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What Do You Hear?

Laurel vs. Yanny.

It’s arguably the most controversial internet sensation since the white-and-gold vs. blue-and-black dress debate of 2015! People are hooked. 

When you sit next to someone and listen to the same clip, you expect to hear the same words. To hear something so vastly different is eerie and disconcerting.

The explanation, however, is simple: "People who are more attuned to the high frequencies are picking up on things that make it sound more like Yanny. If you're not picking up on those higher frequencies then it sounds more like Laurel," explains linguist Ben Zimmer. 

As unusual as it seems, this very idea is present in our everyday lives. Kabbala teaches that there are two ways to hear everything we experience in life: lower frequency (daat tachton) and higher frequency (daat elyon).

Imagine losing your job. One way to hear the news is through pain, despair, and frustration. Alternatively, one might hear: “This is G-d’s will and is ultimately for the best. Nothing bad descends from above. G-d loves me and will provide a new and better opportunity.”

Imagine being dumped by a long-term partner. Hearing via the lower frequency will fill you with thoughts of, “Why did he do this to me?! I’m doomed to be alone forever.” The higher frequency will convey messages such as, “Obviously that was not the right person for me and G-d will send me the right husband in due time.”

Imagine that Hamas spreads lies and falsehoods, claiming that Israeli soldiers are butchering  their innocent civilians. Newspaper headlines all over the world scream, “Israeli Soldiers Kill Innocent Palestinians.” One way to hear is to despair. The other way is to recognize that this is an opportunity for Jews to bond, unite, pray, and trust that G-d will help as He always does.  

This weekend we celebrate Shavuot, when G-d married us in an incredible display of affection. We became and remain His eternal bride. That everlasting union guarantees He will not forsake us, even when things seem bleak.

Unlike with the Laurel/Yanny clip, over which we have no control, we can determine how we perceive world events and G-d’s presence. So as we begin the holiday which commemorates the exact moment we became His nation, what will you hear?

I Won the Powerball!

Blog.jpgEach spring for the last nine years 40 motorcycle riders have volunteered their time to treat our Belev Echad wounded soldiers to a picturesque bike ride through the Bear Mountains, followed by a hearty barbecue. My dear friend Yoske is one of them.

Yoske and I share a mutual love and passion for Israel, and anytime I need anything at all he is just a phone call away, always happy to help. But despite our deep respect for each other, when it comes to religion and G-d we are worlds apart. No matter how many times I’ve asked Yoske to put on tefillin, he has always refused. 

In the days leading up to this year’s bike ride, all weather forecasts predicted a 90% chance of rain, which meant we would have to cancel the much anticipated activity. If it rains, no one wants to spend the day riding through the mountains! But no matter how many times I refreshed the page, the forecast stayed the same: dismal.

Two days prior to the event, I bumped into Yoske and noticed—to my shock—that he was wearing a kippa. Not only has he never worn a kippa at any of our events over the last nine years, when I slip one on his head he slips it right off again.

“Why are you wearing it?” I asked.

“We need help for a dry Sunday,” he explained.

“Let’s make a deal,” I suggested, sensing a moment of opportunity. “I will pray that it doesn’t rain, but you have to promise to put on tefillin if it doesn’t.”

He agreed. We shook hands and parted ways. 

Now, when a Chabad rabbi gets somebody to put on tefillin it’s like winning the jackpot. When a Jew puts on tefillin, we are connecting him to the deepest levels of G-d—a level of connection even the highest angels cannot attain. So, if putting on tefillin with a Jew is like winning the jackpot, then putting on tefillin with a Jew who has refused my advances for the last nine years is like winning a double jackpot, and putting on tefillin with a Jew who has not done it since his bar mitzvah 57 years ago… that is like winning the powerball! 

I mentioned my deal with Yoske in my Shabbat speech. “We all need to pray for rain so that I win the powerball!” I beseeched. And pray we did, but when I checked the forecast after Shabbat, rain was still in the plan. The likelihood did decrease from 90% to 60%, but 60% is still significant.

When I saw no sign of rain Sunday morning, I was thrilled, and asked Yoske to put on tefillin. 
“We have to wait until the end of the day to make sure it stays dry,” he insisted.

Well, G-d helped, and the day proved dry and completely rain-free. True to his word, Yoske put on tefillin and said the shma—triple jackpot!

I hope he will put on Tefillin again the next time I see him, even without any bets!

Hey, Do You Want To Put On Tefillin?

hgftdg.jpgI take particular pride in doing a mitzvah in public. When we show pride in our heritage, our faith, and our background, others respect us. When people see that we respect ourselves and are not afraid to display our Judaism, we earn their admiration. 

This week, I had the opportunity to do just that.

For six years I’ve been stopping by Yankel’s* office to offer him the opportunity to put on tefillin, and every time he refuses. “I’m not ready,” he says. Or “This isn’t for me; I don’t believe in it.”

On Rosh Hashanah, I blow the shofar in his office so he can hear it. He is happy to shake the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, because it takes about 10 seconds. But tefillin, I haven’t been able to get him to commit to.

Until last week. 

I was driving around, looking for parking, when I spotted Yankel walking down the street.

I pulled down my window and shouted across the street, “Yankel! How are you?”

He was on the phone, but so excited (or alarmed!) to see me, that he called back, “Hey, Rabbi!”

“Want to put on tefillin now?” I asked.

“Yes, sure!”

Not wanting to lose the moment, I jumped out of my car and whipped out my tefillin. Dozens of onlookers watched as I helped Yankel put on the tefillin and say the shema.

And I wondered, “Why did you agree today? In public? In the middle of the street? In your office, you always refuse! 

“Because you’re crazy, Rabbi! Screaming at me from across the street while I’m on the phone—I just love this about you!”

Our sages teach, “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” In order to reach another person, you have to approach them with genuine love and concern. In fact, the Torah gives us the mitzvah to rebuke one’s fellow Jew, but precedes it with the verse, “love your fellow Jew,” to indicate that only when there’s love, can the rebuke be effective. 

It would seem that until now, when I asked Yankel to put on tefillin, I didn’t mean it enough. This time, I did.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

I Got an Entire Manhattan Apartment Building!

Blog.jpegJust before Passover, I approached the doorman of my building.

 “Peter, I need to rent this entire building from you for the year.”

 “Sure, how much are you going to pay?” he asked.

 I pulled out four quarters from my pocket and handed them to him. Without blinking an eye, Peter told me, “From now on, Rabbi, anyone who wants to rent an apartment here has to go through you. You are the boss!”

 I shook his hand, satisfied that I had landed my best ever real estate deal.

 What was this really all about? Jewish law mandates that in order to be able to carry anything from inside my apartment (private domain) out to the hallway (public domain), I need to perform an “eruv chatserot” which involves making sure one person owns the rights to all the hallways. The rules date back to the time of King Solomon, and are quite complex, so it’s important to consult with a rabbinic authority first.

I was unsure how I could convey this to the doorman. How could I explain to him that I need to buy the rights to the building for one dollar? It’s certainly not a normal thing to do.

So I was pleasantly surprised when he asked no questions, expressed no concerns, and easily agreed to my bizarre request. 

And then it struck me. This is hardly the first odd thing Peter has seen me do! In fact, he sees more of my life and habits than most people.

Normal people get up early to exercise or walk the dog and then go to work; I get up and head out to pray. Normal people keep the hallways relatively quiet; I blow shofar in the hallways for people throughout Elul and Rosh Hashanah. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Peter sees all this and more. He sees me don my white coat and crocs on Yom Kippur, and he sees me traipsing out to the Sukkah anytime I need a drink of water, day or night. He sees me handing out thousands of doughnuts and menorahs on Chanukah, and  delivering boxes of matzah before Pesach. On Purim he seems me dressed up and walking around with a bottle of whisky, and on the night of Selichot he sees me leave fully dressed at 1am and return home at 5am.

After all this, does it really seem out of character for me to ask for the rights to the building’s hallways? Apparently Peter doesn’t think so! What’s normal after all?

As Jews, nothing about our lives is normal. We are surrounded by enemies who want to destroy us. Our survival through thousands of years of upheaval and persecution is nothing short of miraculous. Certainly, it is not “normal.”

In fact, every mitzvah we do is abnormal. It is normal to be selfish; it is not normal to be kind— it goes against our very nature. It is not normal to light Shabbat candles or put on tefillin or give charity. And in 2018 it is certainly not normal to turn our electronic devices off for Shabbat and holidays!

But that’s who we are and what we do.

So go ahead, do something abnormal today.

Zalman's Kiddush

Blog.jpgI had just made Kiddush last Friday night, and we were sitting at the Shabbat table, getting ready to start the meal. When it was my six-year- old son Zalman’s turn, he called out, “hang on!” and went running to his bedroom to retrieve his Shabbat jacket.

He returned beaming. “Now I can say Kiddush!”

After he’d said the blessing and drunk the wine, I asked him why he’d gone running for the jacket. “We have to dress nicely for Kiddush, just like you,” he explained.

I was stunned. We have never discussed or required Shabbat attire. In fact, he has made Kiddush countless times in his pajamas, and that’s perfectly okay. But here he was, insisting on wearing the jacket.

Because, as any parent comes to know, our children internalize and mimic the things we do even more than the things we say. When my son sees me putting on my hat and jacket to make Kiddush each week, he understands that this is the way it should be done. No discussion necessary.

Jews around the world are about to sit down to the Seder. One of the main mitzvot of the evening is to convey to our children the story of our slavery and freedom from Egyptian domination, G-d’s role in our salvation, and the subsequent formation of our nation.

We spend tens of thousands of dollars educating our children, but the most important message we can give at the Seder (and year round) is not something we tell. It’s what we do. It’s the passion we demonstrate for G-d, prayer, and spirituality. If we tell our kids to do it, but they can sense that we don’t love, value, and enjoy it, it won’t work.

On the Seder night, tell your children the story of Pesach, but let the main message speak for itself. Smile, laugh, and sing together. Show them how much you love and appreciate G-d’s eternal kindness. Let them see you eating the matzah, wine, and afikoman with alacrity. Make “next year in Jerusalem” come alive for them, and they too will yearn for that time.

May we all celebrate together next year, there, in Jerusalem.

A Day to Remember!

Blog.jpegThis week we celebrated the bat mitzvah of our daughter Batya Raizel. It seems only yesterday she was born, and already she is considered a full-fledged adult! I couldn’t have predicted how emotional I would feel as we celebrated this milestone event.

Months ago, when we first started thinking about her celebration, I googled, “how to celebrate a bat mitzvah in NYC.” After all,  this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I want to make sure we do it in the best and most memorable way.

There was no dearth of options. New York is home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, and my daughter certainly isn’t the first to celebrate her bat mitzvah. Each venue promised a Bat Mitzvah that will never be forgotten.

So I started making phone calls. 

Between the event hall, dance floor, DJ, decor, flowers, and catering, not to mention putting up family and friends in hotels for the weekend, even a cursory calculation had already come out to double my yearly salary. 

Time for a new plan. 

We could create an unforgettable experience on our own—I was sure of it. In fact, the very nature and meaning of the day makes it innately memorable.

Bat mitzvah is not a verb. It’s commonly used that way—“she was bat mitzvahed”—but it actually means “daughter of mitzvot.” Before she turns 12, I am responsible for her halachic obligations and the responsibility for any sins she commits sits on my shoulders. But when she turns 12, she becomes a bat mitzvah—a daughter of mitzvot, fully responsible for her own spiritual welfare, an adult as far as Judaism is concerned. 

My daughter took this transition seriously, studying the meaning of bat mitzvah and her new role in depth during the months leading up to her big day. 

To mark the occasion, we held a candle-lighting ceremony. We set up 12 elegant candles, each one representing a woman in Jewish history that my daughter felt connected to, including biblical ancestors and her own grandmothers. She called upon friends and family members to light each candle, and of course she lit one too. Each candle represented a link in the chain that connects us to those who come before us and those who will come after us. 

This is the meaning of bat mitzvah that I wanted my daughter to come away with. She is part of Jewish history—a Jewish women. When she needs inspiration, she can look to each of these strong Jewish women who came before her. If she feels adrift, she can find her footing by remembering that she is not an isolated individual—she is part of a greater whole. Her brave grandmothers, great grandmothers, and matriarchs continued the chain of Jewish tradition as only Jewish women can. Now she, too, is part of that chain. For this reason, too, her celebration was a women-only affair. 

She wrote her own speech with little guidance from us because we wanted it to be her own, something she will cherish and remember. 

From this day forward she is committed to every mitzvah as an adult, just like us. 

I hope and pray that she will never forget this day, that she will always view it as a positive transition, and that she will continue to feel deeply connected with her matriarchs and fellow Jewish women. 

As she sets off on her spiritual journey of life, we wait with great anticipation to see the powerful Jewish woman she herself will become. Mazal tov, Rosie! 

14 Minute Megilla Reading!

Blog.jpgI was tired.

They were late. 

I'd already done it.

They could go elsewhere. 

I didn't want to do it again. 

But then I did. 

Purim morning services began at 7:00am, with megilla reading at 7:30. We had a good turnout and by 8:00 we were almost done and ready to tackle the day ahead.

But at 8:00 on the dot, three people walked in—late—wanting to hear the megilla. They waited until I had finished and then asked what they should do. One of them even told me she had shed some tears when she walked in and realized they had missed it. 

Now, back in the day, when I was young and sprightly, my friends and I used to compete how many times—and how quickly—we could read the megilla within the 24-hour period. The more, the better. But now I'm 40 and perpetually tired. And so I hesitated. 

Reading megilla is not as easy as it looks, and I'd just done it. It wasn't even a whole new crowd—just three individuals! Did I really need to oblige? Surely it was their fault they were late and now they could go elsewhere. I could have easily convinced myself. 

But then they showed me my website, which they had consulted, and we had in fact listed megilla reading for 8:00am! It was entirely my mistake. And, to be honest, I was thrilled to know that people actually still look at our site. 

Still, we'd had over 400 people at our Purim party the night before, I was running on less than four hours of sleep, I knew I had an overly-busy day ahead, and I was exhausted not just from Purim, but from caring for our new-born triplets. 

Then I realized, what could possibly be more important than reading the megilla for these three people? What is the purpose of all the work I do on a daily basis? Isn't it all about trying to get people to do more mitzvot? And now I have an opportunity right in front of me: three people who want to do a mitzvah, require no convincing whatsoever, they simply need me to agree!

Could I be any more fortunate?

And so I read the megilla in 14 magical minutes for these three individuals who had come to shul specifically to hear it at the exact time I had listed it. They fulfilled their obligation and I learned an important lesson, one that is represented in this week's Torah portion.

We read about the construction of the holy sanctuary, the Tabernacle, the Mishkan—a place where G-d's presence rested. Today we no longer have the Tabernacle or Temple, but we do have a spiritual Temple which we are tasked with building daily. 

What does that mean? How do we build a spiritual home for G-d? By going beyond our comfort zones and doing the things that are hard; the things that challenge us. Whether it's giving extra charity, waking up early enough for shul, or, in my case, reading the megilla again for the benefit of three Jews in need. 

This week, I built a sanctuary. I hope you will, too. 

Oh, Joy! I Fell Off My Bike.

chooseJOY2.pngIt's 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning and unseasonably balmy. I'm out with my bike, training for the big Belev Echad bicycle ride on April 29th. I've ridden 3.5 miles and am beyond exhausted. The hills in Central Park are tough and I am, unfortunately, out of shape.

I decide to call it quits and take a shortcut home. I take a familiar trail and then I decide to explore a little. I ride up a steep hill and discover that it ends with flight of steps—dead end.

So I turn around and ride back, but this very steep hill is slippery from the rain and I am now going much too fast! I try the breaks...bad idea! The bike skids and I lose control. I know it's about to happen...I feel it happening...I can see it, feel it, smell it...I know I'm about to hit the ground...

And then it happens. 

I crash into a fence and roll off the bike.  

Luckily, I'm wearing a helmet so my injuries are not severe. But my shoulder and stomach are hurt pretty badly and I am in major pain. 

I hobble to the nearest exit and order an Uber home.


We all fall down. It's part of life. 

Our task is to pick ourselves up and try again without giving up. 

It may take me a couple of weeks to recover. But when I do, you can be sure I will be back on that bike and training again. One fall cannot undo me. 


We are currently in the month of Adar—the happiest on the Jewish calendar. 

Our sages teach that joy can break even the toughest of boundaries. 

When you fall down, when you're having a tough time, when you're stressed, upset, or feeling hopeless, try to find the strength to pull yourself together and channel something joyful. Joy is powerful—more powerful than we realize. 

When we can pull ourselves up, find that inner happiness, and give it another try, then we have really succeeded. 

Did You Post Yet

image1.JPGJust over a year ago, my seven-year-old niece was diagnosed with a terrible illness. Chana bas (Mushka) Yehudah Leib Kesselman lived with her family in Greenville, South Carolina, as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and despite the many mitzvot and prayers done in her honor by family, friends, and complete strangers around the world, this week she was taken from us. 

Every single day since her diagnosis 13 months ago, the entire book of Tehillim has been recited at least 10 times through 10 different Whatsapp groups, spread across the entire globe. That's 1500 chapters each day, totaling approximately 585,500 over the 13 months, in her honor.

My wife and her sisters, stayed on top of the Tehillim campaign, making sure everyone did their part. "Did you do your Tehillim yet? Did you post it to let everyone know?" my wife would remind me daily. 

Towards evening, as she was cooking supper, bathing the kids, and putting them to bed, the busiest time of day, my wife was still keeping half her mind dedicated to making sure everyone was doing their part—their Tehillim, their good deeds, their prayers, for our sweet little niece.  

For 13 months we begged, pleaded, and demanded that G-d perform a miracle and restore her health, but tragically, that was not His plan.  

Every day for the past 13 months I have added an extra 10 chapters of Tehillim after morning prayers, for my dear niece Chana. During this time, every email I sent out, every newsletter I printed, every holy thing I did, was dedicated to ensuring a full and speedy recovery for this sweet seven-year-old girl. 

And this week, at the funeral, I cried. I cried for her short life, for her parents' grief, for the siblings who will not remember her. I watched her being lowered into the ground, and my vision clouded with tears—tears for Chana and the suffering she had to endure, for her parents who have been through something no parent should ever experience, and for all the people who watched her slip away despite the massive amounts of prayer and good deeds performed in her merit. 

We are taught that the power of prayer is tremendous. Although we begged G-d for a miracle, we beseeched Him to take away her illness, this was not to be. 

But we know that as Chana is greeted by the Heavenly court, she takes with her all the pages, words, and hours of Tehillim that were recited in her honor. We know that the countless mitzvot done in her merit accompany her, as the angels greet her, and take her to a place where she will know no more pain.  

May her neshama have an aliya, and may her parents, siblings, and extended family find comfort. 

I Smashed Your Car, Rabbi!

Blog.jpgRushing out the door on Friday afternoon on my way to shul a few weeks ago, I noticed my car had a flat tire, which seemed strange since I had parked it literally an hour earlier in perfect condition.

There’s never a good time for car trouble, but this was particularly inconvenient as I was leaving town immediately after Shabbat and changing tires is not something I learned at rabbinical college!

Fortunately, my good friend Motti Seligson was able to come over right after Shabbat to help me install the spare, and I was on my way.

Not two weeks later I approached my car and noticed the entire front had been ripped off! A note on the windshield read, “Sorry for doing this; I called the police and filed a report,” but of course when I followed up, no report was filed and I had no way of locating the mysterious note-writer.

In this week’s parsha we read about the first seven of the ten plagues. When Moses initially approached Pharaoh and demanded he release the Jews at G-d’s command, Pharaoh asked, “Who is this G-d? I have never heard of him.”

Hence, the purpose of the ten plagues was specifically to teach Pharaoh that there is a G-d and He is in charge. Indeed, by the time the plagues had ended, Pharaoh was well and truly aware of G-d’s power.

We know that every small detail in our lives is divinely ordained. Every encounter we have, every decision we make, has a purpose and message. Nothing is random.  

Even seemingly meaningless incidents, like my flat tire and smashed car was subtle messages from G-d, and it’s up to us to try and decipher them and respond appropriately. Even if we’re not sure the exact message, we can never go wrong by increasing in mitzvot—giving more tzedakah, learning more Torah, being kinder to those around us.

This week’s parsha is that reminder we all need from time to time: G-d it there, running the world, orchestrating our every encounter.

I Fell Asleep in 2018, and Woke up Back in 2017!

Blog.jpgOn Monday night I flew from Johannesburg to New York. The plane left at 9:45pm, and the crew wore festive hats to celebrate the new year. At 11:59pm, whichever passengers weren't sleeping (myself included) counted down to 2018 and cheered at the stroke of midnight.

I'm not a fan of long flights, but being from South Africa I often have good reason to travel, including this time where all nine siblings gathered to celebrated my father's 70th birthday. The flight was long and uncomfortable, and after the countdown to 2018, I feel asleep for a couple of hours.

Being a veteran flyer, I have discovered that the MyZmanim app uses advanced aircraft tracking technology to calculate in-flight times for prayer and other timely Jewish practices for most commercial flights worldwide. I simply enter a flight number and departure time and receive a PDF with the information in my inbox, which allows me to pray at the correct times while flying through multiple time zones.

In fact, the week before it was particularly important because I was flying on a fast day - the 10th of Tevet. Usually, the fast is about 14 hours, from dawn to nightfall, but since I was flying from New York to South Africa, the duration of my flight was only seven hours, beginning as we flew over Dakar, Senegal.

Now, awake a couple of hours after the New Year's celebration, and checking with MyZmanim, I discovered that I was in fact right back in 2017!

Which got me thinking...if you could go back in time to 2017, what would you change? What you fix? What would you do differently? Who would you treat with more kindness? Which priorities would you rearrange?

Even if 2017 was an overall good year, I'm certain we all have things we would like to go back and alter.

The good news is that we can! The Tanya teaches us that although it takes hard work and an investment of time, if done correctly we can undo all our past misdeeds, erasing any sign of them from our soul.

As we celebrate the beginning of 2018, we hope and pray that G-d will shower us with tremendous blessings, peace, happiness and prosperity.


Blog1.jpgI met Jack* a couple of weeks ago when he walked into our preschool office to pick up his granddaughter. He was 10 minutes early so we chatted and eventually, like any good Chabadnik, I asked, “Have you put on tefillin today?” He hadn’t, and politely declined. “I don’t have time,” he said. “Dismissal isn’t for another six minutes and this will only take two,” I cajoled. He agreed.

We began and I asked if he had ever done this before at all and he hadn’t. It is a mitzvah every time someone puts on tefillin, but the very first time is a particular privilege, so I was thrilled. He started to repeat the blessing after me, but something was niggling at the edge of my mind. “Hold on, are you Jewish?”

I hadn’t asked earlier, just assumed. But my sudden bout of intuition proved correct, because Jack confirmed that he was not at all Jewish.

My initial reaction was, “What a letdown!”

But then I reframed my perspective and realized there is definitely something here to rejoice. Here is a woman who drifted so far from Judaism that she married a non-Jewish man, and raised her children in a secular environment. But her Jewish daughter sought out a Chabad school for her children. She wants her jewish children to receive a sound Jewish education, and this reason to celebrate!

This is the message and the spirit of Chabad, which I witnessed in full force this past weekend at the annual conference of Shluchim where 5,000 Chabad rabbis come together to learn, share, inspire, and refuel. At the grand banquet which concludes the weekend, it was announced that Chabad has now reached 100 countries, with its latest outpost in Uganda.

Uganda! How many Jews can there possibly be in that far-flung country? But this was the Rebbe’s relentless mission. Find those Jews, wherever they are, and help them do a mitzvah. One Jew at a time. One mitzvah at a time.

You don’t have to be an official shliach to do it either. We can all reach out to those we interact with in our day-to-day lives and influence them to be kinder, more giving, attend a Torah class, join a minyan, give some charity, help another Jew in whichever way they can. That mission belongs to ALL of us.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

I love you! Oops. No I don't.

Blog.jpegWe all know the feeling: That first flutter of concern, the fleeting hope, the quick scramble to double and triple check, and the elevated heart rate turned full blown panic as we realize it's done, sent, no way out.

Yes, I'm talking about the universal and undeniable panic that sets in upon realizing you've sent a text, email, or voice note to the wrong person. 

We've all done it. And it happened to me again this week. I accidentally messaged "I love you" to the wrong person. Ouch.

I was Whatsapping with my dear friend Jack* about our upcoming gala dinner. He had questions, I had answers, I asked him to buy a full table, and by the end of our conversation he had committed to two tables—double my initial request! Thrilled, I wrote back, "I love you!"

But, like virtually everyone else in 2017, I was doing multiple things at the same time, including having other Whatsapp conversions with different people on entirely different topics. 

And that's how it happened. The "I love you" message intended as an expression of appreciation for Jack (with whom I have been friends for many years) ended up being sent to someone who would have certainly been taken aback to receive that from a Chabad rabbi.

So I panicked. Panicked hard.

But then I remembered that Whatsapp has a very new and highly useful feature you can use to un-send messages within seven minutes of sending them. I could see the person had not yet read my message, so I quickly deleted it, and the only remaining evidence was the "this message has been deleted" that Whatsapp replaces the erased message with.

Crisis averted. Whew. Wipe brow; resume life. 

But what if we could mimic Whatsapp's un-send feature in real life? Imagine if we could un-send the harsh words we spoke, undo our poor decisions, and retract actions we regret? 

What would life look like if we had a window—even just seven minutes—to re-evaluate our behavior before it hits the other person?  Would we do things differently?

The truth is, we do have that feature! The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that we have the ability to transform our sins into mitzvot. It takes time and hard work, but if you do it correctly, you can literally undo all your past misdeeds, erasing any signs of them from your soul.

It requires deep soul searching, sincere apologies and regret, forgiveness from those you've hurt, honest repentance, and a determination to behave differently when faced with the same situation again. But it is doable. 

So who's in? I know I am!

The Ultimate Love Story

Blog.jpgMazal tov! This week I flew to Israel to officiate at the miraculous wedding of a very special couple: Sarah and Ido. 

I met Ido Kahlon last year, when he came to New York with fellow wounded soldiers as part of our Belev Echad program. Ido served in the Golani Brigade and was severely injured in 2003. He lay unconscious for many months, and when he woke up he required more than two years of intensive rehab. 

I first met Sarah Morgan on Sukkot a few years ago at Chabad of Chester County where we were spending the holiday with my brother-in-law and his wife, Rabbi Yossi and Mrs. Tickey Kaplan. 

Later, Sarah moved to the Upper East Side and began attending our events and parties. She found she had a soft spot for our Belev Echad program and volunteered her help wherever needed with each new group of soldiers. 

On one occasion a soldier had a medical emergency and I needed someone to accompany him to a local hospital. Who was on my speed dial? Sarah, of course, who dropped everything and came running. 

As it turns out, all that volunteering paid off….

In March 2016 we hosted another delegation of wounded soldiers and Sarah offered to take a day off work to help. I took her up on the offer. She joined us on our trip to the Statue of Liberty, and it was there that she met Ido. The attraction was instant. They spent all day together. 

Days later, Ido spoke at one of our events, about both his injury and his recovery. He described how difficult it had been, and his choice not to let his injuries overcome him. Sarah listened, captivated by his strength and optimism, and they spent much of the remainder of the trip together. 

As they say, the rest is history. 

Sarah and Ido fell in love. Sarah made Aliyah, and her mom plans to join her before the year is up. 

I was honored to attend the wedding in Hadera this week, along with my brother-in-law Rabbi Kaplan, and my other brother-in-law Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, who runs the Chabad center that Sarah’s mom attends in Hoboken NJ. 

Ido’s father was choked with emotion and gratitude for the opportunity to see his son not only alive after being so severely wounded, but standing under the chuppah with a wonderful woman like Sarah. A dream come true! 

Our sages teach that when a person gives, he/she receives much more in return. Sarah’s story of love demonstrates just that. For years she volunteered with our wounded soldiers, and ultimately through our program she met her wonderful life partner. Mazal tov!

We wish the couple blessings for mazal, health, children, and success in all their endeavors. 

Who Was the First Terrorist?

Blog.jpgTerror struck again this week, this time in my own backyard. 

Unfortunately, terrorist attacks are only becoming stronger and more frequent, but it’s always different when it strikes close to home. I’ve driven down that road countless times, many of my friends ride their bikes there on a regular basis, and just blocks away the deadliest terror attack in US history took place 16 years ago.

Sayfullo Saipov clearly intended to martyr himself. He left a handwritten note proclaiming, “The Islamic State will endure forever!” Not “I love you, Mom” or “Remember me, dear children”. He wanted to be remembered first and foremost as a caliphate soldier.

As shocking as we find each new incident of terrorism, it is nothing new. Allow me to introduce you to the very first terrorist in history: the giant Og.

We read about him in this week’s parshah. He was the strongest man alive, giant in physical stature as well as in power and influence. He was the only person outside of the Ark who survived the flood. He gripped onto the outside and held tight throughout the thrashing waters, the hot and cold waters, the rain, the wind, and the many days and nights. A legend!

But Og hated the Jews and he made no secret of it. For years, he took every opportunity to badmouth them, making public speeches against the Jews, and claiming that the Jewish nation was destined to die out. And he had proof! Abraham was already 100 years old, Sarah was 90, and they had no children. Og was positively gleeful. Judaism was almost over! Yippee!

But then, as we know, G-d miraculously granted Abraham and Sarah the child they had so longed for—Isaac, whose brit milah is celebrated grandly in this week’s parshah. And the people asked Og, “What now? It looks like Judaism will survive!”

“With my little finger I will crush Isaac, and the Jews and all that comes with their lifestyle, will be well and truly gone,” he maintained. And he was a real, credible threat. A tiny newborn being threatened by the largest, strongest man alive!

But G-d refused to allow Og to completely wipe out our nation. Moreover, He promised that we would destroy Og, which later came to fruition with Moses.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote a letter to a bar mitzvah boy, and he mentioned the story of Og, explaining that if there is ever another terrorist who threatens us, we needn’t worry, because G-d’s promise to Abraham still stands: evil will cease to exist and the Jewish nation will last forever.  

And so, we can confidently proclaim to any terrorists who threaten us: We will prevail! We will overcome. We are stronger than you and we are stronger than you think. New Yorkers are resilient and New York is a strong city. We won’t give in to terror; we will continue to live our lives without fear or drastic changes. You will not win.

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