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Rabbi Michoel Gourarie relates: "In January 1987 a few days after our wedding, my wife and I together with my parents and younger sister had the great merit to visit Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. She was quite elderly and frail at the time.
"After chatting for a few minutes, the Rebbetzin turned to my younger sister (who was 10 years old at the time) and asked how she likes America. My mother, answering for her, explained that she is really enjoying America because of the abundance of kosher chocolate and sweets, which at the time was difficult to get in South Africa. The Rebbetzin immediately called one of the house workers and asked him to bring out a big box of delicious chocolates which she gave to my sister as a gift.
"Almost a year later in October, for the first time, a group of ten rabbinical students arrived in Johannesburg to study. One of them belonged to a family that had a close connection with the Rebbetzin. He informed my parents that when he went to say goodbye, the Rebbetzin asked him if he could take a package for the Gouraries.
"Excited and intrigued, my parents went to the airport to pick up this mysterious parcel. When they opened the package, they were amazed to see a beautiful box of chocolates. In her frail state, just three months before her passing, the Rebbetzin remembered a little ten year old girl in South Africa who liked chocolates that were hard to get.
"My sister and all of us have never forgotten this small but powerful incident.
"The lesson is clear: to make an impact on the lives of others doesn't always require great feats. Little gestures driven by a caring and nurturing mind-set makes the world of difference."
The Rebbetzin, whose 30th we commemorate on this coming Wednesday, 22 Shevat, was a true queen. Not merely by virtue of her noble ancestry (descending from all the first six Rebbes of Chabad) nor even of her exalted position as the wife of the Rebbe. She was a true queen in her own right, too.
She was a queen in her exalted qualities of character. The Rebbetzin was sensitive and compassionate to others without being in any way condescending. For every person she met, every visitor to her home, even young children, she always had the right words to suit the situation.
The Rebbetzin was a queen intellectually, as well. Coming from a long line of great Torah scholars, she was, not surprisingly, a true intellectual. Those who knew her well and remembered her father, the Previous Rebbe, considered her to have inherited his penetrating intellect and analytic mind. She was learned and erudite, fluent in seven languages, with well-founded opinions on a variety of subjects.
It was the Rebbetzin who convinced her husband to become the Rebbe after her father's passing, though she knew what it would mean to her own personal life. For it was also the Rebbetzin who declared unequivocally that "the Rebbe belongs to the Chasidim."
And through all this, the Rebbetzin remained a queen. As much as she tried, even succeeded, in concealing her great qualities, her entire demeanor in all her deeds and words bespoke royalty. But is was utterly effortless on her part, an inborn, integral part of her personality.
As we mark the Rebbetzin's yartzeit, we pray that her merit protect us and that she remains a shining example to all of us until the revelation of all that is truly royal with the ultimate Redemption.
The Haftora for the Torah portion of Yitro is Isaiah's vision of the spiritual world known as Beriya - Creation. The connection to this week's Torah portion is that Yitro contains the giving of the Ten Commandments, when the Jewish people experienced a similar vision and perhaps even greater.
Isaiah envisions G-d sitting on a throne, and the angels, called "serafim," are praising Him.
Isaiah heard the angels call to one another to pray, and they said together, "Holy holy holy is the L-rd of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory."
We say this verse several times a day in our prayers. What does this verse mean to us? Why say "holy" three times? What is the meaning of "the earth is full of His glory"; shouldn't the angels say that the heavens are full of His glory?
The Midrash explains with a parable. Subjects gave their king three crowns. What did the king do with them? He put one on his own head, and the other two he placed on the heads of his two children.
So too, every day the Heavenly hosts give G-d three holys, saying, "Holy holy holy." What does G-d do with them? He puts one on His "Head" as a crown, and the other two He places on the heads of His children, the Jewish people.
What do each of the three holys represent? They are connected to the three words (in Hebrew) of the V'Ahavta prayer, "Love G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength."
The first "holy" is on G-d's "Head." It is connected to a heart that yearns to reach and connect to higher levels of G-dliness. The second and third are on our heads. It is our ability to draw G-dliness down and make the physical holy, through studying Torah and performing mitzvot (commandments). The study of Torah is connected to the soul, being the spiritual part of our service to G-d. The mitzvot are connected to our strength, i.e., might, money, etc., the physical part of our service to G-d.
The angels recognize that the Jewish people's Torah study and mitzvot in this world are most important, and that they draw G-d's glory into the physical world. This is why they say, "The whole earth is full of His glory."
On another level, since G-d chose us from all of existence and gave us souls (which are part of Him), then we are one with Him, His representation in this world; we are His glory. And this is why G-d took us out of Egypt and gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai.
It is because of this, that we are able to make such a big difference in the world, and accomplish the mission that we were chosen for, to fill the whole world with G-d's glory. Which we will witness with the coming of Moshiach. May he come 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.
From the Kitchen to the Mishna
As told by Alice Zlotnick
This story is from Here's My Story and is presented with permission from JEM's My Encounter with the Rebbe oral history project, which is dedicated to recording first-person testimonies documenting the life and guidance of the Rebbe.
I first met the Rebbe shortly after Passover of 1953, after my engagement to my husband, Dov Zlotnick. Dov was a student at JTS-the Jewish Theological Seminary-and he told me that before he met me, he had gone to the Rebbe for a blessing to find the right girl to marry. Now that the Rebbe's blessing had been fulfilled, he wanted us both to get another blessing for our married life together.
I was twenty years old at the time-quite young. I had come from a long line of Lithuanian Jews, so I was not quite comfortable with this. But I went along with Dov anyway.
Thinking back on that visit now, I remember what an unusual experience it was for me, something of a culture shock. The Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights looked to me like a yeshivah out of 19th century Europe. I remember seeing a large room filled with tables around which young men sat learning out loud. I looked at this sight, and I wondered how anyone could concentrate with so much noise.
Then we were ushered down a hallway and asked to wait. We waited for quite a while. I assume that the Rebbe never rushed anybody because it was a long time before the people inside left and our turn came.
When we finally went in, the Rebbe proved quite impressive, and meeting him was an experience I will never forget.
The walls in the Rebbe's room were lined with books. I recall the corner where he sat behind his desk was well-lit. There were a couple of chairs in front of the desk, where we were invited to sit. Although the rest of the room was dim, there was enough light for me to see the Rebbe's eyes as he spoke. He was tremendously animated. I remember he focused on us, and I do not recall anybody else ever paying me this much attention-an unusual amount of attention.
I don't remember what we discussed; I only remember the Rebbe and my strong impression of him. That was the first meeting.
Then came the time when the Rebbe had a major impact on the trajectory of my life.
In 1964, while Dov was teaching at JTS, he decided to start a Shabbat afternoon Talmud class in Riverdale for the men in the neighborhood. The class was small at first, attended by just a few men, but it quickly grew to about 15 participants. They followed a study group format - everyone had to prepare the material in advance, and then Dov would expound on it. They would also study various Talmudic commentators, so the class was conducted on a high level. Dov was very proud of this, and the next time he went to see the Rebbe, he told him about it.
The Rebbe listened very carefully, and then asked, "What do the women do during this time?"
Dov answered that the women were in the kitchen preparing the third meal of Shabbat.
"Dov, that's not good enough," the Rebbe replied. When Dov came home from his audience with the Rebbe, he informed me: "Alice, the Rebbe said that the women must study too, so you must teach a class to the women."
"What are you talking about? I'm a professional artist-I'm not prepared to teach a class!" I said.
But after Dov told me how emphatic the Rebbe was that the women must do this, I agreed: "Alright, but you prepare me. Go over the material with me, and I'll try to teach it."
That was forty years ago. Since then, as a result of that class, I've learned a lot of Mishnah, which is the core of the Talmud. In addition, preparing for the class meant that I got to spend some very special time with my husband, a professor of Talmud, who is well known for his comprehensive knowledge of the Mishnah. One of the books he wrote, The Iron Pillar, is an in-depth study of the Mishnah, which received high praise from scholars in the field.
When word got out that I had established a Mishnah study group, I received a call from the rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, the largest Orthodox synagogue in Riverdale. He asked if I would teach the class at the synagogue. For twenty-five years I conducted this class at the RJC, preparing together with my husband, until eventually I was able to do so on my own. My students read the text of the Bartenura commentary in advance and then I taught additional material that my husband brought to my attention.
Years later, my daughter Karen Kirshenbaum started a Shabbat afternoon class in Mishnah in her neighborhood in Jerusalem. Karen has her Ph.D. in Talmud from Bar Ilan University, and she teaches at various women's seminaries in Jerusalem. Thirty women attend her Shabbat class, which she teaches on high level. The women prepare and study the text together with the classic Bartenura commentary, as well.
Initially, they started at the beginning of the Mishnah, from Tractate Berachot, and they went straight through the six orders of the Mishnah, studying every single chapter of every tractate, together with the Bartenura. When they had finished the entire Mishnah, I was privileged to attend the siyum celebration.
After that, the class started the Mishnah over again from Berachot. I feel that because the Rebbe suggested to my husband that I do this, he had a hand in my daughter doing it, as well.
The Rebbe was particularly interested in women becoming wellversed in our tradition because generally it is the woman who spends the most time with the children. And even if she has a profession and the child rearing is shared by the parents, the mother still has the greatest influence on her children.
I see this in my own family. Karen's son, before his Bar Mitzvah, studied with his mother. It took them two years, but he was well motivated, and when his Bar Mitzvah came, they celebrated with a siyum of the entire Mishnah.
How did our Jewish tradition continue all these years? It happened within families-from parents to children to grandchildren. The Rebbe understood the key role that women play in this process, and it was my good fortune that the Rebbe suggested to my husband that I teach a Shabbat study group.
To read more visit www.MyEncounterBlog.com
Annual Convention of Shluchos - Emissaries
The annual convention of women emissaries of the Rebbe, "Shluchos," commences Thursday, February 8. Over 3,000 emissaries from around the world are expected to attend the four-day convention.
Kugel, Chaos & Unconditional Love
Meet Chana Gittle Deray. A wife. And mother of nine children. Journey through the visually rich and humorous stories of family life, marriage, female empowerment, determination and faith, culled from Chana Gittle's pursuit to create a life truly worth living - unexpectedly becoming an observant Jew in the process. Lots of laughs, joy, and meaningful reflection, as she turns the simple everyday into the extraordinary, and brings the extraordinary down to earth. Beautifully illustrated by Chana Gittle's daughter Rivka.
What is "separating challa"?
The word "challah" means "dough offering." Separating challah is one of three commandments that are performed primarily by women. It is based on the verse, "The first portion of your kneading, you shall separate as a dough offering... as an elevated gift to G-d." (Num. 15:20-21) In remembrance of this gift that was given to the Temple Priests, we separate a small portion of dough when we make bread and, after reciting a blessing, burn the dough. The dough is then disposed of respectfully.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Wednesday will mark the 30th yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of blessed memory, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In the year after her passing, the Rebbe spoke often about the concept of "And the living shall take to heart" - that by performing practical mitzvot and good deeds in the Rebbetzin's memory, the departed's soul is elevated even higher. In the years since, numerous educational institutions, tzedaka organizations and outreach programs have been founded in the Rebbetzin's name, and hundreds if not thousands of Jewish girls are proud to be named after such a holy woman.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, daughter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a symbol of all the positive attributes Jewish women have embodied throughout the ages, incorporating a profound sense of modesty and unwavering devotion to truth with a sincere consideration for others. Deliberately shunning the spot-light, she consistently fled from any recognition of her special status, choosing instead to "work behind the scenes" with countless individual acts of kindness and self-sacrifice for her fellow Jews. The many stories about the Rebbetzin that began to surface only after her passing paint a picture of an exceptional Jewish figure whose entire life was an example of nobility, devotion and courage.
In her later years the Rebbetzin's health was less than optimal, yet she was so self-effacing that she refused to "bother" her husband with her problems. "It is very important to me to avoid causing the Rebbe sorrow," she once replied when someone pointed out that if people could come from around the world to seek the Rebbe's blessing for such matters, surely she could do the same.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka chose to live in the "shade" of the luminaries who surrounded her. But by striving to emulate her example, we ensure that she continues to illuminate our world forever.
And Yitro heard... of all that G-d had done for Moses and for the people Israel... (Ex. 18:1)
Yitro had been called by seven different names, one of which was Yeter. When he became a convert to Judaism and fulfilled the commandments, one letter, vav, was added to his name.
In many instances the Torah adds a letter to a person's name as a sign of his having acquired greatness. For instance, letters were added to Abraham's and Sara's names when they achieved greater spiritual heights.
What Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, heard was heard by many other people, too. But only he concluded to accept the one G-d and join the Children of Israel. There are some who hear, but their hearing isn't really hearing; the words don't really enter their ears, hearts and souls. Yitro's edge was that he heard and he understood what he heard.
(Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk)
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8)
Explains Rashi, the great Torah commentator: Take heed to remember the Sabbath at all times, so that if you happen to find something special, set it aside for Shabbat. Likewise, our Sages state that we are not to give special names to the weekdays, but to refer to them in the context of Shabbat ("first day to Shabbat, second day to Shabbat," etc.). Thus we are constantly conscious of the upcoming Shabbat and prepare for it every day. The same applies to the Messianic Era, the "day that is entirely Shabbat and rest for life everlasting." Throughout the present "weekday" of exile we must constantly remember and remain conscious of the "Shabbat day" that is coming, preparing ourselves and everything around us for the arrival of Moshiach.
(The Rebbe, 11 Sivan, 5744)
Years ago in the city of Minsk there lived a man named Shmuel Nachum. Although his main occupation was studying Torah, his mind was so acute in business matters that he became an arbiter and legal advisor in all sorts of business disputes. In fact, this is how he made a comfortable living.
Shmuel Nachum and his wife had one surviving daughter, named Devorah, on whom they doted. Devorah was an unusually bright child and her father assumed total responsibility for her education. By the age of eight she was learning the Five Books of Moses and the Prophets. Her progress continued and by age ten she knew the whole Bible and began learning Mishna and the Code of Jewish Law. In addition she learned mathematics, Polish, and was able to read and write. By the age of fifteen she was studying Talmud with the commentaries of Rashi.
At eighteen she married a fine young man and was a happy new bride. Her husband succeeded in business and she shortly gave birth to two girls and one boy. Suddenly, tragedy struck her in a series of terrible blows. Her two little girls died in an epidemic and within the same year her husband also died. Broken-hearted, the young widow returned to her parents' home with her little son. But three years later, her son also, was taken from her.
What did she have left to live for? All day she tried to hide her grief from her parents, but from time to time she would closet herself in her room and weep for hours. After some time she realized that she must take charge of her shattered life, and she threw herself into her studies more than ever. She also began to involve herself in the social welfare of the local women.
Together with two of her childhood friends she established study-circles among the young women of Minsk who had not been as fortunate as she in learning Torah. Indeed, her learning groups became popular and spread throughout the city, making her a sought-after lecturer. Devorah found great solace in her work for, in helping others, she at the same time stilled the dull pain in her aching heart.
During this time, she studied in depth the Biblical books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. She was proficient and knowledgable in all of the commentaries on each book, yet she studied them continuously and always found something new and worthwhile to glean from them.
One day her father was approached by a certain man named Tzadok Moshe with a suggestion for a match between Devorah and his rebbe, a notable Torah scholar from Vitebsk named Nachum. Devorah expressed an interest in meeting the man, and it was arranged that he should travel to Minsk to meet this extraordinary woman. Within a short time they became engaged and thus began a new episode in the life of this unique woman.
Having been used to the high level of Torah scholarship amongst the women of Minsk, Devorah was appalled at the ignorance of the women in Vitebsk, and she set about remedying it. Again she arranged study-circles as she had in Minsk. In addition, she established institutions for the sick and needy. She was very happy in her new life, filling her time with study, social service and managing her husband's business.
Nachum was not merely astonished to find that his wife was such a capable manager of his business affairs, but her extensive Torah knowledge astounded him! He began to realize more and more what a treasure he had in such a wife, and his respect and admiration for her increased enormously. He began to realize what a change her coming had made, not only in his own home which had become a veritable "Open House and Council of Wise Men," but in Vitebsk at large, where her influence was felt and appreciated in every sphere of social and educational activity! What he did not know was that Devorah found time every day to study Talmud and that she was studying it in its entirety for the second time!
Devorah was not satisfied to concentrate on the women alone; her ambition was to see Vitebsk as a whole become a center of Jewish learning. To that end she devised a plan in which a number of promising students from the small Vitebsk yeshiva would be supported to learn in one of the great yeshivas in another town where they would prepare themselves to serve their home town upon their return. In the interim, she convinced her husband to import and maintain at his own expense, a group of teachers and their families to come and educate the people of Vitebsk. This plan took time to implement, but within a year ten teachers were installed in Vitebsk and the sweet sound of Torah could be heard throughout the whole town.
Devorah had made her home in Vitebsk for ten years and her dream of making it a Torah center was slowly becoming a reality due to her efforts, foresight, and rare abilities.
Adapted from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs.
The ultimate purpose of the giving of the Torah was to transform the world, so that ultimately - in the era of Moshiach - "G-d will be King over all the earth." Since however, Torah - acceptance of G-d's Kingship and His mitzvos - is a "Jewish thing," the Jews alone have the ability and obligation to bring G-d's Kingship to the whole world.
(From Reflections of Redemption based on Likutei Sichot 26, by Rabbi Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)