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It'll never be one of the top ten songs of the year, but a ditty about charity is a favorite in many Hebrew schools, Sunday schools, camps and day schools. It was composed in the days when all pushkas were the metal genre (with a keyhole on the bottom) and is accompanied by the shaking of the pushka as much or as little as the child wishes who is currently giving tzedaka. It goes like this:
I'm a little hunk of tin
Every day a penny goes in
I go far and I go near
To help a poor Jew in despair
Clang, clang, jingle, jingle
The mitzva is done
Clang, clang jingle, jingle
Tzedaka is fun
Clang, clang, jingle, jingle
The mitzva is done
Clang, clang jingle, jingle
Tzedaka is FUN!
We're not going to have an English "lit" class on paper to discuss the song's timbre and rhythm, or the fact that "fun" is repeated and emphasized the last time, imprinting in one's mind the concept that tzedaka is fun. Nor will we bemoan the fact that most tzedaka boxes are no longer "hunks of tin" lessening the simple joy a child gets from shaking the pushka after putting in the tzedaka.
What we will consider, though, is the concept of a penny being able to help.
A recent article in the New York Daily News highlighted a gentleman who had collected 7.5 million pennies (!) and was giving them to charity. We'll give you a minute to do the calculations. No, it's not 7.5 million dollars. But it is $75,000, no mean sum itself.
We all know that $75,000 won't stop world hunger or even hunger in a large metropolis. Nor is it enough to find the cure for even one cancer. And it won't pay the yearly operating costs of a women's shelter.
But $75,000 is a start. And just as $75,000 is a start, so is a penny or a nickel, a dime or a quarter, in the pushka every day (except Shabbat and Jewish holidays). And don't forget that ten people's 7.5 million pennies, or one hundred people's 7.5 million pennies can have a much greater impact.
Don't either belittle the actual deed of putting the coins in the pushka. For, although the amount in the tzedaka box is definitive, the ramifications and reward are unlimited.
Jewish teachings explain, "These are the precepts, the fruits of which man enjoys in this world, while the principal reward remains in the World to Come... performing deeds of kindness."
Knowing that there is a reward in the World to Come for deeds of kindness such as charity doesn't do it for most of us.
But how about the "fruits" in this world? They are unlimited.
Each time you give even one single penny you are: connecting with G-d; refining your character traits; becoming a kinder, more sensitive person; creating positive energy; and bringing non-material spirituality into our very material world.
Give tzedaka every day. Watch how the pennies grow and how you grow by doing this mitzva.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, Jacob castigates his sons before his passing and takes away both priesthood and kingship from his firstborn, Reuven. The kingship is then given to Judah, as reward for two good deeds: his suggestion that Joseph be sold, thus preventing the brothers from killing him; his public confession about his sin with Tamar, thus saving her.
This explanation, however, is insufficient, for at first glance it would appear that Reuven displayed the very same strength of character as his brother Judah, if not more.
Whereas Judah suggested that Joseph be sold for monetary gain, Reuven suggested that Joseph be thrown into a pit in order to return later and free Joseph. Furthermore, even when it came to admitting their transgressions, Reuven was on a higher level than Judah, as Judah only confessed in order to save the life of Tamar. Reuven, on the other hand, who is not even considered to have committed a true sin, was so penitent that for over a decade he was still fasting in sackcloth and ashes.
To understand, we need to recognize the difference between priesthood and kingship -- which Jacob took away from Reuven, and the birthright of the firstborn -- which Reuven retained.
Kingship and priesthood are primarily expressed in service to others.
A king administers the affairs of state; a priest bestows blessings and teaches Torah. Being a firstborn, however, is a matter which involves only the individual and has no bearing on one's relationship with others.
Thus, although Reuven tried to save his brother and immersed himself in a long period of penitence, the focus of his service was on achieving his own spiritual perfection rather than on helping other people.
In truth, it was because of his suggestion that Joseph was thrown into the pit full of snakes and scorpions. Even Reuven's penance was turned inward, for had he not been preoccupied with "sackcloth and ashes," perhaps he could have prevented Joseph from being sold and thereby precluded the entire Egyptian exile!
Judah, by contrast, actually saved others through his actions, even though his own spiritual service may have been on a lower level. He saved Joseph from the pit and saved Tamar from death. It was this demonstration of self-sacrifice that proved to Jacob that Judah was the one who was worthy of kingship, for the essence of kingship is service to others.
From this we learn that a Jew must never concentrate on his own spiritual state to the detriment of his fellow Jew; love of one's fellow Jew must always be of prime importance. In this way, even if his own service is somewhat lacking, the merit of his love for his fellow Jew will connect him to the entire Torah and hasten the Final Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 15
by Esther Altmann
One evening, as Rabbi Chaim Benyamin Burston was playing at a concert at the Crown Heights Women's Yeshiva, Machon Chana, there was a young woman in the audience who had come along for the ride with a friend. She was exploring her Jewish roots, contemplating a real commitment to Judaism, but was as yet undecided.
The speeches were interesting but a thousand contradictory thoughts were running through her mind. Then there was a break in the program -- a musical interlude began, and her thoughts gave way to intense, focused listening.
The intellectual contradictions seemed to be stilled by the sounds which filled the air. As she left the school that night, the young woman said to her friend, "If the music of the Torah is so good, the rest of the Torah must be worth looking into."
A self-taught musician from Pasadena, California, Rabbi Chaim Benyamin Burston has made the sublimely spiritual music of Chabad the ruling passion of his life.
Early on he knew that he wanted to do something in the area of music, but when he was exposed to Chasidic nigunim, he found that their pure melody tapped his heart and soul.
Coming from a secular music background, Rabbi Burston realized that these nigunim were relevant, not only to Chasidim, or even observant Jews, but they spoke to anyone who was musically sensitive.
"Even people who won't be captured by a great speaker expressing the most mystical thoughts, or a Jew who wouldn't think of attending a synagogue service -- even this Jew will be able to reach the deepest level of his soul through music. And although any kind of music will transport a person to another realm, nigunim, which descend from a holy sphere, will transport a person to a place of holiness."
Quoting the Chasidic work, Sefer Nigunim, [The Book of Melodies] Rabbi Burston noted that the Torah attributes the invention of music to Yuval, whose name is related to the root meaning "to transport."
According to Jewish mystical thought, all music comes from a spiritual realm referred to as the "Chamber of Melody."
These ancient Jewish melodies come from a pure G-dly level, touching the hearts of those who hear them. They evolved during a time when the composer was at prayer, or spiritual contemplation, and the nigun "sang itself," as the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn said, "You don't sing a nigun, it sings itself."
"The deep, profound melodies of Chabad nigunim," (whose composition is attributed to many known and unknown tzadikim), are for many, a doorway to G-dliness and to Torah.
"For me," continued Rabbi Burston, "they opened up a certain dimension of spirituality." Rabbi Burston has spent years sharing his love of this holy music with others. For almost three years he took part in a weekly "class" in Greenwich Village where nigunim were the central vehicle for an in-depth exploration of Judaism.
Recently he has formed a performing duo with South African musician, Mordechai Friedman and they bring the experience of Chasidic music to a wide range of audiences.
"Ultimately, it's the heart that matters, and the emotions respond to the nigun," Rabbi Burston explained. Sometimes there is a difficulty in transferring intellectual concepts from the mind to the heart. Nigunim negate this problem, for music goes straight to the heart by bypassing the intellect."
Rabbi Burston made the analogy of a verbal description of chocolate. "If I explain it to you, no matter how brilliantly, you won't fully comprehend the experience of eating a piece of chocolate. But, if I give you a piece to taste, you will immediately know it. It doesn't require an illustration anymore."
Just as music can provide the unique stimulus to the soul which allows it to perceive the sublime, Chasidic stories inspire and enliven the intellect and instill faith and hope in the listener.
In his 18 years as a yeshiva teacher, Rabbi Burston has honed the medium of storytelling to a fine art, inspiring hundreds of young children and instilling in them true Torah concepts.
It all began one day when the parents of an ill child called and asked Rabbi Burston to tape a few stories for their son. From this request evolved a series of tapes, known as "Rabbi Burtson's story tapes" which now number 120 and are available in Crown Heights Judaica stores or directly from Rabbi Burston.
Rabbi Burston's tapes are heard in homes and schools all over the globe, providing hours and hours of listening pleasure to untold numbers of children (and their parents!).
Taped live in his classroom, the tapes allow children far from any Jewish school to join in a real school environment and become a member of the class, joining in the fun together with the live classroom participants.
What do the children gain from the stories, aside from good, wholesome entertainment?
"Each story is a window on G-dliness which allows the child to internalize the good character traits brought out in the story," Rabbi Burston replied. "Certain stories have the capacity to change a life forever. When the child hears a Torah concept come alive in the setting of a story, that child becomes "united" with that concept. The idea then moves from the theoretical and becomes part of the life of that child."
Submerged as we are in the gross material world, how do we access the holiness of our special, Jewish souls?
Rabbi Burston's answer is that through music, song and story we can get a real sense of the Divine. Jewish tradition bears this out. And we, even in our technological, pop culture, have the ability, through the nigun, of entering the liberating spiritual realms of our ancient, yet ever pertinent Torah.
[Rabbi Burston's address is: 1414 Carrol Street Brooklyn, NY 11213
There are numerous "nigunim" available on-line for those who have sound cards. Set your pointer to: www.utexas.edu/students/cjso/Chabad/audio/niggun.html or florida.com/chabadclassics/
THE FAST OF THE TENTH OF TEVET
The tenth of Tevet, January 2 this year, is one of the four fasts instituted by our Sages in connection with the destruction of the Holy Temple.
A fast day is, as Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains, "a day of will."
Since the obligation to fast on the Tenth of Tevet is stronger in some ways than on other fasts, it can be understood that this element of being "a day of will" is also stronger on this day than other fasts.
As the point of a fast day is to bring us to teshuva -- a turning to G-d -- our ability to achieve this return is stronger on this day. So "seize the moment" and connect with G-d on the Tenth of Tevet through sincerely turning to Him.
THE JEWISH SERVICEMAN
11th of Shevat, 5727 
Chaplain - Office of the Chaplain Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter. I was very gratified to note your desire to promote among the Jewish servicemen under your care the idea and practices of Judaism according to the Torah-true interpretation. Actually no other true interpretation is possible.
Needless to say that in your case, as the spiritual monitor and guide of the Jewish young men in the camp, every degree of fortified conviction and personal advancement in this area is multiplied many times as it is reflected in those who look up to you for guidance and influence.
I had occasion to emphasize also the fact that, however responsive Jews are to a good influence and to the truth, especially when it is given to them sincerely and truthfully, Jewish servicemen are even more responsive because of the stability of the atmosphere in which they live, where they are by circumstances, sheltered from contacts and temptations so prevalent in civilian life.
Moreover, the very military training they receive impresses upon them the importance of compliance and a response to the call of duty. This should provide immediate food for thought and logical inferences, namely, if an order of a human commanding officer must be obeyed and carried out without question, how much more readily and willingly should a commandment of G-d be fulfilled.
Indeed the Jews are called the "hosts of G-d," having been enlisted in the service of G-d ever since we were freed from human bondage and received the Torah and mitzvot at Mt. Sinai, as we read in this week's Torah portion.
It is noteworthy that the expression, the "hosts of G-d," is mentioned for the first and only time in connection with the departure from Egypt, on the way to receive the Torah.
A person in military service can readily understand that when he receives an order from a superior officer, he cannot delay its execution until such time as he will be able to weigh it in his mind and see if he too approves of it, especially if such an order comes directly from the Commander-in-Chief, for such a delay can endanger the whole army.
Certainly, the attitude towards a command of G-d could not be in any lesser degree, and no Jew can be so reckless as to wait until he has sufficient time and inclination to study the Divine commandments. It is for this reason that the Torah was received with the unanimous declaration by all our people -- Na'aseh v'Nishma [we will do and then we will understand].
And as in the illustration, here too, a Jew cannot say this is my own personal affair, and mind your own business, because all Jews form one body and are mutually responsible for one another, so that the actions of one Jew have a very important bearing upon the well-being of another...
NEW RUTGERS CHABAD
A look down Rutgers University's College Avenue reveals major progress in the construction of the new "Les Turchin Chabad House Jewish Student Center."
This state-of-the-art center will provide a true Jewish living and learning experience for Rutgers' students and for Jewish families in many communities throughout the state and will include a synagogue, counseling center, library, classrooms, living quarters for students, mikva, exercise room, music studio and, or course, a kosher kitchen.
For more info call (908) 828-7374.
Yeshiva Chanoch Lenaar, in Crown Heights, was founded in 1976 to provide a warm and stimulating educational environment for high school age boys with little or no Jewish education and boys who cannot thrive in other yeshivot.
This year's addition of a resource room and expansion of the dorm, has enabled the growth of the yeshiva.
This week's Torah portion begins, "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years." Commenting on this verse, the Talmud states: "Jacob, our ancestor, did not die."
The Talmud explains that the concept that Jacob did not die is derived from commentaries on the verse in Jeremiah " 'Do not fear, My servant Jacob,' says G-d, 'Do not become dismayed, O Israel. I will save you from afar and your descendants from the land of their captivity.' "
The Talmud concludes, "An equation is established between Jacob and his descendants."
To this discussion in the Talmud, Rashi adds, "Jacob lives forever."
A comprehensive discussion on the subject of Jacob's eternal life is beyond the scope of one column. However, here, we will delve into the interdependency of Jacob's eternal life with that of his descendants - each and every Jew.
The Talmud brings as its proof that Jacob is still alive the above verse from Jeremiah and explains that "it only appears that he died: he is alive."
Therefore, Jacob's vitality, even today, is connected to his descendants -- the Jewish people -- and their "lives."
What is life? Life for a Jew is Torah and mitzvot. And Jacob's vitality is connected to every Jew's study of Torah and observance of mitzvot.
But what if a Jew does not study so much Torah, or does not observe so many mitzvot? Concerning this question, the Rebbe responds that "an emphasis on the failure of other Jews to conduct themselves according to the Torah and its mitzvot represents a superficial appreciation of their being. Furthermore, saying that there is a lack of life in any of Jacob's descendants detracts from the life of Jacob himself, for his 'life' is dependent on theirs, as it were."
Therefore, to enhance Jacob's eternal life we should continue to upgrade our performance of mitzvot and study of Torah. But, at the same time, we should not judge other people's level of observance or Jewish education. For this in itself detracts from Jacob's life.
And Israel strengthened himself and sat up in bed (Gen. 48:2)
From where did Jacob derive this extra strength?
The Talmud explains that when someone visits a sick person, one- sixtieth of the illness is taken away if the visitor is his "astrological twin."
According to our Sages, Joseph resembled his father in many ways. Thus, when he visited him, a sixtieth of his father's illness was removed and he was able to sit up in bed. This is alluded to in the Hebrew word for bed, "mita," the numerical value of which is 59.
Gather yourselves together that I may tell you what will befall you in the end of days (Gen. 49:1)
As Rashi explains, Jacob wished to tell his children when Moshiach would arrive, but "the Divine Presence departed" and he was thus unable to do so. But why was it necessary to take away the Divine Presence? Why didn't G-d just tell him that he was forbidden to reveal this information?
What happened, however, was that Jacob foresaw all the suffering his children would be forced to endure throughout the exile, and became saddened. As "the Divine Presence only rests on a joyful person," it departed as a natural consequence of his mood.
(Rabbi Chanoch Tzvi of Bendin)
The scepter shall not depart from Judah... until Shiloh comes (Gen. 49:10)
"Shiloh" is the numerical equivalent of "Moses" (345); "until Shiloh comes" is the equivalent of "Moshiach" (358).
(Zohar and Baal HaTurim)
And let them grow into a multitude (v'yidgu) in the midst of the earth (Gen. 48:16)
This blessing alludes to the fact that the existence of the Jewish people is not dependent on the forces of nature, but is a supernatural phenomenon.
The word "v'yidgu" is derived from the Hebrew word for fish ("dag"), the intent being that there should be as many Jews as there are millions of fish.
Fish, however, cannot live "in the midst of the earth"; Jacob's blessing therefore intimates that his children will survive even under conditions that would annihilate another nation.
There was once a Chasid who devoted himself to the holy work of performing brit milas (circumcisions) for Jewish infants, bringing them into the convenant of their forefather, Abraham. His honesty and wisdom came to the attention of the king and in addition to the Chasid's sacred work, he was engaged by His Majesty to counsel him in the highest financial matters of the realm.
In his capacity of royal advisor, he was privy to the most secret activities of the monarch, and his loyalty was unassailable. However, one particular minister was devoured by his jealousy of the successful Jewish minister who was so beloved by the king. He devised a clever plot by which he would see his enemy's downfall.
The Chasid had a loyal servant whom he trusted completely, even giving him access to the keys to the king's safe. With a bribe of several hundred pieces of gold, the vicious minister obtained the servant's complicity. He took his employer's keys and regularly ransacked the king's most private documents, bringing them to his new master.
One afternoon, when the minister had the ear of the king, he happened to mention some information which he could not possibly have known. "How do you know that!?" the king exclaimed in shock.
"Why, the Jew told me," the devious minister replied. The king's visage noticeably altered, his fury apparent. The Jew had betrayed his trust and he would pay dearly.
The very same day the Jew was summoned to the palace where the king handed him a letter. "This letter must be delivered by my most trusted servant to my general who is engaged in activities an eight-hour carriage journey from here. Please, deliver the letter yourself."
The Jew obeyed at once, and, together with his servant, set off on the long trip. Unknown to him, the letter contained these instructions to the general: "The bearer of this letter must be executed at once. Do not regard his protestations of innocence, but seize him and kill him without delay."
At mid-journey, nightfall came upon them, and the two stopped at a small village. A Chasid recognized the renowned Jew and ran up to their coach.
"Shalom Aleichem, my master. It is only through the hand of G-d that you have arrived in our village today, for this is the eighth day after the birth of my son, and the day of his brit mila.
Unfortunately, the mohel has not yet arrived, and it seems he will not come. I beg you to remain here long enough to allow us to fulfill this precious mitzva on the proper day."
The Jew dismounted and walked to the man's home to examine the infant. The mother also entreated him to stay and perform the brit, and he agreed. The Jew summoned his servant and entrusted to him the king's letter, exhorting him to take the greatest care in carrying out the king's instructions. The servant continued on the garrison and presented the letter to the general.
The Jew remained with the new parents and participated in the festive meal, then he, too, continued on to the military headquarters. He was greeted with great honor by the general who knew of the great affection the king had for his Jewish ad visor.
"Why did your excellency trouble yourself to come all this way. I took care of the king's bidding, and your servant was executed as soon as I received the letter."
The Jew was speechless, realizing the great miracle that he had just experienced. The general continued, "I have some interesting news for you, for your servant confessed his crimes before he died. He was a traitor against both the king and you, his master. Your servant admitted accepting the bribes of Minister S. He was well-paid to steal the king's confidential documents and bring them to his new master.
Suddenly, the Jew understood the whole situation. Of course, the king considered him a traitor and a betrayer of his sacred trust. That is why the king sentenced him to a terrible death.
The Chasid returned to the capital and appeared before a very surprised king. "How did you get here?" the king blurted out.
The Chasid responded with a complete explanation. He told the king of his conversation with the general and related the plot hatched by Minister S., who had recruited his servant. And lastly, he told the king about the stolen documents. The king summoned his guards at once and the guilty minister was brought in chains to the royal palace. That very day he was executed in the courtyard of his own house.
The Jewish advisor regained the trust of his king, and was awarded an even greater position. The name of G-d was elevated before the king and his courtiers and the Chasid gave thanks for his salvation.
During the time of exile, Yosef (representing the heavens, plant life, study) is higher, but in the Messianic Age, the superiority of Yehuda (the earth, inanimate objects, action) will be revealed. Therefore, in view of our proximity to the redemption, we must add even more in concrete action.
(The Rebbe, 5 Tevet, 5751)