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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!

Nu, How Was Your Rosh Hashanah?

Yankel has been coming to our shul for the last 16 years, and each Rosh Hashanah he has watched me ask people to make a commitment to increase in their Torah observance over the coming year. Not only has he watched, he’s been an active participant.


One year he committed to putting on tefillin daily, and another year he agreed to attend services on Friday nights. Other commitments have included saying Lecha Dodi on Friday nights, then the first paragraph of Shema, adding the second paragraph the next year, and the third paragraph the following year.


The big difference between Yankel and most others, is that while many people follow through for a while and then taper off, once Yankel commits he commits for good. Not for a few months, not just for the year, but for the indefinite future.


Now, the last couple of years, due to Covid, I’ve gone easy on people and stopped pressuring them to make a Rosh Hashanah commitment.


But this year, when I asked Yankel, “Nu, do you have a commitment ready?” he said, “Yes, but I don’t want to be the only one in shul making a commitment this year.”


“Deal,” I said, “I will ask everyone else, too.”


And come Rosh Hashanah, I was blown away.


Chaim committed to keeping Shabbat once a month, even after I clarified that keeping Shabbat means no cell phone, no Whatsapp, no Netflix, Telegram, or Tik Tok.


Shimon resolved to start putting on tefillin daily, and Leah committed to lighting Shabbat candles weekly.


Sara had not been to shul for three years, since before the pandemic, and hearing the shofar again brought her to tears.


In my sermon, I mentioned that the Rebbe said we should pledge our tzedakah for the year on Rosh Hashanah, and Hashem will shower us with the ability to give. Jessica was so inspired she pledged $50,000, and then Levi decided he would pledge $50,000 too!


Rivka decided to install kosher mezuzot throughout her home, and Meir resolved to start coming to shul again every week.

This is what Rosh Hashanah is all about!


I can only imagine how much pleasure G-d derived from seeing His children commit to so many good deeds. I can’t imagine a more inspiring chag! And I am 100 percent certain that whatever this year has in store for us will be good—very good.


As for Yankel, he committed to reciting the first paragraph of bentching (Grace After Meals) after he eats bread.


Thank you, Yankel, for pushing me to push others to commit to new mitzvot! Oh, and my resolution? I am committing to learning a chassidic discourse of the Rebbe by heart in the next few weeks.


So, nu? What’s your commitment?



Note: All names have been changed to protect privacy.

So How Was Your Year?

As I was getting ready to take my triplets to preschool this week, the middle one—Dovid—had a massive tantrum. Before I could register what he was doing, he went to the cupboard where we store the snacks, emptied out the entire box, and proceeded to trample on each and every bag.

All this in literally seconds.

Fortunately, my wife was there and able to hold him, and once he’d calmed down, he chose a snack and went on happily to school as if nothing had happened. I took him to the car and watched him carefully, but there was absolutely no remnant of his bad mood. It was almost as if an entirely different child had been raging in anger, trampling on all the snacks. He went to school happily and was in a good mood for the rest of the day.

That night, I lay in bed with him and asked him about his day. He chattered happily about school and the friends he played with … no mention of the one thing I was still fixated on: the scene with the trampled snacks.

I wonder, as we end the year 5782 and begin 5783, what we remember when we look back. When someone asks us “How was your year?” what will we answer?

No one’s year was 100 percent wonderful or 100 percent terrible. It’s always a mixed bag. And so much is in the narrative we create for ourselves.

I can look back and tell myself how horrible the past year was. We had Omicron just when we thought we were done with Covid. Inflation and instability continue to plague the country. We had to leave our beautiful, spacious shul on short notice and daven in a tiny preschool classroom for most of the year. My kids fought. I didn’t get enough sleep. Etc.

But if I delve a little deeper, I can think of all the tremendous blessings Hashem bestowed upon this this past year. We celebrated multiple bar mitzvahs and weddings and brissim this year. We had a beautiful hachnasat sefer Torah in our community. Our programs and events are bursting through the seams, and our preschool is fuller than it’s ever been. We just rented a gorgeous, brand new shul and we have so much to look forward to!

So how was the past year? It’s all in what we tell ourselves. Whichever story we weave, that’s what counts. 

But one thing is clear: Our Heavenly Father wants only the best for us. And when we delve into the past year and sort through the murkiness, we’ll be able to find the blessings He has showered upon us. We prayed last Rosh Hashanah for a good, healthy, sweet year, and if we haven’t found those blessings, it simply means we haven’t dug deeply enough.

Dig deeper, brush away the dirt, and find the gold. It’s there. That’s what we need to focus on.

In just a few days we will sit together in shul and pray for a healthy, happy, successful year, filled with Hashem’s blessings. May He make those blessings plentiful, and easy for us to recognize!

Shana Tova

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

My Son Left Home!

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my 14-year-old son at his new high school, called a mesivta. This is a new stage for him—he’ll be living in a dormitory with his classmates, instead of at home with us, where he has spent the last 14 years.

The school is about an hour from our house—not too far—and he’ll be able to come home quite regularly and we’ll be able to visit him. I know he has friends there, he’s learning and growing, and seems ecstatic with his newfound independence.

And yet, my heart feels empty now that he is not living at home with us anymore. No, the house isn’t quiet and we aren’t empty nesters—our seven other children are all still home with us.

But I remember when I left to yeshiva as a teenager. I didn’t realize when I left that I wouldn’t ever really live at home with my parents again. Although I visited home for holidays or when the yeshiva was on break, I had, essentially, moved out for good. And now, with my son, I feel like a piece of my heart has left, more or less for good, much as I did.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that he’s on his way to adulthood, spending his days in a holy, safe environment, with his peers, good teachers, and a very full schedule. But at the same time, I miss him! When I walk past his empty room on my way to bed each night, there’s a pang in my heart.

Truthfully, however, this is my duty as a parent: to raise my child, nurture him, watch him grow and gain independence, and give him the skills to go out into the world and make his own life.

The same way we feel about our children, is how G-d feels about us. He loves us all as if we were each His only child.

At this time of year, with Rosh Hashanah on the horizon, it’s time for all of us to come home. Home to our Loving Father who is waiting to greet us with open arms. He misses us. We may have meandered away throughout the year, but now it’s time to come back.

That feeling we get when our children come home—which I will feel when my son comes home for Rosh Hashanah next week!—that’s how G-d feels when we reconnect with Him. So let’s get ourselves into the spirit of that homecoming, so we can enjoy Rosh Hashanah in His full embrace. 

My Son Was Nowhere to Be Found!

This week my 11-year-old son began 6th grade in Crown Heights. Commuting to Brooklyn on a daily basis isn’t easy, and because it was his first week he asked me to pick him up, and I promised I would.

So at 3.00pm I left my office and headed into Brooklyn. But there was so much traffic that what should have been a 40-minute trip took a full hour longer.

When I finally arrived, he wasn’t outside waiting, which seemed strange. I parked near the school and asked the secretary if she knew where my son was. She called up to the classroom and said he’ll be down shortly. Five minutes passed, then 10, then 15, and I went back inside to find out what was going on. She called again and told me, “We can’t find your son, he’s nowhere to be found!”

Don’t panic, I told myself. I’m sure he didn’t disappear. Trying not to let the worst thoughts enter my mind, I called my wife, but she hadn’t heard anything either. Still, I tried to keep calm.

We have close friends and shluchim who also live on the Upper East Side and sometimes we carpool together. So I called them and asked if my son had gone with them. “I don’t think so,” she answered. “That definitely wasn’t the plan.” I asked her to double check because my son wasn’t at the school, and she said she would check and call me back. A minute later my phone rang and relief filled my body—he was with them! Seems there was a misunderstanding. They drove past the school and saw my son waiting outside, and they assumed he was going with them, so he hopped in and figured I couldn’t make it after all.

Whew. Crisis averted.

But here I was, trying to do a one-time favor to help my son settle into a new school year, and look what it turned into! As I headed back to the city—again in heavy traffic—I figured there must be a lesson to be learned from my wasted 3.5 hours!.

I realized my experience is closely connected to the time of year we’re in—the month of Elul. In this month, our sages teach, G-d goes out into the field to meet us, so to speak. Instead of being closed away in his palace, he is easily accessible—in the park, in the street, the places we regularly traverse in our daily lives. He does this as a one off—to help us settle into the year. “Come meet Me,” He says, “I love you dearly and want to make this easier for you.”

How do we go out and meet Him?

By thinking about Him, and studying His Torah. By getting ready for the High Holidays. As much as we prepare physically, we need to prepare spiritually—taking an accounting of the previous year, seeing which areas of service to G-d we need to improve upon, and taking active measures to do so. Whether that’s making more of an effort to eat kosher even outside the house, or keep Shabbat each week, or put on tefillin daily—we all know what we need to work on.

So let’s get going—we don’t want Him to go out and find nobody there!

 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

The Perils of Jet Lag!

We just came back from a whirlwind trip to Israel. Traveling internationally with 8 kids is as daunting as it sounds! Thankfully, there were many other families on our flight so we were in good company.

Every detail had to be meticulously prepared. Suitcases packed, as well as snacks and toys for the flight, not to mention all the mental and emotional psyching up. Thank G-d for my wife, because my job was to order the car to take us everywhere—she took care of everything else!

We made it through the flight and arrived in Israel, only to hit another hurdle: jet lag. We couldn’t get anyone to bed before 2am or wake them up before noon. Their bodies were still on New York time and hyper until all hours.

The one morning we had a bar mitzvah and had to get everyone up at 8am was a struggle! We did it, but driving around with exhausted kids is not much fun!

Overall though, we just scheduled our days around the jet lag. Trips and meetings started at midday and ended at midnight. We got to see the Kotel, Chevron, Kever Rachel, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea, and all worked out well.

Ironically, by our last day in Israel the kids had finally acclimated to Israel time, only to be completely thrown off again by the flight back.

Now, back in NY, the kids have all been collapsing into bed at 7pm, but wide awake and running around at 3:30am.

Even I’m struggling. This morning I was up at 2am, tossing and turning, unable to go back to sleep.

What’s the solution? Incremental adjustments. Going to bed 15 minutes later, then 30 the next day, and so on. Within a few days, you’ll have broken the habit and gone back to your regular routine in your new time zone.

We’re currently in the month of Elul, when we need to break our routines. Throughout the year, we’ve drifted spiritually, gotten used to doing things we shouldn’t be doing.

Now is the time to reconnect with G-d in preparation for the High Holidays. But how?

Just like adjusting to jet lag, it’s the slow and steady one-step-at-a-time approach that is most effective. By the end of the month, surely we’ll have made firm changes.

During Elul we should strive to go beyond our comfort zone spiritually. That means giving extra charity and being careful to eat only kosher food both inside the home and out. It means waking up early to pray or study Torah, and going to shul on Shabbat.

One step at a time, break your routine, until you’re ready to come home on Rosh Hashanah.

Together, we can conquer that spiritual jet lag.

My 8-Hour Trip to South Africa

Last week, Hashem blessed my sister Estee Stern with twin boys.

 
I don’t usually fly for a bris, and my sister lives thousands of miles away in South Africa, but since it was twins and a double mitzvah, I really wanted to be there to join the celebration, so I made double the effort to do so.
 
There is only one direct flight per day to South Africa, and taking it on Thursday or Friday would conflict with Shabbat. The Wednesday night flight didn’t work for me for other reasons. Plus they weren’t yet certain that the bris would be on Monday. So I booked a non-direct flight, leaving New York Saturday night, after Shabbat, which happened to be Tisha B’Av.
 
Under normal circumstances, one is not supposed to fly on Tisha B’Av, but since it was for a mitzvah, and there was no other time I could go, it was allowed. A side benefit of flying west on a fast day is that the fast is much, much shorter! The further west you fly, the darker it becomes, and I was able to break my fast after 15 hours of flying, rather than the requisite 25 hours.
 
So I left on Saturday night and landed in Johannesburg on Monday morning. I had to head back later the same day due to multiple events scheduled in New York, but I was determined to be there. I surprised my parents and my family—literally just showed up and knocked on the door.
 
Turns out I spent 55 hours traveling, and only 8 hours on the ground in South Africa, which is clearly a crazy thing to do! I’m still recovering! So when my wife asked a simple question, “Was it worth it?” it got me thinking. 
 
I got to spend time with my siblings and parents, caught up with old friends, and celebrated a beautiful double simcha. Of course it was worth it!
 
But the question goes much deeper than that.
 
You see, our souls make a monumental trip to this world—much more than 55 hours. They descend through seven layers of heaven to get here, and only spend 70-80 years on this earth. They go from basking in the Divine radiance to this mundane world for what is, essentially, a flash in time.
 
Is it worth it?
 
That’s something we ask ourselves every night, when we do a cheshbon hanefesh, a spiritual accounting.
 
What did I accomplish today? Did I make my soul’s journey worthwhile?
 
We need to ensure we do enough mitzvot every day to justify the soul’s descent into this world and into our bodies.
 
Today, I put on tefillin. Yes, that makes it worth it. I gave charity, so the long trip was not in vain. Yes, today I was kind to a fellow Jew and I kept Shabbat.
 
Every moment of every day we need to keep this in mind: What can I do right now to make my soul’s journey worthwhile?
 
Make it count!

I Demand Private Time!

In the summer, I make a conscious effort to spend more time with my kids. The days are longer, there’s no homework, and everything’s just a bit more relaxed, which makes it easier. So I take them out one-on-one, for private time. With 8 kids, thank G-d, it can be quite a task, so I try to make a roster of turns. Sometimes it’s only five minutes, but that time together makes each kid feel so special. 

This week, however, I found myself a little overextended, so I asked my daughter “Can we take your sisters, too, and all have private time together?” I knew I wouldn’t have time the following day, so I figured I’d lump a few kids in together just this once. 

But she adamantly refused. “Absolutely not!” she said. “Private time is private time for me only.” 

I said, “Ok, how about just one sister? The one closest in age to you …” But she refused again. “Private time is when I have my father all to myself; no one else is allowed to join us!”

So I found myself going to the ice cream store with one daughter. We sat down, chatted, ate our ice cream, and literally as soon as we got home, I went back out with my other daughter for her turn. 

“What a waste of time,” was my initial thought. Literally doing the same thing twice in a row, instead of once with both daughters together. But they unequivocally refused, which got me thinking. 

Just as they demand private time with me only, we must demand private time with our Father in Heaven and settle for nothing less than His undivided attention. 

Of course, we know that He watches over each of us individually, and loves and cares about us at all times. Nonetheless, we long for private time with Him. To see and feel the one-on-one connection with our own eyes—something we will only experience when Moshiach comes. 

But this weekend, we will have a small preview of that. This weekend we mark Tisha B’Av, the day both Holy Temples were destroyed and our 2,000 year exile began. But this Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon - the Shabbat of vision, when G-d takes us each, privately and individually, and gives us a glimpse of the future Third Temple that we will experience with the Final Redemption and the coming of Moshiach. Surely this taste of the future will only strengthen our resolve to do everything in our power to hasten his coming!

My Daughter’s First Driving Lesson

The first thing my daughter did when she turned 16 was schedule herself a Learner’s Permit test so she could begin learning how to drive. 

I was hesitant. In South Africa, where I grew up, you can only start at 17, but my daughter is ambitious and determined, and she went and passed the test. 

This week, she came home from camp and asked me to teach her how to drive. 

“I got this!” I thought. We hopped in the car, I gave her the driver’s seat and told her to start driving. 

She went for the ignition and I stopped her. “You need to do something first,” I reminded her. She thought and then realized, “Oh, my seatbelt!”

Then she turned on the ignition and started driving. I guess all her experience with bumper cars and go-karts paid off, because she knew what she was doing!

The only problem was, she did it all at approximately 3 miles per hour, literally inching forward. When it was time to turn, she stopped, checked all her mirrors, checked her blind spot, turned on the indicator, checked all her mirrors and blindspot again, and finally made the turn at the same 3 miles per hour, all while checking and rechecking everything over and over. All this even though there were no other cars in sight!

I wondered to myself: How am I being so patient here? I’m usually much more impatient!

And then I had a deja vu moment. I remembered how excited I was to start driving close to 30 years ago. I would offer to drive my parents car at every opportunity, eager for the freedom and the experience. 

Then I recalled an incident that happened in those early stages, driving my father’s brand new car. We were on our way to pay a shiva visit to a congregant, and I pulled up at the big brown electric gate. Somehow, instead of pressing the brakes, I pressed on the gas! The car lurched forward and crashed into the gate, damaging both the gate and the car pretty badly! (That’s when I learned you must use the same leg for the break and the accelerator.)

Even though it’s been close to three decades, my experiences are clear in my  mind, and I was able to have more patience than usual.

In a spiritual sense, we are all driving at all times. The car is our body, with it’s 248 organs (corresponding to the 248 positive mitzvot) and 365 sinews (corresponding to the 365 prohibitions). By driving our cars carefully and correctly, we make this world a more spiritual place. 

It’s all too easy to get into the groove of things and switch to autopilot. That’s what most of us do when we drive. But new drivers like my daughter are cautious and aware and tuned in at every step. That’s how we need to approach our spiritual service. 

Where am I driving? Which way am I heading? Which turn will get me there? Whether it’s putting on tefillin in the morning, making an effort to get to shul to pray with a minyan, giving charity, or connecting with others … we can’t just zoom through it on autopilot. It needs to be with care and concern and forethought. Then our cars will stay in good condition and help drive us to Redemption with the coming of Moshiach.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

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