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Devarim Deutronomy

November 23, 2018 - 15 Kislev, 5779

1548: Vayishlach

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

  1547: Vayetzei1549: Vayeshev  

Winging It  |  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

Winging It

In days gone by there were motivational posters with awesome photographs of mountains, sunsets, trees, water or other magnificent examples of nature, together with encouraging or inspiring thoughts. Today we have memes, authors, speakers, videos all aspiring to motivate us.

A recurring motivational quote is "Soar with the eagles." (Perhaps it is based on the prophet Isaiah's words: "They will soar high on wings like eagles.")

Someone with a great sense of humor got a hold of that saying and came up with one that suggests: "It's hard to soar with the eagles when you're down here with the turkeys." Of course, there are various permutations of the juxtaposition of eagles and turkeys as well.

An apt Jewish teaching on the subject of soaring with eagles when you're around turkeys is recorded in the Mishna: "If you are in a place where there is no 'adam' [i.e., person, mentsch, human being] try to be a person."

According to Judaism, being around a bunch of turkeys is no excuse for lowering yourself to their level and behaving like them. Even when one is in a place where people aren't acting as they should, or where people are so inhuman that one would call them "turkeys" rather than "people," one must try to act appropriately.

The company we keep can impact on our behavior, productivity and overall "mentschness." There are many other influences in our live, as well.

Read any newspaper and you're sure to find an article about yet another study of how the food we eat, the environment in which we live, even the thoughts we think, effect us.

Read any Torah book and you'll find the same. But it will be based on Jewish teachings that date back all the way to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai over 3,300 years ago.

In the tractate which contains the Mishna quoted above, there are suggestions as to what kind of company one should keep outside of one's home and who should be invited into one's home, guidelines for the neighborhood in which one should live , how to interact with friends or adversaries at high-stress moments, even some thoughts on dinner-table talk.

We alone choose for ourselves whether we will soar with the eagles or gobble, gobble, gobble through our days with the turkeys. As we work toward the time when we will all soar "on the wings of eagles" to the Holy Land and the Third Holy Temple, the Torah is the best guidebook on how to wing it.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob sends angels to his brother Esau. Part of the message they were to tell Esau was, "I sojourned (garti) with Laban." The most famous Torah commentator Rashi gives two explanations for the word "garti." First, that it is like the word "ger," which means stranger. The entire time Jacob lived with Laban he was like a stranger. Second, that Jacob was hinting to Esau that during his sojourn with Laban, he kept the 613 commandments, for the numerical value of the Hebrew word "garti" is 613.

What is the inner meaning of these two explanations and what life-lesson can we learn from them?

Jacob's descent to Laban's house in Haran is the descent of the soul into the world. In a broader sense, it is also the descent of the Jewish people into exile. Your soul descends to accomplish the mission of refining your body and the world around you, making it into a dwelling for G-d. When we complete our missions collectively, G-d will dwell openly in this world and the peace, health, prosperity and knowledge of the Messianic Era will have commenced.

Jacob is teaching us the correct approach to succeed in our mission. Rashi's first explanation is that we should see ourselves as strangers, travelers, in this world. When traveling, we don't expect to have all of the conveniences that we have at home; we expect to "make due" with what is available.

Jacob was saying that he was like a stranger traveling through Laban's place. The physical was not so important to him, his focus was on the spiritual - the 613 commandments. Therefore, he was successful in his mission.

To prove that he was successful, Jacob says, "I acquired cattle, donkeys, sheep..." This seems to contradict what was said before, that the physical was not important to Jacob. Was it important or not?

There are different approaches you can have to the world. One approach is that the physical is all that is important, and success is measured by how many things you have. This is Laban and Esau's approach.

A second approach is that only the spiritual is important. In this approach all physical gains are shunned.

Then there is Jacob's approach. When you make the spiritual most important, but you recognize that everything in this physical world has a holy purpose. In other words, the physical becomes important for the G-dly reason that it exists. So the physical isn't to be shunned but to be harnessed and used for its G-dly purpose.

A Jew must do his best to refine himself and his part of the world, making it into a home for G-d, and readying it for the redemption. Perhaps it is your effort that will tip the scale and usher in the redemption. This is the power of a single individual.

May our efforts to make this world into a home for G-d succeed, and usher in the coming of Moshiach.

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

Lessons of Life
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Last week my son began complaining about pain in his leg. After a few days with no relief we decided it was time to see a doctor. The doctor examined him and said, "This is a very serious disease. He definitely needs surgery. Please take him to the emergency room right now."

As a father of eight, I am unfortunately no stranger to New York City emergency rooms. I hate them, but an order is an order. I double checked but the doctor assured me that she knows what she's talking about, and even agreed to record a message for my wife regarding the urgency of the situation.

Thank G-d the ER was mostly empty and we were able to see a doctor immediately.

Imagine my surprise - and relief - to hear this doctor tell me that my son absolutely did not have the disease the other doctor diagnosed, and would certainly not need surgery. Nevertheless, since we were there already, they insisted on running some time-consuming tests. Protocol.

After an x-ray, blood work, and a few other medical exams, we got a clean bill of health and returned home.

I began to wonder why I had trusted that first doctor so much. Why didn't I just march my son back home to bed? Because the doctor has years of medical training, and I do not. So I trust her opinion.

I just wish others would listen to my rabbinical advice the same way I listen to the doctor! After all, I too have years of training and years of experience working in the field.

A guy comes to me with marital problems. I advise him to schedule a date night (or morning) out of the house with his wife every week, and make sure nothing gets in the way. Stop shouting at her, treat her well, and you will begin to feel lovingly towards her again. I also suggest they begin keeping the family purity laws, but he confidently assures me that there is absolutely no chance of that.

Another guy comes to me with serious business problems. I recommend he pray and put on tefillin daily, but he argues that he sees no connection. I ask myself, do I argue with my doctor when she sends me to the ER which is a lot more inconvenient than putting on tefillin each morning?! I do not. I follow orders. So why is my advice questioned? Why am I not trusted?

To a woman with heart problems, I suggest installing mezuzot on all the doors in her house.

"I just bought one for the front door," she argues.

"They are needed on every door," I insist. I beg and begrudgingly she agrees.

This is how it is with Jewish observance. We struggle to accept what the Torah says. That's our challenge. But by reframing it, and realizing how readily we accept advice from other experts, surely we can become better at readily accepting the Torah's wisdom. It's for our own benefit, after all!

Whenever I walk through the streets of Manhattan with my kids, I receive droves of unsolicited advice. It's the strangest thing, but for some reason New Yorkers seem to feel the need to help me with my parenting.

Just the other day we were heading to Central Park, my kids racing ahead on scooters, and a woman stopped to tell me, "Your son's helmet is not on correctly. You should really secure it more tightly." I thanked her and assured her that all the helmets were properly secured.

Now, this would not be so strange if it only happened once in a while, but it happens all the time.

My two-year-old will be having a tantrum in the park and a stranger will undoubtedly come over to tell me how to deal with it. And I'm left thinking to myself, "Do you realize that before 6:00 am today I changed seven diapers and fed breakfast to five babies?"

Or we'll be biking in Central Park and somebody will stop to tell me that the kids are too far ahead and it's dangerous and irresponsible, and all I can think is, "I'm not exactly an inexperienced dad! I have eight kids!"

And then there's the weather brigade. It's hot, it's cold, it's raining, it's windy, there's snow in the forecast (perhaps for three months from now...) and people are sure my kids are not suitably dressed, "Your child should be wearing a raincoat!" "Where's his sun hat?" "She'll be cold, she needs a scarf!" And while I appreciate their concern, inwardly I roll my eyes and wonder, "Do you think I don't know how to keep my kids comfortable and safe?"

Ironically, I probably have a lot more hands-on childcare experience than most of the people who approach me! I know how to dress them, feed them, keep them safe, maintain boundaries and still give them a good time. Imagine that! Their concern is genuine, but I doubt any of them are raising eight kids, including triplets.

When I think about it, however, I realize that we treat G-d the same way.

He tells us to put on tefillin every day, and we tell him we know better. He says Torah is your life - learn it every single day, and we say, "I already have a life, I don't have time for that."

He says keep Shabbat, a day of rest, and we say, "Nah, we have other ways to rest."

But G-d is the expert. He is the one who created the world, created us, and knows what we need. And still we think we know better! How ironic.

Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Shmuli and Nechama Heidingsfeld have joined Chabad of Greater Fort Lauderdale, Florida to focus on outreach activities. The new emissaries are visiting businesses and offices, assisted living communities, connecting with teens and giving Torah classes.

Ten years after the murder of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the Rebbe's emissaries in Mumbai, India, Chabad of Mumbai is expanding. In 2013, Rabbi Yisroel and Chaya Kozlovsky arrived as the new permanent directors of Chabad of Mumbai. A year later the Jewish Academy of Mumbai was established and it has since grown into a full day school. Now, Rabbi Uri and Mushki Bloy will be moving to Mumbai to help advance the activities of Chabad of Mumbai including adult education, CTeen and especially the Jewish Academy.

Rabbi Eli and Ruty Steinhauser have moved to Fair Lawn, New Jersey to direct the youth outreach department at Anshei Lubavitch.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letters

14th of Kislev, 5719 [1958]

Peace and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed about your forthcoming Yud Tes (19th of) Kislev celebration, and I send you my prayerful wishes for lasting success.

True and lasting success can be measured only in terms of spreading the Torah and mitzvos (commandments) and the extent to which they actually pervade and vitalize every-day life, among every growing strata of the community at large.

An auspicious event is ordained for an auspicious day - the 19th of Kislev, the Liberation day of the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. May it result in increased effort, vitality and brightness in the work of your Branch, multiplying steadily throughout the year.

The story of Yud Tes Kislev is known to you. It is as meaningful today as it was significant 160* years ago, and even more. The observance of this day, year after year, must remind and inspire every one of us, especially in the present generation, towards serving G-d more fully and more meaningfully. Such Divine service is to be attained through the study of His Torah - both in its revealed and innermost aspects (the latter referring to Chasidism) - which unifies and attunes the whole Jewish soul - and through the observance of His precepts with animation and enthusiasm.

This must be based on the love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of each and every fellow-Jew - which are all one - as fully explained in the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, whose teachings triumphed and won full recognition on the 19th day of Kislev.

The Eve of Yud Tes Kislev, 5724 [1963]

...In one of his well-known letters, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman] declares that the happy tidings of his liberation reached him when he was reading the verse (Psalms 55:19):

"[G-d] has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle against me, for many were with me."

This Providential coincidence surely carries a message for every one of us. Indeed, every individual is in need of a personal liberation from all the difficulties and hindrances encountered in daily life that hamper the attainment of the goals that should be achieved every day, in both material and spiritual endeavors.

...every individual is in need of a personal liberation from all the difficulties and hindrances encountered in daily life

Thus, our Sages make the following meaningful commentary on the verse: "Said the Holy One, Blessed Be He: He who engages in Torah, and in acts of loving-kindness, and prays with the congregation, is regarded by Me as if he redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world" (Talmud, Berachot 8a).

In this way, our Sages emphasize that the personal redemption of every Jew, as well as of the entire Jewish people, together with G-d (so to speak), is directly linked with the dissemination of Torah, acts of benevolence ("duties toward fellow-Jews"), and prayer ("duties toward G-d").

Thus, every man or woman who is involved in these three things brings liberation and redemption to himself as well as to our people as a whole.

*) 220 years ago this year

All Together

ALEXANDRA is the feminine form of the adopted Greek name Alexander, meaning "protector of man." Queen Shloma-Alexandra, Queen of Judea from 76-67 b.c.e. brought peace, prosperity, and spiritual healing to the Land of Israel. AKIVA is a variant form of the Hebrew name Yaakov meaning "to hold by the heel." The famous Rabbi Akiva did not even know the Hebrew alphabet until he began studying Torah at the age of 40. He became one of the most beloved, respected scholars of all time.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Tuesday is the 19th of Kislev, the day of liberation of the founder of Chabad Chasidut, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, from imprisonment on false charges of anti-government activities.

In a well-known letter written upon his release, Rabbi Shneur Zalman declared that the happy tidings of his liberation came to him when he was reading the verse (Ps. 55:19): "G-d has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle against me, for m any were with me."

That Rabbi Shneur Zalman was informed of his release precisely at that moment when he was reading that verse is an act of Divine Providence. And it carries a message for every one of us.

Certainly, everyone is in need of a personal liberation from all of the difficulties and hindrances one encounters in daily life, especially since these obstacles often hamper the attainment of both material and spiritual goals and endeavors. Jewish teachings explain that on the anniversary of a special day, the same spiritual energy that was present on that day is once more brought into the world.

Thus, this year, on the 19th of Kislev, the energy that can bring us the ability to experience personal liberation from difficulties and hindrances to material and spiritual endeavors is invested into the world. We can hook into that energy by being aware of it and by using the day for positive actions and a heightened emphasis on Torah study and mitzvot observance.

When someone experiences a personal liberation, he helps bring liberation and redemption to our entire people and to the whole world. Even before 19 Kislev next Tuesday, may we all this very Shabbat experience personal redemptions culminating in ultimate and Final Redemption that we are all preparing for, with the revelation of Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

I am not worthy of all the kindness (Gen. 32:11)

Every kindness G-d shows a person should only serve to increase his humility. The Tanya explains that "everything that exists is considered by G-d as nothing." It follows then that the more a person can be said to "exist," that is, the more he is truly worthy, the greater his perception of himself as "nothing." Jacob, who was extremely humble due to all the acts of kindness G-d had already shown him, was therefore worried that he was not worthy of being saved from Esau.

(The Rebbe, Igrot Kodesh Vol. 2)

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him (Gen. 33:4)

When a small flame is brought close to a burning torch, the smaller fire is nullified in the larger one. So too was it with Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the great light, whereas Esau contained hidden sparks of holiness. When Esau spotted Jacob these sparks were aroused, prompting him to run over and be nullified in the greater holiness.

(Torat Chaim)

If you will become as we are, that every male of you be circumcised (Gen. 34:15)

Why did the sons of Jacob, who were physically strong and powerful, avenge what happened to their sister Dina in such a "sneaky" way? Why did they insist that the people of Shechem be circumcised? Had Jacob's sons attacked them as they were, the world would have reacted with an uproar. Once the people of Shechem nominally identified themselves as Jews, however, they could be killed with impunity. For surely no one would protest the killing of Jews...

(Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz)

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed, and he divided the people who were with him (Gen. 32:8)

What caused Jacob to be distressed? The fact that the people who were with him were "divided." Jacob recognized that when the Jewish people are united, the forces of Esau can do them no harm. It's only when there are internal divisions and strife that Jews should worry.

(Maayanot HaNetzach)

It Once Happened

Reb Moshe Meisels was a loyal Chasid of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, and was ever ready to undertake any mission the Rebbe would assign to him.

In the year 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, Reb Moshe received a secret letter from the Alter Rebbe. In the letter, the Rebbe informed his trusted Chasid that it was most important for the spiritual well-being of the Jews that Czar Alexander win the war against Napoleon.

When Napoleon's armies reached the gates of Vilna, Reb Moshe "found himself" in the occupied zone. He became friendly with the French officers who were impressed with his wide knowledge of languages and general education. When an interpreter was needed to question captured soldiers and officers, or to deal with the local populace, or to issue public notices and proclamations, Reb Moshe was much in demand to help carry out these tasks. It did not take long before Reb Moshe enjoyed the fullest confidence of the French general staff.

Thus, Reb Moshe was able to learn many important military secrets, and through his connection with other Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, he was able to transmit important information to the Russian generals on the battlefront.

Once, when Reb Moshe happened to be in the French Generals Headquarters, the generals were making plans about their next attack. Huge maps were spread out on the table, and the generals debated heatedly about the various possibilities of distributing their military forces on the battlefront in order to give the Russians an unexpected blow.

Reb Moshe pretended not to hear or see what was going on, and the generals paid no attention to him.

Suddenly the door burst open and in came Napoleon. The generals sprang to their feet and stood at attention. With one glance Napoleon took in the whole scene.

"What is this stranger doing here?" he demanded, pointing to Reb Moshe. Without waiting for a reply, Napoleon rushed up to him, exclaiming, "You are a spy!" Saying which, he pressed his hand to Reb Moshe's chest to feel if his heart was beating rapidly at having been unmasked.

But Reb Moshe's heart was not pounding and his face did not pale, as he calmly replied in perfect French:

"Your Majesty, your generals appointed me to be their interpreter, and I await their orders."

His cool manner and calm voice completely disarmed Napoleon, and his suspicions were immediately dispelled. Reb Moshe was saved from certain death.

When Reb Moshe related the episode of his encounter with Napoleon, he declared that the "alef-bet" (most basic teachings) of Chasidut had saved his life at that particular moment. He explained:

"The Rebbe has taught us that the 'alef' of Chasidut is that a Jew has to use his natural powers for the service of G-d. One of these natural powers is that the brain rules the heart. In other words, according to the nature which G-d created in man, reason is basically stronger than feeling; a person has the power to control his emotions. However, it is not enough for a man to know this; he must persistently train himself to exercise this power in his daily life and conduct, until it becomes a natural habit with him. In actual practice this simply means that whenever one feels a strong desire for something, one should say to oneself, 'I can do without it.' The exercise of such self-control is the 'alef' of Chasidut and having mastered this 'alef' one can steadily advance further.

"Thus I have schooled myself to achieve absolute self-control, so that in everything I think, speak, and do, I let my mind rule my heart. And where it is important for the heart to express its feelings, the mind, too, must have its say, to make sure that the feelings do not get out of control.

"And so I trained myself to control my feelings, not to get excited under any circumstances, and not to be overwhelmed by anyone or anybody.

"And this 'alef' of Chasidut saved my life."

Moshiach Matters

The union of Esau's superior strength and Jacob's wisdom will be the defining characteristic of the Messianic future, and is therefore the key to ushering it in. Indeed, our undying devotion to the Torah and its commandments ever since Jacob's time has largely refined the power of Esau, and we are now at the threshold of the final, Messianic Redemption.

(Daily Wisdom, translated and adapted by Moshe Wisnefsky from the works of the Rebbe.)

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