, Sapokvini began to tell Eliezer the story of his life, which quickly verified the rumor that he was Jewish. He also revealed that he had successfully enabled thousands of Jews to leave the Soviet Union.

In the slight pause that followed, Eliezer reminded the officer that it was the first night of Chanuka. Startled by the news, Sapokvini checked the windows to make sure the blinds were drawn and walked over to the glass bottle in the corner that contained an emergency candle in case of electrical failure. Striking a match, he lit the wick and began to sing the Chanuka blessings.

Two days later, Eliezer and his friends crossed over the border and arrived safely in Poland. Eventually Eliezer made his way to Israel, where he lives today. Sapokvini's activities were eventually uncovered and he was put to death before a firing squad, but not before he had saved the lives of thousands of his brethren.

Moshiach Matters

In the merit of the Chanukah lights and the application of their lesson, we shall speedily experience the messianic redemption, of which it is said (Job 28:3), "He has set an end to the darkness" and "Arise! Shine! For your light has come, and the glory of G-d is shining forth over you!" (Isaiah 60:1)

(Living with Moshiach, Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet)

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