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Friday, February 24, 2017 28 Shevat 5777



Chof Beis (22) Shvat
The 22nd of Shvat, (this year Feb 18) is the day of passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, wife of the Chabad/Lubavitch Rebbe King Moshiach.  Despite her royal position, she was a humble woman who valued her privacy. Very few people knew her personally.
As the Rebbetzin of one of the most famous rabbis in the world, she could have received the greatest honor. Yet she chose to avoid the public eye. She fulfilled the words of the Psalmist, “The glory of the king’s daughter is within.”
Those who merited to know her well describe her broad intellect, her deep insight, her refined personality. But her most striking characteristic was her willingness to forgo even the minimum of normal family life for the sake of her husband’s role. In fact, she was the one who encouraged him to accept the position after the passing of her father, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi joseph I. Schneerson, despite knowing what a personal sacrifice it would be for her.
Once the Rebbe accepted the role, there were few hours a week that she was able to spend with her husband. During the day he spent all his time in his renowned synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, dealing with the myriad letters from followers as well as crushing communal and global problems. The Rebbe even spent a significant number of nights in 770 meeting people for yechidus, private audiences, until the wee hours of the morning. The Rebbetzin waited alone at home for his return. This was her greatness: She gave up her time with her husband for the sake of the Jewish people.
* * *
In this week’s Torah portion we read of Tzipporah, the wife of Moses, who hardly enjoyed any of the benefits of marriage. Moses left her behind in Midian when he went to fulfill his divine mission to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt. She then rejoined him in the desert. A few weeks later he went up on Mount Sinai to bring down the Torah, and then she “lost” him completely. G-d told Moses to separate from his wife, so that he would be prepared at any moment to receive divine instruction.
Like Tzippora in her time, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushkan in our generation was willing to forgo her time with her husband to allow him to dedicate himself completely to the community. The Rebbetzin demonstrated by example that our greatest achievements are not necessarily those that are recognized by the world at large. On the contrary, she gave up her own opportunities to enable her husband to fulfill his. Instead she remained behind the scenes, encouraging and supporting her husband while he dedicated himself completely to the Jewish people.
* * *
The passing of the Rebbetzin marked the end of one era and began a new era in the process of Redemption. Whatever we do in this stage, the final stage before Redemption, must be permeated with one purpose, to greet Moshiach in actuality.
Our sages say that the Redemption will come in merit of the righteous women. Indeed, as the Rebbe says, the Redemption is connected in great measure to the life of our Rebbetzin.

* * *

The Purim Holiday
The Holy Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and for almost 70 years, the Jewish nation had been dispersed in foreign lands. The prophesied end of Exile seemed not to have materialized, and the blight of assimilation had set in. Just then, the enemy arose to carry out his evil plans. This time it was Haman. Descended from the Jew-hating tribe of Amalek, Haman devised his scheme to solve 'the Jewish problem' once and for all, by annihilating every Jew, men, women and children, throughout the world, in a single day. 
And it almost worked. Were it not for Mordechai. A descendent of King Shaul and advisor to King Achashverosh, Mordechai sensed the danger. Donning sackcloth with ashes, he went to the gate of the palace, crying aloud, rallying the Jews to return to Hashem and His Torah. His niece, Queen Ester, called for him. He told her that she must go to the King and plead for her people. Officially in disfavor, she feared to go, but saw that she had no choice. She undertook a three-day fast of penitence, and called upon the whole Jewish people to do likewise. Then she went to the King. 
It is a story of great courage and self-sacrifice--first and foremost by Queen Ester and Mordechai, and ultimately by the whole Jewish nation. For throughout the duration of the whole year, not one single Jew chose to convert out of the Jewish faith, even to save his life. The nation was awakened to a whole-hearted return to Torah and mitzvos, and throughout the year strengthened their faith and observance. And in the merit of this, they were able to rise up against their enemies and destroy them, on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the very day destined for the "final solution." The Jewish people had shown their true character. They had earned the right to leave Exile, to return to the Holy Land, and rebuild the Temple.
As it was in those days, so may it be with us today. Each year in fulfilling the special mitzvos of the Purim festival, we reaffirm our commitment to the eternal values of the Torah... and we share in the very same merit that redeemed the Jewish people in the days of Mordechai and Ester. 


* * *

Purim - Then and Now
One of the Purim mitzvos is the reading of the Megillah - the Scroll of Ester, in which the miracle of Purim is recounted. The Talmud tells us that "whoever reads the Megillah backwards does not fulfill his obligation." Our Sages explain that "backwards" does not only mean in reverse order; it also means that whoever reads the Megillah merely as ancient history has missed the point. The Purim story is directly relevant to our contemporary world. As the Megillah itself tells us, that when we celebrate Purim each year, the miraculous events of Purim are "remembered and reenacted" in our lives. 
One does not have to look far to find Haman's modern-day heirs. Now, as then, there are evil schemers who seek to scapegoat the Jewish people and -- Heaven forfend -- to erase us from the face of the earth. Each time they rise up to destroy us, their schemes are foiled by the miraculous Hand of G-d. The most striking example in recent times was the Persian Gulf War that ended victoriously on Purim, 5751 (1991). 
Throughout our history, we have seen miracles. Despite centuries upon centuries of persecution, we have survived and flourished, by the Grace of G-d. Yet we have remained in exile for nearly 2,000 years, hoping and praying for the final and complete Redemption -- the Redemption that will end all suffering and exile forever. We live today and a very special time, a time which the Lubavitcher Rebbe said was going to be the last generation in exile and the first in Redemption. Look around and one can see redemption starting to formulate all around us. 
May the observance of Purim be a precursor to the coming of Moshiach, our Righteous Redeemer, whose imminent arrival will bring about a better life for all the nations of the world.


* * *

Each year on Purim, the Baal Shem Tov would make a point to discuss Haman, the archenemy of the Jewish people, and his ancestor, Amalek. "Amalek has the same numerical value as 'safek' - doubt. He represents the confusion and concerns about G-d and His omnipotence in our lives, today," the Baal Shem Tov would say. "We must totally wipe out and eradicate Amalek from our G-dly service, trusting in G-d sincerely and joyfully."
On one particular Purim, the Baal Shem Tov called up a small child, Shaul, the son of Rabbi Meir Margolis of Lemburg. Shaul, though only five years old, was known to have a sweet, soulful voice. The Baal Shem Tov asked the child, "Shaul, sing for us. Show us how to serve G-d with sincerity and joy."
Shaul sang the song "Shoshanat Yaakov," customarily sung after the reading of the Scroll of Esther on Purim. As each sweet note flowed, every Chasid was transported into the recesses of his heart to find and eliminate any doubt or confusion that lay hidden there and replaced it with joy and trust. When Shaul finished singing, the Baal Shem Tov approached Shaul's father and asked him to allow the boy to remain with him for Shabbat. "Don't worry, Father. I want to stay with the Baal Shem Tov. I will not cry," Shaul reassured his father.
Shabbat passed uneventfully, and at the close of the holy day, the Baal Shem Tov called upon two of his closest Chasidim to accompany him in returning Shaul to Lemburg.
Along the way, the small group stopped at an inn. Inside, the local peasants were partying, singing bawdy songs and carrying on. The Baal Shem Tov went into the middle of the room, clapped his hands and called out, "Silence!" Surprised, everyone complied.
"Would you like to hear real singing?" the Baal Shem Tov asked the peasants. And with that, he called Shaul to the center of the room and told Shaul to sing "Shoshanat Yaakov." Despite the strange and unusual surroundings, Shaul sang even more beautifully than he had just a few days earlier in Mezibuz. When he completed the song, there was a look of admiration and awe in the eyes of even the most drunken peasants.
The Baal Shem Tov called over three young children who had been playing in a corner of the inn. "What are your names?" the Baal Shem Tov asked the three waifs. They responded in order, "Ivan," "Stephan," and "Anton."
"Do you boys like the way my little friend Shaul sang?" the Baal Shem Tov asked the boys.
Sheepishly, the boys nodded their heads. "Do you like Shaul?" he asked them. Once again, they nodded their heads. "I want you boys to always remember the song Shaul sang and to always like Shaul and be his friend," the Baal Shem Tov said softly. A third time the boys nodded their heads.
With that, the Baal Shem Tov took Shaul's hand, motioned for his two Chasidim to follow him, and returned to his carriage.
Many decades passed. Shaul was now a successful businessman and renowned Torah scholar. One year, in early spring, Shaul was traveling back from a business trip. The journey had taken longer than he had expected and he wanted to be home by nightfall in time for Purim. But it was getting late and he still had to traverse a dangerous forest. Shaul pushed his horses harder and filled his mind and heart with joyous thoughts.
Suddenly, his carriage was forced to stop. A bandit had jumped out of some brush and grabbed the horses' reins. Then two more thieves appeared and pulled Shaul out of the carriage. Quickly the thieves found Shaul's money. It was well-known that such bandits never left their victims alive. Shaul pleaded with them to give him a few moments to say his final prayers. They sneered at him and said, "Your prayers won't help you, but go ahead and do as you like."
With that Shaul began to recite the final confession. As he recited the prayer, his thoughts wandered through highlights of his life, and rested on a day over 40 years earlier when he had spent Purim with the Baal Shem Tov.
"Amalek has the same numerical value as 'safek' - doubt. He represents the confusion and concerns about G-d and His omnipotence in our lives, today," he remembered the Baal Shem Tov saying. "We must totally wipe out and eradicate Amalek from our G-dly service, trusting in G-d sincerely and joyfully." With that, Shaul decided to spend his last moments in this world sincerely and joyfully trusting in G-d. He began to sing the tune that he had sung so many years earlier in the presence of the Baal Shem Tov and all of his Chasidim, "Shoshanat Yaakov." The melody burst forth from him as sweetly and soulfully as ever. His heart filled with joy and his spirit soared as he sang.
When Shaul was finished he saw that the three bandits were staring at him in surprise and wonder. He looked at them closely and then said softly, "You must be Ivan, aren't you. And you are Stephan and surely you are Anton," Shaul said, pointing at each one in turn.
The three men looked at Shaul and whispered, "And you are Shaul, whom we promised to always befriend." The three gave Shaul back his money and accompanied him out of the forest. All the while Shaul told the bandits about the Baal Shem Tov, his wondrous teachings and miraculous ways. There and then, the bandits decided to reform and become decent human beings.
A Purim miracle, indeed.

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