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January 27, 2017 - 29 Tevet, 5777

1457: Vaera

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

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  1456: Shemos1458: Bo  

Super Bowl Mysticism  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  All Together  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Super Bowl Mysticism

by Mordechai Siev

In 1997, I watched the Super Bowl with a group of students at Tel-Aviv University. As the Packers advanced on the Patriots, I racked my brain to think of some words of Torah I could present at half-time to inspire the students and turn the affair into a holy gathering.

The ending horn sounded. After some refreshments, I opened my remarks by saying that the most important thing on a football team is unity and a support system. The many individuals have to make sacrifices for the good of the whole team. As an ex-offensive tackle, I can attest to that strongly! Similarly, Chasidut demands of us the same kind of self-sacrifice and humility, even for a Jew you have never met before, and tells us that ahavat Yisrael (love for every Jew) is the basis of the whole Torah.

Here is another parallel. Chasidut teaches us about diminishing our bodily needs as a way to get closer to our spiritual potential. In football too, you sometimes have to "give up your body" to break the wedge or throw a down-field block, which is a kind of self-sacrifice for the cause.

There is also an idea in football that in order to advance the ball, you may have to take a step back or go on an end-around in order to run a long distance just to get back to cross the line of scrimmage where you started, and hopefully gain some yardage. Chasidic doctrine explains that the soul has to make a descent into a body in order to accomplish an ascent after 120 years in this world. Although you may take one step back by failing a test in Judaism, you can then go two steps forward. We should always be in the process of moving even if it temporarily knocks us down, rather than just remaining at the same level.

Finally there is the idea in football (and in all sports) of a comeback, the "cardiac kids" who never give up or ever think that all hope is lost. Chasidut tells us that a Jew is never lost no matter how far away from the Torah "team" he or she seems to be. The soul-spark inside always remains pure and holy, and is never disconnected from its source.

This also applies for any level of teshuva (return); it is never too late.

All the times I've watched football I could never really understand why it captivated me so totally. Now, after putting together a parallel between football and Chasidut that the kids at Tel-Aviv University could understand and relate to, it all comes together.

I realize that we have to learn to see how all aspects of our lives are interconnected, and how G-d is part of every one of these aspects, even the most mundane. We need to integrate, harmoniously and in a practical manner, the spiritual and physical in our lives. Moshiach NOW!

Mordechai Siev, a.k.a. "Big Mo," is the outreach director of Ascent-of-Safed in the north of Israel. A Long Island native and a Univ. of Buffalo graduate, he is a diehard fan of at least one New York team in every professional sport. Reprinted with permission from The Ascent Quarterly, Safed, Israel.

Living with the Rebbe

In last week's Torah portion, G-d had sent Moses to tell the Jewish people that He would soon redeem them. Moses did as he was told, and the suffering under Pharoah only got worse.

Moses cried out to G-d: "Why have You mistreated this people?"

In this week's Torah portion, Va'eira, G-d answers Moses' question. G-d reveals Himself to Moses in a way that He did not reveal Himself to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

G-d states, "I am Havaya," a name signifying the very essence of the Divine.

How does G-d's revelation of His name Havaya answer Moses' outcry?

Great revelation comes through great effort, sometimes even suffering. The greater the toil, the greater the accomplishment.

We are here to reveal G-d's essence in the world. Essence is revealed only under enormous pressure. Like diamonds that are formed at high temperature and pressure, our time in Egypt was the "smelting pot" and "pressure cooker" that enabled us, when we left Egypt, to become diamond-like and to acquire an exquisitely precious connection to G-d.

This is G-d's reply to Moses. "I'm honing out a deeper connection with you, and that comes through suffering."

But that was just the beginning. Because after the Exodus from Egypt we served G-d "in the wilderness," receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai - the marriage of the Jewish people to G-d.

At the beginning of marriage, there is a powerful connection. However, over years of struggle and hardship, the couple forges a connection which is infinitely deeper than it was to start.

So it is with our relationship to G-d. When we left Egypt, our bond was powerful. However, now that we have endured at times unimaginable hardship and suffering in this exile, 2,000 years worth, think how incredible our connection has become.

Soon, when Moshiach will come, we will experience the fruit of our labor. G-d will reveal His essence, and we will be one.

Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.

A Slice of Life

Out of the Box and In the Air
by Lieba Rudolph

People used to comfort my aging father, of blessed memory, telling him that getting old isn't great, but "it beats the alternative." To this, he answered, "Yes...but not by much."

Two of my biggest fears as a teen-ager were dying young and getting old. Now that I have successfully beaten the first rap of dying young, I am working on the art of staying young.

I have already researched and written about the Jewish antidote to aging.* The trick is to live with childlike enthusiasm about life, especially about life in the present moment-which is also experienced as "G-d." New activities facilitate this mindset, so when my cousin Rochel asked me to help her with the weekly pre-Shabbos program at Weinberg Terrace, a nearby assisted living facility, I agreed to try.

The first few weeks were difficult. My own mother had passed away in February, and many white-haired ladies with walkers reminded me of her. I couldn't help wondering if her last few years would have been more enjoyable had she lived in a facility like this.

There was also the challenge of getting ready for Shabbos an hour earlier. Theoretically, I could do the math (subtract one hour) and plan accordingly, but whether Shabbos starts at 4:30 in winter or 8:30 in summer, I'm always rushing at the last minute. So far, I've been able to get to Weinberg Terrace on time (well, almost), and I enjoy an unexpected benefit before I even arrive: in the ten minutes it takes to drive there, my whole body sighs with relief. I've got one whole hour before candle lighting (well, almost) and all I need to do is bring Shabbos to my new friends.

The residents probably don't notice that I'm wearing the same black dress I wore the week before. (I haven't managed to leave enough time to look for something else to wear.) And if they do notice, they certainly don't care. This is the gift of wisdom that comes with years. (In Hebrew, the word for "old" when applied to people is zaken. It's defined as, "one who has acquired wisdom," a contraction of the phrase zeh shekanah chochmah.)

It's also what makes this program so powerful for me. How many years worth of Shabbos blessings have these women said? How much joy and pain have they shared with G-d? I don't need to use my imagination; I can hear the songs of their lives come through their blessings. In the hour we spend lighting candles together in the chapel (fire laws prohibit residents from lighting candles in their rooms), we transcend time, space, and of course, age. In our essence, each one of us is our matriarch, Sarah.

The residents are easy to please. We reminisce. Sometimes we sing songs. And we make Torah relevant. Last week we established that if we're still alive, it means that G-d wants something from us here in this world. (They liked that.) We discussed how G-d especially appreciates the efforts of someone who is not naturally virtuous but becomes virtuous. (A few of us then shared our challenges in trying to do the right thing, after which I assured everyone, "What happens at Weinberg, stays at Weinberg.") But when all is said and done, the residents probably get the greatest joy from seeing the young girls who come from our community to help with the program,.

You don't have to be Jewish to know that when you give to others, you're the one who gains. This is true for me every time I rush home to light my Shabbos candles after being at Weinberg Terrace: I feel my own heart somehow fuller and I feel my own flame somehow burning brighter.

My husband Zev and I arrived at the airport gate for our morning flight to California. He typically goes to shul to pray, but our flight was too early. He decided he had enough time before boarding to "daven Shachris," pray the morning prayers while we waited to board. It's times like these that I admire his commitment to praying three times a day-morning, afternoon and evening- no matter what he's doing or where he is.

He was standing with his huge prayer shawl, his tallis, draped over his head, with his tefillin strapped to his head and arm when a sweet-faced little girl skipped up to him and asked plainly, "What are you doing?"

"That's a good question," he answered in a teacher voice I've never heard him use before. "We're Jewish, and this is how we pray." He told her how the tefillin are special boxes he wears every day. ("Except on our Sabbath," I chimed in.) She seemed to be satisfied with that answer, and after we both praised her for her curiosity and boldness, she skipped back to her father to share her lesson.

Tefillin are known in English as "phylacteries," but few people know what that word means either, and certainly not a six-year-old. But they make a strong visual statement, especially when worn with the prayer shawl, and especially to the uninitiated.

Like every mitzva in Judaism, tefillin are packed with spiritual energy, purpose, and meaning. Inside the boxes are written parchments with passages from the Torah; a Jewish man wears tefillin daily to remind him that, in everything he does, his head, his heart, and his actions should work harmoniously and with proper intent. (In a nod to the power of Jewish women, G-d knows we don't need to be reminded of this.)

The little girl wasn't the only person who noticed my husband praying. Traveling home, Zev stood up on the plane to "daven Mincha," say the afternoon prayer. When we landed in Pittsburgh, a stranger from across the aisle smiled and said, "thank you for your work." (If I didn't know better, I would have thought he knew I was sharing this.) Zev and I both laughed demurely as I answered, "we try." We laughed even more demurely when he called us "G-d's messengers." The stranger was just reminding me of what I should already know, that G-d wants me, as a Jew, to be a light unto the nations-in everything I do.

Some days this work is harder than others, but I try.

From Lieba Rudolph's blog:

What's New

Released Time

The Released Time program made winter vacation days even more exciting for public school children in the New York Metro this year. Three Release Time winter day camps were attended by 200 children who had fun on daily trips, made arts and crafts, sang Jewish songs, and enjoyed hands-on learning about Jewish rituals. The camps took place in Brooklyn, Queens and Saten Island.

National Jewish Retreat

The National Jewish Retreat will take place once again this year in Palm Springs, California. The Retreat brings together leading Rabbis, academics, community leaders and artists to lead more than 150 seminars, workshops and lectures for five days of stimulating Jewish learning. Sessions include Jewish philosophy, law, ethics, mysticism and history. The Retreat will take place August 8-13, 2017 / 16-21, Av 5777 For more information visit or email

The Rebbe Writes

26th of Teves, 5725 [1965]

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter with the enclosure, in which you write about your problem of acute anxiety, and ask my advice.

The best and most effective thing to do, in a situation such as yours, is to study thoroughly those sections and chapters in our sacred books where the matter of Divine Providence and Bitochon [trust] are discussed, such as Chovos Halvovos, Shaar Habitochon, and similar. It is well to keep in mind those chapters and verses in the Tehillim [Psalms] which speak of these subjects, as well as the Midrashim and interpretations of our Sages on them. These things should be studied with such depth that they should become a part of one's thinking. In this way there will be no room left for any kind of anxiety or worry, and as King David said in the Tehillim , "G-d is with me, I shall not fear. What can man do unto me!"

As you well know the matter of Hashgocho Protis [Divine Providence] is the basis of true monotheism, a concept which to us means not only that G-d is one, but also is the Master, continually supervising every detail of His handiwork. The corollary of this is that there cannot be a single point in the whole order of the world which is separated from the Supreme Being, or in any way not subject to His control. At the same time it is obvious that the Supreme Being is also the Essence of Perfection and Goodness. And although many things in the world seem imperfect, and require completion or perfection, there can be no doubt that there is a perfect order in the world, and even the lowest in the scale of Creation, namely the inanimate things, display wonderful perfection and symmetry, as can be seen from the atoms and molecules of inorganic matter. Hence, the conclusion must be that even those things which require completion, are also part of the perfect order, and necessary for the fulfillment of the good, as all this is explained at length in the teachings of Chassidus. It is explained there that in order for a man to attain perfection, it is necessary that he should also have the feeling that he is not only on the receiving end, but also a contributor, and according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory, "A partner in the Creation." This is why many things have been left in the world for him to improve and perfect.

I also want to make the further observation, and this is also essential, that there is really no basis for anxiety at any time, and as you yourself mentioned in your letter, that you find no reason for it. Even in such cases where you think you know the reason for your anxiety, the reason is undoubtedly imaginary, or at any rate, not the real cause. For the real cause is that one's daily life is not in complete harmony with the true essence of a Jew. In such a case it is impossible not to have an awkward feeling that things do not seem to fit somehow, and it is this disharmony which is at the bottom of the anxiety, and it is in proportion to the discrepancy between his way of life and his true natural self.

Everybody recognizes that anxiety has to do with the psyche. But in the case of a Jew, the so-called psyche is really the Neshama [soul]. Some Jews have a particularly sensitive soul, in which case the above mentioned disharmony would create a greater anxiety. In such a case even subtle and "minor" infractions of Dikdukei Mitzvoth [fine points of commandments] would create anxiety. But even in the case of an ordinary soul for the average Jew, there must inevitably be created some anxiety if there is a failure to observe the fundamental Mitzvoth. It is very possible that the above may have a bearing on your situation. If this is so, then all that is necessary is to rectify matters, and bring the daily life and conduct into complete harmony with the essence of the soul, through strict adherence to the Torah and Mitzvoth. Then the symptoms will disappear of themselves.

It is necessary to mention also that in your case, where your position gives you a great deal of influence on your environment, your influence is an integral part of your harmonious life, and it is therefore essential that your influence, too, should be in harmony with the Torah and Mitzvoth in the fullest measure.

I suggest that you should also have the Mezuzoth of your home checked, as also your Tefillin, and before putting on your Tefillin every weekday morning, to put aside a small coin for Tzedoko [charity].

All Together

What is Gematria?

In Hebrew, each letter possesses a numerical value. Gematria is the calculation of the numerical equivalence of letters, words, or phrases, and, on that basis, gaining insight into interrelation of different concepts. The assumption behind this technique is that since the world was created through G-d's "speech," each letter represents a different creative force. Thus, the numerical equivalence of two words reveals an internal connection between the creative potentials of each one.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This past Thursday, the 28th of Tevet, was the birthday of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, mother of the Rebbe.

There is a famous story told about Rebbetzin Chana's selfless dedication for the dissemination of Torah. Rebbetzin Chana followed her husband, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, when sent into internal exile by the Stalinist government. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was deterred from recording the unique expositions on the mystical, kabalistic parts of the Torah because of the lack of such simple provisions as paper and ink. Instead of paper, he wrote in the margins of books. But ink? He could hardly reuse old ink.

Rebbetzin Chana used to go out into the woods and gather wild plants. From these she managed to make her own ink so that her illustrious husband could continue writing.

After Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's passing, Rebbetzin Chana was finally allowed to leave Russia. With total devotion and complete disregard for her own personal safety, Rebbetzin Chana smuggled out her husband's manuscripts. These manuscripts were later edited and published by her son, the Rebbe.

As the Rebbe himself explained at a gathering commemorating his mother's yartzeit, a great lesson can be learned from her courage and self-sacrifice. And surely this is an important lesson that we can meditate upon as the awesome day of Yom Kippur approaches.

When faced with an obstacle, one must not be concerned or overwhelmed by the fact that it seems insurmountable. One cannot become weighted down by the difficulties. Rather, we must work to overcome the obstacle without pre-conceived notions or calculations of the impossibility of the situation. We must do our part-what must be done. Ultimately, because we are doing what G-d expects of us, we will be successful.

Thoughts that Count

The L-rd ... gave them a charge to the Children of Israel (Ex. 6:13)

Despite the fact that the Jewish people hadn't listened "because of their anguished spirit and the cruel slavery," G-d commanded Moses and Aaron to keep on talking. For the word of G-d always makes an impression and has an effect: if not immediately, then sometime later. Holy words are never wasted, and are always ultimately heard.

(Sefat Emet)

And Moses was 80 years old, and Aaron 83 years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:7)

Why does the Torah need to tell us the ages of Moses and Aaron? To refute the common misconception that only young people can carry the banner of liberation and redemption. Older people, too, can be "revolutionaries," if G-d determines it is necessary and the proper time.

(Shaarei Yerushalayim)

And the frogs died in the houses, in the villages, and in the fields (Ex. 8:9)

When the plague of frogs was over, the frogs died. By contrast, after the plague of "various wild beasts" the animals did not die, but went back to wherever they had come from. The reason is that no "new" animals were created for the plague of "various wild beasts"; at G-d's command they left their natural habitat and converged on Egypt. When the plague ended, they were still necessary for the world's ecosystem. The frogs, however, were created especially for the plague; when it was over, there was no need for so many.

(Kehilat Yitzchak)

It is not proper to do so...shall we sacrifice what is an abomination to the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us (Ex. 8:22)

The Egyptians were extremely careful to avoid hurting animals; according to the Ibn Ezra, they did not eat meat and would not even use any animal products. It is therefore "not proper" when such "humanitarians," who are so filled with pity for four-legged creatures, think nothing about enslaving Jews and throwing their babies into the river.

(Imrei Chein)

It Once Happened

It happened once that some Chasidim of the Baal Shem Tov were sitting and farbrenging together. The longer they shared their stories and insights and sang their Chasidic melodies, the stronger their desire to be with the Baal Shem Tov grew, till they impulsively decided to hire a horse and wagon and set out for the Baal Shem Tov's town of Mezhibozh.

Their own shtetl was actually quite a distance from Mezhibozh; even if they traveled non-stop for several days, there was only a small chance they might make it before Shabbat. The wagon driver was less than enthusiastic; as far as he was concerned there was no need to hurry, and in his opinion, it was simply not possible to cover that many miles before sundown on Friday. The roads were very bad, he pointed out, and there were always unexpected obstacles and delays while traveling.

But the Chasidim could not be deterred. Logical considerations could not compete with their intense longing to see their Rebbe. Without further ado they were on their way.

The wagon driver soon had the horses at a gallop, running as fast as they could under the circumstances. The roads were very narrow, wide enough for only one vehicle. They were so narrow, in fact, that if another vehicle were to appear, passing it on either side would be impossible.

As the Chasidim reached a fork in the road, at an intersection where another path joined the main thoroughfare, an elegant carriage suddenly pulled out in front of them. It was the carriage of the local poritz (landowner), and he was clearly in no hurry to go anywhere. At a leisurely pace his carriage ambled down the road, blocking all traffic. The Chasidim were now stuck behind it, reduced to a crawl.

The wagon driver gritted his teeth; even the Chasidim were becoming angry. The tiny chance they had to make it to Mezhibozh in time for Shabbat was rapidly evaporating before their eyes.

One Chasid was more upset than the others. "I can't believe it!" he complained. "After all our efforts, how can something so ridiculous spoil our plans? Just because of this slowpoke we're going to miss out on spending Shabbat with the Baal Shem Tov!"

Another Chasid, however, hastened to calm him down. "My dear brother, how can you say such a thing? Why are you worried? Have you forgotten what our master the Baal Shem Tov has taught us, that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, directly supervises every minute detail in the world, and that a leaf doesn't turn in the wind without Divine Providence? Does it not state in the Torah, 'From Him no evil will descend'? Nothing bad can come from on High, and indeed, everything is for the good. Whatever G-d does is only good and for the best. The more we accustom ourselves to thinking and acting accordingly, the more we will merit to see the good that exists in everything openly revealed. How can it be that this basic principle should be forgotten when it comes to actually implementing it in our own lives? I tell you friend, this is only a trial..."

The Chasid's fervent plea entered the hearts of the others, and their impatience disappeared. Their wagon could still only proceed at a sluggish pace, but they were filled with renewed faith and confidence that the unexpected delay was for the best.

The wagon continued over the next few miles until suddenly, another potential problem appeared on the horizon. All the way up ahead, at the next intersection, they could see a group of drunken peasants waiting to pounce on the first wagon that passed by...

There was no doubt what the drunken peasants would have done to the Chasidim if they had been alone on the road, or traveling ahead of the poritz's carriage. No one would have stood up for the Jews or sought justice for them after the fact. They would have simply received the "usual" treatment drunken peasants knew so well how to mete out. The Chasidim would have been grateful to have escaped with their lives, let alone continue on their journey.

As it turned out, however, because the poritz's carriage was hogging the right of way, the hooligans simply dispersed once they saw whom it contained. By the time the Chasidim reached the intersection they had all slunk away and the danger was over.

A few minutes later the poritz's carriage turned off onto a side road, and the main thoroughfare was suddenly clear. With a crack of the whip the horses were again at a gallop, and the Chasidim made it to Mezhibozh before Shabbat - with plenty of time to spare. From here we learn that even something that doesn't appear to be good at first, may in fact be so in reality.

Moshiach Matters

"I will take you out...and I will release you...and I will redeem you...and I will take you...and I will bring you into the land" (Ex. 6:6-8) The first four expressions of redemption in this week's Torah portion allude to our redemption from Egypt, whereas the fifth expression, "I will bring you," alludes to the future redemption, the final one which we are now awaiting. Why is this mentioned, then, when foretelling our departure from Egypt? To teach us that ever since the time that we left Egypt, we have been slowly but surely approaching the Final Redemption.

(The Rebbe)

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