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Rabbis' Blog

One Small Interaction Saved the Entire World

Some people are resiliently pleasant. Regardless of the situation they somehow manage to remain sensitive and caring for others. And as amazing as life can be, it is specifically the simple but sensitive action one does at the worst of times that can be the catalyst for the greatest success.

In this week’s parsha we learn how Yosef, the eleventh son of Yaakov, experienced the most horrendous humiliations a human could endure. He was sold as a common slave by his own brothers, lived alone in a foreign land with no communication with his family and finally, was framed for a crime he never committed and sentenced to prison indefinitely.

During this time period the royal butler and baker sinned to Pharaoh. They were removed from their positions and imprisoned in the same dungeon as Yosef pending trial. The warden trusted Yosef blindly and appointed him to attend to the needs of these royal prisoners.

One night, the two of them had troubling dreams and in the morning they were both miserable. When Yosef entered their quarters he noticed their sadness and asked them “Why are your faces so downcast today?”

It’s important to appreciate the novelty of Yosef’s inquiry. Firstly, must deposed ministers have a good reason to look miserable after spending a full year in prison? Of course they were downcast! Something else needs to happen to warrant their rotten moods?

But the fact that Yosef even noticed their moods and tried to help them is even more intriguing. One who had experienced even a fraction of the abuse Yosef had endured would be bitter and angry with the universe. Personal tragedy is considered the best license to become self-absorbed and disinterested in the misfortune of others.

Everything Yosef had learned from his father Yaakov came to life in this simple interaction. Instead of succumbing to the natural temptation of wallowing in his own misery, he exemplified the truth of Torah - the ironclad belief that G-d is in control of everything and the fact that he was in the dungeon on that morning was an indicator that he was there to help others.

This simple gesture of human kindness led to Yosef’s ultimate release, his rise to global power and his ability to save the world from a devastating famine. (I don’t want to spoil the story for you. We’ll learn it in next week’s parsha. :))

The message is simple and clear. Never underestimate the power of a single good deed. This one mitzvah may be the one bring change to your life and to the entire world. In the spirit of Chanukah - one single candle of light can be the one to banish all darkness forever with the ultimate redemption through Moshiach.

Loving What You Do Instead of Doing What You Love

You know those lucky people that love their jobs? It’s really special to land a career in a field that you enjoy and to work in a pleasant atmosphere with awesome colleagues.

But it does not always work out that way. When push comes to shove, bills need to be paid and we are often forced to do many things we don’t care for and certainly don’t enjoy.

In this week’s parsha we learn of Yaakov’s return to his homeland and his encounter with his brother Eisav. When his messengers reported that Eisav was marching towards him with 400 mercenaries to destroy his family, Yaakov became frightened and distressed.

Although he had no interest in what lay ahead, he prepared for the inevitable encounter in three ways. He sent Eisav a gift of several herds of animals to appease him, prayed to G-d and prepared his camp for battle.

Engaging in each of these three preparations were unappealing to Yaakov.

The gift: Eisav certainly did not deserve the lavish gift he was receiving. Both understood Eisav’s vengeful anger and murderous intentions were misplaced and childish. But Yaakov tried to appease him nonetheless.

Prayer: Out of his extreme humility, Yaakov felt he was unworthy of experiencing a miraculous salvation from his current predicament, so he was forced to invoke the merits of his forefathers in his prayer. It was out of character, but he did so under the circumstances.

War: Yaakov was frightened that an armed conflict would cause considerable damage to his family and was equally distressed that he would need to kill his enemies. Either outcome to the battle was repugnant to Yaakov, but he created a war strategy as a last resort.

Yaakov’s real-life story from thousands of years ago reflects a truth pertinent today as ever. Not always do we have the luxury to do only things we like doing. We are obligated to do what needs to get done; like it or not. But the real blessing is to learn to love doing that which must be done. It takes maturity and discipline, but the results are priceless.

The same could be said about our Jewish obligations. Even though not every mitzvah is initially exciting, and the holidays may occur on a very inconvenient schedule we have the ability to grow in our appreciation for every detail of Judaism.

The teachings of Chassidus reveal the pleasant depth of Torah and pave the way for living life meaningfully and joyfully. This week we celebrate Yud Tes Kislev, the 220th anniversary of the redemption of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad) from Czarist imprisonment.

I encourage you to explore the depths of his teachings and enjoy the clarity they provide in all areas of life. Click here to learn more about the Alter Rebbe, Chassidus and Yud Tes Kislev.

 

Travel Buddies

 

Seasoned travelers can advise that aside for preparing a proper itinerary and accomodations, the pleasure of a trip may often depend on your travel companion. You can have a terrible flight experience, with hour long delays and misplaced luggage, but if you are traveling with your best friend or a loved one, that trip may very well be remembered as cherished quality time.

 

In this week’s parsha we learn of Yaakov’s harrowing escape from his brother Eisav’s murderous rage. Although Eisav had not uttered a word of his intentions to anyone, their mother Rivkah prophetically understood that he was out for blood and instructed Yaakov to flee eastward to her brother Lavan who lived in the distant land of Charan.

While his destination would serve as a secure physical haven from his brother Eisav, being in the vicinity of Lavan came with profound risks. Lavan was a merciless swindler and when it came to the moment of truth, he was prepared to murder Yaakov and his family. Only a direct warning from G-d dissuaded him from wiping out the fledgling Jewish family.

Yaakov was traveling from a a terrible situation to a place he would never choose to visit under normal circumstances. To make matters worse, Eisav dispatched his son Elifaz to kill him, but Yaakov managed to convince him to strip him of all his possessions instead, thus arriving in Charan destitute.

It would only make sense that his journey would be fraught with tension and fear. But the Torah relates that after spending a night on Mt. Moriah, the location of the future Holy Temple, “Light of foot, Yaakov set out for the land of the people of the east.”

Yaakov was enthusiastic and optimistic as he journeyed from his murderous brother his deceitful uncle. Why?

While he slept on Mt. Moriah, Yaakov dreamt of angels going up and down a ladder positioned on earth that reached the heavens. In the dream G-d spoke to him and reiterated His promise to Avraham and Yitzchak that their children will inherit the Holy Land and achieve historic greatness. Amongst the many detailed blessings Yaakov received in that dream, perhaps it was these words that fueled his enthusiasm that made him light of foot on his otherwise harrowing journey: “Behold, I (G-d) am with you.”

Once Yaakov knew that he had the best travel companion possible, the turbulent journey became another element of the cherished quality time he would spend with G-d, elevating even the most depraved civilizations of the time, so that Charan would also become a place where divinity was more revealed.

We all have our personal journey through life with a unique mission and purpose in preparing our world for the era of Moshiach. Remember G-d is your travel companion and every moment of life will be a joy.

The Camouflaged Jew

 

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of participating in the banquet of the annual Chabad Lubavitch Convention of Shluchim (Emissaries). Close to 4,000 Shluchim, 2,000 supporters and guests as well as tens of thousands of online viewers celebrated the Rebbe’s impact on global Jewry and humanity.

While crowds and buildings are necessary and attractive, the focus of the evening was on the stories of personal impact. The genuine interactions that bring hope and inspire change.

Rabbi Motti Flikshtein shared with the crowd that as a child, known as Matt, he had zero Jewish education. As a teen he fell in with the wrong crowds and was a gangster, high on drugs, rapping in bars every night.

Life was spiralling out of control and his parents begged him to visit the local Chabad House. Matt was sure that he would be thrown out of the building just for the way he dressed, but when he arrived, Rabbi Aryeh Weinstein greeted him with a smile and a hug and told him how happy he was that he chose to participate that evening.

One Mitzvah led to another, one Torah lesson led to another and today Matt, now Motti, is a Shliach himself, sharing the beauty of Torah with fellow Jews in Delaware.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the epic struggle between the first twins discussed in the Torah, Yaakov and Eisav. Polar opposites in every way, Eisav was hairy from birth and Yaakov remained smooth skinned into adulthood. Yaakov was immersed in Torah study, while Eisav roamed the countryside killing and raping at whim. He masterfully hid his true character from his father, but his mother Rivkah was well aware of his depravity.

When Yitzchak became blind of old age and felt his final days approaching he wished to pass on the powerful blessings of destiny to his progeny, and since Eisav was born first, he seemingly deserved to receive them. Yitzchok was unaware that Eisav had sold his birthright to Yaakov for some lentil soup when he was 15 years old. Rivkah was aware of the transaction and also understood that Eisav would wreak havoc on society if he were to possess such spiritual energy.

She instructed Yaakov to enter Yitzchok’s room instead of Eisav camouflaging his arms with goat skins. Feeling the hairy arms, Yitzchok was sufficiently convinced Eisav was standing before him and bestowed upon the camouflaged Yaakov the greatest blessings ever uttered by man.

Why was it necessary for Yaakov to be blessed while camouflaged as Eisav? Could Rivkah not have convinced Yitzchok that Yaakov was the right recipient by sharing the facts on the ground?

Rivkah understood that in the future some of Yaakov’s descendants will don the camouflage of Eisav - they will be indistinguishable from their gentile neighbors - often at no fault of their own. Yet even they are the progeny of Yaakov, endowed with unmatched spiritual energy - equal partners in the ultimate task of making this world a divine space of goodness and kindness.

Although Matt looked like a thug, Rabbi Weinstein was able to tap into the beautiful neshama within. Even a “Yaakov” that looks and feels like “Eisav” has the ability and obligation to change the world for good.

 

We Are All Responders

 TTC Chayei Sarah.jpg

This past week was painful. Shabbat morning, on my way to Shul for services, I was already notified by a neighbor that a tragedy struck in Pittsburgh, but nothing could prepare me for the devastating details of what has since been called the worst attack on Jews on American soil in history.

In one of my numerous discussions this week I was asked if all of the outpouring of love and support will have any impact on the bad people. Will it help stop them from doing such things in the future?

Far from doubting the value of genuine good human response to tragedy, the questioner was expressing a deep concern: If bad people do bad things shouldn't our energies be focused on battling the bad? What's the practical value of all the love in terms of deterrent?

Risking being cliche I reflected on the fact that we deal with darkness by lighting a candle. Why not negotiate with the darkness? Perhaps we should try transforming darkness by force?

The answer is that darkness does not negotiate and it is unaffected by condemnation. The only practical response to darkness is bringing new light - one candle at a time.

But is it really true that one good deed can make a difference in our lives and in the entire world?

In this week's parsha we learn of the expedition to find a suitable match for Yitzchok.

Avraham charged his devoted servant Eliezer with the mission to bring a woman from his family in Charan back to Israel. Together with a caravan of ten loaded camels he miraculously arrived in Charan on the same day he left and settled down next to the well.

He had idea where to find the mystery girl so he made a deal with G-d. When the girls of the town come out to draw water from the well, he will ask them for a sip from their jugs. Whoever will graciously hydrate him and his camels will certainly be the right one for Yitzchok.

Rivka was the only modest girl in the region of idolatry and promiscuity. The proverbial rose among the thorns, she deserved to thrive in an environment more conducive to her noble character. That evening she went out to the well as usual, and when an old stranger asked for a simple sip of water from her jug, she graciously offered it.

She probably did not think much of it and it was certainly not a difficult favor to do for a stranger.

But this simple act of kindness caused a trajectory in her life and in human history. She was invited to live in Avraham's home and became the next link in the glorious chain of Judaism.

One simple act of kindness changed the world forever.

When tragedy strikes there is a select group of first responders called upon to make a practical difference in real time. And when news of the tragedy spreads to the entire world bringing with it devastating darkness, we are all called upon to respond.

Certainly we must take appropriate measures to ensure safety and deterrence, but generating more light is the fulfillment of our mission here on earth. 

Your one single mitzvah can be the pivotal one needed to tip the scales of destiny to usher in the glorious era of redemption when grief, tragedy and tears will be wiped away forever.

Please consider joining thousands of people increasing their mitzvot in honor of Pittsburgh. Click here to join the movement.

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