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World Book Day is still many months away. But for Jews, who have long been known as the "People of the Book," it's always the right time to consider the importance of reading and owning books.
A fundamental mystical Jewish teaching is that in every thing, even in inanimate material objects, such as stones, earth, water and yes, books, there is a "soul," or a vital spiritual core.
Of course, there are gradations in this spiritual soul. There is, to begin with, a plain material object that simply by the fact of being a created thing, contains a "spark" of the Divine Creative Force that keeps it in existence. On a higher level, there is a material object that has served a good purpose. Higher still is an object that is used in the performance of a mitzva.
Chasidic philosophy explains that when an ordinary material thing is used for a good purpose, especially in the performance of a mitzva, it undergoes a "refinement" and "spiritualization," to the extent of becoming literally a holy object, such as a mezuza scroll made from parchment (animal hide).
Now, imagine Jewish books, inspiring and uplifting books; books written by Jews whose whole lives were or are dedicated to Jewish teachings and to the Jewish people. Imagine books that are studied with heart and soul by hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, enriching and illuminating the way they lead their lives. Certainly, these books' "material" and "inanimate" aspects are permeated with light and life. And surely, when we have such Jewish books in our homes their very presence makes an impact.
Jewish books belong in Jewish homes. When they're sitting in warehouses waiting to be shipped out or lining the shelves of bookstores, Judaica stores or synagogue gift shops, they are in "exile" from their natural environment, from their "home." However well treated, they are imprisoned, so to speak. Just as a person who is in captivity can never be fully happy, even if well provided for with material and even spiritual needs, so too can Jewish books never be happy until they are home.
When a Jewish home has Jewish books - on the bookshelves in the den and in the kids' rooms, next to the manuals in the computer room, on the coffee table or the sofa table or the end table - then that Jewish home is full of holiness and light. Jewish books set a tone and create an atmosphere in the home that affects its inhabitants even when they are far from home. That Jewish home is a link in a chain all the way back to the first Jewish home of our ancestors Abraham and Sara.
Jewish books are always appropriate gifts for young and old alike. (Don't be overly cautious about giving Jewish books even to toddlers for fear of what they might do to the books. A Midrash describes small children playing with holy texts and the delights this brings Above!) Be it a birthday, anniversary, or just to say "thanks," a Jewish book is a gift that comes from the heart and nourishes the soul.
This week's Torah portion is Vayigash. The Haftora for this week is a prophecy of the prophet Ezekiel, about the uniting of the two kingdoms, Judah and Israel, in the time of Moshiach.
The Haftora begins with G-d telling Ezekiel, "Take one stick of wood and write on it Judah..., and take one stick of wood and write on it Efraim... Bring them close to each other, like one stick, and they will become one in your hand."
The Haftora continues by describing how G-d will gather all the Jewish people, from wherever they are. He will unite them into one nation, "No longer will they be divided into two kingdoms."
This division is first seen in our Torah portion with the confrontation between Joseph and Judah. Joseph and Judah are symbolic of two ways in Jewish life, intellect and action, or in other terms, Torah and mitzvot (commandments). There is a Talmudic debate, what is greater, study or action? They conclude, that study is greater, because it brings to action.
The Haftora continues with G-d saying that when we become one nation, "My servant David will be king over them." Then later G-d says, "David My servant will be a Ruler to them forever." This is saying that ultimately David will be the one king over the entire Jewish people. As well, it means that when Moshiach comes, action will be greater than study. How does this work?
From the statement that "Study is greater, because it brings to action," we understand that the point is the action, only that the way to the action is through study. Therefore, today, study is most important. However, when Moshiach comes, the revelation will be so great, that it itself will bring us to action, even without the study. The importance of action was well understood by our ancestors, when receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. They said, "We will do and we will listen." first they said "do," meaning action, and only after, they said "listen," which is study.
Ezekiel's prophecy differs from all other prophecies, in a few ways. First by other prophecies, the job of the prophet was to tell the prophecy to the people right away. However here, he had to get sticks, write on them, and only after he was asked about what he was doing, was he to tell them G-d's message.
Why the whole display with the sticks? All positive prophecies come true, although, sometimes we don't get to witness them, because they only actualize in the spiritual realms. This happens when we become unworthy due to our sins, the prophecy gets stuck, unable to descend into the physical world.
By G-d commanding the action of bringing the two physical sticks together, He was insuring that nothing would block the prophecy, as it had already entered the physical realm.
The Haftora concludes, "I will make an everlasting covenant of peace for them..., and I will put My Sanctuary in their midst forever....The nations will know that I Am G-d Who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary will be in their midst forever." May it happen soon.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
by Elana Bergovoy
One day in December 1977, a brochure sent to our home from the Rebbe's emissaries at the Lubavitch Youth Organization headquartered in New York.
It was actually an invitation to come to "Pegisha," a Shabbaton for college-aged youth. The brochure was addressed to my sister, a college student in Michigan, who had attended a previous Pegisha or Encounter with Chabad weekend.
My interest was immediately piqued, as I was working at the time as a freelance writer, and had been actively exploring my Jewish roots by reading, attending classes and visiting Israel.
I immediately called the editor at a Jewish publication I was writing for, and inquired if he would pay me to do a piece on the Pegisha. My plan was to attend incognito, and then write the article about my experience there. He answered in the affirmative, so I immediately called to register.
A few weeks later, on a blustery Friday, I made my way by train and subway to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, arriving at the Lubavitch Youth Organization office just a little while before Shabbat.
"You're just in time, we were about to close up," said some girls in the office. "We've run out of host families, so don't know where we can send you. But, wait a moment!" A quick call was placed, and: "You'll have to stay at the Groners," I was told. They directed me to hurry up and find my way to the home of none other than Rabbi Leibel and Mrs, Yehudis Groner. Rabbi Groner was the Rebbe's personal secretary.
I expected to be greeted at the door by a fat matronly woman, in a dirty housecoat and oversized scarf - this was my preconceived vision of what a Chassidic woman would look like. Instead, I was ushered into the Groner home by a most regal-looking woman who reminded me of Princess Grace Kelly.
"Welcome to our home!" smiled Mrs. Groner. "We must hurry, as it's almost Shabbos!"
I was ushered into a small bedroom with several beds. I stowed my things, surreptitiously hiding my little notepad and pen under my mattress, thinking I'd jot down my observations during Shabbat. I chatted briefly with Chaya, the Groners' lovely teenaged daughter.
"Are you a college student?" I asked Chaya.
"I go to seminary,' she replied simply.
"Seminary - what's that?" I was mystified. It sounded like a place where priests would go to study.
"Come now, its time to light!" called another daughter from the hallway.
Thankfully, I knew about lighting Shabbat candles from my own home, as my mother had never missed lighting candles on Friday night.
Mrs. Groner, her daughters, and I lit candles and softly murmured the blessing. The light of many candles illuminated the cozy living room where the lights were reflected in the wall mirrors.
Another Pegisha attendee came to escort me to 770 Eastern Parkway, the main Lubavitch synagogue, which was absolutely packed. "There's the Rebbe! Can you see him?" Someone pointed to a bearded elderly man sitting on a red velvet chair, but I could barely get a look, due to how packed the women's section of the shul was.
Back at the Groners, the table was beautifully set. We women sat in comfy chairs and sofas and chatted away by candlelight, getting to know one another, as we awaited the arrival of Rabbi Groner and his sons. It got later and later, and my stomach was grumbling. Boy, was I hungry! Mrs. Groner apologized for the late hour, explaining that, as the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Groner had to escort the Rebbe home after shul.
Finally, we heard singing, and Rabbi Groner, his twin teenaged sons, Yossi and Mendy, and little 8-year-old Aaron, burst into the house. We could hear the crackling of the walkie-talkie in the rabbi's coat pocket.
"Good Shabbos!" Rabbi Groner greeted us, and I was introduced to him, as we all took our places at the Shabbat table.
Rabbi Groner, Yossi and Mendy on either side, sang "Sholom Aleichem," and I believe that angels themselves were there with us. I felt embraced by such a warm glow of peace and sweetness, of shalom bayit (peace in the home) and happiness, it was something I had never, ever experienced in my life, though I had been at other Shabbat tables, and traveled throughout Europe and Israel.
Divine providence had led me to a place I needed to be, the place I belonged. I realized that this was IT, this joy and light was what I wanted, what I needed in my life.
Shabbos and the weekend passed in a blur of activity, including a rousing farbrengen with Rabbi Manis Friedman which lasted far, far into the night on Saturday night.
Needless to say, I didn't end up as an observer and reporter that weekend. A few weeks later I went to study in Minnesota at Bais Chana, the Women's Institute for the Study of Judaism. For about 10 days I attended classes and had round-the-clock discussions with other participants-mostly about the woman's role in Judaism. Near the end of the 10 days, I decided to start keeping mitzvot (commandments).
The next day, I saw some girls upstairs in the library, poring over a huge volume. "What's that?" I queried. "It's the 300-year Jewish calendar and we're trying to find out our Jewish birthdays," came the answer.
Curious, I had them figure out my Jewish birthday, as well. Can you guess?The day before, when I had decided that I wanted to observe Torah and it's mitzvot was my 25th Jewish birthday!!
Elana Bergovoy is theco-founder of the Chicago Shidduch Group and President of the International Shidduch Group Network. Read in next week's issue about a participant in this year's "Pegisha."
Chabad at Mizzou
Chabad at the University of Missouri, in Columbia, Missouri, recently purchased the center that they have been leasing for the past six years. The Chabad on Campus at "Mizzou" - as the University of Missouri is alternatively known, features a vibrant student life in addition to its activities in the Mid-Missouri area.
Rabbi Levi and Rochie Perelmuter recently started their roles as youth directors in the "Shul by the Shore" at the Chabad Center in Long Beach, California. The Perelmuters will be launching and directing a new initiative focused on engaging youth and teens in the area through a revitalized Hebrew School, CTeen, and other resources.
Chabad in Ulm, Germany, welcomed a new Torah scroll. Ulm is both the birthplace of Albert Einstein as well as the former site of a Nazi concentration camp.
5 Teves, 5736 
In reply to your inquiry and request for instructions in connection with the forthcoming fast of Asara b'Teves (10th of Teves), in view of the situation in and around Israel -
You will surely be instructed by the rabbi of your congregation, however, since you have also approached me in this matter, I will set forth, at least, several suggestions - after the following introductory remarks:
Regrettably, there are people who claim that it is necessary to think and act "big," in terms of global dimensions and stupendous undertakings, etc. Surely they mean well; and to the extent that such resolutions are practical and are actually carried out - they are very helpful in improving the situation.
Yet, we must never overlook - indeed, rather greatly emphasize - the so-called "small and unsophisticated" things which each modest congregation, moreover each individual, can and must do - beginning with the old, yet ever-new, Jewish way, collectively as one people and also as individuals. This is the action of "the voice is the voice of Jacob" - Torah and prayer - which G-d Himself has shown us to be the first effective action to nullify the power of "the hands of Esau" - in whatever shape or form they are raised against us.
Certainly this should find the fullest expression in a day which the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] declares to be a day of fasting, one to which the prophet Isaiah refers as a "chosen fast...a fast and time favored by G-d."
Now, in answer to your inquiry, and since the fast of Asara b'Teves is specially connected with the Holy Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem (recalling the siege of Jerusalem), my suggestion - in addition to the regular "observances" on fast days, as set forth at length and in detail in Poskim [Jewish legal adjudicators] and in books of Mussar and Chasidism - is as follows:
During this day - expressly for the sake (zechus) of the security and strengthening of the Holy Land, materially and spiritually, and for the material and spiritual benefit of all Jews wherever they are - in the Holy Land as well as in the Diaspora - and particularly for the benefit of our brethren behind the "Iron Curtain" - a special effort should be made in the spirit of "Old Israel" - in the areas of Torah study, prayer and charity.
Especially after praying (both in the morning and at Mincha - the afternoon service) one should learn (and where there already are daily study groups, to add) a subject in Torah, including halacha pesuka (final ruling).
There are people who claim that it is necessary to think and act "big," in terms of global dimensions and stupendous undertakings, etc.
Immediately following the prayers, even before learning, one should say several chapters of Psalms (in addition to the regular portion).
Before and after praying - one should give charity (in addition to the regular donation), including charity for a sacred cause or institution in the Holy Land, the "Land of Living."
Needless to say, one who repeats the above again and again in the course of the day is to be praised.
And the more one does it (in quantity and quality), the more praiseworthy it is.
And, as in all matters of holiness, it is desirable that all the above be done with at least a minyan (quorum).
May G-d accept, and He will accept, the prayers and supplications of Jews wherever they are.
And soon, in our very own days, may the promise be fulfilled that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness," with the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
Why are the hands washed in a special manner before eating bread?
Before the kohanim (priests) performed their duties in the Holy Temple, they purified their hands by pouring water from a vessel over them. Our sages have likened our home to a mini-Sanctuary, our table to the altar and our food to the sacrifices. We, as "priests" of our homes, must also sanctify our hands by washing them in the prescribed manner before eating a meal accompanied by bread.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are currently in the month of Tevet. The word "Tevet" is related to the Hebrew word "tov," meaning "good." Early on, it contains the happy date of this Shabbat, "Hei Tevet," when the ownership of the Lubavitch Library was legally affirmed.
However, we also commemorate sad events, most especially the Tenth of Tevet. The Tenth of Tevet (this year coinciding with December 28) is the day on which the evil king Nebuchadnezar laid siege upon Jerusalem, which eventually led to the destruction of the first Holy Temple, and the Babylonian Exile. The tenth of Tevet is considered an especially solemn day, because it is the first in a series of events which led to the present exile. Therefore it is a day to reflect upon all of those events and the actions that led to them, and to reflect upon which of our own actions need improving in order hasten the end of exile and prepare for the imminent Redemption.
And yet, as stated previously, Tevet is connected to good. We see from this that we have the power to transform bad into good, sorrow into joy, darkness into light, and exile into redemption. Since Tevet marks the beginning of the calamitous events which befell our people, our Sages named this month "Tevet" to inspire the positive energy that is within every one of us.
Tevet has the added significance of being connected to the number ten, as Tevet is the tenth month of the year. Additionally, we commemorate the siege of Jerusalem on the tenth day of the tenth month.
Ten is a number of great power. Yom Kippur is on the tenth day of Tishrei. G-d gave us ten commandments. The Torah mentions nine times that the Jews sang to G-d and the tenth song will be song with the coming of Moshiach.
We must harness this additional power to fulfill the service of Tevet, which is to transform the darkness into light.
And Joseph could not restrain himself...and he cried: Cause every man to go out from me (Gen. 45:1)
As Rashi notes, Joseph did not want the Egyptians to witness his brothers' public humiliation. As personal problems are not to be flaunted, he ordered everyone present to leave the room except for his family. Years ago people were more reluctant to air their dirty laundry publicly. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for today...
In order to preserve life G-d has sent me before you...to prepare for you a posterity on the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance (Gen. 45:5,7)
The darkness of the exile makes it hard to perceive G-dliness, or to arouse the natural, innate love for G-d that is within every Jew. But G-d has mercy on His people Israel, and in every generation sends us one tzadik (righteous person) like Joseph, whose function is to diffuse light to each individual soul and enable it to contemplate G-d's greatness.
Do not be sad, nor be angry with yourselves that you sold me (Gen. 45:5)
Sadness and anger are connected and feed off each other. Joseph told his brothers not to be sad; once they were in a better frame of mind, their anger would naturally dissipate.
(Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar)
And he sent his brothers away and they departed, and he said to them, Do not quarrel by the way (Gen. 45:24)
There are many true and valid ways of serving G-d within the context of Judaism, all of which are positive and holy (provided that they do not contradict the fundamental principles of the Torah). Joseph was counselling his brothers to avoid quarrelling over individual "styles" of G-dly service, for they are all "the words of the living G-d."
by Sara Karmely
It was 1979, two years before the Iranian Revolution. Rabbis Sholom Ber Hecht and Hertz Illulian went to Iran from New York at the request of the Rebbe. As part of their mission, they delivered a Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, to Iran's Jewish spiritual leader, Rabbi Yehuda Ezrachian. One month later, Rabbi Ezrachian received a telephone call from Rabbi J.J. Hecht, who had been very involved in efforts to bring as many Iranian Jews as possible to safety in the United States. Rabbi Hecht relayed the Rebbe's instructions to print Tanyas for the Jews in Iran.
By then, most of the Jewish population had fled Iran. It was an extremely dangerous place to live. But Rabbi Ezrachian remained at his post as head of the Jewish community in Iran and the leader of the Rabbinical Court for three more years. The Iranian Moslem Ministers, under the brutal and ruthless Khomeini, issued an edict whose purpose was to purge Iran of anything connected with the Shah of Iran, and to disobey meant a charge of treason and death.
Rabbi Ezrachian had narrowly escaped death several times already, since there was also a strict edict against anyone and anything that could be perceived to be helping the state of Israel. The death sentence was swiftly and unmercifully carried out upon anyone who dared to disobey that edict. But Rabbi Ezrachian, a scholarly, G-d fearing man, and an ardent chasid of the Rebbe, had been instructed to print Tanyas for the Persian Jews. He did so, but since most of the Persian Jews could not read, write or understand Hebrew, Rabbi Ezrachian was in the process of translating the Tanya into Persian.
One day, Rabbi Ezrachian was in the office of his synagogue, working on his translating of the Tanya. Suddenly there was loud, insistent banging on the door and the unmistakable shouts of the Iranian Taliban. These policemen were known to be violent fanatical Moslem ministers looking for some new Jewish blood to spill, just to prove how loyal they were to their Imam.
When Rabbi Ezrachian opened the door, his heart was racing so fast that he could not think. The office contained historical documents and items connected to the Shah. And worst of all, it was filled with the receipts of the money that people had given to him to donate for charity to Israel. If these receipts were now found, it would be considered aiding the enemy, the Zionist state - and he would surely be shot on the spot.
Numbly, he stood there as the violent, screaming ministers burst into his office. They immediately started to pull open doors to closets, and dump out files. Any minute they would find the receipts and then.... the rabbi understood what was about to take place, and recited his final prayers. As the strength started to leave his body, Rabbi Ezrachian prayed to G-d. He saw certain death before his eyes, and prepared to meet his Maker.
Suddenly, one of the ministers pounced on a Tanya. He leafed through it but of course could not read the Hebrew. Roughly he asked Rabbi Ezrachian what it was, and what it said. "It is a holy book, and I am translating it into Farsi," stammered Rabbi Ezrachian, praying silently that the merit of the Tanya would somehow save him. Opening the book at random, the radical ordered the pale, trembling rabbi to translate it exactly as it was written.
Rabbi Ezrachian did as he was told. He stood there and translated it faithfully, and after translating ten pages, he was quietly ordered to stop. The ministers, who had all stopped their raiding in order to listen, now stood in silent awe. Reverently, their leader took the Tanya, gently touched it to his eyes, and then kissed it. (A Persian custom to show respect). "A book like this we all need," he said. He sternly told everyone that they need search no longer, because it was obvious that they were with a man who honored "Allah." Moreover, a special edict was written to protect Rabbi Ezrachian from any form of persecution in the future as well as to allow the Rabbi to continue to translate the holy book with no more disturbances!
After they left, Rabbi Ezrachian fell to the ground in a faint. He soon regained consciousness, but found it difficult, at first, to grasp the fact that he was still alive! They had not discovered the receipts, or the letters from Israel saying that they had received the moneys sent to them. Even just one of those documents would have meant certain death, let alone a full filing cabinet of them. They had listened respectfully to ten pages of Tanya in Farsi. And he had an edict of protection issued by the Taliban radicals themselves! On the following Shabbat, Rabbi Ezrachian said the special "Gomel" prayer thanking G-d for saving him from death.
Rabbi Ezrachian visited the U.S. a few years later. At his first private audience with the Rebbe, tears rolled down Rabbi Ezrachian's cheeks. The Rebbe told him, "Serve G-d with joy!" Rabbi Ezrachian replied, "These are tears of happiness." They spoke together for a long time, and then Rabbi Ezrachian said to the Rebbe, "The Jews in Iran are in physical danger, and the Jews who have left are in spiritual danger. I am so worried about them." Tears came to his eyes again when the Rebbe answered, "So let us pray for them together." They held each other's hands and prayed for the Iranian Jews.
Rabbi Ezrachian had many other private audiences with the Rebbe. Each time, he tried his utmost to fulfill what the Rebbe wanted from him. Rabbi Ezrachian translated the Abridged Code of Jewish Law, the prayer book, Psalms, as well as five other books of the Bible. The Rebbe personally checked several of the translations, though not all.
After leaving Iran, Rabbi Ezrachian lived in Israel for a while before moving to Great Neck, New York.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Moshiach, Maimonides explains, must be "a king from the house of David, expert in Torah and involved with mitzvot (commandments) - as David his father." The phrase "as David his
father" means that not only will Moshiach be punctilious in the observance of mitzvot and unequaled in Torah knowledge, but he will do both - Torah and mitzvot - with the same effort, humility and self-nullification "as David his father."
(From Reflections of Redemption based on Likutei Sichot 25, by Rabbi Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)