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1252: Vayechi

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Devarim Deutronomy

December 28, 2012 - 15 Tevet, 5773

1252: Vayechi

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

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The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Who's Who  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back

We've all had one of those days or weeks (or months?). Whether it's pressure, stress, or foul-ups, we know that one more will send us off the deep end. When it happens, it could be the most minor infraction, something minute in comparison to the rest of the incidents that have already taken place. But it is that last, little, even insignificant unpleasant occurrence that is the "straw that broke the camel's back."

Everything in the realm of the negative has its correspondence in the realm of the positive. The great Jewish scholar and philosopher, Moses Maimonides, stated, "One must always perceive the good and evil in himself and this world as if in perfect balance. Should he perform one good deed, he will tip the scales in favor of the good and bring redemption to himself and to the entire world." (Hilchot Teshuva)

Good, according to Jewish thought, is cumulative and eternal. Evil, however, is not permanent and eventually disappears. Although, periodically in our own personal lives, we've experienced the buildup of the negative, on a global, Divine scale, it is the good endures.

So, we can understand that just as a straw can break the camel's back in a negative sense, it can break the camel's back in a positive sense, as well.

Just how powerful the last, positive straw can be is beautifully illustrated by an incident that took place many years ago. A salvage company discovered a ship with an extremely valuable cargo sunk off the Baltic coast. It tried to lift the vessel with a crane, but the portion to which divers attached the cable broke off before the wreck could be raised. Finally, it was decided that instead of attaching a cable to only one place, balloons would be tied all over the ship's surface. As those balloons were inflated, they pulled the ship as a whole from its mire.

Each one of our good deeds, each positive thought, each kind act, is a balloon. None of us knows whether it will be my balloon or your balloon that will be the one that, added to all of the others, will lift this giant vessel out of the mire in which it has been sitting for the past thousands of years. All we can do is keep on adding balloons, with the knowledge that they are cumulative, and with the hope and prayer that one of ours will very soon be the one that raises the ship to its ultimate purpose with the coming of the imminent Redemption.

Living with the Rebbe

With this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, we conclude the Book of Genesis. "Joseph died, being 110 years old...and he was put into a coffin in Egypt" is its final verse.

This conclusion to the entire Book is somewhat surprising, in light of the principle that "one should always end on a positive note." Why couldn't Genesis have concluded a few verses back, when we learn that Joseph lived a long life and merited to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Why couldn't the description of Joseph's death have waited until the Book of Exodus?

We must conclude that Joseph's passing is somehow related to the theme of Genesis itself.

The primary difference between Genesis and the other Books of the Torah is that Genesis relates the early history of our ancestors and the 12 tribes - the preparation for our existence as a distinct nation - whereas the other four books contain a narrative of our history as a people.

Genesis begins with an account of the creation of the world. The Sage, Rabbi Yitzchak, explained that although the Torah should have begun with a practical mitzva (commandment), G-d chose to commence with the Creation to refute the arguments of the Gentiles, who would one day claim that the Jews had stolen the land of Israel from the nations who lived there prior to its conquest.

To counter their assertion, the Jews will say, "The entire world belongs to G-d; He created it and divided it as He saw fit. It was His will to give it to them, and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us."

Surely G-d did not change the entire order of His Torah just to supply an answer to the arguments of the Gentiles. The comments of Rabbi Yitzchak must therefore contain a more fundamental teaching for the Jewish people as a whole.

The nations of the world are cognizant of the Jew's special mission. Their claim is that precisely because Jews are different, they should limit themselves to spiritual service and not tie themselves down to a physical land. They opine that because Jews are a nation like no other, they have no right to claim ownership of a homeland. To the non-Jew, the spiritual and physical realms are incongruous and incompatible.

"The entire world belongs to G-d," the Jew explains - the mundane as well as the spiritual. Both require sanctification through the light of holiness - the sacred mission of the Jew.

With this concept the Book of Genesis begins, and on this note it concludes. Joseph's coffin remained in Egypt to strengthen and inspire the Children of Israel during their exile there. Joseph is symbolic of the ability of the Jewish people to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles, imbuing even the mot mundane matter with holiness and bringing the long-awaited Redemption.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 30

A Slice of Life

Chabad set up 75 public menoras in Tel Aviv alone; The World's Largest Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th in NYC sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization; In Kharkov, Ukraine's "Platinum Plaza"; Trafalgar Square, London, with Lord Jonathan Sacks lighting, Mayor Boris Johnson in attendance; 10,000 people attended the 33rd annual Chanuka Festival by Chabad of South Broward, Florida; Giant ice menora in front of the Royal Palace on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, Holland; In Tacoma, Washington, lighting the Tallest Chocolate Menora; New Jersey - based Bris Avrohom put up 50 public menoras seen by millions of commuters and travellers. Center: Rabbi Boaz Sharon, one of the first responder to the terrorist rocket attack in which three people were murdered in Kiryat Malachi, Israel, lighting a menora on the exposed porch, representing the triumph of light over darkness.

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The Rebbe Writes

11 Adar 5718

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of February 11th, in which you write that you had been given to understand that in connection with a shidduch, the true approach of the Torah and the Jewish way, is not to let the heart play a decisive part in it, but that the important thing is to ensure the good qualities, etc., of the party concerned. Therefore, you write, that my reply, as it was reported to you, seemed inconsistent with the above.

Now, I do not know how my reply was reported to you. At any rate, my reply always relates to a particular question, asked by a particular person, on the basis of a particular set of data, and, needless to say, my reply is given to the person concerned, who alone can reveal the answer to others. With regard to your particular problem that you write in your letter, however, let me state that it is true that according to the ideal of the Torah, "The mind should rule the heart," and when the mind desires something in accordance with the Torah, the heart should follow without question. This is theoretically true also of a shidduch, where the ideal woman is described as "Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth G-d, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30)." The same is true, of course, of a man.

Undoubtedly, however, in our present-day world, it is not always a case where the heart follows the mind, but the heart often has an opinion of its own, not consistent with the above quotation. Therefore, when it comes to a particular case, and it is necessary to decide whether it is a suitable shidduch among two particular persons, it is then necessary to take into consideration the two concerned parties as they are, and not as they should be, in all perfection. Hence, there is no contradiction between the ideal of the Torah in connection with a shidduch, and the practical necessity to advise one, in a particular situation where the party has not attained the ideal stage, to listen also to the voice of the heart.

I trust that you know of the three daily shiurim and observe them, and may G-d grant that you find your suitable shidduch in all details, since G-d's blessing is necessary in every case, and particularly in the case of a shidduch.

Wishing you a happy Purim,

With blessing,

(The date of this letter is unavailable)

...Regarding all events that transpire in a person's life, be they large or small, it is impossible to take into account all the eventual particulars and details, and each and every possible permutation. After all, a human being is extremely limited; it is impossible for him to conceptualize all the eventualities of each and every aspect and detail and their possible consequences.

Thus, to a certain extent, it is necessary for a person to utilize his faith and trust in G-d, that He will see the matter through in a goodly manner in all its many details.

The same is so with regard to a shidduch: It is literally impossible to find something in this world that is entirely perfect and it is also impossible to assess with perfect accuracy how matters will turn out.

If the most important aspects are quite satisfactory, then quite often it is proper to forego on minor matters that do not seem to be in perfect order. This is especially so, since one may only be imagining that these matters are not in order, when, truth be told, they are in point of fact quite fine as well.

Who's Who

Rav Huna was Sage from the second generation of Babylonian amoraim. He was born in 216 ce and passed away on 15 Tevet at the age of approximately 80. He was a disciple and follower of Rav. A decade after Rav's passing, the Sages finally appointed Rav Huna as Dean and greatest Torah authority of the Great Academy, which was to continue to be located in Sura, Babylonia. Rav Huna was extremely tolerant and modest. In his early years he was impoverished until Rav blessed him with wealth.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The 20th of Tevet, this year Wednesday, January 2, marks the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), Rabbi Moses Maimonides, more than 800 years ago. The Rambam was an outstanding codifier, commentator, philosopher, physician to the Sultan and leader of Egyptian Jewry.

A little over 30 years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe urged all Jews to study every day a section of the Rambam's Mishne Torah, or at least the briefer Sefer HaMitzvot. Hundreds of thousands of Jews undertook this great endeavor and are studying one of the above-mentioned works. (You can find them on-line at

Although the Rambam passed away so long ago, he and his great wisdom are still with us. When a person sits down to study a chapter, or a law from one of the Rambam's works, his spirit and teachings remain alive.

About the Rambam, our Sages have said, "From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses!" This means that from the time of the Moses who took us out of Egypt, there has never lived a person who exhibited all of the Rambam's unique qualities.

Throughout the 50 generations from Moses our Teacher until Moses Maimonides, there was not even one person similar to Moses our Teacher in terms of transmission of the Torah until the arrival of the Rambam. This saying is engraved on Maimonides' gravestone, which implies that it was accepted by all of our Sages from all circles who came to visit the Rambam's resting place.

Thoughts that Count

I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel (Gen. 48:14)

"There are no poor, scribes or teachers of young children except from the tribe of Shimon," comments Rashi, the great Torah commentator. Jacob did not intend this only as a punishment, but as an antidote to Shimon's undesirable character trait of insolence. Jacob worried that if Shimon and Levi were wealthy, no one would be able to oppose them. He therefore decreed that they be poor, forcing them to come to their brethren for assistance and thereby curbing their arrogance.

(Kli Chemda)

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years (Gen. 47:28)

When the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was a child, he learned a commentary on this verse that these 17 years were the best years of Jacob's life. This surprised the boy, and he went to his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to find out how it was possible that the years spent in such a spiritually corrupt and abominable land could have been Jacob's best. Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: Before Jacob descended into Egypt, he sent an emissary to establish yeshivot and places of learning. Whenever and wherever a Jew learns Torah, he cleaves to G-d and achieves a true and meaningful life. Furthermore, precisely because Egypt was such an abominable place, the holiness and spirituality Jacob attained there shone that much brighter against the dark and evil background of his surroundings.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

With you shall Israel bless...May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe (48:20)

In the previous verses Jacob had said, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuven and Shimon." Despite the fact that Ephraim and Menashe were born in exile and were educated in Egypt, a land not conducive to Torah learning and Judaism, they were still as righteous and pure as Reuven and Shimon, who grew up in more enclosed and insular surroundings in Jacob's household.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

The Rav (rabbi) of Yanov was a great scholar. As a young man he had been the friend of Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg, and their friendship had endured in spite of the young man's terrible obstinacy and inability to concede the correctness of anyone else's viewpoint.

Once, the Rav of Yanov was traveling to his son's wedding together with a party of illustrious well-wishers. The Rav and his party stopped at a lovely site on the outskirts of a forest to say the afternoon prayers. The Rav chose a secluded spot under the trees some distance away from the others, and he lingered over his devotions. The members of his traveling party waited patiently for him in the carriage, but when darkness descended, they began searching for him in the surrounding groves of trees. Their search proved unsuccessful and though they were a bit concerned, they assumed that he had accepted a ride from one of the many other carriages in the wedding party.

Their anxiety was borne out when they arrived at the site of the wedding and the Rav was nowhere to seen. There were all kinds of speculation, but there was nothing to do other than to proceed with the wedding without him. The sad group returned to Yanov without the Rav and in fact, without a clue of what might have happened to him.

Meanwhile, the Rav was wandering around in the depths of the forest unable to find a way out. He had unwittingly lost his way in the forest. As hours became days the Rav became more despondent and disoriented. He lost track of time and set about preparing for Shabbat a day early.

Finally, with G-d's help, the Rav found his way home and rejoined his jubilant family which had begun to fear the worst. When Thursday arrived the Rav busily set about preparing for Shabbat. When his family explained that it was Thursday and not Friday, he argued hotly that they were all mistaken. They tried patiently to explain that in the course of his wanderings he had somehow lost a day in his reckoning, but he just became more and more infuriated. His family invited many acquaintances to try to convince the Rav, but to no avail. What could they do, other than to allow him to celebrate the holy Shabbat on Friday. He celebrated with all the traditional foods and prayed the Shabbat prayers, and when Shabbat actually arrived he donned weekday garb and set about his usual weekday activities while his horrified family helplessly looked on.

Many weeks passed while he persisted in his mistaken behavior in spite of the steady stream of visitors all endeavoring to convince him otherwise. One day word of his strange fixation reached his childhood friend, Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg. Reb Shmelke set off at once for Yanov, making sure that he would arrive on Thursday. The Rav was thrilled to see him, and hastened to invite him for Shabbat. Reb Shmelke accepted enthusiastically, eager to implement the plan he had devised.

Reb Shmelke quietly gathered the Rav's family and outlined his plan to them. Needless to say they were anxious to do anything to bring the Rav back to reason, and so, in addition to the usual bountiful Shabbat fare, they also prepared some bottles of strong aged wine and set them on the table. The masquerade was carried out as the whole family and their many guests gathered to celebrate a festive Shabbat meal. After each delicious course Reb Shmelke poured a generous cup of old wine into the Rav's cup. Now, this was a heavy, red wine known to induce a deep slumber in the drinker, and Reb Shmelke didn't stint on the "L'chaims." Toward the end of the meal, the Rav fell into a deep sleep. Reb Shmelke sat back and relaxed with his pipe, telling his fellow diners that they could now return to their normal activities without worry, for the situation was under control. He took a soft cushion and placed it under the head of the sleeping man and settled down to guard the Rav throughout the night and into the following day.

On the next night, which was truly the Shabbat, the same guests returned and sat down at the table to enjoy the real Shabbat repast. When it was time to say the Blessings After the Meal, Reb Shmelke gently roused the Rav, who sat up and remarked, "It seems as if I've been sleeping for a long time." He then joined in saying the prayers and everything continued in the usual manner through to the conclusion of the Shabbat. The family and townspeople were overcome with happiness at the result of Reb Shmelke's visit and thanked him profusely. For his part, Reb Shmelke made them promise that they would never reveal the true happenings of that Shabbat.

The Rav never had an inkling of what had transpired. In fact, he was very proud that everyone else had come to the enlightened conclusion that his calculations had been correct. He was however, careful to credit his old friend Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg for helping lead his mistaken congregants and family to the right conclusion, saying, "Thanks to my friend from Nikolsburg, they were able to comprehend the truth. Isn't it amazing how impossibly stubborn some people can be!"

Moshiach Matters

From Your place, our King, appear and reign over us, for we are waiting for You. When will you reign in Zion? Let it be soon, in our days, forever and ever.

(Kedusha Shabbat morning services)

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