Lineage has always been important to Jews. That’s why genealogy has always been a subject of interest, especially in generations past when a marriage match, or Shidduch, would be suggested. People would ask, “What is his Yichus?” Yichus means heritage, pedigree or lineage. “Where does this young man come from?” It wasn’t just about parents and grandparents; they might look into his family tree going back ten generations.

And, of course, we find a source for this custom in the Torah.

In the beginning of the Torah portion of Toldos, we are told, “Yitzchak prayed to G-d for his wife’s sake because she was barren, and G-d answered him.” On this verse, Rashi comments: “G-d responded to him and not to her because the prayer of a righteous person who is the son of an evil person does not compare to the prayer of a righteous person who is the son of a righteous person.” This tells us that when a person approaches G-d to request something, he ideally should have more than just his own merits—his ancestors’ merits will be of benefit to him as well.

We find a similar story in the Talmud—a story that is also connected to the holiday of Passover.

The Talmud (Tractate Brachos) tells us a story that occurred after the Destruction of the Second Temple, when the leader of the Jewish People was Rabban Gamliel.

After a certain incident occurred, Rabban Gamliel was removed from his post because he had caused embarrassment to the great Rabbi Yehoshua. They tried to find someone else to fill his place as leader, so they considered appointing Rabbi Akiva — also a great leader and fitting for the position — but they were afraid to do so for the following reason: They feared that Rabbi Akiva didn’t have ancestral merits, because he came from a family of converts, so perhaps Rabban Gamliel would pray to G-d out of pain of being impeached—and G-d would then punish his replacement with death, thus causing Rabbi Akiva to die because of Rabban Gamliel! Instead, they appointed Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya, who was a tenth-generation direct descendant of Ezra the Scribe, the great historical leader of the Jewish people.

From here we see that lineage is something important—and perhaps even very important.

One of the great Chassidic leaders of old-time Poland, the Ruzhiner Rebbe of righteous memory (Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, 1796-1850), at the engagement party of each of his children, would stand up and list his lineage going back to the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Dov Ber, the second leader of the Chasidic movement.

At one such engagement, the Ruzhiner got up and did his usual thing—and when he finished, he turned to the father of his new son-in-law or daughter-in-law and said, “Nu? Now it’s your turn!” So the father said: “My father was a shoemaker. He taught me that everything ripped or broken could and should be fixed.” When the Ruzhiner heard this, he said, “Good enough! That’s a great pedigree!”

In some cases, Jews celebrated another, unique, type of lineage:

Traditionally, we Jews have always treated orphans very nicely, helping them, pitying them and constantly giving to them—to the extent that there’s an old Eastern European Jewish saying, “It’s a good thing I’m an orphan.” This is because an orphan is treated like a VIP, and a very special VIP at that. The Torah itself tells us that anyone who mistreats an orphan and causes him to pray to G-d, G-d immediately hears the orphan’s prayer, because G-d is called the Father of All Orphans.

When Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1834-1882), became engaged to his future wife, Rivkah, who had been orphaned of both her father and mother, Rivkah’s older sister met with Tzemach Tzedek to wish him mazel tov. She said to the Tzemach Tzedek, “You have very impressive lineage from your fathers. But our lineage comes from the Father of All Orphans Himself!” The Tzemach Tzedek was very moved by her remarks.

All these stories show us that we Jews have always been busy with our lineage. But lineage is not everything.

We now find ourselves in the month of Nissan, when the Mishkan was dedicated. We read in the Torah that when our ancestors built the Mishkan, G-d told Moshe to appoint two men to build it. One was Betzalel — who had very impressive lineage. He was of the Tribe of Yehudah, and moreover, his grandfather Chur was a nephew of Moshe himself; Chur was killed while trying to prevent the Jews from creating the Golden Calf. Thus, Betzalel came from a very prominent family.

However, Betzalel’s partner in building the Mishkan was Ahaliav of the Tribe of Dan.

The Tribe of Dan was generally considered the least pedigreed Tribe of the entire Jewish Nation: Later in Jewish history, the infamous Statue of Michah was created by a member of Dan, and in the times of the evil Jewish king Yeravam, members of the Tribe of Dan worshiped golden calves set up by Yeravam in their territory.

Despite all this, G-d appointed Ahaliav to build the Mishkan together with Betzalel—to show everyone that who you are is not determined by your lineage, that anyone could reach the highest levels without the merit of his fathers and grandfathers. Sometimes it’s harder to do—but it’s always possible.

Much later in Jewish history, there was a prophetess named Devorah. She was one of only seven Jewish women who became prophets and leaders of the Jewish people. The Midrash tells us that the reason she merited prophecy was solely on the merit of her worthy deeds.

All this tells us that while lineage may be a good thing, it is only an enhancement. As my grandmother used to tell me, yichus is like a blanket: when you have a living, warm person under the blanket, the blanket warms up—but when there’s nothing under the blanket, the bed stays cold. The blanket can’t heat itself up—it only protects existing heat.

But in today’s generation, we have a new category of lineage.

One of the great Chasidic leaders, Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz (1760-1827), once sat surrounded by followers, students and visitors, and sang the praises of his lineage. In great excitement, he burst out saying, “I don’t believe that there’s anybody whose lineage is greater—and if there is, on the contrary! I want to know him!”

At that point, a simple Jew stood up in the last row and said, “Rebbe! I have greater lineage than you!” So Rabbi Naftali asked him in astonishment, “Great! Tell me how so!” So the Jew answered, “Rebbe: I am the only one in my family who puts on tefillin.”

Rabbi Naftali responded with great emotion and said, “Indeed, you are greater than me. You have greater Yichus.”

In our generation, in which so many Jews don’t even know who their grandfather was and have no connection to their heritage, true lineage is not who your ancestors were, but rather, who you are. If you are the only one who puts on tefillin, or the only one in your family who lights Shabbos candles or who eats kosher, you create our generation’s heritage. You are the one who makes all of us proud.

To further illustrate this point, here’s yet another story. I know some of you are thinking, “Oh, no, rabbi—not another Chasidic Rebbe story!” Well, yup, here’s another one: this one is about the Maggid of Mezritch, whom we mentioned before.

When the Maggid was five years old, his family home burned down to ground. His mother stood by weeping uncontrollably. Nobody could comfort her. Her little son Dov Ber came along and asked her, “Mommy, even though the house burned down, do you really need to cry so much? We were all saved, and we’re all alive and well! So what is so terrible?” So his mother replied, “My dear son, I’m not crying about the house. We had a book of genealogy in our home with a family tree that traced our family back to Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar, the student of Rabbi Akiva. It is this loss that I am crying about!”

So her son said, “Don’t worry, Mommy—I’ll start a new family tree.”

Today’s young generation, today’s youth, who discover Judaism and jump into it with such love and enthusiasm—we can be sure that they’re starting new dynasties that we can only be proud of.


Are we Hebrews of Jews?

The Russian occupation of Ukraine is at the top of the news and occupying the thoughts of millions of people worldwide. For us Jews, this issue is personal. To us, every Jew is family — and a quarter of a million Jews live in Ukraine. To add to the problem, many Jews support Putin’s aspirations, while the Prime Minister of Ukraine is a Jew as well. As always, Jews find themselves between a rock and a hard place. 

In truth, this is not a conflict between Russia and Ukraine but a conflict between the West and the East, between the United States and Russia. 

The attitude of the United States and Russia towards Jews is as far as east is from west; there is even a difference in the names we are called in the respective languages.

In English, we are known as “Jews.” In Russia, we are known as “Yevrei,” “Hebrews.” This is also the case in Greek and Italian. 

Where do these names come from? What is their meaning?


In the Torah, the name given to us by G-d is “Bnei Yisrael” or “Am Yisrael,” the children of Israel or the Nation of Israel. Another name used in the Torah is “Bnei Yaakov.” A third name found in the Torah is “Yeshurun.”

The names “Yisrael” and “Yaakov” are easy to understand. We are named after our ancestor Jacob, who had two names, Yaakov and Yisrael; we are his children, so we are “children of Israel” or “sons of Jacob.” But what is behind the name “Yeshurun”? 

Commentaries explain that the name Yeshurun stems from the word “Yashar,” which means straight (the name Yisrael comes from the same root as well). It represents the fact that the people of Israel walk in the ways of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are called “Yesharim,” straight ones.


Now, these are the three names we are called in the Torah among ourselves, but from the vantage point of the non-Jewish world, we are called “Hebrew” or “Jew.” 

The name “Hebrew” first appears in Genesis: “And the refugee came and told Abram the Hebrew” (Lech Lecha 14:13). Rashi says: “Why is he called Ivri—Hebrew? Because he comes from the eiver, from across the Euphrates River.” The second time the name is mentioned is in the story of Joseph. When the wife of Potiphar tells her household members of his alleged exploits, she says, “See, he brought for us a young Hebrew.” In a different source, Rashi adds that Ivri stems from the name of Abaham’s ancestor Eiver, and he therefore he carried his name (Vayeshev 39:14).

There is one more interpretation of the name “Hebrew,” quoted in the Midrash in the name of Rabbi Yehuda: “The whole world stands on one side, and he stands on the other (mei’ever) (Bireishis Rabbah 42:8). This is an ideological interpretation of the name. Abraham is called Hebrew because the entire world stands on one side, they are all idol worshippers, and Abraham stands alone on the other side and declares that there is a Creator of the world, and so do his descendants after him throughout the generations. 

Throughout the Torah (with one exception) the name “Hebrew” appears in the context of dealing with the non Jewish world. In Exodus, when G-d appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush, He said to him: “And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me,” calling them Children of Israel, but when he tells Moses to speak to Pharaoh, He says, “And thus say to him: The G-d of the Hebrews has called upon us” (Exodus 3:18). 

In fact, when Moses first came to Pharaoh, he told him (in chapter five): “.. the L-rd, G-d of Israel, says send forth my people…” and Pharaoh answered him, “Who is G-d that I shall listen to His voice? …I did not know G-d.” As the Midrash explains, Pharaoh claimed that he had never heard of such a G-d, and therefore would not listen to Him.

Immediately, in the next verse, Moses changes and says, “The G-d of the Hebrews called upon us…” From that conversation onward, Moses always used the name “Hebrew” when speaking to Pharaoh, and this is the name with which the Jewish people were known among the nations for generations afterwards.


We are a few weeks away from Purim. When we read the Purim story in the Megillah, we suddenly discover a new name: “Jew.” This is a name used very rarely in Tanach – usually referring to someone from the tribe of Judah.  

The Rebbe points out that the first time it is mentioned in the Torah as a generic name for every Jew, regardless of his tribe, is in the Megillah. The Rebbe cites Rashi on the verse, “Ish Yehudi, A Jewish man was in Shushan the capital…”: “All those who were exiled with the kings of Judah were called Jews by the gentiles, even if they were from another tribe.”  Therefore this is the only name used in the entire Megillah when referring to the Jewish people. (See at length in Tisa 5739, Sichos Kodesh vol. 2 pg. 309 and on).

The question arises: How did a name as well known as “Hebrew” — the name that defined the people of Israel for fifteen hundred years among the nations — suddenly be replaced by the name “Jew”?

The previous Rebbe says something fascinating:

After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah which included two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and the kingdom of Israel which included the other ten tribes. 

The first deed of the new king of Israel, Jeroboam the son of Nebat, was to blockade the roads that lead to Jerusalem. He put policemen there to ensure that Jews could not go up to the Holy Temple. Instead, he built two temples, one in Beit El and the other in Tel Dan, where he set up golden calves and forced the people of Israel to worship idols. 

And so, three hundred years passed. By the time the ten tribes were exiled from Israel, they were idol worshippers like all the gentiles, and they quickly assimilated, becoming known as the “Ten Lost Tribes.” 

On the other hand, the Israelites in the kingdom of Judah remained believers in one G-d. In that state of affairs, if a person presented himself as a Hebrew, it did not say anything about his beliefs. Perhaps he worships idols, and perhaps he believes in one G-d — just as in our day, the word Israeli does not indicate a person’s beliefs; one can be an Israeli Arab or an Israeli Jew. 

This is best expressed in the story of Jonah. 

Everyone knows the story of Jonah and the whale which we read on Yom Kippur. He escaped from Jaffa, boarded a boat, and then there was a big storm at sea. The sailors cried out to their gods, but the storm did not subside, and they decided to cast lots to determine, “because of who is this great storm… and the lots fell on Jonah.” They said to him, “Please tell us what your nation is,” and Jonah answered them: “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the L-rd, G-d of the heavens.” 

Jonah did not suffice with the general name, “Hebrew.” He needed to add to the definition: “I fear the L-rd, G-d of the heavens”; there were two types of Hebrews, the true Hebrews and the ‘fake’ Hebrews, so Jonah had to explain that he fears G-d, i.e., that he belongs to the real Hebrews (Likkutei Dibburim, Likut 21 pg. 530).

And so arose a situation in which gentiles used the name “Jew” to refer to a Hebrew who did not worship idols. They used that name because those who came from the kingdom of Judah generally believed in one G-d. This explains the statement of the Talmud, “whoever rejects idol worship is called a Jew” (Megillah 13a).


  The Rebbe explains that what united the Jewish people in the days of Mordechai and Esther was the common denominator that they all rejected idol worship, and were therefore called Jews.

In our day as well, the common denominator for the entire Jewish people is that we reject other religions and associate ourselves with the Jewish people. 

However, that is not enough. We each have a mission to ensure that being a Jew is not only expressed in what we “do not” believe, but in what we do believe.



A woman once related to me how on Purim eve she had rushed to Shul to hear the Megillah. She arrived at the Shul just moments before the Chazan commenced the reading. She settled down in a chair and opened up her little Book of Esther. To her utter shock and dismay, she realized that in her rush she had grabbed the Haggadah instead of the Megillah.

I explained to her that she hadn’t blundered. Everything happens for a reason. In our tradition, the Rabbis would begin to teach the laws of Pesach thirty days before the holiday began.

Since Jewish law states that this custom still exists and leaders should teach about Pesach thirty days before the holiday, I am obliged to do so. However, I do not want to bore you with things you already know like the cleaning, which will only bring back bad memories. Therefore, we’ll discuss something productive that is connected both with Pesach and with this week’s Torah portion.

The hottest topic of this week is the story of the golden calf. The most obvious question is, how did this wise nation, just days after hearing the Ten Commandments, transgress the first two? In fact, while Moses told the people most of the commandments, G-d himself said the first two, “I am G-d your G-d and you shall have no other gods before me.” And it was specifically these two that the people transgressed right off the bat!

As much as we try to bring good reasons for this sin, it remains inexplicable.

So Moses has to return to the top of Mt. Sinai to beg G-d to forgive his people. And it was on Yom Kippur that G-d finally agreed to pardon the Jewish people, wholeheartedly. G-d then gave Moses the second set of Tablets to replace the broken ones and commanded him to instruct the Jews to build a Mishkan, a Temple of gold for G-d as atonement for their worshiping an idol of gold.

However, looking at the vessels of the Mishkan, they all seem to have a place and purpose except for the Cherubs on the Ark. These Cherubs were placed on top of the Ark. They were made in the form of a little boy and a little girl with wings. When the Jews were meritorious, the Cherubs would face each other as if in an embrace. When, however, the Jews were not meritorious, they would turn their backs on each other.

This raises a simple question.

The Mishkan was built as atonement for the glorification of a graven image. How could the Holy of Holies, on the Ark of the Covenant, have the forms of a man and a woman! The second of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not make any graven images,” and here there are two statues of children in the Temple!

Perhaps this can be explained by clearly understanding the laws of Teshuva, repentance. Maimonides explains that the sign that a Jew has achieved complete repentance is when he is faced with the same challenge, in the exact same situation as the last time, and he overcomes it nonetheless.

For the Jews in the desert, the “sign” that they had achieved complete Teshuva for the Golden Calf was to make a golden image — not only was it not an idol, it actually brought the Jews closer to G-d. Creating images in the Temple was the cure for the “blemish” of idol worship.

The midrash states that “there is no generation that doesn’t have a hand in the atonement for the Golden Calf.” Today when we have no temple, how do we do this?

The way we atone for the golden calf is by using our gold for mitzvos. One example is the golden ring used by Jews in the marriage ceremony. Although a silver ring is kosher for marriage, we traditionally use gold, to atone for the Golden Calf.

This brings us back to the Halachah that we mentioned above of preparing for a holiday 30 days before. The Shulchan Aruch states that “On all seven days of Pesach, the eight days of Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres, each person is obligated to be very happy. This applies to the men, their wives and everyone in each household. This happiness is a positive commandment directly from the Torah.”

How do we make everyone in our households happy? We buy toys and candy for the children, and new clothes and jewelry for the women.

The halachah means to say that before each holiday, the husband should buy his wife clothes or jewelry. Even though it doesn’t say that the jewelry should specifically be gold, jewelry generally is of gold.

This leads to another interesting point.

Why are all mitzvos that are be fulfilled with gold directed at the men, for them to give to the women?

When the Jews in the desert made the Golden Calf, the women would not let their husbands take their jewelry, and the men had to donate their own gold to the calf. Rashi says that Aharon was certain that the women and children would protect their jewelry and this way, the matter will be delayed long enough for Moshe to get back. This is exactly what happened, but the men did not want to wait, and they gave their own jewelry.

On the other hand, at the time of donating for the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the women rejoiced at the chance to give. The Rambam comments that the women were the first ones to give, and the men came after them.

Kabbalah teaches that our generation is a reincarnation of the generation that wandered the desert. It is therefore fitting that as atonement for worshiping a foreign god, Jewish men should have the opportunity to achieve complete repentance by giving expensive and beautiful golden gifts to the women who work so hard to remind us of the Mitzvos we are supposed to be doing — especially this one!

Have a Kosher and happy Pesach!


Presence Through Absence

Good Shabbos!

Human beings, and human nature and human behavior, is always a fascinating subject. There’s always something interesting that people do.

For example, when a family is, unfortunately, sitting shiva for a loved one, you’ll have a lot of people coming and visiting to offer their condolences. However, of all the people who come, the person they remember the most is “the one who didn’t come.” They talk about him and get angry about him, and carry around that baggage for many years.

In other words, instead of remembering the hundreds of people who came to visit and share in the family’s pain, and to take comfort from the love that the visitors gave the mourners, they’re busy with just one thought: How can that one close friend not have bothered to come or even call?

In like manner, when a young couple gets engaged, everyone calls in to wish mazel tov. People who have not spoken to them in years send them greeting cards, gifts and best wishes—but the one guy who forgets to call, who actually did have a good excuse (just then he was out of town, etc.), they remember him more than everyone else, and out of an abundance of anger, they make sure to not invite him to the wedding…

And that brings us to this week’s Torah portion of Tetzavah.

The Parshah of Tetzavah is the only Parshah in which Moshe Rabbeinu’s name is specifically not mentioned. From the beginning of the Book of Shmos (Exodus), which we are told about the birth of Moshe, until the end of the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), Moshe is mentioned in every Torah portion.

But here in our Parshah his name is not even mentioned once.

In a sicha, the Rebbe quotes the explanation of the Baal HaTurim, who explains that it is connected to Moshe Rabbeinu’s ultimatum to G-d, “please erase me from Your book that You wrote” if He doesn’t forgive the Jewish Nation for the Sin of the Golden Calf. Since a tzadik’s every word—even conditional words—has an effect on the universe, Moshe Rabbeinu’s words to that effect (Shmos 32:32) indeed resulted that one entire Torah portion—our current Torah portion—erases Moshe’s name.

To that, the Rebbe adds that by Divine Providence, the Parshah of Tetzaveh is the Torah portion that is read in the week in which falls Moshe Rabbeinu’s day of passing (Hisvaduyos 5751 Vol. I, pg. 316).

But what’s really happening here is that there is no portion in the Torah that talks about Moshe Rabbeinu more than the Parshah of Tetzaveh.

Anyone studying this Parshah will immediately notice that Moshe’s name is missing—and will ask the question, “How can it be that Moshe’s name is not mentioned?” Indeed, all the commentators are busy with this question—after all, because he is “missing” from the Parshah, he is remembered perhaps more than any other Parshah!

We find a similar phenomenon in Megilas Esther, the Scroll of Esther, which we’ll be reading in a short time. The Megilah is the only book in Tanach that doesn’t mention G-d’s Name at all. It’s a phenomenon not to be believed—here you have the entire Tanach, one long Word of G-d from the Five Books of Moses to the Prophets and Scriptures written under Divine Inspiration, and in the Tanach itself, there’s one entire book describing a miracle that happened to the Jewish Nation… and doesn’t mention G-d’s Name!

The simple explanation is that since the Megilah was written in Persia, the Sages were concerned that if it contained G-d’s Name, then when the Persians would translate it to their language, they’d replace G-d’s Name with the name(s) of their false god(s). The Sages therefore thought that it would be better to not mention G-d’s Name in the Megilah at all.

But the Rebbe explains that there is something much deeper going on here.

There are two kinds of miracles, the Rebbe points out. There are those miracles that upend the very order of nature and physics, like the Splitting of the Sea. That was an open miracle seen by all. Then you have miracles hidden inside the natural order, like the story of Purim, which a person can claim resulted of “a confluence of factors”: Esther of all people was chosen to be queen and Mordechai saved the king’s life a short time after that, so when Queen Esther came to the king to beg for mercy for her nation, he took pity on her and decided to change the evil decree (Sichos Kodesh 5731 Vol., I pg. 510).

If you really want to, you can insist that there was no miracle here. That’s because it was a miracle hidden within nature. G-d’s Name is not mentioned in the Megilah to symbolize this fact—that in the Purim miracle, G-d’s Hand was not openly seen.

But what’s most interesting here is that the very fact that G-d’s Name does not appear in the Megilah is the very thing that causes everyone to talk about G-d and discuss G-d’s Presence again and again.

In Tanach, you have a story that actually uses this very technique explicitly.

Everyone’s heard the famous story of David and Goliath—how King Saul promised his daughter to the man who would slay the fearsome Philistine giant. Understandably, then, after an unknown young shepherd boy named David came forward and actually killed Goliath, David was very popular among the people. So when King Saul, David and the entire army returned from the battle at which David had killed Goliath, all the womenfolk awaiting them sang out, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.”

But immediately after that, the story continues: “And Saul was very chagrined, and the matter displeased him, and he said, ‘They ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they ascribed the thousands. And what more can he have, but the kingdom?’ And Saul eyed David from that day on.”

Here something very sad happened: On the one hand, Saul promised David his daughter, but on the other hand, a fearsome spirit of jealousy had now descended upon him. What’s more, with David’s every passing victory on the battlefield, Saul hated him more and more, to the point that Saul twice tried to assassinate him.

So David is now the king’s son-in-law on the one hand, and the mortal enemy of the king on the other hand. (Some would joke, “Of course David was his mortal enemy! He was his son-in-law!” But that’s not what was happening here.)

Well, David flees for his life and hides out in the desert and Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s best friend, is sent by his father to summon David. When Jonathan finds him, he tries to convince him to return to the king’s palace. But David says to him: “Your father tried to murder me twice, and that’s what he wants to do this time, too.” But Jonathan argued that that didn’t make sense: “My father shares all of his secrets with me—if he wanted to kill you, I would have already known about it one way or another.”

Jonathan suggested a way for David to check what Saul really thought about him. He said to him that tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh, the head of the new month, and that Rosh Chodesh is not one but two days. The custom was that every Rosh Chodesh was marked with a festive meal the same way we have a festive meal on Shabbos or Purim.

And so, said Jonathan, “You will be remembered because your seat will be remembered.” The plan was that David would not be attending the king’s feast, and his chair would remain empty, and his absence would catch Saul’s attention and the king would ask why David was missing from the king’s table. At that point, Jonathan would answer that David had gone to Bethlehem to visit his family, and he would see what Saul’s reaction would be.

That’s what they did.

At the feast on the first day of Rosh Chodesh, David was clearly missing, with his set place remaining empty. However, Saul paid no attention to it—he thought to himself that it was just a coincidence.

On the second day, however, when David again did not show up for the Rosh Chodesh feast, King Saul this time turned to Jonathan and asked him, “Why has the son of Jesse not come, both yesterday and today, to the bread?” Jonathan replied that he had asked him for permission to go and visit his father’s house in Bethlehem for the Rosh Chodesh feast. “And Saul’s wrath flared against Jonathan and he said to him… ‘Send for him and take him to me, for a son of death is he!’”

Now the cat was out of the bag. The long knives had come out. Saul had explicitly stated that he wanted to kill David, and Jonathan saw that it wasn’t David’s paranoia but a real situation (Samuel I:19-20).

This concept of presence marked by absence works with G-d, too.

The Sages tell us that “One who is accustomed to attend synagogue and does not attend one day, G-d inquires about him” (Talmud, Tractate Brachos 6:2). G-d wants to know where he is and what happened that he didn’t show up. Is he not feeling well? And if so, G-d worries that he feel better.

But if he doesn’t show up several times, he makes people stop worrying about him.

On a much higher level, though, Chasidic philosophy explains that when a Jew prays to G-d and prays for the needs of another Jew, not even uttering half a word about his own needs, G-d then wonders: “It’s interesting that this Jew ‘forgets’ to pray for himself!” G-d then “remembers” him and sees to all his needs, blessing him with children, life and abundant prosperity.

Good Shabbos!


Mitzvos Are Not Just for Sinners

In the late 60’s, the Rebbe came out with his Tefillin campaign. Dozens of Chabad Yeshiva students roamed Manhattan and offered Jewish passerby’s the opportunity to put on Tefillin. Many in the orthodox Jewish world were appalled by the idea of stopping someone in the street and having him put on Tefillin. The right way to don Tefillin is to wash your hands and recite the morning blessings in preparation.

Putting on Tefillin while jogging down the street – unheard of!

As you read the Torah you find that surprisingly there are often times that events are not recorded in chronological order.

For example, at the end of Parshas Noach we read that, “Terach (Abraham’s father) died in Haran.” However, the very first event in Lech Lecha is, “And G-d told Abraham, ‘Leave your land, birthplace, father’s home and travel where I tell you,’” to paraphrase the text. Truthfully, Abraham left home sixty years before Terach died.

It is on that verse that Rashi explains, “These events are purposely not written in the order that they transpired so that no one might say, ‘Abraham didn’t honor his father, abandoning him in his old age.’” Although it is true that Abraham left his father, don’t forget that it was a special exemption commanded by G-d. The Torah still doesn’t broadcast it, lest some misguided folks misinterpret the story and use it as an excuse to deposit their aging parents in old age homes and retire to Florida.

Indeed, the Midrash tells us that Abraham worried about this himself. “The Supernal Name of Heaven will be desecrated through my leaving my father to fend for himself in his old age.” G-d then assured him, “I hereby relieve you of man’s obligation to honor his parents and your leaving will be recorded only after your father’s passing away.”

Similarly, the Torah tells the story of Isaac’s passing before relating the story of the sale of Josef. Josef was actually sold twelve years prior to Isaac’s passing away. This time Rashi teaches a rule that applies to the entire Torah, “The Torah is not written in chronological order.” It happens quite often that the order of events as they are recorded in Torah is not necessarily the order in which they transpired.

Well, we’ve got the same problem in our Parsha, Teruma. The Parsha describes how G-d instructs Moses in the construction of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan. This discussion continues next week, in Parshas Tetzaveh. And then comes the story of the Golden Calf.

According to Rashi, the most basic commentator, it is clear that the instructions to build a temple were issued only after the sin of the golden calf as an atonement.

Why then does the Torah record them prior to the sin?

As a rabbi, people have often approached me with suggestions about whom I should invite to services and whom I should approach for donations. “This guy really needs to do a mitzvah,” they say. “He has done so many wrongs he could use a little dose of righteousness.”

It seems to be the attitude that only one who’s committed evil in his life has need for prayer and good deeds, to affect redemption. The average people, it would seem, don’t have to try so hard when comes to doing mitzvos as they have nothing to atone for.

Though the gold used in the Mishkan did, in fact, atone for the golden calf, if the Torah had recorded the events as they happened, with G-d commanding the Jewish people to build the tabernacle after the sin of the golden calf, it would seem that the Mishkan’s sole function was atonement for a sinful people. Instead, Torah records the instructions before the sin to teach us that the Jew’s obligation to build a dwelling place for G-d is not only for those who have sinned against Him, but for all Jews alike.

The construction of the Mishkan teaches us that it is our mission to take the physical world and use every part that we encounter in the service of G-d. This is essentially every Jew’s purpose. We all have to gather mitzvos. Even the greatest Tzaddik who has never committed a sin in his life must create a Mishkan.

This is why you can ask a Jew to put on Tefillin when he has done nothing in preparation because Torah is not locked into sequences. “Torah is not in chronological order.” When a Jew is on his way back to Judaism he must grab every mitzvah that comes his way regardless of whether he’s following the traditional sequence or not.


Fake it till you make it!

People often complain about being told what they cannot do: don’t do this, or you can’t do that. They wonder, “when will the Rabbi ever tell us what we can do”?

The truth is that they are nearly right. In Torah there are many more mitzvas which say what we can’t do (364) than those which tell us what we need to do (248). Not only that, but some of the positive commandments are able to be kept only by kings, men, women or children. This means that there are even less of them — whereas the negative commandments are the same for everyone.

But, let me tell you a secret. The Talmud points out that in many cases, when the Torah forbids something, the same act is often allowed under certain conditions.

In our parsha, Mishpatim, we read about the laws of theft. The Torah says, “If a man steals an ox or a lamb and slaughters it or sells it, he must repay five oxen for the ox or four sheep for the lamb” (Exodus 22:1).

This is not the first time theft is mentioned in the Torah – earlier it appears in the Ten Commandments. There it says, “You shall not steal” (20:13) and Rashi says that this means kidnapping. Kidnapping is such a serious crime in the eyes of the Torah, that if the hostage is found with the kidnapper, the penalty is death.

Now, we find that the Torah identifies three different types of stealing: kidnapping, stealing money or goods, as well as deception (Gneivas Daas).

These three categories are all called by the same name: stealing.

Theft through deception is mentioned by the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah (Deot chapter 2 law 6). We are not allowed to deceive anyone, even a non-Jew. If a non-Jew comes into a kosher butcher shop to buy kosher meat, we’re not allowed to rationalize that since he’s not Jewish, we can deceive him and sell him non-kosher meat.

Another example is if you invite someone to eat in your home, without meaning it. You know very well that he will not come to eat at your house because he has severe dietary restrictions whether health, Kosher or vegan, so the invitation is just for show – to look good. Beware — this too falls into the category of stealing.

But, interesting enough, there are certain cases where these three types of stealing is actually permitted.

The Zohar notes an unusual thing about the melodic notation (trope) of the words “You shall not steal” in the Ten Commandments. When these words are read there is a pause between the word ‘not’ and the word ‘steal.’ The Zohar says that this means that although in most cases it is not permitted to steal, there are some cases where it is considered okay.

What sort of stealing?

Sometimes it’s all right to ‘kidnap.’ People often accuse Lubavitchers of stealing people from the secular world and bringing them into the world of Judaism.

Everyone’s heard someone claim this at least once. ‘Be careful, if you go to Chabad they’ll brainwash you, force you to go to synagogue, keep kosher, and Shabbos and…’

This type of “stealing” is kosher – especially since we are really not stealing at all; we are only returning what belongs to us. Every Jew belongs within the Jewish faith, and since some were stolen away from their heritage (Tinok Shenishba) — this type of ‘kidnapping’ is even considered a mitzvah.

Theft of money can also be Kosher in certain cases. Take the example of a woman giving charity. Jewish law says that if a woman donates a small amount of money to a synagogue then it is ok to accept it. If it’s a large amount, however, the Rambam says her husband must agree. How we decide what is a lot or little — depends on the income of the family.

In our days, when woman reached a level of freedom and equality with their husbands and probably spend more money than their husbands on a regular basis, when it comes to charity, she can “steal” money – i.e. donate large amounts to charity without his knowledge. Because ultimately, her husband will be proud that she spent the money on charity, rather than in the mall.

And now we return to the third type of stealing – deception. This too can be found on a positive note. The Zohar says that it actually is permitted to steal a thought from a rabbi’s sermon and repeat it as if it’s your own.

A story is told about the Alter Rebbe. His Chassidim did things which seemed strange to the Jews of those days. They sat and prayed for hours on end and did all sorts of other ‘outlandish’ things.

People complained to the Alter Rebbe that the Chassidim were just pretending to be holy, but that deep down they were probably not so righteous. He listened to these complaints. He then gave his Chassidim a blessing that they not die until they became what they were pretending to be.

Doesn’t this happen in real life? Have you ever tried to take on a new mitzvah? Suddenly everyone has something to say. “Oh, have you suddenly become such a holy man? You’re a fake, you are deceiving people”!

This type of deception is not only allowed, it is even desirable.

So fake it until you make it!


When is advice good, and when is it bad?

Any manager in the corporate world knows that a Board of Directors is necessary to give direction. What could possibly be wrong with a bit of advice?

The Jewish people are blessed with people who love giving advice. The Rebbe used to say only offer advice if it is solicited. Sure, give help if it is needed, but not advice.

In the Parsha of the week we read about Yisro. He arrives in the desert and almost immediately, he starts giving advice.

It is the day after Yom Kippur; Moses has been on the mountain for 120 days with just a few short breaks. Yisro sees Moses sitting and judging the people. The people are standing from morning to night waiting to be seen.

Yisro comments, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, along with this nation that is with you!” His advice to Moses is to find financially independent men to judge small cases, so Moses will have time for the big fish. Sounds like good advice, no?

The Rebbe asks (Likutei Sichos 16) why did Yisro need to give Moses this advice?

Didn’t Moses realize that he might be exhausting the Jewish nation needlessly?

Moses was a faithful shepherd for the Jewish people; at the age of 20 he saved the life of a fellow Jew. He had taken them out of Egypt, encouraged them at the Red Sea, pleaded with G-d for them after the sin of the Golden Calf, and gone up to Mount Sinai three times.

He is obviously the all-time greatest lover of Israel that ever was. So why didn’t it bother him that the Jews stood and waited for him all day? You don’t need to be a genius to come up with the idea of delegating responsibility. Did he really need Yisro, “the priest of Midyan,” to come along and point this out to him? The Rebbe says this is, “most astonishing.”

The answer is that Yisro was not part of the Jewish nation. He saw a long line of people by the door of the judge and knew that this is not the way things work in the world.

Yisro did not understand that Moses was the ‘Rebbe’ of the Jewish people. When the Jews stood and waited for him, he elevated them to a higher level; by the time they reached him, most of their problems sorted out by themselves. Yisro didn’t see the spiritual connection between Moses and the Jews.

A Russian Jewish doctor moved to Israel and found it very tough going. He even had trouble finding work. He decided to travel to the Rebbe, but found it hard to get a visa. He asked Chabad people for help, but they weren’t to helpful.

When he finally got to New York, he planned to go in to the Rebbe and pour out all his troubles and complaints about the ones who refused to help. He had a long list of grievances against the Chabad Chassidim, and who could deal with them better than the Rebbe? Just as he walked into the Rebbe’s room, the Rebbe smiled at him, and he realized that to the Rebbe, every person was a spiritual child. In one moment, he lost his interest in bad-mouthing them to the Rebbe; all his frustration disappeared.

What happened? He was in the environs of the Rebbe, so he was elevated and ‘forgot’ his silly wars.

At a time of great happiness or tragedy (G-d forbid) everyone forgets the divisions and unites. Last week, when we heard about the hostage situation, nobody asked, “What denomination are they?” Nobody asked, “What are their politics?” We were all elevated to a higher level and petty matters disappeared. Similarly, every Yom Kippur, a Jew can sit in synagogue and feel embarrassed about a quarrel with a friend and can then go and make peace with him.

If Moses’ way was so good, why did he agree to Yisro’s suggestion? There is a Yiddish saying, ‘a question is treif.’

The moment there is a question, there is already room for doubt — and you have to deal with the doubt.

Here are a few examples from the Torah. In Parshas Chukas G-d tells Moses to take his stick and go with Aaron and speak to the rock. When he would speak to the rock, water would come out. So what was it that went so wrong here that resulted in Moses not being allowed to go into the land of Israel?

The answer is that when Moses and Aaron gathered all the people together, they couldn’t figure out which rock to speak to, and people started heckling them. So

Moses said, “Listen rebels, can we bring forth water for you from this rock?”

The moment Moses doubted the possibility of speaking to a rock and it pouring out water, he wasn’t able to do it and he ended up having to hit it with his stick.

Another example is the story of Elisha and the widow. A widow came to Elisha and told him that she was in debt and her children were going to be sold as slaves. Elisha asked what she had in the house. She said she had a jug of oil. He told her to borrow jugs from her neighbors and start pouring oil into them.

The oil kept pouring until her son said, ‘There is no other vessel’ and then, ‘the oil stopped flowing.’ Because he voiced a limitation, the oil stopped flowing.

A story is told about an agunah who came to the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek to ask him to find her husband. When she got to see Tzemach Tzedek, he told her that her husband was in Petersburg. The woman asked, “And if I don’t find him there”? The Tzemach Tzedek answered her, “Then travel to a second city.” The woman asked, “And if he is not to be found there”? The Tzemach Tzedek answered, “Then travel to a third city.” Finally, the Tzemach Tzedek stopped her questions and said, “go, go!”

When the woman arrived in Petersburg, her husband had just left in the direction of the second city. When she got to the second city, he had already left, and she had to chase him to the third city where she finally found him.

Because she doubted the Rebbe, she couldn’t find him in Petersburg, or in the second place. This is why the Tzemach Tzedek chased her out before she caused any further problems for herself. (Mepee Hashmuah)

In the story with Yisro, Moses knew that he could be the sole judge for the whole Jewish nation, but the moment Yisro started asking questions, something changed. It was impossible to go back to the previous state.

The lesson we can learn from this is that when a person is sure of where he is going and trusts in G-d, then he succeeds. The moment he starts questioning, he is lost.

Just do what G-d wants and the rest will work out for the best!



In this week’s Parshah, we read about the glorious Exodus from Egypt.

At the beginning of our Parshah, we read how Moshe Rabbeinu took Yosef’s bones with him. Why? As the verse tells us, “Because he had adjured the sons of Israel, saying, “G-d will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you’” (Shmos 13:19).

Along comes the Talmud (Tractate Sotah 13a) with the following episode. “How did Moshe know where Yosef had been buried?” the Talmud asks. “He was told that Serach the daughter of Asher was still left from that generation. Moshe went to her and said to her, “Do you know anything about where Yosef is buried?’ She said to him, “Egypt made him a metal casket and set it in the Nile River so that its waters would be blessed.’” And the Midrash adds that the Egyptians had wanted to hinder the Jewish exodus from Egypt with this burial.

Now, who exactly what this Serach bas Asher?

For starters, Serach is only mentioned in the Torah twice: Once in the book of Bereishis (46:17) in the Torah portion of Vayigash, when the Torah lists the original 70 souls who went down to Egypt, and the second time in the tally of the entrance to the Holy Land over 200 years later. In that census, which was held on the Plains of Moav outside the Holy Land, the only woman mentioned by name other than the daughters of Tzelafchad is the one in the Book of Bamidbar, Chapter 26, verse 46: “And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serach.”

From the fact that she was mentioned among those who went down to Egypt, and among those who entered the Holy Land, the Sages deduced that she lived an extremely long life.

Along comes the Midrash and tells us how Serach merited to such a long life.

Everyone knows the story of the selling of Yosef as a slave. But what you may not have heard is what happened when they finally discovered that Yosef was still alive. How were they supposed to break the good news to their elderly father Yaakov, who had been mourning for his beloved and supposedly dead son for 20 years at that point?

So Yosef’s brothers returned to the Holy Land from Egypt, where they had found Yosef alive and well—and the de facto king of the country, for that matter—worrying about how to tell Dad the good news. He might have a heart attack! It might blow his mind!

So instead, they asked his precious granddaughter to go tell her grandfather, “Od Yosef chai”—“Yosef still lives.” So little Serach took her harp and went to visit her Zaidy, singing and playing a little song to the words “Od Yosef chai,” thus gently breaking the news to him. And the Midrash tells us that in the merit of the great nachas—that Serach gave Yaakov, he blessed her with long life.

But there’s another story in the Midrash about Serach bas Asher.

When Moshe and Aharon showed up in Egypt and told the Jewish People that G-d had sent them to redeem them, the Midrash states the following: “They performed the signs before them, and they went to Serach bas Asher and said to her, ‘A man has come to us and performed such-and-such signs before our eyes.’ She said to them, ‘He has no substance.’ They said, ‘But he said “pakod yifkod Elokim es’chem!”(“G-d will surely remember you!”)’ So she said to them, ‘He is the man destined to redeem Israel from Egypt, because that’s what I heard from my father: that the redeemer will use the exact words pakod yifkod.’”

Later, when the Jews needed the tradition of previous generations, they turned to Serach bas Asher again. When it came time to leave Egypt, and Moshe Rabbeinu needed to know something that had been passed down from generation to generation, he asked Serach where Yosef had been buried.

But Serach’s name is not just part of the history of the Exodus, but also appears in Jewish history hundreds of years later, during the era of King David.

In the Book of Samuel II (Chapter 20), we are told about a man named Sheva ben Bichri. Sheva rebelled against King David, declaring, “We have no part in David and no inheritance in the son of Yishai!” (Yishai was King David’s father.) This Sheva ben Bichri then ran away to a place called “Avel Beis Ma’acha” and hid there.

Now, Yoav ben Tzeruya, the general of King David’s army, was sent to catch Sheva ben Bichri and suppress his rebellion. But since Sheva had taken cover among the city’s civilians, meaning, that they were sympathetic to him, Yoav wanted to destroy the entire city. The Book of Samuel tells us the following: “A wise woman from the city called Yoav… “‘Come here!’ and he came to her.” The woman then convinced Yoav not to destroy the city.

This woman who convinced Yoav not to lay waste to the city, and who also convinced the citizens to shut down the rebellion, was none other than Serach bas Asher herself, as Rashi (Samuel II 20:19) tells us in the name of the Midrash.

But it wasn’t the last time that the Midrash tells us about Serach bas Asher.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the Splitting of the Reed Sea. The Torah tells us that the water split into two bodies and the Jewish Nation passed through the center: “And the water was a wall to them to their right and to their left.”

The Midrash tells us that the Sages sat and expounded upon the actual event: “Rabbi Yochanan expounded: ‘How were the waters like a wall? Because you could not see through them.’” But the Midrash continues and says something fascinating: “Serach bas Asher looked on and said, ‘I was there, and the waters were but like transparent windows!’”

Now, the period of the Sages was about 1,500 years after the Exodus from Egypt! Yet there she is mentioned again, and the Midrash tells us that her words were accepted over the words of Rabbi Yochanan.

Now, my friends, what do we learn from the story of Serach bas Asher? It is just a nice legend about a woman who lived forever and ever? Or is there something deeper to it?

What we learn from the story of Serach is not just to respect our elders, or to find just the right words to say things, but something so very important: We learn that the entirety of Jewish tradition depends on those elderly women “who are left from that generation.” And by that, I mean Holocaust survivors, grandmothers, old-time community members—Jewish women who were children in eras long gone.

The story of Serach bas Asher teaches us that Judaism rests upon the stories of elderly Jewish women in every generation. They are the ones who pass our traditions on from one generation to the next.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, the gossip columnists and the people who track down and confirm every rumor are considered the authorities, the people to listen to. But stories from old ladies?! Old wives tales?! Who pays any attention to them at all!

In Yiddish, we call them “bubbe meyses”—“grandmother stories.”

In direct contrast, the Rebbe would constantly quote the words of the Rashba, the Talmudic commentator, who says, “Six hundred thousand Jews do not have the power to negate a custom observed by elderly Jewish women.”

Perhaps we can say that it is this lesson that we learn from Serach bas Asher—that it is the Serach bas Asher in every family, in every community and in every generation that constantly reminds us of our traditions. It was Serach bas Asher who knew exactly where Yosef was buried and exactly how the sea looked at the Exodus, and it is our Serach bas Ashers who set us straight, who tell us what is right and wrong, and who tell us exactly what it means to be a Jew.

Indeed, all of Judaism is built on tradition. That’s why Shlomo Hamelech, King Solomon, says, “Don’t abandon your mother’s teaching”—because the Jewish mother, the classic “bubby,” is the one who tells us how they did things in her house when she was growing up.

In today’s world, when we want to change or innovate something, we turn to the experts. But in Judaism, we try to change things as little as possible and to protect our traditions as much as possible—and when it comes to tradition, there’s just nothing like the Jewish grandmother who can testify exactly how it was done a generation or two ago.

The story is told about two young Jewish girls sitting at their grandmother’s feet a few weeks before she passed away. And what was the grandmother giving them? Her recipes!

As they sat there, their grandmother wrote down her recipes for the classic Jewish foods she would always make for them. In those moments, she conveyed to them how to make gefilte fish, latkes, kneidlach, gribines, kreplach, and so on. It is these Jewish foods that protected, and continue to protect, the Jewish identity of many Jewish families. And if a Jewish grandmother teaching her grandkids how to make gefilte fish can keep their Jewish identity alive, how much more so are the lessons we hear from our Serach bas Ashers, our beautiful and worthy bubbies, who teach us so much about our past.

Good shabbos!



Over the past few years since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, many of us were forced to reinvent ourselves, and some even more than once. We all needed to get used to new realities and find new opportunities to the best of our abilities.

Let me share with you a story of true reinvention.

This Wednesday, the tenth of Shevat, marks the anniversary of the passing of the previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, who led the Chabad movement from 1920 through 1950. During one Yahrzeit gathering (in 5734), the Rebbe noted that each of the three decades of his leadership were unique, each with their own unique challenges and characteristics.

When the previous Rebbe assumed leadership in 1920, he was 40 years old. It was right at the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution, the revolution which changed the face of Russia. Within a short time, the government forbade all religious activities; synagogues were closed, mikvahs were plugged, mohels were thrown into prison, and religion was outlawed. The previous Rebbe found himself facing this ‘deluge’ right at the beginning of his leadership.

Until that moment, the primary role of a Chabad Rebbe was to teach and spread the message of Chassidism. Now, the Bolshevik revolution forced Chabad to go underground and take on the role of preserving Judaism in the Soviet Union. The Rebbe’s role became to preserve basic Jewish observance — to dispatch a teacher to an underground Jewish school in one city, to send money for an underground mikvah in a second city, and to send funding to support a rabbi who simply couldn’t provide for his family.

Being a Rebbe in the Soviet Union of 1920 was a dangerous and complicated task. Indeed, by 1927, he was arrested and exiled, and only miraculously released and expelled from the Soviet Union.

Leaving Russia behind, he looked for a place to settle. He wasn’t just looking for a home. He needed to find the right place to reestablish the world headquarters of the Chabad movement. He visited Israel for several weeks, then traveled to the United States to see if it was ready to host the center of Chabad, but after nine months he decided to return to Europe and settle in Poland.

After a short time in Latvia, he settled in Warsaw. Poland and Russia couldn’t have been more different at the time. Poland was a free country, where Judaism could be practiced in public. Warsaw was teeming with scholars and rabbis and religious Jews. There was no need to support the basic Jewish infrastructure. Here, he had to start from scratch. In Poland, the mission was to bring the local Jews the message of Chabad Chassidic thought — which was totally foreign to them. With a small yeshivah, he began from the ground up.

As usual, not everyone agreed with the Chabad approach, but the Rebbe didn’t give up and didn’t get tired. Under his leadership, Chabad experienced exponential growth in Poland during that decade.

Then, on September 1st, 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland in a blitzkrieg. The Previous Rebbe was nearing 60 and suffering from a debilitating illness. Confined to a wheelchair, aides were forced to carry him quickly into the air raid shelters every time the bombing commenced. Chassidim in the United States mobilized to save the Rebbe from the Nazi inferno, and after superhuman efforts, he arrived in the United States on the 9th of Adar.

When the Rebbe got off the boat, he was greeted by thousands of people who remembered his first visit 10 years earlier. He didn’t look nearly as healthy, but it didn’t affect his spirit. While still at the pier, the Rebbe declared, “America is no different!”

This was quite a statement. The Eastern European immigrants to the United States would often say, “America is different,” excusing themselves for the lax Jewish life that existed in America at the time. But the Rebbe declared, “America is no different.” Jewish life in the United States would be the same as it was in Europe.

That very evening, he convened a meeting with a group of activists and associates, where he told them of his plan to open a Chassidic Yeshiva.

After the meeting, two of his greatest supporters — who were instrumental in saving the Rebbe from the Nazi inferno — entered his room.

They said: “Rebbe, we came to tell you that the idea of opening a Yeshiva like in Europe is simply unrealistic; it will never happen. We are telling you this because we want to spare you the embarrassment of failure. We treasure your dignity and the dignity of Chabad; you do not know American culture — it is simply unrealistic.”

That night, the Previous Rebbe recited Shema before retiring to bed.

In Chassidic thought, the Shema before bed is a time for introspection; it is like a daily Yom Kippur moment, when we reflect on the events of the day and think about how we can improve them, making tomorrow a better day.

The Rebbe recounts in his diary that when he recited Shema that night, he wept bitter tears. These were his closest friends and supporters, and yet even they were convinced that there was no future for a yeshiva in America (Likkutei Dibburim vol. 3 pg. 466).

The Rebbe wasn’t deterred. Rabbi Pinchas Teitz recounted that he went to see the Rebbe a few days after his arrival. When he said that he was in a rush to go broadcast his radio program, he was told to announce on the radio that the Lubavitcher Rebbe would be opening a yeshiva in America. (From a Kfar Chabad interview).

True to his statement, a week later on Shushan Purim, ten students gathered at a synagogue in Brooklyn, thus opening the first European style yeshiva in the United States – where the whole day was dedicated to Torah study.. For the third time in his life, the previous Rebbe — when he was sixty — had to start all over again.

At that time, European Jews and particularly Chassidic Rebbes lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Previous Rebbe went somewhere else entirely. He chose to settle in Brooklyn, in an upscale neighborhood called Crown Heights, home to the wealthy secular Jews of New York. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very Chassidic neighborhood. American Jewry was large and successful — but very far from Judaism. In those days, Jews tried to be as American as possible.

In August of that year, the Rebbe moved to what is now known as the Chabad World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. At the time, the residents of the neighborhood were mostly Conservative Jews who did not like the idea of a Chassidic Rebbe living in their neighborhood. The “Jewish Center” on Eastern Parkway — just one block from 770 — was actually the most prestigious Conservative center in the United States at the time.

A number of locals even organized a petition in an attempt to cancel the sale of 770 to Chabad. It was only scuttled when one of the activists asked a local doctor to attach his signature; another person present in the room burst into a fury; “How dare you fight a Jew who has sacrificed his life for Judaism and has only recently arrived from Nazi occupied Poland!” He took the petition with all the signatures and tore it to pieces. (Beis Chayenu 770 pg. 111).

In the US, the Rebbe started again from scratch, spreading Judaism beginning with the Aleph-Bet. Now he was dealing with educated Jews, doctors, judges, lawyers, businessmen, etc., but when it came to Judaism, they knew nothing — and moreover, they ran away from it. The Previous Rebbe began from scratch, organizing activities like Mesibos Shabbos, where the Yeshivah students gathered children on Shabbat, handed them candies and told them Jewish stories.

Another program was Release Time. In the same month the Rebbe arrived, a new law was enacted in New York which allowed public school children the opportunity to study their religion for an hour every Wednesday. The Rebbe immediately took advantage of this law and sent yeshiva students to pick up Jewish children, bring them to a synagogue and teach them Judaism each week. Thousands of children participated in this program. Thus began the third decade of his leadership.

A year later, the Rebbe arrived to New York, and Chabad’s activities began to gain momentum.

Three decades in three countries with three different cultures, always needing to start over again from the beginning.

This is the story of the Jewish people.

The family of Jacob went down to Egypt, and, as they told Pharaoh, “We and our fathers have always been shepherds” (Vayigash 47:3). Nonetheless, it was not long before they adapted very nicely to Egypt. In the last verse of Parshat Vayigash we read, “And Israel dwelled … in the land of Goshen and they took possession of it…” Rashi says that they bought houses and land and went into the real estate business. They reinvented themselves.

Two hundred ten years of exile pass, and the children of Israel are about to leave Egypt. People who lived in the most advanced civilization of its day were being forced to go out into a barren desert.

True, G-d provided them with all their needs; manna from heaven, water from the rock, and so on. But what exactly were they supposed to do there? There is no real estate in the desert, and there is no way of doing business; they simply sat and waited to enter Israel. They needed to learn to get used to it. They were like the Holocaust survivors in DP camps. Sitting on their suitcases, the survivors thought that they would be receiving visas to the Promised Land immediately. In the end, they remained stuck there for many years and had to learn to live there as well.

But the main challenge was when they entered the Land of Israel. Suddenly, all the Jews who were born in the desert, who never held a shovel in their hand and received all their needs directly from G-d, needed to become farmers. They once again were forced to reinvent themselves.
The power to reinvent oneself again and again comes from a place deep in the Jewish soul.

When a person knows that he is not here to enjoy life but is here as part of G-d’s army — and the goal is to bring G-d into the world — it does not matter to him if he is accustomed to one type of work or another. He doesn’t complain that it is too late to start anew in life.

He is a soldier of G-d, and a soldier — wherever he finds himself — does his job with devotion.



When reading the story of the Exodus we find a very interesting and perhaps disturbing fact: 

The Jewish people who were slaves in Egypt and have been freed by G-d through the hands of Moses are constantly complaining that they wish they were back in Egypt! Yes Egypt! The land in which they suffered torment and back breaking slave labor is where their fancies take them any time the going in the desert gets rough! 

 When the spies returned from Canaan with their fearful report, the people said, “Let’s appoint someone to lead us back to Egypt.”  

When Korach and his cronies tried to rise up against Moses one of their challenges to him was, “Isn’t it enough that you took us away from a land flowing with milk and  honey…” When you see this you almost can’t believe what you’re reading! They were describing Egypt as the most wonderful, beautiful place. Later they complained that the Manna was getting boring, “We miss the fish we used to eat in Egypt and the onions, garlic and watermelon.”  

It seems that they missed Egypt so much that G-d found it necessary to explicitly decree that, “As you have seen Egypt today you shall never see it again,” meaning the Jew was forbidden to return to Egypt.  

Some wish to explain that this is simply a phenomenon of human nature. People tend to remember only the good things and forget the bad.  

This explanation does not suffice, however, for this didn’t start only forty years after they left Egypt. The people were saying this even while they were still in Egypt. When Moses approached them for the first time with the news that G-d had heard their prayers and that they were going to be taken from Egypt to the Promised Land they said, “Go home! Leave us and we will continue to serve Egypt for serving them is good for us.”  

Obviously this deep feeling for the land of Egypt was not only due to short term memory, it seems that they actually enjoyed the life they were living! 


We must therefore conclude that not everyone suffered in Egypt. 

First of all the tribe of Levi who never agreed to work for Pharaoh from the beginning, they were not caught in the net of slavery.   

Additionally, it would seem from the Midrash that the tribes of Reuben and Simeon didn’t suffer from the Egyptian slavery either. The Midrash states that among the reasons why only the first three tribes are counted again in our Parsha and not the rest is because these three tribes were influential (politically etc.) in Egypt while the others were not. 

It looks like there were different social “echelons” even among the Jewish people. The poor Jews were the slaves. There were however many wealthy, well connected Jews, men of influence. They were the doctors and businessmen.  

They too suffered from many of Pharaoh’s decrees, for example, their sons also had to be thrown into the river. They were not treated like the slaves, however. 

We can take this a step further. The Talmud (Yerushalmi) says that the first thing Moses was to do when he arrived in Egypt was to teach the Jewish people the laws of freeing slaves.  

Why would these rules be so important at a time like that? The answer must be that the wealthier Jews themselves owned Jewish slaves!  

The point is that not everyone suffered in Egypt. On the contrary many Jews were quite comfortable there. Therefore when Moses came to take them out of Egypt they – the successful Jews – didn’t want to go! 

Moses knew however that when the Jews left Egypt he was to make sure all of them came, not only the poor “shleppers” as it was when Ezra traveled back to Israel after being exiled by Nebuchadnezzar, thousands of poor Jews, those who had nothing to lose, flocked to him and joined him on the journey to rebuild the Temple. But the wealthy people, those who were successful in Babylon, stayed. They didn’t want to leave their wealth and the comfort of their influential positions. By this Exodus every Jew had to leave Egypt, and to achieve this was very difficult indeed!   

This is also the answer to the oft asked question; if the goal was to free the Jews why did G-d have to perform all of those signs and plagues on the Egyptians? Why couldn’t Moses just stand at the border of Egypt and announce that all Jews should gather and for they would be leaving Egypt. Then G-d could make one small miracle that the Egyptians wouldn’t chase after them. Why this extravagant show of miracle after miracle? 

According to what we just learned, the answer is quite obvious: 

Many Jews did not want to leave! This made it necessary for Egypt to suffer plague after plague until the Egyptians themselves would chase the Jews out, for otherwise many wouldn’t leave on their own. As the Rebbe once commented, “Why would the Jews have to be chased out of a land where they suffered such horrid labor? Wouldn’t they be more than willing to leave on their own? Rather, there were Jews who were so sunken in the exile mindset and in the paganism of their Egyptian neighbors that they had to be forcibly removed.” 

As stated clearly in the scripture, “So the Egyptians took hold of the people to hasten to send them out of the land. The people picked up their dough when it was not yet leavened.” And Rashi adds, “The Egyptians did not permit them to tarry long enough for it to leaven.” 

This is in fact one of the most amazing thing about the Exodus from Egypt. It was the non-Jews who forced the Jews to leave their exile. 

Since then the Jews of many generations have remained Jewish because the nonJews forced them to remain separate through the ghettos, the “Jewish Street” and all the other anti-Semitic decrees.  

In our generation on the other hand, we are approaching the third and final redemption about which the prophet Isaiah says, “For you will not leave hurriedly and you will not travel pursued, rather with tranquility and restfulness shall you be redeemed.” We are already tasting the fulfillment of this prophecy, as hundreds even thousands of Jews are returning to the Jewish faith, not because they have been persecuted, not because the non-Jews are forcing upon them an awareness of their heritage. Rather on their own they are suddenly feeling a thirst for G-dliness and they return to G-d and his Torah “being of sound mind and body” each on their own time and at their own pace. 

This is the true greatness of our generation. For it is possibly the first time in history that Jews who enjoy every benefit life has to offer are searching for spirituality. It is clearly not for physical gain that they are turning to G-d for G-d has  already blessed them with abundance. These days Jews are searching for G-d simply because they want to get closer to him!  

Listen! Can’t you just hear the footsteps of Moshiach?