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I have 1 kid + 3 kids

Blog.pngThis week our community is hosting its 13th delegation of wounded IDF soldiers.

At breakfast today, Hilal Besan shared his story. Hilal comes from a Druze family and he finished his army service with distinction. Hilal is a triplet, and one of his brothers worked as a prison guard until he was killed in 2010 while trying to save others from fires raging across the country.  

Hilal and his wife have one child, and after the tragedy they adopted his brother’s children. The children live right next door with their mom, and are co-parenting all three. So when people ask Hilal how many children he has, he answers, “One plus three.”

In 2012 Hilal left his job and decided to honor his brother’s memory by becoming an officer in Israel’s prison guard unit. Two years later, while he was transporting a prisoner from his cell, the prisoner asked to use the bathroom where he managed to retrieve a pistol which had been smuggled in for him. He started shooting and Hilal immediately tried to subdue him. The prisoner shot Hilal twice in the chest, but his adrenalin kicked in and he didn’t even realize how critically he had been wounded. With the help of fellow officers he was able to tackle the prisoner and calm the situation, preventing many potential deaths. For this, he later received Israel’s highest medal of honor.

But at the time, Hilal was critically wounded. He lost a tremendous amount of blood and spent 45 days in intensive care. Twice he was actually considered clinically dead but the doctors were able to revive him.

When Hilal shared his story at breakfast, there was not a dry eye in the room. What incredible sacrifices this man has made!

In this week’s parsha we read about the birth of Jacob and Esau, who represent the powers of good and evil, respectively. Jacob represents kindness, patience and peace. Esau represents evil, terrorism, murder and sin. With their birth, the eternal battle between good and evil began.

Our job is to subdue the evil. We know we will be victorious. We know, without a shadow of doubt, that we will win this war. When we meet heroes like Hilal, it reminds us of the power of good, and motivates us to dig deep and find ways to help those around us in small ways or large. We, like Hilal, will be victorious! 

I Love Running Pre-Dawn

Blog.jpgOn Monday morning I awoke at 4am, as I frequently do. I love the pre-dawn hours and find them particularly productive and invigorating. In fact, the first sentence in the code of Jewish law instructs, “One should strengthen himself like a lion to get up in the morning to serve his Creator, so that it is he who awakens the dawn...”

I studied Chassidic texts for half an hour, answered some emails, put on my sneakers and went for a run. It was cold outside—35°F—with strong winds, I loved it. I had my headphones on and as I ran I listened to a talk given by the Rebbe.

It was still dark outside and I headed for the Central Park reservoir. Although the reservoir is usually well-lit, with lights every few feet, for some reason on this morning the lights were only working three quarters of the way around. The rest was dark. Pitch black, in fact.

As I ran, I thought about the words of our sages, “The darkest time of the night is immediately before dawn.” And indeed, I finished my run just as dawn broke, heralding morning light across NYC.

Over the years, I have used these words to comfort many people, including myself. When faced with a crisis, it’s important to realize that just as the darkest time of night is immediately followed by dawn, the hardest times in life are followed by relief. Whenever you think that you are in a terrible, dark place and you cannot see the light, don’t worry. Know that G-d will help and it will soon be light again. In fact, our positive thoughts can actually influence the outcome, as the third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was known to say, “Think good and it will be good!”

This weekend is the international conference of Chabad emissaries. Over 4000 rabbis from across the globe will gather for workshops, lectures, seminars, and most importantly, to strengthen and encourage one another. We will talk, inspire, share ideas, and focus on our most important mission—how to end this darkness. We are currently in the longest, darkest and most bitter exile in Jewish history. It seems it cannot get any darker, but that means dawn must be right around the corner. Together we will usher in that “dawn” throughout the world, finally ending this bitter exile and embracing the new and wondrous era of Moshiach. 

How Many Hours Until You Die?

Blog.jpgTwo weeks ago I flew to South Africa for my nephew’s bar mitzvah. As a child, I loved flying. I looked forward to it—getting on the massive jet, having my own seat (which felt so spacious!), walking up and down the aisles feeling very important, etc. Now my kids love flying, but I seem to have outgrown the thrill. Perhaps it’s because of my age, or maybe it’s because I’ve flown to South Africa approximately 55 times thus far!

At any rate, I found myself on one of the world’s longest flights, from New York to Johannesburg, and time seemed to crawl. I had a nice chat with the person sitting next to me, I caught up on some work, got a drink, ate something, learned some Torah, walked around the plane several times looking for Jews to do a mitzvah with (no luck—nobody else had even ordered a kosher meal). I took a nap, prayed mincha and visited the restroom. After all that I consulted the flight map on my screen and realized we had only been in the air for three hours, with another twelve to go.

The flight feels endless. You fly and you fly and you fly… and there are still hours to go. In fact, my entire trip there and back lasted 96 hours: 40 travelling, 56 on the ground.

With so much time on my hands, I got thinking. Isn’t life just one big flight? Ethics of our fathers tells us, “This world is like a corridor. Prepare yourself to enter the palace at the end of the corridor—the World to Come.” How many hours do we spend preparing ourselves for our Final Destination? How much time do we have to accomplish something useful before we arrive?

 Here’s what my calculation looks like:

There are 24 hours in a day, and the average person sleeps 6-8 hours, which I’ll average as 7. So a day now consists of 17 hours.

Now think about how many of those 17 hours we waste on things like watching television, waiting on line at Starbucks, Googling ourselves, checking Facebook for the umpteenth time, etc. Then there are necessary things like meals, bathroom breaks, getting dressed, cleaning, commuting—all of which take time. For many people it’s probably more, but let’s be conservative and deduct 7 hours for all of the above.

That leaves us with 10 hours per day to be productive, kind and spiritual. We have 10 hours per day to make this world a better, holier place.

Let’s say you’re 25 years old. The average American lives until the age of 75. That leaves you with 50 years to live. Ten hours per day may not seem like much, but at that rate you have 182,500 hours remaining, which is nothing to sneeze at!

If you are 35, you have 146,000 hours left

If you are 45, you have 109,500 hours left

If you are 55, you have 73,000 hours left 

If you are 65, you have 36,500 hours left. 

In this week’s parsha we read about Abraham, who the Torah describes as, “Coming in days,” meaning that he lived every day of his life to its fullest. He utilized every moment, every opportunity to accomplish. He did not waste time; he knew his time here was limited.

Every hour that passes by unutilized is gone forever, and every hour that passes brings us closer to the World to Come. Let’s make sure we are adequately prepared, by using that time to make this world a better place.

The world is an airplane; life a journey—one which lasts much longer than my 15-hour flight. Nevertheless, it will eventually end, and we will arrive at our destination. Now you know exactly how many hours you have left, go and utilize them!

Let's Make America Kind Again!

Blog.jpgThis week the US finally finished an extremely long and divisive election. Despite all the pundits and pollsters predicting a win for Clinton, after a mutually ugly, vitriolic race, Trump pulled off a win that will be remembered as the most stunning upset in American history thus far.

This election has divided us unlike any other. It has pitted friends and even family members against one another. Shul member against shul member. Brother against sister. Husband against wife. Families have been torn apart; friendships demolished.

I received dozens of phone calls and emails yesterday, from people on both sides—those wishing to celebrate Trumps win, and those looking for comfort after Clinton’s loss. And, as always, Facebook and Twitter provided a very public platform for everyone to air their feelings, whether jubilation or outrage.

And I found myself wondering, who really won the election? 

                                                                        ******

As a young child, Reb Zalman Aharon (the “Raza”), the older brother of Rebbe Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (the “Rashab”), often complained that he was noticeably shorter than his younger brother.

One day, the Raza snuck up behind his brother and pushed him lightly into a small ditch. As the Rashab stood up in surprise, the Raza seized the moment and pointed out that now he was taller.

Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (the "Maharash"), the father of the two boys, observed the entire episode. The Rebbe asked for a chair, ordered the Raza to stand on it, and asked him, “Tell me, who’s taller now?”

The Raza answered excitedly that yet again he was taller.

 “Aha!” said Rabbi Shmuel. “There you are! To be bigger than your friend, there is no need to pull him down. Simply elevate yourself!”

                                                                          *****

When it comes to our lives, we all ultimately want the same things—peace, security, jobs, healthcare, comfort. And when election time comes, we argue and debate endlessly about which path will bring us to that shared goal.

But all too often we get caught up in the debate, and make the mistake of degrading and belittling those who feel differently. We have extremely strong opinions about who should lead the country but Instead of lifting ourselves up, we push the other person down. We all have faults, and it's easier to point out the other person's faults than to elevate and fix our own.

So, in that sense, we all lost the election.

Now we are finally post-election and can begin the healing process. We need to rekindle the love we feel for each other, the love that may have become hidden over the last few months because we were so busy debating our election choices.

Let’s focus on what unites us—our love for each other!

We read about the covenant G-d made with Abraham, the first Jew, in this week’s parshah. The Covenant of Parts—a guarantee that no matter what comes between us, we will remain connected eternally. We are all part of the same family, we share the same destiny and the same G-d.

It’s time to remember that we’re in this together, for the long haul. By shaking off all the election drama, and reuniting with our brethren, we can and will make America kind again. 

Yes, the Election IS Rigged!

Blog.jpgI’ve been hearing the same sentiment, over and over again, from my family, friends and congregants lately. "Rabbi,” they say, “if ____ wins the election, I think we are all doomed!"

In just a few days Americans will elect a new president. The 2016 election cycle has been an incredibly tumultuous election cycle. There is no middle ground in this election; no one who is happy with either candidate. People have incredibly strong opinions and everyone is certain that if the other candidate wins,life as we know it will end. 

Just come to our synagogue on Shabbat morning and listen to the various conversations taking place throughout the room. In fact, I am hesitant to even mention the candidates by name in the shul. I have congregants who are firmly in Camp Clinton and others who are staunchly Camp Trump, and some people are even considering moving out of the US if their candidate is not elected.

For months, my Facebook feed has been filled almost solely with everything election-related, and the links, articles, videos, heated posts and vitriol are only hitting my wall faster and with more force as we get closer to Election Day.

Claims have been made that the election is rigged. And indeed, yes, it has.

We might think that come Tuesday morning, when we head out to the ballot, we are choosing the next president. But we aren’t.

The next president has already been chosen.

You see G-d, the supreme and Almighty leader is the one who decides who will be president. He is the one who rules the world, and He is the one has chosen the president. 

King Solomon says in the book of Mishlei, "A king’s heart is in G-ds hand; wherever He wishes he turns it" 

As we go through life, we can forget that G-d is orchestrating everything behind the scenes. If He wants Clinton, she will be president. If He wants Trump, then Trump will be the president. It’s that simple.

We may think that the polls are driven up and down by things the candidates say and do, but that is all a façade. G-d is directing this election, and the outcome will be the one He has chosen. No amount of voter fraud, rigged ballots or miscounts can change that. 

Of course we must vote and do everything in our power to make sure that the person we think is best suited to rule the country will become leader, but ultimately everything comes from G-d. 

And so when you go Tuesday to the ballot and make your choice, please choose the candidate you think will best carry G-d’s message to the entire world. 

May the person who ultimately becomes president be a worthy messenger of G-d!

Rabbi, I Want to Cremate my Wife!

Screenshot 2016-10-27 at 1.45.33 PM.pngShortly before Sukkot I received a call from Jack*. His wife was on her deathbed and when she passed, he planned to cremate her. 

Having received many similar calls over the years, I know how difficult it is to convince a family not to go through with cremation once they've set their minds to it.

Since it was literally minutes before the holiday, I told Jack briefly why Judaism prohibits cremation, but he was adamant, so I suggested we continue our conversation in person after the holiday.

Unfortunately, his wife passed away the next morning.

The family found me in my sukkah and we sat for a few hours discussing death, burial and cremation. I brought out every argument I could think of. I explained that the body is G-d's gift to us, a temporary loan which we are required to take care of and return undamaged. The same way we don't tattoo, commit suicide or otherwise mutilate the body, we also cannot burn it.

But Jack and his family weren't buying it.

I explained that when Moshiach comes and the dead are resurrected, it's important to have a body.

Still nothing.

So I tried to describe how much pain the soul feels when the body burned.

But Jack and his family told me they don't believe in the soul, the after-life or G-d.

I excused myself for a minute, left the sukkah and offered up a heartfelt prayer. "Almighty G-d," I said, "I need Your help here! I am struggling to convince this family of the importance of a proper Jewish burial. Please help me..."

I said a few chapters of tehillim (Psalms) and I returned to the sukkah.

We continued the conversation and at the end, Jack says to me, "Rabbi, I don't believe in anything you've said, but I've decided to bury my wife. Why? Because my mother in law (who is still alive) begged me to bury her daughter. She said 'I was the one who brought him into this world, I should be the one deciding how she should pass on.' So I'm going to do it, Rabbi."

Here I was, trying every rabbinic argument in the book, and although ultimately I succeeded, my success had absolutely nothing to do with me! None of my reasoning worked. It was entirely G-d who helped me facilitate this mitzvah. But I was left with an important message: never give up! Try your hardest, and when you do, G-d will surely help you. 

As I drove home from the funeral a couple of days later, I thought about one of the sermons I gave on Yom Kippur, where I discussed the concept of a soul coming down to this earth for 70-80 years perhaps to perform one single mitzvah. Maybe, just maybe, this was my mine.

*Name and details have been changed to protect privacy.

My Checks Were Forged

Check-signed.jpgWhen I checked my bank balance this week, I noticed a large withdrawal—a check for $2300. I opened it to view the check, and I saw my signature. The memo said it was for preschool, the date looked accurate and it seemed authentic overall. But I had no recollection of writing the check and I didn’t recognize the name it was made out to. Could it be fraud?

I checked with my wife but she didn’t recognize it either. I double checked the signature, and without doubt it was identical to mine. Something wasn’t adding up. So I called the bank manager and shared my concerns, and he placed a hold on the check.

The following day two more checks show up on my account, with my signature, but definitely not issued by me. I now knew it was definitely fraud.

It turned out that somebody had copied Chabad Israel Center checks and made them look identical, right down to my signature. It looked real, but it wasn’t. The only give away was that the thief had used check numbers that were out of sequence. This was not the real deal.

Thank G-d we were able to stop the theft and recover all the checks in time.

On Yom Kippur we sit in shul, dressed in white like angels, fasting and praying to G-d. We tell G-d, “This is the real me! The me that has been sinning all year is forged. That’s somebody else. It’s not the real me. It may look like my signature, it may look identical, it may be extremely difficult to tell the difference, but it’s not my signature. The real me is the one who is in shul now. The real me is the one who wants to do the right thing. The real me is the one who prays to G-d.”

During the year we may deviate from spirituality. We may have sinned. We may have done things that we are not proud of. But come Yom Kippur, we reveal our true selves—our good and holy selves.

May we all be inscribed in the book of life with health and happiness, and may we have the strength to keep our true selves revealed and in action year round.

Am I Old Fashioned?

hangouts-11-copy.jpgThis week my daughter accused me of being old fashioned and I was genuinely flabbergasted! You see, her bunk-mates from camp are keeping in touch via Google hangout and social media, which I do not allow my daughter to use. I strongly believe that a 10-year-old should not use electronic devices, have Snapchat, Instagram or even her own email address. So I told her she is welcome to pick up the phone to call her friends and actually speak to them. I also compromised by allowing her to text with them once a week from my phone for a specified amount of time.

This led to her calling me “old fashioned.” She told me I grew up in a different generation and I have to live with the times. It’s 2016 now!

When I heard that, I was shocked. I’m only 38 and I consider myself extremely young and “with the times.” But my daughter gave me a reality check, and in a way she’s right. When I grew up in the 80’s, we didn’t have cell phones or internet, let alone Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Maybe I do come from a different generation.

I wonder what my children’s children will say about their parents. What kind of advances will the world have made by then?

It’s true, times are changing. Each year we make tremendous advances in science, medicine, and of course, technology. Just think about all the exciting things that have happened in 2016 so far:  Juno successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit, a British couple managed to clone their dead dog, and the world’s first baby with three biological parents was born. And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

We are about to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, when we go back in time and relive the creation of the first human. Times may be changing, but as Jews our Torah, our tradition, and our G-d does not. It does not matter if we are living in the 1500’s or the 1800’s or 1980's or 2016 or anytime in the future. It’s the same Torah, the same G-d and the same Rosh Hashanah. 

Rosh Hashanah is one thing that has never changed throughout the generations. No matter where a person may find himself, no matter what modern times may bring, we still sing the same tunes, pray the same prayers, and talk to the same G-d.

Rosh Hashanah is a time to come back home and do things the old fashioned way. So this year, as you prepare to celebrate the holiday, ask yourself, “Am I old fashioned?”

I know I am, and I’m proud of it!

How can I say no to my daughter?

Screenshot 2016-09-22 at 3.43.12 PM.pngA few weeks ago I went to a store with my two year old daughter Sara. I paid for the items that I needed and was heading out the store. As I was walking out my daughter noticed a tambourine. She picked it up and loved the sound that it made when she shook it. She asked me if she could have it and I said no. I told her to put it back on the shelf and she refused.

I asked her again to put the tambourine back and she just sat on the floor with her arms folded.  

She continued to insist that she really wanted it. I tried to reason with her but to no avail. She was adamant that she wanted that tambourine.

Finally, I told her there is nothing more to talk about and we are leaving. That is when she started to cry. 

When I saw those tears come down her cheeks there was absolutely no way I could resist my adorable daughter and so she got her way.

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

In just a few days Jews worldwide will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. This is the day that G-d judges the entire universe. We recite in our prayers on Rosh Hashanah “Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.”

It is the day of our judgement. Who will live? Who will have health? Who will have wealth? In fact how much money a person will make is determined to the penny on this holy day.

G-d loves every single one of us more than I love my own daughter and so If I cannot say no to my daughter’s request, surely our Father in heaven cannot resist our supplications.

When we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah it is a cry from the depths of our heart and G-d will surely bless us all with a good, happy and healthy new year./

It’s up to us! All we need to do is ask G-d

Shana Tova!

Release Your Medical Records!

medical-records-request3.jpgAmerica is 53 days away from electing the most powerful leader in the world, and people are demanding answers about the health status of the candidates.

In order to make decisions that impact the entire world, day after day, a person needs to be healthy. As voters, we need to be certain that the person we choose will be up to the task, both mentally and physically, for the next four years.

Both Hillary and Donald have promised to release certificates from their doctors detailing their health and confirming that they are healthy enough to become the next president.

What about us?

Are we healthy? Spiritually healthy? When was the last time we checked in on our spiritual wellbeing and relationship with G-d?

The same way we demand our presidential candidates complete a health check, we need to evaluate our own health.

What is the status of our observance? Are we finding time daily for Torah study? Can we increase the amount for improved health? Are we lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night? Where are we up to with kosher observance? 

We’re so concerned about Hillary and Donald, but can we produce a certificate from our Rabbi’s guaranteeing our own spiritual health?

The president of the United States is given the awesome responsibility of leading the free world. We too, have a pressing and monumental task—to be a light unto the nations. We are on a mission to make this world a better place by spreading goodness and kindness all around us.

Are we doing our job? Are we keeping ourselves healthy enough to maintain the spiritual stamina we need to complete the task?

We are currently in the month of Elul, which leads up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. We have 18 days to ensure that our spiritual records are up to par, so that when we pray, “Who will live and who will die?” we will surely be granted many long and healthy (physically and spiritually) years.

May you be written and inscribed for a good and sweet year!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Breaking News: The President is in Town!

Elul.pngHave you heard? The President is in town right now. You don't believe me? Hurry! Go and see for yourself!

Not only is he here, but he’s not surrounded by body guards and secret service personnel like he usually is. In fact, none of his staff are hovering around him at all, and there isn’t even a line to see him. You can simply walk up and chat. He’s calm and smiling and open and happy to see anyone. He wants to hear from the people—what’s working and what isn’t, what’s making us happy and what’s troubling us, our difficulties and our triumphs.

Of course, the President we’re talking about is the President of presidents, the King of kings, the Almighty G-d Himself.

The Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya, revealed to us that during the Jewish month of Elul G-d is “in the field.”

When a king is in his palace, on his home turf, he’s much less accessible. One needs to make an appointment, wait months, and deal with the surrounding personnel—and that’s only if the person is lucky enough to get in at all! But when the king travels, he wants to meet his subjects and talk to them. There are fewer barriers, and people can approach him at will.

Likewise, year-round G-d is at “home.” He’s available but more distant. We have to work harder to reach Him. But during the month of Elul, he is “in the field” so to speak, waiting for us to approach Him.

Unlike the President, who, let’s be honest, cannot really help us with our problems, G-d can. He and He alone has the ability to relieve our stress, resolve our personal troubles, and help us with our livelihood. He can help when we’re feeling lonely or depressed. He can guide us with our health issues.

So, no, this is not a “bait and switch” title. The President really is in town.

Because we are naturally materialistic, you may think I fooled you. We can only relate to what our physical eyes can see, and they can only see a physical President.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing real in our lives is spirituality and G-dliness. And in this month G-d is in the field waiting for us to talk to him. You cannot see Him? Well, stop chasing money and materialistic pursuits for five minutes a day this month and use that time to tune into G-d. Open your heart to Him. Talk to Him. He is listening. He is there. All it takes is five minutes a day. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and focus on the Source of all life.

Go ahead, start that conversation. He’s ready whenever you are.

 

I Miss My Daughter!

Blog.jpgIt finally happened. 

After living in the US for 15 years, I finally did what Americans do in the summer: I sent my ten year old daughter daughter to overnight camp!

Now, I am still not a fan of the American three-month summer vacation, and I greatly prefer the South African system I grew up in, where the summer break is much shorter, but that's for another article. 

So, I sent my daughter to overnight camp for the very first time, and I had no idea how much I would miss her. It's not a very long camp, just two weeks, but boy do I miss her! I know she's having a wonderful, exciting time, but I've never been away from her for this long, ever!

A few days into camp she called, but could only speak for five minutes. As expected, she is playing hard, making new friends, and loving every minute. A week in we received a letter from her, and next week she already returns. I love her so much and I can't wait!

Now I have an inkling of how hard it is for our Father in Heaven when we are away "at camp."

You see, for 11 months of the year, most of us drift away from our Father. We are in "camp." We've been removed from spirituality, haven't interacted much with G-d, and haven't kept up with His commandments as well as we should have. 



G-d loves us so much - He misses us!

From time to time we may have made a quick "phone call" to G-d. We may have popped into shul, given a few token coins to tzeddakah or mumbled off some blessings by rote. We may have event "sent a letter," but for the most part we've been away. 

But come this Shabbat, we will be ushering in the new month of Elul with the blessing over the new moon. Elul signifies the end of "camp;" the time to return home. It's a month of repentance, and every day we listen the shofar being blown in order to awaken ourselves spiritually. 

And now I can imagine how excited G-d must be to greet us during this auspicious month. 

Let's go home. G-d misses us!

My Mother’s Accident

Blog.jpgWhen I think of dangerous activities which are likely to lead to injury, mountain climbing comes to mind. So do bungee jumping, paragliding and riding in a space shuttle.

What doesn’t come to mind is walking. In fact, I can think of few things safer!

My mother has been walking daily with her steady walking partner ever since I can remember. Probably at least 25 years. It’s the same route every single day, with the same walking partner, very close to her home. Without doubt, my mother knows every inch of her route by heart.

But this week my mother was hit by a car while walking.

She doesn’t carry her phone, so we cannot blame texting and walking. She was simply crossing a street where she had right of way, but the driver didn’t stop. It wasn’t deliberate and he wasn’t drunk. He wasn’t even driving fast! He simply wasn’t paying proper attention and so he knocked over my mother and her friend.

The driver (a family friend, in fact!) felt terrible and was deeply apologetic. But the damage was done. My mother fractured her foot and may need surgery to repair the damage. She will be on crutches or in a wheelchair for at least six weeks.

How could the least dangerous activity result in a broken leg? Only G-d knows that!

But here’s what I do know. If G-d wants to send us a message, it doesn’t matter where we are. We can be flying, driving, bungee jumping, paragliding or simply lying in bed. If G-d wants to, He will find us even when we’re doing something as innocuous as taking a morning walk.

In this week’s parsha we read the Shema—“Hear O Israel…G-d is one.”

What does it mean that G-d is one? G-d is present and prevalent in every part of our lives; not just the big events, but in every nook and cranny, every mundane and seemingly unimportant aspect. Nothing happens without G-d. He is active and manifested in our lives constantly.

What we need to do is open our eyes and ears, and watch closely to see what exactly G-d is trying to communicate.

What’s the message here? I can’t know for sure, but perhaps G-d wants my mother to slow down, take a short break from her hectic life, and relax for six weeks. 

She certainly deserves it (albeit without the broken leg)!

How Can I Trust You?

Blog.jpgA couple of weeks ago I flew to Israel with my family. As we waited to check in at JFK, juggling our five young children and multiple pieces of luggage, a stranger walked over and introduced himself. Being a Chabad rabbi, and very visible in my black hat and jacket, I am accustomed to being approached by strangers. But this man had something else on his mind.

Jack* was in JFK with his 12-year-old daughter who was flying alone to spend time with her cousins in Israel. The airlines considered her an unaccompanied minor, so Jack was looking for someone he could trust to take his daughter through security, onto the plane and through Ben Gurion at the other end. Of course we agreed to help him, and it turned out that his daughter was actually great help with our five kids. Win-win!

But we were some of the last few people to check in, so I asked Jack, "You must've waited here for a long time until you found someone you felt you could trust. Why did you pick us? Aren't we strangers just as much as the next person?"

"Yes, we arrived very early," he explained. "I've been standing here scanning passengers, trying to decide who I could trust with my precious child."

"What made you trust me?" I asked.

"Well, I see that you have five children, and I noticed the way you were holding and hugging your 2-year-old daughter. If that's how you take care of your daughter, especially in this harried situation, I know I can trust you."

      ---------

This weekend we will make the saddest day on the Jewish calendar-Tisha B'Av. On Tisha B'Av we commemorate the destruction of the first and second holy Beit Hamikdash. Although it's been almost 2,000 years since the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, we yearn for it to be rebuilt.

The Midrash tells us that G-d is waiting and yearning to build the third Beit Hamikdash for us, and on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, our souls get a glimpse of it. So, if we are yearning for it, and G-d is yearning to give it to us, what is He waiting for?

He needs to know that He can trust us.

The last Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam-baseless hatred. So before we can receive the third and final Beit Hamikdash, we need to prove that we can do better.

How do we show G-d that He can trust us?

Like Jack* who was watching me, G-d is waiting for us to "hug" one another. We need to demonstrate our care, concern, love and appreciation for all our fellow Jews, regardless of how well we know them, how much we have in common, or how much we agree on.

G-d is waiting and watching to see how we treat one another. When He sees us loving one another unconditionally, He will again entrust us with the holy Beit Hamikdash and the Final Redemption.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

*Name changed to protect the individuals privacy.

I Have Sinned!

Blog.jpgThis week I committed a terrible sin, and I still feel awful when I think about it.

It was a typical day at our Chabad camp. Halfway through, lunch arrived from Eighteen restaurant. Passing through the kitchen shortly after lunch, I noticed some leftovers, so I took a plate and ate what appeared to be two falafel balls.

A couple of hours later my beloved, caring wife brought me lunch—a delicious, oozy, toasted cheese sandwich. I devoured it, recited the blessing we say upon finishing a meal, and continued with my work.

An hour or so later, my wife popped into my office and happened to notice the plate of "falafel" I had eaten earlier. She asked me if I'd eaten any, and when I confirmed that I had, she said, "You know, those are meatballs..."

I was shocked.

According to Jewish law one may not mix dairy and meat, and this extends to a waiting period of six hours after eating meat before one may eat dairy. And here I am, having just eaten a cheese sandwich only two hours after eating meat balls!

I was devastated.

The following day I confided in a friend of mine. The first thing he asked me is, "Rabbi, is that really the biggest sin you've ever committed?"

Then he asked what many people wonder. "Rabbi, I don't understand. Do you really thing G-d cares what you ate for lunch, or how much time you waited between your meals? Just dealing with Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton must keep Him busy on a full time basis. Not to mention all the other world events and national news we've been dealing with this summer. Terrorist attacks, a near coup in Turkey and all the unrest right here in America. With all this going on, do you really think G-d cares about your toasted cheese sandwich?"

My friend certainly has a point. But I asked him to consider what makes a marriage thrive. How does one maintain a relationship for many years? By focusing on the little things. It's imperative to keep giving small gifts, sharing meaningful compliments, thoughtful comments and spending time together on a regular basis. The grand yearly vacations and the exquisite anniversary gifts are nice. But not enough. It's the ongoing tiny gestures that build true intimacy and love.

Likewise, in our relationship with G-d, it's those small, everyday matters that keep our connection strong. Of course G-d is just as involved in the big decisions, like who will be the most powerful person in the world, but He cares just as much about my lunch. In fact, this week's Torah portion outlines the laws of keeping a kosher home.

So, why am I publically sharing my sin with you? Because if there is even one Jew who reads this and eats even one kosher meal as a result, it will help me repair my relationship with G-d.

So please help me repent!

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