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Thank you, Congresswoman Ihlan Omar!

Blog-anti-semitism.jpgSadly, anti-Semitism is nothing new, and it reared its head once more this week with an outrageous tweet from Congresswoman Ihlan Omar, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

Next month we read the Purim megilla where Haman clearly articulates his desire to kill the Jews. He didn’t differentiate between the religious and non-religious Jews. It was classic anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism doesn’t discriminate, which is part of what makes it so shocking and horrifying every time it happens.  

David Ben Gurion said, “It doesn’t matter what the goyim say, it matters what the Jews do.” So, how will we respond? 

Yes, we need to demand apologies, sign petitions and organize protests. These are all important, but they fall short of the true method of combatting anti-Semitisim 

They hate us? They hate Judaism? Well, where’s our love for it? Do we feel it with a fiery passion? How can we reignite that? Find it in ourselves, instill it in our children, awaken it in our friends and acquaintances? By increasing our Jewish engagement.  

Commit to putting on tefillin daily. And when you say the Shema, remind yourself of your eternal and everlasting link to your ancestors, all the way up to the unbroken chain of Abraham.

Commit to lighting Shabbat candles every single week, and when you do, picture the light dispelling evil and hatred from the world. 

Log onto Chabad.org and study Torah–educate yourself and your children and reignite that passion and love for G-d and His Torah.

Ms. Omar, as a rabbi, my job is to reach out and inspire my fellow Jews. But it’s hard. You, with your one hateful tweet succeeded in doing what I cannot—you united us. Jews from the left and Jews from the right, all were equally targeted and equally outraged. You reminded us who we are. This week I’ve heard from Jews I haven’t seen or heard from in years. Jews who don’t attend services and are annoyed when I invite them to events. But in the face of hatred, we are reminded who we are and we unite. 

May we only unite for good purposes from now on.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Can I Grab Your Attention?

whatsapp.jpgDear Friend,

I have an important message for you, but I’m struggling to reach you.

I know your inbox is flooded with hundreds of messages daily. When I send you an email, the open rate is extremely low. Sure, when I use a catchy subject line you’re slightly more likely to click, but the numbers are still disappointing.

When I want to tell you about our incredible Purim in Hawaii party, what do I do? I can text you, and that is probably the most effective way to catch your attention, but each text has to be created individually which is extremely time consuming.

When I have a JLI Torah class that I think will interest you, I have started using snail mail. I spend thousands of dollars a year designing, printing, and mailing out that info, and yes, you respond to snail mail, but compared to the effort and money I invest… the response rate is low.

I also post on Facebook and other social media, but there I’m competing with politics, sports, and all kinds of other drama, so unless I’m posting something particularly sensational, it goes largely unseen.

Enter WhatsApp—fast, quick, and a pleasure to use. And I’ve been using it for a while now.

If I want to tell you about the Sunday morning minyan, or a singles party, or a wounded soldier event, I forward the message to 20 people, and then another 20, until I’ve covered all the relevant parties. Alas, last week WhatsApp changed its rules and now only allows forwarding to five people at a time, which is again, too time consuming and inefficient. And broadcasting is too impersonal.

And this week, of all weeks, I have a vital message to share. In this week’s Torah portion G-d give us our mission statement: It’s like His big speech! “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” Every minute of every hour of every day, this should be our focus. Creating a dwelling place in this physical world for G-d by spreading goodness and kindness and doing His mitzvot.

Make a blessing and truly mean it. Read a verse of Tehillim with real wholeheartedness. Pray with intention. Learn a verse from the Torah with the knowledge that is the word of G-d. Do a favor for another person because that is why G-d put you on this earth.

That is the vital message I need to relay to you this week. So tell me, dear friend, how do I best reach you?

Yours truly,

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

P.S. If you hit reply, you have my attention!

My Snow Tubing Experience

snow-tubing-6-pack-2.jpgFor their winter vacation, I took two of my boys to a resort with snow tubing, skiing, and an indoor water park.

 

The kids couldn’t get enough of the snow tubing. First the lift ride up the glorious mountain with amazing views both above and below, and then the main part: zooming down the mountain at top speed. It was simply thrilling.

As for me, I joined because they begged me to, but I can’t say I had the same experience. The lines were long, the cold was biting, the lift ride seemed tedious, and then there was the fear. As a parent, I see all the things that can go wrong. What if my kids fall off the lift? What if they crash on the way down? What if they don’t stop in time? You get the picture!

I looked at my kids and wondered, how are they not cold? Do the lines not bother them? Aren’t they bored on the lift ride?

But they kept going back again, and again, and again. No fear, no boredom, just pure fun. When my hands were completely frozen, and I declared an indoor lunch break, they insisted we come right back to the mountain after lunch. So there we were again… me sitting by the fire pit trying to stay warm, while my kids traipsed up and down, over and over and over again.  

My enjoyment is the fact that my kids are having fun, but not the actual experience. How is it that the same experience can be so different for us?

I realized, my kids live in the moment. They see everything around them as an experience. The views, the mountain, the snow, the fire pit—everything has the potential for fun. They’re fully engaged with the experience.

But me? Like most adults, my mind is in a hundred other places. What’s going on at work? At home? How are my other kids doing? What about all my other responsibilities? Not to mention the ever-present awareness of just how many ways the kids could hurt themselves out on this mountain…But for kids, there is none of that. In fact, I wish I could switch off entirely and commit myself to the experience like they do.

When it comes to our spiritual service, we can look to the children and learn to:

 a)       Live in the moment every moment. We are each tasked with a specific mission and G-d has given us the tools and a certain number of years with which to complete it. We can’t get side tracked. We need to maintain that awareness every minute of every day.

b)      Don’t be scared. Don’t shy away from taking risks and leaving your comfort zone. In fact, embrace the uncomfortable. Do something above and beyond what you usually do. When everyone around you doesn’t keep kosher, don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t be embarrassed to stand up and say, “I can’t eat that. I keep kosher,” or “I can’t do that, I keep Shabbat.”

Maybe next time I’ll be able to let go and enjoy that mountain a little more!

 

My Dear Liran

 My Dear Liran, 

A few weeks ago you made an appointment with my brother, Dr. Mordechai Vigler, a well known and respected hand surgeon in Israel. You said your name was Moshe and that you had been experiencing tremendous pain in your hand. What you didn’t say was that you were wearing a hidden camera and were gleefully anticipating exposing him as a religious Jew who suggested you put on tefillin. 

 But I think, Liran, that the hidden camera exposed something else entirely. 

The camera showed many things. It captured my brother’s certificates and degrees. It showed his kippa, tzitzit, seforim, and the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe he keeps in his office. Did you also notice the letters of gratitude thanking him for his philanthropic ventures? Did you notice that he is still an IDF soldier? Did you know that your video generated hundreds of messages of support from patients, testifying to his warmth, kindness, dedication, and expertise. 

But the video revealed something else, too, Liran. 

You came into my brother’s office deceitfully. You lied about your name, your symptoms, your pain. You presented yourself as Moshe the Liar; pompous and arrogant. But if you look closely, right at the end, we see something else. For a brief moment, you are exposed not as Moshe the Liar, but as Liran the Jew. 

When you put on tefillin and said Shema, Liran, for a short time you connected to the truth—to 4000 years of your ancestors—and to your soul. That spark of G-dliness buried deep within you, the connection you have to something larger than yourself...for a brief moment we saw it.   It’s not your hand that’s in pain, Liran, it’s your soul. Every time you lie, every time you deceive, your soul is hurt. 

Watch the video again, Liran. Watch it and repeat until you see the truth. Until you recognize yourself not as Moshe the Fraudster, but as Liran the Jew. 

And if you need some help, I invite you to Skype with me—or come meet me in NYC—and we can continue this conversation in person.   

I’d love to help you peel away the layers and get acquainted with your true self—Liran the Jew.  

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

The 10-Year Challenge

Screen Shot 2019-01-17 at 5.40.52 PM.pngI’m sure you’ve all seen the new internet meshugas by now—the 10-year challenge. It’s a bona fide viral sensation.

Millions of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter users have participated, posting side by side pictures, from today and from 10 years ago, to show how they’ve aged. The challenge generated 5.2 million engagements on Facebook in just three days! Celebrities, of course, love the opportunity to show how little they’ve aged, but people from all cross-sections of society have joined the trend.

It’s kind of like a game, and the goal is to show how closely you resemble your 10-year-older self. The less you’ve changed, the more points you get.

But something seems jarring about this challenge. Is the goal really to stay the same? Shouldn’t we be changing, evolving, growing, over a 10-year period?

In spiritual terms, if you haven’t aged in 10 years, you’re behind—you’re downright losing the game!

So let’s do that challenge instead. Examine what you’ve done over the past decade. In this game, the more you’ve changed, the more you’ve increased your spiritual engagement and mitzvah output, the closer you are to winning.

Think deeply and ask yourself, what have I accomplished in the last 10 years? How many times did I come to shul? How many people have I helped? How many mitzvot have I done even when it was hard for me? How much time did I devote to those less fortunate? How many times did I stop myself from doing or saying something I knew I shouldn’t?

In fact, every night when we go to bed we’re supposed to take stock of what we’ve accomplished during the day and commit to doing more the following the day.

In Judaism, if we’re not progressing, we’re regressing. There is nothing to celebrate about staying the same from one day to the next, let alone for a 10-year stretch!

So, how much have you changed in the last 10 years?

$10,000 Leak?!

Twin-Cities-Leaky-Pipe.jpgOver the last few weeks I noticed a small leak in our Chabad center. I called a repair company who sent someone to examine the leak, and then sent me a proposal for $10,000.

Not having an extra $10,000 to fix a leak, I decided to try a local handyman instead. After an hour on the roof he comes down and tells me, “Done.”

I was incredulous. “What do you mean, ‘done’? Like, done? No more leak?”

“Yes,” he confirmed.

“Wow! How much do I owe you?”

“Well, the work cost me $40 and you can tip me whatever you want.”

Of course, I was willing to tip generously!

“Can I pay you now?” I asked.

“Let’s wait a few weeks until it rains again to make sure the leak is fixed,” he suggested.

I thought about it. The first guy quoted me $10,000 but the handyman was able to fix it for a mere $40. How could there be such a massive discrepancy?

There are two ways to fix a leak. The first guy wanted to remove the ceiling, get to the source of the leak, plaster it, install new tiles and new equipment, and the fix will probably be permanent.

The $40 fix was more like putting a Band-Aid on the hole, but the underlying problem still exists. In a few months, or—if I’m lucky—a few years, I’ll no doubt have to fix it again.

And so it is with the holes in our lives.

We all have them. Things we need to fix. Perhaps we need to improve our character—be kinder, more optimistic, develop empathy and compassion. Or maybe we struggle with anger, laziness, or temptation. No one is immune.

Our Chassidic masters explain that there are two ways to fix these issues. One is the $10,000 method. It requires effort, investment, toil, meditation, prayer, study, etc. It’s a long process, but if we stick with it, we will have a permanent fix.

The other way, the $40 method, is the quick and easy immediate fix. It’s that flash of inspiration you feel when you hear or read something that inspires you to change. It may fire us up in the moment, but that kind of inspiration rarely leads to lasting change. We quickly revert to our old habits because we haven’t put in the work.

When it comes down to it, we need both methods. We need the $40 fix to get us going, remind us that we can feel inspired and moved to change, but then we need to the $10,000 fix to really do the deep work and make those changes stick.

I may have fixed my leak for now, but I know down the line I’ll have to put in the real work and fix the underlying problem.

Perhaps you’re not ready to do the deep personal work just yet, either. That’s ok. Allow the short bursts of inspiration to keep you going until you’re ready to take that plunge. That’s what they’re for.

How Was Your 2018?

CROP-shutterstock_1048634258.jpgAs 2018 draws to a close, it seems everyone is recapping. The news sites are putting together lists of the most talked about stories of the year, my Strava app sent me a report of how many miles I ran over the past 12 months, and Facebook has created a “year in review” video highlighting my most liked pictures and posts.

But does this really represent my year? Are social media status updates and pictures a good indication of my 2018 highlights?

I often think that Facebook is the upside down world the Talmud speaks of.

When my Facebook friends post how happy, or deeply in love, they are, I question the authenticity. When they are on vacation and sharing every detail about the exotic surroundings and how much fun they’re having, I wonder if it’s true. When they’re out to dinner with their spouses and posting carefully posed pictures of each dish from multiple angles, I wonder if they are actually enjoying themselves at all.

Because if they were truly in love, truly happy, and truly enjoying their experience, would they really need to post about it?

We read about the most sublime individual spiritual revelation ever to take place, in this week’s parshah, when G-d appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush. What happened? Moses was shepherding his flock when a lamb escaped. He pursued it for miles, realized it was thirsty, and took care of its needs. When G-d saw how devoted Moses was to a single sheep, He was certain that Moses was the leader the Jews needed.

If not for the story of the burning bush, no one would know about Moses’ act of kindness. He took care of that sheep away from prying eyes. No one was there; certainly no one was filming him and uploading it to YouTube or Facebook. He didn’t do it for publicity or acclaim. He did it because he cared. As a result, he merited Divine revelation.

So, think about how many sheep you have helped when no one was watching:

How many times have you visited the sick this year?
How many dollars have you donated to charity?
How many hours did you spend with your children?
How many hours of Torah study did you rack up?

These are the things we should be tallying at year’s end. The things we do without fanfare and publicity. The things we do simply because they’re the right things to do. These are the things that G-d counts in our “year in review” and ultimately, in our “life in review.” But we’re not there yet! There’s still plenty of time to put the cameras away and focus on doing the right thing simply for its own benefit. 

Have You Seen the Moon? I’m Still Looking…

 WhatsApp Image 2018-12-20 at 12.41.02 PM.jpegEvery month it’s the same story: I have to locate the moon for the mitzvah of Kiddush Levanah, sanctifying the moon. (Of course, we’re not praising the actual moon, but its Creator—for His wondrous work we call astronomy. The moon has the most obvious monthly cycle of all the stars and planets, so we take the occasion of its renewal to make a blessing for the entire masterpiece.)

Growing up in South Africa, it was easy. And in my traveling years—in Brazil, Thailand, Katmandu, Australia, Europe…I never struggled either.

The formula is simple: you go outside between the 7th and the 15th of the month, look up at the moon, face east, and recite the prayer. Easy. Done.

But all that changed when I settled on the Upper East Side 13 years ago. You see, to say the prayer, you need to be outdoors and able to see the moon directly. Manhattan, home to more skyscrapers than any other city in the US, is not particularly conducive to that. The buildings obscure the moon, making this previously easy mitzvah into an ongoing challenge.

This month, I started looking on the first possible date, the 7th, but it was cloudy, so I waited for the 8th. Same story. By the 11th, I still hadn’t been able to say the prayer, so when I woke up at 3:00am I decided to get an early start on my day, take a run, and search for the moon. Lexington Avenue, where I live, is smack in the center of the skyscrapers, so I ran to Central Park, where I’m often successful. Alas, on this night, the moon was not visible from Central Park either, so I headed to the East River, where I also often have a clear view, but not on this night.

So, on the 12th I travelled to the Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens. I needed to go anyway, and it seemed like a good opportunity to tackle two tasks at once. Surely there I would be able to see the moon!

But, as luck would have it, it was a cloudy night with no moon in sight. As of writing this article on the 13th, with just two days to go, I still have not said the blessing!

Being Jewish requires going out of our comfort zones. We have to go above and beyond, always doing something extra, whether it’s waking up early to pray each morning, setting aside money each month for charity, visiting the sick even when we don’t really have time, or running through the streets of Manhattan in search of the moon…

Lately, I’ve noticed something that seems counterintuitive. It would be understandable if I had developed a dislike for this mitzvah that has me jogging around the streets trying to spot celestial bodies at all hours of night, but in fact the opposite has happened: I have developed a particular affinity for this mitzvah of the moon, more than many other mitzvot. Because it’s so tough, and I have to work so hard for it, I have become fond of this monthly ritual.

In our lives, a little struggle is healthy. It’s hard to appreciate things that come easy. When we have to put in the effort, the payout is magnified. According to the Talmud, “To bless the new moon at the proper time is like greeting the Divine Presence.” Certainly, that’s something worth fighting for!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unsolicited $100,000 Donation!

money.jpegLarge donations never come out of the blue. They are generally from people we know and have an ongoing relationship with. But this past Sunday I received a notification from our website that a $100,000 donation had been made to our Chabad Israel Center, allocated towards our new preschool building. The transaction, however, had been declined.

My initial assumption was that this was not a real donation. There is an endless litany of online scammers who try to hack credit cards and I figured it was probably someone from Nigeria playing around with our website.

But upon closer inspection, I noticed that the donor used a real name­—Todd Cohen*, a local NYC address and phone number, and when I Googled him, he was very much findable. This was no Nigerian scammer.

So when our office opened Monday morning, the secretary phoned Todd to thank him.

“It’s my pleasure!” he said. “I love Chabad and the work you do. I know you’re getting a new space for your preschool and could use some money for the renovations. I know the transaction didn’t go through; I’ll try again soon.”

A few minutes later we received another notification of a declined transaction for $100,000. An hour later he tried again—a third attempt, which was again declined.

So we emailed him, “We have your credit card number and can submit the donation in two parts, which might solve the problem and enable it to go through easily.” But Todd said he would prefer to try again online.

After several more attempts—each of which was declined, I emailed Todd to thank him profusely for his $100,000 donation—including the time he spent trying to put it through!—and offered to call him later to work out the credit card information over the phone. I also invited him to the preschool open house so he can see all the children getting a solid Jewish education and know that his money has been well spent.

Less than two minutes later, Todd replied to clarify that he intended to donate $100, not $100,000, and that he will mail a check, and to please make sure we don’t charge his credit card for the remaining $99,900! I assured him we would not charge his card and thanked him for the $100. We greatly appreciate his gift and support.

Aha. Mystery solved.

You see, in life there are no short cuts. We have to work hard. Judaism teaches that if results come without effort, they will not last. If you earn your livelihood by some gimmick, be careful because it may disappear.

Getting a $100,000 donation from an individual requires trust. It requires building a relationship, a partnership, and developing confidence in who you are what you do. It takes time, effort, and hard work. It’s the only way.

The most rewarding things take the most effort. Looking for a spouse requires sustained hard work. Making a living requires ongoing toil. Raising children—that’s hard work too!

But that’s why G-d made us.

This world was created for us to work hard. G-d wants us to toil, to refine the world as we know it and make it into a better place. There’s no quick and easy shortcut for that. It’s a lifelong mission.

*Name changed to protect privacy. 

Visit to the ER

emergency.jpgLast week my son began complaining about pain in his leg. After a few days with no relief we

decided it was time to see a doctor. The doctor examined him and said, “This is a very serious

disease. He definitely needs surgery. Please take him to the emergency room right now.”

As a father of eight, I am unfortunately no stranger to NYC emergency rooms. I hate them, but

an order is an order. I double checked but the doctor assured me that she knows what she’s

talking about, and even agreed to record a message for my wife regarding the urgency of the

situation.

 

So there I found myself, on a busy Sunday, already in the midst of dozens of deadlines and other

urgent matters, and all that has to be pushed aside because my son’s health obviously takes

priority.

Thank G-d the ER was mostly empty and we were able to see a doctor immediately.

 

Imagine my surprise—and relief—to hear this doctor tell me that my son absolutely did not have

the disease the other doctor diagnosed, and would certainly not need surgery. Nevertheless, since

we were there already, they insisted on running some time-consuming tests. Protocol.

 

After an x-ray, blood work, and a few other medical exams, we got a clean bill of health and

returned home.

 

I began to wonder why I had trusted that first doctor so much. Why didn’t I just march my son

back home to bed?

Because the doctor has years of medical training, and I do not. So I trust her opinion.

 

I just wish others would listen to my rabbinical advice the same way I listen to the doctor! After

all, I too have years of training and years of experience working in the field.

A guy comes to me with marital problems. I advise him to schedule a date night (or morning) out

of the house with his wife every week, and make sure nothing gets in the way. Stop shouting at

her, treat her well, and you will begin to feel lovingly towards her again. I also suggest they

begin keeping the family purity laws, but they confidently reassure me that there is absolutely no

chance of that.

 

Another guy comes to me with serious business problems. I recommend he pray and put on

tefillin daily, but he argues that he sees no connection. I ask myself, do I argue with my doctor

when she sends me to the ER which is a lot more inconvenient than putting on tefillin each

morning?! I do not. I follow orders. So why is my advice questioned? Why am I not trusted?

 

To a woman with heart problems, I suggest installing mezuzot on all the doors in her house.

“I just bought one for the front door,” she argues.  

“We need them on every door,” I insist.

I beg and I plead and begrudgingly she agrees.

Why must I fight? Why doesn’t she listen?


This is how it is with spirituality. We struggled to accept what the Torah says. That’s our

challenge. But by reframing it, and realizing how readily we accept advice from other experts,

surely we can become better at readily accepting the Torah’s wisdom. It’s for our own benefit,

after all!

Pittsburgh: Shaken to Our Core

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 3.00.24 PM.pngParis. Tel Aviv. Toulouse. Mumbai. Brussels. Djerba. Copenhagen. Jerusalem. Kansas City. And now, Pittsburgh.

The incomprehensible murder of 11 Jews this week has violently ripped open a permanent hole in the lives of the families and friends of those killed, and indeed, Jews across the world.

Like so many others, I find myself asking, “What now?”

How do we process this tragedy? How do we return to our lives in its aftermath? Do we cower in fear? What changes do we make?

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

About the Jewish people, Song of Songs says, “I am sleeping, but my heart is awake.”

 

When I look at the way the global Jewish community has reacted to the Pittsburgh massacre, I see an awakening. And if an anti-Semitic lunatic, through a single act of baseless hatred, can awaken the hearts of Jews in Singapore, Cape Town, Sydney, New York, and across the entire globe, can you imagine what we can accomplish with any single act of baseless love?

If Robert Bowers, a high school dropout, can sow fear across the entire world with darkness and violence, can you imagine how much joy and peace we, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, can spread throughout the world by lighting Shabbat candles this week?

 

If a deranged lunatic with a rifle and two handguns could perform the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history while shouting “Death to all Jews!” imagine what you and I could accomplish while shouting “I love all Jews!”

This tragedy has united Jews from across the spectrum of observance. We are all mourning the 11 holy Jews, killed because they chose to celebrate their Judaism in shul, on Shabbat, as Jews have done for millennia. Can you imagine how much unity we can generate, and how many Jews we can bring to shul with love, a phone call, and a bowl of warm cholent? 

This is our responsibility now: to reach out to any Jew we come across and welcome him or her with open arms and an open heart. We cannot allow Robert Bower’s act of terrorism to scare us away. We must go to shul, wear our Judaism outwardly with pride, engage with the community, and remember that although our people have faced deep anti-Semitism since the beginning of time, we have not—and cannot now—allow it to prevent us from embracing our heritage.

My Best Fundraising Week Ever!

1280x720_81023C00-QLMRC1.jpgOdds of winning the 1.6 billion dollar lottery were 1 in 302.6 million, yet staggering numbers of people lined up to try. In California alone, 5.7 million tickets were bought in just the first half of the day. And according to one newspaper, tickets were selling at a rate of 400 per minute on Friday.

As the anticipation grew, I noticed an interesting trend. Many of my friends tried to increase their odds of winning by pledging some of their earnings to the Chabad center that I run.

One person even pledged the entire 1.6 billion dollars to us if he won! Without a doubt, that is the largest pledge I received to date. Though I must wonder if he would have actually followed through…  

Another pledged 400 million dollars to be used for charity work, several pledged 1 million, another 50 million… Even my family hopped on the pledge train. Friends and relatives from overseas asked me to buy them tickets and promised to split the earnings.

This meant that my chances of winning changed from 1 in 302.6 million to more like 1 in 75 million. Much better, but still not good enough. We won nothing.

But it did feel good to receive so many 7, 8, 9, and even 10 figure pledges. Surely it must have been my best fundraising week of all time!

The sentiment, however, is not uncommon. It happens often that people call me, “Rabbi, if the deal I’m working on goes through I will give 1 million dollars to your building campaigns” Or, “Rabbi, if my stock goes up remember you are getting half!” It’s like if they make the pledge G-d will make them win.

The chassid Reb Yekusiel Lepler, an extremely poor man, once won the lottery. The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, called him over and said, “I want to bless you with great wealth.” Surely that is akin to winning the lottery! You would think he’d be the happiest person alive, and yet, he refused the Rebbe’s offer. Why? “It will distract me from my service of G-d and my mission on this earth,” he explained.

Avraham Avinu, the first Jew, who we read about in this week’s Torah portion, bequeathed us the essence of Judaism. He gave us a love of G-d and a love for kindness. We have 4000 years of spiritual riches and moral achievement to look back on. We are inspired by the teachings of our Torah and it serves as our moral compass. Our mandate and mission is to make this world a better place. Our Torah is worth more than all the money in the world. Our mitzvot are priceless: every time we put on tefillin, that’s a billion dollars in value. Invite a guest for a meal and you made two billion! Think of the all the countless mitzvot you do daily – each one adds to your wealth.

Yes, it’s fun to get distracted by the lottery once in a while and dream about how it might change our lives, but let’s focus on our real purpose and go back to winning the real lottery by accumulating spiritual wealth with vigor!

Unsolicited Parenting Advice

23156_20150922031516_fn0_real.jpgWhenever I walk through the streets of Manhattan with my kids, I receive droves of unsolicited advice. It’s the strangest thing, but for some reason New Yorkers seem to feel the need to help me with my parenting.

Just the other day we were heading to Central Park, my kids racing ahead on scooters, and a woman stopped to tell me, “Your son’s helmet is not on correctly. You should really secure it more tightly.” I thanked her and assured her that all the helmets were properly secured.

Now, this would not be so strange if it only happened once in a while, but it happens all the time.  

 My two-year-old will be having a tantrum in the park and a stranger will undoubtedly come over to tell me how to deal with it. And I’m left thinking to myself, “Do you realize that before 6:00am today I changed seven diapers and fed breakfast to five babies?”

Or we’ll be biking in Central Park and somebody will stop to tell me that the kids are too far ahead and it’s dangerous and irresponsible, and all I can think is, “I’m not exactly an inexperienced dad! I have eight kids!”

And then there’s the weather brigade. It’s hot, it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s windy, there’s snow in the forecast (perhaps for three months from now…) and people are sure my kids are not suitably dressed, “Your child should be wearing a raincoat!” “Where’s his sunhat?” “She’ll be cold, she needs a scarf!” And while I appreciate their concern, inwardly I roll my eyes and wonder, “Do you think I don’t know how to keep my kids comfortable and safe?”

Ironically, I probably have a lot more hands-on childcare experience than most of the people who approach me! I know how to dress them, feed them, keep them safe, maintain boundaries and still give them a good time. Imagine that! Their concern is genuine, but I doubt any of them are raising eight kids, including triplets.

When I think about it, however, I realize that we treat G-d the same way.

He tells us to put on tefillin every day, and we tell him we know better.

He says Torah is your life–learn it every single day, and we say, “I already have a life, I don’t have time for that.”

He says keep Shabbat, a day of rest, and we say, “Nah, we have other ways to rest.”  

But G-d is the expert. He is the one who created the world, created us, and knows what we need. And still we think we know better! How ironic.

Excuse Me, Are You Jewish?

Mivtozoim.jpegMy kids and I spent lots of time patrolling our Upper East Side neighborhood this week, offering people the opportunity to do the mitzvah of lulav and etrog.

Years of experience have given me a pretty good sense of who to ask, and I’ve found that approximately 90% of Jews are happy to see us and want to do the mitzvah. There are always those, however, who are uninterested, and some who are downright hostile.

I knew we would undoubtedly encounter some who might be angry with us, and I didn’t want my kids to be disheartened, so I told them the story of Yankel* who is a regular in our shul.

On his way to work 25 years ago, Yankel was approached by two Chabad students in a mitzvah tank on the streets of downtown Manhattan. “Excuse me, sir, are you Jewish?” they asked. Not expecting to be asked so publicly, Yankel was outraged and vociferously denied his heritage. “No, I am not Jewish!”

By the time he arrived at his office, guilt had set in. Although not a practicing Jew, he still felt strongly connected to his roots and regretted telling the boys he wasn’t Jewish. Alas, what’s done was done, but the guilt continued to niggle at the back of his mind for 25 years.

When I first moved to New York, I met Yankel on the street and asked him, “Are you Jewish?” Thrilled for the opportunity to fix the mistake he had made all those years ago, he answered with a resounding, “Yes!”

And so began a beautiful relationship. I asked him if he would like to study Torah and he gave me his office number to follow up. Because it was a holiday and I couldn’t write it down, I memorized it and called him a couple of days later to set up a study date. He is now a regular at Chabad.

You never know how you will affect another person, I told my kids. Just by being visible with our lulav and etrog, we might be reminding people of their Judaism. Even if we don’t speak to them and they don’t approach us. Who knows what that might trigger in their soul? And even when we think we’ve really messed up—perhaps angered someone and distanced them even further—something good might blossom from that encounter years later, and we may never know.

Happy Sukkot!

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Does G-d Hear My Prayers?

godspeaking.jpgMy two boys are 7 and 10, and I’ve been trying to educate them about the meaning of prayer and how to pray properly. Regular Shabbat services are not too long, so it’s easier, but Rosh Hashanah is an entirely different experience. To keep them motivated, I created a system of raffle tickets as an incentive, with promises of an enticing prize for the raffle winner. I was pretty generous with the tickets – I even gave them some for announcing the page numbers because that kept them engaged.

My older son, Mendel, really persevered. He spent hours in shul, reciting Tehillim (Psalms) and following along with the prayers. In total, he accumulated about 80 raffle tickets!

Zalman, on the other hand, lost interest earlier on both days and spent most of the time playing games. He still collected some raffle tickets, but only about 20. 

As promised, after Rosh Hashanah I held a raffle for them.

Mendel was so certain that he would win because he had many more tickets, and it’s true, the odds were stacked heavily in his favor.

But, when I closed my eyes and pulled out a random ticket… lo and behold it belonged to Zalman!

Zalman, of course, was ecstatic, while Mendel was understandably disappointed.

Then Mendel turned to me and said, “You know what, I’m not going to pray anymore. When you pray a lot, you still don’t win. I can just pray a little like Zalman did and still win!”

His question, couched in a child’s terms, is really the same question so many of us battle on a regular basis.

Sometimes we do so much good and we don’t see the reward. If I give so much money to charity, why I am I not a millionaire? I go out of my way to pray and put on tefillin regularly, so why do I still have so many problems? I’ve been lighting Shabbat candles every week for my friend to have a speedy recovery, why is she still ill? My uncle was the most kind and generous person I know, why did he have to die young?

I don’t have the answer for Mendel or for the adult versions of his question, but our sages assure us that G-d never, ever remains in debt. He will always pay up. He notices every good deed we do and adds it to our tally.

He may not pay us back immediately. He may not reward us for quite some time. We cannot always expect an instant miracle. But rest assured, He has not forgotten.  

As we approach Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, let’s keep this in mind: G-d never remains in debt. Surely He will repay us at the right time in the right way.

(Now if only I knew how to explain this to my Mendel!)

 

 

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