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January 9, 2015 - 18 Tevet, 5775

1354: Shemos

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  1353: Vayechi1355: Vaera  

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

Ancient Computers
by Tzvi Freeman,

This was back in the early sixties, when big mainframe computers were first being introduced into business. There was a professor in Argentina who became fascinated with these machines. At the same time, he was becoming fascinated with Judaism. He came up with a question that bothered him very much, so he went to visit the Rebbe and posed it to him.

"I know," stated the professor, "that everything that exists in the world, even something that we discover later in the path of history, has its source somewhere in the Torah. If so, where are computers in the Torah?"

The Rebbe answered immediately, as though he had the reply prepared, "Tefilin."

The professor groped to understand, but helplessly. Small black leather boxes that Jews wrap on their arms and heads have little apparent connection with anything of the twentieth century, never mind computers.

"What's new about a computer?" the Rebbe continued, after a short pause.

Remember that this was in the days of the mainframe monster. Machines that took up whole floors of buildings. Desktop computing wasn't even in science fiction.

"You walk in a room, you see many familiar machines. A typewriter, a large tape recorder, a television set, a hole puncher, a calculator. What is new?"

Another pause. The professor was thinking hard.

"But under the floor," the Rebbe went on, "unseen, cables connect all these machines so that they work as one."

The professor nodded, enthusias-tically. He himself hadn't realized before, but, yes, this is all that a computer is: A synthesis of media and processing devices.

"Now look at your own self. You have a brain. It is in one world. Your heart is in another. And your hands often end up involved in something completely foreign to both of them. Three diverse machines."

"Furthermore, your whole day could go along the same path: You brush your teeth, you pray to G-d, you go to work, you eat your kosher food - each act yet another sundry, unrelated fragment."

"And so the entire Jewish people could go the same way. Each does his mitzva (commandment), follows his path-but what one does has no relation to the other."

"So you put on tefilin. First thing in the day you connect your head with your heart with your hand with these leather cables - all to work as one with one intent. And then when you go out to meet the world, all your actions find a harmony in a single coordinated purpose."

"And, whether you understand it or not," the Rebbe concluded, "when a Jew puts on tefilin in Argentina, it affects another Jew who may be fighting in a war in Israel."

Living with the Rebbe

This week we commence the Book of Exodus (Shemot), which begins: "These are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt."

This is not the first time the Torah enumerates the names of the Children of Israel. The sons of Jacob have already been tallied several times in previous chapters. Why, then, does the Torah list their names again?

The Midrash offers two explanations:

Even though they were in exile, the Jewish people did not change their names for Egyptian ones.

The Jewish people are likened to the stars, about which it states, "He [G-d] counts the number of stars; each one He calls by name." Aside from denoting preciousness and value, once something has been counted it can never afterward be nullified.

Chasidic philosophy explains that a person's name relates to his most external aspects rather than his innermost being. (The reason a person has a name is so that others can call him by it; he himself, however, does not really need a name.)

To a certain extent, this describes the Jewish soul after it descends into the physical world and is invested in a body. However, not all of the soul comes down into the physical world: its essence always remains above, united with G-d, while only its external reflection descends to the physical plane.

This is alluded to in the verse "And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt." The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, comes from the word meaning constriction and limitation. Only the "name" of the Jewish soul, its outermost reflection, is subjected to the limitations of the physical world and the difficulties of the exile. The soul itself, however, remains unaffected and in full possession of all its powers.

The Jewish soul has never gone into exile. It is not contained or restricted in any way by the physical world, and its essence is always "free." Thus it is a perpetual source of strength for its reflection down below, enabling a Jew to overcome spiritual obstacles and cleave to G-d in all circumstances and situations.

It was this strength that empowered the Jewish people throughout their years in Egyptian exile, allowing them to remain faithful to their beliefs and retain their original Jewish names. Indeed, this is the connection between the two explanations in the Midrash: the Children of Israel were able to "stay Jewish" in Egypt precisely because the essence of the soul never goes into exile - a lesson that applies to our day as well.

Adapted from Volume 3 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Never Too Late for a Bar Mitzva
by Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz

A number of years ago, while visiting my grandparents in Los Angeles, I happened to enquire about a member of the family who was turning thirteen. I asked if he would be having a Bar Mitzva.

"Why are you worried about your cousin," my grandmother asked sharply, "when your own grandfather never had a Bar Mitzva?"

"Poppa, you never had a Bar Mitzva?" I asked.

"No, I didn't, and it's your fault!" Poppa told me.

Grandma and Poppa were not formally observant. My own mother embraced Judaism in her early twenties, and we were alI raised in a home full Chassidic warmth and spirit.

When it came to religious issues, however, our grandparents always had challenging questions. Out of respect, we did not argue with them or try to influence them. We did not feel it was right to challenge their beliefs.

"Poppa, how can you say that it's my fault that you didn't have a Bar Mitzva?" I asked.

"Did you forget about Lionel?" Poppa asked. "Don't you remember when I drove you to see him?"

I had met Lionel the previous year in Alaska. It was my second summer helping Rabbi Yosef and Esther Greenberg at Chabad-Lubavitch of Alaska.

I was standing outside the Alaska Visitors Center in downtown Anchorage. I greeted tourists going on the scenic cruises along the Alaska coastline. If they were Jewish, I would let them know where they could find a minyan or a kosher meal.

An elderly couple was coming out of the Visitor's Center. I approached them with a friendly smile, and said "hello." The man looked at me sharply, and in a loud, stern voice told me to get out of his way.

Shaken, I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. I'm just here to greet Jewish people who have come to visit Alaska."

"Then go find someone else to bother," he shot back. "I want nothing to do with you or any Orthodox Jew!"

"Excuse me, sir," I said as respectfully as I could, "I don't mean to be rude, but obviously you must have been very hurt by someone who was an Orthodox Jew. I am a rabbinical student, and I plan to be a rabbi. Please, won't you share with me what happened, so I won't make the same mistake?"

The man turned to me with a look of surprise and said, "That's a good answer. All right, I will tell you."

He asked me to sit down with them on a nearby bench. For the next hour he told me his story:

"I was born in London in 1929. My father was a soldier in the British forces. Before going to the front, he begged my mother to take good care of me, and to make sure I had a Bar Mitzva. During the Battle of Britain, the Germans bombed London every night. My mother and I fled to Wales in the west country.

"Life was extremely difficult for us. We lived from hand to mouth. Nonetheless, my mother wanted to fulfill her husband's request. She brought me to the synagogue in Cardiff for Bar Mitzva lessons. I sat through my first class listening carefully, trying to take my mind off the war and our troubles.

"When my mother came to get me, the rabbi told her the classes cost one pound sterling. My mother, who was penniless, begged him to forgive her the costs. He responded, 'Sorry, no pound, no Bar Mitzva!'

"My mother was humiliated. She grabbed me and ran out, vowing she would never come again. That was 52 years ago, and since then, I too have never set foot in an Orthodox synagogue!

"My father was killed in action. He never returned from the front, and never had his last wish fulfilled."

Lionel wept as he told me the story, and I cried with him. I could not find words to defend what had been done. Perhaps the teacher was worried about feeding his own children. Or perhaps he was using the funds to help other displaced families, but that did not change anything.

I looked at Lionel and said, "I am so sorry. I wish I could take away the pain that you and your mother felt. However, I want to make you a promise. When I will be a rabbi, if people need my help, for Bar Mitzva lessons, or for anything else, and they cannot afford it, I will always remember your story, and will not charge them, in your merit."

"Thank you," he said, "I appreciate that."

"But you know," I added, "there is something I can do. I can give you a Bar Mitzva now!"

Suddenly Lionel's eyes filled with tears. He gave me a big hug. "Son, I've waited 52 years for someone to say those words!"

We went back to his hotel, and I was privileged to help Lionel put on tefilin for the first time in his life. We said the Shema together, danced and said "l'chaim." Lionel was at last able to celebrate his Bar Mitzva and fulfill his father's last wish.

I kept in touch with Lionel, and found out that he lived in California. And that's how it happened that a year later, when I was visiting my grandparents, my grandfather was kind enough to drive me to see Lionel at his home in the Encino Valley.

Hearing Lionel's story reminded Poppa of his own childhood. He had been an orphan all his life, for his own father had died in a typhus epidemic in 1918 before Poppa had even been born.

The family was very poor. Poppa's mother had to work very hard to make ends meet. She never had time to teach him about being Jewish, and there was no father at home to make sure he had a Bar Mitzva.

"That why it's your fault," Poppa said to me. "You cared that Lionel should have a Bar Mitzva. But you never asked me if I wanted one."

"Oh Poppa!" I said. "Tomorrow we'll do it!"

The next morning, I helped my 88-year-old grandfather put on my tallis, wrapped the hand tefilin around his arm and placed the other tefilin on his head. I helped Poppa recite the blessings and say the Shema. Then I received the most loving, long embrace of my life from Poppa. Grandma and Poppa cried tears of joy. Poppa had his Bar Mitzva at last.

Quickly Poppa called my mother in Detroit to say Mazal Tov, and sent emails and made phone calls to all my brothers and sisters living all around the world.

Poppa took a fresh interest in Judaism. He began doing things that he had never done and that no one had ever spoken to him about. He passed away shortly before his 92nd birthday.

It is written that when Moshiach comes, G-d will take every Jew personally by the hand and lead him out of exile. With each person, it will be a different story. This was Poppa's.

Reprinted from The Moshiach Times

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Dovber and Fraidy Orgad have moved to Bucharest, Romania, to establish a Chabad on Campus. The new Chabad House will cater to the Israeli medical students who are currently studying in Bucharest, nearly 200 in total.

EnerJew Shabbaton

Young Jewish adults from Donetsk and Mariupol in Ukraine united in Kiev to celebrate Shabbat and deepen their understanding of their Jewish heritage. "EnerJew" has 10 chapters throughout the Former Soviet Union.

The Rebbe Writes

24th of Tammuz, 5739 [1979]

I am in receipt of your letter of the 17th of Tammuz, in which you write about two happenings recently, connected with Tzitzis [ritual fringes] and Tefillin.

In general, there are so many clear and specific instructions and teachings in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] connected with these two basic Mitzvos [commandments], that there is no need to look for other interpretations.

However, since you wrote to me and requested some explanation, I want to emphasize what is mutual and common to Tzitzis and Tefillin. Our Sages declare that the whole Torah has been compared to the Mitzvah of Tefillin, and of Tzitzis it is written, "And you will see it and remember all G-d's Mitzvos."

Thus, the common denominator of the two happenings that you mentioned, namely in connection with Tzitzis and Tefillin, is to emphasize forcefully the need to strengthen adherence to all the Mitzvos in everyday life and conduct, and since you are a Yeshiva student, it is particularly indicated that there should be a growing measure of devotion and diligence in the study of the Torah.

A further point - in view of the fact that every Jew is duty-bound to do all he can to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in his surroundings, and one of the most effective ways of doing it is through showing a shining example, the above-mentioned increased efforts on your part in matters of Torah and Mitzvos will have a good influence all around you, and at the same time enable you to fulfill more fully the Mitzvah of V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho [love of your fellow Jew].

Wishing you Hatzlocho [success] in all above,

With blessing,

17th of Teves, 5728 [1968]

I was particularly gratified to receive a copy of your letter which you wrote in connection with the Tefillin Campaign under the auspices of the Bnai Brith convention.

As is evident from the contents, they were words spoken from the heart which penetrate the heart and do their work. Moreover, since they were addressed to persons with influence in Jewish affairs and over thousands upon thousands of Jewish children, there is a tremendous Zechus Horabim [bringing merit to the many] involved here, which will stand you and them in good stead.

I was further delighted to see that you go from strength to strength on receiving the information that you have been selected to be the guest speaker at the Seventh Annual Banquet of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch in Greater Miami. May G-d grant that you once again make the desired impact through words coming from the heart that will bear lasting fruit. In this connection, I am enclosing herewith a copy of my message, which you will, of course, consider privileged until the message is made public at the said Banquet.

May G-d bestow His blessing of Hatzlocho upon each and all of us to utilize our capacities and opportunities to spread Yiddishkeit and strengthen Chinuch [Jewish education] in the spirit of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], whose dedication and self-sacrifice are an unfailing source of inspiration and strength to us all.

With the blessing of Hatzlocho and may you always have good tidings to report,


P.S. To ensure that this letter and enclosure reach you promptly, it is being sent to you via Rabbi__

Today Is ...

22 Tevet

Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, taught: Just as wearing tefilin every day is a Mitzva commanded by the Torah to every man regardless of his standing in Torah, whether deeply learned or simple, so too is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children, and to do everything in his power - and beyond his power - to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming week contains two special dates in the Jewish calendar: Sunday, 20 Tevet - the anniversary of passing of Rabbi Moshe Maimonides (Rambam) and Thursday, 24 Tevet - the anniversary of passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman was the author of the Tanya and compiler of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav. He established what later become known as Chabad Chasidut.

The goal of Chabad Chasidut - an acronym standing for chachma (wisdom), bina (understanding) and da'at (knowledge) - is to bring the Jew to an intellectual understanding of G-d through the contemplation of G-d's exalted nature and His relationship with the world and the Jewish people. It brings the loftiest concepts down into a framework the human mind can readily comprehend and assimilate.

For generations prior to the writing of the Tanya, the rarefied secrets of the Kabala were beyond the true grasp of the intellect. G-d sent the holy soul of Rabbi Shneur Zalman down into the world for the purpose of creating a body of teachings that would once and for all break through the barrier between the infinite light of the Creator and the limited intellect of His creatures.

Chabad Chasidut thus forged an entirely new path in fulfilling Moshiach's promise to the Baal Shem Tov to come when "the wellsprings of your teachings will be disseminated." Over the next seven generations, this new path in man's service of G-d was developed and broadened by the leaders of the Chabad movement. Each successive Rebbe added new insights, drawing from the bottomless well of Divine wisdom and bringing us closer to the Messianic era, when, as G-d has promised, "The world will be filled with G-dly knowledge like the waters cover the sea."

May it commence immediately.

Thoughts that Count

These are the names of the Children of Israel...seventy souls (Ex. 1:1-5)

In these verses G-d lists the individual names of the Jews who went down to Egypt, then sums up by telling us how many there were in all. When objects (or in this case, people) are counted, it is a reflection of their common qualities. We count objects when we want to know their number, regardless of their differences. On the other hand, when we assign an object a name, it is generally a reflection of its individuality, that which sets it apart from all others. These two qualities - being part of a greater whole, and possessing individual worth - are present in every Jew. Each of us possesses a spark of Jewishness common to all Jews, yet our Jewish names reflect our individual, distinguishing character traits and attributes.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

She saw the child, and behold it was a weeping boy (Ex. 2:6)

We can learn (and emulate) three things from a child: He is always happy, he is always occupied and never sits idle, and when he wants something, he cries.

(Reb Zussia of Annipoli)

And Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro (Ex. 3:1)

A young goat once ran away from the rest of the flock Moses was tending in the desert. Moses followed the animal into a thicket that hid a pool of fresh water. Seeing the goat drinking he exclaimed, "I didn't realize that you were thirsty. You must be so tired now." After the animal had quenched its thirst, Moses tenderly picked it up and carried it back to the rest of the flock. When G-d saw Moses's act of kindness toward his father-in-law's goat, He decreed that Moses was equally worthy of tending G-d's own flock--the Jewish People.

(Midrash Rabba)

For I am heavy of speech, and heavy of tongue (Ex. 4:10)

The fact that Moses had difficulty speaking shows that his leadership was accepted solely because he carried G-d's message, and not because he was a skillful orator and master of rhetoric.

(Drashot Rabbenu Nissim)

It Once Happened

It was a chilly, windy day when the Baal Shem Tov stepped into his carriage, and as was his custom, allowed the horses to run as they would, invariably bringing their master to some small village or hamlet where the Baal Shem Tov would bring his fiery enthusiasm for G-d to his fellow Jews.

In what seemed like no time, the horses stopped in a tiny hamlet, buried in the midst of a dense forest and surrounded by tilled fields. The Jews of this place were a hard-working lot, ignorant of Torah, able to steal just a few minutes a day to devote to their prayers, most of which they didn't understand. The Baal Shem Tov was filled with love and compassion for these Jews, and so he made these journeys to bring them a spiritual light to their eyes and turn their thoughts to G-d.

There was only one villager who was a cut above, and he was a wealthy landowner, who, it turned out, was celebrating his son's Bar Mitzva just that very day. When the father of the boy heard that the famous Baal Shem Tov had arrived, he quickly harnessed his wagon and came to escort him to the grand celebration.

The Baal Shem Tov was seated at the head of the table and welcomed with great honor. But his attention riveted to the wrinkled faces and worn hands of the Jewish peasants who had also come to join the party. The Baal Shem Tov began to speak and the wondrous tales and parables of the Midrash he told held his audience spellbound. Then he began singing in his melodious voice heartfelt, soul-stirring tunes. The change which could be detected in the sad and exhausted faces of the laborers, the tears which trickled down their wrinkled cheeks, were touching to behold.

The wealthy landowner perceived the scene very differently. Why was the guest of honor devoting himself entirely to these unlettered peasants and paying no attention to me, he thought. He decided he would avenge himself on the Baal Shem Tov, and with this in mind announced, "My dear friends, I want you to know that the highlight of this celebration will be a speech which my son, the Bar Mitzva boy, will deliver in the presence of our most esteemed guest, the rabbi of a nearby town, who will be here with his party. Only before such a prominent rabbi is it fitting to deliver his discourse."

The Baal Shem Tov was not oblivious to the insult, but he did not acknowledge it. Rather, he engaged the Bar Mitzva boy in conversation about various spiritual matters.

As he spoke, his spiritual gaze wandered afield to a faraway place beyond the green fields and forests of the village.

Suddenly the Baal Shem Tov broke out into a burst of joyous laughter which seemed to engulf his entire being and spread to every man and woman in the room. Soon, not only the Baal Shem Tov was laughing, but the whole room was filled with joy and laughter - the people, the objects and even farm animals outside joined in his unbounded joy.

In the midst of all this laughter, the sound of carriage wheels grinding to a halt could be heard from the courtyard. It was the wealthy master of the feast who had just arrived with the rabbi of the nearby town, the much awaited guest of honor.

As they approached, they were astonished to hear peals of laughter emitted from the hall. "What has happened here?" the wealthy landowner asked.

When silence was restored, the Baal Shem Tov began his explanation:

"Far away from here, in a lonely hamlet, there lives a widow and her only son. Today, he too is becoming a Bar Mitzva, and although he knows nothing about Torah and has never lived among Jews, he has a pair of tefilin left to him by his father.

"He put on the tefilin and his mother explained to him the tradition of going to the synagogue to be called up to the Torah. But, alas the poor lad had no way to fulfill this custom. He walked out to the barn and gathered all his beloved animals, which he cared for so devotedly and he formed them into a 'minyan.' Then he announced in a loud voice, 'Today I am a Bar Mitzva!' The animals responded to his words with a cacophony of 'moos,' 'neighs,' and 'clucks.' When the heavenly hosts beheld this strange but touching Bar Mitzva celebration, they laughed so heartily that their laughter echoed through the universe until it reached the Holy Throne of G-d where it provoked great Divine Joy.

"And so, concluded the Baal Shem Tov, it is now a propitious time to hear the discourse of the Bar Mitzva boy, for now, the Gates of Heaven are open."

Moshiach Matters

The day of Bar Mitzva, which is the day the boy becomes obligated to study Torah and keep the mitzvot (commandment), is a day of personal redemption. The transition from keeping mitzvot in preparation for the time one will be obligated, to that of keeping mitzvot once one is obligated, may be compared to the movement from exile to Redemption. For the keeping of mitzvot in exile is a "preparation" when compared to the full keeping of mitzvot at the time of the Redemption. One could even go as far to say that in exile, the entire Jewish people keep mitzvot like children, and when Moshiach comes we will celebrate our national Bar Mitzva.

(Talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Bar Mitzva boys and their parents)

  1353: Vayechi1355: Vaera  
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