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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏

Faith & Trust

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

 

Bread from Heaven

One of the fundamental principles a person should continuously endeavor to cultivate is “[the belief] that his entire sustenance comes to him through Divine Providence.” For this reason, our Sages state that it is desirable to recite the passage concerning the  manna every day.

In the first edition of his  Shulchan Aruch, the  Alter Rebbe elaborates on the above teachings as follows: “One should… read the passage concerning the manna in order to fortify his faith that all his provisions are granted to him by Divine Providence. For the Holy One, blessed be He, specifically provided every man with an omer [of manna] for every member of his household; as it is written, ‘When they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little was lacking nothing.’ ”

In his revision of that text, however, the Alter  Rebbe gives a somewhat different rationale for the practice of reading the passage about the manna: “[It is proper to recite every day…] the passage concerning the manna, [to spur] one’s trust bitachon) in  G‑d Who provides one with his daily bread.”

There are two differences between these two passages:

(a) In the revised version, instead of placing the emphasis on faith ( emunah), the Alter Rebbe speaks of trust (bitachon).

(b) He does not focus on the fact that Divine Providence granted every man with “an omer [of manna] for every member of his household,” but that the ongoing provision of the manna, “every day its daily portion” should evoke one’s trust that G‑d will grant every man his daily bread.

These two distinctions appear to be dependent on each other. The concept that “the Holy One, blessed be He, specifically provided every man with an omer [of manna] for every member of his household — “he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little was lacking nothing” — strengthens a Jew’s faith that his sustenance does not come [from his individual strivings], from “my strength and the power of my hand,” but from G‑d’s Providence. The daily descent of the manna demonstrated clearly that a man’s activities had no effect on the quantity of food that G‑d ordained and granted him.

Trust,  by contrast, implies not only that a person believes that his sustenance comes from G‑d, but also that we rely on Him, with absolute certainty, to provide it. The concept of trust derives from the fact that G‑d granted people their daily portions of manna constantly and consistently, in a way that allowed them to rely on it utterly, with no tinge of anxiety.

Something, however, remains unexplained: Why does the Alter Rebbe initially focus on the concept of faith, but in his later work place the emphasis on “[spurring] one’s trust in G‑d Who provides every man with his daily bread”?

Faith is Constant, Trust is Immediate

One of the differences between emunah, faith, and bitachon, trust, is that emunah is a constant factor in one’s life. A believer accepts the axioms he believes in with absolute certainty, seeing them as givens. Therefore they are constant factors in his life.

This applies even when his emunah involves principles that do not immediately affect his actual life, e.g., the concept that “one’s provisions are granted to him by Divine Providence.” It is not appropriate to say that one believes this concept only during the time that he is involved with earning his livelihood. On the contrary, this emunah is a constant.

With regard to bitachon, by contrast, a person’s certainty and reliance on G‑d with regard to his livelihood is a feeling that is aroused when he is in need. When a person is involved in working to earn his livelihood, he trusts G‑d, confident that “G‑d your L‑rd will bless you in all that you do,” aiding his efforts so that they that they will bring him sustenance.

To cite another instance: When a person finds himself in a distressing situation and does not see any possibility of being saved by natural means, he does not wonder in despair, “From where will my help come?” Rather, by virtue of his bitachon, he trusts with certainty that G‑d, Who is the Master of nature and can alter any situation as He desires, will assuredly help him. He knows that “My assistance is from G‑d, Maker of heaven and earth.” Moreover, his bitachon itself serves as a medium that draws down the deliverance from G‑d and the satisfaction of his needs.

To Elicit Divine Blessing

This highlights one of the fundamental dimensions of the quality of bitachonBitachon means that a person relies on G‑d to bring him the kind of good that is manifestly and recognizably good. The intent is not only that G‑d knows that what the person is undergoing is for his good, but also that the person himself should be able to appreciate that his circumstances are good.

Seemingly, the person may have been placed in that distressing situation because his conduct was deficient and he is deserving of Divine retribution. If so, what foundation can there be for his bitachon that G‑d will certainly (not punish him, even though the punishment is ultimately for his own good, but instead) will grant him revealed and recognizable good? Moreover, how can his bitachon be absolute and genuine to the extent that his mind is at ease? How can he be certain beyond all doubt that he will not be punished (even though that, too, would be for his good), and instead is certain that he will be granted the kind of good that is recognizable as such?

This may be explained as follows: When a person displays the above degree of utter bitachon in G‑d and — regardless of the outlook predicted by the workings of nature — has simple and absolute trust that G‑d will provide him with overt and revealed good, G‑d responds, characteristically, “measure for measure.” Though Divine beneficence would not be warranted according to ordinary calculations, the person’s bitachon itself serves as a medium to draw down positive influence from Above. G‑d grants such a person revealed good, without considering at all whether he is worthy of it.

A Meal from the King’s Hand

The degree of trust asked of man can be understood by considering the conduct of R. Yeissa the Elder. Every day, he would prepare his meal only after first having asked that his food come from G‑d. As he would say, “We will not prepare the meal until it is given by the King.”

Now, this calls for explanation. Since the food for the meal was already in his possession and only needed to be prepared (“He had food for that day”), what is the meaning of his request that G‑d grant him his food?

This could be understood as follows:

The Sages teach that  Yosef was punished for having requested of the chief butler, “Mention me to Pharaoh.” On this teaching,  Rabbeinu Bachaye comments: “Heaven forbid that Yosef the Righteous should make his trust depend on the chief butler; he trusted in G‑d alone. He only meant that G‑d had engineered his encounter with the chief butler so that He could perform a miracle through him.”

Why, then, was Yosef punished?

“Because in the chief butler he sought a medium, a causal link (through which G‑d would send him his salvation) — and it is not fitting that  tzaddikim of his stature should seek a causal link. This is why he was punished. He should have trusted only that the Holy One, blessed be He — the Cause of all causes — would provide him with the appropriate causal link, without his seeking it.”

This comment has been queried: Speaking of bitachon (trust),the author of Chovos HaLevavos writes that there is an obligation to be concerned with causal links, and he supports this claim with several proofs. Why, then, was Yosef punished?

In resolution, it has been explained that trust exists at two levels:

(a) The Natural Mode: Sometimes G‑d relates to [a person] in such a way that “things [such as Divinely-bestowed blessings] are elicited — and they proceed to descend — in an orderly manner according to the pattern of nature.” (As expressed in the language of  Chassidus, this mode of descent characterizes the flow of Divine energy that is called memaleh kol almin — Divinity that is immanent in all the worlds.) When G‑d relates to a person in such a way, he should seek an appropriate medium and create a natural vessel or conduit, because this particular mode ofDivine influence is reaching him in a way that is vested in nature.

(b) The Supernatural Mode: Sometimes a person perceives that G‑d is relating to him in such a way that “things [such as Divinely-bestowed blessings] are elicited and drawn downward in a manner that does not accord with the pattern of nature.”37 (As expressed in the language of Chassidus, this mode of descent characterizes the flow of Divine energy that is called  sovev kol almin — Divinity that transcends all the worlds.) When G‑d relates to a person in such a way, a higher level of trust is demanded of him. He is expected to “trust in G‑d’s direction alone and to take no steps whatever, only to trust that G‑d will certainly help him by arranging an appropriate medium.”

To revert to the above question as to why Yosef the Righteous should have been punished for seeking a natural medium through which his salvation should come: Since through his  avodah he was constantly connected with the latter, supernatural mode of Divine influence, he ought to have conducted himself at the loftier level of trust.

Working Within Nature and Stepping Above It

The distinction between the above two levels in the attribute of trust is also apparent while one is fashioning a medium.

Why, at the first level, is a person required to make a vessel? Because when G‑d relates to him in such a way that “[Divinely-bestowed blessings] are elicited… according to the pattern of nature,”37 nature and natural processes acquire a certain standing in his mind. This is why he must seek a conduit or a medium through which the Divine blessings will be conveyed.

This is not the case with a person who trusts at a loftier level — who needs “to take no steps whatever, only to trust in G‑d.” In his mind, the processes of nature are of no account. (This is why he needs no medium nor vessel.) Hence, even when a natural medium or conduit for his livelihood exists, he does not consider his livelihood to be any nearer to him than if it did not exist. Because the medium or vessel in their own right are of no account in his eyes, he knows only that he receives everything directly from G‑d — and indeed, the medium or vessel were created for him by G‑d, together with his livelihood.

This also explains why R. Yeissa the Elder would say, “We will not prepare the meal until it is given by the King,” even though “he had food for that day.” For his trust was such that he perceived every single activity not as his own doing, but as given by G‑d. Hence, even when the food was already in his home, in his possession, and needed only to be prepared, he felt that it was not his food — that he was taking his food and preparing it — but that “it was given by the King.” At this present moment, G‑d was giving it to him. This, too, he therefore had to request of G‑d, just as he would ask G‑d for his food when it was not in his possession.

Longing for His Kindness

The above concept enables us to understand another aspect of the conduct of R. Yeissa the Elder.

From the language of the  Zohar — “R. Yeissa the Elder would prepare his meal every day only after first having asked…” — it would appear that this was his practice even on  Shabbos. Now, Shabbos is not a timefor making one’s material requests. How, then, did this sage ask for food even on Shabbos?

In the light of the concept discussed above, the problem is solved. Requesting one’s material needs on Shabbos is out of place when the individual is focusing on himself, when he is requesting that his needs and wants be filled. Not so the prayer of R. Yeissa the Elder. What impelled his prayer was the very fact that he was utterly devoid of self-concern — to the extent that at every single step he felt that everything depended on G‑d, in the spirit of the verse, “[G‑d desires…] those who long for His kindness.” And, as the Zohar comments, “These are the people who yearn and wait every single day to ask the Holy One, blessed be He, for their provisions.” In other words, their prayer simply expresses the fact that they are “longing for His kindness.” Their prayer voices their feeling that everything comes only as an act of G‑d’s lovingkindness.

And praying for food in this manner is in place even on Shabbos.

Not Only for the Select Few

True, the above-described conduct of R. Yeissa the Elder is not equally appropriate to everyone. Nevertheless, a touch of it is applicable to everyone, at least at certain times.

And here, it could be suggested, lies the difference between weekdays and Shabbos. During the six weekdays, when a Jew lives his life as set out in the Shulchan Aruch — going about his affairs, doing his business honestly, preoccupied with his livelihood — he trusts in G‑d at the level at which one seeks a natural medium, because he cannot be expected to utterly transcend nature and to trust at the superior level. Shabbos, by contrast, is not a day of activity, and at that time a Jew is elevated above everyday work. On that day he is expected to attain, at least to some degree, the superior level of trust, the trust of “those who long for His kindness.”

On this basis, it is possible to explain the difference between the wording the Alter Rebbe originally chose and the wording that he employed in his later work with regard to the recitation of the passage concerning the manna. The Alter Rebbe originally composed his Shulchan Aruch according to the rulings of the  Talmud and the halachic authorities. On an apparent level (according to the revealed dimensions of  Torah Law), bitachon involves preparing a medium for G‑d’s blessings. Accordingly, were the Alter Rebbe to explain that the rationale for the recitation of the passage concerning the manna was “to spur one’s trust in G‑d,” the recitation of this passage would be appropriate only on weekdays.

Therefore in his original version, the Alter Rebbe states that the rationale for the recitation of the passage concerning the manna every day is “to fortify his faith that all his provisions are granted to him by Divine Providence.” For, as stated above, this faith is a constant, relevant at all times and places.

In his later version, the Alter Rebbe ruled according to the Kabbalists. Accordingly, he also includes a course of conduct that reflects higher levels of Divine service. He therefore cites the rationale, “[to spur] one’s trust in G‑d Who provides every man with his daily bread.” For according to the higher level of bitachon displayed by “those who long for His kindness,” it is appropriate to recite the passage concerning the manna every day — even on Shabbos.

Let us all maintain our faith and trust in Almighty G-d with devotion and sincerity as we navigate through these challenging times. The Passover Redemption experience is upon us. We should all be blessed that the ultimate redemption shall be realized.

Have a Good Shabbos.
With Love,
Rabbi Levitin

 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin - Parsha Vayikra

Dear Friends, 

Our Holy Rebbe, of blessed memory, was always a voice of calm, strength and reassurance. This week's Here's My Story theme will focus on the Rebbe's reassuring advice during the Gulf War.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman has served as a Chabad emissary in Johannesburg, South Africa since 1976. He is the senior rabbi at the city’s Sydenham-Highlands North Hebrew Congregation and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He was interviewed in October of 2014.

Click here for the story.

May the good Lord bless us all with complete health, financial security, and above all the ultimate redemption.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Ki Tisa

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s special edition of Here’s My Story.  This week's theme focuses on Israel's President Zalman Shazar's visit to the Rebbe on Purim, 1971. 
Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen (1927-2016) served as the chief rabbi of Haifa, Israel, for thirty-six years. He was interviewed in February of 2006 and April of 2010. The picture, in the article, features the renowned senior Chassid and Mashpia, Rabbi Shmuel Levitin, OBM, my paternal grandfather, as he is being greeted by then President Zalman Shazar. Click here for the story.

During these challenging times, may we all be blessed with complete health, financial stability, and, through our joint prayers and good deeds, merit the immediate redemption which, as the Rambam writes, will transform these days of mourning to days of joy. 

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Tetzaveh & Parsha Zocher

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Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story which includes the telling of a Purim encounter which took place approximately 90 years ago on Purim, between our Holy Rebbe, OBM and World-Renowned Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, OBM.
Rabbi Chaim Ciment has served as the Rebbe’s emissary in Boston for the past sixty-six years and is presently the executive director of Yeshivas Achei Temimim, He was interviewed in June of 2007 and again in January of 2008.
Click 
here
 for the story.

Have a beautiful Shabbos and a Happy Purim!
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

The Process - Parsha Terumah

They were a group of Kindergarten aged children playing in the yard at a Chassidic School, singing songs, as a well-respected Professor of Philosophy walked passed them. He paused as he heard the words to their song:

G-d is Here

G-d is There

G-d is Truly Everywhere

The professor felt overwhelmed as he thought of all the years he labored in a series of “elite” schools, bringing him to this very conclusion. The complex fundamental belief system he came to through all his studies was summarized in these three lines of a children’s song.

Overview to the Parsha: Terumah
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
 

His Home

G-d created this physical world in order to make it His home. This goal was achieved for an elusive moment when the world was first created, but the miscalculations and wrongdoings of the early generations of man-kind forced the Divine presence to progressively retreat into an increasingly “concealed” mode of spiritual reality. The reversal of this process was begun by Abraham, continued through the chain of his successors, and was consummated by his seventh-generation descendant, Moses.

The first bona fide stage of Moses' reinstatement of G-d's presence here on earth was the Splitting of the Sea, which was described in parashat Beshalach. For as long as the sea remained divided, the physical world was host to an awareness and consciousness it had not experienced since the primordial Garden of Eden: that of G-d's existence and presence being readily perceptible and obvious. This consciousness in turn made the existence of this physical world -- normally self-evident and beyond question -- appear as it truly is, dependent and subordinate to the Divine life force pulsing within it.

But this transcendent experience was as fleeting as it was exalted; as soon as the sea returned to its natural state, "normative" consciousness returned. All that was left was the memory of the miracle, whose imprint on human consciousness paved the way for the steps to follow.

Once the sea had been split and it had been shown that Divine consciousness can indeed penetrate the entire order of creation down to this physical world, the next stages of this process could occur, namely, the demonstration that G-d's presence can penetrate even further, into the realms of reality that are antagonistic to and even deny Divinity, imparting Divine consciousness even to them. This was accomplished by the conversion of Jethro, the idolatrous priest par excellence.

The Torah could at last be given to humanity. In giving the Torah, G-d gave mankind His instructions how to turn this world into His home on an ongoing basis. But even more importantly, He made Himself -- His essence -- part of the Jewish soul and psyche. The Jewish people, individually and collectively, became the walking presence of G-d on earth, a type of being irrevocably obsessed with G-dliness and its implications for the world. This is why the laws of conversion to Judaism are deduced from the process through which G-d gave the Torah at Mount Sinai; it was there that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were transformed-in a quantum leap -- into the Jewish people.

These two events are recounted in parashat Yitro.

However, radical as the giving of the Torah was, it still did not complete the full restoration of G-d's presence on earth. This is because it was essentially an act of G-d's initiative: "And God descended on Mount Sinai." True, there was a certain advantage to this: the revelation, not being dependent upon the world's prior preparation to receive it, was able to affect all aspects of reality equally. As our sages say, "no bird chirped, no ox lowed..." All of creation was overwhelmed and absorbed by the awesomeness of the event.

On the other hand, because the revelation was initiated entirely by G-d, it could not endure; it could not be integrated and incorporated into the fabric of reality. "And Mount Sinai was totally aflame" -- Divinity permeated and sanctified even the inanimate rocks of Sinai, and "they couldn't touch it," but "when the shofar sounds they will [again be allowed to] ascend the mountain" -- once the revelation was over, the mountain returned to its prior profane state, as if nothing had happened.

It was therefore necessary, after the Torah had been given, for the Jewish people to make their own contribution to the return of G-d's presence to earth. True, the revelation this would elicit would not permeate all of reality -- since only those aspects of reality participating in the effort would be affected, and the level of Divine consciousness elicited would be only relative to the efforts expended in achieving it. Furthermore, it would have to be a gradual process. Reality would have to be elevated little by little, both qualitatively and quantitatively. But whatever would be affected would be affected permanently. Suitably prepared for and participating in the process, the people and elements involved would be able to sustain and retain their hard-earned Divine consciousness.

The first stage of this process occurred on the mental, abstract level; this is the significance of parashat Mishpatim. Largely made up of legislation that human intellect could have composed on its own, this section imparts the lesson that Divinity can and must inform and motivate our efforts to create and maintain a just society. The execution of law is a painstaking process, in which every issue that comes up must be analyzed and sorted out in order that the Divine principles of justice and mercy be properly applied, thus gradually refining the world and raising its level of Divine consciousness.

In parashat Terumah, the Jewish people's contribution to the return of G-d's presence on earth takes place on the physical, concrete level, in the construction of the Tabernacle. "They shall make Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell in their midst.” In the Tabernacle, G-d finally finds a permanent home in the physical world, and through it, a home in each and every individual. As our sages say, “He did not say 'I will dwell in it’ but 'I will dwell in them’."  The presence of the Tabernacle cemented Divine consciousness into the life of the people, both as a nation and as individuals.

Terumah means "donation," literally, "a portion set aside" or "a portion lifted out" of one's possessions. The parashah opens with G-d's command to the people to donate materials for the construction of the Tabernacle, each according to his or her own generosity. A donation is, in a way, a paradox: by giving something away, we are saying -- tacitly, at least -- that this part of our wealth is better spent on the charitable cause than on our own affairs. We are in effect "admitting" that we are less worthy of our wealth than the individual or cause to which we are contributing. On the other hand, this way of thinking cannot be followed to its logical but one-sided conclusion, for then we would give away everything. By giving away only a portion of our wealth, we are at the same time acknowledging our own right to our wealth and asserting our own right to exist. But -- back to the first hand -- the fact that we have given some of our wealth away implies that our own private life is not the end-all and be-all of existence.

The result, then, is that even while retaining our sense of self, our donating makes the rest of our non-donated life subordinate to the higher cause. Even though we retain the better part of our own wealth and life, the very fact we have given some of it away to a worthy cause reflects our selflessness and transforms the remainder of our wealth into expression of this same selflessness. The more we donate, the more this becomes true.

In simple, practical terms, when we donate to holy causes, this very fact turns our business or profession into a means to enable more contributions; our whole life, down to its most mundane aspects, becomes consecrated to the cause and part of the cause -- whether or not we are conscious of this.

Donating is therefore a process of gradual refinement: the more we donate, the more we refine the rest of our lives. We continue to donate because our awareness of the importance of the cause increases. This increasing awareness is reflected in our increasing selflessness. Ultimately, our whole life is transformed into selfless devotion to bettering and elevating the world; we have thus refined our portion of the world from its a priori selfishness to Divine consciousness.

Thus, in contrast to the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, which effected a complete but ephemeral nullification of the worldliness of this world, contributing towards building the Tabernacle effects the gradual but permanent refinement of creation. 

Wishing you all a good Shabbos!
May we all merit the coming of our righteous Moshiach.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Mishpatim

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Dear Friends, 

This week, Monday 22 Shevat, marked the 32nd Yahrtzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, OBM.
We are pleased to send you this special edition of Here’s My StoryRabbi Yosef Yitzchok Holtzman is the Chabad emissary to SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. He was interviewed in February of 2019. Click here for the story.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

Unity at Sinai

Normandy

They came from all walks of life… Students from Harvard, Yale and Princeton; Auto workers from Michigan, Farm boys from Kansas; and Coal miners from Kentucky all huddled together in the landing craft with a single mission: The liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi German oppression.

Socio-political divisions that we talk about today (like Blue, Red, and Purple States) did not exist when our troops were huddled together on the way to the landing beaches. They were a band of brothers with a single mission and would give their lives to save their friend right next to them.

All together, over the course of one month, thirty-nine Allied divisions landed in Normandy: twenty-two from the USA, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totaling over one million troops. They were unified with a single purpose: the liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi German oppression.

The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different Navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 transport vessels, and 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels. There was a total number of 195,700 naval personnel (http://www.britannica.com/dday/article-236192); All unified with a single purpose: the liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi German oppression.

“We have come to the hour for which we were born”, announced Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York. Hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered to their houses of prayer across the nation. “In office buildings and on assembly lines, men and women spontaneously halted work, put their hands over their hearts, and prayed before returning to their tasks. At the same time masses of people flooded to the hospitals to donate blood.”

Sensing the mood of a very anxious country, President Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other...”

We just marked the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz – January 1945.

The successful invasion of Europe begun at Normandy was the catalyst to the victory of World War II.

That collective euphoric feeling of the free world, was poignantly expressed in the New Yorker Magazine as a “Colossal moment in history

Ah! If we could only realize that moment more often in our dealings with each other, and collectively as a nation.

General Dwight Eisenhower

General Eisenhower was a five-star general in the Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the successful invasion of Normandy in 1944–45. He later became the 34th President of the United States. Upon his retirement in 1960 he asked that the law be changed for him to be able to revert back to the title of “General” in place of “Mr. President” – (That’s for a separate column).

Historians say he was primarily chosen for his unique temperament and strategic brilliance –keeping all the personalities, such as General George Patton and General Bernard Montgomery, under one roof was not an easy chore.

In April 1945, the Americans liberated the concentration camp of Buchenwald. After General Eisenhower, accompanied by General Patton, among others, visited the camp he immediately sent a telegram to Washington requesting a delegation of Senators and Congressmen come to Europe to bear witness to the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans. He also gave an order for the atrocities to be filmed and documented for the education of future generations.

Among the delegation was a young Congressman from Everett who later became Senator of Washington State, the famous Henry Jackson. Many observers feel that Senator Henry Jackson was the best friend that the Israel ever had, and as one of our community leaders, Dr. Abe Bergman emotionally told me years ago, “We could speak in front of Senator Jackson as one of our own.”

It was Senator Jackson who demanded of then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, that the planes loaded with armaments in Europe be immediately allowed to leave and land in Israel, because of the emergency depletion of its armaments. This happened in the most trying hours during the Yom Kippur war, after a personal plea by then Prime Minister, Golda Meir, to then President, Richard Nixon. The President had already agreed to the air lift.

The Mountain

“In the third month from the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.  They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the Wilderness; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.” (Exodus 19, 1-2)

“And Israel encamped there”, says Rashi, “as one man with one heart.”

Notwithstanding, the different levels of spiritual development and position (Moses-Aaron-The elders-“to the hewer of your wood to the draw of your water”, Deuteronomy 27/10) to the order in which the twelve tribes traveled (those who lead, those who were in the back and on the sides), to the different families among the Levites, at Mount Sinai they were totally unified as one man with one heart.

The Mission

“And Moses ascended to God, and Hashem called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘So shall you say to the House of Jacob and tell to the Sons of Israel. You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you hearken well to Me and you will keep My covenant, you will be a treasure to Me from among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine. You will be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Shemos/Exodus – Parashas Yisro: 19/6-7)
 

Joining the Physical and the Spiritual

From the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, OBM

David said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, decreed, ‘The heavens are the heavens of G‑d, and the earth He gave to men....’ Nevertheless, when He desired to give the Torah, He nullified that original decree and said, ‘The lower realms shall ascend to the higher realms and the higher realms shall descend to the lower. And I shall take the initiative.’ As it is written, ‘And G‑d descended on Mount Sinai,’ and ‘To Moshe, He said Ascend to G‑d.’”

In other words: According to the original pattern of crea­tion, the material and the spiritual were confined to separate realms of existence, to discrete planes that never converge. The ultimate divine intent, however, was to fuse the two, so that the underlying G‑dliness would surface within our material world.

Because G‑d’s essence is truly unlimited, this is possible: the spiritual can descend and become manifest within our world, and our worldly experience can be elevated beyond material concerns and become an expression of spiritual truth.

“No Longer in the Heavens”

This fusion cannot be accomplished through human en­terprise alone: it is possible only because (as G‑d says) “I shall take the initiative.” This is what is unique about the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The divine revelations before Sinai had not been not intended to resolve the funda­mental conflict between the spiritual and the material; the revelation at Sinai, by contrast, was intended to permeate the totality of existence.

And this it did. “No bird chirped, no fowl took flight...” — the entire natural order came to a standstill. Moreover, “His voice did not have an echo.” Instead of rebounding, G‑d’s voice permeated the material substance of the world. From that moment onward, “The Torah is not in the heavens,” but rather part and parcel of the environment in which we live.

So that the World Itself Should See

This was, however, merely the beginning of a process. The ultimate purpose of eliminating the gap between spirituality and material existence was the second phase, “And Moshe ascended to G‑d,” i.e., that man should elevate himself and the material environment in which he lives.

As long as the connection between man, the world, and G‑d is dependent on G‑d alone, the fusion between these elements is incomplete. If G‑dliness permeates the world only as a result of a revelation from above, the world remains — at least from its own earthbound perspective — separate from G‑d. This may be understood by comparing the world to a student who is able to arrive at a concept only when nurtured by his teacher’s explanations. Only when he has reached the point at which he can conceive of the idea on his own, can we say that his thought processes have fully matured.

The service of G‑d epitomized in the phrase, “And Moshe ascended to G‑d,” demonstrates just such a process of matu­ration within man and within the world at large. Man’s divine service refines the world and transforms it into a vessel for G‑dliness, enabling the world and its inhabitants to perceive G‑dliness not as an externally supplied factor, but rather as the truth of its own existence.20

The consummation of our efforts to refine the world will come in the Era of the Redemption when we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, “And all flesh will together see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken” — not that the revelation from above will be so intense as to reach down to our material realm, but that material flesh will have an independent appreciation of G‑dliness.

That era is fast approaching. “All the spiritual tasks G‑d has demanded of the Jewish people have been completed.... All that is necessary now is for each of us to open his eyes.” And then we will behold the ultimate purpose of the Giving of the Torah — the manifestation of G‑d’s presence through­out the world. May this take place speedily in our days.

The Ten Commandments

And G‑d came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And G‑d called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up....

And G‑d spoke all these words, saying:

  1. I am G‑d your G‑d, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself any carved idol, or any likeness of any thing... you shall not bow down to them, nor serve them...
  3. You shall not take the name of G‑d your G‑d in vain...
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to G‑d... For in six days G‑d made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore G‑d blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honor your father and your mother...
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your fellow.
  10. You shall not covet... anything that is your fellow'
     

This Shabbos, Parshas Yisro, February 15, we will be reading in all Synagogues the Ten Commandments. Please everyone – Men, Women, and Children – Make an effort to join together in recommitting ourselves to the ideals encompassed within.

Wishing you all a beautiful and transformative Shabbos.
In Friendship,
Rabbi Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Beshalach

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Dear Friends, 

The 15th of Shevat (Monday, February 10), is  The New Year for Trees in the middle of winter. In the Holy Land, it marks the day when sap begins to flow through the trees. CLICK HERE to view a video, "The New Year for Trees" Farbrengen with the Rebbe, OBM from 15 Shevat 5741 (1981)
As usual, we are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
Rabbi Ezra Schochet is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad in Los Angeles. He was interviewed June of 2007.
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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Bo

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Dear Friends, 

Next Wednesday, the 10th of Shevat, marks the 70th Yahrtzeit of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, OBM, who passed away in Brooklyn 1950. On this same date, the Rebbe's son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, OBM, accepted the leadership of the world-wide movement of Chabad Lubavitch.

Click here to view a video from the Rebbe’s 1983 gathering on the occasion of the Yahrtzeit of the Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

As usual, we are pleased to send you this week’s edition of Here’s My Story
Rabbi Sholom Nemtzov resides in Five Towns, New York, where he manages Aniyay Ircho, a charity organization. He was interviewed in April of 2012. His grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Sender Nemtzov was present at the Chassidic Farbrengen when our Holy Rebbe accepted his new position.

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Have a beautiful Shabbos.
Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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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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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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parshat Vayigash

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

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