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Who wins a football game? The running back who scores on the last play of the game or the kicker who boots one through the uprights as time expires? The guy who intercepts a pass to preserve a lead? Who wins a baseball game? The guy who hits a bases loaded home run in the bottom of the ninth? The guy who makes a diving catch, then jumps, whirls and throws for a game-ending double-play?
One player may be the star, but he didn't win the game, not all by himself. He needed an assist to make that slam-dunk - he needed the whole team. Maybe, then, it's the whole team that wins?
What about the front office people, the administrators and staff - the ones who make sure the players have the right uniforms and equipment, the ones who make sure the field or arena is clean, who protect and guide the players so they can concentrate on playing? What about the doctors and trainers and managers? What about those who market the team, negotiate contracts, provide press releases and media kits?
Without all of these support people, the team couldn't get on the field, the line couldn't block, and the running back couldn't score the touchdown.
OK, but what about the ticket takers and popcorn sellers and ushers and police? What about the fans? Without all of these, there is no game. And if there's no game, there's no winning touchdown.
When a team wins the Super Bowl or the World Series, everyone who participated, everyone who helped, everyone who supported the team, also won. When "our" team wins, we don't get the trophy, but we get the victory. It belongs to the support team as much as the players, and it belongs to the fans at least as much.
The concept of "team effort" applies far down the support line, even to the most indirect - and sometimes unaware - support personnel.
This "support system" concept applies to mitzvot (commandments) as well. They have not only a "trickle down" ripple effect, but also a "trickle up" ripple effect. When a Jew does a mitzva, he's the "superstar," the quarterback, the home run hitter, the one who scores the winning goal. But he didn't do it alone and all his "teammates" and "support personnel" also get credit, also share in the victory and earn the triumph.
For instance, when a Jew eats kosher food and recites a blessing on the food, he elevates the spiritual sparks within that food. He has revealed the inner G-dliness. But he could not make the blessing without his parents or his teachers who taught him the words and their meaning. And he could not have the kosher food without the truck drivers and grocers and farmers and the countless others that helped, unawares, to get the food to his house. So when, by eating kosher food, the Jew triumphs over the darkness, the concealments of G-dliness, all those who helped him, even unwittingly, also triumph, also gain a reward for the mitzva.
Of course, now we don't see the spiritual effects of a mitzva. But when Moshiach comes, we will realize, with our physical senses, what we have accomplished. And just as the person who performed the mitzva will see G-dliness, see the results of his mitzva-actions, so too will the rest of the "team" and "support staff" see G-dliness, see a result of the mitzvot they supported and enabled to be done. For in the era of Redemption "all flesh will see G-dliness" and "the whole world will be filled with knowledge of G-dliness like the waters cover the ocean bed."
This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, contains the verse, "And [Jacob] sent Judah...before him to Goshen - l'horot - to make preparations." According to the foremost commentaries, Judah was sent to establish a yeshiva. (L'horot is from the same root as "hora'a" which means "instruction.")
When G-d told Jacob to go to Egypt, Jacob first ensured the presence of yeshivot. Despite the fact that G-d promised Jacob He would be with him in the Egyptian exile, only once the yeshivot were established did Jacob bring his family with him to Egypt, for Jewish education is the foundation and mainstay of Judaism.
In all times and places where Jews lives, even in the terribly harsh exile of Egypt, there were centers where Torah was studied, for Torah study is the life of the Jewish people.
The Egyptian exile was the most severe of all exiles, including the present one, for several reasons. However, regardless of all the difficulties, Jews were never without a yeshiva.
The Torah is not a history text-book. Every subject and episode, every letter of the Torah, offers direction for all times and places.
Some people claim that this is not the time to be sending children to Jewish day schools; today, afternoon Hebrew school or Sunday school are sufficient.
The Egyptian exile and this week's Torah portion thus instruct us: Conditions in Egypt were far more difficult than those at present, but were disregarded and Torah was studied.
They disregarded not only the severe physical conditions of the exile. They also dismissed the fact that, because the Torah had not yet been given collectively to all the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, they were not capable of reaching the tremendous heights to which we can aspire today.
All of the above applies, too, to the question of support for Jewish education. There are those who claim that financial conditions are worse than ever. When conditions improve, they will support Jewish education and maybe even have the "self-sacrifice" to send their own children to a yeshiva.
We must all remember, in Egypt the exile was far worse. There our ancestors did not have even stubble for bricks and had to wander through a foreign land to search for it while Pharoah's taskmasters stood over them lashing out with their whips. They had no straw, but they had a proper Jewish education!
Translated from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet.
Dr. Shaya Shafit
"The Moscow Mohel"
"And throughout the generations every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days. And if any male who is uncircumcised fails to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his kin; he has broken my covenant."
That's G-d talking to Abraham, verse 12 of the Book of Genesis. For millennia, Jews have been taking this seriously. Over most of the world, squirming Jewish baby boys have come under the mohel's, or circumciser's, knife for a quick and practically painless snip of the foreskin.
Except in Russia, where during Soviet times, practicing Judaism could be an offense worthy of a visit by the KGB.
With this in mind, Yeshaya Shafit, a Russian-born Jew who emigrated to Israel in 1992, has returned to his native country with a mission: Using precision instruments and a few well-placed prayers, he is trying to ensure that no Russian Jewish male is cut off from his kin.
But Shafit's job is more complicated than the average mohel's. While his colleagues spend perhaps three minutes doing the deed, he takes a painstaking 40 or 45. His patients, after all, are mainly adults, and quality is paramount. "I don't hurry," said Shafit, explaining that if the job is botched, the patient "could develop a bad relationship to Judaism."
Since his arrival in Russia, the 31-year-old mohel has performed hundreds of circumcisions, and has been summoned as far as Birobidjan and Odessa to wield his kmyel, a square topped, double-edged knife that looks suspiciously like a chisel.
Shafit was born Yevgeny in Gorky, now Nizhny Novgorod. He grew up like the majority of Soviet Jews, ignorant of his culture and religion.
"I always knew I was a Jew," he said quietly, "but I didn't know what it meant. I thought it was something bad. I suffered a lot for it in school, and was denied entry into the medical school I wanted to go to along with another Jewish student - because of it."
But in 1991, he said, he began to go to his local synagogue, a decision prompted more by curiosity than belief. Under then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, a law was passed that religious buildings could be reclaimed. The Nizhny synagogue had been occupied by a factory, explained Shafit, and Lubavitch, the Brooklyn-based sect of Hasidic Jews, had come to town to begin restoration.
"There were celebrations all the time," he said. "I started to go regularly, to hang out." He also helped to rebuild the synagogue, laying bricks - an experience that cemented his "conversion."
In 1992, the young doctor of traumatology orthopedics left for Israel. Initially he tried to pursue his orthopedics career, but found starting from the bottom all over again frustrating. It didn't take much convincing for him to undertake the six-month training as a mohel.
Being a Lubavitcher, Shafit asked advice from the "Rebbe" Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the head of the Lubavitcher movement. "I got an answer to come to Moscow," he said.
Though the mild-mannered mohel said he would rather live in Israel, he conceeded "I'm more needed here." As far as he knows, he is one of three or four circumcisers in Russia.
Though the majority of clients seek him out, part of Shafit's job is to convince the uncircumcised. He uses different methods depending on the situation, he said. Older people might require a lesson in Torah, or Jewish law.
"Not all the Jews in Russia know. They might have heard that it's something Jews do, but they don't know that it's the law," said Shafit, an orthodox Jew first, and doctor second. "The Torah says that a Jewish soul can't enter the body if it's uncircumcised."
Others are simply scared, he said, having been spooked by tales of shaky hands and dirty instruments. During the Soviet Union, circumcisions were even done at home, "on the kitchen table," said Shafit.
Recently, Shafit said, a young man came to him a week or so before he was to be married. He wanted to get circumcised, but feared the nuptials would be spoiled - he'd heard stories of grown men walking like crabs for weeks afterward.
"I called in a 13-year-old boy who had had a bris a day or two before. The boy came running in, saying, 'Yeah? What do you want?' I told him that was all I wanted," he said laughing. "The young man was convinced, and I did him."
Dr. Shafit, known by many as "the Moscow Mohel," is the director of the Moscow-based Brit Yosef Yitzchak Medical Center, under the auspices of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union. To find out more about the myriad activities of the FJC in over 400 commuities throughout the Former Soviet Union visit www.fjc.ru. Reprinted from fjc.ru
When the World Was Quiet
The Midrash teaches that when G-d gave the Torah, the whole world was quiet. Not only the people, but all the animals and their babies, too! Preschool children and their parents will love the simple text and sweet pictures of all the animal families on this very special day. This newest release from HaChai Publishing is written by Phyllis Nutkis and illustrated by Patti Argoff.
The Land of Israel
Freely translated letter
19th Sivan, 5729 (1969):
Blessings and Greetings!
I received your letter some time ago, but due to circumstances beyond my control, my answer was delayed until now.
... I wonder a bit about your surprise that in certain circles, myself among them, the title "State of Israel" was never accepted. The reason is quite easy to understand: The land of Canaan was given as an inheritance to the Nation of Israel beginning with the covenant between G-d and Abraham. The name "Land of Israel" was then established, in place of the name "Land of Canaan." So has it been fixed for thousands of years. This is firmly grounded in the Torah, and is rooted in the vocabulary of the entire nation, from young to old. Such matters are not subject to the vote of the majority, the outcome of which is liable to change from time to time (this change being, naturally, capricious). After all the various incidents and changes which have occurred recently - for better, or, painfully, for the opposite - it is also impossible to be confident about the present change. Actually, such conjecture whether or not to accept the new title is quite unnecessary since in my opinion, as I mentioned, the matter is not given to determination by referendum. Just as the name of the "Nation of Israel" is not subject to vote in order to determine whether the Jewish People shall be referred to as they are in the Torah - The "Nation of Israel," or the "Nation of Canaan," etc. - so it is regarding the "Land of Israel."
Assume one were to raise an additional point: suppose a new title for the land were necessary. Such an addition weakens the claim and ownership of the Nation of Israel over the Land of Israel, including even the confined area which was liberated in 1948, because:
- a new name gives the entire entity the appearance of being something novel, which was only born in 1948. Thus, inevitably, Jewish claim and ownership over the land also began only then. There is at least a shade of connotation of novelty - the diametric opposite of the Torah's stance as represented by Rashi in the opening of his explanation of the Torah.
Here I stress that the custom of our nation from time immemorial has been that a five year old begins studying the Five Books of Moses. This means that Rashi's words are directed to the Children of Israel beginning at age five:
"If the nations of the world should say to the Jews 'You are thieves, for you have conquered the land of the seven nations,' the Children of Israel should answer them: 'The whole world belongs to the Holy One; at will He gave it to them, and at will He took it from them and gave it to us.'"
You are most certainly aware that many, many nations have made this claim, even in our times. I have not found a single answer to this claim besides the most ancient traditional one found in the words of our sages.
- Some say that this term, "State of Israel" is another manifestation of the general approach and plan to become "like the nations of the world." This theory has already claimed many lives, both physical and spiritual - and to our anguish continues to wreak destruction among the sons and daughters of Israel.
I am especially surprised that you should be the one to raise such an argument. Until now, I had been positive that you were counted among those who say that the Land of Israel belongs to the Nation of Israel, and that its borders are specifically delineated in the Torah. In Parshas Masei it is written: "All these shall be your boundaries on all sides." Yet "because of our sins we were exiled from our land and driven far from our soil" - but even during the exile it is still our land and our soil. This title, "State of Israel," allows room to label parts of the Land of Israel as no more than "territories" which were "conquered" by the Israeli Defense Forces in the Six Day War. Furthermore, the entire concept of conquest implies seizing the land by force from its owners through one's own superior military prowess.
I do not wish to speak at length about this painful subject, mainly because the general cause for it is the approach of wanting to be like all the nations. Certainly my comments are not necessary, for you surely read about it in the newspapers and books which are available in the Land of Canaan (- according to the writers of those articles and books; it is just that some of them say this openly, and others only hint that this is their intention).
... May it be G-d's Will that you send along positive news concerning all the above, as we discussed during your visit here.
With Respect and Blessing,
6 Tevet, 5764 - December 31, 2003
Positive Mitzva 59: Blowing the trumpets in the Sanctuary
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 10:10) "Also on the day of your gladness... you shall blow with your trumpets." In the Holy Temple while certain sacrifices are offered, we are commanded to sound trumpets. The sound arouses a stirring in the hearts of all the people who were present in the Holy Temple. Each one will concentrate and resolve to strengthen his bond of closeness with G-d. Similarly, we are commanded to blow the shofar in times of need and despair, calling for G-d's attention and requesting His help.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Sunday, the Tenth of the Jewish month of Tevet (coinciding with January 4 this year) is a fast day. On this day we recall the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia.
There is a beautiful response from the Rebbe to a question from an individual living in Israel concerning the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet. The Rebbe encouraged this person not to overlook the "so-called 'small and unsophisticated' things which each modest congregation, or even each individual, can and must do..."
One needn't think and act big, in terms of global dimension, in order to help our brethren in Israel in particular and the world over in general, both spiritually and materially. Each individual can make a special added effort on the Tenth of Tevet to increase in the areas of Torah study, prayer and charity. One can even repeat these three "pillars on which the world stands" numerous times throughout the day. In this way, every single Jew will have a great impact on himself and his surroundings.
In the merit of each and every individual who makes this added effort, may G-d fulfill His promise that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness," with the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach.
He [Joseph] called, "Every man go out from before me." (Gen. 45:1)
Why did Joseph want everyone to leave the room while he was speaking with his brothers? Rashi explains that Joseph couldn't stand the thought of having the Egyptians overhear that his brothers had sold him into slavery, thus embarrassing them. Personal problems should not be aired in public, before the eyes of the whole world. For this reason Joseph asked that the Egyptians leave. In those days it was understood to be a general rule for people to behave in this manner. But today, to our great distress, it is not so clear.
How can I go up to my father and the boy [Benjamin] will not be with me? (Gen. 44:34)
This is a question that every Jewish parent must ask themselves. How can I go up after my 120 years to our Father in Heaven if I have not made sure that my children will follow after me on the Jewish path?
And he sent off his brothers and they went. He said to them, "Do not become irritated on the way." (Gen. 45:24)
Torah delineates the different paths that one may follow in G-dly service, each one being true and holy and good. Joseph teaches here that we should not become irritated with a person who has chosen a different path than we, because each and every one are the "words of the living G-d."
And now, don't be sad... (Gen. 45:5)
Being broken-hearted is not the same as being sad. Sadness makes one lifeless and stone-like. On the contrary, a broken heart is at least responsive.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)
Sadness locks the gates of heaven. Prayer opens locked gates. And happiness has the strength to break through all barricades.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Shortly before the Baal Shem Tov's passing, he gave each of his closest disciples a special task to enable Chasidism to continue to grow. One of his disciples, Reb Yaakov, was given the task of travelling from city to city telling about all he had seen in his years with the Baal Shem Tov.
One day Reb Yaakov arrived in Italy. He had heard that there lived in Rome a wealthy Jew who paid well for every story he was told about the Baal Shem Tov. Arriving at this Jew's house, Reb Yaakov was received royally and given the finest accommodations. He prepared a number of stories to tell on the coming Shabbat at the meals.
Shabbat arrived, and Reb Yaakov stood up to begin his tales. But, to his shock and horror, his mind went blank; he could recall not one story. The surprise of the crowd was no less than his own; only his gracious host was unperturbed by this strange lapse.
The host urged Reb Yaakov to rest, and try again later. Reb Yaakov went to his room and suddenly, in a flash, all the stories flooded his mind. However, the next day, on Shabbat afternoon, when he stood in front of the crowd to begin his tales, he again fell speechless. When, by the third Shabbat meal, Reb Yaakov was still unable to tell even one story, he was filled with overwhelming sadness and sorrow. "This must be a punishment from Above for some terrible misdeed of mine," thought Reb Yaakov to himself.
When Shabbat was over, and Reb Yaakov joined his host at the Saturday evening meal, the host cautiously said, "Now that we are alone, you might possibly be able to remember something about the saintly Baal Shem Tov." But try as he might, Reb Yaakov could remember nothing. With great embarrassment and sorrow, he told his host he would depart immediately.
"Please, don't hurry," begged the host. "Stay a few more days, and if by then you don't regain your memory, I won't detain you." When the appointed day arrived and Reb Yaakov could still not tell one story, he prepared to leave. But no sooner had he mounted his carriage when a story flashed into his mind.
He lost no time recounting the following story: "About ten years ago, just before the Christian holiday of Easter, the Baal Shem Tov and a few of his disciples set out on a journey to an unfamiliar town. The gentile townspeople were gathering in the main square to hear a sermon from their bishop. The Jews were terrified that the bishop's words would provoke violence from the crowd, and closeted themselves in their homes. But the Baal Shem Tov was completely unconcerned. In fact, he ordered me to approach the bishop with the order to come to the Baal Shem Tov at once.
"I delivered this message in Yiddish, exactly as the Baal Shem Tov had told me. The bishop showed no surprise, but told me he would come immediately following his sermon. I hastened back to the Baal Shem Tov and told him what the bishop had said. The Baal Shem Tov told me to go to the bishop and order him to come at once. When I told the bishop the Baal Shem Tov's words, his face turned pale and he followed me without question. The Baal Shem Tov secluded himself with the bishop for many hours. Then, as suddenly as we had arrived, we returned home without even a word of explanation. That is the end of my story."
The rich Jew listened with rapt attention, then suddenly exclaimed, "Thank G-d!" After calming down, he explained to Reb Yaakov, "Everything you've told me is true in every detail! I know it because I was there...I was that bishop!" The host continued, "I was born and raised a Jew, but the lure of a great career tempted me to convert, for a Jew could not enter the Catholic university. At first I practiced my religion clandestinely, but little by little I forgot my origins.
"After I had attained the office of bishop, I began to be haunted by dreams and visions of my youth - it seems my holy ancestors had pity on my lost soul - but I was able to dismiss them from my mind. One night the Baal Shem Tov came to me in a dream and demanded that I return to my people. I began to think of repenting, but wondered if I had the strength. The night before my sermon, the Baal Shem Tov appeared to me again, saying that he was coming to help me. It was hard for me to break with my past, but I finally returned fully to our beautiful heritage. The Baal Shem Tov instructed me on how to repent. When I asked him how I would know that my repentance had been accepted, he replied: "When a man comes to you and tells you the story of what happened that day, you will know that your repentance has been accepted.
"I faithfully followed all of the Baal Shem Tov's instructions. When you came here, I recognized you immediately. And when you could not remember a single tale, especially my tale, I knew that my repentance was not yet complete. These past few days I have done a lot of soul searching and, thank G-d, now I know that my repentance has been truly accepted."
We can conceive of the Tenth of Tevet - when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzer, leading to the ultimate destruction of the First Holy Temple - as the beginning of the process of the construction of the Third Holy Temple. The process of destruction which began on that day was intended to ultimately lead to the building of the Third Holy Temple.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Vayechi, 5752)