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by Lieba Rudolph
Why are Great Escape rooms popping up in cities all over the globe, a sign that there's something universally fun about spending an hour in a room trying to find clues, solve puzzles, and escape?
The answer? Adrenaline. In the days that followed our family outing to a Great Escape room, I kept reliving the thrill I felt as we solved each puzzle.
Every experience is an opportunity to learn a spiritual lesson. I quickly realized The Great Escape Room is a parable for life, at least my life, in the days before the arrival of Moshiach:
Time is of the essence. Solving the room's puzzles in an hour meant focusing only on the clues that mattered. This single-minded focus is also the fastest way to redeem the Jewish people, and all humankind, from this long exile. The Rebbe assured everyone that the Redemption is imminent. Questions like, "what's taking so long?" or, "why is it so difficult?" aren't relevant to our mission: Torah study and performing mitzvot (commandments) are what move the Redemption forward. Period.
Work with collaborators, smile at sideliners. The room contained too many puzzles, problems, and people for anyone to insist on working alone. Once we had the answers, it was hard to remember who did what. And it didn't matter. Everyone's input moved the job along. Well, almost. A few people preferred not to participate.
Spiritually, there are those who sit out, too, each with a reason why the concept of Moshiach doesn't resonate with them. But at least they're in the room, and when it's time to "escape," they'll be thrilled to leave as well.
Trust that there's an answer. We trusted that the creators of The Great Escape Room had a correct answer for each puzzle. The only way to win was to try different tactics until we solved them all. Similarly, trust that G-d's perfect clues for solving the mysteries of the world are in the Torah. Although they can be challenging to decipher, I stick with the clues, trusting that the answers to our puzzling questions will add up seamlessly when Moshiach comes. Knowing that Moshiach is G-d's ultimate answer makes every effort meaningful and worthwhile.
Are we missing a vital clue? Our game monitors told us where not to look for clues (in a certain corner, on the ceiling). They told us exactly how many clues each puzzle needed in order to solve it. We tried different ways to solve one particular puzzle, then realized a clue was missing. But without that clue, we were just guessing; the chances of our solving the puzzle were infinitesimal. In global terms, isn't it time we acknowledge that we need G-d's help in solving the world's problems?
Victory is sweet. I was in charge of the group that solved the first puzzle. We screamed in euphoria when we finally combined the right numbers to open the locked box. This was the feeling I kept replaying in the days that followed - satisfaction, excitement, relief. It was a tiny taste of the joy we will all feel when Moshiach comes, when everything in creation will add up, just like those numbers. And just like those numbers added up for everyone, Moshiach will come for everyone.
The victorious thrill I enjoyed in The Great Escape Room may have been only a tiny taste of the Redemption, but the taste stays with me, adding to my hunger for the real thing.
From Lieba. Rudolph's blog ponderingjew.org
In this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, we read of the descent of the Jewish people into their first exile, Egypt. As they are about to leave the Holy Land, G-d tells Jacob, "Don't be afraid to go down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation there. I am going down to Egypt with you..."
Rashi explains that Jacob was anguished over leaving the Holy Land. "How can I lead my family away from the best place for them to become a nation, the place most conducive to be a Jew and foster closeness to G-d? How will we become G-d's nation in a dark and distant exile?" he wondered.
G-d tells him "Don't be afraid to go down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation there. I am going down to Egypt with you..."
While G-d allays Jacob's fears about going down to Egypt, He does not even mention Jacob's anguish over leaving the Holy Land. Why not? Since this is G-d's message to Jacob as he goes down to the first Jewish exile, there must be lessons here for every Jew on how to deal with exile. What are these lessons?
Being in exile, one may feel that it is a lost cause trying to make a difference in a Jewish way. G-d is telling us that the opposite is actually the case. The fact that G-d puts us in a predicament, means that this situation is most conducive to accomplish our mission, it is here where we will be most effective and most successful.
The key is not to be afraid of the situation, don't be afraid of the exile, embrace it and find how to use your predicament to effect even greater change.
This is what G-d tells Jacob, "Don't be afraid of going down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation THERE." Why shouldn't you be afraid? Why will you succeed? Because G-d is going down with you.
Now, if we succeed, there is the possibility to become comfortable and lose focus of our purpose. This is why G-d doesn't mention Jacob's anguish, because it is his anguish that will keep him focused on his essential purpose and bond with G-d. This anguish is the force behind our success.
So we need both, fearlessness and anguish; we need to realize that although we can succeed greatly in exile, it is not our place. We must cry out to G-d that He bring the exile to an end. May it happen soon.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
Publicizing the Miracle
For over four decades, the presence of large menoras at public locations has been bringing the Rebbe's message of the power of light over darkness to all people. This message is the driving force behind Chabad-Lubavitch's activities and will continue until all darkness has been transformed into light with the coming of Moshiach! To date, there are thousands of public menoras put up by Chabad-Lubavitch Centers world-wide.
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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,
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Sunday is the Tenth of Tevet, one of the four commemorative fasts associated with the destruction of the Holy Temple. On that date Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem, ultimately leading to the Temple's destruction and the exile of the Jewish people.
The First and Second Holy Temples were constructed without iron. Iron, with its potential to be forged into weapons, has negative and harmful connotations. Indeed, the siege of Jerusalem that began on the Tenth of Tevet is associated with iron, as iron represents the exact opposite of the Holy Temple.
But iron can also have a positive dimension. The Land of Israel is described in the Torah as "a land whose stones are iron." Similarly, a Torah scholar is encouraged by our Sages to have "the strength of iron." By using iron and the strength it symbolizes in the sphere of holiness, the negative dimension of iron can be corrected and nullified.
This process will find its culmination in the era of the Redemption, when not only will the negative aspects of iron be nullified, but completely transformed into positive factors. Unlike the first two structures, the Third and eternal Holy Temple will be constructed with iron, which will be used for reinforcement. (The Book of Chronicles relates that King David prepared a large amount of iron with which to build the Temple, yet there is no record of it actually being used. It is explained that David, the progenitor of Moshiach, prepared the iron for use in the Third Holy Temple.)
Thus although the Tenth of Tevet commemorates a tragic event, it can also be seen as the beginning of a positive process of construction, as the destruction that began on that day was intended to ultimately lead to the Third Holy Temple. May we merit to see it materialize immediately.
Then Judah drew near and said, "My lord--bi adoni..." (Gen. 44:18)
The Hebrew words "bi adoni" may also be rendered "the L-rd is within me."A Jew must always remember when he prepares himself to pray that he has an actual part of G-d inside him, his Jewish soul, on whose behalf he is communing with his Maker.
G-d has made me - samani - lord of all Egypt (Gen. 45:9)
What was this message to Jacob from his long-lost son Joseph supposed to impart? Was this news meant to be reassuring? The Hebrew word "samani" may also be read "sam ani"--"I have caused G-d to be lord of all Egypt." It is through my public prominence that G-d has become known, Joseph implied. This indeed was a comforting thought to Jacob when he at last heard from his beloved son.
(Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin)
Laden with the best things of Egypt (Gen. 45:23)
Rashi explains that among the gifts Joseph sent to his father Jacob was wine--something which is especially pleasing to elderly people. But wine only improves with age if of superior quality to begin with; if the vintage was sour and the grapes of poor quality, the passage of time will only make the wine even more disagreeable.The same can be said for people. A person who was substantive in his youth will only become more so as he ages. Unfortunately, the opposite holds true as well.
(Rabbi Shlomo Alter)
I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up (Gen. 46:4)
G-d has cast his lot with that of the Jewish people: When Jews enjoy elevated status, G-d Himself is elevated; when the wheel of fate spins downward for the Jews, G-d shares their degradation.
Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin, a Chasidic Rebbe of the Ukraine, lived during the reign of Czar Nicholas. In those days, there were opponents to the Chasidic movement who did not hesitate to bring damaging accusations to the Russian Government. When an accusation of disloyalty of any Chasidic Rebbe reached the Czar, the Czar took it very seriously.
Once, when the Czar heard that the Rizhiner Rebbe did not recognize his authority, and, in fact, held him in contempt, the Czar dispatched a secret agent to Rizhin to ascertain the facts.
One of the high ranking advisors in the Royal Court was a renegade Jew, who readily agreed to act as a spy. He arrived in Rizhin, supposedly as a successful businessman. He made his way to the study hall, where he treated everyone to drinks and refreshments. After everyone had a number of "l'chaims," he began to talk about how his business ventures were being hampered by the troublesome government. He looked around, waiting to hear some of his listeners agree with him, but no one said a single word.
The spy kept up this pretense for several days, and yet, no one ever agreed with his condemnation of the Czar. When the "businessman" finally entered the Rebbe's room for his private audience, he began bewailing the fact that his business ventures were being unfairly taxed by the government.
Giving the visitor a penetrating look, the Rizhiner Rebbe responded with the following story:
There was once a Jewish innkeeper who lived in a small town, far away from other Jewish families. The innkeeper had a young son, Yosef, who, having no Jewish friends nearby, played with the handyman's son. The father arranged for a teacher to come and teach the son to read Hebrew, pray, and study Torah. The handyman's son, Stephan, used to sit in on those lessons.
Stephan showed such an interest in the Jewish studies that he attended every lesson. When Yosef was old enough to get married, the innkeeper arranged for a matchmaker to meet Yosef. Stephan was there with Yosef and remained present during the interview. When the matchmaker asked Yosef questions of Jewish knowledge, Stephan was always first with the answers.
When the innkeeper saw what was happening, he decided he had to separate Yosef from Stephan. He saw no other way than to discharge his handyman. The handyman protested that his son was old enough to go off on his own. To this the innkeeper agreed.
Stephan began to wander, pretending to be a Jewish orphan, knowing that kind Jews would befriend him. Whenever he went to a new town, he would go into the study hall, pick up a Talmud, and begin studying it. Someone would inevitably befriend the "orphan" and invite him to a meal.
Many years passed thus. One day Stephan reached a big city where there was a commotion going on. The custom of this city was to choose a new king every three years and that the king had to be a stranger. The citizens reasoned that such a king would thus have no favorites amongst the inhabitants and would rule with equal justice for all.
Stephan hurried off to the palace, presented himself as a candidate, passed all the tests and was crowned as the new king. Not long after being coronated, Stephan began issuing severe decrees against the Jews. Eventually he decreed that all Jews had to leave the kingdom within 12 months.
The chief rabbi of the city proclaimed a fast and ordered everyone into the synagogues for communal prayers. On the fourth day, the rabbi sent for the leading members of the Jewish community and told them it had been revealed to him in a dream that in a distant land, there was a young innkeeper who would be the one who could influence the king to annul his decree. To everyone's astonishment, it so happened that each member had the very same dream!
The young innkeeper was eventually found and agreed to return with them to see if he could help the Jewish community in any way.
The Jewish delegation and the innkeeper appeared before the king. When the king saw the innkeeper, he embraced him. "Don't you remember me, Yosef?" asked the king. "I am your old friend Stephan. Look what has become of me because I was forced to leave your home," he said with a chuckle.
"Now, what can I do for you?" he asked sincerely.
Yosef asked the king to permit the Jews to remain in his kingdom.
"Believe me," said Stephan, "I have nothing against the Jews. They are good, kind people and are loyal to this country. But, every once in a while I get an overwhelming urge to persecute them. I don't know why."
The chief rabbi explained: "Our Torah teaches us that the hearts of kings and princes are in the hand of G-d. The way the king treats the Jews reflects their behavior toward G-d. That is why the Jews never pray for a new king. Because there is never any certainty that the new king will be any better..."
With this, the Rizhiner Rebbe looked straight into the eyes of his visitor and said, "Go and tell those who sent you here that all the accusations against Jews of being unfaithful to the king are false. Jews are always loyal citizens and pray for the welfare of the rulers and of the country in which they live."
Jacob was not sent into exile alone; G-d descended with him and guarded him there. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt... I will go down with you... and I will bring you up again" (Gen. 46:3-4) Our Patriarch Jacob possessed an all-comprehensive soul which compounded the souls of all Jews. "Jacob" thus stands for every single Jew, and his descent into Egypt alludes to Israel's descent into galut (exile), including the present one. Thus it follows that even now we are not alone, and that G-d will mercifully hasten the Final Redemption with Moshiach, as it states, "I will also bring you up again."