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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Va'eira

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story

Mr. Yaakov Peri served as head of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet (also known as Shabak) from 1988 to 1994, and as member of the Knesset from 2013 to 2018. He was interviewed in his Tel Aviv home in April of 2010.
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 for the story.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

Exodus

Chayenu – Daily Torah Study – Kehot Publication Society | Excerpt from the Kehot Chumash | Based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, OBM | Compiled and Edited by Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky |  General Editor Rabbi Chaim Nochum Cunin | Produced and Copyright by Chabad House Publications

 


 

This week we begin reading and experiencing the Book of Exodus, we see the seeds planted by our forefathers sprout: their descendants are transformed into a nation, receive their code of life - the Torah, and prepare to fulfill their mission in life by building the Tabernacle, G-d's “home” on earth.

Thus, the Hebrew name of the Book of Exodus is Shemot, meaning “Names”, for through the events chronicled in this book, the Jewish nation and each individual Jew receive their "name," their essential national and personal identities as Jews.

The key to this process is exile. Exile calls forth the individual's hidden potential, his drive to survive despite the odds against him. In exile, a person cannot take life for granted; he must constantly decide whether to succumb or to overcome. The essential point of self-determination that lies dormant during periods of prosperity and freedom is bared and tested during exile. This is why King Solomon called the Egyptian exile "the iron furnace”: it burned away the dross covering the innate Jewish soul.

The Egyptian exile was both physical and spiritual. In fact, as we shall see, the spiritual exile preceded and precipitated the physical exile, since every physical phenomenon is just an expression of its spiritual antecedent. The Jews' physical exile entailed loss of autonomy and backbreaking bondage; their spiritual exile was enslavement to the host culture, which led to the loss of Divine consciousness and the loss of their awareness of G-d's involvement in life. As we witness the descent of Jacob's family into progressively more severe physical exile, we can read between the lines and discern their descent into greater and deeper spiritual exile.

As the spiritual and physical exiles both intensified, the Jews were forced to confront their identity. Many of them succumbed to assimilation and were lost, but others struggled to retain their Jewish identity: they tenaciously held on to their traditions, refusing to give up even such incidental aspects of their heritage as their Jewish names and their Jewish language.  The fact that they refused to give up even these external trappings of their cultural heritage indicated that they still nurtured their inner seed of faith in their destiny, even though they adopted certain aspects of the Egyptian mindset and lifestyle.

This explains why the Book of Exodus opens with a list of Jacob’s sons, even though such a list seems superfluous. We already know the names of Jacobs' sons: we have seen them born and listed twice, the second time in even greater detail than here! Furthermore, this list contributes seemingly nothing to the narrative flow of the Biblical story. After we read how Joseph was interred in Egypt at the end of the Book of Genesis, the narrative should logically continue with how "the Israelites were fertile and prolific...and a new king, who did not know Joseph, arose over Egypt."

The sages give three reasons why Jacob's sons are listed again:

  1. to stress that the Jews did not change their Jewish names to Egyptian ones, that is, that they refused to assimilate totally into Egyptian culture;
  2. to inform us that G-d considers the Jews as precious as the stars, whom He also counts by name when they go into "exile" (at daybreak) and when they come out of "exile" (at nightfall); and
  3. to tell us that Jews are essentially good, for the Torah introduces righteous people with the formula "his name was x" and wicked people with the formula "x was his name." Here, too, the phrase "these are the names" precedes the list of proper names.

These reasons all highlight the unassailable core of Jewish essence, the seed of essence planted by Abraham that lay dormant during the exile. Because of this inner essence, the Jewish people are intrinsically motivated to fulfill their Divine mission. Their awareness of this precious quality inspires them to cling to their identity and resist the temptation to assimilate. In this context, listing the sons' names individually also alludes to the fact that every Jew has a unique purpose in rectifying creation.

So, we see that the emphasis on names alludes to both the condition of exile (i.e., that assimilation has progressed to the point where we are Jewish in name only) and the means to overcome it (i.e., that we possess a core-essence of Jewish identity that cannot be defiled). 

Therefore, the first parashah of the book, which describes the exile—the spiritual descent the Jewish people underwent and the horrors of their enslavement—is also called Shemot, "Names," even though the list of names with which it opens emphasizes that the Jew's essence is beyond exile. 

This dichotomy is part of the nature of names in general. On the one hand, names are arbitrary and reveal nothing about a person's essence: two entirely different people can have the same name. On the other hand, a person's name is connected to his essence and can awaken it. People focus totally when they are called by name (which is why people who want to influence or disarm us make a point of addressing us by name); people can be awakened from a swoon by calling their name; and according to Jewish mysticism, a person's name is the channel through which his existence and spiritual life-force flow into his body. Names exhibit this duality because our true essence is normally hidden behind the many layers of social conventions and personality masks we have accumulated throughout our lives. Normally, the only time our true essence cuts through these facades is when they are of no relevance—when we are confronted with some challenge that either threatens our lives or strikes deep into the essence of our being in some other way. In other words, our true essence is accessed through the part of us that has the least to do with the persona we have developed to present to the outside world—through our name.

Once exile succeeded in revealing the inner essence of the Jewish people, they could proceed on to the next phase: the giving of the Torah. "The exile was prerequisite to receiving the Torah because the purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to bring Divine consciousness into the most mundane aspects of reality, even those that appear to be antithetical to Divine consciousness. The Jewish people actualized their innate ability to do this, to overcome the forces opposing G-dliness, in exile. Once the people received the Torah, they could proceed to actualize its message in the world; this was the essence of the Tabernacle.

The overall lesson of the Book of Exodus, the book of "Names," then, is this: no mater how hard it may seem, we must not give up the struggle for Divine consciousness; the opposing forces are mighty but we have the power to overcome them. Self-sacrifice reveals the essence of our soul, and by revealing our soul and fulfilling its unique mission, we help usher in the redemption.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parshat Vayechi

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In honor of all those who serve in our armed services, may the Almighty watch over them.

Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
After serving in the U.S Armed Forces during the Korean War, Mr. Mendel Greenbaum (1929 – 2015) worked as a plumber in New York City. He was interviewed in March of 2011. Click 
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Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parshat Vayigash

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After leading congregations in Washington DC, Jersey City, New Jersey, and Norwich, Connecticut, Rabbi Sidney Shulman worked as a stock broker for over forty years. He was interviewed in December of 2019.
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Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Mikeitz

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We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
For more than forty years, Mr. Moshe Rappoport worked in the world of hi-tech. Presently he teaches in a religious girls’ school in Zurich, Switzerland, where he lives. He was interviewed in December of 2018.
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Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Vayeishev

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Dear Friends, 
This week we are pleased to send you an especially interesting Here’s My Story article. 
Rabbi Zev Segal (1917–2008) served for 33 years as the rabbi of the Young Israel of Newark. He held various leadership positions with the Rabbinical Council of America, including that of president from 1968 to 1971. After his retirement from the rabbinate, he devoted most of his time to working for Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. He was interviewed in his home in May of 2007.
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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Vayishlach

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In memory of all those who lost their lives in the tragic and heinous terrorist act this week in Jersey City.

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
Mr. Avi Piamenta is a virtuoso flutist and singer who performs around the world. He lives in Israel, where he was interviewed in December of 2018.
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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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Today is the 91st anniversary of the wedding of our Holy Rebbe & Rebbitzen, OBM -  14th of Kislev. Please, enjoy this documentary of the wedding: 
https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/4205239/jewish/The-Wedding-of-the-Rebbe-and-Rebbetzin-a-Documentary.htm

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Vayeitzei

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
Mr. Michoel Muchnik is a Jewish artist and illustrator of children’s books whose present focus is on developing bas-reliefs and murals. His works have been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and other venues in the United States and abroad. He was interviewed in September of 2015.
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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Toldot

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week's issue of Here’s My Story
Rabbi Simcha Piekarski, who lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida, spends his time teaching and studying Torah and working with his wife in her interior design business. He was interviewed in September of 2019.
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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Chayei Sarah

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We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story

For forty-six years, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gafne headed the Ohr Temimim yeshivah in Kfar Chabad, Israel, and also served as a spiritual leader of the Chabad community in Bnei Brak. Presently, he resides with his family in Tzfat, where he was interviewed in November of 2018.

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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Vayeira

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
Rabbi Eliezer Lichtstein is a veteran educator and a prominent Chabad activist in Jerusalem. He was interviewed in his home in January of 2019.
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Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

Passion, Courage, Selfless Drive

Dear Friend,
I would like to share with you a profound Torah thought in this week’s Parsha, reprinted fromthe Kehot Chumash, featuring an interpolated translation and commentary;Based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, OBM; Adapted by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky; Produced and copyright by Chabad House Publications.

"Go, To You"

It would not be an exaggeration to state that the two words that open this Parashah and lend it its name— Lech Lecha, “Go, to you" —are some of the most powerful words ever spoken in history. With these words, G-d set Abraham on the course that would reverse the process of degeneration that humanity had been locked into ever since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a course that would eventually lead it to the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

There were, as we know, a number of righteous individuals who preceded Abraham, but none of them had been successful—and some of them not even interested—in stemming the tide of estrangement from G-d that had overtaken the earth. At best, they preserved the old traditions within their sequestered hideouts, sheltered from a world antagonistic to Divinity and safe from its corruptive influences. But these righteous individuals either lacked the courage, creativity, or fearlessness necessary to resist and oppose this corruption and to try to heal the rift between heaven and earth.

Abraham, in contrast, was not fazed by the rampant corruption around him; on the contrary, it was precisely the world's depravity that inspired him to become an activist. As we saw at the end of the preceding parashah, Abraham circulated among his contemporaries, pointing out the illogic of their way of life and encouraging them to join his monotheistic revival.

Still, despite his impressive accomplishments, Abraham's efforts were limited by the fact that he was speaking only from his personal convictions and out of the force of his own reasoning. To the people whom he addressed, he merely represented a more intellectually honest and morally virtuous version of themselves. True, he and his contemporaries had witnessed G-d's miraculous intervention in life when he was rescued from Nimrod's furnace, so both he and they had been exposed to the existence of a transcendent G-d not bound by the limits of nature or human reason. But Abraham had not yet reached the next stage—the awareness that this transcendent G-d can be encountered within mundane life as well. The prevailing notion was that G-d was immanent, assuming the guise of nature, and transcendent, occasionally defying nature; but human intellect could not conceive of the possibility that the transcendent G-d could also be found immanently within nature and everyday life. Therefore, monotheism in that era was hardly more than deism—the acknowledgment that G-d had created the world and had set the mechanism of nature in motion.

All this changed when G-d spoke His first words—" Lech Lecha"—to Abraham. Firstly, the very fact that G-d openly responded to a human being's efforts to dedicate his life to truth changed the rules forever. G-d demonstrated that He is indeed accessible to those who sincerely seek Him. (True, G-d had spoken to Noah, but He did so solely on His own initiative; Noah did not actively seek out G-d, nor did he actively try to promulgate monotheism, as we have seen.)

Secondly, with these words, G-d transformed Abraham into His emissary. Abraham was no longer acting merely as an inspired visionary; he could now speak with an authority beyond himself, making the conviction of his message incomparably more effective than it had previously been. It was thus only through his efforts after G-d spoke to him that the Divine Presence began its true descent back to earth.

Finally, and most importantly, by telling him to "go," G-d made Abraham into a new person who could now progress beyond his own abilities. "Go, to you" means "Go to your true, higher self, the self you could never reach on your own." The definition of a G-dly person was no longer "a person who connects to G-d as far as the limits of human capacity allow"; its definition had now become "a person who connects to    G-d by infinitely progressing beyond the limits of human capacity."

In this context, G-d in parashat Lech Lecha takes the dynamic initiated in parashat Noach to its next level. In parashat Noach, we saw how G-d introduced the notion of teshuvahto the world, the possibility to correct wrongdoing and remake our lives even after committing what would otherwise appear to be fatal mistakes. Now, in parashat Lech Lecha, G-d not only makes it possible for us to return to our original selves, He even makes it possible for us to "return" to our authentic, fundamental selves, the selves we never even knew existed, constantly uncovering new and infinitely higher vistas of our innate Divine personality and connection with G-d.

Why Abraham?
(See RamBam Hilchot Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem – Chapter 1) 

What has always intrigued me when learning the above RamBam, which discusses the state of the world when Father Abraham was born, and how he came, and only he, to recognize G-d and to relentlessly seek to persuade his generation to come to recognize G-d. What was it in Father Abraham’s spiritual DNA, so to speak, that propelled him on this mission?

In other words: What are the characteristics in each of us, in our DNA, necessary to develop, so that we should have this passionate, courageous, selfless drive? Against the whole world?

(Moshe Rabbenu had a revelation from G-d. Abraham came to it on his own.)

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Noach

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Dear Friends, 

We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story.

Rabbi Shmuel Katan served as a chemist and an engineer in the Israeli Air Force, and as a teacher at the Kfar Chabad Trade School. He was interviewed in his home in Kfar Chabad, Israel, in December of 2015.

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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
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Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Re'eh

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
For many years, Rabbi Chaim Shneur Nisenbaum has worked for the French government as chargé de mission. He is a writer who translates, among other things, the videos of the Rebbe to French and has served as the spiritual leader of the Beis Chaya Mushka Shul in Paris. He was interviewed in June of 2015.
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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Eikev

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
Rabbi Avraham Rottenberg, a Gerrer chasid and veteran educator, lives in Bnei Brak, where he was interviewed in August of 2012.
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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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