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If you search through the Jewish teachings you will find many examples of the power of a mitzva (commandment). "One mitzva leads to another," declares the Mishna in Avot. "Israel will be redeemed through tzedaka (charity)" is another such saying.
Judaism also teaches about the mitzvot of non-Jews - their responsibility to transform and civilize the world, by fulfilling the seven Laws of Noah. (Don't worship idols, don't blaspheme, don't murder, don't steal, don't be sexually immoral, set up a system of justice, and, by extension, take care of the world.)
Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe often emphasized the importance of every act of goodness and kindness, declaring that the imminent Redemption will be hastened through such actions. "Moshiach is ready to come now. Our part is only to increase in acts of goodness and kindness," the Rebbe responded when asked by a CNN reporter what is his message to the world.
One may ask, though, how hard do we have to work to perform an act of loving-kindness - to visit the sick - more, to make sure those who can't afford to pay a doctor or hospital nevertheless receive the health care they need, to give tzedeka to the poor - more, to follow the Talmud's dictum and be concerned for the dignity of indigent and oppressed, to say a kind word - more, to do whatever may be classified as increasing the goodness in the world?
In other words, do acts of goodness go against the grain? Do we have to train ourselves to be kind? Or, should we just follow our instincts and let the "kindness gene" take over?
Recent experiments by neuroscientists confirm the saying that "while the recipient benefits from tzedeka or from an act of kindness, even more does the giver benefit."
One experiment, conducted at the National Institutes of Health, involved asking volunteers to think about having a large sum of money, and keeping it for themselves. Another set of volunteers were asked to think about having a large sum of money, but donating it to a charity. During the experiment the neuroscientists scanned the brains of both sets of volunteers. Those thinking about helping others showed increase activity in the neural pathway for positive emotions involving the limbic system - the system that generates the sense of pleasure, associated with the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Other experiments confirm the result. It goes against our nature to be cruel. Our neuron pathways reinforce the "goodness impulse."
The Chasidic masters teach us that a mitzva, an act of kindness, affects not only the individuals involved, but reaches to the Heavenly Spheres. We can understand why: human beings are a template of creation. We mirror the structure of the spiritual realms, and our actions reverberate there.
In short, when we do good, we feel good. Or, in other words, we become good when we do good, and we're hardwired to do good.
In the Torah portion of Vayigash we read about the reunion of Joseph and Benjamin: "And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck."
Our Sages tell us that each brother wept over the destruction that would occur in the other brother's portion of Israel. Joseph wept over the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem, in Benjamin's portion, and Benjamin wept over the Sanctuary in Shilo, in Joseph's portion.
Symbolically, every Jew can build a "personal" Holy Temple in his heart, a place where the Divine Presence dwells. A Jew who conducts himself according to Torah causes G-d's Presence to dwell within him, thereby building a "Sanctuary." Doing the opposite prevents the Divine Presence from entering.
The destruction of the Temple is cause for grief. When Joseph prophetically saw that the two Holy Temples would be destroyed he burst into tears. When Benjamin saw that the Sanctuary would be destroyed, he was also overcome. So too it is with a Jew's inner Temple: When a person sees his friend's Temple being destroyed by his actions, it is painful to witness. He cries, for he is taking part in his friend's sorrow.
Yet we find something very strange. Joseph wept over the destruction that would occur in Benjamin's portion, but not over the destruction in his own territory. Similarly, Benjamin wept over the destruction of the Sanctuary in Joseph's portion, but did not grieve over the two Temples in Jerusalem. Why didn't each one weep over his own misfortune?
A similar reaction occurs when we witness the destruction of a fellow Jew's personal Holy Temple. A Jew weeps when he sees his brother destroying his inner Sanctuary, yet he does not weep when he destroys his own. Why is that?
The answer is that crying cannot rebuild. Crying lessens the pain, but cannot fix what was destroyed.
When a person destroys his own inner Temple, no amount of weeping can ever rebuild it. Instead, he should perform actual deeds, for "one positive action is worth a thousand sighs." Only mitzvot can reconstruct the ruined Sanctuary.
When a person sees another Jew's Temple lying in ruins it makes him sad. But he cannot help the other individual, as rectifying the situation is not in his hands. He may empathize and offer practical suggestions, but the other person has to do the actual work; only he can correct his misdeeds.
Joseph and Benjamin realized that lamenting their own sorrows would yield no practical benefit. Each brother would have to exert his own efforts to rebuild, by observing mitzvot and performing acts of goodness.
Let each of us rebuild the Sanctuary in our hearts, and together we will merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, that will never be destroyed.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 10, of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Mendel Goldman
Ed.'s note: Although the second half of this article is about a Torah portion from last month, we thought our readers would enjoy reading this delightful piece.
My name is Mendel Goldman. I have been hired by The Bulletin to write a column about the Torah and the lessons we can learn from it, for today's times.
I am in 4th grade and nine years old (although I will be ten on January 11th).
I am the oldest of five children. My eight-year-old sister is named Moussia. I have a six-year-old brother named Eli. I have a four-year-old brother named Levi. I have a four-month-old baby brother named Yudi, who was, by the way, born in South Africa, while we were there for the summer.
My father comes from South Africa, where my grandfather is a rabbi. My father's name is Rabbi Yochonon Goldman. He is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Abraham, the oldest Synagogue in Philadelphia. He speaks to me in Yiddish.
My mother, Rebbetzin Leah Goldman, comes from Israel and speaks to me in Hebrew. So I know three languages: English, Yiddish and Hebrew.
I go to school on a yellow school bus. It takes me one hour to get to school. Sometimes I listen to music or stories on my iPod during the bus ride.
On Sundays, I have keyboard lessons.
My family and I are part of a Jewish movement called Chabad Lubavitch, and we are followers of Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He has sent many rabbis to communities around the world to teach Torah. He sent my parents to Philadelphia.
Once a year, all the rabbis from all over the world meet in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. They also have a program for the rabbis' children. I went to it two weekends ago. It was inspiring and fun. I got to meet many other kids my age. In my group, I had two second cousins: one from Cleveland and one from Atlanta. During the weekend, I sang, talked and studied. We got to go rollerblading and play laser tag and other games.
Even though I am only nine years old, my goal is to share some of my life experiences with you, together with the Torah lessons that I study. The stories of the Torah can inspire us all today, as long as we are open to its messages.
So here is a quick lesson from this week's Torah reading:
Jacob wanted to return to the land of Canaan, but he was afraid his older twin brother Esau might try to kill him because Jacob had tricked him twice to get two meaningful things which Esau thought he, as the older brother, deserved: the birthright and their father Isaac's blessings.
So Jacob did a few things to prepare for a battle with his brother and his brother's 400-person army.
- Jacob sent a few angels as messengers, disguised as people, to Esau. These "messengers" brought gifts of sheep, cattle, goats and servants to Esau.
- He divided his own family members and his servants into two groups, so at least some of them would survive. If one group got attacked, the other group could flee.
- Jacob got knives and swords and made other preparations for war.
- He prayed.
What we can learn from this is that G-d helps, but we are supposed to do material things to protect our lives too. And this goes not just for war, but for all things. So if, for example, you are having a hard time finding a job right now, you should certainly pray, but you should also try to do everything you can on your own to find a job.
I hope you enjoyed my article. Stay tuned for more!
Reprinted with permission from The Bulletin-Philadelphia's Family Newspaper
The Big Barrell of Wine
The king is coming to visit Grapetown. The wine-makers excitedly build a gigantic barrel to be filled with wine in his honor. But something goes wrong and the great welcome turns instead into a great embarrassment. The people of Grapetown learn about personal responsibility. This new children's book, adapted from a story by beloved storyteller and teacher Rabbi ("Uncle Yossi") Yoesph Goldstein, is illustrated by Joseph Maya and published by the Jewish Learning Group.
The Two Kings
There are two kings that each one of us has inside. The Bad King, is our selfish impulsive side, the yetzer hara. The Good King is our rationale, good side, the yetzer tov. The concept is based in Ecclesiastes (9:14). The idea that the body is compared to a small city, over which two internal kings - the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara - fight to gain control forms the central theme of Tanya, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad chasidism. The Two Kings (vol. 1 and 2) is Rabbi Jacbos first foray into children's books. Published by Israel Book Shop.
Erev Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5738 
Blessing and Greeting:
After the interval, I received your (undated) letter.
As you surely know, the questions you ask regarding G-d's ways, etc. are already found in the Torah shebiksav [Written Torah] and Torah shebe'al-peh [Oral Torah], for they are natural in time of stress.
One general answer, which is really self-evident, though hard to accept in a state of emotional upset, is that it is surely illogical to limit the Creator in His designs and actions to conform to the understanding of a created human being.
I have often had occasion to cite a simple illustration to the effect that no one can expect an infant to understand the ideas and actions of a learned professor, although the professor was once an infant himself, and the present infant may have the potential even to surpass the professor in due course. How much more so, and incomparably, when it comes to the Infinite Intelligence of the Creator vis-à-vis the finite and limited intelligence of a created human being. This will, of course, not be a revelation to you; only, as the Torah says, it is difficult for a person to accept consolation in time of grief.
However, with all due respect, I must say that I was quite, and very much indeed, astonished at your remark, "Where is my father?" Knowing your family background, as well as your husband's and yours, it is surely unnecessary to remind you that the soul is eternal, and, moreover, its survival after the death of the body is not something that has to be believed, but it is plain common sense. For, obviously, physical illness that affects the body cannot affect the soul which is spiritual; it can only affect and terminate the union of body and soul, but not the soul itself.
The above would be superfluous to mention to you, except that it has a direct consequence and bearing on what should be your attitude and conduct. For, inasmuch as the soul is eternal and, indeed, is now in a state where it is not limited by the body's limitations, it is fully aware of what is happening in the family. When it sees that it is the cause of grief over and beyond the bounds of mourning set by the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life] - it is obviously distressed by it, and this is no way of contributing to the soul's peace and blissfulness.
I have also had occasion to mention that even during the soul's sojourn in this life when clothed in a physical body, the real bond between people and members of a family is not a physical one but a spiritual one, for what makes the real person is not his flesh and bones, but his character and spiritual qualities. Hence, this bond remains, and all those who loved the person dearly should try all the more to bring gratification to his eternal soul and continuous spiritual elevation (aliyas haneshomoh) through greater adherence to the Torah, Toras Emes [the Torah of Truth], in general, and particularly in the realm directly related to the soul's passing - to observe what is prescribed for the period of Shiva [the seven days of mourning], but not extend it, and similarly in regard to the period of Shloshim [30 days of lessened mourning], but not beyond, and then, and always, serve G-d through the fulfillment of His Mitzvos [commandments] as such service should be - with joy and gladness of heart.
Let me add one other point, and briefly. You should bear in mind that you and all your family are privileged to be in a position of leadership and influence - by both example and precept. Your exemplary conduct and every additional Hiddur [enhancement] is reflected and multiplied in all those who observe you and are inspired by you. Therefore, even if it entails a special effort, it is surely of no consequence in relation to the benefits that accrue to all those around you. Not to mention how careful one has to be not to give a wrong impression, especially being in Chinuch [Jewish education], as also your husband, on whom your conduct is bound to have an impact, too.
I trust you will accept all that has been said above in the spirit that it has been given. The important thing is to go about the daily life and conduct in accordance with the Torah, which is both Toras Chaim and Toras Emes, inasmuch as its teachings reflect the truth at its truest.
And G-d will surely recompense you for all the grief, though at this time it is still incomprehensible how it will be recompensed.
Tenth of Tevet
The Tenth of Tevet, December 27 this year, is a fast day commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem which ultimately ended in the destruction of the First Holy Temple. The Rebbe advises, "Before and after prayers give charity (in addition to the regular donation), including charity for a sacred cause or institution in the Land of Israel, Eretz HaChaim - the 'Land of the Living.' "
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Sunday is the Tenth of Tevet. It commemorates the day when Jerusalem came under siege, which marked the beginning of the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem and of the Holy Temple.
We fast on this day, not only to express our sorrow, but, more importantly, to be urgently reminded that we must increase our efforts to rectify the cause of the destruction and exile, namely, in the words of our familiar prayer, "Because of our sins (neglect of Torah and mitzvot) we have been exiled from our land."
One of the basic lessons of the Tenth of Tevet is that had our ancestors in those days been truly moved by the siege to change their complacent attitude towards the threatening danger (even if it were slow in coming), the whole destruction could have been averted from the start.
In a published letter, the Rebbe pointed to an additional and more pressing lesson that we must learn from the Tenth of Tevet.
"There is surely no need to point out that Jewish people everywhere are spiritually besieged on all sides. But nothing is more threatened than the future of our young generation - the future of our Jewish people. The only answer to it is Torah-true education. It must begin at the earliest age, and continue consistently in every aspect, without compromise. Sometimes it may appear that a particular detail is not all that important to insist on it strongly, or that there is time to deal with it later on. But the truth is that the slightest neglect at an early stage becomes a serious problem later, and conversely on the positive side: every little extra care and benefit in the early years is multiplied manifold later in life."
As we commemorate the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple, let us not become discouraged. For, in these days, surely we can appreciate the strengthening and invigoration of the Jewish people which is taking place as so many young people return to their Jewish roots. And certainly, in the very near future, the Rebbe's prophecy of the imminent Redemption will be fulfilled and we will truly celebrate with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
But now, do not be sad (Gen. 45:5)
A person must do whatever is necessary to avoid sadness and depression. This is the meaning of the verse, "My sin I will declare; I am worried about my transgression" - "worrying" about one's sins is harmful, and sinful in itself. Rabbi Mordechai Malkowitz used to say: The only worry a person is permitted to dwell upon is the worry that he is worried!
You shall tell my father of all my glory ("kevodi") in Egypt (Gen. 45:13)
The literal meaning of "kavod" is heaviness, weight or gravity. In other words, Joseph was asking his brothers to tell their father Jacob that despite his being in the spiritually unclean land of Egypt, he had managed to remain strong and connected to G-d.
I will go down with you to Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again (Gen. 46:4)
The Jewish people can rest assured they will eventually go out of exile, as the time must ultimately come for G-d to be revealed in the world. The only way this revelation can happen is for the Jewish people to be redeemed and their true advantage revealed in the world.
And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found...for the grain ("shever") that they bought ("shovrim") (Gen. 47:14)
The Midrash relates that the coins of ancient Egypt bore the likeness of an idol. How, then, could Joseph have had anything to do with an object that was tainted by idolatry? The answer lies in an alternate interpretation of the word "shever," which can also mean "to break." Before giving the coins to Joseph the Egyptians broke them up in pieces, thereby nullifying their idolatrous quality.
(The Rabbi of Zidatchov)
It was already the middle of the night when the stranger appeared in the doorway, a thin figure dressed in rags. Obviously exhausted, the traveler looked ready to tumble to the ground.
The innkeeper, a warm-hearted, G-d-fearing Jew, immediately invited him in and sat him down. After bringing the stranger a warm drink to revive him, he served him an entire meal and sent him off to bed.
The next morning the traveler was much revived from the food and the good night's sleep. After praying the morning service and eating breakfast, he packed his meager belongings into his knapsack, thanked his host for his hospitality and prepared to leave.
The innkeeper, sizing up the man's outward appearance, stuck his hand into his pocket and offered him a handful of change. To his surprise, the stranger politely refused. Thinking that perhaps he had offended him by offering too little, the innkeeper added another few coins, but the man was adamant. "Thank you anyway," he said, "but I really don't need it."
The innkeeper was at a loss for words. "What do you mean you don't need it?" he asked after a few seconds.
"I'm not your usual door to door beggar," the man explained. "You may not believe it, but I'm actually very wealthy. In my hometown I own many properties, fine houses, fertile fields and abundant orchards."
By this time the innkeeper was completely confused. He demanded that the stranger give him a more detailed explanation:
"The whole thing started a little over two years ago," the stranger began, "when a large sum of money was stolen from my home. After the initial investigation, suspicion fell on one of the servants, a young orphan girl who was in my employ. I insisted that she be taken to the town magistrate, who would soon get to the bottom of the matter. But the policemen who led her away were very cruel, and they struck her repeatedly. As a result of the beating, she passed away a few days later. Till the very end she maintained her innocence.
"A few weeks after this happened, the real thieves were apprehended and the money was recovered. I became almost insane with remorse. My conscience would not allow me to live. Not only had I shamed the poor girl, but I had inadvertently caused her death. How could I ever expiate my sin? In my sorrow I turned to the tzadik (righteous person) Rabbi Meir of Premishlan for help.
"The tzadik's face turned grave when he heard my story. He looked deep into my eyes - into my soul - before speaking. 'You must choose one of three ways of doing teshuva [repentance],' he said. 'The first choice is death. This will save your portion in the World to Come. The second choice is illness, in which case you will need to suffer for three years as atonement. Or, you can choose to go into exile for three years. This is the punishment for taking a person's life accidentally.'
"I asked the tzadik for several days to make up my mind. Each one of the alternatives seemed too much to bear. I just couldn't decide. A few days later I started to feel terrible pains all over my body. A doctor was summoned, and he diagnosed me as having an incurable illness. I understood that the tzadik had chosen the first option - death - for me, as I seemed incapable of making a decision.
"With my last ounce of strength I went back to Rabbi Meir and asked him to pray for my recovery. I was ready to accept exile.
"The tzadik set several conditions. 'The first stipulation is that you must leave all your personal belongings with me,' he said. 'From now on you must only wear clothing that is old and torn. You must never spend more than one night in the same place. And when you are hungry, you mustn't ask for food but wait until it is offered. For three years you are forbidden to return home, but once a year you may stand at the entrance to your city and send word for your wife to bring you your accounting books. Come back to me when the three years of exile are over, and I will return all your possessions.'
"I accepted my fate and set out, and for the past two years I have obeyed the tzadik's words to the letter. Just recently, however, I learned that Rabbi Meir of Premishlan passed away, and I don't know what to do. How can I go back to him if he is no longer alive? I've decided to go to Rabbi Chaim of Szanz for guidance." With that, the stranger concluded his tale.
The innkeeper, who was a follower of Rabbi Chaim of Szanz, insisted on accompanying him. When they entered the tzadik's chamber, Rabbi Chaim began to speak before they could even state why they had come. "Go home," he instructed the weary traveler, "but make sure you pass through Premishlan. Go to Rabbi Meir's grave and tell him that the Rabbi of Szanz has ruled that two years of exile are enough, for you have fulfilled them with true self-sacrifice."
Maimonides relates that ultimately all the fast days will be transformed into festivals and days of celebration, implying that their inner message is positive. Indeed, as Rabbi Shneur Zalman mentions in Iggeret HaTeshuva, a fast day is a "day of will." Among the positive dimensions of fast days are that they are days of teshuva (repentance, return). Teshuva has the power to end the exile and bring the Redemption, for "Israel will be redeemed only through teshuvah." "The Torah has promised that ultimately, Israel will turn [to G-d] in teshuva,... and immediately, she will be redeemed."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 10 Tevet, 5752-1991)