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"Stay Put! We're Coming to You..."

Blog.jpgThis past Shabbat, two 16-year-old Chabad students, Rivka Moshe and Brocha Katz, went missing while on a weekend Shabbaton trip with their classmates. They were staying at a hotel in Florida, which is surrounded by      a thick forest. The girls went for a walk on Shabbat afternoon, and did not return at the appointed time. 

Because it was Shabbat, we knew they had nothing with them. No food, water, money or cell phone.

Like thousands of other people around the world, when I heard the news I was extremely worried. Were they kidnapped? Lured into a bad area? Could it possibly be terrorism? And even if they were "just" lost, this is a Florida forest, near a lake, where alligators and snakes abound. How would they stay safe? 

With all this in mind, I gathered my children and we recited tehillim (Psalms) together, in the merit of these two young women. We prayed for their safety, their speedy return, and their parents' peace of mind. 

And we were certainly not the only ones. It was later calculated that approximately 15,175 chapters of tehillim were recited for these two girls. In fact, the entire book was tehillim was completed 89 times by a combined 4,246 readers. Moreover, 350 people committed to doing a new mitzvah in their merit. The global Jewish community joined forces in an effort to storm the Heavens for their safe return. 

Thankfully, the girls survived. They got lost in the forest and ended up stuck in a marsh, from which they were extracted the next day. 

I was thinking that there is a tremendous lesson here for all of us. These young girls were lost in a massive dark forest, and we, too, are lost—in this dark, bitter exile. 

The further the girls walked, the more difficult the terrain became, and the more lost they became. Likewise, the further we travel through the exile, the more entrenched in it we become. Each generation of Jews born into this exile is like taking another step, walking another mile, as the terrain becomes more spiritually treacherous and ever darker. 

At one point, the swamp was so deep that the girls found themselves in murky water up to their chins. We, too, are chin deep in this exile, and many of us have begun to lose hope that Redemption will ever arrive. 

When asked what gave them strength, they both mentioned that hearing the helicopters buzzing overhead throughout the night gave them the encouragement they needed to push through and keep their spirits up.

And when a helicopter finally spotted the girls, he threw down a note, on which he wrote, "Stay put! We are coming to you." 

We are about to celebrate Passover, the festival of freedom, when we eat matzah, which is called the bread of faith. When we crunch on the matzah, it sounds like those choppers. It reminds us that just as G-d took the Jews out of Egypt all those years ago, He will, without doubt, redeem us too. It gives us hope. 

Passover is like a personal note from G-d, reassuring us that He knows where we are, and that Moshiach is on the way. It's up to us to hold on and stay strong until that rescue mission is complete. 

Trip to Israel

Blog.jpgI just returned from Israel, where I spent five days touring the length and breadth of the country with two of my children. Sharing the experience with my kids brought the country to life in a way I didn’t realize was possible. 

I’ve been to Israel many, many times, but travelling with my 10-year-old daughter was a whole new experience. It was as if I were experiencing it for the very first time. 

When I pointed out the Temple Mount, she said, “Wow! That is where Isaac was bound by his father, Abraham. Over there is where Abraham faced his greatest test!” I could see all the Torah stories and Jewish history she has learned coming to life in her young mind. She felt Abraham’s presence, could picture the stories more clearly, and connected with our heritage in a very real way. 

When we visited Kever Rachel, where our mother Rachel is buried, my kids relived the story of Rachel being buried at the side of the road by her husband, Yaakov. They could feel the presence of Joseph, praying at her graveside while being escorted to Israel. 

When we arrived at the outskirts of Jericho, my daughter remembered that this was the first city the Jews conquered when Joshua lead the Israelites out of the desert and into the Land of Israel. She was able to visualize the miracle that took place there when the Jews circled the walled city seven times and the walls crumbled. 

And when we prayed at the gravesite of Rabbi Akiva in Teverya, she connected with this holy man through all the stories she knows about him. She recalled the way he grew up a poor shepherd, thinking he could never learn any Torah, but with his wife’s guidance and encouragement he went on to become one of the greatest Torah sages ever. She remembered the heroic way he died at the hands of the Romans, while calling out the Shema prayer. 

I watched with awe as my children connected with the land and our ancestors over and over again, in ways that I, as an adult, am not able to. For my children, this was not ancient history. It was alive and vibrant and current.

What a wonderful lesson for the rest of us! 

We are entering the month of Nissan, during which we celebrate Pesach—the holiday that made us into a nation and eventually led us back to our homeland, Israel. 

Our connection with and love of Israel is nothing new; it was ours well before 1948! It is our eternal home. The same place our people have lived throughout history. 

We have the Torah, we have each other and we have Israel. This Passover, let’s make an effort to connect with our fellow Jews, our Jewish heritage, and the Land of Israel in a real and meaningful way.

Ten Hours of love

Blog.jpgThis week Israel has been fiercely divided over the controversy surrounding the IDF soldier who shot and killed a terrorist who had already been “neutralized.” The soldier was arrested. 

In fact, I posted a video on my Facebook page asking people if they viewed the IDF soldier as a hero or a criminal, which lead to a heated discussion with very strong opinions on either side. Clearly, this case struck at people’s hearts very strongly. 

I am, right now, sitting in an EL-AL airplane on my way to Israel. 

To my right sits a Jew who hasn’t been to Israel in 35 years, because he believes that if he visits the holy land, he is not allowed to leave. Across the aisle sits a young woman covered in tattoos. There are many chassidim on the plane who have already prayed the evening service, causing quite a tumult. I can only imagine how difficult the morning service will be. There are people watching movies and people studying Talmud. There are secular Jews sitting alongside Satmar Jews. There are families, couples, children, teenagers, young adults and the elderly. Looking around, I think we must represent the entire spectrum of world Jewry!

As different as we are, for ten hours we are all here, together, on the same plane. For ten hours we are hurtling through the sky to a place that unites us all. Our country; our homeland. Israel is our common denominator. Israel gives us strength. We are all Jews with the same G-d, the same Torah and the same home. 

When it comes down to it, the things that unite us are so much more powerful than the things which divide us. We are brothers and sisters with the same heritage. 

We can debate and we can argue ad nauseam, as long as we remember that we are all part of the same family, and Israel belongs to all of us equally. 

I think we can all agree that the terrorists are our enemies, and our enemies hate us viciously. It is our job to look past the differences we may have with other Jews, and develop a love for one another that is infinitely more powerful than the hatred our enemies feel for us. 

The plane is now descending to our beautiful holy land—home to our ancestors for thousands of years. I look around at my fellow passengers, and the glowing faces and teary eyes tell me all I need to know. 

Welcome to Israel.

Fulfilling a dream of driving a Porsche

Blog.jpgOne of the IDF soldiers currently here in New York as part of our Belev Echad tour is Noam. 

While working in the IDF, Noam’s job involved driving a bull dozer and clearing mines. Unfortunately, during Operation Protective Edge, his entire body was burned in a terrible oil explosion. 

During dinner one night this week, Noam sat next to Yankel, one of our congregants. They chatted about this and that, and Noam happened to mention that since he was a young child, he had always dreamed about driving a Porsche. Even all these years later, after his life has changed so drastically, this dream has remained a constant. 

Well, Yankel needed to hear no more. He arrived the next day with his sleek Porsch, surprising Noam with it. He handed over the keys and Noam was able to drive around to his heart’s content, at long last fulfilling his life-long dream. 

Noam, of course, was thrilled. It was patently clear how happy he was driving that Porsche. Interestingly, Yankel was no less euphoric than Noam! From the smile on his face, it was clear he, too, was ecstatic. In fact, perhaps he was even happier!

Our sages teach that the joy of giving is greater even than the joy of receiving. When a person is given something, he receives something quantifiable. He knows exactly what it is. But at the same time, he gives the giver a much larger gift—the gift of giving. 

When we give to others we connect with the Divine, which is what makes the joy of giving so great. 

This Purim, let’s enjoy the gift of giving. Let’s think of those who need our charity, and keep them in mind when we do the mitzvah of matanot la’evyonim. Think of someone who might not receive mishloach manot from anyone else, and go out of your way to give to them. Not only will you be giving to others, they will be giving you the gift of giving. 

Purim sameach!

What Will You Sacrifice?

Blog.jpgEvery year I study the Torah portion of Vayikra when it comes around, but this year, thanks to a recent encounter, I understood the parshah—which talks about sacrifices—in a whole new way.

This week I met Shaul, an IDF soldier our community is hosting for 10 days in NYC. When Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, Shaul was already 46.

In Israel every adult is obligated to do military duty for three years when they turn 18. It is mandatory. Then, when those three years are over, all soldiers are required to do reserve duty for one month a year. Shaul did all this, sacrificing much of his life for his country, and by age 40 he was exempt from any further commitment.

Nevertheless, with his country at war, Shaul could not stand back and watch. He volunteered to serve his country yet again, this time in Operation Protective Edge.

Stationed on a battlefield near Bari, Shaul’s unit was hit in a devastating missile attack. Four of his friends were killed, and several others injured. Shaul was severely sounded. His left hand was smashed, and full of shards from the explosion, leaving him permanently handicapped.

This was someone who volunteered. He certainly did not have to fight. But he did, and now his life is drastically different as a result. He lost his job. He cannot work. He cannot perform basic functions. He cannot sleep at night. He suffers constant, debilitating pain.

But despite all that, when I asked Shaul if he regrets volunteering, he responded, “Not only do I not regret it, but if Israel went to war again, I would gladly volunteer again to protect our people.”

Shaul’s dedication gave me an insight into true sacrifice. We no longer have Temple sacrifices, but our sages teach us that in current times, we need to sacrifice of ourselves for G-d.

If Shaul can sacrifice his hand, his job and his life to protect us, then surely we can make small sacrifices in our lives, for G-d. Let’s take upon ourselves to give a little more charity, learn some more Torah, spend more time with our children and do more mitzvot. Our small sacrifices add up, and together we can make a difference. 

Are You Dissatisfied?

Blog.jpgDonald Trump is making history. A candidate whom few took seriously early on, who has been denounced as a bad, even dangerous, choice in the media, is a clear favorite with GOP voters.

How did this happen? Nation-wide dissatisfaction with the status quo.

It seems everyone is dissatisfied. People are upset with Obama, with Wall Street. Angry at the establishment and the economy. Upset about immigration and the state of politics in Washington.

This dissatisfaction has fueled millions of Americans to vote for two polar opposite candidates—Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, something unprecedented in the history of the country. 

The 2016 campaign has become an obsession. People are voting in droves, with a much higher turnout than usual. Social media is flooded with talk about the candidates; it seems like the only thing on people’s minds!

People are unhappy with the status quo, and feel strongly that their candidate is the path to major change.

Judaism, in fact, values dissatisfaction. We are taught never to be satisfied with the status quo, but to constantly strive for improvement. If today I did one mitzvah, tomorrow I’ll try to do two. If today I gave $1000 to charity, next time I’ll give some more. If today I spent 10 minutes visiting a sick person, next week let me spend 15.

This is what it means to be religious—constantly striving for the next level: more shul, more Torah study, another mitzvah, another Shabbat guest, another kind deed.

On a global level, we need to tap into our dissatisfaction with this long and bitter exile. We need to be upset that Moshiach has not yet arrived. We need to feel fury at the bitter bloodshed in Israel. We need to feel angry that innocent people are being slaughtered daily all over the world.

Ad Matai? How much longer must this continue?!

My thanks to Rabbi Avi Shlomo for the idea of this article

Meet “Love,” “Haha,” “Wow,” “Sad,” and “Angry”

Blog.jpgThis week I logged into my Facebook account and lo and behold, there’s a brand new feature. Until now, the only options (other than commenting) were to either “like” something or ignore it entirely. But there are so many situations which call for more than that.

When my friend had a new baby, the “like” button was insufficient. I didn’t just like the news, I loved it!

And how to respond to someone’s heartfelt, beautifully-written eulogy for a recently passed loved one? “Liking” seems wrong, because I certainly don’t “like” their loss. But I don’t want to ignore it either.

Likewise, when I was shocked to see which presidential candidate a friend supports, I had no means of expressing my outrage.

Finally, this week, Facebook presented a solution. Meet “reactions.” Now, users can choose to react to a post with either: “Love,” “Haha,” “Wow,” “Sad,” or “Angry.”

As Jews, we can learn a lot from this.

The problem with “like,” is that it contains no emotion. It’s too dry. We need more passion than a passive “like,”

 Mark Zuckerberg has revealed that so far, “love” is by far the most popular of the new buttons. People don’t just want to “like” something; they want to “love” it.

We read in the Shema prayer daily, “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d.” Judaism demands passion and vibrancy. It’s not enough to just “like” G-d, we have to love Him.

We need to find our passion for doing mitvot, like going to shul, learning Torah and putting on tefillin.

We need to feel fiery about helping our less fortunate brothers and sisters. 

We need to yearn for Shabbat, its rest and holiness.

We need to find that love, for G-d and His mitzvot, and apply it to our lives. Display passion!

But what happens when we don’t love Him?

That’s why we have the other options: “Sad,” Angry,” etc.

It’s better to be angry, than to not feel at all. Any passion, even anger toward G-d, is better than lack of feeling. As long as there is passion and feeling, there is a relationship. Without a relationship, we’re in trouble.

So, how’s your relationship with G-d?

One Eighth Jewish

Blog.jpgLast week my friend Sam called with great news. “Rabbi,” he said, “I had a very important business meeting with a client yesterday, so I scheduled a lunch meeting. Instead of meeting at a non-kosher restaurant, I decided to go to a kosher one. I assumed my Italian client wouldn’t mind.

“We met at the restaurant. The food was great; the meeting productive. I was pleased the food was good, because people often complain about the kosher food. 

“‘Why did you choose this restaurant?’ my client asked.

“‘This restaurant is kosher and I’m Jewish. That’s what Jews do,’ I explained.

“‘I’m one eighth Jewish,’ explained my client.”

One eighth Jewish? My friend Sam has been hanging out at Chabad long enough to know he needed to find out which eighth. So he asked her, and it turned out that her maternal great-grandmother was Jewish, making her 100% Jewish too. 

This is a woman in her mid-50s, living in New York City, home to hundreds of thousands of Jews, and never before had she known that she, too, is Jewish. 

Our sages tell us that one mitzvah leads to another. When a person chooses to do even just one mitzvah, G-d helps that person do another one and then another. 

Sam chose a kosher restaurant for his meeting. By doing the mitzvah of keeping kosher, G-d led him to another mitzvah: helping another Jew discover that she is Jewish. 

And guess which mitzvah our Italian friend is going to do this Friday night? She’ll be lighting the Shabbat candles for the first time in her life!

What is your Mitzvah for today? 

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.

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