Your Favorite Teacher? | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Who was your favorite teacher? Which teacher made the biggest impact on your life? Let your mind wander over the years and through the classrooms, from nursery through higher education.
When we're young, we learn from all of our teachers because there is so much to learn, so many new concepts, so many exciting areas to explore. And, of course, because to us, the teacher knows [just about] everything. In our youngest years, our most memorable teachers are often those with the eyes that twinkle the brightest, the most creative ideas, the kindest demeanor.
As we get older, though, we expect more out of school, and more out of life. Teachers of the "Mickey Mouse" courses or "easy A" classes are almost never memorable. Our favorite teachers from our more mature years are usually not the ones in whose class we had a good time, but rather, the ones who pushed us, who made us work, maybe even helped us excel for the first time ever.
In the Mishna, ben Zoma asks, "Who is wise?" and answers with the statement, "One who learns from every person." Ben Zoma's proof is that King David declared, "From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom." No lesser personage than King David learned something from every single one of his teachers!
We're not being told to harken back to our childhood when we learned from every teacher without exception or discretion. We are expected to do exactly what we did for the demanding teacher-work hard, strive toward something, eventually succeed and become all the better for it. In this instance what we're striving and working toward is the ability to learn from everyone.
As in most courses of worth, there are prerequisites. An important prerequisite to this course of action is to subjugate one's ego. After all, how can I possibly expect to learn from others if my ego keeps getting in the way, telling me that this teacher doesn't practice what he preaches, or that teacher doesn't really understand the subject very well, or he speaks in a monotone, or I learned it already from a better teacher, etc.
If we further define a wise person we come to some very interesting conclusions. First, our Sages tell us that just by being willing to learn from everyone allows us to be called a wise person. For with this healthy attitude we will ultimately become wise.
And who is a wise person? Not simply someone who learns. There are a lot of people who are "book smart" but we wouldn't necessarily call them wise, right? So having knowledge, even acquiring knowledge, is not really the definition of a wise person. A wise person is one who will look for something good he can learn from another person. Whether a piece of knowledge or good character trait to emulate, the wise person will find something even in a person who is of a lesser stature than himself. The ability to find in even the simplest person a good trait or insight is something that only a truly wise person can do.
"From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom" brings us to an additional sentiment and responsibility. Our pursuit of "knowledge" should truly be a pursuit of becoming a wise person-a wise person who finds the good in everyone, without exception. This, in turn, makes it infinitely easier to fulfill the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael-loving another Jew. Each one of us is obligated, in order to properly fulfill the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael, to find the good in the other person. Ultimately, this will have the effect of enhancing our wisdom-wisdom as defined by the Torah and our Sages.
In Vayigash we read about the reunion of Joseph and Benjamin: "And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck."
Our Sages tell us that each brother wept over the destruction that would occur in the other brother's portion of Israel. Joseph wept over the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem, in Benjamin's portion, and Benjamin wept over the Sanctuary in Shilo, in Joseph's portion.
Symbolically, every Jew can build a "personal" Holy Temple in his heart, a place where the Divine Presence dwells. A Jew who conducts himself according to Torah causes G-d's Presence to dwell within him, thereby building a "Sanctuary." Doing the opposite prevents the Divine Presence from entering.
The destruction of the Temple is cause for grief. When Joseph prophetically saw that the two Holy Temples would be destroyed he burst into tears. When Benjamin saw that the Sanctuary would be destroyed, he was also overcome. So too it is with a Jew's inner Temple: When a person sees his friend's Temple being destroyed by his actions, it is painful to witness. He cries, for he is taking part in his friend's sorrow.
Yet we find something very strange. Joseph wept over the destruction that would occur in Benjamin's portion, but not over the destruction in his own territory. Similarly, Benjamin wept over the destruction of the Sanctuary in Joseph's portion, but did not grieve over the two Temples in Jerusalem. Why didn't each one weep over his own misfortune?
A similar reaction occurs when we witness the destruction of a fellow Jew's personal Holy Temple. A Jew weeps when he sees his brother destroying his inner Sanctuary, yet he does not weep when he destroys his own. Why is that?
The answer is that crying cannot rebuild. Crying lessens the pain, but cannot fix what was destroyed.
When a person destroys his own inner Temple, no amount of weeping can ever rebuild it. Instead, he should perform actual deeds, for "one positive action is worth a thousand sighs." Only mitzvot can reconstruct the ruined Sanctuary.
When a person sees another Jew's Temple lying in ruins it makes him sad. But he cannot help the other individual, as rectifying the situation is not in his hands. He may empathize and offer practical suggestions, but the other person has to do the actual work; only he can correct his misdeeds.
Joseph and Benjamin realized that lamenting their own sorrows would yield no practical benefit. Each brother would have to exert his own efforts to rebuild, by observing mitzvot and performing acts of goodness.
Let each of us rebuild the Sanctuary in our hearts, and together we will merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, that will never be destroyed.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 10
BUTTERFLIES AND DOVES
by Yehudis Cohen
Think of a butterfly and you imagine a colorful, free-spirited creature. As he searched for his path in life, Dov Yona Korn's nickname was "Butterfly," a moniker that fit him perfectly.
Born in the late '70s, Dov Yona grew up in Morris Plains, New Jersey. His most dominant Jewish memory was being called "Jew boy" and getting roughed up by local kids in the predominantly non-Jewish neighborhood.
Always a top student and well-liked, Dov Yona held various offices in the student government and other school clubs. His greatest passion in those days was acting, which he did professionally.
Dov Yona's first opportunity to be with other Jewish kids was at a summer acting camp at age 14. "I was away from the whole scene of doing things to stay popular. I was able to express myself artistically and it started me thinking about different paths in life."
A friend at the camp turned Dov Yona on to the "Grateful Dead" and the aura that surrounded the band. "We had deep discussions about how society is going the wrong way and that people are just living for themselves. I started becoming a hippie."
That fall, Dov Yona saw himself as the harbinger of a spiritual presence to the school. "I became a real character," Dov Yona laughs.
"I kept telling my parents, 'I have to get out of here.' I felt such a yearning to be involved in spiritual pursuits. My parents and I spoke to someone who was very open-minded. He told my parents, 'He is looking for more in life. You have to let him try to find it.'" After much thought, Dov Yona's mother signed him out of high school.
Dov Yona began following the Grateful Dead and grew dreadlocks with colorful ribbons woven into them. "I was being 'spiritual.' I was 'connected' to G-d, though I didn't know what G-d was."
Being a "Deadhead," explains Dov Yona, isn't just being into the music. "It was a religion. And drugs were a big part of it. I started to think, 'This is not what I'm looking for.' I had thought that spirituality was peace and happiness and people working together. But these people needed the drugs to be spiritual. And they were still selfish and cared about popularity."
Dov Yona left the Grateful Dead scene to check out an ashram in Massachusetts. There, he also studied Christian theology with a monk. But he knew that neither of these paths was right.
Throughout his months of searching Dov Yona had been in contact with his mother, calling often and visiting periodically. On one of his trips home, he visited his aunt and uncle, Lubavitcher Chasidim who live in Morristown, New Jersey.
"My uncle needed to drop something off at the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Morristown and asked me if I wanted to come with him," recalls Dov Yona. "I waited in the car. Eventually I went inside."
Dov Yona walked right into a room full of young men, students in the branch of the yeshiva for "late beginners" to Torah. They were having a farbrengen (a gathering with open, sincere discussions interspersed with Chasidic melodies). Dov Yona stayed the night, singing, dancing and pondering the deep Chasidic insights being discussed. In the morning he decided that he would try out the yeshiva for a week. But at week's end he left. "There seemed to be so many restrictions. I felt as if they were taking G-d away from me. It went against my free-spirited personality."
Taking with him a kipa, a pair of tefilin and Tanya, the basic book of Chabad chasidic philosophy, Dov Yona traveled to California. He spent the next three months with a friend, doing some serious soul-searching. "I had a lot of time to think. I realized that none of my 'spiritual' experiences was as powerful as that first Shabbat I spent at the yeshiva or the praying I had done, even though it was a crushing experience.
"I knew that anything worthwhile or important takes hard work. 'You are the universe' and 'You are G-d' were just only cliches. I realized that connecting to G-d means working on yourself, going out of your boundaries and your existence."
Then and there, Dov Yona started putting on the tefilin and studying the Tanya he had shlepped with him across the country. "I was moving very slowly. But I finally knew where I was going in."
Dov Yona decided to return home, with a stop at a Grateful Dead concert on the way. At the concert Dov Yona met Sara.* One of the first questions he asked her was, "Do you believe in G-d?" He clarified his question, "I don't just mean peace and love. I'm talking about an All-Powerful Being." Dov Yona was surprised that Sara shared the same belief.
They decided to travel together. At this point Dov Yona was basically keeping kosher and Shabbat. Sara went along with the "Jewish stuff" though she didn't think that Judaism was the path to spirituality. Eventually they parted ways, with Sara going off to study massage and Dov Yona going off to yeshiva.
"When I told my parents I wanted to go to yeshiva, they told me 'Yeshiva University,' a university which offers both Torah studies and secular studies. At the time, I didn't know that it was Chasidut and the joie de vive of the Chasidic lifestyle that had attracted me. I took my GED (high school equivalency test) and was accepted into Y.U."
Dov Yona would spend half the week at Y.U. studying Jewish law, Talmud and psychology (his major) and the other half of the week in Morristown, studying Chasidut and reveling in the exuberance and warmth there. During his half-week at Y.U. he organized farbrengens and classes on Chasidut.
Through a whole chain of events, Sara came back into Dov Yona's life. Dov Yona transferred to Hadar Hatorah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Sara studied in the Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva, also in Crown Heights. "Thank G-d," Dov Yona adds, "my parents have been supportive of me and my decisions." After their wedding, they both continued their full-time time Torah studies.
And today? The Korns work together with Yaakov and Yosef Bankhalter running Chabad of Washington Square, in New York City.
Dov Yona still retains the colorfulness of his "Butterfly" days. But he has also grown into his soul's name: Dov (Hebrew for "bear") for he is strong in his commitment to being an emissary of the Rebbe and Yona ("dove") for his ways are peaceful and pleasant.
*See L'Chaim issue 549
SAYING MAZAL TOV
For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our dependence on the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. For a free, color print of the Psalm call Jewels at 800-860-7030 or 718-756-5700.
Take a trip to the warm reaches of your Jewish soul at this winter's YeshivaCation from Dec. 23 - Jan. 2 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Classes and workshops afford new insights for the beginner to the advanced learner into their Jewish roots. Contact Hadar HaTorah Men's Yeshiva at 718-735-0250 or Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva at 718-735-0030.
5th of Teves, 5712 
Students' Study Group
Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and blessing]:
In reply to your request for a message in connection with Chanukah, in view of your recent visits I trust I may regard our conversation on that occasion as having, in part at least, satisfied your request.
However, inasmuch as Chanukah extends to the beginning of this week, belonging to the weekly Sidrah [Torah portion] of Vayigash, I take this opportunity to convey to you a thought apropos of this Sidrah, which may serve as a message not only for the festival of "Dedication," but which is also of fundamental significance in our daily life.
The Sidrah of Vayigash contains the climax of the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, as you no doubt recall, had been torn from his happy home in the Holy Land and delivered into slavery in Egypt. However, he overcomes all trials and temptations, being guided by the high moral code he brought along with him from his home. Eventually he emerges as the Grand Vizier and ruler of all Egypt, who not only saves his brothers from famine, but also all Egypt and the world around. When finally his identity is revealed to his brothers he tells them - and herein lies the key to the great and mysterious drama - not to feel sorry for all that had befallen him, "For G-d has sent me as a sustenance for you."
There is a profound message in these words for all humanity and for Jews in particular. The whole episode may serve as an illustration and answer to the mystery of our life on this earth. It is man's soul that represents the essential part of his existence. The soul, which is a "part of G-d above," is torn from its heavenly abode, its real "Holy Land," and sent down to the earthly and corporal world (its "Egypt"), where it becomes largely enslaved by the physical body.
Needless to say, the purpose of it is not to torture the soul. The soul is sent down to be a "Joseph" who both in slavery and glory remains loyal to his fatherly home in the "Holy Land." It should never acquiesce or despair in slavery, but should remember its mission, to become the ruler of "Egypt" and the giver of sustenance - Divine Food - to his own body and to all with whom it comes in contact.
The way to achieve this is to be constantly conscious of one's origin and "home" and always remain receptive to the vibrating influences emanating from the parental home in the "Holy Land," until the moments when the shackles of slavery are completely broken and the soul - Joseph - becomes ruler of "Egypt" - body - the materialistic world, and the Divine goal is thus fully attained.
I trust that each one of you will try and be a "Joseph" in this sense.
12 Teves, 5739 
c/o Telshe Yeshivah
Your letter of Rosh Chodesh Teves reached me with some delay. In it you write that you stopped shaving, with the intention to grow a beard.
I trust you have seen the Sefer [book] Hadras Ponim Zoken, whose author is a talmid [student] of the Mirer Yeshivah, which was published recently, with Haskomos [approbations] by prominent Rabbonim, on the great significance and the must and importance of growing a full beard. The Sefer includes also Teshuvos beruros [clear responses] by Gedolei Yisroel [great rabbinic authorities] who had been asked for an opinion in this matter.
May Hashem Yisborach grant you Hatzlocho [success] that in addition to preserving the sanctity of Hadras Ponim you should go from strength to strength in Torah learning and the observance of its Mitzvos with Hiddur [enhancement], which is also one of the teachings of Ner Chanukah [the Chanuka lights], kindled in growing numbers and brightness from day to day, reflecting Ner mitzva v'Torah Or ["a mitzva is a candle and Torah is light], and may you be a source of true Nachas-ruach [pride] to your Roshei Yeshivah [deans] and Mashpiim [mentors].
P.S. Since you have written to me on this matter, it is my duty and Zechus to refer you "also" to the Teshuvo "Tzemach Tzedek" (Yore-Deah, par. 93), as well to his Sefer "Yahel-Or" on Tehillim (in the Miluim, on the verse "Vehu Rachum," p. 626).
Positive mitzva 200: paying wages on time
By this injunction we are commanded to pay the day-laborer his hire on the same day, and not to delay it. It is derived from the words (Deut. 24:15): "In the same day you shall give him his hire."
This Sunday is the Tenth of Tevet, the day on which the walls of ancient Jerusalem were breached by the Babylonians. On this date 850 years after Joshua led the Jewish people into the Holy Land, Nebuchadnezzar's army began a two-and-a-half year siege of the city which would culminate in the Holy Temple's destruction on the Ninth of Av. Both days are traditionally marked by fasting and special prayers.
And yet, as with any other fast, mourning and sorrow are not the main objective. The reason we fast is to arouse our hearts to teshuva and motivate us to return to G-d. Fast days are thus particularly auspicious for making practical resolutions for improving our observance of Torah and mitzvot.
Interestingly, according to some halachic opinions, the Tenth of Tevet is one of the few fasts that must be kept even if it falls out on Shabbat, like Yom Kippur. (Other minor fasts are postponed; in actuality, however, the Tenth of Tevet can never be on a Shabbat according to the Hebrew calendar.)
A question is asked: If other fast days commemorating even worse events in Jewish history can be postponed, why can't the fast of the Tenth of Tevet? After all, the Tenth of Tevet only marks the beginning of the siege, not its terrible conclusion.
The answer is that the Tenth of Tevet signifies the beginning of the end. Even though on that date the Temple still stood, the process that would culminate in its destruction and in the Jewish people's exile was initiated.
From this we learn how important it is not to make concessions when it comes to matters of holiness. A small compromise or step in the wrong direction may seem inconsequential at the time, but can ultimately lead to disastrous results.
May it be G-d's will that the words of the Prophet Zachariah be immediately fulfilled, when our fast days "shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the House of Judah."
Then Joseph could not refrain himself...and he cried (Gen. 45:1)
Why was Joseph able to restrain his emotions till then, but at that point found it impossible to hold them in check? The only reason Joseph spoke so harshly to his brothers was to bring them to teshuva, so that their remorse and sorrow would atone for having sold him. When Judah declared his willingness to become Joseph's slave, Joseph realized that they were truly broken-hearted, and he could not contain himself. (Shem MiShmuel)
To all of them he gave each one changes of raiment (Gen. 45:22)
Of all the gifts Joseph could have given his brothers, why did he choose clothing? Because after the goblet was found in Benjamin's sack, "they tore their clothes...and returned to the city." Joseph's gift of new apparel was intended to make it up to them. (The Tur)
And to his father he sent...the best things of Egypt (Gen. 45:23)
As Rashi notes, one of the gifts Joseph sent his father was "old wine, which is particularly pleasing to the elderly." The Talmud (Baba Batra 98a) relates that the wine of an arrogant and conceited person spoils rapidly. In Egypt, which was so arrogant a land that the prophet Isaiah called it "Boastfulness," wine could only be kept a short time. Joseph therefore sent his father old wine as "proof" that the Egyptians' bad character traits had not rubbed off on him. (Rabbi Avraham Avli)
And I will also surely bring you up again (literally, "I will bring you up and also up") (Gen. 46:4)
The Torah's repetition of the word "up" is an allusion to the two spiritual ascensions of the Jewish people. The first occurred with the Exodus from Egypt; the second will take place with Moshiach and the Final Redemption. (Sefer HaMaamarim 5709)
A Chabad Chasid from the Slonim family in the Holy Land once sailed to White Russia to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe of that time, the Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe), who was also his relative. The Rebbe asked him many questions about the situation of the Jews in the Land. While answering, the Chasid commented, "I don't understand what is written in certain books that in the Holy Land dwell lofty souls. I know the Jews there, and I haven't seen that they are more special than the Jews here."
"Oh, are you qualified to recognize lofty souls?" remarked the Rebbe. "Here, let me tell you a story that I heard from my father about a simple Jew in the Land of Israel:
"There was once a Jewish farmer who lived just outside of Jerusalem. He did not know how to study Torah, nor did he understand the words of the prayers he said every day. In fact, even the order of the prayers and that some prayers are added on certain days and left out on others left him hopelessly confused. So, once a week, when he came to the city to sell his produce, he would go to a certain local rabbi, who would write down for him the order of the prayers for each of the seven days to come.
"One year, in the month of Cheshvan, when the rainy season usually begins, he asked the rabbi to make the list for the next two weeks. He explained that because of the bad road conditions caused by the winter rains, he would now come only once every two weeks.
"It turned out, however, that he came to Jerusalem the next week anyway. He had something pressing to attend to, and besides, it hadn't rained. When he arrived, he halted his donkey in shock: all the Jewish stores were closed!
"The simple fellow was seized by anxiety. Could he possibly have miscounted the days? G-d have mercy! Was it Shabbat today? He stood motionless. What to do?
"Looking around, he saw a solitary Jew on the street, walking along with his talit and tefilin under his arm. 'Thank G-d!' the farmer intoned; 'It can't be Shabbat if he is carrying tefilin!'
"But if so, why were the stores closed and the street deserted? He approached the strolling Jew he had spotted and asked him what was going on. The man told him that it was a public fast-day.
"Now he felt distressed again. A fast day? But he had already eaten! And failed to say the appropiate extra prayers too. Why hadn't the rabbi warned him the week before?
"Abandoning his donkey and wagon right in the middle of the marketplace where he had stopped, he rushed over to the rabbi's house. There he was told that the rabbi was still in shul, so off he ran again, his heart pounding from both fear and exertion. 'Rabbi!' he cried out, bursting into tears. 'How could you do this to me!'
"The sage couldn't understand why he was so upset. 'What happened, my friend?' he asked gently.
" 'What happened?' you ask. 'Today is a fast day, I just found out, but your honor didn't write it down or even mention anything about it to me last week, and so I already ate and said the wrong prayers. Woe is me!"
"The rabbi smiled, relieved. 'You can relax, my friend. This is not a regular fast day. We just recently decreed this special fast-day for the residents of Jerusalem because of the possibility of a serious drought due to our lack of rain, but you don't live here and so were in no way obligated.'
"The farmer looked perplexed. 'When you folk need rain, you decree a fast?' he asked, puzzled.
" 'That's right,' the rabbi replied.
" 'Of course. Why? What do you think we should do?'
" 'Well,' answered the farmer, innocently, 'when my fields don't have enough rain, I go out there and say to the One Above, "Father! I need rain." And then it starts to rain.'
"The rabbi looked at the simple-looking fellow intensely and saw that he was sincere. 'If that's so, why don't you try and see if your methods will work here in the city, too!?'
"The farmer turned and went outside to the courtyard of the shul. He began to weep. Through his tears he cried out, 'Father! Can it possibly be that the people of Your holy city will expire from famine? Don't You see that they need rain?'
"Immediately the sky darkened and rain began to fall.
As he completed the story, the Maharash said to his visitor from the Holy Land, "So do you really think you are able to distinguish who in the Land is a lofty soul?"
Translated by Yrachmiel Tilles for the Ascent Quarterly. Visit their website at www.ascent.org.il
The Talmud (Megila 29a) states: "In the future, the synagogues and houses of study of [the diaspora] will be established in the Holy Land." Concerning this the Maharsha explains that they will be positioned in direct proximity to the Holy Temple, and the revelation of the Divine Presence in the Holy Temple will permeate them as well. Based on this the Maharsha explains the statement in the Midrash that in the Era of the Redemption, the Holy Temple will encompass all of Jerusalem. For, since all the synagogues and houses of study in the diaspora will be included in the Holy Temple, its area will be the size of the entire city of Jerusalem.