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Can you imagine listening to the Vienna BOY Choir, or reading about the adventures of the ONE Musketeer? Or what if computer hardware and software weren't compatible? So many examples abound of teamwork, cooperation and compatibility that we take many of them for granted.
It shouldn't seem unusual, then, to expect the similar modes of behavior from our fellow Jews. When we're around our brethren, whether at a social or religious function, it's easy to notice the dissimilarities, to get carried away with the differences. He's so tall, she's so skinny. He's dressed rather conservatively, everything she's wearing is designer. She's a lawyer and he's a doctor. He does this mitzva, she doesn't do that one. The list can go on forever.
But once we get past the non-essential components of a person and uncover who he really "is," we come to realize that being Jewish is an integral part of his or her life. We share a common past and a common destiny that binds us together.
Teamwork and cooperation among Jews can produce astonishing results. There is a Chasidic aphorism which declares: What a Chasidic farbrengen (a gathering permeated with love of one's fellow Jew) can accomplish, even the angel Michael cannot accomplish." Now, the angel Michael is responsible for bestowing upon us the blessings of children, health and wealth. That's a pretty impressive resume! But the aforementioned dictum is teaching us that together, united, we have the power to do even more than what the angel Michael is empowered by G-d to do.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, explained this concept with an analogy: Children are naturally possessive of their own belongings. They defend their own property from other children or horde their possessions in a display of poor character traits. They do not care about others and worry only about themselves and their own things. This greatly distresses their parents and so, their parents put much effort into training the children to share, to be kind and generous, and to have other positive traits and form good habits. Time passes and the parents watch their children and see that they care for others and are not as concerned about their own "stuff" or "space." This gives the parents tremendous pleasure and now they are more likely to grant requests that the children may have.
This is how G-d reacts to us when He sees that we are united and cooperative, and behave in a respectful and dignified manner toward one another. When we act lovingly toward each other, G-d is more likely to grant our requests for health, wealth and children, and our prayers for peace for Israel and the entire world.
In an orchestra, there are dozens of musicians playing tens of different instruments. Each musician has his own personality, temperament, goals. Every instrument has a shape, sound, quality of its own. Somehow, all of these disparities unite to bring music to our ears. If even one instrument is out of tune, or one musician out of synch, the discord is obvious and irritating to the listener. How much more so when we're talking about an entire people.
We Jews often, maybe even always, have differences of opinion. Certainly we look, talk, act and think differently. But the important thing to remember is that we cannot let our numerous differences cause disharmony, dissonance and discord. After all, where would we be without teamwork? The cry of "One for One, and One for One" wouldn't have made the Three Musketeers very famous.
When the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the fourth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch) was a young boy he learned the verse in this week's Torah portion, Vayechi: "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years." His teacher explained that these years were the best of Jacob's entire life.
When the Tzemach Tzedek came home from cheder he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, how this was possible. How could those years be the best of Jacob's life? He wanted to know. Wasn't Egypt the most corrupt and immoral place on earth?
In response, the Alter Rebbe quoted another verse: "And Judah he sent before him to Joseph, to direct him to Goshen." The Midrash relates that Jacob sent Judah to Egypt to establish a yeshiva. Throughout the time they spent in Egypt, the Twelve Tribes devoted themselves to the study of Torah. By learning Torah, a Jew draws near to G-d; thus it was possible for Jacob to "live," even in as base a country as Egypt.
The finest years of Jacob's life were the 17 he spent with Joseph in Egypt. When Jacob saw that his son was alive, and that despite the intervening years he had continued to conduct himself in a manner befitting the son of a Patriarch, it brought him great joy.
This joy was even more pronounced because it came after many years during which Jacob could not see his son, and did not know if he was still a tzadik (a righteous person). This joy is likened to a light that follows the darkness.
Obviously, light is always preferable to darkness, but the advantage it has is much more striking when it comes in the wake of total darkness. The more intense the darkness, the brighter the light appears when it finally arrives.
Furthermore, the advantage is that much greater when the light not only dispels the gloom, but actually transforms the former darkness into light. In this instance, the darkness itself becomes illuminated.
This helps to explain Jacob's joy upon being reunited with Joseph, and indeed describes the nature of the Tribes' Divine service in Egypt. Egypt was a place of darkness, to which Jacob and his sons brought light. But not only did they illuminate their surroundings, they caused Egypt itself to become a source of light through their devotion to Torah.
Thus the years Jacob spent in Egypt were the best of his life, even better than the ones he had spent in the land of Canaan. For a light that follows the most intense darkness is the very brightest light of all.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 10
In Those Days, at this Time
Chabad-Lubavitch had more than 15,000 public menoras in cities throughout the world this Chanuka. Nearly 1,000,000 menora kits and 2.5 million holiday guides in 13 languages were distributed globally. There were also over 5,000 menoras on top of vehicles parading in cities as diverse as Philadephia, Moscow, London and Migdal Haemek.
Photos on this page, top to bottom, first column: Birobidzhan, Russian; Westville, Connecticut, food menora for the needy; Menorah Parade in Mariupol, Ukraine. Second column: Doughnut menora in Clearwater Beach, Florida; Kiryat Shemonah, Israel Soccer Stadium; World's Largest Menora in Manhattan; Paris, France at the Eiffel Tower; Menora on elephant in Bangkok, Thailand.. Third column: WWII vet lights menora at the Shaarei Tzedek Chesed Center in Moscow; Menora at Kennedy Space Center, Florida; White House Menora; at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany; Machpela Cave in Hebron, Israel.
continued from previous issue
Freely translated letter
Teves 14th, 5730 (1969)
As said, the primary cause for mourning such an occurrence is the loss on the part of the living. This is the object of mourning: the living need to understand why it is that they deserved this loss. This is why "one should fear and worry, search one's deeds, and repent."
Through this, something else is attained: the bond between the living and the ascending soul endures. For the soul is enduring and eternal, and sees and observes what is taking place with those connected with her and close to her. Every good deed they do causes her nachas, specifically, the accomplishments of those she has educated and raised with the chinuch that bring the said good deeds; that is to say, she has a part in those deeds resulting from the chinuch which she provided her children and mushpo'im (pupils).
Since all of the above constitutes directives of our Torah, the wisdom and will of Hashem-the fulfillment of these directives is part and parcel of our service of Hashem ("Avodas Hashem"), of which it is said: "serve Hashem with joy." A directive of Torah also serves as the source of strength which provides the abilities to carry it out. Consequently, since the Torah addresses these instructions to each and every individual, it is within the capacity of each individual to carry it out-and moreover, to carry it out in a manner of "serving Hashem with joy."
All of this applies to the entire family, but even more so, and with yet a greater supply of fortitude-as well as with a greater degree of responsibility-in regard to those who are in a position to affect the other family members, who will emulate their example. Therefore, the responsibility to implement all of the above falls first and foremost upon the head of the family and the senior child. In this case, I am referring to you and your father (may he live and be well). The guarantee if "You have toiled, you will find" applies here as well.
In all the above also lies the answer to your question as to how you can lighten the load, etc. - through a behavior consistent with the above verse, with a strong faith in Hashem that you will succeed in this endeavor.
May it be the will of Hashem that you have good tidings concerning all of the above, in open and revealed good.
With blessings for success in all your endeavors and good tidings,
29th of Teveth, 5736 
Greeting and Blessing:
I was saddened by the news of the passing of your mother, peace to her soul. I extend to you and all the bereaved family my sincere sympathy and the traditional expression of condolence: "Hamakom Yenachem Esschem Besoch Sh'ar Aveilei Tziyon Vee'Yrushalayim." May G-d comfort you in the midst of the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.
As has been explained on other similar occasions, the traditional blessing of condolence - linking the personal bereavement of a Jew with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh and Jerusalem of old - is significant in many ways, like all matters of Torah. Only several points will be mentioned here briefly.
Firstly, the personal bereavement of a Jew is shared by the Jewish people as a whole; as the loss of the ancient Sanctuary and glory of Jerusalem is shared by all Jews.
Secondly, just as it is certain that G-d will comfort all mourners for Zion and Jerusalem, in accordance with the many prophecies of our Prophets, so will the personal consolation be complete at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead (T'chiyas Hameisim).
Thirdly, just as the complete and final Redemption of our people is linked with the growing commitment of all Jews to order their daily life in accordance with the directives of the Comforter of Zion and Jerusalem, the Giver of our Torah and Mitzvos, so it is expected of a Jew that the sad bereavement will be recompensed by greater adherence to the Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life.
May G-d grant that all the above be with Hatz-locho (success), especially that your position in the community gives you the responsibility and privilege to serve as an example to be emulated by others.
No whats in a name in this issue
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Today, Friday, is the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet, the strictest of the "minor fasts" on the Jewish calendar. According to one opinion, if the Tenth of Tevet were to fall on a Shabbat the fast would not be postponed until Sunday, as are other minor fasts. Likewise, when it occurs on a Friday, the fast is extended until it gets dark, even if a person has already prayed the Shabbat evening service.
Why does the Tenth of Tevet have the power to void the mitzva of eating on Shabbat? Because it commemorates the initial event that ultimately led to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the Jewish people's exile.
When Moshiach comes we will understand the immeasurable good that was hidden within the suffering of the exile, and will even thank G-d for it, as it states, "On that day, it will be said: I thank you O G-d, for having poured out Your wrath," but this is something that will only occur at a future time, in the Days to Come. G-d conceals the positive advantages of the exile because He wants us to cry out and pray to Him to end it. Nevertheless, there is one positive aspect we can perceive even now:
In the days of the Holy Temple, when the Jewish people were like "sons who supped at their Father's table," G-dliness was open and revealed. Without barriers or obstacles to the relationship, the essential connection that exists between the Jew and G-d was not that prominent. After the Jews went into exile they were aroused and motivated to strengthen their bond with G-d, thus revealing that nothing in the world can damage the Jew's fundamental connection to the Infinite.
Ultimately, however, as the Rebbe has declared, "The concept of exile is completely foreign to the Jewish people, as the true place of the Jew is 'at his Father's table' - 'before the L-rd your G-d' in the Holy Temple."
May we all be immediately restored to our proper place with Moshiach's arrival.
And let them grow into a multitude (v'yidgu) in the midst of the earth (Gen. 48:16)
This blessing alludes to the fact that the existence of the Jewish people is not dependent on the forces of nature, but is a supernatural phenomenon. The word "v'yidgu" is derived from the Hebrew word for fish ("dag"), the intent being that there should be as many Jews as there are millions of fish. Fish, however, cannot live "in the midst of the earth"; Jacob's blessing therefore intimates that his children will survive even under conditions that would annihilate another nation.
Gather yourselves together that I may tell you what will befall you in the end of days (Gen. 49:1)
As Rashi explains, Jacob wished to tell his children when Moshiach would arrive, but "the Divine Presence departed" and he was thus unable to do so. But why was it necessary to take away the Divine Presence? Why didn't G-d just tell him that he was forbidden to reveal this information? What happened, however, was that Jacob foresaw all the suffering his children would be forced to endure throughout the exile, and became saddened. As "the Divine Presence only rests on a joyful person," it departed as a natural consequence of his mood.
(Rabbi Chanoch Tzvi of Bendin)
And Joseph went up to bury his father (Gen. 50:7)
A person is judged with the same yardstick he uses to judge others. Joseph, the most respected of the brothers, involved himself personally in the burial of his father. He thereby merited that none other than Moses himself would later carry his bones back to the land of Israel.
The following story was related by the Bluzhover Rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael Spira, o.b.m.:
Every morning the Germans, may their name be erased, would bring us from the concentration camp to the factory, where we worked until late at night. The food they gave us was inadequate and barely edible. Many people became malnourished and found it difficult to stand. But the Germans were only interested in production, and woe to anyone who couldn't keep up.
Our lives were so irrational and absurd that they did not leave room for contemplation. Everyone just concentrated on surviving another day. In the mornings we wished it were the previous evening, and in the evenings we pined for the morning.
One day at work a woman, a forced laborer like myself, came over to where I stood. She walked very slowly and carefully so as not to draw the Germans' attention. I could see she was young, but in dreadful physical condition. The woman glanced around to make sure no one was watching; shirking off for even a moment was reason enough to be shot.
"Rebbe!" she whispered in my ear. The woman was clearly desperate. "Do you have a knife?"
I grasped her meaning and understood the great responsibility that had been entrusted to me. "My daughter," I said to her, "do not harm yourself. I know that your life is harder to bear than death, but it is forbidden to abandon hope. Every moment we must pray to G-d for a better future."
The woman gave me a piercing look. "A knife, Rebbe," she said. "I need a knife and I need it quickly, before it's too late."
I could see that she was determined, yet I hoped to dissuade her. "Listen to me," I said more severely. "We are not allowed to take a life, even our own." With every word the woman's face grew more despairing. "G-d gives us life, and only He can take it from us."
"A knife!" the woman insisted. "That's all I ask of you - a knife!" She kept repeating the word as if it were a magical incantation.
At that moment a German soldier noticed us. The woman paled, and I feared for both our lives.
"What are you doing there, you cursed Jew?" the Nazi shouted at her. When she did not answer he turned to me. "What did she want from you?" he yelled. I, too, remained silent.
The woman suddenly spoke up. "I asked him for a knife."
The German seemed to find this very funny. He had seen many people put an end to their lives in the camp, but their suicides were usually accomplished by flinging themselves on the electrified fence. The thought of an inmate using a knife was a novel idea, and he burst out laughing.
"You want a knife?" he said maliciously, his face bright red from laughter. "No problem, I'll get you one."
I prayed that he would leave her alone and forget the whole thing, but the pleasure he anticipated was apparently too great to pass up. The soldier walked away, and a few minutes later returned with a medium-sized knife. Its blade looked very sharp.
My whole body trembled as the German handed her the knife. He was looking at her in amusement, as if waiting for the entertainment to begin. "Thank you," the woman said, and walked away.
Both of us followed her, albeit for different reasons. With every fiber of my being I dreaded what was coming next, whereas the German could hardly wait. The woman kept on walking till she reached a dim corner of the factory.
The woman bent down and picked up a small bundle covered with rags. At that moment I literally stopped breathing. The German was also watching her every move. Inside the bundle was a tiny baby. After tying a rag around his legs, she picked up the knife in her right hand and performed the rite that every mohel (ritual circumciser) carries out on every Jewish baby boy.
When she had finished she wrapped the baby back up as best she could, but I could see that her hands were shaking. Clutching the baby to her chest she cried out, "Master of the Universe! Eight days ago You gave me a son, and today is the day of his brit mila. I know that neither of us will live very long in this accursed place. But at least I want him to return to You, whenever You will decide, as a circumcised Jew..."
The woman then placed the baby back in the corner. Her eyes were filled with tears, but she looked much calmer, a lot less agitated. In fact, there was something in her expression that suggested joy, perhaps even triumph...
"Here is your knife. I thank you," she said, handing it back to the German. The soldier merely took it and walked away.
In this week's Torah portion Vayechi we read the verse, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the student of the law from between his feet, until Shiloh will come, and to him will be a gathering of peoples. (Gen. 49:10) The letters of the word "Shiloh" have the same gematria (numerology) as "Moshe" (Moses) - 345 while "Shiloh will come" has the same gematria as "Moshiach" - 358.
(Zohar and Baal HaTurim)