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Can I Please Have A Dollar?

Last week, the doorbell rang at our Chabad house. It was late afternoon and camp was already done for the day, so I went out to see who was there. 

A guy introduced himself, explained he had fallen on hard times, and said he needed a dollar because he was hungry.

“You need a dollar to buy food?” I clarified.

“Yes, please give me a dollar,” he said.

Well, knowing how much (or how little) a dollar can get you, I figured I’d do better.

Every day we order delicious and nourishing lunch for the camp children from a local restaurant. I went into the kitchen and saw that there were some nice leftovers. I put together a meal in a beautiful container, included some cutlery, and went back outside to give it to the man.

I handed him the meal and wished him bon appétite.

He looked at me and said, “I asked for a dollar.”

“You asked for a dollar to buy food,” I said. “Here’s much more than a dollar’s worth of food.”

He said “No, thank you,” and returned the meal to me.

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of chassidus, taught that every encounter and every occurrence provides us with a lesson. What was the lesson here, I wondered? I thought I’d done the right thing — done more than he’d asked — and yet I’d been summarily rejected. 

While I may not agree with his choices, I can admire his temerity and determination. He wanted that dollar and wasn’t willing to be deterred by any other offers, good as they may have been.

This weekend, we mark the 28th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It’s been 28 years since our dear, beloved Rebbe was with us physically. Together with tens of thousands of other people, I will be going to pray at his resting place, waiting in line for hours to submit my request.

We all have so many requests — for ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, and the world as a whole. But one stands above the rest: Moshiach.

We demand, we cry, we beg for G-d to send us Moshiach and the Final Redemption. All too often, G-d comes back with a counter offer. No Moshiach (yet), but here’s a good business deal to keep you happy in the meantime. No Moshiach (yet), but here’s the apartment you wanted.

We need to stand firm. No more counter offers. Just Moshiach. Now. Please.

Did You Lose An Apple Watch?

A few weeks ago we held a beautiful Hachnasat Sefer Torah to honor the new Torah scroll being dedicated to our shul. Hundreds of people came out to celebrate, starting at our home where the final letters were written, and continuing with a parade and dancing at the shul.

When I came back home after the all-day affair, I found an Apple watch that had been left behind. I put it aside, figuring the owner would quickly realize and contact me. I tried examining it for any identification, but there was none.
 
So I waited for the call.
 
But the next day no one called, nor the day after or the day after that!
 
How strange. Why hadn’t the owner called me? I couldn’t understand it.
 
I looked back at pictures of the event, trying to figure out who could have left it. Before the parade, hundreds of people flowed through our home to drink a l’chaim and write a letter in the Torah. I asked them all to put on tefillin with me, to add to the mitzvah of the day, which helped narrow the field: it was most likely a male who had taken off his watch to put on tefillin.
 
I scoured the pictures for anyone who had put on tefillin and started calling around, asking if they were missing a watch. But everyone I spoke to said no, it wasn’t theirs.
 
I became obsessed with the hunt.
 
And just then, I began studying Talmud with my 10-year-old. Interestingly, the first topic any child learns is the second chapter of Bava Metziah, which deals with hashavat aveida - the mitzvah of returning lost objects. The Talmud delves into different scenarios, including times when you can assume that the owner has despaired of ever finding the article and you can therefore keep it.
 
Based on my knowledge of this watch, it was certainly not something that the owner had despaired of finding!
 
I was determined to find the owner because it could not be that by doing a mitzvah (putting on tefillin) he would lose his expensive watch.
 
I posted on social media and texted everyone I could think of, “Did anyone lose their Apple watch?” but nothing! No response. Nada.
I was perplexed.
 
Then this past Sunday, after services, I began saying a dvar Torah addressing the concept of lost items, and I mentioned having found a watch. Immediately, Adrian came over and told me he’d lost his watch 30 days ago; is it the one I found? I asked him to tell me the colors and he easily identified it.
 
Turns out, Adrian is not on social media. But he had been searching high and low for his Apple watch! He couldn’t remember where he'd misplaced it, but he’d spent a lot of money on it, and had been desperately looking anywhere he could think of—his entire house, his car, workplace, outside, etc. He was literally on the verge of despair and now, boom! He’d found it. He was ecstatic, as was I!
 
There are three things that come unexpectedly, says the Talmud. Moshiach, a lost object, and a scorpion.
 
As Jews, we are all “lost” in a sense. Our souls are divine, spiritual entities lost in the physical, mundane world—the daily grind. We go from our coffee to the office and back again. Totally lost. But when Moshiach comes, we’ll all be found and returned. Our focus will shift to enjoying Divine spiritual pursuits and we will have no distractions from what really matters. And it will come when we least expect it!
 
Let’s hope Moshiach comes now and bring us all home!
 
Shabbat Shalom 

 

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

 

 

“Did Your Father Do to You What You’re Doing to Your Son?"

On Shavuot I was walking to shul with my sons. It’s not far from our house and I cherish the time together. The older one was riding his rib stick (since it was Yom Tov, when that is permitted), and my 10-year-old was walking next to me.

Out of nowhere, I heard someone screaming at me, “Did your father do to you what you are doing to your son?” Thinking I hadn’t heard correctly, I turned around to look at him, and saw the anger on his face as he repeated the question, “Did your father do to you what you are doing to your son?”

I was shocked and bewildered. What had I done? I was walking to shul with my son, telling him a story about King David, literally in my own world. What could I possibly have done to anger this man? I wasn’t blocking the sidewalk. I wasn’t letting my son run wild and bump into other people. We weren’t walking in the street. I wasn’t in his way. I was holding my son’s hand, walking calmly, engrossed in conversation.

The only explanation I could come up with was the fact that I was dressed as a religious Jew, with my hat, jacket, and beard, and my son was wearing his kippah and tzitzit. I guess he was concerned that I was instilling religious fanaticism and brainwashing my child. So I responded proudly, “Yes! My father did to me what I am doing to my son,” which annoyed him even more.

After I calmed down, I was able to pivot and even feel excited for this man. He looked Jewish, and who else would react so strongly to seeing an Orthodox Jew? The fact that he was so enraged indicates that he has a G-dly soul inside him, and it’s on fire, desperately yearning to connect.

If his soul was dead or cold, he would have simply ignored me and kept walking. But seeing me affected him deeply. His soul was screaming out, “Help me!”

Every Jew has a soul, which is a piece of G-d. Sometimes it’s buried so deep inside us, it takes a Jew walking down the street telling his son a story about King David to trigger our awareness.

In fact, there was a young European woman passing by whose soul was also triggered by this encounter. She saw what happened and yelled at the man, “Stop bothering him! Mind your own business!” I thanked her for standing up for me, and we got into a conversation. It turned out she, too, is Jewish.

The irony of this encounter happening on the holiday of Shavuot was not lost on me. When G-d wanted to give the Torah to the Jews, he asked them, “Who will be your guarantors?” The Jews tried to say Abraham or Isaac or Jacob, but G-d rejected these offers. Finally, they offered their children as guarantors, and G-d was satisfied.

So yes, I am proud that my father taught me the Torah and the Jewish way of life, just as his father taught him. And I will continue to teach my children, doing to them exactly what my father did to me.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

‘Hey Rabbi … You Forgot Your Child!’

This morning my wife needed me to take our triplets to school. No sweat, I figured. I got this! So she dressed them, fed them, and got them all ready, and when it came time to walk them the 8 blocks to school they went outside, stood on the steps, and demanded that I drive them.

I explained that the car wasn’t available (Shevy needed it to go to a school play for the older kids), but they were having none of it. They refused to budge. I tried to coax and even bribe them, but when the three of them gang up together it’s tough going!

Finally, I resorted to telling them, “Listen, I’m going to school and you can decide if you want to come with me. Otherwise you can stay home all day.” I counted to three and started walking.

Well, that got Avigayil moving! She decided she could handle the walk. A few steps later, Dovid joined us too. But as I continued walking, I noticed that Yehuda still hadn’t left the front steps.

I went back and tried to coax him again, but he was adamant. Car or no dice! So I counted to three again and started walking with Dovid and Avigayil, but still he wouldn’t join us. I called my wife and told her to watch him from the window to make sure he’s safe, while I kept walking with the other two to make it clear I was serious.

As I walked down the street, a passerby came over to me frantically, and said, “You forgot your child! He’s standing there all alone and it’s really dangerous!”

My initial reaction was, “Dude, I got this! Calm down. I have 8 kids—teens to toddlers—and I’m on duty 24 hours a day.”

But then I saw it from his perspective. He doesn’t know all that. He sees a distracted father, on the phone, walking with two kids and one kid left behind. It really looks like I forgot my third child! He has no idea that I’m anything but distracted. I’m on the phone with my wife, making sure my kid is safe, asking her advice, very aware that he’s back there on the steps, hoping he will cave and join us. But from his view, my child is in immediate danger and he needs to call the police or even CPS!

It struck me as an important and timely lesson. It often seems to us that G-d has abandoned us. He’s off on His “phone,” distracted, unaware of the real crises going on in the world. It feels like we are left alone to struggle through the pain and the challenges. But nothing could be further from the truth! G-d is more present than we can comprehend. He loves and cares for us like a father, always watching over us, our safety His top priority.

This weekend, we are going to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot for the 3334th time. It’s a time when G-d reveals Himself us in all His glory. Just as He revealed Himself at Sinai, He will reveal Himself to us. It’s the ideal time to recognize His presence, love, and care. So let’s open our eyes and pay attention!

Oh, and in the end, Yehuda got his way. I walked Avigayil and Dovid to school and Shevy drove Yehuda on her way to the school play.


Have a uplifting and inspiring Shavuos.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

So Much Pain In Uvalde!

Shock.

Horror.

Pain.

Grief.

Outrage.

The horrific murder of 19 beautiful children and 2 innocent adults rocked our nation—and the entire world—this week. Our hearts are heavy, our eyes filled with tears. We cry for the Uvalde community, and pray for the comfort and healing of all the families.

This massacre, perhaps more than any other, has hit home. We’ve all been students. We all know teachers. Many of us are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We know the purity of children and absolute ferocity of parental love.

This was no accident. This was brutal, targeted evil. This deranged gunman first shot his own grandmother and even had the audacity to post about it on social media – the sheer chutzpah!

In a school. A school! The place many of our children spend the majority of their waking hours. A safe place. A refuge.

As a father, my heart clenches painfully when I think about the families and children of Robb Elementary School. Words are inadequate. How can we even begin to fathom their pain and their longing?

And the fear spreads to every student and every teacher in this country. What happened in Uvalde can happen anywhere. The anxiety is palpable.

There have been more than 200 mass shootings in the US in 2022, which means that there have been more mass shootings than days this year.

So what can we do? What is our response?

We can never wipe away the tears of the families in Uvalde; but we can try to combat the dark forces of evil that led us here. The only answer in the face of such monstrosity is love and good deeds. The only way to combat darkness is to bring extra light into the world. Each mitzvah we perform, each resolution we make, will help begin to wipe our tears.

Let’s bring G-d into our lives, lets educate our children about G-d, about loving Him and about praying to Him

Let’s keep the families and victims in our hearts and minds, let’s pray for them and dedicate our mitzvot to their healing.

Let’s pray for an era where there will be no more violence, murder, or bloodshed! 

May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach right now!

Facebook’s Hilarious Translations!

Lately, when I open my Facebook account everything is in English. I’m sure there’s a setting I need to adjust to change it back to the original Hebrew, but for now I can’t seem to figure it out. So I’ve been reading my Israeli friends’ posts in Facebook’s automatic English translation, and it’s become an ongoing source of entertainment.

One read, “Mazal tov to me!” Hmm…I wondered. Did you get a new job? Did you have a baby? Why post mazal tov to yourself without telling us what the mazal tov is?

But when I clicked on the button to see the original text, I realized he wrote, “Mazal tov, Eli!” In Hebrew “eli” can be read as the name Eli, or as “elai” meaning, “to me.” Clearly, the Facebook algorithm doesn’t know the difference!

In another post, a fellow rabbi wrote, “Mazal tov to the young couple that I corrupted last night.” Oh my gosh, what did this rabbi do?! Perhaps I shouldn’t find out…

Turns out the original read, “Mazal tov to the young couple that I married off last night.” I still don’t know how Facebook interpreted that as corrupted, unless they know something about marriage that I don’t!

Next came a post from a woman going on and on about her husband, Chaim, but when I clicked on the original text I discovered she was talking about animals. In Hebrew, “baalei chayim” means animals, but Facebook read it as “my husband, Chaim,” which is not technically incorrect.

Then I saw a post advertising a Sunday carnival with, “Let’s make a mess!” Huh?

I laughed when I saw the Hebrew, “Yalla balagan!” They clearly haven’t gotten the hang of Israeli slang.

For someone like me, who reads and understands both Hebrew and English perfectly, these translations are annoying. They’re never accurate, and seeing the original would serve me better.

I understand why it’s needed—after all, if the post was in a different language I didn’t understand at all, I would appreciate the translation, even if not entirely accurate.

So yes, technology is incredible, and the instant translation is something we couldn’t have dreamed of not that long ago, but at the end of the day, an algorithm can never replace a human.

And that’s important for us to keep in mind as well. We wake up in the morning and follow our routine. We exercise, pray, go to work, come home, go to sleep … hopefully we managed to put on tefillin somewhere in there, do some mitzvot, say some blessings.

But when we do the same thing day after day, we run the risk of switching to autopilot. We stop thinking about why we’re doing what we’re doing. We forget that it’s all about connecting and developing our relationship with G-d; not just checking items off our to-do list.

Judaism has to stay fresh and exciting. Every day we must challenge ourselves to dig deeper, aspire higher, and become better people.

We cannot allow ourselves to be on auto-translate (or auto-pilot)!

 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Random Phone Call Results In Legacy Gift

About 12 years ago, the phone rang in our Chabad office.

Calls and messages of all sorts come in on a typical day: people asking about minyan times, kosher food, programs, services, hospital visits, etc. The requests are frequent and we try to help as much and as often as possible.

The call that came in 12 years ago was slightly different. An elderly woman introduced herself as Isabelle and explained that she had a problem: Chanukah was coming up and she realized that her menorah was stuck on top of her cupboard in a place she couldn’t reach. Could we please help her retrieve it? She’d Googled Chabad and we had come up…
 
Well, it wasn’t the typical request, but we’re here to help with whatever people need!
 
Every Chanukah we have dozens of Chabad students combing the streets, giving out menorahs and donuts, so we dispatched a couple to her apartment. Not only did they help her retrieve her menorah, they gave her candles, donuts, and spent time sharing words of Torah, stories, laughter, and light.
 
And that’s how Isabelle got onto our mailing list. I didn’t see or hear from here until a couple of years later.
 
Two wonderful women in our community had met Isabelle and developed a beautiful friendship, spending time together on a weekly basis. Seeing the cholent and other food we often have left over after our abundant weekly kiddush, they asked if they could take some for Isabelle. Of course I said yes, so week after week Isabelle participated in our kiddush, if from afar.
 
Then one day she arrived at shul with her two beloved friends, and we finally met in person and had a delightful conversation. She was intelligent and interesting, knowing what to say and—most importantly!—how to say it.

A few years later, on a random motzei Shabbat, I received a call on the Chabad office line from an attorney. He said that unfortunately Isabelle had passed away, and she had left a note saying that she wanted me to perform her funeral. Of course I agreed, and we had a moving funeral with her small group of friends.

Isabelle was a beautiful woman, both inside and out, and held herself with grace and poise. She was a fiercely loyal friend and often spoke about the deep love she had shared with her husband, and how proud she was of her son’s accomplishments in the art world. Sadly, both had passed away years earlier.  


At her funeral I found out that Isabelle actually had a tremendous estate and that she had bequeathed her entire estate to about 30 charities. I was stunned! What a beautiful testament to her kindness and generosity! Helping so many Jewish charities in such a meaningful way.

Our Chabad center received a generous check of $80,000, which we used for our preschool. So if you come to visit our brand new, state-of-the-art preschool, you will see a beautiful plaque in loving memory of this wonderful woman.
 
May the merit of all the learning of the preschool children be a tremendous zchus for the Neshama of Isabelle!  

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Thank you Hashem For Saving My Life!

Since all the kids were home from school last week, we decided to attempt a family chol hamoed trip. Trying to find a destination that will satisfy all ages, from teens to triplets, is no easy feat! With some convincing, we settled on the Nickelodeon amusement park at American Dream Mall.

Since I have a paralyzing fear of heights, we split up. I took the triplets around, and my wife went with the older kids. Taking the three little ones around is hard work, but I had a great time going on all the safe, slow baby rides. The carousel was my favorite!

But then my 8-year-old decided she wanted me to go on a ride with her. I asked which one, and she chose the swings. Well, swings sound safe enough, so I agreed. We got in line, and during the 45-minute wait I had ample time to observe and analyze, examine and fret. It seemed a little scarier than I had expected, but there were no ups and downs, just round and round, and I figured I could handle it.

So I hopped onto the ride, right next to my daughter Sara, psyching myself up. “You got this! You can do this!”

But then the ride began and my heart started pounding. It got higher and higher, then faster and faster, but when it started going up and down, that’s when all hell broke loose for me!

I started chanting every chapter of Psalms that I know and begged G-d to save my life. I made calculations about our survival chances based on where we might land, and how to best protect my daughter. We must have been 60 feet in the air!

Then every article I’ve ever read about amusement park rides gone wrong swam through my head. What if the swing snaps? What if we fall off?

My stomach was going up and down, and the faster we went the harder I prayed. “Stop! Please stop!” I begged. But of course no one could hear me over the ride.

Meanwhile, my daughter was having the time of her life!

When the ride finally stopped, I stumbled off, head spinning, trying to regain some iota of composure. I felt like I should stop and say Birkat Hagomel — the blessing said in front of the Torah to thank G-d for saving one’s life!

At the same time, I hear my daughter saying, “Tatty, Tatty, let’s go again!”

I realized she was serious and I muttered something about it being late and having to head home.

But a little later, when my heart calmed and my head stopped spinning, I started thinking. How can it be that the very same ride produces such wildly different outcomes? For me, the ride was torture, I was sure I was dying. But for my daughter, the faster and higher it went, the more fun she was having.

This, I realized, is the story of our lives. We’re all here on the ride of life for 120 years. And it’s no smooth sailing kiddie ride. There are ups and downs, and spins of all sorts.

We can choose to enjoy it, or we can choose to dread it.

How is it that my daughter feels so free to enjoy the ride? Because she trusts its operation. She knows someone built it, someone is operating it, someone is in control. This allows her to sit back and enjoy the thrills.

We, too, know that Someone created the world. We know He is operating it and in control of every moment of every day.

There are bumps, definitely. There are volatile ups and downs globally and in our personal lives. And it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that G-d is running it all. But if we can tap into that knowledge, and really feel His involvement, we can sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

My Car Accident With My Brand New Car

I’ve driven a minivan for the last 15 years. It’s a car that almost seems like it was made with Chabad families in mind. It’s not quite big enough for all of us, but it’s the closest to what we need, and we appreciate it daily. 

Alas, my lease expired at the end of last year, and no new minivans were available. With the chip shortage and other supply chain issues, not to mention the growing popularity of car travel during all the shutdowns, there were simply no minivans to be had. So I extended the lease on my old car for the time being.

Recently the leasing department let me know that they have new cars, but they’re in short supply. Of course, I rushed over, not wanting to lose out, and turned in my old car for a brand new minivan.

The old car was in pretty bad shape. Three and a half years of driving and parking in NYC traffic will do that. Not to mention daily living with eight kids … Neither the exterior nor the interior were in anything close to mint condition.

So you can imagine how proud I was to drive out in our brand new shiny car. I gave my kids strict instructions that no food is allowed in the car until next week so we don’t even have to Pesach clean it. I was enjoying the new car smell, fresh, polished, clean, smooth leather, no scratches or dents, not a single crumb to be found … ahhh.

Now, every week Shevy and I go on a coffee date, and that was our first drive in the new car. We were on East 85th Street, waiting patiently for the light to turn green, chatting and having a good time, when out of nowhere we felt a tremendous boom! I got out of the car to see what had happened and realized that an elderly man pulling out of a parking lot hadn’t checked his rearview mirror and had plowed right into our brand new Honda minivan! Just our luck. 

I was so frustrated. I’d been driving extra carefully and really did not need this on our first drive. It couldn’t have waited a couple of months?!

The whole side door was bent out of shape, knocked in, scratched. Thank G-d, Shevy and I were safe. The driver apologized and we took down his insurance information.

And as I recovered, I started to wonder what lesson I could take away from the experience.

Nothing in this world happens randomly. Everything is Divinely orchestrated. Yes, the elderly man was G-d’s agent to damage our newly minted vehicle on its very first ride, but he was just that—an agent. Hashem is the one in control. He’s the one who wanted this to happen to us.

Do I know what He was trying to tell me? What message He wanted to send? I do not. But perhaps it was this: “Hey, Vigler! Don’t be so proud of your new car. A car is just a tool to transport you from place to place. Focus more on going to the right places and doing the right things, and less on how you get there.”

We’re about to sit down for the Pesach Seder, where we thank Hashem for taking us out of Egypt, and redeeming us from our worries and pain. Every single day is a spiritual journey to get us to our destination.

Let’s focus on the critical components so that we experience Pesach in the best manner possible, and enjoy freedom in the truest sense of the word.

Chag sameach!

Beautiful Weekend In Palm Beach!

Last week, we spent a magical impromptu Shabbat with my brother and sister-in-law, and their community at Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

I was in Miami for a meeting with our Belev Echad soldiers, scheduled to return to NY for Shabbat, but my wife suggested she and the kids join me for the weekend in Florida instead.

My initial reaction was “No way! How will you fly by yourself with all the kids?” But Shevy was determined and started looking for flights. Tickets were expensive, but she didn’t give up, and eventually found and booked very cheap ones—with a caveat: It was a Friday flight, landing in Miami airport, but since Shabbat came in late we would have enough time to make it to Palm Beach before Shabbat.

Somehow, Shevy made it to the airport with all eight kids! But once they were settled on the plane, the plane went nowhere.

One hour, and then another, they sat on the tarmac.

Finally, the pilot announced that they were delayed because of poor weather in Miami. Meanwhile, the weather in Miami was fine! I joked to Shevy, “Tell the pilot your husband is looking out the window in Miami and it’s perfectly clear and fine!”

The longer the plane idled, the more our window to get from Miami to Palm Beach before Shabbat shrank. But getting off the plane was not an option, so we hoped and prayed for the best.

It was nerve wracking, but we figured it’s just one weekend. We don’t normally do this. The discomfort will be short lived.

Finally, the plane took off, and I headed to the airport to meet them. I arranged to have a car pick us all up and rush us directly from Miami airport to Palm Beach before Shabbat, at the same time trying to come up with a backup plan in case we didn’t make it.

To make matters worse, traffic was terrible, and even once we made it into the car with all our luggage and all our humans (double counted to make sure we didn’t forget anyone!), we crawled.

And again, I reminded myself, “It’s just one weekend. Soon we’ll be home.”

Now, on Friday afternoon after Shabbat comes in, there is an additional 18 minutes until the actual onset of Shabbat, which can be used in urgent situations. We made it literally in the last minute of those 18 minutes. Whew!

My brother gave us a beautiful guest room, and the kids were supposed to sleep with their cousins. But as we settled in that night, one triplet decided to sleep with us, and then another and another… Soon enough, their older sister insisted on sleeping with us and their brother too. So we ended up sharing our room with five out of our eight kids!

As I crawled into my bed, trying not to step on anyone, I figured, “this is only for two nights; soon we’ll be home,” and I imagined my comfortable bed at home with all the kids sleeping in their own rooms.

In the morning, I woke up with kids everywhere and a crick in my neck, but again I consoled myself: “It’s only temporary.”

And then on Sunday our return flight was meant to land in NY early evening, so we could go straight home and put the kids to bed at a normal time. But alas, that Sunday thousands of flights were canceled, leaving thousands of people stranded, unable to return home.

Our flight kept getting delayed again and again and again.

Finally, we arrived home at 2am and put all the kids to bed. And all we could tell ourselves was, “This is just a weekend experience. Our kids had fun with their cousins, so it was worth it even with all the discomfort and inconveniences.”

And as I finally crawled into my bed, at home, with no kids in the room, I realized this entire trip had been a lesson for me. You see, we live in this world very temporarily—120 years if we’re lucky.

This is not our real home. We are only traveling, passing through. And so we need to focus on the real things; the important things. Things like amassing Torah and mitzvot. That’s what counts in our real home.

We can manage without the luxuries and creature comforts. We’re just traveling—we can manage with the essentials only.

Next week, when we sit around our Pesach Seder table and we proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem!” — that is when we will finally be home! 

Thank You, Sarah, for Making Me So Happy

Purim was extremely busy for me this year. We planned a party for 550 people on Purim night, which completely sold out. But human nature (and Jewish nature!) is such that as soon as people hear “sold out,” they suddenly feel “must desperately attend!” So our office was absolutely flooded with calls from people trying to use every connection they could to get in.

Then on Purim day I had a breakfast event with our visiting wounded Belev Echad soldiers planned, followed by an indoor street fair where we were expecting another 600 people.

Suffice it to say, Purim was extremely hectic, and of all days that’s when my Whatsapp—my primary means of communication—stopped working.

Now, we have a wonderful family in our neighborhood who have become close friends. They are elderly Holocaust survivors with a beautiful daughter. Since Covid began, they have been unable to attend shul, and were not able to join any of our Purim festivities.

A few days before Purim, I arranged for some yeshiva students to go and read the megillah and celebrate with them at night and again during the day. But Daylight Savings Time had just come into effect, and the yeshiva students weren’t able to get there until 10pm, when the family was already sleeping.

I felt awful, and decided to do the morning visit and megillah reading myself, before I got caught up in the day. No matter how many other things I had to do, I decided to make this my priority.

We went to their house, brought them Mishloach Manot, danced together, read the megillah, talked, and shared the joy of the holiday. And while I was there, an interesting thing happened: I had come to bring them joy, but in the end I experienced intense joy myself! In fact, I think I derived more joy from the encounter than they did!

And so I’m grateful. Thank you, Sarah, for giving me and my kids so much joy and happiness.

You see, we live in a world programmed to make us think our lives are miserable. Think of all the advertisements that pop up on your feed. All the things they tell us we need - if only we had them, we’d be happy. That car, that new phone, the trip to the Bahamas.

But the truth is, none of this will bring true joy. All it does is temporarily distract us, and then the yearning for the next one crops up.

True happiness comes from those quiet moments, when nobody is around, and you are able to bring joy to another human being – that is real simcha!

So let’s seek out those opportunities to help others; and in the process, we’ll be helping ourselves.

If you would like to visit this special family as well please reach out.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

 

The Current War Is A Sign Of The Imminent Arrival Of Moshiach

I filled up my car with gas this week, and the numbers just kept rising. It used to cost $40, but now I watched it climb to $50, then $60, only coming to a stop in the $70 range.

Wow. I’d better get used to walking more!

Wherever in the world you live, this war has affected you in some way. If you’re American, you’re feeling it at the gas pump and the grocery store. Your stocks may have risen or fallen dramatically, but definitely not stayed stable.

Ukrainians, like my cousin Rabbi Shneor Vigler, are most affected by this war. He and his wife had been living in Odessa for close to 20 years. It was their home; where they raised their family. And then, in a moment, he had to make the decision to escape, fleeing across the border, traveling for days by boat, car, and foot.

Russians, too, are affected by this war. As are residents of any of the border towns close to Ukraine who have had a sudden massive influx of refugees. Add to that the fear that the war may spread to other countries and ignite World War Three … no one is untouched by this volatile situation.

It is clear we are living in the era right before the coming of Moshiach. The Talmud tells us that right before the Final Redemption there will be significant wars between nations. I have no doubt that what is happening between Russia and Ukraine right now is a sign of his imminent arrival.

In the last recorded talk that the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave, exactly 30 years to the day from the start of the current war, he spoke about the falling of the Iron Curtain, and how miraculous it was that it happened without bloodshed. The fact that Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel freely was a taste of what is to come with the coming of Moshiach. The Rebbe continued, and said that even if there is a country or two where Jews are forced to flee, it doesn’t change the overall ability for Jews to move to Israel in peace and harmony, and even those Jews being forced to flee will arrive unharmed. It’s almost like the Rebbe was speaking prophetically about the current war in Ukraine which broke out 30 years later, to the very day of his talk!

But the real lesson for each of us is on a smaller scale.

Look how much power one individual has to affect others. One person decides to go to war, and we all feel it. One person has single-handedly unleashed a tidal wave that is sweeping through the world, sparing no one in its path.

We, too, need to go to war—but not this kind of war. Every time we do a good deed, we create an angel that can travel the globe and affect the entire planet. Every mitzvah we do creates a superweapon. Every time we give tzedakah, put on tefillin or speak kindly to someone, we create good deeds. The more we do, the stronger our army gets, and the more power we can unleash over the world and usher in the era of Moshiach when there will be no more war and bloodshed, and armies will lay down their weapons in peace.

May we witness his coming right now!

Chabad Rabbis Unleash Nuclear Arsenal!

We all have our eyes glued to the war in Ukraine, and with the combination of smartphones and social media, we can literally watch everything live as it happens.

It’s like watching a horror film.

Most frightening is Russia’s arsenal of 6000 nuclear warheads—more than any other country in the world, including the US. And the modern day nuclear weapons make the bombs dropped on Hiroshima look like child’s play.

Russia has the capacity to level every major city in the world; who can fight against that? A single nuclear bomb has so much power that it can literally destroy the entire state of New York or California. So when Russia announced that it was putting its nuclear arsenal on high alert this week, it sent a wave of fear and dread across the world.

But practically, what can we do?

We need to counter Russia’s threat by unleashing our own nuclear weapons—spiritual ones. Our arsenal of goodness and kindness is far more powerful than Putin’s warheads.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. There are over 200 Chabad couples serving 160 communities in 52 cities throughout Ukraine, and all have been in high gear over the past week, going to all lengths to help and support those in need. 

I heard Rabbi Wolf, Chabad rabbi in Cherson, being interviewed this week. He’s been helping Jews shelter and escape around the clock, and said that all his training has been for this week alone. He was exhausted, in tears, overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support he has received from all over the world. Suddenly it makes no difference if you are religious, secular, right wing, left wing, conservative, or orthodox—everyone has been reaching out to help. What a beautiful nation!

In Zhitomir, Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm stayed behind and made sure that bus after bus of Jews from his city could evacuate. Only then did he board the final bus himself. If that is not nuclear, then what is?

In another Chabad house, in the middle of Shabbat, a Jew walked in and cried out to the rabbi, Pinchus Vishetzki: “Rabbi, I have no gas! My tank is empty and there is no gas at any station in the area.  I just want to save my family.”

The Rabbi did not hesitate. He pulled out his car keys and said, “My car has a full tank. Take your wife and children to safety”.

The Jew began to cry and asked, “And what about you, Rabbi?"

“I'll manage,” the Rabbi reassured him. “Go save your family!”

If that is not unleashing your most powerful nuclear weapon, what is?

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Osman of Chabad in Kiev, in a thunderous and crackling voice, says, “I'm not afraid to be killed; I won't leave the people here. We are helping the innocent population. Women, old people and children. Food for mothers who protect their children in the shelter. Medicines for elderly people that can die without them.”

Is that not nuclear?

To unleash a nuclear warhead, you don’t need an army. You just need a single person, doing a simple act, like pushing a button.

The same is true with spiritual nuclear weapons. Each of us individually can unleash their power.   Surely if a nuclear bomb can literally destroy the word, our nuclear powers of goodness can save it.

Will we all perish? I promise you, we will be fine! How am I so certain? Because G-d is the boss and G-d is in control, and He would never allow the world that He built to be destroyed. Is this war a sign that the coming of Moshiach is close? Without a doubt!

So go out today and do a mitzvah for Jews in Ukraine, and beg G-d to end this madness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

United With Ukraine

The world woke up on Thursday to war in Ukraine. A terrifying war by one of the largest and most powerful armies on the planet. The potential for loss of life is staggering.  And considering the sheer strength of modern-day armies, we have no idea what the future will bring, or even the next hour. 

If you think this war will only affect people living in Zhitomir, Kharkiv, Dnieper and Kyiv, think again. It's 2022, and this can turn into a world war with little notice. 

This war affects every person in the world for other reasons too. Not just the fear, or stock market, or rising prices, but because the people in Ukraine are our brothers and sisters. Their pain is our pain; their hardship is our hardship. They are family. 

I have a cousin in Odessa, Rabbi Shneur Vigler. I asked him why he didn’t leave Ukraine in the last 10 days. “Aren’t you afraid? There have been so many warnings! The Israeli government urged all Israeli citizens to leave before it’s too late and the borders close.” 

He explained that he and his fellow Chabad rabbis have all committed to remaining with their communities and providing as much assistance as possible despite the danger. Now, that’s self sacrifice! My cousin and his colleagues had every single reason to escape with their families to the safety of Israel, but instead they chose to remain with their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. 

I once spent Pesach in Ukraine. I was a 19-year-old Yeshiva student studying in Israel and I heard that Chabad in Ukraine was seeking volunteers to lead public Passover Seders throughout the country. So I volunteered. I was young, full of energy, and excited to embark on this new and different mission.

Looking back, I was also very naive. I found myself in the city of Shepetivka, population 40,000, including 200 Jews, where indoor plumbing and electricity were either non-reliable or non-existent. Our bathroom was outdoors and we had hot water for only one hour per day. On the eve of Passover, the electricity shut down and we had to draw water from a well.

I missed the Seders at home with my family, and I missed the modern conveniences I had been raised with. I couldn't wait for the holiday to end.

Why was I there? I didn't even share a language with the 200 local Jews! I didn't speak a single word of Ukrainian, and my translator apparently didn't understand a word of English! But we managed to communicate the basics. When it was time to eat matzah, everyone ate matzah. When it was time to drink wine, everyone drank wine. And everyone understood that we were there to celebrate our freedom. So 200 Ukrainian Jews had a Seder that year.

Fast forward 23 years to 2022: Judaism in Ukraine is flourishing. There are over 200 Chabad couples serving 160 communities in 52 cities. This impressive network boasts 49 educational centers, 7 orphanages, 32 soup kitchens, as well as synagogues, mikvahs and community centers.

Ukraine is the birthplace of the Rebbe, and is where his father served as chief rabbi. The Chabad Menorah Center in Ukraine is not only the biggest Chabad center in the world, it’s the biggest Jewish center as well. Our roots there are deep.

And now, Chabad is at the forefront of caring for the Ukrainian Jewish community during this crisis. Our rabbis and rebbetzins have selflessly remained behind to be with their communities—providing food, supplies, a comforting shoulder, emergency aid, and opening up their Chabad houses as shelters. And although we may not be with them physically, we are with them nonetheless. 

How can we help?

In our arsenal, we have two incredible weapons: prayer, and good deeds. Let’s storm the heavens and demand that G-d end the war and reinstate peace in the region. 

And please take a minute to send a contribution to our brothers and sisters in Odessa, who are literally stockpiling food for the community there. Use this link to donate, and pray for the safety and wellbeing of all Ukrainians.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

How a Homeless Jew Came Home

In the middle of summer, as I was walking up First Avenue, I stopped outside a magnificent building, admiring its structure, fantasizing about housing our Chabad center there. I began to imagine where the shul and classrooms would be. I envisioned thousands of people coming in and out on a daily basis. I was mesmerized, until I was jolted out of my daydream by a “Hey! What are you staring at?”

And that’s how I met Simon*, a 73-year-old Jew who has been living in homeless shelters after a spate of bad luck 40 years ago, in which he lost his home and all of his possessions. He struck me as a deeply intelligent, worldly and knowledgeable person.

Of course, I asked him to put on tefillin, but he adamantly refused. “Never did it and never will.”

I asked Simon how I could reach him, since he doesn’t have a phone, and he gave me his email address. I invited him to attend our Simchat Torah services and was pleasantly surprised when he showed up and danced and had a great time.

Over the following months Simon stopped by my office many times. We had lots of good conversations, but each time I asked him to put on tefillin he refused.

Now, I like a challenge. So the more he resisted, the more determined I became. He had never even had a bar mitzvah! But because he is so intelligent, he used every argument in the book against me, consistently refusing.

Simon has no phone, no wallet, no bank account, no home, no possessions. The only thing he possessed was a laptop to check his email. And one day, he put his bag down for a moment and it was stolen. “Why would someone steal my laptop?” he asked me. “Why?!”

“If G-d gives me a laptop, I will put on tefillin,” he declared.

Well, I knew what I had to do. “I would be happy to be G-d’s emissary and give you a laptop,” I said.

But Simon was hesitant. He didn’t like the sound of it. He felt like I was kind of forcing him to put on tefillin. But the laptop was enticing. He took two weeks to think about it, then came back to pick up the brand new laptop I had asked someone to donate.

I rolled up his sleeve, wrapped the tefillin, and then took out the Shema, thinking I would need to read it word for word for him to repeat. And then Simon astounded me! He bellowed the Shema so loudly, with every fiber of his being and all the energy his 73-year-old body could muster. I thought the walls were shaking!

And for that moment in time, Simon was not homeless. He had come home, connected to millions of other Shema-saying Jews worldwide, bonded to G-d Almighty in the most powerful way.

Remember the building I was dreaming about? With thousands of Jews walking in and out daily? This is that building, I realized! Nothing can give Hashem more pleasure than this homeless Jew putting on tefillin and saying Shema, creating another brick in the Third Temple which will be rebuilt very soon. 

As Simon proceeded to recite the rest of the Shema flawlessly and with meaning (I have no idea how he knew to read Hebrew like that!), I thanked G-d for allowing me to do this beautiful mitzvah—a laptop for tefillin.

 

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Have a great Shabbos

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

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