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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.

Speak - but what should I say?

Thursday, May 01, 2014 - 10:20 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

blog.jpgThis week's Torah portion is called "Emor," which means "Speak!" But the Torah also instructs us (elsewhere),"Say little and do much." So why is this week's portion called "Speak"? What should we be speaking about?

The midrash discusses the severity of lashon hara, gossip. According to the midrash, lashon hara kills three people - the one who spoke, the one who listened, and the one they talked about. Now, I understand why the speaker and the listener are punished, but the person they spoke about? What on earth did he or she do?! 

This week TMZ released a recording of a conversation where Donald Sterling told a friend, "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people." His words reverberated throughout the world. They evoked outrage from millions of disgusted people. Sterling was fined $2.5 million and banned from the NBA for life. 

Words reveal our hidden thoughts. They are so powerful and can never really be taken back. Moreover, by speaking badly about someone, we bring that person's bad side out into the open. This draws the attention of the heavenly courts, and can result in the person being judged and punished. Had we not spoken, it would have remained hidden. 

This is the message of this week's Torah portion, Emor. If gossip and slander is so powerful and far-reaching, imagine how much we can accomplish with positive speech! If Donald Sterling can say something terrible in the privacy of his own home and it effects millions of people world-wide, our words of kindness and good will can reach even more people! 

Let's unleash this power. Emor! Speak! Share words of love and kindness with your friends, family and even strangers. You never know how far a kind word can go. 

A Million Dollars or a Passover Seder?

Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 10:41 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

poker3.jpgEric Afriat
Montreal Quebec 

Dear Eric,

I read about your tremendous Passover dilemma in the Sun Sentinel with great interest. You were competing at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown Championship on Monday, the eve of Passover, and the game went on much longer than expected. As the hours ticked by, you thought about your extended family who were all gathered at your mother's house for the Passover Seder, a yearly family tradition.

You had a big decision to make - deal the next card and stay in the game for a potentially huge win, or leave and go eat matzah, maror and the four cups of wine with your family.

Ultimately, you decided to skip the Seder and stay in the game, and at the final game on Wednesday you won a staggering $1, 081, 184.

I was thinking about it, a million dollars or a Seder? It's a massive choice to face. Now, I know the value of a million dollars. In fact, I'd love to have a million dollars in my bank account right now! I could do quite a lot with that kind of money...

But even if I had a million dollars, I would spend Passover in exactly the same way I spent it this year - with my wife, four children and our community, telling the story of Passover which has been passed down through the generations for 3300 years. I would not break that tradition, ever. To me, sitting around the table, eating matzah, drinking the four cups of wine and telling my children about our slavery and redemption from Egypt is worth infinitely more than a million dollars.

When we do a mitzvah, we unlock the ability to transcend and cleave to the all-mighty and infinite G-d.  We connect with Him. This is priceless, as is spending time with family.

In fact, Eric, let me share a story with you: 

Two souls met midway between heaven and earth. One was descending to begin life on this earth; the other had just departed a body and was ascending to heaven to reunite with its Source.

"Nu, what can you tell me about the world I am about to enter?" asks the descending soul.

"Well, one thing I can tell you is that for two kopeks [a minuscule amount] one can purchase tzitzit!"

"Wow!" exclaims the descending soul, "a Mitzvah for two kopeks! I can't wait!"

"Not so fast," says the ascending soul, "wait until you see what you have to do to earn two kopeks."

Eric, You earned your two kopeks by playing a poker game, now let’s see how you utilize your two kopeks to do mitzvot.

My dear Eric, I sincerely hope that you utilize your newfound fortune to spend more time with your family. This Friday night, sit with your family around the Shabbat dinner table and make kiddush. Observe the Shabbat. For 24 hours turn off your computer and smart phone and tell your family how precious they are. On Shabbat morning go to your local synagogue and connect with G-d. In this way, you will ensure that you newfound million dollars will be a blessing indeed.

Money is a means to being able to do a mitzvah…money is not an end in and of itself. 

May G-d grant you the wisdom to make the right choices, now and in the future.

Yours truly,

 

Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Upper East Side, NY

Do You Hear, or Do You Listen?

Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 10:55 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Matzoh-Matzah-Matzo-Passover2008.jpgMy five-year-old son likes to climb onto the kitchen counter and hang out there. Each time he does it, I take him down and explain that he could hurt himself. But no matter how many times I tell him it's dangerous, the very next day (or next hour!) he's climbs right back up. 

Until this week. 

You see, last week, when he climbed onto the counter, he actually fell and hurt himself. Since then, he hasn't done it. And it's pretty easy to understand why. 

When I explain the dangers, he hears, but doesn't listen. He doesn't absorb and internalize what I'm saying. But when he actually falls and experiences the danger, now he understands. 

In truth, we are all like my little five-year-old.

I had lunch with a group of four people last week, and they asked me to share some words of Torah. I spoke about gossip and explained that gossip is considered as severe as the three cardinal sins - murder, idolatry and adultery. We discussed the topic for close to 20 minutes. 

Shockingly, just minutes later one of the people started sharing a juicy story about someone in his community, and they gossiped for the next 40 minutes. I couldn't understand it. We'd just finished discussing the severity of gossip, yet here they are gossping? 

When I was in yeshiva, my mentor, Rabbi Zalman Gopin, often said, "If you come to hear you will not be affected, but if you come to listen you will absorb.”

That's what happened at the lunch. Everyone heard, but no one listened. They didn't internalize it. It's natural. We hear hundreds of conversations daily, but we don't actively listen and internalize most of them. 

But Judaism is different. It needs to be absorbed. When we hear words of Torah, we need to absorb what we are hearing. We need to actively listen and contemplate. Only then, can we truly understand and internalize what we have learned. 

We're about the celebrate the beautiful, joyous holiday of Pesach - the time of our freedom. When we sit at the Seder, we're not just marking a historical event that occurred over 3000 years ago. We're experiencing and celebrating our current freedom in the 21st century. 

When we sit at the Seder next week, and recite the entire Haggadah, let's make sure we actively listen so we can absorb its messages. Let's experience modern-day freedom, liberated from all enslavement, physical and spiritual. 

We are instructed, “Remember the day that you left Egypt every single day of your life.” 

Don’t just hear these words, listen to them!

May we celebrate together, in Jerusalem. 

Igor, will you please call Nancy?

Thursday, April 03, 2014 - 9:41 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Blog.jpg

A couple of days before Purim I noticed one of my Facebook friends had posted, "There are 25 Purim parties to choose fromon Saturday night. Which one should I go to?" Thus began a long conversation where she and her friends discussed the merits of each party, trying to come to a decision. Judging by the end of the Facebook discussion, they failed to reach a consensus. 

Reading their conversation, I was reminded of an incident  that began a few months ago. 

Nancy* has been attending Chabad Israel Center events and parties for a number of years, and we've become well acquainted. Igor* was a shul regular, and I felt the two of them might be a good match. 

I phoned Igor and asked if he was currently dating. He was not. "Would you like me to suggest someone?" I asked. He agreed, so I told him a bit about Nancy. He asked me multiple questions about her. What does she look like? How old is she? What does she do? Where is she from? Is she kind hearted? What's her personality like? I passed his "interrogation" and he agreed that Nancy sounded like she might be a good match for him. 

So I phoned Nancy and had a similar conversation. She also had many questions and criteria, but agreed that I could pass along her phone number. I gave Igor her number and told him she was expecting his call. 

The next day I messaged Igor, "Did you call her yet?" 

He texted back, "Not yet, but I will." 

Two weeks later in shul I checked in with him. He still hadn't called!

The following day I messaged him, "Call right now. I'm stopping everything and waiting for you to call her." I also told Nancy to message me when he calls. 

The next day Nancy told me Igor had called when she was in a meeting and she'd texted him to call her back that night. He responded that he would.  

A week later I checked in with Igor and he said Nancy was going to call him back after the meeting and he was waiting for her call! So I asked Nancy what happened, and she took a screen shot of the text message and sent it to me. It stated clearly that Igor was going to call her. 

It was time for a very frank conversation with Igor, with whom I am very close. 

"I don't understand," I told him. "You've told me so many times how important it is for you to get married, how desperately you want to settle down and establish a Jewish family, how proud your parents would be... I finally thought of a match for you, and you agreed that it sounded promising. You're so successful in business, and when it comes to chasing a client you know exactly what to do. I've seen you in action. You once called one of our shul members four times in one day until they answered you! You are so smart, but when it comes to dating, you're acting so stupidly! I'm not G-d, I don't know if she's your soul mate, but can't you give her a proper phone call?!"

"Don't worry, Rabbi, I'm on it," he said. 

 It's now three months later and Igor still hasn't called Nancy... 

Why? Perhaps because, like the 25 parties on Saturday night, he feels there are too many girls to choose from. Too many dates. What to do? How to choose?

Isn't this the story of our lives?

We are about to celebrate Pesach, the holiday marking our exodus from Egypt. Egypt in Hebrew is "Mitzrayim." Another meaning of the word is limitations, or constraints. We all have our fair share of "issues" which hinder us from accomplishing what we desire, whether in business, marriage, dating etc. The holiday of Pesach is when we are empowered to break free of our shackles and limitations and go out and master what we've been trying to do. 

So, Igor, please, in honor of Pesach, pick up the phone and call Nancy!

 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.


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