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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Miketz

Parshat Miketz

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter     Print Version

Parashat Miketz
28th of Kislev, 5778 | December 16, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Avi Wiesenfeld
The Candle of Trying

While Chanukah offers many life lessons which specifically pertain to us in our day and age, there is one very fundamental law relating to the Chanukah candles which sends a simple, yet profound message. The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) rules that in the event the Chanukah candles blew out subsequent to lighting them, one is strictly speaking not obligated to relight them.

In light of this, one foundational concept which Chanukah brings to the fore is trying. Do the best you possibly can and become the best person you are capable of. That is all Hashem asks of us. If the flame goes out, yet you did your best, you achieved something which is valuable and precious in Hashem’s eyes. The attempt, the effort and the work is what earns esteem in Judaism.

It need not be said that many times in life we experience challenges. Life is oftentimes dark and difficult. However, many a time, a slight beacon of light shines forth and casts aside the darkness. It pushes aside the overbearing difficulty and reminds us that there is Someone who always cares about us and is looking after us. All we must do is try, try and try. When that becomes our attitude, we may surprise everyone, including ourselves, of what we can accomplish.

Years ago, the famed violinist Itzhak Perlman was slated to play at a well-attended and high anticipated grand concert. Having contracted polio at the young age of four, Itzhak Perlman’s maneuverability has ever since been compromised. Yet, despite any apparent difficulty, he never fails to amaze and dazzle his listeners with the brilliance of his music.

Yet on one occasion, he did more than just surprise his listeners.
As Perlman seated himself to play, he motioned to the conductor to begin. Yet, just a mere few minutes into the first piece, one of Perlman’s violin strings snapped. It was in no way rehearsed and was certainly something which immediately drew all attention to Perlman to see what he would do.

He did not halt the other musicians from playing, but did what a true master musician is capable of. He improvised. Playing with one less string, he immediately readjusted and thought of what notes could instead be played to still retain the flow of the music. With no notes in front of him and without missing a beat, he patched together new notes with just three strings.

The audience was overawed. In just a matter of moments, Itzhak Perlman rearranged everything he planned on playing and seamlessly went ahead as if nothing had happened. When the piece finished, the audience was left enthralled and incredulous. Perlman, having received a standing ovation, raised his violin and said aloud, “It is the task of an artist to make beautiful music with whatever he has left.”

While not all of us may be professional musicians or artists, we all our artists of our own life. We all have a life to beautifully compose and share with ourselves, with our family and with the world. Yet, at times, a string may snap, leaving us in a hard-pressed situation. When that occurs, how we react is of paramount importance and sets everything else to follow in motion. Instead of staying stuck on the snapped string and allowing it to hamper us, we would be much better off learning how to make the best of what we have. As Itzhak Perlman iterated, “It is the task of an artist to make beautiful music with whatever he has left.”

Hashem has given all of us beautiful strings to create a beautiful life for ourselves. Chanukah reminds us of what we can do to attain that goal of ours. Even if the flame goes out, so long as we try, we are heading in the right direction. There will inevitably be difficulties throughout our journey in life, but the candle of trying, of effort and of hard work holds the potential of breaking through the darkness and creating a room full of light and full of life.

Dr. Jack Cohen
The Great Change

For years, the following story remained a personal story, unbeknownst to the world. Yet just recently, the very man who experienced such a life turnaround of extraordinary proportion shared the following words:

I am forty-four years old and have been through much in my life that I look like I am seventy. From the age of ten, I was out on the street and never wanted to go to school. I in fact ended up spending a good number of years in jail. I will not disclose my real name, but suffice it to say, in the world of the mafia in Israel, I am well-known. It would be easy for me to come up with many excuses as to why I didn’t grow up to be an honest person and I can tell you all about the lack of opportunities in my life.

But ultimately, if you break the law, you are a criminal and that is exactly what I was. Over the years, I was involved in small crimes, such as thefts and break-ins. I also got caught for committing an armed robbery, which sent me into jail for a long sentence.

Shortly after I completed my last jail sentence about six years ago, I began planning the robbery of a jewelry store in Jerusalem. I received the information that a lot of money and a large amount of jewelry was kept in the store. Since the store was situated on a quiet side street, I knew I could walk in, hold up the owner and carry off the goods without drawing too much attention. As part of my planning, I decided to scout out the layout, salesperson and the location of the safe. I wanted to be well prepared for this kind of crime, and that would necessitate visiting it a few times, getting to know the store well, and casually chatting with the salespeople. I would then be ready to perform the robbery.

Early one evening, shortly before closing time, I went to get a good look at the store. The storeowner, a friendly and polite older gentleman, was alone in the shop. I asked to see what options he had for a necklace for my wife, which was an outright lie. I was not married and had no interest in buying a necklace for anyone. He proceeded to show me all kinds of necklaces, and even opened the safe to bring out different styles. “What a reckless thing to do!” I said to myself. “Why would the owner turn his back and leave me here with all these goods? I could have easily ransacked the safe and grabbed whatever I wanted!”

This storeowner proceeded to ask me a little bit about my wife’s interests in jewelry. I began to fabricate a story. I came up with the tale that I had recently gotten married and we were a young couple without a penny to our name. I had managed to scrape together a few dollars to buy her a surprise birthday gift, however. This really seemed to touch the old man. He asked what type of job I have, and I replied that I was unemployed. The storeowner then began pitying me and tried offering me encouragement.

I then decided it was time to get out of there before I started to like him. But before I could, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Young man, you look like a talented fellow who just needs a little help in life. I am willing to lend you some money so you can invest in a little business, maybe jewelry, and provide for yourself and your family. My mouth dropped open, and before I could utter a sound, he hurried to the safe, took out some money and slapped a big wad of bills on the counter. “Here is $10,000! Go start a business!” “Are you crazy? I asked him. “How can you lend money to a complete stranger? What do you know about me? “Listen, he said, “I have been in business for forty-eight years, and I have a good eye for judging people. I can see that you are a decent person with a good heart, and I trust you to return the money when you can.”

I was shocked. In my entire life, no one had ever trusted me, even with a dollar, and here this storeowner was trusting me with $10,000.” “Now listen, my friend,” I said to him, “you are getting carried away. How do you know you will ever get it back?” “Young man,” he said, “stop asking questions. I can see straight through your heart and I see you have a heart full of gold, just like my necklaces. You are an honest man and I don’t have the slightest doubt that you will return the money.” I started thinking to myself, “Wow, this man is unbelievable! I don’t even have to risk a robbery. I can just stand here, get the cash and run for it. What could be better than that?”

Yet it wasn’t so simple. If he was willing to trust me, then he was a friend, and could I really steal from a friend who trusted me? I decided that it would be better to refuse the money and simply come back next week and steal the money. But the speed at which he handed me those dollars simply confused me and I just took it. When I returned home, I broke down and cried like a child. Had anyone ever believed in me before today? Had anyone ever trusted me? True, in the mafia they knew I kept my word, but what does it mean that thieves trust each other? All they trust each other is to divide the goods they steal. And here was an honest and kind man, who was never a part of my life, yet he trusted and respected me. I was determined to pay him back to the very last cent. I bought some goods with the money and sold it for a profit, until I tripled my initial investment.

Four months later, I returned to the store and placed $10,000 on the counter along with $2,000 in interest. But the owner refused to take the interest. I told him to take it as a token of my appreciation and respect, but he wouldn’t take an extra penny. I once again asked him, “How could you be willing to give so much money to someone you don’t even know?” “As you get older,” he said, “you get to know more about life. As soon as I looked at you, I knew you were a good guy who wanted to earn an honest living. I could tell that you didn’t have an easy life and I just wanted to give you a chance. Now young man, go make a living and support your family! And make sure you always come back here to buy jewelry for your wife!” “What a man!” I told myself. “I left the store with tears in my eyes, and joy in my heart.

Now I knew what I wanted to become: an honest, decent person. I thought about how to go about this, and I decided to enroll in a yeshiva. I began studying Torah and over the course of time I became a baal teshuvah. This was no easy task, but I managed to get on track. Eventually, my rabbis in the yeshiva found me a wife.

We were complete opposites. My wife was innocent, modest and bashful with no demands. I felt as if Hashem was sending me the gift of happiness straight from Heaven. The wedding ring was bought from my friend, the jeweler. One year later into our marriage, we celebrated the birth of our daughter. I bought my wife the gift of a beautiful necklace purchased from my jeweler. It cost a pretty penny, but believe me, I would have loved to buy an even more expensive one.

Every now and then, my past criminal friends would visit me and ask if I wanted to join them to commit a crime. But I would say, “I am done with that life. No more crime." They eventually accepted my new way of life and realized it was all over. My wife never asked me about my past, but I think she was clever enough to understand what had happened. Every once in a while, my old friends would knock on the door and she would see exactly who they were and what they were like.

Two years later, we were blessed with the birth of our first son. We made a big celebration for his bris, inviting several big rabbis in Jerusalem. My friends came from the past and the present. But one friend was not invited. I was too afraid to invite my jeweler lest someone blurt out how long I was married. The jeweler would then realize that I had lied to him years earlier. Nevertheless, the next day, I went to his store to buy my wife a present upon the birth of our new baby boy.

As soon as I stepped into the store, I knew something was wrong. The owner didn’t look healthy. He looked like he had aged greatly. “What’s the matter Papa?” I asked. He began to cry and couldn’t speak. I put my arm around him and tried calming him down. He finally managed to tell me a few words. “You don’t want to know what happened. There was a break-in last week and my safe was ransacked. Everything is gone. A lifetime of my savings, all the jewelry that I purchased on credit, and jewelry that people had brought in to be prepared that wasn’t mine. Thousands upon thousands of dollars in cash is gone. I’m ruined! I will be in debt as long as I live. Take a look at me. I’m an impoverished old man.”

As I watched him cry, I was filled with anger at the person who was capable of committing such a despicable act. How could he ruin the life of an old man? But then it struck me that this was exactly what I planned on doing to him five years before. I was also a heartless person then. I went on to buy one other piece of jewelry and told him, “Be strong.” As I left the shop, I thought about what he said, and decided to take a plan of action.

I went to pay a visit to some of my old friends in the underground mafia. They were surprised to see me with my kippa and beard. They had long gotten used to the idea that I was not involved in the world of crime. In a strong tone of voice, I told them that in one week I wanted to know who robbed the jeweler.

Two days later, I received the information. The thief was a strong, dangerous fellow, and it would be no pleasure dealing with him. He knew my name and he didn’t turn me away. I spoke to him in the professional language of the mafia, and informed him that I expected that the stolen goods would be returned to their owner before Shabbat. Otherwise, he would need to deal with me. It sounded as if I was declaring war, which means very serious business in the mafia. I told him, “Think whatever you want to think, but I expect the goods to be returned before Shabbat.”

He suggested that we go to an arbitrator to solve the matter. In the world of the mafia, there are judges who decide what to do with stolen merchandise. We went to a well-known figure in the world of crime in Tel Aviv, and it was obvious whose side he was on. “Why are you mixing into his business!” I was told. “He robbed that store! That is his turf. That area is his to rob from. And besides, you’re not involved in the business of theft anymore, so why does it matter to you?”

I then told the man the truth. I told him how I planned to rob the store some years ago, and how the owner saved me and turned me on the path to become a baal teshuvah. It is all thanks to that old man that I became who I am today, and discovered Torah and met my wife. I am indebted to him forever. Besides, if it wasn’t for him, chances are that this would also be my designated territory to rob from and anything they would do would need my approval. This was my old monopolized area where I would always steal from. They were impressed with my story.

The arbiter ruled that the robber would need to return everything to the storeowner, except ten percent which he could retain. The robber then promised to return the goods and the cash before Shabbat. That is exactly what happened. Two messengers showed up at my house with two suitcases containing the diamonds and cash before Shabbat. I still had to figure out how to come up with twenty thousand dollars though.

I withdrew all my savings and took out a loan. On Saturday night, as soon as Shabbos was over, I went to the jeweler with two suitcases and a note, rang the doorbell and ran away. From a distance, I saw him open the door and take the suitcases. When I returned home, I knew I didn’t have any assets, and I had a substantial outstanding debt from loans. But my heart was overflowing with joy as my wife waited for me. “I have just done true teshuva for all my past deeds,” I said to her.

She didn’t need to ask me anything, but the look on her face showed that she believed me. May Hashem bless her. I don’t know why I deserve such a special and fantastic wife. I now work steadily, have a wonderful family and make a good living. Although it is not as much as I made in the old days as a criminal, I am so happy with my life. I thank Hashem for my beloved wife and beautiful children, and especially for those five minutes when somebody believed in me. Those few moments changed my life.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Bentzion Shafier

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” If you haven’t figured out who said this quote, let’s take a little hint. It was a college professor, a statesman, someone who wrote a treatise which won the noble prize, and a world leader who was knighted by the Queen of England. He was the prime minster of England, Sir Winston Churchill. Yet let me share with you just exactly who Sir Winston Churchill was. Historians credit him with saving the free world. If not for his galvanizing strength and energy, Nazism would have won the war. It was Churchill’s strength of character which brought the Allies together.

Yet in May of 1945, Germany surrendered, and in August of that year, Churchill found himself voted out of office. England viewed him as a great wartime president and man of battle, but it was now a different era which called for a different leader. After bringing England to its finest hour and saving the free world, he found himself unemployed and on the streets without a job.

But that was his life. Going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. If you ever find a human being who has succeeded in any endeavor in life, you will find a person who has failed many times. Such is the key to understanding life and understanding what is required for a human being to reach greatness.

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