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A story from the Talmud: Mar Zutra, a great scholar known for his piety, once stayed at an "upscale" inn where beverages were served in pure silver vessels.
During one of the meals the calm atmosphere was disturbed by a sudden shout. One of the silver vessels had been stolen. The owner was in a quandary: if he started accusing all his guests without cause, he could ruin his business, but if he didn't catch the thief, he would suffer the loss and word might get out that his inn was not secure.
Knowing that Mar Zuta was staying at the inn, the owner turned to him for help. Mar Zutra agreed and sat in the dining room watching. He soon pointed to a young man and told the owner, "That is your thief."
The owner asked Mar Zutra how he knew. Mar Zutra replied, "I observed this person wash his hands and, seeing no towel about, dry them on someone else's garment. That showed me he has no consideration for other people's property." The young man, when presented with the reasoning of Mar Zutra, confessed.
Of course, there is more to this story than the cleverness of Mar Zutra. There is a lesson for all of us. When we think of theft, we think of taking something - an object - that doesn't belong to us. It doesn't matter if that thing is a valuable silver vessel or a candy bar from the drug store.
But Mar Zutra saw that theft starts at a deeper, more internal level. Stealing begins with an attitude, and that attitude manifests itself first, if not foremost, in discourtesy. We might think the thief took nothing when he dried his hands on someone else's garment. After all, the thief's hands were already clean so it wasn't as if he was soiling the garment. He was just getting it a little wet.
But from a different perspective, that was the bigger theft. How so? Let's consider common examples of "drying your hands on someone else's garment": a person in line who doesn't wait his turn; not cleaning up after your dog (or letting it go in another person's yard to begin with).
These are minor irritants, a flippant dismissal of the other person's self-worth. Why are they, in a sense, worse than outright theft of a diamond necklace or a silver vessel?
There is a two-fold answer: The theft of an object, while a violation of the other person's property, at least can be rationalized. The thief wanted the thing, and the owner was in the way. This doesn't minimize the harm done or the evil of the act. One of the Seven Universal Commandments is - Do not steal. Anything. At any level.
For the victim, the assault on his dignity, the denigration of her self-worth, comes through the theft of the object. But the thief's focus is on the thing stolen, not the person harmed.
However, when one "dries his hands on another's garment," the primary effect is the disrespect. It's that the other person doesn't matter.
The theft demonstrates disrespect for the Divine Providence that put that person ahead of you in the line, or the other person's house on this street. The theft of another's dignity - even when that person is not aware of it -- declares that what G-d thinks is significant is ignored, in a sense spat upon. And that who G-d creates space and time for, you don't have room for.
This leads to the second part of the answer: such an attitude steals not only from the other person, but primarily from one's self. There is a spiritual mirror-effect at work in the world: Disregard for another is disregard for one's own soul. Drying the hands on another's garment can only be done by dirtying one's own.
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The Haftara for this week's portion of Vayigash states: "And David My servant will be king over them...and My servant David will be Nasi [prince] to them forever." As King David is alternately referred to as "king" and as "Nasi," it is important that we understand the difference between these two terms.
Moshiach, too, is referred to as "David." It states in the Book of Ezekiel, "And they will serve the L-rd their G-d and David their king, whom I will raise up to them." This is a reference to King Moshiach, who is a descendent of King David.
In his Laws of Kings, Maimonides enumerates the various functions of Moshiach: Moshiach will compel the Jewish people to follow Torah and mitzvot (commandments), wage the "battles of the L-rd," rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, gather the Jewish exiles, and bring the whole world to worship the One true G-d. These functions, however, are not specific to Moshiach, but are the role of any Jewish king: to elevate the status of Judaism, and establish righteousness and justice.
At the same time, Moshiach's "job description" is also that of teacher. Not only Jews but gentiles will be guided by his advice and counsel, till "the entire world will be filled with G-d's wisdom, as the waters cover the sea." For this reason, Moshiach is also called "Nasi," the leader of the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish court and legislature), whose function was to teach Torah.
As reflected in the verse in this week's haftara, King Moshiach will combine both of these aspects.
Significantly, the Torah refers to Moshiach as being "king over them." A king is on a superior spiritual level, and is therefore somewhat removed from the rest of the people. A Nasi, by contrast, exerts an influence on the people precisely by being close to them. By teaching them Torah, he enables them to understand its wisdom. True, the Nasi is spiritually exalted (the word itself is derived from the Hebrew meaning elevated), but his basic relationship with the people is one of closeness and proximity. For this reason, the Torah refers to Moshiach as being "Nasi to them forever," rather than "over them."
When Moshiach is revealed, it will not be necessary for him to exert that much effort as "king" (i.e., wage battle against evil), as the world will already be sufficiently prepared. His main function will be as Nasi, teaching and guiding the world and disseminating Torah. It states accordingly, "My servant David will be Nasi to them forever," as Moshiach's eternal reign will be characterized primarily by this quality.
Adapted from Vol. 35 of Likutei Sichot
A Sabbath on the Kibbutz
by Rabbi Shimon Sonnefeld
One Friday afternoon a van, with eight yeshiva students from Migdal Emek in northern Israel, was traveling on a winding road in the Galilee. Every Friday they would visit different settlements in the north of Israel in order to share some words of Torah, give the residents an opportunity to put on tefillin, get Shabbat candles, or receive a pamphlet explaining various mitzvot (commandments).
After hours of traveling and outreach work without a moment of rest, the time had come to return to the yeshiva. The boys were tired, hungry, and thirsty. "Let's have a short rest by the roadside," said one of them.
The boys left the van and searched for a suitable place. Resting in the shade of a large, ancient olive tree, they drank soda and breathed in the clear air of the Galilee hills.
One of the boys went to lie down in the shade of a tree a short distance away from his companions. In exhaustion he fell fast asleep.
After 10 minutes, the boys returned to the van. Since different students travelled in the van each Friday, nobody noticed that one of the students was missing.
After about an hour, the boy awoke and to his surprise discovered that the van had disappeared. He ran to the road, but there was no trace of it.
Here he was, alone on a dusty road in the Galilee, and Shabbat was approaching! Where would he stay for Shabbat? Where would he eat the Shabbat meals? Where would he pray and listen to the Torah reading?
He started to walk briskly along the road. Perhaps he could reach the main road and find a car that would take him to the yeshiva. But the road was silent and no cars were passing by on that late Friday afternoon.
The sun cast its red rays on his face as it set on the western horizon. The boy hastened his steps in order to reach a settlement before Shabbat began. However, the only settlements he could see were Arab villages.
Since carrying on Shabbat was forbidden, he removed whatever he had in his pockets and placed them under a stone. He was careful to leave a sign for himself in order to find them later.
Darkness had already descended upon the Galilee hills when the student reached a Jewish settlement. It was a kibbutz. He decided to ask permission to remain there for Shabbat. He met a kibbutznik and said, "I have nowhere to stay in this area for Shabbat. Is it possible to find a place for me to stay in your kibbutz?"
"The kibbutz secretary lives in the third house. You should ask him," the member answered.
The student went to the secretary, who understood his situation and showed him a room where he could sleep. The secretary also invited the young man to supper in the kibbutz dining hall. The student thanked him but declined, knowing that the kibbutz kitchen was not kosher.
Instead, he asked for two whole loaves of bread. Afterwards he said the Shabbat evening prayers, much of which he knew by heart, alone in his room. He made Kiddush on the bread and ate his Shabbat meal - bread and tomatoes.
The next morning he awoke when the sun's rays penetrated his window. He prayed again by heart and read the Torah portion in a Bible from the kibbutz library. By noon he had his meal, consisting of the same menu as the night before.
With many hours left until the end of Shabbat, he took a pleasant walk through the kibbutz and saw the many children strolling around. An idea crossed his mind. "If I'm still here, maybe I should make a children's gathering and tell them something about the Torah portion!"
He approached the children and asked if they wanted to participate in a small party. A group readily agreed. A few youth counselors from the kibbutz also joined in order to see what was going on. The yeshiva boy started to sing Jewish songs together with the children. He told them about the weekly Torah portion and a number of Chasidic stories. All the children gave him their full attention. They enjoyed every moment of the Shabbat party.
Towards the end, the yeshiva boy said to the children: "You should know that everything that happens in the world is by Divine Providence. The Creator of the world prepares the steps of each man. Wherever he goes, he has a certain Divine mission to fulfill, although we are not always able to understand the purpose of everything that happens.
"For instance, look at what happened to me and where I am now. I was supposed to be together with my friends in my yeshiva right now, and instead I ended up here, together with you.
"I am 100% sure that it was not by chance that we decided to stop that van exactly next to those olive trees on the side of the road. It was not by chance that I fell asleep under a tree at a distance from my friends. It was not because of 'bad luck' that my friends continued the trip back without noticing I was missing. Neither was it a coincidence that no cars passed by on the road and I continued by foot until I reached the first Jewish settlement - which was your kibbutz.
"Why did I have to come here? Well, I do not know the answer to that, but I am sure that . . . ."
His speech was suddenly interrupted. One of the girl counselors jumped up and exclaimed, "I know the reason for your coming here!"
Everyone turned around and stared at her in amazement. "I have always taken an interest in my religion," the girl continued, "and I always wanted to learn more. I heard that Lubavitchers organize evenings with explanations about Judaism, and I asked the head of the cultural committee here to invite them, but he always turned it down.
"Finally I decided to do something entirely different. I turned to G-d for help. During this whole week I have been praying to G-d to send a Lubavitcher to our kibbutz-and here you are!"
Chabad of Gothenburg, Sweden, has just completed a state-of-the-art mikva. The new mikva replaces a mikva that was built in 1987 at the behest of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but was being closed because the owners of the building that housed the mikva were selling the building.
Rabbi Benzion and Faigy Treitel will be moving to Atlanta, Georgia, to be the Chabad House administrator and program director at Chabad of Intown. Rabbi Yochanan and Rochel Gordon are moving to Tasmania, Australia, where they will open a new Chabad House.
This an excerpt of a freely translated rendition of a letter of the Rebbe pertaining to the fast of 10 Tevet which occurs this year on thursday, Jan. 5. At the time, the letter was headed "URGENT"
3rd Day of the week, 5th of Teves, 5736 (1976)
Greeting and Blessing:
In reply to your inquiry and request for instruction in connection with the forthcoming Fast of Asoro b'Teves (10th of Teves), in view of the situation in and around Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel), you will surely be instructed by the Rabbi of your congregation....
However, since you have also approached me in this matter - I will set forth, at least, several suggestions - after the following introductory remarks:
Regrettably, there are people who claim that it is necessary to think and act "big," in terms of global dimensions and stupendous undertakings, etc., etc. Surely they mean well; and to the extent that such resolutions are practical and are actually carried out - they are very helpful to improve the situation.
Yet, we must never overlook - indeed, rather greatly emphasize the so-called "small and unsophisticated" things which each modest congregation, or even each individual, can and must do - beginning with the old, yet ever-new, Jewish way, collectively as one people and also as individuals. This is the action of hakol kol Yaakov ("the voice is the voice of Jacob") - Torah and prayer - which G-d Himself has shown us to be the first effective action to nullify the power of yedei Eisov ("the hands of Esau") - in whatever shape or form they are raised against us. Certainly this should find the fullest expression in a day which the Code of Jewish Law declares to be a day of fasting, one to which the prophet Isaiah refers as a "chosen fast . . . a fast and time favored by G-d."
Now, in answer to your inquiry, and since the Fast of Asoro b'Teves is especially connected with Eretz Yisroel and the Holy City of Jerusalem (recalling the siege of Jerusalem), my suggestion - in addition to the regular observances on Fast Days, as set forth at length and in detail in Poskim (codifyers) and in books of Mussar (ethical works) and Chassidus - is as follows:
During this day - expressly for the sake (Zechus) of the security and strengthening of Eretz Yisroel, materially and spiritually, and for the material and spiritual benefit of all Jews wherever they are - in Eretz Yisroel as well as in the Diaspora and particularly for the benefit of our brethren behind the "Iron Curtain," a special effort should be made in the spirit of "Old Israel" - in the areas of Torah [study], Tefilla (prayer) and Tzedoko (charity). Specifically:
After praying (both in the morning and in the afternoon) to learn (and where there already are daily study groups, to add) a subject in Torah, including Halachah pesuka (final ruling),
Immediately following the prayers, even before learning, to say several chapters of Psalms (in addition to the regular portion);
Before and after praying - to give Tzedoko (in addition to the regular donation), including Tzedoko for a sacred cause or institution in Eretz Yisroel, Eretz haChayim ("Land of Living").
Needless to say, one who repeats the above again and again in the course of the day, is to be praised, and each time - the more one does it (in quantity and quality), is to be praised all the more. And, as in all matters of Holiness, it is desirable that all the above be done with a congregation, (with at least a Minyan).
May G-d accept, and He will accept, the prayers and supplications of Jews wherever they are, and soon, in our very own days, may the Promise be fulfilled that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness,"
With the true and complete Geula (Redemption) through our righteous Moshiach.
With esteem and blessing,
NECHEMYA means "comforted of G-d." Nechemya was the cupbearer to the Persian king, Ataxerxes I (Ezra 2:2) When Nechemya heard that Ezra the Scribe's attempts to rebuild the material and spiritual life of the Jews in Israel was failing, he convinced Ataxerxes to rescind his order which stopped all work to fortify Jerusalem. Artaxerxes appointed Nechemya governor of the Jewish colony and Nechemya went to the Holy Land to personally supervise the construction.
NINA means great-granddaughter.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat, the fifth of Tevet, is a day of celebration and rejoicing known as "Didan Natzach" - "Victory is Ours."
It is the day, in 1987, when Judge Charles Sifton rendered his legal decision on the ownership of the enormous and valuable library of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
For three weeks during the previous winter, the judge had listened to testimony concerning whether the Previous Rebbe's library was a personal possession, subject to the laws of inheritances, or if it was the possession of "Chabad."
Judge Sifton was tremendously influenced by the statement of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory, daughter of the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe's wife, that "My father belonged to the Chasidim just as the books belong to the Chasidim."
There was great rejoicing on the day of the judgment, lasting for seven days. Each evening the Rebbe spoke publicly and expounded on the spiritual ramifications of the victory.
In one of these talks, the Rebbe said: "At the time of his imprisonment and redemption, the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman) found a Divine lesson in everything that had occurred.
One of his conclusions was the need to increase with renewed vigor and strength the dissemination of Chasidic philosophy.
The eternal Divine connection [of the Alter Rebbe's imprisonment and subsequent release] to this event is obvious.
Thus, especially because the charge was brought against Agudas Chasidei Chabad as a living and vital organization, we must strengthen even more the dissemination of the teachings of our Rebbes, learning them privately and in groups amidst great joy and enthusiasm, joy that breaks all boundaries..."
May we witness the ultimate breaching of limitations with the end of the exile and the ultimate joy of being united as one in the true and complete Redemption.
For you are even as Pharaoh (Gen. 44:18)
Judah stood before the viceroy of Egypt and begged, "Just as Pharaoh recognized your qualities and lifted you out of prison, acknowledge our righteousness and allow us to reside in Egypt!"
And his brothers could not answer him, for they were terrified at his presence (literally "face") (Gen. 45:3)
Joseph's face was identical to that of his father Jacob. Yet when the brothers first met him in Egypt they did not recognize him, for Joseph kept his face covered with a mask. Upon revealing himself he uncovered his face, which frightened the brothers because he so closely resembled their father.
But now do not be sad...that you sold me here (Gen. 45:5)
According to the Midrash, the word "now" refers to the act of teshuva, sincerely repenting of one's misdeeds and returning to G-d. Thus, in effect Joseph was saying to his brothers, "If you are truly intent on doing teshuva and regret having sold me, 'do not be sad' - do not allow yourselves to wallow in sadness. For true teshuva can only be attained through joy..."
Sadness locks the gates of heaven. Prayer opens locked gates. And happiness has the strength to break through all barricades.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
The emotion of sadness is essentially selfish, as it is derived from an individual's feeling that something, either spiritual or material, is lacking that rightfully belongs to him. Such an outlook concentrates solely on the self, rather than on others.
(Rabbi Chanoch Henoch of Alexander)
The eighth, ninth and tenth days of the month of Tevet are each considered dark days in the history of Israel. At one time each of the three days was observed by a fast. Today we fast only on the tenth. What happened on these three days?
The 8th of Tevet marks the completion of the translation of the Bible into Greek, known as the Septuagint.
The 9th of Tevet marks the passing of Ezra and Nechemiah who led the Jews exiled in Babylon back to Jerusalem.
The 10th of Tevet marks the the beginning of Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in the year 586 BCE.
Ptolemy II ruled over the Land of Israel with a friendly attitude toward his Jewish subjects. He was a great friend of books, and his gigantic library contained hundreds of thousands of volumes of all the creative authors of ancient times.
At the suggestion of his librarians, he approached the Jewish people for a Greek translation of the books of the holy Bible. Eleazer, the High Priest, who was then at the head of the Jewish state in the Holy Land, sent him seventy of the greatest Jewish sages. They were well versed in the Greek language and knew all the meanings and interpretations of the text of the Bible in the Written and Oral tradition.
When the sages arrived at his palace, King Ptolemy gave them a royal welcome. He honored them with feasts and gifts. He then sent them off to a small island not far from Alexandria. There, each sage was placed in a separate room. "Write for me the Torah of Moshe, your teacher," he commanded each one. They were to translate the Bible into Greek while confined to their rooms. None of the sages was allowed to communicate with each other.
Miraculously, each individual translation agreed on every point, even on the most difficult passages in the Bible. There were a number of places where each sage intentionally altered the literal translation. Yet, in the end, all of the sages had made the same changes despite the fact that they could not communicate with each other.
For instance, the first verse of the Torah, "B'reishit Bara Elokim" could have been translated literally - "In the beginning created G-d." This might easily have been misinterpreted to mean that a deity "In the beginning created G-d." However, every sage translated the verse: "G-d created in the beginning...." They also translated "we will make man" to "I will make man," lest people say that G-d has a dual nature.
The Egyptian ruler and his scholars were amazed at the miraculous feat, and they rightly honored the scholars upon the completion of the translation. The "Septuagint" (Latin for seventy) became one of the most important documents of Jewish and world literature.
It contains not only all the books of the Bible, but also works not included in the Bible that were largely lost in their original Hebrew.
The Jews of Egypt were greatly elated by this translation of the Bible into Greek. For many centuries they celebrated the day of completion, the eighth of Tevet, as a Jewish holiday.
However, the sages of the Holy Land considered the eighth of Tevet as a day of sorrow for the Jewish people. They all saw an awesome act of G-d in it, yet the matter evoked general wonder in non-Jewish eyes. The day was nevertheless considered a day as tragic as the day on which the golden calf was made.
According to the Talmud, the matter was likened to a lion captured and imprisoned. Before his imprisonment, all feared the lion and fled from his presence. Once imprisoned, all came to gaze at him, saying, "Where is his strength now?"
As long as the Torah was in the hands of Israel and was interpreted by the Sages in its own language--Hebrew--it evoked reverence, and many feared to cast blemish upon it. Even a non-Jew who desired to study the Torah had no contact with the Torah until he had acquired a knowledge of the Holy tongue and the prescribed ways for understanding the Torah.
Once the Torah was imprisoned in Greek translation, it was as if the Torah were divested of reverence. Whoever wished could now come and gaze at her. Whoever wished to fault her, could now do so.
When the Torah lists Jacob's offspring, it counts the total number: "The number of individuals in Jacob's family who came to Egypt were 70..." The Midrash states that there are 10 times when the Jewish people are counted. The first time was when they went down to Egypt. The 10th time will be when the Redemption comes, as the prophet Jeremiah said, "The flock will again pass by the one who counts them." And who is 'the one" who G-d will appoint to count them? It will be Moshiach.
(Tanchuma, Sissa 9. Targum, Yirmiyahu 33:13)