"Chof Beis Shevat"
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Maimonides, Principles of the Faith, No. 12
Click here, to see pictures of the Rebbe
We are pleased to present, to the visually impaired and the blind, our weekly publication, Living With Moshiach.
In this week's issue, we focus on Chof Beis Shevat. On Chof Beis (the 22nd day of) Shevat, Wednesday, February 18, we commemorate the 10th yahrtzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Rebbe.
This Jewish year, is the year 5758 since Creation. The Hebrew letters are Hei-Taf-Shin-Nun-Ches. Over a decade ago, in the year 5742, the Rebbe stated that the Hebrew letters for that year were an acronym for "This should be the year of the coming of Moshiach."
Since that time, the Rebbe has publicized a phrase describing the year according to the acronym of its Hebrew letters. This year has been designated by the Rebbe's followers as "Hoyo Tihei Shnas Niflaos Cheiruseinu" meaning "It surely will be a year of wondrous miracles liberating us (from the material and spiritual problems of our exile)."
It is our fervent hope that our learning about Moshiach and the Redemption will hasten the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
Rabbi Yosef Y. Shagalov,
Committee for the Blind
15 Shevat, 5758
Brooklyn, New York
This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, delineates the laws of guardianship. Chassidic philosophy explains the issue of guardianship in terms of the spiritual reality and the nature of the Jew's G-dly worship.
Every Jew is a guardian. He holds as a pledge something that was given to him by G-d. The soul of every Jew is a piece, as it were, of G-d Himself, that is given to the Jew to guard and keep in his physical body. A person must properly take care of this precious pledge, and must furthermore take an active role in its safekeeping. Properly guarding the soul within requires ongoing care and effort, and not just making sure that the soul is not harmed by the physical, corporeal world. The guardian of the soul must keep in mind the purpose for which the soul descended into our world--a descent whose purpose is ascent. The guardian must keep the Torah and its commandments, in order to elevate the soul to an even higher level than it was before its descent into the body.
The obligation to guard the soul is emphasized by the oath that is administered to every soul before its descent--"You should be a righteous person and not an evil person."
What happens if the keeper did not properly guard that which was in his charge? Our portion explains: "For all manner of trespass--for ox, for donkey, for lamb, for clothing, for any manner of lost object ... he shall pay double to his neighbor."
Chassidic philosophy explains that "for all manner of trespass" means if a person trespasses against the great pledge that was given to him to guard--the soul. And how does a person arrive at such a state? "For ox, for donkey, for lamb, for clothing"--this refers to different negative characteristics of the person's animalistic soul.
An "ox" refers to the characteristic of "a goring ox"--aggression, violence and lack of consideration for others.
It is said of a "donkey" that even in the summer months he is cold. This symbolizes the negative character trait of indifference, that even when exposed to the greatest G-dly illumination, the person remains cold and indifferent.
The "lamb" stands for the Jewish People--"a scattered lamb is Israel." This symbolizes lack of self-esteem and assertiveness, and the tendency to blindly follow the surrounding non-Jewish nations and to imitate their ways.
"Clothing" in Hebrew is beged which has the same root as the word "begida," or betrayal and disloyalty to G-d.
These are four ways in which the Jew can come to misuse the holy pledge given to him.
How is this situation rectified? The Torah tells us--"he shall pay double to his neighbor." Our Rabbis teach: "He who is accustomed to learning one page should learn two pages." One should double his efforts in learning Torah and performing mitzvot, the same way that if a rope is torn, the repair is made by tying the place of the rip with a big double knot. G-d will then repay us in kind. Our transgressions will be considered as merits, our negative character traits will be transformed into positive ones, and our animalistic soul will help us on the road to serving G-d.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of Lubavitch, issued a call that "The time of our Redemption has arrived!" and "Moshiach is on his way!"
The Rebbe stressed that he is saying this as a prophecy, and asks us all to prepare ourselves for the Redemption, through increasing acts of goodness and kindness.
Let us all heed the Rebbe's call.
The righteous women who left Egypt were so confident that G-d would perform miracles for the Jewish people that they took tambourines with them into the desert. So, too, with the final Redemption. The righteous women must, and certainly do trust so completely in the immediate Redemption, that they will begin immediately-in these last moments of exile-to play music and dance for the coming of the complete Redemption. (The Rebbe)
The number twenty-two, written in Hebrew letters, is chof-beis. These are the same letters making up the word bach that is found in the verse, "Through you (bach), Israel will be blessed." This verse indicates that "through you," blessing will be drawn down to each and every Jew, generating positive activities, which, in turn, will lead to further activities of blessing in a pattern that will continue endlessly.
Ultimately, these activities will lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy "And G-d will wipe tears away from every face." "Tears" in Hebrew is numerically equivalent to 119. G-d's positive activity of wiping away tears represents an increase, causing the sum to reach 120, the complete sum of human life. Therefore, when Moses reached 120 years old, he stated, "Today, my days and my years are completed."
The above relates to every Jew, for every Jew possesses a spark of Moses within him. This spark of Moses generates positive activity, which, as explained above, initiates a pattern that continues to generate further positive activity forever.
The Hebrew word for "forever," olam, also means "world." Olam is related to the Hebrew word helem, meaning concealment. Our world is characterized by hiddenness, the concealment of G-dliness. This concealment allows for a soul--an actual part of G-d--to be concealed, that is, to depart from this world after its "days and years are completed"--after they have been endowed with fullness and completion through good deeds. In this context as well, the pattern mentioned above applies, as each good deed leads to more good deeds, in a never-ending sequence.
The above also shares a connection to the Torah reading of this Shabbat [Parshat Yitro], which describes the Giving of the Torah. Our Sages relate that after each of the Ten Commandments, "the souls of the Jews departed," a phenomenon parallel to death, and G-d revived them with the dew that He will use to resurrect the dead in the era of the Redemption.
Similarly, in the present context, four years ago today,(1) an "actual part of G-d," a Jewish soul, ascended from this world. Each year, on the day of the yahrtzeit, that soul ascends to a higher level, indeed, a level immeasurably higher than the peaks the soul had reached previously. This is reflected in the recitation of Kaddish(2) on that day. Its recitation again on the day of the yahrtzeit, after not being recited on a daily basis, indicates a new ascent.
May the soul reach the ultimate level of ascent, the level to be reached at the time of the Resurrection. And may this take place in the immediate future. For ours is the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption.
Together with all the Jews of the present generation who will proceed to the Holy Land amidst health and joy, they will be joined by "those who lie in the dust," the souls of the previous generations, who "will arise and sing."
In particular, this applies to a soul who has merited that many Jewish girls be named after her, and educated in the spirit in which she lived, which, in turn, came as a result of the education she was given by her father, the Previous Rebbe.
This will be hastened by the distribution of money to be given--with each person making an addition from his own funds--to tzedakah. This will speed the coming of the Redemption when "the Holy One, blessed be He, will make a dance for the righteous," a dance that will be joined by each member of the Jewish people, man, woman, and child. And they will point to G-d and say, "Behold this is the G-d in whom we put our trust."
And this will take place in the immediate future. "With our youth and our elders... with our sons and our daughters," we will proceed to the Holy Land "on the clouds of heaven." And "those that lie in the dust will arise and sing," with the righteous ones mentioned previously, at our head.
1. This was said on the fourth yahrtzeit of the Rebbetzin. This year marks the Rebbetzin's tenth yahrtzeit. Ed.
2. The Kaddish is recited each day for eleven months only in the year after the person's death. Ed.
When the famous Rabbi Akiva returned from the great yeshiva in Jerusalem to his humble home after 24 years of intense and unceasing Torah study, he brought with him his 24,000 students. When his wife Rachel approached him through the crowd, Rabbi Akiva announced "All that I have, and all that you have, we owe to her." These words of Rabbi Akiva are recorded in the Talmud (Ketubot 63a).
In another Talmudic Tractate (Yevamot 62b) it says that Rabbi Akiva's disciples saved the Torah at that time.
In a beautiful letter from the Rebbe to the Lubavitch Women's Organization for one of their annual conventions, the Rebbe explains that these two Talmudic teachings are interconnected. "This means that the entire edifice of the Oral Torah, the very basis of the existence of our Jewish people and its way of life, is ultimately to be credited to a Jewish woman," the Rebbe writes there.
This week, on the 22nd of Shevat (Wednesday, February 18), we commemorate the tenth yahrtzeit of a most unique, righteous Jewish woman, the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.
Upon the passing of her father, the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbetzin strongly encouraged the Rebbe to assume the mantle of leadership. This entailed tremendous self-sacrifice and unimaginable devotion on the part of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.
Although we cannot fully understand just how much of a sacrifice it was on the part of the Rebbetzin, she certainly understood. For, during a U.S. court case concerning the ownership of the library of the Previous Rebbe, it was the Rebbetzin's decisive statement that "the library belongs to the Chassidim because my father belonged to the Chassidim"(3) which helped the Lubavitch movement win the case so that the stolen books were returned to "770."
Thus, when the Rebbetzin encouraged the Rebbe to accept the entreaties of the hundreds of thousands of Chassidim world-wide who were requesting that he become Rebbe, she knew that from that time forth the Rebbe would belong to the Chassidim and to world Jewry at large.
We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Rebbetzin.
3. See Living With Moshiach, Vol. 87.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka led a life which was remarkable in many ways, not the least in its utter selflessness and extreme privacy.
She was born on 25 Adar II, 1901, the daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok. Her remarkable abilities and keen intellect brought her father to entrust her with great responsibilities. In fact, she was actively involved in many of his activities to keep Judaism alive during the explosive years following the Russian Revolution and establishment of the Soviet state.
In 1927, when her father, the Previous Rebbe was arrested, it was Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka who made sure that all possibly incriminating documents were destroyed. Indeed, during his imprisonment, she was in the forefront of those seeking to commute the death sentence to one of exile, and then, finally to release.
A unique relationship existed between Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka and her father, and he wrote many deep, philosophical letters to her, in which he expounded his concepts of Chassidic thought and Divine service. Those who were privileged to know the Rebbetzin described her as a refined, erudite woman of very extensive knowledge and great intelligence and wit.
On the 14th of Kislev, 1929, Warsaw was at the peak of its glory, the "Jerusalem of Poland." On that day, Rebbes of numerous Chasidic dynasties, world-renowned rabbis and heads of yeshivas, illustrious Jews of many walks of life gathered to celebrate the wedding of the daughter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the son of the brilliant scholar and kabbalist, Harav Levi Yitzchok Schneerson. The marriage of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka to Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson opened a new chapter in her life. Twenty-five years later, the Rebbe described the union as a marriage which bound him to the Chassidim.
The early days of their marriage were ones of onerous hardship and great personal danger. First settling in Berlin, they were forced to flee to Paris after the Nazis came to power. They fled Paris in 1940 and through the strenuous efforts of the Previous Rebbe they succeeded in boarding the last ship to leave Europe. From the day they arrived in the United States, for the next 47 years, the Rebbetzin's life was dedicated to only one thing--the well-being of her husband and the success of his mission in life.
It was Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka who urged her husband to assume the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch after the passing of her illustrious father in 1950. From that moment on, the Rebbetzin embarked on perhaps the most difficult mission of her life, for she spent the next four decades supporting every action and move the Rebbe took on behalf of the Jewish people.
Although she was entirely absent from the public eye, she took an avid interest in the work of the many thousands of emissaries, keeping abreast of their activities. The Rebbetzin took deep personal satisfaction in their accomplishments, and commiserated in their hardships.
For the Rebbetzin, her husband's will became her own. She was his greatest Chassid. And yet, she had the wifely wisdom to look out for his health. Knowing that the Rebbe usually refused to see a doctor, she would make her own medical treatment contingent on his agreeing to a check-up. In order to assure her well-being, he would, of course, comply.
In her last years, when the Rebbetzin was ill, she suffered in silence, and to her last day, no complaint escaped her lips. Even to her husband she did not reveal all her suffering, in order to spare him distress. On the unanimous advice of several doctors the Rebbetzin was hospitalized. Soon after she arrived at the hospital she suddenly requested a glass of water. Shortly after midnight of Wednesday, the 22nd day of Shevat, the pure neshama of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka left this world. The Rebbetzin's forebearers, Rebbetzin Rivka and Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah, her great-grandmother and grandmother, had asked for a glass of water minutes before their passing. It is recorded in many holy books that tzaddikim often ask for water before their passing. One explanation that is given is that their souls thereby leave this world after reciting the proper blessing before drinking water, "...and everything is created through His word" and the blessing afterward "...He who creates many souls." This same blessing will be said at the time of the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Era.
In the merit of the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, may we follow the Rebbe's injunction to take her life's accomplishments to heart, and with our many deeds of goodness and kindness, may we see the coming of Moshiach now.
Though precious little is known of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the few statements of hers that are public,(4) convey her brilliance, wit and personal insight:
A young bride-to-be from a distinguished chasidic family could not be convinced by her grandfather to uphold a little-practiced custom, that was not the vogue, at her wedding. The grandfather asked the Rebbetzin to speak with the bride. When the young woman protested that none of her friends had acted in accordance with the custom and that she would be looked upon as being different, the Rebbetzin responded, "It's very modern to be different."
"It's very modern to be different." From safety pins in the ears to "earrings" in other parts of the anatomy, from astraining to personalized trainers, we strive, and to some extent succeed, to be modern, i.e., different.
But how many of us have the courage to be "modern" when it comes to Judaism?
The next time a book about a new spiritual path tops the best seller list, be modern and buy a book about the Jewish spirit.
The next time a friend asks you to sign up for a lecture series at the local university, be modern and sign up for a lecture series at the local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
The next time suggestions for restaurants are offered for that high-powered lunch, be modern and suggest a kosher restaurant (most major cities nowadays have at least one kosher restaurant).
And think of the Rebbetzin, who was so utterly modern that she cared not a bit about what "modern" conventions say. She remained the Rebbe's most ardent and devoted follower, so much so, that the Rebbetzin once stated, "His [the Rebbe's] will is my will."
"G-d alone knows the full extent of her greatness," the Rebbe said during the shiva for the Rebbetzin.
As the Rebbe stated in his first public discourse, all sevenths are precious ... we are the seventh generation ... the last generation of exile and the first generation of the Redemption.
In the Redemption, when the G-dly essence of everything will be revealed, we will surely appreciate the Rebbetzin's true greatness.
4. See above, footnote #3.
The world had a priceless treasure. But it was not until the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory, passed away on 22 Shevat, ten years ago, that most of us truly appreciated what a treasure we had lost.
For the Rebbetzin had been a source of intense strength for the Rebbe, and for his unique and historic worldwide work of strengthening Judaism among millions of Jews.
The Rebbetzin was a jewel, a true queen. Not merely by virtue of her noble ancestry (descending from all the first six great Rebbes of Chabad) nor even of her exalted position as Rebbetzin of the saintly and admired great leader of hundreds of thousands. She was a true queen in her own right, too.
She was a queen in her exalted qualities of character. The Rebbetzin was sensitive and compassionate to others without being in any way condescending. For every person she met, every visitor to her home, even young children, she always had the right words to suit the situation.
The Rebbetzin was a queen intellectually, too. Coming from a long line of great Torah scholars, she was, not surprisingly, a true intellectual.
Those who knew her well and remembered her father, the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, considered her to have inherited his penetrating intellect and analytic mind. She was learned and erudite, fluent and widely read in seven languages, well versed in many fields of knowledge, with solidly based opinions on a variety of subjects.
When her father passed away in 1950, the Chassidim called upon her husband, the present Rebbe, as the obvious successor. In his humility, the Rebbe had always stayed in the background. But the little that Chassidim had managed to glimpse of his unique personality, of his Torah brilliance and leadership capabilities, convinced them that only he could be the new Rebbe. But he refused to even consider it.
When the pressure became strong, he threatened to depart into self-imposed exile.
It was the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, who finally convinced him: "You can't let my father's thirty years of self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people go to waste," she pleaded. Very reluctantly, the Rebbe accepted the mantle of leadership.
When her husband was chosen to be Rebbe, the Rebbetzin knew exactly what to expect. She knew what it would mean to her own personal life, how she would have to forfeit everything that other wives take for granted.
Over a year before she passed away, the Rebbetzin stated that her father, the previous Rebbe, had "belonged to the Chassidim." Yet it was the Rebbetzin who had the awesome courage to finally persuade the Rebbe, to take on the responsibility of leadership. She was gladly prepared to accept all personal difficulties (even shunning the honor and reverence that could so easily have been hers), for the sake of the Jewish people.
Her sacrifice was indeed awe-inspiring. Although she had known what to expect, she must have had superhuman strength to live with the fact that her great husband's life does indeed belong entirely to his Chassidim and to the Jewish people.
It was this self-sacrifice of the Rebbetzin, forfeiting her husband's companionship for the sake of the Jewish public whom he serves, that has benefited the millions of Jews around the globe affected by her husband's work to strengthen them in their Judaism.
It was the Rebbetzin's devotion to the Rebbe's health and welfare that has enabled him to give so freely of himself for so many years, in ever-increasing measure. Everything the Rebbe has done for every one of us (for has any Jew not been touched directly or indirectly by the Rebbe's work?), is a result of her devotion to the Rebbe.
Yet what amazes again and again, as we study the details of her life, was how cleverly she succeeded in concealing this indispensable role from the eyes of all but the very closest, allowing even them to perceive no more than the tip of the iceberg. And the vast majority of the Rebbe's Chassidim never realized what a treasure they had in the Rebbetzin.
In fact it was the Rebbetzin who actually assumed her husband's other choice when he became Rebbe--of self-imposed "exile!"
Imagine how much honor and respect the Rebbetzin would have received had she ever appeared in the main Lubavitch synagogue on Shabbat or Yom Tov, or at one of her husband's gatherings, or at one of the many Lubavitcher girls' schools or at a convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization attended by thousands. Any honor would have been eminently well deserved, for it was her boundless devotion, after all, to the Rebbe's health and welfare that enabled him to dedicate himself so totally to world Jewry.
Yet the Rebbetzin shunned all honor as one flees from fire, like no other great, righteous woman in memory. No one better exemplified the verse (Tehillim 45:14) applied to modest Jewish women: "Kol kvuda bas Melech pnima"--"All the honor of a king's daughter is within."
The Rebbetzin went out of her way to give no one any excuse to feel she was being treated specially, to arouse not even the slightest jealousy. She took humility and tzniut (modesty) to their ultimate extreme, without losing anything in the process.
And she remained a queen, regardless. As much as she tried, even succeeded, in concealing her great qualities, her entire demeanor in all her deeds and words bespoke royalty. But it was utterly effortless on her part, an inborn, integral part of her personality.
It is to the Rebbetzin that the world owes the great Rebbe we have, who has given of himself to world Jewry for over four decades. Her husband is the Rebbe to hundreds of thousands, and concerned for every Jew in the world, who spends entire days and nights, Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim, with his Chassidim, who has never taken a day's vacation nor had more than a few moments to enjoy any kind of personal life for over four decades of leadership. When we think deeply of all this, we begin to see the Rebbetzin's personality, too, as one of unparalleled devotion to the higher cause that the Rebbe's life represents and exemplifies.
The famous Rabbi Akiva said of his wife Rachel--"Mine and yours is hers," that his own Torah and the Torah he taught his thousands of students were thanks to Rachel's self-sacrifice for 24 years. So, too, do we owe the prodigious accomplishments of the Rebbe's Chassidim throughout the world, that have touched the lives of millions of Jews, to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka's self-sacrificing and self-effacing devotion to her husband for almost 60 years!
The Rebben treated her with the deepest esteem, "with more respect than one treats oneself" (as our Sages instruct us to relate to our spouses). He clearly regarded her as a personality of colossal dimensions, not only as the daughter of the previous Rebbe, but also in her own right.
As a close relative said of her on the day of her passing, "She was a truly righteous woman, unique in her generation. Her passing has left us all orphaned...."
As we mark her tenth Yahrtzeit this week, we pray that her merit protect us, and that we may learn from her shining example. May her great memory be blessed.
Wednesday, Chof Beis Shevat, February 18, marks the tenth yahrtzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. She was a person elusive in her lifetime and is nonetheless so since her passing. This is because the Rebbetzin was truly a person of royalty--a Jewish queen.
The concept of Jewish royalty and aristocracy is almost incomprehensible from the perspective of contemporary society. Our conception of what it means to be a "king," "queen," or the bearer of an aristocratic title is created and colored by the media. We follow the lives of the rich and famous through gossip columns and commercially targeted feature articles; collect photographs of aristocrats, princes and princesses at play or posed before opulent backdrops for royal family albums and subsequently reenact these glossy images in our own life-styles from fashions and hairstyles to personal aspirations.
It follows that our understanding of royalty per se is far from its original meaning. How much more so the Jewish concept of a king and queen which, from the start, stood apart from that of the nations of the world?
The role of a Jewish king is far removed from the display of wealth which became an integral feature of secular royalty. In fact, the king of the Nation of Israel was allowed only one personal possession, a Torah scroll. Nor was he an image of power in his own right. Not even did he represent the might and status of his people, but rather he served as an emissary, a servant, a sign of G-d's presence amongst the Jewish people.
This self-nullification and personal effacement of the king was even greater in his female counterpart, the queen. Whereas the Jewish nation looked to their king for inspiration and a spiritual grounding-point, he in turn looked to his wife for the same. The queen, to an even greater degree than her husband, was rooted in the physical world, and any independent being or ego was absent. Throughout the nation she was the persona most concealed.
It was self-evident to Jews throughout the ages that their leaders--Jewish royalty in the true sense of the word--were spiritual giants. They were, and are, not "us-plus" so to speak, people who were merely more brilliant, more sensitive, insightful and capable of leadership than we. Rather their teachings and personal lives revealed them to be people carved from a different substance altogether. The awe they inspired in their people lay in their very tangible "humanness" yet simultaneous transcendence of the limitations of the physical world to which we are all subject. Thus we can never know or truly grasp Torah royalty, as we cannot recognize that which we are not.
So, too, in our generation. The Rebbetzin was a true Jewish queen; she was so sublime and true to the Jewish notion of royalty that she remained entirely concealed.
The Rebbetzin was born to an unbroken chain of revered spiritual leaders. Her home itself was home to people of exceptional stature. Amongst them was her grandfather, the Rebbe Rashab, whose greatness dominated and permeated the household. Yet, as mentioned, the extent of his greatness could only have been perceived by eyes receptive to such caliber of being. A comment made by the Rebbetzin many years later revealed that she was just such a receptacle: Upon discussing her childhood she stated that one could sense what type of person had just entered into a private audience with the Rebbe, her grandfather, from the atmosphere which at that moment filled the home.
Her father, the previous Rebbe, perceived in his daughter this keen sensitivity. Consequently, he involved her in all facets of his work to keep Judaism alive in the years of the revolution and subsequent communist take-over in Russia. He selected her to carry out missions involving the underground network of Torah schools and in like respect and confidence chose her to accompany him to his exile in Kostroma, realizing that she, of all his devoted followers and family, was the person equal to the task. Furthermore, in many letters to his daughter, the Rebbe expounded on the deepest and most refined concepts of Chassidic thought and spiritual service, and confided in her his innermost feelings. She in turn venerated her father as both daughter and Chassid.
The Rebbetzin maintained this role as pillar of strength and selfless devotee in her marriage to her revered husband, the present Rebbe. It was she who traveled from Paris to Nazi Germany in order to procure documents from the government to facilitate the rescue of the Rebbe's brother from prewar Europe, thus saving the Rebbe from exposure to potentially fatal dangers. It was she who during the Paris years would walk miles each day to ensure the availability of foods which would meet their scrupulous standards of kashrus. And it was she who, during the early years in America, traveled abroad to assess the situation of Jews in Europe and report her findings to the Rebbe. In short, it was the Rebbetzin who devoted her unique capabilities and extraordinary intelligence to assist her husband in spreading the light of Torah to Jews wherever they might be, in bringing both physical and spiritual relief to any person no matter how far, in any way possible and in a manner unprecedented and unequaled.
Yet, given the Torah concept of royalty, these remarkable events in the life of the Rebbetzin are merely an external manifestation of who she truly was. Perhaps our only access to her identity is through the words of her husband, the Rebbe. The Torah teaches us that the marriage between a husband and wife is not a union of two separate entities, but rather a union of one entity, a reunion of two dimensions of the soul separated at birth. Who better then to guide us in our understanding of the Rebbetzin, than the Rebbe, her soul-mate?
In a talk following the conclusion of the seven days of mourning, the Rebbe illuminated the Rebbetzin's extraordinary character by expounding on her family name, Schneerson. The Rebbetzin, he said, was the "son of Shneur," a complete heir to the teachings and spiritual inheritance of her ancestor Reb Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chassidism. She not only received these abundant wellsprings by fact of birth but, as the Rebbe added, "She embodied the power of her father"; she was the culminating point and fulfillment of all that seven generations of Chabad Chassidic leadership embodied.
Only the Rebbe could truly know this. It takes one righteous person to recognize another. Through the few stories of devotion and mutual respect between the Rebbe and Rebbetzin which filtered down to the public, we understand this all the more and come to a deeper respect and reverence for the holy couple.
The Rebbe, for his part, personified the expression of our Sages that "a man must honor his wife more than himself." He consulted with the Rebbetzin and asked her advice. He referred to her as his "home," his center. In fact, the Rebbe perceived his marriage to her as being that which bound him to the Chassidim. He, the Rebbe, to whom thousands flocked each Sunday to receive blessings and guidance, once conveyed to a Chassid that he saw no difference between his blessing and that of his esteemed Rebbetzin.
She, for her part, was entirely given over to all that her ancestors and father had striven for, and thus too was she selflessly devoted to her husband, the embodiment of all they stood for. So complete was her devotion to and trust in the Rebbe, that when asked to make a decision contrary to his expressed desire, the Rebbetzin responded by saying, "His will is my will," and added that she had never once in all their years of marriage told the Rebbe what to do. In a society that looks out for number one and sways, if not quivers, with uncertainty, we may not fully grasp the profound implications of such a statement--complete devotion to and perfect trust and assurance in all that one's life-partner is and does.
The Rebbetzin once stated that her father had only one true Chassid, her husband. As to whether her husband had any true Chassidim, she was unsure. In light of the above, we may say that she was that one true Chassid. Only the Rebbetzin possessed the greatness to perceive and appreciate who the Rebbe truly is, just as only he could comprehend her.
The Rebbetzin, daughter of a Rebbe, was well aware of the need for a Rebbe to be completely given over to his followers. In fact, it was her assessment of precisely this fact which was the crucial factor in determining to whom her father's extensive and priceless library belonged when its ownership came under dispute. The issue was raised as to whether the library belonged to the previous Rebbe's direct descendants or to the Chassidim as a whole. The Rebbetzin stated with the utmost precision that the books belonged to the Chassidim because "the Rebbe belongs to the Chassidim."
After the passing of her father, one may well have expected her to discourage her husband from accepting the mantle of leadership. The Rebbetzin knew full well the implications of this choice. It foretold a lifetime of selfless and continuous sacrifices. It necessitated relinquishing their private life and becoming, so to speak, the "possession" of the Chassidim. The choice implied the most private of sacrifices on the part of the Rebbetzin, to guide her husband into the public domain and unconditionally give up that which they would have had together without the role of leadership. Yet, rather than discourage the Rebbe, it was the Rebbetzin who persuaded the Rebbe to take on the awesome task. Her sacrifice was made in order that her husband complete all that which the Rebbes before him had begun and fill the needs of the Jewish people.
In the later years, as the Rebbe became more known and sought after by thousands of people, the Rebbetzin pulled back to a counterbalanced position of privacy. In so doing she both gave her husband over to her beloved people in the fullest possible measure and created for him a place of total privacy for those brief times they spent together.
Just as the world turns to the Rebbe, so too does the king look to the queen. The Rebbetzin was the pillar upon which the entire Jewish people supported itself. This is a person beyond comprehension. As the Rebbe said of her during the shiva, "G-d alone knows the full extent of her greatness."
I (5) picked up the phone and a frail voice spoke on the other side. "Dr. U., I'm having severe foot pain and because of an accident I'm house-bound." She then proceeded to rattle off a list of prominent people in the neighborhood who had recommended me.
I thought for a moment and replied, "I have an important meeting scheduled tonight; if I can't make it, I can come next Tuesday."
"Please try, I'm in such pain and you've been so highly recommended by..."
"Okay, I'll see what I can do. Give me your name, address and telephone number."
"My name is Mrs. Schneerson and I live on..."
Moments later, I had one foot out the front door and my doctor bag dangling from my left arm. A brisk five-minute walk brought me to the Rebbetzin's home. She was frail and weak. It took her almost a minute to get from one side of the room to the other. Every step was an ordeal. She appeared like wind-ravaged tree after a mighty hurricane and I felt guilty for having given her such a hard time about coming.
Many months later, I once again had the honor of attending to the Rebbetzin. She felt much better. Color had returned to her face and she was filled with energy and spunk. This time she insisted that I stay for tea and cake and, of course, she soon ferreted out the fact that I was still single. It wasn't long before she came up with a couple of possibilities for ending my bachelorhood. Yes, her mind was so sharp that lame excuses didn't have any effect on her.
During conversations, the Rebbetzin would try to hide or downplay her position in the community. She did not have an arrogant bone in her body and would quickly shift away from any conversation that might acknowledge her royalty. I played along and always refårred to her as Írs. Schneerson--never Rebbetzin.
The Rebbetzin was by no means a pushover. Óhe was one of the sharpest people I had ever met. She also had little use for "small talk." On one visit to her home, I was accompanied by Devorah, my secretary. The Rebbetzin asked her how her family was doing. She replied, "Thank G-d." The Rebbetzin immediately retorted, "Now tell me, thank G-d, how are your parents and brother feeling." Devorah was stunned. She was first and last sincere, and she loved people and loved life.
I was once chosen to be the guest of honor at a fund-raising dinner for the Lubavitch Youth Organization. I was nervous about my speech. I discussed the matter with the Rebbetzin and she invited me to her home prior to the talk, in order to get some inspiration from her husband. Knowing how she felt about sharing her limited time with the Rebbe with the rest of the world, I respectfully declined the offer.
A week later, as I entered the door of her kitchen, the Rebbetzin greeted me with a big grin and said, "Elliot, my husband and I heard your speech; it was wonderful. It made us laugh."
It was in February of 1988. It was about eight in the morning. I had an appointment to see the Rebbetzin that afternoon. I was sitting at my desk working on a group trip to Vail, Colorado. I planned to discuss the matter fully with the Rebbetzin. After all, not only did she give me concrete advice, but also she would enjoy hearing about the trip, especially if there was the possibility of my meeting someone there.
The telephone rang twice. I reached over my desk to answer it and heard my friend say, "Hello Elliot, I'll make it short. I heard terrible news. The Rebbetzin passed away, and I know how much she meant to you."
A rock seemed to settle in my throat and a moment later a tear dripped down my left cheek. I opened the window and let the cool winter air hit my face.
5. Adapted from "N'Shei Chabad Newsletter," published by the Lubavitch Women's Organization, 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
There are four special Torah readings read on the Sabbaths before the month of Nissan -- Shekolim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh.
This week we read the additional portion of Shekolim. As Shekolim is the first of the four, it has special significance over the other three. Its lesson is of general significance and conveys the fundamental and primary principles that should guide our G-dly service.
The half-shekel was a donation by every Jew to help pay for the communal sacrifice. Regardless of one's financial status, whether rich or poor, each person gave no more and no less than a half-shekel toward this sacrifice. Thus, the basic idea of giving half-shekels is that of tzedakah (charity). This is particularly true today after the Holy Temple has been destroyed, and the mitzvah of giving shekolim in its original form is no longer possible. Today this mitzvah is commemorated through giving a coin worth half of the standard currency to charity on the Fast of Esther--the day preceding Purim.
Tzedakah represents all the mitzvot--"outweighs" them all--and is called the mitzvah by the Jerusalem Talmud. In addition, tzedakah must be done constantly, for two reasons:
1) G-d created a world order in which there is giving and receiving. This is the reason that "need" and "want" are present in the world--in order that there be the possibility of performing tzedakah and kindness. Tzedakah, therefore, is an intrinsic part of creation. Since tzedakah is an essential feature of the nature of the world, it is present as long as the world exists, i.e., constantly.
2) Everything G-d gives to the world is similar to His "tzedakah." His gracious endowment of our very life and sustenance is clear proof of His great kindness. Nevertheless, this kindness is granted midda k'neged midda (measure for measure)--commensurate to our actions. We must therefore involve ourselves in charitable acts in order to merit G-d's tzedakah. And since we are constantly dependent upon His tzedakah, our charitable acts must also be constant.
This explains the fundamental importance of the portion of Shekolim over the other three special portions. It is connected with charity, which is constant, and applies in all places and situations.
The Rebbe's slogan is: "The main thing is the deed." We therefore present from the Rebbe's talks suggestions what we can do to complete his work of bringing the Redemption.
"The yahrtzeit should, as is Jewish custom, be connected with deeds undertaken in memory of the departed. The Hebrew expression for this intent, l'ilui nishmat, means "for the ascent of the soul." Our deeds help elevate the soul of the departed. Then, the higher levels that the soul reaches are drawn down and influence this world.... Also, it is proper that gifts be given to charity in multiples of 470, the numerical equivalent of the Rebbetzin's name."
The Rebbe, 22 Shevat, 5750/1990
Jewish Women and Girls Light Shabbat Candles
For local candle lighting times:
consult your local Rabbi, Chabad-Lubavitch Center, or call: (718) 774-3000.
For a free candle lighting kit:
contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
For a listing of the Centers in your area:
In the USA, call: 1-800-Lubavitch (1-800-582-2848).
Friday, Feb. 20, Erev Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim:
Saturday, Feb. 21, Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim:
6. The Shabbat candles must be lit 18 minutes before sunset. It is prohibited and is a desecration of the Shabbat to light the candles after sunset.
7. Rosh Chodesh Adar is on Thursday, Feb. 26, and Friday, Feb. 27.
Laws of Shabbat Candle Lighting for the Blind
Shabbat Candle Lighting Blessing
"Let There Be Light" - The Jewish Women's Guide to Lighting Shabbat Candles.
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