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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Vayechi


Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this particularly interesting edition of Here’s My Story
Rabbi Moshe Tzur, an Israeli Air Force veteran, now lives with his family in Jerusalem, Israel. After his service in the Air Force, he went on to found a number of yeshivot and other non-profit organizations. He was interviewed in December of 2015.

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Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Vayigash

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

Mrs. Paula Burg initially came into contact with Chabad in the 1970s. She made Aliyah in 2005 and now lives with her family in Beit Shemesh, Israel, where she was interviewed in 2016.

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Rabbi Levitin 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Mikeitz

40 Years Ago

I am honored to present to you this powerful interview with Dr. Yitzchok Block, OBM (1930-2017) which was publicized in this week’s edition of Here’s My Story. He was a scholar in residence here in Seattle for Chabad 40 years ago on the 19th of Kislev / Erev Chanukah 5378.

Dr.Yitzchok Block.jpgThe late Dr. Yitzchok Block (Yitzchok Leib Ben Chaim Aaron, OBM) was a professor of philosophy and Chabad campus emissary at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Canada. He was interviewed in February of 2008. 

May his memory serve as an inspiration to all of us.

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Have a good Shabbos and a freilichen Chanukah. 

Rabbi S.B. Levitin

In memory of Shmuel ben Nisan O.B.M.- Samuel Stroum - Yartzeit March 9, 2001 / 14 Adar 5761  

The 19th Day of Kislev 5778 | Parsha Vayeishev


Rabbi Shneur Zalman.jpg “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 –the19th 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.”

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

Today, December 7, 2017 is the 19th of Kislev

From the intro of the Holy Tanya – Author Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who was the founder and first Rebbe of Chabad::

“To you, O men, I call. Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek G-d – And G-d will listen to you from the greatest to the smallest all members of our community, in our land and its environs – each of whom “shall go to their place in peace” with “the blessings of everlasting life” forever and ever, selah – Amen, may it be G-d’s will.”

(After this formal introduction, typical at the opening of a pastoral letter, Rabbi Shneur Zalman turns immediately to the community’s concern: Can a spiritual manual replace a personal meeting?)

“Now, “this thing is known – that throughout our community, it’s common for people to say that you can’t compare hearing spiritual guidance from a living teacher, in flesh and blood to seeing and reading it in books.”

(Before stating his view that a book can sometimes be an effective source for personal spiritual mentorship, Rabbi Shneur Zalman will first spend some time validating the community’s concern that it cannot.)

“The reason why, generally speaking, a book can not provide personal, spiritual guidance is because the reader of a book inevitably reads subjectively, through the lens of his own understanding, and according to the ability and grasp of his mind, “at the place where he is found”, and that subjectivity or limited comprehension might prevent him from absorbing the author’s intended message.”

(Another concern is that, besides plain misinterpretation, the reader’s own spiritual standing might be so inadequate and he is incapable of applying the teachings found in a spiritual manual to his life situation.)

“And if the reader’s mind and opinions are confused, and, when it comes to worship G-d, “he wanders about in darkness” – then only with difficulty will he “see the light that’s good” that’s hidden in the sacred books, even though the content of these sacred book is “sweet light to the eyes”, and healing for the soul.

(Even a well=crafted spiritual manual won’t be helpful to a person who’s not in a fit state to appreciate the message. The book may be “sweet light to the eyes”, but if you are “wandering through the darkness” you will miss its inspirational message.”)

The Alter Rebbe continues in this vain of why personal guidance is necessary from a spiritual mentor. Then the question remains, how can this work of the Tanya address and supplement personal one-on-one guidance.

The Alta Rebbe responds –

“But “I am speaking to those who know me and recognize me” to every single person in our community, found in this country and its environs, since there have already been intimate conversations between us in private meetings, and you have revealed to me everything in the depths of your hearts and minds, connected with the worship of G-d, which depends on the heart, to you “my speech streams” and “my tongue is like the pen of a scribe”.

(The advice of the Tanya was not written in a vacuum and did not result merely from detached, theoretical speculation; it was the cumulation of advice delivered by the author in practical counseling sessions with his disciples for over a decade. Rabbi Shneur Zalman had witnessed the same issues arise repeatedly and, based on the wisdom of his teachers and classical Jewish texts, he had developed a system that was effective for his audience. The format of a book might normally tend to be aloof and impersonal, but when a book is written by someone you know and is based on discussions that have already taken place, the communication gap is significantly bridged.

The Tanya was written for disciples whom Rabbi Shneur Zalman new intimately; they had already “revealed to me everything in the depths of their hearts and minds”. That is why the author could confidently offer them advice in written form that would be acutely relevant to their inner struggles.

However, after it was first published in 1796, the Tanya rapidly outgrew its initial core audience. Of the sixty-eight Chasidic books that were published from the movements beginnings until the end of 1815, the Tanya was reprinted the most (eleven times). Today, over 200 years after its initial publication, the Tanya is studied by tens of thousands across the globe - readers who live very different lives than the Tanya’s 19th century audiences. It appears that the author achieved the very feat which he argued could not be done:  to write a one-size-fits-all spiritual manual for a broad readership, regardless of time and place! In fact, the Tanya has enjoyed such universal appeal that it has been coined the “Bible” (Torah Shebiksav) of Chasidic thought.

How has the Tanya appealed so strongly to those who do not “know and recognize” the author, a relationship which this introduction stresses as so important?

What we can sense from all of the above discussion is that Rabbi Shneur Zalman was acutely aware of the detached nature of a book, and he strove to overcome it. He understood that the personal views of a single author (“text based on human reasoning”) would have limited appeal; even the received wisdom of classical Jewish texts needed a very practical articulation to shift the hearts and minds of ordinary people. Over the course of decades of personal counseling, he incubated the ideas which would eventually become the Tanya, carefully testing their effectiveness. In these “intimate conversations” with both scholars and working people of average learning, Rabbi Shneur Zalman developed a deep understanding of human nature, of people who wanted to be good, but were all too often swayed by their inner demons. This enabled him to construct an effective and powerful bridge between the esoteric, Chasidic wisdom he had received from his masters and the harsh realities of everyday life.

While he lived a long time ago, in a place far away, through reading this book you will develop your own “intimate conversation” with the author. Perhaps, like so many whose lives have been transformed by the Tanya,  you will come to “know and recognize” Rabbi Shneur Zalman as a personal mentor of your own.)

(Commentary by Chaim Miller, The Practical Tanya, pp 21-22, Gutnick Library of Jewish Classics)

Final Thought

With the Rebbe’s words “you have revealed to me everything in the depths of your hearts and minds”, the Rebbe shares with us a deep dimension of the nature of the relationship between a Chosid and Rebbe. A Chosid feels the love and concern of the Rebbe in a very personal way and responds in kind by being comfortable and honest in revealing the depth of his heart and mind “connected with the worship of G-d, which depends on the heart”.

Have a Beautiful Shabbos, a Happy Chanukah, L’Chaim.

Rabbi Levitin

 Dedicated to all the lives lost in the attack at Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. 

From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin | Parsha Vayeitzei


Dear Friends, 
We are pleased to send you this particularly touching edition of Here’s My Story
Professor Reuven Feuerstein (1921-2014) was an Israeli developmental cognitive psychologist and founder of the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential based in Jerusalem. His world-renowned applied systems of structural cognitive modifiability have been implemented in over 80 countries across the globe. He was interviewed in June of 2011.
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Rabbi Levitin 

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