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Parshat Va'Yeishev

Messirut Nefesh – Total Devotion

Messirut Nefesh is what we need to learn in these parshiot. The following words join up with the teachings of the previous years.

To serve Hashem with utmost devotion, with all your love and strength, at each moment of life. To know and be connected at each moment no matter what – “I am a Jew!” This is how Yosef not only managed to survive in exile, rather, he rose through it and over it. The ‘slave boy’ became the viceroy of Mitzrayim. The hated brother brought all his brothers back into holy union.

I heard that a young man or woman had asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, “If Hashem wanted me to be observant, why was I born in a non-observant family?”

The Rebbe answered that where you were born is not your starting point in life. Your life journey began just before you breathed your first breath of this worldly air. As it states at the very beginning of the Tanya “It has been taught in a Baraita (Niddah, end ch.3) An oath is administered to him (to the soul about to be born) “Be righteous and be not wicked…” This is where your life as a Jew begins. You, and so too every Jew, begins life with the same oath.

But, you ask, why weren’t you born into an observant family? Know that whatever setting and family you were born into, is the setting in which Hashem placed you, for reasons known only toi Him. And this is exactly the best setting for your neshamah to do its work.

It is explained further on in the Tanya that the ‘administering of the oath’ is how the soul is endowed with the necessary power to fulfil its destiny in life on earth. At any given moment, under all circumstances, we are empowered to be righteous. This power is given even to the simplest Yid. If you don’t know this, says the Netivot Shalom, then you haven’t yet stepped over the threshold of Yiddishkeit.

Every one of us needs to learn how to acquire and live with this Jewish consciousness that – “I am a Yid and my essence soul is empowered to be righteous!” Chassidut teaches and guides us on the path.

Think about, where am I in this parsha, in the story? Where do I want to be? Meditate on your soul essence and be true to it. Listen to Hashem whispering to you. This is the secret of Yosef, the secret of Chanukah.

We can come up with hundreds of excuses to justify our behaviors. But the problem with excuses is that we can easily remain ‘stuck’ in them. Why am I stuck? - because I am blaming it all on things that happened in the past. And so, I’m not really ‘living’ in the present.

Ribono Shel Olam, I want to get beyond my excuses, I want to see, know and fulfill my destiny, I need to move forward at least for one true moment. I need to cry out to the One who empowered my soul, I need His help, desperately! Help me find my פך שמן זית טהור my pure olive oil. For one minute let me really be with You, help me open my heart to You.

B’ezrat Hashem we will reach the Ultimate Redemption - may it be very soon- we want Moshiach Now!

Have a wonderful Shabbos and a 'freilichen Chanukah'

b'ahavah ubivracha


Messirut Nefesh – Total Devotion in honor of Yud-tes Kislev

The following story at a "Yud-tet Kislev Farbrengen" as it was told by Rabbi Mendel Glukowski, the Chabad Shaliach of Rechovot, Israel.

In a certain town that was inhabited mostly by Jews, the City Council was having great financial difficulties. They were no longer able to pay the teachers, the upkeep of the Mikveh, the shul expenses etc. It happened that one day the Belzer Rebbe, Reb Yissochor Dov zt"l was passing through their town. The towns leaders approached him for his advice and for a blessing. After listening to them very carefully as they described all the various problems facing them, the Rebbe told them the following story.

There once was a very bright and talented medical student who finally reached his last exam. He had worked diligently for eight years and had acquired much wonderful knowledge. He had completed his internship, he had done his research. All that was left before being certified was one small oral exam, with the head of the Medical School.

He entered the professor's office somewhat nervous yet confident that he would do well. The professor posed the following question, "You are walking down the street, when suddenly you encounter a man lying on the ground, bleeding profusely – what will you do?"

"I would quickly open my medical satchel and tie a tourniquet above his wound to stop the bleeding, and then I would clean and dress the wound," he answered.

"But you don't have your satchel with you, what will you do?"

"I'll look around, maybe there some rag or cloth that I could use and I'll tie the tourniquet with that."

"But there is nothing of the sort available – what will you do now?"

"Please give me a moment to think," said our young doctor.

He thought for a moment, but before he could reply, the professor said, "You have failed this exam; you don't deserve to be a doctor. You may go now."

"But … why? Just because I asked for some time to think, for that you are failing me?!" He was shocked by the professor's decision.

"When a man is bleeding profusely in front of you and you have nothing to stop the blood, you immediately rip the shirt off your back to save his life – you don't stop to think! You are not ready to be a doctor!" the professor declared.

And so the Rebbe concluded, "When you'll be ready to take the shirts off your backs for the sake of your children's education, and for the well being of your community, you will then know what to do and your problems will be solved. It is not my advice that you need, nor my blessings. You need 'mesirut nefesh' – total devotion for your brethren, that is how you will solve your problems."

May every single one of us be inspired and infused with mesirut nefesh for Hashem, for Torah and for Am Yisrael, as was Yosef ha-tzaddik and as were the Macabees. Amen.


In this weeks parsha we see how division among the children of Yaakov, led us into slavery in Egypt. We learn that if one Jew thinks he can do without another Jew, everyone of us crashes. And we also learn that if you want to have a chance at turning things around in a positive way, you must not harbor any anger towards your brother or towards Hashem. We must always seek the Or Ganuz in every situation. We must remember the light of the future, the light of the World to Come.

Va'yeishev, is the beginning of what is often referred to as the Joseph story. It is among the deepest and most beautiful stories you'll ever encounter. Hashem Yisborach please open my heart, please help us to open our hearts to Yakov Avinu, to Yosef and his brothers.

"Va'yeishev Yakov b'eretz m'gurei aviv..." Yaakov settled down in the land of his father's dwelling. Rashi explains that Yakov was looking forward to finally settling down and living a tranquil life. 'La'shevet' - to sit, to settle down. The exile had been a long and hard one, and the return to Eretz Yisrael was difficult and filled with tragedy; and now after all this had passed, Yaakov was looking forward to living a more peaceful and quiet life; he was no longer a young man.

The Midrash cited in Rashi, continues: 'tzadikkim want to live in peace and tranquility [but] the Holy One Blessed Be He says, "[is] it not enough what is prepared for the tzadikkim in Olam Ha'bah, that they want to live in tranquility in Olam Hazeh [as well]?" But, even the tzaddik has to go through awesome struggles in this world.


His father Yaakov had a very difficult life filled with hardships. Yosef's hardships were in a sense even more painful and difficult to overcome. Yaakov Avinu's enemy was Lavan, his father-in-law who did not share his beliefs and customs. Yaakov Avinu taught us how to maintain our integrity in a foreign and hostile environment. How to be involved in the mundane world and elevate the hidden sparks of Godliness.

Yosef had to deal with the many tests that resulted from the jealousy and hatred of his own brothers! Yosef was tested by brothers who shared his beliefs and values, and yet because they had succumbed to jealousy and anger, they even plotted and attempted to do away with him. Like his father Yosef also found himself all alone in a foreign and hostile environment. Yet he not only maintained his righteousness, he rose to be viceroy – this is 'Yosef ha-Tzaddik'.

These stories are about opening our hearts to our children, opening our hearts to our brothers and sisters. It's the story about what happens when 'chas v'shalom' - may Hashem protect us and Bless us with 'shalom' - we close our hearts; when we close our hearts to our friends, maybe even to my brothers and sisters and maybe even sometimes to Hashem. And sometimes maybe even many times closed to myself; to my-'Self', to the part of me which is an essential "cheilek Elokah mima-al, mammash" – a veritable part of Hashem.

How are we to open our hearts again? If we closed them so easily why is it so hard to open them again? Why can’t they just stay open? Why does the door keep on slamming shut? Even deeper, how do i face a shut door? And if and when necessary, how am i supposed to close doors without shutting them, without shutting out someone close or far, without shutting myself out of my life, out of Hashem's Presence [which is actually impossible] out of real Life? GEVALT !!! GEVALT !!! Can I still find my way back home, to the home of my Soul?

Because of hatred and jealousy, Yosef was sold into slavery by his brothers. He also ended up being in prison for 12 years [one year for each of the twelve brothers, including himself]. But this story is not in the Torah to tell us about the bad things that brothers do to each other. The Torah teaches us these stories so that we should know what we have to fix, that we have to fix it and how to fix it.

When we do something bad and hurtful to someone, we believe a little less, we lose our self-respect and self-esteem. When someone does something bad and hurtful to me, often I lose my trust in good. Feelings of anger, revenge and rebellion are aroused, thinking that I have been forsaken 'chas ve'shalom'.

Yosef and his brothers are teaching us to do tshuvah and how to do it. Yosef, in spite of everything, continues to walk in the presence of Hashem and Hashem remains with him. Tamar teaches us to self sacrifice so as not to publicly embarrass someone. Yehudah teaches us not to give up. Reuven teaches us to feel regret and remorse, and all the brothers teach us teach us to recognize and admit our mistakes; to fix and appease.

Don’t give up!

Reuven, the ‘first-born’ son of Yaakov Avinu and Leah Imeinu had convinced his brothers to throw Yosef into the pit instead of murdering him. His intent was to return later in the evening to save Yosef and bring him home to his father. Reuven was not present when Yosef was sold as a slave; he was away tending to the flocks - when he returned, we read in the Torah…… :

כט: וַיָּשָׁב רְאוּבֵן אֶל-הַבּוֹר, וְהִנֵּה אֵין-יוֹסֵף בַּבּוֹר; וַיִּקְרַע, אֶת-בְּגָדָיו

ל: וַיָּשָׁב אֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיֹּאמַר: הַיֶּלֶד אֵינֶנּוּ, וַאֲנִי אָנָה אֲנִי-בָא

37:29-30 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit;

and he rent his clothes. And he returned unto his brethren, and said:

'The child is not; and as for me, whither shall I go?'

The Sfas Emes quotes the teaching from the ‘Psiktah Rabati, (3): “Reuven is the first one to open (the gates of) tshuvah.” The Sfas Emes [5664] explains that Reuven did complete tshuvah when he said “Whither shall I go?” One who does ‘tshuvah shleimah’- complete tshuvah, cannot find any place and existence for himself in this world, because of his transgression.

To explain this further he quotes a teaching from the Chiddushei Hari”m who explained the matter of ‘mistakes’: said that a baal tshuvah who realizes that because of his transgression he does not have a ‘place’ – Hashem, blessed be He, gives him a ‘place’ – a haven from his transgression. This is the aspect of ‘arei miklat’- cities of refuge. Hashem creates a ‘space’ of refuge for the true baal tshuvah, who sincerely humbles himself before Hashem.

Reuven was a tzaddik, he was righteous. Reuven was the first born to Leah. Yosef was the first born to Rachel. It was clear to him and to all the brothers that when Yaakov gave the ‘ketonet passim’ to Yosef, he was declaring Yosef to be his first born heir, and the next leader of the nation. Reuven accepted this and he sincerely wanted to save Yosef and return him to his father. But his plan did not succeed. And even though it was just an ‘accidental transgression’ on his part, he nevertheless was now a partner in this transgression of the brothers. Even so, he could no longer find a ‘place’ for himself: “wither shall I go?” Is there any place for me in the world? Wherever I go I will be driven away because of my transgression.

To the sincere baal tshuvah Hashem says “I will set for you a place of refuge, to flee to.” Reuven merited to open the gates of tshuvah and therefore merited that the very first ‘city of refuge’ was established in his territory.

Reuven teaches us that in real tshuvah, the issue is not about the baal tshuvah; it’s not about whether he can or cannot find an excuse for himself. What is important is to realize, in complete humility and sincerity, that the only thing that will help improve this world is to bring more of Hashem presence and holiness into the world. When the baal tshuvah realizes that he needs to make honest space for Hashem in his life and in the world, Hashem creates a new space for him, wherein he is deeply absorbed into Hashem. And so, he opens the gates of tshuvah. All the sins that came Reuven’s way, came to him so that he could teach us how to do tshuvah.

Yosef, in spite of everything, continues to walk in the presence of Hashem, trusting “gam zu l’tovah” – this too is for the good, and Hashem is with him throughout. Reuven opened the gates of tshuvah. Tamar teaches us that it is better to be thrown into a fire pit than to publicly embarrass someone. Yehudah teaches us not to give up. All the brothers teach us teach us to recognize our mistakes, take responsibility for them, to sincerely regret them and to appease.

The miracle of Channukah teaches us that there is a light deep inside of us that cannot be extinguished. It is Hashem's light. 'Ki lo yichbeh neiro l'olam va'ed'... for His candle will never be extinguished. But what are we to do when we are below ‘10 tfachim’? We have to pray for and truly desire Hashem's help, Hashem's light. We have to truly desire to find the 'shemen zayit tahor' and to rekindle the Menorah inside the holy of holies in the Temple in our heart. Channukah teaches us that if we do this we will succeed because Hashem's light is already there. As we have learned from Reb Nachman zt"l, the moment we sincerely seek Hashem's glory in whatever place and situation we find ourselves in, Hashem reveals His light and presence. That moment is Bereishis, the moment of beginning again, the moment of Infinite potential. "Yehi or" let there be light, there will be light.

Yosef was sent to Egypt ahead of his family "ki lemichyah shlachani Elokim lifneichem" – to be a life sustenance provider, both in the material and spiritual. Materialistically, he was able to provide his family with food and shelter. Spiritually, by withstanding the temptations of anger and the sexual seductions of Potiphar's wife, Yosef provided the spiritual energy and connection that the Children of Israel would need not to succumb to the spiritual impurity of Egypt that they would be living in for over two hundred years. Yosef was not alone in preparing this necessary spiritual landscape; Sarah Immeinu was the first one to begin this preparation for her descendants.

The Netivot Shalom concludes this teaching, saying that there is still much that we don't understand about our holy ancestors and we have to faithfully accept that they were all holy, as our saintly Rabbis have taught us.

Just like Yosef and his brothers eventually reconnected in full love, may we too in their merit and in the merit of Channukah and of Shabbos be blessed with family love and unity, and the love and unity of all of Israel. Amen.

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Parshat Va’yeishev 5773

“Va’yeishev Yakov b’eretz m’gurei aviv”

Yakov settled down in the land of his father’s dwelling ..... Rashi tells us that Yakov was looking forward to finally settling down and living a tranquil life..... ‘la’shevet’... to sit,

to settle down...... the exile had been a long and hard one, and the return to Eretz Yisrael, was difficult and filled with tragedy..... and now after all this had passed, Yakov was looking forward to living a more peaceful and quiet life.... he was no longer a young man... the Midrash cited in Rashi, continues: ‘tzaddikim’ want to live in peace and tranquility

[but] the Holy One Blessed Be He says “[is] it not enough what is prepared for the tzadikkim in Olam Ha’bah, that they want to live in tranquility in Olam Ha’zeh [as well]” .... even the tzaddik must go through awesome struggles in this world.

The 'Secret' of Yosef and His Brothers and The 'Secret' of Chanukah

Reb Shlomo zt"l used to say, "Maybe not every Jew is Kadosh- holy, but every Jew is Kodesh HaKodoshim- Holy of Holies"!!! This is the 'secret' of Chanukah. This is the 'secret' of Yosef and his brothers. This is the 'secret' of the Torah.

On the surface this week’s parsha, Va’yeishev, which opens the story of Joseph and his brothers, seems to be a story of a dysfunctional family 'chas v'shalom', plagued by jealousy, abuse and deception. Make no mistake! It is probably the deepest and most beautiful stories you’ll ever encounter. In Yiddish there is an expression, "chap nisht" [lit. don't grab] which sort of means, relax, you haven't gotten to the end of the story yet. We surely haven't gotten to the end of the Great Story, though we are very close. There are depths in this story that have yet to be discovered and revealed.

Chassidut teaches that on a higher plane Yosef and his brothers were arguing about which is the right spiritual pathway – or shall we say the most important of pathways in serving Hashem. Yet on the 'pshat'- literal level, the story as we read it simply does tell us of a family in great distress. But all this is just the opening setting of the real story. The story is not about what 'happened' already; rather, it's about the continuation, the continuity- "what do you do when you find yourself in such a situation. Do you give up? Do you rebel? If Yosef would have rebelled against Judaism when his brothers threw him into a deep pit full of snakes and scorpions, if he would never have spoken to his brothers again, would we fault him, would we not understand him? If his brothers, in their remorse, would have lost all self-confidence in ever 'fixing' brotherhood, in eve