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by Dovid Y.B. Kaufmann a"h
Follow the leader. We've all played the game. He or she leads us on a march. If the leader goes left, we go left. If he goes right, we go right. If he stops, we stop. And so on.
Why is that? Why do we follow the leader?
We follow the leader because, well, he leads. That's his job. It's like asking why do we let the mechanic work on our car, the electrician wire our house or the stock broker manage our money. We do so because that's their job, and we trust them.
That's a key element, trust, because we give the leader special privileges. Parking perks, titles and honors - the leader gets set apart. He can interrupt, but not be interrupted. A leader has access to people and information that others don't, and we trust him to use that access wisely.
Because the minute a leader becomes selfish, he's no longer a leader. The plumber can have a conflict of interest; he can recommend a competent contractor, knowing the contractor, if he gets the job, will hire him for the plumbing work. But a leader who benefits from his leadership role - or who benefits his friends - loses the right to be a leader.
In other words, it's not enough for a leader's first concern to be the welfare of the people he leads. That must be his only concern.
Even someone engaged in the loftiest personal pursuit, even the greatest scholar and deepest mystic - if he is a leader, he cannot withdraw, isolate himself, immerse himself in his own studies, his own burdens and troubles. He must put all this aside for the ones who trust him, who depend on him.
We see this with Moses. Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron, "Go take care of your own burdens." What burdens? As the Sages tell us, the tribe of Levi was not subject to the slavery of Egypt. Pharaoh meant, you, Moses and Aaron, belong to the tribe of teachers and scholars. Get involved with the burdens of scholarship and leave the people to their labors.
But as we know, Moses did not listen to Pharaoh. Moses our teacher exemplified the true leader, the true teacher. He put aside his concerns, his interests, his own "burdens," to teach, to lead the Jewish people.
A spark of Moses exists within each of us. While we are not constant leaders - we have times when we step into a different role - it remains true that more than we realize, sometimes, we must exhibit leadership. In a sense, we must all actively, yet reluctantly, pursue the job of leader.
For it's a "job description" that applies to every Jew. As Moses our teacher concerned himself not only with the scholar, but equally with the simple and unlearned, so we must take the initiative and teach what we know. As our Sages have told us: "If all you know are the Hebrew letters "alef" and "bet," find someone who only knows "alef" and teach him "bet." Since every Jew is responsible one for another, so every Jew must lead, one to another.
And as a nation of leaders like Moses, we will teach, each to those within our spheres of influence, the way to Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption.
The Haftora for the Torah portion of Vaeira has two prophecies from the prophet Ezekiel, as well as two verses from an earlier prophecy.
This Haftora begins with a mention of the ingathering of the exiles, echoing G-d's promise in our portion: "I will take you out of the suffering of Egypt." The prophet then goes on to discuss the decimation of Pharaoh and Egypt, reminiscent of the primary theme of the Torah portion - the devastation G-d wrought upon Egypt.
G-d says that He will lay waste to Egypt, it will be uninhabited for 40 years, and then they will return, but Egypt will never be a superpower again.
Hashem gives a reason for the downfall of Egypt. Because Egypt didn't keep their word, and come to Israel's aid when they needed it most. They were a "prop of reeds," meaning, that when Israel needed to lean on Egypt, when they were being attacked by Sennacherib, and later by Nebuchadnezzar, Egypt folded as a prop made of weak reeds, and didn't come to Israel's aid.
But then, a few verses later G-d gives what seems to be a totally different reason for Egypt's punishment. Because of Pharaoh's arrogance and denial of G-d's providence, as he said, "The river is mine, and I made it."
The prophecy of the destruction of Egypt fits in with the message of Vaeira, which tells of the devastating plagues that G-d brought on Egypt. It even was for similar reasons. First, for the suffering they wrought on the Jewish people. And second, so that Pharaoh would be humbled from arrogance and denial of G-d, as he said, "Who is G-d, that I should listen to his voice," and come to realize that G-d is G-d. This attitude was common by all the Egyptians, as we see from the reason G-d gave Moses for bringing the plagues, "And Egypt will know that I am G-d."
What connection is there between denial of G-d because of arrogance and treating the Jewish people badly?
The question here itself is the answer. When a person is arrogant, his ego is so great, that there is no room for G-d, let alone another person so he treats others badly.
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.
That Shabbat Feeling
What is Shabbat House? According to Rabbi Boruch and Devorah Klar, it is the most exciting and revolutionary project they have ever worked on. Coming from the people who brought the Jewish Renaissance Fair to New Jersey and all kind of other creative and innovate Jewish programming for the past 40 years, that says a lot.
The mission statement of Shabbat House is "to share the love and joy of Shabbat with every Jewish family in Essex County...To engender a revolution in the way we celebrate our Judaism and discover what is truly important in life and in our personal growth."
Says Rabbi Klar, co-founder and co-director of Shabbat House, "This is a Judaism I didn't have growing up. It's different. It's alive and relevant and fun."
Devorah says, "It's time for each of us to stop, take an account of what is really important in life, family, friends, personal and communal growth. Shabbat is the gift from God that keeps on giving. It's for each one of us to discover and express who we really are and how we find meaning in life and make a difference. And guess what? It's fun!"
"Shabbat at the Klars is magical and meaningful," says Debbie Hochberg. "My three children and I were blessed to be able to spend many Shabbats with the Klars and their lovely family and the positive impact of those days had a strong influence on all of us and will remain with us forever. So the story goes that when people are trying to find their way to the Klars' house, they are told, 'You can't miss it - it is the happiest place in town.'
"This is true. There is joy and love and warmth and spirituality. Everyone is always welcome with open arms and open hearts. The feelings of warmth and spiritual fulfillment you have when you leave will linger long after Shabbat is over and will have positive effect on your every-day life. And you will for sure look forward to returning - again and again. Like I did!"
The Klars say, "Our celebration of Judaism must be meaningful, incredibly relevant to our personal and family growth, and most important, joyous. Perhaps one day, not so far off, our Shabbat House prototype will be replicated in communities around the country and around the world."
The Klars are used to having a crowd for Shabbat; he is the Essex County Chabad director, and together they've often hosted as many as 70 people in their home for Friday evening or Saturday meals.
Regardless of the multitudes they have reached at their Shabbat table over the decades, the Klars believe this traditional experience - which, when done well, provides spiritual and physical nourishment - has been too dependent on personal interaction with them or someone in their circle. "To come to my house, you need an invitation," said Boruch.
With the launch of Shabbat House, guests no longer need invitations; they sign up on line. Like a Shabbat meal in someone's home, the experience is free, as are all the other activities. (And, like other Chabad ventures, Shabbat House will accept and depend on donations.)
Shabbat House is not a synagogue. In a more basic way, as a Chabad rabbi, Klar's philosophy is to meet people where they are. "Our Chabad has a synagogue. But more than 80% of Jews don't go to synagogue. People aren't in synagogue for a variety of reasons including a lack of knowledge, discomfort, Jewish illiteracy. But what do you need as a prerequisite to enjoy a gourmet Shabbat meal? Nothing! It's just a lot of fun."
Rabbi Klar has an easy manner and is quick with a smile, a story, or a joke. Devorah becomes animated as she describes her vision of facilitating people cooking in the kitchen for Shabbat and any number of ideas she has to enhance the experience. "It will be Shabbat all week long," she said.
The Klars have hopes that Shabbat House will reach across the denominations, from unaffiliated to Orthodox. In fact, the concept of Shabbat House solidified for the couple after they participated in the Shabbat Project, an attempt to have Jews across the world and the denominational spectrum observe Shabbat together on one particular day each year. West Orange Orthodox and liberal congregations have collaborated in participating in the project over the last two years. "I saw what happened at the Shabbat Project, and I could not believe how much it pulled the community together," said Rabbi Klar.
They learned through that project that many of the Orthodox families in town were not having guests over for Shabbat and realized that through Shabbat House, the entire Shabbat guest experience would expand. "Shabbat House is open to anyone across the spectrum of Judaism, whether you have Shabbat every week but are just too tired to cook for guests, or you've never been to a Shabbat dinner and want to try one," said Devorah.
She added, "It's a place where we all leave the world behind and come into a place of joy and light and festivity and food and friends."
Guests Suzanne and Eilliot Grossman shared: "Shabbat dinner with the KIars........a joy filled evening. The glow of the bright candles, the delicious aromas of the wonderful feast, friendly hugs, cheerful singing, sharing of stories all create an incredible event. A time to relax, reflect, rejoice.....Thank you for sharing your time, energy and passion to create amazing memories."
"Spending Shabbat with Rabbi and Devorah Klar elevates the experience to a higher spiritual level. It changed the way we look at Friday nights!" said Tami and Larry Prince.
"Rabbi and Devorah Klar are masters at bringing people together on a Friday night and turning it into a memorable and lasting Shabbat experience!"
From ShabbatHouse.org, an article by Johanna Ginsberg in the New Jersey Jewish News and an article from jewishlinknj.com. Dedicated to the complete recover of Rabbi Klar's mother, Basha bat Breina
Mazel Tov Isn't Enough
For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121. The Psalm states our dependence on G-d for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. For a color print of the Psalm call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700, e-mail email@example.com, or visit www.mikvah.org, or visit www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg
A hundred young Jewish adults from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, Estonia and four more FSU countries gathered in Jerusalem for a leadership training seminar organized specially for EnerJew Coordinators.
11 Tishrei, 5712 
In reply to your letter and questions contained therein:
Re: the apparent contradiction between the Omniscience of G-d and man's free will (or choice of action), there is a whole literature dealing with the subject and it is impossible to give an outline of it in the course of a letter.
I would refer you to at least to the Rambam [Maimonides] (Hilchos Teshuvah, ch. 5). However, I cannot leave you without some answer, so I will state briefly: G-d's foreknowledge is no contradiction to man's free choice. What could be a contradiction to free choice is compulsion, not knowledge. Hence a foreknowledge that is not compelling or forcing is in no way limiting to one's free choice of action.
I will cite two illustrations: first, assuming that there are people with prophetic knowledge, their forecast concerning certain people does not compel the people to act in a certain way and does not rob them of their free choice of action. Secondly, as you know, G-d is not subject to time, and the past, present, future are all the same to Him (He was, is and will be, all in one).
It follows that to G-d the future is like the past, and just as knowledge of a past action is no contradiction to free choice, so is His knowledge of a future action. In other words: G-d knows the thoughts of man and his - man's - decisions and such knowledge does not rob man of thinking and deciding how to act.
Re: your question to my opinion of the Theory of Evolution. You do not mention what evolution you are referring to, presuming of animal and vegetable life.
My opinion is, as is stated in the Torah, that during the six days of creation, G-d created the four animal kingdoms (mineral, vegetable, animal and man), independently of each other. Our Sages have enlarged upon this question in detail. However, this creation does not deny the possibility of evolution after that of particular species through various mutations.
With regard to your question concerning the role of Aggadah in the the Talmud, particularly those dealing with medicine, I want to point out that you are touching upon two distinct questions: Aggadah in the Talmud, and medicine in the Talmud.
As to Aggadah not all Aggadah can be treated equally. In the introduction to various editions of Ein Yaakov you will find out how our Sages class the Aggados of the Talmud.
As to the question of Medicine in the Talmud, they are not at all as fantastic as they may appear. As a matter of fact, many medical suggestions in the Talmud have been confirmed in recent years as to their therapeutic value, although medical science had long derided them.
Generally speaking, however, inasmuch as the nature of the human organism has undergone many changes since those days, the medical advice contained in the Talmud cannot be applied nowadays. But it is quite certain that in their days the remedies were quite effective.
But it is quite certain that in their days the remedies were quite effective. For references consult: Tosafoth Moed-Koton 11a; Kesef Mishneh, Ch. 4 of Hilechoth Deoth, Ch. 18, and sources mentioned in Sdei-Chemed, vol. of Kelolim, under the Klal 54, where it is mentioned that due to physical and climatic changes, medical treatment and remedies of old no longer good generally.
In the history of Medical Science many illustrations are cited as to changes in both in man's susceptibility to disease and treatment, the development of virus attack, new diseases, etc. There is quite alot of literature on the subject, and there is no need for me to enlarge upon this subject. I am surprised that you do not mention in your letter anything about your activities in influencing others to bring them nearer to Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism], which serves also to strengthen one's own convictions.
What is written in a (Torah) book one has purchased or received as a gift?
The common custom is that before writing one's name in a Torah book, one writes, "The earth and all that fills it belong to G-d - LaHashem haaretz umeloah"or the acronym lamed, hay, vav. Some explain that this custom is a fitting reminder that nothing truly belongs to us; it is only entrusted to us. Torah books are unique in that one should be especially willing to lend them out. By inscribing our Torah books with a declaration that all we have truly belongs to G-d, we are reminded to always use "our" possessions for the betterment of others.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Shevat. The Jewish people are likened to the moon. Just as the moon temporarily wanes, but is restored and renewed again, so will the Jewish people be restored from the present darkness of exile to a bright and shining luminary.
However, the comparison of the Jews to the phases of the moon seems, at first glance, faulty. The Jews in exile really are small and "diminished." But the phases of the moon are only apparent. There really is no change in shape or brightness. The only distinction between the new moon and the dark phase prior to the new moon is how it is viewed on the earth. The moon itself never really changes. The portion of the moon that faces the sun is always illuminated; the portion of the moon that doesn't face the sun is always dark.
Nevertheless, comparison of the Jews to the moon really is quite accurate. In describing the creation of the sun and the moon, the Torah says "...let them be for lights... to illuminate the earth." Thus, the true purpose of the moon is to illuminate the earth. Even when the moon is complete and physically perfect, if it does not fulfill its mission of illuminating the earth, it is, according to Torah, non-existent.
If the moon illuminates with one-quarter of its potential, it is called a quarter moon; if it illuminates fully, it is called a full moon. When the moon does not shine at all, in essence it isn't there. It is essentially in a state of preparation for renewal and for fulfillment of its real purpose - to illuminate the earth.
Physically speaking, the Jewish people always exist. Jews are eternal because they are a portion of their Creator who is eternal. But as long as they are in exile they cannot properly fulfill their essential function - to serve their Creator. In exile, Jews are like the "invisible" moon which though existing materially, is not fulfilling its mission of illuminating the earth.
In the Messianic World, we will be able to fulfill our mission completely, like the moon after it is renewed - when it achieves its destiny and illuminates the world. Let's be there to see it.
I appeared (va'eira) to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Ex. 6:3)
The word va'eira means both "And I appeared" and "And I will appear." This shows us that the G-dly revelation to the Patriarchs can be found, now, within every Jew. For, within the soul of every Jew there is Abraham (who epitomized love of G-d), Isaac (awe of G-d) and Jacob (mercy and compassion). When these traits are revealed, it is similar to G-d's revelation to the Patriarchs.
And I am of closed lips. (Ex. 6:12)
In this verse, Moses reminded G-d of his speech impediment. Why did he have a lisp? So that no one would say that his eloquence as a speaker caused the Jewish people to choose him as their leader or accept the Torah.
And the L-rd said to Moses: "Say to Aaron, 'Take your rod...and he lifted up the rod and he smote the waters...' " (Ex. 7:19-20)
G-d had originally commanded Moses to smite the water. But Moses objected, "Is is right for me to smite the Nile? When I was placed in a basket there as a child, the waters did not let me drown." From Moses' answer we can learn the extent to which gratitude must be shown toward one who has been kind to us.
(Shemot Rabba, Tiferet Tzion)
Then the magicians said to Pharoah: "This is the finger of G-d." (Ex. 8:15)
The art of "black magic" originated in Egypt. G-d had granted previous generations the powers of magic to establish the equilibrium of Free Choice and to enable them to believe in or deny Divine Providence. Pharoah's magicians were able to duplicate the first two plagues-blood and frogs. But since magic has no power over an object smaller than a piece of barley, they were forced to admit that the plague was caused by G-d and not magic.
Rabbi Benyamin of Toledo walked down the pleasant streets. It looked so peaceful, so prosperous, this Egypt of Moshe Maimonides, the Rambam. How could it have swallowed up his old friend, the famous physician and scholar, without a trace? He approached an imposing building with a wrought-iron gate - the Rambam's home. He had tried to enter it several times, but the discreet doorman had informed him that the family was receiving no visitors. As he neared the house, he saw a little girl swinging back and forth on the gate. She had a distinctive face... a Maimon face. She must be Moshe's little girl.
"You must be Rabbi Moshe's daughter."
"Oh, no. Everybody thinks so, because I live here. I'm his niece."
"Why, then you must be...his younger brother David's little girl."
"Yes, that's right. My mother told me that he went in a big ship in the middle of the ocean, and there was a great wind and it sank down, and never came up again. And his soul is up in heaven. Look!" She pointed to a figure hurrying toward them. "That's my mother."
"Come, Mommy, here is a rabbi who knew Father when he was little. Come and speak to him."
Benyamin followed them into the courtyard. He explained that he had come all the way from Toledo to visit his old friend, Rabbi Moshe, but had not been permitted to enter.
"There are so many enemies. We don't know who to trust."
"I guessed as much. He is in hiding, then. I had hoped he was done with all the running and hiding."
"Our people call him the Great Eagle. He had risen too high. Our enemies cannot bear it that a Jew should have such influence. It's such a pity you can't see him. It would be good for him to see an old friend."
Benyamin felt the awakening of hope. "Do you think that it would be possible for me to see him, even for a few moments?"
"You must meet with Rabbi Moshe's friend, Rav Yehuda Hacohen."
Three days later Rav Yehuda Hacohen scrutinized Benyamin's credentials. "I am satisfied. We know we can trust you. But secrecy is of the essence. Tomorrow a few students are going to visit him in his hiding place. Be outside the yeshiva after maariv (the evening services)."
Two students were waiting for him the next evening in the shadow of the yeshiva building. They began climbing the foothills outside of the city. The path grew steeper and then disappeared. Suddenly they halted. Benyamin saw nothing but a rocky projection dimly illuminated by the glow of the moon.
He watched as the students bent down and pushed a boulder from the side of the cliff. Benyamin instinctively stepped back when confronted with the intense, blinding light streaming out of the opening in the mountain. Then, blinking in amazement, he beheld the most awesome sight he had even seen.
He was staring into a cave brightly lit by several tall, yellow wax tapers fixed to the veined rock wall. Behind a large desk strewn with rolls of parchment sat a Jew with a holy face that was framed by a silver beard. His entire being seemed to glow with some mysterious inner light.
The Rabbi behind the desk recognized him immediately. "Benyamin - from Toledo!"
It was then that the man realized that this rabbi was none other than his childhood companion Moshe, whom he had come to seek.
Rabbi Moshe questioned his friend closely about his life, his family, his travels through the lands of Jewish dispersion. Benyamin answered to the best of his ability, but at last could contain himself no longer. "Rabbi Moshe, what are you doing here all alone, in this cave in the wilderness?"
He had expected to find the great Rambam in hiding, but not cramped in a rough hole, denied the most basic human comforts.
"Don't look so downcast. Believe me, my friend, it is all for the best. I have not known such peace and tranquility since my childhood in Cordova. Come, I will show you something."
Benyamin came closer, and Rabbi Moshe pointed to several parchments in a box. "I have been working on a new book. I wish to gather from every law of the Torah all the mitzvot drawn from the Oral Law, and lay them all before the students in plain language and clear style. There shall be fourteen books in all. Very soon our Redeemer will come, and we will be gathered from all over the world. We will need to be fully conversant in all the laws very soon."
"What will you call your book?"
"I will call it Mishneh Torah - so that every Jew, once he has learned the written Torah, will be able to turn to this book to find help in fulfilling the mitzvot correctly and studying the Talmud with greater ease."
Benyamin sensed that the interview was over. He and the two students walked home quietly together. One student said quietly to the other, "I feel as if I had just seen Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in his cave, with Elijah the Prophet teaching him."
From The Rambam by Rochel Yaffee, HaChai Publishing.
This week's Torah portion contains the four expressions of Redemption.The best known explanation for the rabbinic institution of drinking four cups of wine at the seder is that they correspond to these expressions. This means the four cups of wine drunk at the seder are connected to, and are expressions of, Redemption, paralleling the expressions found in the Torah.
(From Reflections of Redemption, based on Likutei Sichos, by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)