Let's keep in touch!
Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at Chabad Israel Center? Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed from Chabadic.com

English Blog

English Blog


What to do About the Refugee Problem?

Syrian-refugees-landing.jpgI, too, am an immigrant. I first came to the United States in 1995 at the age of 17. It took me 10 years to become a citizen. So, on some level, I can relate to the current global discussion regarding the refugees. 

After it was revealed that at least one of the terrorists involved in last week's horrific Paris attacks gained access to France by posing as a Syrian refugee, there has been much discussion about if and how to allow refugees to settle in Western countries. Obama is adamant about allowing thousands in, but at least 32 governors have insisted that they will not allow refugees into their states. 

It all boils down to a few key questions: Who are the refugees? What is their goal? Will some of them declare Jihad against America or will they be peace-loving citizens dedicated to our ideals of freedom and democracy?

Essentially, we need a tough vetting process. 

The truth is, we are all immigrants in this world. Our souls were basking in Heavenly spiritual paradise before descending into this physical universe. We are here temporarily; for 70-80 years, and G-d had a vetting process for us, too. Before we joined the world, he made us promise to uphold the values of truth and kindness. And we swore!  Because that was the only way to enter the world. 

As immigrants, our job is to permeate the world with goodness and holiness. We need to set an example for others. Every day we ask ourselves: Are we good citizens? Are we honest and kind? Do we go out of way to help others?

Interestingly, this week's Torah portion talks about the very first refugee. Yaakov, our forefather, was running away from his hometown in Beer Sheva, Israel. His brother Esav hated him viscerally and wanted to kill him. So Yaakov fled. As he fled, he was robbed of all his possessions. 

Frightened and penniless, he arrived in a new country (Charan, which is in northern Iraq) with a new language with just the clothes on his back. Despite his sorry plight, Yaakov teaches us how to act as a refugee.

First, he showed gratitude to his host community for allowing him in. Second, Yaakov took the holiness of Israel and transported it into his new country, sharing it with his new people. Although he lived in the morally depraved Charan with a deceitful father-in-law, Yaakov remained a holy Jew dedicated to honesty and kindness. 

He stayed in Charan for 20 years, creating a life and amassing a fortune. He was an upstanding citizen and fathered a large family. He obeyed the laws of the land and effected those around him in positive ways. 

We can all learn from Yaakov. When we behave like model immigrants, we will bring peace to the world, ushering in an era where there will be no more slaughter, bloodshed and terror: the era of Moshiach.


9 Year Old Moshe – The Voice of Jacob

Blog.jpgOn Sunday night I attended grand banquet of the annual conference of Chabad emissaries. Each year, all the shluchim (emissaries) in the world get together for five days of workshops and brotherhood, which culminates in the grand banquet. This year’s highlight was when Moshe Holtzberg stood in front of thousands and read the tehillim in a sweet, pure voice.

You see, the last time I saw Moshe Holtzberg was seven years ago, right after his parents were killed in a brutal terror attack in Mumbai, India. His parents, Gabi and Rivki, the Chabad shluchim to Mumbai, ran the Nariman House, providing selflessly for all who came their way. Exactly seven years ago to the day, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, terrorists took the Chabad house hostage, killing everyone inside.

Except for little Moshe.

His nanny, Sandra, had been hiding on a lower level, and when she heard the two-year-old boy crying, she ran upstairs and found him standing and crying over the bodies of his parents. She grabbed him and fled.

When I watched his parents’ funeral, I saw Moshe on the television, crying, “Ima, Ima… (Mother, Mother…).” This beautiful two-year-old child was crying for his mother who he would never see again.

Fast forward seven years… Moshe has been living with his loving grandparents in Afula. And when I saw him Sundaynight, this was not the pitiful two-year-old I remember. He strode onto the stage with confidence and maturity. He read a chapter of tehillim, praying for world peace, and inspiring us all. He received a standing ovation; the shluchim could not stop clapping.

The last time I saw Moshe I cried, and this time I cried too. But this time it was tears of joy, nachas and triumph for this beautiful boy, who has overcome so much tragedy in his short life.

In this week’s Torah portion we read, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, and the hands are the hands of Esau.” We see now, as clearly as ever, that our enemies’ strength lies in their hands. They use knives and guns to attack, terrorize and kill us. Of course, we have to do everything in our power to defend ourselves, but we also need to remember that our true strength lies in our “voice” —our faith, observance of the mitzvot and belief in G-d. 

I remember the Mumbai terror attacks vividly. I remember the hand of Esau coming to the Chabad house, and for 48 hours we had no information about what was going on inside. We were shocked and banded together in prayer and hope. Tragically, when the siege ended we found out that the worst had happened.

When I heard Moshe’s voice on Sunday night, I knew we had emerged victorious. Moshe is alive and well, strong and confident. He carries the legacy of parents, Gabi and Rivki, proudly and with confidence, continuing where they left off. May he continue to heal and forge ahead with strength and clarity. 

Are you a “Maybe” or an “Interested”?

Screenshot (24).pngThis week I started planning our Chanukah party for young Jewish professionals, who will be joined by 12 severely wounded IDF soldiers. I created a Facebook event for the party and called it “IDF meets NYC with a Night Aglow.” 

This is certainly not the first Facebook event I’ve created. Far from it! I’ve been using social media for years, and I create and host several events per month. Until now, upon receiving a Facebook invite, users could choose from three options:

1.      “Going.”
2.      “Not Going”
3.      “Maybe”

But this week, Facebook replaced the “maybe” option with the new “interested” option.

When I create an event on Facebook most people simply ignore the invite. Especially with the holiday season approaching, and people receiving dozens of invites a week to all kinds of events and parties, people simply don’t respond.  

But then there are people who cannot ignore me because we have a relationship, so the easiest solution is to respond with a “maybe”. The“maybe” acknowledgesthat they have received my invitation and don’t want to be rude, but they cannot commit just now.

This was frustrating. Were they just being polite? Did they have any intention of attending? It was impossible to know. Facebook agreed that the “maybe” option was too non-committal and ambiguous, so they replaced it with the “interested” button, in an endeavor to better engage users into giving a meaningful response.

This week’s Torah portion describes the very first shidduch. Eliezer was tasked with finding a wife for Isaac. He narrowed it down to Rivka, and when her family asked her “Are you interested?” she responded with a resolute “Yes!”

Firm, confident decisions serve us well when it comes to dating and marriage.

“Are you interested in another date with the guy?”

“Well…maybe...I don’t know…if he wants to…”

As we travel life’s trajectory, it’s very easy to pass the buck with an ever-ready “maybe.”

But we need to learn how to change that “maybe” into an “interested.”

Very often I email congregants, “Can you make it to Shabbat morning services?” and they respond, “Maybe.” From experience I know that “maybe” means “probably not.”

Like the new Facebook option, Judaism requires a firm commitment. With Facebook, it’s as easy as a click of the button. With Judaism it requires a little more effort.

We can all learn from this week’s Facebook update. We need to do away with the easy, non-committal “maybe” and decide that from now on we are interested. Interested means moving forward, committing to one more mitzvah and then another and another…

From now on, I am an interested Jew!

Israel is the safest place in the world!

Blog.jpgThis week I Whatsapped my cousins living in Israel, “Whats up? How is the situation in Israel?” and they all said, “We are scared. We do not venture out unless we absolutely must. We are afraid. We look at every Arab with suspicion. We try to avoid public transportation and crowded places.” This is the situation in Israel in 2015.

Many Israeli citizens are living in fear. During the past wars we knew where the enemy was. We knew who the enemy was. Today we have no idea where the next knife attack will come from. The terrorist who drove his car into a bus stop last week was an Arab Israeli citizen living in Israel and working at an Israeli firm. Today we don’t know if it’s a male terrorist, a female or even a child. The terror attacks are happening everywhere, and unfortunately, incitement continues on social media unabated. No one knows when and where the next terrorist will strike.

We are living in dangerous times.

It reminds me of growing up in South Africa in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

My mother was attacked and violently beaten in our home. My brother was car jacked. Many of my friends were mugged. Every day there was another mugging, another carjacking. Our house (like all houses in South Africa) was surrounded by a tall fence, barbed wires and electronic gates. Every gate and window is covered with security bars. I grew up with two German shepherds and an English mastiff—three massive dogs for our protection. And our house was alarmed with strategically placed panic buttons, which send an alert to a private security company that dispatches armed responders. 

I lived in fear and suspicion. Always looking around to see who else was on the street. Carrying a stick and pepper spray. Always trying to determine which passerby might have a weapon. I avoided walking home at night, and I drove up to my home cautiously in case there was someone waiting there to harm me. This is how I spent many years of my early life.

When the apartheid regime fell, people were afraid the situation would snowball. Local newspapers predicted bloodshed and violent civil war. Many people left South Africa. But there was one person who promised that South Africa would be good to the Jews until the coming of Moshiach, and that was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe promised South African Jewry that everything would be ok, and so despite the fear, we had confidence in the future.

I believe the Rebbe’s promise swayed the opinion of many South African Jews. Rabbis told their congregants not to worry, and today South African Jewry continues to thrive, the situation is relatively peaceful and life is good. In fact, just recently two of my sisters moved back to South Africa where my parents and two other siblings still live.

When it comes to Israel, the Rebbe often quoted the Biblical verse which states that Israel is the land upon which “the eyes of G-d are there, from the beginning of the year until the end.” The Rebbe consistently said that Israel is the safest place, where G-d protects us.

When there’s so much murder and bloodshed, it’s hard to see this. But we know that through it all, G-d will protect us, we will defeat our enemies, and our spirit will not be broken.

Last summer, tens of thousands of mourners attended the funeral of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali—the three boys murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The day was swelteringly hot, and the crowd stretched for miles down the road. Along the way, somebody planted a huge hand-painted banner, which read: “Am ha-netzach lo mifached mei-haderech arucha” – “The eternal nation is not afraid of the long journey.”

That said it all.

Despite the trials and tribulation we have suffered throughout the long and arduous journey of our history, we are not broken, nor crushed, we are not disheartened nor dispirited. We will triumph. 

Let’s Flood The World!

Moshe was in his office reading the Al Jazeera news. A friend approached him, very upset."Moishe, have you lost your mind? Why are you reading an Arabic website?" 

Moishe explained, "I used to read the Israeli websites, but what did I find? Jews being persecuted, Israel being attacked, Jews disappearing through assimilation and intermarriage, Jews living in poverty… So I switched to the Al Jazeera. Now what do I find? Jews own all the banks, Jews control the media, Jews are all rich and powerful, Jews rule the world. The news is so much better!" 

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the Flood which descended upon the entire world 4,000 years ago. The world has changed significantly since then, but we are again flooded—this time not with water, but with violence and terrorism. 

We even read the word “hamas” in this week’s parsha. “And the world was filled with ‘hamas’ – robbery.”  De ja vu. 

The last week has been a violent and bloody one for our brothers and sisters in Israel. Terrorists are stabbing Jews with their knives, shooting Jews with their guns, and running Jews over with their cars. The attacks have been deadly and unprovoked. 

The internet is flooded with videos of how to kill Jews. Young children are playing video games in which the winner is the one who kills the most Jews. Youtube videos and Facebook posts inciting terror and bloodshed are rampant, and teachers and religious leaders are brainwashing their students and followers to hate and murder us. 

Even the state department issued a shocking statement about Israel using “excessive force”! And the lies that are being spread are simply preposterous. Lies about Israel executing children. Lies about Israel killing poor, innocent Arabs—Arabs who just cold-bloodedly murdered Jews! 

The flood of lies and terror is threatening to drown us.

Concerning the Flood, King Solomon writes, “Tremendous waters cannot extinguish the love, and rivers will not drown it.” Rashi explains that “tremendous waters” and “rivers” refer to the nations of the world. King Solomon explains that regardless of what the nations of the world try to do to us, we will prevail. Nothing will dampen our tremendous love and faith in G-d. 

We are a strong, resilient nation. We are believers, the children of believers. No matter what they try to do us, we will win. We will retain our faith, and our unity, our honesty and our morals. We will not murder and harm innocent people. As Jews, we cherish life. We pursue righteousness and truth, and we yearn for peace. 

Being physically distant can make us feel helpless in the face of all this violence, but we can help in small ways. By going out of our way to support Israeli products and organizations we can help support both the economy and citizen morale. Good deeds are powerful spiritual weapons. By giving extra charity, putting on tefillin, saying a blessing, lighting Shabbat candles or doing any extra mitzvah, we can add to Israel’s security. We can also pray for the injured and for the safety of all Jews, and do our part to spread the truth about the terrorism. Together we can create a flood of goodness and blessing, to counteract the flood of violence.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper?

In this week’s parshah we read about the very first murder in the history of the world.

Adam’s two sons, Kayin and Hevel, begin to fight. What could they possibly fight about? After all, the entire world belonged to them! They had everything they could possibly desire.

According to the Midrash, the brothers divided up the entire world, but they both wanted to have the Beit Hamikdash on their property. Despite owning literally the entire world—which is more than even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined—they fought over the Temple mount.

Kayin killed his brother Hevel so that he could have the Temple mount.

G-d shouted at Kayin, “Where is your brother, Hevel?”

Kayin famously responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“The bloods of your brother are shouting at me from ground,” said G-d.

Why does it use the plural “bloods” rather than just “blood”? Because Kayin did not yet know how to kill. He punched and kicked Hevel all over, drawing blood from every part of his body, until he finally realized that to kill you need to hurt the victim in the head.

So, the very first murder, ever, a bloody and gruesome murder, was over the Land of Israel.


A wave of terror has hit Israel over the past week. The Temple mount is on lockdown.  There is blood everywhere. Jewish blood is being spilled in the North, in the South, in central Israel, everywhere. Jews are being stabbed, shot, stoned, etc. The situation is volatile and extremely dangerous. The entire Israel is on the front line of a war.

And the words we read from the Torah reverberate in our minds: “The bloods of your brother are shouting at me from the ground.”

And indeed, the blood of our brothers and sisters in Israel is screaming. The blood of innocent Israeli civilians in the West bank, Petach Tikvah, Tel Aviv, Yehuda and Shomron, is the blood of our brothers. It is the blood of Eitam and Naama Henkin who were butchered in front of their children. It is the blood of Nahmia Lavi and Aaron Bennet who were murdered in the Old City. Their blood, and the blood of all the other victims, is bellowing at us, desperately trying to be heard.

Make no mistake, the violence is in Israel, but the venom and hatred is for Jews worldwide.

Kayin asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The answer is a resounding “yes!” It is our absolute, sacred responsibility to do everything in our power to help our brothers and sisters in Israel.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, taught us how we can help, even from the other side of the world. How? By doing a mitzvah, then another and another. Every single mitzvah we do helps ensure Israel’s security. When we keep kosher, wear tefillin, pray, light Shabbat candles or say a blessing, we are helping Israel.

We may not be able to fight physically, but we can fight spiritually. The very least we can do is some extra mitzvoth for the safety and security of the citizens and soldiers of our homeland. Give some extra money to charity, put up a mezuzah on your door, reach out to someone in need…

Stop whatever you’re doing right now, and do a mitzvah for Israel. We ARE our brothers’ keepers!

I Made a Mistake in the Most Important Sermon of the Year

On Yom Kippur, hundreds of people attended our synagogue and I prepared a sermon that I hoped would inspire. One of the stories I told was that of legendary baseball player Sandy Koufax. Arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, Koufax made a different kind of history on this exact day, 50 years ago at the World Series.

The LA Dodgers were up against the Minnesota Twins, and it was Yom Kippur.

Now, Sandy did not have a particularly religious upbringing. He didn’t go to cheder or yeshiva; he went to Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. And pitching was his life, his legacy, his everything.

Nevertheless, he decided to forgo the game and stay home, fast and observe Yom Kippur! What an incredible example he set for Jews nation-wide.

In my sermon, I mistakenly said that Sandy went to shul that Yom Kippur, and afterwards my friend Yankel* came over to correct me.

“Great sermon,” he said, “but Sandy Koufax did not go to shul that Yom Kippur.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because five years ago, your uncle, Rabbi Moshe Feller, was a guest speaker in our shul,” he explained. “He told the same story, and he related that he personally went to put on tefillin with Koufax two days after Yom Kippur in 1965 at the request of the LubavitcherRebbe. When he told the story, he said Sandy fasted and prayed but did not go to shul.”

“Wow!” I said to my friend Yankel*. “That is amazing. I’ve given countless sermons over the last five years and most of them you don’t recall at all, and those you do, you certainly don’t remember in such fine detail. But this one you remember perfectly five years later—how is that?”

“A sermon like that about Koufax, one never forgets,” he explained.

We just finished Yom Kippur, when we all fasted, prayed and resolved to become better people, better Jews, better spouses, fathers, mothers, children etc.

Now that Yom Kippur is over, we need to make sure we don’t lose any of that inspiration and momentum. We need to ensure that the intense feelings we experienced over Yom Kippur stay with us throughout the year.

As my friend Yankel* showed, when something is important to us, we don’t forget it. 

Clock or Bomb?

This week a bright, innovative American-Muslim teenager, Ahmed Mohamed, successfully built a working, home-made, digital clock, and brought it to school to show his teacher. Unfortunately, that's where things began to sour for the promising young student.

Teachers at the Texas school thought it looked very suspicious. Thinking it was a bomb, they called the police. Mohamed was handcuffed, escorted from the building by law enforcement officials, and taken to a juvenile detention facility for several hours before being released. The police have made it clear they will not be filing charges, but the school has suspended Ahmed for three days, regardless.

Ahmed's story has captured the interest of people across the nation, and #IStandwithAhmed was the number one trending hashtag yesterday. Understandably, people are outraged that a young 14-year-old was handcuffed and interrogated, accused of building a bomb, when he is simply an aspiring engineer, who enjoys tinkering with and building working electronic devices. 

Support on social media has been tremendous, with President Obama tweeting an invite to the White House:

“Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”

Numerous science camps, contests and programs have offered Ahmed a spot, Mark Zuckerberg invited him to stop by Facebook headquarters anytime, and Twitter offered him an internship!

And so, Ahmed became an instant national celebrity, discussed and supported over all over the internet.


This Tuesday night we will usher in the holiest and most serious day of the year, Yom Kippur—the Day of Judgment. On this day all our thoughts, words and actions over the past 12 months are replayed and evaluated by the heavenly court. And it looks very suspicious. All the juicy gossip we enjoyed, the slander and lies we told, promises we made and broke...all this is held against us by the prosecuting angels. They insist on severe punishment.

So the Chief of Police—the Almighty Himself—is called, and He takes on our case. G-d examines the facts, but he also looks at our current behavior and state of mind. He sees us in the synagogue, pouring out our very heart and soul. He sees the depth of our regret and our deep desire for repentance and improvement. He sees our very essence, and how genuinely good we really are, despite the many misdeeds we have accumulated.

That's when G-d takes out his "digital clock" and turns time back. The Talmud tells us that the sins we committed, even deliberately, are turned into mitzvahs. G-d changes all the sins we committed over the past year and turns transforms them into good deeds!

But that's not all. G-d goes even further and says we were wrongly accused in the first place, and He is so outraged that He invites us to His "house" for the festival of Sukkot. "You were accused unjustly," He says. "Really and truly you are good and kind and for seven days I want you to be My personal guest in My house. Please come!"

As Yom Kippur approaches, let's make sure we are ready to pray and repent from the depths of our hearts, so we'll be ready for G-d to invite us into His home on Sukkot next week.

My thanks to Efraim Tessler for some of the ideas in this article. 

I Couldn’t Resist Her!

This past Wednesday night I put my 20-month-old daughter, Sarah, to sleep in her crib. We have a nightly bedtime routine. I hold her in my arms and sing Shema as well as the 12 pesukim (12 verses of the Torah which encapsulate many of Judaism’s fundamental teachings). Then I lay her down, sing her a chassidic tune and make sure she has her water bottle with her in case she gets thirsty during the night.

She usually falls asleep instantly, but this time as soon as I left the room I heard her crying for me, “Tatty! Tatty!” Thinking she would fall asleep, I ignored her and began working on my Rosh Hashanah sermon. But she continued to cry and when I realized she was not falling asleep as predicted, I relented and went back into her room. She was standing at her crib and broke out into the most adorable smile as soon as she saw me. I couldn’t resist. I took her out of her crib and let her hang out with me in the living room for the next hour.

Tatty vs. Sarah: Sarah wins!

In just a few days we will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, when G-d judges every one of us. We beseech Him for a good, sweet, healthy year. On our prayers we acknowledge, “As a shepherd examines his flock making his sheep pass before him, so do You cause to pass every living being and You allocate the fixed portion of their needs and inscribe the verdict of their judgment.”

We all carry some sort of burden. Perhaps we are in need of health, livelihood, children, happiness or a spouse. We all have our problems and our prayers.

But G-d loves each of us as if we were His only child. The same love that I feel for Sarah is the love that G-d feels for all of us. G-d adores us! And just as I couldn’t resist my daughter’s pleas for more than 15 minutes,G-d cannot resist us—His beloved children.

When we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and pray from the depths of our hearts, it is impossible for G-d not to listen .

G-d vs. us—we win!

May G-d listen to all our prayers and supplications this Rosh Hashanah, and may He send us Moshiach and redeem us from exile right now. 

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Last week we returned from a trip to South Africa, the country where I grew up. I always enjoy spending time there, and for my kids who are growing up in the Manhattan city life, going back to nature was a blessing and a breath of fresh air.

While there, we went on a day trip to the famous monkey sanctuary just outside of Johannesburg, where hundreds of monkeys roam freely, swinging on ropes, living their life, and tourists can walk right through and take pictures.

My kids thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling experience, but at the same time they were a little scared. I walked right up to one of the monkeys who the park had nicknamed "Zaza." Zaza examined me, and without blinking she jumped right onto my head! Then she stretched her hand down into my shirt pocket to see what was in there. When she realized it was empty, she reached down into my pant pocket and tried again. Also empty. I felt her going for my back pocket, and since that's where I keep my credit cards and keys, I wasn't going to take any chances! I jumped and Zaza flew off.

"How did she know to do that?" I asked our guide. "She knew exactly where my pockets were, and she knew to look in them."

"Zaza sees people every day," he explained. "She watches them carefully and notices they are always putting their hands into their pockets to remove items, so she knows where everything is. As the saying goes, "Monkey see, monkey do,"—she is an expert mimic!"

The Baal Shem Tov teaches us that from everything in life we need to learn a lesson.

Every single one of us has a soul which is a part of G-d, and before it descended into our body it was enjoying Divine delicacies and spirituality. Our souls felt closer to G-d surrounded and nurtured by the beautiful and blissful Divine palace.

But then the soul descends into this universe to live inside the body. The soul then quickly forgets about its royal blood and starts to mimic its new physical world. We start living our lives mimicking and copying everything we see. We start to enjoy the physical pleasures of this world, forgetting that we are children of G-d. And that is why Rosh Hashanah comes around.

We are only days away from Rosh Hashanah, when we will blow the shofar, once more crowning G-d as our King.  On Rosh Hashana we will remind ourselves of our Divine heritage, that we are children of G-d, that we have strayed too far this past year, mimicking many of the things we've seen in the world around us.

We know we are special, of Divine origin. Let's return to our true selves this Rosh Hashanah. This Saturday night we begin to recite the selichot prayers which mark the beginning of the High Holiday season.

All year round we are like mimicking monkeys. We act like those around us. We copy everything we see. We become deeply entrenched in the physical world. But when Rosh Hashanah comes around, it is time to return to our roots. 

Walking with Lions

This week I visited a lion park in South African with my family. Having grown up in Africa, I’ve always loved wildlife and been fascinated by animals, especially the king—the lion.

This time, the park was offering a new feature—“walking with the lions.” Essentially, guests are offered the opportunity to enter the lion park and walk alongside the lions in their natural habitat for an hour or so. And these are not baby cubs, they’re fully grown beasts!

It seemed pretty dangerous, but we decided to give it a go.

We walked with the lions, watching them live their life in their own environment. We watched them eat their dinner and climb on trees. For over an hour we watched them, and we were even able to pat them.

Honestly, I was terrified. Despite my guide’s assurance that he had pepper spray and a stick in case something went wrong, I highly doubted a bit of pepper spray would be enough to save us from the rage of this powerful king of all animals if anything went wrong!

Thank G-d we emerged safe and sound and it was a beautiful and thrilling experience.

Animals and humans both have three main organs: brain, heart and liver. מוח; לב וכבד. Spelled out with the heart first it is למך and spelled with the brain first it is מלך. King.

An animal walks on all fours so its brain and heart are on the same level. A lion is ruled by its instincts.

Our guide explained that there was no danger because these lions grew up in captivity. They are tame. They have never attacked.  They are used to human beings. But the truth is that a lion can never be fully tamed because it naturally follows its instincts. Even if a lion would live its whole life amongst humans, you can never fully trust it not to kill because that is its natural instinct. That’s just what lions do.

That is the key difference between a human being and a lion. Even though we all, at times, follow our hearts and sin, we have the ability to use our brain to rule over our hearts. We have the ability to truly tame our inner animal.

We currently find ourselves in the month of Elul, the month before the high holidays. During this month, we reflect on our actions over the past year. It is a time to do teshuva—repentance. A time to reflect on our relationship with G-d, and return to Him if we have become distanced. This is the time to make sure our minds rule our hearts, so we can be melech, a king. 

R.I.P. Cecil the lion

Cecil.jpgI am one of the only Rhodesian-born Chabad rabbis in the world today. Growing up in Africa, I developed and maintain an intense love of lions. I used to, and do still, enjoy travelling to Kruger National Park where I can observe these majestic animals in their natural habitat. So I was horrified, along with the rest of the world, to discover that our beloved Zimbabwean lion Cecil was killed by American dentist Walter Palmer.

The killing, and his role in it, unleashed a torrent of anger online.

The Yelp page for his dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, was inundated with reviews posted by people irate over his lion hunting."Shame on you, killing a majestic creature," wrote a user named Charmie P.The website for Palmer's business, River Bluff Dental, appears to have been taken down.

Outrage continued to flow on social media with celebrities lambasting the dentist. Sharon Osbourne tweeted, "I hope that #WalterPalmer loses his home, his practice & his money. "He has already lost his soul."

Cecil wasn’t just killed. Palmer and his guides attached the carcass of a dead animal to the back of their truck and used it as bait, to lure Cecil out of Hwange National Park. When Cecil arrived on the scene, Palmer shot him with a crossbow. Palmer paid $55,000 to be able to hunt Cecil! Cecil was mortally wounded and walked off, in pain, for 40 hours, until Palmer came and shot him. He decapitated Cecil, skinned him and then left his carcass in the wild. And it doesn’t end there. Cecil’s cubs will probably be killed by the next male lion who will take over the pride.

This week, Jews worldwide fasted for 25 hours in mourning for the destruction of our two Holy Temples. It is the saddest day of the year.

The Torah describes the destruction as follows:

 “עלה אריה במזל אריה והחריב את אריאל” – A lion [Nevuchadnezzer] arose in the month of Av (who’s sign is a lion) and destroyed “the lion of G-d” —i.e., the Temple.

Walter Palmer travelled thousands of miles from his home country for a trophy kill. Nevuchadnezzer set off from his home country of Bavel in order to destroy the lion of G-d, our Temple. And, in fact, the trophy, i.e., many parts of our Holy Temple, are kept to this very day in the Vatican, in Rome (the Romans destroyed the 2nd temple).

Cecil was no ordinary lion. He was a known and beloved Zimbabwean icon and tourist attraction. His tall, majestic features earned him scores of adoring fans. He was king of the animals.

Likewise, Nevuchadnezzer did not destroy any ordinary city. He targeted Jerusalem, our home, our holiest city, king of all cities.

Cecil has been mourned throughout the entire world this week. The outcry and shock is real and palpable. We ought to learn from this outcry, to also shout out in pain, to truly feel and show our distress over the destruction of our G-dly lion, our Temple.

The Talmud explains that “A generation that has not witnessed the building of the Temple, it is considered as if the Temple was destroyed in its lifetime” Our precious lion has been destroyed. It is in shambles, and we pray and yearn for its rebuilding every single day.

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he my tarry, nevertheless I await his coming every day

In Conversation with an IDF Soldier

Last week I had breakfast with Avi*—an IDF soldier who was wounded in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. At a bus stop in Jerusalem, someone tapped Avi on the shoulder. When he turned around, he was facing a terrorist holding a gun and looking him in the eye. The terrorist shot him point blank three times in the abdomen. He suffered severe injuries to his internal organs, but miraculously he survived. Through sheer will and determination, Avi has been able to continue living his life, despite his immense pain and ongoing struggle.

As we chatted over breakfast, Avi confided in me that his faith and spiritual observance had decreased significantly since the attack. He told me how angry he felt with G-d, every single day, for putting him in this situation. How could G-d allow this to happen?!

He asked me to explain, and I answered truthfully, “Avi, I have absolutely no idea.”

“But you are a rabbi! What do you mean? How do you not know?”

“If I understood G-d,” I explained, “I would be G-d. Only G-d understands why He does the things He does.”

“But,” I added, “You actually believe in G-d much more so than I.”

“How is that even possible?” he asked. “You put on tefillin every day. You pray. You observe Shabbat and keep kosher. I do none of this. So what do you mean when you say I believe in Him more than you?”

“The very fact that you are angry proves you believe in Him,” I explained. “If you didn’t believe, who would you be angry with? If you didn’t have a deep and unshakable believe in G-d, you would have no one to complain about. You do, in fact, have a very real relationship with Him. You are upset that your relationship with him is not going the way it should, but believe in Him you certainly do! Yes, even more than I.”

This Sunday we mark TishaB’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On this day, both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and on this day, almost 2,000 years ago, we were sent into exile, where we remain. It is on this day that G-d hid himself from us, turning away so we can no longer see him.

We are bitter and angry about this long and dark exile, but despite our pain we know that G-d loves us. We trust that he will rebuild our Holy Temple and create and era of eternal peace. He will have a lot of explaining to do, when he finally sends us Moshiach, but until then, we continue to have a strong relationship with Him.

*Name changed to protect the individual’s privacy

The Signing of a Deal

This week a deal was signed.

A deal that involved intense leader negotiation.

A deal with much at stake.

A deal that aroused powerful emotion on both sides.

A deal where one side's love for Israel was challenged.

A deal where one side needed assurance that the other side would, indeed, honor the agreement.

A deal in which the entire Jewish nation felt invested.  

A deal which required painstaking negotiation, would take years to play out and could literally fall apart at any turn.

It was a deal signed over 4,000 years ago by Moses and the tribes of Gad and Menashe.  

The Jews were camped in the desert, poised to finally enter the Land of Israel, but first they needed to conquer the mighty nations living there. Two of the twelve tribes approached Moses, wanting to settle trans-Jordan. "We would rather receive our inheritance on this side of Jordan, and not enter Israel, they explained.

Moses could not understand. In fact, he was livid. "Will your brothers go to war while you simply stand by? Do you not want to enter Israel? Are you afraid? Do you not love Israel?"

The tribes reassured Moses of their love for Israel and explained that, as cattle-owners, the trans-Jordan land would be better for them.

So Moses consults with Elazar the priest, the heads of all the tribes, and Yehoshua—future leader of the Jewish nation. They all negotiate and ultimately present the two tribes with an offer: Moses will give them the land they want, but when the rest of the Jews go to conquer Israel, they will fight alongside them.

The tribes counter offer: "Not only will we fight alongside our brothers and conquer Israel but we will not leave Israel to settle our land until the entire Land of Israel has also been divided up amongst our brothers. Only then will we settle down."

Moses asked for a little, they offered more. This is how real deals are done—with mutual understanding, common ideals and each other's best interests at heart.

Close Call!

This past Tuesday, at 12pm, we launched a 24-hour online fundraising campaign. Our goal was to raise $240,000 in 24 hours, to bring three groups of IDF soldiers to NY in 2015. We had a group of very generous backers who had agreed to match each donation that came in, which meant that each donated dollar would instantly be quadrupled.

Sounds great, right? But there's a major catch. The campaign was all or nothing. Either we raise and receive the entire sum, or we don't meet our goal and receive nothing at all.  

The goal was ambitious, but I felt confident. We were using a state of the art fundraising platform developed by the Charidy company, run by my friends Ari Shapiro and Moshe Hecht. Last year, we ran a similar campaign and succeeded in raising $200,000 within 24 hours, so I assumed this year we would be just as successful.

That was mistake number one! Never take anything for granted. Just because you do something once, does not mean you can do it again.

At exactly 12 noon we launched our campaign with blast email and Facebook messages, and the donations started trickling in. A few hours later, I realized we may have overestimated. The donations were not adding up, and we were well behind schedule. I started emailing and texting and it helped a little, but eight hours in, we had only raised 36% of our goal.

Donations trickled in overnight, but by morning we knew we were in trouble. We had only a few hours left and were not even halfway to our goal.

I wasn't the only one concerned. I received an almost constant barrage of texts and emails from family, friends and those who had already donated, asking, "What are we going to do? What is our backup plan?"

Two hours before the campaign closed and we were still way off.

With 31 minutes to go, we still needed another $40,000. Would we make it? We weren't sure.

But this is when people really came through for us, and there was a last-minute outpouring of support and donations. Whew!

Many people had initially thought their contributions weren't needed, since we met our goal relatively easily last time around. But that was not the case at all—every single person is vital!

Seeing us so close to our goal, but knowing we might forfeit the entire sum if we couldn't quite get there, our community kicked in, not wanting to let us down. With just eight seconds left, we made it over the finish line!

Why is Charidy so successful? Firstly, the 24-hour time limit. Everyone is focused on a singular goal for a short period of time, and every donation is seen in real time. But more importantly, it's a communal effort. Everyone is invested. We either all succeed, or we all fail. My success is your success, my failure is your failure.

Thank G-d, our community succeeded in making our campaign a fabulous success. Together, 245 donors helped us reach our goal. Each of those individuals helped us get there, and we are so grateful to all of you. Thank you!

This weekend, we begin the Three Weeks—the saddest time on the Jewish calendar. During these weeks we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was destroyed because of a lack of love between us Jews, and will be rebuilt when we show true brotherly love for one another.

Charidy is a perfect example of how we love, support and care for each other. Let's continue the momentum and increase in acts of love and kindness, and together we can bring the Third Temple ever closer. 

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.