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Bereishis Genesis

   491: Noach

492: Lech Lecha

493: Vayeira

494: Chayei Sarah

495: Toldos

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November 21, 1997 - 21 MarCheshvan 5758

494: Chayei Sarah

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  493: Vayeira495: Toldos  

THE Key  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  A Call To Action
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's New  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters


Some people say that the more keys you have the more responsibilities you have.

Think about it. If the only key on your key ring is a solitary house key, you probably have less responsibilities than a person who has, for instance, a car key (and trunk key and maybe even Club key). For, although the possessor of a car key might be a relatively carefree teenager, he already has the additional responsibilities of driving safely and at least making sure there's enough gas in the car to get back home.

Have you ever seen a "super" or manager with key rings full of dozens of keys dangling from his belt hoop? Now there's a person with a lot of responsibility!

Jewish teachings explain that G-d gave the "keys" to almost everything in the world to humankind. Prayers and mitzvot can be of benefit to ourselves and others who need a boost in the areas of health, livelihood, children. Even environmental issues such as a lack of rain have traditionally been impacted upon by communal prayers.

There is a very unique key which is on the key ring of every individual, even those yet too young to have their very own key ring:

"The key to the Redemption is in the hand of absolutely every individual" the Rebbe stated over a decade ago, emphasizing that Chasidic teachings explain that "even if one righteous person in his generation would return in perfect repentance (and the Talmud states that all Jews are righteous), Moshiach would come immediately."

As further proof of the veracity of this statement, if proof is needed, the Rebbe puts forth a Jewish legal ruling of Maimonides that, "If a person fulfilled one mitzva, he thereby tipped the scales in favor of himself and of the whole world, and brought about redemption and salvation for himself and for the whole world."

The Rebbe has said that we are on the threshold of the Redemption, all we need to do is open the door. We are on the threshold of that era we all essentially long for, a time when there will no longer be war or conflict. And this does not mean only on a global level. In the Messianic Era there will be no battles or conflict even in our own communities, even within our families, even within ourselves.

Every single individual can open the door and must try to help open the door with his personal key.

"It is the task of every Jewish man, woman and child, from the greatest of the great to the smallest of the small, to bring about the Redemption. This mission is unaffected by distinctions in prayer rites, ideological circles, or parties: it is the concern of the entire House of Israel" (the Rebbe, 1986).

None of us knows the exact shape of the key that will unlock the door. It could be a candle lit on Friday afternoon in honor of Shabbat. It could be a visit to a friend who is feeling under the weather, or a penny in a tzedaka box, or a few minutes in Torah study. It just might be taking the time to help a little old lady cross the street. No one knows. So we just have to keep on trying until we find the right key and open the door to the long-awaited Redemption.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read of Sarah's passing, Abraham's purchase of the Cave of the Machpela in Hebron for her burial place, and Abraham's dispatching of his trusted servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. All of these events took place when Abraham was at a well-advanced age. In fact, the Torah tells us, "And Abraham was old (zakein), well endowed with days."

The Midrash comments: "Some people are old but not endowed with days; others are endowed with days but not old. In this instance we find a person possessing both qualities."

What does this tell us about our forefather Abraham's greatness?

A zakein, an elderly person, is defined as one who has acquired wisdom. By studying Torah he has learned a great deal. The zakein has achieved a high level of perfection of his soul.

"Endowed with days," however, refers to a person whose every day is perfect and whole. Not only does he perform the mitzvot properly, but he does so every single day of his life. Through his actions, the days themselves are elevated. He illuminates his environment by the commandments he observes and he raises his surroundings to a higher state of perfection.

The terms "old" and "endowed with days" refer to two types of people, and indeed, to two types of tzadikim. Some righteous people are concerned only with themselves and their own pursuit of excellence. By toiling greatly in the study of Torah they attain the level of zakein, but the people around them and the world at large are ignored. Time and effort are devoted solely to their own concerns.

Other tzadikim turn outward to disseminate their light upon their surroundings, devoting themselves to each and every person with whom they come in contact. These righteous people forget about themselves entirely, selflessly ignoring personal considerations for the sake of others.

Abraham, however, simultaneously embodied both of these qualities. "And Abraham was old, well endowed with days." While managing to achieve the highest level of personal perfection, Abraham sought to perfect his surroundings as well, thereby illuminating the entire world with holiness.

Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 3

A Slice of Life

A Yechidus with the Rebbe
by Marcus Retter

I was privileged to meet privately with the Rebbe in 1957 and in 1963 at a time when yechidut -- private audiences -- were rarely granted. The first time, I spent almost two hours with the Rebbe, on the second visit almost an hour.

In the fall of 1957 my appointment was for ten o'clock in the evening, but it was after 11pm when I was actually admitted. Outside, there were at least a dozen people waiting who had expected my visit with the Rebbe to last no more than ten minutes. But it was not so. In fact, during my stay, the Rebbe received several reminders on the intercom from his secretaries that the "visitor" had overstayed his allotted time, and that people were waiting. The Rebbe responded by saying, "I know, I know, it won't take much longer."

After giving the Rebbe my note and receiving his blessings for "spiritual and physical health" and success, the Rebbe, who had insisted that I sit down (I always stood when received by Rebbes elsewhere), turned his rich blue eyes towards me exuding warmth and kindness, the likes of which I had never experienced. The Rebbe then asked whether I would wish to speak to him in English or in "Mamme Loshen" (Yiddish). He smiled when I responded in the latter language.

I felt at ease addressing the Rebbe, and said that I had not come with a private request but that I felt the need to communicate to him a matter in which he might be interested. He immediately corrected me by saying, "not communicate, but share information." After such an encouraging start, I reported to the Rebbe that I had just returned from an important visit to Jamaica, then a British colony in the West Indies, where I had stayed for four weeks and where I had met with several Jewish families, mostly assimilated Sephardic Jews, as well as the rabbi of the Kingston Jewish community. I told the Rebbe that there were 400 Jewish families on the island and that there was a synagogue in Kingston. But, the rabbi, although an Ashkenazi from England, paid no attention to the Chief Rabbinate in England, claiming that it had no jurisdiction over a Sephardic community in the British Commonwealth, despite its nominal affiliation with the Council of the United Hebrew Congregations of the slowly disintegrating British Empire. I further reported to the Rebbe that there were 30 or 40 Jewish children whose religious education was less than minimal.

The climax of this sad situation was what I saw in the Jewish section of the cemetery in Spanishtown, the former capital of Jamaica, and the former center of Jewish life and communal activity. I showed the Rebbe several inscriptions of graves tones that were three hundred years old which were evidence that there had been vibrant Jewish life in Jamaica. The names Sosa, Setton, and Shalom appeared on a number with the description of the deceased as "Zakein V'Yoshev B'Yeshiva" (elderly and one who studied in depth), manhig (leader) and gaon (great scholar) of the community. The Rebbe knew of all of these Sephardic gaonim who lived in Jamaica centuries ago, and told me how they had come there.

I told the Rebbe that a community with such a religious background and great history was about to disappear in complete assimilation, and maybe something could be done. The rabbi in Jamaica had instructed his flock that kashrut was no longer operative because the laws of hygiene rendered it superfluous and that a blood-soaked beefsteak was healthy and nourishing. I had heard all of these statements from the rabbi's own mouth.

Of course, there was no mohel in Jamaica, but the Jewish families (most of them were wealthy) imported a mohel from Panama every so often to do several brit mila on the same day.

The Rebbe told me that he was aware of all these facts, that he knew the names of the leading Jewish families in Jamaica, but that Jamaica was not a fertile ground and could not be cultivated. Nevertheless, within one month, the Rebbe sent two emissaries to Jamaica, arranged for kosher meat to be imported from Miami and for a mohel in Panama to be available at all times. These emissaries brought over five boys to the United States to study in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

During the course of my meeting with the Rebbe, I was amazed to learn that the Rebbe had full knowledge of the political and economic conditions in Jamaica. The Rebbe knew all about the internal struggle between Sir Alexander Bustamente and his cousin and political rival Victor Manley. The Rebbe predicted that within ten years or so Jamaica would become an independent republic, "for a while steeped in the law," but soon to adopt the socialist and leftist path that would cause havoc with the economy. He said that gradually the Jewish population would emigrate to Israel and Latin America, some to England, and only the graves and tombstones would remain as a monument to the Jewish community that disappeared because there was no influx of vital Judaism from Europe. The Rebbe was right.

Towards the end of the meeting, the Rebbe asked where I had been during the war, and was particularly interested in hearing about the late Lord Wedgewood for whom I had worked in the History of Parliament Committee. The Rebbe had firsthand in formation on every minute detail of the Jewish communities in England, and predicted that Orthodox Jewish life would flourish there.

In 1963, six years later, when once again I was privileged to be received by the Rebbe, the Rebbe recalled all the details we had "shared," to use his language, in the course of our first meeting. At the time I asked for some personal advice which the Rebbe gave me. I did exactly as the Rebbe told me. I never regretted it. To this very day, I practice what the Rebbe told me to do.

Reprinted from a journal prepared by Chabad of Riverdale

A Call To Action

Make a Jew: "The Previous Rebbe explained that the mitzva to 'be fruitful and multiply' means that 'one Jew must make another Jew,' i.e., influence another Jew to express his Judaism.

(This interpretation is alluded to in our Sages' statement, 'Whoever teaches his colleague's child Torah is considered as if he fathered him.') Furthermore, the influence one exerts on others must be complete, powerful enough to motivate that person himself to go out and spread Judaism to other people." The Rebbe, 27 MarCheshvan, 5750)

The Rebbe Writes

26th of Tevet, 5742 [1982]

This is my first opportunity to acknowledge receipt of your letter of Dec. 15, 1981. In it, after kindly paying tribute to the work of the Lubavitch movement, you express your reservations about the "Tzivos Hashem" campaign, on the ground that it is based "on the glorification of the military and aggrandizement of arms, wars, and battlefields."

A letter is hardly the proper medium to explain fully the reasons that impelled us to introduce the establishment of the Tzivos Hashem organization, the purpose of which is to bring young Jewish children closer to Torah and mitzvot, as I am glad to note you fully recognize.

Needless to say, it was done only after due deliberation, which I can only briefly outline in this letter.

To begin with, "Tzivos Hashem" -- as you surely know -- is not a foreign idea. It is first mentioned in Torah in reference to 'G-d's hosts' who were liberated from Egyptian bondage. The term is clearly not used in the military sense. Rather, it indicates that the hosts who had been enslaved to Pharaoh to serve him, were now G-d's hosts, free to serve G-d and G-d alone.

Of course, the Torah does not glorify militarism, war, and the like. On the contrary, "Its ways are of pleasantness and all its paths are peace." And, as our sages declare, "the Torah was given to bring peace into the world," and "there is no greater Divine blessing than peace," and much more in this vein.

Parenthetically, with all the emphasis on pacifism, the Torah (from the root Hora'ah -- instruction) also provides guidance in situations where military action is necessary, and prescribes the laws of warfare, as you are, of course, aware. To be sure, Rabbi Akiva's fame rests on his spiritual contribution, but there was a time when he found it necessary to be Bar-Kochba's "arms-bearer" as the Rambam notes in his Code

(Hilchos. Melachim)

When the "Tzivos Hashem" was instituted recently, careful consideration was given to using a minimum of military trappings, and only such as would be consistent with the spirit of the Torah.

For example, "spying missions," which you mention in your letter as one of your objections, was categorically excluded. Furthermore, the whole campaign is limited to children of pre-Bar Mitzva and pre-Bat Mitzva age. The idea is that reaching that age, they become full- fledged Jews, and by then they will have had the benefit of the experience, and will realize that it served its purpose for them.

The question is, since the term "Tzivos Hashem" would seem to some people to "smack" of "militarism," what were the over-riding reasons that outweighed such reservations as you expressed in your letter? Could not the same results be achieved through other means or other methods?

This brings us to the core of the problem.

As an educator, you know that children need motivation, but that is only one aspect of the problem. The most important aspect, in my opinion, in this day and age, is the lack of Kabalat Ol [obedience], not only of Ol Malchut Shamayim [obedience to G-d], but also general insubmission to authority, including the authority of parents at home and of teachers in school, and the authority of law and order in the street. There remains only the fear of punishment as a deterrent, but that fear has been reduced to a minimum because there has in recent years been what amounts to a breakdown of law enforcement, for reasons which need not be discussed here.

On the other hand, American children have been brought up on the spirit of independence and freedom, and on the glorification of personal prowess and smartness. It has cultivated a sense of cockiness and self-assurance to the extent that one who is bent on mischief or anti-social activity, feels that one can outsmart a cop on the beat, and even a judge on the bench; and, in any event, there is little to fear in the way of punishment.

As with every health problem, physical, mental or spiritual, the cure lies not in treating the symptoms, but in attacking the cause, although the former may some times be necessary for relief in acute cases.

Since, as mentioned, the root of the problem is the lack of Kabalat Ol [obedience], I thought long and hard about finding a way of inducing an American child to get used to the idea of subordination to a higher authority, despite all the influence to the contrary -- in the school, in the street, and even at home, where parents -- not wishing to be bothered by their children -- have all too often abdicated their authority, and left it to others to deal with truancy, juvenile delinquency, etc.

I came to the conclusion that there was no other way than trying to effect a basic change in the child's nature, through a system of discipline and obedience to rules which he/she can be induced to get accustomed to. Moreover, for this method to be effective, it would be necessary that it should be freely and readily accepted without coercion.

The idea in itself is, of course, not a novel one. It has already been emphasized by the Rambam in the introduction to his Commentary on Mishnayot, where he points out that although ideally good things should be done for their own sake (lishma), it is necessary to use inducements with young children until they are old enough to know better.

Thus, a "pilot" Tzivos Hashem was instituted. It immediately proved a great success in getting the children to do good things in keeping with the motto of V'ahavta l'reacha kamocha [You shall love your neighbor as yourself], coupled with love and obedience to the "Commander-in-Chief" of Tzivos Hashem, namely Hashem Elokei Tzivo'ot [the G-d of Hosts].

The Tzivos Hashem campaign has a further reward, though not widely applicable to children attending Hebrew schools. This, too, has already been alluded to by our Sages, in their customary succinct way, by saying that a person born with a violent nature should become a (blood-letting) physician, or a shochet or a mohel -- in order to give a strong outlet to his strong natural propensity (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Shabbat 156A). Thus, children that might be inclined to aggressiveness, and hence easy candidates for street gangs and the like, would have a positive outlet for diverting their energy in the right direction.

This brings us to the point that although the ideal of peace is so prominent in the Torah, as mentioned, the fact is that G-d designed and created the world in such a way that leaves man subject to an almost constant inner strife, having to wage relentless battle with his yetzer hara [evil inclination].

Indeed, the Zohar points out that the Hebrew word for bread - lechem - is derived from the same root that denotes "war," symbolizing the concept of the continuous struggle between the base and sublime natures in man, whether he eats his bread as a glutton, in a way an animal eats its food, or on a higher level -- to keep the body healthy in order to be able to do what is good and right in accordance with the Will of the Creator.

This is the only kind of "battle" the children of Tzivos Hashem are called upon to wage. By the same token, the only "secret weapon" they are encouraged to use is strict Shabbat observance and other mitzvot which have been the secrets of Jewish strength throughout the ages.

Our experience with Tzivos Hashem -- wherever the idea has been implemented, in the U.S.A., Canada, Eretz Yisrael, and in many parts of the world -- has completely convinced us of its most successful positive results, with no negative side-effects whatever. I can only hope that it would be adopted in other sectors, outside of Lubavitch, in growing numbers.

I trust that the above lines will not only put to rest all your apprehensions concerning Tzivos Hashem, but will also place in the company of the many prominent educators and spiritual leaders who have enthusiastically acclaimed the Tzivos Ha shem operation as uniquely successful in attaining its desirable goal.

What's New


Subtitled, "365 Meditations of the Rebbe," the book Bringing Heaven Down to Earth by Tzvi Freeman makes the Rebbe's words and thoughts accessible to a wide audience without compromising on their esssence and profundity. Readers won't be able to put it down, and when they do, they will have a radically altered view of Judaism, Torah, the Rebbe and most importantly, how it all relates to their lives.

Sunny Ariel, author Chicken Soup Sorceress says, "All of Santa Fe is abuzz! Whenever someone calls with a problem, I tell them to pick a number from 1 to 365 and then read them what the book says. I've never had anybody who didn't say, 'That's exactly what I needed to hear!' "

Available at your local Judaica store or by calling 800-247-6553.

A Word from the Director

In this week's Torah portion we read about the mission on which Abraham sent his servant, Eliezer, to choose a wife for Isaac.

The Rebbe draws a parallel between the mission (shlichut) of Eliezer and the mission that every Jew is charged with. Each one of us is an emissary of G-d, and our mission is to make this world a dwelling place for Him. We accomplish this by elevating the material nature of our world to a spiritual level through utilizing the physical world for the fulfillment of mitzvot. How do we accomplish this? By always having in mind that it is not our individual talents and strengths that enable us to succeed, but the power of the One who sent us.

At a convention of the Rebbe's emissaries, the Rebbe discussed the essence of an emissary. He quoted the teaching that one who is specifically sent on a particular mission by another person is considered as if he is the person who appointed him. The Rebbe pointed out two seemingly opposite characteristics that are required of such an emissary. Firstly, he must be aware of his talents and strong points and use them to his fullest potential. At the same time, the emissary must always be to tally devoted to whoever sent him, remembering that he is representing the one who sent him.

Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, used all of his talents and skills to find a wife for Isaac, but he never forgot that he was representing Abraham, and must fulfill his task according to Abraham's wishes.

The Rebbe's emissaries, the thousands of dedicated and enthusiastic individuals in over 2,000 Chabad Centers and institutions around the globe, have unique and personal talents which they use to fulfill their missions. But they always keep the Rebbe before them, garnering strength from his words and blessings.

In truth, each one of us is an emissary of G-d and each one of us possesses unique abilities that can be used to make this world a dwelling place for G-d. But we must always bear in mind that the strength we utilize is from G-d.

May we all find within ourselves these G-d-given powers that will imminently enable us to make this world a dwelling place for G-d with the coming of Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

And Abraham was old and advanced in age (Gen. 24:1)

The phrase that the Torah uses for "advanced in age" is literally translated to mean "advanced in days." Every Jew has a mission to accomplish in this world. Often a person looks back and realizes that he missed opportunities or wasted time. Thus, "advanced in days" teaches us that Abraham was able to account for each day and recall what he accomplished every day of his life.


And Abraham said to Eliezer, the eldest servant of his house who ruled over all he had..."Promise that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan." (Gen. 24:2)

Eliezer's position and importance in Abraham's household is recorded for an important reason. When it came to financial matters, Abraham trusted many people. But when it came to spiritual matters, such as choosing a wife for his righteous son Isaac, Abraham would only send his most faithful servant, and even then Abraham made Eliezer promise to follow his instructions.

(Yalkut Hadrush)

And these are the years of Abraham, which he lived, 175 (Gen. 25:7)

Abraham was destined to live until the age of 180. However, as his grandson Ishmael grew up his behavior became less appropriate. Knowing that Abraham would be greatly distressed by his grandson's behavior, G-d shortened Abraham's life by five years. The Torah includes the words "which he lived," to signify that these were the years he lived but they were not his full allocated lifespan.

(Yalkut Hadrush)

Adapted from Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky

It Once Happened

During the Middle Ages, there was a thriving Jewish community in the city of Bodenheim, in Alsace. One of the great treasures of this community was a silver pointer in the shape of a hand which was used to point to the correct place being read in the Torah scroll. The pointer was believed to have been fashioned during the time of the Roman Empire, and the Jews of Bodenheim were quite proud of this antique.

It happened that a gentile carpenter's apprentice began spreading a vicious story about the Jews, as was common in those days. He claimed that he overheard two Jewish merchants discussing a meeting of all the Jewish leaders of Alsace that had taken place in Colmar. At this meeting, the Jewish leaders supposedly planned to poison the wells of Bodenheim, Colmar, and the neighboring town of Schlettstadt. The apprentice's story was, unfortunately, readily accepted because there was a strange sickness spreading throughout the region.

The Jewish leaders of Alsace were immediately brought to court and questioned. They admitted to having met in Colmar, but the meeting was strictly for the purpose of strengthening Judaism in the region as they felt that it was beginning to weaken in certain areas of faith. The chief of police refused to accept their explanation, and threatened to torture them unless they confessed. One of the leaders, Rabbi Wolf, declared, "G-d is our witness that no evil has been plotted by us against anyone."

"We'll see about that tomorrow," said the chief of police. "But woe to you and your families if we find any additional evidence or if anyone of you confesses. We will ransack your homes and take away your families and stop at nothing to get a confession from you."

That night, none of the Jewish leaders of Alsace closed his eyes. They were all imploring G-d for help. The next day, Rabbi Wolf asked to meet with the apprentice, in order to uncover what had led the man to jump to such a horrible conclusion .

The apprentice was brought to the leaders, and he explained that he caught a ride on a wagon heading from Bodenheim to Colmar, along with two Jewish merchants. As he was about to doze off, he overheard one of them say, "We must see that this convention does something about the poison that has been spreading throughout our life-giving well in the province of Alsace."

Rabbi Wolf smiled and told the chief of police, "I can explain everything. The purpose of the convention was to strengthen the religious commitment of our youth, and to keep them from abandoning our precious heritage. Our Torah is often refer red to as 'a well of living water.' Those who distort Judaism are accused of poisoning it, because the 'water' of Torah must be kept pure in order to sustain us. Those two men weren't talking about, G-d forbid, poisoning the actual water wells of Alsace, but the danger of poisoning the wells of Torah."

The police weren't easily swayed by this explanation, although they were impressed when later the rabbis told them that they could consult their own clergymen as to the validation of their claim. They brought the matter before the town council. One of the council members, a nobleman by the name of Bodo, had a great dislike of the Jews due to the fact the he was indebted to them for a tremendous sum. He proposed that a search be carried out through all the Jewish homes, to uncover proof of the poisoning plot. The council agreed to his plan.

Later that night, Bodo sent a strong fearless servant by the name of Ulrich to plant a bag of poison in the synagogue in Bodenheim. Holding the bag in one hand, he approached the Ark where the Torah scrolls were kept. Upon finding the door of the Ark difficult to open, he placed the bag between his teeth and used both hands to fling open the doors.

Seconds later, an agonizing, animal-like wail pierced the night. The caretaker of the synagogue awoke and jumped out of bed as he realized that the sound was coming from the synagogue. He ran into the synagogue, and found Ulrich writhing in agony and gawking in terror at the shadow of what appeared to be a hand, pointing accusingly at him. The caretaker figured out what Ulrich had been planning to do. It seemed that out of his great surprise at finding a finger pointing at him from within the Ark, he had inadvertently swallowed some of the poison. Of course the caretaker knew that the shadow was caused by the silver pointer used for the Torah reading.

The caretaker immediately called for the chief of police and all of the council members to gather in the synagogue. When Bodo arrived, Ulrich, who was still unable to speak, pointed his finger at him. Bodo knew that he was caught, and he confessed to his evil plot to turn the people of Alsace against the Jews, and eventually destroy them.

The Jews gave thanks to G-d for having saved their leaders and their whole community, and the silver pointer became an even greater treasure in the eyes of the people.

Moshiach Matters

In the days of Moshiach there will be a stupendous revelation of Divinity. For G-d, who is known as "the Tzadik of the world," this revelation will be a kind of "teshuva" (repentance) -- for having withheld this light from His people throughout all the years of exile.

(Or HaTorah)

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