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Terror at Chabad of Poway: Our Reaction!

poway image.jpgWhen the family of 8-year-old Noya Dahan, and her uncle Almog Peretz, wanted to escape the daily barrage of missile attacks in Sderot, they searched the world for a safe haven, ultimately settling in Poway, California. Here, they thought, Noya and her younger sister Lian could have a normal childhood, free from the constant sirens, rockets, and midnight bomb shelter runs. Here they would be safe.

Alas, their brief respite was shattered this week when Chabad of Poway was attacked by a deranged gunman during services on the last day of Pesach. Lori Kaye, may G-d avenge her blood, was murdered trying to protect the rabbi. Rabbi Goldstein was shot in his hands, losing a finger. Almog Peretz jumped into action shepherding the children to safety despite being shot in the leg himself, and his niece Noya was injured by flying shrapnel. And these are just the physical wounds. The psychological impact—for the injured and everyone else present—cannot be quantified.

This new wave of hatred is both predictable and unpredictable. We know, unfortunately, it’s going to surface with relative frequency—that has become all too predictable. What we don’t know, is when and where the next attack will be. Whether it’s San Bernardino, Orlando, Brussels, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Paris, or Poway, there is a single common denominator: blind hatred.

In the past, we knew our enemies. We knew how many tanks they had, how many troops we were up against, their strengths and their weaknesses. But today we have no idea. We are fighting a war, but not the kind we are familiar with. The new war is the lone gunman, often recruited through the dark web, who is filled with unbridled anger and hatred.

To defeat this kind of evil, we have to play using their rules. They’re crazy? Unpredictable? Wild? Out of control? Then that’s what we need to be, too.

If in the past you were content to have two children, go beyond your comfort zone and have one more. Don’t know how you will afford it? Who cares! The evil forces don’t care, so we cannot either.

Were you content to give 10 percent of your earnings to charity until now? Start giving 20 percent! It’s a lot of money? It doesn’t matter! It’s time to be crazy in a holy way.

Has keeping kosher seemed too difficult whenever you’ve considered it? Stop thinking and just do it! Yes, there’s peer pressure and increased expenses, but now’s the time to extend yourself. You can do it!

Don’t keep Shabbat yet? It’s difficult, definitely, but this is not the time for calculations. It’s a time for action. Go out there and keep Shabbat. Take the leap. Just do it.

The terror is so unpredictable; we need to be just as unpredictable in our holiness. It’s our best chance for countering the forces of evil that so strongly grip our society.

Let’s hope and pray for the recovery of the sick and wounded, and for the abolition of evil in its entirety. May G-d avenge Lori’s blood, and bring peace and healing to the entire congregation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Tatty I'm Hungry"

Blog_tattty.jpgMy three-year-old daughter came to services with me on Sunday morning. I had my tefillin on and was in the middle of praying when she began to nudge, “Tatty, I’m hungry!”

 I couldn’t talk, so I motioned to her, “later.” But she continued.

After ten minutes of her nudging “Tatty, I’m hungry,” one of the congregants came over with a bagel and cream cheese for her, explaining that he comes from a family of Holocaust survivors and cannot bear to see any child hungry.  

My daughter took the bagel but didn’t touch it even though she loves cream cheese. My friend was perplexed. “I thought she was starving,” he said. “Why isn’t she eating it?”

“You have to understand what she’s saying,” I explained with a smile. “Thank G-d, she ate a very good breakfast 30 minutes ago. Thank G-d, we have food in our house and don’t starve our kids! What she meant when she said ‘I’m hungry’ is actually ‘Tatty, I want candy!’”

When my kids come to shul, I like to give them candy so they’ll have sweet memories and positive associations. I had already given her one ten minutes prior, but thinking it would get her another one, she decided to try the “Tatty, I’m hungry” tactic. Now, there’s no way my friend could have known this, and I’m grateful he tried to help. It just shows how it’s all about understanding the underlying message.

As we sit around the Passover table, ready to begin the Seder, the first thing we say is, “All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy, come and celebrate.” Of course it is a mitzvah to invite people to eat and experience the beauty of the Seder with us, but the statement is much deeper than that.

Beyond the literal invitation, it’s a call to each and every one of us to feed our souls. The same way our bodies require a nourishing breakfast each morning, our souls require spiritual infusions and inspiration.

Like my daughter, our souls call out, “I’m hungry! I’m hungry!” And we mistakenly think that the void we feel needs to be filled with physical things—a newer car, fancier food, another vacation, more money, etc. Ever wonder why Jews are so disproportionately successful in the world? It’s because we feel a deep internal void that we try every which way to fill. But really it’s the soul. The soul is hungry and the Seder is our chance to give it the nourishment it so desperately craves.

When we eat matzah, drink four cups of wine, recite the haggadah, relive the story of our Exodus—this is the spiritual “candy” the soul yearns for.

And let’s not forget, our children will be at the Seder and they are hungry too! It’s our responsibility to make it engaging for them, so they learn to satiate their soul the right way from the very start.

Theft in Our Chabad

robbery.jpgLast Monday, a staff member approached me and asked if I knew what had happened to her ipod over the weekend. She had left it in a specific place on Friday, and it was no longer there.

I hadn’t seen it, but offered to look through our security camera footage and see if we could figure it out. Fortunately we have high resolution cameras recording at all times, so I rewound to Friday afternoon and we started watching. Lo and behold, we see that at 2:00pm our cleaner came—not our regular cleaner, but a new one the company had sent—walked around, and noticed the ipod and speakers. He looked over his shoulder, realized no one was watching, and calmly slipped it into his pocket.

So, great, now we know what happened, but what next? How do I deal with the thief?

Our Chassidic masters explain that there are two ways to deal with everything in life: the long-short way and the short-long way. In this instance, the long-short way would mean calling the thief, engaging him in real conversation to understand the underlying reason of why he stole. Perhaps he’s poor, or had a troubled upbringing, and maybe he was simply tempted in the moment and regretted it immediately afterwards. It would take time and patience to build a relationship and get to the point where the thief was able to be vulnerable enough to truly open up and expose himself. And then you can come up with a solution. That might entail giving him a job, or helping him find one on his own, maintaining a connection, etc. This is surely the best and most effective method, but it is undeniably long and all-consuming.

The short-long method, on the other hand, would be to threaten him with police involvement, which would solve the immediate problem only. He would return the ipod, but would likely steal again. Nothing has really changed.

When it comes to our own problems, we have the same methods at our disposal. We can use the short-long method, which might smooth things over in the here and now, but it’s not the real work. The real work is the long-short method, which takes year of introspection, analysis and character building, but yields true, long-term results.

In this case, I must confess that I chose the short-term solution. I confronted the thief, insisted he return the ipod immediately or I would call the police, and he did. But had I had more time to invest, I should have spent the time working with him to understand and resolve the underlying issues.

In the moment, it is harder. It takes time and the results are not as immediate. But in the long term, if we want to effect real change—in ourselves or others—there is only one way: the long short way

Moshiach's arrival? On Facebook Live!

Facebook suffered its worst outage in history this week and it didn’t go unnoticed. We’ve become so used to sharing everything instantly on social media—we don’t know what to do with ourselves when we can’t! A guy who just got engaged wanted to share the wonderful news but could not, politicians had to stop campaigning for 24 hours, Chabad rabbis couldn’t invite people to their Purim parties, fundraising campaigns ground to a halt, and—shockingly—there was a total cessation of selfie-sharing.  

Most frustrating of all? There was nowhere to share the frustration! There was no way to post, “Why can’t I post anything on Facebook?” or “OMG! My Instagram isn’t working!!!”

It was like a global 24-hour time out.

As you know, I do use Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp regularly, but after some minor frustration I decided to look at this from a different perspective. What would happen if Moshiach came right now? I wondered. How would we all know?

When he arrives, there will be a grand announcement. The entire world will watch it unfold. I picture a live Facebook stream of him ascending the Mount of Olives together with the recently resurrected Moses and Aaron. We’ll all see the Temple being rebuilt and the Priests and Levites assuming their Temple service.

But if Moshiach had come right then and there, in the middle of the social media outage, we would have had a big problem! We wouldn’t know about it at all.  

Alas, he would have to find another medium to tell the world.  

But then, perhaps the outage is the real taste of the world Moshiach will herald. For 24 hours we were forced to communicate directly—in person or on the phone. In our day and age, this is revolutionary. Reaching out to a friend yesterday (a real friend, not a Facebook friend) required actual physical reaching out. And when the other options are removed, we realize how much we miss out on by having so many of our interactions behind a screen.

We are so addicted to our social media (myself included), that perhaps this was a taste of what the Era of Redemption will actually be like. Fortunately, we do have the opportunity to experience a taste of this wonderful time every week—on Shabbat. And perhaps this is the main lesson we can take away from this week’s outage. See how valuable a technology detox is, and resolve to do it every week, from sunset Friday evening until after nightfall on Saturday. Feel what it’s like to really connect with people on a personal level. Soon you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

 

“Tatty, I Had a Bad Dream…”

sleep meme.jpgI found myself solo-parenting all eight kids last weekend while my wife went to London with her sisters. I knew it would be quite a task, but I psyched myself up with the good old, “I can do this!”

And then the first night began. I went to bed feeling confident and well-intentioned. At 2:58 a.m. one of the triplets started screaming. I gave it a few minutes to see if he would self-soothe and fall back asleep, but when triplet two woke up and joined the action, I figured I only had a minute or two until the third joined in. So I swooped in with bottles for all, and decided to push off the sleep training until my wife returned.

By 3:15 a.m., I was back in my bed, drifting off to peaceful silence...

Minutes later my five-year-old was at my side with complaints about a sore voice. “Your voice hurts you? Now? At 3:20 a.m.?!” I asked, bewildered.

“Yes!” and she started talking in a croaky voice to demonstrate.

“That’s what happens to everyone when they haven’t slept!” I explained. “Why would you wake up at 3:20 to test your voice! Go back to bed.” She refused, so I let her sleep in my bed and peace reigned once more...

I snoozed off for a few minutes, until my three-year-old showed up, wanting—of all things—to get dressed and go to school. Now, on the average morning it’s nearly impossible to get my kids up and dressed and ready for school, but here she is at 3:40 a.m. insisting we get ready immediately! It took about 15 minutes to convince her that it’s the middle of the night. I had to literally go over to the window and show her that it was still dark outside before she relented and went back to bed.

It’s now roughly 4:05 a.m. and I’m back in bed deciding if I should even bother trying to get back to sleep. Lo and behold, in comes my seven-year-old, “I had a bad dream, Tatty…” I thought to myself ‘hey, you not the only one buddy”

When my wife got back from London, I shared my ordeal with her, to which she replied, “Oh, that’s a typical night for me!” And yet, she does it with love and patience because these are her children and she loves them more than anything in the world.

The truth is, we do the same thing to our Father in Heaven. We cry out to him about our problems and issues. One Jew asks for livelihood, others for children, health, shidduchim, etc. We all turn to him, day and night, with our challenges and requests. And G-d listens to each of us lovingly. Even though He is busy running the entire universe, He listens to each of our supplications with patience and compassion. He never gets frustrated about the hour of day (or night!) or the amount of requests, because He loves each of us as an only child.

60 hours, $1.5 million, 17,000 people – all for one Jew


This week I watched an incredible outpouring of love on the internet. 

You see, about a year ago, Arele, a young father of two from NYC, went into septic shock. The doctors gave him a two percent chance of survival.

Through endless miracles, he beat the odds, regaining consciousness and reconnecting with his wife and children. But in order to save his life, doctors have no choice but to amputate both his arms and legs and replace them with specialized bionic prosthetic's.

To help cover the astronomical medical costs for his bionic limbs, surgeries, therapy, rehab, and other related expenses, his family urgently needed to come up with one million dollars.

How do you come up with that type of money when you simply don't have it? It’s virtually impossible.

And yet, it worked.

His family set up a 60-hour urgent fundraising campaign to solicit funds from the international Jewish community through a platform called Charidy with a goal of one million dollars.

As a veteran fundraiser myself, I can tell you how difficult it is. Getting someone to donate $100 is hard; raising one million is nearly impossible! And most of all, it takes time. You have to cultivate donors. Get to know them personally. Develop a relationship. Let them see the cause up close so they become emotionally invested. Donors don’t just give money. They want to know that their money will be used wisely, and they want to know the cause inside and out.

A campaign this size is usually only undertaken by organizations with massive databases, like schools, yeshivas, and larger non-profits. But in this case, the fundraiser was for a single person. A simple Jew nobody had ever heard of. No organization, no email lists, no social media followers and no infrastructure.

But when the campaign started, Am Yisrael responded. Boy, did they respond!

Over 17,000 donors contributed more than 1.5 million dollars! That is an average donation of $85.

I have never seen this happen before.

You see, there’s no way that 17,000 people have ever met Arele. Maybe 100 know him well, and if you lucky 200 more have met him. The other 16,700 gave money to an individual they have never, and probably will never, meet. People gave from all over the world: South Africa, Israel, Florida, California, Sydney… from different communities and walks of life: Chabad, Bobov, Belz, Satmar, Litvish, religious, non-religious, Democrats, Republicans, you name it!

Why did they give? Simply because he is a Jew, a brother, a family in distress, and his story touched their hearts. 

This is Am Yisrael, this is the Jewish nation! We may have different opinions. We may fight, and we may argue, but at the end of the day we are one family—a single unit.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the building of the Mishkan—a sanctuary for G-d. I can think of no better way to build a home for G-d than this outpouring of love from so many Jews all over the world.

The First Bible On The Moon!

If all goes well, Israel will soon become the fourth country to land on the moon. It will also be the first full version of the Bible to arrive on the moon. The Beresheet lunar lander is scheduled to take off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 8:45pm EST, February 21, from Cape Canaveral, with an anticipated landing date of April 11. If successful, this will be the first private moon landing, as well as the smallest and least expensive—only 100 million dollars and 8 years of work - real history in the making! 

There’s something about space exploration that grips us. Millions of people around the world will be tuning in to watch the takeoff and eagerly keeping abreast of developments until the landing 4 million miles later, is successful. What is it that’s so compelling? Why do we care so much? Why do we invest so much time, effort, money, and research into discovering what’s on the moon and beyond?

We have an innate yearning to explore and discover the unknown, to find out what lies beyond that which we can see. And we will go to great lengths to obtain even the smallest sliver of information. It’s human nature; we strive to push beyond ourselves.

This, in fact, is the essence of Judaism. To be Jewish means to go beyond, to step out of our comfort zones. If we stop pushing ourselves, we stop growing spiritually, which inevitably leads to regression. Being Jewish means making an active effort to pursue more than we are comfortable with.

It’s uncomfortable to get up early each morning to have time to pray and put on tefillin before work? We do it anyway!

It’s hard to make that phone call to the sister with whom you’re not on talking terms? It’s frightening? Scary? You don’t know how it will go? Jump right in and start making amends.

You’re dating a guy and it feels right but you’re apprehensive about the future? You just can’t quite commit? At some point, it’s time to take the leap, dive right in, and commit.

It’s scary and uncomfortable to give a portion of your monthly earnings to charity? Push beyond that resistance and give generously.

We’ll all be watching Israel’s space expedition closely, but don’t forget your own exploration—go out there and pursue your Judaism with vigor and excitement and curiosity. You’ll be surprised how much you learn.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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