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Devarim Deutronomy

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January 19, 2018 - 3 Shevat, 5778

1506: Bo

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  1505: Vaera1507: Beshalach  

Just a Tiny Dot  |  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

Just a Tiny Dot

by Rabbi Mendy Herson

A tiny stroke of ink.

A suspended dot.

That's what the Yud, the tenth letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, looks like.

It's a tiny speck of a letter. In and of itself, it doesn't tell you much. At the same time, letters form words, and words express ideas. Our words can be powerful media to convey concepts deep within our minds and hearts, and each of those words is comprised of building blocks we call letters.

Each letter, each fundamental building block, has its own character, its particular contribution to a respective word. Each letter's shape and sound are distinctive, representing a unique place in the desired expression. Even the tiny Yud.

When Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, taught his son [Rabbi] Yosef Yitzchak (who eventually grew into the sixth Rebbe) the meanings of each Hebrew letter, he pointed out that every letter begins with a Yud. Every letter is launched with its first drop of ink, an initial flourish, a Yud.

Conceptually, the Rebbe taught his son, we create many letters and words through the course of our lives. And the Yud needs to form the heart of every letter, every expression. The Yud's tiny stroke represents our essential existence, our purpose in life and our core connectedness to our Creator. Deep within the human psyche, perhaps far beyond our conscious layers, we all have a Yud, a core recognition: We exist for a purpose.

Meaningful life begins with a primal recognition of our place in the world. But that's only the beginning. We need to expand that dot of recognition, and broadening it into letters and words. That is our collective mission in life.

Practically speaking, our days are filled with choices, behaviors and interactions. Those are all expressions of our personalities; they form our letters and words, so to speak. At the same time, our 'letters' all need to flow from a core, an essential recognition that we're here to serve, that G-d created us to bring meaning to the world.

The tiny dot in your soul is where meaningful life begins.

Rabbi Mendy Herson, together with his wife Malki, direct Chabad of Somerset, Hunterdon & Union Counties in New Jersey. This is from Rabbi Herson's blog. To read more

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Bo, we read of the last of the ten plagues that were brought upon the Egyptians: locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn sons. Concerning the plague of darkness, there were three days of opaque darkness and three days where the darkness was tangible and rendered the Egyptians immobile. At the same time, for the Jewish people, there was light.

Everything that the Torah tells us is a lesson that every Jew can learn from. Even the plagues. What the Torah tells us about the exile and exodus is particularly a lesson on how to deal with our present exile and future exodus.

What lesson can we draw from the plague of darkness, especially from the fact that there was darkness and light at the same time?

The Hebrew word for Egypt is "Mitzrayim," which is related to the word maytzarim, which means boundaries, constraints or limitations. This is because it is symbolic of the limitations we experience in this physical world.

There are times in this exile, when you experience darkness, in the form of heartbreak, health problems, oppression, etc. Sometimes it seems there is no hope and that no amount of light can overcome this darkness. Other times it is worse, it can seem completely paralyzing. The struggle and pain we experience is very real and hard to get through.

G-d is telling you here that in this place of darkness, can be found a great light, greater than anything you ever experienced before. This light is transformative, it gives new perspective and brings out new abilities. The greater the darkness the greater the light that is to be found.

This doesn't mean that darkness is good, but if you experience darkness, search for the positive in it. Use the new light to brighten your surroundings and make a difference.

It is already several years since G-d chose to give me and my family tremendous hardships. But I am grateful to G-d for the positive that came from our experience. Dina and I have been blessed with an outpouring of love from so many and our writings and Dina's talks have been uplifting people all over. All this would not have been possible without the darkness we experienced, as it brought to the fore love and abilities we never knew we had. How can we not be grateful.

With all this said, we all have had enough darkness in our lives. Now it is time for Moshiach to come and for the darkness to end. Let the light shine uninterrupted in our lives.

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

My Jewish identity has been developed through many different experiences. This includes seven years of Hebrew school, six years of Jewish youth group, three summers of Jewish sleep-away camp, several trips to Israel with my family, as well as Birthright and Onward Israel.

These experiences have been wonderful. Learning over the past twenty one years what being Jewish means and does for me has shaped me into the woman I am today. All of these experiences however, were ones that I either had to do (i.e. hebrew school), or were offered in exchange for a free trip to Israel, an internship, or some sort of social experience.

This year, for the first time, I was offered to to have a Jewish experience solely for the sake of the Jewish experience itself. I wasn't offered money, a flight to Israel, or better yet, a pen with the organization's logo on it. I was offered a purely, "do it because you want to," experience. All that was asked from me was to commit 45 minutes a week to Jewish study and there was no membership fee! Nice!

I went for my first session of Jewish study hoping to get a few nagging questions answered, maybe learn a thing or two I didn't know, and come away being better able to explain Judaism to those who knew less than me.

Wow. That is so not what happened. I began reading books, well, portions of books, about topics in Judaism that interested me, but found myself having trouble getting through some of them. Trust me, my reading comprehension is at a college level, so that wasn't the problem. It was that these texts weren't giving me the answers I was hoping for, I wasn't getting simple confirmation of my well-formed beliefs. I struggled to understand the reasoning some of the authors gave and decided I needed to take a step back and reflect on what this means to me and my Jewish identity.

That, that right there, was the experience that has made the most pointed impact on who I am as a Jew. Having my beliefs challenged by the very religion that aided in their formation was confusing, but I learned that this is exactly what meaningful study is about. This experience forced me to rethink and reshape my understanding of Judaism and to really reach a deeper level of learning and thought.

These 45 minutes per week of study for the past eight weeks offered me nothing but a space to learn and grow, yet they have been the most formative minutes of the development of my Jewish identity.

I was challenged to find a way to mend the part of my identity that felt torn after reading Jewish thoughts that conflicted with my personal ones. For the first time I had to find a way to take the elements of what I had studied that did not fit into the jigsaw puzzle of my Jewish identity, and come to form my own philosophy of what Judaism is and what it does for me. Looking back it is clear that a lot of my Jewish identity has been fed to me. I finally have begun to feed my soul on my own, which has been more valuable for my personal growth than any other Jewish experience I have had before.

Here I am now, with more questions than answers, yet feeling more of a connection to myself and my Judaism than ever. Thank you to the Cheins and the Chabad Club for providing me with this unexpected, soul-enriching opportunity and for awakening in me this Jewish thirst for wondering, questioning, struggling, and searching.

Jordyn is a senior at Brandeis University.

by Rabbi Peretz Chein

Chanie, my wife and co-founder of Chabad House [at Brandeis University], and I have noted a sharp change in students. It seems that previously students were more casual and curious about learning for the experience itself, pursued meaningful conversations, and sought out social events to meet others.

Less and less students are engaging in a mature pursuit of Judaism, that is unless they are paid to take a class, are offered an internship while studying in yeshiva, given a free trip to Israel, or a delicious home cooked meal with friends on Shabbat.

Today, students are taking the positive experiences given to them for free, saying thank you and moving on to the next stimulating opportunity. However they are not investing, pursuing, and personalizing what is being provided for them.

As the Judaism of responsibility to the past fades, and the one of belonging or meaning in the present crumbles, a new-future oriented Judaism can give rise. One that also addresses the underlying question of what does Judaism do and how does it benefit me?

Simply put, Judaism creates a distinctive personal independence by integrating into oneself the one independent Being. This is achieved in part by imagining within everything, particularly yourself and other people, the presence and mystery of the independent Being that continuously animates all. Additionally, it is achieved by adapting practices that are independent of the expected norm, for instance in diet (kosher) and time (Shabbat).

The result is an individual with humility, courage, and clarity. Who respects and connects with everyone, including the less fortunate and those with whom one disagrees with. Who can overpower the insecurity that generates greed and arrogance, replacing it with a desire to share and care even beyond one's seeming capacity.

We each posses that personal independence; it's our soul. However unless it's nurtured, like our mind, it will waste. And a soul is a terrible thing to waste.

This requires personal investment and hard work but the result is liberating. It will empower today's youth to thrive in the jungle of life. To engage in social media and have the courage not to be enslaved to it. To harness the power of the information at one's fingertips yet remain curious and humble.

Over the past two months as we have shared with students our pivoted approach and began demanding of them to invest in their Judaism a light turns on in their eyes. They appreciate this refreshing approach and respond to the clarity and vision it provides.

Chabad is uniquely positioned to lead this change. Our presence on a college campus exemplifies independence rooted in the one independent Being, and results in humility, courage, and clarity. This is why we independently move to a college campus despite not necessarily being invited, with no guaranteed salary - ever, and raise our children there despite the isolation. Still, we find no greater joy than continuing until we have impacted every last student.

As long as we are willing to disrupt the comforts of habit, roll up our sleeves and work hard, the future of our people and the world is very bright.

What's New

The Inside Story

The Inside Story is a Chasidic perspective on Biblical events, laws, and personalities. The newly released volume II covers the book of Exodus (Shemot). As he has done in his previous works, Rabbi Yanky Tauber combed through years of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's talks and discourses to unearth and consolidate the definitive Chassidic themes of each portion in the book of Exodus. Published by the Meaningful Life Center.

Tanya in Nigeria

Chabad-Lubavitch of Nigeria recently printed the book of Tanya in Abuja and other cities throughout Nigeria, sparking a weekly class in Abuja to study the foundational Chabad text and several weekly classes over the phone with those in other parts of the country. Tanya was authored by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch. The Rebbe initiated a campaing o print the book of Tanya wherever Jews are found. Previously Tanya was printed in 1978 in the city of Aba, and in 1984 in Lagos.

The Rebbe Writes

November 2, 1950 (5710)

I am in receipt of you letter.

With regard to the question of instituting the reforms you mention in your letter, I cannot agree the same. When Rabbi H. was here and informed me of the circumstances and sought my advice, I gave him my opinion and reasons and asked him to convey same to you and others. There is no need for me to repeat myself.

However, I wish to set you right on several points in your letter.

First, as to your reference of my "overriding" your views, etc. I want you to know that it is not my habit to give orders. Besides, the central management of Yeshivah matters belongs to a different office. However, when people come to me for advice, I express my opinion and my views. In this particular instance I am all the more confident that my views are correct, since in my many years' association with my father-in-law, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe of sainted memory, I have had occasion to learn his views on similar problems, and my views correspond to his.

At any rate, my opinion is only offered as counsel and is by no means an order. Consequently, your ultimatum and warning that Lubavitch will be the loser, etc., are completely out of order.

My advice is based on the firm belief and experience that it is the only way which will lead your institution to progress and that the other alternatives leads in the opposite direction. (I do not wish to express my prediction in so many words as to where it would ultimately land your institution).

As to your insistence upon the condition that the Board of Directors and the New York determines mundane policy, etc., I need hardly tell you that I have no ambitions of exercising power and dictating policy for the enjoyment of it. I am certainly not less interested in the welfare of your institution than you, and my views are based on the primary consideration that the New Haven yeshivah is for the benefit of the New Haven children and not for anybody in New York.

I can well understand you desire to separate the mundane form the spiritual in the management of the institution, for they seem to be two distinct provinces. But in the final analysis you will surely agree that no material gains can be made at the sacrifice, or to the detriment of spiritual principles and considerations. This should be obvious in the case of any educational institution and especially a religious one, and more especially a Jewish religious educational institution, and even more so in an institution where the underlying philosophy is the predominance of the spiritual over the physical. Indeed, Jewish life has two aims in the constant world struggle between the physical and spiritual forces, namely, the victory of the spirit over matter, and further, that the physical world itself be sublimated and 'spiritualized' as much as possible. Hence the basic slogan of the Jewish credo that the important thing ultimately is not the theory but the practice, that is to say, that the Torah and Mitzvoth should be dominant in every action.

Applying the above to our case under discussion, it is clear that not only the spiritual management of the Yeshivah should reflect the nature of the institution, but the financial policy, too, should bespeak the warm spirit and wholehearted determination to save Jewish children, for which purpose it is necessary to overcome certain financial difficulties which, in institutions of lesser stature, would be disposed to otherwise, that is, regarded as unnecessary....

For your statement that in carrying out his duties Rabbi H. brings upon himself sacrifices and self destruction I have a brief answer: all those who have had the privilege, past and present, to participate in the work of the institutions which were and still are under the auspices and guidance of my father-in-law of sainted memory, such participation, they know, does not entail sacrifice and self-destruction G-d forbid, but rather the contrary, it helps both those who are engaged in the spiritual side as well as those who are helpful financially and actively, since such participation is a source of blessing for them and theirs, spiritually and materially. And while I do not know you, but based on experience, I am sure that from the time you took over the leadership in behalf of the Yeshivah you must have noticed an extra measure of success in your own affairs, material and spiritual. I trust that before long I will hear good tidings of you and a confession that my advice, far from being detrimental, has brought your institution success and progress.


From The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP)

All Together

Are there special customs during pregnancy?

There are numerous prayers for various stages of pregnancy and labor/delivery, some said by the husband and others by the wife. Also, the Rebbe encouraged pregnant women to give charity every weekday, and before lighting Shabbat candles to give charity to a "Meir Baal Haness" fund, as well as to have one's mezuzot checked during the pegnancy. Some customs to ensure an easy delivery are: to eat a meal Saturday night in honor of the end of Shabbat (Melave Malka); and to bake challa for Shabbat.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This week's Torah portion, Bo, opens with G-d's command to Moses to "Go to Pharaoh." Moses followed G-d's order fearlessly. He boldly approached the mighty Egyptian ruler and demanded that Pharaoh release the Jewish people. Moses was not afraid of Pharaoh; Jewish lives were at stake, the Jewish people were counting on him. Moses was not concerned with the general (Egyptian) public opinion, either. "What will the neighbors think?" did not even enter his mind.

Moses was the epitome of the Jewish leader, showing selfless concern for each and every single person. He served as an example for all future leaders of the Jewish people. Moses' approach and attitude toward Pharaoh and the Egyptians should therefore be the position of every Jewish leader. A Jewish leader's only concern must be with the Jewish lives entrusted to him/her. Public opinion is not a consideration when dealing with the spiritual and physical aspects of Jewish lives.

The concept of a Jewish leader is not limited to the Moses' of each generation. For, each and every Jew - man, woman and child - is a Jewish leader in some sense. In every part of our lives in which we find ourselves influencing or directing others, we are leaders. We must therefore, behave as did Moses, the Jewish leader par excellence. When dealing with any aspect of Jewish life, ours, our children's or friends', we must boldly and fearlessly demand that we be released from any deterrents to our observance of Judaism.

And, as we read in the end of this week's portion, through this resolute stance, we will eventually be redeemed and ultimately brought to the Promised Land, where we will rebuild the Holy Temple, together with Moses and all of the leaders of all the generations.

Thoughts that Count

When he will let you go, he will surely thrust you out altogether from here... Speak now in the ears of the people, and let them ask... and G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians (Ex. 11:1-3)

Throughout the ages there have always been some people who insist on interpreting the miraculous exodus from Egypt as a purely natural event. The Children of Israel were allowed to leave Egypt, they claim, simply because the Egyptians had had their fill of Jews and decided to let them emigrate. To these skeptics the Torah replies, "He will surely thrust you out...and every man shall ask of his neighbor." When the Jewish people left Egypt, not only were they not despised, but the Egyptians plied them with gold and silver vessels, for "G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians."

(Sichat Hashavua)

This month shall be unto you (Ex. 12:2)

According to Rabbi Yitzchak the Torah should have begun with this verse, and not "In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth." What is so special about this mitzva, and why doesn't the Torah begin with the words "I am the L-rd thy G-d," a seemingly more fundamental principle of Judaism? The existence of G-d is the basis upon which the observance of Torah and mitzvot is predicated, but the objective of the entire Torah is best expressed in the mitzva of "this month (chodesh) shall be unto you." The purpose of the Jew is to become an active partner in creation (the Hebrew word "chodesh" comes from the word chadash--"new"), transforming the physical world, which seems to be a separate entity, divorced from G-dliness, into yet another expression of holiness.

(The Rebbe)

It Once Happened

One day while the Talmudic sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was teaching Torah to his students, a gentile entered the study hall and listened to the discussion that was taking place. His interest, however, was far from sincere. In fact, his only reason for coming was in order to glean some bits of Torah wisdom which he could then twist and use to the detriment of the Jewish people.

He understood Hebrew well, and stood quietly in the back, listening and waiting for just the right moment to spring. His plan was to put a question to Rabbi Yehoshua, and then use his own arguments to prove the rabbi wrong in front of his students. If he played his cards right, he might even succeed in sowing doubts in the minds of the young students and win them over to the ways of idolatry.

The moment came and the gentile confronted the sage. "I have a question for you. How is it that although you Jews sit all day and night and study your Torah, you still don't fulfill its precepts properly?"

Rabbi Yehoshua had seen these types before, and he turned to him with a calm demeanor and answered, "What exactly do you mean? What have you seen us do to cause you to think that we have transgressed the laws of our Torah?"

"It is not just to one particular law that I refer, but rather to the whole spirit of the Torah, for isn't it written in your Torah that 'the minority should follow the majority'? That seems to mean that if one holds a certain view while all of the others differ from him, he should follow the view of the majority. So why is it that there are many more idol-worshippers in the world than there are Jews, and yet you stubbornly insist upon following your own religion. So, you are transgressing your own laws by refusing to worship idols."

Rabbi Yehoshua had heard this foolish argument before, and he realized that the gentile had completely misunderstood the meaning of the verse he was quoting. The verse actually referred to decisions made by the Sanhedrin [the Supreme Court] while judging a case which demanded the death penalty. Then, only by a majority of two or more judges is it possible to decide for capital punishment.

Rabbi Yehoshua understood that the motives of the gentile were corrupt, and he decided not to explain the true meaning of the words to him. The idol-worshipper might distort his words and try to harm the Jews in some way. No, what he would do was to answer him in such a way that he would never try such a trick again.

Rabbi Yehoshua turned to the man and asked, "Do you have any sons?"

The man's expression changed in an instant from one of haughtiness to one of profound sadness. "How did you know? I have many sons, but they give me only trouble. Every night when the family sits down to dine, each of my sons blesses his own idol. Then the arguments begin. One son says that his idol is the true one, the next son screams, 'That's a lie - only mine is true!' And these arguments go on and on until everyone is too upset to eat. Sometimes, actual fist-fights break out and blood flows."

"How terrible!" said Rabbi Yehoshua. "I don't understand why you are unable to make peace between your children. Surely you must side with one or the other, and you can bring the others into agreement with you."

"That's not true at all! They are all mistaken; only my idol is the true one, and I can't convince them of it. There will never be peace in my home."

Rabbi Yehoshua faced the idol-worshipper and reprimanded him sharply, saying, "If you can't even make peace between your own children, how dare you come here with your phony questions!" The idol-worshipper turned on his heels and left, and was never seen there again.

Rabbi Yehoshua's students surrounded their teacher, praising him for his clever answer. "Master," they said, "it is explicitly written in the Torah in so many places that it is forbidden to worship idols. How could he have imagined that G-d would want us to follow a majority of idol-worshippers? But, tell, us, please, is his question mentioned anywhere in the Torah?"

Rabbi Yehoshua replied to them: "It may have seemed to you that I was just joking with that man, but that is not the case. My answer was serious. This man was suggesting that we must always follow the majority, even if they are evil, and that is why he asserts that we must worship idols, G-d forbid. But in truth, the gentiles are not a majority, for they are descended from Esau and have no unity amongst themselves. Since each of them has his own opinion, they consist of many individuals, rather than a unified group.

"The Jewish people, on the contrary, are descended from Jacob, and are united in service to G-d. The Torah refers to Esau, saying 'all the souls in his house' - souls in the plural, since they are divided in their opinions.

"Describing Jacob, it is written, 'all the people were seventy soul' - soul, in the singular, for all of them worshipped only the One G-d. From this we can see how exact are all the words of Torah. Nothing is extra, and each letter has deep meaning."

Moshiach Matters

The innovation of Moshiach will be a revelation of the G-dliness already within the world, actualizing the spiritual potential within the physical realm. Each particular mitzva reveals a new aspect of G-dliness within creation. In this week's Torah reading it states: "G-d said to Moses and Aaron ... this month will be for you the beginning of months." The Hebrew words for "month" (chodesh) and "innovation" (chidush) are practically identical. So the passage could just be read "this innovation shall be yours." This means that with the first mitzva, G-d gave the Jewish people the ability to innovate, to reveal the innate G-dliness within the world, to spiritually transform creation into a dwelling place for the Divine Presence.

(From Reflections of Redemption, by Rabbi Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann)

  1505: Vaera1507: Beshalach  
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