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January 3, 2020 - 6 Tevet, 5780

1604: Vayigash

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  1603: Miketz1605: Vayechi  

Bundle Up!  |  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

Bundle Up!

In the northern part of the northern hemisphere, people are bundling up! Sweater, warm socks, gloves, boots, hat, scarf, coat. In winter weather we make a mental checklist of what to wear when going outdoors to keep warm. Even if we ourselves would go out less prepared against the elements, we wouldn't consider letting a child in our care venture outside without enough clothing and accessories to keep him well-protected.

In the same way, say our Sages, G-d makes sure to give us the garments necessary to withstand even the most fearsome elements. "G-d doesn't put more on a person's shoulders than he can carry," Judaism teaches. Somewhere, sometimes buried very deep within the person, is the ability to weather any storm he or she might encounter. After all, G-d, the ultimate parent after whom all other parents are modeled, would not let His children go out in "sub-zero weather" clad inappropriately!

It can take tremendous courage to summon the strength that is within in order to overcome challenges or obstacles. Many a time, it seems easier to withdraw and admit defeat. "I'm just not cut out for this," we cry, surrendering hopelessly. But if we retreat, we will never know the taste of victory won against all odds.

In "the old country," some say, it was easier to be a Jew. Jews were not totally accepted in non-Jewish circles and lived in their own little ghettos. Anti-Semitism was a constant reminder to our grandparents or great-grandparents that they were Jews. Life was simpler and people were more simple-minded. In those "unenlightened" times, they relied on religion because they were ignorant, the thinking goes. The storms our grandparents' weathered were much more physical and material than are ours today. Yet they drew on an inner strength and overcame them all the same. They were hungry, beaten, mocked and ridiculed. But because they didn't give up, the myth still persists that it was easier to be a Jew in the old country.

Being a Jew today, in a society where success is measured by the number and model of cars in the garage, is tough. We grapple with real questions that are made even more difficult because we have been totally accepted in non-Jewish circles and no longer live in Jewish ghettos. Can our children be successful doctors, lawyers or business people if we send them to a Jewish school? What will my friends or business associates think if I don't eat out with them in restaurants? If I close down my store every Sabbath, how can it not affect business? How can I admit to myself and others that I believe in G-d (for in his heart of hearts, every Jew believes in G-d) when everyone else believes in the infallibility of science?

These are very real questions, very difficult questions, because they deal with our own self-images and perceptions. But G-d has imbued us with the strength to answer these questions and overcome any obstacles that honest answers might present. It would be easier to say, "I'm just not cut out for this." But nobody ever said life is easy.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, we read of the descent of the Jewish people into their first exile, Egypt. As they are about to leave the Holy Land, G-d tells Jacob, "Don't be afraid to go down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation there. I am going down to Egypt with you..."

Rashi explains that Jacob was anguished over leaving the Holy Land. "How can I lead my family away from the best place for them to become a nation, the place most conducive to be a Jew and foster closeness to G-d? How will we become G-d's nation in a dark and distant exile?" he wondered.

G-d tells him "Don't be afraid to go down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation there. I am going down to Egypt with you..."

While G-d allays Jacob's fears about going down to Egypt, He does not even mention Jacob's anguish over leaving the Holy Land. Why not? Since this is G-d's message to Jacob as he goes down to the first Jewish exile, there must be lessons here for every Jew on how to deal with exile. What are these lessons?

Being in exile, one may feel that it is a lost cause trying to make a difference in a Jewish way. G-d is telling us that the opposite is actually the case. The fact that G-d puts us in a predicament, means that this situation is most conducive to accomplish our mission, it is here where we will be most effective and most successful.

The key is not to be afraid of the situation, don't be afraid of the exile, embrace it and find how to use your predicament to effect even greater change.

This is what G-d tells Jacob, "Don't be afraid of going down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation THERE." Why shouldn't you be afraid? Why will you succeed? Because G-d is going down with you.

Now, if we succeed, there is the possibility to become comfortable and lose focus of our purpose. This is why G-d doesn't mention Jacob's anguish, because it is his anguish that will keep him focused on his essential purpose and bond with G-d. This anguish is the force behind our success.

So we need both, fearlessness and anguish; we need to realize that although we can succeed greatly in exile, it is not our place. We must cry out to G-d that He bring the exile to an end. May it happen soon.

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

A Jewish Burial
by Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from the Ami Magazine as told to Naomi Raksin

It was a busy afternoon a few weeks before Passover when my phone rang. Cara from a nursing home near our Chabad Center in Metairie, Louisiana, asked. "We have a patient who would like to talk to a rabbi. Would you be willing to come?"

I assured Cara that I would come. As a chaplain in two local hospitals, I spent my Friday mornings visiting patients, and after my hospital rounds the following Friday, I drove to the nursing home.

I came with a box of matza. I hesitantly knocked on the patient's door. "Come in!" was the response.

I walked in and glanced around at the white walls, stark and empty. "Hello," I said to the elderly woman. "My name is Rabbi Ceitlin. Nice to meet you."

She scrutinized me for a long moment. "Thank you very much for coming! I'm Rachel Levine*."

I placed the box of matza on her nightstand. "I brought some matza."

"Oh! For... me? Thank you very much. It must be... over 20 years since I had matza for Passover."

After a few minutes, she took a breath and said, "You must be wondering why I asked you to come. It's because... I want to make sure that I will have a Jewish burial, but I don't know how to go about it."

"Sure," I said. "I can help you with that. Are you affiliated with any temple or synagogue?" She was not. She also didn't have much contact with her family. Her daughter didn't speak with her often and she didn't have a good relationship with her sisters.

As she told me a little about her life and the challenges she'd faced, I sensed the depth of Rachel's loneliness, and my heart ached for her. "I'm very worried about the burial," she said again. "I don't have a lot of money to cover the costs."

I understood her concerns. I assured her that I would make sure that she would have a proper Jewish burial.

When I left Rachel's room I reached out to the local Jewish Family Services who had helped previously in similar situations. After Passover, I came to the nursing home to visit her again.

"Where's Rachel?" I asked a nurse in the hallway.

"Oh, she's in the hospital," she said. Apparently, Rachel had developed an infection and had been transferred to Ochsner Medical Center.

I was a chaplain at Ochsner, and so the following Friday, during my weekly rounds, I visited Rachel in her hospital room. I brought a loaf of my wife's home-made challah and sat with her. She was thrilled to see me, and I told her I would be back the next Friday if she was still there. She was.

She was there the next week, and the one after that, too. Though her foot had healed, Rachel remained in the hospital for weeks. Eventually, I understood from the staff that there were no nursing homes willing to take her in. I tried to encourage Rachel through insights on the weekly portion, hoping to cast a sliver of sunshine that would linger until the next Friday.

After several weeks, Rachel told me that my visits were the highlight of her week. She loved my wife's challah and at this point, she knew my children's names and would always ask about them.

"Rabbi, I am very worried about getting a Jewish burial," she said one Friday, shortly after her transfer to the hospital.

I had spoken to the head nurse and my name was written in her file as the first person to contact if anything happened to her. I had also spoken to her daughter and put her in touch with the funeral home, and I knew JFS had been in touch.

"Don't worry, Rachel," I told her. "You will have a Jewish burial." Rachel nodded her head, but I could see she was still concerned.

One Friday when I arrived at the hospital, I saw she had hung up a large sign on the wall behind her bed with my name in bold letters and my phone number. "If anything happens to me," she told me, "I want everyone to know that you are my contact."

Time moved on. Rachel had been in the hospital for nearly six months. "Rabbi," she said to me one day, "promise me I will have a proper Jewish burial."

Rachel had been bringing up the topic of her death every couple of weeks. I couldn't understand why she was so worried I would abandon her in her death. "Rachel, it's all taken care of. I promise you that I will make sure you have a Jewish burial."

The pre-High Holiday season was a busy time at our Chabad Center, but I made sure to stop by Rachel's hospital room on Fridays. On the first Friday after Sukkot, I received a call from one of the nurses. "Rachel's not here anymore," she told me over the line. "She's been transferred to a nursing home."

"Which home has she been transferred to?" I asked.

"I'm not authorized to tell you."

"What do you mean? I'm her rabbi!"

The nurse was quiet for a moment. "All I can say is that it's in north Louisiana." There were hundreds of homes up north, and the information I was given was too vague to narrow it down.

When I went to the hospital the following Friday, I spoke to the administration to get more information on Rachel's whereabouts. Eventually one of the chaplains gave me the name of the nursing home. It was a five-hour drive from Metairie.

As soon as I left the hospital, I called the nursing home. "Hi," I said, "This is Rachel Levine's rabbi. Can I please speak to her?"

There was a brief hesitation.

"I'm sorry, Rachel Levine passed away."

Stunned, I asked, "When did she pass away?"


Six days had passed since her death.

"Where is she now?"

"She's been cremated."

In my panicking mind, I saw an image of Rachel sitting on her hospital bed at Ochsner. She was looking at me, her eyes opened wide and filled with... fear? Paranoia? as she begged, "Rabbi, promise me I will have a Jewish burial."

How had this happened?

"I'm sorry," the voice said. "It wasn't us. We pass it on to the funeral home."

When I called the funeral home and demanded an explanation, they told me they had transferred Rachel's body to a second funeral home. The other funeral home denied knowing anything.

*) Rachel Levine is a pseudonym

Continued in next week's issue

What's New

Your Awesome Self

In Your Awesome Self, Shterna Ginsberg, presents her 12 Principles of Energized Living in a format that puts a vast wealth of information at your fingertips. These pages are filled with effective strategies for upgrading the quality of your life and your relationships. Written with the compassionate understanding of a fellow traveler navigating life's struggles, Your Awesome Self contains personal encounters and authentic stories that will help you let go of toxic resentment and helplessness as you embrace your inherent worthiness, dignity and unstoppable empowerment.

It's Within You

Living a life you create and direct - not one dictated by others or circumstances is attainable. It all comes down to one simple - but not easy - shift: Stop expecting others to change and work on changing yourself. In It's Within You, you'll learn how to harness a new, stronger self-worth. Written by Rabbi Aryeh Weinstein and psychotherapist Dr. Ilene S. Cohen.

The Rebbe Writes

20th of Teveth, 5715 [1955]

Blessing and Greeting:

I received your letter of 12th of Teveth, and I learned subsequently that you went away for a while, but have now returned. I was pleased to learn also that you took tithe on the day before you left, and I take this opportunity to wish you and your husband Mazel Tov and much joy in your new home, which you are soon to build, with G-d's help.

I am sure that your physical home will have its proper counterpart in a fine and happy spiritual Jewish and Chasidic home. And as the physical home is designed to keep out any harmful cold in the winter and heat in the summer, so spiritually, too, your home will be immune to any harmful outside influences which try to cool down the inner sanctuary of the Jewish home, or to bring in "strange fire" from outside. But on the contrary, you will make your home so that its influence will be like a landmark in your new community.

Your check was turned over for a Kiddush in the shul [synagogue] as requested.

With prayerful wishes, and with blessing,

27th of Teveth, 5721 [1961]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter and enclosures.

It is explained in many places in Chasidus, beginning with the Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy], about the negative aspects of all forms of sadness, depression, despondency, etc. It is also clear from experience that these attitudes belong to the bag of tricks of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination] in order to distract the Jew from serving G-d. To achieve this end the Yetzer Hora sometimes even clothes itself in the mantle of piety.

The true test, however, is what the results are, whether these attitudes actually bring about an improvement in, and a fuller measure of Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], or the reverse. This should be easy to determine.

On the other hand we have been assured that "He who is determined to purify himself receives Divine help." The road to purity and holiness, however, is one that should be trodden step by step, and by gradual and steady advancement.

Needless to say, the idea of your continuing at the Yeshivah for some time is the right one. As for the question how and what to write to your parents, I suggest that you consult with Rabbi Joseph Wineberg, who knows them personally, and who could give you some useful suggestions.

Hoping to hear good news from you in all above,

With blessing,

The physical home is designed to keep out any harmful cold in the winter and heat in the summer...

13th of Teveth, 5723 [1963]

Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:

I received your letter, in which you ask what occupation to choose.

Generally speaking one should choose a line in which one has either knowledge or connections or both. If there is any doubt, it has been said in such a case that "help comes with a multitude of advice," i.e. from talking things over with as many qualified people as possible. The important thing is that the choice made and the actual effort put into its materialization should come together with the fullest trust in G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to everyone, and this will ensure the success of it.

With blessing,

All Together

NECHEMYA means "comforted of G-d." Nechemya was the cupbearer to the Persian king, Ataxerxes I (Ezra 2:2) When Nechemya heard that Ezra the Scribe's attempts to rebuild the material and spiritual life of the Jews in Israel was failing, he convinced Ataxerxes to rescind his order which stopped all work to fortify Jerusalem. Artaxerxes appointed Nechemya governor of the Jewish colony and Nechemya went to the Holy Land to personally supervise the construction.

NINA means great-granddaughter.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Tuesday is the Tenth of Tevet. It commemorates the day when Jerusalem came under siege, which marked the beginning of the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem and of the Holy Temple.

We fast on this day, not only to express our sorrow, but, more importantly, to be urgently reminded that we must increase our efforts to rectify the cause of the destruction and exile, namely, in the words of our prayer, "Because of our sins (neglect of Torah and mitzvot) we have been exiled from our land."

One of the basic lessons of the Tenth of Tevet is that had our ancestors in those days been truly moved by the siege to change their complacent attitude towards the threatening danger (even if it were slow in coming), the whole destruction could have been averted from the start.

In a published letter, the Rebbe pointed to an additional and more pressing lesson that we must learn from the Tenth of Tevet.

"There is surely no need to point out that Jewish people everywhere are spiritually besieged on all sides. But nothing is more threatened than the future of our young generation - the future of our Jewish people. The only answer to it is Torah-true education. It must begin at the earliest age, and continue consistently in every aspect, without compromise. Sometimes it may appear that a particular detail is not all that important to insist on it strongly, or that there is time to deal with it later on. But the truth is that the slightest neglect at an early stage becomes a serious problem later, and conversely on the positive side: every little extra care and benefit in the early years is multiplied manifold later in life."

As we commemorate the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple, let us not become discouraged. For, in these days, surely we can appreciate the strengthening and invigoration of the Jewish people which is taking place as so many young people return to their Jewish roots. And certainly, in the very near future, the Rebbe's prophecy of the imminent Redemption will be fulfilled and we will truly celebrate with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Thoughts that Count

For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad is not with me (Gen. 44:34)

Every Jew must ask himself: How can I go up to my Father in heaven "and the lad is not with me" - without bringing the days of my youth? A person must be especially vigilant that he not squander away his younger years.

(Ma'ayana Shel Torah)

But now do not be sad...that you sold me here (Gen. 45:5)

The emotion of sadness is essentially selfish, as it is derived from an individual's feeling that something, either spiritual or material, is lacking that rightfully belongs to him. Such an outlook concentrates solely on the self, rather than on others.

(Rabbi Chanoch Henoch of Alexander)

I will go down with you to Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again (Gen. 46:4)

The Jewish people can rest assured they will eventually go out of exile, as the time must ultimately come for G-d to be revealed in the world. The only way this revelation can happen is for the Jewish people to be redeemed and their true advantage revealed in the world.

(Beit HaLevi)

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my wanderings are one hundred and thirty years; the days of the years of my life were few and bad" (Gen. 47:9)

How could Jacob have said this when the average life span after the generation of the flood was one hundred and twenty years? Jacob was the third of the Patriarchs and thus most intimately bound up with the third and eternal Holy Temple, to be built by Moshiach. All his life Jacob yearned for the everlasting peace and tranquility of the Messianic era. For as long, then, as the Redemption did not come, Jacob regarded the years of his life as qualitatively few and meager, because they did not contain that which is most important of all.

(The Rebbe, Parshat Mikeitz, 5752)

It Once Happened

A Chabad-Lubavitch Chasid from the Slonim family who lived in the Holy Land yearned to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn, the Rebbe Maharash (1834-1882). So he set out for the long and difficult journey to Russia.

When he arrived in Lubavitch, the Chasid was received especially warmly by the Chassidim. Of course, the Rebbe Maharash's aide let him in to see the Rebbe at the earliest opportunity.

The Rebbe welcomed him. As they spoke, the Rebbe asked about the Jews of the Holy Land. The conversation turned to the great qualities of the Jews who lived in the Land of Israel. At this point, the guest said, "Rebbe, it says in the holy books that in the Land of Israel live Jews with lofty souls, the likes of which you find nowhere else. I live there and I personally know many Jews in the Land of Israel and I never saw among them people with lofty souls."

The Rebbe became lost in thought. Finally he spoke to the Chasid. "Are you capable of knowing who has a lofty soul and who has a 'regular soul?' For that, one needs to understand the soul of a Jew. I'll tell you a story that I heard from my father, the Tzemach Tzedek."

In one of the settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem, lived Boruch with his family. Boruch was a simple man who worked hard from morning til night to support his family. Boruch did not understand the meaning of the prayers even though he understood Hebrew. He also did not know the order of the prayers or which special prayers to say on the holidays.

Nevertheless, Boruch had a warm place in his heart for prayer as he loved G-d. So, every week, when he went to Jerusalem to sell his produce in the market, he would afterward go to the house of one of the rabbis of the city and upon making his request, the rabbi would write down the order of the prayers for the rest of the week.

One year, at the beginning of the rainy season, Boruch hurried to the rabbi's house. Boruch approached with reverence. "In previous years, the Land of Israel merited plentiful rain and the mud prevented me from reaching Jerusalem. May the beloved Creator of the world provide rains of blessing this year too. But what will I do if my path is blocked by mud? Am I not a Jew? Don't I need to pray during this time?"

The rabbi understood. "What do you suggest?"

Boruch explained, "It would be of great help to me if you could write down the order of the tefillos for the next several weeks and whatever will be, will be."

The rabbi gave a smile. He took out a piece of paper and carefully wrote down the order of the prayers for the next few weeks.

The concerns of Boruch did not come to pass. The skies remained clear and the temperature remained somewhat spring-like. Therefore, Boruch continued to go to Jerusalem. One week, a great surprise awaited him when he arrived there. When he entered the street of the marketplace, he was surprised to see that what was usually a bustling area, was quiet. All the stores were locked. A cry escaped Boruch's lips. "Is is Shabbat or a holiday and I did not remember?"

Looking here and there, he noticed a Jew hurrying to the Zaharei Chama synagogue. He looked around again and saw someone else walking quickly, wrapped in pensive thought. He stopped the man and asked, "Please tell me, sir, why are the stores closed today?"

"Today is a public fast day. This is why everyone is gathering in the synagogue now to pray."

Boruch looked at the paper that he had and searched for a mention of a fast day but did not find one. He was upset that he had eaten on a fast day. He turned pale in shame.

With tears in his eyes, Boruch entered the synagogue where everyone was assembled and went over to the rabbi. Sobbing he said, "It's a fast day today and I didn't know. It wasn't written down. I transgressed by eating and not saying the correct prayers."

The rabbi looked at Boruch lovingly and said, "Becalm yourself my son, the fast today is not a set fast day in the usual roster of fasts. This fast day was just declared by the Sages of Jerusalem because of the lack of rain. Since it is winter and we have had no rain, there is the danger of famine. We are afraid for the wheat kernels that were planted, lest they rot and not give forth any produce. So the rabbis decreed a fast on the Jews of Jerusalem. Today we are praying with broken hearts to G-d that He open the gates of prosperity and send down rains of blessing."

The villager reacted with surprise. "Rabbi, I don't understand. Do you need to declare a fast day for this?"

This time, it was the rabbi's turn to be surprised. "Well, what do you think we should do?"

Boruch waved his hand dismissively. "When I need rain in my fields, I go out to my fields and address G-d. I say, 'Dear Father, I need rain!' I know I don't have to say much because I merely make my request and it starts to rain."

The rabbi's eyes opened wide. "Then, go and try to do that here!"

The villager shrugged and without another word he left the synagogue and went into the yard. He began to cry and he raised his hands heavenward and said, "Dear Father. Is it possible that Your children in the holy city will perish, G-d forbid, from starvation? You see that they need rain. Why don't You make it rain to water their fields and fill their wells? Do You need their fasting?"

Just a few minutes passed and black clouds darkened the skies over Jerusalem. Within the hour, rain began to fall.

The Rebbe Maharash concluded his story with this lesson, "You see, this is the power of a simple Jew from the Holy Land. If so, who can understand what is a lofty soul that dwells within a Jew from the Holy Land?"

Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine

Moshiach Matters

Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt... I will go down with you... and I will bring you up again (Gen. 46:3-4) Jacob was not sent into exile alone; G-d descended with him and guarded him there. Our Patriarch Jacob possessed an all-comprehensive soul which compounded the souls of all Jews. "Jacob" thus stands for every single Jew, and his descent into Egypt alludes to Israel's descent into galut (exile), including the present one. Thus it follows that even now we are not alone, and that G-d will mercifully hasten the Final Redemption with Moshiach, as it states, "I will also bring you up again."

(Torat Menachem)

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