Baruch Hashem

Please print these Stories before Shabbos, so you can read them on Shabbos!

How The Torah Came To The Jews

The story you are about to read is true. Some names have been changed to protect the guilty. Some names have been omitted to protect us from the grumpy. The story first started thousands of years ago, when the world was young...

An angel descended heaven to sell the Torah to the world and his first drop was high in the Tibetan mountains.

"It's a Torah," he told the Master as the llamas looked on.

"We appreciate new teachings," intoned Master. "Tell us your wisdom."

"I am L-rd Your G‑d. Have none before me."

The master smiled sympathetically; the llamas rolled their eyes.

"All is One. Truth has many forms. Form changes." the master recited solemnly, taking the angel's hand in his own. "Love your knowledge. Live your knowledge. Do not allow one knowledge to negate a world of expression."

"For I am a jealous G‑d," remembered the angel aloud, more to himself than to the master. No, this won't work. They shook hands and the master bowed in deference.

The angel came to Khyber Pass. A band of blond, chiseled men galloped furiously, their women following in tow. The angel started telling them about his wares. "I tried the master, but he rejected me," said the angel, feeling a bit down.

"Master? What master? We are the master of all races, not those blabbering, dark people. What does your Torah say in it?"

"You shall not murder."

"Humph!" answered the loudest mouth among them. Curiously, he was not blond and evidently he had nipped himself above his lip while shaving. "So why didn't that idiot in the mountain take your book? Isn't that the gibberish he goes for?" The loudmouth's voice and passion were growing. "Isn't it clear that only by the survival of the fittest do we go forward?" He climbed on a sack of soap roots so all could hear and continued drawing in the people with his charisma and passion. "Is it not the destiny of the strong to live and conquer and not to be conquered by the weak, ugly, feeble-minded and miserable?" he crescendoed.

"Yawol! Seig!" thundered the handsome crowd. The angel was ready to leave, but he had one question: How come all of you are so handsome? Don't you have any ugly people?

"Oh no, we have no ugly people," said one resolutely.

"We did before," answered the man's wife, "but we tied them to the trees before we left the forest. My brother Heinrich and sister Helga were there."

"This way we have more food." she added cheerfully.

Came the angel further west, along the Seine did he rest.

How romantic is this view, how divine is this nest.

"Merci monsieur!" the locals sparkled when the angel announced he had a most intriguing gift. "Mais, quest-qu'il ya dedans? Can we have a peek inside?"

You shall not commit adultery.

"Oh no, we never would! To be unfaithful to one we love? To break a vow? Non, jamais, mon cheri! You must love life and live to love. To see someone living without love or loving without life, now that is unforgivable! That is the greatest breach of faith, the ultimate rebellion against raison d'etre! A man must always be happy. Joie de vivres! Taste these snails and you will see!"

"Vay iz mir," mumbled the angel.

He came to a bustling bazaar where everyone was selling something. Anything. Now I'll make a sale.

"Ya Habibi!" cried a stubbly-cheeked vendor with a checkered headdress, "but first let us have tea."

After three cups, two of which were noticeably laced, the conversation ever so subtly eased towards the merchandise at hand.

You shall not steal.

"Ah waja waja!" the vendor gesticulated wildly. "Never, ever take what belongs to another man. Especially land! For then he will come back with a bigger stick and get back at you. People are sneaky like that."

"What I do," the vendor added in whisper, "I kill him. I kill his wife. I kill his children. Then, no problem of revenge! Then build a big house on the land. If anyone challenges you, look weepy and keep saying my-land-my-land!" The vendor laughed heartily and insisted on another round of hospitality drinks before the stranger left.

The angel flew due north and was able to get into a mahogany-paneled boardroom where (he was told) issues of import are negotiated.

The chief peered through his pince-nez down the table. "So tell us young chap, why have you requested my time today? A Torah, you say? My subordinates have reviewed the documentation that you were good enough to supply."

The chief pushed the scroll back to the angel. A red-markered circle encompassed the words "you shall not be duplicitous."

"We are in agreement that treachery has no sanction, nor does deceit have virtue." The chief executive officer took off his specs and wiped his brow from impeccably concealed exasperation. "You're obviously new to the world of finance and will undoubtedly prosper once you master financial protocol." The meeting was winding down and chief allowed himself to end on a fatherly note. "While it is true that money makes the world go round, one must be cognizant of the lubrication applied." He laughed.

The angel flew away. So loaded with pomp it's a wonder their bridges don't collapse under them.

He flew to a place that called itself united. He met up with a time management wizard who insisted that the honor-father-mother obligation be compartmentalized to two days per annum and delegated to the office assistant if possible.

Then the angel came to Moses' people. For once they didn't bargain. They said if it comes from G‑d we accept it. All of it. At face value. Unconditionally. Immediately. And perpetually. When asked, they said that when you are in love you accept. You have no business bargaining.

Stop Debating

Ofer was an embodiment of the Israeli dream. He was young, handsome, intelligent, athletic, uninhibited and … a successful stuntman in Hollywood. He ‘made it’ in California!

Money! Fun! Action! Excitement! The world was his for the taking, and he took as much as he could.

But most of all he loved riding his Motorcycle. Speeding down a desert highway over 100 Mph was what made him really happy. That’s where he wanted to be forever; on the cutting edge of life.

Of course in the true Israeli tradition he kept as far from G‑d, and certainly from Judaism, as possible. “In fact” he often quipped, “If I thought that religion was like Marx said, the Opiate of the masses, I might have tried some.” But it was even more meaningless to him than that.

Until his accident.

One beautiful summer day on a lonely highway somewhere in Nevada he hit about 130 when suddenly, from nowhere, a huge semi-trailer truck appeared in front of him. It took him a second to realize that it wasn’t a mirage and then it was too late. He smashed into the front of it and flew into oblivion. When the police arrived they had to search for a while till they found his broken body several hundred feet from the scene of the accident. He was still alive, but they had seen a lot of accidents and they were sure he wasn’t going to last.

“This one is for sure a goner” was the last thing he heard as they pushed him into the ambulance and closed the doors. He thought to himself, “ I don’t want to die; I’ll do what You want. PLEASE, G‑d, Save me!!!” And everything went black.

When he woke up it was dark. He couldn’t move. Was he dead? No, he was alive. Why couldn’t he see or move? Then suddenly he realized what happened; “My G‑d - I’m buried alive!! They buried me!!”

He was sweating; it was getting hard to breathe. He tried to get up but he couldn’t, he couldn’t move. He started to scream, “Please G‑d - Please, HELP ME!! I’M SORRY!! G-D, HELP ME!!!

Suddenly he was blinded; it was so bright! The florescent light flickered on. He was in a hospital.

“Doctor!! Doctor!! Come fast!!! He’s conscious!!”

He had been in a coma for over a month. He couldn’t move because he was in a body cast from head to toe; almost all his bones had been broken. Even the policemen that were at the accident had never had seen anything like it, it was clearly a miracle that he was still alive. But the miracles didn’t stop.

It took a lot of physical therapy and a lot of prayer but in one year he was actually back on his feet, completely recovered! He even went back to work as a stuntman, bought a new bike. And completely forgot his vow.

Although it sounds a bit hard to believe, a year later the same thing happened again!

Speeding like the wind through the desert, he lost control on a curve, destroyed his bike, broke his neck and skull and on the way to the hospital made another vow to G‑d before losing consciousness.

A year and a half later after another miraculous recovery, he was back on his feet and back to his old lifestyle like nothing had happened.

(When I first heard the story I also didn’t believe it, until I remembered that the exact same thing happened with the Israelis after the six-day war, and again after the Yom Kippur war (and yet again afterwards after the Gulf war); everyone forgot the miracles and secular life continued as usual.)

He even set his sights on a promotion. He had caught the attention of a very influential manager in Hollywood and was on his way to getting some really big-time jobs with opportunities to do some serious acting. If it worked out he could be earning more than a million dollars a year! Things were looking up.

There was only one drawback; the manager was a missionary.

Now really the fact was that Ofer could have cared less. Religion meant nothing to him. He read the books the manager kept giving him because he wanted to keep on good terms. He even went to a couple of meetings with him. Everyone there was friendly, the lectures were nice, but he was interested in having a good time.

And it would have remained that way if his manager would have left him alone, but he didn’t. He kept shaking up Ofer’s indifference with strange interpretations of the Torah and ideas about sin and salvation that he had never thought about.

He didn’t know what to do. On one hand he wanted the big bucks and really couldn’t find anything wrong with the Manager’s line of thought. But on the other hand, maybe it was just his Israeli egotism or Jewish stiffneckedness. For the first time in his life Ofer felt that he was a Jew and someone was trying to take it away from him.

The only problem is that he didn’t know enough about the Torah to argue back.

This continued for several months until one Friday morning he happened to be walking downtown thinking about some of the things his manager said when someone called out to him, “Excuse me sir, are you Jewish?” “What?” he replied as he turned around and saw a young Chabadnick standing behind a small folding table filled with literature and holding a pair of Tefillin. “Are you Jewish? Come put on Tefillin, it will only take a minute. Have you got a minute?”

It wasn’t long before Ofer was sitting in the Chabad house pouring his heart out to the ‘Shliach’ (the Rabbi in charge) about his missionary friend.

Now he was ready. The next time the manager brought up the subject, Ofer wrote down all the quotations, thinking he would defeat them. But the more he read from the Torah and the prophets afterwards to prepare his rebuttals, the more he realized that he himself knew nothing about Judaism.

“My advice to you” said the Shaliach a few days later, “is to write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for advice and a blessing."

“A blessing?” Asked Ofer incredulously, but he wrote anyway and in two weeks he received a reply. The Rebbe told him to concentrate only on strengthening his own Judaism through learning the Torah and doing the commandments and forget the debates.

Today Ofer is a Chabad Chasid and lives near Sefad with his wife and seven children.

 My Visit to Crown Heights

Reprinted from the Jewish Post and Opinion
by Susan Rubin Weintrob

In a New York airport's television monitor, I saw a woman dressed in a mid-calf khaki skirt, longS-sleeved top and vest, and beret that covered most of her hair. It took a moment for me to realize it was me, dressed for my visit to the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

From the taxicab, I watched the small, closely placed houses of Queens give way to the more citified Brooklyn. Soon, as we entered Crown Heights, brownstone houses appeared, and with them, the feel of a neighborhood. As we turned onto beautiful President Street, with its large, stately houses, I saw my home for the next few days.

Dinner was waiting for me. Mrs. G. chatted about a recent trip to Paris and about the bi-monthly Lubavitch women's magazine she was working on. She gave me several copies to read. She had turned her basement into a mini-publishing center, with computer, printer, copy machine and layout table. The back half was filled with workout equipment. Like most of us over 40, she worked on staying in shape. This was not what I had expected.

After a tour of the house, Mrs. G. and I went up to the roof. The darkened sky outlined the light of Manhattan's skyline. "It's a different world up here," my hostess told me. I nodded, thinking more about Crown Heights than the roof top.

I had read somewhere that Chasidic men would not talk to me, that these "right-wing Orthodox" communities never accepted Jews not like themselves. Some liberal rabbis warned that the Chasidim were shut-ins, keeping to themselves, away from the rest of the world. Some described them as zealots, right-wing fanatics, fighting for control of the Jewish world. I braced myself, waiting to be confronted with narrow-mindedness. I never was.

Friday morning I accompanied Mrs. G. on errands, walking everywhere. The sidewalks and streets were filled, as all prepared for Shabbos.

It was a paradox, I admitted to myself, listening to conversations in Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, French, Russian, and a variety of English language accents. Crown Heights has its physical boundaries, yet it seemed quite international. Its community adheres to a strict and defined way of life, yet there was more diversity here than I had imagined.

To a certain extent, the people I met were curious about my life in Muncie, Indiana. While I was encouraged to include more observance, people did not demean my observance. The members of the Lubavitch community that I spoke with had definite ideas about life, but, during my short stay, I heard language that was non-judgmental.

The Lubavitch community is well-known for reaching out. Visitors from around the world come to these few square blocks — they are welcomed, fed and housed. Questions were answered; room was made for those who decided to stay. Community members were also cared for.

I was told of the custom at weddings of setting up a table for the poor to share the meal. One of my hostesses was part of a committee which visited new mothers and brought meals for the first week after the baby's birth.

I arrived at a home on Carroll Street after services Saturday morning; I saw the front door open and my hostess praying, so I assumed the door was left open so as not to disturb her. I was mistaken. I noticed when we sat down to eat that there were a few extra places set. I assumed some people had not shown up. I was again mistaken. The door was open and the extra places set for unannounced guests. In fact, one man showed up, and was immediately invited to lunch. The host and hostess were parents of several small and active children, but the appearance of yet another guest was greeted with pleasure. This attitude had been shown also the evening before.

Six of us had been invited to a home with three small children — the other four were at summer camp. During dinner, I learned that the wife was expecting their next child within two weeks, and was planning an older son's bar mitzva that week, but our dinner with them was viewed as normal Shabbos hospitality.

There was an inner quality of strength and spirituality among so many whom I encountered. In an odd way, the Lubavitch-style mezuza became a physical symbol of the community's values. I must have been staring at the mezuza on the kitchen entry in my host's home. Like mezuzas in the other houses I had visited in Crown Heights, the case was a large, plain white case. As I looked at it, my hostess answered my unasked question.

"You are wondering why we have such plain cases for the mezuzas. It is a custom among Lubavitchers. It is what is inside that counts, not the case." This was symbolic of the best in the Lubavitchers' way of life. Unlike the elaborate and often artistic cases I had seen on many people's doors, here the mezuzas, simple and unadorned, were on every door, inside and out, holding the carefully handwritten verses from the Torah.

The shuls as well, including the main one at 770 Eastern Parkway, were plain by comparison to many synagogues, which have fancy sanctuaries, elaborate social halls, and multiple administrative offices. However, many have poor attendance at daily and weekly services. Here in Crown Heights, the shuls, simple to the point of being rustic inside, were filled every day.

Mr. G. discussed this deliberate simplicity. "It's like fancy clothes that you save up to wear only on special occasions as compared to your everyday clothes. Our synagogues are for every day."

As I was ready to leave, I was introduced to yet another person among the many entering the home I stayed in. When she learned that I would be writing about the Lubavitch community, she sighed. "Don't be too hard on us."

I didn't tell her that I had worried that, not being Chasidic, it might be hard for me to come to Crown Heights. I also didn't tell her that I had never realized how hard it would be to leave.

Staying Jewish in Russia

It was Stalinist Russia. The sudden banging on the door made the occupants' blood run cold. The knocking was getting louder. They were about to sneak out the back exit when the older of the two suggested that the younger one stay behind. It was better to wait a few minutes before opening the door.

The banging continued even more vigorously. "Who's there?" the youngster called out, but the stranger refused to identify himself. The youth flung open the door. Standing there was a high-ranking officer of the KGB. "Is this where the shochet lives?" the officer demanded.

"Shochet?" he replied. "There's no one here by the name of Shochet."

The officer gave him a penetrating look and said, "Then perhaps there's someone here who cuts children?"

"No," he said in the most confident tone he could muster.

For a moment the stranger said nothing. Then he whispered in the boy's ear: "Don't deny it. I know that the man who cuts children lives here!" The youth was shocked, for the man had uttered these words in Yiddish!"

"I am a Jew. Seven days ago my wife gave birth to a baby boy, and I want very much for him to be entered into the covenant of Abraham. My wife is very much opposed to the idea. Tomorrow at exactly nine in the morning she will be leaving the house. I am begging you to come to my house tomorrow and bring the mohel. The baby will be in one of the front rooms."

The officer told the astounded youngster his address and hurried away. "Remember," he said pleadingly, "Tomorrow is the eighth day of my son's life. I implore you to do me this favor."

Reb Eizik was the only shochet and mohel in the entire city, and Yaakov, a boy with no living relatives in the world, had been taken in to live with the shochet and accompanied him on his holy and very dangerous rounds.

The officer left. Was it a trap? Yaakov was convinced that it was a clever ruse cooked up to catch Reb Eizik red-handed. When Reb Eizik came home, Yaakov filled him in on everything. The Chasid thought for several minutes, the deep wrinkles that lined his forehead testifying to his inner conflict and turmoil. He had reached a decision:

"Tomorrow morning we will go to the officer's house to enter his son into the covenant of Abraham."

The following day, Reb Eizik and his ward arose at dawn and recited their prayers. Then they set out in the direction of the river. On the way, the Chasid explained that he was almost certain that this was, indeed, a trap. He therefore wished to immerse himself in a mikva before they continued. "If this is to be our last day on earth, at least we will die in a state of ritual purity," he declared.

The officer's house was located on one of the finest streets in the city, which only served to confirm their suspicions. The neighborhood was inhabited by the highest ranking members of the KGB and their families. But the two Jews stuck to their decision. Reb Eizik and Yaakov secreted themselves in a hiding place across from the officer's house. Seconds later they saw a woman dressed in the latest fashion exit the building and proceed down the block. Together they strode across the street.

Reb Eizik knocked on the massive door. An older woman opened the door and motioned for them to enter. In the corner of the room was a beautiful crib, inside which a tiny baby was sleeping peacefully. They ran over and picked up the child, whereupon a small white envelope fell out.

Inside the envelope was a letter from the baby's father, apologizing for his not being able to be present at his son's bris and asking that they give the baby a Jewish name. The rest of the letter was an emotional statement of his thanks and appreciation for the great mitzva they were doing, without their even knowing who he was.

Reb Eizik quickly and deftly performed the bris, while Yaakov acted as sandek. They were about to leave when the woman who had opened the door suddenly appeared and motioned for them to stay put.

Yaakov was terrified. Seconds later, however, the woman brought out a brand new frying pan, and handed them a dozen eggs! A veritable fortune! She invited them to make themselves omelets. The young boy was so malnourished, so starved, that the eggs went down with no effort at all.

After they finished eating and were about to leave, the woman presented them with a huge sack of bread, another gift from the Russian officer. Such a quantity of bread was something the average citizen could only dream of, but how could they walk down the street carrying the bag. Surely they would attract the attention of the ever watchful police.

The woman suddenly understood why the two Jews hesitated to accept the priceless gift. She opened a drawer, ripped off a wad of coupons from a booklet and handed them over.

Many months later Yaakov was walking down the street when the same Russian officer stopped him. "I must thank you again, from the bottom of my heart. I have one more request to make of you. Whenever you make a bris, you should tell my story. Let everyone know that even in Soviet Russia, there are still Jews who have a warm spot in their hearts for Yiddishkeit."

This request led to a tradition in Yaakov's family. He is honored with being the sandek, in commemoration of the role he played in that bris so very long ago, and he relates the story of the Russian officer, from beginning to end, with great enthusiasm and fervor.

Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka

This Tuesday, February 29th will be the 20th passing anniversary of the great wife of our dear Rebbe, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. Here is a little something to let you know who she is.

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 in 1901, the daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. 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 Yitzchak 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 Chasidim.

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 wellbeing 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 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 Chasid. 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 tzadikim 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.

Moshiach Matters

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)