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652: Vayechi

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Devarim Deutronomy

January 12, 2001 - 17 Tevet, 5761

652: Vayechi

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  651: Vayigash653: Shemos  

This Land is Our Land  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

This Land is Our Land

By Rabbi Nechemia Vogel

As I write these lines I am listening to the radio for news from Israel. In practically every encounter with a fellow Jew - regardless of background or affiliation - the conversation swings around to events in Israel. We are all thinking about and praying for our brothers and sisters there.

It seems that some things just don't change: There are those who want to take away from us that which is rightfully ours. I listen with frustration to the biased media reports. Until Moshiach comes the world will be imperfect...

In spite of this - and because of this - we need to be strong in our own convictions that Israel belongs to us and we belong to Israel. This is the fundamental argument. Because at the bottom of all of the Palestinian rhetoric lies one basic claim: "You Jews are intruders. This is Palestinian land. We have been living here for centuries and now you want to take it from us!"

Once it is established that the Jews have a valid right to the Land of Israel, then the violence, hatred, and disregard for life that has characterized the Palestinian position can be judged for what it is. Unless that right is established, the Palestinians will always claim that they have a valid goal: reclaiming a land that is rightfully theirs. And once validity is granted to their goal, the debate, whether or not all means are acceptable to attain it, is one of philosophy.

What is our claim to the land? Let me share with you a few paragraphs from an excellent booklet on the topic entitled "Eyes on the Land" by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English:

Our claim to the land is G-d's promise in the Torah. G-d told Abraham: "I have given this land to your descendants." For 1,500 years the Land of Israel was our home, and ever since then, Jews everywhere have longed to come home to their eternal heritage - to Jerusalem, the site of the Holy Temple; to Hebron, the burial place of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs; and to Bethlehem, where Rachel weeps for her dispersed children and awaits their return. Even throughout the 2,000 years during which our people wandered from country to country, Israel has remained the home of every Jew. From the beginning of the exile until today, no matter how far our current host countries might be, Jews have turned to face Israel in our thrice-daily prayers.

So central is this principle to our faith, that Rashi, the foremost Torah commen-tator, begins his commentary on Genesis with the following prophetic words of Rabbi Yitzchak in the Midrash - 2,000 years ago - that address our situation today:

"Rabbi Yitzchak said: The Torah should have begun with the verse, 'This month shall be for you the first of the months...,' for this introduces the first commandment given to Israel. Why, then, does it begin with the narrative of creation?

"...So that if the nations of the world say to Israel, 'You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations (of Canaan),' Israel will reply to them: 'The entire world belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He: He created it and gave it to whomever He pleased. Of His Own will He initially gave it to them, and of His Own will He then took it from them and gave it to us.' ''

Every person of faith accepts the Bible and believes in the truth of its prophecies, and it is important that we emphasize that the Bible is the source of our claim to the Land of Israel.

We should not base our claim on the Balfour Declaration of the United Nations, for these agreements could potentially be countermanded by other ones. Nor is the fact that our people once lived in the land sufficient in and of itself to establish our claim to it today. If Native Americans would lodge claim to all of America, would it be granted them?

When the Bible's prophecies serve as the basis for our claim, then many other arguments are effective in reinforcing our position. But when this foundation is lacking, we have difficulty refuting the claim: "You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the nations."

After thousands of years, our people have returned to our land. Every portion of the land over which Jewish authority is exercised was won in defensive wars in which G-d showed overt miracles.

G-d, show us Your miracles today as You did in those days!

Rabbi Vogel directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Rochester, NY

Living with the Rebbe

With this week's Torah reading, Vayechi, we conclude the Book of Genesis. Before our Patriarch Jacob passed away he called all his children over to his deathbed. The Torah portion of Vayechi relates the blessings Jacob gave to each of the Twelve Tribes.

The blessing Jacob bestowed upon Asher was as follows: "Out of Asher his bread shall be fat [full of oil]." Moses, too, gave Asher a similar blessing: "And he shall dip his foot in oil." The literal meaning is that Asher would be blessed with so much oil that he would be able to immerse his foot in it.

It has been explained many times that everything that exists in the physical world has a spiritual counterpart. In truth, an object's physical existence is derived from its spiritual reality, and not the other way around.

What does "And he shall dip his foot in oil" mean in the spiritual sense?

The Talmud explains that oil is an allusion to chochma (wisdom), the highest function of the human being. The foot, by contrast, is symbolic of man's lowest level, and alludes to kabalat ol, the acceptance of the yoke of heaven.

This contains a lesson for us to apply in our Divine service:

Oil, chochma, is symbolic of the study of Torah, which involves a person's intellect and understanding. The foot is symbolic of our service of G-d with kabalat ol, i.e., obeying the Torah's commandments simply because G-d wants us to. Moreover, the foot is the foundation and support of the entire structure.

Here we see an astounding thing: Serving G-d with acceptance of the yoke of heaven has a very distinct advantage over serving Him with our intellectual capacities, for the mind is by nature a limited creation. When a Jew serves G-d out of a sense of subservience he can attain far higher levels than when he serves Him utilizing his powers of comprehension.

Furthermore, it is precisely the service of accepting the yoke of heaven that constitutes our preparation for the Final Redemption. For when Moshiach comes, the advantage of this type of service will be revealed in its totality.

May it be G-d's will that by serving G-d with true kabalat ol we will merit the coming of our Righteous Moshiach, speedily in our day.

Based on Volume 1 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Vacation Makes Dreams Come True
By Aliza Karp

From the absense of other pedestrians, I could tell that I was not the only one who would ordinarily not have picked a rainy day in November to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. But the emptiness on the walkway made our trek across the bridge even more fun.

I was accompanying a group of ten children from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) who were on a two week "dream vacation" in New York. A few drops of rain weren't going to spoil their fun.

These ten youngsters, six girls and four boys, were the winners of the annual Tzivos Hashem Torah Contest in the FSU. Tzivos Hashem, the largest Jewish children's organization in the world, was established by the Rebbe 20 years ago. Through its multi-faceted educational programs, Tzivos Hashem helps instill pride and a love of Judaism in Jewish children from all walks of life.

The Tzivos Hashem magazine published in the FSU features a yearly contest. For those children not attending a Jewish school, the questions on Torah topics in the contest have participants seeking out their local rabbi or rebbetzin to find out the answers. All correct entries are entered into a raffle for the coveted prize.

This year's winners, aged ten to 15, came from Riga, Dnepropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporozhye, Slavuta, Zhitomir, Kiev and Almaty.

I had the pleasure of sharing Shabbat lunch with the children at the home of Tzivos Hashem's Director of FSU Activities, Rabbi Benjy Brackman, a few days after our walk over the bridge.

I began to talk to one of the boys whom I had met earlier in the week. But as soon as I addressed him as "Roman," I was quickly told that his name was now "Raphael." He proudly told me that since coming to New York he had undergone a brit mila and had received a Jewish name!

With a little prodding I found out that Roman had spoken to Ira Yavarkovsky, the initiator of this prize trip. Roman expressed a desire to spend a year in New York studying in a yeshiva. Yavarkovsky told him that it could be arranged, but he thought that the first step was to have a brit. Roman eagerly agreed and when his parents were contacted they gave their full consent. Now Roman, turned Raphael, has plans to return to New York next year and attend yeshiva.

Elimelech, another one of the winners, was more knowledgeable than the other children. He is one of 50 residents of the Esther and William Bennenson Home for Boys opened by Tzivos Hashem in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine in 1998. Elimelech is serious about his Jewish observance. Upon arriving in New York, he spent every extra moment studying Torah in the Rebbe's shul, 770 Eastern Parkway, World Lubavitch Headquarters. The rabbinic students in 770 took to Elimelech, welcoming his presence and encouraging his enthusaism, even though he was a great deal younger than they.

When the students noticed that Elimelech did not have tefilin they collected money and bought him a new set of kosher tefilin. Elimelech was thrilled, even more than he was at the prospect of going to a Nets game. But the story doesn't end there. On one of their outings the children had an extra 20 minutes and were in a shopping mall. Trip organizer and co-sponsor Mitch Feldman took the children to a store and told them to buy whatever they wanted for up to 25 dollars. The children had a blast! But Elimelech just stood and watched.

Feldman came over to Elimelech and asked, "Isn't there anything that you want?"

Shyly, Elimelech told him that what he wanted does not cost 25 dollars. "So what is it that you want?" asked Feldman.

"Rabbainu Tams," came the answer.

Feldman asked Elimelech to repeat himself and then approached the trip chaperone, rabbinic student Eli Karasik, who was fluent in Russian. Karasik explained that "Rabbainu Tam" is not a term in Russian, it is the name of a second pair of tefilin that many people don each morning after "Rashi" tefilin. "Interesting..." said Feldman.

When Elimelech boarded the plane to return home, he lovingly hand-carried his two new sets of tefilin, "Rashi" and "Rabbainu Tam."

Though ten children had arrived two weeks earlier, only nine returned to the FSU. Lotta did not join the others on the plane home. For years she had hoped and prayed for the opportunity to come to America and study in a girls' yeshiva, but had not dared to think that this dream would come true. She had worked diligently to answer questions and write essays for the Torah contest and was thrilled when she was informed that she was one of the winners.

During the trip, Lotta approached Ira Yavarkovsky and told him of her dream, asking if it would be possible for her to stay. Yavarkovsky contacted Lotta's widowed mother, who gave her daughter permission to benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He spoke to a member of the Board of Directors of Tzivos Hashem who readily agreed to sponsor Lotta's expenses. Then Tzivos Hashem arranged for Lotta to live with a family in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and to attend Beth Rivkah-Lubavitch Girls' School.

On December 17, 2000, at the Tzivos Hashem Annual Dinner, Lotta addressed the rapt audience in beginner's English: "I started a new life. Now I am studying Torah and I am trying to be on the same level as my fellow students. I am very happy that I have such a nice opportunity to study here. I think that I am very lucky. Thank you, Tzivos Hashem."

What's New


Ask Moses!

A new website piloted by Chabad of California, Ask Moses, is the latest high-tech project of Chabad-Lubavitch. Manned by top scholars and teachers, Ask Moses gives people the opportunity to ask any and all questions of Jewish interest and to get a reply within a few nanoseconds. Visit the new site at

770Live, in conjunction with the Beit Midrash L'Nashim of the Lubavitch Women's Organization, offers you the opportunity to " sit in" on classes at World Lubavitch Headquarters from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. daily except Shabbat and holidays.

The Rebbe Writes

5th of Teves, 5742 [1982]

Chabad House of Cincinnati

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed that the Teves issue of the "Chabad Times" will mark the 50th -- Jubilee -- issue.

Since this Jubilee issue is scheduled to appear in or about the week of the Sidrah [Torah portion] Vayechi, it is well to recall the timely story of the Tzemach Tzedek [Rabbi Menachem Mendel] that has to do with this Sidrah. As a little boy, he had just learned that "Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt 17 years," which is the first verse of Vayechi. The teacher observed that these were Yaakov's best years of his life. The little boy, who was to become the third leader of Chabad, asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], the Founder of Chabad, how it was possible that our Father Yaakov could live his best years in such a place as Egypt?

The Alter Rebbe replied: "We have been taught in the previous Sidrah (Vayigash) that Yaakov had sent his son Yehuda ahead of him to Yosef to establish a Yeshiva in Goshen (Gen. 46:23, according to Midrash quoted in Rashi). Therefore, since learning Torah brings a Jew closer to HaShem, it is possible for a Jew to truly live even in a place like Mitzrayim [Egypt]."

This story relating to the Founder of Chabad and his grandson, the famed Tzemach Tzedek, and being connected also with a passage in the Torah, certainly has an eternal message for every one of us:

"Mitzrayim" is the prototype of all Exiles which our Jewish people has experienced during its long history. The Hebrew word Mitzrayim (in the sense of metzarim, "constraints") indicates all such situations in which a Jew finds himself constrained and limited in the development of his true Jewish spirit. But for the Torah, the Jewish spirit would languish and lose vigor and vitality in the darkness of the Golus (Exile), whether external or internal. It is the Torah and Mitzvos (Ner Mitzvo v'Torah Or [a mitzva is a lamp and Torah is light]) that illuminate Jewish life and provide the strength and vitality to overcome all hindrances and constraints, enabling a Jew, man, woman and child, to live a bright and meaningful life even in the midst of outside darkness....

With esteem and blessing,

Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5734 [1974]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to receive your letter of January 10th... as well as the reports about your involvement with Lubavitch and Chabad teachings, etc.

All this is especially pertinent at this time of our Jewish calendar, the period between Chanukah and Yud (10th of) Shevat. Coming from Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which symbolizes the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth, we are reminded of the Chasidic emphasis on inspired joy and brightness which should permeate the life and activity of every Jew. Moreover, as in the case of light which is of immediate benefit not only to the one who lights it, but also to many others at the same time, so a Jew has to illuminate his personal life as well as his surroundings with the light of Torah and Mitzvoth. This is also emphasized by the special requirement that the Chanukah lights be seen outside, so as to illuminate those who might still be walking in darkness.

Similarly, Yud Shevat, the Yahrzeit of my father-in-law of saintly memory, brings to mind his dedicated efforts in the course of the last decade of his life in this country, to spread the principles and teachings of Chasidus...

Your joining this ever growing Chasidic family who have found a new meaning in life and, with it, peace and happiness, has a special significance in that you are a Kohen [priest], and also in that Divine Providence has given you a gift of song and melody. For this is a medium that directly communicates with the heart and the inner aspects of the soul, unlike prose which speaks to the intellect and only then can probe deeper. Through the medium of song and melody one can touch directly upon the heartstrings of the listener and inspire his inner soul, which is the reason why song and melody have such a prominent part in Chasidus in general, and in Chabad in particular.

In the light of the above, I extend to you both my prayerful wishes to utilize to the full the capacities and opportunities which G-d has given you in the above mentioned direction, and to do this in the Chabad way - with complete trust in G-d and with inspiration, and may G-d bless you with Hatzlocho to go from strength to strength in all above, in good health and with gladness of heart.

With esteem and with blessing for happy tidings in all above,

Rambam this week

21 Tevet 5761

Prohibition 1: believing in, or ascribing any deity to any but G-d

By this prohibition we are forbidden to believe in, or ascribe deity to, any but Him. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 20:3): "Thou shalt have no other gods beside Me."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

It is the sacred mission of every Jew - man, woman and child, old and young alike - to make the Redemption a reality. This holy task is incumbent on all of Israel, cutting across party lines and irrespective of external differences.

Every Jew has the innate power to bring the Redemption, for every good deed he does serves to diminish the sum total of evil in the world, as it states, "Little by little I will drive it out." Every positive action draws the Messianic era closer, when G-d will remove the "spirit of uncleanliness" from the earth.

This hidden power of every mitzva to hasten the Redemption can be learned from the very first commandment in the Torah, the mitzva to "be fruitful and multiply." In a discussion of this commandment, the Talmud states that "The son of David [Moshiach] will not come until there are no more souls in guf." "Guf," the Hebrew word for "body," refers to the supernal storehouse of souls from which they make their descent into the physical world to be invested in a corporeal body. Therefore, whenever a Jewish child is born, the world takes one step closer to Moshiach.

Our Sages described the month of Tevet as "the month when the body derives pleasure from the body." According to Chasidut, this means that during Tevet, G-d's Essence derives pleasure from the service of the Jewish people within the realm of physical reality.

Because the Torah's 613 mitzvot are really one united entity, every single mitzva, being a part of that entity, has the same power to bring us closer to the revelation of Moshiach. Just as the mitzva of "be fruitful and multiply" entails the soul's descent from a higher sphere and its revelation down below in the physical world, so too do all mitzvot uncover and reveal the Divine sparks that are hidden within physical reality and that exist within every Jew.

Thoughts that Count

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt (Gen. 47:28)

Our forefather Jacob is symbolic of the attribute of truth, as it states in the Book of Mica (7:20), "You will give truth to Jacob." For with the quality of truth, a person can survive even the worst of times and live through the direst of circumstances. (The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means narrow boundaries and limitations.)

(Chidushei HaRim)

As Rashi explains, this section of the Torah is "closed" (the customary space of nine letters between the end of the preceding section and this one is missing), "for when Jacob our father died, the eyes and hearts of Israel were closed because of the affliction of the bondage." Yet according to the Midrash, the enslavement of the Jews did not begin until after the heads of the Twelve Tribes passed away. How do we reconcile these two statements? The Jews' actual, physical slavery did not begin with Jacob's death, but it was then that their spiritual bondage started to take root. The inner truth of what was happening began to be concealed from their eyes and hearts - which is the main characteristic of exile.

(Sefat Emet)

Deal with me kindly and truly: do not bury me... in Egypt (Gen. 47:29)

One reason the mitzva of burying the dead is called a "kindness of truth" is that it is one of the few deeds a person can do that is completely good: It often happens that we think we're doing someone a favor, yet later it turns out to have been harmful, or something negative results from it. Nothing bad, however, can ever arise from giving a Jew a Jewish burial.

(Ohel Yaakov)

And now your two sons...Ephraim and Menashe, are as Reuven and Shimon (Gen. 48:5)

It is only "now," when the Jewish people will enter Israel for the first time after the Exodus from Egypt, that Ephraim and Menashe will each receive a separate portion of land. When Moshiach comes, however, they will both share in the single portion of Joseph.

(Meshech Chochma)

It Once Happened

The following story was related by the Bluzhover Rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael Spira, of blessed memory:

Every morning the Germans, may their name be erased, would bring us from the concentration camp to the factory, where we worked until late at night. The food they gave us was inadequate and barely edible. Many people became malnourished and found it difficult to stand. But the Germans were only interested in production, and woe to anyone who couldn't keep up.

Our lives were so irrational and absurd that they did not leave room for contemplation. Everyone just concentrated on surviving another day. In the mornings we wished it were the previous evening, and in the evenings we pined for the morning.

One day at work a woman, a forced laborer like myself, came over to where I stood. She walked very slowly and carefully so as not to draw the Germans' attention. I could see she was young, but in dreadful physical condition. The woman glanced around to make sure no one was watching; shirking off for even a moment was reason enough to be shot.

"Rebbe!" she whispered in my ear. The woman was clearly desperate. "Do you have knife?"

I grasped her meaning and understood the great responsibility that had been entrusted to me. "My daughter," I said to her, "do not harm yourself. I know that your life is harder to bear than death, but it is forbidden to abandon hope. Every moment we must pray to G-d for a better future."

The woman gave me a piercing look. "A knife, Rebbe," she said. "I need a knife and I need it quickly, before it's too late."

I could see that she was determined, yet I hoped to dissuade her. "Listen to me," I said more severely. "We are not allowed to take a life, even our own." With every word the woman's face grew more despairing. "G-d gives us life, and only He can take it from us."

"A knife!" the woman insisted. "That's all I ask of you - a knife!" She kept repeating the word as if it were a magical incantation.

At that moment a German soldier noticed us. The woman paled, and I feared for both our lives.

"What are you doing there, you cursed Jew?" the Nazi shouted at her. When she did not answer he turned to me. "What did she want from you?" he yelled. I, too, remained silent.

The woman suddenly spoke up. "I asked him for a knife."

The German seemed to find this very funny. He had seen many people put an end to their lives in the camp, but their suicides were usually accomplished by flinging themselves on the electrified fence. The thought of an inmate using a knife was a novel idea, and he burst out laughing.

"You want a knife?" he said maliciously, his face bright red from laughter. "No problem, I'll get you one."

I prayed that he would leave her alone and forget the whole thing, but the pleasure he anticipated was apparently too great to pass up. The soldier walked away, and a few minutes later returned with a medium-sized knife. Its blade looked very sharp.

My whole body trembled as the German handed her the knife. He was looking at her in amusement, as if waiting for the entertainment to begin. "Thank you," the woman said, and walked away.

Both of us followed her, albeit for different reasons. With every fiber of my being I dreaded what was coming next, whereas the German could hardly wait. The woman kept on walking till she reached a dim corner of the factory.

The woman bent down and picked up a small bundle covered with rags. At that moment I literally stopped breathing. The German was also watching her every move. Inside the bundle was a tiny baby. After tying a rag around his legs, she picked up the knife in her right hand and performed the rite that every mohel (ritual circumciser) carries out on every Jewish baby boy.

When she had finished she wrapped the baby back up as best she could, but I could see that her hands were shaking. Clutching the baby to her chest she cried out, "Master of the Universe! Eight days ago You gave me a son, and today is the day of his brit mila. I know that neither of us will live very long in this accursed place. But at least I want him to return to You, whenever You will decide, as a circumcised Jew..."

The woman then placed the baby back in the corner. Her eyes were filled with tears, but she looked much calmer, a lot less agitated. In fact, there was something in her expression that suggested joy, perhaps even triumph...

"Here is your knife. I thank you," she said, handing it back to the German. The soldier merely took it and walked away.

Moshiach Matters

Now is the time for the very last refinements of this exile. In a period such as this, our reason might mistakenly tell us that certain aspects of this world appear to be far removed from any chance of being refined and elevated. By way of analogy: It is during the final stages of cooking that a pot boils most vigorously, so that the very dregs of its contents are thrust up to the surface. This is what is happening in these times of intensive refinement. Things that we previously considered to be beyond restitution may now well prove to be very close to their refinement, for in such times the refining process does not follow the usual patterns of orderly progression.

(Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch)

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