Weapons Of Light




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    Weapons Of Light

    From The Chassidishe Veib: There’s nothing like Mivtza Neshek – the campaign encouraging women and girls to light Shabbos and Yom Tov candles, right? It’s something so N’shei, so us, so possible. We have here three women, Mrs. Ester Rochwerger, Anat Betzalel, Chaya Israeli who don’t pass up on the privilege of distributing Shabbos candles sets to fellow Jewish women • Full Article

    By The Chassidishe Veib, Beis Moshiach Magazine 

    There’s nothing like Mivtza Neshek – the campaign encouraging women and girls to light Shabbos and Yom Tov candles, right? It’s something so N’shei, so us, so possible. You can carry it with you wherever you go. Even if you don’t always have an hour or two available to give out Shabbos candles, you can still reach a fair number of women while making your weekly pre-Shabbos errands and purchases.

    We have here three women who don’t pass up on the privilege of distributing Shabbos candles sets to fellow Jewish women. The three of them, thank G-d, have plenty of stories. The first is Mrs. Ester Rochwerger who has gone out every week since the Rebbe launched the campaign in 5734 (1974). The second is Anat Betzalel from Yerushalayim, known far and wide throughout the city ever since she heard about the campaign. The third is Chaya Israeli, and she’s been giving out Shabbos candles since she was a girl. Stay with us.


    By its very nature, a Shabbos candle awakens the soul. There’s no lack of stories testifying to this.

    “In Elul 5734 (1974),” Ester recalled, “a wave of immigrants from Russia arrived in Eretz HaKodesh. We made our way among the houses, simply knocking and waiting for them to open the door for us.


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    “One of these doors was opened for us by a woman from Russia. When she heard what we wanted, she went inside the house and left us waiting at the entrance. We waited, but she didn’t return. We asked ourselves if we should continue to wait: it was Friday, and we wanted to have time to see other women. We had almost given up when she suddenly returned with an old candelabra. It turns out that she had gone up to rummage through the attic until she found what her grandmother had left her as an inheritance. She wanted to know if this was what we meant in order to know whether to light it…”

    Anat was quite moved as she told her story: “In one of the shopping malls where I give out a lot of Shabbos candles, there’s a middle-aged saleslady. The first time I came, she was so emotional. She told me that she had been privileged to visit the Rebbe MH”M, pass by for dollars distribution, and even received the Rebbe’s instructions to light Shabbos candles. In the meantime, she managed to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael and forgot all about it. Outwardly, she doesn’t observe Torah and mitzvos, but my visit to her home with the candles reminded her of everything at once.”

    Chaya eagerly shares her own anecdote: “Once when I was a young girl, I stood in a central location, offering Jewish women the opportunity to take Shabbos candles. One of them was a young soldier, one of many whom I probably wouldn’t remember a moment later. She just came back, gently stood near me, and when she saw that I was available, she showed an interest and started asking numerous questions. She was very excited, and her questions were real. She simply wanted to know how to do things in the best and most practical way.

    “We have remained in contact. She continued to make inquiries, came to Torah classes and farbrengens, came to us for Shabbos meals, and at the end of her compulsory military service, she moved on to a study program for baalos teshuva. Today, thank G-d, she has her own Chassidishe home and gives out her own Neshek…

    “Years later, she told me that back then she was going through a period of terrible confusion and deep emotional turmoil. The candles that I gave her were a life boat for her in a stormy sea. They literally saved her.”


    If we’re already talking about memories, Ester has numerous stories showing how much women remember those giving out Shabbos candles, and how it has remained etched in their memory.

    “One Yom Kippur, four girls came into our shul, trying their very best to dress modestly. They wore long pants and white blouses, while they remained standing near the entrance. Since I was nearby, I went over to them without saying a word, opened some machzorim for them, and showed them where the chazzan was holding.

    “At the end of davening, they said: ‘We know you! Starting in first grade, we would get a candle from you every Friday, and thank G-d, we continue to light Shabbos candles to this day.’

    “On another occasion, I had to make an urgent trip to Kiryat Gat. Two days later, my daughter was scheduled to begin her studies in Kfar Chabad, however, I still hadn’t received a permit from the municipality for her transfer to school outside the city (as per the Education Ministry’s regulations). I quickly made my way to the city offices in the hope that I could manage to get the permit in enough time to catch the bus to Kiryat Gat. The clerk informed me that she was just then going out for a break, and I had to wait. I didn’t know what to do.

    “At that very moment, I heard the voice of another clerk calling me from the next window: ‘Come, I’ll do it for you.’ She immediately started filling out the form for me. I was amazed. Why would such an overburdened clerk voluntarily accept upon herself someone else’s job so easily? When she finished taking care of my request, the clerk smiled. ‘I know you,’ she said. ‘You gave me candles every week when I went to elementary school…’”


    What do you do when women refuse to accept?

    Ester has her own doctrine on the subject: “When a woman refuses to take Shabbos candles, there are several explanations that you can give, which I have heard over the years:

    “There was a young man who got close to Chabad, and he decided to invite all his classmates for a Shabbos in Kfar Chabad. One of the girls from his class was a counselor from a prominent youth movement with some very extreme opinions on religion. She was a guest that Shabbos in the home of Rabbi Zalman Gopin. When the time came to light candles, she refused. ‘You espouse the belief in equality,’ Rabbi Gopin told her. ‘But in fact, you go to a top-notch school for science-oriented studies and wear brand-name clothes. How exactly are you equal to girls from poor neighborhoods?’

    “‘We’re now offering you an action of true equality. At this very moment, Jewish women and girls from all walks of life are doing the same action and lighting the same soul regardless of class distinction. What can be more equal than that?’ The young girl was very impressed by his reasoned explanation. Since then, she didn’t stop making inquiries, and today, thank G-d, she stringently observes Torah and mitzvos.

    “Here’s another thing that usually works: I ask a woman not interested, ‘When is candle lighting time?’ and she naturally starts checking the weekly Shabbos brochure for the right time. I then explain that I didn’t mean according to the clock, rather that special moment when we move from the mundane to the holy. When you light a candle, you rise from the mundane to the holy. While this might seem to be a simple and material act, nevertheless, it is what raises all of your daily pursuits to a higher plane. When a woman looks at the lighting of Shabbos candles in this manner, she quite often changes her mind and takes them.”

    Chaya has a harder time dealing with the refusers, and they tend to weaken her resolve. However, what does strengthen her a great deal is a story that she heard when she was a young junior high school student.

    They brought a baalas teshuva to make a farbrengen with them. She told them about how they had offered her Shabbos candles, and she threw them back. Later, she was so embarrassed by her conduct that this encounter marked the first step along her spiritual journey leading her to the path of teshuva! To this day, she thinks about that Chabad woman who has no idea what eventually happened as a result of those Shabbos candles cast away so disgracefully. “When I come across such a fervent refusal, I remind myself of that story,” Chaya says. “I hope that it will end in a similar fashion, and only I will know the effect of that rejection I was privileged to receive…”


    In conclusion, Ester recalled a moving case regarding the importance of reporting to the Rebbe about Neshek activities:

    “One week as Shabbos approached, the Rebbe announced that each woman should give an update on how many women they convinced to light Shabbos candles. We felt that the Rebbe had some Heavenly purpose in all this.

    “Back in those days, this wasn’t so simple. You had to place your call via an international operator to get a line, but it was constantly busy. Obviously, all the women throughout the globe were calling at the same time to report to the Rebbe’ mazkirus. It was a winter Friday when Shabbos came in early, and we tried and tried to reach the operator without success. Finally, it reached a point that the operator had pity on the many women calling and made a request: Give me your name and number, and when they answer, I’ll give them the information…

    “It can be said in praise of my mother that both my sister and I became teachers, and she would prepare the whole Shabbos herself. When we would come back from work, we would clean the house and wash the dishes. On that Friday, we didn’t manage to do anything since we were constantly busy trying to get through to New York. We asked for forgiveness, and she said that it was all right. However, we should include her in the report to the Rebbe, because who was the one who enabled us to go out on Mivtza Neshek instead of helping her at home?”

    Another story: “I taught for a certain period of time at a village for religious youth called Kfar Pines. It was a regional junior high school where students came from all over the surrounding areas. The school also accepts girls as external studies students, coming each day from their homes or as dormitory residents.

    “Once every two weeks, on a Friday before an off Shabbos, the dorm girls would leave early and I would stay with the four or five students remaining in class. I asked permission from the principal, and I would go out to the surrounding schools and kindergartens, explaining to the students there about lighting Shabbos candles and the opportunity they have to be like Rivka Imeinu, who lit candles when she was three years old. I always carried candles with me, along with coins for tzedaka and special stickers to distribute.

    “On Sunday, before the dorm girls returned, we again had a very small class, and I used the time available to go back to the schools and kindergartens in the area and hear from the students who lit candles for Shabbos.

    “When I taught my middle school students, I instilled within them a great deal of Chassidic teachings and stories. Some of the girls went out on Neshek activities themselves and gave out candles, and I would report to the Rebbe on their participation.

    “At the end of the year, I wanted very much to take my students for a Shabbos in Kfar Chabad and give them a little taste of Chassidus. I sent a letter to the Lubavitch Women and Girls Organization of Eretz Yisrael, headed by Mrs. Chana Segal, of blessed memory, and I asked if they could help me organize a Shabbos in the Kfar.

    “Mrs. Segal replied in a letter that, thank G-d, there are so many requests for these Shabbosim, and groups from the ‘Shomer HaTzair’ kibbutzim have filled up every available house. However, since the girls I want to bring are religious and Shabbos observant, perhaps I can ask Rabbi Chefer to host them in the ‘Beis Rivkah’ dormitory, then still located in Kfar Chabad Alef. I could arrange a good lecturer for them, together with a tour of the Kfar, etc.

    “At the conclusion of her letter, Mrs. Segal a”h wrote: You just solved a mystery for me. We received a correspondence from the Rebbe for the girls from Kfar Pines who participate in Neshek activities, and we didn’t understand who they were… Now, I can give you the letter.

    “Her letter moved me deeply. First of all, the Rebbe had responded to the reports we sent him, and what I learned from him is that he wants us to work in an orderly manner, and therefore, he sent his letter to the main women’s organization. While all of my activities are good, I have to work through the N’shei Chabad headquarters in Kfar Chabad. At the main Tzach offices in Beit Shazar, there’s a map of Eretz Yisrael with lights indicating every location where Jewish outreach activities take place. How would they know to light the bulb over Kfar Pines if I hadn’t reported it?”

    If you saved the magazine for Shabbos, this is your opportunity to make a good resolution. However, if you are among those who open the magazine on Thursday morning, then let’s go! There are numerous women and girls waiting for your candles all over the world, candles that will bring the lighting of the menorah in the Third Beis HaMikdash!



    The Rebbe MH”M himself once told about the powerful influence of lighting Shabbos candles:

    “The Shabbos candle lighting campaign has been in effect for some time now, and there are already reports of far-reaching results. These are detailed reports – with a specific name, a specific city – as the Talmud says, ‘There was a man in the land of Utz…’ We know the girls’ names, their parents’ names, their cities, their streets, their addresses… These concrete results confirm the value of this campaign, and what it has already accomplished.

    “One report we received: A little girl, five or six years old, attended a school – a non-religious school in Eretz HaKodesh. One day, an older girl came to speak to her class about the mitzva to light Shabbos candles. Now, the girl who spoke was not yet even bas-mitzva, and the little girl and her classmates were five or six years old, perhaps even younger… Nevertheless, she explained to them that as training for the future, fulfilling G-d’s mission, they too could fulfill this mitzva, recite the appropriate blessing, and if they wished, give a coin for tzedaka – and in this way they could bring home a new mitzva, and bring in the holy day of Shabbos.

    “The little girl came home and told this to her mother. The mother had never heard of such a thing; she grew up, through no fault of her own, in an assimilated environment. Besides: she, the mother, doesn’t do it, and now her daughter is telling her how to run the house? As little boys and girls do, the daughter immediately got agitated and began to cry, ‘Mommy, why does it bother you? All I want is permission to light the candles!’ – I don’t know if it was on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday… She had been given a candlestick, the blessings – there’s no problem there learning the Hebrew blessing, they are raised with Hebrew from childhood – she had brought home the printed text. She made such a tumult that the mother finally said: ‘Do what you want, just stop crying…’

    “The child was overjoyed. She had been told the proper candle-lighting time. She had her own candlestick with her own candle; she lit it herself, and recited the blessing herself. She was on top of the world! Now, she had also been told that on Shabbos it was forbidden to touch or move the candle, so she went around and told the whole family not to touch it or blow it out…to just leave it be on the dining room table where they were eating.

    “The mother, the father, and the siblings saw that it wasn’t so terrible, so when the next Friday came around, they let her do it without putting up a fight. But she did it with the same ‘fire’ and warmth of heart, and this radiated to the rest of the family as well. After a few weeks, they refrained from turning on the television, as long as the candles were burning. ‘What are we doing?’ asked one parent to the other. ‘Our daughter is dancing around, singing about the holy Shabbos, the candle is burning on the table…’ As long as the candle remained burning, they could not bring themselves to turn on the television.

    “Then the phone rings, and they wouldn’t answer it. The mother then observed: ‘This looks so odd! Our neighbors and friends come in and they see one candle burning. Our daughter is bursting with joy about lighting a Shabbos candle, announcing that it’s a holy candle and a holy day – and I’m wearing casual clothes. Something is wrong with this picture!’ So, she decided to also start lighting Shabbos candles. And once she started, she couldn’t bring herself to go and light up the oven. She had just lit Shabbos candles, had recited the blessing proclaiming the Shabbos holy – so how could she go and take supper out of the oven, turning the fire on and off? But were they going to eat cold food? So, they started making cholent… (The Rebbe chuckled.) And once there’s cholent, there’s a Shabbos day meal too.

    “One thing led to another…and the whole story can now be told because the parents have become fully observant. This little girl, after her struggle and protest and tears, lit just one small candle. After just a few weeks, so long as that candle was still burning, the family refrained from workday activities. The mother then began to light Shabbos candles as well. But in honor of the mitzva, as women do, she changed into nicer clothes. Then, of course, she wasn’t going to do activities that might soil or stain her festive dress… Little by little, the whole family was transformed.

    “What sparked it all? One small Shabbos candle. True, a younger girl only lights for ‘educational’ reasons, but that candle educated not only that little girl – who, when she is an adult, will perform the mitzva fully, it also educated her whole family. And not just in theory, but as mentioned, their name, their city, their street, and their address is known… And as we said before, this is not a solitary case, there are many, many such cases.” (sicha, 6 Tishrei 5736)


    Beis Moshiach magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org


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