Wednesday, 31 December 2008

5 Tevet - Didan Notzach - "Victory is Ours"





Where would the world be without books? Ever imagined such a world? Sure, there’s television. We have fantastic audio too. A world of pictures and a world of sound. But imagine a world without books?!

The Jewish people are known as “People of the Book”. The reason for this coinage can be found elsewhere. However it is certainly one which states clearly our mission in the world. The world of a Jew encompasses the world of books. Without reading, one will never come to know what everything is all about.

Imagine a new appliance being sold without a manual of how to work it?! Imagine a salesman selling large pieces of wood (to make a bookshelf!) – without including the instructions on how to put it all together?! We could always experiment! There are indeed holes on the boards, and with a bit of ingenuity, we could eventually start putting the boards together. We also run the risk of finding our shelves back to front, with some shelves where they should be, and others in directions which they should not. To add to this, we could even call ourselves geniuses for having being able to put it all together without even so much as having looked at an instruction booklet!

Imagine the patient visiting a doctor to perform micro brain surgery upon him, only to find that the doctor is illiterate [sic]! How did he become a doctor – we would ask. How could he ever come to understand the workings of the body if not for the hundreds of thousands of pages he had studied over tens of years?!

The Jewish people are indeed people of the book, because without the Book, we are nothing. No better than any craftsman ready to fashion his shelves (or the like) without so much as an idea of how he’ll get it all together! Our book is the Torah. It is not ours exactly. It belongs to the Creator of the world. He built this world (and others) and – due to its extreme complexity (far more complex than the workings of the body, an appliance, or even bookshelves,) He also authored a major work. It encompasses everything from the moment creation began, right up until the moment when everything will be as He so wishes it to.

He is the Book itself. The Jewish people are that same Book. And all three are intertwined. Because of it’s complexity however, it takes a lifetime (and more!) to be able to understand just what it’s all about, and just what we are supposed to do as a result of reading it.


In the 1980’s an event that would take Chabad by storm was about to brew. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (1880-1950) had left behind an incredibly large library of books, some of which were the original manuscripts written by the Baal Shem Tov himself! The Rebbe had been blessed with 3 daughters, but no sons. One daughter – the elder – had married a man by the name of Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary. Another daughter married a man by the name of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Horenstein. And the middle daughter married the Lubavitcher Rebbe – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Horensteins were killed Al Kiddush Hashem during the holocaust.

As for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, although he was Rebbe, he was “only” the son-in-law of the previous Rebbe. He never had children in the physical sense of the word and therefore there were no grandchildren for the previous Rebbe from him.

Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary did have one son however, Dov Ber (known as Barry Gurary.) Because he was the only grandson, he believed that the inheritance from his grandfather should go to him. There was however one problem. The library of books that belonged to the previous Rebbe had been given over to Chabad and obviously to the possession of the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself.

Events, not necessary to mention here, eventually lead to a situation coming about where Barry Gurary – the previous Rebbe’s only living grandson – took the Rebbe to court, claiming that the library of books was his. He was rightly entitled to it by inheritance, and as such they were his. What he chose to do with them – was naturally his own decision. Should he wish to read them, he could certainly do this… and if he wished to sell them (they are worth millions of dollars to those who know their true material wealth) – he could do this as well.

The Rebbe on the other hand, while not a direct heir in the literal sense of inheritance, had never contemplated such an idea. To him, the books were his. Who better to make use of these books than the Rebbe himself?!

The court case was a fierce battle – weeks where the Rebbe was literally more than concerned and troubled as to what could possibly happen should these books leave his hands. The story can be found in far greater detail on other Internet sites – and it is by far one of the most tense and worrisome stories that have occurred to the Jewish people in general in many, many years.

On the 5 Tevet in 1986, the court ruled in favour of the Rebbe and the books were returned to their rightful place. One of the most convincing arguments came from the Rebbe’s own wife – daughter of the previous Rebbe – who when questioned, replied to the advocate “The Rebbe and the books of the Rebbe are the property of the Chassidim.” In truth she was not just the wife of the Rebbe, supporting him, she was also the daughter of the previous Rebbe (who may well have deserved the books herself) and the sister of the mother of the man who had brought this case to court!

One daughter of the previous Rebbe supported Chabad – and Chassidus. The other, supported her son – the apparent legitimate heir to books owned by his grandfather. It certainly didn’t make for an easy clear cut decision, and anyone thinking over the possibilities and ramifications of the various things that could have happened, could well find themselves at a loss for words.

But the case was more than a nephew fighting his uncle over an inheritance. As the Torah itself teaches, it was about an argument that had originated from on High! Nothing in this world happens only because human beings make it that way. Rather, that that happens in this world is a sign for what is actually happening in the worlds above. When Eisav comes to fight Yaakov, it is not just because two brothers are about to engage in a physical battle. It is about the angel of Eisav laying a claim against the angel of Yaakov on High. When things begin Above, they continue below and are manifest in this world.

The court case of the books was not just about a physical case in this world, it was about accusations levelled at the Jewish people Above! Apparently, as we can imagine things… the angels above were involved in a heated argument!

Do books belong to one just because of an inheritance? Do books belong to one just because one is a grandchild – just because of birth? The angels were at battle! Wings were flapping, tornadoes of wind blowing the air as the angels fought.

But the dust flying above eventually subsided and the verdict was in. Books are holy – especially when they’re really holy! One doesn’t merit them just because of birth and because of wealth (even if one could afford them.) One merits them because one works towards the goals contained inside them.

Being Jewish means (amongst other things) appreciating what a book is – it’s value. The Book – The Torah is the ultimate book, and all books written afterwards about it are included in it’s same category. We have both a written Torah and an oral one. The oral is infinite – because it is G-d Himself. Yet G-d clothes Himself within the written Torah. It is filled with layers upon layers of garments, far too many for the average person to uncover by a simple casual reading. With it comes the real work of learning the oral Torah, because hidden inside it are the keys for opening the written Torah and understanding what it’s about.

The Rebbe’s court case was a message to the Jewish people. Wake up! Even above there are battles each day, judgments being issued – as to whether we are truly deserving to know the will of G-d Himself. We must pay attention and realise that our duty is to read… read… and read even more, to learn what G-d wants from us – and to actively implement it into real life action. To make this world a dwelling place for G-d.

As infinite as the world of holy books is, so too is the infinite obligation we have to learn the beauty, the supernatural (and “natural”) and the radiance of the infinite G-d Himself.

We cannot excuse ourselves as just being Jews because of birth. Deserving to receive everything of G-d’s infinite kindness just because of birth. We have an obligation that we accepted upon ourselves over 3300 years ago. An obligation to learn and explore the instruction manual – every single day – every single moment of every single day – in whatever free time we can find to do so. When we do this, then the books are ours. The Rebbe is always ours, and we can always be Chassidim. But the books… they come to us from our desire to want to read and follow what is actually inside them.



Where are we to begin, and how can we begin to find out what it is that G-d wants from us? There is no greater book to begin learning from than the very book that was given to us thousands of years ago. The written Torah. We must educate ourselves into knowing how the world began, world history, how the Jewish people came about. Could there be anything more interesting?

It’s the stuff Hollywood movies are made of! Imagine opening the authoritative book about creation. Learning about the wonders of the stars. The people who began this world making it what it is today. Where did the Jewish people come from?! What were the politics of those days like?! What did G-d want from us – why?! Just who were the forefathers and the foremothers? The twelve tribes, the 70 Jews who went down to Egypt, and the 600 000 souls who came out?! Who was Moses and what role did he really play? Does it make any difference to me today?!

Who lead the Jewish people after Moses? Who was Joshua? Who were the great Judges of the Jewish people, the prophets and the leaders? Who were the Kings of Israel and were they good? Did they follow the teachings of the Torah or rebel? What can *we* learn from them today?! Did those people have the same desires as we experience today? Were they so different? Who were the leading governments in those days and how did they impose their taxes?

What are the sweetest praises to G-d all about? What did the wisest man – King Solomon have to say about life? What of the supernatural stories clothed in nature? Just what is the unique love affair relationship between G-d and the Jewish people all about? Who was to be the ultimate mother of the righteous redeemer destined to come and take us out of our exile?

The Tanach – filled with 24 books, is the ultimate guide in understanding life – as it is TODAY. Every page is filled with stories and advice about how to live life – not then, but TODAY! Its teachings – to anyone who opens their eyes – is as relevant today as it was then. In fact, if we prepare ourselves, we will see that its teachings have become even more relevant to us. It is a book of life to all those who hold on to it, to those who open their eyes, to those who humble themselves to realise the value of truth, of morality, of goodness and kindness.

Its secrets are never ending. The greatness of the souls and people who lived then represent the roots of the world of today, the roots of goodness and its opposite – corruption. The miracles of then… are the same miracles of today and the exiles of then, the same exile of today.

It is the ultimate guide to life and it is the ultimate guide to understanding the deepest secrets of the Creator. Who can turn aside from it for even a moment?

It is the book of all books, and the root book of any Jewish library.

In coming postings, we will be reviewing various books to help guide each of us into understanding more about the Torah. At the end of each review there will be a link to click on. If you don’t have this book in your library, you can purchase it immediately!

Don’t waste another moment. Open your eyes to the beauty of Torah and appreciate the gift which we have been given. The 5 Tevet is the ultimate day to make a new resolution to thirst for a new book, and to desire to drink of its contents immediately, learning it and putting it into practice!

Ready to begin?

Click here and purchase the Artscroll Tanach immediately! Just two chapters a day (excluding the regular weekly reading and the book of Psalms), and you can finish it in just one year!

For more video footage about the Rebbe and the 5th Tevet see these videos.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Mumbai Memorial 30 Days - in Jerusalem Israel

Strictly speaking, this evening marks the 30 days since the tragic event in Mumbai where 2 Chabad Shlichim together with 4 other holy Jews (HYK) who were visiting the Chabad house – were brutally murdered in cold blood.

To commemorate the Shloshim period – 30 days since the death of a Jew (a stage which marks another ascension and change in the soul as it ascends above) – a special memorial was held last night in Jerusalem. The main speaker was Professor Velvel Greene, a professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, who is also director of the Jacobovits Center for Jewish Medical Ethics. He was an original participant in NASA's Exobiology program, and has published more than 90 scientific papers, and has lectured and consulted around the world.

He was fortunate enough to have a special relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and spoke to him on numerous occasions. A simple Google search will yield enough results to learn more about this special man including a video of him being interviewed about his relationship with the Rebbe.

Professor Greene was introduced to the audience by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton of Kfar Chabad and well known for the wonderful stories he tells. After talking, a movie was shown about the lives of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg as well as the “guests.” The evening ended with Rabbi Bolton playing guitar and singing songs of encouragement.

What would be the focus of Professor Greene’s talk? Chabad of course… and Space! I suppose they’re really both related. They’re both in a “space” of their own, everyone seems to look in that direction in wonderment, and it seems only the truly selected few actually go out and see what it’s all about. Don’t take my word for it though. Professor Greene shared a wonderful story to get things going.

Levi – a new recruit to the Israel paratroopers division was all set on learning the art of jumping out of a plane. Imagine that – as the Professor said… jumping out of a perfectly good plane! Well, it took many months of preparation for Levi, and he was ready for anything! Just like the other recruits, Levi was up at 3am every morning to get going for a gruelling day of training. Running…jogging… carrying heavy equipment on his back – for miles on end (leading nowhere of course!) but all there for the purpose of increasing stamina, making the body a strong vessel to deal with the great achievement of being able to leap from an airplane and head earthwards at a frighteningly fast speed (and hopefully having enough strength to pull a simple cord!)

The big day eventually arrived, and the soldiers were ready for the big jump! They had practised this moment on the ground for months, psyching themselves up for the leap where there simply wouldn’t be any handles to hold onto. Things worked quite basically with the soldiers lined up in the plane, each ready to exit at his own appointed time. Of course, things moved fast, and the Major began calling each one’s name out, and as he did so, the soldier stepped forwards to the plane’s opening and within less than a second, found himself heading straight for the ground! The Major began with each soldier. “Number 1… Reuven, Number 2, Shimon, Number 3, Yehuda… Number 6 – LEVI”. Suddenly Levi froze, unable to move. He just couldn’t do it.

His Major was a little upset, after all, the recruits had spent months in preparation. What could be easier, taking a jump (and a leap of faith!) or carrying 30 kilograms of equipment on one’s back for 60 miles – every single day?! But, every one gets a second chance, and so a few days later, they were up in the airplane again with the same process repeating itself. Once again, Levi froze in his tracks, unable to move! What would become of poor Levi?! But, there’s always yet another chance, and a few days later, the same event happened. Everyone else jumping, with Levi unable to move. It was clear, Levi simply wasn’t going to become a jumper at any rate!

His Major turned towards Levi and asked him, “Tell me son, you’ve worked so hard to get here, and you seem to be enjoying watching everyone else jump. You even look all fired up yourself. Why is it then that you’ve chosen to be with all these people, when you know that you yourself are never going to jump?” Levi smiled a warm smile and explained, ‘You’re right, I have no desire to jump whatsoever, and it’s true, I really do enjoy watching all these paratroopers jump. And I’m even willing to go through all the training just to be here with them all. You see, it’s like this. I myself may not be willing to jump, but if nothing else, I’d love to be around those that are and do!”

Such, explained the Professor, is the case with Chabad. The world and world Jewry constantly talk of them, some who stand at a distance, and others who stand right by them. When asked why they only stand by, they answer because they wish to at least be close to the jumpers – even if they don’t jump themselves!

Perhaps it’s true. There are those who think that paratroopers are lunatics for wanting to jump out of perfectly good planes. There are those who are willing enough to invest some energy and time into finding out more about how they actually work – even if they aren’t prepared to take the jump themselves. And then of course, there are “the real thing!” – those who are prepared to take the jump.

The world watches the jumpers. They’re not particularly interested in those that stand by them – although they seem to get some publicity too. And then there are the rest of those not willing to even question what a plane does so high in the air, let alone wonder why people would ever jump out of it!

The Chabad Shlichim in Mumbai were of course the ultimate – Elite Olympic jumpers! World attention was brought to them at that time – and world attention has always been upon them – even if nobody knows of this.

As the Hagaddah of Pesach says clearly “In every generation they seek to destroy us but the Holy One Blessed be He saves us from their hands.” Even when nobody knows of the plotters, their eyes are constantly upon us – the jumpers in particular. Those 4 Jews that were murdered Al Kiddush Hashem together with them knew this too. Much like gravity pulls something with mass downwards without it having a choice to it’s being pulled down, so too those who seek truth find themselves pulled to it ever stronger – eventually finding themselves to be the very jumpers they had once only but looked at.

It may seem like the world has already turned away from the horrors just 4 weeks ago, but the truth is that things are no different. Each and every day the world eyes the jumpers, looking for opportunities to thwart their plans.

Everything is created with it’s exact opposite – says the wisest of all men – King Solomon. If there is purity, there must be impurity too. Just as there are those who awaken each morning to take the jump, to do good, and to bring kindness into the world, so too does there awaken each morning, men filled with the most evil of intentions to do everything possible to make sure those parachutes don’t open…

Those who left us should serve to be examples to each of us to realise that each day we are given the opportunity to choose who we wish to be.

Do we wish not to think of planes and paratrooping? Do we wish to train ourselves so that we can at least be with them and watch them – even if we just can’t take the jump ourselves? Or… do we wish to train ourselves well enough to be the jumpers themselves?

If you want to learn more about what it means to jump, contact Rav Eliyahu directly and become a part of the team.


One can never understand G-d’s ways. Checking the news, I see today that 4 year old, Dov Ber Holtzberg – the eldest son of Rabbi Gabi and Rivky was Niftar (died) today. Not much was said about him at the time of the tragedy. He was not well and had been in a hospital in Israel. His funeral was held at midday at the Mount of Olives. This, just one day before the actual 30 complete days of mourning for his parents.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Chanukah - Enjoying the Flame - ONLY!



It may seem like the Mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles is an easy one. Go to your local Jewish shop, purchase a Menorah with wicks in a pre-packaged kit, some oil, and then simply lighting the quantity of candles for that night, at the right time. Actually, there are many laws attached to the lighting of the candles. So much so, that there are opinions that tell us to prepare our Menorah three days before the Mitzvah is to be fulfilled. Once the time comes for the Mitzvah, we must hurry to perform it immediately – and then is simply not the time to start thinking of what needs to be done!

One of the Halachot that strikes one as being somewhat different to the norm of Mitzvah performance, is the fact that – as we recite in the beautiful song after lighting the candles – the candles may only be looked at. We may not get any benefit from them. We may simply look at their beauty. Surely, one could ask – once the lights are already lit, one could make use of them for a variety of purposes?! Perhaps the electricity is out (again!) and this makes a great opportunity to save ourselves from the external problems of lights. In fact, since we’ve already fulfilled this beautiful Mitzvah, why not simply use it as much as we can?! We’ve spent a good deal of money on the oil, the wicks and the beautiful candelabra! Why not get some really good use out of all these things now?!

Who would think of baking a tasty looking cake for Shabbat, only to have to leave it on the table for the entire Shabbat so that everybody can enjoy the appearance? What of purchasing an attractive Shtreimel for Shabbat – so that we can enjoy it’s appearance on Shabbat?!

Making the cake for Shabbat is for the purpose of eating it on Shabbat. One thereby acquires two beautiful Mitzvot – one, the actual baking for the honour of Shabbat, and two, the eating of the cake and enjoying Shabbat itself. For Chanukah, why not do the same?! Light the candles, enjoy their beauty – BUT, turn off all the lights and get a two for the price of one Mitzvah! After all, once we’re already doing a Mitzvah of one kind, extend it to bring further happiness.

A Jew is compared to a light. The Torah says that Ner Havayah, Nishmas Adam – the candle of G-d is the soul of man. For this reason, one should be careful with regards to blowing out a candle (even if it’s your birthday!) Rather we extinguish the candle (if need be) by doing an action not directly related to one’s own breath. It is not fitting for one to use one’s own soul (breath) to destroy another soul (the candle which is in fact a soul.)

Being in a world of give and take, we tend to see life as all about what we’ll get from others – especially when we help them. Imagine the goodness of the world where those with tremendous wealth would simply give to the poor without thinking of a return? The possibility of a loan fund to give to another to help them without the often embarrassing situations that arise as to how they’ll pay it back? Most people don’t mind putting in effort in making a something of somebody else… so long as there will be something back in return. If there’s any doubt that nothing beneficial will come, most people turn a blind eye to another’s problems with a variety of insults indicating their distaste to the manner of life they are living and their need to constantly have to ask others for help.

The Rebbe Rashab spoke of every Jew as being a lamplighter. Of going around to illuminate another Jew. The Baal Shem Tov spoke strongly of seeing another’s spiritual needs as one’s very own physical needs, and their physical needs as being one’s own spiritual needs. Making another Jew is big business in the world of kindness! Yet, we get caught up in the net of honour or prestige, of expectance for a return on investment for having “made another” who they are.

Chanukah teaches us something about the value of a Jew. It teaches us about the importance of lighting them up to realise who they really are. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe would say – it is our duty to bring every Jew back to G-d. It is our duty to realise that another Jew may be asleep and this is why he seems unaffected by the Torah around him. But when he awakens, we might find that in fact he is far greater than any of us. Just because another sleeps, does not detract any less from the fact that what is inside the sleeping body may well reside greatness we could never hope to attain.

On Chanukah, we light candles. We awaken other Jews. Before lighting, the oil sits quietly achieving nothing, but it’s potential is enormous. A wick placed inside the oil seems to simply detract from the stillness of the oil. But when a flame touches the wick, the oil and wick work together producing a fire, a flame that burns continually into the night, in peace and beauty providing a sweetness to the darkness all around. And it is then that the Torah says “You may not have any benefit from the flame, save for looking at it’s light.”

Our duty is to illuminate the flame of another Jew – no matter what it takes, both physically (to provide for those who don’t have) and spiritually (to make certain they receive a proper Torah education as soon as possible in their life – so that they too can experience a Torah lifestyle and feel their connection to G-d Himself.) But making another Jew comes with a “catch”. There are no deals involved. No possibilities of using them now for our own purposes much as a drug dealer will expect from those whom he supports.

We must stand back and be prepared to partake of the goodness that another offers – no matter what it is, without having to interfere – demanding that he now give us back what we might have given to him at one or another stage.

There are no exceptions. Every Jew is a light – a Chanukah light. Every Jew automatically radiates warmth and goodness. But sometimes, they simply don’t have the wealth or education to show others just who they are. They are stifled, stuck, limited in being able to express themselves, much like the wick in oil – without the flame. Our duty is to light that flame and realise how much darkness of the world it actually expels – all on it’s own. That is the greatness of the Jew. To begin to demand payment for this Jew’s goodness is an insult to the nature of what he already expresses. He did not make himself. G-d chose him to be just who he is, with all the deficiencies each of us see in him (deficiencies that exist in fact – in ourselves.)

The Chanukah candle represents everything a Jew is. Quiet, gentle, soft and sweet. It’s hushed light rising ever higher. And for what?! To give of itself, to bring light into the world. But what does it ask from us? It asks us to provide the light so that it can illuminate and rise ever higher. When this happens, we must step back in respect, realising the greatness of this beautiful light. It asks for nothing more, than to be itself. Nothing less than to share it’s very own light.

But sometimes… it needs your help. We give children money, because we realise that with wealth, a child will be able to express himself, to become a somebody – to live! Let us take these same lessons into our day to day life. Let us be able to appreciate the true value of another Jew and to understand that sometimes, we may not use another for our personal benefit, whether through hard labour, through insult (for our own honour) or for any other purpose. Our task is to see the greatness of another Jew, what they are and what they can become. Our task is to give them what they need to achieve their goals.

“These candles are holy, and we don’t have permission to make use of them, except – only to look at them, in order to praise and glorify Your great Name – upon Your miracles and upon Your wonders and on Your salvations.”

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Don't Forget the "Guests"


The tragedy in Mumbai has affected each and every one of us. In particular the world has focused on two special people that martyred their lives, sanctifying the Name of G-d in public – i.e. Rabbi Gavriel Noach and Rivka Holtzberg HY”D. These two Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe set up a Chabad house taking care of the needs of Jews who came to India. Their work has no price to it. One cannot put a price on such efforts of goodness and kindness.

Have we forgotten, however, the “guests”?! There were another 4 holy souls involved in this tragic event however, and it is vital that we not forget these people either. Indeed, they too left behind children. Two left behind wives, and one left behind grandchildren too. The children left behind range from 3 months and upwards. They too are without their parents who gave of themselves selflessly to the Jewish people.

Indeed, Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitlebaum was in India to give a Hechsher so that the Jews would be able to eat reliable Kosher food. He placed a Tallis over one of those who had been killed. He had 8 children. His eldest – who had just had his Barmitzvah insisted on eulogising his father at the funeral. He was respected as a Torah authority and Posek.

Rabbi BenTzion Chroman was there for Kashrut purposes as well. Someone who was said to always have a smile on his face, he had thought to spend time learning Torah before leaving and returning back to Israel. He was found dead… slumped over his Talmud. He used every spare moment involved in Torah study. He died literally – in the tent of Torah.

Yochev Orpaz was 62 years old and mother of 4. She was visiting her children and grandchildren. Being in the Chabad centre, meant that Judaism was a priority in her life.

Norma-Rabinovitch Shvartzblat – 50 years old – was in India for a few months just before making Aliyah this past Tuesday. She would be joining her children here. Again, we can see, that as she was at a Chabad centre, Judaism was a priority for her too.

These other 4 holy souls sanctified the Name of G-d NO LESS than the Shluchim of the Rebbe. It may be that they did so even more. Who of us can tell?!

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that sometimes a soul descends to this world for 70 or 80 years just to do a material favour for another Jew and how much more so a spiritual favour.

A soul can be sent into this world for 70 years – JUST to do a favour for another Jew. Does this make them any less important – just because they may have performed just ONE Mitzvah (all the more so when every Jew is filled with Mitzvas like a pomegranate is filled with seeds)? While we need to acknowledge and see the greatness of those who are actively involved in the Rebbe’s efforts in spreading Yiddishkeit and helping others, we must never fail to see the greatness of another Jew – no matter who they are, or what they have achieved. Would the Rebbe have thought otherwise? Would he have given any less attention to these other souls – just because these other Jews may not have been his personal Shluchim?!

Rabbi Yosef Karo – the author of the Shulchan Aruch – who lived a lengthy life of almost 100 years – regretted that he had never merited to die Al Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying the Name of G-d. He, the author of the accepted code of Jewish law today – and regarded as the absolute authority of Torah law (today), bemoaned not being able to sanctify G-d’s Name in public.

Yet… Rabbi Teitlebaum did. Rabbi Chroman did. Yocheved Orpaz did. And so did Norma Rabinovtich-Shvartzblat. This certainly says something for the greatness of these souls – even if we would only imagine that they were here in this world – just to help ONE other Jew…. (and even if this was only one time!) There is no reason that the funerals of these holy Jews should have been any less publicized or any less attended than the funerals of the Rebbe’s shluchim.

Let us stop our daily activity and do something in *these* Jews’ merits, and let us focus on helping their families too.

Perhaps, when we see the greatness of even a “simple” Jew, we will awaken the kindnesses of G-d above, to see that every one of us can acknowledge the greatness of every other single Jew – that every Jew counts, no matter how “simple” we think they are.

It’s easy to mourn for those we regard in high-regard. But perhaps, what we need more than ever – right now – is to appreciate the value of every single Jew.

For more pictures see: PICTURES

The videos below give us more insight into the value of every single person who was affected so tragically by the Mumbai horror. It is not just they who were affected however, it is each of us.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Yahrtzeit - 9 Kisleiv - Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch - The Mittler Rebbe



Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch

The Second Chabad Rebbe

Born: Liozna, White Russia, 1773 (Kislev 9)

Died: 1827 (Kislev 9)

The second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dov Ber is commonly known as “The Mitteler Rebbe” ("the Middle Rebbe" - Yid.) He was born and died on the same day – something that the Torah speaks about in high praise as it signified an absolute completion. Moses, too, was born and died on the same day – the 7th of Adar, signifying an absolute completion and perfection of days.

Rabbi Dov Ber was the son and successor of his father Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi - Baal HaTanya (the Alter Rebbe), and both uncle and father-in-law of the Tzemach Tzedek. His very special sister, Devorah Leah (whose story including dying for the sake of her father the Alter Rebbe, will be told in another posting,) was the mother of the Tzemach Tzedek.

Some of the greatest Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe said of his oldest son, Rabbi DovBer, that when he was eighteen, he already had amazing powers.

Rabbi DovBer assumed the leadership of Chabad upon his father's passing in 1812. In 1813 he settled in the town of Lubavitch, which was to serve as the movement's headquarters for the next 102 years.

About the Rabbi Dov Ber it was said that he was so immersed in Chasidut that "if his finger would have been cut, it would have bled Chasidut instead of blood!" (a phrase subsequently used often when describing those whose true essence simply “oozes” true Chassidic teachings!) In 1826 when Rabbi Dov Ber was arrested by the Czarist government on slanderous charges (he was later released on the 10th of Kislev), even the governmental doctor, who was a prominent specialist, acknowledged that Chasidut was the Mitteler Rebbe's very essence and life. The doctor told the Russian authorities that they must allow Rabbi Dov Ber to give talks on Chasidut to his Chasidim, explaining, "Just as you provide food for prisoners to ensure their existence, so, too, must you allow him to teach Chasidut. His very life depends on it." The authorities saw that this was true when, while imprisoned, the Mitteler Rebbe's health waned. They agreed to let fifty Chasidim enter his prison room twice weekly to listen to a Chasidic discourse. But Rabbi Dov Ber was not only concerned about the spiritual life of his fellow Jews; he also worked to better their situation materially as well. He encouraged thousands of Jews, both his Chasidim and others, to settle on the land as farmers so that they would not have to be at the mercy of the anti-Semitic landowners or peasants. He established twenty-two Jewish farm settlements on land near the town of Cherson, which he had convinced the government to give for this purpose. Many of his Chasidim, however, were reluctant to move so far away from their Rebbe. Thus, Rabbi Dov Ber promised to go to the trouble of travelling to them so he could teach Chasidut to them there. The Rebbe spoke numerous times of the importance of celebrating the ninth and tenth of Kislev in a fitting manner, with gatherings that will foster brotherhood and lead to good resolutions. His day of release, Kislev 10 is celebrated to this day as a "festival of liberation" – Yom HaGeula, among Lubavitch Chassidim. In addition to the celebrations and gatherings that happen during these two days, it is also Chabad custom *not* to say any prayers that are normally not said of festive occasions i.e. Tachanun, Tzidkasecha (on Shabbos Mincha).

On the night of Kislev 9, the Mitteler Rebbe fainted many times. Once, they were unable to resuscitate him. The Chassidim came, as well as the Chevrah Kadisha (the burial society). The Chassidim and the family didn't give up hope; they tried and successfully revived him.

They asked the Rebbe, "Didn't you hear the shouting in the house? Why are you frightening us so much?" He answered, "I heard a heavenly voice asking what does such a Neshamah have to do in this physical world?"

The Rebbe asked that he be dressed in his white clothes. Colour returned to his face; he spoke of Zechusim - good things about Jews - that Jews are careful to do Mitzvot, especially Tzedakah, giving more than they can. He told his Chassidim and family to be happy; Simchah sweetens judgment. He began to say Chassidut. The Chassidim became happy, as if it were a wedding. All felt that now the Rebbe would regain his health.

He said Chassidut all night and often asked if it was morning. He finished just before dawn; as he said the words "with You is the source of life," he passed away and was united with HaShem. (
Sefer HaToldos)

The Tzemach Tzedek said there wasn't such a passing since R' Shimon Bar Yochai. The Zohar says he was saying Torah and passed on, saying the word "Chayim" - life.

Rabbi DovBer passed away on his 54th birthday in 1827, a day before the first anniversary of his liberation. The Rebbe was buried in Niezhen and that year the joyful day of redemption became one of mourning.

Among the students and scholars of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Dov Ber is known for his unique style of "broadening rivers" -- his teachings are the intellectual rivers to his father's wellspring, lending breadth and depth to the principles set down by Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

For an English translation on his teachings concerning praying at the graves of the Tzaddikim and the greatness of this, see Kuntres HaHishtatchus. It is by far one of the best available expositions describing the tremendous value of praying at the graves of the Tzaddikim – a must for everyone who feels the need to explore the power of prayer and the connecting to the Tzaddikim who have “apparently left this world.”

The Rebbe's Son and the Chassid

Once, when Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, the son of Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a young man, he was visiting with his father-in-law in Yanovitch. There he met with one of his father's Chassidim. The Chassid noticed that the young "Rebbe's Son" was all too aware of his achievements in scholarship and meditative prayer, and felt that some "cutting down to size" was in order.

Said the Chassid to Rabbi DovBer: "Considering who you are and how you've lived, what's the big deal? Your father -- well, we all know who your father is. You were certainly conceived under the holiest of circumstances, and I'm sure that your father secured a most lofty soul to bring down into the world. Then you were raised in a Rebbe's home and great care was taken to mold your character and safeguard you from any negative influences. All your life you've been exposed to scholarship and sanctity, and to this very day you're preoccupied only with the study of Torah and the teachings of Chassidism. So you've amassed a certain amount of knowledge and you pray with fervour and devotion. Big deal.

"Now, take me, for example. My father was a simple man, and we can well imagine what was on his mind when he scraped out some dreg of a soul from the bottom of the barrel. My upbringing? I was raised as a goat and basically left to my own devices. And do you know what I do with my life? Let me tell you how I earn my living. I loan money to the peasants during the planting season and then, during the winter months, I make my rounds of their villages and farms to collect the debts before they have a chance to squander their entire harvest on vodka. This means setting out several hours before sunrise, well before the permissible time for prayer, equipped with a flask -- for without a drink one cannot begin to talk business with a peasant. After drinking to his health, one must share a l'chayim with the woman in the house as well -- otherwise she can ruin the whole deal for you. Only then can you sit down to settle part of the account.

"After three or four such stops I make my way home, immerse myself in the mikveh and prepare for prayer. But after such preliminaries, what sort of prayer would you expect...?"

The words of this Chassid, who was, in truth, renowned for his refined nature and soulful prayers, made a deep impression on Rabbi DovBer. The young man immediately travelled home to his father and poured out his heart. He bewailed his spiritual state, saying that his service of G-d is worthless, falling so short of what is expected from him.

The next time the Chassid from Yanovitch came to Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Rebbe said to him: "I am most grateful to you. You have made a Chassid out of my Berl." (Told by Rabbi DovBer's great-grandson, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn)


The Mittler Rebbe was known for the deep sense of caring for each and every one of his Chasidim, especially the young people.

One summer, the Mittler Rebbe was travelling and he stopped in the village of Smorgon. He announced that he was going to spend a week there and receive people for private audiences known as “Yechidut”. For several days the throngs came to the inn where the Rebbe was staying. Suddenly, the Rebbe announced that he would receive no one until further notice. For several hours, people could hear the Rebbe saying Tehillim, Psalms, and weeping. The Rebbe was so weakened by the ordeal that he needed to rest for an hour before praying Mincha. The next day, he again did not receive visitors. Only the day after did he resume his normal schedule.

One of the older Chasidim was bold enough to ask the Rebbe the reason for his behaviour. The Rebbe replied that when someone comes to him to ask advice, he does not merely offer advice. Rather, he would have to put himself into that person's problem so that it became his problem. Once he saw from where the problem originated, he would put himself into the individual so that the solution would be acceptable.

"A young man came to me with a problem," continued the Rebbe. "But, as hard as I tried, I could not convince him of the solution to his problem. I then realized the problem was with me. I was not doing a good enough job of relating to him. Once I took upon myself the firm resolution to improve myself, I could once again relate to him."

(The above story is also told in the name of the Tzemach Tzedek. In addition, this concept is brought in the name of the Rebbe Rashab who taught this to his son the rebbe Rayatz, by explaining that the “changing of the garments” i.e. the complete nullification of oneself to another to make oneself like another and to view life from his own standing, is one of the hardest tasks a Rebbe must go through!)


Rabbi Pinchas Reizes was a chasid of the second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dovber. When Rabbi Pinchas passed away his only heir was a nephew, who unfortunately was a complete scoundrel.

Among the items that came into the nephew's possession was a letter written by the Mitteler Rebbe to his uncle, asking him to serve on a special committee to disburse funds for charity. The sum cited in the letter was 4,000 rubles.

The nephew saw this as a golden opportunity to blackmail the Rebbe. If the Rebbe did not give him money, he threatened, he would go to the authorities and tell them that the Rebbe was collecting funds for clandestine, illegal purposes. But the Rebbe was immune to his intimidations. "Not one penny will you get from me," he told him. "Do whatever you want, for I have done nothing wrong and am not afraid of your slander."

Incensed by the Rebbe's response, the nephew carried out his threat. With the help of some unsavory associates he forged the original letter to make it appear as if the Rebbe had 104,000 rubles instead of 4,000 -- a veritable fortune in those days. The Rebbe was accused of various criminal activities, such as trying to bribe the Turkish Sultan, and it was also alleged that the Rebbe's study hall had been built to the exact specifications of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

On Saturday night of the Torah portion of Noach 5587 [1826] investigators showed up at the Rebbe's house. They conducted a thorough search of the premises. Careful note was taken of all written materials, and anything else they considered suspicious. At the same time, a separate group of investigators measured the Rebbe's study hall; the astonished chasidim could not figure out what they were trying to find.

By that time a large crowd had gathered in front of the Rebbe's house, and everyone could hear the tearful pleading of the Rebbe's family with the police. The only one who seemed to be taking everything in stride was the Rebbe. As if nothing unusual were going on, he withdrew to his room to write a Chasidic discourse. A while later he announced that he would receive people for private audiences, which he did.

The following morning the Rebbe was ordered to accompany the police to their headquarters in Vitebsk. Word of the Rebbe's arrest quickly spread, and in every town and village along the way hundreds of Jews came out to greet him. Thanks to the efforts of several influential Jews, it was agreed that the long journey would be made in stages, with numerous stops to allow the Rebbe to rest.

When the carriage arrived in Dobromisl, the Rebbe asked to be allowed to pray the afternoon service in the local synagogue. Afterwards, to everyone's surprise, he delivered a Chasidic discourse on the verse from Song of Songs, "Many waters cannot quench love." The allusion to his present situation was clear.

The Rebbe was subsequently imprisoned in the city of Liozhna and placed under tight security. Sometime later it was learned that the formal charge against him was rebellion against the government.

The Rebbe was jailed for one month and ten days, but even from the beginning he was granted certain privileges. Three people were permitted to stay with him, and three times a day, 20 Jews were allowed inside to pray. The Rebbe was also permitted to deliver a Chasidic discourse twice a week in front of 50 people after the Rebbe's doctor testified that it was crucial to the Rebbe's health.

In the meantime, efforts to secure the Rebbe's release were being made behind the scenes. Several high-ranking government officials who had heard about the Rebbe and held him in great esteem tried to exert their influence. The Rebbe was interrogated numerous times, during which he proved that not only were his connections to the Turkish Sultan completely fabricated, but his designs on the Kaiser's throne were equally fictitious.

At the end of several weeks the results of the investigation were turned over to the Minister of the Interior. The Minister was very impressed by the Rebbe's responses to all the questions, and decided that a direct confrontation between the Rebbe and his accuser was in order.

On the designated day the Rebbe dressed in his white Shabbat finery. When he walked into the Minister's office, the official was so disconcerted by his angelic appearance that he ordered his servants to bring the Rebbe a chair.
The informer began to heap his invectives upon the Rebbe, but one by one, the Rebbe dismissed the accusations entirely. At one point in the proceedings the accuser addressed the Rebbe as "Rebbe," prompting the Rebbe to turn to the Minister and remark, "Did you see that? First he calls me a charlatan and a revolutionary, and in the next breath he calls me Rebbe!"

From that point on the accuser's allegations became increasingly illogical. The Minister was so irritated by his behavior that he ordered him to "stop barking," and he was led away in humiliation. The Rebbe was escorted back to his room with great deference, and informed that he would soon be released.

The Mitteler Rebbe was liberated on the 10th of Kislev, having been informed of the government's decision while reciting the verse from Psalms 55: "He has saved my soul in peace."

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles –, from the rendition on (#647).]

Light a candle for the Mittler Rebbe.
Gather your friends and discuss some Chassidut with them.
It’s a time to take on new Hachlotos – new decisions to increase in acts of goodness and kindness, to increase in studying Torah and helping others.

May the merit of the Tzaddik Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch protect us all, Amen.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Letter of Appreciation - Thank You!


“Dear Rabbi Shear

I have been following your blog with great interest and am delighted to see that you are available to connect with via the email or Skype or other Internet services. I hope your blog is a huge success. For any Jews who do not know you and the wonderful service you offer, I would like to take the opportunity to let them know what a type of a person you are.

When I first heard about you and got in touch via email, I was a little unsure. I was used to talking to a rabbi in person, but not via the email. After a few email chats, I found that you are really a special rabbi and want to encourage others to chat with you and learn with and from you.

What prompted me to be in contact with you was that I was searching for answers to certain difficult situations and experiences. I asked many, many rabbis, and for the most part was disappointed with the answers or reactions I obtained. With you, it was different and I thank you for that. I really and truly value the time that you put into listening to what I had to say or to ask. I had heard from some rabbis that they felt for my pain, but that was just words. I appreciate the fact that you did not just say that, you meant it. You were human enough and humble enough to cry with me, to listen to me, to send words of encouragement from Torah and from your large and beautiful wisdom from all your learning. When I asked questions, mostly you gave some answers and on the occasion you did not know you were very willing to say you would look it up. AND you did. You always followed through with what you said you would do or find out, whether it was a reference or writing a Devar Torah with the answer or a link of some kind.

I also want to mention that while at first I did not want to discuss or learn with a rabbi over the Internet or phone or Skype, in the end this method of learning and seeking assistance was so very valuable. It helped me to take the time to express my thoughts in writing. It helped me to not be embarrassed to ask questions and also to be able to formulate a question when I thought of it, which might not have been at the time another is available to communicate. Also, we were in different countries and having the availability of communicating via modern technology helped to make the world a smaller place. Thank you for all the hours you so willingly gave and for the well thought out answers, guidance and emails.

All in all, I am really grateful for all the time and care you have shown to me and also for the wealth of Torah information I have learnt from you.

To anyone out there who might read this letter of appreciation, I really recommend learning with Rabbi Shear. He is a special person and a dedicated rabbi.

Thank you for everything. I wish you much success with your blog and your teaching.



Dear Anonymous

Thank you so much for your appreciation and encouraging words. This weeks Torah portion – VaYeitzei – speaks about the coming into being of the twelve tribes of Israel – the sons of Jacob and his wives. How appropriate to receive this letter at this point in time.

Jacob’s wife, Leah, is blessed with four children. As our foremothers had Ruach Hakodesh, they all knew that there was destined to be a total of 12 children born to Jacob who would be the start of the entire Jewish nation. They reasoned logically that each would be blessed with 3 children as there were 4 wives in total.

Leah was actually blessed with 6 children out of the entire 12. When she gave birth to her fourth child, she called him Yehuda – Judah. In fact it is from Judah that the Jewish people get their name – “Jewish”. In Hebrew the word for Jew “Yehudi” is directly related to the Hebrew word for Judah – Yehuda. Rashi, the biblical commentator, explains that the reason Leah called her fourth child Judah was because she thanked G-d for blessing her with this child. Why did she thank G-d for this child and none of the others? Of course, one gives thanks for everything one receives. Why should one be ungrateful for certain things, and grateful for others?

In fact, Leah knew that – so to speak – come what may, G-d had allotted her 3 children. It was a given that G-d wanted her to have these 3 children – as the other wives would be blessed with 3 children each as well. However, something changed somewhere, and in fact she received more than her allotted share. The truth is, one may wonder why Leah still did not show the same appreciation for her other children.

The Jewish nation are a thanking nation. Leah’s naming her son with this name pointed to this very idea. That is why Jews are called “Yehudim”. We appreciate everything that we are given. The word “Modeh” in Hebrew – sharing the same root letters as “Hoda’ah” – “thanks” also means to acknowledge something. Thanking is a statement of acknowledgment whereby a person agrees with the other’s statement or action. When one agrees with another, one expresses one’s thanks for the action taking place. Every morning when a Jew awakens, his first word is “Modeh.” Modeh Ani Lefanecha – “I give thanks before You living and existing King, that you returned into me my soul in mercy. Great is Your faithfulness.”

A Jew’s entire being is bundled up with the concept of thanking, of being grateful for something, for showing appreciation, for agreeing and seeing the good things around him, and especially for relating to the world in a way that shows and acknowledges that G-d is in charge of everything.

Leah’s thanking and acknowledgment to G-d for the blessing of a son that was never her due, shows that Leah took it to heart, she felt life to be blessing her with certain givens. She never dreamt that things could get better. But they could. And in fact, even those things that had seemed like givens – were the better. Sometimes, however, we see them as givens and forget to give thanks. In fact, everything deserves a “thanks.”

Leah suddenly realised this. With the birth of her fourth son, she realised that although the fourth child was never supposed to have been hers, in fact it was. She also realised at that point, that in fact, everything is a gift and must be acknowledged as such and appreciated as such.

When I hear another Jew thanking someone for something – and certainly when it comes to myself, I feel tremendously thankful myself! I’m grateful to know that another person out there has seen that something that I gave of myself in this world had an effect, bringing goodness and kindness to the world – something that each of us must do for everyone.

I am thankful for your appreciation towards me, as it gives me the encouragement to want to do more for others too. It makes me feel that I have made a difference. It is really something we all need to do to others, always.

Perhaps, if we’d all give each other the thanks that are due for all the kind things we receive from others each day, we might find ourselves living in an ideal world. A world not just of the basic G-d given gift that G-d wanted to give to us. Rather, we would be blessed with the “fourth son”. We’d be blessed with something that we had never thought could actually be.

Maybe this is what we need right now – today. Instead of the constant criticism that so many dish out freely to others in the hope of “improving” them and “helping” them to make them more successful – perhaps – those few words “Thank you” may do more to the entire world in making someone else great, making that person feel that they’re doing something positive for the world. In turn, this can only add to this person actually doing further good, encouraging others.

As they say “One good turn deserves another!”

Thank you!


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