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What Does it Mean to be a Jew? Yehuda, Yosef and God’s Hidden Plan

“Vayigash eilav Yehudah, Then Yehudah approached him…” (Breishit 44:18)

One of the names that the Jewish people are known by is “Yehudim”. Our sages teach us that the word “Yehudim” comes from the word hoda’a, which means simultaneously an “admission, acknowledgment, declaration”. If we are known as the people of hoda’a, what is it that the Jewish people go through time acknowledging or declaring?

That everything both small and large, both good and difficult, comes from God.

The Sfas Emes continues with this message and teaches that this is helpful knowledge, especially during every challenging and dark time.

Claiming, that even in the dark times, when it seems that God is hidden from us, there is Godly energy there too.

Yehuda and his brothers were begging for their lives in front of the most powerful person in the world — who secretly was their brother Yosef, who they had sold into slavery. Yehuda recounts all the trials and tribulations that got them to this situation.

What is he doing? Why is the Torah spending valuable space recounting things that we already know?

Yehuda is acknowledging that amidst this terrible set of circumstances — and he knows that the brothers were being punished for what they did to Yosef decades earlier — God’s plan is being revealed and God is still with them.

At that moment when Yehuda declares that this situation too, as painful as it is to endure, is from God, Yosef cannot contain himself anymore and has to reveal his true identity to his brothers.

This bittersweet reunion, and what Yosef tells his brothers, makes them, and all their generations of offspring realize, that God did not abandon them. Rather God was with Yosef the whole time after he had been sold, and that this drought and famine were part of God’s larger plan.

Our subsequent life in Egypt, enslavement, and redemption, form a significant part of the core-identity system of the Jewish people, and subsequently for all downtrodden peoples throughout time.

Yosef had to go to Egypt, be falsely accused, rot in jail, translate dreams, become a ruler, and trick his brothers into bringing Binyamin down to Egypt — it was all part of God’s plan from the start.

So too, in our lives, we experience sets of circumstances and challenges that can truly test our strength, faith, and hope.

Whatever you are going through right now, God is waiting to reveal the reasons, but we have to do our job of being Yehudim, acknowledging and declaring that God is truly engaged in every aspect of our lives and the world, for us to begin to see the reasons.

Good Shabbos and Shabbat Shalom

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Don’t Just Stand There – do Something Holy

“You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow’s blood. I am Hashem.” Lev. 19:16

I was driving on cold morning down the highway in New Jersey and a car ahead of me suddenly veered left, went off the road, and then careened back across the highway. The car crossed some grass and slammed into brush on the side of the highway. Instinctively, I pulled off the highway, crossed the shoulder, and parked on the grass. I ran towards the car and started to help the young driver from the wreck.

Within a minute, an entire commuter bus of orthodox Jews stopped, and out ran a man with with a large medic bag, followed by others. He was a trained paramedic from Hatzolah, and began administering first aid while I was on the phone with the Highway Patrol. The medic said the woman was not badly injured, but that we needed to stay with her until the ambulance arrived. A woman in a shaitel got off the bus and came over, putting her coat around the young woman from the accident.

The driver, a bus full of commuters, the paramedic and I waited until she was being attended to an ambulance crew.

In this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim which instructs us to live holy lives, we learn that we cannot be bystanders when someone’s life is in danger. “Don’t stand by the shedding of your fellow’s blood,” say the sages, “means do not stand by watching your fellows death when you are able to save him. For example, if he is drowning in the river or a if a wild beast or robbers come upon him.” (Rashi, Torat Kohanim 19:41, Talmud Sanhedrin 73a)

Just as the Torah instructs us in other areas of life about the Sabbath, Passover and the Ten Commandments, the Torah teaches that we have a sacred obligation and responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of others.

One of most powerful aspects of life today in this age of interconnectivity is that “others” really means everyone in the world. While our first obligation are those immediately around us, our responsibility is truly worldly.

When the tragic earthquake struck Nepal last Shabbat, it immediately provided an opportunity for the entire world to fulfill the mitzvah of “not standing by.”

International charities, like Mercy Corps, that do important work in Nepal to help alleviate poverty, suddenly became front-line responders and rescuers.

Chabad Nepal’s Rabbi Chezky and Chani Lifshitz converted their center into an emergency shelter, first aid clinic, missing persons agency, and food distribution hub.

Israel immediately activated 260 doctors and rescuers to fly to nepal and set up a field hospital and do search and rescue operations. Other countries also sent aid and rescuers. The US sent over sixty emergency workers and millions of dollars in aid.

While we cannot all physically go and rescue people around the planet, with a few clicks we are all able to provide immediate funds to help those in need.

You have heard this many times before – but its still true – one who saves one life is as if they saved an entire world. Your tzedakah can help sustain people in dire need  – from Nepal to Los Angeles.

A true legacy is not the wealth that we leave when we die, but the mitzvot that we did while we were living.

Shabbat Shalom

Donate:
Chabad Nepal

Mercy Corps

American Jewish World Service

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Acting With Godliness

The Torah tells us in Parsha Mishpatim, that we are to “Distance yourself from falsehood.” (Ex. 23:7) No other transgression, said Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, has this commandment. What it is about falsehood that God is so concerned about us falling into?

There is the obvious problems that lying can get one in trouble. Each lie becomes bigger and bigger, and then you have to create new lies to cover up the other lies. Before you know it, you have constructed a life of lies.

But lying, we learn from several places in the Talmud, is at times permitted – especially to save a life and to prevent various levels of embarrassment. So if lying is permitted in those cases, what is the Torah referring to here?

The majority of our sages teach us that Torah is giving specific advice to judges. As Rav Hirsch wrote, “It makes it the judge’s duty to meticulously avoid any and every thing by which there is the slightest possibility of the veracity of the judgement being affected.”

I want to add another layer onto this. The Torah is also telling us to distance ourselves from lying to ourselves, and specifically from lying in how we judge ourselves.

So much personal strife results when we are are not honest with ourselves, who we are and what we are doing. We can end up judging ourselves very harshly, and distancing ourselves from God. Or we can fail to judge our actions and think that we are always right, and it’s the other person who is in the wrong.

We must therefore keep ourselves far, far away from falsehood – from mock piety and self-importance, to self-defeating low self-esteem and not seeing all the wonderful and unique qualities that God gave to us.

Instead we need to judged ourselves and each other favorably, gently, and honestly. Then we will be acting with Godliness in our thoughts and actions, improve our performance of the mitzvot, and deepen our relationship with our friends, loved ones, and with God.
Shabbat Shalom!

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Ben Ish Chai: The Miraculous Light of Hanukka

The Mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light. The word Hanukka can be divided into two words חנו , כ”ה The miracle of the light appeared on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. The word light is the 25th word of the Torah. The Greeks sought to eliminate Torah, and made three specific decrees against Brit Milah, Shabbat, and Rosh Chodesh. Hanukka is at the end of the month of Kislev so that it can contain a Shabbat and a Rosh Chodesh  [Ed. and the eight days is also a reference to Brit Milah.] And much much more.