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Boy, Do They Kvetch!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 8:40 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Rosh hashana 2.jpgLast week we had our first barbecue of the season for the young professionals. We had a great turnout—a few hundred people attended. 

One of our congregants volunteered to man the barbecue and after the event he told me, “Rabbi, that was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done! Everyone complained non-stop. If the hotdogs were ready, they wanted the burgers. If the burgers were ready they wanted the hotdogs. When everything was ready they wanted it cooked differently! The smoke was burning my eyes, I was sweating with exertion and the kvetching certainly didn’t help. One guy wanted his burger more cooked so he put it back on the grill, went away and forgot about it, and when he came back half an hour later it was burned, of course. Another guy pushed me out of the way so he could roast his marshmallows, while a third guy complained about the lack of beer and a fourth guy complained that there was not enough wine in the sangria. I nearly lost my cool multiple times over the evening, but somehow I managed to hold it together and make it through the night. You’d think these people were paying big money to demand such service, but the $20 charge doesn’t even cover half the expenses!” 

“Mike*,” I said, “I’m so glad you had this experience right now, before Rosh Hashanah. You see, G-d has chosen us as His beloved children, and all year long boy do we kvetch! We complain about anything and everything. But for the most part, G-d takes very good care of us. Every moment of life, health, sun and air is a gift, but more often than not we take it for granted and complain about all the things we don’t have and all the things that are not as perfect as we’d like them to be. 

“How do you think G-d feels about us when we behave like this? In fact, we are told that on the eve of Rosh Hashanah G-d’s enthusiasm for the world diminishes. Maybe the kvetching is a little too much. But then, Rosh Hashanah morning the piercing cry of the shofar, accompanied by our heartfelt prayers, emanates from all the synagogues, shattering through the heavens, straight to G-d Himself. When G-d hears the shofar, it’s as if nothing else exists. Suddenly, He yearns for us, His love rekindled. These same children who complain all year are now the apple of His eye. 

“What a valuable lesson, you learned, Mike—you experienced G-dliness.” 

L’chaim to a wonderful year for all of us, filled with holiness and happiness. Shana tovah!

*Name changed to protect privacy. 

 

I Forgot My Pants!

Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 9:29 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10376915_10152341176207584_4913930782077071452_n.jpgLast week I travelled to Israel to celebrate my niece's wedding. I also used the opportunity to visit some army bases and wounded soldiers. Visiting these brave heroes who put their lives on the line during Operation Protective Edge was moving and uplifting. 

As we prepared for departure at Newark airport, my brother Yossi realized he forgot to pack his tefillin! In true brotherly fashion I began ribbing him, "How do you forget your tefillin?! It's the first thing you should pack! You've been using them every day (bar Shabbat) since you turned thirteen. How could you forget something so important?" I wouldn't let him live this one down. 

Of course, he made plans to borrow from someone for the three mornings we'd be away, making sure the tefillin he'd be using would be on par with his own. 

Most of the passengers on our flight were Jewish, so we offered them all the opportunity to put on tefillin during the flight, which gave me ample time to tease my brother some more.  

When we arrived in Israel and began to prepare for the wedding, I made a stunning realization. I took a shower, opened my suitcase to take out my Shabbat clothes, and lo and behold I had left my dress pants back in New York! Oops.

I didn't have enough time to go out and buy a new pair, so I had to make do with the same pair of weekday pants I flew in. 

To say I felt foolish would be an understatement. Here I'd spent the flight good naturedly ribbing my brother for forgetting his tefillin and here I am pants-less! And tefillin are probably a whole lot easier to borrow. They are one-size-fits-all, whereas pants need to be specific to the individual. 

In just one week we'll be celebrating the holy and awesome day of Rosh Hashanah. This is the time to look back, analyze our past behavior and clean up our act. We have to deeply and honestly analyze our faults and sins and resolve to work towards rectifying them. 

We are, in fact, experts at identifying faults--those of our family and friends. Most of us can easily fill pages explaining exactly what is wrong with those around us. This one gossips, that one does business crookedly, the other one doesn't treat his wife well. But when it comes to our own faults and imperfections, suddenly we are clueless and blind. Me? Sin? Are you serious? And when someone points it out to us, we have dozens of explanations and excuses. 

This Rosh Hashanah, we want to stand in front of G-d with a clean slate. So, as we prepare, let's try to switch things around and look at ourselves with a critical, honest eye while seeing others more gently and forgivingly. Surely this will help us start the new year off on the right foot. 

No Feeding the Monkeys

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 9:28 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

774853311_b2450a5501.jpgI just got back from a wonderful trip to South Africa. While there, we visited the Pilanesberg Safari, spending several days in the wild, where we could see lions, buffalos, zebras, giraffes and other animals living in their natural habitat. What an awe-inspiring experience! It's a fantastic way to shut off from the rest of the world and really get in tune with nature and oneself. 

At night we slept in chalets, and on our first morning we awoke to the sound of the door being rattled from the outside; someone was trying to get in. I grew up in South Africa when there was lots of crime, so I immediately assumed a thief was trying to break in. I called out, "Who's there?" but received no response. We opened the door and, lo and behold, a giant ape was standing right on our doorstep! Another 50 or so monkeys were roaming around the camp ground looking for food, and we soon discovered that they'd broken into another chalet and helped themselves to the food they found inside. 

That group of monkeys seemed to follow us around for the next couple of days, and even when we went indoors they would come right up to the windows. But when I asked the staff if we could give them some of our leftovers, they pointed to the signs all over the camp - "No Feeding the Monkeys." They explained that if the visitors were allowed to feed the monkeys, soon they'd get used to being given food and would eventually stop being able to fend for themselves. Ultimately, we would be killing them. Although feeding them seems kind, it would actually be cruel. 

We are currently in the Jewish month of Elul - the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. During this period, we blow the shofar every day to awaken our souls and remind us to repent in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when G-d will judge the world and determine our future. 

It's a time to reflect on our behavior, accomplishments and spirituality over the past year and resolve to correct our misdeeds. It's a time when we have to do the work ourselves. No one can "feed" us. No one can change our behavior for us, no one can wipe the slate clean for us. 

Sometimes we wish G-d would reveal Himself to us, give us a sign He is watching over us. It would be so much easier to keep kosher, put on tefillin and observe Shabbat if we could see His presence. But no. No feeding the monkeys! G-d wants us to do it entirely ourselves. 

Only when we do the hard work on our own will we truly be ready to receive all the blessings G-d grants us over the High Holidays. We must spend the current month, Elul, fashioning ourselves into vessels worthy of receiving His blessings. 

This is the time carefully analyze our behavior over the past 11 months and take the time to recommit to our Father in Heaven. We have two weeks left. Let's make the most of them. 

Steven Sotloff, Talented Journalist & Proud Jew

Thursday, September 04, 2014 - 11:47 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

chi-steven-sotloff-beheading-video-20140902-001.jpegTragically, Steven Sotloff made national and world news this week after ISIS released a video showing his beheading. Steven was a 31-year-old American journalist, and, we now know, the grandson of Holocaust survivors. He travelled to Israel in 2005, studied at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, later accepting Israeli citizenship and becoming a contributor to The Jerusalem Report, a sister-publication to The Jerusalem Post.

A year ago he was kidnapped in Syria. Immediately, his friends and family went to all lengths to hide any trace of his Jewish identity. They combed his online presence and removed anything that could potentially link him to Israel or Judaism. Over 150 people, speaking 20 different languages, joined the effort. They looked through his Facebook page, Twitter account and all his articles. Anything that could potentially endanger him was immediately taken down.

But Steven Sotloff had a powerful Jewish soul, and regardless of how many articles were taken down, and how much effort was made to remove any trace of Jewishness from his online presence, his soul burned bright. Last year on Yom Kippur, Steven risked his life to fast and pray. Even though his captors served him eggs, he feigned illness and didn't eat. He even managed to pray facing Jerusalem! He observed the direction in which his captors prayed, then adjusted the angle accordingly.

Yom Kippur is the day when, regardless of how far we may have strayed, we return to G-d and beg his forgiveness for our sins. This is the day that, in the most desperate of circumstances, Steven chose to connect to G-d despite the great risk to his very life. This was Steven Sotloff - talented journalist and proud, proud Jew.

We are currently in the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is the time to reconnect with G-d, regardless of how distant we may have been during the other 11 months of the year. We may have let our connection to G-d dwindle, but now is the time to reignite it. During Elul we blow the shofar to awaken our souls and remind us who we are and what we should be doing. It is a month when we peel away the layers we've built up and get in touch with who we really are our core. Steven Sotloff did just that. Held in captivity, in brutal conditions, his soul burned bright, his relationship with G-d vibrant and alive.

Our hearts go out to Steven's family and friends at this difficult time. Let's honor his memory by following his lead. If Steven was able to pray while being held captive by barbaric monsters, certainly we, who live in luxurious freedom, can pray and connect with our heritage. As we gear up for the High Holidays, let's make an effort to tune in to our souls and reconnect to G-d, in memory of Steven.

If You Are Reading This, It Means I Have Ended My Career

Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 10:35 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

ShowImage.jpeg“If you are reading this, it means I have ended my career.” These were the words written by First Sergeant Daniel Pomerantz, one of eight Golani soldiers killed when the a missile hit their armored personnel carrier in Gaza, in a final note he left for his family before going into Gaza.

This was a young boy! Daniel was just 20 years old, virtually still a child with his entire life ahead of him, but he committed to dedicating three years of his life to serve for his country before settling down.

As I read his words, I tried to imagine what could have possibly gone through this young man’s mind as he wrote this letter to his parents and prepared to enter one of the most dangerous places in the world – Gaza, a place crawling with Hamas monsters who are ruthless and simply want to kill as many Jews as possible. What could he write? Who could even put pen to paper in that situation?

Perhaps he would write, “I wish I didn’t have to serve in the army.” Or maybe, “I wish I was born in a different country,” or even, “I wish I weren’t Jewish.”

But no. He begins, “I never imagined that I would have to write something like this. That probably says it all already. What can I write? What can I add to these words?”

And then he astounds me. Facing the very real prospect of losing his life, he writes, “You should know I am happy. I am happy with the choices I’ve made. I’m happy to be serving in the Golani unit.”

Instead of second guessing his situation, he is proud and happy to be playing an instrumental role in securing his country’s safety, even at risk to his own life.

Wow.

The tragic irony is that Daniel’s mother, Varda Pomerantz, is the former head of the IDF casualty branch, where part of her job entailed informing families of the death of their loved ones. At her son’s funeral she said that she always had a terrible feeling that one day she would be the one being informed, and then in their last phone call he mentioned that he left her a note in case something happens…

We are currently observing the annual 9 day mourning period leading up to the 9th of Av, the day we mark the destruction of our two Holy Temples. For close to 2000 years we have been subjected to a terrible, bitter exile. We’ve had to endure all manner of persecution and ruthless enemies in their attempts to destroy us. The Spanish inquisition, the Crusades, Stalin, Hitler, Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Hamas, Hezbolla, Iran and more. But despite the immense pain and tragedy we’ve faced, as a nation we’ve survived.

Daniel’s message is our message and it’s our job to internalize it. “I want you to know I am happy,” he wrote. This, then, is our job. To be happy despite the fact that we are at war, to remain positive in the face of biased media reporting and to spread joy even though we are misunderstood, mischaracterized and criticized. For Daniel’s sake, for the sake of all the other murdered and wounded soldiers, we must stay upbeat and hopeful. Happy.

We are happy to be Jews. Happy to be the chosen nation. Happy to have our dear Father in Heaven. Happy to be his children.

We hope and pray every day for the coming of Moshiach, where we will be able to finally experience the ultimate form of happiness and joy!

Let’s keep Daniel’s legacy alive by holding onto that happiness, appreciating the good in our lives, making good choices and living without regret.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Tunnels Of Love

Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 10:09 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10517465_509096359223034_8228915784394298501_n.jpgThe current war with Hamas is focusing on a new and frightening element, one which did not feature prominently in any previous war. Until now, our wars have included soldier-to-soldier combat, tanks, planes, bridges, ships, airports and weapons, but during Operation Protective Edge much of the focus has been on a new threat: the tunnels.

For the first time, the threat is not above ground, it's hidden below. Over the years Hamas has created a virtual labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ground. The deadly network originates from basements and private homes in Gaza and extends into Israel - a tool for mass terrorist attacks against Jews.

In order to counter this threat, the IDF has had to dig deep, under hospitals, mosques and private homes, where they've discovered caches of weapons, guns, machine guns, RPG rocket launchers, tranquilizers, IDF uniforms and more - all deadly weapons with the potential to inflict untold harm on the Jewish nation.

Operation Protective Edge has exposed these tunnels, but it has also created a new kind of tunnel: tunnels of love.

During this war, we've dug deep into ourselves and discovered powerful tunnels of love crisscrossing our nation, connecting us to one another and to our brothers and sisters in Israel. We are, regardless of outward differences, a nation that cares deeply.

My brother, Dr Motti Vigler, chief of hand surgery at Rabin medical center, dropped everything this week in order to attend the funeral of someone he had never met. Lone soldier Sean Carmeli was killed in battle, and his family all live in America. When my brother arrived, he discovered 20,000 people had come to the funeral to honor this brave hero.

A day later another lone soldier, Max Steinberg, was killed, and 30,000 people showed up for his funeral as well. And the tunnels of love continue to expand and extend. At the shiva, 300 people, almost all of them complete strangers, showed up to comfort the parents of these brave young men. Strangers on the streets show an incredible amount of care and concern for one another, even during these most stressful times. A stranger uses his body to shield a father and son from a rocket attack. Breslever chassidim dance with soldiers on the front lines. Chabad brings care packages. People from all walks of life, from all over the world, are connecting through tunnels of love and compassion to provide the IDF soldiers with whatever they need.

Hamas may have built tunnels of terror, but we are building and maintaining tunnels of love. We may be different on the outside - one seems to be chareidi, another secular; one is a likudnik, the other is Chassidic - but when it really matters, we know how to ignore the external differences and dig deep, focusing on our commonalities: we are one nation, with one heart and one soul.

We are currently in the annual three week period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple. The Temple was destroyed because of acts of wanton hatred, and it will be rebuilt through acts of love and kindness.

So, nu, G-d, what are you waiting for?!

My thanks to Rabbi Mendel Prus & Yaara Bank-Plotkin for the inspiration of this article.

Must our Brothers Fight Alone?

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 7:02 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10384097_797956533571897_4392162689983165917_n.jpgIn my weekly blog I usually try to connect current events with the weekly parshah, but this week I struggled. So much has already been written about the war in Israel. The differences between Hamas and the IDF have been explored at length. Hamas puts children directly in harm's way, while Israel goes to incredible lengths to protect civilians. What more could I add?

So I texted  my friend, Fred, "Got any ideas for my blog this week?"

He shot back, "I love your blog! Reading them is the highlight of my week! But the last few weeks you've been too militant."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Every week lately you've been writing about Hamas! First Hamas kidnapped the teens, then you wrote about the UN, and then the need for Israel to use more force. I love your blogs that are personal and relatable, but I find the war blogs irrelevant to my life."

In this week's Torah portion the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moses to grant them land outside of Israel where they will have plenty of pasture for their flocks. Moses reacts strongly and angrily. "Will your brothers go to war and conquer Israel while you remain here peacefully?" So the tribes promised to leave their families and join the war, which they did years later when Joshua conquered the land. They left everything behind to help their brothers and sisters.

Our nation is at war. I spoke to my sister-in-law today. She wishes her children could start sleeping properly at night without being woken by sirens with less than a minute to get to a bomb shelter. My cousins in Israel are all traumatized, as are their children. It is only because of the incredible miracles we are seeing that we haven't had thousands of casualties.

There's no doubt about it, Israel is under attack. Hamas hates every Jew in the world, make no mistake about it. If they could, they would happily send rockets flying at us as well. This war is not just Israel's war. It is our war.

Moses resounding cry should reverberate in our ears. "Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?!" Should our brothers and sisters in Israel face this war alone while we sit here comfortably in our penthouses?

In fact, this week I logged onto our Belev Echad Facebook page, which we only started a few months ago and haven't marketed yet. I noticed that Hamas supporters had attacked many posts with virulent anti-Semitism and despicable words. So yes, the war is personal.

If we can't fight physically, we can fight spiritually. The very minimum we can do is some extra mitzvot for our soldiers. Put on tefillin for Israel. Put up a mezuzah. Eat a kosher meal. Give extra charity. In fact, we've set up a website where you can donate to send care packages to IDF soldiers in Gaza to help lift their spirits. Do a mitzvah for Israel right now!

World Cup Final – Israel vs. Hamas

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 3:02 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10451121_10152532248923057_8264431332991170414_n.jpgWorld Cup fever has overtaken the world. When I ask congregants to help make a minyan, they tell me, "Rabbi, Italy's playing, I can't come!" And then when I ask them to join a Torah class it's "France is playing..." Fortunately, the final is right around the corner and then we'll have our congregants back.

I belong to a South African Whatsapp group which is normally pretty quiet. Over the last few weeks, however, it has been buzzing virtually non-stop as people comment on every aspect of every game. I was forced to mute the group because after every game I had hundreds of messages! Now, maybe if Zimbabwe's team had made it to the World Cup I'd be more interested... 

The World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world, but as the chosen nation we are currently playing a very different and much more dangerous "game." Israel vs. Hamas. And we are not spectators. We are active participants!

Hamas has fired more than 365 rockets into Israel over the last 72 hours. Because of Israel's amazing "goalie" - the Iron Dome - most of those have been intercepted. Miraculously, when a rocket scored a direct hit on a home in Southern Israel, the family was away in Eilat and nobody was killed.

Unlike the World Cup which began in 1930, Israel has been playing its soccer game for over 4,000 years. And there have been many captains over the years - Moses, David, Joshua, Gidon, etc.

If there's one thing we can learn from soccer it's this:

To win, you cannot play defense.

Israel has played defense for far too long. The country is currently in crisis, being barraged by Hamas rockets at all times of day and night. Most of the country is being forced to run to bomb shelters multiple times a day - at work, at camp, at home, in the middle of weddings, bar mitzvahs and brit milahs - and they have only 15 seconds to reach shelter. This cannot continue!

We need to end this situation, and in order to win you cannot play defense.

In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish people were involved in another "World Cup." This time it wasn't Hamas, it was their Midianites enemies, and G-d instructed, "You shall smite them." And they did. They went all out and destroyed the evil Midianites. When facing enemy attack, the only way to win is to play offense and make sure they will never dare attack again.

Since its inception in 1987, Hamas has launched terror attacks against Israel, and Israel has never played offense. We have defended ourselves and destroyed a few targets. But in order to finally win the "game" we have to give them such a powerful blow they will never attack us again. That is what Moses, Joshua, Gidon, David and all the other captains did when they played against our enemies - the Emorites, Egyptians, Ammonites, etc.

In this week's Torah portion Pinchas kills two perpetrators, and G-d says, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace." The only way to true peace is to obliterate the enemy.

The same holds true of our spiritual lives. We can help Israel by playing spiritual offense. Come to shul this Shabbat, put on tefillin today, light Shabbat candles, go to a Torah class. All these acts will help us win the war.

Let's hope and pray that the current government in Israel will do the right thing, will do what is necessary to once and for all win the game against Hamas! Ultimately we know that we have the best goalie in the world. It is not the Iron Dome, certainly not the USA, but the almighty G-d. The G-d of our forefathers has saved us and protected us for the last 5000 years, and we know that he is protecting us right now!

"Hinei lo yanum velo yishan shomer yisrael!"- The guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.

*Thank you to the South African Whatsapp group for some of the ideas in this article!

I Have Been Kidnapped!

Thursday, July 03, 2014 - 10:21 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

nf_3493_41837.jpgShock.
Horror.
Tragedy.
Outrage. 

There are literally no words that can accurately describe the profound loss we feel this week.

For 18 days, I checked the news first thing each morning to see if the boys had been found. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have been in our hearts and on our minds virtually non-stop. We prayed fervently and wholeheartedly that our boys would be found alive. I listened to Eyal's grandfather pray at a rally with 10,000 people. When I heard him scream from the depths of his heart, I was sure the heavens would pierce open.

But after 18 days we received the shocking, brutal news that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali had been shot dead in cold blood just hours after they were abducted. We were brought to tears when Rachel Frankel, Naftali's mother, cried, "Rest in peace, my dear son," 

We also finally heard the phone call Gilad placed shortly after entering the car. He was able to call the police and whisper, "I've been kidnapped." In the background are Arab voices screaming, "Put your heads down!" and then shots are fired, which is when the boys were most likely killed. 

But the police center did not react. They thought it was a prank call. The call should have created an emergency alert, mobilizing every Israeli agency from the Shin Bet to Shabak, the IDF to the police. Instead, it was ignored. Every single person involved in security should have been woken and put on alert, but alas, the call was ignored and the kidnappers had a 10 hour head start, resulting in an 18 day manhunt and the kidnappers are still at large.

In this week's Torah portion the Jewish nation is likened to a lioness, crouching in the field, ready to pounce. Often we lie dormant, but when the call comes, we wake up and pounce. 

While Gilad wasn't able to initially mobilize the police force, he was certainly able to mobilize the global Jewish community. There are rare moments in life where we get "that call" - a call to action. This was one of them. “I have been kidnapped.” The call of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali grabbed hold of us, shaking us to the core, refusing the loosen its grip. And even though we, as a nation, disagree sharply on so many things, this call mobilized us as a single unit. We responded as one nation, with one heart. One family. We prayed, studied Torah, lit Shabbat candles, put on tefillin and committed to keeping new mitzvot in their merit. 

For 18 days it didn't matter if you live in Japan, South Korea, Alaska, America or Israel. It didn't matter which branch of Judaism you identify with or which community you belong to. The truth became abundantly clear - we are all Jewish and we are all in this together. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali awakened us and we pounced. 

The unity that prevailed is unprecedented. The immense power of social media enabled us to connect with one another, pray together and cry together. And then tragedy struck. But that does not mean we should abandon the call. No, instead, we should listen and internalize it.

We read in the Torah this week, that the Jewish people are a "nation that dwells alone." We saw that too, over the last 18 days. Nobody cares about us like we do, but the love and care we have for each other stretches across the entire globe. Let's make a concerted effort to continue what Eyal, Gilad and Naftali started - unparalleled love and unity through all segments of the Jewish population. When we are truly united, nothing can stand in our way. 

We continue to demand from our dear Father in Heaven #bringbackourboys, bring Moshiach and redeem us from this bitter and dark exile, when we will be reunited with Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

Israeli Mothers In Den Of Wolves And Hyenas

Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 10:01 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10409414_10152383734537039_8257990792048564455_n.jpgThe mothers of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, the three abducted teenagers, travelled to the UNHRC in Geneva this week, where Rachel Frenkel, mother of Naftali, passionately implored the international community to put greater pressure on those responsible.

These brave women waged a desperate attempt to explain to the world that Palestinian terrorists kidnapped not soldiers or militants, but young students - a criminal act which blatantly violates every human rights law. 

It was shockingly horrific to watch UN representative after representative mock these poor mothers who had just poured out their hearts and souls.

One after the next, representatives from Syria, Iran, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Russia, China, Cuba, and of course the Palestinian representative, attacked the three Israeli women and accused Israel of every possible - and impossible - crime against the Arab and Palestinian people. They accused Israel of being the biggest human rights violator in the world.

The Palestinian spokesperson screamed, "Why did the Israeli women come? Is there no room in Geneva for the 5,000 mothers of Palestinians?" Is she saying Israel kidnapped or murdered 5,000 young Palestinian students? When and where did this happen? As we know, those inciting against Israel don't let facts stand in their way.

In fact, they had the audacity to blame the kidnapping on Israel(!) because Israel has been "occupying" their land since 1948. What a ludicrous and dishonest portrayal! But it is certainly nothing new. For 60 years the Arab world has been calling us thieves, claiming we stole their land and built our country on Islamic soil.

Well, let me tell you something, dear UN. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped near  Chevron area  and  the IDF search has focused mainly on the Chevron area. My father is an 8th generation Yerushalmi, and his great-grandmother Chaya Bluma Rikel lived in Chevron in 1929. My family is descended from Menucha Rochel Slonim, the Alter Rebbe's granddaughter, who immigrated to Israel and settled in Chevron in 1845.

So long before Israel declared independence and was accused of "infringing on the rights of the poor Palestinian refugees," long before the IDF was even established, my family was living in Chevron, and here's what happened:

On August 24, 1929, local Arabs went on a murderous rampage, butchering and massacring Jews, ransacking homes and synagogues. At the time, 20,000 people were living in Chevron, only 700 of whom were Jews. By the time the massacre ended, 67 Jews lay dead - their homes and synagogues destroyed. Why were they murdered? Simply for being Jews.

Chaya Bluma Rikel's first cousin was Rabbi Dov Slonim, who was extremely well connected and friendly with the Arab leaders. He sheltered about 30 Jews in his home that day, because he'd been promised many times he would never be harmed by the Arabs. But on that fateful morning he, and all the Jews with him, were brutally murdered. Why? Simply for being Jewish! 

Following the horrific massacre, the Jews were forced to leave Chevron, until in 1967 G-d performed a tremendous miracle and returned Chevron to the Jews. At that time, the Arabs were sure the returning Jews would try to take revenge for the massacre, but no. The Jews, who the UN claims are the biggest human rights abusers, let their Arab neighbors live in peace. In fact, they have more rights there than their Arab brothers in most other places.

In 1929 while my family was slaughtered, the British stood idly by. And nothing has changed. Terrorists from Chevron have kidnapped our boys and the world stands idly by. So no, we will not "show restraint." We will do whatever is necessary to bring back our boys.

We know this land is our land. The only reason Jews travelled perilously from Odessa, Vilna, Warsaw etc. to the land of Israel is because G-d gave His holy land to us, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which is stated clearly in the Torah.

We know we'll persevere, we know we'll survive. The tremendous outpouring of unity, love and concern from Jews worldwide proves that nothing can destroy us.

#Bringbackourboys now! May Eyal, Naftali and Gilad be reunited with their families and all of Am Yisrael, immediately!

Eyal, Gilad & Naftali We Are With You

Thursday, June 19, 2014 - 12:57 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Screen-Shot-2014-06-18-at-11.11.36-AM.pngIt's been a full week since our boys - Eyal (19), Gilad (16) and Naftali (16) - were abducted by Hamas terrorists from a bus stop on their way home for Shabbat. 

Our dear friend Ban Ki Moon (secretary general of the UN) has the audacity to say he has no evidence the boys were kidnapped, and the rest of the world has been largely silent. Even the US is telling Israel to show restraint. 

The global Jewish community, however, has banded together, united in outrage, courage and prayer. We feel the pain of the teens and their families intimately. Their agony is our agony, their loss our loss. 

I watched Iris Yifrach, Eyal's mother, speak at a press conference on national television. What would her message be, I wondered. She is suffering unimaginably. Her son, who she has loved, cared for, and raised for 19 years has been snatched by cruel, despicable terrorists, and she has no idea where he is or what he's going through. This is every mother's nightmare, a torturous reality. How would she have the courage to speak? I was certain she would not be able to utter a sound. 

But when I watched, I was astounded to see her strength and determination. Despite the pain in her heart and the worry in her eyes, despite the crushing agony and palpable distress, she was not broken down. She appeared strong and composed, and I was able to draw strength from her. 

"Our Jewish people, we love you with all our hearts. I'm begging from the bottom of my heart, continue to pray! 

"Our Eyali, we love you! The Jewish world is praying for you. Look what a beautiful people! Give a strong hug to Gilad and Naftali. 

"Thanks so much to everyone." 

Over the past week, Jews worldwide have stormed the heavens with prayer, beseeching G-d to return the boys safe and sound. Chabad started a mitzvah campaign and so far 3,364 people have pledged a mitzvah in the merit of their safe return. 

G-d willing, they will be found safe and sound, very soon. 

This week's Torah portion conveys the importance of prayer. Korach led an open mutiny against Moses. He was strong, intelligent and charismatic, and managed to persuade hundreds of people to join his rebellion. 

When he challenged Moses' leadership, Moses had to tell G-d not to listen. But why? Surely G-d would not listen to an evil person like Korach. 

But our sages explain that if Korach prayed from the depths of his heart, it would be difficult for G-d not to listen, because He listens to all prayers, even those of evil people. 

The power of prayer is immense. 

If we all unite in heartfelt prayer, surely G-d will have no choice but to listen to us! 

Over the weekend, the families of the three boys will be given the list of all the mitzvot people have committed to. If you haven't yet signed up, please do so now. It will give them tremendous encouragement and support. 

Am yisrael chai! May our collective prayers be answered, fully and speedily.

My Deepest Regret

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 11:29 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

PLDl1349436.jpgWhen I was 14, my classmates organized a trip to New York to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe, leader of the Chabad movement. Living in Johannesburg, South Africa, with two Israeli parents, I'd been on several family trips to Israel, but never to New York.

For two years we'd been discussing this trip, and figuring out the best time to go. Unfortunately, on March 2, 1992, the Rebbe suffered a stroke and became unable to speak. Until now, the Rebbe had been giving public, in-depth Torah talks to thousands of people on a regular basis. On Sundays the Rebbe stood for hours handing out dollars and giving blessings to scores of people, some of whom had travelled thousands of miles to be there. The giving of the dollars was to encourage people to give money to charity. People would keep the dollar from the Rebbe, and in its place give a dollar (or more) to charity. The Rebbe also met with individuals one-on-one, late into the nights, to give guidance and blessings.

But after the Rebbe's stroke in March 1992, all this stopped, and we found ourselves divided. Half the group wanted to postpone our trip to New York until the Rebbe had recovered and resumed giving dollars and blessings. The other half felt we should travel immediately, regardless. At the time, Rabbi Shalom Ber Groner, one of South Africa's senior Chabad rabbis, said, "A chassid doesn't wait. When he has the opportunity to see the Rebbe, he goes."

I was part of the group that decided to wait for the Rebbe's recovery so that we could see more of the Rebbe. Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity, because the Rebbe remained unable to speak until his passing two years later on the 3rd of Tammuz 5754, June 12, 1994.

Ultimately, the first time I visited New York was one year later, on the Rebbe's first yahrtzeit. My deepest regret in life is that I never saw the Rebbe. I strongly regret not taking that trip, because I missed out on meeting the person who has shaped my life, my community, and much of world Jewry over the past century.

But even though I never saw the Rebbe, my entire life has been influenced by the Rebbe. It was the Rebbe's vision to send Chabad families, as emissaries, to communities all over the world, to help instigate and revitalize Jewish life, even in the most remote, far-flung areas. The Rebbe believed that each Jew was of equal importance, and fired up his chassidim with a mission - find every Jew and love them. Teach them the beauty of the Torah and the power of a single mitzvah.

Our Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side would not exist if not for the Rebbe's global vision. My father is also one of the Rebbe's emissaries and has been doing the Rebbe's work in Johannesburg for the last 40 years. Most of my siblings are Chabad emissaries. My parents-in-law and my wife's siblings are all emissaries across the globe. It was my dream and passion to become part of the Rebbe’s global army by becoming one of his emissaries. 

On July 1, 2014, we'll be marking 20 years since the Rebbe's passing. And although the Rebbe is no longer physically present, his teachings and guidance continue to lead the Chabad movement globally.

Over the last 20 years, Chabad has grown exponentially. There are currently 4,000 Chabad centers worldwide, and Chabad is considered the largest Jewish organization by far. Joseph Telushkin has just published a book entitled, "The Rebbe: the most influential rabbi in modern history," which is already high on the best seller list before it has even been released!

A few weeks ago I visited the Rebbe's resting place in Queens, with our Belev Echad wounded soldiers. I invited the Rebbe's personal secretary, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel, to come with us and offer some words of encouragement to our brave heroes. After meeting these soldiers, who have sacrificed so much for their country and their people, Rabbi Krinsky was so moved he decided to give them a very unique gift.

In 1990, in honor of Lag BaOmer, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Krinsky to print special coins to be given out at the parade. They had to rush the order, but the coins were ready in time and the Rebbe handed them out to the chassidim. Rabbi Krinsky still had some of the extra coins, and he decided to give them to our delegation. The soldiers and I felt honored to have received a precious memento from the Rebbe, 20 years after his passing. I felt as if I was getting a precious coin from the Rebbe with all the blessings that it entails, something that I missed out on when the Rebbe was physically alive.

We know that a righteous person lives on. Only the physical body leaves, but the Rebbe continues to be with us, giving us blessings and strength to continue carrying out his holy mission.

As we mark the Rebbe's 20th yahrtzeit, this is the time to commit, or recommit, to his primary teachings - love every Jew unconditionally, and welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness and kindness.

Why Do You RSVP at the Last Minute?!

Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 11:50 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10322654_786443931379839_3408573442056438560_n.jpgIt was Sunday, Lag BaOmer, and the day of our rooftop barbecue for the young professionals in our community. Our guests of honor were the 10 severely wounded IDF soldiers we were hosting as part of our annual Belev Echad program.

Everything was ready. We'd received permissions from the city to light the bonfire on the rooftop overlooking Manhattan, the caterer  had been hired, food bought and thousands of dollars spent.

But although we'd advertised the event for months, 24 hours before the event we only had 30 reservations! Nevertheless, when the caterer called me for a final number, I told him to prepare food for 150, because I know often people reserve at the last minute.

And I was right.

Starting Sunday morning, 12 hours before the event, the reservations began to pour in by the minute. The numbers quickly rose...50...100...150...200...

The caterer came and began to set up and I told him, "I think we need more food..." Fortunately, he was willing and able to be flexible and resourceful at the last minute and get the food we needed.

Two hours before the event the reservations continued to pour in...200...250...300...350...400!

I expected last minute, but this was overdoing it!

We ended up with 400 people, 90% of whom reserved less than 12 hours before the event. And I found myself thinking, "Why on earth would so many people do that?!"

In fact, I'd say this is one of the most stressful aspects of running a Chabad house (or any event, as any party planner will tell you). People simply don't RSVP.

So I went over and asked my friend Sarah*, "When did you book?"

"At 4pm today, just two hours before the event," she answered.

"Do you realize this is a major event?" I asked.

"Of course! That's why I came!"

"Do you realize it takes months of preparation to pull off an event of this magnitude?"

"Yes! Thank you so much. It's wonderful, I'm having a fabulous time," she reassured me.

"Did you see how many Facebook messages and emails I sent asking people to register for the event?" I continued.

"Yes, that's why I came!" she said again.

"So why on earth did you wait till the very last minute to reserve?!"

And finally I got my answer.

"Well, I figured I'm only one person," she explained. "What difference would it make to you if I reserve at the last minute, as long as everyone else reserves in a timely fashion. What's the big deal?"

I thought about it, and it's true. We often don't RSVP to events and parties, not because we want to cause our hosts anguish, but because we simply don't realize they are waiting for our answer. We see ourselves as a single individual, but we don't realize everyone else is thinking the same way! I myself have RSVP'd to events at the last minute for the very same reason.

                                                             ----------------

 In a few days time we'll be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot when we read the 10 commandments.

The first one reads, "I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of Egypt." Interestingly, the verse reads "your G-d" in the singular ("Elokecha"), rather than in the plural ("Elokechem"), which would have made more sense grammatically.

This word choice teaches us that every single Jew counts. Every individual has a direct connection with G-d. We all count. We each have a unique mission to fulfill, and we each contribute to the overall goal - making this world a dwelling place for G-d.

Let's not think that our RSVP doesn't count, or that we can't make a difference. Every single act that every single person does, is relevant and important for the running of the world and the wellbeing of the entire Jewish nation.

Rabbi, Can You Host Myself & 19 Others On Friday Night?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - 11:27 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

1549460_769185563115661_218785305013009118_n.jpgOn August 7, 2010, I received a phone call from Steven* who I knew pretty well. 

"Rabbi, what are your plans for Shabbat?" he asked. 

Well, it was one of the hottest weeks of the summer and we hadn't been away at all. We'd worked all year and run camp all summer and we were looking forward to going away to Upstate New York to spend Shabbat with family. 

But then Steven asked, "Can I invite myself for Shabbat dinner?"

I thought for a minute and said, "Yes, ok."

Then he added, "Well, can I invite my cousin as well? And my parents and my uncles and my friends..." And before I knew it 20 people were included in the invitation!

Steve explained that his cousin just got married and they needed a place to host sheva brachot on Friday night. I was a bit taken aback, but agreed to host the event. 

So my wife cooked a beautiful meal for 20 of Steven's guests and we really hit it off with the young couple. We not only hosted them for Friday night, but we also did a sheva brachot for them on Shabbat day in our shul. 

Well, when you do a mitzvah G-d always rewards you. Not always immediately and not always in a clear way. But He does. 

In this case, it quickly became clear. The young couple became regular shul goers and ended up volunteering tens, if not hundreds, of hours at many of our events and programs. 

Over the years our relationship with Steven has grown and strengthened, and he has become a strong supporter of ours. This year when he attended our Belev Echad program, and saw first-hand the wounded soldiers that we are helping, he felt tremendously proud to have sponsored one of the soldiers. It is the best thing he's done since landing in New York, he said. 

Often, when we think we're doing a favor for another, in truth the other person is helping us. The other person is allowing you to a mitzvah, and while it may seem like you are the giver, you are really the receiver. At the time, making that sheva brachot felt like doing Steven a huge favor, but the favors he and his cousins have done for us since then far outweigh our sheva brachot meal!

Our community just finished hosting 10 severely wounded IDF soldiers. And while we think we were the givers - giving them 10 days to forget about their pain and worries, truthfully they gave us so much more. They gave us the opportunity to learn from their strength and resilience. They are truly the cream of the IDF crop - men of remarkable spirit and fortitude, and the time we spent with them made us better people. 

We are gearing up for the holiday of Shavuot, when the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai "Like one man with one heart." They were so united, it was as if they shared a single mind, body and soul. As they prepared to receive the Torah, the differences between them melted away completely. 

We, too, at our core, love each other the way the Jews at Sinai loved one another - without restriction or petty details. 

By going out of our way to do favors for one another, we can rekindle that unity and bring it to the surface once more, as we prepare to re-receive the Torah on Shavuot. 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. 

"I was slapped for crying at the funeral of my best friend"

Thursday, May 08, 2014 - 11:50 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Israel2.jpgA few weeks ago I posted a picture on my Facebook wall, showing an Israeli soldier crying at a funeral. The picture was highly evocative and I captioned it, "A picture speaks more than 1000 words."

Within minutes a dear friend and congregant asked me to take the picture down.

He explained:

"I served in the Golani brigade in the IDF. Initially, we were strangers, but within the first few months we became friends. And when we served on a mission together, our bond grew so deep and powerful, we became closer than brothers.

"After two years, one of my closest friends in the brigade was shot and killed during an operation.

"At the funeral, I couldn't hold back my tears. Even though I rarely display emotion, here I couldn't help myself. As the tears rolled down my cheeks, I got a mighty slap in the face from my commanding officer, Erez Gerstein. (Erez was a famous commander, later killed in action.) He told me, 'When you cry at a funeral, the cameras are filming, and our enemies have all the more reason to celebrate. It's a double victory for them. First they kill us, then they enjoy watching us cry.'"

Modern day Israel celebrated its 66th birthday this week. All over Facebook people posted "Happy 66th birthday to Israel!" The truth is that it is only the modern state of Israel which is 66. Let's not forget that Israel is actually over 4000 years old, and our connection to it began back when G-d promised the land to Abraham! My love for the people and for the holy land of Israel is deep and is most definitely not 66 years old.

Our forefathers lived in Israel until they were exiled to Egypt. Then Joshua reclaimed the land and the Jewish people settled there once again. We were exiled twice more, but have always retained a strong connection to our land.

In fact, in this week's Torah portion we read, "The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me." G-d owns the land of Israel and He chose to gift it to us.

At the same time, we know our enemies will not rest. Their hatred won't cease and we must remain on guard, sadly even at funerals.

The story is told of a Jew caught by the Nazis. He had witnessed untold persecution and suffering and now the Nazi was holding a gun to his head, about to kill him for the "crime" he had committed. The Jew begged to be able to pray before he was killed, and, thinking he would get a good laugh out it, the Nazi agreed. "Thank you for not making me like my enemies..." the Jew prayed fervently.

Indeed! Thank G-d we are nothing like our enemies!

Let us pray for the coming of Moshiach, may he take us out of this exile rapidly. And let us beseech G-d to protect all the people living in Israel, and all the IDF soldiers who are constantly putting their lives on the line on our behalf. May they be safe and strong.


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