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Devarim Deutronomy

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1496: Chayei Sara

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Devarim Deutronomy

November 10, 2017 - 21 Cheshvan, 5778

1496: Chayei Sara

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

  1495: Vayera1497: Toldos  

Seeing G-d  |  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

Seeing G-d

In the past hundred years we've gained a lot of insights about our health and lifestyle because we've been able to see inside the body. Physicians have been able to watch how the body works, first in a series "snapshots" and then advancing to the equivalent of movies. With some of the latest technology, doctors and researchers can observe the body's internal movements and interactions in real time.

It began in 1895 when Wilhelm Roentgen discovered that "x-rays" could take "pictures" of the bones. Still, x-rays were crude, able only to give the outline of bones and the bigger organs.

But since then, there have been many refinements. Sonograms, for instance, reveal much of the body's internal dynamics.

Other devices let scientists and doctors stare into the deepest layers of our existence. CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging reveal how the blood flows, how the brain reacts to pain, to pleasure, to thoughts and memories. They reveal small problems, G-d forbid, before they begin to enlarge. With these devices doctors can see not only inside bones, the heart and the lungs, they can also see inside blood vessels and operate "in miniature" on veins and nerves.

Microscopes, telescopes, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs allow us to see an inner reality. They extend our vision, giving us a deeper perception of the magnitude, the complexity, the order and beauty of the physical world. When we look through their lenses, what we see is truly there. We have gained a new sense and a new insight.

Our spiritual vision can also be extended. As we experience the world, as we encounter goodness, kindness, holiness and wisdom, our insight into the nature of nature and the nature of humankind expands and deepens. We see relationships and inter-relationships, causes and effects, interactions and catalysts in a new "light."

When looking through a CT scan or an MRI we can see how tenuous are the barriers between a cell wall and the bloodstream, between a nerve cell and its muscle. That which is distinct on one level, at one magnification, becomes blurred and interwoven on the next. Discrete entities become auras or fields, interchanging elements at the edges.

So, too, when we become more spiritually sensitive we recognize an interdependence with others that transcends individual significance or accomplishment. We also recognize the paradox of being created, of being but an expression of G-dliness: on the one hand, we are not discrete or distinct but simply a movement, a letter of a word that G-d exhales. On the other, each of us manifests, after many transformations, reductions and concealments, an aspect of the Divine Will.

The advent of modern technology parallels Isaiah's prophecy that "Is it not a little while . . . and the eyes of the blind shall see?" (29:17-18). After all, the physical simply reflects and expresses the spiritual, as words express thoughts and our external appearance reflects the complex of motions, systems and biochemical reactions that compose our true selves. Is it not a little while until the "technology" of Torah and commandments, of acts of goodness and kindness will enable us to see truly, to perceive the inner G-dliness within ourselves, within each other, within all of existence? For when Moshiach comes, we won't need CT scans or MRIs because "then the eyes of the blind shall be opened" (Isaiah 35:5) when (as we pray daily) "our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy."

Living with the Rebbe

In the Torah portion of Chayei Sara we are introduced to our matriarch Rebecca. According to Rashi, we meet Rebecca when she is three years old and quite mature for her age. When Eliezer returned to Isaac with Rebecca, he recounted to Isaac the miraculous events of his trip. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sara's tent. Rashi explains that she was just like his mother Sara. This means that just as when Sara was alive there were three miracles that regularly occurred (which ceased with Sara's passing) the miracles resumed when Rebecca came into the tent.

What were the miracles? The candles that she lit on Shabbat eve burned until the next Friday. There was a blessing in her dough, meaning that even a small amount of her bread satisfied hunger. And a cloud hovered above her tent.

It would seem that the listing of the miracles should be reversed. When she came into the tent, wouldn't Isaac have noticed first the cloud hovering above the tent? Then he would have experienced her bread and finally, would it not have taken an entire week for him to know that her Shabbat candles burned from Friday to Friday? Why does Rashi reverse the order?

Our Sages teach that our ancestors upheld all the mitzvot (commandments) although they had not yet been commanded. Regarding Shabbat candles, if there is no woman in the home to light the Shabbat candles, then a man should light them.

This being so, from the time Sara passed away, Abraham would have been lighting candles. So why did Rebecca, who wasn't yet married and wasn't yet Bat Mitzva, light the candles in Sara's tent?

There is a uniqueness to Shabbat candles lit specifically by women, even unmarried women, and even girls before Bat Mitzvah. A woman's Shabbat candles bring light and blessing into the home all week. Even if one can't see the physical candles burning, there is a spiritual light that burns all week on account of women and girls lighting candles.

The spiritual light from the candles is more powerful than that of any man. A man can build a house, but it takes a woman to turn it into a home. A woman can do this because G-d imbued women with the ability to effect the home beyond what any man can do.

Now we can understand Rashi's order of the miracles. The first miracle is associated with the mitzva done at age three by a girl-- lighting Shabbat candles. This brings to the next blessing, that as she matures, the work of her hands are blessed just as the dough was blessed. And these bring to the third blessing, which comes with marriage, when she makes her own home, bringing to it the Divine Presence itself, through keeping the laws of family purity.

This great power of Jewish women is a gift and an inheritance from their ancestresses all the way back to Sara and Rebecca.

May the light of the Shabbat candles fill our homes and the world with G-d's Presence and usher in the coming of Moshiach!

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

A House of Hope
by Cathy Gordon

The prognosis was grim. Malignant cells in Robert Villarreal's right kidney had led a virulent march up the body's largest vein, depositing a nasty clump of cancer just inches from his heart. Stage 4 kidney cancer. Six months to live.

With a referral to MD Anderson Cancer Center, the retired Albuquerque marine, wife Dannette and two grown children, headed to Houston with a prayer on his lips and scarcely enough money for a three-day stay. Surgery was scheduled 22 days out.

"We had hardly any money left for food and lodging. I thought we might have to sleep in our car," Robert says. "I'm a retired veteran on a pension. I didn't know what to do."

Fortunately for the family, Rabbi Lazer and Rochel Lazaroff of West University offer up accommodations, warm meals, transportation and a myriad of other services through their benevolent brainchild, Aishel House, a non-profit hospitality center that aims to ease the emotional and financial burden of the ill undergoing treatment.

"Aishel is a Jewish term that touches on the specific tradition of hospitality that we get from Abraham in the Bible," explains the rabbi.

To Robert and kin, it was a godsend.

"Their number was on a list my wife got from MD Anderson, and we stayed there before my surgery and after for several weeks," explains Robert, 70, now five years cancer-free. "I came to Houston with a death sentence and left with a new lease on life. Aishel House was our family."

And that, say its founders, is the point.

"Aishel House should feel like home," says Lazer. Every feature of this state-of-the-art, 23-apartment unit center, is built to express a warm, restful refuge from the clinical hustle and bustle of a hospital.

"When people feel lost in a desert, they need a place to revive their soul," says Rochel, whose passion for their cause is as palpable as her warm, homemade challah bread.

"It was built on a million little miracles and donations," Lazer says of the building, named for Houston philanthropist Barbara Hines, who made a generous donation. "She's a dear friend. She developed a very close relationship to the cause and saw what people were going through."

"Our biggest thing is we didn't want Aishel House to feel like a house of sick people," explains Lazer. "Our volunteers are everything. It's a real community. This building just hums with energy."

Energy is something this couple knows about.

With 11 children, ages 25 to 5, one might think they're frazzled to the core. No, says Lazer. "They say if you need something done, give it to a busy person to do."

The couple came to West University in 1992, moving into a small house on University Boulevard with their baby boy. United in their passion to serve the Jewish community, they started a Chabad Center to provide spiritual support to students at Rice University. Lazer visited Jewish patients at MD Anderson, Texas Children's Hospital, St. Luke's and Methodist Hospital. He'd pass out Rochel's delectable challah rolls on Friday's Jewish Sabbath.

Happy with a baby boy and another child on the way, Rochel wondered aloud how their healthy little family could offer hope and support to people who were struggling. "How will they relate to us?" she'd muse. "How are we going to comfort people?"

"But we received G-d's internship pretty quickly," says Lazer. Their daughter Chaya was born with multiple congenital problems. They spent 11 months in and out of Texas Children's Hospital until Chaya died.

"That child taught me a deep empathy for people, but not pity," Rochel says. "Even in a dark place there can be a little light to ease the pain so you're not alone. We understood that in a very real way after our experience with our daughter. We wanted to do more to help others who were struggling."

Rochel would stand outside their house, point to a ramshackle, 18-unit apartment complex next-door and say, "Someday we will do something with that."

Years later, after deliberations with its owner and financial donations, it was theirs. For ten years they operated Aishel House in the rundown apartment complex and opened it up to anyone in need, not just the Jewish community. Lazer took clinical pastoral-education classes part-time for three years to transcend spiritual-language differences and better counsel the residents.

Volunteers fixed up the apartments one by one, painting and laying new floors, donating furniture. Residents were treated to Rochel's delightful vegetable soup, challah bread and other concoctions. "She's not a cook. She's an artist with food," Lazer says of his wife's culinary skill.

"There was always a waiting list of 10 to 20 people even for those ugly, subpar apartments," says Lazer. "Patients would tell us that social workers told them they'd be treated like family here."

Fast-forward to today and the Lazaroffs are delighted to offer the new, modern setting for Aishel House guests. The building's feel and beauty is appreciated more than words can convey, they say. But it's the army of passionate volunteers that make it tick.

Ellen Kleinman has been on both sides of Aishel House's hospitality, as volunteer and patient. "I want to be Rochel when I grow up," quips the 56 year old, who was honored as Volunteer of the Year at a recent Aishel House fund-raising gala. "She's my hero."

In recent years, Ellen has been the recipient of Rochel's kosher meals following surgeries for a rare thymus gland cancer. "Her cooking is amazing," says Ellen, who has spent the past 15 years, early on with children, volunteering for Aishel House projects. She's delivered Rochel's meals to hospital patients. For six weeks she happily drove a patient to appointments at the medical center.

"And now I'm the recipient of the wonderful things that Aishel House does," says Ellen, on a maintenance dose of chemotherapy.

"It's all about loving and caring for one another," says Rochel. It might be random people we meet and help and never see again. But please, we pray, may they leave here, live a long time and be well."

Condensed and reprinted with permission of

What's New

Challa Bake in Porto Alegre

Chabad of Porto Alegre, Brazil, recently brought together 1,200 Jewish women for a Mega Challah Bake. Four generations of Jewish women gathered for the spectacular event of preparing challah in unity. Each participant left uplifted, inspired, more Jewishly educated and with a braided challah ready to go into the oven and an exquisite gift of an engraved wooden challah board for each and every one.

Torah Completed in Parliament

A Torah scroll was completed for the first time in the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, in front of 150 distinguished guests. In attendance were Ambassadors from Israel, Argentina, Romania and Diplomatic representatives from several other countries. The project was organize by Chabad ACT's Canberra Synagogue and is the synagogue's first permanent Torah scroll.

The Rebbe Writes

22nd of Cheshvan, 5735 (1974)

This is to confirm receipt of your letter of October 10th with enclosures, which reached me with some delay. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending me the enclosure.

One of the reasons why my acknowledgment was delayed was the fact that there was reason to believe that Prof. Branover would be visiting the U.S., although I do not know how definite this is, when there would be an opportunity to discuss the various matters of your letter personally with him.

I was particularly gratified to read in your letter that a beginning has been made in regard to the suggestion which we discussed, namely to obtain interest-free loans from persons, in order to pay off the debts and eliminate the high interest rate.

May G-d grant that you should soon be able to complete the list of such persons, especially as some of the participants in this project have made it conditional upon the complete list of participants.

I trust that you have been active in the Five Mitzvah [commandment] Campaigns which I have stressed, and more recently also in the matter of encouraging young girls from the age of Chinuch [Jewish education], to light the candles Erev [the eve of] Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov. And while you are destined for, and are capable of, great things and accomplishments, and to participate in the above mentioned Mitzvah Campaigns may seem to you that these things should be done by others, we have one of the basic teachings of the Torah to the effect that one should not attempt to weigh the importance of big mitzvos and small mitzvos, but do them all as they come along.

It should be noted that the above statement speaks of "big" and "small" mitzvos but the conclusion is that all mitzvos should be carried out with the same eagerness and joy and vitality.

One of the explanations which explains the seeming anomaly in the above statement is that when a person does a good thing, no matter how big or small, he "pleases G-d" thereby and becomes attached to G-d through the fulfillment of His commandments. In this way G-d's unity permeates all these good actions of the person. Hence, bigness or smallness is of no consequence, since he fulfills G-d's commandments for the sole reason that G-d commanded him to do them.

At this time, before Shabbos Mevorchim Kislev [the Sabbath on which the month of Kislev is blessed], the mitzvah of the Shabbos lights is particularly pertinent inasmuch as we shall soon be observing the festival of Chanukah with the lighting of the Chanukah candles.

We are told that the Shabbos candles have a priority over the Chanukah candles (in a case where one cannot afford both), which goes to show how important the Shabbos candles are.

You do not mention about your own daughters lighting the candles, but I am certain they do. I only want to express the hope that they are a shining example to their friends in this and in every other respect.

Wishing you hatzlocha [success] in all the matters about which you write, and especially that you and your wife should have true Torah Nachas [pleasure] from each and all of your children.

All Together

Why must dishes and utensils used for food be immersed in a mikva?

The Jewish home is likened to the Holy Temple, and the table is compared to the altar. Therefore, before dishes and utensils can be used in the kosher kitchen they must acquire an additional measure of holiness which is conferred through the ritual immersion in a mikva. Even if a dish, pot, etc., was never used and is therefore "kosher," it must still be immersed.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, we read of Sara's passing and Abraham's subsequent purchase of the Cave of Machpela as the place for her burial.

In addition to G-d's promise to Abraham that his descendants would eternally inherit the Land of Canaan (which included the land of the ten nations who lived there: Keini, Kenizi, Kadmoni, etc.) Abraham desired to actually purchase outright a portion of the land. The opportunity presented itself with Sara's passing when it was necessary to have a proper burial place for her.

Abraham knew that the Cave of Machpela, located in Hebron, was the place where Adam and Eve had been buried, and chose to purchase the field in which that cave was located for his family.

Abraham's purchase of the field containing the Cave of Machpelah represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews.

Our commentators explain that with the 400 silver shekels that Abraham paid, he purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of the Jewish people.

May we very soon merit not only the beginning of the Redemption of the Jewish people but the complete Redemption, when the entire Land of Israel will be in the possession of its rightful heirs - according to G-d and the Torah - in the Messianic Era.

Thoughts that Count

The years of Sara were one hundred and twenty-seven years (Gen. 23:1)

Sara is the only woman in the Torah whose lifetime is explicitly recorded. This is because she is considered to be the mother of the entire Jewish people, as it states (Isaiah 51:2), "And to Sara who gave birth to you."

And Sara lived...And Sara died. (Gen. 23:1-2)

Our Torah portion starts with the passing of Sara and her burial. Why then is the portion called "Chayei Sara," "the life of Sara," and not "the death of Sara?" "Chayei Sara," "the life of Sara," was focused on one goal and ideal: that her son, Isaac, should reach spiritual greatness. Our portion discusses the life of Isaac, who was the realization of Sara's spiritual dream. Though in this portion we read of her demise and burial, through Isaac her ideals were fulfilled - through him, she continued to live on. In actuality, "the life of Sara" was the righteous life of Isaac.

(The Rebbe)

And Abraham came to mourn for Sara (Gen. 23:2)

Abraham was coming from Mount Moriah, where he had just undergone the trial of the binding of Isaac. Abraham eulogized Sara by announcing that she did not voice any objection when he set out with her only son to offer him as a sacrifice. Sara, like all Jewish mothers who follow her, had instilled in her only son the desire to give up his life willingly for the sanctification of G-d's name.

(Drush Shmuel)

It Once Happened

The Holocaust brought with it the unique situation that many Jewish children were actually saved from death by being placed in Christian orphanages. This was not specifically a missionary effort on the part of the churches. Rather, in an attempt to save the lives of their children, desperate parents chose this path.

The war ended and with it one chapter of the Nazi horrors. An organization was founded to find lost relatives and reunite shattered families. Slowly, news reached these rescue workers that many Jewish children were living in Christian orphanages. They weren't sure of the exact numbers but they knew that it was probably in the thousands.

Rabbi Eliezer Silver (president of Vaad Hatzalah Rescue Committee that he had formed in 1939 to save Jews from the Holocaust) traveled throughout Europe to find these children and return them to their people.

The rabbi went to the first orphanage on his list and asked to speak with the head Priest. He was received with a polite smile. "Of course," explained the priest, "we have nothing against returning the Jewish children to their parents, their family, or at least their people." Hardly had the rabbi expected his mission to be so easy.

"However," the priest continued, "how do you know which boy or girl is Jewish? We don't write down a child's origin or religion when they enter the orphanage."

"You can just give me the list of names," explained the rabbi. "I'll go over the list and if it is a Jewish last name I'll know that the child is a Jew. "

"No. We don't do things like that," scolded the priest. "We have to be very precise and careful. There can be no room for error here. I must have 100% assurance and no less."

"Let's look, for instance at the name 'Miller,'" continued the priest. "You would say right away that this is a Jewish sounding name. But there are many people who aren't Jewish but still have the last name, 'Miller.' The same is true with 'Reichman' and 'Deitsch.' These are popular names amongst the Germans and Polish. We cannot release children just because they have Jewish sounding names."

What could Rabbi Silver do? Most of the children were left in this and other orphanages when they were just toddlers, or younger. They certainly wouldn't be able to remember their origin.

"I am very sorry," said the priest with irritation, "but I have spent enough time with you already on this matter. I am willing to give you not more than three minutes of my time."

How could the rabbi possibly come up with a way to save all of these Jewish children in just three minutes? According to his information, there were dozens of Jewish children in this very orphanage. Quietly, Rabbi Silver asked, "Can I have our three minutes whenever I want?"

"Yes," came the reply.

"Good," sighed the rabbi in relief. "I will come just before the children go to bed."

"That will be at seven o'clock," the priest informed him. And with that, Rabbi Silver left until the evening.

The clock chimed seven times exactly and the children, who were used to their daily schedule, lay down in their beds in the large room.

Rabbi Silver entered. He stood up on a small chair in the center of the room and waited. Utter silence pervaded the room. From every corner, the eyes of young children stared at him.

And then, in a soft voice, the rabbi said just six words that could be heard throughout the room. "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad."

An instant later tender voices, whimpering, crying softly, "Mommy, Mommy," filled the room. Each child, in his own language, began searching for his mother. A mother who, years before, when she had put him down to sleep, and pulled the blanket snugly around him, and kissed him good-night, had whispered quietly in his ears these dear words which lay at the foundation of our faith. Words that every Jewish child knew, "Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One."

The priest lowered his eyes in surrender. The rabbi had won. He had located the lost children. The few seconds that their mothers had set aside each evening before they went to sleep is what saved them from conversion and assimilation.

This scene, according to Rabbi Silver's granddaughter, Judy Silver-Shapiro, repeated itself in many orphanages and DP camps throughout post-war Europe. "Zaidi went to Catholic orphanages all over post-war Europe to rescue living Jewish children, and in the morning when the priests or nuns told him that there were no Jewish children, he decided to return at night when they were about to go to sleep. As he entered the large room of (non-existent) Jewish refugee children, he resolutely recited the Shema, and they all joined in the prayer. He told the priests at each orphanage that 'these are my children.' He left every single orphanage with Jewish children."

A similar story is told about Dayan Yishai Grunfeld, who walked through camps housing children who had been brought over to the UK by an inter-denominational hospitality committee from the liberated countries of Europe.

Shared his son, Rabbi Rafael Grunfeld, "As my father walked through the camp - where he had been told that there was not a single Jewish child - he began to recite aloud 'Shema Yisrael' and 'Hamalach Hagoel.' All at once he was surrounded by hordes of little children. 'Mama, Mama,' they cried. 'Take us home to Mama.'

Moshiach Matters

There are seven Noachide commandments - seven commandments that apply to all humankind. According to Maimonides, Moses was instructed by G-d to compel the nations to accept these seven commandments. Further, any non-Jew who accepts and observes the seven Noachide commandments is a righteous gentile, and has a share in the World to Come. His acceptance must be based on the fact that G-d commanded them in the Torah and knowledge of them came through Moses.

(From Reflections of Redemption, by Rabbi Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)

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