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"Do me a favor." We've all said that lots of times to lots of different people. We've asked a child to bring us a drink; we've asked a spouse to try the soup we just cooked, read the poem we just wrote or invite the couple we just met; we've asked a sibling to do the dishes for us, pick something up from the cleaners or stop at the drug store; we've asked a friend to send us an email, fax us a copy or get in touch with an acquain-tance; we've asked a stranger with a basketful of groceries to let us ahead in line when we've got two items.
We ask the postman to take a letter, the person next to us on the bus to move over, the checkout clerk for paper bags instead of plastic, the bank teller for fives and tens instead of twenties, the waiter for iced tea without lemon (or fries without salt), the guy down the street for a ride and someone jogging for the time.
The truth is we all ask others for favors - and they ask us in turn. These are little courtesies - brief interludes within or between relationships. Many times we ask or do a favor without attention to the exchange. In fact, only when the favor borders on an imposition do we become uncomfortable, self-conscious, even a little guilty maybe. It's not so much we fear being in someone's debt as we become aware of human vulnerability.
After all, why do we hesitate when asking or being asked a favor? In part we can quantify the hesitation: the size of the favor must be in proportion to our closeness with the person. I can ask a bigger favor of a close friend or relative than of a casual acquaintance or a stranger. If I need to pick up my car from the shop, I'll ask my brother or good friend. If no one else can do it, I'll reluctantly ask a co-worker. I'm reluctant not because he won't do it or he'll use it against me ("Remember when I did such-and-such?") but because I'm not that close to him.
In a way, then, favors work like a barometer or temperature gauge. They tell us how intense, how "hot," how stable the relationship. Little favors equal little correspondence. We don't have much in common with the lady in the check-out line. We both have groceries, appointments and restless kids. So we only ask a little favor. For three items - a can of tuna fish, a bag of chips and a soda - she'll let me in ahead of her. But for four - add a box of crackers - well, I better not ask.
Yet oddly favors make us familiar and open us up. We find out that the stranger who stopped to help us change a flat tire has a son looking for work in computers. Two months later a customer asks if we know anyone looking for work in computers. The proportion of the favor changes, the ratio of separation shrinks, and suddenly the person on the other side of the favor becomes more human, more vulnerable, more reflective of my soul - more G-dly, if you will.
If we really do become intertwined through favors, if the small courtesy acts as an adhesive, like gravity pulling us together across the vast reaches of our mystical isolation, perhaps we should rethink the nature and value of a favor. Perhaps we should begin going out of our way to do a favor. Perhaps we should also go out of our way to give someone else the opportunity to do us a favor.
The Rebbe once said that to bring Moshiach all we need to do is increase our acts of goodness and kindness. Just a little bit. It's a way to reveal the inner unity, the G-dliness within us all.
So, please, do me a favor.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph, viceroy of Egypt, dramatically reveals his true identity to his incredulous brothers. Joseph reassures them that the entire sequence of events, beginning with his being sold into slavery to his eventual rise to power, was the hand of G-d guiding him from above. "It was not you who sent me here, but G-d," he tells his brothers. Joseph then asks them to carry the following message back to their father, Jacob: "G-d has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me (to Egypt); do not tarry."
At first glance, Joseph's choice of words seems odd. If Joseph's intent was merely to convince Jacob to undertake the lengthy journey, why would he imagine that his elderly father would be swayed by the news that his son now occupied a high political office?
Rather, Jacob knew that the Jewish people was destined to go into exile in Egypt. When informed of Joseph's rise to power, he understood that this was an integral part of that process. Once that stage was reached it was time for Jacob to follow and the next phase to begin.
Many years before, G-d had explained the objective of the exile in Egypt: "Afterwards (after the exile), they will emerge with great wealth," G-d promised Abraham. Under Joseph's tenure, Egypt was transformed into a wealthy nation. In exchange for the food he had so cleverly stockpiled, Joseph collected much of the world's riches-all done in order for the Jews to eventually depart Egypt "with great wealth." Indeed, the accumulation of wealth was one of the prime reasons behind the entire 210-year exile.
Yet the concept of "great wealth" must be understood on a deeper level as well, not only in the literal sense. The material riches accumulated by the Jewish people was only a reflection of the great spiritual wealth with which they left Egypt. For the Jews were sent into exile for the purpose of extracting and refining the sparks of holiness hidden within the most morally degraded and degenerate place on earth - Egypt. Those sparks of purity, once freed from their prison within Egypt's "49 gates of impurity," were the ultimate riches derived by the Jews during their exile.
The accumulation of "wealth" is likewise the purpose of our present exile as well - extracting the good from the corporeal world and transforming it into holiness by utilizing physical objects for the purpose of Torah and mitzvot.
This process is now complete. Over the thousands of years of exile, the Jewish people have uncovered and elevated all of these sparks of holiness, dispersed throughout the four corners of the earth. According to Divine plan, the time has therefore come for G-d to fulfill His promise and send Moshiach, NOW!
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Bar Mitzva Boy Raises More than $85,000 for Israel
by Elana Kahn-Oren
When Moshe Baruch Maiman of Mequon was three-years-old, his sense of tzedakah was already firmly intact. At his upsherin (ritual first haircut), he wouldn't allow friends and family to fulfill the custom of snipping a bit of his hair until they put money into a pushke.
Since then, Moshe believes that "the best place for a penny is a pushke," according to his father, Dr. Dovid Chaim Maiman (Dennis).
This fall, Moshe's notion of charity has reached almost epic proportions; for his September bar mitzvah, he asked that people give money to Israel rather than give him gifts. To date, he has raised more than $85,000.
The idea was born after Moshe's father planned a 50th birthday party for his wife, Dina Chana (Donnalyn), who had recently recovered from breast cancer. In an invitation to the families of Congregation Agudas Achim Chabad, Dovid asked that celebrants take on extra mitzvahs - from the simple to the more involved, from hanging mezuzahs to saying tehillim (psalms) to koshering their homes.
When Moshe neared his bar mitzvah, he said to his parents, "I want to do something like what you did." He composed a letter, which was sent with the bar mitzvah invitation and explained, "On this special occasion, I am taking on as my special mitzvah, the mitzvah of tzedakah."
He asked that the approximately 200 invitees bring their checkbooks rather than gifts and give to one or more of the six charities his father helped him select.
"That will be a great present for me!" the letter stated. The letter also requested that people start saying certain psalms for the welfare of Jews in Israel and throughout the world.
"I feel I have everything I need," Moshe said of his efforts. "There is a saying: 'You give and you receive.' I received and now it's time to give."
He added, "I always think about Israel," which he has visited six times. "When people die in Israel, I always think, 'how could I help Israel, to prevent people from dying?'
According to a list prepared by Moshe's father, the six organizations he and Moshe selected are: American Friends of Ateret Cohanim/Jerusalem reclamation project; American Friends of Beit Orot, a yeshiva on the Mount of Olives; Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, a Jerusalem yeshiva involved in the Birthright program; Magen David Adom, Israel's first aid/paramedic services; the Hebron Fund, an American organization that represents the Jewish community in Hebron; and the Israel Emergency Relief Solidarity Fund, which provides financial assistance to victims of terror.
Moshe's parents are, of course, very proud of his tzedakah, but they're not surprised. "All our kids are this way," Dovid said, referring to the couple's three other children: Nehama, 22; Shoshana, 19; and Yehudit, 17.
"These are values that they grow up with being in a Jewish school and you reinforce at home. They learn not to be selfish," Dina said of the strong value of tzedakah at Hillel Academy and throughout their community.
At first, the Maimans didn't want to publicize Moshe's feat. As the giving grew, they became convinced that people should know about it. As Dovid explained, "Giving often stimulates other people to give."
"A bar mitzvah," he said, "is more like a wedding than a graduation. It's a celebration of an opportunity to take on responsibilities and grow. That perspective, no matter who the kid, needs to be stressed."
Moshe has only one regret - his bar mitzvah celebration passed too quickly. "You work a whole year but you have only one day to do it," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle
My Encounter with the Rebbe
Zalmon Jaffe's diaries detailing his yearly encounters with the Lubavitcher Rebbe have been delighting audiences around the world since his first visit to the Rebbe in 1959. Mr. Jaffe published these writings from 35 years of visits in 26 volumes at the Rebbe's behest. Through brilliant and rare depictions, Reb Zalmon captured the pulse at "770" with the Rebbe in a down-to-earth and humorous style. To read My Encounter with the Rebbe is to gain a vivid perspective of what it is like to be in the Rebbe's presence on a daily basis. "Encounters" is being edited anew and published by one of Reb Zalmon's grandsons so that they are more accessible to the general public. Published by PCL Publishing, email@example.com
The Man Who Mocked the KGB
In this fascinating account, revolving around the experiences of Rabbi Moishe Levertov and his family, we glimpse some of the terrors of life under Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s. And we get to know many courageous Jews who, in the face of ferocious persecution, kept the flame of Judaism burning. The Man Who Mocked the KGB celebrates the victory of Judaism over yet another in the long chain of persecutors who have tried, unsuccessfully, to destroy Judaism.
5 Teves, 5736 
In reply to your inquiry and request for instructions in connection with the forthcoming fast of Asara b'Teves (10th of Teves), in view of the situation in and around Israel -
You will surely be instructed by the rabbi of your congregation, however, since you have also approached me in this matter, I will set forth, at least, several suggestions - after the following introductory remarks:
Regrettably, there are people who claim that it is necessary to think and act "big," in terms of global dimensions and stupendous undertakings, etc. Surely they mean well; and to the extent that such resolutions are practical and are actually carried out - they are very helpful in improving the situation.
Yet, we must never overlook - indeed, rather greatly emphasize - the so-called "small and unsophisticated" things which each modest congregation, moreover each individual, can and must do - beginning with the old, yet ever-new, Jewish way, collectively as one people and also as individuals. This is the action of "the voice is the voice of Jacob" - Torah and prayer - which G-d Himself has shown us to be the first effective action to nullify the power of "the hands of Esau" - in whatever shape or form they are raised against us.
Certainly this should find the fullest expression in a day which the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] declares to be a day of fasting, one to which the prophet Isaiah refers as a "chosen fast...a fast and time favored by G-d."
Now, in answer to your inquiry, and since the fast of Asara b'Teves is specially connected with the Holy Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem (recalling the siege of Jerusalem), my suggestion - in addition to the regular "obser-vances" on fast days, as set forth at length and in detail in Poskim [Jewish legal adjudicators] and in books of Mussar and Chasidism - is as follows:
During this day - expressly for the sake (zechus) of the security and strengthening of the Holy Land, materially and spiritually, and for the material and spiritual benefit of all Jews wherever they are - in the Holy Land as well as in the Diaspora - and particularly for the benefit of our brethren behind the "Iron Curtain" - a special effort should be made in the spirit of "Old Israel" - in the areas of Torah study, prayer and charity.
Especially after praying (both in the morning and at Mincha - the afternoon service) one should learn (and where there already are daily study groups, to add) a subject in Torah, including halacha pesuka (final ruling).
Immediately following the prayers, even before learning, one should say several chapters of Psalms (in addition to the regular portion).
Before and after praying - one should give charity (in addition to the regular donation), including charity for a sacred cause or institution in the Holy Land, the "Land of Living."
Needless to say, one who repeats the above again and again in the course of the day is to be praised.
And the more one does it (in quantity and quality), the more praiseworthy it is.
And, as in all matters of holiness, it is desirable that all the above be done with at least a minyan (quorum).
May G-d accept, and He will accept, the prayers and supplications of Jews wherever they are.
And soon, in our very own days, may the promise be fulfilled that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness," with the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
5 Cheshvan, 5763 - October 11, 2002
Prohibition 241: It is forbidden to take a security from a widow
This commandment is based on the verse (Deut. 24:17) "Nor shall you take a widow's garment as security" The Torah forbids us to demand any security from a widow for a loan she has taken. Rather, we should be kind and trust that G-d will help her repay the loan. This prohibition applies regardless of whether a widow is poor or wealthy.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming week, on Sunday (December 15) we commemorate the start of the siege of Jersualem by Nebuchadnezar, King of Babylonia. The siege resulted in the eventual destruction of the First Holy Temple nearly 2500 years ago. This day is commemorated as a public fast day.
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 Holy Temple.
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 the 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. Jacob possessed a comprehensive soul that included the souls of all Jews. "Jacob" thus stands for every single Jew, and his descent into Egypt alludes to Israel's descent into exile. 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 "hogeh baTorah," for the power to redeem the Jewish people from exile can only come from one whose entire existence is absolutely unified with the Torah itself.
Then Judah came near to him (Gen. 44:18)
The word "came near" - vayigash, implies that Judah and Joseph came very close. Many years later the descendants of Judah and Joseph split, and formed two separate kingdoms. Vayigash alludes to the time of the Redemption when we ill unite as one kingdom under one king, Moshiach.
The Rizhiner Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel of Rizhin, was the great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch. (The Maggid, Rabbi Dov Ber, was the disciple and successor of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement.)
The Rizhiner Rebbe had inherited his great-grandfather's tefilin, and when the Rizhiner Rebbe passed away, his six sons all wanted this most precious possession. The brothers decided to cast lots and David Moshe was the winner.
A number of years passed. Rabbi Avraham Yaakov, the oldest son of the Rizhiner Rebbe, was now renown as the Rebbe of Sadigura. One day, the Sadigura Rebbe mentioned to his Chasidim that he had wanted to have the special tefilin inherited by his brother, Rabbi David Moshe.
A young Chasid revealed in a trembling voice, "Knowing how much the Rebbe had wanted the Maggid's tefilin, my friend and I traveled to Rabbi David Moshe's home and secretly took the parchments out of the tefilin boxes and replaced them with perfectly kosher parchments. We meant no harm to the Rebbe's brother and only hoped to please the Rebbe. Afterwards we had second thoughts but now that we heard how much the Rebbe had wanted the Maggid's tefilin, we have decided to tell the Rebbe what we did."
The Chasidim who heard this confession trembled in disbelief. How could these two do such a dreadful thing?! On the other hand, if Rabbi David Moshe remained unaware, then perhaps the tefilin really weren't intended for him?
The Sadigura Rebbe unwrapped the parchments, looked them over care-fully, lovingly rewrapped them in his silk kerchief and put them away. "We will go visit my brother," said the Rebbe.
When the Sadigura Rebbe and his Chasidim arrived in Potick, his brother welcomed them graciously. The following morning, Rabbi David Moshe took his brother into a private room, where they were to pray together. On the table lay three pairs of tefilin next to each other - Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam and Shimusha Rabba. A little further away was another pair of tefilin in a bag that the Sadigura Rebbe recognized as the Maggid's tefilin.
Rabbi David Moshe held the Maggid's tefilin with eyes closed in contemplation. Then he sighed and put them down. He put on his own Rashi tefilin and began to pray. Afterwards, he put on the other two pairs of tefilin.
When they finished praying, the Sadigura Rebbe asked his brother why he did not put on the saintly Maggid's tefilin. Rabbi David Moshe sighed again. "I have not put them on since one morning when I picked them up and did not feel their holiness. This could only mean that I am no longer worthy to put them on." Rabbi David Moshe continued, saying, "I want you to have these tefilin. I am sure that you are worthier than I."
The Sadigura Rebbe said, "These tefilin truly are meant for you." And he proceeded to tell his brother what had happened. Upon finishing, the Sadigura Rebbe took out his silk kerchief and handed it to his brother. "I am sure that as soon as you replace these in their boxes, you will once again feel their holiness."
Soon afterwards, Rabbi David Moshe moved to Tchortkow and became famous as the Tchortkower Rebbe. When he felt that his soul would return to his Maker, he called in his only son, Yisrael. "I am leaving the Maggid's tefilin to you as an inheritance. Cherish them and guard them well," he told his son.
Rabbi Yisrael used the Maggid's tefilin only twice each year, on Purim and on the eve of Yom Kippur. On all other days, Rabbi Yisrael used his own tefilin. During WWI, Rabbi Yisrael and his family had to leave their home in Tchortkow in great haste. In the sudden rush, the tefilin were left behind. Rabbi Yisrael was heartbroken, but there was nothing he could do. He and his family found refuge in Lvov. When the Russians threatened Lvov, they moved to Vienna to await the end of the war. Several years later, the Russians were driven out of Galicia, and Tchortkow was liberated. Although he tried, Rabbi Yisrael was not able to return to Tchortkow to look for the Maggid's tefilin.
When the war was finally over, Rabbi Yisrael was visited by a Jewish POW. The soldier took out a tefilin bag from his rucksack and handed it to Rabbi Yisrael. Lovingly the Rebbe kissed the tefilin. In a trembling voice, he said, "I always knew that somehow these tefilin would return to me. You have done the great mitzva (commandment) of returning a lost item. Where did you get these?"
The soldier began, "I was serving in the Russian army. When we were chasing the Austrians we reached Tchortkow. I had been to Tchortkow as a child; my father was a chasid of the Rebbe. I recognized the Rebbe's house and I saw soldiers ransacking it. I went inside. I could feel that one room was permeated with holiness. I searched in the debris and found this tefilin bag!"
Continued the soldier, "I survived the war due to many miracles, which I attribute to the fact that the tefilin were in my possession. I was captured and became a prisoner of war. I was recently released and am now on my way home. My first stop was to find the Rebbe and bring him his tefilin."
"G-d will surely reward you for your great mitzva. And for the great pleasure that you have brought me, I insist that you be my guest for a few days. Please wait a moment while I go ask my attendant to make the arrangements."
The Rebbe spoke with his attendant and then went back into his room, but the soldier was nowhere to be seen. The Rebbe called in his attendant and told him, "Quickly, bring the soldier back who just left my room!"
"I did not see anyone leave the Rebbe's room," the attendant answered.
All the fast days connected to the destruction of the Holy Temple are destined to be abolished in the time of the Moshiach; indeed, they are destined to be turned into festive days, days of rejoicing and gladness, in accordance with the verse (Zech. 8:19), "Thus says the L-rd of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month ... and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons...."
(Laws of Fast Days 5:19)