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Shadows are awesome. As children, we chased our shadows or played shadow games where the point was to step on the other kids' shadows while making sure that they didn't step on ours.
As adults we learned that shadows can help us get our bearings even without a compass. Whether we're lost or simply trying to figure out which way is east (the direction toward which Jews to the west of Jerusalem traditionally stand in prayer), shadows can point us in the proper position.
Spiritual shadows are also awesome.
King David, in Psalms, taught that "G-d is your shadow at your right hand." The Baal Shem Tov explains this to mean that G-d has implanted a spiritual dynamic into the universe: Just as the movement of a person's body is reflected and magnified by the shadow, every step of our conduct in this world likewise arouses spiritual forces of incomparable power.
If we're outside on a sunny day, it's clear to us that every movement we make is accompanied by the movement of our shadow. Similarly, every positive action we take, every negative action we resist, every mitzva we do, creates spiritual energy which we could best imagine as "shadows."
Like "regular" shadows, spiritual shadows have no corporeality. Although we may see the reflection of a mitzva (light from a Shabbat candle, a charity box filling up with coins and eventually used to purchase food for a poor person), we don't see, nor can we touch, the spiritual reflection and energy created by that act.
Spiritual shadows are also greatly magnified in comparison with the energy or effort expended in performing the mitzva. What better example of this assertion can there be than Maimonides' statement that a small deed can tip one's personal "scale" and the global scale, bringing redemption to the entire world.
A distinction, however, between ordinary shadows and spiritual shadows is that our conduct is always producing spiritual shadows, even in the dark of night or the absence of light. For, ultimately, the mitzvot we do create their own spiritual light which generates the shadow.
Every Jew can not only magnify his shadow but can even cast a giant shadow through bringing more Jewish learning and living into his life. In the 60's movie "Cast a Giant Shadow," American-born West Point graduate David "Micky" Marcus (who was one of the first generals of the fledgling Israeli army) asserts, "Life isn't a spectator sport, you've got to get involved."
You don't create shadows, ordinary or spiritual, by sitting around and talking about it. "Action is the main thing" Judaism teaches. Get involved. Don't be afraid of your own shadow!
With this week's Torah reading, Vayechi, we conclude the Book of Genesis. The last verse states: "And Joseph died...and he was put into a coffin in Egypt."
At first glance this is a somewhat odd ending, especially in light of the dictum to "end on a positive note." Surely the Book of Genesis could have concluded a few verses earlier with the narrative that Joseph lived 110 years, or that he merited to see great-grandchildren. Indeed, why doesn't the description of Joseph's passing appear at the beginning of the Book of Exodus instead?
The answer is that Joseph's passing is connected to the fundamental theme of the Book of Genesis.
In Genesis we read about the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the Twelve Tribes, and the preparation and prerequisite for the founding of the Jewish people. The other four books of the Torah, by contrast, relate the history of the Jewish nation once it was already established.
The Book of Genesis begins with the story of the world's creation. This is significant, as the Torah could have opened with the first practical Divine commandment. As Rabbi Yitzchak explained, however, it was intended to negate an argument the nations would one day level against the Jews: "If the nations of the world will accuse Israel of being thieves for having conquered [the land of Israel], [the Jews] will counter: The whole earth belongs to G-d. He created it, and gave it to whomever he saw fit. With His will He gave it to the nations; with His will he took it from them and gave it to us." (This, of course, is only one explanation of many.)
In truth, the nations of the world recognize the Jewish people's uniqueness. However, they ask, how can Jews lay claim to a physical land, when they are not like all other peoples? Non-Jews concede that the Jews' task is to serve G-d, but they view this service as divorced from the world.
Not so! the Torah declares at the very onset. "The whole earth belongs to G-d." G-d created the physical as well as the spiritual realms. Indeed, the unique role of the Jew lies in imbuing the physical world with G-dliness and holiness.
This same point is made at the end of the Book of the Genesis. The reason Joseph's coffin remained in Egypt (unlike Jacob, who was buried in Israel) was to give the Jewish people the strength to endure the Egyptian exile. Joseph, who "was put into a coffin in Egypt (Mitzryaim -- from the Hebrew meaning constraint)," is symbolic of the Jews's ability to survive and flourish despite the difficulties of exile.
Thus we see that the Book of Genesis ends on the same note as it began: the special quality of the Jewish people to unite the physical and spiritual realms into one entity -- a process by which we will soon merit the Final Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 30
RABBIS DROP IN
by Albert Cagilano
Excerpted from The Arctic Sounder
Dressed in black and without a plan about where to go and whom to meet, two young rabbinical students of the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Anchorage landed here [Kotzebue, Alaska] to discuss moral issues with the community.
Local resident and fire chief Ron Monson happened to be at the airport when they arrived and advised them to contact Superior Court Judge Richard Erlich, who practices Judaism. Erlich sheltered them for the night and put them in contact with the elementary school, which arranged a meeting with the students.
On the way to the school in the morning, Avraham Berkowitz, 22, said he was not here to proselytize, nor to speak directly about religion, but about the moral concepts that we all share. With him was Levi Azimov, 22, who came to the United States from Jerusalem four years ago.
When fifth and sixth graders were sitting on the floor before him in the dining hall, Berkowitz invited them to find and discuss the differences and the similarities between Jewish and Inupiat culture. With his lively and entertaining style, Berkowitz kept the audience focused on the importance of believing in G-d; he talked and stimulated the dialogue about respect for the elders and about the value of selflessness as opposed to selfishness.
Toward the end of the meeting, he invited the students to close their eyes for a minute and think what they wanted G-d to bring to the world. The meeting concluded with Berkowitz and Azimov performing a Jewish dance accompanied by the kids clapping their hands. Some of the children asked the men for their autographs.
He said he and Azimov were touring rural Alaska to meet people and to establish contacts with the Alaskan Jewry. "We count deeds, not the number of people," he said. The two had visited youths in Nome's jail the day before and went on to Bethel right after the meeting here...
The pair's visit was arranged by pilot Boris Rosowsky, and sponsored by Rabbi Yosef Greenberg of the Lubavitch Jewish Center in Anchorage, who oversees state-wide programs.
RABBIS SAY 'SHALOM" TO BETHEL
by Aaron Spitzer
Excerpted from The Tundra Drums
From Mormons to Muslims to Moravians, Bethel's religious faiths have always ranged the gamut, but when two Hasidic Jewish leaders last week became the first-ever Orthodox rabbis to visit Bethel, they turned quite a few heads.
Bearded and dressed in their traditional dark suits and yarmulkes, or skullcaps, Avraham Berkowitz and Levi Azimov made appearances at a local school and a juvenile correction facility. In addition, they met with members of Bethel's Jewish population.
"It was a very special visit, a very beautiful visit for us," said Berkowitz, who traveled to Bethel from the Lubavitch Jewish Center in Anchorage. He and Azimov are members of the Lubavitch movement, dedicated to serving Jews far from traditional Jewish population centers.
But Berkowitz said that the rabbis did not come to Bethel just to meet Jews. "It's our moral obligation to reach out to all our fellow citizens," he said.
So when Bill Sanford, a counselor at the Bethel Youth Facility, offered the rabbis a chance to visit with juveniles incarcerated there, Berkowitz said they leapt at the chance.
The rabbis discussed with the children the power of small displays of kindness in combating acts of evil. They challenged each child to start a grass-roots movement of goodness, Berkowitz said. According to Berkowitz, despite the glaring differences between the Orthodox rabbis and the largely Yup'ik detainees, the audience seemed deeply moved by the presentation.
David Matthews, a program unit leader at the facility, confirmed Berkowitz' impression. "The kids loved it. They were absolutely enthralled," Matthews said. "To see two young men who had devoted their whole life to their belief in G-d, who seemed very loving, who had willpower and discipline and who follow through on what the Bible says - it impressed them."
The rabbis also taught the youths about the Seven Universal Laws, a code, they said, that was given to the world to preserve morality and love between people, based on the belief in one G-d.
After visiting the youth facility the rabbis went to Kilbuck School, where teacher Barb Angaiak invited them to speak to her sixth-grade class.
"For many of the children it was their first identification with Jews," Berkowitz said of the Kilbuck visit. "They asked us several questions about our background."
But Berkowitz said he was more concerned about addressing the students' background. "I told them a story about being happy with who they are and not wanting to be someone else. I told them to be proud of their traditions and their Yup'ik heritage," he said.
The children were respectful and inquisitive, Berkowitz said, though he admitted that at first the rabbis' unusual dress drew giggles. "But it was natural," he said. "If an Eskimo, dressed in traditional garb, were to come to Jerusalem to a Jewish school it would also be an interesting reaction."
According to Angaiak, a member of Bethel's Jewish community, the rabbis' visit was a major event for local Jews. She said that though there are no Hasidics in Bethel, "part of their reason for coming out here was to connect with Jews of all backgrounds."
"That was obviously the high point of the visit because that is why we came - to reach out to those Jews who don't have rabbis all year long," Berkowitz said. "I was so impressed. With the small amount of Jews that there are, they were a real tight community. I learned a lot of things from them. We came to teach and we learned a lot more."
8 Tevet, 5758
Positive Mitzva 204: Returning a Lost Article. This mitzva is derived from Exodus 23:4: "You shall surely bring it back to him." The Torah commands us to try to find the owner of a lost article and return it to him.
9 Tevet, 5758
Positive Mitzva 236: Personal Injury. This mitzva is derived from Exodus 21:18: "When two people fight and one person hits the other..." If one person causes personal injury to another he is liable to pay different kinds of damages. This mitzva includes the laws of fines and responsibilities a person must pay if he injures another individual.
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Erev Shabbat-Kodesh Vayigash, 5732 
To the Officers of and Members of Cong. Yeshiva Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen and All Participants in the Testimonial Dinner in Honor of Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Hecht.
Greeting and Blessing:
I am very pleased to be informed of the forthcoming event honoring your distinguished rabbi and spiritual leader, to celebrate his 25 years' dedicated service to the congregation and community.
This occasion is eloquent testimony not only to the personal achievements of your esteemed rabbi, but also to the credit of the baalei-batim [members], for it shows their appreciation and affection for him and his fruitful work. It is therefore an occasion for genuine celebration, and I am happy to extend my warmest congratulations and best wishes to all participants in this simcha [celebration].
It is customary to make reference to the Torah-portion of the week in which a particular event takes place; especially in the light of the teaching of the Alter Rebbe [the "Elder Rebbe," Rabbi Shneur Zalman], author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, founder of Chabad (of which your worthy rabbi is a faithful disciple), namely, that "a Jew has to live with the times" -- the "Jewish Times" being the eternal Torah in its weekly sedra [portion] readings.
The sedra Vayechi begins with the words: "And Yakov [Jacob] lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years." According to our Sages, these were Yakov's best years.
It is related that when the Tzemach Tzedek [the third Chabad Rebbe], as a boy, learned this sedra, he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, "How come that our father Yakov lived his best years in a place like Egypt?" For that country was known for its crass materialism and way of life which were utterly foreign to the spirit of our patriarch.
The Alter Rebbe replied, "In the preceding sedra Vayigash we are told that Yakov Avinu [our father] had sent his son Yehuda [Judah] ahead of him to Goshen (in Mitzrayim -- Egypt) to establish there a Torah center for all the Twelve Tribes, and their children and grandchildren. Thus where the Torah and mitzvot are studied and observed, a Jew can live his best years, even in Mitzrayim."
In the light of the above, which requires no further commentary, and on the basis of the progress which your congregation has achieved over the past 25 years, as a center of Torah and mitzvot, I am confident that your congregation will continue to flourish under the leadership of your distinguished rabbi, and, indeed, will do so in a growing measure.
May G-d grant that the enthusiasm and rededication of all participants in this celebration will be long lasting and infectious, to inspire even greater efforts to strengthen and spread the learning of Torah and adherence to the mitzvot in the daily life among all of the members, of all ages. I further hope and pray that the influence will be felt throughout the community, and be reflected in an upsurge of Torah study and Torah-true Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in the community at large.
I send you my prayerful wishes for hatzlacha [success] in all the aforesaid, and the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good, materially and spiritually.
With esteem and blessing,
COMPUTERIZED INFO CENTER
The Gutnick Computerized Information Center, a project of Sichos In English, brings Torah classes to your telephone. With eight choices on the menu, including the weekly Torah portion, Moshiach topics, Chasidic stories, and Maimonides' Book of Mitzvot, there's sure to be something for everyone. Let your fingers do the walking at (718) 953-6100.
Another telephone info center is the Moshiach Information Center with pre-recorded classes in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew. The number is (718) 953-6168.
Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers have "Superphones" or pre-recorded telephone classes. Call your local center for more information.
We are currently in the month of Tevet. The word "Tevet" is related to the Hebrew word "tov," which means "good." However, in this month, we commemorate many sad events, including the Tenth of Tevet.
The tenth of Tevet is the day on which the evil king Nebuchadnezar layd siege upon Jerusalem, which eventually led to the destruction of the first Holy Temple, and the Babylonian Exile. The tenth of Tevet is considered an especially solemn day, because it is the first in a series of events which led to the present exile. Therefore it is a day to reflect upon all of those events and the actions that led to them, and to reflect upon which of our own actions need improving in order hasten the end of exile and prepare for the imminent Redemption.
And yet, as stated previously, Tevet is connected to good. We see from this that we have the power to transform bad into good, sorrow into joy, darkness into light, and exile into redemption. Since Tevet marks the beginning of the calamitous events which befell our people, our Sages named this month "Tevet" to inspire the positive, good energy that is within every one of us.
Tevet has the added significance of being connected to the number ten, as Tevet is the tenth month of the year counting from Nissan. Additionally, we commemorate the siege of Jerusalem on the tenth day of the tenth month.
Ten is a number of great power. Yom Kippur is on the tenth day of Tishrei. G-d gave us ten commandments. The Torah mentions nine times that the Jews sang to G-d and the tenth song will be song with the coming of Moshiach.
We must harness this additional power to fulfill the service of Tevet, which is to transform the darkness into light.
He blessed Joseph saying... "The angel who redeemed me from all evil should bless the lads...." (Gen. 48:15-16)
These two verses begin by stating that Jacob was going to bless Joseph, and yet, the actual blessing was given to "the lads" -- Joseph's sons Menashe and Efraim. Jacob's blessing to Joseph was that his children should be righteous. When children conduct themselves in a proper way, the pleasure and "nachas" the parents derive from this is the greatest blessing possible.
Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth (Gen 48:16)
Jacob blessed his children to multiply like the fish in the sea. By comparing his descendants to fish, he was instructing his children to remember that just as a fish cannot live out of water, so too the Jewish people cannot live without Torah. He blessed them to "swim like fish" in the ocean of Torah study.
The life of a fish depends in a large measure on its vitality and ability to swim upstream. If it permits itself to be swept along by the currents of the rapids or the tide it will be squashed. It is only because the Creator has endowed the fish with the precious instinct of self-preservation, whereby it is able to swim upstream against the forces of the current, that it can thrive and survive. Jacob blessed his children to be willing and able to swim upstream and resist flowing with the tide.
(Rabbi B. Berzan)
Assemble yourselves, and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days (Gen 49:1)
Jacob gathered his children and wanted to reveal the time of Moshiach's coming when suddenly the Divine Presence left him. He began to worry, "Maybe there is some fault in my children." They immediately responded, "Shema Yisrael - you believe in the One and Only G-d and so do we." Happily, Jacob answered, "Baruch Shem... Blessed be His name forever and ever."
(Talmud Pesachim 56a)
Adapted from Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
Shabbat was quickly approaching and Abba Tachna was happy. He had managed to gather everything his family needed to make the holy day a true delight. His wife and children were awaiting him and he quickened his pace. The heavy bundle hoisted on his shoulder contained not only Shabbat delicacies, but many of his possessions, for Abba Tachna worked outside the city and returned home only for Shabbat. He hoped to arrive early enough to prepare himself properly for the holy day as was his weekly custom.
As Abba Tachna considered these thoughts, he saw a man lying in the middle of the road, groaning in pain. Abba Tachna approached the man who begged in a weak voice, "Please, Rabbi, bring me to my house. If you don't help me, I am sure I will die from pain and hunger, for I can't move."
Abba Tachna saw that the poor man was covered from head to foot with sores and bruises. He quickly considered the situation, for it was completely impossible for him to carry both his bundle and the injured man. He thought to himself, "If I carry the man to his home and leave my bundle here, it may be stolen, and then my family will have nothing. And if I take the time to bring the man home and then return here to pick up the bundle, it may be too late to carry the Shabbat food and then my family will go hungry. However, if I bring my bundle home and then return for the man, he may die, G-d forbid."
Abba Tachna's decision took mere seconds. Of course, he must bring the injured man to his home first. He let down his bundle and ever so gently raised the man to his shoulders and proceeded to the man's house. When they arrived he put the man in bed where the man's family began to tend to him. Then he hurried back to the roadside and, to his delight, found his bundle where he had left it.
Praising G-d, Abba Tachna doubled his pace toward home. As he approached the city, he saw many people, already dressed in their Shabbat clothes. They were hurrying towards the synagogues, prayer books in hand. Abba Tachna wondered, "Could the Shabbat already have arrived?" The people stared at him, and he read their thoughts, "Why is Abba Tachna still in his work clothes and carrying a bundle?"
Abba Tachna was seized with a panic; could it be that the Holy One would actually allow him to desecrate the Shabbat because he had expended precious time in order to save a man's life? Isn't it true that to save a life is the highest mitzva of all? Abba Tachna quickly scanned the horizon and with great relief saw that, in fact, the sun had not yet set. The Sabbath had not yet begun. He hurried to his home, bathed, dressed in his Shabbat clothes and rushed to the synagogue, arriving just in time. Abba Tachna prayed that Shabbat with a special fervor, for G-d had granted him the merit of saving a fellow Jew and also celebrating the holy Shabbat together with his family.
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel was head of the Sanhedrin and a wise leader of the Jewish people. One day he instructed his attendant, Tovi, to go to the market saying only, "Tovi, please buy something good to eat."
Tovi thought for a few moments and then went to the butcher. He purchased a tongue, known to be a great delicacy. Returning to his employer, Tovi proudly showed him his purchase.
"Excellent!" said Rabbi Shimon. "Now, go back to the market and buy something which is not good to eat." Tovi was surprised at Rabbi Shimon's unusual request, but he turned back to the marketplace. As he walked, he thought, "Why would my master desire that I buy bad food? There must be some purpose for his request. Perhaps he wants to teach his disciples something." Tovi's thoughts continued in this vein.
Tovi entered the butcher shop and ordered another tongue. Then he returned to his employer and showed him the purchase. Rabbi Shimon asked, "When I asked you to buy something good to eat, you bought a tongue. But then, when I sent you out a second time to purchase something bad to eat, you returned with another tongue. Is a tongue good or bad?"
Tovi replied, "A tongue is both. For when the tongue is good, there is nothing better, but when it is bad, there is nothing worse. When people learn Torah or speak G-d's praises with their tongues, there is nothing more exalted in the world. When they express kindness to their fellow man and use their words to help one another, it is a very great thing. However, when they speak ill of one another, when they insult or hurt another with their words, they bring about great evil and the tongue is very bad."
Rabban Gamliel smiled at his wise and understanding attendant. The incident circulated amongst all the students of Rabban Gamliel and was long remembered every time they used their tongues.
Happy is he who does not tire of awaiting redemption and who makes certain that he and his children increase their Torah learning and their observance of the precepts so they will not be ashamed when Moshiach comes.
(The Chofetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)