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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Super Bowl Sunday is just a month away. Whether you're a casual fan, a football afficiando, an armchair quarterback, or a diehard devotee, you've probably already chosen which team you'll be rooting for.
Many of us who watch from the sidelines think that football players are mainly brawn, but more goes into a player than brute strength. Speed, hand-and-eye coordination, agility, brain power, team work, and a willingness to get bashed up if you're on the front line, are a few of the qualities of this all-American sport.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that everything we see and hear is a lesson for us in our Divine service. So let's peruse just a few aspects of football and a couple of the rules, to see what we can learn from the game.
Points can only be scored through a touchdown, a field goal, or a safety. Though there are much more than just three ways to score Jewish points - mitzvot (commandments) - there are also rules and regulations governing exactly how they can be scored. These halachot (laws) are written in the Torah and the Talmud.
You have to gain a minimum amount of yardage in each down in order to keep the ball. Whereas angels are described by the prophets as "standing still," people are described as "on the go." Judaism teaches that we have to keep on moving, consistantly trying to better ourselves spiritually and help those around us improve, as well. We are constantly trying to gain yardage. There is always room for growth and advancement. Sometimes, we move and gain yardage very, very slowly. At other times we find ourselves moving fast, unhampered by anyone or anything.
Your team can get heavy penalties for roughing up another player or for pass interference. Aside from the fact that it's simply not nice to rough people up or interfere with their positive actions, ultimately, when our personal scores are tallied, we get heavily penalized for poor, interpersonal relations.
Half-time is used for making up new strategies. There are specific times that we should re-evaluate what we're doing, where we're going and how much we have already accomplished. Judaism teaches that too much time spent on self-evaluation can cause one to become paralyzed or depressed. Jewish half-time is specifically each evening before going to bed, Thursday night before the close of the old week, on the eve of the new Jewish month, and of course, during the month preceeding the High Holidays and the High Holidays themselves.
Timing is crucial and plays have to be executed according to the plan. Many mitzvot have to be performed at specified times, and that all mitzvot have to be executed according to the "plan" from the Divine plan-book - the Torah. As in football, you don't get many "time-outs."
You have to keep your eye on the ball at all times. Keeping your eye on the ball means being aware of one's lifetime goal as an individual and the Jewish people's goal as a nation. As individuals, we each have our specific G-d-given mission in life and it is our responsibility to accomplish this goal.
As part of the Jewish people, our global mission is to make the world a place comfortable with G-d's presence, the ultimate realization of which will be in the Era of Moshiach. We accomplish this by doing more good deeds, adding on in mitzvot, studying more Torah in general and more about the Messianic Era in particular.
In football, and all sports, there are players and spectators. If you're a spectator and the game is tough, you can get up and leave. But the players always have to stay on the field until the last play. If we view ourselves as players in our role as Jews, then before we know it, we'll merit to be a part of the greatest event of all time, the revelation of Moshiach!
This week's Torah portion, Vayechi, contains Jacob's blessings to his children before his passing. To Asher, Jacob said, "Asher's bread shall be fat, he shall supply the king's delights." Rashi explains this to mean that Asher would have an abundance of olive-oil. He also notes that: "Moses blessed the tribe of Asher in a like manner - 'and he will dip his foot in oil.'"
Spiritually speaking, oil alludes to wisdom, the highest part of a person, while the foot is the lowest part of a person. "He will dip his foot in oil" indicates that the foot makes use of the oil. This implies that the foot is greater than wisdom - oil. In terms of one's spiritual mission, the foot signifies divine service based on simple acceptance, while wisdom-oil signifies Torah and mitzvot (commandments) motivated by intellectual understanding. A foot, that is, simple acceptance does have an advantage over the head-intellect; it is the foundation for and support of the total structure.
The first part of Asher's blessing, "Asher's bread shall be fat," can be interpreted differently. Since the word shemeina - fat, has the same Hebrew letters as shemona - eight, the Midrash explains that Asher's children would wear the 8 garments of the High Priest. The priests, though, came from the family of Levi! Rashi, therefore later explains that "the daughters of the tribe of Asher were beautiful... married to High Priests who wore the eight garments."
Were the priests, immersed in their totally spiritual lifestyle, concerned with marrying beautiful women? Undoubtedly, the beauty spoken of here is a spiritual beauty, which is indeed related to the office of a High Priest. For, when G-d informed the angels that He was going to make a help-mate for Adam, He referred specifically to help in man's spiritual mission. In the case of a High Priest this is especially true; his service on the day of Yom Kippur, in the innermost chamber of the Sanctuary, required that he be married and make atonement for himself and his family. Without a wife, the High Priest would be unable to perform his service.
The daughters of the tribe of Asher were beautiful. The true beauty of the Jewish woman is contained in the concept of, "The whole glory of the king's daughter is within" - i.e. modesty. How are the different explanations of Asher's blessing, that of simple acceptance and "beautiful daughters" whose children would were the priestly garments, connected?
Later in the Torah, it says, "Asher is most blessed of sons." None of the tribes were blessed with children as was Asher. But numerically the tribe of Asher was not larger than the other tribes. The tribe of Asher outweighed all the other tribes by virtue of the great joy derived from their children. By virtue of conduct based on simple acceptance, and educating them in this spirit, one merits children who follow the Jewish path and bring deep joy and satisfaction - much more than is normally derived from the sum total of an even greater number of children.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Chana Zeldie Minkowicz
Simple words are most powerful. They reverberate in our minds and hearts. They have the delightful power to steer us when our emotions are raging, when we are uncertain, when we feel insecure. They are there to help us.
Who can forget the journalist Daniel Perl's last words (may G-d avenge his blood) before he was killed: "I am a Jew. My mother is a Jew. My father is a Jew."
Simple words, still echoing.
I am reminded of the time when I called my father at the airport before embarking on a plane to Mikenos, Greece. My husband and I, with our 10 month old daughter, were en route to a storybook wedding of a billionaire couple on a Greek Island. I was overwhelmed with excitement and concern. What impression would we make? My husband with his full beard and me with a wig and stocking on the beach would certainly stand out. Perhaps I should buy a new baby stroller, I thought, after all, I didn't want people to look at us as Orthodox shleppers. The rich and the famous were to be there. No expense was spared to make this wedding week celebration a happening. I was engulfed by the magic and glamour of it all.
My father's simple words helped me land. "Chana Zeldie," he said, "Have a great time and don't forget your Gaon Yaakov."
"Gaon Yaakov? What is Gaon Yaakov?" I asked him.
"Don't forget to be proud of being a Jew, and a religious Jew in a non-religious and a non-Jewish world."
The way we looked and behaved didn't interefere at all with the respect and admiration that was expressed to my husband and myself. We forged many friendships that have lasted until today.
I am proud when I remember that an Italian man, who was not Jewish, came over to me and remarked "Your dress and demeanor exudes pride in who you are." My father's simple words reminded me of the importance of expressing the privilege and pleasure of being a proud Jew in a non-Jewish world.
We all have moments that we are proud of. The times we have seized the opportunities and the times we were able to face the challenges presented to us with fortitude, courage and discipline.
We all also have moments we would rather forget. We want to erase them with a vengeance from our memory banks.
What contributes to both of these types of moments? What propels us to react or respond in our own personal style? One simple word: perspective.
The way we see the world; the way we see ourselves and those around us; our personality traits; our feelings to what others have to say about us; our beliefs; our value system. All of these contribute to our perspectives - our personal outlooks - the decisions in our lives, our choices, all are based on our perspectives.
As we mature we need to adjust our perspective to face daily opportunities as well as challenges. I'd like to share some simple words that work for me. I try to remember to be a faucet and not a drain when I'm in a complaining mode. Everyone has a different challenge. I am challenged by living in small quarters. Thank G-d, our family has outgrown our small home. When I realize how living in cramped quarters can affect my positive attitude, my patience with my children, my decisions to have guests, I quickly remind myself, "Be a victor and not a victim" and thank G-d we have hosted many simchas in our home and many guests despite the lack of space in our home. Don't we all want to earn respect rather than sympathy?
Life is very much like driving a car. If you are only absorbed in yourself, no matter how well you are driving, you'll get into an accident. As my driving instructor told me about 20 years ago, "Take your eyes off the wheel and look in the direction you want to go. When you walk do you look at your feet?" With clear vision you'll get where you want to go.
I try to remember the simple, powerful words stated in the Mishna: "Da ma l'maala mee-mach - Know what is Above you." The Baal Shem Tov simply and powerfully places the emphasis differently on the same words (in Hebrew) and the translation reads, "Know what is above, is from you," i.e., our actions create our reality!
From an address at an event organized by Bnos Melech, a New York based organization that promotes awareness of the mitzva of tzniut - the unique privilege and responsibility of Jewish women to dress modestly.
Meals and Memories
Chabad of Upper Montgomery County, Maryland, has collected the best recipes from shul members, family and friends and compiled them into an attractive, 3-ring binder keepsake cookbook. Meals and Memories is available at www .ourshul.org.
F.R.E.E. Publishing House in conjunction with SHAMIR has just released a new edition of the Tanya with a new, Russian translation supervised by Professor Herman Branover. Tanya, the fundamental, classic work upon which all concepts of Chabad Chasidism are based, is indispensable to an understanding of the Chasidic movement and the philosophy behind it. More importantly, it offers guidance for every facet of the day-to-day life of a Jew in his or her service to G-d. Available online at www.JRBooks.org.
Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5734 
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive your letter of January 10th... as well as the reports about your involvement with Lubavitch and Chabad teachings, etc.
All this is especially pertinent at this time of our Jewish calendar, the period between Chanukah and Yud (10th of) Shevat. Coming from Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which symbolizes the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth, we are reminded of the Chasidic emphasis on inspired joy and brightness which should permeate the life and activity of every Jew. Moreover, as in the case of light which is of immediate benefit not only to the one who lights it, but also to many others at the same time, so a Jew has to illuminate his personal life as well as his surroundings with the light of Torah and Mitzvoth. This is also emphasized by the special requirement that the Chanukah lights be seen outside, so as to illuminate those who might still be walking in darkness.
Similarly, Yud Shevat, the Yahrzeit [anniversary of the passing] of my father-in-law of saintly memory, brings to mind his dedicated efforts in the course of the last decade of his life in this country, to spread the principles and teachings of Chasidus...
Your joining this ever growing Chasidic family who have found a new meaning in life and, with it, peace and happiness, has a special significance in that you are a Kohen [priest], and also in that Divine Providence has given you a gift of song and melody. For this is a medium that directly communicates with the heart and the inner aspects of the soul, unlike prose which speaks to the intellect and only then can probe deeper. Through the medium of song and melody one can touch directly upon the heartstrings of the listener and inspire his inner soul, which is the reason why song and melody have such a prominent part in Chasidus in general, and in Chabad in particular.
In the light of the above, I extend to you both my prayerful wishes to utilize to the full the capacities and opportunities which G-d has given you in the above mentioned direction, and to do this in the Chabad way - with complete trust in G-d and with inspiration, and may G-d bless you with Hatzlocho [success] to go from strength to strength in all above, in good health and with gladness of heart.
With esteem and with blessing for happy tidings in all above,
5th of Teves, 5742 
Chabad House of Cincinnati
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed that the Teves issue of the "Chabad Times" will mark the 50th - Jubilee - issue.
Since this Jubilee issue is scheduled to appear in or about the week of the Sidrah [Torah portion] Vayechi, it is well to recall the timely story of the Tzemach Tzedek [Rabbi Menachem Mendel] that has to do with this Sidrah. As a little boy, he had just learned that "Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt 17 years," which is the first verse of Vayechi. The teacher observed that these were Yaakov's best years of his life. The little boy, who was to become the third leader of Chabad, asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], the Founder of Chabad, how it was possible that our Father Yaakov could live his best years in such a place as Egypt?
The Alter Rebbe replied: "We have been taught in the previous Sidrah (Vayigash) that Yaakov had sent his son Yehuda ahead of him to Yosef to establish a Yeshiva in Goshen (Gen. 46:23, according to Midrash quoted in Rashi). Therefore, since learning Torah brings a Jew closer to HaShem [G-d], it is possible for a Jew to truly live even in a place like Mitzrayim [Egypt]."
This story relating to the Founder of Chabad and his grandson, the famed Tzemach Tzedek, and being connected also with a passage in the Torah, certainly has an eternal message for every one of us:
"Mitzrayim" is the prototype of all Exiles which our Jewish people has experienced during its long history. The Hebrew word Mitzrayim (in the sense of metzarim, "constraints") indicates all such situations in which a Jew finds himself constrained and limited in the development of his true Jewish spirit. But for the Torah, the Jewish spirit would languish and lose vigor and vitality in the darkness of the Golus (Exile), whether external or internal. It is the Torah and Mitzvos (Ner Mitzvo v'Torah Or [a mitzva is a lamp and Torah is light]) that illuminate Jewish life and provide the strength and vitality to overcome all hindrances and constraints, enabling a Jew, man, woman and child, to live a bright and meaningful life even in the midst of outside darkness....
With esteem and blessing,
Why are the hands washed in a special manner before eating bread?
Before the kohanim (priests) performed their duties in the Holy Temple, they purified their hands by pouring water from a vessel over them. Our sages have likened our home to a mini-Sanctuary, our table to the altar and our food to the sacrifices. We, as "priests" of our homes, must also sanctify our hands by washing them in the prescribed manner before eating a meal accompanied by bread.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 20th of Tevet, this year January 10, marks the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), Rabbi Moses Maimonides, more than 800 years ago. The Rambam was an outstanding codifier, commentator, philosopher, physician to the Sultan and leader of Egyptian Jewry.
A little over 20 years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe urged all Jews to study every day a section of the Rambam's Mishne Torah, or at least the briefer Sefer HaMitzvot. Hundreds of thousands of Jews undertook this great endeavor and are studying one of the above-mentioned works.
Although the Rambam passed away so long ago, he and his great wisdom are still with us. When a person sits down to study a chapter, or a law from one of the Rambam's works, his spirit and teachings remain alive.
About the Rambam, our Sages have said, "From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses!" This means that from the time of the Moses who took us out of Egypt, there has never lived a person who exhibited all of the Rambam's unique qualities.
Throughout the 50 generations from Moses our Teacher until Moses Maimonides, there was not even one person similar to Moses our Teacher in terms of transmission of the Torah until the arrival of the Rambam. This saying is engraved on Maimonides' gravestone, which implies that it was accepted by all of our Sages from all circles who came to visit the Rambam's resting place.
With you shall Israel bless...May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe (Gen. 48:20)
In the previous verses Jacob had said, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuven and Shimon." Despite the fact that Ephraim and Menashe were born in exile and were educated in Egypt, a land not conducive to Torah learning and Judaism, they were still as righteous and pure as Reuven and Shimon, who grew up in more enclosed and insular surroundings in Jacob's household.
Let my name be called on them, and the name of my fathers (Gen. 48:16)
Jacob blessed his grandsons, Menashe and Ephraim, by expressing his wish that they grow up to be a source of pride to the family. When, G-d forbid, children do not follow in their parents' footsteps and stray from the proper path, the grandparents and parents are ashamed that the children bear their name. Jacob blessed his grandsons that they should be worthy of being called the descendants of Abraham and Isaac.
Zevulun shall dwell at the sea shores. (Gen. 49:13)
Despite the fact that Yissachar was older than Zevulun, and that Yissachar learned Torah while Zevulun only dealt with commerce, it is Zevulun who is mentioned first in the order of blessings, both those bestowed by Jacob and by Moses. For he who establishes and supports Torah learning stands on an even higher level than he who is actually learns, and thus receives merit in both worlds.
Rabbi Benyamin of Toledo walked down the pleasant streets. It looked so peaceful, so prosperous, this Egypt of Moshe Maimonides, the Rambam. How could it have swallowed up his old friend, the famous physician and scholar, without a trace? He approached an imposing building with a wrought-iron gate - the Rambam's home. He had tried to enter it several times, but the discreet doorman had informed him that the family was receiving no visitors.As he neared the house, he saw a little girl swinging back and forth on the gate. She had a distinctive face... a Maimon face. She must be Moshe's little girl.
"You must be Rabbi Moshe's daughter."
"Oh, no. Everybody thinks so, because I live here. I'm his niece."
"Why, then you must be...his younger brother David's little girl."
"Yes, that's right. My mother told me that he went in a big ship in the middle of the ocean, and there was a great wind and it sank down, and never came up again. And his soul is up in heaven. Look!" She pointed to a figure hurrying toward them. "That's my mother."
"Come, Mommy, here is a rabbi who knew Father when he was little. Come and speak to him."
Benyamin followed them into the courtyard. He explained that he had come all the way from Toledo to visit his old friend, Rabbi Moshe, but had not been permitted to enter.
"There are so many enemies. We don't know who to trust."
"I guessed as much. He is in hiding, then. I had hoped he was done with all the running and hiding."
"Our people call him the Great Eagle. He had risen too high. Our enemies cannot bear it that a Jew should have such influence. It's such a pity you can't see him. It would be good for him to see an old friend."
Benyamin felt the awakening of hope. "Do you think that it would be possible for me to see him, even for a few moments?"
"You must meet with Rabbi Moshe's friend, Rav Yehuda Hacohen."
Three days later Rav Yehuda Hacohen scrutinized Benyamin's credentials. "I am satisfied. We know we can trust you. But secrecy is of the essence. Tomorrow a few students are going to visit him in his hiding place. Be outside the yeshiva after maariv (the evening services)."
Two students were waiting for him the next evening in the shadow of the yeshiva building. They began climbing the foothills outside of the city. The path grew steeper and then disappeared. Suddenly they halted. Benyamin saw nothing but a rocky projection dimly illuminated by the glow of the moon.
He watched as the students bent down and pushed a boulder from the side of the cliff. Benyamin instinctively stepped back when confronted with the intense, blinding light streaming out of the opening in the mountain. Then, blinking in amazement, he beheld the most awesome sight he had even seen.
He was staring into a cave brightly lit by several tall, yellow wax tapers fixed to the veined rock wall. Behind a large desk strewn with rolls of parchment sat a Jew with a holy face that was framed by a silver beard. His entire being seemed to glow with some mysterious inner light.
The Rabbi behind the desk recognized him immediately. "Benyamin - from Toledo!"
It was then that the man realized that this rabbi was none other than his childhood companion Moshe, whom he had come to seek.
Rabbi Moshe questioned his friend closely about his life, his family, his travels through the lands of Jewish dispersion. Benyamin answered to the best of his ability, but at last could contain himself no longer. "Rabbi Moshe, what are you doing here all alone, in this cave in the wilderness?"
He had expected to find the great Rambam in hiding, but not cramped in a rough hole, denied the most basic human comforts.
"Don't look so downcast. Believe me, my friend, it is all for the best. I have not known such peace and tranquility since my childhood in Cordova. Come, I will show you something."
Benyamin came closer, and Rabbi Moshe pointed to several parchments in a box. "I have been working on a new book. I wish to gather from every law of the Torah all the mitzvot drawn from the Oral Law, and lay them all before the students in plain language and clear style. There shall be fourteen books in all. Very soon our Redeemer will come, and we will be gathered from all over the world. We will need to be fully conversant in all the laws very soon."
"What will you call your book?"
"I will call it Misheh Torah - so that every Jew, once he has learned the written Torah, will be able to turn to this book to find help in fulfilling the mitzvot correctly and studying the Talmud with greater ease."
Benyamin sensed that the interview was over. He and the two students walked home quietly together. One student said quietly to the other, "I feel as if I had just seen Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in his cave, with Elijah the Prophet teaching him."
From The Rambam by Rochel Yaffee, HaChai Publishing.
From Moses Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith. " I believe with perfect faith that G-d is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He alone has made, does make, and will make all things. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our G-d He was, He is, and He will be....I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await His coming every day...I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.