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Have You Heard of ChatGPT?

Just as I sat down to write my weekly blog, a friend texted me about something, so I decided to hit him up for inspiration. “Sitting down to write my blog. Got any ideas for me?”

“ChatGPT,” he shot back. I thought it must be a typo or some kind of slang because I had no idea what he was trying to tell me, until he followed up a few seconds later with, “Ask chatGPT to write your blog for you.”

Intrigued, I started Googling and discovered that this chatGPT is the latest artificial intelligence taking the world by storm. I opened it on my phone and quickly realized it’s the most advanced, sophisticated and downright scary artificial intelligence tool ever created!

“Please write my blog for me,” I typed in.

“Thank you for considering me. I have a decade of experience as a freelance writer. I would be happy to help you.”

A decade of experience?! I wondered. I thought you were only invented a few weeks ago!

“Write a blog about Parshat Bo,” I instructed, and it actually churned out a whole blog for me about Parshat Bo that was astonishingly accurate. Not too long, not too short, precise and relevant. Incredible!

For example: “I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt.’ This is a very important Torah reading. It teaches us that we must put our trust in G-d. We cannot rely on our own strength or abilities to succeed in life.”

I couldn’t believe it! It sounds exactly like something I would prepare for a Torah class or blog.

I asked my daughter if she’d heard of it and she said, “Yes, one of my friends said we can use it to write our essays.” Then I saw that this chatGPT just passed a law exam!

The possibilities from here are endless.

Give it a few months or years and you won’t need me anymore! This AI can probably learn to counsel couples, give Torah classes, officiate at weddings, teach people how to kosher their kitchens and everything else I do. It can probably even answer the phone as me and answer people’s questions.

But the truth is, as powerful as this tool is, it can never replace a human being.

There’s something powerful and unique about a real human, with free choice and feelings. A real person can falter and recover. A real person isn’t perfect. We are raw, authentic, real, feeling, growing—things chatGPT can never become.

Yes, it can help us, but it can’t replace us. Hashem created us as fallible and imperfect, and charged us with perfecting His world. If He wanted angels, he would’ve created us that way.

ChatGPT can help us spread Torah and engage with more of our fellow Jews, but ultimately, only we—imperfect humans—can fulfill His will and bring Moshiach.

So let’s go out today and add light to this world!

I Am Not Going to School Today!

My son asked me to buy him a water bottle this week, and I was busy at the time, so I told him we’d take care of it another time. The next morning, he asked me again, and again I said, “I’m busy, I can’t do it right now.”

“Well, I’m not going to school until you get me a water bottle,” he countered.

At first I ignored him, but I soon realized he was actually serious.

Moreover, he was threatening me with something I care deeply about—his education. Not something I could easily shrug off. I want him to go to school!

How do I get out of this one? I thought to myself.

But I was stumped. How did he come up with such a winning strategy?

He chose something that he knows is deeply important to me. He knows I wouldn’t want him to miss a day or even an hour of his studies—Talmud, Chumash, etc. At the same time, I can’t force him.

I realized very quickly with my older set that kids are master negotiators. The professionals could learn a lot from children at bedtime. Or dessert time. Or in a candy or toy store. They are naturally gifted in the art of negotiation. In all these scenarios, when it’s child vs parent … the children pretty much always win.

In this instance, I tried every tactic I could think of, but my son was adamant: No water bottle? No school.

Ultimately, I gave in and bought the water bottle. (I also didn’t have another option for keeping him entertained for the day!)

But as I reflected on it, I realized we can all use some of those childhood negotiation tactics!

There’s one thing we want more than anything: Moshiach and the Final Redemption. When that happens, all war, poverty, and suffering will end. Our problems, big and small, will dissipate. Our health issues will vanish. We’ll live peacefully with our neighbors. It’s what we dream of and pray for every day.

So, we know what we want, but how do we get it? We need some of that childish stubbornness. We need to force our Father in Heaven to comply. How do we do that?

By increasing our Torah study and mitzvot, and specifically doing them with joy. Joy has the power to break down barriers, we are taught. So the more joy we can infuse into our observance, the faster we will break down the barriers and bring Moshiach.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s go!

Someone Spray Painted a Star of David Outside our Chabad Center!

I woke up last Friday to multiple messages, emails, voicemails and texts from the NYPD.

“Good morning. My name is Sergeant L. I just wanted to give you the heads up that we arrested an individual who was spray painting the sidewalk right in front of your school. The person stated that they did not have permission or a permit to paint on the sidewalk and they were placed under arrest. One of our community affairs officers will reach out in the morning.”

Oy gevalt! Never a dull moment at our Chabad house. 

I looked at our security camera footage and could see exactly what had happened. I saw an individual putting a menorah on the ground shortly before midnight, and then spray painting a Star of David on the sidewalk. It took quite a while and actually looked like a magnificent piece of art to me! 

It was 5am, so I waited a few hours before calling back for more details, and here’s what the NYPD told me:

At around midnight, a 911 call came through from a passerby who spotted someone spraying something outside our Chabad center. The police showed up in minutes and arrested the spray-painter. That’s when they sent us multiple messages to let us know what was going on.

After a thorough investigation, however, it turns out we are talking about an elderly person who only had love and good intentions in her heart. She wanted to illuminate the world with an act of kindness, and spray painted a Star of David outside our Chabad center as a way of showing her love.

I’m deeply grateful to the NYPD for doing an excellent job, and to the passersby who stepped up and called them (because as seen with our Chanukah ice sculpture menorah, it could have indeed been an act of hateful violence). But actually, I think it looks beautiful and I’m touched by the woman’s intentions!

The truth is, we all need to do our share to illuminate the world, spreading love, kindness, and peace. What’s the best method? By doing more mitzvot. Put on tefillin every day. Light Shabbat candles each Friday afternoon. Study Torah and give more charity. This is how we can really make a lasting and sustainable difference to the world around us.

My Car Accident Due To Intense Fog

This past Saturday night I headed out to visit my son who studies at a yeshiva in Pomona. I figured there wouldn’t be many cars out on New Year’s Eve, and with Shabbat ending so early it seemed like a good opportunity to make the trip.

Waze confirmed that there was no traffic and told me I should be there in 40 minutes. Great! Three of my kids decided to come along, and we hopped into the car.

But as soon as we crossed the George Washington Bridge, we found ourselves surrounded by fog. This was no ordinary fog. It was heavy and dense, with extremely low visibility.

Cars were driving so slowly; it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

I continued down the Palisades, thinking to myself that I would have never ventured out on a night like this if I’d known, when—boom!—we felt a big jolt as a car hit us from behind. My kids jumped up, frightened and shaking, and I pulled over to the side of the road to see the extent of the damage. It was significant.

The driver of the other car, who I could hardly see, pulled over on the other side of the highway, so I couldn’t even approach him.

In the meantime, cars were whizzing by. Some slowly and safely, but others seemed to pay the fog no attention and were driving at dangerous speeds.

I realized we were in serious danger. Hardly visible, stopped on the side of a busy highway. Some of my kids had gotten out of the car to see what was going on (I sent them right back immediately), and I, too, was outside and barely visible. Any second a car could come crashing into me.

I knew I needed to call the police, get a report and the other driver’s insurance, but I also recognized we were in a life-threatening situation. Every minute we spent waiting for the police in this weather was literally putting our lives in danger.

As the Torah tells us, life always takes precedence, so I jumped back into the minivan and proceeded with a broken car, but grateful to be alive.

When something like this happens to us, we know that Hashem is trying to convey a message—a wake up call of sorts. Perhaps he’s trying to tell me to get my priorities straight. Or maybe it’s a simple “zol zein a kapparah” — an atonement for my sins — in which case I am even more grateful that nothing worse happened!

In the meantime, if you see my beat up, broken down car on the streets, yes, it’s me, happy to be alive and well. 

Our Trip To American Dream Mall

It’s rare that my children are on the same schedule, but this past weekend they were all on vacation from school at the same time. With sub-zero temperatures our options were limited, but we needed to entertain them so we started considering ideas for a family trip. Trying to find something that will please all ages, however, is no easy feat.

The zoo? My personal favorite, but try selling that to a teen. Children’s museum? Boring! Go-karting? Not good for anyone under 11. Zip lining or any adrenaline-filled activity? Impossible for the younger set. 

We ended up with the big kids wanting to do something adrenalin-based, the older girls wanting to go shopping, and the younger ones needing an age-appropriate activity. Gevalt!

Can you imagine trying to placate everyone? When they were younger, they were thrilled when we took them anywhere. But now…oy.

After much thinking and discussion, we settled on the American Dream Mall. There’s enough there to satisfy all ages, and we decided to start with ice skating, hoping and praying everyone would be happy.

We packed up and headed out, but it seemed like tens of thousands of other families in the tri-state area had the exact same idea on this freezing cold weekend. There were Chanukah parties and mincha minyanim all over the mall. It felt like the entire Jewish community was there. We got in line, only to discover that tickets needed to be pre-bought and they were completely sold out! 

Poof! There went our big idea! What next?

We switched gears and decided to try the Nickelodeon amusement park, but already the older kids were losing interest. One kid asked me to Uber them home.

So we decided to split up and try to give everyone the best time we could. My wife took the daredevil upside down roller coasters with the older kids, and I took the younger kids on the carousels, promising the middle ones that we’d go on the swings afterwards.

Thank G-d, ultimately, all the kids had a fantastic time!

As we drove home, I realized our Father in Heaven faces the same dilemma every moment of every day. He has millions of beloved children and needs to provide for our very varied needs, all at the same time. And do we make it easy? We do not! Boy, do we kvetch a lot.

Nevertheless, in His greatness, Hashem somehow manages to provide for us individually, tailoring our lives to our unique requirements and mission here in this world.

As we look back at 2022, if we look closely, we’ll discover that G-d catered to all our needs, even if it didn’t initially seem so. He is the ultimate parent—there for us, always, in every way, at all times.

Our Menorah Was Smashed to Smithereens!

In honor of Chanukah, we had a beautiful menorah-lighting and party for our community this week. We invited the fire department to send parachutes of chocolate gelt down into the crowd of children, which is always a favorite. And we also hired a professional ice carver to create an intricate 5-foot menorah out of a giant block of ice.

We were able to watch him do the carving—a fascinating process—and then actually light it afterwards! We’ve been lighting the menorah every night since, but last night, when I walked past it at 10pm, I discovered the menorah in pieces on the ground.

At first, I assumed it must have melted. After all, we knew it wouldn’t last forever, but we did hope it would hold up through all 8 days of the holiday. When I looked more closely, however, I realized it had not melted at all. Aside from the frigid weather we’ve had all week, which certainly would’ve kept the menorah intact, it had clearly been hacked to pieces—a deliberate and malicious act by someone who didn’t like our menorah and what it represented.

I even considered if a car or truck may have accidentally backed into it, but the damage to both sides indicated that that was not the case.

Clearly, our menorah had deeply affected someone to the extent that they felt compelled to destroy it. What goes through the mind of such a person? A menorah represents light, purity, and holiness. What could lead someone to smash that? Where is the hatred coming from? Did the menorah awaken something in their soul?

Regardless, the message of Chanukah is more relevant than ever: No matter how much darkness surrounds us, light will always win. No matter how much they try to destroy us, we will prevail. In fact, the whole reason we light the candles after dark is to light up the world!

Are we disappointed that someone saw fit to smash our menorah? Absolutely. But are we letting them win? Of course not.

We’ve had yeshiva students here every night of Chanukah distributing thousands of menorahs, doughnuts, and latkes, and we will continue spreading the light for the remaining nights of the holiday.

The Torah teaches that it only takes a small amount of light to dispel tremendous darkness, and that is our goal. Spread the light, dispel the darkness. And when better to put this into practice than tonight, the fifth night of Chanukah?

The fifth night is considered the darkest night of Chanukah, because it can never coincide with Shabbat. Our Sages teach that when Chanukah occurs on days that are even only potentially Shabbat days, the light of Chanukah combines with the light of Shabbat for a powerful illumination. So the fifth night, which can never be on Shabbat, represents great darkness relative to the other nights. This means the fifth light has the unique power to illuminate and instill spirituality even in such a time of darkness.

So come out tonight and light the fifth candle with us at our Chabad center. Together, we will counter the dark and show the world our resilience and determination.

My Son Threw a Ball that Landed in My Chicken Soup!

My business is to inspire people, and I spend literally hundreds or thousands of hours doing just that: teaching Torah, giving sermons, writing blogs, sending emails, organizing Chanukah parties and Purim parties, conducting Pesach Seders and blowing Shofar, even posting on social media … you get the picture. 

Years ago, we met *Yankel and *Sara. They started attending our Chabad services, holiday paties and events, and I, of course, tried my best to show them the beauty and warmth of Judaism. With time, we became close friends with Yankel and Sara and their extended family. 

Recently, Sara confided in me that there was one thing early on that truly inspired her.

It was a cold Friday night and Yankel and Sara were guests at our Shabbat dinner. My two boys were playing ball with their child, right by the dining room table.

I was eating my chicken soup, deep in conversation, when suddenly my son threw the ball at the wall, and it rebounded  straight into my soup! 

Talk about aim and precision – he must have a really good hand!

Sara watched, waiting for my reaction. She expected me to take my son to the next room and give him a good beating or severe punishment. At the very least, a stern rebuke! 

But no, she said. All I did was remove the ball from my soup, wipe off my shirt with a napkin, and continue the conversation as if nothing had happened. She was flabbergasted! Where was my reaction? Where was the rebuke?

So why did I do what I did? More than anything else, our kids need love. There is no such thing as too much love. No way to spoil by loving too much. No matter how much love you give, they're always ready for another dose. 

Of course, a few days later when you're calm you can have a conversation about not throwing balls into chicken soup. In this case, I don’t even think I had that conversation. My son did not do it on purpose, and I am sure he realized on his own that he made a mistake by throwing the ball in my soup. Anger or a lecture would have played no constructive purpose. 

I once heard that every rabbi has only one sermon – it’s the way you lead your life. No matter how many hours we spend preparing and delivering the perfect sermon, it's not a reliable way to actually effect change. The only true way to inspire is by example. 

When we show love, that inspires others to show love, and so on. 

So go out today and be a shining example to your friends and family.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Are You in Goblin Mode?

It’s that time of year when we are gifted with “song of the year,” “word of the year,” “top 10 travel destinations of the year,” and every other iteration of “most popular in 2022” you can imagine. 

So, what's the word of the year for 2022? Oxford has chosen the term “Goblin Mode.” 

It may be word of the year, but I (and a significant amount of others, it seems) had never heard of it! 

A quick Google revealed “Out went highly curated aesthetics; in came raw, unfiltered, real.” Meaning, people moved away from the highly filtered depictions of perfect life on Instagram, and moved towards authenticity. Essentially, Goblin Mode means “the real me.” 

We all know the highly stylized perfectly captured moments we see on Facebook and Instagram are not real. It’s a moment. A snapshot. Devoid of the stressors of real life. What about the argument that happened just minutes before that perfectly orchestrated restaurant picture? What about all the pressure that led up to the magazine-worthy bar mitzvah? 

But in 2022, the guardrails came off. People have been sharing unedited images, often capturing self indulgent moments, embracing their inner goblin.

Incredible! Finally, people are getting tired of faking it. We just want to be ourselves—unapologetically authentic. 

So what happens when we strip away our layers? 

When we get rid of the externals, are we really goblins? 

Absolutely not! We are Divine. 

In Torah we also have “goblin mode”—the stripped back, unfiltered self. But I wouldn’t call it goblin mode. I would call it Divine Mode. 

Who are we at our core? What is our essence? When we strip away the exterior, stop posing and projecting our ideal selves, who are we? 

We may seem moody and selfish, carefree, and even nasty at times—quite goblinesque! But dig a little deeper and it becomes apparent that we are all G-dly beings with G-dly souls. 

Deep down, we want to connect with G-d, be charitable, go to shul, keep kosher, and extend kindness and generosity to others. We are kind, beautiful, precious diamonds. That is our truest iteration.

So no, we are not goblins. We are Divine!


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Hey, You Never Know

Like so many others, this week I bought a ticket to the mega millions lottery hoping to win the largest ever prize in US history: $2.04 billion!

And for a moment, I caught myself dreaming about how I would spend the money. I thought about the new building I would purchase for our Chabad center. I thought about our preschool, shul and wounded IDF soldier program—all the ways we could enhance and grow our community and activities. Even after all that, I still had a billion and change left over. 

When I checked the winning numbers against my ticket, I sank right back into reality.

Then again, what are the odds? How likely is any individual to actually win? The odds are something like 1 in 300 million, or 0.000000003863%. Compare that to a 1 in 1.2 million chance of dying in a lightning strike, 1 in 58,000 chance of dying from a bee or wasp sting, and 1 in 35,000 chance of dying in a cataclysmic storm. There's a higher chance of having identical quadruplets or becoming president of the United States than there is of winning the lottery!

And yet, at one point this week, 25,000 tickets per minute were being sold in California! Dozens of people in our community texted me, “Rabbi, if I win, our Chabad is definitely getting a better building.” Somehow, we all entertain thoughts of winning, despite the virtual impossibility of it.

Why? It's simple. The lottery motto is “Hey, you never know!” And it’s that attitude exactly—someone has to win, it may as well be me—that drives us to buy tickets in hordes.

Indeed, one of the 13 principles of our faith is, "I believe in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he may tarry, I still await his coming every day."

Now, what are the odds of Moshiach coming? What are the chances of finding a cure for aids, malaria or cancer? What is the likelihood of solving the Arab/Israeli conflict? Pretty much, less than 0%. And yet, every day, day after day, we pray for Moshiach and dream of the utopian society his coming will bring.

So if Moshiach is the jackpot, how do we buy a ticket?

It's a small investment, just like the $1 lottery ticket.

Maimonides tells us to view the world as balanced on a scale. One side holds the collective good deeds we have done; the other side all the misdeeds. Any one of us can tip that scale with a single good deed, which would lead to Moshiach's arrival and an era of world peace.

What are the odds of my mitzvah being the final one to tip the scales? Basically nil. But, "Hey, you never know!"

And since we can never know, it's imperative we keep playing the lottery. Do a good deed today. Anything counts. Put a mezuzah on your door. Pray. Feed a homeless person. Visit someone sick. Every single deed is a potential winning ticket.

"Hey, you never know!" Today might be the day.

Hey, You Never Know

Like so many others, this week I bought a ticket to the mega millions lottery hoping to win the largest ever prize in US history: $2.04 billion!

And for a moment, I caught myself dreaming about how I would spend the money. I thought about the new building I would purchase for our Chabad center. I thought about our preschool, shul and wounded IDF soldier program—all the ways we could enhance and grow our community and activities. Even after all that, I still had a billion and change left over. 

When I checked the winning numbers against my ticket, I sank right back into reality.

Then again, what are the odds? How likely is any individual to actually win? The odds are something like 1 in 300 million, or 0.000000003863%. Compare that to a 1 in 1.2 million chance of dying in a lightning strike, 1 in 58,000 chance of dying from a bee or wasp sting, and 1 in 35,000 chance of dying in a cataclysmic storm. There's a higher chance of having identical quadruplets or becoming president of the United States than there is of winning the lottery!

And yet, at one point this week, 25,000 tickets per minute were being sold in California! Dozens of people in our community texted me, “Rabbi, if I win, our Chabad is definitely getting a better building.” Somehow, we all entertain thoughts of winning, despite the virtual impossibility of it.

Why? It's simple. The lottery motto is “Hey, you never know!” And it’s that attitude exactly—someone has to win, it may as well be me—that drives us to buy tickets in hordes.

Indeed, one of the 13 principles of our faith is, "I believe in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he may tarry, I still await his coming every day."

Now, what are the odds of Moshiach coming? What are the chances of finding a cure for aids, malaria or cancer? What is the likelihood of solving the Arab/Israeli conflict? Pretty much, less than 0%. And yet, every day, day after day, we pray for Moshiach and dream of the utopian society his coming will bring.

So if Moshiach is the jackpot, how do we buy a ticket?

It's a small investment, just like the $1 lottery ticket.

Maimonides tells us to view the world as balanced on a scale. One side holds the collective good deeds we have done; the other side all the misdeeds. Any one of us can tip that scale with a single good deed, which would lead to Moshiach's arrival and an era of world peace.

What are the odds of my mitzvah being the final one to tip the scales? Basically nil. But, "Hey, you never know!"

And since we can never know, it's imperative we keep playing the lottery. Do a good deed today. Anything counts. Put a mezuzah on your door. Pray. Feed a homeless person. Visit someone sick. Every single deed is a potential winning ticket.

"Hey, you never know!" Today might be the day.

I Received a Check for $12 Million!

About a month ago, I mailed out a letter asking people to support our programs and activities, explaining why what we do is so critically important, and the urgent need for funds. 

Our mailing list includes a wide range of people, many of whom I don’t know personally, but have somehow corresponded with our Chabad center over the years and been added to our list.

Shortly after I sent out the fundraising letter, I opened the mail and it included a credit card donation from someone called Simon*. But instead of the donation being the standard $180, $360, or even $5000, this one read $12,000,000. Yup, $12 million!

I looked closer, but I didn’t recognize the name of the donor. Truthfully, I assumed it was someone playing a joke on me, so I set it aside on my desk. After all, who sends an unsolicited gift of $12 million, and in the mail no less!

The next day I Googled him, and it turned out he was a real person, an elderly gentleman living near New York. But that’s all I could find. I thought maybe, just maybe, he wants to leave us his legacy, and we would be so honored!

But as far as I know, you can’t charge a credit card more than $99,999. At least, with the system I use. It does not allow me to enter more than 5 digits.

I figured I would call Simon and speak to him on the phone, find out what was going on. So I called the number he had left, and asked if he intended to donate $12 million. He said, “Yes, of course, use it happily.” I thanked him profusely and then explained that it was impossible for us to charge his card for that much, and if I tried to do it in installments the bank would give us a hard time, so I asked if he could send a check instead. He agreed.

At this point, I was skeptical. I thought it highly unlikely he would mail us a check for $12 million, but right after Sukkot I opened the mail and there it was. I was stunned.

That’s when I started believing this might actually be true—a tremendous miracle from Hashem. I mean, what are the odds of having an unknown, unsolicited donor gift us millions of dollars? But I know miracles happen and I’m a firm believer, so I began to make a mental list of all the people I could help with such staggering funds.

I deposited the check and there it was - $12 million. I was completely overwhelmed. I wrote Simon a beautiful letter, thanking him for his generous donation and asking for a time to meet him to get to know him and thank him in person.

But then, 10 hours later I checked the account again, and the money was gone. Deducted from my account. All gone.

What happened?

After speaking with my bank manager, it turns out that the check was written from an account that has been closed for over 20 years.

What Hashem (through His agent, Simon) is trying to tell me, I do not know. Nor do I have any idea why Simon would play such a joke on me.

But the more I think about it, I realize what difference does it make if I was a millionaire for 10 hours, 10 days, 10 years, or all my life? It’s all the same. It’s all fleeting. None of it comes with us to the True and Eternal World.

In fact, we all have the capacity to become millionaires. We’re here for 120 years, and whatever time, resources, and mitzvot we dedicate to serving G-d and elevating His world is the only real treasure we can accumulate and take with us. So whether we have $1, $100 or $100 million dollars, our role remains unchanged: fulfill your mission here in this world, use G-d’s bounty to create a dwelling place for Him, spread His wisdom to your fellow Jews. We can all be millionaires. It’s up to us.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

 

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Put Your Kids on a Leash!

I often walk up and down the streets of the Upper East Side with my kids, and we always get comments—especially with the triplets. On Shabbat mornings in particular, when I’m walking with 6 or 7 kids, all dressed up in their Shabbat outfits, I always get noticed. Lots of warm smiles and “G-d bless” or “What cute kids.” In fact, it’s rare to not get comments!

Recently we bought the triplets scooters, which we’ve been using on school days to get to and from school. I walk behind them and they scoot down the sidewalk. Of course, I give them strict rules about safety and not going too fast, but it’s still quite a scene! And boy, do the comments come.

This morning, however, a random New Yorker angrily yelled at me, “You should put them on a leash!!”

I was taken aback. Stunned.

“How could they possibly be bothering you?” I asked.

“They’re taking up space on the sidewalk!” he said.

You can be sure I gave him a piece of my mind. Abuse me all you want, but don’t start up with my kids!

But when I calmed down, I started to look for the lesson in this encounter. After all, we know everything that happens in our lives happens for a reason, and provides us a lesson in our service of G-d.

Apparently, G-d wanted me to hear those words: “Put them on a leash!” But why?

The truth is, when it comes to our Divine service, we all need to put ourselves on a leash. We cannot do what we want, when we want, how we want. We need to control our desires, our emotions, our behavior. We need to be leashed, so to speak!

We’re entering the month of Cheshvan, the one month of the year that contains no Jewish holidays. We don’t eat in the sukkah, dip apples in honey, listen to the shofar, fast for 25 hours, shake lulav and etrog or spend dozens of hours in shul.

It may be easy to think, “Great! The chagim are behind me, now I can do what I want, when I want, how I want.”

But here comes the message He wants us to hear: “Absolutely not! Put yourself on a leash.”

Those treif restaurants? Don’t go near them. That money you earned? Don’t wander off and spend it all, force yourself to give some to charity. That Saturday trip you had planned? Redirect and go to shul instead.

Stay focused, stay leashed. You got this.

“Can I have a croissant?”

A few weeks ago, I took my son to Patis Bakery. It was right before school and we had a few extra minutes, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to bond and share some special private time together. I got a coffee and my son asked for a croissant.

When the croissant arrived, it looked fresh and warm and flakey, so I asked my son for a taste. He said no, and I asked again if he could spare a small piece for me.

He proceeded to cut off not just a small piece,  but a microscopic crumb—hardly even a crumb, to be honest! “Here, you can have a small piece and only a small piece,” he said. 

I looked at him and thought to myself: Wow. I am the one driving him to school, taking him out for breakfast, and spending quality time with him. I’m the one who earned the money to buy the croissant, it’s my time, energy and everything here, and when I ask for a small piece of what is essentially mine, he begrudgingly spares me a microscopic crumb! 

Of course I love my son and am thrilled he enjoyed the pastry. But the exchange got me thinking, and I realized there’s a broader lesson here that can be applied to our relationship with G-d. 

G-d, our beloved Father in Heaven, loves us more than anything in the world. He gives us everything: the air we breathe, the food we eat, water, money, etc. Literally, everything that exists in our lives is from Him and He asks for so little in return. Just a small piece. 

But when He asks, what do we give Him? A microscopic crumb? Or more?

We’ve just experienced an incredible and inspiring High Holiday season. We blew the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, fasted on Yom Kippur, spent seven magical days eating and rejoicing in the sukkah, and then danced for hours on Simchat Torah. A month-long bonding experience with our Father in Heaven. 

Now it’s time to go forth into the new year, back to the daily grind, away from the constant infusion of spirituality. In fact, the upcoming month is the only one on the Jewish calendar with no holidays. 

And yet, G-d asks us: Please, remember all this bonding we did over the holidays …  

Remember how we danced with the Torah. Can you spare me a little Torah learning during the year? 

Remember how we sat in shul all day on Yom Kippur. Can you spare me a few hours here and there and go to shul this year? 

Remember how I blessed you financially this year. Please can you give 10 percent of your income to charity?

Remember on Rosh Hashanah when you asked me for blessings in all areas of your life and I gave it to you? Well, please spare me a few minutes throughout your year to light Shabbat candles, put on tefillin, and keep kosher. 

So how will we respond? Will we begrudgingly offer Him a tiny crumb? Or will we give generously?

This Shabbat is the first Shabbat of the new year. Let’s start off on the right foot. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

A Yom Kippur Crisis!

For the last 10 years, we’ve been blessed with a beautiful and large facility to use as our shul. Unfortunately, as I wrote previously, we lost that space during covid. So over the summer I made it my mission to find a space we could rent for the High Holidays.

I did some cursory internet research, but more specifically, I walked the streets of Manhattan looking for halls that may be a good fit. I tried schools, museums, and any other large space I could think of.

We made a spreadsheet with all the information: addresses, phone numbers of building managers and superintendents, capacity, availability and cost. One by one, we called every building in the area.

Unfortunately, most spaces were not available until December 2023 because they are still in covid mode.

One public school had a great hall and location, but when the superintendent looked at the date and saw it was a school holiday he adamantly refused. I offered to pay the workers. He said “it’s a union holiday.” I offered to pay them double. He said they don’t work on holidays. I offered to bring my own crew. He said it’s not allowed. I offered to tip him well and pay the workers triple. He said they don’t work on union holidays. I asked him to name his price, but he held firm.

After countless hours and numerous attempts, we finally found a space for Rosh Hashanah—the Liederkranz Club on 87th Street. With two caveats: it wasn’t available for Yom Kippur, and we were worried it may not be big enough for our crowd.

After all, Yom Kippur is the one day of the year Jews come to shul in droves. Especially now, after covid, when people are excited to be back!

We booked it for Rosh Hashanah and ultimately found a private school with a beautiful gym for Yom Kippur. We would’ve preferred to use the same location for both, but at this point we were just happy to have a space to work with! We listed the services on our website and people started signing up.

About two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the school emailed us. “We have a small problem. The air conditioning in our gym is not working.” Small problem? For us this is a major problem! With Yom Kippur in October this year, we might be fine without, but with hundreds of people fasting I couldn’t take the chance.

Fortunately, I still had the spreadsheet we’d made in the summer, and I went back through it, calling everyone I’d already spoken to, to see if anything had changed. I received nothing but nos.

At this point, we were in full blown panic mode. Our website was still taking reservations, people were signing up, eager to be back after two years away from shul, and we had nowhere to put them!

So I did what I always do in times of crisis. I went to pray at the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Queens. I wrote down my problem and asked for a blessing that it would all work out.

I returned to my office but still nothing was working out. We tried to find someone to set up air conditioning in the gym for us, but no one was able to work with such a massive space.

Eventually, we called Liederkranz back and asked about their Yom Kippur availability, and lo and behold—they were available! Whoever was supposed to use it over Yom Kippur didn’t book in the end.

I was still worried it may be too small for our Yom Kippur crowd, but we went ahead and booked it, relieved to have a space at all!

Rosh Hashanah came and services were superb. Then Yom Kippur came, and it ended up being a perfect fit! We were able to seat a lot more people than I had imagined. And being a music hall, the acoustics were fabulous which really added to the atmosphere—something we wouldn’t have had at the other hall!

When I was searching, this seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I was consumed. I couldn’t see any possible solution. Now, in hindsight, what we ended up with was the best possible space for our needs. Everything ran smoothly and everybody left uplifted.

The message I came away with is: always trust in Hashem. Put your faith in Him, and He will work things out in the best way possible, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. A good reminder for all challenges, large and small.

Our Children Need Love

Over the summer we spent time upstate, and one Shabbat was particularly hot. Blistering. We had already walked to and from shul in the sweltering heat, so when my son asked to go and play with a friend, I had no strength to get up and go marching again. He begged and begged, so I told him maybe in a few hours. 

He asked if he could go by himself, but I told him he was not allowed. 

I went for a short nap and when I woke up, I realized he was missing. I figured he must have gone to his friend’s house for a play date on his own, even though I’d told him not to. 

On my way to Mincha, I stopped at the friend’s house, and of course my son was there playing with a group of his friends. 

I called him over and sternly reprimanded him for defying a direct order.

Yes, it worked out fine. It was a safe neighborhood, and he knew the way. But  I told him not to go, and he went anyway. 

And then I chatted with the parents of my son’s friend (who are friends of mine) while he went back to his friends. 

Shortly before Rosh Hashanah I happened to bump into these friends again, and they reminded me about the incident. They said they couldn’t believe my son didn’t get into serious trouble. They asked their son to check, and were shocked he wasn’t grounded, punished, or had his toys taken away. Nothing beyond the initial severe reprimand. They were bowled away and inspired. 

The truth is, the one thing our children need more than anything else is love, love, and more love. It’s critical. And not just children. It’s what we all need! 

We just finished a beautiful and inspiring Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is all about G-d forgiving us for our wrongdoings and starting over with a clean slate. 

Did we sin? Yes. Are we perfect? Of course not. But G-d loves us more than anything. He treasures each of us like an only child. He knows what we did and He forgives us, with no residual punishments. And then He goes on loving us. 

Next week we celebrate Sukkot. When we sit in the Sukkah, surrounded on all four sides, it’s like a giant hug from G-d. 

Let’s do the same for our children!

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