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"You give us twenty-two minutes and we'll give you the world," is the slogan of radio station WINS in New York City.
Every twenty-two minutes you hear a repeat and update of "traffic and weather together," sports, and local, national and world news. Yes, you too can find out many interesting, inane or important tidbits of information that may or may not affect the quality of your life.
But, what would you do if you were told that if you gave one hour, you really would be given the world or something even much more valuable?
Judaism teaches: "One hour of turning to G-d and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come; and one hour of bliss in the World to Come is better than all the life of this world."
In simple words, getting in touch with who you really are, what your essence really is, and connecting that essence to G-d, together with being good and kind and considerate and compassionate and respectful to others for one hour, is better than the Garden of Eden.
And just how good is the Garden of Eden? Well, one hour of bliss in the Garden of Eden is better than all of the pleasure and delight -- both physical and spiritual -- that one can experience in this physical world!
So, let's do some Jewish math. If one hour of turning to G-d and good deeds is greater than an infinite amount (as our souls are eternal and infinite) of the Garden of Eden and one hour of the Garden of Eden is greater than a finite amount (as our bodies are limited and finite) of this world then in one hour of turning to G-d and good deeds we can acquire that which is greater than all of this world and all of the Garden of Eden.
What a deal! How could anyone possibly pass that one up?
But let's say you can pass it up and you don't want to spend sixty whole minutes in the above pursuits. What can you do?
You don't have to give one hour, nor even twenty-two minutes. You can start by giving just one moment!
Judaism also teaches that teshuva -- turning to G-d and connecting our essence with its G-dly source -- is an instantaneous process. For at every moment, a person can turn to G-d and he is deemed totally righteous.
At the moment that a person makes the decision to change, he has actually begun changing. It's like when we realize we're driving in the wrong direction on a highway; even before finding an exit or a place to make a U-turn, we've already begun the process of getting back on the right track simply by recognizing that we've gone the wrong way.
Of course, if we realize we've gone wrong but continue on we won't reach our destination. But the realization in itself is still part of the process.
So give an hour or even just a minute. It will make a world of difference in your life.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph's brothers return to Jacob and bring him the wonderful news that his son is still alive. "Joseph is yet alive, and is ruler over all the land of Egypt." Jacob, however, could not believe it was true until "he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him." Only then was he convinced, "and the spirit of Jacob their father was revived."
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains that the wagons, "agalot" in Hebrew, were a special sign from Joseph to Jacob. The last time Joseph and his father learned Torah together, 22 years before, they had studied the portion of the "egla arufa" -- the calf that is beheaded to atone for a murder whose perpetrator is unknown.
When Jacob saw the "agalot" he understood the allusion, and was thus convinced that Joseph was indeed alive.
Nonetheless, this explanation is problematical. Surely Jacob did not suspect his sons of telling a falsehood; why then did he not immediately believe them when they stated that "Joseph is yet alive"?
Did Jacob truly think that they had been fooled by an Egyptian stranger, who had somehow tricked them into believing that he was their long-lost brother?
The answer is simple. To a tzadik, a truly righteous person such as Jacob, "life" is not a matter of the physical body but of the soul. When the brothers told him that Joseph was not only alive but "the ruler over all the land of Egypt," he could not believe that his son had been able to maintain his spirituality and continue to live as a Jew in such abject circumstances. After all, Joseph was completely alone for so many years, in the most corrupt and abominable civilization in the ancient world. Not only was he surrounded by the lowest class of people, the brothers had stated that Joseph was their leader! How then could he "live"--truly "live," the spiritual life of a Jew?
When, however, Jacob was given the sign of the "agalot" and understood that Joseph had not forgotten his Torah learning, he realized that his son was on the same high spiritual plane as before his descent to Egypt.
Joseph had managed to remain a tzadik, despite his degraded surroundings. Only then was Jacob convinced that his son still "lived," and "the spirit of Jacob their father was revived."
Adapted from the works of the Rebbe
From a speech by
at the Chabad@NYU Tenth Year Anniversary Dinner
I grew up in Philadelphia in a Conservative Jewish home surrounded by Jewish life: I went to a Jewish day school; to a Jewish over-night camp; I had been to Israel several times; I had even gone to Poland on a program called "The March of the Living" to learn about the Holocaust.
But though I had a wonderful Jewish environment, I didn't feel Judaism in my heart or a connection to G-d. It was like when someone is talking to you but you aren't listening. I wasn't listening. I was friends with many kids outside my school who weren't Jewish, I was even dating someone who wasn't Jewish. I was into the city scene and I went to all the clubs. I wasn't thinking about G-d, I was in high school and I wanted to have fun.
During my senior year of high school I was accepted to the photography program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. I couldn't wait to get to New York. It was like Philadelphia, only bigger. There were more clubs, more people.
Then something strange happened. A few months into the first semester life was great, I had plenty of new friends, my dorm was good, classes were good... but I wasn't happy.
New York was massive, it was overwhelming. There were groups of every different type of people; you could be whatever you wanted. I saw the group that I was in and I saw where they were going and I didn't want to go there.
I looked at myself, in between the "raver" stage and the "hip-hop" stage, swimming in jeans ten sizes too big, platform sneakers with four inch heals and synthetic braids down my back. I was looking at myself and I didn't like what I saw.
I wanted to reconnect to my roots, my people. But I didn't know how. And I wanted to talk to someone other than my mother with whom I am very close and had already talked for hours.
One day I was walking home from the photo lab and I thought to myself, "They say that you're supposed to talk to G-d. So I will. 'What' up? I'm trying. Help me out.' "
When I got back to my dorm there was a message on my machine from my mother: "Naomi, there is a Chabad Rabbi on campus, his name is Eli Cohen, his office is..." I couldn't believe it!
I immediately went over to Rabbi Cohen's office at the student center. He welcomed me in. He was in his garb, I was in mine. He didn't judge me but I gave him the third degree. I wanted to know what he was all about. I said, "I've heard about you Orthodox Jews." I had plenty of preconceived notions. I told him that I come from a strong feminist background and I didn't appreciate the concept of the Jewish woman being a housewife.
Rabbi Cohen answered all my question and then he said to me, "You have to meet my wife, Yehudis. You're going to love her. We have seven children, she's the editor of a weekly publication for Lubavitch, she teaches classes for women at NYU and she even continues to go to classes herself. Really, you should meet her."
So I started going to Yehudis' "Power of the Jewish Woman" classes and the Rabbi was right. I enjoyed the classes and I kept up the questions. And as school went on, I began to identify myself with the Jewish people.
The struggle was difficult. Inside I felt a connection. I wanted to learn more. But now that I finally wanted it the environment that I was in -- going to art school, living in the Village, having very few Jewish friends -- made it extremely difficult for me to develop these feelings I had inside.
I was very fortunate that there were classes for women that I could go to. Not only did these classes give me the knowledge and the inspiration I needed, they gave me Jewish friends and people to talk to, and that is what I needed most.
Then there was Shabbat. The Rabbi and his sons left Crown Heights each week and slept in an office so that there would be Shabbat services on campus for students to attend. And Yehudis often had a group of women students come to Crown Heights to experience Shabbat there. These were some of the most beautiful Sabbaths I ever experienced. I was inspired and I slowly got in touch with my soul and myself. The Rabbi helped me to understand who I was and where I came from which gave me the strength to go forward.
The Cohens told me about a women's yeshiva program in Crown Heights over winter break and offered for me to stay in their home rather than the yeshiva dorm. The offer was too good to refuse, and I went. During the program I intensely studied Jewish Law. Then I would go to the Cohen's home at the end of the day and understand the laws.
They lived a life of Torah. Of actions based on thought, of awareness, of goodness -- to the point where it was subconscious. I realized that this was the kind of home and family that I wanted in the future.
During the second semester, Chabad rented an apartment near the Village so that Shabbat could be done right. Students come to services and then we go back to the apartment to hang out. On Saturday after services, Yehudis serves a huge lunch for everyone, we play with the kids, talk and just relax.
If I ever have a question, if I ever need something, the Rabbi is there for me. He never says, "I'm too busy," though I know that often he is. He has time for every student and makes everyone feel welcome.
People come from all different backgrounds, some come just to meet a girl or a guy, some come for a good meal on Shabbat, and some want to learn more. Whatever level you are, whoever you are, we have Jewish life here in college.
What I feel about Judaism comes from completely within me. But Chabad at NYU and the Cohens have given me the environment, the community, the support, the love and the education that I needed to act on those feelings and to become a stronger Jewish woman.
STUDY TORAH/GIVE TZEDAKA:
"We find that the Jews are frequently conceived of in two groupings: "Yissachar, students of Torah; and Zevulun, businessmen who are involved in the performance of good deeds. The divisions between these categories must be nullified.
"The businessmen must steal time from their occupation to study Torah, and the students of Torah must increase their gifts to tzedaka, giving freely and generously."
By breaking down the barriers that divide us, we can foster unity among the Jewish people.
(A letter from the Rebbe to Rabbi Herbert Weiner, printed with Rabbi Weiner's permission)
1st Day of Chanuka, 5730 
I was saddened to hear of the passing of your mother a"h.
I extend to you, and to all the bereaved family, my sincere sympathy and the traditional blessing of condolence Hamakom y'nachem etchem b'toch sha'ar avlei tzion v'Yerushalayim ["May G-d comfort you among the mourner of Zion and Jerusalem"]. May you not know of any sorrow in the future, but only goodness and benevolence be with you always.
P.S. On the basis of our personal acquaintance, and what I have heard about you from mutual friends, I take the liberty of suggesting to you that in addition to Kaddish at the daily prayers, followed by Kaddish d'Rabanan after Mishnayot, as is customary, you also include learning a practical Halacha [Torah law], such as from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch [the Code of Jewish Law].
This is of special importance in our day and age, and it has many worthwhile implications. Above all, it is a zechut harabim [merit of the multitude], coupled with a special zechut [merit] for the soul of the departed.
Also, furthering adherence to the Will of G-d, especially by a person of influence, gives practical expression to Yitgadal v'yitkadash shmai rabba ["Exalted and Hallowed be His Great Name"].
I also wish to make a further point -- in the light of Chasidut, which gives a new insight into the concept of teshuva.
Teshuva, as interpreted in Chasidut, does not mean "repentance" (which is only one aspect of it), but -- as the word indicates -- a return of the soul to its "source and root."
The "return" referred to here is not the return of the soul to its Maker at the end of its allotted years on earth, but its return to its true essence. As explained by the Alter Rebbe in his Tanya, ch. 31, this is achieved when the Jew is engaged in Torah and mitzvot, especially when it is permeated with inner joy and inspiration. For at that time, too, the soul "departs from the body," -- in the sense that it abandons the bodily needs, inclinations and lusts. Moreover, at such time the soul actually involves the body in the spiritual exercise, inducing it, too, to obey the Will of G-d, the Source of the soul and of all existence, so that not only the soul returns to its Source, but it also takes the physical body along with it.
The above provides an insight into what seems to be a somewhat "incongruous" observation by the Rambam (Laws of Mourning), namely, that the period of mourning observed by a bereaved family has to do with teshuva (And it is written, "But the living shall take it to heart." Kohelet 7:2) One would expect that the first natural reaction of a person sustaining such a loss would be that of resentment and complaint.
However, in the light of what has been said above, it is understandable why, on deeper reflection, the shock of seeing a dear soul depart this life should induce teshuva. For this is a fitting time to reflect upon the opportunities which have been given to the soul to "return" to its Source while it is here on earth, housed in its body, and in this experience of teshuva to live a meaningful and happy life to a ripe old age...
A word of explanation. This entire piece has been written as a P.S. and on a separate sheet, not because it is of lesser importance than the letter preceding it. (On the contrary.)
However, our Sages wisely remind us that allowances should be made for a person in distress. The thought might just occur that -- here comes a man, who is not a relative, and wishes to take "advantage" of a profound and unhappy experience in order to advance "his ideals." For this reason this part of the letter has been separated from the first. But in truth the two parts are not really separate but intimately connected. Besides, and this is the main point: these ideals are not only mine, but (also?) yours.
To quote the Alter Rebbe again, "a Jew neither desires nor is capable of being separated from G-dliness." Only circumstances sometimes obscure the truth. "I believe with complete faith" that this is the way to gratify the soul which is in the World of Truth, and I venture to say that you also share this belief.
May G-d grant that henceforth you will actualize the above by the stimulus of happy occasions, in accordance with the contents of the said chapter in Tanya, through the study of our Torah, Torat Emet, the kind of study that leads to action, the fulfillment of the mitzvot in the daily life. And may you together with your wife bring up your children in this spirit. I refer not only to your natural children, but also to your "children" figuratively speaking, namely, those who look up to you as teacher and mentor, as our Sages interpret the words, "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children" -- "thy students."
TAKE TWO TABLETS...
"For fast, fast relief take two Tablets and see us immediately," reads the copy of the advertisement for Chabad of Rochester's (New York) innovative and informative educational programs. Classes, informal sessions, weekend retreats, personal guidance and many more activities form the foundation for Chabad of Rochester's successful Jewish identity programs. Everyone is welcome, as the ad reads, "Our doors are open and so are our minds." For more info call (716) 271-0330.
The Chabad Lubavitch Community Centre in Thornhill, Ontario, recently presented an inspiring weekend for families entitled, "Restoring the Fire" featuring Rabbi Shlomo Bluming.
Topics included, "The Warmth of Shabbat," "Reducing the Heat: Easing the Strain in Relationships," and "Embraching the Flame: Cultivating and Cherishing Relationships." For more info about upcoming events in the Toronto, Canada, area call (905) 731-7000.
The Tenth of Tevet, which occurs this month on January 2, is a fast day. It commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezar of Babylon, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of the First Holy Temple in 422 b.c.e.
The strength -- both of the obligation to fast and its positive influences -- of the Tenth of Tevet stems from the fact that it commemorates the first of the tragedies associated with the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.
Thus this date begins the process of destruction. It is well known that the beginning of any process contains more power than the subsequent stages and for this reason, there is added power to the Tenth of Tevet. The positive influences of the Tenth of Tevet are connected to the fact that a fast day is a "day of will" when our prayers and teshuva are more willingly accepted by G-d.
As we are taught that "the beginning is wedged in the end," and the ultimate "end" purpose of the destruction of the Holy Temples will be the rebuilding of the Third and Eternal Holy Temple, the Tenth of Tevet is an auspicious day to hasten t he coming of the Redemption.
Of course, our most fervent prayer is that the Tenth of Tevet not be a day of mourning but be turned into a day of celebration and joy with the coming of Moshiach. Thus, by our immediate decision to increase our acts of goodness and kindness, our performance of mitzvot, study of Torah, and specifically the giving of charity, which brings the Redemption closer, we are showing G-d that our actions are in consonance with our heartfelt prayers. May the realization of those prayers happen in the immediate future.
Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt... I will go down with you... and I will bring you up again (Gen. 46:3-4)
Jacob was not sent into exile alone; G-d descended with him and guarded him there. Our Patriarch Jacob possessed an all-comprehensive soul which compounded the souls of all Jews.
"Jacob" thus stands for every single Jew, and his descent into Egypt alludes to Israel's descent into galut (exile), including the present one. Thus it follows that even now we are not alone, and that G-d will mercifully hasten the Final Redemption with Moshiach, as it states, "I will also bring you up again."
He sent Judah before him to Joseph, to direct him to Goshen (Gen. 46:28)
Our Sages explain that Judah was dispatched to Egypt before everyone else "in order to establish a house of learning...that the tribes be able to study Torah (Hogim baTorah)."
Jacob understood that their sojourn in as corrupt a place as Egypt would pose a threat to the spirituality of the Jewish people, and thus prepared the antidote before their arrival. The word "hogim" implies a study so deep and comprehensive that the Torah actually becomes part of the person.
Moshiach is therefore described as a "hogeh baTorah," as the power to redeem the Jewish people from exile can only come from one whose entire existence is absolutely unified with the Torah itself.
(Likutei Sichot 5750)
Our Patriarch Joseph
Our Sages comment that the entire Jewish people is often referred to as "Joseph" in the merit of his having provided sustenance for them during the years of famine. "Providing sustenance," however, also has a spiritual connotation, and refers to Joseph's willingness to help his brothers even after he was wronged by them. This quality of doing good rather than taking revenge is the inheritance of all Jews, and is derived from our Patriarch Jacob.
(Likutei Sichot Vol. 5)
And Joseph said to his brothers, Is my father still alive? (Gen. 45:3)
When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers he recognized that they had many doubts about his identity. He therefore repeatedly asked about his father and not his mother (who had died before he came to Egypt), as if to tell them that only their true brother would be privy to this information.
When the Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) lived in the town of Medzhibozh, there lived there, too, a poverty-stricken Torah scholar whose entire life was devoted to studying the Torah. Unfortunately, he was not blessed with wealth, in fact, he and his family existed only through the tzedaka (charity) of his fellow townspeople.
His wife was equally devoted to his learning, and she never complained about their poverty. However, when their children reached marriageable age, she went to her husband and said, "Thanks to G-d, we have always managed to live, but now, we must marry off our children. So, I am asking you, my husband, how will we manage to gather the money?"
Her husband listened thoughtfully, but he had no answer for her. His wife, however, had a plan in mind.
"My husband, I know you have not attached yourself to the holy Baal Shem Tov, who lives in this town, but many people have benefitted from his wisdom and the miracles he brings about. So, I am asking you to go to him and tell him of our problem. He will surely advise you well."
The scholar followed his wife's advice and went to the Besht. The Baal Shem Tov listened and then replied: "If you wish to be helped, you must go to the town of K. and inquire there into the whereabouts of a certain Jew. Do not give up until you find him, for only then will you be freed from your burdens."
The man immediately set out for the town which was located quite a distance away. When he finally arrived, he was directed to the town's guest house where he rested and received food. As soon as he regained some strength, he began to question the locals about the person he was instructed to locate. He asked the manager of the guest house, but to no avail; then he went to the shul and asked there, but he was told that no one had ever heard of such a person. The rumor spread through the city that a learned stranger was inquiring after such and such a person.
Just as he had almost despaired of ever finding the man and was about to return to Medzhibozh, a man came to him and said: "Why are you searching for a wicked man who has been dead these sixty years?" And then, he went on to elaborate all the terrible deeds this person had done during his vile lifetime. It seemed that, while alive, this person had neglected no evil.
The scholar went home with a heavy soul. Here he had rushed to follow the instructions of the holy Baal Shem Tov and had gone to K. to find a certain individual who would help him out of his troubles, just to discover that the man was deceased; and not only was he deceased, but he was a known evil-doer. The scholar was anxious to visit the Besht and discover the reason for his seemingly fruitless journey.
The scholar related to the Besht the difficulties of the journey; how he had arrived at the communal guest house, inquired after the individual in question, and how he had finally received the evil tidings about him. He continued telling the Besht all the terrible things he had heard about the individual he had sought.
The Besht listened and then began to speak. "I know you to be a fine, G-d-fearing person. I am sure that you believe in the teachings of the Kabbala which explain that souls return to cleanse themselves of transgressions committed in a previous lifetime. I want you to understand that you have been given the opportunity to purify your holy soul by returning to this world as a righteous scholar. For your soul, my friend, occupied the man of that outrageous sinner who lived sixty years ago in the town of K.
"You have been granted a great gift by the Al-mighty, for by your righteous life, you have achieved a great tikun [correction]."
The scholar was dumbstruck by this news. His first thought was that his poverty must certainly have been decreed against him to atone for his previous riotous way of living. He returned to his wife and related to her the entire episode. From that time on they strengthened their faith in G-d Who helped them out of their troubles. He became one of the Baal Shem Tov's closest disciples and devoted his entire life to the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvot.
"L-rd, the portion of my heritage, hasten to my aid, loosen the cords of my sackcloth and gird me with joy; light my darkness, and with Your light illuminate the night of Redemption for which I long, for You are my light."
(From the Selichot prayers on the Tenth of Tevet)