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1503: Vayechi

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Devarim Deutronomy

December 29, 2017 - 11 Tevet, 5778

1503: Vayechi

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  1502: Vayigash1504: Shemos  

The Pleasure Principle  |  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 Pleasure Principle

by Rabbi Mendy Herson

Would you like some pleasure today?

Of course you would.

Pleasure is a core goal of the human psyche. Some would say that psychological hedonism is a principle driving force of human behavior. At the same time, we're told, the Pleasure Principle needs to be balanced by the Reality Principle. Sometimes the pleasure you want just doesn't conform to reality. Maybe it costs too much, involves an unwilling participant or is self-destructive.

In a healthy human being, one's mental bookkeeping usually strikes a balance between pleasure-seeking and delayed gratification. We're not disturbed by the self-indulgent impulse, we just have the maturity to recognize that we can't realistically achieve our fantasy.

Most of us then move on to realistic pleasure goals.

But what if you're not 'most of us?' What if reality seems to bend at your will?

Think about it: What would you do if there was no opposition, no 'reality balance,' to your pleasure ambitions? Would you self-regulate? Or would you morph turn into a self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking machine?

I think it's a good idea to redefine pleasure-seeking. Pleasure is indeed a deep part of the soul. Pleasure, by definition, means that you're experiencing a good feeling, which adds a great dimension to life. But living a good life, not pleasure-seeking, should be life's central goal.

Pleasure should be a wonderful by-product of a life well lived, not its central objective.

When you've successfully planted your backyard garden, finally wall-papered that room in your house, or just delivered food to a home-bound neighbor, do you feel pleasure? I hope so.

At the same time: Was the process of planting or building or delivering pleasurable? Not necessarily. But pleasure wasn't your focus. You were focused on something bigger than your immediate comfort, and larger than the moment at hand. You were being constructive, and reaching beyond yourself. That brings [healthy] pleasure in its train.

The Torah describes Shabbos as a time of 'Pleasure' for G-d and humanity alike.

Why? Shabbos is the bottom line of your week and its achievements. When we light Shabbos candles, we join G-d in reflecting on a week of strengthened relationships, of clients' lives bettered, of Mitzvos performed. And G-d rejoices with you, saying "I like this world, where people rise above their self-centered needs to create real value. It is very good."

Shabbos is about the cosmic pleasure generated by a meaningful life. It doesn't get better.

Rabbi Mendy Herson and his wife Malki direct Chabad of Somerset, Hunterdon & Union Counties in New Jersey. This is from Rabbi Herson's blog. Read more at

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read the Torah portion of Vayechi. The Haftora tells of King David's last words and instructions to his son and successor Solomon. The connection to our portion is that Vayechi records Jacob's last words to his children and Joseph's last words to his brothers.

The Haftora tells us that when the time of King David's passing was nearing, he instructed his son Solomon, "I am going the way of all the earth, and you should strengthen yourself and become a man."

Solomon was 12 years old at the time, he was not yet a Bar Mitzva. But these words are significant; they are a message from every parent to their child passing into adulthood.

"Strengthen yourself and become a man," King David said. What is the significance of strengthening himself to become a man?

In Hebrew, there are four terms for the word "man." The term used in this verse, "ish," refers to the emotional side of a person; his feelings, heart, etc.

In Judaism, a boy enters adulthood at 13 (and a girl at 12) because that is when he becomes a Bar Daat (thinking individual) which is the natural development of his intellectual properties. However, King David used the word "ish," which indicates emotions. Wouldn't it have made more sense for King David to have used the word "adam," which refers to the intellictual aspect of a person, his mind, brain, etc.?

The intellectual aspect of a person remains in his thoughts and can only be expressed through his emotional self, in speech and action. The development of a person's mind does not ensure that he will act correctly, which is why we find a lot of smart people doing stupid and destructive things. It takes effort to apply what you know, so that it affects how you act. So while a boy enters adulthood because of the natural development of his intellectual properties, it takes personal effort to apply what he knows to how he acts, because that is not natural.

Therefore David's instructions to Solomon are, as if to say - I know that you are smart, but that won't help you, unless you can apply it to the way you act. So "strengthen yourself," meaning, you will have to put your own effort and hard work in to become an "ish," an emotionally well-developed person. Only then will your great wisdom be useful and serve you well.

The same is true for every bar mitzva boy (and bat mitzva girl). If he wants to become an "ish," he will have to put in the effort.

May our efforts we put into our children be fruitful. May we watch them grow into "mentchen," and may they always be a source of pride to G-d, to the Jewish people, and especially to us.

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

Comfort and Prayer with the Tribe
by Hannah Turner

Right before leaving to a Chabad on Campus trip to New York City with 15 other Jewish kids from the University of Missouri, I found out my grandfather has cancer. The prognosis is pretty terrible; if we're lucky, he has a month to live. Papa is the sweetest Southern man you'll ever meet. He has worked his entire life at an electric plant in the tiny town of Lewisburg, Tennessee and always ends our phone calls with the reminder to "study hard."

Suddenly this trip I had so been looking forward to was overshadowed by this heartbreaking news. I had actually been on this trip two years before, so I had seen the sights. We went to Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chabad Rebbe's Ohel and, of course 770. I remember laughing the entire time I was in New York the first time. This time was different as I couldn't fully commit to enjoying myself.

My amazing rabbi and rebbetzin, Rabbi Avromi and Channy Lapine, were the first people I told about Papa. My rebbetzin immediately sent me a link to where I could find the appropriate prayers to say for him. She then asked for his name and his mother's name so she could pray for him, too. Then, I told my best friend about what was going on. She offered to say mishaberach, the prayer for those who need healing, with me. Now it wasn't just me praying for Papa.

As the weekend continued, I began to understand why this program is called "Pegisha," which translates to "an encounter" in Hebrew. I found that to be very fitting as my friends and I met new Jews from all across the globe. We ate amazing challah, and for the first time in my life tried kosher Mexican and Chinese foods, which I have to admit were incredible. I listened to stories from a speaker about the Jewish mob and how they saved American Jews during the Holocaust. I also met with a rabbi from Manchester who explained the connection between Judaism and superheroes. Jews from all over the globe came together to dance during havdalah and celebrate the miracle of Shabbos. I even had a question and answer session with my rabbi and rebbetzin about relationships and finding Jewish love on the steps of the synagogue while freezing in the New York City wind. We didn't care, we were just happy to be there.

But all the time, Papa was on my mind. My dad told me to focus on the good times. So, I thought about late nights playing cards at the kitchen table and him cutting my grapes in half as a kid, because for some reason they tasted better that way. I thought about sitting in the basement and looking at old photos of him and my grandmama when they first met, and I thought about listening to him snore over the soundtrack to old Western movies after he had fallen asleep.

The last night I was in New York, my best friend and I ventured over to 770 by ourselves. I didn't really want to go. I had never felt any connection there, but she insisted. As soon as we entered, I felt my heart deepen. There were probably thirty Jewish women praying there, and upward of fifty Jewish men downstairs. I stood in front of the bench in the back row and closed my eyes. I must have said every prayer for healing I could think of while silently rocking back and forth. No one looked at me. No one spoke to me. But there weren't just a few of us praying for my Papa anymore. Now there were at least 80. How could 80 strangers be praying for my Papa? How could I be so blessed to have wandered into a room of people that were there to pray with me?

That's pegisha. That's my tribe. That's what it means to be a Jew to me. It's a community unlike any other that is a web of support that holds you up. It's a commonality throughout the world and throughout time that will always be there for you. My pegisha was never being alone in the pain of losing my Papa.

Hannah Turner of Austin, Texas, is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. Sadly, Hannah's grandfather passed away three weeks after the Shabbat in NYC.

What's New

Cyber Seniors

Chabad of Lake Success, New York, recently started a program called Cyber Seniors with residents at the Atrai Senior Home. Local teenagers were paired with seniors and taught how to write an email, search old emails, make a Facebook profile, FaceTime their grandchildren, take a selfie and even shop on Amazon. The experience was a great opportunity for the teens, as well, as it required patience, teaching skills and being a cheerleader for each accomplishment and task mastered. The senior/teen program will meet monthly.

International Airport Synagogue

Moscow's Domodedovo International airport now has its own synagogue. Until now, one of Russia's largest airports, only had a multi-purpose meditation space. The small synagogue is equipped with its own Torah scroll. Similar to the Chabad House style outreach at Ben Gurion aiport and JFK in New York, Domodedovo will sooon have a rabbi.

New Torah

Chabad Israeli Center in Atlanta, Georgia, recently celebrated the completion of a new Torah scrool. The Sephardic Torah, as well as the Beit Reuven sanctuary in the Chabad Israeli Center were dedicated by the Manoah family in memory of their father.

The Rebbe Writes

Erev Shabbat-Kodesh Vayigash, 5732 [1981]

To the Officers of and Members of Cong. Yeshiva Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen and All Participants in the Testimonial Dinner in Honor of Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Hecht.

Greeting and Blessing:

I am very pleased to be informed of the forthcoming event honoring your distinguished rabbi and spiritual leader, to celebrate his 25 years' dedicated service to the congregation and community.

This occasion is eloquent testimony not only to the personal achievements of your esteemed rabbi, but also to the credit of the baalei-batim [members], for it shows their appreciation and affection for him and his fruitful work. It is therefore an occasion for genuine celebration, and I am happy to extend my warmest congratulations and best wishes to all participants in this simcha [celebration].

It is customary to make reference to the Torah-portion of the week in which a particular event takes place; especially in the light of the teaching of the Alter Rebbe [the "Elder Rebbe," Rabbi Shneur Zalman], author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, founder of Chabad (of which your worthy rabbi is a faithful disciple), namely, that "a Jew has to live with the times" - the "Jewish Times" being the eternal Torah in its weekly sedra [portion] readings.

The sedra Vayechi begins with the words: "And Yakov [Jacob] lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years." According to our Sages, these were Yakov's best years.

It is related that when the Tzemach Tzedek [the third Chabad Rebbe], as a boy, learned this sedra, he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, "How come that our father Yakov lived his best years in a place like Egypt?" For that country was known for its crass materialism and way of life which were utterly foreign to the spirit of our patriarch.

The Alter Rebbe replied, "In the preceding sedra Vayigash we are told that Yakov Avinu [our father] had sent his son Yehuda [Judah] ahead of him to Goshen (in Mitzrayim - Egypt) to establish there a Torah center for all the Twelve Tribes, and their children and grandchildren. Thus where the Torah and mitzvoth [commadments] are studied and observed, a Jew can live his best years, even in Mitzrayim."

Where the Torah and commadments are studied and observed, a Jew can live his best years, even in "Egypt."

In the light of the above, which requires no further commentary, and on the basis of the progress which your congregation has achieved over the past 25 years, as a center of Torah and mitzvoth, I am confident that your congregation will continue to flourish under the leadership of your distinguished rabbi, and, indeed, will do so in a growing measure.

May G-d grant that the enthusiasm and rededication of all participants in this celebration will be long lasting and infectious, to inspire even greater efforts to strengthen and spread the learning of Torah and adherence to the mitzvoth in the daily life among all of the members, of all ages. I further hope and pray that the influence will be felt throughout the community, and be reflected in an upsurge of Torah study and Torah-true Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in the community at large.

I send you my prayerful wishes for hatzlacha [success] in all the aforesaid, and the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good, materially and spiritually.

With esteem and blessing,

All Together

What exactly is a Bar or Bat Mitzva?

On the day a boy becomes 13 he becomes a "bar mitzva," literally son of commandment; a girl on her twelfth birthday becomes a bat mitzva - daughter of commandment. From that day on they are required to fulfill all of the mitzvot (commandments) they are obligated to perform and they are subject to the responsibilities and privileges of a Jewish adult as pertains to mitzvot. This is automatic, regardless of whether or not a celebration or special ceremony is held. In the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) it states that a father should make a festive meal on the day his son becomes a bar mitzva. For more on bar and bat mitzva visit

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, we read about the end of our patriarch Jacbo's life.

When Jacob felt that he was approaching the end of his life, he called to his son Joseph and asked him to make sure that he was buried in the Land of Israel.

Jacob did not rely on Joseph's promise but asked him to swear. He had no peace of mind until he obtained that oath.

A promise differs from an oath. With a promise one will no doubt do his best to keep it at the appropriate time. Until then, however, one is not disturbed by the pledge. With an oath, however, one is concerned from the moment of swearing: the mind is constantly preoccupied with thoughts how to keep the oath, worrying about the fact that failure to do so would lead to the severe consequences of having violated an oath.

Jacob thus charged Joseph, and through him all of Israel, with a most important lesson how to relate to the exile.

To be sure, our exile was decreed by the Alm-ghty. Nonetheless, we on our part must sense that the exile is not the place where we belong.

A request or promise eventually to leave Egypt, therefore, is not enough. One must sense, and constantly be concerned, that any additional moment in Egypt is a painful burden. Thus one will not cease to pray and demand from G-d - "Carry me out from Egypt!"

Even when comfortable in the exile with a materially and spiritually good and pleasant life, one must realize that the exile is not our place. There must be a profound sensing of exile, of being in an alien place where we do not belong.

Just as an oath deprives one from peace of mind until it is actually fulfilled, so one is not to cease from crying out and continuously demanding "Carry me out from Egypt!"

Thoughts that Count

The Torah Portion of Vayechi

A Torah scroll is normally written with empty spaces between one portion and the next. The Torah portion of Vayechi is unique in that it is written "closed," i.e., without any space between it and the previous portion of Vayigash. Why is it written in such an unusual way? This teaches us that Jacob wanted to reveal to his sons the exact time of Moshiach's coming. But G-d "closed" his memory at that very moment. The Torah hints this to us by "closing" the beginning of the portion.

(Bereshit Rabba)

And let them multiply like fish in the midst of the earth. (Gen. 48:16)

A most striking characteristic of fish is that they multiply greatly. However, one of their faults is that larger fish eat smaller ones. The above blessing states only that they should "multiply like fish," - they should be like fish only in matters of increasing and not in other ways.

(Poret Yosef)

Gather together and I will tell you what will take place at the end of days. Gather together and hear..." (Gen. 49:1-2)

Jacob told his children to "gather together" twice. This repetition was a hint to his children that the Jewish people will be "gathered together" from exile on two occasions: The first time we were gathered together was when G-d brought us back to Israel from Babylon. The second time will be when we will all be brought back to Israel with the final Redemption through Moshiach.

(Midrash in Torah Shleima)

It Once Happened

All of the townspeople turned out to bid farewell to their friend, one of the most respected citizens of the town of Uman. Now an old graybeard, he had decided to set out for the Holy Land, there to spend his last days, and to be buried in the holy soil when the time came.

It was only a few months later that they heard the news: he had suddenly returned to Uman after only having spent a few days in Israel. No one could understand why he had suddenly come back, and he made no reply to their repeated questions.

He had been back in his hometown only a short while before he took ill and summoned the officials of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), for he had something of great importance to tell them. They came without delay, but when they arrived the man lay in his bed and chatted randomly about this and that, coming to no particular point. They left disappointed, and were surprised when the man called for them again the following day. They were reluctant to go, but their sense of duty won out and they arrived at his sickbed only to have the whole scene of the previous day repeat itself. The officials listened for a while and then left, concluding that the unfortunate man was not in his right mind. When on the third day the officials of the Chevra Kadisha were summoned again, they flatly refused to come. This time, however, the old man begged their indulgence, promising to explain his behavior of the preceding two days.

The officials assembled around the old man's bed, and he turned to them with these words: "When I was a young man I used to do business traveling from town to town buying and selling merchandise. Since most of my business took me to the vicinity of Berdichev, I used to be sure to stop over for a day or so in order to see the tzadik Rebbe Levi Yitzchak who lived there.

"One morning I stopped in Berdichev and went straight to the Rebbe's house. The Rebbe stood wrapped in his talit (prayer shawl), deep in prayer, and I was unwilling to interrupt him, so I sat down in an adjoining room to wait. As I sat absorbed in my own thoughts, I was disturbed by a group of angry people who hustled past me into the Rebbe's study.

From the bits of conversation I overheard, I gathered that the man was a poor fellow who earned his living by money-changing. As he had no money of his own, all his transactions were accomplished with borrowed money. The day before, 300 rubles had disappeared from his house, and he was accusing the young maid who worked in his house of stealing it. Her parents pleaded their daughter's innocence, and all were engaged in an angry screaming match. Finally, the Rebbe interrupted, saying, 'It is clear to me that this young woman is completely innocent, and the accusation is erroneous. It is also apparent that the money is truly missing. But where it is, that I cannot discern.' He paced the floor several minutes more, and then said, 'If a person would give me the 300 rubles for this man, I would promise him a place in the World to Come!'

"When I heard that I presented myself to the Rebbe with 300 rubles in my hand. 'Would you put that promise into writing?' I asked the tzadik. 'Of course,' he said and I handed over the money. The Rebbe then gave the money to the poor money-changer, and said to him, 'I give you my blessing that you will never suffer a loss again.' Then, he turned to the young woman and said, 'Because you have been falsely accused I give you my blessing that you will make a good match.' The little group then left the study of the tzadik happy and contented.

"When I had the chance I reminded the tzadik of his promise, and he called to his attendant for a pen, ink and paper. He wrote out a short note and folded it double. He gave it to me saying, 'You must never read this note, nor reveal its contents to another soul. On the day which you sense is your last on earth, call the officials of the Chevra Kadisha and give them this note, asking that they place it inside your grave.'

"My joy was immeasurable as I took the note from his hand. To preserve it I had a bookbinder enclose it in the cover of my prayer book. When I left for the Holy Land I forgot the prayer book. When I realized I didn't have it, I was shocked. After a little reflection on the matter, I decided to return at once. Then when I fell ill I called for you, but when you arrived, I felt better, so I realized that my last day had not yet come. The same thing happened the second day. I hope that you gentlemen will forgive me. But, today, I feel my end is near, and so I entrust you to follow the instructions of the tzadik, and put this note in my grave."

The old man handed over the precious note, and soon after, he departed this world. The officials were curious to know the contents of the note, and they reasoned that although the tzadik had forbidden the man to read it, the prohibition surely didn't extend to them. After the funeral was concluded they took the little note and unfolded it and found these words, "Open for him the gates of the Garden of Eden. Levi Yitzchak the son of Sarah."

Moshiach Matters

The last of the thirteen principles of faith, as enumerated by Maimonides, is the resurrection of the dead, which follows the coming of Moshiach. The Talmudic statement that "Jacob our father did not die" foreshadows the situation of every Jew after the coming of Moshiach and the resurrection.

(From Reflections of Redemption based on Likkutei Sichos 35, by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m.)

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