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Sweater, warm socks, gloves, boots, hat, scarf, coat. In freezing winter weather we make a mental checklist of what to wear when going outdoors to keep warm. Even if we ourselves would go out less prepared against the elements, we wouldn't consider letting a child in our care venture outside without enough clothing and accessories to keep him well-protected.
In the same way, say our Sages, G-d makes sure to give us the garments necessary to withstand even the most fearsome elements. "G-d doesn't put more on a person's shoulders than he can carry," Judaism teaches. Somewhere, sometimes buried very deep within the person, is the ability to weather any storm he or she might encounter. Afterall, G-d, the ultimate parent after whom all other parents are modeled, would not let His children go out in "sub-zero weather" clad inappropriately!
It can take tremendous courage to summon the strength that is within in order to overcome challenges or obtacles. Many a time, it seems easier to withdraw and admit defeat. "I'm just not cut out for this," we cry, surrendering hopelessly. But if we retreat, we will never know the taste of victory won against all odds.
In "the old country," some say, it was easier to be a Jew. Jews were not totally accepted in non-Jewish circles and lived in their own little ghettos. Anti-Semitism was a constant reminder to our grandparents or great-grandparents that they were Jews. Life was simpler and people were more simple-minded. In those "unenlightened" times, they relied on religion because they were ignorant, the thinking goes. The storms our grandparents' weathered were much more physical and material than are ours today. Yet they drew on an inner strength and overcame them all the same. They were hungry, beaten, mocked and ridiculed. But because they didn't give up, the myth still persists that it was easier to be a Jew in the old country.
Being a Jew today, in a society where success is measured by the number and model of cars in the garage, is tough. We grapple with real questions that are made even more difficult because we have been totally accepted in non-Jewish circles and no longer live in Jewish ghettos. Can our children be successful doctors, lawyers or business people if we send them to a Jewish school? What will my friends or business associates think if I don't eat out with them in restaurants? If I close down my store every Sabbath, how can it not affect business? How can I admit to myself and others that I believe in G-d (for in his heart of hearts, every Jew believes in G-d) when everyone else believes in the infallibility of science?
These are very real questions, very difficult questions, because they deal with our own self-images and perceptions. But G-d has imbued us with the strength to answer these questions and overcome any obstacles that honest answers might present. It would be easier to say, "I'm just not cut out for this." But nobody ever said life is easy.
In the Torah portion of Vayigash, Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers. "I am Joseph," he says, "is my father still alive?"
The question itself demands further explanation. Judah had just told Joseph that Jacob was unwilling to send Benjamin down to Egypt, fearing that he would die there. He had also just stated that if Benjamin were to be detained in Egypt, he was afraid that his father might not survive. It is obvious that Joseph knew that Jacob was still alive. Moreover, we see that Joseph didn't even wait for a response, but immediately ordered them to bring their father.
"Is my father still alive?" was therefore not stated as a question, but as an expression of surprise. Joseph was astonished that his father was still among the living.
At the time Jacob was 133 years old, relatively young compared to the lifespan of Abraham and Isaac. Why, then, was Joseph so surprised?
When Jacob heard that Joseph had died, he entered a state of constant mourning. For 22 years he endured incredible grief, "and refused to be consoled." Jacob's pain was simply unendurable. It was therefore surprising to Joseph that his father hadn't succumbed to such protracted suffering.
Joseph then tells his brothers to "Hurry back to my father." The element of speed was required not only to inform Jacob that Joseph had been found alive, but also to bring him to Egypt as soon as possible. Every moment that passed without father and son being reunited placed Jacob in danger for his life.
(As for the question as to why Joseph didn't travel to his father himself, the answer is contained in his words: "G-d sent me before you." Joseph knew that he was fulfilling a Divine mission in Egypt, and therefore could not leave.)
Jacob was in mourning for Joseph 22 years. This corresponded to the 22 years Jacob did not observe the mitzva of honoring his father and mother (as he was not in close physical proximity to them). His 22 years of mourning for his son were a punishment for this shortcoming.
However, at the exact moment the 22 years were up, the Divine decree that he be separated from his son no longer existed. Joseph thus urged his brothers to "hurry," for there was no longer any reason to delay "even the blink of an eye."
There are sometimes situations in life when it is necessary to act within the attribute of severity. And yet, as we learn from Joseph, we must always be careful to do so sparingly. As soon as the reason for punishment no longer exists, we must immediately revert to loving-kindness and mercy. For it is forbidden to cause even a moment of unnecessary suffering.
Adapted from Volume 15 of Likutei Sichot
My Jewish Hero
by Chumi Zelmanowitz
I want to tell you about my Uncle Avremel. He was always a hero for me, and now he has become a hero for the whole world.
Everybody in our family loved Uncle Avremel (Abe) Zelmanowitz. He was kind and full of fun. He always had time for others, whether it was the kids in the family, or the kids on the block. Whether it meant caring for his parents when they were ill, or just being a help around the house.
It seemed like he was always helping someone. If you ever needed a favor, Uncle Avremel would be the first one to do it. He never needed to be asked twice. Often, he didn't even need to be asked once. He could tell what people needed, and just did what had to be done, without making a fuss.
Uncle Avremel worked on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center, as a computer programmer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Insurance Plan.
For 12 years, he worked together with a man named Ed Beyea. Ed was his good friend. Ed was a special person. He had hurt himself in an accident many years ago, and was totally paralyzed from the neck down. He couldn't move his hands or legs or anything.
He was able to talk, and he did his job as a programmer by blowing through a kind of tube.
Uncle Avremel used to care for Ed a lot. He would take him out to restaurants to eat, making sure in advance that the restaurant was kosher, and wheelchair accessible.
I'm sure Ed loved my uncle. Whenever Ed's family would ask about his friend Abe, he would say, "Abe's a mensch!" That was their joke, because Ed was not Jewish.
On September 11, when the plane hit the first tower of the World Trade Center, everyone began leaving right away. Uncle Avremel could have gone down the stairs safely like everyone else. But Ed couldn't go down the stairs in a wheelchair. He needed to be carried. That was very difficult, because Ed was very heavy.
Uncle Avremel stayed with his friend, waiting for a fireman to come. I'm sure Ed told Uncle Avremel to go and save himself. But our uncle refused to leave his friend.
He struggled to save his life, and in the end, they perished.
His devotion to his friend touched the whole nation. When President Bush spoke at a prayer service in Washington, he mentioned Uncle Avremel's heroic behavior.
Many people wrote letters and sent faxes to our family. Some were from people who were physically challenged like Ed was. They were moved and inspired that someone would care for a person who was crippled as our Uncle had.
A woman from California wrote, "Do you realize what a miracle Abe was for his co-worker? Loneliness and fear can't exist if you share love with someone... Abe was a blessing for his friend, a hero of deepest sincerity, one who doesn't think of himself first."
For Uncle Avremel there was no other way.
In the days of our ancestor Abraham, the first Jew, there was a King called Nimrod. He was very powerful. He conquered many nations, and no doubt killed many people. Nimrod said his god was fire. When Avraham refused to believe in his false god, Nimrod threw Avraham into a fiery furnace.
Our Uncle Avremel was also thrown into a fiery furnace, but his supreme act proclaimed to the world, that his G-d was a G-d of kindness, and He would not forsake him.
He gave his life in a totally selfless way to help another person, and sanctified the Name of G-d before all mankind.
I hope that in some small way I should be able to behave in my life with the same chesed (kindness) as my uncle, and in the merit of his great deed, I pray that Hashem should watch over all His people Israel, and keep them safe, and we should merit the immediate coming of Moshiach. Now!
In honor of the 100th year from the Rebbe's birth, Jewish Educational Media presents Living Torah. Available on CD or videocassette, each weekly Living Torah features a short talk of the Rebbe with English, Hebrew, French or Portugese subtitles; an uplifting niggun-Chasidic melody-sung at a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering); a personal encounter with the Rebbe; and a "special moment" from the JEM archives. Each CD or videocassette contains four weeks of features. To order or for more info visit their website at www.jemedia.org/livingtorah or call 718-774-6000 x243.
Study Opportunities In Brooklyn
Join young professionals, college students, couples, singles and families from all walks of life in the welcoming atmosphere of the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, for three days of soul-stirring and mind-expanding seminars and activities from Dec. 21-23. This Chabad Discovery Shabbaton, sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization, features Rabbi Manis Friedman and Mrs. Chana Rochel Schusterman. www.shabbatons.org or 718-953-1000.
YeshivaCation is a ten-day intensive yeshiva experience from Dec. 20-30, for people with minimal formal background in Torah-based learning. Participants spend their days in a traditional course of yeshiva study in addition to attending special evening workshops and lectures. For women: Machon Chana Women's Institute-(718) 735-0030, www.machonchana.org. For men: Hadar HaTorah Men's Yeshiva-(718) 735-0259, www.hadarhatorah.org
One-on-one learning, personalized attention, any topic, any subject, whatever sparks your interest, is what is being offered each week during "Study Buddies" at the Lubavitch Center of Essex County, in West Orange, New Jersey. Open to men and women, Study Buddies is held on Thursdays at 8:45 p.m. For more info call (973) 243-6111. For similar learning opportunities in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
21st of Teves, 5719 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter, and, as requested, I will remember you and your father in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law, of saintly memory.
With regard to the knowledge of the language, it is not as important as the knowledge of the content, especially as knowledge which expresses itself in actual deeds, for, as our Sages said: "The importance of study is that it leads to practice" and also that "When therein is a determination, the success is assured."
I suggest that you have your Tefillin checked and also your father's Tefillin. Similarly, it would be well to have your Mezuzos in your home checked. I also suggest that before your morning prayers on weekdays, you set aside a penny or two for Tzedoko.
Hoping to hear good news from you.
20th of Teves, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of the 9th of Teves, and the one before that. I note that you have talked to your local Rav, and you should continue to do so, inasmuch as this gives you an opportunity to explain all the pertinent details and particulars of the situation.
As for the question of the diet, the Rav will surely explain to you that this is an area where you cannot haggle, for that which is forbidden to eat is forbidden, even if you think you might thereby attract someone and bring him closer to Yiddishkeit. At any rate, in matters concerning the point of Jewish law, the thing to do is to consult the local Rav and be guided by him.
I trust that, apart from your regular shiurim with others several times a week, you have your own shiurim every day, both in Talmud as well as in the weekly sidrah. In general, one should always remember the saying of our Sages, "According to the camel is his load," meaning that everyone is given the necessary inner strength to overcome the inner battle against temptation, and if you will only use your spiritual resources with the appropriate determination, and not get discouraged by an occasional relapse, you will eventually come out victorious.
My G-d grant that you will have good news to report in all above.
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 Hatzlocho (success), especially that your position in the community gives you the responsibility and privilege to serve as an example to be emulated by others.
6 Tevet 5762
Positive mitzva 2: unity of G-d
By this injunction we are commanded to believe in the unity of G-d; to believe that the Creator of all things in existence and their First Cause is One. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 6:4): "Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Tuesday (December 25) is the tenth of Tevet. This date marks the anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezar, King of Babylon. The siege eventually resulted in the destruction of the First Holy Temple in 422 B.C.E.
Jewish teachings explains that anniversaries on the Jewish calendar are not merely days to memorialize an event or happening. Rather, the energy that was present at that time is present in the world once again.
How do we, today, respond to a devastating tragedy that occured to the Jewish people nearly 2,500 years ago?
This same question was written to the Rebbe a number of years ago. The Rebbe's response, as valid now as then, included the following suggestions:
During the fast day, to help insure security and strengthen the Land of Israel, materially and spiritually, and also for the material and spiritual benefit of all Jews wherever they are, a special effort should be made in the areas of Torah study, prayer, and charity.
Charity, in particular, should be given in the morning and afternoon, and it is especially appropriate to give tzedaka for an institution in Israel.
A person who does any of the above mentioned activities throughout the day is to be praised. And the more he does, the more praiseworthy he is.
If each one of us performs these three important mitzvot to the best --and even a little better than our ability--then very soon, the promise will be fulfilled that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness."
For how shall I go up to my father, and the youth is not with me? (Gen. 44:34)
Every Jew must ask himself this same question: After 120 years, how will I be able to face my Father in heaven "and the youth is not with me" - if I have wasted my younger years on trivial and frivolous pursuits? This is also a question to be asked by every Jewish parent: How will I answer to G-d "and the youth is not with me" - if I have not met the Jewish educational needs of my children, and allowed them to become estranged due to ignorance?
(Der Torah Kval)
You shall tell my father of all my glory ("kevodi") in Egypt (Gen. 45:13)
The literal meaning of "kavod" is heaviness, weight or gravity. In other words, Joseph was asking his brothers to tell their father Jacob that despite his being in the spiritually unclean land of Egypt, he had managed to remain strong and connected to G-d.
I will go down with you to Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again (Gen. 46:4)
The Jewish people can rest assured they will eventually go out of exile, as the time must ultimately come for G-d to be revealed in the world. The only way this revelation can happen is for the Jewish people to be redeemed and their true advantage revealed in the world.
And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found...for the grain ("shever") that they bought ("shovrim") (Gen. 47:14)
The Midrash relates that the coins of ancient Egypt bore the likeness of an idol. How, then, could Joseph have had anything to do with an object that was tainted by idolatry? The answer lies in an alternate interpretation of the word "shever," which can also mean "to break." Before giving the coins to Joseph the Egyptians broke them up in pieces, thereby nullifying their idolatrous quality.
(The Rabbi of Zidatchov)
One Friday night the Baal Shem Tov was about to make Kiddush when he suddenly laughed out loud. In the middle of the Shabbat meal he laughed again, and a few minutes later he laughed a third time. No one dared inquire why, but immediately after Shabbat his disciples approached Reb Zev Kitzes and begged him to find out what was going on. (Reb Zev Kitzes used to sit with the Baal Shem Tov on Saturday nights while he smoked his pipe.)
When Reb Zev Kitzes asked the Baal Shem Tov why he had laughed, the tzadik replied that he would show him. He ordered his driver to ready the horses and wagon, and the entire group of disciples piled in for the ride. Throughout the night they traveled, without knowing their destination. When dawn broke they saw that they had arrived in the city of Kozhnitz.
After the morning service, the Baal Shem Tov asked that Reb Shabsai the bookbinder be summoned before him. The head of the Jewish community was very surprised by the tzadik's interest in this particular individual. "What I mean to say," he explained, "is that I'm sure he's a fine and honest man, but he's not exactly what one might call a Torah scholar. In fact, he's a very simple person." Nonetheless, the Baal Shem Tov was adamant about speaking to him. Reb Shabsai the bookbinder was summoned, together with his wife.
When the two of them were standing before him the Baal Shem Tov said, "I want you to tell me what you did on Shabbat. Tell me the truth, and do not leave out any details."
"I will tell you everything," Reb Shabsai replied, "and if I've done something wrong, I beg you to show me how to make amends. I am a simple bookbinder," he began, "and when I was younger and stronger and could work long hours, my livelihood was plentiful. Every Thursday I would buy the necessities for Shabbat, and on Friday mornings close up shop at ten o'clock, in order to go to the synagogue to prepare myself for the holy day. Now that I am older, however," he continued, "I find that I cannot work so hard, and we have become quite poor. But I refuse to relinquish my former habit.
"This past week, Friday morning rolled around and I did not even have enough money to buy flour. But I decided that it would be better to suffer in silence than ask for charity. I asked my wife to promise me that even if the neighbors noticed we had no food, she would refuse to take any gifts. Rather, we would willingly accept whatever had been decreed from Above. Not having any other way to honor the Shabbat, my wife set about sweeping our humble home with a broom, removing the dust from every nook and cranny.
"That Friday night, instead of going home right after Maariv, I remained in the synagogue until everyone was gone. I was afraid someone might ask me why there weren't any candles burning in the window.
"Unbeknownst to me, while cleaning the house my wife had found an old dress with silver buttons on the sleeves. Overjoyed at her find, she had immediately sold them for enough money to provide a very sumptuous Sabbath meal. When I came home and saw the house brightly lit and the table fit for a king, I was very disappointed, assuming that she had been unable to withstand the temptation of accepting charity. Nevertheless, I decided to say nothing that would disturb the sanctity of the Sabbath.
"I made Kiddush and we washed for the challa, but after the fish I couldn't control myself any longer. Very gently I chided her for having accepted our neighbors' generosity, but before I could even finish she told me what had happened. My eyes filled with tears of happiness, and without even thinking I grabbed her arm and began to dance with her around the table. After the soup I was again overcome with joy, and we danced for a second time, and for a third time after dessert. All in all, three times I was overwhelmed with gratefulness that G-d had allowed me to rejoice in the Sabbath directly from His holy hand. But Rebbe," he added worriedly, "If I've committed any sin, please tell me how to correct it."
At that the Baal Shem Tov turned to his disciples and said, "I want you to know that the entire entourage of heavenly angels was dancing and rejoicing with Reb Shabsai and his wife. That is why I laughed aloud those three times."
He then offered the couple a choice: Either they could live out their days in honor and wealth, or they could be blessed with a son in their old age (having been childless till then). Reb Shabsai's wife immediately chose to have a child, whereupon the Baal Shem promised she would give birth the following year, to a boy they should name Yisrael (the Baal Shem Tov's own name). He also asked to be invited to the brit, so he could serve as sandek and hold the baby.
Indeed, the child grew up to be one of the greatest sages of his generation, known as the Kozhnitzer Magid.
A person might think that since it is G-d's will that we are in exile, we should resign ourselves to the situation. Nothing is further from the truth. G-d is anxiously waiting for us to arouse a new will on His part. He is waiting for us to motivate Him to bring the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Masei, 5744-1984)