What the Jews Do | 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
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
It has become blatantly obvious that we are witnessing a full-fledged epidemic of Anti-Semitic attacks. In the last week alone, there has been at least one incident each day. For the first time in modern US history, Jews are afraid to shop at kosher stores, afraid to go to shul, afraid to send their kids to Jewish schools. Simply walking around dressed Jewishly is making people uneasy, cautious, and frightened.
David Ben Gurion said, "It doesn't matter what the non-Jews say, it matters what the Jews do."
So, what will we do? How will we respond?
Yes, we need to demand apologies, sign petitions, and organize protests. We need to insist on a sustained, get-tough, zero-tolerance policy by local and state officials. We need a policy that takes each incident equally seriously. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, and should not be tolerated, no matter who the perpetrator is.
But what else can we do to combat this toxic undercurrent seeping through society?
First, we need to understand and recognize the root cause of the hatred
We know they don't hate us because we're successful; Jews have been persecuted back in the shtetls when they had nothing at all. They don't hate us for being poor, because wealthy Jews have never been exempt. They don't hate us because we established the State of Israel; Hitler killed 6 million of us before that ever happened. There is nothing we can point to and say, "That's why! That's why they hate us. If we fix or change that, there'll be no more anti-Semitism."
Anti-Semitism is irrational. It's a hatred that has always existed, and will continue as long as we remain in exile. There is no reason. It simply is.
So what should we do in the face of the current crisis? How can we combat the hatred staring us down?
As counterintuitive as it might seem, by being prouder Jews!
They hate us? They hate Judaism? Well, let's examine our own love for it. Do we feel it with a fiery passion? How can we reignite that, instill it in our children, awaken it in our friends, and show it off proudly?
By increasing our Jewish engagement.
Commit to putting on tefillin daily, and when you say Shema, remind yourself of your eternal and everlasting link to your ancestors, all the way back to Abraham. Picture the unbroken chain connecting you; it's powerful!
Commit to lighting Shabbat candles every single week, and when you do, picture the light dispelling evil and hatred from the world. A small amount of light dispels great darkness. You may not see the significance of your two candles, but they are powerful!
Contact your local Chabad and study Torah. Educate yourself and your children, reignite that passion and love for G-d and His Torah.
We have to be a light unto the nations. We have to inspire each other to be strong in our Jewish observance and proud of our identity. We cannot cower and hide away in fear. We must stand strong, proud, and united; it is the only way to fight the current upsurge in anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Vigler co-directs Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York City with his wife Shevi. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
In this week's Torah portion, Shemot, we read about the burning bush. "The bush was on fire, but the bush was not being consumed."
What is the meaning of the symbolism of a bush being ablaze burning but consumed? What can we take from this to help us in our lives?
For the Jewish people in Egypt, the bondage had reached an all time low. Pharaoh, inflicted with a skin ailment, was told by his doctors that to cure it he needed to bathe in the blood of Jewish children. This was the blow that broke the Jewish people.
Until this point there was the hope, the understanding that as difficult as things are, there is a purpose to the suffering and soon there will be an end to the bondage. But with their children being murdered, all hope of a future was gone.
Yet the Jewish people did not despair! When they had nothing left they remembered that a Jew always has G-d. They cried out to G-d with all their hearts and G-d heard their cries.
It was at this critical time when G-d showed Moses the burning bush and the redemption started.
The bush burns but it is not consumed. The bush is the Jewish people. When there seems to be no fuel left, we remember that we have G-d and this enables us to burn bright and strong and we are not consumed. The turning to G-d from the depths of our heart is what kick-starts our redemption.
At times life is so difficult; we can see no hope. But there is no reason to despair, rather it is time to shine brighter than ever and cry out to G-d from a place far deeper than what we ever imagined, from the inner fire that can never be extinguished. And then G-d gives us true redemption.
Many people "burn the candle at both ends." On fire, but not consumed, is a level beyond. It is the revelation of an open connection to G-d, the connection of soul-flame to G-d's flame. This is my wife, Dina. She is the real thing, a Jewish mother, unbreakable and with an open connection to G-d.
I think we have already suffered enough, G-d please send Moshiach.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
My Journey to Haditch
by Rabbi Aryeh Citron
A few years ago, my son Menachem Mendel and I joined a group of about 50 people who visited various holy gravesites in Ukraine. This was in honor of the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement, who is buried in Haditch, Ukraine.
We landed in Borispol airport in Kiev. We soon had gathered up all the members of the group. Most were from New York, but some were from California, others from Israel, and my son and I had come from Florida. We boarded the bus, which was called the Uman Express (replete with WiFi), and traveled straight to Babi Yar, on the outskirts of Kiev. This is the site where tens of thousands of Jews were brutally slaughtered by the Nazis (may their names be blotted out), in 1941.
From there we traveled to Zhitomir where Chabad has an educational complex that includes an orphanage, Jewish school, a soup kitchen, a shul and mikvas. While enjoying a sumptuous supper, all the members of the group shared a little bit about themselves as well as what they expected to gain from the trip. The group was truly eclectic.
At 2 a.m., we checked into a hotel for a few hours of sleep. We woke up bright and early to pray and to eat breakfast. We then set out to Mezhibuzh.
Mezhibuzh was the city where Chasidism's founder the Baal Shem Tov led the Chasidic movement and taught and inspired his followers for several decades. Mezhibuzh appears to have changed little over the centuries.
We went to the Baal Shem Tov's shul. Although the shul was destroyed by the Nazis, may their names be blotted out, it was rebuilt recently on the same site and in the same style (based on photos and oral testimony).
In the back of the Baal Shem Tov's shul there is a small room. According to tradition, this was where the Baal Shem Tov's main disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch, would seclude himself in prayer.
From the shul, we proceeded to the resting place of the Baal Shem Tov. Some walked while others rode the bus. The Baal Shem Tov is buried in the Jewish cemetery of Mezhibuzh. A room was built around his tomb and around the tombs of several other tzaddikim (righteous people) of that era.
We spent some time praying at the holy gravesite. Many people had brought the names of family members and friends for whom they prayed. We said the evening prayers and enjoyed an elaborate dinner. We then boarded the bus to go to Berdichev.
Berdichev is a mid-sized city where more than 200 years ago Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, a leading student of the Maggid of Mezritch and a close colleague of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was the rabbi. We trekked through the cemetery in the snow (glad my son and I brought boots) until we reached the gravesite of this unique advocate for the Jewish people, Reb Levi Yitzchak. The old Jewish caretaker who met us there was fluent in Yiddish and knew all of the appropriate customs for the proper treatment of this holy site; he seemed like a relic of a bygone era. The prayers there were especially heartfelt.
Our group was planning to travel through the night and arrive in Haditch, the resting place of Rabbi Shneur Zalman (known as the Alter Rebbe), on Friday morning. Personally, I wanted to visit the gravesite in Niezhyn of the Mitteler Rebbe, the second Chabad Rebbe. (I am a descendant of his, through my grandmother, Rebbetzin Hadassah Carelbach nee Schneersohn, may she live and be well.) My friend was hiring a car to travel there with two of his brothers. I asked him to hire another car for me and my son, hoping to find a third person to share the cost. After canvassing the bus unsuccessfully, I told him to cancel the second car. But when we arrived at the place where he had arranged for his car to wait, there were two cars waiting. I took this as a sign from Heaven and my son and I took the second car. The trip took us five hours.
Before going to the cemetery, we went into the city of Niezhyn to pick up the elderly Jewish caretaker of the site. It turns out that he is also the de facto head and acting rabbi of the small Jewish community of Niezhyn. When we arrived at the cemetery we studied a Chasidic discourse of the Mitteler Rebbe in the small, recently-built shul adjacent to the cemetery. We then said the morning prayers and proceeded to enter the Ohel and resting place of the Mitteler Rebbe and his son Reb Menachem Nochum.
While we were driving back, the caretaker told us about the 500 Jews who did not flee Niezhyn before the Nazis occupied it, including one of his grandfathers, an aunt, uncle and two young cousins. They were rounded up one day and murdered in cold blood and then buried in a mass grave. May G-d avenge their blood.
The journey to Haditch from Niezhyn took us longer than expected. For part of the way we were traveling on an unpaved road which made for a very bumpy ride. But by 2:20 p.m. on Friday we had arrived in Haditch, the town where Rabbi Shneur Zalman was buried. After the fall of communism, the Ohel was renovated as well as the shul next to it. Steps were built going down to the gravesite since the incline is very steep. More recently, a large complex including a shul, mikva and dining hall was built near the Ohel. And very recently, rooms for sleeping accommodations were built around the complex. In honor of the Shabbat before the yartzeit, a large tent had been put up so that everyone could enjoy the Shabbat meals together.
Shabbat in Haditch was a truly uplifting experience. There were classes in the teachings of the Alter Rebbe. The prayers and recital of Psalms had a special atmosphere. And there were numerous farbrengens (gatherings). There were Jews of all types who came together. At the approximate time of the Alter Rebbe's passing, the tradition evolved that the Chasidim who are in Haditch gather in the Ohel for prayers and to sing the melodies composed by the Alter Rebbe as well as the meoldies of the other Rebbes. These melodies are quite stirring and can lead to a deep spiritual awakening.
We did the six-hour bus trip back to the airport. After checking in and getting to the gate, we were able to make a minyan (or two) for the morning prayers before we boarded our flights back to our home countries. Each of us, hopefully, had plenty of spiritual luggage to bring home and share with our families and communities for a long time to come.
From Rabbi citron's blog at yeshivacollege.org. To subscribe to Rabbi Citron's parsha halacha articles please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mezibuz: Tales of the Baal Shem Tov is a fun book for children to read. Stories with important lessons conveyed in a comic-book style format. A rich man is forced to abandon his palace... An earthquake - at the right moment... A dramatic chase - between thunderous waterfalls... A dilapidated hut - hiding a big secret... From BSD Publications.
Here Comes the Mitzvah Team!
Rollicking rhymes and action-packed illustrations show what alacrity really looks like! With a combination of speed and boundless enthusiasm for the mitzvos all around them, a family "mitzvah team" rushes to the rescue on their little riding toys. This new release from HaChai Publishing was written by Naomi Lieberman, illustrated by Tova Leff.
Translated from a telegram of the Rebbe
17 Kislev, 5752 (1991):
To all those participating in the major gatherings of Yud Tes Kislev,
L'Chaim, L'Chaim Velivracha - "To life, to life and blessing."
Beginning today, the 17th of Kislev (whose numerical equivalent in Hebrew, tov, means "good"); continuing on the 18th of Kislev (whose numerical equivalent in Hebrew, chai, means "live"); and on the 19th of the month, Yud Tes Kislev itself; may you be inscribed - and may that inscription be sealed - for a good year in the study of Chasidut and in the Chasidic ways of conduct.
May it be G-d's will that the verse, "He redeemed my soul in peace" [the verse of Psalms which the Alter Rebbe was reciting when he was informed of his release] come to complete fruition for each and every one of you.
May you succeed in making vessels for this blessing, as reflected in our Sages' interpretation of the above verse as referring to one who is occupied in Torah study (both the revealed dimension of Torah law and the Torah's mystic dimension), in deeds of kindness, and in prayer.
Additional emphasis on the above is granted this year, for Yud Tes Kislev falls on a Tuesday, the day on which the expression "And G-d saw that it was good" was repeated. And as our Sages explain, this refers to a twofold good, "Good for the heavens" and "Good for the created beings."
The above activities should all be brought to fruition energetically, in a manner of Ufaratzta: "And you shall spread forth westward, eastward, north-ward, and southward," beginning with each of the mitzva campaigns....
And from these days, we will proceed to the days of preparation for Chanuka and to Chanuka itself, whose message is, which indeed, grants the potential for it to be actualized, for each and every person to kindle "the lamp of mitzva and the light of Torah," "at the outside of the entrance to his home," and to increase the light shining at the entrance to his home from day to day, causing it to shine outward throughout the entire year...
May this be realized in the building of the Third Holy Temple - speedily in our days, in the true and complete Redemption led by Moshiach. May this take place in the immediate future.
20 Kislev, 5719 (1959)
Yesterday we celebrated Yud Tes [the 19th of] Kislev, the Redemption of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, and together with him the triumph of all matters connected with Chabad.
The day inspires every one of us to greater efforts in living up to the concepts of Chabad, the basis of which is the love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of our fellow-Jews, all of which is truly one.
This is connected with the basic teachings of Chabad, requiring everyone of us to do our utmost to bring our fellow-Jews closer to G-d and to Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], in their purest form, without compromise or concession, though the approach to each individual may differ in accordance with his spiritual state and background.
One cannot expect a Jew who has drifted from the Jewish way of life to transform himself suddenly, and it is necessary to bring him closer to G-d by stages, yet we have to present to him the true aspects of our Torah and mitzvot, not in any diluted form.
It is only then that the Jew is responsive to the truth, as is expressed the well-known saying of the Alter Rebbe that "No Jew wishes, nor can he, sever himself from G-d."
The 19th of Kislev, therefore, reminds us every year of these basic principles, and inspires us towards their fulfillment.
I know your late father of blessed memory, and I also had the opportunity to meet with you and your wife when you visited here.
My personal knowledge of the members of your family gives me every confidence that every one of you will do your utmost to work for the spreading of Torah and Mitzvoth in your community, in the spirit of the founder of Chabad, and his teachings.
The work of Chabad in every field of Jewish endeavor has always been on a non-sectarian basis and not confined to any particular group, but embraces all our fellow Jews.
It is because of this that it has remained free from outside influences and pressures, and it is because of this that it has succeeded so well, with the help of G-d.
SHABTAI is from the Hebrew word Shabbat, Sabbatical and was a name commonly given when the boy was born on the Sabbath. In the Bible (Nehemiah 8:7) Shabtai was one of the head Levites of those that returned to the Holy Land from the Babylonian exile.
MAZAL is from the Hebrew meaning Fortune. It is used primarily in the Sefardic community as a girl's name. The Yiddishe version of the name Glukel or Glikel
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 20th of Tevet, this Friday January 17, is the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam.
In his major work, the Mishne Torah, the Rambam enumerates and details all the 613 laws of the Torah. He places the laws relating to the Jewish king, and Moshiach, at the very end of his work. The Rambam defines Moshiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah and the mitzvot to its complete state.
For many, this would seem a rather novel approach. Yet, the Talmud states that "the world was created solely for Moshiach." This being the case, we certainly must do everything in our power to hasten his arrival.
The 24th of Tevet (Tuesday, January 21 this year) is the yartzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman opened a new path which allowed the teaching of the previously hidden aspects of the Torah - Pnimiyut HaTorah - to be comprehended through the intellect and thus reveal additional G-dliness within the world.
In Rabbi Shneur Zalman's magnum opus, Tanya, he writes: "The Messianic Era... is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created." This means that our spiritual service will reach its full completion only with the arrival of Moshiach. Thus, the fulfillment and culmination of the entire creation will take place when Moshiach is revealed.
The entire purpose, in fact, of the revelation of Chasidic philosophy was to hasten and prepare the world for the Messianic Era.
In the merit of these two great luminaries and in our own merit as well, may we be privileged to greet Moshiach NOW!
These are the names of the Children of Israel coming into Egypt (Ex. 1:1)
The verse says "coming," in the present tense, rather than "who came," in the past tense. For the duration of the 210-year exile in Egypt, the Jews felt as if they had just arrived in that land. They never adopted Egyptian ways and always considered their sojourn temporary.
Behold his hand was as leprous and white as snow...and behold it was turned again as his other flesh. (Ex. 4:6,7)
Leprosy is symbolic of Exile and healthy flesh symbolizes the Redemption. Through this sign, G-d hinted to Moses that the leprosy-exile would be transformed into healthy flesh - the redemption, and could occur in the blink of an eye.
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)
And he [Moses] said, "Oh L-rd please send by the hand of whom You will send." (Ex. 4:13)
Moses asked G-d to send Moshiach. He wanted G-d to spare the Jews the Egyptian bondage and allow them to immediately experience the Redemption through Moshiach. G-d refused because the exile of Egypt was a preparatory stage to receiving the Torah, and through these two events the Jews would merit the coming of Moshiach.
by Rabbi Shalom Avtzon
Some months after the passing of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism), the Jewish community in Haditch received a letter from the Imperial Government. The Jewish community was informed that the cemetery that they were using was located on land that belonged to the Imperial Government. Since they had converted it into a cemetery without permission, all the graves there had to be removed to another location.
The Jewish community was shocked and distressed. It was disrespectful to move one from his eternal rest. They replied that they were sorry for any misunderstanding; however, they used the plot as a cemetery with permission of the local authorities. As evidence, they sent a copy of the permits from the local jurisdiction where it stated clearly that the provincial government bequeathed that parcel of land to the Jewish community of Haditch for this specific purpose.
The Imperial Government replied, "Yes, we see that the provincial government gave you permission, but they mistakenly permitted you to use land that is not theirs. Their parcel is a short distance away and you can reinter your loved ones there. However, they must be removed from the place where they are now buried."
The provincial government acknowledged that it was their mistake and apologized. They then offered to swap a larger parcel of land to the Imperial Government in order not to violate the dignity and sanctity of the cemetery. However, it was to no avail. The government was firm in its decision: All graves must be removed! However, out of their understanding that it wasn't done intentionally they will extend the time frame in which this has to be done.
The Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber - son and successor of the Alter Rebbe, was informed of the situation, and he was asked what does he prefer to do? Does he want to send someone to move his father or should the community do it?
The Mitteler Rebbe heard that one of his father's former Chasidim who was no longer religious was an important official in the Imperial office that has the final say on this matter. So he decided to send a Chasid to beg that person to leave the Jewish cemetery as is, and accept the provincial government's offer of swapping parcels of land.
The chasid, Reb Moshe Vilenker, had been a friend of this official when he had studied with the Alter Rebbe. So he was chosen to discuss and plead with him about this important matter.
Reb Moshe immediately travelled to Petersburg and went to visit the official. Seeing Reb Moshe, he immediately recognized him and granted him an audience. However, as soon as Reb Moshe entered his office he said, "I realize you came to request something of me. But that is not the ways of chasidim. First you will come to my house this evening, where we will have a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering). After that, you can present your request."
Saying that, he wrote down his home address and told Reb Moshe that he is looking forward to meeting him at the designated time.
Reb Moshe arrived at the designated time, hoping that he will be successful in his special mission. They sat down at the table, sang the Alter Rebbe's melodies, and reminisced about their time with the Rebbe. The officer then said, "You notice that I have a beautiful mansion; I am wealthy and have whatever I desire. But you should know the truth is I don't really enjoy it, not even for a moment.
"Yes it sounds strange, but let me tell you why. Even when I was a student by the Rebbe, I had my doubts about G-d, and that is what ultimately caused me to leave and eventually become what I became. However, one time, without explaining his reasons, the Rebbe instructed me to go visit the tzaddik, Reb Aharon Karliner.
"Reb Aharon's custom was that he didn't have private audiences with people, as the Rebbe did. But whoever came to him would sit in the study hall, say Psalms or study and wait until Reb Aharon gave him an answer. After I was sitting for some time, Reb Aharon entered the study hall from his room that was adjoining it, and said, 'Young man, Young man, maybe after all there is a G-d.'
"When he said this, no one in the room took it as if he answered his question and everyone remained in their place. A few minutes later, he came into the room for a second time and repeated the exact same words. When Reb Aharon repeated himself a third time, I realized he was talking to me and informing me, that notwithstanding my questions and doubts, there can still be a Creator.
"So every time I sit down to enjoy something that is forbidden by the Torah, those words come back and haunt me. But I don't have the strength and will power to give up everything I have."
Some hours later, he said, "Now that we farbrenged, please tell me what is the reason for your coming to visit me?"
When Reb Moshe informed him of the dilemma and showed him the legal papers, he immediately replied, "Only for the Rebbe's sake will I agree to accept the offer of the provincial government."
(The Alter Rebbe passed away in Piene. Chasidim suggest that the reason the Alter Rebbe expressed a desire to be interred in Haditch was that he wanted to help all the Jews buried in Haditch that their eternal rest not be disturbed. And that was accomplished only because he too was there. So he did a favor for other Jews even after his passing.)
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran educator and the author of numerous books on the Chabad Rebbes and their Chasidim He is available to speak in your community and can be contacted at email@example.com
Why when G-d called out to Moses from the burning bush did He repeat Moses' name twice? G-d was hinting to Moses concerning the two different eras in which he will teach Torah to the Jewish people: once in his lifetime and once in the days of Moshiach. In the future, the Jewish people will go to each of the Patriarchs and ask them to teach them Torah. Abraham will tell them to approach Isaac, Isaac will defer to Jacob, Jacob will say: "Go to Moses, he learned Torah directly from G-d." And Moses will teach the Jewish people. But there will come a time when all the scholars and righteous, including Moses and our patriarchs, will all come to Moshiach to hear him teach Torah.
(Shemot Rabba and Midrash Chachamim)