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I Want To Fight

meir.jpgMeir Raginyano, an IDF soldier and member of our most recent Belev Echad trip, shared his story with our community at our Friday night event.

Meir was born without fingers on his right hand, and spent much of his life fighting to be like everyone else. His parents insisted that he not be treated differently, and as a result he learned to work around his disability and keep up with his friends.
 
When he turned 18, Meir went to the draft office. They took one look as his hand and gave him an exemption. But for years Meir had dreamed of serving his country and he refused to be deterred. He trained and trained. He showed the draft officers that he could run as well as anyone else. He taught himself how to hold a gun. He even spent eight months training on one specific exercise until he mastered it just as well as everyone else, despite his lack of fingers.
 
Eventually, he proved that he would be of tremendous value and they agreed to draft him into active duty. Time and again, Meir proved he could stand ground with the best of them.
 
Unfortunately, while fighting the recent summer war, Meir was severely injured. Anti-tank missiles were fired at the building he was in, and he was seriously wounded in his leg and right hand. Shrapnel was scattered throughout his body. He was taken to Soroka hospital where he underwent several complicated operations. He currently still undergoes treatment and rehabilitation at Tel Hashomer hospital, but his greatest wish is to return to the army and once again fight alongside his comrades to protect his nation!
 
As I listened to Meir sharing his story, I realized it holds a tremendous lesson for all of us in our own lives.
This weekend we mark the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. When G-d gave us the Torah, He drafted us into His elite army. He gave us a mission—conquer the world by spreading Torah wherever you may be. Perform acts and kindness and encourage others to do so as well. Remember Who you represent and sanctify G-d's name.
 
Unfortunately, we are not all as determined to embrace our draft as Meir was. We may prefer to shirk our responsibilities and let others take the lead.
 
But we can learn from Meir how fortunate we are to have been drafted, and how hard we should work to embrace our mission. We can't just give up and expect others to take over! We need to fight the Good Fight, spreading goodness and kindness and Torah and mitzvahs wherever we go!
 
Meir wanted nothing more than the opportunity to join the army. We have that. Each and every one of us was automatically given that chance—all we need to do is implement it.
 
Go ahead! You are in the army—fight!

Turning Jews Away?!

10373834_964832746884274_4467211020526507506_n.jpgOver the last ten days our community hosted our 8th Belev Echad trip, where we welcome a group of severely wounded IDF soldiers and give them an incredible New York experience. One of the highlights of the trip is the Friday night dinner—hundreds of community members join for evening of inspiration with our heroic guests.

Knowing how popular the Friday night event has been in the past, I made sure to publicize it early. I sent out emails with all the relevant information, reminding people to get their reservations in early to ensure they had a spot. I posted multiple times on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus over several weeks.

Reservations came in steadily and I kept warning people that if they don't reserve soon, we might have no space left. When we reached capacity, we called the caterer and arranged for more space and more food, because we knew how much our community wanted the honor and privilege of spending Shabbat with the sounded IDF soldiers. So we opened up more seats. But eventually, those, too, were reserved, and we reached the point where we couldn't physically accommodate another person.

We closed the online reservation form and wrote clearly in red text, "We are sold out."

And that's when the drama began. Emails and Facebook messages poured in:

"Rabbi, check your website, I think something's wrong."

"Rabbi, did you get my reservation?"

"Rabbi, check your website immediately; it's malfunctioning."

In case it wasn't clear from our website, I posted to Facebook: "To all the dozens of people asking me, sold out means just that—sold out. And no, we cannot squeeze in even one more for tonight's Belev Echad Shabbat dinner of thanks and recognition. So sorry about that, please book earlier next time."

But even that didn't stop the barrage of phone calls, emails and text messages. In fact, once people knew that the event was really sold out, they realized it must be quite a special occasion and they wanted to join even more! 

"Rabbi, do you have room for just one more?"

"Rabbi, I just heard about this event, please, please can I come?"

The best call of all came late Friday afternoon, after all my office staff had already left for the day. I was half way out when the phone rang, and I knew I shouldn't pick it up, but I did anyway.

As expected, it was someone wanting to join the dinner. "Rabbi, do you have room for me?"

"I'm sorry, we're completely full." 

"Rabbi, you are Chabad, right? How do you, as a Chabad rabbi, turn a Jew away from experiencing Shabbat?"

How do I answer that?!

Some of these people were incredibly determined. Many people without a ticket showed up and just sat in any empty seat. Assigned seating? Apparently it didn't bother them and they assumed the person whose seat they took would just take someone else's assigned and paid-for seat! 

In fact, the assigned seating created its own problems. One woman emailed asking to sit with a particular friend, but the "friend" emailed in no uncertain terms that she absolutely will not sit with her! When the first woman arrived and realized she wasn't seated with her friend, she was fuming.

Again and again, who gets the blame when people are upset? Who can they yell at? The rabbi, of course! 

But then I realized, there's an important lesson here: If where we sit for two hours is so vital, how much more careful we should be about where and with whom we spend 70 years of our lives!

Moreover, we often don't appreciate things until we can't have them. When the event is sold out, it becomes much more attractive. When I can't have something, it becomes that much more valuable.         

We are about to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Each year, it's as if we are receiving the Torah all over again—this year for the 3328th time.  This will be a grand event, unlike any other. The Torah is more precious than anything else in our lives. We will stay awake all night in anticipation and excitement!

Now, unlike our Shabbat dinner, G-d's event will never be sold out, and He'll always have room for one more.

But don't wait until the last minute to get your seat for this grand event.

Start planning now.

Book your ticket! Come to shul! Do a Mitzvah! Prepare yourself to receive the ultimate gift—G-d's Torah.

Let's Create Earthquakes

Fifteen years ago I visited Nepal with a group of friends to conduct a Pesach Seder for 2000 Jewish (mostly Israeli) backpackers. 

In Nepal, everyone and everything is relaxed. Everything is "sababa." Many Israelis travel there after completing their army service, to climb and hike and simply "switch off." Surrounded by the most beautiful mountains, rivers and hiking trails, one can truly relax. 

This week, much of Kathmandu and the surrounding villages were devastated by a severe earthquake. The loss of life is unimaginable. The full scope of the destruction and tragedy is not yet known, but there are already 6,100 confirmed deaths, including 19 hikers on Mount Everest who were killed by avalanches triggered by the earthquake. 

We mourn for the dead and pray for the recovery of the injured. 

An earthquake is caused by the build-up of energy in the earth’s crust, which creates seismic waves. It’s like leaving a pot of water over a high flame. At first it sends up just one or two bubbles, then it simmers gently before coming to a rapid boil and ultimately overflowing from the pressure. 

In the aftermath of the tragedy, another earthquake was unleashed—another build-up of energy. Good energy. 

Fifteen years ago, I enjoyed my Nepal experience, but I was more than ready to head home at the end of the week. Rabbi Chezki and Mrs. Chani Lifshitz, on the other hand, have made Nepal their home since 1999, raising their children far from the family and Jewish infrastructure they grew up with. I’ve often wondered how they do it. I mean, I also run a Chabad center but it’s on Manhattan’s Upper East Side! Certainly we have our challenges, but they don’t even come close to the challenges of raising a family in Kathmandu. Would I be able to do the incredible work they do?

This week, Rabbi and Mrs. Lifshitz unleashed an earthquake of love, care and devotion.  Their Chabad house instantly became a shelter for hundreds of people to whom they are serving hundreds of meals daily. In less than a week they have served over 5000 meals. Rabbi Lifshitz even took a helicopter and went out to rescue 25 Israelis stuck in the mountains, while his wife Chani ran the Kathmandu operation (and they sent their children to stay with their grandparents in Israel temporarily). He was able to pinpoint their exact location because they had satellite phones which had been donated specifically for him to lend out to hikers. 

Israel, too, joined the aid effort, sending food, water, medical supplies, and 270 workers to create and run the largest field hospital. 

We are currently in the period of time known as Sefirat HaOmer—the counting of the Omer. Sefirat HaOmer is a period of mourning for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died because they didn’t have enough ahavat yisrael—love for their fellow Jews. During this time we focus on helping those in need, and developing and maintaining our ahavat yisrael. It’s a time to unleash spiritual energy into the world. If the build-up of energy in the Earth’s crust can wreak such havoc and devastation, can you imagine how much love we can spread across the world with our acts of goodness and kindness? 

Let’s take that inspiration and translate it into action. Together we can create a large-scale earthquake of kindness which will permeate the very Heavens and lead to the final and eternal redemption, when we will know no more pain, sadness or suffering.  

Let’s get to work! 

Please donate here to the relief efforts of Chabad in Nepal. www.chabadic.com/nepal

Would you Convert for the Perfect Guy?

 

Jane* walked into my office this week, wanting to talk about her relationship with Chris*:

 

"When I met Chris, I thought I'd finally found The One. I'm 30, and we met through a mutual friend. Chris is warm, friendly and charismatic—everything I could have possibly wished for. He is charming and intelligent too. As soon as he walks into a room, he makes everyone feel comfortable instantly. He has an excellent job, a warm, loving family and a fabulous sense of humor. He's always happy and can make me smile no matter what else is going on in my life.

 

"Chris was everything I could have dreamed of in a partner. I knew he wasn't Jewish, but that never bothered me. I just felt so fortunate to have found him. I grew up with virtually zero Judaism observance. I never kept kosher or Shabbat or went to Hebrew school. I did visit Israel pretty often, but would not consider myself religious in any way, shape or form.

 

"So it didn't bother me or my family that Chris wasn't Jewish. My parents loved him, my siblings loved him, and my friends who married non-Jews all seemed to be perfectly happy.

 

"After two years together, Chris and I went on a vacation. We began discussing engagement, marriage, having a family, where we might live, where to buy a house etc. After we'd worked out a lot of the details, Chris told me he needed me to do one small thing—convert to Christianity.

 

"In his eyes, this was a minor request; he didn't think it would be an issue at all. But my reaction was instant and virulent. Absolutely not! Convert? Renounce my faith? Betray my G-d? There's no way I would even consider it. Never!

 

"And so, the very next morning, I packed my bags and flew home. I cried the entire way, feeling like my world had come crumbling down. "

 

Here was Jane, in my office, two months after the break up, still deeply pained. "Why did G-d put me through this?" she asked. "Why did I have to meet Chris at all? He was so perfect. I still want to marry him, but I cannot convert. Wouldn't it have been better if I'd never met him in the first place?"

 

I listened as Jane poured her heart. "I don't know why you had to meet Chris," I said, "but maybe, just maybe, the reason has something to do with this:

 

"Each of us has two souls—the G-dly soul and the animal soul. The animal soul desires instant gratification. Whatever is good or comfortable right now, the animal soul wants. Food, fun, vacation, etc. The G-dly soul, on the other hand, wants to connect to its source in heaven. It wants to be nourished by its Creator, our Father in Heaven.

 

"Until now, you have suppressed your G-dly soul. You haven't allowed it to express itself. But your G-dly soul is connected to G-d in a most powerful way and that is what stopped you from converting. When your soul's connection to G-d is threatened, it expresses itself in the deepest way, and I think that's what happened here.

 

 

"So why did G-d make you go through this? To allow you to connect with your soul. To allow your soul to express itself, paving the way for you now to reconnect to G-d. Now you can learn about your heritage and your faith, and understand why you rejected the notion of conversion so virulently. "

 

Let's learn from Jane's experience and make sure to feed the G-dly soul.

 

*Names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals 

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Afraid of a Haunted House?

Blog.jpgLast week my kids were home from school for Pesach vacation and we took a CholHamoedtrip to a Long Island amusement park. My kids were thrilled and the first ride they chose was the spooky ghost ride.

I had my nine-year-old, six-year-old and three-year-old children with me, and I noticed that they were petrified from the moment the ride began. First the lights went out. Then a woman who looked like a ghost started moving towards us and there was a spooky man playing the piano. The voices, sounds and darkness all amplified the experience and my kids were terrified, shaking with fear.

As we continued, I thought back to my childhood and the ghost rides I used to go on in South Africa. I remember the fear I used to feel then, so why am I no longer afraid? Why are my kids shrieking but I am completely calm?

Now that I am older and wiser, I understand that the “ghosts” coming at me are not real. It’s simply an illusion. The man playing the piano does not actually exist. The woman is just as fake. Because I understand the reality, I feel absolutely no fear. My kids, on the other hand, who don’t yet have that understanding, cling to me and shake with fear.

This week one of my congregants called me. “Rabbi, I terrified!” he said. “I have a very lucrative business deal I’m hoping to close, but I’m worried I might lose it to one of my competitors.”

I explained to my friend that when the Baal Shem Tov was a small child of four, he was orphaned from his father. As his father lay on his deathbed, he told his son, “Yisroel, do not fear anybody except for G-d.”

“Of course,” I explained, “you have to do everything in your power to secure this deal, but at the end of the day put your trust in G-d and He will provide. Our fears are nothing but illusions.

Yes, we all have fears. Some of us are afraid that if we don’t work on Shabbat, we won’t make enough money. Others worry that by giving charity they won’t have enough for themselves. The worries are endless. But just like the ghosts in the haunted house, these worries are not real. We are like children who perceive real fears when they are really nothing but illusions.

The name of this week’s Torah portion is Shemini. Shemini means eight and represents the supernatural. The number seven represents the natural cycle of the world. For example, G-d created the world and its natural order in seven days. Eight, however, is above and beyond nature. For example, we circumcise our sons when they are eight days old, because the britmilah symbolizes our nation’s logic-defying covenant with G-d.

Seven is the perceived reality, and eight is our faith and belief. Eight is what makes us realize we have nothing to fear in this world, but G-d alone. 

My Daughter's First Taste of Ice Cream

Blog.jpgThis week, my family and I traveled to Crown Heights to do some Pesach shopping. While we were there, we stopped at the local ice cream store. Everyone got ice cream, including my youngest daughter, Sara, who had her very first taste—and she loved it! She finished her ice cream so quickly, that the rest of my kids were only halfway through theirs. When she noticed, she had an adorable tantrum wanting more ice cream.

This was her first taste of the sweet stuff, but she had certainly seen it before. My other kids have eaten ice cream in front of her previously and she has never shown any desire it for it. Yet here she was flying into a tantrum over it. Where was she until now? Why hadn't she wanted it before?

The answer, of course, is simple. Although she'd seen ice cream before, she'd never tasted it. Once she had her first lick, and realized how good it is, of course she wanted more and more.

According to our sages, there are three things in this world that change a person. The first is alcohol. When a person drinks, they change. And if you have a drink and feel unaffected, it just means you can tolerate a little more. But after you have another drink, you will certainly be affected. 

The second thing that changes a person is money. Some change for the better, others for the worse. But if a person has made or inherited money and it has not yet affected them, it simply means they have not yet reached their tolerance level for money. But money will affect a person just like alcohol. Some people will change with $10,000, others $100,000, others with 1 million and some only with 1 billion

The third item, explain our sages, is Torah. Torah will most certainly affect us all—for the better. We will think differently; it will change our reality. And if we have studied Torah and it has not yet affected us, it simply means we have not yet studied enough Torah.

Torah is like that ice cream. It is delicious. Why did my daughter Sara never desire ice cream previously? Because she had never tasted it. And so it is with Torah. Learning and studying Torah will cause us to love G-dliness and spirituality. Why don’t we love spirituality? Because we have never really tasted it! But rest assured, once we do taste it properly, it will change us and touch us forever.

As we usher in the holiday of Passover and settle down to the Seder, let's pass on our beautiful heritage and delicious Torah to the next generation. The Seder is all about “Vehigadata Levincha,” telling our children the story of Passover. Let your child taste the deliciousness of the Torah. Let them love it. Let them savor it. Make the Seder fun and exciting for them. Give them a lick.

Chag sameach!

Trust Your Pilot?!

pilot.jpgThis week the world was shocked when a large aircraft crashed in the remote French Alps, instantaneously killing all 150 people on board. Based on the available information, the airline has declared the accident deliberate—the copilot took 150 lives along with his own.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims as they mourn their loss. It is a tragedy beyond words.

Admittedly, I’m afraid of heights, and have been ever since I can remember. When my wife and I married, we honeymooned in Cape Town, famous for its Table Mountain. When I saw how excited my wife was to go up the mountain in a cable car, I didn’t want to dash her hopes so I went along, but every minute was torturous.

I often need to travel, either for family events or to perform weddings for congregants. Every time I get on a plane, I force myself to calm my fears. I tell myself that the pilot is in control and he is surely qualified and experienced. I recite a chapter of Psalms and try to relax. In fact, on my last trip to Florida we hit a long patch of turbulence, but I forced myself to remember that someone else is in control. Although it’s well documented that flying is safer than driving, I still prefer to drive. In my car, I feel in control, whereas on the plane I need to put my full trust in someone I don’t even know.

The tragedy of this week’s plane crash is that the passengers and the airline placed their trust in someone who ultimately let them down. Surely, the lesson airlines will take from this tragedy is the need for ongoing evaluations to ensure the pilots are emotionally sound and trustworthy.

We all encounter turbulence in our everyday lives. Perhaps we have familial discord or financial worries. On a global level, Iran’s nuclear program concerns us all.

The same way we need to relax and trust the pilot when we fly (and 99.9% of the time, we do arrive at our destination without incident), as we go through life we need to relax and realize that there IS someone in the cockpit we can trust. The world has a Boss. He is in control, and although we may not see Him, we know that He is there. We need to do whatever we can on our end to overcome our problems, and trust that He will do the rest.

We are about to celebrate the festival of Passover, when we mark the birth of our nation. We know we have somebody we can trust—our dear Father in Heaven.

So relax. G-d’s driving.

Who Really Won the Election?

blog 2.jpgThis week Jews around the world watched the Israeli election with bated breath. When the results came in, my Facebook feed exploded. Some of my friends furious and devastated that their party lost the election. It was as if the world had fallen apart. My other friends, however, were jubilant, because despite all odds their party won.

And I asked myself—who really won the election? 

* * *

As a small 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 nation, we Jews all ultimately want the same things—peace, security, 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. 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.

But we are about to mark the festival of Passover, where we celebrate our nation's freedom. After 210 years of slavery, hardship and suffering, we were finally able to become a nation. Our nation has been through a lot. But despite the strife, at the end of the day we know how to be there for one another. We know how to unite and use our collective strength to reach tremendous goals.  

Let's use this Passover season to strengthen our unity, and then we will have all won the election together.

Should Bibi Speak in Congress?

Blog.jpgIf I were to ask you, a recipient of my weekly email, whether you think Bibi Netanyahu should speak in Congress next week, I would probably get the full gamut of responses.

Some would insist that of course he should speak;after all, we need to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear power. Others will say that Bibi is wrong for angering the White House and Obama; we need Obama on our side. Still others feel that nothing will be achieved by this speech, so why bother?

In fact, on Facebook I have friends voting for Bennet, friends voting for Likud and others for Meretz, Yachad, Shas and Livni. I even have a relative who tells me she cannot identify with any party and is not going to vote at all. I’ve been watching raging arguments break out on social media as people express their outrage and try to convince everyone to see things the way they do.

You know the old joke about the Jew who gets stranded on a deserted island. Finally, after many long months, he is rescued. His rescuers are surprised to see two rather large buildings on the island.

“What are these?” they ask.

He points to one of the buildings. “That’s the synagogue I built when I first arrived.”

“What’s the other one?” they probe.

“That’s also a synagogue.”

“But why do you need two synagogues? It’s only you here!” they asked.

“Are you kidding me?” he replied angrily. “That one over there, I wouldn’t walk into if you paid me!”

It’s ok for us Jews to have differing opinions. That’s perfectly acceptable. But when the difference of opinion leads to venom and animosity, then it becomes a problem.

Loving our fellow Jews means loving them regardless of which party they vote for. It means loving them even if they hate Bibi Netanyahu. I may disagree ideologically, I may know that he or she is 100% wrong, but I love and respect the person nonetheless.

Do I think Bibi should speak in Congress? Do I think it will stop Iran from developing their nuclear bomb? That, I don’t know. But I do know that the Jewish nation has an invincible weapon that can certainly protect us from it. Unity. When we are truly united, we cannot be destroyed.

Of course, we need the IDF. We need a strong army and powerful weapons. We need to do everything in power to protect ourselves, but ultimately G-d decides. And when He sees that despite our vastly differing opinions we are united, we become indestructible.

We are about to celebrate the holiday of Purim, when it’s traditional to disguise ourselves with costumes and masks. Why? When we dress up we show that there is a part of us that remains hidden. My outer self, the one usually on display, is not everything. The real me, and the real you, we are unified. We love each other. It’s only our external selves that are currently arguing. 

Try to recall the incredible unity our nation displayed last summer as we prayed for the missing Israeli boys. And the incredible unity we showed at the funerals for the lone soldiers. That is when we showed our true colors. We have done it before and we can do it again. We are, at heart, a nation that cares. 

Should we all Move to Israel?

Blog.jpgA Jew killed in Denmark.

Jewish graves vandalized in France.

A four-year-old girl buried in Israel this week as a result of a terrorist attack.

Four Jews killed in a supermarket in France.

A nuclear bomb being built in Iran which threatens Israel's very existence.

Anti-Semitism is rampant. Where are we safe? What should we do?

Some leaders are calling for European Jewry to emigrate en masse to Israel.

Is that the answer?

We are currently in the Jewish month of Adar, during which we celebrate Purim and read the Book of Esther.

At that time, the Jews were facing an existential threat. All Jews living at the time were included in  Achashverosh's dominion, and hence in Haman's decree. Every single living Jew was threatened with annihilation.

And when Mordechai and Ester found out about the decree, what did they do?

"Go, and gather all the Jews!" Esther said. "Fast, pray, learn Torah, do mitzvot and return to Hashem."

So Mordechai gathered the Jews and rekindled their faith and their love of G-d.

The answer is to display our Judaism proudly. To increase our faith in our Father in Heaven. It saved the Jews from Haman's decree all those years ago, and it is our answer today.

Whether we live in Denmark or France or Israel, we can learn from Mordechai and Esther.

Let's be proud of our heritage. Let's display it proudly and not hide it!

Do Not Lie!

blog 2.jpgThis week Americans watched the stunning downfall of journalist Brian Williams. Williams was the anchor of NBC's nightly news, watched and trusted by millions, for the last 10 years-a real media darling.

But recently his integrity came under fire after one of his stories began to change. Sadly, it turns out that he fabricated stories about being hit by an RPG in Iraq and seeing bodies float by his hotel room during Hurricane Katrina.

NBC suspended him for six months, which will very possibly end his journalistic career.

Interestingly, in this week's Torah portion we are instructed, "midvar sheker tirchak," - "distance yourselves from falsehoods." In fact, the first question a person is asked when brought before the Heavenly court is, "Were you honest in your business dealings?"

It's clear: regardless of our occupation, we need to tell the truth. No lying, no cheating, no misrepresenting facts.

So what would lead someone like Brian Williams to lie and lose the trust of millions of Americans?

According to the Talmud, babies are born with their fists clenched, signifying the natural human desire to become famous, powerful and well-known.

And perhaps this is what pushed Williams to embellish to the point of fabrication. He wanted to be the one with the most incredible stories; the one everyone would listen to with bated breath and admiration. He wanted the most interesting and personal angle on some of the biggest stories in the last decade.

The Talmud continues to explain that when we die, it is with our hands open and our palms outstretched, signifying that we take nothing to the grave-no power, fame or money. The only things we take with us are the Torah study and mitzvot we have accumulated throughout our lives.

The kindnesses we show others, the tzeddakah we gave, the prayers we recited, the people we helped-this is what we take with us to the next world, and this is what we should strive to increase.

It's easy to get bogged down, and roped in by our strong inclination for fame and power, but Williams serves as a reminder to us: stay honest and truthful, and focus on what really counts. 

Be a Mentsch!

menucha-yankelevitch-chuppah-jewish-art-oil-painting-gallery.jpg*Natalie is warm, kind, caring, compassionate, friendly and intelligent. She has a good job and comes from a wonderful family. She’s 34 years old and not yet married.

Having known Natalie for the last 10 years, I can say with confidence that any man who marries her will be lucky. She will make an incredible wife and mother.

So why isn’t she married yet? I don’t know. She’s been dating and doing all the right things but simply hasn’t found the right one yet.

This week Natalie called me for advice. “I’ve been dating *Brian for last 18 months,” she explained, “and I really like him. I know he would make a great husband and father.”

Now, I know Brian because they’ve come to some of our events together, and from what I see I agree with Natalie—they seems well suited and I think it could be a good marriage.

So I told Natalie, “Nu? When are you going to take the plunge?”

Natalie began to cry. “I’m ready to marry Brian, but every time I bring up the ‘marriage conversation’ he changes the topic or laughs about it. He says he’s not ready yet and I don’t want to push him away by asking for a commitment. What should I do? Is it normal for a guy to be so unwilling to commit after more than a year of dating?”

Not ready? This guy is already in his 40s! When will he be ready? What is he waiting for?

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the Jewish people receiving the Torah from G-d. The entire Jewish people —several million people—stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah, thereby becoming a nation.

Being Jewish doesn’t mean working through a checklist of “must do's.” Judaism is something that needs to permeate our very beings. Every minute of every day we should be working to be actively Jewish. Being Jewish doesn’t mean just going to shul or praying or keeping a few mitzvahs. Being Jewish means being a mentsch 24/7.

I know that Brian doesn’t intend to be unkind. He is a good person! He simply doesn’t realize the hurt he is causing his girlfriend.

If you have no intention of actually taking the plunge, don’t string along a young woman who is desperately ready to get married and begin raising a family. First get some therapy, and then date her like a mentsch.

Let’s all take a lesson from the parsha. Being Jewish means being a mensch in every aspect, and being a mensch is something we need to do 24/7.

Have a wonderful Shabbat!

 

Prepare for a Blizzard of Epic Proportions!

unnamed.jpgOn Sunday I began to see people posting blizzard announcements all over Facebook. Living in New York, I am used to snowstorm warnings, but this one was different. The blizzard about to wallop much of the Northeast would bring record amounts of snowfall to New York, forecasters predicted.

Mayor de Blasio and the meteorologists cautioned New Yorkers to take the blizzard warnings seriously. "This could be the biggest snowstorm in the history of New York City, unlike anything we've seen before," they said.

Slowly, the city began to shut down. Schools and businesses closed early. I'd been summonsed for jury duty Monday afternoon, but two hours in the courts closed and we were dismissed, with documentation clearing us from having to serve for another six years.

Cars were ordered off the roads by 11pm and the transit system was completely shut down. Thousands of flights were cancelled, including my mother-in-law's return flight to London, so we were able to enjoy her company for a few extra days.

The media frenzy took on a life of its own, and I received frantic phone calls from relatives all over the world concerned for our safety and wellbeing in the face of this looming snowmageddon.

It's safe to say this storm affected millions and millions of people, who went out and stocked up on food, water, flashlights, batteries, salt, snow shovels and everything else they might need for the storm. When I tried to buy a sled for my kids, all the stores were completely sold out!

And then I woke up bright and early Wednesday morning expecting to see the city drowning in snow, but it was nowhere to be found. Just a few small inches in the ground. Juno, predicated to be the worst storm to ever hit New York, failed to deliver.

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This week we mark the 10th of Shevat—the day the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away, and also the day upon which, one year later in 1951, his son-in-law, the Rebbe, assumed leadership of the Chabad movement.

On this day, exactly 64 years ago, the Rebbe gave his first talk as leader of the Chabad movement, and he predicted a major storm. A blizzard of epic proportion was heading our way, and he strongly advised us to prepare.

This blizzard would reach not just 30 million people, but all 7 billion people living on earth. We've been preparing for this storm, not just for two days, but for thousands of years. And unlike Juno, which failed to come, this storm is coming.

The Rebbe told us we would witness not a snowstorm, but a storm of warmth. This storm won't shut down airports, it will open up the airways and we'll all travel on eagles and clouds! The storm is coming and it's the storm of Moshiach.

The Rebbe promised us that our generation would witness the coming of Moshiach and the era of peace and tranquility he will usher in.

Most of all, the Rebbe told us to prepare. How? By accumulating acts of goodness and kindness.

Thirty million people made sure to take the predictions of winter storm Juno seriously. Now it's time to take the Rebbe's words seriously.

Go out, get ready, stock up on mitzvos, and do everything you can to prepare to greet Moshiach!

Never heard of Charlie. Have you?

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Prior to last week's tragic terror attack in France, had you heard of the Charlie Hebdo magazine? 

Neither had I. 

And for good reason: the magazine was a nonentity on the verge of bankruptcy. 

Charlie Hebdo printed about 60,000 copies weekly, of which only 30,000 were actually sold. There are about 60 million people who live in France which means that 0.0005 percent of the population was reading it. And of the billions of people living on Earth, 0.0000042857 percent read this publication, which, for statistical purposes, amounts to zero. 

Virtually no one read Charlie Hebdo, but a few crazed fanatics who did decided to avenge the “honor of Muhammad” by brutally killing 17 innocent civilians in cold blood, and wounding 21 others.
 
This small group of ruthless individuals have forever altered the course of history; the Jewish nation, France, and the free world will never forget last week's terror and bloodshed. 

Our sages teach that the power of goodness and kindness is infinitely stronger than the power of evil. "A little light (goodness and kindness) dispels much darkness (evil)” is not merely an adage—it is the starting point for illuminating our lives and ultimately transforming the entire world. 

And, so, I ask you: 

If two fanatics with AK 47s can shut down an entire country and sow fear across the world, can you imagine how much joy and peace you can spread across the world by lighting Shabbat candles this week? 

If two lunatics, with a single act of terror can bring 3.7 million people together in an unprecedented display of unity, can you imagine the kind of unity that you can create with a single act of love

If two murderers can unite 40 world leaders by taking away the lives of others, can you imagine what you could do by giving of yourself to others through the mitzvah of charity? 

If these systematic murderers could instantly make the almost defunct Charlie Hebdo magazine a household name, selling 5 million copies this week, can you imagine what you could do by studying the Torah, which has been around for 3327 years, is printed in dozens of languages and will never go bankrupt? 

If a few deranged fanatics can unleash widespread terror and bloodshed while offering a prayer to their "god," can you imagine the life, the connection, the meaning you can bring into your life by praying to Hashem? 

If all it took was two of the seven billion human beings on Earth to read the Charlie Hebdo publication and irrevocably change the developed world, can you imagine what you can accomplish today by reading this article? 

Lost in London

Last week I travelled to London for my niece’s wedding. Because my wife is English, and her parents and several siblings live there with their families, we took our children along so they could spend time with the extended family.

While we were there, we decided to make the most of the city and took a trip to the London Eye. Living in Manhattan should have taught me not to take a car into the notoriously traffic-congested city, but with four little jetlagged kids, it seemed easier to take the car. When we arrived, we circled the area several times looking for parking, but alas there was none. We decided that my wife would take our two older children on the giant Ferris wheel and give them the real London experience, while I stayed in the car with the younger two who had both fallen asleep.

I drove around a while longer until I found a place where I could let the car sit until my wife and kids came out. I texted my brother-in-law Moishy, who was also at the Eye with his family, with directions for my wife: “Tell her to walk one block from where I dropped her off and make a left. I’m waiting on that street.”

Unfortunately, I had no way of contacting my wife directly, because when we arrived in London we decided to put a local sim card into one of our phones, but we felt it unnecessary to do to both phones; one was sufficient. As it happens, I ended up with the working phone.

The ride ended, my wife’s siblings and their families headed to their cars, and Shevy and the kids started walking towards our car.  The problem is my directions were not as clear as I thought they were! So they walked and walked, jetlagged and freezing cold, without finding me. Meanwhile, I had two sleeping jetlagged kids in the back of the car, and when I realized there was a problem, I started circling the area looking for them. We had no way to communicate and Shevy didn’t even know my London phone number because I’d just gotten it.

I started calling out my window, asking passersby if they’d seen a blond woman with a little girl and boy, but no luck. Soon my kids woke up and started crying, and my frustration mounted.

Being married for 12 years, I tried to put myself into my wife’s shoes and work out what she would do in the current situation. I realized, without a shadow of doubt, that she would grab the nearest taxi, go home, and call me as soon as she arrived. Suddenly I was much calmer, and waited for the call which, as predicted, came soon after.

In this week’s Torah portion we first meet Moses, the greatest leader the Jewish nation has ever known. What made him such an effective leader?

Moses was a shepherd and on one occasion one of his sheep ran away. Moses thought the sheep was trying to escape so he ran after it. He ran and ran and ran until he caught up to the sheep which had stopped at a stream of water to drink. It turned out the sheep was simply thirsty. When Moses understood what was driving the sheep, he walked back to the herd carrying the tired sheep on his shoulders.

This, explains the midrash, is why Moses was a superior leader. A true leader is able to understand why his followers do what they do, say what they say and think what they think. This was Moses’ specialty. For forty years he led the Jewish people, always sensitive to their needs and demands. He understood why they complained and how to motivate them.

What a lesson for all of us! We know many of our family and friends intimately, but how often do we really stop to think things through from their perspective? Next time you have a fight with a friend, spouse, sibling, or business partner, stop and try to really see their side of the argument. Close your eyes, use what you know about that person and how they filter and process interactions, and you’ll have a whole new perspective. Try it!

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