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1605: Vayechi

Shemos Exodus

Vayikra Leviticus

January 10, 2020 - 13 Tevet, 5780

1605: Vayechi

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  1604: Vayigash1606: Shemos  

A Fork Is...  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  All Together  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

A Fork Is...

by Rabbi Yaakov Goldberg

There was a time in the early years of the foundation of the state of Israel when the Israeli government was involved in gathering Jewish children from primitive countries and resettling them in Eretz Yisrael (the Holy Land). First, however, the children were brought to refugee camps in Europe where they were supposed to make a transition to Western culture.

When the children were served their meals, in front of them was a full place setting - a plate, a cup, and flatware. The only problem was that these children had never seen silverware before and they didn't know what to do with them. Then, one boy picked up his fork and put a piece of paper in the prongs and started blowing on it. With this, he made a little harmonica. The other children saw and they all figured out what this fork must really be for - making a harmonica - and they all did the same thing.

Everything in this world was created and designed for a purpose. Yet a person can always invent his own way of using whatever he wants. But this is not the real purpose. The real purpose is revealed to us through G-d's Torah.

Torah in general, and Chasidic philosophy especially, describes the true objective behind everything in this world, for the world itself and for ourselves. The Sages say that the only reason gold was created was to be used in the Holy Temple. The fact is, gold has also been used for many other purposes: good functions, holy purposes, mundane things and even idolatry. Nevertheless, the Sages tell us that none of that is the real purpose of gold. Gold was created only for the Temple.

Many years ago, people in the religious community asked the Rebbe how he could instruct his Chasidim to broadcast Torah on the radio when radio is a vessel for so many negative messages. They felt that perhaps radio was a contaminated medium. (The same question was asked about satellite broadcasts for the Rebbe's public talks and about the internet.) The Rebbe explained that if something was created and exists in this world, then G-d wants us to have it for a purpose. That purpose is the making of this world into a dwelling place for Him. The radio was really only created for disseminating Torah and making the world a more holy place.

This is the true purpose for everything - that we make the world a fitting place for G-dliness to be seen by the physical eye. This should be immediately through the revelation of our righteous Moshiach.

Rabbi Goldberg has been the dean of Hadar HaTorah Yeshiva in Brooklyn, NY for over 50 years. Hadar HaTorah is a yeshiva for young men who are exploring their Jewish heritage through intensive Torah study.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, Joseph bound his brothers with an oath, that when G-d "raises you out of this," meaning, takes their descendants out of Egypt, they will take his bones, to be buried in Israel. The Torah then ends the book of Genesis with this verse: "And Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten years, and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt."

Why was it the responsibility of all the Children of Israel to take Joseph's bones, why not only his own children? Why is Joseph focused on at the end of the portion? When the Torah chooses to finish a book with a verse, there is a significant message in that verse. What message is there for us in this verse?

The Jewish people are about to begin a most difficult and horrific exile in Egypt. G-d gives them the psychological tools necessary to deal with it. These are lessons for all future exiles, including the present one.

First, we need to know that there is an end and a purpose to this exile, G-d will not only take us out of exile, but he will "raise us out of this." We will be raised to a higher level, we will see and enjoy the fruits of all the work, toil and suffering. Knowing this will help us overcome the difficulties of exile.

Second, we need to be like Joseph. Joseph becomes the ruler of Egypt. He rises above and rules exile even during the time of exile. We too, like Joseph, can rise above and rule our present exile. Like Joseph we are in it, but it doesn't rule us.

Third, Joseph stays with us until we leave exile. This is to be a reminder and strengthen us to rise above. Every Jew was obligated to carry Joseph, when things are difficult, think of Joseph, realize that you to can be like him and overcome and rise above any challenges that come our way.

Some people, like my family and I, were chosen to endure open and difficult challenges, which we struggle with every day. It is hard to rise above, but there is nothing more gratifying then overcoming a challenge. Even though the challenge still exists, and the hardships endure, we try to find ways to rise above them. How enjoyable is it that I can make another Jew happy and I am grateful to G-d that even in my present state I have found ways to do it.

Still, this exile has dragged on long enough, may G-d remove the suffering and challenges and give us revealed good now.

Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.

A Slice of Life

A Jewish Burial
by Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin

Continued from last week. Excerpted and reprinted with permission from the Ami Magazine as told to Naomi Raksin

I was promised a call back. I kept checking my phone. I called them several times, until I was finally connected to one of the directors who confirmed that Rachel's body was indeed in the funeral home.

"Please," I begged. "Just tell me one thing. I need to know. Was her body cremated yet?"

"No, not yet. But she's scheduled soon."

The relief was immediate. "I'm her rabbi and she needs a Jewish burial. I need to stop this.

"I'm sorry, we can't do that. The one who has the power of attorney already signed the forms."

"What? Who is that?"

"We're not authorized to share that information."

"Look, I need to know who it is. I know Rachel wanted a Jewish burial, and her family was on board with the plans. Who is this person?"

"It's a State Attorney, but I cannot give you any other information." I hung up the phone, my mind reeling. A Jewish body was on the verge of being cremated, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

While I tried to focus and come up with a plan, my mind kept turning to the horror of cremation; once the deed was done, there was no chance of reversal. Once again, an image of Rachel flashed through my mind. How many times had she told me she was worried about having a Jewish burial? Twenty times? Thirty times?

At this point, Shabbat was just an hour away and that was all the time I had. I tried to get through to Rachel's daughter, but she did not answer her phone.

I called back Rachel's funeral home director. "I know legally you need to cremate, but I have to ask you for a favor. I promised Rachel she would have a Jewish burial. I gave her my word. Please, just hold off for me over the weekend. After our Sabbath, I will reach out to her family to see what's going on."

The funeral director was willing to do that for me.

"One more request," I said to him before we hung up. "I know you can't give me the name of the attorney, but please pass on my number, and tell him that Rachel's rabbi would like to speak to him about her burial." I hung up the phone and spent the next 25 hours praying that the funeral home director had kept his word and halted the cremation.

After Shabbat, I called the funeral home and they confirmed that the cremation had been postponed until further notice. Relieved, I asked the woman on the line if they had also passed on my message to the attorney. "Oh, yes, we did," she said, "We told Tom Griffin to give you a call... He said he'd reach out."

It must have been a slip, but now that I had the name of the attorney I was able to get his number. I called him right away and left a message. A few minutes later he returned my call.

After introducing myself to him, he told me that he was simply doing his job. He'd been appointed as Rachel's attorney, and Rachel's family had looked into the different options. They could not afford a burial so they'd opted to cremate. "Okay," I said. "I will speak to Rachel's daughter and sisters and arrange the burial with them."

There was a moment of quiet and then the attorney asked, "You will pay for it?" His tone was incredulous. "I will make this happen," I told him.

I had left several messages on Rachel's daughter's phone on Friday, and after I spoke to the attorney, she called me back and apologized for missing my calls.

"I am so sorry about the loss of your mother," I said to her. She was silent, and so I forged ahead, asking why she had opted for cremation. She told me that they just couldn't afford anything else. Her mother had a couple of hundred dollars left over for her burial, and she didn't have the means to pay.

"What if I arrange a Jewish burial at no cost to the family?" I asked her.

There was a pause, and then Rachel's daughter told me through her tears, "I felt so guilty. I knew how badly my mother wanted this, but I just couldn't afford to pay more. I was literally crying when I signed the consent forms to cremate her. I don't know how to thank you...This means so much to me, and I know it meant everything to my mother."

Towards the end of the conversation, she told that as fallout from the difficulties she'd endured as a child, their relationship had never been easy. But still, she wanted the best for her mother, and she was relieved that her final request would be fulfilled.

From there, things picked up speed. Rachel's daughter called the attorney to change the burial plans and the attorney spoke to the funeral home to terminate the cremation. While Rachel's daughter and sisters scraped together whatever they could afford, JFS secured a donated plot at no cost from a local Jewish cemetery in New Orleans, and various rabbis from the local shuls and synagogues filled in the gaps.

On a cold, rainy day in the dead of winter, Rachel's body was transported to the Jewish cemetery in New Orleans. Ten men stood huddled at the grave site to welcome the casket. The other nine other men gathered there had not known Rachel at all. But amid the somberness that comes from standing so close to death, there was a sense of unity amongst us as we accompanied Rachel in the final steps of her journey.

While saying Kaddish for Rachel, there was an emotion too deep to explain as I said the words to mourn the loss of life, and felt the near loss of an opportunity for a person to be buried as a Jew.

After the last bits of earth were shoveled over Rachel's grave, in my mind I once again saw Rachel sitting on her hospital bed. "I'm very worried, Rabbi. Promise me I will have a Jewish burial." There I was, sitting beside her, giving her my word and thinking she was fretting for no reason. But now, I wondered. Was it possible her soul had sensed the danger ahead? Had my casual promise to her caused a cosmic shift with the power to alter the course of her destiny?

There was no way to know, but it certainly would explain her strange obsession with her burial, despite my reassurances. I left the cemetery, but something lingered, following me back to my car. As a rabbi, my days are usually filled with trying to connect to the spark inside of Jewish souls and guiding them back home. Today though, had been different. Rachel's soul was already back at its source; these basic, yet surreal moments had been about bringing a lost body to its final place of rest. The enormity of what had almost been left me rattled, but it also unearthed an ever-deepening awe for the Divine Hand that guides it all. Rachel was finally, truly home, in both body and soul.

What's New

New Center

Chabad of Ramon Airport in Eilat, Israel opened this past month. The new airport is eighteen kilometers north of Eilat and replaces the Ovda and Eilat airports. Named for famed Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and his son, Asaf, who was tragically killed six years after the fatal Columbia mission, the airport provides a new international hub for Southern Israel.

New Emissaries

A new Chabad center opened in South Phoenix, Arizona, a fast-growing region of the metropolitan area that previously had no synagogues. Rabbi Mendy and Sarah Rimler will co-direct the Chabad Jewish Center of South Phoenix. The Rimlers will focus on social and educational programming including classes, youth events and activities in addition to Shabbat services, Shabbat dinners, counseling, visitation and kashering homes.

The Rebbe Writes

20th of Elul, 5735 [1975]

Blessing and Greeting:

I duly received your letter and regret unavoidable delay to acknowledge same. You write that you find it difficult to fully understand why the Jewish people seem to feel so strongly that the Gentiles are not well disposed toward them, especially since you personally do not feel this way about the Jews.

May I say, first of all, that I am gratified to hear about your good feelings and I do hope that you avail yourself of every suitable opportunity to let people know how you feel in this matter, so they emulate you.

As for your question, what basis, if any, there may be for Jews to feel suspicion - or even frightened, as it seems to you - about the Gentiles' feelings towards them - surely there is an obvious explanation of that in what happened in our time, and before our own eyes, obvious at any rate, to those who survived the holocaust in Europe and found a haven in this country. Considering that one third of the Jewish people was callously decimated by a Gentile nation and its collaborators, while the rest of the Gentile world looked (and sometimes not even as indifferent observers) - a subject too painful to dwell on, particularly in this letter, in view of your personal feelings. I mention it only by way of reply to your question - the explanation is fairly obvious, and it is surprising that it had eluded you. Moreover, seeing the attitude of the vast majority of the members of the United Nations toward the remnants of the Jewish people, it clearly reinforces the suspicion that the attitude of the Gentiles - generally speaking, for there have always been exceptions - has not changed radically.

By way of contrast, it is noteworthy that Jews on their part have a duty to encourage and help every Gentile to abide by the Divine commandments which have been given to all mankind, namely, the so-called Seven Precepts Given to the Children of Noah, which are the minimum standards of universal ethics and morality, law and order, without which no human society can long survive. This is expected of the Jew regardless of the Gentiles' attitude toward Jews. Similarly Jews are commanded to practice charity and benevolence towards Gentiles along with Jews.

No doubt you also know the Jewish contributions to the concepts of liberty and humanitarianism and others. Even the motto of the United Nations, "Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation," is an ideal Divinely inspired to a Jewish prophet for Jews and, through them, for Gentiles. This too, incidentally, pointedly underscores the contrast between the said ideal displayed there on the wall with what is going on there between the walls. Again, there is no need to dwell on this, as noted earlier.

With blessing,

5724 [1964]

Greeting and Blessing:

I am in receipt of your letter, in which you write about an undesirable habit.

The way to overcome this habit is to completely divert the mind from it. This means that one should not attempt to wrestle with the problem in his mind to convince himself that it is a bad thing, or a sin, and the like, but to dismiss it entirely from the mind. But, in order to be able to disengage the mind from one thing, it is necessary to engage it immediately in something else, which has no relation whatever to the other thoughts. The best thing, of course, is to engage the mind in a matter of Torah, because the Torah is called "Light" and even a little light dispels a lot of darkness. However, if it is impossible to engage the mind in Torah, at the moment when that thought occurs, it should be engaged in anything, as long as it is completely unrelated.

In accordance with the above, it is also clear that every addition in the degree of devotion and diligence in the study of the Torah and the observance of the Mitzvoth [commandments], in addition to being a must for its own sake, will also help to overcome the problem.

If your tefillin have not been checked within the last twelve months, it would be a good idea to have them checked now, and every weekday morning, before putting them on, to put aside a small coin for tzedaka [charity], 'bli-neder'[without a binding commitment]. I also suggest that you should be careful to observe the shiur in Tehillim [Psalms] every day, as it is divided according to the days of the month.

With blessing,

From The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications

All Together

TIRTZA means pleasing. Tirtza was one of the five daughters of Tzelafchad who inherited a portion in the Land of Israel upon her father's death. (Numbers 26:33) Concerning the daughters of Tzelafchad, the Talmud says they were wise, inquisitive, and righteous.

TZURIEL means "G-d is my rock." Tzuriel was a leader of the Merari family from the tribe of Levi. (Numbers 3:35)

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Torah portion, our ancestor Jacob tells all of his children to gather together so that he can tell them "what will happen to you at the end of days."

The Talmud relates that Jacob wished to reveal the end of the exile but it was concealed from him. The literal meaning, however, is that Jacob wished to "reveal, i.e., bring about, the end."

Jewish teachings explain that the actions of the ancestors are a guiding light for the Jewish people throughout all the generations. Herein lies an important lesson for each one of us. We are to follow in the footsteps of Jacob, and hope and pray for the manifestation of the ultimate end - the final Redemption. Contemplating this will of itself assist our service of G-d, inspiring us to attain our ultimate goal of the revelation of Moshiach.

Hoping and yearning for Moshaich actually hastens Moshiach's coming. This is clearly seen in the translator/commentator Onkelos' rendering of the verse in Isaiah (64:3) "G-d will act for him who waits for Him." As Onkelos paraphrases, "for those who hope and wait for Your Redemption."

How does our yearning hasten the Redemption?

If we hope and pray for the Redemption, sincerely and earnestly, we live more ethical, moral, G-dly lives. By virtue of each individual's good actions and deeds, the Jewish people as a whole are found to be increasingly worthy, and the long-awaited Redemption is hastened.

Thoughts that Count

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt (Gen. 47:28)

Our forefather Jacob is symbolic of the attribute of truth, as it states in the Book of Mica (7:20), "You will give truth to Jacob." For with the quality of truth, a person can survive even the worst of times and live through the direst of circumstances. (The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means narrow boundaries and limitations.)

(Chidushei HaRim)

And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Efraim's head, who was the younger. (Gen. 48:14)

It is precisely because he was the younger one that he needed the stronger right hand to be placed upon him. Our youth require supervision, and special attention and dedication, to encourage and strengthen them as much as possible.

(Techiyat Yisrael)

With you shall Israel bless...May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe (48:20)

In the previous verses Jacob had said, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuven and Shimon." Despite the fact that Ephraim and Menashe were born in exile and were educated in Egypt, a land not conducive to Torah learning and Judaism, they were still as righteous and pure as Reuven and Shimon, who grew up in more enclosed and insular surroundings in Jacob's household.

(The Rebbe)

G-d will surely remember you (Gen. 50:25)

When Joseph told the Jews that the time for their redemption was near, he gave them a sign by which they would recognize their redeemer. "G-d will surely remember you (pakod yifkod)," he said, doubling the verb "to remember" for emphasis. For true redemption must free both body and soul, liberating the Jews from physical and spiritual enslavement. Physical freedom alone is not enough; even return to the Holy Land is insufficient without the spiritual component signifying true redemption. So it was in Egypt, and so is it today...

(Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin)

It Once Happened

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 (commandments) 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.

"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 prayer book 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 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, Mottel loved his little prayer book 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 synagogues 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.

Moshiach Matters

In this week's Torah portion we read: "Gather yourselves together, and I will tell you what will befall you in the last days." (Gen. 49:1) Jacob spoke to his sons in a seemingly spontaneous manner. This is the manner in which Moshiach will arrive - with people paying no attention, seemingly by chance. A person will be involved with his work, and all of a sudden, he will see that Moshiach has arrived.

(Baal Shem Tov)

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