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Devarim Deutronomy

November 17, 2017 - 28 Cheshvan, 5778

1497: Toldos

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

  1496: Chayei Sara1498: Vayetzei  

The Art of Self-Deception  |  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

The Art of Self-Deception

We usually find deceit reprehensible. After all, most of the time we have to take a person's word, at least at first. Sure, for some things we'll investigate before accepting his say-so. We'll check out a doctor's credentials, for instance, or compare insurance policies. But even then at some point we trust what we're being told.

Some professions seem to thrive on deceit and so we distrust them unless proven otherwise. Enough said.

In truth, a lot of the time we know when someone is pretending. We have a gut instinct that something's wrong. We have misgivings, doubts, uncertainties. The deal is too good to be true. Or there's something we're not being told. But we put aside our suspicions. We reason away our reservations. Such a nice young man wouldn't lead us astray. She sounds so knowledgeable she must know what she's talking about.

But then when the seller, the advisor, the friend betrays our trust, we rail against the deceit. And the argument often comes down to: he knew and I didn't. He took advantage of me, because he had inside information.

And yet most of the time - the vast majority of the time - we recognize that a deal too good be true is just that. We had a sense we were being set up. We should have known.

We allow ourselves to be fooled, to be duped, conned and tricked even though we knew better, because we deceive ourselves.

That's an unpleasant truth. As much blame as the deceiver deserves, we have opened the door and invited him in. And ironically, it's our mind - our logic and our reason - that proves our undoing. Our pride and joy - our intellect - betrays us.

We deceive ourselves about our limits and our capabilities. At the moment of greatest conceit, of greatest satisfaction, of greatest accomplishment - we stumble over ourselves. Our egos - our self - our animal soul - our yetzer hara betrays us.

The yetzer hara - the evil inclination - is called a "wise fool." Wise, because it knows its craft. It knows well our weaknesses, how to confuse and deceive. A fool, because it focuses on diverting us from Torah and mitzvot (commandments), because it thinks the Jewish soul, our very essence, can be severed from its Source.

But we've also known the satisfaction of deceiving the deceiver, of turning the tables. What irony and justice in the reversal!

Yes, we all have a yetzer hara, and so we all possess the tools of the liar, the skills of the swindler and the weapons of the fraud. But unlike so many things about which we deceive ourselves, these we can control. These we can redirect.

How? By using the technique of deceit to do a mitzva. I'm not going to keep kosher, I'm just not going to eat a cheeseburger today. I'm not going to get religious, I'm just going to put on tefilin today. I'm not going to keep all the laws of Shabbat, I'm just going to light candles or hear the blessing over the wine Friday night. I'm not some holy person. I'm just going to give a dollar to tzedaka (charity). I'm not changing, I'm just going to do this one mitzva.

And this next mitzva. And this next. Let's be the "gamblers." Let's be the con artist. Let's "deceive" ourselves and trick our yetzer hara. It's a great deal. Too good not to be true.

Written for L'Chaim by Rabbi Dr. Dovid YB Kaufmann obm, inspired by the incident in this week's Torah portion: "Perhaps ...I will appear to him as a deceiver, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing."

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Toldot, describes Isaac's life after the passing of his father Abraham.

The portion begins with the details of Isaac's and Rebecca's childlessness and how after 20 years they were blessed with twin sons. The elder son was named Esau and the younger was named Jacob.

Due to a famine, Isaac travels with his family to Egypt from their dwelling place in Canaan. When they pass through Philistine G-d commands them to remain there.

The Torah's description of life in Philistine places a big emphasis on the fact that Isaac was digging wells there. First he unearthed wells his father originally dug, but the locals filled. Then he dug new wells. Finally it tells of how his servants, who were digging a well, came to him and said "we found water."

It seems that digging wells was central to who he was and a defining feature in his service to G-d. While his father, Abraham, worked on getting people to follow G-d, Isaac dug wells.

What is the deeper meaning in digging a well? To dig a well, you first need to believe that there is water. Then comes the hard work, digging deeper and deeper until you find the water.

On the surface a person may not be happy with who he/she is, he has to know that on the inside there is "water," there is a beautiful person. All he needs to do is "dig," to work on himself. If you keep digging you will surely find water.

First came Abraham, who taught us to change the way you should act on the outside. To act the way G-d would want you to.

When you do this, you may feel like a fake, putting on an act. Realize, that it is a false perception. Deep within you are perfect.

Isaac teaches us the next step. Now that you are beautiful on the outside, start digging, find the beauty within.

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

The Untold Journey
by Risa Mond

Have you ever looked at your life and asked - "How on earth did I get here?" Just seven, small words filled with so much power that can ignite thousands of thoughts. Thoughts filled with nostalgia, happiness, and sometimes a little confusion. As someone who asks myself that question on a daily basis I can only help but respond to that question with another question (the classically Jewish approach). "Who helped me get here?"

Last year I published an article titled "Hi, I am a Baal Teshuva", speaking about my journey as someone who grew up non-religious and became observant later on in life. Since then, I've written articles, spoken to students in schools around Brooklyn, and have had plenty of DMC's (deep meaningful conversations) with my friends about the journey. And there are plenty of other people out there just like me doing the same thing. But, recently, it hit me: Who hears the story of the parents of a baal teshuva? Really, no one.

Let's step into their shoes. Imagine raising two kids. Social, active, intelligent, healthy kids. You raise them with the same principles. Engraving in them to treat everyone with the same kindness, that a smile can go a long way, or that love is unconditional. Always say please and thank you. Hold the door open for the person behind you. You don't get anything for free. Work hard. And if you don't get it, work harder next time. Be truthful. And always remember when it get's too grueling, we're here for you.

You send them both to the same hebrew school. They become bar/bat mitzvahed standing in the same synagogue alongside the same rabbi. They're schooled by similar teachers, involved in all the extracurriculars with their amazing friend groups.

Now all of a sudden, one child can't eat off your plates and silverware. She can't attend your family events that are on Saturday and too far to walk. She starts learning different Torah studies you had no idea existed. She joins a whole new community that you know absolutely nothing about. And she does it all as a senior in high school. This is the journey of the two most selfless, loving, and giving people - my parents and their untold journey.

I wish it wasn't true, but sometimes I would wish I was born religious. A situation arises and I can't help but think "Wow, it would have just been so much easier if...." I freeze. My mind drifts to the times my mother spent sifting through for how to kasher a microwave. Or how many trips she made to stores to get me my own pots, pans, plates, and just about anything else I could need. I recall the numerous hours accumulated of my father spending an extra thirty minutes cooking dinner because he's so meticulous as to making sure he doesn't make anything "not kosher".

How did they put up with everything? How were they able to let me go and trust blindly that what came next would be good? I don't know. How did they know that the values and morals they spent eighteen years investing in me wouldn't disappear once I became this new person?

I'm not here to tell you the story my parents went through. Because I honestly have no idea what they had to deal with. The point here, is to show you how behind everyone, there's a driving force. Behind everyone's choices is a voice in their head, often times affected by the most influential people in their lives - a mother and father.

It's only because of my parents love, support, dedication, and principles embedded in me from day one that I was able to make this change.

It's only because of the determination I learned from them that I continue on through all the hurdles that come at me.

And it's only because of their willingness and unconditional love that we can be on this journey together.

Take a walk into my house. You'll see my mother scrubbing the oven so it can be correctly kashered - letting me eat out of it. To the right are two break-apart shelves holding pots, pans, plates, cutlery, and more for meat and dairy. You'll hear the questions being asked, the sparking discussions, and my dad's infamous wit infused in it all.

Best of all, you'll see for yourself the details of my parents unspoken journey into our new life.

Risa Mond, is an adventurous 19-year-old living out her dreams in New York. As an employee of CTeen, an international Jewish youth organization, Risa believes that youth possess the power to change the world, and strives to lead by example. From Risa's blog at Times of Israel

What's New

Last Day Laughter

Last Day Laughter enters the inner world of women who transform tough challenges into exhilarating personal redemption. Whether torn by an unforeseen twist to their marriage, or confronted by the ire of loved ones and community, or confused - could this really be a life-threatening addition - here are women who support each other with unyielding faith and courage. By Rivka Zakutinsky and Yaffe Leiba Gottleib - authors of Around Sara's Table.


Every day, Nosson watches the construction workers and tries to copy what they do. When the workers help each other, Nosson helps his friends. When the workers wait for cement to dry, Nosson practices being patient and waiting for his turn. BUILDING is about more than the progress on a construction site. It's a story of building character and learning what it means to be big. Detailed, colorful illustrations capture the energy and excitement of trucks and equipment which children find so fascinating. Written by Leah Wachsler illustrated by Renate Lohmann. Hachai Publishing.

The Rebbe Writes

14 Teves 5731 [1971]
Prof. [1] & Mrs. Abraham S. Luchins

Greeting & Blessing:

This is to thank you for Vols. II and III of Wertheimer's Seminars Revisited, which I have just received. While I have had no time as yet to look into them more closely, I have thumbed through the pages. In doing so, I was again reminded of the saying of our Sages to the effect that "if anyone says the nations of the world have a Torah, do not believe it; but if one says that they have science, do believe it."

In fact, I had occasion to discuss the subject at the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering]. The point of the said statement is that in the non-Jewish world it is possible to find outstanding thinkers and philosophers who might find solutions to the various problems confronting humanity, yet they can go through the process of thinking with complete detachment, so that the solutions which they come up with remains theoretical, and do not touch upon their own lives. Indeed, the thinker or philosopher or scientist might, in his personal life, act quite contrary to the high moral and ethical concepts which he expounds.

It is quite different in regard to our Torah, which is our wisdom and science in the eyes of the nations. For to us Torah means teaching and guidance (from the word horo'o), that is to say, that it penetrates and permeates our lives. This is because it has the power to compel, as it were, the Torah student and follower to translate the solution which it provides into practical deed. It gives the Torah Jew the strength to resist and subjugate the yetzer hara [evil inclination], as our Sages of blessed memory express it: barati yetzer hara, berati Torah tavlin ("I have created the yetzer hara, but I have also created the Torah as an antidote").

With all good wishes for your hatzlocho [success] in your work, as well as in your good influence to spread and strengthen the light of the Torah and mitzvoth [commandments] to the utmost of your capacities.

With blessing,



  1. (Back to text) American Gestalt psychologist and pioneer of group therapy

Reprinted from, the Avner Institute

15 Cheshvan, 5733 [1972]

This is to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence.

You write that you would love to learn what it means to walk in the presence of G-d, etc. I trust that you know of the so-called Seven Commandments given by G-d to Noah and his children.

These are: the establishment of courts of justice; the prohibition of blasphemy; of idolatry; of incest; of bloodshed; of robbery; of eating flesh cut from a living animal.

These Seven Commandments which G-d gave to the children of Noah, i.e. to all mankind, are the basic laws, with far-reaching ramifications, which embrace the whole life of society as well as of the individual, to ensure that the human race will be guided by these Divine laws of morality and ethics, and that human society will indeed be human, and not a jungle.

To be sure, Jews, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were later given many more Divine commandments which obligate them, but not the rest of mankind.

However, this in no way diminishes the fact that gentiles can and must attain complete fulfillment through the observance of the above- mentioned Seven Commandments of man, with all their ramifications, for, inasmuch as they are G-d-given, they provide the vehicle whereby to attain communion with G-d, and thus "walk ever in the presence of G-d," as you write in your letter.

I would like to make an additional essential point.

If there was a time when some intellectuals thought that there was no need to connect the laws of ethics and morality with Divine authority, inasmuch as these are rational principles, the fallacy of this thinking is now abundantly clear.

For we have seen, in our own day and age, a whole nation which had boasted of great philosophic advancement and ethical systems sink to the lowest depth of inhuman depravity and unprecedented barbarism.

And the reason for this was that they thought that they could establish a morality and ethics based on human reason, not subject to the authority of a Supreme Being, having themselves become a super race, as they thought. There is surely no need to elaborate on the obvious.

From what has been said above, it is clear that no individual can rest content with his own observance of the Divine Commandments, but it is his responsibility to his friends and neighbors, and society at large, to involve them in the observance of the Divine Commandants in daily life and conduct.

All Together

Why is the Torah opened and raised aloft at the Torah reading?

The Talmud (Sofrim) mentions raising the Torah scroll adjacent to its reading, "It is a commandment for all the men and women to see the writing, and bow, and say, 'And this is the Torah which Moses placed before the children of Israel' (Deut. 4:44)" During "hagbah" (the raising of the Torah) - at the beginning of the Torah reading for Sefardim and at the end for Ashkenazim - the words are carefully shown to all to emphasize that all Jews are able to understand that the Torah is our common heritage. Some have the custom to point to the words of the Torah.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This weekend is the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim. (Shluchim is from the word "shaliach" which means emissary.) Over 3,000 shluchim (emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) will attend, from almost every country throughout the world.

From its inception, the highlight of the convention was always the address on Shabbat by the Rebbe. The last time the Rebbe addressed the shluchim was in 1992. At that time, the Rebbe explained that the task of the shluchim in this momentous period - the last few "moments" before the Messianic Era - is to make people aware of the imminence of Moshiach and the Redemption: "And this is the task of the International Conference of Shluchim: First and foremost, to make a public statement that this is the task confronting us - to prepare ourselves to accept Moshiach. Every aspect of our service and every dimension of our activity must be directed to this goal."

The Rebbe went on to explain that every person is a shaliach. Therefore, the task and responsibility of every Jew these days is to make himself and others aware of the imminence of the long-awaited Redemption, an eternal era of peace, prosperity, health and wisdom: "Every Jew possesses a spark of Moses and similarly, every Jew possesses a spark of Moshiach. Therefore, every Jew is G-d's emissary to illuminate the world with the light of Torah..."

On numerous occasions, the Rebbe suggested that we study matters pertaining to Moshiach and the Redemption. We can attend pre-existing classes or organize them ourselves, we can avail ourselves of the many books or study-material that can be found on the internet and we should allow what we are studying to impact upon our lives and upon the lives of those around us.

May we all take advantage of these precious moments to prepare ourselves, our families and friends, for Moshiach's arrival, may it take place NOW!

Thoughts that Count

The man [Isaac] became great, and grew more and more... (Gen. 23:13)

It is common that as a person becomes richer, the person within him becomes smaller and smaller. The greatness of Isaac was that even though he became more and more wealthy, he increased and expanded in his qualities as a person.

(Rabbi Yitzchak of Torchow)

Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was failing. (Gen. 27:1)

Rashi explained that Isaac's eyesight was failing him so that Jacob could receive the blessing. In order to assure that Jacob would receive the blessing was it necessary for Isaac's eyesight to fail him? Wouldn't it have been "easier" for G-d to have revealed to Isaac that Esau was wicked and therefore undeserving of the blessing? However, G-d didn't want to speak badly about Esau. If this is true concerning the wicked Esau, all the more must we be extremely careful not to gossip about or slander any Jew.

A ladder was standing on the ground and the top of it reached to heaven. (Gen 28:12)

The Hebrew word for ladder (sulam) has the same numerical value as money (mamon). This teachers us that money is like a ladder - it can be used to ascend and come closer to the heavens, or with it one can descend to the depths. Everything depends on how we use it and for what purpose.

(The Baal Shem Tov)

It Once Happened

Long ago in Babylonia there were two wise men - Shmuel, a famous Jewish scholar who knew the entire Torah, and Avlet, a wise gentile who could predict the future by looking at the stars. He knew what would happen the next day, the next week, or even the next year.

One day, Shmuel and Avlet sat by a roadside near a lake. As they were talking, a group of laborers walked towards the lake. They came to cut the reeds that grew in the shallow waters and along the shore. They sold them to the townspeople for carving flutes, weaving mats and making vessels.

As the workers were passing, Avlet pointed to one of them and said to Shmuel, "Do you see that man? He is going to the lake but I know that he will not return alive. I saw in the stars that he will be in a serious accident."

"If he is Jewish," answered Shmuel, "He will return in peace. He will pray to G-d, or do some other mitzva (commandment), and the G-d of Israel will protect him from misfortune."

Meanwhile, the laborers reached the lake and began to cut and tie the reeds. They worked for several hours. When they were hungry and tired, they stopped to eat their lunch in the shade of a tree. Now these workers had a wonderful custom. They put all their food into one basket and divided it evenly among themselves so that everyone had an equal portion, and no one would go hungry or be jealous of another.

That day, the worker whom Avlet had pointed to noticed that one of his friends was sad and depressed. He saw that the man's lunch bag was empty. Obviously, he had no money to buy bread and he would be embarrassed to ask the others for some of their food. The worker wanted to help his friend.

So he took the bread basket and said, "Today is my turn to collect the bread and divide it."

His friends agreed, and he went around to each of them, collecting their food as he passed. When he came to the poor man with no bread, the worker put his own food in the basket, pretending to take it from the poor fellow. Then he divided the portions equally among the workers, but he took a very small portion for himself so that there was enough for everyone. Thus no one realized the poor man had nothing to give.

When they finished their meal, the men continued their work. In the evening, they bundled the reeds and carried them to town on their backs.

Meanwhile, Shmuel and Avlet came back to the roadside to watch the workmen on their way home. They wanted to see if the worker Avlet had pointed to was missing. They saw that all the men who had left town in the morning were coming back. They all seemed well and happy; Avlet's prophecy had not come true.

Avlet was surprised. Had he made a mistake? He went to the workman and said, "Please let me see the reeds you cut today."

The worker was surprised, but set down his bundle and opened it. Avlet examined the reeds and found a poisonous snake which the workman had apparently killed by mistake and unknowingly placed in the bag! Avlet turned triumphantly to Shmuel and said, "You see, my prophecy was correct. If the snake had bitten the workman, he would not have returned alive, just as I predicted. But I do not understand how his life was spared."

Shmuel turned to the worker and asked, "Did you do something special today? Try to remember."

The worker told Shmuel how he had divided the bread without embarrassing his poor friend.

"You have fulfilled the mitzva from the Torah of 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' " said Shmuel. "Because of this mitzva you were saved from death."

Moshiach Matters

Isaac dug three wells. The first two wells were stopped up by the Philistines, but the third well was left alone and its waters remained accessible. The three wells of Isaac are metaphors for the three Temples. The uniqueness of a well, and the Temple, is that the structure is man-made, but the content comes from a source beyond man's reach. Just as we must search for the site of a well and exert ourselves in digging and removing the obstacles, so too we must seek and strive for the Temple to exist as a Divine dwelling place.

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

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