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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Miketz

Parshat Miketz

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Miketz Newsletter                                                                                    Print Version
30th of Kislev, 5780 | December 27, 2019

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.

Rabbi YY Jacobson
The Ninth Invisible Flame

I heard the following story from my brother, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who in turn heard it from the man himself:

With the help of G-d, I survived the Auschwitz death camp. I still remember the day. It was the last Chanukah in Auschwitz, Chanukah 1944. All we were focused on day and night was survival. We tried time after time to get our hands on another morsel of food and stave off the starvation which was unbearable. We could not think of anything else but finding a little food and keeping ourselves alive. We could not calculate what day, week or month we were in. However, there were a few people in the camp who seemed to operate on a higher level of consciousness. Despite the horrors, they would remind us when it was Shabbos and when it was a holiday.

One morning, I tried stealing some balm from the infirmary to help my father who had horrible sores on his body. I tried to relieve him from his pain, and I managed to get some balm. Yet when I returned to the barracks where my father previously lay, he was not there. Until today, I do not know what happened. Perhaps it was a Nazi bullet, typhus or some other horrible ailment. All I knew was that my father was gone and I was frantic. I was holding onto life because I had my father, but now he was no longer with me.

An older gentleman approached me and tried comforting me. I did not know his name, but I knew that he would quite frequently converse with my father. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Son, I don’t know where your father is and I don’t know what happened, but I do want to tell you one thing. Today is Chanukah, and Chanukah represents the victory of the few against the many, the righteous against the wicked, the weak against the strong, and light against the darkness. We are in the thicket of the greatest darkness in history. Your father would be so proud knowing that you will live, and you will allow light to defeat darkness.”

The man’s gentle voice consoled me, and in excitement I said, “You know what? Let’s light the Chanukah menorah here in Auschwitz. The man smiled a smile which camouflaged deep grief, and he said, “It is too dangerous to try. This is not the place to light the Chanukah menorah.” But I was so enthusiastic and excited that I told him I would go look for oil. I would go to the factory and get machine oil, and we would light the menorah.

Miraculously, I ran to the factory and obtained a little oil, after which I came back to the barracks. For a few seconds, I forgot my grief and the horror I was in. The gentleman continued to make a few wicks from some old, tattered uniforms. Now we had wicks and we had oil. All that remained was fire. I saw that at the end of one of the buildings there were smoldering cinders. We decided that at the time for lighting the candles after dusk, we would get some fire and light our Chanukah menorah. At that time, it would also be more quiet, and less dangerous.

At the opportune time, my older friend and I left our barrack and carefully walked to the cinders. But we didn’t last long before an SS guard caught us. He was sadistic, ruthless and barbaric. He began hollering at us and snatched the wicks and oil.

But then, almost all of a sudden, it seemed like a miracle was happening. A superior of the SS guard barked a command and he was ordered to follow along. We were relieved, but not for long. He turned around and said, “I will soon be back to get you!” He then went on his way, leaving us both terrified. I trembled and thought life was over. The older gentlemen, however, was serene and calm.

We returned to the barrack, whereupon the gentleman looked at me and said words I never forgot and I will never forget for the rest of my life:

“Tonight we performed a miracle that was far greater than the Chanukah miracle. For the Chanukah miracle, they had oil which could not last for more than one night, though it burned for eight nights. But they had a menorah, they had oil, they had a wick and they had a fire. Here in Auschwitz we performed an even greater miracle. We managed to light a menorah without oil, without a wick and without a flame. I call it the ninth invisible flame. The Chanukah menorah consists of eight candles, but tonight we lit the ninth candle which is so deep and so real it is invisible. You are going to come out of here alive and wherever you go, I want you to tell the world what happened. In the deepest darkness of Auschwitz, the fire and the flame of the Jewish spirit could not be extinguished. My child, don’t think that we did not kindle a flame. We did. It was the ninth flame, and it was deeper than any flame that has been kindled in Jewish history.

And with that, the man concluded:

“I want you to hold onto this flame of home, of passion, of love and of light. Take it with you wherever you go and share it. Whenever you meet someone who is in despair, tell them about this flame that we lit in Auschwitz. Tell them about the flame that was inextinguishable and the fire that could never die.”
As he finished these words, the SS guard returned. He walked into the barrack, and shoved the gentleman outside. I never heard of him again. I myself, though, managed to escape. A few weeks later, on January 22, 1945, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz.

That is the story about the menorah we lit, Chanukah 1944, in the deepest darkness of the death camp Auschwitz.

Last Chanukah, during the cold Winter of 2016, I took a group of around sixty secular Jewish students from American campuses and universities to Poland. It was Chanukah time, and we made our way to Auschwitz. It was a freezing cold day, yet there we stood in front of one of the barracks. I asked two grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who had been in Auschwitz to please come light the menorah. It wasn’t easy to light the menorah in the stormy winds, but we managed to get two candles lit. The students then asked me to share a few words. But what words could I share in such a place? I then remembered this story that my brother heard from this survivor.

When I finished relating the story, I concluded, “My dear students, I am telling you this story because I want you to understand what type of people you come from. You belong to a people who managed to light a candle of hope and faith, and of commitment and passion, even in the darkest and thickest of nights. I want you to take this menorah wherever you go and share it with everybody. Share this hope and this light. Become ambassadors of Yiddishkeit to the entire world and teach every person, even those who look at their lives and see no wick, no flame, no oil and no menorah. To people who have been hurt and look at their lives and see no potential for illumination, teach them this lesson. The flame of a Jew never dies.”

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
The First Step

For Stacy, life was not all too easy, to say the least. As a single middle aged woman, her days were spent not with a husband and children in a warm, happy home, but alone, running from doctor to doctor in an attempt to determine a prognosis for an unknown medical condition. It wasn’t until she mentioned to a friend of hers whose husband was a doctor about her situation that a glimpse of hope shined forth. “Why don’t you come over and let my husband see what he can do to help.”

Sure enough, the woman was attended to immediately and administered a number of tests, all of which the woman was grateful for. Yet, that was as far as the good news went. The outcome she was hoping for was a far cry from her furthest wish. She unfortunately had already progressed to an advanced stage of a terminal illness, leaving her with little to do.

The hospital soon became quite familiar to Stacy, although she never wished it to be. And then my mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis a”h, heard about Stacy. Although Stacy was in no way affiliated with Hineni, the outreach program founded by my mother, she was a fellow Jew, and that was all that was needed for my mother to pick herself up and look to help. “I will go visit Stacy,” my mother said. “I will spend time with her and grant her a blessing for a speedy recovery.”

After one visit to Stacy, my mother called me and said, “I just finished visiting Stacy, and she is losing her hair. She needs a wig, but she cannot afford one. I think I am going to call Georgie and ask her for one.” I understood what my mother meant by this. She planned on calling a sheitel maker and asking for a free wig. Although I wasn’t quite sure if anyone else who would make such a call would end up walking away with a sheitel free of charge, my mother was sometimes able to do things which even surprised her. And sure enough, she was right.

“I got the sheitel!” she remarked to me a short while later. “I am going to give it to Stacy.” Although I was pleased to hear that such progress was made, I had my qualms about the whole plan. “Ma, you really think she can just put a sheitel on her head? It needs to be cut, combed and styled.” But my mother remained characteristically optimistic. “Don’t worry, everything will work out.”

My mother proceeded to head to Stacy’s apartment, walking through the front entrance and into the elevator. Alongside her in the elevator was another gentleman, also heading up a number of flights. And as my mother had so many times done before thanks to her congenial and polite personality, she struck up a conversation with the other fellow.

“How are you?” she said. “Hello, how are you?” replied the man in kind. “Baruch Hashem,” said my mother. The man, clearly not Jewish, was quickly thrown off guard by use of the Hebrew words. “What does that mean? I’ve never heard that line before.” he curiously asked. “Well, that’s how Jewish people thank G-d. Thank G-d I am here, thank G-d I am alive, thank G-d for every day. It so happens that I am married to a rabbi and I am a Jewish teacher now on my way to visit someone.” The man remained still, interested by the new information he had just learned. “And what are you up to?” inquired my mother.
“Oh,” said the man, “I am a hairstylist and I’m on my way home. It’s been a long day.” As soon as my mother heard those words, her eyes lightened up. “Oh no you’re not! You can’t go home quite yet…”

Suffice it to say, the sheitel got cut and styled, just as my mother believed it would be.

Many times in life we become overwhelmed by all that we have to do. So many steps seem to stand in our way before we can reach our final goal and destination. The truth of the matter, though, is that we need not feel that our wishes and dreams are unattainable and out of reach. It all begins with the first step. That little, initial decision to extend ourselves and make a concerted effort sets everything else to follow in motion. Once we take the first step, Hashem comes to our side and helps with the rest. All we are asked to do is our best and Hashem will help with the rest.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Yosef Palacci

Some time ago, my mother-in-law asked my wife if she wanted to go out to lunch. My wife was busy at the moment, so asked if she could take a raincheck, which my mother-in-law was fine with. My mother-in-law decided to phone a friend who was planning on playing a Mahjong game, though said that she was actually not to go because there was another lady there who she didn’t like. She would therefore be able to go out for lunch with my mother-in-law.

They arrived a restaurant for lunch, and to my mother-in-law’s friend’s surprise, who did she see? The exact woman she was trying to get away from at the Mahjong game. This other lady had also cancelled that day and went to have lunch at the same exact spot as my mother-in-law’s friend.

All she could do was panic. What would she do and say? She quickly decided that she would ask as nonchalant as she could and pretend that she did not see her. But, as matters turned out, for one reason or another, she needed to pass the lady. And what happened? “How are you doing?” the other lady asked. And with that, slowly but surely, a conversation ensued between two people who wished to stay as far apart as they could from each other, but were brought together.

When my wife later crossed paths with her mother’s friend and mentioned that she had heard how they had gone out to lunch together, the friend said, “It was really funny. I was supposed to take my daughter out to lunch then, but she couldn’t make it, so I took up your mother’s offer and went with her instead.”

Just imagine. Two women who wished not to talk or see other and specifically made plans to be away from each other, came together. And why? When Hashem sees that His children are not on good terms with each other, He does whatever possible to reinstate love and peace. The most hurtful thing is when Hashem’s children are in dissonance, while the greatest and most beautiful thing is when there is harmony and kindness between them.

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