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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin Parshat Mikeitz | Rabbi Moshe David Gutnick

Dear Friend,

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

Rabbi Moshe David Gutnick is one of the heads of the Rabbinical Court in Sydney, as well as past president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia. He has been a Chabad emissary in Sydney since 1982, where he was interviewed in July of 2016. 

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With warm wishes for a beautiful Shabbos and a Happy Chanukah, 
Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin Parshat Vayeishev | Mr. Charles Samuel Ramat

Dear Friend,

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

Mr. Charles Samuel Ramat is presently co-chairman of Neurotrop BioScience, a biotech firm working to develop drugs to save the lives of terminally ill children and Alzheimer's patients. He was interviewed in his home in April of 2016.  

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With warm wishes for a beautiful Shabbos and a Happy Chanukah,
Rabbi SB Levitin


From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin 19th of Kislev | An Historical and Personal Perspective

We were always intimidated and awed by the elder Yeshiva Bocharim when we were in elementary school, located in the famous Bedford and Dean building (“Bed Stuy” in Brooklyn).  These “elder Bocharim” were high school aged and learned in the Beis Medrash (house of study) which we were enamored by and rarely stepped foot in. But, once a year, the whole Yeshiva gathered in this Beis Medrash with long tables adorned with all kinds of delicious foods and drinks (and even tablecloths) the elder Rosh Yeshivas and Mashpi'im (spiritual mentors) would lead a Chassidic Farbrengen with the stories, songs, and Divre Torah. I vividly recall, as a young boy of ten, looking forward to this day – The 19th of Kislev.

Later, when I became an “elder Bochar” and entered the Beis Medrash, on Yud Tes Kislev (19thof Kislev – December 1961), Reb Yoel Kahn our Mashpia (may he be well) Farbrenged with our class, which consisted of about 25 teenagers, into the early morning hours. When I gather with my friends and we relive that evening, we all feel that it was a quintessential moment in our development.

I remember well the sense of excitement that gripped our community and the entire Jewish community world in anticipation of 19th of Kislev.

Our Holy Rebbe, obm, would lead a Farbrengen on the 19th of Kislev and it was known throughout the five boroughs of New York City that on the evening of the Farbrengen you could not get a taxi, as they had all been reserved days before for the hundreds of Rabonim and Rosh Yeshiva who planned to attend this momentous event.

On the eve of Yud Tes Kislev, 5724 – December 1963, my first year in the Central Chabad Lubavitch Yeshiva (post high school) located at the famed 770 Eastern Parkway the Rebbe’s (obm) synagogue, after evening services the Rebbe turned to the Yeshiva Bocharim and began to sing the celebrated song Poda B’Sholom (The Book of Psalms, Chapter 55, Verse 19 – “He has redeemed my soul in peace”). This is the Chassidic song associated with the liberation of the Alter Rebbe (first Rebbe of Chabad Rabbi Shneur Zalman, obm) which contains the words of this verse he was repeating (while in prayer) when he was notified of his release. When the Rebbe left the shul, we kept dancing for hours.

The Alter Rebbe

A little bit about the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, obm:
(The following was quoted from the Hayom Yom.)

“On the 18th of Elul 5505 (1745), the Alter Rebbe was born. At his Bar Mitzva celebration, the greatest scholars of the generation entitled him Rav tanna upalig (“He is equal in stature to the scholars of previous generations, and is entitled to disagree with them”).

5524 (1764): His first visit to Mezritch.

5530 (1770): Begins compiling the Shulchan Aruch [HaRav].

5551 (1791): His writings on Talmud and Halacha and on Chassidus are widely disseminated.

5557 (1797): Publishes Tanya.

5559 (1798): Arrested on the day after Sukot, released on 19th of Kislev.”

(This section quoted from “Triumph of Survival: The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era 1650-1990, by Rabbi Berel Wein)

“In the late summer 1798, a complaint against Chassidim in general, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman in particular, was sent to the Russian authorities. Among the alleged crimes was the collecting of money for the purpose of sending it to a foreign country (the Land of Israel, then under Turkish rule), which was a serious crime in Czarist Russia. In October 1798, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. Rabbi Shneur Zalman was interrogated there by a high official – according to the Chassidic tradition, it was the Czar himself disguised as a prison officer – who became convinced of his innocence and released him on November 27, 1798 – the 19th day of Kislev.”

“Rabbi Shneur Zalman was a brilliant Talmudist and an original thinker of the highest order. He composed a famous and authoritative halachic work, Shulchan Aruch Harav, that ranks among the classic works of Torah law. His magnum opus, however, was a book of philosophical and Kabbalistic treatment of the basic ideas of Chassidus. Entitled Likkutei Amarim, but popularly known as Tanya (after his first word), this work was first published in 1796 and became one of the basic texts of Chassidus.”

“His Sefer HaTanya is likely the seminal work of Chassidic/Kabbalistic philosophy.”

The following text is quoted from the Tanya, Chapter 32 (and includes some commentary as well):

“It is on account of the common root in the One G-d that all of Israel are called ‘brothers’ – in the full sense of the word, only the bodies are distinct from each other.”

“Therefore, there can be no true love and fraternity between those who regard their bodies as primary and their souls secondary, but only a love based on an external factor.”

“[Commentary: Since the body separates us from each other, whereas the soul is that which binds us together, the greater value one places on his body at the expense of his soul, the more conscious he is of the differences between himself and his fellow. These differences require that he create a love for his fellow, and as said above, a created love can never equal a natural, innate love. Therefore, love between people who consider their external factor, in which case the love is (a) limited to the importance of the motivating factor, and (b) destined to endure only as along as that factor is valid.]”

(The following was quoted from the Hayom Yom.)

Kislev 15

“The Alter Rebbe told his son the Mitteler Rebbe: Grandfather (the Baal Shem Tov) said that one must have a mesirat nefesh (total self-sacrifice and dedication) for ahavat Yisrael (love of one’s fellow), even towards a Jew whom one has never seen.”

Kislev 16

“A fundamental principal of Chabad philosophy is that the mind, which by its innate nature rules over the heart, must subordinate the heart to G-d’s service by utilizing the intellectualization, comprehension and profound contemplation of the greatness of the Creator of the universe.”

At a recent gathering, I was asked “How has Chassidus shaped you?” This question led to a deep and extended conversation. I would now like to share some very recent and brief Torah thoughts and an anecdote about an encounter I had last Shabbos. In Parsha Toldot, we relive the birth of the “twins” Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first-born and so he had the “birthright”. The Torah shares a story about how Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob:

“And Jacob boiled a stew, and Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted.’ (He therefore called his name Edom.) Jacob said, ‘Sell, as this day, your birthright to me.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me as this day;’ he swore to him and SOLD his birthright to Jacob. Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, got up and left; and Esau belittled the birthright.” (Chapter 25/Verse 29-34.)

Later in the Parsha, we relive the legendary story of Isaac calling Esau and wanting to bless them, for in his eyes, was the first born. Rebecca, their mother, intervenes and guides Jacob that he should receive the blessings. Commentaries throughout the ages have tried to explain how Rebecca and Jacob could have planned and succeeded to facilitate the blessings when Esau was the first born. The question I’ve always had: Why didn’t Jacob come to his father, Isaac and say, “Avi Imurie (my beloved father) I ‘purchased’ the right of the first born, it belongs to me”? 

Through the study of Torah, what I surmised was that Jacob, out of his love and respect for his father, would rather have foregone the blessings that he rightfully purchased than to share with father how Esau had belittled and trivialized the birthright! He knew how this would make his father feel – Esau being so close with him, so Jacob chose to withhold it from Isaac.

This example of self-sacrifice of one’s own entitlement to spare the feelings of another’s, is at the heart of Chassidus.

Last Shabbos, walking home from the Chabad House Minyan, in the University District of Seattle, I passed a younger homeless woman carting her wordly belongings around and in passing I said: “G-d bless you.” She turned to me and put her hands in the air and asked: “Where?” as if to infer “where is this blessing or maybe even, where is G-d?” That encounter pained me for the rest of the Shabbos.

Let us rededicate ourselves to the teaching of Chassidus with joy and spirit as we approach Yud Tes Kislev – 19th of Kislev.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi SB Levitin

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin Parsha Vayeitzei | Mr.Bentzion Bernstein

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Dear Friend,

This week’s article of Here’s My Story is dedicated to the memory of my sister, Sara Tema bas Harav Binyomin Halevi obm, who passed away two weeks ago, Thursday, November 24th, the 23rd day of Cheshvan. Many she be an advocate for us all.

Mr.Bentzion Bernstein is a practicing lawyer in London, England where he was interviewed in February of 2010.

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With warm wishes for a beautiful Shabbos,
Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Parsha Toldot Rabbi Raphael Aron

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Dear Friend,

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

Rabbi Raphael Aron, a counselor and therapist, is the director of the Gateway Family Counseling Centre in Melbourne, Australia. He was interviewed in his home in June of 2016.

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With warm wishes for a beautiful Shabbos,
Rabbi Levitin 


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