Don't Text & Drive - But Listen | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Who's Who | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
It's become common enough that there are public service announcements about it: don't text and drive. Why would anyone think they could do that? Isn't "eyes on the road" the first rule of driving? (Well, maybe put the key in the ignition comes first.)
Seriously, there are a lot of distractions when we drive. Not when we start out. When we first learn to drive, it's both hands on the wheel, radio off, adjust the mirrors, inch - jerk - the car forward, be made more nervous by the faces the driving instructor (or parent) is making, and finally get some experience.
Pretty soon, though, we're focusing on things other than the mechanics of driving. That's too easy. So the radio's on. And we're eating a sandwich. And we're talking on the phone.
And now there's texting. Some people say they have eyes in the back of their heads, but they can't do two things at once. One hand on the wheel and one hand on the keypad doesn't work. And ask any touch typist - every once in a while you have to look at the keyboard or tyi wbs yo - you end up - typing a letter off.
Along with the "don't text and drive" campaign, safety officials are pushing another - don't talk on the phone while driving - get a hands-free device.
This one may seem a bit much. What's the difference between an earpiece/bluetooth/speaker phone and holding the cell phone to your ear?
And yet, we see people driving with phones to their ear who are almost as distracted as the text-drivers. Strange, but bluetooth your conversation, and you can focus on the road - just like talking to someone in the next seat. Put the phone to your ear - you're in distraction land.
Why? Because the hand and eye go together (hand-eye coordination we practice as infants) and hearing stands alone.
There's a lesson here: What the eye sees, the hand takes. And the hand is an extension of the heart. In the paragraphs after the central "Shema" prayer we read, "don't go astray after your hearts and after your eyes." Sight and touch are partners - for good or for the opposite.
Of course, hearing can be turned positive or negative as well: we can listen to words of Torah or to gossip. We can hear the words of prayer as we speak them aloud, softly to ourselves or we can hear the words of quarrel as we shout and hurl them at another.
But there's a special connection between sight and touch. We spend a lot of time as infants working on that connection. And it holds us in good stead - not just having an "eye for the ball" - but on the road. How many times have we avoided an accident by seeing the pothole in the middle of the road and turning the wheel just enough to avoid hitting the pothole, but not so much that we hit the cat - or car - on the other side?
There's also, of course, a positive side - "look and touch" - look at the tefillin, and touch them; look at the mezuza, and touch it; light the Shabbat candles, and look at them.
As we "drive through life," performing mitzvot (commandments), let's keep our hands on the wheel of performing mitzvot and our eyes on the road for opportunities to learn Torah. And on the journey, we can listen to the words of prayer - without being distracted.
The Jewish people, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are often referred to by the name of another of our great forebears, Joseph. "Listen, O Shepherd of Israel, You Who leads Joseph like a flock," sings the Psalmist. Rashi explains that every Jew is called "Joseph," "because he (Joseph) sustained and provided for them during the famine," a narrative of which appears in this week's Torah portion, Vayigash.
At first glance, this seems to be an insufficient explanation. Why call an entire nation after one individual, no matter how exalted, just because he was instrumental in aiding the Jewish people during a certain short period in their history?
Chasidic philosophy teaches that every phenomenon in the physical world exists only because of its spiritual root above. Indeed, the physical manifestation in this world is only a reflection of the true spiritual reality. The fact that Joseph sustained the fledgling Jewish people with food (as well as the rest of the known world at the time), reflects the fact that it was he who imbued his people with the spiritual nourishment and sustenance they needed to survive in exile, as well. The lack of food, the famine which hit Egypt, was accompanied by a spiritual famine, for the exile in Egypt was a time of great darkness and trouble for the Jewish people. It was Joseph who gave his descendants the strength to deal with the hardships and adversity of exile.
Joseph, in his role as second in command to Pharaoh, broke new ground and paved an innovative path in the service of G-d. Joseph's brothers were shepherds, an occupation which gave them plenty of time to pursue a spiritual life. By contrast, Joseph lived a life of involvement in the world, first as the manager of Potifar's household, later when he was in charge of his fellow prisoners in jail, and finally, when he was appointed second in command over all of Egypt. Although Joseph was always intimately involved in the day-to-day details of the physical world, as was dictated by his various positions, his greatness lies in the fact that he never severed his spiritual connection to G-d, and in fact, emerged even stronger in his service and commitment.
Much of Joseph's life was spent in exile, in the center of the most cosmopolitan society of his time. Yet, he remained untouched by the lure of the material world and unbowed in his religious faith.
Joseph therefore symbolizes, more than any of the Patriarchs or the rest of the 12 tribes, the essence of the Jewish people. As we stand on the threshold of the Messianic Era, we look back on the thousands of years of Jewish exile spent under the dominion of the nations of the world. Although we have, of necessity, concerned ourselves with the daily, mundane details of our lives, our relationship with G-d has remained as strong as ever. Indeed, our goal in life is not to withdraw from the world to concentrate solely on the spiritual; a Jew's task is to combine the two realms, imbuing the physical world with holiness. It is in our forefather Joseph's merit that we have been given the power to withstand any spiritual "famine" which could possibly threaten our existence as "Joseph's flock."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Tefilin in Dachau
by Rabbi Yosef Wallis
While he was in Dachau, a Jew who was being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at Judah Wallis. He caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Upon opening it, however, he was disturbed to discover a pair of tefilin. Judah was very frightened because he knew that were he to be caught carrying tefilin, he would be put to death instantly. So he hid the tefilin under his shirt and headed for his bunkhouse.
In the morning, just before the roll call, while still in his bunkhouse, he put on the tefilin. Unexpectedly, a German officer appeared. He ordered him to remove the tefilin, noted the number on Judah's arm, and ordered him to go straight to the roll call.
At the roll call, in front of thousands of silent Jews, the officer called out Judah's number and he had no choice but to step forward. The German officer waved the tefilin in the air and screamed, "Dog! I sentence you to death by public hanging for wearing these!"
Judah was placed on a stool and a noose was placed around his neck. Before he was hanged, the officer said in a mocking tone, "Dog, what is your last wish?" "To wear my tefilin one last time," Judah replied.
The officer was dumbfounded. He handed Judah the tefilin. As Judah put them on, he recited the verse that many say while winding the tefilin around the fingers: "I will betroth you to me forever and I will betroth you to me with righteousness, and with justice, and with kindness, and with mercy, and I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know G-d."
In silence, the entire camped looked on at the Jew with a noose around his neck, and tefilin on his head and arm, awaiting his death for the "crime" of observing this mitzva. Even women from the adjoining camp were lined up at the barbed wire fence that separated them from the men's camp, compelled to watch this ominous sight.
As Judah turned to the silent crowd, he saw tears in many people's eyes. Even at that moment, as he was about to be hanged, he was shocked: Jews were crying! How was it possible that they still had tears left to shed? And for a stranger? Where were those tears coming from? Impulsively, in Yiddish, he called out, "Yidden (Jews) , don't cry. With tefilin on, I am the victor! Don't you understand? The victory is mine!"
The German officer understood the Yiddish and was infuriated. He said to Judah, "You dog, you think you are the victor? Hanging is too good for you. You are going to get another kind of death."
Judah, my father, was taken from the stool, and the noose was removed from his neck. He was forced into a squatting position and two large rocks were placed under his armpits. Then he was told that he would be receiving 25 lashes to his head-the head on which he had dared to place tefilin. The officer told him that if he dropped even one of the rocks from his armpits, he would be shot immediately. In fact, because this was such an extremely painful form of death, the officer advised him, "Drop the rocks now. You will never survive the 25 lashes to the head. Nobody ever does." "No," Judah responded, "I won't give you the pleasure."
At the 25th lash, Judah lost consciousness and was left for dead. He was about to be dragged to a pile of corpses, and then burned in a ditch, when another Jew saw him, shoved him to the side, and covered his head with a rag, so people wouldn't realize he was alive. Eventually, after he recovered consciousness, he crawled to the nearest bunkhouse that was on raised piles, and hid under it until he was strong enough to come out under his own power. Two months later he was liberated.
During the hanging and beating episode, a 17-year-old girl had been watching from the women's side of the fence. After the liberation, she made her way to the men's camp and found Judah. She walked over to him and said, "I've lost everyone. I don't want to be alone any more. I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to hang you. Will you marry me?"
The rest is history. The couple walked over to the Klausenberger Rebbe and requested that he perform the marriage ceremony. The Klausenberger Rebbe, whose own kiddush Hashem is legendary, wrote out a ketuba (marriage contract) by hand from memory and married them. I, Rabbi Yosef Wallis, their son, keep and cherish that ketuba to this day.
After the above story appeared in "Sichat Hashavua," L'Chaim's sister publication in Israel, a subscriber to the publication, called the Sichat Hashavua office. Mr. Lasky, a 95-year-old man, asked for the phone number of Judah Wallis's son, Rabbi Yosef Wallis, Director of Arachim. When asked why he wanted the number, Mr. Lasky stated, "I was in Dachau, together with this Judah Wallis. However, I never knew that he survived the beating. I always wanted to thank him for letting me put on his tefilin in Dachau. Now, at least, I can thank his son."
After receiving the phone call, Rabbi Wallis visited Mr. Lasky. Mr. Lasky then thanked him for the tefilin his father had lent him.
"I am certain," said Mr. Lasky, "that the tefilin that I wore in Dachau protected me in the camp and gave me long life and health."
Rabbi Wallis commented, "Until now, I never found anyone to validate my father's story. Now I have an eye witness. The circle of history has now come full circle."
Reprinted with permission from the forthcoming book by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, edited by Matthew Brown.
The Two Yaakovs
The Two Yaakovs is a compilation of fun-to-read and interesting Chasidic stories. It begins with stories of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch and then continues with Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch up to and including the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The book has an easy-to-read style and each story has a full-color illustration. Written by Fradie Brod, published by BSD Publishing.
Continued from last week, from a letter dated
7th of Teves, 5740 
It is in this sense that I characterized the new Project as seemingly "wild" - not only in the ordinary sense of being wild and far-fetched from the viewpoint of practical consideration, but in the sense of being extraordinary also from the viewpoint of sacred considerations. By this I mean that, at first glance, considering our responsibilities to the existing institutions, especially the educational institutions, struggling with deficits and having to be not only maintained but also expanded, for what could be more vital than Chinuch [Jewish education]? - one would think that these institutions command top priority on all our resources.
Yet, I am convinced that the present world situation, and the Jewish situation in particular, is so extraordinary that ordinary means cannot cope with it, and a "wild" approach is required. Hence the said Project, as a first step.
It will reflect, emphasize and demonstrate in a concrete and tangible way our profound bitachon [faith] and trust in the strength of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] to overcome all difficulties, and in the wholeness and inviolability of Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] as the eternal inheritance of our people, and of Jerusalem, our Holy City, which belongs to all our Jewish people everywhere, with every Jew having a share in it, as also emphasized by the fact that while the whole Land of Israel was divided among the twelve tribes, Jerusalem was not divided among the tribes, but every Jew has a share in it. And this we proclaim not merely in words and protestations, but by concrete action, in a manner which is understood by all, namely by the fact that American Jews, especially successful businessmen, who are known for their acumen and practical know-how in business affairs, are willing and ready, and do indeed, invest substantial resources in building a Shikun [neighborhood] for Jews permeated with Yiddishkeit precisely in Jerusalem, our Holy City, in our Holy Land, thereby also involving the cooperation of Governmental agencies in this "wild project," though the Government has other vital projects connected with defense, which ordinarily command top priority.
I trust, indeed I am quite confident, that this "wild" Project will bring forth G-d's blessings in a correspondingly "wild" and extraordinary measure, so that the Project will be implemented and completed much sooner than expected, and that it will serve as a living testimony to the vitality and strength of our Jewish people transcending all limitations and bounds; living testimony to Jews and non-Jews alike.
I have not yet embarked on a public campaign for the said project for various reasons, one of which being that I waited for a" Nachshon" - like Nachshon ben Aminadav who at the crucial moment jumped into the Sea and caused it to part asunder for all the Jews to follow.
It is your great zechus [merit] to be this Nachshon, and this zechus will certainly stand you and your family in good stead in all your needs, including the fulfillment of the prayerful and confident wish that I expressed to you, that G-d should bless you and enable you to double your contribution by next year, with joy and gladness of heart, in happy circumstances of affluence both materially and spiritually.
And I do not mean "double" in the strict sense, but, as above, in the sense of the symbolic number "eight", i.e., above all ordinary calculations.
May G-d grant that - as expressed during the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering], that in the zechus of Chanukah and the lighting of the eight Chanukah lights, symbolizing the light of the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], we should all be zoche [privileged] to see the Lights of Zion in the third and eternal Beis Hamikdosh, at the complete and true Geulah [redemption] through our righteous Moshiach.
With esteem and blessing,
P.S. I trust you understand why I constrained myself from taking "public" note of your letter and enclosure when you handed it to me. I was not sure whether those present with you knew of its content, or that you wished it to be known, and thought it wiser to leave it to your own discretion.
Yael lived at the time of the prophetess Devorah. She was the wife of Heber, a descendent of Jethro, Moses's father-in-law. When the Cannannite general, Sisera was fleeing from Barak's army, he sought refuge in Yael's tent. Instead of protection, he found death at the hands of the brave Yael who drove a tent stake through his temple as he slept. When the Jewish general, Barak arrived at her door she announced, "I will show you the man you seek" and led him to the dead general. She is praised in the Song of Devorah: "Blessed above women shall Yael be."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are currently in the month of Tevet. The word "Tevet" is related to the Hebrew word "tov," meaning "good." Early on, it contains the happy date of "Hei Tevet" when the ownership of the Lubavitch Library was legally affirmed.
However, we also commemorate sad events, most especially the Tenth of Tevet. The Tenth of Tevet (this year coinciding with January 23) is the day on which the evil king Nebuchadnezar laid siege upon Jerusalem, which eventually led to the destruction of the first Holy Temple, and the Babylonian Exile. The tenth of Tevet is considered an especially solemn day, because it is the first in a series of events which led to the present exile. Therefore it is a day to reflect upon all of those events and the actions that led to them, and to reflect upon which of our own actions need improving in order hasten the end of exile and prepare for the imminent Redemption.
And yet, as stated previously, Tevet is connected to good. We see from this that we have the power to transform bad into good, sorrow into joy, darkness into light, and exile into redemption. Since Tevet marks the beginning of the calamitous events which befell our people, our Sages named this month "Tevet" to inspire the positive energy that is within every one of us.
Tevet has the added significance of being connected to the number ten, as Tevet is the tenth month of the year. Additionally, we commemorate the siege of Jerusalem on the tenth day of the tenth month.
Ten is a number of great power. Yom Kippur is on the tenth day of Tishrei. G-d gave us ten commandments. The Torah mentions nine times that the Jews sang to G-d and the tenth song will be song with the coming of Moshiach.
We must harness this additional power to fulfill the service of Tevet, which is to transform the darkness into light.
Then Joseph could not refrain himself...and he cried (Gen. 45:1)
Why was Joseph able to restrain his emotions till then, but at that point found it impossible to hold them in check? The only reason Joseph spoke so harshly to his brothers was to bring them to teshuva (repentance), so that their remorse and sorrow would atone for having sold him. When Judah declared his willingness to become Joseph's slave, Joseph realized that they were truly broken-hearted, and he could not contain himself.
And I will also surely bring you up again (literally, "I will bring you up and also up") (Gen. 46:4)
The Torah's repetition of the word "up" is an allusion to the two spiritual ascensions of the Jewish people. The first occurred with the Exodus from Egypt; the second will take place with Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
(Sefer HaMaamarim 5709)
He sent Judah before him to Joseph, to direct him to Goshen (Gen. 46:28)
Our Sages explain that Judah was dispatched to Egypt before everyone else "in order to establish a house of learning...that the tribes be able to study Torah - Hogim baTorah." Jacob understood that their sojourn in as corrupt a place as Egypt would pose a threat to the spirituality of the Jewish people, and thus prepared the antidote before their arrival. The word "hogim" implies a study so deep and comprehensive that the Torah actually becomes part of the person. Moshiach is therefore described as "hogeh baTorah," for the power to redeem the Jewish people from exile can only come from one whose entire existence is absolutely unified with the Torah itself.
One Friday night the Baal Shem Tov was about to make Kiddush on the wine when he suddenly laughed out loud. In the middle of the Shabbat meal he laughed again, and a few minutes later he laughed a third time. No one dared inquire why, but immediately after Shabbat his disciples approached Reb Zev Kitzes and begged him to find out what was going on. (Reb Zev Kitzes used to sit with the Baal Shem Tov on Saturday nights while he smoked his pipe.)
When Reb Zev Kitzes asked the Baal Shem Tov why he had laughed, the tzadik (righteous person) replied that he would show him. He ordered his driver to ready the horses and wagon, and the entire group of disciples piled in for the ride. Throughout the night they traveled, without knowing their destination. When dawn broke they saw that they had arrived in the city of Kozhnitz.
After the morning service, the Baal Shem Tov asked that Reb Shabsai the bookbinder be summoned before him. The head of the Jewish community was very surprised by the tzadik's interest in this particular individual. "What I mean to say," he explained, "is that I'm sure he's a fine and honest man, but he's not exactly what one might call a Torah scholar. In fact, he's a very simple person." Nonetheless, the Baal Shem Tov was adamant about speaking to him. Reb Shabsai the bookbinder was summoned, together with his wife.
When the two of them were standing before him the Baal Shem Tov said, "I want you to tell me what you did on Shabbat. Tell me the truth, and do not leave out any details."
"I will tell you everything," Reb Shabsai replied, "and if I've done something wrong, I beg you to show me how to make amends. I am a simple bookbinder," he began, "When I was younger and stronger I worked long hours. My livelihood was plentiful, especially since - sad to say - we were childless and did not have the expenses of raising a family. Every Thursday I would buy the necessities for Shabbat, and on Friday mornings close up shop at ten o'clock, in order to go to the synagogue to prepare myself for the holy day. Now that I am older, however," he continued, "I find that I cannot work so hard, and we have become quite poor. But I refuse to relinquish my former habit.
"This past week, Friday morning rolled around and I did not even have enough money to buy flour. But I decided that it would be better to suffer in silence than ask for charity. I asked my wife to promise me that even if the neighbors noticed we had no food, she would refuse to take any gifts. Rather, we would willingly accept whatever had been decreed from Above. Not having any other way to honor the Shabbat, my wife set about sweeping our humble home with a broom, removing the dust from every nook and cranny.
"That Friday night, instead of going home right after the evening service, I remained in the synagogue until everyone was gone. I was afraid someone might ask me why there weren't any candles burning in the window.
"Unbeknownst to me, while cleaning the house my wife had found an old dress with silver buttons on the sleeves. Overjoyed at her find, she had immediately sold them for enough money to provide a very sumptuous Sabbath meal. When I came home and saw the house brightly lit and the table fit for a king, I was very disappointed, assuming that she had been unable to withstand the temptation of accepting charity. Nevertheless, I decided to say nothing that would disturb the sanctity of the Sabbath.
"I made Kiddush and we washed our hands for the challah, but after the fish I couldn't control myself any longer. Very gently I chided her for having accepted our neighbors' generosity, but before I could even finish she told me what had happened. My eyes filled with tears of happiness, and without even thinking I grabbed her arm and began to dance with her around the table. After the soup I was again overcome with joy, and we danced for a second time, and for a third time after dessert. All in all, three times I was overwhelmed with gratefulness that G-d had allowed me to rejoice in the Sabbath directly from His holy hand. But Rebbe," he added worriedly, "If I've committed any sin, please tell me how to correct it."
At that the Baal Shem Tov turned to his disciples and said, "I want you to know that the entire entourage of heavenly angels was dancing and rejoicing with Reb Shabsai and his wife. That is why I laughed aloud those three times."
He then offered the couple a choice: Either they could live out their days in honor and wealth, or they could be blessed with a son in their old age . Reb Shabsai's wife immediately chose to have a child, whereupon the Baal Shem promised she would give birth the following year, to a boy they should name Yisrael (the Baal Shem Tov's own name). He also asked to be invited to the brit, so he could serve as sandek and hold the baby.
Indeed, the child grew up to be one of the greatest sages of his generation, known as the Kozhnitzer Maggid.
He is our G-d, He is our Father, He is our King, He is our Deliverer. He will deliver and redeem us once again soon, and He in His mercy will let us hear, in the presence of all the living, the following (Num. 15:41): "Behold, I have redeemed you at the end as in the beginning, to be your G-d. I am G-d your G-d."
(Kedusha of Shabbat Musaf)