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Rabbi Rides Ostrich

1u7xcl.gifThis week I visited the ostrich capital of the world: Outdshoorn, South Africa.

Before World War One, the ostrich feather trade was very popular, and many Jews moved to Outdshoorn to make a living from the business. 

While visiting one of the many farms in the area, I was given a tour and lesson about history of this majestic animal. 

The ostrich is the only bird that cannot fly, but G-d compensated it by giving it the ability to run faster than any other two-footed animal, up to 45 miles per hour!

So a popular sport in the area, believe it or not, is ostrich riding, which I was given the opportunity to do at the end of my tour.

I wouldn't quite call it riding, because there was no saddle and no reins. Two guides hoist you up and run alongside the ostrich to catch you in case you fall, while you hang on for dear life! There's no way to dismount, either. You have to slide off the ostrich’s back with the guides’ help. 

After the ride (which I survived!), I was offered an ostrich steak to complete the experience. I declined, of course, because it was not kosher, but it struck me that it is this week’s parshah that lists all the birds which are not kosher, including one referred to as “bat haya’ana” which many commentaries define as ostrich. 

While the Torah does not give reasons for why certain foods are or are not kosher, it does mention that the ostrich is considered a cruel animal because it mistreats its young. While I enjoyed my ride, I certainly do not wish to emulate the ostrich’s nature. 

With the high holidays well on the horizon, this is the time to begin looking inwards and evaluating our conduct. How do we treat those around us? Are we kind, cruel, or indifferent? Are we kind to our acquaintances at the expense of our families? Sometimes it's easier to be thoughtful and patient with those more distant, but aren't our families equally (if not more!) deserving of our best behavior?

If you look at your behavior with an honest eye and see that you are lacking in how you treat others, it's not too late. Start with doing or saying two kind things today: one to a family member or friend, and one to a stranger or acquaintance. Do it every day until it no longer feels like an effort. Then continue gradually adding or amending one behavior at a time.

Now, more than ever, the world needs more kindness and it's up to each of us to make it happen.

Record Run in Central Park

Blog.JPGThis morning I ran 5.1 miles around Central Park, in 90 degree weather, at 5:30am. For me, that was a record run. Now, before all you marathoners out there start laughing, keep in mind that I am a novice runner, whose maximum until now, when I really push myself, has been 3 miles. My extra 2.1 miles is proportionally like you adding an extra 20 miles to your marathon!

Why did I push myself today?

I wasn’t running alone. I was with James*, an elite IDF soldier wounded in combat three times. He has no vision in one way, experiences perpetual pain in his hand, legs, and ribs, and suffers with chronic PTSD. The only thing that helps him forget his pain is running. And so we ran.

At the two mile point, I felt like I had run as much as I could, but then I looked at James and thought to myself, if he can do it, how can I stop? So I kept running. After four miles, my entire body was aching, but I managed to get to 5.1 in decent time.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the Jews’ travels through the desert. Our sages teach that their journeys represent our spiritual journeys. Each mitzvah we do is a journey, each time we push ourselves to do something outside our comfort zone we travel closer to our destination—the Final redemption.

When you are used to putting on tefillin once a week, and then you increase to twice a week, you are surging forward. When you don’t keep Shabbat but commit to lighting candles each week at the correct time, you are closing in on the goal. When you are accustomed to giving 5% of your earning to charity and you start giving 10%, you are bridging the distance between exile and redemption.

We all have a spiritual comfort level, and sometimes we need an extra push to get us to the next level, just like I did with my running. It’s hard. It’s scary. It’s different. We haven’t done it before. There are so many reasons not to. But when we push beyond what’s familiar, beyond what’s easy and comfortable, that’s when we progress, like the Jews in the desert, towards our destination–the final Redemption and the coming of Moshiach.

Shine Your Light

Blog.jpgThis week I toured the United Nations together with 12 IDF soldiers who were wounded while protecting Israel's freedom. It's no secret that Israel and IDF soldiers are highly unpopular at the UN. In fact, right outside we saw a large sign about the Holocaust, and right next to it another sign likening Israel's "crimes" to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

This is the place that the Lubavitcher Rebbe called a house of lies.

In 1984 the Rebbe told Benjamin Netanyahu, "Remember that in a hall of perfect darkness, if you light one small candle, its precious light will be seen from afar, by everyone. Your mission is to light a candle of truth for the Jewish people."

I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the UN with the IDF soldiers, bringing our own light to this hall of darkness.  

The midrash compares the Jewish nation to a lone sheep  among 70 wolves. Indeed, we are surrounded by those who wish to destroy us, which is more apparent than ever at the UN.

In this week's Haftara we read about the prophet Jeremiah who led the Jewish people in the years leading up the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people—at a time of immense spiritual darkness.

Jeremiah did not feel equipped for the task, protesting, “Alas, O L‑rd G‑d! Behold, I know not to speak, for I am a youth.”

G‑d reassured Jeremiah, promising to grant him the power to lead through the tempest: “Say not, ‘I am a youth,’ for wherever I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.”

Like Jeremiah, we often question our ability to bring light and spiritual warmth to the world. But we know that G-d's words of reassurance apply to us too.

Each and every soul is like a prophet, carrying the Divine message to this world. Each of us has the power to inspire all those we touch. We were sent to the world to do just that. 

Solving the Western Wall Controversy

Blog.jpgIf you follow Israeli news, you've probably seen much controversy regarding prayers at the Western Wall as of late. The discussions have become so heated that leading American donor, Isaac Fisher, has suspended all philanthropic contributions to Israel until the issue is resolved.

Today, 12 Tammuz, is the birthday of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, and also the day he was released from prison years later, making it a day of significance and celebration for Chassidim.

As a child of 13, the Previous Rebbe asked his father, the Rebbe Rashab, "Why do we say, 'I am ready to fulfill the obligation to love my fellow Jews' at the start of each day before morning prayers?"

"When a father has many children," the Rebbe Rashab explained, "his greatest pleasure is to see his children getting along." So before we pray to G-d and ask for His blessings of health, happiness, financial security, etc., we tell Him that we are committed to loving our brothers and sisters—all our fellow Jews—which is G-d's greatest pleasure.

The Kotel is the holiest Jewish site in existence. It’s the place where Jews have been praying for thousands of years. The place which King David purchased fair and square, where Jacob lay down and dreamed of the ladder with angels ascending and descending, where King Solomon built the Temple in which we gathered and served G-d for hundreds of years. It's the place that has been central to our prayers for 2,000 years.

As Jews we have different opinions, as we have had since the beginning of time. And that's ok. The key to resolving our current “Kotel conflict” is to collectively recite that “I hereby am ready to fulfill the commandment of loving a fellow Jew.”

When we overcome our differences and come together in unity and peace, we give our Father in Heaven the biggest gift possible. Especially at the Kotel. Let's commit!

Bar Mitzvah in the Sky

Blog.jpgA close friend and community member was getting married in Israel and I very much wanted to be there to share in the joy of his simcha. But oi, the 10-hour flight, not to mention all the time spent waiting in lines and going through security, was enough to make me reconsider. I vacillated for a few days, but in the end I decided to go. I booked an in-and-out flight, giving myself just 20 hours on the ground in Israel, which meant I could be back with my family for Shabbat.

My departing flight was a day-time flight, so after the seat-belt sign was turned off, I began walking the aisles looking for tefillin "customers." "Excuse me sir, are you Jewish?" I convinced 15 people to do the mitzvah of tefillin right there on the airplane, culminating in a bar mitzvah for one of them—Mark, who had never put on tefillin before in his life.

Mark was flying on a birthright trip together with about 40 others. I explained to them that while I've performed many bar mitzvahs over the years, this would be the very first at 30,000 feet above ground!

I asked the flight attendant, who is also a close friend, for some whiskey. We said l'chaim, sang some songs, and celebrated in style.

My favorite moment was when one of Mark's friends, after seeing me run around the plane asking people to put on tefillin and getting into some intense conversations along the way, said to me, "Rabbi, you don't really have a wedding in Israel, do you? You just like to ride the plane back and forth for the tefillin thing." If only she knew how much I detest travelling!  But it was all worth it, for the wedding I got to attend, as well as all the tefillin moments along the way.

We are all travelers, journeying through this transient world. This is the message of this week's parsha, when the Torah describes the Jewish people's journeys through the desert. Every day is a journey, every moment a priceless lesson that we should treasure. Every day of that journey, everywhere we go, we should search for the opportunity to create meaningful moments and encounters, so that we live each day to its fullest. Every moment wasted is one we can never recoup.

And oh, the flight ended up being so much fun. Hope the passengers enjoyed it as much as I did :)

What Does an Injured Soldier Ask For?

Blog.pngThis week, we said goodbye to Yarin Ashkenazi who we hosted for 10 days as a guest on our Belev Echad trip.

Yarin is a sergeant in the Givati Brigade and he was injured 18 months ago when a terrorist rammed his car into him at 70 miles an hour. Yarin was able to shoot at the car, causing it to overturn, but it still crashed into him, injuring him severely in the head and legs. The terrorist then exited his car and went after the other soldiers with an axe. Fortunately, one of the other soldiers was able to shoot and neutralize him, preventing more injuries and deaths.

At the end of the week, I asked Yarin what had been the highlight of his trip. I assumed he would choose the helicopter ride, motorcycle trip, or one of New York’s famous tourist attractions, but he surprised me by choosing our visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens. 

“It was a very moving experience,” he explained.

“What did you pray for?” I asked.

“I prayed for a blessing to be strong in Torah and mitzvot.”

“Did it work?”

“Yes! For the first time since my injury, here on the Belev Echad trip, I kept Shabbat fully! I did not answer my phone or check my emails. I kept Shabbat 100%.”

I was astounded!

Here is a man who has suffered tremendously over the last year and a half. When he arrived at the hospital after the attack, the doctor’s tried to revive him three times without success. The head doctor indicated they would try once more before giving up, and it was that final time that brought him back to life. After that he had to undergo tremendously risky surgery, where the doctors reattached his skull. He had to re-learn how to walk, talk, eat, laugh, smile, and perform basic daily functions that every child knows how to do.

And when presented with the opportunity to pray at the Rebbe’s grave and ask for a blessing, what does he choose? He asks for strength in Torah and mitzvot!

On Simchat Torah 49 years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe told a story. He had received a letter from a young student in Russia, who was stuck behind the iron curtain, persecuted for being Jewish. In the letter, he asked the Rebbe to bless him with the ability to properly focus on his prayers.

As he told the story, the Rebbe cried profusely. The boy did not beg for an easier life. Even though he was suffering tremendously in Russia, he didn’t beg for freedom. All he asked was for help in serving G-d better. 

I think the Rebbe received another such letter from Yarin last week!

Next week we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, when we will receive the Torah for the 3328th time. This is an opportunity to emulate Yarin, and ask Hashem to grant us strength and clarity in our understanding of the Torah, and excitement and motivation in our fulfillment of the mitzvot.

A True Hero!

Blog.jpgThis week I met a true hero.

Gabi Shoval, 43, has served as a Staff Sergeant in the Combat Engineering IDF unit for the past 23 years.

During Operation Protective Edge, Gabi’s unit was responsible for destroying Hamas tunnels. Thank G-d, they successfully obliterated 29 tunnels, saving countless lives, and earning a medal of honor for his courage and bravery. But while destroying the 19th tunnel Gabi’s luck ran out. Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at his unit and three soldiers, including Gabi, were severely injured.

Doctors performed 65 complicated operations to try and save his right leg, but despite their best efforts, five months ago they were forced to amputate.

Gabi’s 18-year-old daughter is now being enlisted into the IDF, and guess which unit she will be joining? The same unit in which her father served for 23 years—Combat Engineering.

As for Gabi, what does he plan to do with the rest of his life? His desire is to recover and go back to serving in the IDF!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke often about the tremendous merit of the IDF soldiers, who put their lives at risk for the sole purpose of protecting their brethren and their country. Their portion in the world to come is guaranteed!

What a privilege to meet this hero, who is so dedicated to his country that wants to return to service despite a life-altering injury. A true hero, in every sense. 

Lost My Car!

Blog.jpgA few weeks ago we took the kids to Six Flags, anticipating a fun family day. Because it was Passover, thousands of others had the same idea and the place was jam packed. We found a parking spot quite far from the entrance, and my wife asked me to look around and make a note of where we'd parked, which I did. We were in section three, near the trees, far from the entrance. Easy! Or so I thought...

Fast-forward several hours, and after an exhilarating but exhausting day, we were ready to leave. I left my wife and oldest four children at the front gate to save them the walk, and I took the baby and went to find the car. Well, I went straight to section three and looked around but...no car! I walked up and down the rows, but there was no sign of it.

I tried to call my wife but her phone was dead, so I had no way of letting her know why it was taking so long. I was also carrying my baby who was getting heavier by the minute, and this little misplaced car issue was turning into quite a problem.

Fortunately, my brother happened to have had the same idea and brought his family to the same park, so he was able to give me a ride through the parking lot in his car, to look for my missing car, but still we couldn't find it. 

After waiting a while, my wife and older kids walked to the car. She knew exactly where it was and she borrowed someone's phone to explain to me that there are dozens of section threes at six flags! Apparently I had parked at section three of a particular cartoon character and now I was in section three but the wrong one. She even texted me a picture of the right cartoon character to make it easier to find, and finally, I found them!

3329 years ago the Jewish nation stopped roaming the desert and parked at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, G-d revealed Himself to us in all His glory. He gave us our mission statement, the reason for our existence. He gave us the tools with which to live in the physical world—the Torah.

But fast forward 3329 years to the holiday of Shavuot in 2017, and some of us are struggling to remember where we parked. In fact, some of us have even stopped looking! Every day from Pesach until Shavuot we count down in anticipation of the holiday. The counting is intended to remind us of the day G-d entrusted us with His Torah, and to build anticipation for Shavuot, when we will re-accept the great gift He has bestowed upon us.

He gave it to us so we would live with it and use it to elevate our material world. It's our job, as we count the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, to keep doing those mitzvot that will bring us closer and closer to our parking spot. Take the opportunity to put on tefillin, keep Shabbat, give charity, love your fellow Jew, etc. Each mitzvah brings us closer to finding that spot–remembering how and why G-d gifted us the gift of all gifts, His holy Torah.

I’m Addicted

Blog.JPGThis week the internet went crazy, and I mean crazy! WhatsApp, which is used by over one billion people, went down for two hours, and people were panicking.

We addicts rely on WhatsApp to communicate with absolutely everyone, but it is more than just a messaging app. It tells you when your friend is online, when your boss read your message, and it gives real time reports of when others are responding.

Now, I am in the inspiration business. It is my job to inspire Sarah to light Shabbat candles, to convince Mark to marry a Jew, to persuade Harry to send his son to Hebrew school, to inspire Michael to come to shul, to explain to Rebecca the importance and value of giving charity, and even to excite you about the Torah message you are reading right now.

What better medium to use than WhatsApp? When I send Jennifer a picture of a wounded soldier wearing tefillin, it is instant. It travels across the globe and I can see when she opened my message.

I also love WhatsApp when it comes to our Sunday morning minyan. I send a message out to my congregants “Can you make it to the minyan at 9am?” and WhatsApp will actually tell me who is still sleeping and who has woken up but is ignoring my message. It’s that good!

The reason it is so popular is because there is nothing like it. It’s free. You can communicate in groups, in chats, across the globe, with family, etc. Distance means nothing.

So, understandably, when it went down, the world freaked out.

But it got me thinking. Could there be a parallel here, to our relationship with G-d?

G-d is constantly online; His status is always set to ‘available’. He never goes to sleep. He always reads our messages. Send him a message from any country in the world, in any language, at any time, and He will receive it instantly. His Wi-Fi is constantly on.

Would you freak out if for two hours you thought you didn’t have a connection to G-d?

Can you (and I) become addicted to G-d?

Here’s an idea: This Friday evening, around sunset, join me and make yourself a G-d-imposed 25-hour WhatsApp outage. You might even enjoy it. 

P.S. I hope you are reading this message on WhatsApp

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

 

What Would My Grandfather Say?

Blog.jpgWhen my mother was 16 years old, she discovered a paper in her father's Talmud which read, “In memory of my wife Chana, and my daughters Esti and Zlata.” Shocked, she asked her father to explain. His face lost all color and he froze, completely unable to answer.

My grandfather never spoke about his experiences at Auschwitz. Never! He took the horrors he witnessed and pain he experienced to the grave.

I know the memories stayed with him–vividly, because I used to hear him scream in his sleep. The suffering he experienced is indescribable, his misery unimaginable. Today, it is clear that he almost certainly suffered from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My mother was able to find out from her uncle that her father had previously been married, and his wife and both daughters were murdered by the Nazis. On May 18th 1944, my grandfather was deported from Hungary with his wife and two daughters, Esti, 4, and Zlata, 7. Pushed out of the cattle cars at Auschwitz, Dr. Joseph Mengele immediately sent the children to the left and their parents to the right. Their mother refused to part with her children and within hours the three of them had been gassed and cremated. May G-d avenge their deaths.

-------

Last weekend I attended a Belev Echad reunion in Jerusalem, with all the participants from all our past trips. What a pleasure to catch up with these heroes and witness the remarkable amount of progress they have made in their mental and physical recovery!

On Friday we visited the kotel, driven in style on 30 motorcycles. One of the soldiers with us was my dear friend Ohad Ben Ishay, who came to New York on the 2015 Belev Echad trip. Ohad was one of the most severely wounded soldiers of the past war, Operation Protective Edge. He suffered major injuries to head and to his body, and he lost the ability to speak. On his trip in 2015 he put on tefillin but was unable to say the shema.

Well, fast forward to 2017 and I asked him if he'd like to put on tefillin at the kotel, which he did, and lo and behold he was able to say the shema! These are the first words I have heard him say since his injury. I was incredulous at his progress; he is able to speak a little, and to hear him say the shema was deeply moving.

I wondered, if he were alive, what my grandfather might say.

Most certainly he would say Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad!

I feel certain he would look with pride and gratitude at our incredible and courageous IDF soldiers who put their own lives on the line on a daily basis to keep us all safe and to ensure that "never again!" actually means "never again!"

He would say the shema, expressing his gratitude to the Almighty for the transformation that has occurred since that fateful day in 1944. He would thank G-d for the super power that Israel has become.

And he would look with wonder upon the many living, healthy descendants he has from his second marriage, something that at one point surely seemed unimaginable.

Kicked Off Our Flight!

Blog.jpgI love traveling, but I hate flying. The lines are long, the airlines charge for everything that was once free, seats have become narrower, and flights are more packed than ever. Certainly, the average flight is far from a comfortable experience! I just disembarked a flight from JFK to Israel, where I am spending the weekend at a Belev Echad reunion with a number of the soldiers we have hosted over the years. While in the air, I couldn’t stop thinking about the horrific treatment Dr. David Dao was subjected to on his flight last week, when he was dragged, bloodied and screaming, off a United Airlines airplane after refusing to give up his seat for a commuting crew member. He was mistreated, physically violated, and grossly disrespected, all because the airline overbooked the flight. He suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a sinus injury, and two broken teeth from the incident. Video footage ignited a firestorm of anger and outrage against United. United has lost several hundred million dollars since the incident, but the real danger is the outraged customers. Polls from Morning Consult revealed that 60% of potential fliers would prefer to take a longer flight with a stop-over on a different airline, than take a direct, quicker flight with United. ~~~~~~~~~ We are all currently on a journey, on an airplane heading towards our destination. We just marked the beautiful holiday of Passover and began the countdown towards Shavuot. It is a mitzvah to count each day in anticipation, until we reach the destination, Shavuot, which marks the day we received the Torah. There are precisely 49 days between these two holidays, and it is a mitzvah to count each and every one. But it’s not just about the counting. The counting period is a time of personal spiritual refinement, a time to work on ourselves and become better people. We may find that just as we’ve settled down, ready to fulfill our mission, we are “kicked off our flight” — i.e., the evil inclination tries to derail us. He wants to kick us out of our seats and off the plane. Instead of focusing on spending quality time with our loved ones, the evil inclination pulls us towards our smart phones which make it all too compelling to ignore everything and everyone nearby. Instead of focusing on helping others and feeling grateful for everything we have, our evil inclination ensures that all we care about is obtaining more and living more luxuriously. Instead of allowing us to cultivate selflessness, he tempts us with self-gratification. Instead of conducting business honestly and morally, he convinces us that it’s ok to lie and cheat. Let’s be conscious of the evil inclination’s attempts to derail us, and stand firm in our decision to stick to the journey, so that we can march forth, unobstructed, to the holiday of Shavuot, and receive the Torah with great joy and excitement.

Brand New Car

Blog.jpgThis week I took our car to a car wash, and not just any car wash. Because I needed to make sure no remnant of chametz remains before Pesach, I chose the VIP wash.

With five kids, trust me, the back of that car was well beyond dirty. In fact, I wondered how in the world they could make that much of a mess!

How would they take my messy car and transform it in a shiny, good-as-new car?

First, the car was cleaned externally. A pressure sprayer covered the car with soap, and together with strong, foam brushes and power-sprayed water, all the layers of dirt on the outside of the car were stripped away.

Next, four attendants worked on the inside of the car. They went through the entire car, vacuuming the floors, wiping down the dashboard, steering wheel, and windows. Nothing was left untouched.

Lastly, three coats of wax were applied to the car, making it as shiny as a brand-new penny.

In just an hour they had completely changed my car. It looked and felt as good as the day I got it.  

This is what Pesach is all about.

Chametz represents the ego and our poor character traits—our bad moods, addictions, etc. When we are commanded to remove all chametz from our possession, it includes this internal chametz too.

It’s time for a major overhaul—internal and external—just like my car. We need to remove every piece of dirt that tarnishes our souls, but unlike a car, we can’t just drive up to a car wash and let the attendants do the work. The only person who can do the deep inner work to remove the blemishes from our souls is us.

So what are we waiting for? Pesach starts in just a few days. Let’s get to work!

I Want Privacy!

Blog.jpgMany Americans are up in arms after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill a set of internet privacy rules, paving the way for service providers to share and sell their customers’ sensitive information — including everything from browsing histories and financial records to information on children.

The big internet providers will “sell” this information to marketers and who will send targeted ads based on your likes, searches, and preferences. At the core of the issue is the sense that my browsing history is my personal business. Nobody should know what I like to do, what I like to buy, what movies I like to watch, and any other personal information about me. It’s nobody’s business unless I choose to share. The information is private and belongs solely to me.

In a way, as Jews we already receive targeted “ads” based on our likes and preferences. Every time a person performs a good deed or a sin an angel is created. Everything we do is recorded. 

The Talmud tells us, “In the way that a person wants to go, he will be led. (Tractate Makkot)”

So if Jack wants to spend his Shabbat afternoon visiting sick people in the hospital, he will actually be targeted with “ads” to point him in the right direction. The “ads” might come in the form of friends encouraging him to go, or beautiful weather that makes the long walk tempting or enjoyable.

Or perhaps Sarah wants to give charity. She will receive targeted “ads” which may include an unexpected bonus, an invitation to a fund-raising dinner, or a link to a charity campaign she identifies with.

On the negative side, if we persist with poor habits and unfavorable pursuits, we will be led in that direction too. Let’s say Peter likes to frequent bars where he drinks too much. He may receive targeted “ads” such as a friend inviting him on a bar crawl, or an invitation to an open bar event.

Every time we do either a good deed or a bad one, an angel is created. Those angels then encourage us to pursue either positive or negative behaviors.

As for privacy, it doesn’t truly exist. G-d sees everything, and every thought we have, every word we say, and every action we do, is recorded permanently.

It’s up to us to ensure that the angels we create will be good ones, who will target us with “ads” that will help us do more good deeds, give more charity, help more people, pray more, eat kosher food, and study more Torah.

Mistake in our Torah

Blog.jpegAs a child, my father taught me the art of reading from the Torah—"leining". Since the age of 13, I've been reading from the Torah almost every Shabbat. I've done it in South Africa, Namibia, Sydney, Brazil, London, and more. But this past Shabbat while reading from the Torah I had a unique experience.

As I was leining, I suddenly noticed a letter which should have been a "taf" but was actually written as a "chet," changing the word in question from "et" to "ach". Some of the ink had been scratched off.

The Torah is the foundation of our faith, the reason for our existence, and hence our most sacred possession. In its entirety, the Torah has 304,805 letters, and although the difference between the letters chet and taf is miniscule, this tiny error renders the entire Torah scroll invalid.

I had to stop reading, cover the Torah up, and put it away so that it can be sent to a scribe for fixing.

Every single Jew is like one of those 304,805 letters. If even one Jew in the entire world is sinning, it affects the entire Jewish nation. Our actions are intertwined. It's our responsibility to reach out to our fellow Jews and help them, so that our "scroll" (nation) does not become "invalid."

P.S. Check out the attached picture to see the “mistake” in our Torah.

Brotherly Love!

Blog.jpgThis week our community hosted 12 severely wounded IDF soldiers as our VIP guests. During the trip, one of the soldiers lost his wallet. He was understandably distraught, because the wallet contained all his credit cards, his license, and all the cash he had for the trip.

He searched everywhere without success. He thought it might have been left on the bus, so we called the driver who looked around but didn't find it. We retraced he steps, searching everywhere he had been, to no avail. Not in the hotel room, or the lobby, or any of the other places we looked.

When the other soldiers on the trip saw how devastated he was, they came up with an idea.

In an act of incredible brotherly love, they decided to each contribute $35, for a total of $385, so that he wasn't left with nothing.

Now, these soldiers did not know each other before the trip. They didn't grow up together, weren't friends, didn't serve in the same army units. They were complete strangers. Some are religious, some are atheist. Some lean to the right politically, others to the left. But during the trip they bonded in a unique and lasting way. This generous show of unity—each donating $35 for a friend in need—is but a small example of their newfound friendship.

Ahavat Yisrael—love for one's fellow, is something we all need to learn and implement in our own lives. Let's look to these heroes as examples, and start to focus on all that unites us. 

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