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Devarim Deutronomy

January 11, 2002 - 27 Tevet, 5762

702: Vaera

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I'll Be Home - G-d Willing  |  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

I'll Be Home - G-d Willing

We continue to try to make sense of 9/11, its impact on our lives and what each one of us, in our own small way, can do to counteract such evil with goodness and light. The following article, by Rabbi Moshe Feller, offers a simple suggestion.

"If a few heinous acts of callous destruction perpetrated in a small space of time by a small band of 'spiritual' villains could so horrendously affect the entire world, how much greater could be the blessed effect upon the entire world of a campaign to heighten the G-d- consciousness of our country, energetically undertaken by a small group of spiritual heroes."

This was the message (based on a Talmudic dictum) I delivered to about a dozen clergypersons of various denominations who were assembled at Chelsea Piers in lower Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon, September 12, to provide spiritual counsel to the relatives of the victims of the dastardly terror attack of the previous day.

A student of mine, a nurse who was working near Ground Zero, had heard that I was "stuck in New York." She had called and urged me to come to Chelsea Piers, a large entertainment and sports facility in lower Manhattan that had been converted to a crisis center to handle victims of the September 11 tragedy. Our Lubavitch delegation of three rabbis and a psychologist made it to Chelsea Piers, where our mission would be to counsel distraught relatives frantically searching for their loved ones. Volunteers ushered us to an area where the clergypersons were waiting to be assigned to their counseling duties.

I took advantage of the waiting time to deliver the aforementioned message, which I followed up with a practical suggestion to this small group of spiritual heroes: "We must respond to the current situation by bringing a heightened G-d consciousness to our constituents in a very practical way. We can do this by getting them to say 'G-d willing' every time they announce what they are going to do at a given time in the future-in an hour, in a day, in a month."

How many millions of appointments made on Monday, September 10, were abruptly cancelled by the tragedies of September 11? How many "meet you for lunch tomorrow," or "see you at my office tomorrow," or "I'm flying home tomorrow," concluded with "G-d willing," the verbalization of our dependence on Divine personal providence?

Let us start a chain reaction to get this simple truism into the daily pronouncements of the citizens of our great country and the world. Doing so could bring healing, and the simple verbal acknowledgement of our dependence on G-d will evoke a heightened level of G-d's blessings and protection for our country.

Incidentally, I called my wife from Chelsea Piers and told her that, G-d willing, I would get home in time for Shabbat. G-d was willing and I got home for Shabbat via a pleasant 27-hour trip on a bus!

Rabbi Moshe Feller is the director of Upper Midwest Chabad-Lubavitch, S. Paul, Minnesota.

Living with the Rebbe

One of the reasons the Exodus from Egypt is central in Judaism (to the point that we mention it every day in our prayers) is that aside from its historical significance, it represents an ongoing spiritual process on the individual level. "Mitzrayim," the Hebrew for Egypt, is derived from the word meaning straits or limitations. "Going out of Egypt" connotes freeing oneself from anything that prevents spiritual progress, for the purpose of allowing the G-dly soul to fully express itself.

This week's Torah portion, Va'eira, describes the very beginning of the Exodus from Egypt. It thus teaches us the "first step" on the road to true spiritual liberation.

The first of the Ten Plagues was the plague of blood, in which all the water in Egypt was transformed into blood. Similarly, on the individual level, in order to free ourselves of spiritual constraints, we must also seek to turn "water" into "blood."

Water is symbolic of coldness, stillness and lack of enthusiasm. By contrast, blood is symbolic of warmth, fervor and fiery passion. If you really want to "go out of Egypt," the Torah tells us, to overcome the fetters that restrict the soul, the first thing to do is abandon your apathy ("water") and replace it with warmth and enthusiasm ("blood").

A person might claim that it is possible to be a "good Jew" even if he is not particularly enthusiastic about Jewish observance. "I already do mitzvot," he might say. "Why should I get all excited over it?"

However, the Torah teaches that coldness is the source of all evil. The true meaning of coldness is lack of interest, as demonstrated by the fact that when something truly interests us and "speaks to the heart," it is impossible to remain apathetic. If a person is "cold" toward Judaism, his actions will be dry and done by rote, even if they are technically flawless.

The key to liberating the Jewish soul, therefore, lies changing one's approach, banishing the cold and "turning up the thermostat" - learning Torah, doing mitzvot, praying, and serving G-d with eagerness and joy.

One practical way to implement this is by performing the mitzvot in the most beautiful manner possible. If a Jew's attitude is "chilly," he will be satisfied with the bare minimum. If, however, he is enthusiastic about his Divine service, he will try to observe mitzvot to the best of his ability, as he will be motivated by willingness and love rather than aiming for minimal compliance.

This, then, is the first step toward "going out of Egypt" on the individual level, which will ultimately culminate in macrocosm in the Final Redemption with Moshiach.

Adapted from Volume 1 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

What's a Nice Jewish Boy Like You...
By Yehudis Cohen

Every weekday morning, Dmitriy Salita makes his way to Chabad of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York. He puts on tefilin, says the morning prayers, banters a little with the other congregants, and then goes to a local gym to train.

What makes Dmitriy different from the other worshippers at this shul, is that this 19-year-old is a boxer by profession. In his last match before turning pro last year, he won the Golden Gloves Tournament for his weight class and was presented with the Sugar Ray Robinson Award for outstanding amateur boxers.

"My match had generated a lot of media attention and hype," begins Dmitriy. "Aside from the fact that I am Jewish, I was up against the Golden Glove winner from the year before. Usually they put the big fights on Friday nights but they honored my request to schedule it on Thursday night."

It wasn't always so easy for Dmitriy to ask for matches not to be scheduled on Shabbat and to have those requests honored, though.

In fact, he didn't represent the U.S. at the Amateur World Championship last year in Budapest because he knew his match would be on Shabbat. "It was tough. This was my big opportunity. I'd been working toward this point my entire career, but I couldn't disrespect myself and my religion.

Dmitriy was born in Odessa, Ukraine. "We didn't know much about religion; it was very suppressed in the U.S.S.R. Whatever we knew we kept, like not eating pork. Every year on Yom Kippur, I went with my grandmother to shul."

When he was about seven years old, kids in school would pick on him, sometimes because he was Jewish, "sometimes just because I wasn't strong. My dad suggested karate school and I really enjoyed it."

When Dmitriy was nine years old, his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. His big brother saw his potential and encouraged him to switch to boxing. "At first, my parents didn't take it too seriously. Every mother, especially a Jewish Russian mother, doesn't want her son boxing." But they saw his commitment when he started getting up at 6 a.m. every morning to run, would come home from school, do his homework, go to the gym, more homework and bed.

At age 13, his first fight was a Silver Glove com-petition. "I beat a kid with 20 fights under his belt. After that I began to be recognized in boxing circles."

When Dmitriy was 16 years old, his mother was hospitalized. The other woman in the hospital room was a Lubavitcher Chasid. While visiting, her husband had questioned his boxing career. "Boxing isn't for a nice Jewish boy," he had said. They argued for a while. The next day he apologized, "You're going to make it. I can see you're determined.' "

The man connected Dmitriy with the Chabad House near home. "My mother was very happy when I started becoming involved in the Chabad House. At Chabad, no one forces anything on anybody. They just give you the opportunity and let you know what's available." With a chuckle Dmitriy adds, "They put the gloves on your hands... and if you want to hit the evil inclination, they help you..."

Dmitriy slowly started observing Shabbat, but the summer of 2000 was his giant leap. "Before every tournament I would ask Rabbi Zalman Liberow, director of the Chabad House, for a 'blessing.' Before the 2000 U.S. Amateur Championship, he suggested that I write to the Rebbe for a blessing. I put my letter randomly into a volume of the Rebbe's letters."

Dmitriy pauses and then laughs as he recalls what happened next. "Zalman's beard is red, but his face turned even redder when he read the letter that I had turned to. 'This is a very direct answer,' Zalman began seriously. 'The Rebbe writes to an educator, "You have a lot of success in what you are doing and you can influence a lot of people, but you have to not practice on Shabbat.' "

Rabbi Liberow paused to let the message sink in and said, "Tell them you won't compete on Shabbat."

Dmitriy remembers his confusion. "All the tournaments are scheduled for Saturday. I wasn't a name yet. Who was I to say when I wouldn't fight?"

"Listen, I know it's going to be hard," Rabbi Liberow consoled him, "but tell them you're not going to fight if the match is on Shabbat. Trust me."

The preliminary matches weren't on Shabbat, but Dmitriy was confident that he would make it further. He told the team trainer that if, G-d willing, he got to the finals, he wouldn't be able to compete because it would be on Shabbat. The trainer told Dmitriy that if he didn't fight he'd be disqualified.

Dmitriy went ahead anyway. "I had faith that things would work out. I surprised the boxing community and won my first two fights, one against a world champion who the newspapers said was the future star of boxing. My next fight, the finals, would put me against a seven-time national champion but I told a reporter that I wouldn't compete if the match takes place before sundown on Saturday. The reporter got the organizers to change the schedule so that my weight class would be after sundown!"

That Shabbat, Dmitriy prayed in his hotel room. "My opponent was known as an intimidator, a 'damager,' but when I got into the ring, I stared straight at him and he looked away. I won 16-11. The newspapers wrote about my Shabbat observance."

Dmitriy finds parallels in boxing and Judaism. "Both recognize the importance of strength of will and determination. Keeping kosher demands discipline. A boxer has to be strict and eat right in order to make weight. When you are praying, you are supposed to block everything out and concentrate. In boxing too, you have to block everything out, otherwise you'll lose the match."

After winning the Golden Gloves award, Dmitriy signed a professional contract which contains a clause that he will not compete on Shabbat or any Jewish holiday.

Dmitriy's professional goals are to be a Hall of Fame boxer and a world champion. And, Dmitriy adds, "I'm hoping to make a lot of money so I can continue supporting Zalman's Chabad House. I am determined to continue growing in my Jewish observance as well. I am so sure that it's Divine Providence that I'm still boxing. Everybody has his own path, something that he's good at. If we were all the same, what would the challenge be? G-d gave me this talent and I love it, and I hope that people respect it even if they don't support it."

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The Rebbe Writes

29th of Teves, Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5734 [1974]

Greeting and Blessing:

I am writing to you in English this time, in order to give you an opportunity to convey the contents of this letter to a wider circle of friends, without the necessity to pour it from one vessel into another. Moreover, this is a case where the important thing is the content, and consideration must be given to the avoidance of language limitations, so as to make it accessible to all.

We are now about to pass from the month of Teves, which begins with the latter days of Chanukah, and enter into the month of Shevat, which for us has a special highlight in the Yahrzeit [anniversary of the passing] of my father-in-law of saintly memory on the 10th of this month. And, as has often been emphasized, every commemoration in Jewish life and every observance dictated by Torah or Jewish custom, has for its main purpose to give the Jew an opportunity to relive and experience in a personal way the events or matters remembered or commemorated.

In light of the above, first of all, I want to express to you my sincere appreciation of your activities in connection with our Operation Chanukah, to illuminate as many Jews as possible with the light of Torah and Mitzvoth, as symbolized by the Chanukah lights, which have the special requirement to be seen also outside.

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. I hope and pray that the benefits which you brought to many, and the effects of which you have already seen, should continue in a growing measure, also in keeping with the message of the Chanukah lights, which are kindled in growing numbers from day to day, as has often been emphasized before.

And from Chanukah to Yud ["10th of] Shevat, which brings to mind my father-in-law's dedicated efforts in the course of the last decade of his life in this country, to spread the principles and teachings of Chasidus to many who were "outside."

Thus, many "outsiders" became "insiders," whose lives were brightly illuminated with the light, vitality and warmth of Chasidus, and who in turn became "shining lights" illuminating others.

In accordance with the saying of our Sages, "He who has 100 desires 200, and having gained 200, desires 400," may the Hatzlocho [success] of the past serve as an ever-growing stimulus for even greater accomplishments in the future in all the above matters and activities.

With blessing,

P.S. Inasmuch as we do not have the names and addresses of all those who joined with you in the said Chanukah Campaign, please convey to each and all of them the contents of this letter, or perhaps even a copy of this letter, if possible.

Rambam this week

28 Tevet 5762

Positive mitzva 15: the mezuza

By this injunction we are commanded to make a mezuza (a scroll of parchment on which two Torah portions are written and which is fastened to the right-hand doorpost). It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 6:9): "And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the month of Shevat, which begins on Monday. As related in Deuteronomy, on the first day of Shevat, in the 40th year after the Exodus from Egypt, Moses began to explain the fifth Book of the Torah to the Jewish people. (He concluded on the 7th day of Adar, the same day he passed away).

The beginning of Deuteronomy relates how Moses rebuked the Jews for their sins, including the Golden Calf and the sin of the Twelve Spies. However, Moses did not specify any particular transgressions, but only alluded to their sins. Moses inspired the Jews to return to the right path through his constructive criticism. From this we learn a great lesson: Whenever discipline is necessary, love and kindness are much more effective than humiliation and embarrassment.

The name "Shevat" itself relates to the Hebrew word "shevet," meaning staff, which is associated with the concept of authority and kingship, as the Torah states, "The staff will not depart from Judah." The most perfect expression of this idea will be manifested in the era of the Redemption, when Moshiach will become the sovereign king. Indeed, on the verse "And a shevet will arise in Israel," Maimonides explains, "This refers to King Moshiach."

The word "shevet" also means "branch" or "shoot." In this context, there is also a connection to Moshiach. On the verse "A shoot will emerge from the stem of Jesse" (a famous prophecy about the coming of Moshiach), the Torah commentator Metzudat David explains that this also refers to King Moshiach.

As we begin this month so closely associated with Moshiach, let us hope and pray that all our efforts to learn Torah, observe mitzvot and spread awareness of the Rebbe's message of Moshiach's imminent arrival, bring about the ultimate Redemption without delay.

Thoughts that Count

And you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d, Who brings you out (Ex. 6:7)

The Holy One, Blessed Be He, promised the Jewish people that not only would He take them out of Egypt, but also that they would know it was He Who had redeemed them; the redemption itself would serve to deepen their understanding and faith in G-d. Indeed, this is the purpose of all redemptions and salvations: that through them we come to recognize the true Redeemer and Savior.

(Sefat Emet)

And she bore him Aaron and Moses (Ex. 6:20)

The Torah specifically tells us that Moses and Aaron were born like any other mortals, to "regular" human parents; the fact that they became prophets and leaders of the Jewish nation was due to their own actions and choices, not because they descended from on high like celestial angels. From this we learn that every individual, through his own efforts and free will, can reach even the highest spiritual levels - even as lofty as Moses and Aaron.

(Ma'ayana Shel Torah)

And the magicians did likewise with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt (Ex. 8:3)

Unlike the frogs brought forth by Moses and Aaron that jumped into the Egyptians' homes, beds, kneading troughs and even ovens, the frogs produced by the magicians merely dispersed throughout the country. For without a specific G-dly command, there was no need for them to sacrifice their lives.

(Be'er Mayim Chaim)

And the L-rd sent thunder and hail, and fire came down upon the earth (Ex. 9:23)

According to natural law, lightening is perceived before thunder, even though they occur simultaneously. (Our sense of sight is faster than our sense of hearing; by the time the sound reaches our ears, our eyes have already absorbed and processed the lightening.) However, these laws of nature were altered during the plague of hail, and the Egyptians saw and heard the lightening and thunder at the same time. The reason is that Moses had told the Egyptians beforehand exactly when the plague would begin; had there been a lapse between the visual and auditory components, the Egyptians could have claimed that he hadn't been precise.


It Once Happened

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro, a student of the Baal Shem Tov and early Chasidic leader who lived from 1726-1791) had two grandsons who were informed upon to the government for publishing Jewish books. Everything that could be done to prove that the charges against them were baseless was attempted. After much effort by the Jewish community, the government agreed that if three prominent Jewish leaders would attest to their innocence, the publishers would be allowed to go free.

Of course, the choice of rabbis to be selected was entirely in the hands of the authorities. One of those chosen was Reb Refael of Bursar, whom everyone called "Reb Refael der emeser" ("the truthful") because of his strict adherence to the truth. Reb Refael was the type of person who, if he had just come in from out of doors and was asked if it was raining, would say, "It was raining when I was outside," just in case it had already stopped.

Reb Refael was a very, very old man by this time. In his youth, the Baal Shem Tov had given him a blessing for long life. When Reb Refael was approached by the officials and told that he was expected to testify on behalf of the publishers he was faced with a dilemma: Even knowing that the brothers' very lives were at stake, how could be bring himself to testify on behalf of people whom he had not personally met? Reb Refael realized that the entire case was false and that the publishers had been accused of trumped-up charges, but on the other hand, it would be difficult for him to attest to something he did not know without absolute certainty.

Though Reb Refael agreed to testify, his inner battle continued. The day before he was due in court he broke down and cried out to G-d, "Master of the Universe! In my entire life I have never uttered a statement about which I was not absolutely sure. I beg You, with my entire being, to withdraw Your blessing of longevity, that I may be prevented from bearing witness about something I did not see with my own eyes!"

Reb Refael's request was granted, and he passed away that very day. The following day, upon learning that one of the three character witnesses had died, the authorities summarily sentenced the brothers to flogging and incarceration. (Much later, after they were eventually exonerated, the government adopted a more conciliatory tone and sent the brothers home with much fanfare.)

In those days, punishment was administered by forcing the unfortunate individual to "run the gantlet," passing between two rows of heavily armed soldiers. Totally naked, a shower of lashes would rain down as he walked through. On the day the two brothers were to be punished an order was suddenly issued to change the guard. Those who had been on duty were replaced (the government feared that they might have been bribed to deliver lighter blows; indeed, they had been). Subsequently, the flogging was severe. The two brothers were allowed to keep only their yarmulkes on.

Naturally, the faster one ran, the fewer blows were received and the lighter the punishment. Yet when one brother's yarmulke fell to the ground he bent down to retrieve it, so as not to take even one step bareheaded, oblivious to the pain.

During their imprisonment, the brothers spent much of their time praying and reciting Psalms. One of their fellow inmates was an apostate Jew, who hated his former co-religionists with a passion. Familiar with Jewish law, he deliberately urinated in their cell so they would be forbidden to pronounce the holy words in the presence of such filth.

Reb Pinchas' grandsons were disheartened. Now even praying to G-d would be denied them. Suddenly, one of them turned to the other and said, "There is no reason for us to be depressed. Not at all! Let us rejoice in the fact that we are Jews. Without uttering a word we may still fulfill the will of our Creator. We must therefore be happy!" The two brothers then began to dance, grateful to G-d for being Jewish despite their squalid conditions.

Moshiach Matters

The Holy One, Blessed is He, said: "In the present world [only] certain individuals prophesied; in the world to come, however, all Israel will be made prophets, as it is said, 'It shall come to pass afterwards that I shall pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy...' "

(Tanchuma, Beha'alotcha)

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