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So, What do the Polls Say?

Blog.jpgThe race to the White House is on! It's full steam ahead to see who will become the next leader of the most powerful country in the world.

The media has been focusing on the candidates and debates for several months, with a particular spotlight on the polls. Every time I turn on my computer lately, I see polls, polls and more polls.

They want to know who I'm voting for and who I'm most passionate about.

But that's not all. One poll is certainly not sufficient in this poll-obsessed America. Oh, no. There are polls in each state. What do the polls say in Iowa? New Hampshire? South Carolina? Florida?

And it doesn't end there. People are polled in every conceivable category. Men, women. First time voters, voters younger than 45, voters between 45 and 64, voters older than 64. Voters with a college degree, voters without a college degree. Registered voters, non registered voters. Voters who are liberal, moderate, conservative, or very conservative. Voters who are gun owners and voters who are non gun owners. Voters with income under $200,000 and voters who earn more than $200,000.

Watching all these polls and how obsessed Americans are with them, I realized there is a tremendous lesson here, which we can all utilize.

As Jews, the campaign for our big leader began in this week's Torah portion with the commandment, "Build for Me a sanctuary." This is the origin of the race to bring Moshiach, who will be the most powerful king to ever live. He is the one who will build G-d's White House—the third Temple in Jerusalem.

And so, as the race continues, we need to make sure we are polling ourselves.

Ask yourself: How am I doing as a Jew today? Am I a better Jew than I was yesterday? How passionate am I about Torah and mitzvot?

In fact, a general poll is not enough. We need to poll ourselves in every aspect of our lives. How is my kosher observance? How is my Shabbat observance? What is my tefillin status? Did I give charity today? Have I been lighting Shabbat candles at the right time?

We also need to consider others in our polls. What about my spouse? What about my kids? How deeply do I care if my children have a Jewish education?

We all—liberal Jews, democrat Jews, republican Jews, conservative Jews, moderate Jews—need to poll ourselves obsessively, to ensure we improve daily. Just because yesterday I polled myself and determined that I am a good Jew, doesn't mean that tomorrow the polls won't change. Maybe they will. Today, I cannot be the same Jew I was yesterday. And tomorrow I cannot be the same Jew I am today. We need to be constantly bettering ourselves and adding mitzvot to our arsenal.

So, nu? Who are you voting for?

Are You Sophisticated?

dating.blind.date.jpgA few weeks ago we hosted a beautiful Friday night dinner, at which Iintroduced Todd* to Alexi*. I noticed that Todd spoke to Alexi for no more than five minutes before moving on and sitting down. 

A few days later I called him and asked, “Nu, what do you think of Alexi? Would you like to go out with her?”

“Nah, she’s not really my type,” he said. 

“What do you mean? She’s a wonderful, good-hearted young woman, with a warm and friendly personality.”

“Thanks, rabbi, but really, she’s not my type.”

“Are you sure? She’s also intelligent and attractive. What exactly are you referring to when you say she’s not your type?”

Finally, Todd explained, "She’s not sophisticated enough for me."

Ah, sophisticated. That’s a new one for me! 

-----

The midrash explains why Moshe, the greatest prophet in the history of the world, chose Tzippora as his bride. Why? Because she behaved simply and with humility. 

Now, simple does not mean stupid. Tzippora was highly intelligent, but she felt no need to satiate her ego by being in the limelight. In fact, while Moshe is mentioned hundreds of times in the Torah, Tzippora is mentioned only three times. She was content to live a quiet and unassuming life. 

Once upon a time, people would say yes or no for the right reasons, based on important, fundamental principles. Now, we are quick to pass judgment for all the wrong reasons. Today, our answers are clouded by “sophisticated” judgment, social pressure and social media. 

And our “sophisticated” thinking is not working to our advantage. 

My friend Chaim*, a 42-year-old bachelor, has been dating a wonderful 36-year-old woman for the past two months. I asked him, “Are you attracted to her?” But he is still not sure. 

It seems we are less and less sure of everything these days. 

Ask a Jew praying in shul, “Do you believe in G-d? Are you religious?” Good luck getting a definitive answer!

When the Jews were asked to accept the Torah, they responded immediately, “We will do and we will hear.” It was simple. 

We have since become a “sophisticated” people, but maybe it’s time to take a step back, and learn to appreciative simplicity again.  

*Names changed to protect privacy

Walking to Shul in a Blizzard!

blizzard.jpgWhen winter storm Jonas ripped across New York last weekend, it was declared the 2nd biggest snowstorm in the city's history.

At the height of the storm, Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency. Mass transit was largely shut down, Broadway shows went dark, and New Yorkers huddled indoors as 55-mph gusts howled outside.

Truthfully, I was not expecting such a blizzard. Having lived here for many years, I have become accustomed to weather predictions which are rarely fulfilled. And so, last week I walked to shul with my kids as I do every Shabbat morning. Boy was I surprised when I stepped outside and saw just how much snow there was!

I immediately realized this was a serious storm, and there was no way my 2-year-old daughter was going to make it, so I took her back home. My older kids were excited to brave the storm and make the short trek. 

And so, we walked.

For me, the snow was an inconvenience; for my kids it was sheer pleasure.

I hated it. My kids loved it.

I tried to avoid walking in the snow as much as possible. My kids fully embraced the piles of fluffy snow. 

While I tried to keep to the sidewalks where the snow had already been cleared, my kids walked on top of every pile. 

Where I tried to walk in the footsteps that others had already made, my kids wanted to create their own. 

I arrived at shul damp and miserable, but my children arrived drenched and ecstatic. 

Along the way, I learned a number of important lessons from my uninhibited children. 

1. When life throws you hurdles, enjoy the experience.

2. Sometimes the solution is not to avoid the problem but to embrace it.

3. Don’t be too set in your ways. Try forging new paths.  

4. As the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Chabad Rebbe, used to say, “When you have a problem, don’t go around it, just jump over it! Lechatchila Ariber!"

5. When you're truly committed to something, even a blizzard can't stop you. 

6. Listen to weather reports, but don't treat them as G-d's word. He is the final authority. 

7. One person's misery is another's enjoyment. Try to change your perspective. 

8. Things often turn out better than we expect. 

9. When faced with anything outside the ordinary, use the opportunity to learn something new about yourself and your service of G-d. Looking for the G-dly lessons in our daily lives will surely make us better people.

Are You Crazy, Rabbi?

Blog.JPG“Rabbi, are you crazy? How many kids do you have?”

“Five.”

“Five?”

“How on earth will you pay tuition for five kids?”

“Do you know how much college costs these days?”

“How will you save money to provide for your five children?” 

“How will you afford to feed five children?” 

“How will you buy a house on the Upper East Side that can house five children?”

“How will you ever go on a family vacation?”

“You are a Chabad rabbi, right? Do you know how much Chabad rabbis make? Yup, zero, or close to that at least.”

This past Shabbat morning, G-d blessed me and my wife with a beautiful baby girl, our fifth child: a Shabbat baby, named Chana Mushka. 

When I introduced the baby to my four-year-old son, Zalman, I said to him, “Zalman, look, we have a new baby!” To which he replied, “What happened to Sara (our two-year old)? We don’t have her anymore?”

Fortunately, we have a seven-seat minivan, and as I moved my four-year-old’s car seat to the back to make room for the new baby’s car seat, I asked myself all these questions and more. How will we cope with five kids? How will we afford them? 

And truthfully, I do not have it all figured out. 

But in this week’s Torah portion the Jews found themselves in a serious trouble. The Egyptians were chasing them from behind, with a very well equipped army, and in front of them, blocking their way, was a deep sea. To the left and the right they were surrounded by wild, dangerous animals, so they were completely stuck, with their lives in imminent danger from every direction. 

They began to argue, unable to decide cohesively how to proceed, until one individual, Nachshon, jumped into the sea. He said, “G-d, you promised to redeem us from Egypt and bring us to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. You promised! So I am going to ignore this major obstacle in front of us and forge ahead. He waded in, deeper and deeper, until the water reached his nose. Another step and he would be unable to breathe. As he took that final step, the sea split and the entire nation was able to cross through safely on dry land. 

There are times in life when you just have to jump in with both feet and trust that G-d will do His part. Thinking about whether or not to have another child? Just jump in. I have yet to meet a person on their deathbed who regretted not having more children. 

There are times to think, and times where it’s better not to ponder too much, but just to go for it. When we do a mitzvah, G-d helps. He is the boss, the conductor of this world. With His help, we will all bring many more healthy children into the world.

The Morning After

image1.JPGTens of millions of Americans work up this morning with their dreams shattered. Just yesterday we were all conjuring up images of what life would look like with 1.5 billion dollars: the mansions we would buy, kitchens we would decorate, and charity we would give…the vacations we would take and the cars we can only dream of…early retirement and living the beach life…eternal bliss and happiness… We could picture it all.

But now, our hopes are crushed and our dreams have evaporated into thin air. Yes, there were some lucky winners in California, Florida and Tennessee, but for the rest of us, life goes on as usual. We still have to deal with work, daily life, and the very same commitments we had yesterday. The struggle to make a living continues…

Our sages teach that we can live our entire lives enjoying all the world’s pleasures—that dream car, boat, vacation, beach house, etc.—but none of it rivals even one moment of pleasure in the World to Come. In fact, we have literally no idea what the true meaning of the word pleasure is!

 

True pleasure is the pleasure of the soul—spending time with the Divine. When we do a mitzvah, we unlock the ability to transcend and cleave to the all-mighty and infinite G-d—something which is far more valuable than 1.5 billion dollars. It is priceless.

This world is temporary. We spend 70-80 years here, and then we pass on. But the soul lives eternally, so it is the soul we must worry about. And the soul’s greatest pleasure is in connecting to G-d.

This Friday night, sit around the Shabbat table with your family and make Kiddush. Turn off your phones and computers and televisions for 24 hours and focus on family and spirituality. On Shabbat morning, go to your local synagogue and connect with G-d. Then you will have won the true lottery, worth much more than 1.5 billion dollars.

So dream on, my friends…dream on! You can still fulfill your dreams.

Puppy vs. My kids

Blog.JPGAs I left my apartment one day this week, I bumped into my next-door neighbor with his brand new puppy, Winter. We chatted a while, and I asked if I could introduce Winter to my kids. He agreed and I brought Winter inside.

Now, I love dogs, and at one point in my childhood we had three living in our house— a English Mastiff and two German Shepherds. My favorite was Ringo, our German shepherd, who I grew to love. 

Because I grew up with dogs, I know how loyal they are and how much love they can give, and I was excited for my children to meet this adorable labrador. So Winter came racing into our apartment, jumping with joy, ready to play. She started playing with the pillows and wanted to play with my children, but they were, unfortunately, not being very good hosts. They tried to jump out of the way and hide from Winter, and my younger children started to cry and beg me to take the dog out of the house immediately.

All this got me thinking. These kids have a father who absolutely loves dogs, but they themselves have no appreciation for them, and are even terrified! Why do they not love Winter as I do?

Simply put, they do not know her. If they would agree to spend time with Winter, they would learn not only to feel comfortable around her, but even to love her. In order to appreciate dogs, you need to spend time with them. Only then will you understand that they are fiercely loyal, unconditionally loving and always non-judgmental. I am certain that if my kids were willing to do that, they would realize how cute she is and spend hours playing with her.

The same is true of our relationship with G-d. Many of us do not appreciate Him, because we refuse to spend time with Him. If we would make time to spend with Him, surely we would come to love Him. 

If we would start learning His Torah, we would realize its sheer brilliance. If we would start coming to shul on Shabbat, we would realize how fulfilling prayer can be. If we would take time to light the Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon, we would realize our own potential, and how much spirituality and light we can share with others.

So do yourself a favor and come to shul this Shabbat, and together we will read about the first seven of the ten plagues that destroyed Egypt. By focusing on the meaning of the plagues, we will discover the timeless and eternal lessons they teach, making the Bible just as pertinent to our 2016 lives, as it was millennia ago. 

When is a word not a word?

Blog.jpgEvery year Oxford Dictionaries chooses a Word of the Year, but this year’s selection was not a word at all. That’s right, this year they chose a pictograph—the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. 

But whereas recent years’ selections (such as “vape,” “selfie,” and “GIF”) were used millions of times, this year’s word was used 6.6 billion times on Twitter alone! It is, by far, the most tweeted emoji. 

It seems bizarre, but when you consider what an emoji actually represents, it all makes sense. Emojis are universal. They transcend language barriers, and are equally as understandable whether you speak English, Afrikaans, Japanese, French, Arabic, Chinese or Swedish. Emojis are visual representations of human emotions, which are understandable and relatable across the board.  A smile is a smile in any language.

There are so many emojis, but which one was chosen? The face that is laughing so hard it’s crying. Essentially, happiness. This is what people want to share and experience—the joy so extreme it leads to tears. No matter which languages we speak, we can all relate to that feeling.

Can you imagine a world where everybody speaks a single language? Historically, one of the major barriers to mutual understanding and cooperation between people has consistently been language. If we all spoke the same language, and could understand each other with ease, how much more could we accomplish?

We know that when Moshiach comes, that’s exactly what will happen. The entire world will share one language, as the prophet Zephaniah prophesied, “For then I will bring one language for all the nations of the world so that they may call out in the name of G-d.”

Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of that language—the emoji.

Despite the many terrible tragedies the world faced this year, from Jerusalem to Paris, Syria to Tel Aviv, San Bernadino to Afghanistan, maybe we are also inching closer to a universal language. A language free from boundaries. A language that we all know, and understand, and can use to wipe evil off the face of the earth. A language with which we can share feelings of sadness and frustration, but also hope, joy and delight.

May 2016 usher in a year of universal peace and happiness, for everybody.

Oops, Wrong Miss Universe

93445_02831_1.jpgThis past Monday night, Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez, was crowned Miss Universe on live television. Millions of people worldwide watched as she was awarded the grand title of glory and fame. Ecstatic, Gutiérrez paraded before the applauding audience in her glittering crown and Miss Universe sash with a tiny Colombian flag in her hand—a moment she had certainly yearned for and dreamed of for years. Finally, she had made it. 

For about three minutes.

Then, in what was considered one of television’s most awkward moments ever, the host, Steve Harvey, announced that he had made a mistake, and the real winner was Miss Phillipines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. Apologizing profusely, Harvey said he had made an error reading the card, and so, in a moment of much confusion, the crown, glory and fame was stripped from Miss Colombia and given to Miss Philippines.

Awkward as the moment was, its timing was uncanny, because it teaches us an important lesson in conjunction with this week’s Torah portion.

This week, we read about the Jews’ years of comfort and satiety in Egypt. Yosef, a highly-respected, well-regarded Jew, is viceroy of the entire country—the most powerful Jew ever to live. He helps save the country from famine, and the Jews are happy and prosperous. His father Jacob is considered a miracle worker and when he dies, hundreds of thousands of people attend his funeral.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. A new king replaces the old one, and the Jews become tortured slaves, blamed for everything. They are completely powerless, at the mercy of their taskmasters, beaten and massacred. For two hundred and ten years.

When a person passes away, all their physical wealth—gold, silver, Jewels, dollar bills—is stripped away. It becomes meaningless. The only items of value we can take with us as we journey into the Next World, are the good deeds that we performed during our lifetime. The Torah we have learned and the mitzvot we have performed cannot be taken away from us.

Life can change in the blink of an eye, but the more Torah we study, and the more good deeds we do, the better off we will be, no matter what else comes our way.

No Prayer Permitted at the Top of the Empire State Building

Blog.jpg

Last week I found myself surveying Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building—1250 feet high. I was there with 12 severely sounded IDF soldiers as part of our Belev Echad trip.

Wherever I go, I carry a pair of tefillin with me in case I meet a Jew who has not yet had the opportunity to put them on and say the blessing. On this particular day, all 12 soldiers had already done the mitzvah, except for one—Nitzan.

This seemed like an opportune moment and Nitzan agreed. I wrapped the tefillin around Nitzan’s arm, and then around his head. I took out my phone and launched the prayer app so we could say the Shema.

The view was breathtaking and praying there felt exhilarating. Looking down like that can make one feel closer to G-d. Everything on the ground looks so small and insignificant—one wonders if this is how G-d feels all the time from His view.

So we stood there together, basking in the spirituality of the moment, as Nitzan said the Shema, when a security guard approached us. “Praying isn’t allowed here,” he announced.

Now, this was no ordinary group of people. These IDF soldiers were all injured in serious combat with Hamas terrorists, and they were not about to back down. They explained to the security guard in no uncertain terms that they would, indeed, pray right here, right now.

And so, Nitzan finished praying in peace.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about Jacob and his children moving to Egypt, which essentially marks the onset of the Egyptian exile. This exile was the worst, because it was the first, and because all Jews were under Pharoah’s jurisdiction (as opposed to the later exiles, where the Jews were dispersed and did not all suffer at the same time).

The first thing Jacob did was send his son to Goshen (the area in which the Jews would be living) to establish a yeshiva—a house of prayer and Torah study. The very existence of our nation depends on Torah study, and Jacob knew for the Jews to survive as slaves in exile for over 200 years, there had to be a yeshiva.

Likewise, in 2015 we need Torah study and prayer to survive our current exile. So when the security guard at the Empire State Building tries to interfere, we make sure to demonstrate loud and clear that we will pray to our G-d even on top of the Empire State.

 

Saved by the Shema Prayer

chen.jpgOn Monday, I had breakfast with a group of 12 IDF heroes. Chen shared his breathtaking story with us:

Chen was a sergeant in the Nachal brigade. In last year’s Operation Protective Edge, he and his unit found themselves in BeitChanun, searching for terrorists.

As they searched one particular house, Chen remained downstairs while the rest of his unit proceeded upstairs to clear the top floor. There they were ambushed by hidden terrorists and most of the unit was injured. Chen and the other uninjured soldiers had to evacuate the wounded and also deal with the terrorists. Gunfire flew from nearby houses, and they returned fire.

Approximately ten minutes into this gun battle, there was sudden silence from the Hamas terrorists, and Chen knew that could only mean one thing: they were preparing to fire a missile at the house.

Certain that these were his final few moments on earth, Chen raised his right hand to cover his eyes and said, “ShemaYisrael, HashemElokeinu, Hashemechad” –“Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the L-rd is one.”

As his eyes were covered, the missile hit and a large piece of shrapnel came flying towards him and hit his right hand exactly where he was covering his eyes. The shrapnel wounded his hand severely, but had he not raised his hand to say the Shema, he surely would have died.

When Chen shared his story I was amazed. We have no idea what G-d has planned or why He does what He does. But in this case, praying clearly saved Chen’s life.

We are currently in the midst of the beautiful festival of Chanukah, when we commemorate the victory of light over darkness, and the triumph of a small group of Maccabees who defeated the mighty Antiochus and his massive army.

Chen and all his brothers and sisters in the IDF are our modern-day Maccabees. They are at the forefront of our battles, and with G-d’s help and the power of prayer, we shall surely win!

63 day war!

Blog1.jpgHow many days did it take the IDF to defeat the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies in the six-day war?

Yes, in just six days Israel utterly demolished these powerful armies, who were armed to the gills with guns, tanks and airplanes.

For how many days has the current violence lasted? 63!

And what is the primary choice of weapon? Knives.

So, let’s get this straight: Israel knows how to obliterate entire armies with the odds exponentially stacked against them, but they cannot defeat a bunch of people armed with knives?

We can’t help but wonder how that is possible.

But there is something different about this war. It is a war of individuals. A war where the enemy is not clear. The current violence is being perpetuated by individuals, who may be riled up from watching an anti-Semitic YouTube channel or reading a Facebook post about hurting Jews, who then take matters into their own hands and stab any Jews they can find.

This makes it virtually impossible for the Israeli army to track. There is no intelligence because it is not organized and pre-planned. No one knows when or where the next attack will take place.

Individuals armed with knives have managed to terrorize an entire country.

But if an individual armed with a knife can wreak such havoc, imagine how much each of us can do with a single good deed. Choose a mitzvah to do, and let it reverberate throughout the universe. Watch an inspiring Torah video, do a mitzvah and let’s see how much spiritual havoc we can wreak upon the world.

With the power of a single good deed we can bring Moshiach!

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. 

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