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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

January 26, 2007 - 7 Shevat, 5767

955: Bo

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

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  954: Vaera956: Beshalach  

Selfless Vision  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count  |  It Once Happened
Moshiach Matters

Selfless Vision

What makes a leader? A general survey would probably yield characteristics such as: ideas, charisma, determination, focus, inspiration, and a few more.

Yet we can find each of these in people we wouldn't necessarily consider a leader. For instance, lots of people have ideas, many of them quite good. Scientists, artists, technicians - even the plumber and electrician have ideas. But ideas alone don't make them leaders.

OK. Charisma, then. A leader must be able to charm others, to convince them that he or she is worth following, to associate with him or her. Charisma is defined as attractiveness, charm, the ability to influence others. And certainly a leader must have charisma. But charisma alone does not make a leader. Popularity and leadership aren't the same thing.

We can make the same observation about the other characteristics. Leaders are determined, but so is anyone who focuses on a goal. A student preparing for a test, for example, is focused, determined - but not a leader.

In fact, let us admit that a leader must have, in some measure, all the characteristics listed above, and whatever other synonyms you choose. But while necessary, these are not sufficient. They are not, singly or in combination, the defining characteristic of a leader.

If we look at the paradigmatic leader of the Jewish people, we see what, above all else, defines a leader. Moses is described as the most humble. And yet when confronting Pharaoh, or any of the rebellious pretenders, or confronting the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses hardly appears to be very humble. If anything, he asserts his authority without hesitation. And when arguing with G-d, whether about his mission or the fate of the Jewish people, he does not meekly accept G-d's decree, but protests and debates. That hardly seems the attitude of a humble man.

How do we reconcile these opposites - the humility and authoritativeness of Moses? By understanding that a leader must possess, above all else, a selfless vision.

That is, the leader must guide, inspire, teach - lead - toward a goal. But that goal must not be his goal. Rather, it must be the goal, often unrecognized, of those he leads. He must see beyond himself, and see himself as transparent, a conduit, a channel, a connection between what he sees - the vision not yet visible to others - and those whom he leads.

To put this paradoxically: He must see in such a way that others see themselves - their potential, their strength, their spiritual purpose - not in him, but through him.

Such was the leadership of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. And such is the leadership of the Rebbe. There are hundreds of hours of recorded interviews with the Rebbe; people from all walks of life, all levels of observance, and even non-Jews, spent sometimes just a few moments with the Rebbe. And when asked afterwards about their encounters, the universal response, expressed in many different way of course, amounted to this: he believed in me and let me see myself that I might believe in me.

In other words, the Rebbe's leadership is not, ultimately, about the Rebbe. It is about the spiritual potential of every human being, of lighting that spark and letting it shine. For if the leader occludes or obscures the Divine spark within, in a way it negates the inspiration, the very lighting of that spark.

Leadership is a vision, a vision of what other others can accomplish, of the spiritual value of others, of their ability to transform the world into a dwelling place for G-dliness.

True leadership is a selfless vision.

Living with the Rebbe

The very first Passover offering, described in this week's Torah portion, Bo, differed from those that would be offered by future generations in one important respect. That year, and that year only, the Jewish people were commanded to procure the Pascal lamb on the 10th of the month of Nisan - four days before it was to be slaughtered - and to keep it in their homes until the 14th day of the month.

Rashi, the great Torah commentator, cites the following explanation. "G-d said, 'The time has come for Me to fulfill My promise to Abraham to redeem his children.' But the Jews had no mitzvot (commandments) in whose merit they deserved to be redeemed... He therefore gave them two commandments - the Passover offering and the mitzva of circumcision (which the Jews, in their suffering and degradation, had ceased to observe)."

Why was it necessary for G-d to give the Jews two mitzvot at that time in history? Why wouldn't one have sufficed to provide them with the merit they needed to be redeemed? If one was not enough, why only two and not more? And, what is the connection between all this and the commandment to keep the Passover lamb in the house for four days?

The explanation lies in the fact that these two mitzvot were given to the Children of Israel to correct two specific flaws from which they then suffered. After more than two hundred years of slavery, not only were they bereft of mitzvot, but the Jewish people had become contaminated by the paganism of the Egyptians. The opportunity to observe the fundamental mitzva of circumcision addressed the first problem; the Passover offering then severed the Jewish people from the idol worship into which they had fallen.

To the ancient Egyptians the lamb was a sacred deity. When the Jews brazenly sacrificed the Pascal lamb they thereby showed their contempt for the dominant Egyptian culture and mores. But in order for the break with paganism to be internalized and complete, more than a one-time action was necessary. G-d gave the Jews an extra four days of preparation to afford them the time to reflect upon the great significance their deed truly held.

Today, our own historical era closely parallels the period just prior to the exodus from Egypt, for we stand on the very threshold of Moshiach and the Final Redemption. The necessity to "clothe ourselves in mitzvot" exists now as before, for indeed, when Moshiach comes, every single Jew will be personally redeemed from the long and bitter exile.

It is therefore incumbent upon us to take positive steps in both directions - encouraging more and more Jews to observe practical mitzvot to increase our collective merit, and, at the same time, transforming the "idol worship" of our own era - the modern obsession with money, career advancement and power - into a channel for bringing G-dliness and the light of Torah into the world. In this manner we will be truly ready to greet Moshiach, speedily in our day.

Adapted from Likutei Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 16

A Slice of Life

by Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick

I am somewhat of a skeptic regarding many of the myriad of "miracle" stories that go around that are usually third or fourth hand or otherwise unverifiable. Yet I must share the following that was told to me this past Yom Kippur:

A respected member of our congregation named I.B. came up to me during the break in the services and said he needed to tell me something that recently happened to him in Israel when he went to his grand-daughter's wedding.

The morning of the wedding he went to the Western Wall with members of the wedding party. While there he put on tefilin at the Chabad table and got those with him to do so as well.

Later that evening at the wedding, I.B. suddenly felt unwell and when they gave him some water to drink he couldn't swallow it and then he was unable to even hold the glass and it dropped from his hand. His daughter (the mother of the bride) is a doctor and after quickly examining his symptoms she immediately told him that he was having a stroke. They rushed him to hospital where he was indeed diagnosed with a stroke and by that time he was totally paralyzed on one side and was unable to talk. They gave him various medications and hooked him up to all sorts of machines. Eventually he fell asleep.

While asleep, I.B. dreamt that a Rabbi came to see him. He recognized from the pictures that he had seen that it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe asked him if he had put on tefilin that day and he answered eagerly that he had put them on with the Rebbe's Chasidim at the Wall. The Rebbe asked him to show him - so he pulled up his sleeve and the marks from the straps were clearly there. The Rebbe's face lit up with a huge smile and he put his hand on the man's arm and said "Zeit gezunt (be well)" and then walked off.

I.B. woke up the next morning and to the astonishment of the doctors and his family he was able to move and talk without any problem whatsoever.

The story had happened just the week before and he was the picture of perfect health that day in shul. The look on his face and his whole demeanor when he told me the story all added to the impression that this had been a very real and meaningful experience for him.

Rabbi Gutnick is Rav of the Elwood Talmud Torah Congregation in Melbourne, Australia, President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, Senior Dayan of the Melbourne Beth Din and Rabbinic Administrator of Kosher Australia.

by Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky

A few years ago, a young man I knew was being tried for an offense for which sentencing could range from 5-20 years.

I advised the young man to increase in the observance of mitzvot (commandments) especially that of tefilin. We checked and upgraded his mezuzot, gave him a tzedaka (charity) box so he could start giving charity each day and we instructed him to recite Psalms. He meticulously began to observe these mitzvot. The trial was to take place in New York.

When his family contacted me, I encouraged them to go to the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his father-in-law the Previous Rebbe to pray and ask for a blessing. They were very hesitant for they had never done such a thing before. "But Rabbi, you don't expect us to..." I continued to urge them to pray at this holy site, insisting that the Rebbe will surely pray on their behalf.

A week later, the young man's mother called me and she was ecstatic. "I went to the Ohel and poured out my heart and asked for a miracle. When I put my hand on the stone at the Ohel I felt that the Rebbe was giving me his blessings.

"At the trial the judge said: 'Seeing the positive support and efforts of his family and his rabbis has influenced me to sentence the accused to probation only. Keep up the positive change.' As we left the courthouse, a vehicle pulled up in front of us with car license plates that read 'A MIRACLE. "

The mother ended the conversation, saying "I think the Rebbe answered."

Rabbi Levitansky, an emissary of the Rebbe, is the director of Chabad of S. Monica, California.

My relationship with the Rebbe has been an elliptical orbit: sometimes nearer, sometimes farther, but somehow always magnetically drawn to the focal point. I will forever remain unapologetically prejudiced toward the Rebbe, not so much for his global influence as for my personal encounter with him.

I became momentarily privy to the Rebbe's inner circle through my friendship with Rabbi Yossi Groner, the Lubavitch emissary to North Carolina, son of Rabbi Leibl Groner, the Rebbe's secretary.

My encounter with the Rebbe came just months after the demise of my second marriage and the disgraced undoing of my rabbinical career had plunged me into a black hole of depression and despondency. Accompanied by Rabbis Groner junior and senior, my meeting with the Rebbe lasted a scant half-minute.

"Sometimes," the Rebbe counseled me in Yiddish, "a devoted layperson can do incalculably more good than a rabbi. You should teach something, perhaps Talmud, even if it is to one or two people in your living room.

"They say," the Rebbe went on, "that you were once a student of Reb Aharon Soloveichik," invoking the name of the yeshiva lecturer with whom I had had an acrimonious parting two decades earlier. How he knew, I do not know.

"I am making a gift to charity in the hope that you make peace with him."

However inspired I might have been at the moment, a year passed, and I did not take action on the Rebbe's counsel. It was, all told, a dismal, dark year, full of sickness and grief and self-recrimination. Traveling to New York, I again found myself a guest at the Groners' Sabbath table.

"Have you been teaching?" Rabbi Groner prodded.

"Er, uh, it hasn't been feasible." I squirmed.

"The Rebbe said," he admonished.


"No but's. The Rebbe said!"

How could I do this? Where? When? I had not a clue. But the Rebbe said.

Confused and disconcerted, at Sabbath's end I retrieved the messages from my answering machine. As G-d is my witness, there was the voice of a long-forgotten colleague, a rabbi in suburban Atlanta: "Marc, I've been thinking all Sabbath long. It's a pity you're back in town and not teaching. Would you consider teaching a class, say in Talmud, for my congregation?"

Let the cynics snicker. These are days of miracles and wonders. I mark the first moment of my gradual restoration to sanity and self-respect from that wondrous Sabbath in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. And I will forever attribute the first step of that restoration to one man who, with unfathomable intuition and faith in humanity, made a selfless, precise therapeutic intervention in my spirit, and demanded neither my soul nor my bank book as recompense: Make peace with yourself. Put aside anger. Reconcile with your neighbor.

Marc Howard Wilson is a rabbi, essayist and consultant in organizational development, community relations and communications.

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The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated and adapted
3 Tammuz, 5710 [1950]

Many people seek to pinpoint and characterize the virtues and preeminence of each of the Rebbes of Chabad, and in particular of the Nasi of our generation - my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz] - in various terms: a man of self-sacrifice, a gaon (a great scholar), a man of exemplary character traits, a tzaddik (a righteous individual), an individual endowed with divine inspiration, an individual accustomed to miracles, and so on.

When one considers how the teachings of Chassidus define what self-sacrifice really means, what being a gaon really means, and so on, these are indeed extremely laudatory terms.

Nevertheless, the essential point is missing here. Apart from its being the essence per se, it is especially important because of the way it vitally affects us in particular, the community of those who are his chassidim and who are bound to him. That essential point is - the fact that he is the Nasi, and the Nasi of Chabad.

For a Nasi by definition is referred to as the head of the multitudes of Israel; in relation to them he is the "head" and "brain"; their nurture and life-force reach them through him; and by cleaving to him they are bound and united with their Source in the Supernal worlds.

Nesi'im vary: from some Nesi'im, the flow of energy is implanted within the spiritual psyche of the recipients; from others, the flow of energy is diffused indirectly and transcendentally. These differences may be further subdivided: some Nesi'im endow their recipients with insights into the revealed plane of the Torah, some endow their recipients with insights into the mystical plane of the Torah, and some do both together; some instruct their followers in the paths of avodah (Divine service) and Chassidus; some direct material benefactions to their followers; and so on.

In addition, there are Nesi'im who comprise several of these attributes, or even all of them.

This quality has characterized the leadership of the Nesi'im of Chabad from the very beginning, from the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism), up to and including my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz]. Their benefactions incorporated all the above attributes: they were beamed both inwardly and transcendentally; they included instruction in Torah, in avodah and in the practice of good deeds; and they comprised blessings both spiritual and material. Consequently, the Nesi'im of Chabad have been bound with all 613 organs of the soul and body of those who were connected with them.

Every single one of us must know - i.e., must think deeply and fix his thought on this - that the Rebbe [Rayatz] is indeed the Nasi and the head; from him and through him are directed all material and spiritual benefactions; and by being bound to him (in his letters he has taught us how this is accomplished) we are bound and united with the spiritual root, with the ultimate Supernal spiritual root.

Reprinted from Proceeding together, Translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, published by Sichos In English

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

"You ask how you can be bound to me when I do not know you personally... the true bond is created by studying Torah. When you study my discourses, read the talks and associate with those dear to me... and you fulfill my request... in this is the bond."

This coming week, on 10 Shevat (Monday, January 29 this year), we commemorate the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. The above lines were written by the Previous Rebbe in response to the question of how to become bound with him.

The tenth of Shevat is also the anniversary of the Rebbe's acceptance of leadership. How do we maintain and enhance our connection with the leader of our generation? By studying his talks and by following his directives.

In a talk in 5746 (1986) the Rebbe said: "Every single Jew must perform his Divine service in a manner similar to and befitting the days of Moshiach and the subsequent era of the Resurrection of the Dead. This is exhibited first and foremost through faith, anticipation and knowledge that supernatural events will occur in the days of Moshiach, namely, the Resurrection of the Dead....

"Belief in these concepts must be with certainty, and must be as unshakably firm as the belief in the Ten Commandments. Obviously the belief in the Resurrection of the Dead requires that same degree of certainty and anticipation. This must be emphasized so much more in our present generation, when many Messianic signs are unfolding.

"These constitute a clear indication that Moshiach is already present in the world. Moreover, he is already a prominent Jewish leader, 'a king from the House of David, deeply absorbed in the study of Torah,' etc. Therefore, in our present generation, great emphasis must be placed on belief in the coming of Moshiach and anything which relates to it."

The Redemption will be an era of international, communal and personal peace, a time of health and wellness, a time of knowledge and bounty. In these last moments before the true and complete Redemption, may we fill our time with only good - the good of Torah and mitzvot (commandments); with study of the Rebbe's teachings (especially those relating to Moshiach and the Redemption as the Rebbe emphasized numerous times the importance of such study in preparing ourselves for the Messianic Era); and with fulfilling all of the Rebbe's directives, until the time that we are reunited with the Rebbe once again and all of our loved ones.

Thoughts that Count

Remember this day, on which you went out from Egypt (Ex. 13:3)

Why is the Exodus from Egypt so central to Judaism, considering that the Jewish people were later subjugated to other nations at other times in history? The answer is that the Exodus forever changed the nature of the Jew's soul. By virtue of the Exodus, every Jew became "free" on the ultimate, objective level, making it impossible to enslave his essence.

(The Maharal of Prague)

How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? (Ex. 10:3)

The nature of a Jew is such that even when he isn't submissive before G-d, his own lack of submission distresses him. In his heart of hearts, the Jew desires to be nullified before Him. Pharaoh, by contrast, was proud of his arrogance and not at all ashamed of it.

(Sefat Emet)

This month shall be to you the first of months (Ex. 12:2)

During the Sanctification of the New Moon we say, "David, King of Israel, is living and enduring." The rule of the House of David is likened to the moon: In the same way that the moon seems to disappear from the sky, yet everyone has faith in its eventual reappearance, so too will the Davidic dynasty ultimately be restored with the coming of Moshiach.


It Once Happened

The leadership of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, was epitomized by mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice, on behalf of world Jewry and Judaism. His successor and son-in-law, the Rebbe, explained that in the 30 years of the Previous Rebbe's leadership, there were three distinct stages of self-sacrifice. The first decade, when the Previous Rebbe demanded self-sacrifice not only of himself, but of his Chasidim, was the most difficult stage. In those days, self-sacrifice meant literally being willing to give up one's life for the strengthening and the continuation of Judaism. A number of times the Previous Rebbe even made covenants or "pacts" with select Chasidim that they would carry out the missions he had given to them, "until the last drop of blood." The Previous Rebbe would send his Chasidim on missions, knowing that most likely they would be punished, or exiled or even worse. And when a chasid who had been sent on a mission by the Rebbe was caught, the very next day there was a chasid ready to replace him and continue the mission.

The Previous Rebbe's yartzeit (anniversary of passing) is Yud Shevat, a day when it is appropriate to find even a small area that we can have self-sacrifice on behalf of Judaism or on behalf of another Jew. Perhaps a story of a chasid of the Previous Rebbe will surely give us food for thought.

"The last time I saw my father, Rabbi Aron Leib Laine," remembers Reb Michel Raskin, "was when I was 11 years old. He was a mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) Jew, an intense chasid of the Previous Rebbe."

Rabbi Laine died of starvation at the age of 35, trapped in Leningrad by the war. He had already sent his family away to be safe, expecting to join them in a little while. Only years later did his family find out the exact date of his passing: the tenth of Shevat, the same date that over a decade later his Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn would pass on.

A sharp, charismatic, handsome man with a heart as big as his body, Rabbi Laine had traveled to Leningrad to help a friend with a problem he was having in his factory. For Rabbi Laine, traveling anywhere was extremely dangerous. As a devout chasid, Rabbi Laine refused to shave his beard. Nor did he allow his children to attend the mandatory Communist government school on Shabbat, finding ingenious ways each week to keep them home rather than desecrate the holy Sabbath. He had organized a small afternoon "cheder" for his sons and other children, so that they would be imbued with a love for Judaism in general and Chasidism in particular. Each day the lessons took place in a different home so that spying eyes and "squealers" would be none the wiser.

Rabbi Laine was fearless when it came to anything connected with Judaism, whether it be helping another Jew, or praying with a minyan on Shabbat (where he lead the services and read from the Torah), or scrupulously observing Passover even when the government had planted a spy in his home for the holiday.

"In those days," recalls Mr. Raskin, "a lot of Lubavitchers were being taken away and shot. Today their families are receiving apology letters from the Russian government for the 'mistake' that was made.

"I will never forget the day I returned home from school when I would have been excused from attending due to the frigid temperatures. My father met me at the door in tears. This big giant of a man, whom the mighty Communist government couldn't intimidate, was crying because I had preferred going to school rather than staying in our apartment to review the previous day's cheder lessons. That made a huge impression on me."

In the pioneer youth group that every good Communist citizen encouraged his children to join, the children were indoctrinated not only in the ways of Communism but to view anyone who didn't support Communism as an avowed enemy. The training books the children received included lesson after lesson about the importance of reporting anyone who said or did anything against the government whether it was a neighbor, a friend, or even one's own father. "My father knew that people were being shot for the smallest infraction against the government. I had told him about the girl in my class who, when I had explained that I hadn't been in school on Saturday due to a cold said, 'He is a liar. He was at my grandfather's apartment with his father and my father on Shabbat praying.' Despite all of this, my father insisted that I not join the pioneers, going so far as to say 'with this red shmatta (scarf) you will not come home.' If these words had been overheard and reported, he would have been arrested.

Another memory indelibly etched into Mr. Raskin's memory was when he was 10 years old. He came home from school and saw his father praying with an intensity he had never before seen. As soon as the boy entered, Rabbi Laine grabbed his son and put him on his lap. "My father was crying liked a baby. I started to cry, as well. 'Michel,' he said to me, 'make sure to let your beard grow.' Many years later, when I was about to get married, I asked the Rebbe if he would officiate at my wedding. The Rebbe answered me, 'if you will make sure to let your beard grow.' The Rebbe officiated at my wedding."

Mr. Raskin shares these stories of the mesirat nefesh of his father with his children and grandchildren who are Chasidim and shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe) around the world, as a tribute to the impact on a small children of a Jew's utter devotion to G-d, to Torah and to his Rebbe.

Moshiach Matters

In future time, the King Moshiach will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will rebuild the Holy Temple and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel. Then, in his days, all the statutes will be reinstituted as in former commanded in the Torah.Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moses, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming.

(Maiomonides' Mishna Torah, Laws of Kings)

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