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Perhaps you've heard of the Six Degrees game? It's based on what appears to be an improbable statistic. Take any two people and you can find a connection between them by six or fewer stages of circumstance or acquaintance.
For example, you are only six degrees of separation from a world famous chess player like Boris Gulko or a member of baseball's Boston Red Sox: in the first instance, you know someone who plays chess (or you play chess yourself) (1); you have an acquaintance, or you have a friend who has an acquaintance, that has played in a nationally rated tournament (2 or 3); that person has played in a tournament, or knows someone who has played in a tournament, in which a grand master also played (3 or 4); that grand master has played in, or knows another grand master who has played in, a tournament where Boris Gulko also played (4 or 5). For six degrees of separation from a famous baseball player, start with someone with a child in Little League or someone who's attended a professional game.
But this game is more than an idle pastime. Social scientists, psychologists and mathematicians have studied the phenomenon. They call it the "small world paradox." In fact, probability theory predicts that two people picked at random have a 99% chance of being connected by only two intermediates. (Person A knows someone who knows someone who knows Person B.)
Not only that, but we can actually directly influence, by an average of five intermediates, someone we've never met. A psychologist selected a "starting person" at random and asked him to send a document to a "target person" (pre-selected) he didn't know elsewhere in the country. The "starting person" mailed the document to someone he thought would know the "target person." The friend was asked to forward the document to someone else likely to know the "target person," etc. It took the document from two to 10 "hits" to reach its destination, with an average of five.
The popular parlor game and the scientific studies both show us that we are more interconnected, more dependent on each other, than we imagine. Our every action creates an immediate ripple effect.
A story concerning the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (known as the Rebbe Rashab), emphasizes the consequences of our actions. One time he was in the midst of studying with two of his Chasidim when a messenger arrived from another city with urgent news about a decree affecting all Jews of his city. The Rebbe told the messenger he would attend to the matter after concluding the scheduled study.
Since the Rebbe and his companions were scholars of the first rank they could have shortened or delayed their studying without ill effect. Why delay urgent community business? Because, the Rebbe explained, his studies are directly connected with the the Jewish identity of another Jew. If he alters his study schedule, a lesser scholar will have to wait for an answer to a perplexing question. That scholar's delay will in turn lessen the care with which someone else observes a mitzva. And so on, down the chain, until the neglect accumulates and culminates in a Jew going away from Judaism altogether, G-d forbid.
Long before "six degrees" was created or the "small world paradox" was discovered, Jewish teachings stated that every action we perform can and will impact the entire world. This means that putting a mezuza on our door, giving charity, learning the alef-bet, saying "hello" with a smile, influences and affects someone even more than six degrees of connection away. And each time we do a mitzva we move not only ourselves, but we move the entire world, closer to the Redemption.
This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, relates how Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers and asked them to bring his father Jacob down to Egypt.
An obvious question is raised by the entire story of Joseph and his brothers: Joseph was 17 years old when sold into slavery. It is true that he was in Egypt for 13 years, but still 17 years are a long time. Why didn't the brothers recognize Joseph after having lived with him for so long? As Rashi comments, in Egypt he matured into manhood, and had grown a beard. Nevertheless, that should not be so great a factor to prevent his brothers from recognizing him.
To resolve this question, we have to understand the difference between the spiritual makeup of Joseph and that of his brothers. Joseph's brothers were shepherds - as were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before them. Why did they choose this profession? Because caring for sheep does not involve constant activity or tension-producing interpersonal relationship. One spends much time in the fields and there is the opportunity for contemplation. In such a setting, a person can stay in touch with the spiritual.
Now the brothers knew that Joseph was spiritually oriented, indeed, more so than they were. It was not for nothing that Jacob had singled him out for personal attention. When they saw a man busily involved with running Egypt's entire economy, they concluded that this could not be Joseph. Joseph, so involved in material things, buying and selling? Impossible!
How indeed could it be so? Did Joseph sacrifice his spiritual consciousness when he became viceroy of Egypt?
Chasidic thought says no. On the contrary, it was precisely because of his heightened spiritual consciousness that he acted as he did.
To explain: There are those who chose the spiritual over the physical. They look at the spiritual and the physical as opposites, and opt for the spiritual. There are, however, certain select individuals whose spiritual awareness is so great that it enables them to understand how G-dliness encompasses the physical as well, how there is no entity that is apart from Him.
This is the meaning of the words "G-d is one" in the Shema. Not only that there is only one G-d, but that everything is at one with Him.
This was the nature of Joseph's awareness. He did not see the need to retreat from material involvement to be involved with the spiritual. Because of his single-minded devotion to G-d, he was not separate from Him although he was involved in material tasks. Although he embraced worldly activity, it did not take him away from his spiritual consciousness.
From Keeping In Touch, adapted by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Published by Sichos In English.
The Art of Illuminating Jewish Souls
by Rabbi Zushe Greenberg
Not so many years ago, in the absence of electricity, night time meant darkness in the villages of our ancestors.
And then, along would come a worker with a torch in his hand. He would light the lamp posts, bringing a small flicker into the night. The light would create a soft, warm glow throughout the town.
As we recently celebrated Chanuka, the "Festival of Lights," this might be an appropriate time to look at the correlation between lighting a lamp and lighting a soul.
In Wirtzber, Germany, 1907, a Chasid asked Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (the fifth Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, known as the Rebbe Rashab), "Rebbe, what is a Chasid"
Generally, the word "Chasid" means disciple or follower. But the Rebbe replied, "A Chasid is a lamplighter. The lamplighter walks the streets carrying a flame at the end of a stick. He goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight."
"What if the lamp is in the desert?" asked the Chasid.
"Then he must pack his bags, and go and light it," said the Rebbe.
"What if the lamp is at sea?" the Chasid queried.
"Then one must take off one's clothing, dive into the sea and go light the lamp," was the response.
"The soul of man is the candle of G-d," says King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs." A lamplighter is one who puts aside his personal affairs and sets out to light up the souls of Jews with the light of Judaism.
But how exactly does one go about lighting up a Jewish soul? We know we must be careful because fire, while so important to our survival, is so harmful if mishandled.
A good way to light candles is to gently hold the flame near the wick and allow it to catch on fire. A good way to light up a Jewish soul is to hold the flame nearby and teach, not preach the beauty of Judaism and allow it to catch on.
Then, these illuminated Jewish souls naturally kindle other souls around them.
Recently, I was approached by a stranger who greeted me warmly.
"You don't know me," she said. " But I must tell you that my family, especially my little children, love our new Friday night customs and it's really to your credit. I started lighting Shabbat candles and buying challah. It's amazing what a little ritual can do to transform a meal."
That sounds wonderful," I replied. "But you haven't explained my connection."
It turned out that a friend of hers, Susan, had come to our house for Shabbat dinner. Susan enjoyed it so much that she began having Friday night dinners herself, and invited her friend as a guest.
I had not known that Susan began to celebrate Shabbat this way. When she was at our home, each ritual sparked new questions and challenges.
Like Susan, we can all be lamp lighters, especially now that we have celebrated Chanuka, the Festival of Light. We lit our menoras in our homes, quietly illuminating the darkness around us. When we kindle a light for our own benefit, it benefits all who are also in the vicinity.
Rabbi Greenberg is the founder and director of the Chabad Jewish Center, Solon, Ohio.
Mini-Chanuka Photo Recap
A public menora lighting in Nyugati Ter,
Budapest, attended by over 500 people each night.
The world's largest ice menora graces the landscape in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, for the fifth year.
Lego Menora in the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel visited the Jewish Community Center in Tallinn and local Jewish educational institutions on Chanuka.
On the hills of Hebron, Israel, overlooking the city where our patriachs and matriarchs are buried, one of the five holy cities in the Land of Israel.
Freely translated letters
25 Sivan, 5712 
Greetings and Blessings!
I received your letter...in which you de-scribe the state of your business affairs, your considerable debts, etc. etc. You write further that you have a possibility of selling some of your properties, but that you find yourself unable to decide alone what you should do. Above all, it appears from your letter that you are dispirited, so that as a matter of course your trust in G-d has weakened.
The phrase I just used was "above all." As is stated in our holy sources in general and in the literature of Chassidus in particular, every-thing depends on bitachon, trust. A man's trust is the measuring stick of the extent to which his material affairs are bound and fused with the Creator. If this fusion is complete, it is certainly impossible for anything to be lacking, because in the worlds Above, the concept of lacking is utterly non-existent.
In accordance with your request, I mentioned your name in connection with the fulfillment of your needs when I visited the holy resting place of my revered father-in-law, the [previous] Rebbe. That said, since you asked for my advice, I hold that you should focus on toiling on yourself - to fortify your trust in G-d to the greatest extent possible.
In truth, having the attribute of trust means that even if according to the laws of nature one sees no way out, in one's mind it is beyond all doubt that everything will be good, in a way that is actually visible and manifest to fleshly eyes, with regard to having an ample livelihood, sound health, and so on. From the perspective of the world Above, considerations of nature are quite immaterial.
Accordingly, once a person raises himself up and adopts a stance that is even slightly above the ground - that is, he brings himself to the realization that since he is a believing Jew, he is utterly certain that there is no master over him but G-d alone - he can draw down and actualize this certainty here, too, so that in this physical world, too, considerations of nature will not affect him adversely (G-d forbid).
I firmly hope to G-d that if you will only fortify your trust to the utmost, you will immediately see a change in the Providence which governs your material business affairs and that your situation will begin to improve, and to proceed from good to even better.
In addition, it would be appropriate to immediately begin giving tzedaka (charity) as you are used to do, and to increase your accustomed donations at least slightly. I look forward to hearing good news from you on all the above.
With blessings for material success, and may the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman [founder of Chabad Chasidism] be fulfilled in your life - that G-d grants Jews materiality, and they transform materiality into spirituality.
13 Menachem Av, 5712 
Greetings and Blessings!
It pained me to be told that you are still downhearted, and I understand that this is also the spirit in your home.
I have no desire to become involved in a lengthy discussion as to whether the claims that have been made are justified or not. Obviously it takes no great effort to understand why your spirits are as they are, after the calamity that took place (May no one know of such things!).
Nevertheless, Jews in general, being believers, and Chasidim in particular, should cleave to G-d, our L-rd, steadfastly and overtly - as it is written, "And you who cleave to G-d, your L-rd are all alive today."
Now, being truly alive means not merely pushing through one day after another. Being truly alive means that one's life should lack nothing of whatever you and your wife need materially and spiritually. However, it can happen (G-d forbid) that perhaps one does not deserve to receive such blessings from G-d. Concerning such a situation it is written in the holy Zohar:
"If, from down here below a person shows a luminous countenance, in the same way does a luminous countenance shine upon him from Above... In this spirit it is written, "Serve G-d with Joy": the joy of a mortal elicits upon himself another, Supernal joy. Similarly the world below, being thus crowned, draws down blessings upon itself from Above.
In brief: When one fortifies his trust that G-d will provide reasons to make him happy, in good spirits, and cheerful, and when one is so strong in this trust that it influences his daily life, he thereby draws down these reasons for being happy from Above.
Moreover, even one's fleshly eyes can then see that the trust was vindicated.
May G-d grant that you and your wife and all your family should witness this palpably, as soon as possible.
Looking forward to good news,
7 Tevet, 5765 - December 19, 2004
Positive Mitzva 216: "Yibum"
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 25:5) "Her husband's brother shall marry her" If a man dies childless, one of his brothers is obligated to marry his wife.
8 Tevet, 5765 - December 20, 2004
Positive Mitzva 217: Allowing a Childless Widow to Remarry
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 25:9) "And she shall remove his shoe off his foot"
If a person does not wish to marry his late brother's childless widow, he must follow a special procedure in court to allow her to remarry. This procedure is called Chalitzah and includes removing the man's shoe.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Wednesday (Dec. 22), the tenth of Tevet, is 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.
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 the situation of Jews spiritually and materially the world-over. 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.
For every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians (Gen. 46:34)
Joseph behaved in a manner that is the exact opposite of how some people behave. He knew that, because the Egyptians worshiped sheep, shepherding was considered an abominable occupation. Yet, he immediately told Pharaoh that his brothers were shepherds. In this way, it would be obvious that they would not be trying to find favor in the eyes of the non-Jews and they could live in peace as Jews in their own land.
(Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur)
And Joseph gathered all of the silver found in Egypt and Canaan (Gen. 37:14)
The gathering of silver by Joseph hints at the reason why the Jews went down to Egypt. They went in order to gather and elevate the "holy sparks" which were found there.
(The Maggid of Mezritch)
Here is seed for you; and you shall sow the land (Gen. 47:23)
The righteous Joseph, the spiritual leader of every generation, gives each of us the encouragement and strength we need to worship G-d. But we must not rely solely on that which we receive from the leader; we must also sow the seeds we are given.
Hillel ran a tavern, which he rented from the wealthy non-Jewish landowner. His customers, the local peasants, appreciated Hillel's service and honesty. Only one peasant showed open animosity toward the Jewish tavern keeper. Stefan, a coarse, foul-mouthed lout who was almost always drunk, resented the fact that Hilke, as he was known affectionately, refused to serve him more whiskey when he had had too much.
Stefan swore revenge on the Jew. And so, he decided to implicate Hilke in a crime. Stefan went to the government authorities and told them that Hilke was not collecting the proper tax on the whiskey he sold. To back up his accusation, he provided the names of several of his fellow Jew-hating peasants willing to swear that Hilke sold them "illegal" whiskey.
An investigation was launched. The false witnesses appeared and swore their false statements. The judge, an anti-Semite himself, took this opportunity to condemn all Jews for their thievery and trickiness, and imposed the harshest sentence possible on the hapless Hilke.
Hilke, of course, denied any wrong-doing. With tears in his eyes he claimed that he was the victim of a vicious plot. Many of his customers came and gave testimony as to Hilke's good character, and even the landowner himself spoke warmly of "his" Jew. The investigators saw that Hilke was indeed, not guilty, but what could they do? They couldn't simply ignore the sworn testimony of Stefan's friends. The case dragged on for almost a year, during which time Hilke became depressed and broken, staying in his house much of the time reciting Psalms.
Hilke's wife, Devorah Leah, watched as her husband grew more and more discouraged. Her father had been a chasid of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch. She requested her husband travel to Lubavitch to seek the advice and blessing of the Rebbe.
Hilke, however, did not come from a Chasidic family, and had never visited a Rebbe, and wasn't anxious to do so now. But, as the date of the trial drew nearer, he decided to listen to his wife and set off for Lubavitch.
In Lubavitch, Hilke saw many people waiting for days to see the Rebbe privately, so many that Hilke was discouraged and almost returned home. It was only after explaining the urgency of his situation to the Rebbe's secretary that he managed to get an appointment for the following day.
When he entered the Rebbe's room, Hilke suddenly felt at a loss for words. He began to weep as he poured out his heart to the Rebbe, explaining the terrible plot which had been instigated against him.
The Rebbe listened patiently, and then said, "Don't cry, Hilke. G-d will surely help you. Everything in the world, every single creature, was created for a particular purpose. Even mice sometimes benefit man. Go home, Hilke, and put your trust in G-d."
Hilke left the Rebbe encouraged, though he did not exactly understand the Rebbe's words. Hilke's wife was equally mystified, but she trusted that G-d would fulfill the blessing of the tzadik.
The day of the trial arrived, and Hilke and Devorah Leah traveled to the courthouse which was filled to overflowing with people eager to hear the verdict. Hilke sat on the defendant's bench, pale, reciting Psalms with such an intensity that he became oblivious to his surroundings.
The trial opened, and Stefan was brought in. He repeated all his false accusations but when he was questioned by the defense lawyer, he became confused and was caught in his own contradictory statements. He wasn't worried, though, since he was sure that the testimonies of the other witnesses would wrap up the case.
But when the names of the next witnesses were announced, there was a long silence. Not one of Stefan's gang members had shown up; it seemed that something had happened to each one to prevent him from appearing.
Things were going well for Hilke, but the prosecutor wouldn't give up. He requested the original documentation, and so, the judge sent his clerk to bring the papers from storage. All present waited impatiently for the clerk to return, but when he did, he was empty-handed. He whispered something to the judge, who roared back, "Bring whatever there is!"
"But Judge," said the clerk, "There is nothing left. Mice have eaten up the whole file!"
"That's impossible," roared the judge. "Go and bring me the whole drawer." The clerk soon returned with a large, heavy drawer filled with shredded bits of paper.
And so it was that although every other document in the drawer was in perfect condition, only the file of Hilke had been completely destroyed by the mice.
Hilke, absorbed as he was in reciting Psalms, had no idea what had happened, and was surprised by the crowd of well-wishers and relatives who ran to him wishing a mazel tov. When he learned that the charges had been dropped, he thanked G-d for having saved him from this terrible plot. As they returned home, his wife filled in all the details of what had transpired in the courtroom, and only then did Hilke begin to understand the words of the Rebbe.
When Jacob was about to go down to Egypt, G-d promised to eventually redeem him. The literal translation of the verse reads: "I will go down to Egypt with you and I will bring you up, also bring up." (Ex. 46:4) The repetitiveness intimates that G-d promised Jacob that the Children of Israel would be redeemed twice. The first time was when G-d brought us out of the exile from Egypt. The second time will be with the final redemption through Moshiach, as it says (Isaiah 11:11), "On that day G-d will add on a second time to recover the rest of His nation."