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The Ultimate Cave Rescue

Blog1.jpgThe entire world had been collectively holding its breath awaiting the rescue of the 12 Thai boys and their coach, and after 18 long days every last one is out.

The miraculous rescue by a dedicated team of divers from multiple countries is unlike anything we have seen since the rescue of the Chilean miners in 2010. And perhaps this one struck an even greater chord because it was a group of children.

Just imagine being stuck in a winding cave, 3000 feet underground, 2.5 miles away from the entrance, in total darkness and flooding waters for 9 days without knowing if you will ever be found, or even if anyone is looking. And then, even after being found, the uncertainty about if and when and how you will get out… It’s almost unfathomable. 

But although we may not be physically stranded like they were, the Chassidic masters explain that we too are trapped in a cave. The only difference is, we don’t even know we are stuck!

Before we are born, we live in the real world, fully immersed in G-dliness and Divine spirituality. And then, G-d sends us to live in this cave. Earth. We may not see it that way, but that’s exactly what it is. New York, the city that never sleeps, a cave? Los Angeles, Singapore, Tel Aviv, Miami—all caves! Because we’ve been living in this darkness for so long, we no longer recognize it for what it is. We’re used to it. We know no differently.

The Thai boys grew up with sun and light and fresh air. So they knew they were stuck and they knew what to hope for, wait for, and expect on the outside.

We, on the other hand, know no differently. Generation after generation, we have been born into this dark labyrinth, and we are so far removed from the real world, we no longer wish for it. We think we already live in it. We can’t imagine pleasure beyond the luxuries we know. The ultimate vacation or car… these are nothing in comparison to spiritual bliss. 

And just as the entire world witnessed the rescue of the Thai boys, our rescue will also be tremendous. Just as theirs was urgent, to beat the imminent monsoon rains that could have trapped them for another four months, we require urgency too, before we are completely consumed by the world we live in. Their rescue was inordinately complex and dangerous, as is ours. What helped the boys stay alive and keep their spirits intact? Unity and cohesion. We too, can only survive by demonstrating unity. 

Moshiach is our navy seal diver. He will swim through the rushing murky waters to redeem us. In fact, the midrash explains that those buried outside of Israel will travel through underground tunnels to Israel and be resurrected there. 

The same way we felt sorry for the trapped boys, we should feel sorry for ourselves. It’s vital that we recognize and keep in mind at all times that while we may think we live in a vibrant, rich world, we are in fact stranded deep underground. And the elation that we—along with the whole world—felt when we watched the dramatic and unexpected rescue, that is the feeling we need to hold onto for when we are finally rescued with the ultimate redemption and the coming of Moshiach. 

Triplets: Out of Sync

Blog.jpgFor the last few months our lives have revolved around the number three. G-d blessed us with triplets, and we now think, breathe and complete each task in sets of three. Of course, when everything is in sync, it’s a lot easier.

When we go out we need three car seats, three sets of hands, three bottles, three (more like 30!) diapers, and three changes of clothing. When we put them to sleep, it’s three baths, three pairs of pajamas, three babies to rock and say shema with. When they wake up it’s three sets of hands to wash negel vasser, three clean outfits, and again three bottles. On Friday night there are three babies to bless, three sets of Shabbat clothes to dress them in…you get the picture! 

A couple of weeks ago we became concerned that the babies seemed to be fighting off a cold. The doctor sent us to the hospital and it turned out that they all had the same virus and needed to be hospitalized together. After two nights we were able to bring two of them home, but the third needed to stay. Suddenly, we weren’t thinking in threes anymore! Doing each action three times was manageable albeit hectic, but deviating from that pattern made things feel off balance and infinitely more challenging.

Thank G-d it was only for one night. Then the third baby was ready to come home too, and we soon fell back into our pattern of threes. But the incident left me wondering…is there a deeper significance to the number three?

Our sages certainly thought so. They described the ultimate set of “triplets”—the Torah, the Jews, and G-d. Our job is to perfectly synchronize the three, creating the ultimate state of unity the world needs in order to facilitate the final redemption. 

Three is a number of prominence in Judaism. There are the three forefathers and three daily prayers, the Torah was given in the third month and is divided into three parts, and the entire nation is divided into three groups—Kohen, Levi, Yisrael.

How do we unify the three pillars—us, G-d, and the Torah? G-d created the world for us and gave us the Torah as our guide. By delving into the Torah and fulfilling His commands, we develop a deep relationship with Him. Each good deed we do, each act of kindness we show another, helps cement and unify that three-pronged relationship that will ultimately usher us through to the next state, the era of Moshiach, and the eternal redemption.

Stranded on the Highway

log.jpgLike most students, I didn’t have access to a car during my yeshiva years in Israel. This meant riding multiple busses and hitching rides anytime I needed to go out. Often I’d end up waiting at the side of the road for long periods of time before anyone stopped, and I promised myself that in the future when I would be in the position to do so, I would make sure to give rides to people I saw waiting.

As it turns out, I usually have a full car when I travel, and although I see people who need rides and really wish I could help them, I cannot. But last week we travelled to Monsey for Shabbos for my brother’s sheva brachos. We no longer all fit into our minivan, since the blessing of our triplets a few months ago, so my wife drove the minivan with all the car seats, and I borrowed a car and took two of the older kids with me.

On the way, we passed an accident at the side of the road that had stranded a chassidic couple. I stopped the car to see if I could help. They, too, were on their way to Monsey for Shabbos, passengers in a taxi which had been rear-ended. The driver had phoned police to file a report, but as we all know, small accidents are not police priority and it can take a long time for them to show up. In the meantime, this couple had a young baby and might not be able to get to Monsey in time.

So, I offered them a ride.

The taxi driver panicked and refused to let them go, insisting the police may need them for the report. After checking and assuring him that this was not the case, he allowed me to take them. I drove them to their door, about 20 minutes out of my way, and I felt good being able to give a ride just as I had needed all those years ago. I haven’t forgotten the feeling.

There are many pleasures in life. You can eat a good steak, watch a beautiful sunset, engage in intellectual debate…but one of the deepest pleasures that exists is that of giving to others.

Giving makes us G-dly, because G-d is the ultimate giver. By giving of ourselves to others we 1channel our innate G-dliness and bring it to the surface, which is what makes it so rewarding.

However fortunate we may be now, let us not forget what it feels like to need, and may that be the impetus to seek out others and help them, allowing us to experience the true pleasure of giving.

Kites: Friend or Foe?

Blog.pngFor most, kites bring to mind breezy summer afternoons and carefree, childish delight.

Certainly, they are not commonly associated with terrorism. But in Israel right now, that’s exactly how they are being used.

Terrorists in Gaza have been flying fire-bearing kites across the border into Israel at the height of harvesting season, obliterating over 7000 acres of farmland in some 450 blazes resulting in millions of dollars in damage.

Israel is hot and dry, and it doesn’t take much to ignite a fire. A small kite attached to some hot coals or a Molotov cocktail is more than sufficient to do tremendous damage.

There is no question that Israel’s security systems are among the most advanced and high-tech in the world. They can detect and intercept air missiles and underground tunnels with record precision, but the kites are so small and light they are virtually undetectable. A simple child’s toy has managed to confound one of the world’s most advanced militaries.

So far, Israel has no solution.

Often, the simplest things can be the most powerful.

Surely the IDF will quickly figure out how to combat this new threat, but in the meantime, is there something we can learn from it?

For me, it’s that sometimes the smallest things—the ones that are so easy to discount—can be the most powerful.

When it comes to our relationship with G-d, we look to cover ourselves with the big things. Fasting on Yom Kippur? That’s a huge one! Of course I’ll do that. Making a Pesach Seder? Definitely! Brit Milah for my son? What’s the question? I am Jewish! 

But when it comes to the things we perceive as small, the day-to-day commitments, it’s easier to bow out. Learning Torah? That’s not for me. Praying daily? I’m busy in the mornings. Putting on tefillin? Once in a while is enough. I don’t need those—I do the big things!

“I am a good Jew in my heart,” people often tell me. “I feel G-d, I love Him. Why do I need to do the small things every day?”

While the big things are certainly important—and doing something is always better than doing nothing—let’s not discount the power of each small action, each mitzvah, that we do every day.

A mitzvah is what connects us to G-d. It’s how we ignite and maintain our relationship with Him. Just like a small plastic kite can instantly ignite a field, burning 1400 acres of wheat, by firing up our connection with G-d multiple times a day we can create and sustain an unquantifiable spiritual fire fusing our relationship with Him in a way that only sticking to the “big things” cannot.

So, nu, fire up your connection to G-d today!

Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump, and Moshiach

image1.jpegThis week, along with much of the developed world, I watched the most powerful leader on Earth—President Donald Trump—meet with the most evil one—North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un.

The US and North Korea have been at war since 1950, and in recent years tensions have risen, giving serious indication that nuclear war might be on the horizon. Just months ago the countries’ leaders were publicly hurling insults at each other!

So what changed? How do you go from Trump calling Kim “rocket man” and threatening “fire and fury” to a historic summit where you shake hands and make radical commitments to peace? 

Every single event that transpires in this world is orchestrated by Divine providence. Nothing happens without G-d’s involvement. And especially events that occur with world leaders and nuclear powers.

It is clear that this meeting indicates the imminent coming of Moshiach.

When Moshiach comes, there will be world peace. No murder, rape, crime? It’s hard to imagine, given the current state of the world. But in Isaiah G-d promises, “...they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against another nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Indeed, this is what happened this week. President Trump showed Chairman Kim a video that instead of having weapons of mass destruction, he could build beautiful, profitable condos on his beaches, and engineer medical breakthroughs and innovative technologies, precisely as the verse promises.

Since we are in the period immediately preceding the coming of Moshiach, we can already see the influence Moshiach wields over word leaders. The hearts and minds of all rulers are in the hands of the Almighty and He alone put into their heads the desire to denuclearize.

This Shabbat we mark the 24th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe promised us that the coming of Moshiach is imminent; we are the last generation of exile. Every day we pray, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach, and though he may tarry, I await his coming every day.” May our prayers be answered, and may the process that has begun snowball so that there truly will be no more war, no hatred, no violence or animosity. May the prophecies awaiting fulfillment come to fruition before our eyes, so we can celebrate together in Jerusalem very soon.

* This essay is based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s talk on Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim 1992. 

Sometimes It’s Okay to Speed

o-POLICE-SIREN-facebook.jpgIt was close to midnightSaturday night, as I drove from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on my way back from the Kotel.

I noticed a police car behind me, but I wasn’t concerned. I was wearing my seatbelt and driving below the speed limit. I was not using my cell phone or doing anything else wrong.

The police car continued to trail me, so I switched lanes to let it pass. But it didn’t. 

Still, I wasn’t fazed. I knew I was driving safely and legally.

Some minutes later, the lights began to flash and I pulled over, wondering, “Really? What did I do?”

A policeman approached my window. “License and registration,” he barked.

“Good evening, officer, is there a problem? Did I do something wrong?” I asked in English.

“Oh! You are from America,” he said. “That explains it.”

Apparently, I had been driving too well, following the rules a little too closely, to the point that he assumed I must be hiding something!

What a lark!

The Baal Shem Tov taught us that we should seek the spiritual lesson in every encounter, and so I found myself wondering what the takeaway is here.

In terms of our spiritual growth, we cannot become complacent. We need to remain vibrant, alert, never satisfied with our current standing. While driving within the speed limit is honorable, when it comes to spirituality it’s vital that we accelerate, accomplishing mitzvah after mitzvah.

We cannot be content to cruise along in our relationship with G-d and the Torah. We must put the pedal to the metal!

Saved by Tefillin—Literally!

Blog.jpgWhen I asked Shimon Yifrach—who was injured by terrorist gunfire in 2016—to put on tefillin last Friday, he proudly told me that he already had. In fact, he had a tefillin story he wanted to tell me.

“I used to serve in the Border Patrol Unit, and in early 2016 I was stationed in a place called Aram in Kalandia,” he began. “One morning I had the urge to put on tefillin but I didn’t follow through. It weighed on my mind and later in the day an inner voice told me, ‘Go put on tefillin!’ I brushed it off but it persisted. I told my fellow soldiers that I was stepping aside for a minute, and I moved away from the massive concrete security block I had been standing behind.

“Literally seconds after I stepped aside, a terrorist driving a heavy commercial vehicle drove full-speed into the concrete slab, hitting it with such force that it moved at least six feet! I was so close that the vehicle grazed my hand. Imagine what would have happened had I still been standing there! There’s no way I could have survived that.

“I have no doubt the tefillin saved my life. Since then, I try to put on tefillin every day, including today!” The Torah (Deuteronomy 28:10) proclaims, “The nations of the world will see that the name of Hashem is upon you and they will fear you.” The Talmud explains that this refers to tefillin which have the power to inspire fear in the hearts of our enemies.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the tefillin campaign right before the six-day war, calling upon Jews worldwide—regardless of religious affiliation—to begin putting on tefillin, even if they had never done so. He directed his chassidim in Israel to visit army bases and put on tefillin with the soldiers. Days later the war began, and Israel defeated the heavily armed Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies with record speed.

Indeed, tefillin have the power to literally save lives. We saw it with the six-day war and my friend Shimon experienced it himself.

So, what are you waiting for? Go put on tefillin! 

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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