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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.
Click 
here  for the story.

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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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Chayei Sarah

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Dear Friends, 

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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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
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.

Click  here for the story.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
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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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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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here for the story.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Vaeschanon

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

Here's a note from Jewish Educational Media about this special article: 

"In our work to record the testimony of individuals’ experiences with the Rebbe, we often encounter those who tell us that their encounter was so personal and so private that it cannot be shared.
While we always try to persuade them that it is exactly such personal stories that are incredibly relevant, too many decide to keep their stories to themselves.
We are especially thankful to Mrs. A. for sharing her story with us. Though it was difficult for her to relive this part of her life, she graciously agreed to do so on the condition that her identity not be revealed.

We hope that others who have withheld their stories thus far will be encouraged to emulate her example."

Click here for the story.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

Tisha B'Av

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This column was shared a few years ago.
The lessons are as pertinent today as they were then.

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The Banquet
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I was attending a wedding approximately 18 years ago in Seattle. Everyone was in a jovial, happy mood. The joy and spirit was palpable and the music and food were wonderful. After a time, a Rabbi, who was in town from Israel, entered the wedding (uninvited) and made his way around the room quietly soliciting donations for his cause. One of the hosts approached him and asked him to leave. I overheard this exchange and immediately said to the host, “He can have my seat and portion of the meal. I am fine.” I beckoned the Rabbi to my seat. The host, though initially taken aback, later acknowledged me for my sensitivity.

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A Time of Mourning and Reflection
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Today is the 8th day of the month Menachem Av (Friday, August 9, 2019), which is followed by the Fast of Tisha B’Av . This year, the 9th of Av is on Shabbat, so the fast is delayed by one day and starts at sunset the 9th and concludes Sunday evening. The first Nine Days of the month of Av is a time where we relive and remember the Holy Temples (First and Second) and mourn their devastating destruction, which BOTH happened on Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) approximately 400 years apart. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the second by the Romans. 

Talmud Gittin 55-2 says, “The incident which led to the destruction of the Second Temple:

As a result of the incident involving Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed. A certain man, who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza, made a banquet. He told his attendant, ‘Go and bring Kamtza to join me at the banquet.’ The attendant went and mistakenly brought him Bar Kamtza. When the host arrived at the banquet and found Bar Kamtza sitting there, he said to Bar Kamtza, ‘Look here, you are the enemy of me, what do you want here? Get up and get out!’ Bar Kamtza said to him, ‘Since I have come, let me stay, - and I will give you the value of whatever I eat and drink.’

The host said to Bar Kamtza, ‘No, I will not let you stay!’

Bar Kamtza responded, ‘I will give you the value of half your banquet.’

Again, the host said no.

Bar Kamtza said, ‘I will give you the value of your entire banquet.’

The host said, ‘No!’ and grabbed hold of Bar Kamtza with his hand, stood him up and ejected him from the banquet.

Bar Kamtza said to himself that the Rabbis who were seated at the banquet did not rebuke [the host] for the way he treated me, -it is evident that what [the host] did was acceptable to them. I will go and spread slander against the Rabbis in the royal palace.

He went and told Caesar, ‘The Jews have rebelled against you!’

Caesar said to him, ‘Who says so?’

Bar Kamtza said, ‘Send them an animal as a sacrifice and see whether they offer it in their Temple!’

Caesar went and sent a fine calf with Bar Kamtza. As he was going to Jerusalem, Bar Kamtza caused a blemish in the calf’s upper lip. The blemish was in a place where it is considered a blemish for us, i.e. for offering in the Temple, but is not considered a blemish for them, i.e. for offering outside the Temple. Although the animal was unfit to be offered in the Temple, the Rabbis considered offering it for the sake of peaceful relations with the Roman government. R’ Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, ‘But people will then say that blemished animals may be offered on the Altar!’ The Rabbis considered putting Bar Kamtza to death, so that he would not be able to go and tell Caesar that the offering had been refused. R’ Zechariah said to them, ‘But people will then say that one who blemishes consecrated animals is put to death!’

R’ Yochanan said, ‘The tolerance displayed by R’ Zechariah ben Akvulas in refusing to have Bar Kamtza put to death destroyed our Temple, burned down our sanctuary and exiled us from our land.’”

The Macharam Schif clarifies: “In fact, the destruction of the Temple had already been Divinely decreed. This incident was effective only in causing the destruction to take place at that particular time.” The Maharsha adds, “Alternatively: Only the exile had already been decreed (as punishment for the unwarranted hatred that festered among the people). As far as the Temple was concerned, Caesar would have spared it had his sacrifice been offered in it. Now that his sacrifice was refused, he decided to destroy the Temple, arguing that it served him no purpose.”

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Baseless Hatred
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The Gemara, Yoma 9b states: “In the era of the second Temple, the people studied Torah and performed Mitvos, so why was the second Temple destroyed? Because there was baseless hatred among the people.”

The first Temple was destroyed because of, “three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed. (Yoma 9b). The second Temple was destroyed because, “Therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of equal gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.” (Yoma 9b).

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Love
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The Torah records, following the birth of the twins Esau and Jacob– Parshas Toldos - their relationship was strained to the point of animosity. “Now Esau harbored hatred toward Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself (Parashas Toldos 27/41): ‘The days of mourning for my father will draw near, then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Rivkah, their mother seeing the hatred that Esau had toward Jacob, sent Jacob away. “So now, my son, heed my voice and arise; flee to my brother Laban, to Haran. And dwell with him for a few days until your brother’s wrath subsides.”

Jacob dwelled with Laban for many years. He married two of Laban’s daughters and had many sons. The time came for him to return to his father Isaac and the Land of Canaan. 31/17, “Jacob arose and lifted his sons and his wives onto the camels. He led away all of his livestock and all his possessions that he had amassed.” On his return to the Land of Seir “Jacob sent angels before him to Esau.” “The angels returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother, to Esau; moreover, he is heading toward you, and four hundred men are with him. And Jacob became very frightened, and it distressed him. He took, from that which had come into his hand, a tribute to Esau his brother: She-goats, two hundred, and he-goats, twenty; ewes, two hundred, and rams, twenty; nursing camels and their young, thirty; cows, forty, and bulls, ten; she-donkeys, twenty, and he-donkeys, ten. He instructed his servants saying, ‘When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, “Whose are you, where are you going, and to whom are these that are before you?” You shall say, “Your servant’s, Jacob’s. It is a tribute sent to my lord Esau, and behold he, too, is behind us.”’(Parashas Vayishlach 32/4-9). Rashi elucidates that, “Jacob readied himself for three things: for paying tribute, for prayer and for war.”

Parashas Vayishlach 33/1, “Jacob raised his eyes and saw- and behold, Esau was coming, and with him, four hundred men… He went on ahead of them and bowed earthward seven times until he reached his brother. Esau ran toward him, and he embraced him, and fell upon his neck; and kissed him; and they wept.” Rashi elucidates on “He embraced him.” The Tanna R’ Shimon bar Yochai said: “It is a given fact that it is known that Esau hates Jacob, but his mercy was warmed at that time, and he kissed him with all of his heart.”

The Torah records that they went their separate ways at that time and Jacob did not have to resort to defense of his family from an attack from Esau.

A more recent example of what the effect of love and compassion on a hateful soul can accomplish we can see from the events which transpired a few years ago when a young man named Dylan Roof walked into a bible study group in South Carolina and opened fire, killing nine people and wounding three. In the aftermath of the shooting, authorities said they found a racist manifesto Roof had posted on his website and modified just hours before the rampage. This site was filled with racial stereotypes and diatribes against black, Jewish and Hispanic people. What you might not remember are his words after the fact. From a Washington Post article dated June 19, 2015:

“Yet Roof also acknowledged to authorities that he had briefly reconsidered his plan during the time he spent with the Bible study group after entering the building, two people briefed on the investigation said.

‘Roof said he, “almost didn’t go through with it because they were so nice to him,’”

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 “Arise and Renew”- Rambam
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Tradition tells us that the Moshiach is born on Tisha B’Av. Let us re-double our efforts in love and sensitivity to each other to undo the baseless hatred which caused the destruction of the Temples. To hasten that perfected time, we must be aware that our actions have an ability to change the course of the world, and we should heighten our sensitivity and respect in a non-judgmental approach to our fellow man by embracing even those whom we don’t otherwise agree with or understand.

May we merit the time about which the Rambam writes: “In the future, the Messianic King will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, returning it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel.” (Chapter 11 Hilchot Melachim)

As Isaiah 11:9 states, “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the sea fills the ocean bed.”
 

Videos:

 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Matot-Massei

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

Rabbi Chaim Meir Drukman, winner of the 2012 Israel Prize, is a former member of the Knesset who presently serves as the head of Israel’s State Conversion Authority and as head of the Center for Bnei Akiva Yeshivot. He was interviewed in July of 2012.

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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Pinchas

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Dear Friends, 

I am especially pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story about a former classmate and a very close personal friend of mine. 

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman served as a Chabad emissary in southern California for 18 years (from 1971 to 1989). Since then, he has been engaged in private enterprise in Los Angeles, while continuing to serve as a counselor and spiritual mentor to the Chabad community and writing on Jewish topics.

Click 
here for the story. I hope you enjoy it.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 


From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Balak

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

Mr. Don Wolf presently resides in Melbourne, Australia, where he works in his family’s property development business. Before retiring, he had served for over 35 years on the board of the Yeshivah Centre, including 12 years as chairman.  He was interviewed in July of 2016.

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 here for the story.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Chukat

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Dear Friends, 

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

Mr. Tuviah Friedman, a life-long Nazi hunter who founded the Institute for the Documentation of Nazi War Crimes, aided in the capture of hundreds of Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann. He was interviewed in his home in Haifa in March of 2010. This story has previously been published in the book My Story.

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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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