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by David YB Kaufmann obm
Everybody wants to be a superhero. And why not? In a way it's a wonderful fantasy. To have the power to save lives, to help people in distress, to stop villains and evil-doers, simply and effectively.
And how much fun it would be to be different, to have a super-power. Everyone has his or her favorite super-power. Super-strength. Super-speed. Super-senses: X-ray vision or super-hearing. Super-magnetism. Flight - soaring like a bird, but without wings.
Not every superhero has a super-power, an enhancement of a natural trait (strong becomes super-strong) or some ability people don't normally possess. Some superheros have a device - a mystical ring, a rod of power, that sort of thing.
Other superheros are "just" super-skilled. A martial arts expert to the nth degree. A brilliant detective who's also a superb athlete.
Yes, it would be nice to be a superhero, to have a special power and help save the world.
But in one sense we already are superheros. All of us. We have a special power. More than one, actually. And when we use that super-power, we are helping hundreds and thousands and millions of people We're also saving the world.
Our super-powers are the mitzvot (commandments) we do. Every time we do a mitzva, we help save worlds. Literally. To paraphrase Maimonides, the world hangs in the balance, and the next good deed can tip the scales to the meritorious, bringing redemption not only to the individual, but to the whole world.
Indeed, the effect of a mitzva reverberates through all the worlds and all the planes of existence, elevating them - and all of the creation within each world - to a higher awareness of G-dliness. It's a spiritual rescue.
Each mitzva has the power - the super-power - to affect a different aspect of existence - the existence of the individual and the existence of worlds.
Nor is the impact of a mitzva limited to the specific spiritual source, or even to the individual exercising his or her spiritual super power. Assistants and aides - sidekicks - get rescued along with you, the spiritual superhero. That is, anyone - Jew or non-Jew - who helps you do a mitzva, however indirect that help, is carried along. The grocer who sells you the kosher food; the delivery guy who brings the food to the grocer; the warehouse manager who assigns the delivery guy.
But if each of us emphasizes a particular mitzva - super-power - one that we do with extra effort - super-strength, we also all share one super-power, regardless. That's the power to transform selves into someone completely new. Through teshuva, repentance, we all have that transformative ability.
So the next time you feel inspired by a superhero or dream about having a super-power and saving the world - remember you already are a superhero, you already have a super-power, and you do in fact save not just one world, but many worlds - every time you do a mitzva.
This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, begins, "Judah approached him (Joseph)." This meeting between Judah and Joseph is deeper and more meaningful than just a story. It is two world views colliding, and in the end the way of Judah reigns supreme. What are these two approaches?
Joseph is the complete Tzadik, meaning that his job is to shine light onto the world and inspire. He affects the world by flooding it with great light from above, motivating the people to be good. The problem is that he doesn't change the world, and as soon as the light is gone the world reverts to its old self.
Judah is the king. The main job of the king is to serve the nation, in other words, to deal with the world from the bottom up, motivating the people to change themselves. This kind of change is real and everlasting.
What is more important, shining from the top down or the service from the bottom up? The way of Joseph or of Judah?
Each of these ideas have its pros. Judah's approach generates real and everlasting change, but since it comes from below it is limited. Joseph's approach, on the other hand, coming from above, is unlimited. Even though it doesn't affect everlasting change, it can take a person to unlimited heights. When both of these approaches work together, you get everlasting change and unlimited heights. The question is how can they work together?
Let's revisit the story of Joseph and his brothers and it will become clear. In Joseph's dream, the brothers were in the field, bundling sheaves, this is working in the world from the bottom up. Then they encircled Joseph's sheaf and bowed, this symbolizes that they have gone as far as they can on their own, now they need Joseph to take them to the next level.
There is another way Joseph helps Judah. When the brothers brought Benjamin down to Egypt, Joseph had their bags filled with grain and he had his goblet hidden in Benjamin's bag. This is what brought them back in front of Joseph, for the above confrontation between Judah and Joseph. In other words, Joseph's approach serves another purpose, to motivate from above, to move the person to take the Judah approach, so ultimately he can come before Joseph and reach unlimited heights.
The key to this working is that it has to be hidden, like Joseph's goblet. In other words, the person can't know that he is being motivated. He has to feel that it is his own effort.
Joseph symbolizes Torah, which is a light shining from the top down. Judah symbolizes commandments, raising the world from the bottom up. Ultimately, the Torah inspires us to do the mitzvas.
When Moshiach comes we will see the value of mitzvas over Torah, the value of the work down here over the top down approach, Judah over Joseph, as we will all be united under Judah, the king from the House of David, King Moshiach. May he now.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the Rebbe's teachings, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
They Need You
by Rabbi Zushe Greenberg
Recently at our Shabbat table, while playing Jewish geography, one of our guests said he remembered Rabbi Zalman Kazen, and was excited to learn he was my wife's grandfather. He told us that in 1972, when he was five years old, his family immigrated to Cleveland from the former Soviet Union.
It was Rabbi Kazen who arranged for him and his 17-year-old brother to have a bris. When we asked him who the mohel was, he could not remember. All he remembered was Rabbi Kazen was at his side, but I believe I can guess who the mohel was.
1972 was the year a large influx of Russian Jews arrived in Cleveland. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kazen established the Russian Immigrant Aid Society and over the years, provided hundreds of families with basic materials as well as Jewish needs. Being themselves Russian immigrants, they were able to gain the trust of the newcomers and help them with their first steps in Cleveland. Many Clevelanders helped with this organization, but a 33-year-old doctor named Henry Romberg stood out.
One of the Jewish rituals the immigrants were enthusiastic about, was, surprisingly enough, the bris. You see, in Russia, circumcision was not a common practice with the general public, and as a Jewish ritual, it was outlawed. As a result, most of the Jewish men, young and old, who arrived from the USSR were not circumcised.
At that time, Cleveland had quite a few mohels, but none of them was qualified to perform circumcision on older children and adults. Rabbi and Mrs. Kazen arranged trips to New York for those who wished to fulfill this mitzva (commandment). The cost of the travel, hospital and lodging added up to a very expensive mitzva.
Mrs. Kazen encouraged Dr. Romberg to become a mohel. After many hesitations, he turned to the Rebbe for guidance. The Rebbe encouraged him to learn this skill and become a certified mohel for adults and infants. He followed the Rebbe's advice, became a dedicated mohel and was adamant about refusing compensation and doing it for the mitzva.
But this was not his first encounter with the Rebbe. Just a short time before the Iron Curtain opened, Dr. Romberg and his wife, Ronnie, were at a crossroads. They were trying to decide whether to stay in Cleveland, move to another city in the United States where they could raise their children in a stronger Jewish environment or make aliya to Israel.
As one who had a relationship with the Rebbe, the couple traveled to New York for a private audience. The Rebbe listened to their question with all the pros and cons, and then recommended they stay in Cleveland. The Rebbe told them since they are reaching out and helping other Jews connect to their Jewish heritage, which is a most important mission, they should stay in Cleveland.
They wondered aloud if this type of work could not be done in Israel, too. The Rebbe indicated that in Israel there are plenty of Jewish opportunities, but in Cleveland, if you will not do it, who will? They then asked, "Isn't it a mitzva to make aliya to Israel?"
The Rebbe answered that their work in Cleveland is pikuach nefesh, saving lives (spiritually) and therefore it overrides almost every other mitzva. When you touch a Jewish life in Cleveland, this will be their connection to Judaism, and one day, after growing up, they will raise a wonderful Jewish family thanks to your touch.
When asked about moving to another city in the States, the Rebbe's reply was that, in Cleveland, they are established and the community knows them, while in a new city, they would have to start all over again.
Over the course of the next 13 years, Dr. Romberg performed hundreds of brises and through this, impacted the lives of many Jewish families.
Growing up in Bnei Brak, Israel, in the 1970s, I recall a new immigrant from Russia that was a member of our congregation. He was a quiet doctor who didn't mingle much with the crowd.
One Shabbat afternoon, he joined a "Farbrengen" (a Chasidic celebration) and listened as others were sharing their life experiences. One of the regulars turned to him and said, "Dr. Kublanov, perhaps you can share with us an inspiring experience."
The doctor rose and began speaking. He described his humble beginnings in Israel, how he had trouble finding work and getting acclimated. He was disappointed that none of the people who claimed to help Russian immigrants were there for him. Finally, when he got settled, he decided it was time to fulfill his dream to travel to the US to visit the Rebbe.
To his dismay, he discovered that it was impossible for him to obtain an entrance visa to the United States. In those years, many Russian immigrants used to enter the U.S. on a tourist visa, and ended up staying. Therefore the U.S. embassy made it very difficult to get one. He asked some Chabad activists for help in this matter, but they did not come forward.
When he finally made it to New York, he planned that when he met the Rebbe he would pour out all of his frustrations and tattle on the ones who were not there for him when he was in need. As he was ushered into the Rebbe's study for a private audience, the Rebbe gazed at him and gave a warm smile. At that moment it dawned on him that every Jew is dear to the Rebbe, as if he or she were his own child. How could he start tattling on them? In one moment, his frustration disappeared.
What really happened to this doctor when he entered into the Rebbe's chambers?
Kublanov, standing in the Rebbe's presence, was elevated and uplifted, and all his resentments and grudges simply vanished.
Rabbi Greenberg and his wife Miriam run Chabad of Solon, Ohio.
I Go to Sleep
Bedtime is one of the most important parts of every child's day, and every parent wants it to be a warm and pleasant experience. In I Go to Sleep, written and illustrated by Rikki Benenfeld, a young brother and sister enjoy the comfort of their evening routine: putting things away, brushing teeth, hugs, kisses, and saying Shema. Written in simple rhyming verse, with soothing watercolor illustrations, new release from Hachai Publishing.
Wisdom to Heal the Earth
In Wisdom to Heal the Earth, Tzvi Freeman takes us toward the Rebbe's vision of a world towards which all humanity is headed, and demonstrating how the details of our everyday lives are vital, crucial, and today especially urgent in reaching that grand and ultimate destiny. In Jewish parlance we call this Tikun Olam. Ezra Press and Chabad.org
5th of Teves, 5712 
Students' Study Group
Sholom u'Brocho: [Peace and blessing]:
In reply to your request for a message in connection with Chanukah, in view of your recent visits I trust I may regard our conversation on that occasion as having, in part at least, satisfied your request.
However, inasmuch as Chanukah extends to the beginning of this week, belonging to the weekly Sidrah [Torah portion] of Vayigash, I take this opportunity to convey to you a thought apropos of this Sidrah, which may serve as a message not only for the festival of "Dedication," but which is also of fundamental significance in our daily life.
The Sidrah of Vayigash contains the climax of the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, as you no doubt recall, had been torn from his happy home in the Holy Land and delivered into slavery in Egypt. However, he overcomes all trials and temptations, being guided by the high moral code he brought along with him from his home. Eventually he emerges as the Grand Vizier and ruler of all Egypt, who not only saves his brothers from famine, but also all Egypt and the world around. When finally his identity is revealed to his brothers he tells them - and herein lies the key to the great and mysterious drama - not to feel sorry for all that had befallen him, "For G-d has sent me as a sustenance for you."
There is a profound message in these words for all humanity and for Jews in particular. The whole episode may serve as an illustration and answer to the mystery of our life on this earth. It is man's soul that represents the essential part of his existence. The soul, which is a "part of G-d above," is torn from its heavenly abode, its real "Holy Land," and sent down to the earthly and corporal world (its "Egypt"), where it becomes largely enslaved by the physical body.
Needless to say, the purpose of it is not to torture the soul. The soul is sent down to be a "Joseph" who both in slavery and glory remains loyal to his fatherly home in the "Holy Land." It should never acquiesce or despair in slavery, but should remember its mission, to become the ruler of "Egypt" and the giver of sustenance - Divine Food - to his own body and to all with whom it comes in contact.
The way to achieve this is to be constantly conscious of one's origin and "home" and always remain receptive to the vibrating influences emanating from the parental home in the "Holy Land," until the moments when the shackles of slavery are completely broken and the soul - Joseph - becomes ruler of "Egypt" - body - the materialistic world, and the Divine goal is thus fully attained.
I trust that each one of you will try and be a "Joseph" in this sense.
12 Teves, 5739 
c/o Telshe Yeshivah
Your letter of Rosh Chodesh Teves reached me with some delay. In it you write that you stopped shaving, with the intention to grow a beard.
I trust you have seen the Sefer [book] Hadras Ponim Zoken, whose author is a talmid [student] of the Mirer Yeshivah, which was published recently, with Haskomos [approbations] by prominent Rabbonim, on the great significance and the must and importance of growing a full beard. The Sefer includes also Teshuvos beruros [clear responses] by Gedolei Yisroel [great rabbinic authorities] who had been asked for an opinion in this matter.
May Hashem Yisborach [the Blessed G-d] grant you Hatzlocho [success] that in addition to preserving the sanctity of Hadras Ponim you should go from strength to strength in Torah learning and the observance of its Mitzvos with Hiddur [in a beautiful manner], which is also one of the teachings of Ner Chanukah [the Chanuka lights], kindled in growing numbers and brightness from day to day, reflecting Ner mitzvah v'Torah Or ["a mitzva is a candle and Torah is light], and may you be a source of true Nachas-ruach [pride] to your Roshei Yeshivah [deans] and Mashpiim [mentors].
P.S. Since you have written to me on this matter, it is my duty and Zechus [privilege] to refer you "also" to the Teshuvo "Tzemach Tzedek" (Yore-Deah, par. 93), as well to his Sefer "Yahel-Or" on Tehillim (in the Miluim, on the verse "Vehu Rachum," p. 626).
MENUCHA means "peace, rest." The special type of rest or peace which comes from celebrating the Sabbath is called "Shabbat Menucha." MOSHE is from the Hebrew meaning "drawn out of the water." In Egyptian it means "son, child." The greatest prophet and leader of our people was Moshe Rabbeinu ("Moses our teacher"). He led us out of Egypt, and through him we received the Torah. He was the greatest advocate to G-d on behalf of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Tuesday, the tenth of Tevet (December 18 this year) is the anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezar, King of Babylon. The siege eventually resulted in the destruction of the First Holy Temple in 422 b.c.e.
Many years ago, someone wrote to the Rebbe requesting of him instructions in connection with the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet.
The Rebbe's suggestions are as valid now as then and are as follow:
During the fast day, to help insure security and strengthen the Land of Israel, materially and spiritually, and also for the material and spiritual benefit of all Jews wherever they are, a special effort should be made in the areas of Torah study, prayer, and charity.
Charity, in particular, should be given in the morning and afternoon, and it is especially appropriate to give tzedaka for an institution in Israel.
A person who does any of the above mentioned activities throughout the day is to be praised. And the more he does, the more praiseworthy he is.
Jewish teachings explain that "the beginning is wedged in the end," and the ultimate "end" purpose of the destruction of the Holy Temples will be the rebuilding of the Third and Eternal Holy Temple. So the Tenth of Tevet is an auspicious day to hasten the coming of the Redemption.
If each one of us performs these three important mitzvot to the best - and even a little better than our ability - then very soon, the promise will be fulfilled that "These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness."
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 saintly Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk once recovered from a life-threatening illness. When his recovery was complete, his closest disciples mustered their courage to ask him what he had seen while hovering between life and death.
The Rebbe said that he would tell one thing he learned:
As I walked in the Garden of Eden, I saw among the most honored souls a familiar face. He looked very much like Mottel the Bookbinder. To be sure, Mottel was a G-d-fearing Jew, an honest, hard-working bookbinder, but he was otherwise an undistinguished ordinary Jew, not even much of a Torah scholar.
"Is it truly you, Reb Mottel?" I asked the soul as I approached him.
"Yes, it is I," called out Reb Mottel happily.
"But how did you get to this exalted place?" I asked Reb Mottel quite innocently.
"When I was brought before the Heavenly Court, I was asked the usual questions. I had to admit that, regrettably, I had studied very little Torah. I didn't have much of a head for it. Besides, we were very poor, so I had to find a way of earning money to help my parents support the family. I was apprenticed, at an early age, to a bookbinder, I explained to the Court...
"They began the weighing of my mitzvot and sins. On the right side of the scale, angels began putting all my good deeds. Then they pushed the scale down to make it weightier, saying this was for the joy and sincerity with which I performed the mitzvot (commandments).
"But then other angels came forward and began to load my sins and misdeeds on the left scale. I watched with horror as my sins were added up. Most of the sins were truly not serious, and they happened because of my ignorance. But, though they were small, they were adding up dangerously, till they tipped the scale.
"As I stood there before the Heavenly Court, trembling and ashamed, an angel suddenly appeared with a worn-out siddur in his hand. Behind him was a line of wagons loaded with sacks.
" 'I am the angel in charge of stray pages from holy books. I go to every Jewish home, every shul (synagogue) and every Jewish school. I look to see the condition of the holy books. Whenever I see a worn out book, with crumpled pages and loose covers it gives me tremendous pleasure, for this is a sign that the books are in constant use. But when I see that some of these books are tattered beyond repair, I am troubled, for every holy book has a holy soul, and every page has a soul, which must be treated with care and respect.
" 'In the course of my travels I met this man here on trial. Ever since he was a child, Mottele loved his little siddur and would often caress and kiss it before closing it.
" 'When it came time for Mottel to be apprenticed, he told his father that there was nothing he would like more than to be a bookbinder.
" 'I have never seen a book-binder like Mottel,' continued the angel in my defense. 'He never got any pages mixed up, never missed a stitch, and always used the best materials. From time to time, he would go to the shuls in his town and collect holy books that cried out for attention. He took them home and worked late into the night to restore them, bind them and give them new life. He never charged for this and never even told anyone about it.
" 'I respectfully request that the Heavenly Court permit me to unload all the sacks of worn-out holy books to which Mottel the Bookbinder has given a second life, and put them on the scale with all his other mitzvot and good deeds.
"The Heavenly Court agreed. Long before the wagons were half unloaded, the scale with the mitzvot clearly outweighed the other side.
"Believe me, dear Rebbe," Mottel concluded, "I was as astonished at what happened before my eyes as you were at seeing me in this place of honor."
"I wanted to ask Mottel a few more questions," explained Rebbe Elimelech, "but at just that moment I began to recover. Reb Mottel's story speaks for itself. But let us also remember," Reb Elimelech enjoined his disciples, "that G-d never fails to give credit and reward for any good deed, even for such a seemingly trivial act as smoothing out a crumpled corner of a well worn page in a holy book.
Reprinted from Talks and Tales.
In this week's Torah portion we read: "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.