21 - Surely, Only | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | A Call to Action | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
With this issue of L'Chaim we mark the 21st yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. As the Baal Shem Tov teaches, everything we encounter can provide a lesson in our Divine Service. And so, the fact that we have reached not just a yartzeit, but the twenty-first yartzeit, must also have a unique message for us.
Perhaps the message can come from the number of the yartzeit - twenty-one.
The number twenty-one has an obvious significance in many countries. It's the age of adulthood, when one, by every way it can be reckoned legally, has finally grown up.
Jewish teachings explains that every Hebrew letter has a numerical value. And from a numerical combination of letters, words emerge. Thus, alef, the first letter, is one, beit, the second letter, is two, and so on. Yud, the tenth letter is 10, and then we start counting by tens, so that chof, the next letter, is 20.
So it turns out that the two letters that have the numerical value of 21 are alef (1) and chof (20). Together they spell the word "ach," which has several meanings in Hebrew, such as: surely, but, only, indeed.
Whichever way we translate it, the word "ach" - numerically equivalent to 21 - indicates a transition, a separation of stages, a change in condition - sort of like what twenty-one means legally.
We can see the special sense of the word, as it is used in several Biblical verses. For instance, in Psalm 23 we find the phrase, "Ach tov v'chesed - Only goodness and kindness" - shall follow me all the days of my life. Or, Psalm 73, which begins, "Ach tov l'Yisrael - Surely G-d is good to Israel." There are many more examples, but these should make the point for now.
There's much that can be said about this concept of transition, this change of status. Adulthood, responsibility - getting to the point where we start fulfilling our destiny, so to speak. Or defining it. Surely, indeed we are the only ones who can do so, but we need to focus on the task, our Divine purpose.
Although we only turn 21 once, there are many "ach" moments - twenty-one like changes in situation, where, without any apparent external change (that comes later, as a result), we become in some way different, more elevated, more aware. Indeed, the sensation of turning twenty-one is strange. We anticipate the change, but really, the only change is in our attitude, the way we - and the world - look at ourselves.
Surely we can compare an individual turning twenty-one, "becoming legal," as they say, with the world itself reaching maturity - the stage of responsibility, fulfillment.
The world will "become legal" when it reaches not so much the age of maturity (though that, too), but the age of Redemption. Ach - Only, Surely - when Moshiach comes, the world will have truly grown up.
In this week's Torah portion, Yitro, we read: "And Yitro heard...everything that G-d had done for Moses and His people Israel...and Yitro came...to Moses into the wilderness."
What did Yitro hear that caused him to leave his land and join the Jewish people? As Rashi explains, he heard about the splitting of the Sea and the war against Amalek.
At first glance, this is surprising. The exodus from Egypt, with all its miracles, took place before the splitting of the Sea of Reeds; surely Yitro was aware of what happened. Why then was it not until the Sea was split and the battle fought against Amalek that he decided to go to Moses?
There is another difficulty as well. According to the principle that "one must always ascend in matters of holiness," one would expect the Jewish people to have reached a more elevated spiritual state by the time the Torah was given. The war against Amalek seems to represent a spiritual decline. However, as will be explained, the battle against Amalek was actually a significant ascent in the Jews' progression toward Mount Sinai.
When the Sea split, G-d's Divine light illuminated all planes of existence, effecting a bond between the higher spheres and the mundane physical world. All the nations heard of the great miracle; the revelation of G-dliness at the Sea struck fear in their hearts. Nevertheless, even after the splitting of the Sea, Amalek was not afraid to confront the Jews. Why? Because the revelation of holiness that occurred had still not purified the very lowest levels of the physical. These lowest levels became purified only after the battle with Amalek, when the Jews were victorious.
Thus the war against Amalek was the final step in the Jewish people's preparation for receiving the Torah. For it was by means of this war that the entire world was transformed into an appropriate vessel to contain the Torah.
This also explains why these two events convinced Yitro to join the Jewish people: it was only after both had occurred that the world was completely ready to accept the Torah.
Each day we say: "Blessed are You... Who gives the Torah" - in the present tense. Every day we receive the Torah anew. Just as our ancestors prepared themselves to accept the Torah at Sinai, so too must we prepare ourselves.
We do this by living with the adage "Know Him in all your ways." A Jew's connection to G-d must be constant, not just during prayer or Torah study. First comes the "splitting of the Sea" - our involvement in spiritual matters, only after which can we wage "war against Amalek" and see to mundane affairs.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 11
Keep a Pot on the Stove
by Yehudis Cohen
"I was 22 years old," remembers David Tsinman. "Mom asked me to help someone who had gotten into serious trouble through his own stupidity. I told her that I didn't want to do it. First, I would put myself in danger in attempting to help him. It would take a lot of time; this was not a one time favor, it would take many months. It would also cost me, financially, to help him.
"My mother looked at me and said, 'You are right about everything, 100% right. But if you won't help him, he will surely die.' I still did not agree. Then Mom told me, 'If you won't help him, you can take your tefilin and throw them in the garbage.' When she told me that, it really shook me. I agreed to help the person. It took years and it cost me in many ways. I suffered and my mother suffered because she saw me suffering. Afterwards, despite everything, she said, 'You still have to do a Jew a favor.' "
Mrs. Mera Galperin, who passed away this year on the last day of Chanuka, was a woman of great stature. She combined strength, dignity, wisdom, fortitude, compassion and love in a way that is hard to find today. She was born in Babinovitch (Belarus), the same city where Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, daughter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe and wife of the Rebbe, was born. Mrs. Galperin was friendly with the Previous Rebbe's daughters.
After World War II, the Galperins moved to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In 1948, Meir Tsinman arrived in Tashkent. He had spent the last 10 years in Stalin's prison camps. Mera and Meir married. He urged Mera to keep her maiden name in case he was arrested again. Sure enough, in 1949, Stalin declared that all those who had been imprisoned must return to jail. Meir ran away to Kutaisi, Georgia. He was in hiding when their first son, Yaakov, was born. Soon after the baby's brit, Mera joined Meir in Kutaisi.
A few months after they were reunited, Meir was arrested at work. When he didn't return home, Mera went to the KGB. "We know nothing," they insisted. "Check all of the morgues." Carrying her infant son with her, Mera visited all of the local hospital morgues and thankfully did not find Meir. She went back to the KGB, where an officer informed her he had been sent to Tibilisi (another city in Georgia). Mera travelled to Tibilisi and was told that he Meir been sent to Tashkent. She travelled the 1,300 miles to Tashkent and found Meir imprisoned there. After two years in jail in Tashkent he was finally given a "court hearing" and sentenced to life in exile, in Siberia.
Exiles were dropped off in Siberia with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and they had to fend for themselves. Meir was "lucky" enough to find a corner of a room to rent from a local gentile. He began making nails out of wire, a skill he had learned in the prison camp. Working for himself meant that he would not have a problem observing Shabbat.
As soon as Meir was "established" in Siberia, Mera and Yaakov joined him. Their first "home" was the changing room of a bathhouse! Yet even with so little space and money, Mera always made sure to help those who had less than her. One of her favorite mottos was "If you have an extra spoon of something, give it to someone who needs it." She always kept a pot on the stove, filled with water, crusts of bread, and anything else she could find to make a soup, so that anyone who was hungry would always have something to eat.
One day, Meir found a Jew so desperately suffering from starvation that he had tried to hang himself. Meir took the noose off from around the man's neck and carried him home. Mera nursed him back to physical and mental health.
When Stalin died in 1953, all of the exiles were finally free. The Tsinmans moved back to Tashkent. In the 1960s they started applying to leave the U.S.S.R. Meir's health was precarious from the beatings as a young man in prison. He passed away in 1968, only 50 years old, of a heart attack. In 1971, Mrs. Galperin and her sons were finally given permission to emigrate.
When Mrs. Galperin arrived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, she had almost nothing. Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka took her to the Previous Rebbe's apartment at 770 Eastern Parkway and gave Mrs. Galperin items to set herself up.
"Mom spoke on the phone or visited the Rebbetzin at least 3 or 4 times a week, usually for anywhere from 2 to 7 hours. I often asked her, 'What did you speak about for so long?' 'The Rebbetzin speaks freely with me because she knows I keep everything confidential,' Mom would say. I would press her and pressure her but I wouldn't get a word out of her. All of those thousands of hours of conversations over the years and no one was privy to any of them."
Mrs. Galperin became the cook at the Machon Chana dormitory. Machon Chana was the first yeshiva established for Baalos Teshuva, girls and women returning to their Jewish roots. But Mrs. Galperin was much more than a cook. In the first years, she was the mainstay of the dorm. She took care of the girls like a mother hen, nurturing them physically and spiritually. The Rebbe once told Mrs. Galperin that she was the "Mama of Machon Chana." One Seder night when the Rebbe visited the dormitory, the Rebbe asked her if she cooks for the girls as she cooks at home. Later, Mrs. Galperin discussed with the dorm mother Mrs. Gita Gansburg (she should live and be well) what they could do to make the Passover dorm food more homey. She decided to add various items to the menu even though it entailed a tremendous amount of time and effort.
Miryam Tsinman, Yaakov's wife, shared an unusually close relationship with her mother-in-law. She noted that though she smiled rarely, Mrs. Galperin was always happy and positive; she was thankful for what she had, gracious, and generous to all. "She was so real."
Rabbi Zvi Yaakov and Chanie Zwiebel have been appointed the new directors of new Librescu Chabad Center at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Rabbi Yanky and Chanshy Majesky will be establishing a new Chabad House in North Orlando, Florida, serving the Jews in the area. Rabbi Hershy and Frumi Spritzer are arriving soon in the S. Fernando Valley, California, to establish Chabad on Tampa, serving the local Jewish community. Rabbi Benny and Sonia Hershcovich have completed their pilot trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, and will soon be returning their permanently to establish and new Chabad House there that will serve the local Jewish population and Jewish tourists.
Freely translated and excerpted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Our Sages relate that at the time of the Exodus certain nations insisted that it was literally impossible for the Jewish people to have retained their sanctity, holiness and purity, after 210 years of exile. Especially so, since the Egyptian exile was one of the most difficult exiles, where the Jewish people were enslaved and held captive by the despotic Pharaohs.
In response to this, G-d testifies at the conclusion of the book of Numbers, that each and every Jewish family remained pure and holy; the Jewish people left Egypt with exactly the same degree of purity and sanctity that they enjoyed when Jacob and his family descended from the Holy Land into Egypt. In fact, the Jewish people were taken out of exile precisely because of their undefiled and holy state, not having succumbed to the customs and mores of the land in which they found themselves, the land of Egypt.
At that particular point in history Egypt was a highly advanced civilization. This was so both with regard to their culture, as well as with regard to their general knowledge, wisdom and philosophy. In these areas, Egypt outshined by far all other nations that were then extant. So much so, that their knowledge in certain areas - such as the art of forming particular vessels, dyes, etc. - stymie and confound us to this day.
The Jewish people, enslaved as they were to the mightiest, largest and most developed country, nevertheless did not adopt the mores and customs of their Egyptian neighbors. Rather, knowing as they did that they were sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and daughters of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, they realized that "I shall descend with you to Egypt," that G-d was with them in Egypt every step of the way. Consequently, they recognized that they must surely and steadfastly cling to G-d and conduct themselves according to His dictates. Only then would they be able to leave Egypt whole, unsullied and unblemished.
Thus the Torah relates that the Jewish people departed Egypt whole and complete, "with our youth and elders, with our sons and daughters," i.e., children, parents and grandparents were entirely united in their outlooks, perspectives and attitudes without any generational gaps - a unified nation, a whole and intact nation, and a healthy nation, both physically and spiritually.
It was with this spirit of unity that they all left Egypt in order to receive the Torah on Sinai, with the Torah as their - and our - eternal guidepost in life, thereby ensuring that the spirit of unity between generations endures for all time.
Our Sages tell us that one of the things in whose merit the Jewish people were freed from Egyptian bondage was that "they did not change their mode of dress." Jewish men, and especially Jewish women and daughters retained their distinctly modest Jewish mode of dress, and were not at all influenced by the Egyptian style of dress and conduct.
It was a given that their uniqueness as a people would prevent and prohibit them from altering their Jewish dress code, notwithstanding that they were dispersed among the Egyptians. To have done so would have meant lowering and demeaning themselves by chasing after Egyptian fashion, that because Egyptians are wearing such garments we must - Heaven forfend - imitate and copy them.
Indeed, modesty of dress is one of the most fundamental principles of tznius (modesty) for the aspect of tznius which is most readily discernible is with regard to clothing.
Here, too, Torah teaches us that we are not to change our mode of Jewish dress. Moreover, retaining our Jewish dress code will not cause us to lose favor and respect among our non-Jewish neighbors. Quite the contrary, the nations among whom we find ourselves will realize that we are a people who sticks to our principles. And even if doing so may sometimes prove difficult, we are not frightened by this, for we realize that by observing our Jewish dress code, observing tznius, we preserve our identity, guaranteeing our strength and existence as a nation and as individuals. This is the path that leads us out of exile.
As mentioned on numerous occasions, Torah is not - G-d forbid - a history book that recounts events that transpired many years ago, with the sole purpose of relating to us that which took place with our forebears. Rather, Torah is a "Torah of Life," a "living Torah," in a manner whereby "the deeds of our ancestors are signs to their descendants" - when the Torah relates that which happened with our ancestors, it is a sign to us how we are to conduct ourselves.
This, in itself, demonstrates that now as well, this year and this very day and wherever one finds oneself, all Jewish women and daughters are capable of conducting themselves in a manner of tznius with regard to all matters: conduct, dress, and even speech. Moreover, they are capable of doing so with joy and gladness.
From Beautiful Within, published by Sichos In English. Excerpted from Likutei Sichos, Vol. 8
"The yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) should, as is Jewish custom, be connected with deeds undertaken in memory of the departed. The Hebrew expression for this intent, l'ilui nishmat, means "for the ascent of the soul." Our deeds help elevate the soul of the departed. Then, the higher levels that the soul reaches, are drawn down and influence this world....Also, it is proper that gifts be given to charity in multiples of 470, the numerical equivalent of the Rebbetzin's name. (The Rebbe, 22 Shevat, 5750-1990)
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Monday will mark the twenty-first yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of blessed memory, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In the year after her passing, the Rebbe spoke often about the concept of "And the living shall take to heart" - that by performing practical mitzvot and good deeds in the Rebbetzin's memory, the departed's soul is elevated even higher. In the years since, numerous educational institutions, tzedaka organizations and outreach programs have been founded in the Rebbetzin's name, and hundreds if not thousands of Jewish girls are proud to be named after such a holy woman.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, daughter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a symbol of all the positive attributes Jewish women have embodied throughout the ages, incorporating a profound sense of modesty and unwavering devotion to truth with a sincere consideration for others. Deliberately shunning the spot-light, she consistently fled from any recognition of her special status, choosing instead to "work behind the scenes" with countless individual acts of kindness and self-sacrifice for her fellow Jews. The many stories about the Rebbetzin that began to surface only after her passing paint a picture of an exceptional Jewish figure whose entire life was an example of nobility, devotion and courage.
In her later years the Rebbetzin's health was less than optimal, yet she was so self-effacing that she refused to "bother" her husband with her problems. "It is very important to me to avoid causing the Rebbe sorrow," she once replied when someone pointed out that if people could come from around the world to seek the Rebbe's blessing for such matters, surely she could do the same.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka chose to live in the "shade" of the luminaries who surrounded her. But by striving to emulate her example, we ensure that she continues to illuminate our world forever.
And you shall be My own treasure (segula) (Ex. 19:8)
Just as the Hebrew vowel "segol" is made up of three dots, so too, does G-d's treasure (segula) - the Jewish people - consist of three constituent parts: priests, Levites, and Israelites. The Torah, too, from where Jews draw their strength, is also three-part: The Five Books of Moses, Prophets, and Writings.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Moses spoke (yedaber), and G-d answered him (Ex. 19:19)
The word "yedaber" is actually in the future tense, implying "Moses will speak." It is also etymologically related to the word "yadber," meaning "he will lead and guide" - a reference to the "reflection of Moses that exists in every generation ."
(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)
I am the L-rd your G-d (Ex. 20:2)
This first of the Ten Commandments was given in the singular ("Elokecha" not "Elokeichem"), as each individual's conception and understanding of G-d is different, depending on his capacity for spirituality, knowledge of Torah, and individual service. Accordingly, each person who was present at Mount Sinai understood the commandment differently.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work (Ex. 20:9)
In truth, is it possible to complete all one's work in only six days? Rather, the intent is that a person must desist from labor on Shabbat, and consider it as if all his work was already done.
Once, three men - a poor man, a simpleton, and an old bachelor who was both poor and simple - came to Elijah to ask for his blessing.
The first man came to the prophet and said, "I am so poor that I can't even feed and clothe my family. Please, take pity on me, and give me your blessing that I may become wealthy."
Elijah agreed to help him, but on one condition: "When you become rich, and you certainly will, you must promise to give charity and share your wealth with others." The man promised, and Elijah handed him a coin. "This coin will make you rich," assured the prophet. "Don't forget your promise."
The second man came and made his request: "The one thing I desire most in the world is to become a Torah scholar. Please, help me."
Elijah considered his request worthy, but made one condition: "When you become a Torah scholar, you must promise to instruct even the simplest folk who come to you asking to study Torah."
"Of course, I promise," said the man. "It would be my honor and privilege to teach my fellow Jews."
Elijah took a sheet of parchment on which was written the Hebrew alphabet and handed it to the man, saying, "If you study from this page you will certainly become a great scholar. But don't forget your promise." The man parted from the prophet happily clutching the parchment to his chest.
Then the third man approached the prophet. "Master, please take pity on me. I am no longer young. I am very poor and not so bright. Worst of all," said the man, "I'm all alone in the world without a wife. But I won't take just any wife-I will marry only a woman with good sense."
Elijah took pity on the man. "I have the perfect woman for you. But, you must promise to listen to your wife in every matter, all the days of your life." The man agreed and Elijah led him into the depths of the forest. They entered a small hut in the forest where an old woman and her daughter were sitting. "This woman is the perfect wife for you," said the prophet, nodding towards the daughter. Both parties agreed to the marriage and it took place soon after.
Two years passed and Elijah returned to see if the three had kept their promises. First, he visited the opulent home of the formerly poor man. Approaching the huge door, he saw a sign that read: "Beggars and Deliveries to the Rear." Elijah went to the back door and was given a small coin. "I wish to speak with your employer," demanded the prophet. "Not permitted. You can have a coin and a loaf of bread."
"No," insisted Elijah. "I want to see the master of the house!"
"Take two coins and be off!" was the curt response. Still, Elijah stood his ground. In fact, he created such a fuss that the servants had to call the owner.
Elijah asked the man for a more substantial sum, but he just scoffed: "One coin should be enough for you!" Each time he asked, Elijah was rebuffed more violently.
"I see that you don't recognize me and you have forgotten your promise," Elijah said solemnly. "So, you must return my coin."
"Ha! Do you think that silly coin did anything? You can have it back, it's worthless." The man returned the coin and in no time he was poor again.
Next, Elijah went to visit the great yeshiva where the simpleton was now a renowned Torah scholar and dean of the yeshiva. "Pardon me Rabbi, but I would like to learn Torah," the prophet said to the great men.
"Have you studied the entire Talmud and all of its commentaries?"
"No, I haven't had the chance to study, but I want to very much."
"I'm sorry, I don't have time to instruct beginner students. You see, I am the head of the yeshiva, and I have more important things to do!"
Elijah begged the man, but to no avail. Then the prophet said, "I see you don't recognize me. What is more, you haven't kept your promise. You must return my parchment!"
"This parchment is worthless!" the scholar laughed. "Take it." No sooner had the prophet departed, than the head of the yeshiva forgot all of his learning.
Sadly Elijah trudged to the hut of the couple who had been married two years. The wife saw Elijah and told her husband, "We have never been privileged to have a guest, and here is a distinguished looking man approaching. Let's take our cow to be slaughtered and serve our guest properly."
The husband could not imagine how they would manage without the cow; they eked out a bare subsistence from her milk. It did not seem to make sense, but he agreed all the same. "If you feel that we should, let's prepare the cow."
Elijah ate and when he finished, he said to the couple, "I see that you have lived according to your promise, and so I have two more gifts for you - a coin and a parchment..."
The efforts of Jewish women to serve as catalysts for the Redemption have historical precedents. In the Egyptian exile, it was Miriam who communicated the prophecy that a redeemer would emerge.Moreover, this took place while she was still a child, implying that similar activities can be undertaken by Jewish girls even before they reach full maturity. Even when the leaders of the generation could not foresee an end to servitude and oppression, she spread hope and trust among her people.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 11 Shevat, 5752 - 1992)