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November 15, 2019 - 17 Cheshvan, 5780

1597: Vayera

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

  1596: Lech-Lecha1598: Chayei Sara  

A Fly and a Flea  |  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

A Fly and a Flea

A fly and a flea in a flue

Were imprisoned

So what could they do?

Said the fly, "Let us flee."

"Let us fly," said the flea.

So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Repeat the above tongue-twister three times.

Finished? Good. Now let's consider it for a moment.

Have you ever watched a fly try to get out of a closed window? It beats itself against the window in an attempt to reach freedom on the other side.

Trying harder and harder, it repeatedly flies into the glass.

If you open the window the fly might just follow the window up and attempt to exit at a higher section of the same window, straight through the glass.

It's as if the fly is saying, "I know all I have to do is try harder and harder, and eventually I will succeed." Instead of stopping for a moment and evaluating his situation, the fly just keeps on trying.

With a little more of your help and cajoling though - and maybe some guidance - the fly will safely exit to the great outdoors.

The fly and the flea in our opening ditty behave differently, though. Stuck in a flue, they do not try to bash their way out through an impenetrable brick wall or even through the more conventional flue. They notice a flaw, a hole in the flue, and safely whizz away to freedom.

We are encouraged by Jewish teachings to approach many of life's obstacles like the flies in both scenarios.If we try hard enough, and keep on trying and trying we will eventually succeed.

Jewish teachings support this belief, stating, "If someone says, 'I tried but I did not succeed,' don't believe him. If someone says, 'I didn't try hard but I succeeded,' don't believe him. If someone says, 'I tried hard and I succeeded,' believe him."

In addition, our Sages teach that "Nothing stands before the will."

There are times when drive, perseverance and will enable a person to succeed.

There are also unique and singular moments in each person's life when a totally new approach - a fresh outlook or innovative perspective - is required in order to break out of and away from our limitations.

But, there are instances when - while battering away at that window with determination, will and faith - G-d opens it up for us and we sail through. Or, as with our ancestors when confronted with tests, they ignored them and the obstructions disappeared.

In the regular scheme of things, sweat and elbow grease will bring us success.

When we are attempting to break through boundaries and limitations, it is often necessary to step back for a moment and try an unconventional approach, something totally above and beyond one's nature or natural instincts.

Whichever method is the most appropriate, we need to realize that we are not a solitary fly in a flue or near a closed window. We are an actual, essential part of G-dliness and are part of the Divine scheme.

When we allow ourselves to be ruled only by our limited intellect or nature, we restrict ourselves. Yes, we can be successful at reaching our goals, whether mundane or noble, for nothing stands before the will. But, if we want to achieve something totally beyond our natural capacities, we must hookup with the inner Infinite, the essential spark of G-dliness within, which gives us unlimited power to overcome all obstacles, boundaries and limitations.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion of Vayeira, G-d tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorra. Then it says, "... And Abraham was still standing before G-d. Abraham came forward and said, 'Would You blot out the righteous along with the wicked?!'"

If Abraham was still standing before G-d, what does it mean that he came forward? Rashi explains that he didn't come forward in a physical sense, but rather, he prepared himself emotionally to defend Sodom and Gomorra from annihilation. He prepared to argue sternly with Him, to appease Him and to pray to Him.

First Abraham spoke sternly, saying, "Would you blot out the righteous along with the wicked?!" In appeasement he said, "It would be sacrilegious for You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the righteous along with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are alike! Shall the Judge of the whole world not judge Fairly?!" Then in prayer he said, "Behold I have begun to speak to my L-rd, and I am dust and ashes."

We are taught about Abraham that he manifested the attribute of kindness and love. In last week's Haftora, G-d even referred to him as "Abraham who loved Me." So it seems strange and out of character that Abraham opens his argument with stern words. "Would you blot out the righteous along with the wicked?!" Why doesn't he begin with words of appeasement or prayer, and if that doesn't work, try stern words? That would be more in character with the Abraham we know.

When it speaks of Abraham's kindness and love, it is referring to the way he served G-d, in line with his nature. However, in this situation lives were on the line, and the angel tasked with destroying Sodom and Gomorra, were already on the way there. Abraham went against his nature and spoke sternly first, not making diplomatic calculations, because lives were in the balance.

The stories of our ancestors are lessons to us. Just as we inherit from Abraham the kindness and the love that he had, we must be ready to take action when it is called for, just as he did.

We learn from Abraham that when the well being of another is on the line - whether spiritual or physical - it is not a time for calculations, it is a time for action. Throwing yourself into the task with strong and effective action, even if it means going against your nature, is what is required. To save a life, we go the extra mile.

May the merit of the kindness and love all of the Jewish people give be the mitzva (commandment) that tips the scale and sets in motion the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

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

Hidden Treasures
by Rabbi Eli and Malka Touger

There have always been close feelings between the city of Pittsburgh's Lubavitcher chassidim and other traditional Orthodox communities. At one point, the Lubavitch Yeshivah and the Orthodox Hillel Day School shared the same property. On a personal level, the families were so close that in many ways they comprised a single homogenous entity.

For this reason, it was not surprising that Yale Butler, son of one of the leading Orthodox families, became an active member of Lubavitch's Mesibos Shabbos youth program and developed a personal relationship with Rabbi Yossi Shpielman, its director. Not that Yale was becoming a Lubavitcher. On the contrary, he was an active member of Bnei Akiva and was comfortable with that ideology. But he saw no contradiction between that and absorbing the vibrancy which Lubavitch infused into Jewish life.

Yale has always been an individualist, and a creative one. In 1960, when he was a seventh-grader, he became editor of the Hillel newspaper. He wanted his first edition to attract attention throughout Pittsburgh's Jewish community, so he thought of a spoof.

One of the more active figures in Pittsburgh's Jewish community was a Lubavitcher who often wore an army hat and jacket. This and his untrimmed beard reminded many of Fidel Castro. In fact, the association was so common that he was nicknamed "Castro" throughout the community.

(This was almost 60 years ago, and Castro's dictatorial, anti-American policies were not widely known at the time. On the contrary, to many Americans, he was a flashy underdog fighting Cuba's despotic leader, Batista.)

Yale decided to expand on the association. He wrote a fictional account about an invasion of Cuba in which Castro's troops were in danger of being wiped out. In desperation, Castro called to his brethren in 770. They contacted the Rebbe and the order was given: chassidim were to march on the Brooklyn Navy Yard, commandeer several submarines, and sail to Castro's rescue.

Yale's story did attract attention, but not the kind he desired. Many in Pittsburgh's Jewish community read his article, but few approved. Even as a jest, it was simply out of place.

Leaders of the traditional Orthodox community reprimanded the 12 year old for his lack of sensitivity, as did his parents. He was encouraged to apologize to Rabbi Sholom Posner, the head of the Lubavitch community. In the end, this first issue of the paper was also its final edition.

Rabbi Shpielman, with whom Yale shared a developing relationship, did not think of reprimanding him. Instead, he wanted to introduce Yale to the chassid-Rebbe relationship.

"You have to meet the Rebbe," he told Yale. "Once you discover who he is, you will see how inappropriate your piece was."

Yale was not unwilling, and Rabbi Shpielman began to speak to him about yechidus. Shortly afterwards, Yale's Bnei Akiva chapter had a Shabbaton in Crown Heights, and this appeared to be a perfect opportunity. On the Sunday after the Shabbaton, he would do some shopping, in Judaica stores on the East Side, and that evening he would meet the Rebbe.

Rabbi Shpielman had promised to meet him at 770 and enter yechidus with him, so Yale felt comfortable when he arrived that evening. He did not have to wait long for yechidus, and soon he and Rabbi Shpielman entered the Rebbe's room.

The Rebbe motioned for Yale to sit down. As he did, he noticed Rabbi Shpielman leaving. At this point, he began to feel a little daunted. After all, he was only a seventh-grader and was sitting alone with the Rebbe!

The Rebbe spoke to Yale warmly, telling him that he knew of his family and its work on behalf of the mikveh and Jewish education in Pittsburgh. Yale was moved by the cordial words. The Rebbe continued, complimenting Yale for his talent as a writer.

Up until this point, Yale had been mesmerized by the Rebbe's eyes, but then he noticed a copy of his article on the Rebbe's desk! The Rebbe, however, made no mention of the article at all. Instead, he spoke of a person's obligation to appreciate that his talents are a trust that he should use for the benefit of others. In particular, the Rebbe emphasized, a writer should use his abilities to promote Jewish unity and the love of one Jew for another.

Instead of the sheer terror Yale felt when he saw his article on the Rebbe's table, his feelings turned to relaxation and then empowerment. The Rebbe had recognized his potential and given him encouragement with regard to its expression.

Years passed. In 1979, after receiving his Rabbinic ordination and working as a Rabbi in Vancouver, Yale moved to Los Angeles, where, among his other responsibilities, he wrote a weekly column for the B'nai Brith Messenger. After several months, Joe Cummins, its publisher, asked him to write an additional column on the weekly Torah reading.

Rabbi Butler explained that he was already over-committed, and could not do the column himself. "If you want a good piece on the weekly portion," he told Mr. Cummins, "why don't you use the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe? They come out every week, they're articulate, and a wide range of people would be interested in reading them." Mr. Cummins accepted the idea, and the Rebbe's sichos began to appear weekly in the Messenger.

In 1982, Yale became the publisher of the paper. One of the programs he introduced was lifetime subscriptions. One night, as he sat reviewing the list of people who had purchased these subscriptions, he came across the name, M.M. Schneerson. The Rebbe had answered the ad personally, and had enclosed his own check in payment.

Rabbi Butler had been sending the Rebbe a paper each week without charge; after all, the Rebbe's column appeared in it. The Rebbe, however, had felt the need to pay for a subscription.

From time to time, the Rebbe would ask Rabbi Butler to publicize his perspective with regard to certain issues such as Israel's right to Judah and Samaria, the halachic perspective with regard to the Law of Return, and other concerns facing the American Jewish community.

It appears that the Rebbe never forgot the "Castro" article, once telling Rabbi Shimon Raichik of L.A. that Yale had shown skill as a writer "since childhood."

From To Know and To Care, published by Sichos in English,

What's New

Likkutei Sichos

The Rebbe's Likkutei Sichos revolutionizes Torah study, Jewish life, and G-dly experience. Now, for the first time ever, a curated selection of the original Likkutei Sichos is available in English. The trilingual translation of Likkutei Sichot, the vast collection of the Rebbe's Torah teachings published as Hebrew and Yiddish essays over a period of roughly three decades, and collected into 39 volumes. Bereishit, the book of Genesis, the 728-page first volume of the projected six-volume English set was released by Sichos in English in conjunction with Kehot Publication Society. Likkutei Sichot has been described as the heart and soul of the Rebbe's teachings, a unique fusion of all elements of Torah, from the exoteric to the esoteric, and a key to grasping the Rebbe's view on Judaism and life itself. Available in Jewish bookstores, on-line at or

The Rebbe Writes

30 Tishrei, 5720 (1959)

I received your letter of the 17th of Tishrei in which you write about your background and activities. I was especially gratified to read about your activities to strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in your environment, in the field of kashrus [the kosher dietary laws], etc.

I was especially pleased to read you realize that there is a great deal more to do. For the realization that there is more to be done ought to bring forth additional forces to meet the challenge. All the more so, since every one of us is commanded to go from strength to strength in all matters of holiness, which should be on the ascendancy.

In this connection it is well to remember the saying of my father-in-law, of saintly memory, that at this time every Jew should consider himself in the position of a mountain climber climbing a steep mountain.

In this situation he must continue to climb or slide back, for he cannot remain stationary... It is also a well-known law of physics that the rate of a falling object accelerates. The lesson is obvious.

I read with interest about the books you read and study. I was surprised to note the absence of the Tanya and other works on Chassidus, which you no doubt could study in the original, though part of this literature is available in English.

The study of Chassidus would not only be greatly inspiring to yourself, but would have a great influence on your work and inspiration on behalf of others.

Young people not burdened by family responsibilities, and full of youthful energy, should make the fullest use of their opportunities.

I trust that you have friends among Anash [members of the Chassidic community] with whom you can discuss a method of learning Chassidus and what sources you should study, though I imagine you should have a fairly good idea. But nevertheless, many heads are better than one.

As for your question with regard to my attitude towards the Holy Land etc., I trust you saw my reply to the question "What is a Jew?" which has been published both in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] and here in America. Your particular question with regard to emigration and settling in Eretz Yisroel does not indicate whether it refers to yourself or is in a general way. But my answer would depend on the circumstances of each individual, for it is not possible to give blanket advice on such an important question. this time every Jew should consider himself in the position of a mountain climber climbing a steep mountain.

I should like, however, to emphasize one general point. No matter how much is expected of a Jew in regard to Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], wherever he may be, a great deal is expected of him if he is in Eretz Yisroel, of which the Torah says "It is the land on which the eyes of G-d are upon, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." So much so, that it is regarded as a Holy Land even among non-Jews. Our Sages refer to it as "The Palace of the King." A person wishing to enter the Royal Palace must be prepared to answer such questions as on what business he is there, and he must be properly prepared in every way. It is demonstrated by his conduct and actions that he realizes he is in a Royal Palace. It is unnecessary to elaborate.

May G-d grant that you will succeed in what is your true and inner purpose in life, namely to spread Yiddishkeit, and in an ever-growing way, and may you have good news to report always,

All Together

AMOS means "to be burdened, troubled." Amos (Amos 1:1) was one of the twelve Minor Prophets who lived during the eighth century b.c.e. Concerning Amos, the Talmud says: "Six hundred and thirteen mitzvot (commandments) were told to Moses on Sinai. Amos came and summarized them into one, 'Seek Me and you shall live.'"

AHUVA means "beloved."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Monday, the 20th of Cheshvan, is the birthday of Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber (1860-1920), the fifth Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe.

A beautiful story is told about an important lesson that Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber (known as the "Rebbe Rashab") taught his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, who was later to become his successor.

Once, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok set out on a journey, the Rebbe Rashab asked him to try to do a certain favor for one of the chasidim, a businessman, who was in need of help.

When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok returned he told his father: "I did everything you told me to do, and the favor to that man I did meticulously."

"You err," said the Rebbe Rashab. "You did a favor to yourself, not to him. G-d did a favor to him, by arranging for an emissary, such as yourself, through whom the will of Divine Providence could be realized."

The Rebbe Rashab was teaching us a lesson that permeates the whole of Judaism. When we do a mitzva, especially one which ostensibly allows us to help another person, we are G-d's emissaries. And, more than helping the other person we are, in essence, helping ourselves.

Tzedaka, charity, is a prime example. When we give tzedaka it should be with the knowledge and understanding that G-d has bestowed upon us a privilege--the privilege to administer His money in a righteous manner. Certainly, this is the reason why our Sages teach, "More than charity does for the poor person, it does for the rich person."

This attitude can and should permeate all "favors" we do for others. In addition to being the correct attitude, it stops us from having misplaced pride!

Thoughts that Count

And Abraham drew near (Gen. 18:3)

Rashi notes that Abraham approached G-d "to speak [with Him] in a harsh manner," to plead that He change His mind and not destroy Sodom. Abraham, the epitome of loving-kindness, nonetheless saw fit to go against his natural inclination and "speak harshly" with G-d! We learn from this that when it comes to saving lives, either literally or in the spiritual sense, a Jew must pull out all the stops and do all in his power, even if it goes against his very nature.

(Likrat Shabbat)

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him (Gen. 18:19)

According to Rashi, "For I know him" is "an expression of love...for he who knows someone brings him near to himself, and knows him and understands him." Why did G-d love Abraham so much? Unlike other righteous people who lived before his time, Abraham understood that the objective in serving G-d is not to attain individual perfection through contemplation, but to actually have a positive effect on the world. G-d knew that Abraham would "command his children and household after him" to go in the way of the Torah, and thus loved him dearly.

(Our Sages)

Abraham called the name of his son...Isaac (Gen. 21:3)

In the Messianic age, it is specifically of Isaac that we will say "for you are our father" (a verse from the book of Isaiah). Isaac (Yitzchak in Hebrew) is an expression of laughter and delight; when Moshiach comes, the supernal joy and delight of our present service of G-d will be fully revealed.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. I)

Sarah saw the son of Hagar...laughing (Gen. 21:9)

As Rashi explains, the word "laughing" in this context denotes "idol worship, illicit relations and murder." To a wicked person like Ishmael, even the gravest sins were a big "joke." Isaac, however (whose Hebrew name Yitzchak is derived from "to laugh"), laughed at the petty stratagems of the Evil Inclination...

(Chidushei HaRim)

It Once Happened

Once a great Chasidic leader, Rabbi Mordechi of Nadvorna, was on a long train trip with many of his followers. The train made a stop in the city of Niridihous where they had to change trains for their intended destination.

They had been waiting for several minutes when suddenly a young non-Jewish woman began screaming and wailing, attracting the attention of both passengers and police. It seems that someone had stolen her wallet containing her money and train ticket.

It was usually best for Jews to keep out of the affairs of non-Jews, especially in this situation when the police were looking for a suspect. So it was a bit strange when Rabbi Mordechai turned to one of his younger Chasidim and ordered him to run to the ticket office to buy a ticket for the woman. He told the Chasid to give her some traveling money as well and not to say a word about where it came from.

The Chasid did as he was told and gave it to the bewildered woman who was literally speechless with gratitude.

Fifteen years passed. The Chasid married had children, the holy Rebbe had passed away and the incident was completely forgotten. The Chasid had since become a successful businessman. He had non-Jewish friends in high places. Early one morning he received a subpoena to appear in court; he was charged with cheating the government.

The charges were transparently false, the witnesses had obviously been paid, but it didn't help. Suddenly he realized that he didn't have any real friends after all and no one was willing to help him. He ran from office to office and got the same empty sympathetic statements and excuses. Finally he hired a lawyer, prayed to G-d for a miracle, and went to court.

The pre-trial hearing took less than an hour. He was found guilty of all charges and was to be incarcerated until the trial. The Chasid was desperate. He posted bail for himself and began searching for a better lawyer, but now no lawyer wanted to take his case.

He had no choice but to travel to Budapest where the judge, who was to preside over his trial lived, and try to see him. Maybe he could convince the judge of his innocence. Hastily he packed a bag, took a large sum of money and caught the next train out.

In Budapest the Chasid was in for another bitter surprise. He found out that the judge was a rabid anti-Semite. There was no chance that he would even look at, no less talk to, and certainly not have mercy on a Jew.

But the Chasid did not lose heart, for "everything G-d does is for the best" he reminded himself. So he went around the city talking to people until he formulated a plan of action. The Chasid found out that the judge's wife loved fine embroidered linens, especially tablecloths. He would buy the most expensive tablecloth he could find and appear at her doorstep as a salesman. Then, if he could get her interested, he would offer it to her as a gift and beg her to try to influence her husband for him.

It was a dangerous plan, even a bit foolish; she could easily report him to the police. But he had no other solution.

The Chasid spent the next morning looking for the most exquisite embroidery in Budapest and finally spent a small fortune on an elegant tablecloth with matching napkins. He went quickly to the judge's home trying to keep as calm as possible. He said a prayer and knocked on the door.

The judge's wife opened the door. She looked at him strangely. He tried to begin his sales pitch but the words didn't come out. He was frozen with fear. Suddenly, the woman screamed and fainted!

The Chasid's first impulse was to run. If he just stood there they would certainly accuse him of something. But then if he ran and they caught him it would be worse!

Meanwhile, the judge heard the commotion and came running. When he got there and saw the Chasid it was hard to tell who was more astounded. He bent down to his wife, who had regained consciousness, and asked her, "Are you all right Greta, what happened?"

She opened her eyes, looked around and finally pointed at the Jew. "Yorik, Yorik!" she said, as she rose to her feet. "Do you remember that I told that about fifteen years ago at the train station in Niridihous when I lost my tickets and money an angel came and saved me? Well, this Jew...he has the face just like that angel! It's him!

When the Judge realized that this was the man who saved his wife his countenance changed completely. He invited the bewildered Jew into his home and offered him a reward. When he heard the reason for his visit, he promised him a fair trial. Needless to say the Chasid was acquitted of all charges.

Adapted from a story told by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on

Moshiach Matters

In this week's portion we read: "G-d rained upon Sodom and Gomora brimstone and fire..." (Gen. 19:24) At the present time Sodom remains in its ruined state. However, when Moshiach comes and evil will be completely removed from the earth, Sodom will return to its original state of blessing and beauty, as it says, (Ezek. 16) "And I will return the captivity of Sodom.

(Sefer HaParshiot)

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