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English Blog

Six Hours of Panic

On Monday morning we celebrated a beautiful Bar Mitzvah at our shul. I took a selfie with the bar mitzvah boy and his family and posted it on my Instagram and Facebook stories. I thought it would inspire others to pray and put on tefillin.

 
But when I checked to see how many people had viewed the story, the number was unusually low—barely 100, when it should be closer to 1,000. “How strange,” I thought. “Let me refresh the page.” But no matter how many times I refreshed, the number didn’t move. And it was a great picture!
 
Then I Whatsapped a community member to check on the status of her mezuzot and I noticed the message wasn’t going through. Then it dawned on me that my phone had been atypically silent for the last few minutes. Where were all the hundreds of messages that usually come in non-stop? I assumed the issue was my wifi, so I went outside and kept hitting refresh.
 
When that didn’t help, it hit me that something must be wrong, which a quick Google instantly confirmed.
 
As everyone now knows, Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram were down for a full business day, wreaking havoc on billions across the globe.
 
And I, like so many others, panicked. You see, I’m in the inspiration business, and social media is my primary tool. My job is to reach out and inspire people. To come to shul, to give charity, to get closer to G-d, to study Torah. And I communicate through Instagram, Facebook, and especially Whatsapp.
 
Whatsapp is my lifeline. Without it, I feel imprisoned. Constricted. Inhibited. I use it to communicate with my family in South Africa and Israel, to plan with my team, to collaborate with Chabad rabbis across the globe, and to reach out to individuals.
 
It felt like a snow day. Like Shabbat. Like the holidays all over again.
 
It was also a wakeup call.
 
Social media is here today but gone tomorrow, I realized. All those friends, followers, likes, and comments can disappear in the blink of an eye. And what did they really mean?
 
Does it really matter how many followers you have on Instagram? How many friends on Facebook? How many Whatsapp groups you’re in? For six hours, I, and billions of others, had time to contemplate that.
 
What we can ensure, I concluded, is that we have the one follower Who actually counts: G-d. It is He Who we need to impress. His comments we should be seeking. And no matter how many apps and sites go down, He remains equally available at all times. He won’t let us down.
 
So deeply have we come to rely on people being instantly available, that we may have neglected to communicate with the One Who is truly always there, at all times, in all conditions.
 
Let’s pause for a moment, think about that, and commit to talking to Him more. Unlike the internet, we can be assured He won’t let us down.
 
Shabbat Shalom
 
Rabbi Uriel Vigler

‘Rabbi, I Need a Hug’

It was Erev Yom Kippur, probably the busiest day of the year for any rabbi. I was in my office, stressed, trying to manage the constant inundation. The phone was ringing non-stop, I was receiving texts and Whatsapps with all kinds of halachic questions, and at the same time I had my own preparations to do. People were calling to ask about fasting. One wanted to know if he could take Tylenol, another called to ask about fasting while pregnant. Others were looking to donate before the holiday began, and I still had my speeches to write, which take many hours of preparation! 


And then Gilad* called. “Rabbi,” he said, “I need to meet you.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “How is the week after Sukkot, when I am stress-free and can give you my attention?”
“No, I need to meet you today!” he said. 
“Today? Are you kidding?” I thought. “Is it an emergency?” I asked. 
“Yes, yes it is,” he said. 

Well, my primary job is helping people, and if someone tells me he needs me urgently I drop everything to help. And if it happens to be one of the busiest days of the year, so be it. 

“Sure, come to my office,” I said. 
“I’m already here,” he told me, and rang the bell. 

We sat down and Gilad began to tell me his story. He served in the IDF and then came to New York, he explained. “Rabbi, I’ve had a really rough year,” he said, crying now. “It’s not easy. I’m in pain, I’m far from my family who are all in Israel. Do you know why I needed to meet you today, urgently? I need a hug.” 

Immediately, I got up and gave him a long hug. “Let me also give you a spiritual hug,” I offered, and helped him put on tefillin. I also invited him to join our community for the entire Yom Kippur, which he did. Over the course of the day I made sure to check in with him, hug him, and make sure he truly felt among family. Afterwards he told me he had an incredible experience. 

Throughout Yom Kippur, I couldn’t stop thinking about Gilad. I’m so glad he reached out! And I thought to myself: We are all like Gilad. We’ve all had a rough year. A tough 18 months in fact. The world has changed and no one has been unaffected. Don’t we all need a giant hug?!

G-d A-mighty, we are all Gilad. We demand you give us a hug — a warm, massive, tight hug. We don’t care how busy you are. 

In fact, this is what the holiday of Sukkot is all about. Our sages explain that the Sukkah is actually G-d’s embrace, and as we sit in it, he is holding us tight, telling us, “I got you.” 

A sukkah is considered kosher for use with only two walls, and a third wall the height of a fist. Just like a person who hugs with two arms and a fist, the sukkah is G-d telling us, “No matter what’s going on in the world, don’t worry, I’m with you, I’m holding you, I’ve got you.” 

May we all enjoy His embrace this Sukkot. 

Chag Sameach.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler


*Name changed to protect privacy.

20 Years of Training – Boom!

The American army was never meant to stay in Afghanistan long term. They were always there to train the local Afghan army and eventually withdraw. Our army, the mightiest and most powerful in the world, poured trillions of dollars into the effort. Twenty years, countless hours and resources, sophisticated weapons and strategies, so that when it counted, they would be able to defend themselves.

And after 20 years, America finally pulled out. Would all the effort pay off? Would the training work?

There may have been some doubt, but absolutely nobody predicted that things would backslide so miserably and so very, very quickly.

The world watched in horror as the Taliban overpowered the Afghan army in less than a week. All that effort, all that training, gone.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that there is a lesson for us in everything we observe. And I see a strong parallel to our lives from what’s going on in Afghanistan.

You see, each of us faces a similar moment of truth. We’re here to make the world a better place, to refine our surroundings, and combat the negative opposing forces. On top of that, each soul is sent down into this world for a specific mission. A pivotal moment. Something only we can accomplish.

And G-d, the supreme King of Kings, the One Who is truly in control, gives us His best, most powerful weapon—the G-dly soul. He spends years training us. Before we come into this world, our souls bask in Divine radiance, recognizing the truth and true pleasure, so that when it descends into this murky world, it will be able to recognize and pursue truth and G-dliness. 

He equips us with everything we need to succeed in battle. All the tools, training, and knowledge for our journey. And eventually, at some point in time, we will all face that moment of truth. Our battle. The time it counts the most.

We don’t know what or when it will be. Will we be asked to tolerate someone else’s opinion? Give a friend a ride even though it’s inconvenient? Will we be asked to give away our hard earned money to a good cause? Have unconditional love for those who challenge us the most?

Will we be challenged to light Shabbat candles and put away our devices for 25 hours even though an important deal is in the works? To forgo a non-kosher meal with someone who may not be as understanding as we would like?

And when that day comes, in whichever form we are challenged, what will we do? Will we utilize the tremendous arsenal of tools G-d has given us? Will we fight the battle until we overcome it? Or will we crumble and fade away?

We may question how much our personal battle counts in the greater scheme of things. But Maimonides tells us that we should view the world as a scale, at all times potentially hanging in equal balance between good and evil, mitzvot and aveirot. Our next deed could be the one that makes all the difference, and tips the scale, cosmically pushing the entire world over the edge to a better place. We are individuals, yes, but our actions affect the entire world.

With the High Holidays just around the corner, this is more important than ever. As we gear up to reunite with G-d, and recrown Him as our Eternal Monarch, we look to do teshuvah, and double down on our battle against lethargy, temptation, and evil. It’s time to dust off that toolbox He’s equipped us with, and get to work, so that when it most counts, we rise to the challenge and win the war.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

My Daughter Learned to Ride a Bike!

One of my goals this summer was to teach my daughter Mussya how to ride a bike. I’ve done it with the rest of my kids, but they all used training wheels and it took a while to get the hang of it. Mussya, however, was adamant and determined. All her older siblings know how to ride and she wanted to too. So I figured we could skip the training wheels and get straight to it.

And this week she accomplished it like a champ!

Skills required: Confidence. Belief in yourself. And being unafraid to fall.

And fall many times she did. She tried, fell, got back on and tried again. And again. And again. It took a couple of days, and lots of encouragement. I can’t count how many times I told her, “I know you can do it!” There were times I almost gave up, but not her. She insisted she wanted to learn and ended up mastering it faster than any of my other kids!

It struck me that the process parallels our relationship with G-d and the month of Elul we just began. With the High Holidays on the horizon, we prepare to renew our relationship with G-d.

During the year we may fall and stumble. We sin, we gossip, we behave poorly, we aren’t our best selves at all times. But as long as we get up, dust ourselves off, and make another attempt with the goal in mind, we’re on the right path.

Just like my daughter, we need to master our fear of falling. It’s part of life. It will happen. If we can embrace that, shake it off, and get right back up, we will ultimately succeed with confidence and commitment.

And in the month of Elul, it’s even easier. G-d is closer and more accessible to us. Our Sages liken it to a king who leaves his palace and ventures into the fields to be close to his constituents. As we gear up for Rosh Hashanah, G-d is right there. All we need to do is open our eyes, focus on our spiritual goals, and keep trying. We will get there!

Who Does A Belev Echad Soldier Pray For?

The past 10 days have been incredibly moving and inspiring, as we had the pleasure of hosting  12 severely wounded IDF soldiers as part of our Belev Echad program. This is the 25th time we’ve done this trip in NYC, and thank G-d we’ve perfected the experience to provide the best of the best for our heroes.

I asked one of the soldiers, we’ll call him Yankel, what his favorite part of the trip was. And there is a lot to choose from—we take them on helicopter rides, Ferrari rides, to the Hamptons, dinners in the finest restaurants, and all the very best that New York has to offer. And what did he say? “Receiving a new family.”

“From day one I connected with the other 11 soldiers. We’re like brothers now and I know we’ll stay connected forever. When you spend 10 days with people who share your history, feel your pain and understand your trauma, it forges a deep and permanent bond. Nobody can understand my PTSD like my fellow soldiers who experienced the same pain, fought in the same wars, and were injured by the same terrorists.”

Towards the end of the trip we went to the Rebbe’s ohel to pray. Going to the Ohel is always an emotional experience, but when you go with a group of wounded soldiers it's even more so. They were all visibly moved.

I noticed that Yankel seemed particularly pensive, and I asked him about it. “This was the best part of the trip,” he said, “to be able to pray and connect to something deeper and more powerful than myself.” 

He mentioned that he had prayed for his newfound family—his fellow soldiers—to find their life partners and marry. He is the only married one in the group so far, and wants his brothers to experience marriage and children like he has.  

“I was concentrating on them so much that I forgot to pray for myself and my son,” he added.

Hearing that blew me away. Yankel suffers from severe PTSD. It’s with him all the time and triggered frequently. The first thing most people would pray for would be relief and healing for themselves and protection for their immediate family. But here Yankel stands above and beyond, demonstrating extreme selflessness, praying for his friends!

Interestingly, the Talmud promises, “Whoever prays for his friend, he is answered first.” You see, when a person focuses on others, and exerts himself to help someone else despite his own need, G-d says “Look how you care about your friend! I care about you,” and takes care of his needs.

What a lesson in selflessness!

Farewell my dear soldiers, we miss you already and look forward to seeing you all in Israel real soon.

 vigler.jpg 

Ferraris Galore!

This week our community is excited to be hosting 12 severely injured IDF soldiers for 10 days of fun—our first post-Covid trip. We’ve been showering them with love and treating them to all kinds of exclusive activities that most would otherwise never experience. 

We took them to a Ferrari-Maserati dealership for a tour of the different models, and they were even given a ride—a real thrill! One of the Ferraris was stowed away in storage and may only be touched with white gloves. It’s one of only 300 worldwide and has a price tag of $2 million, we were told. 

I listened as the owners explained about the different models. They showed us one model that they won’t sell to a first-time owner. You cannot buy it until you already own two other Ferraris!  

The soldiers were so excited and I needed to understand the hype. Why is this the most luxurious brand in the business? So I sat myself in the driver’s seat and they showed me all the special features and told me about the horse emblem in the front. 

All I could think of was the words we pray each morning: “G-d does not desire the strength of the horse, G-d desires those who fear Him,” and I was thinking … Ferrari!

But what truly makes the Ferrari so special is its speed. Nothing can compare, or even come close to it. It’s like magic!

The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe, had a student who was into fast horses. The Rebbe asked him, “Why is a fast horse so much better than a slow one?"

The student explained how a fast horse takes you from place to place with such speed, you reach your destination much faster. 

“Yes, but what if the fast horse is going in the wrong direction?” asked the Tzemach Tzedek. “Then the speed is a disadvantage, because you end up much further in the wrong direction than you would on a slow horse.”

“But as soon as you realize you’re going the wrong way,” answered the student, “you turn around and go in the right direction much faster.” 

The Rebbe looked at him with a penetrating gaze and repeated three times, “Yes, as soon as you realize it’s the wrong direction. As soon as you realize. As soon as you realize.”

What was the Tzemach Tzedek trying to tell him? 

He was pointing out that we need to be certain we are galloping along in the right direction in our spiritual growth and development too. 

Take a good look at your morning routine. You race through your coffee, to the gym, to work, from meeting to meeting … we are zipping through life faster than a Ferrari! But are we moving in the right direction? Are we focused on what is truly important? How can we make sure?

We need to slow down and examine our motives. Are we focused on what we can take or what we can give to the world and those around us? Is it all about the next dollar, the next deal, the next concert, the next meal? Or is it about putting good deeds out into the world? Taking time out for a friend who needs a listening ear. Stopping mid-afternoon to connect with G-d and daven Mincha. Disconnecting for 25 hours at the end of the week to observe Shabbat. By making our life one of mitzvot, one of a higher purpose, we can be sure we are galloping along in the right direction. 

Our Son Turns Bar Mitzvah

This weekend, Shevy and I will celebrate the bar mitzvah of our beloved son Mendel. We are exceedingly grateful to the Almighty G-d for allowing us to reach this precious milestone. 

How 13 years have flown by so quickly is beyond me. It feels like just yesterday that Mendel was born. I remember the day so clearly. It was a Shabbat morning and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to do the (fortunately rare) mitzvah of saving a life superseding Shabbat—i.e., calling a taxi and driving to the hospital on Shabbat, still in my tallit. The bris was also on Shabbat, and now, 13 years later, his bar mitzvah again falls on Shabbat. 

So, why are we so happy?

  1. For one, the moment I walk into shul from now on, I’ll be bringing 20 percent of the minyan with me! How many times on a late summer afternoon or early Friday night do I find myself desperately searching for a 10th man for our minyan? So often our congregants ask why my sons can’t be counted and solve the dilemma. Well, now he can!
  2. Moreover, I am thrilled because I will no longer be punished for his sins. Until bar or bat mitzvah, the responsibility for anything a child does wrong is transferred to the parents. Now, trust me, I have enough of my own sins to carry around, so I am grateful to be making the blessing, “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who has taken away my punishments.”  Now considered a man, my son will be responsible for his own actions. Which means I now only have six kids’ burdens to carry! 
  3. For the past year, I have been studying daily with Mendel to help him master a maamar (chassidic discourse) by heart. I have spent hundreds of hours (I kid you not!) reviewing it with him. He will recite it from memory at his bar mitzvah. I deeply value all the one-on-one time we’ve spent on this—bonding, learning, talking, arguing, but I must say I’m kind of appreciating all the free time I now have! 
  4. I’ve also spent tens of hours teaching Mendel how to read from the Torah, how to lead the services, and how to read the haftara. So I’m thrilled to have another “rabbi” in the house, who can help out whenever needed.
  5. Most importantly, though, is that Mendel has now has become a full fledged member of the Nation of Israel. By turning 13, he has received the G-dly soul in all its glory. Words cannot describe the joy I feel when I look at my son and know that he is now linked to his father, grandfather, and great grandfather in an unbroken chain all the way back till Abraham. As my son accepts upon himself to fulfill Torah and Mitzvot, it is as if he is receiving the Torah again directly from G-d Himself! 

I remember myself as a shy, young, innocent 13-year-old boy, marking the milestone of becoming a fully fledged adult. That day is engraved indelibly in my memory. It is the day I read from the Torah for the first time, the day I accepted the yoke of heaven upon myself and became permanently connected to my heritage, my faith, my ancestors, and to my G-d. Watching my son Mendel go through the same process is beyond joyful! 

We are immensely grateful to his teachers at Yeshiva Ketana of Manhattan who do such a superb job, together with the menahel and the entire staff, and his counsellors and learning teachers in camp.

So, I bless you, my dear son Mendel, that G-d give you the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to make the right decisions in life. As you become an adult in this turbulent world, may you shine your light out into the world, overcome the hurdles you will inevitably face, and develop a deep love and appreciation for Torah and mitzvot. May you be able to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot with a smile and true happiness, and may you be blessed to inspire others with your charm, personality, and grace! 

May you become a chassid, G-d fearing person, and a lamdan! 

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

The picture that captured the story of our nation

A powerful picture made the rounds on social media this week. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s certainly true here. In fact, this one picture captures the story of our nation—past, present, and future. 

As Israeli Col. Golan Vach and his crew worked alongside local rescuers to locate the bodies of a Jewish couple buried in the Champlain Towers debris, Vach noticed that many of the books he came across were from the Talmud. A photographer snapped the photo of him handing over several of the holy volumes to a South Florida Urban Search and Rescue team member, with the tremendous piles of rubble and dust in the background. The image soon spread across American Jewish social media and WhatsApp groups.

We are deeply pained by the loss of so many lives. Already 54 bodies have been found, and 80 remain missing. Each one has family and friends who love and miss them. The loss is immeasurable, and the heartache of those still waiting for news is overwhelming.  

And out of the devastation, what was rescued? The Torah. The Talmud. The central text of our nation, the people of the book. 

This is the story of our nation since time immemorial. What has kept us going throughout millenia of exile and persecution? The holy Torah. 

This week we begin the 9-day mourning period, culminating in Tisha B’Av, the day both our Holy Temples were destroyed, turned into piles of rubble and debris. For the last 2,000 years we have been in exile, pained and suffering, longing to be reunited. But one thing has kept us strong: the Torah, our book, our faith. 

In fact, when the Roman Emperor Vespasian was about to destroy the Temple, he granted the Jewish sage Rabbi Yochanan a single request. What did he ask for? He asked him to spare Yavneh—the city of learning—and its sages. This way, although the physical Temple was turned into rubble, the Torah knowledge and texts remained intact, able to serve as our source of strength for the last 2,000 years!

As a Jewish nation we have suffered so much for those 2,000 years. We have faced persecution after persecution, pogroms and tragedies. And what has kept us going and will continue to keep us going through this tragedy too? Our strong belief in G-d and His Torah. 

The pain of the Surfside collapse is tremendous! And while we reach to the Torah for comfort, we demand that G-d end this exile and all the tragedies immediately, with the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption. May He comfort the families of the Surfside victims together with all other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem!

 PHOTO-2021-07-08-17-21-26 (1).jpg 

We Are All Surfside

When I think of a safe, comfortable place to live, one of the first places that comes to mind is Miami. No earthquakes, terrorists, or tragedy … just warm weather, blue skies, endless ocean, peace and quiet. It’s irresistible. And I know I’m not alone.

So when the Champlain Towers collapsed last week, the whole world was horrified. And we’ve been glued to the news ever since. Each time we receive the heartbreaking update about a body being discovered, we mourn with the victims and their families. And we feel the collective pain of those still waiting for any news of their missing loved ones, some of whom I know personally, and many of whom belong to the local Chabad community in Bal Harbor led by Rabbi Sholom Lipskar.

I tried to Google, “What are the odds of a building collapse in America?” and the only results were related to the Miami condo collapse. That’s how rare this tragedy is. There’s nothing to compare to, no history, no statistics.

We live in the US, not some third world country. We have building regulations and extensive know-how. Engineers know how to build structures that can withstand hurricanes, sea erosion, high air pressure, earthquakes, and more. And this is a modern building, built in the ‘80s.

None of the theories put forth so far can explain what happened. Theories such as cracks in structural columns, vibrations from construction next door, barrier island erosion, subsidence exacerbated by sea-level rise, sinkholes and seawater weakened structures all fail to adequately explain how a building can suddenly collapse in the middle of the night.

And yet, it happened. It’s a disaster that defies logic. Yes, we know that everything in the world comes from G-d, but this is one we can’t begin to comprehend. Why did this tragedy happen? And on the heels of so many similar tragedies in recent months: First, the deadliest civilian disaster in Israel’s history where 45 people were killed in the Meron crowd crush. Then two people died when a tiered seating structure collapsed in a synagogue in Givat Ze’ev, and 14 people fell to their deaths in the cable car disaster in Italy.

But just as the tragedy is beyond our understanding, the cure will also defy nature and logic. Even though experts say the chances of finding anyone alive at this point are virtually nil, still we pray and hope and hold out.

We know our Heavenly Father can perform miracles. Millions of pounds of metal have already been removed from the scene. Israeli teams have flown in. And while the work remains painfully slow, we remain hopeful.

As Jews, we don’t give up. As long as there is the minutest chance that someone will be found alive, we continue to hope, to pray, and to demand a miracle from G-d.

This is the story of our nation. A nation which has persevered throughout millennia, remaining optimistic in the face of terror and devastation. That’s our heritage, and it now stands us in good stead. Let’s storm the heavens and demand that G-d perform a miracle and rescue all the people who are still trapped. Pick a mitzvah to do in their merit and start immediately.

We pray for G-d to rebuild the Temple, bring Moshiach, and wipe away our tears. That will be the final and ultimate cure for all our suffering.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

 

I fell for a scam not once but twice!

A few weeks ago I received a response to my weekly email from Jennifer*, a lovely elderly woman who lives alone in Manhattan. We communicate periodically by phone or by email. She told me how inspired she was and we got into a short conversation. The following morning she wrote:

“How are you doing? There is something I need you to do, I am not available on phone, I'd appreciate if you could email me back when you get this.”

“Of course,” I responded. “I’m here for whatever you need.”

“Thanks for your response,” she wrote. “I'm sorry for bothering you with this email. I need to get a GOOGLE PLAY GIFT CARD for my niece who is down with cancer of the liver. It's her birthday today but all my effort purchasing it online proved abortive. Can you help grab one from any store around you? I'll surely reimburse you upon my arrival.”

I agreed, with pleasure, and quickly Googled how to order the gift cards. I sent her some links and offered to do it for her if she couldn’t figure it out on her own.

In response, she emailed:

“The total amount needed is $300. Here is her email address ____ . Let me know once you have made the order.”

Now, buying gift cards is not really in my job description, but helping people surely is.

So I forwarded her email to *Golda in my office and asked her to take care of it. “Just call Jennifer first to ask if we should use our credit card or hers,” I said. I trusted her to reimburse us either way.

But when Golda reached Jennifer, she said she had not been emailing me at all! Sure enough, she checked her account and discovered she had been totally hacked.

I couldn’t believe I’d fallen for this! How was I so gullible? I mean, I checked to make sure the email address was hers, and the font and writing style was consistent with how she usually writes. But clearly, the hacker had done his homework!

Now, you’d think I would have learned something from this close call, but the next week a fellow NYC Chabad rabbi texted me in the middle of the night to ask if I could Zelle him $480 for an emergency. I immediately agreed and asked if it could wait until morning because my wife knows our Zelle info and I don’t. It’s fortunate I don’t have the password because early the following morning a message went out warning us that this rabbi’s phone had been hacked and not to fall for the hacker who was trying to steal people’s money.

I fell for a scam not once, but twice! In a single week, no less! And I don’t consider myself particularly gullible, but these were both so authentic. Why would I think to question them?

But the reality is that every single one of us is "hacked" on a daily basis, and we need to discover who is the "real" me and who is the "hacked" me. We are hacked, so we fall into a bad mood, or resort to anger, or give in to temptation. When we lose our cool with other drivers, or snap at a coworker, or eat that "almost kosher" sandwich, that is because we have been hacked.

To discover the real me we need to recognize the hack, peel back the layers, and find the pure core, the good and loving essence.

The real me is the person who loves G-d, is kind and generous and friendly. The real me goes out of my way to help others and serve G-d. The real me goes to minyan even when it's hard, eats kosher even on vacation, and is respectful to my parents even after a challenging day at work.

So, have you been hacked? Who is the real you?

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

*Name changed to protect privacy.

 

Twenty-seven years is a long time. Too long.

Dear Rebbe,

I miss you. We all miss you.

It's been 27 long, dark and painful years since we last saw you.

Twenty-seven years is a long time. Too long.

Close to three decades have passed since we had the privilege of hearing you bless, inspire and teach us.

Rebbe, the world has changed tremendously over the last 27 years.

In 1994 we were using VHS, cassette tape recorders, transistor radios, Walkmans, calculator watches, dial-up modems, floppy discs and VCRs.

Now our children don’t even know what any of those technologies are. Instead, we use WhatsApp, Telegram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

Not only has the world changed, it seems to have become far more dangerous. Anti-Semitisim is increasing rapidly. Jews are being spat at, cursed at and beaten up regularly, and there seems to be a lack of strong leaders who are able to make the right decisions. Concerning, too, are people’s apathy and nonchalance. People also seem to care more about terrorists than Jewish blood. The divide seems to be growing and impossible to bridge.

It may have been 27 years, but we have not forgotten what you taught us. Although the world has changed drastically, one thing that has not changed since 1994 is your words of hope and inspiration which we continue to cherish.

Dear Rebbe, I have lived with your teachings every day for the last 27 years, reading and re-reading your talks and letters.

You taught us that there is a Master to this Universe, Who will never forsake us! You firmly implanted this belief inside every single one of us. No matter how bad the world may seem, we know that G-d is in control. You taught us to believe in humanity. You taught us to believe in the power of goodness, hope, and the ultimate triumph of light over dark.

You taught us to love every Jew—deeply and unconditionally. You always emphasized the importance of good and the power of each individual to effect change. You promised that we will ultimately prevail and that we will witness the arrival of Moshiach in our generation. And that has not changed. That promise is what has kept us going for the last 27 years, painful as they have been.

I can imagine your message to the world now: Hang tight! We are at the very last moment of darkness; redemption is within reach, when we will understand that the chaos is just part of the Divine plan, and we will watch all the pieces fall into place.

Dear Rebbe, I hear your voice in my head. I hear you crying at this bitter exile which still constrains us. I can hear you insisting—demanding!—that G-d send the immediate redemption.

Looking forward to reuniting with you physically very soon!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

One Time Mitzvah On A Plane!

This week I heard the most inspiring story from someone who put on tefillin with me a few years back. 

Five years ago, in June 2016, I traveled to Israel with my family. I carry a pair of tefillin with me at all times, and during the 10-hour flight I took advantage of the opportunity to circulate the plane and offer my fellow passengers a chance to put on tefillin and pray. I remember it well. I had a few customers, including two very willing Israelis with whom I took a selfie.
 
Even though I’ve done this thousands of times, and know without a shadow of doubt that it’s a huge mitzvah because I’m helping a fellow Jew connect with G-d in a most powerful and intimate way, I rarely get to witness the impact of my actions.
 
But this Sunday, that changed. I was sitting at home, scrolling through Facebook, when I received a notification that I had been tagged in a post by Yossef Brauman—a name I did not recognize.

He wrote:  
 
“In 2016, I traveled from Israel to New York with my friend Elad to attend a wedding. Our trip was entirely devoid of spirituality. We were both very removed from anything religious and had basically lost hope in humanity.

“Just then, a chabadnik got up and asked us to put on tefillin in the middle of the flight. We never imagined we, two secular Jews, would be so excited by this offer! We had no clue how to do it, but the chabadnik showed us step by step. Our souls must have been craving spiritual nourishment because we absolutely loved the experience.

“After feeling so low and removed from spirituality during our time in New York, something clicked on that plane at that moment. The experience lit a fire in our souls…

“Does anyone know who the chabadnik in the picture is? I’d love to connect with him and fill him in on the last five years of our lives.”
 
Someone recognized me in the picture and tagged me. We connected and began a conversation. I even pulled up my copy of that selfie and sent it to him.
 
Yossef explained that when he and Elad returned to Israel, they began listening to Rabbi Manis Friedman’s classes on Youtube. Then they began attending Rabbi Adi Elefant’s Torah classes, which are very popular, and have become even more so during covid.
 
Now both Yossef and Elad study Torah every day, keep Shabbat and kosher, put on tefillin daily, and even teach a Tanya class of their own! They also spend time reaching out to fellow Jews inspiring them to do mitzvot. Check out their Facebook page filled with Torah and you see two deeply devout Jews wearing kippahs and tzitzit.
 
I was blown away. This is the power of one mitzvah. Putting on tefillin that one time on the plane ignited their souls and just look how far it propelled them! I feel privileged to have played a small part in their journey, and grateful to have had the opportunity to find out how far our encounter took them.

Never underestimate the power of a single mitzvah!
  
So please, do me a favor and go out today and find someone to put on tefillin with. 
 
Next week is the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 27th yahrzeit. I cannot think of a better gift to give the Rebbe than to tell him that so many Jews have been putting on tefillin!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

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Let’s Learn from the Jew-Haters

This week I received another hateful call on our Chabad line, which had been forwarded to my cell phone. This time it was 2:50 pm on Wednesday afternoon, and I was in downtown Manhattan. I picked up and the caller said, “I have a delivery for you of 1,000 German ovens.”

At first I didn’t understand. “I think you have the wrong number,” I said.

“No, I definitely have the right number,” he said confidently. “This is the Chabad Israel Center, correct? I have 1,000 German ovens for you.”

“What do you want me to do with 1,000 German ovens?” I asked.
“You know exactly what to do,” he said, and then hung up like a coward.

If we look for it, we can uncover a lesson in everything that we experience, including Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism.

This caller actively Googled local Jewish centers. He picked up the phone and made a phone call - a rarity in 2021 - to deliver a message of hatred and animosity.

We need to do the same thing. Go and Google your local Jewish or Chabad center and give them a call. But instead of delivering hatred, deliver a message of love. Instead of delivering 1,000 German ovens, give a $1,000 donation. Go visit the synagogue, attend services, show up and show your love and support. 

And it’s not just phone calls. This week I uploaded a Torah class to YouTube with the title “Anti-Semitism: Why do they hate us so much?” You can watch it here. It got maybe three views from people in my community, and the next thing I know there were close to 500 views and 60 hateful comments. Some Jew-haters must have actively been searching and sharing the video with their friends. From their comments, it’s clear they even watched the entire thing, disputing sources, claiming I made things up.

What can we learn from that?

When was the last time you searched your local Chabad rabbi’s YouTube channel and spent time listening to his classes? And if you did listen, did you leave a comment? I, for the most part, never receive comments. Why not leave a message of love, support, and appreciation, and then share the inspiration with a friend?

The anti-Semites are literally searching for Jews everywhere—New York, LA, London, Paris, Israel, Toronto … wherever there are Jews to be found. They are researching the local kosher restaurants, Jewish centers, rallies, schools, shuls and then they bring their Jew hatred right to us. They throw fireworks at us, beat us up, spit at us, curse us…

We need to do the same thing, minus the violence and hatred. We need to hunt down Jews wherever they are, and bring them love, joy, inspiration, and Torah.

And the haters don’t differentiate. They don’t care if it’s a reform Jew, or conservative, or orthodox, or chareidi, or chiloni. They don’t care if it’s an Israeli Jew or an American one. Australian, French or South African. Make no mistake, they hate us all equally - even the Jews who mistakenly embrace these anti-Semites.

When it comes to loving our fellow Jews, we must do the same. These divisions and labels do nothing but create wedges between us. We must see each other for what we truly are - Jewish brothers and sisters - and love one another unconditionally because of it.

Think of someone you know, perhaps someone you may not otherwise speak to regularly, and instead of offering ovens, offer a challah for Shabbat.

Moreover, when you watch the anti-Semites, it’s noticeable that they wear their garments with pride and joy. Whether it’s the flags or the kafia, they are proud to declare their allegiance.

We need to do the same thing and display our Judaism proudly. Wear your kippah with pride. Wear your tzitzit openly. Look Jewish. Don’t be afraid. We don’t cower in fear or shame, even in scary times like these. We walk proudly.

As passionate as the haters are about their hatred, is how passionate we must be with our love. Our love for Yiddishkeit, our love for Torah, our love for Hashem, and our love for our fellow Jews.

A song we used to sing in camp is deeply ingrained in my consciousness, and regularly plays in my head: “I’m a Jew and I’m proud and I’ll sing it aloud…” Yes, yes I am.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler
A Proud Jew

Dear World,

Listen closely: You will never break us!

When my grandfather was deported to Auschwitz, and his wife and children were murdered by the Germans in the gas chambers, he was traumatized and deeply and permanently scarred, but not broken. 

When my other grandfather grew up an orphan in Israel in the 1940s, after seeing the Turkish police beat his father to death and watching his mother die from starvation a few weeks later, he suffered tremendously, but he wasn’t broken. 

When our nation fought for its very survival in 1948, ‘56, ‘67 and ‘73 it was rough. We lost tens of thousands of our soldiers, with many more severely wounded and deeply traumatized, but we didn’t break. 

It’s 2021 and we see Jews being viciously assaulted in a restaurant in Los Angeles. 

It’s 2021 and a rabbi is attacked on a London street simply for being a Jew!

It’s 2021 and two Jews are beaten and pursued by an angry mob of 40 Arabs in the streets of Manhattan. 

We are horrified and outraged, but we are not broken.

In London, Paris, Toronto and virtually every other major city, Jews are feeling unsafe. When I walk on the Upper East side, I am constantly alert and assessing for any imminent threat. Nevertheless, we stand strong and unbroken. 

How do we do it?

You see, as Jews we have a secret weapon that we received along with the Torah, 3,333 years ago: Faith—a firm belief in G-d’s protection.  

A Jew never breaks, and a Jew never gives up. As Jews, we will continue fighting and protecting ourselves, just like the two Golani soldiers who fought off a crowd of 40 Arabs in Manhattan this week. 

And that is our response to the world who condemns Israel for defending herself. No country in the world would tolerate 3000 rockets falling in its cities and civilian areas, yet the entire world is outraged when Israel protects itself. 

We will not be broken by your lies!

In fact, the threats and hatred only further unite us and cement our commitment to one another and to G-d. 

So let's do more mitzvot! Our response has to be to stand taller and prouder. We will display our Judaism with pride and joy. We need to walk with our Kippot on our heads. We need to pray more, to study more Torah. We need to walk with our tsitisit on us proudly! We refuse to cower and hide or try to blend in.

So hear this and hear it well: No matter how bad things get, you will never break us!  

Rabbi Uriel Vigler
An Unbroken Jew

I received an anti-Semitic call this week!

 It doesn’t matter what the non-Jews say; it matters what the Jews do.”

At 6:51 on Tuesday morning my cell phone rang. It was a restricted number.

“Hi, I have a question for you. I want to know about ethnic cleansing.”

“How did you get my number?” I asked.

He explained that he had Googled Jewish centers in NYC and found our number. He’d called the office and since it was out of hours, the call was forwarded to my cell phone. 

“Why do you want to know about ethnic cleansing?” I asked.

“I’m doing a journalistic piece on it,” he explained, “and I’m calling Islamic and Jewish centers in the city for information.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Kevin.”

 Then he asked, “Why are Israelis murdering innocent Palestinians?”

“Israel has a right to defend itself and it is not killing innocent Palestinians,” I told him.

Well that set him off. He became angry and combative, and cursed me out: “F*** all the Jews! All Jews should die!” and then he hung up. 

Of course I filed a police report and contacted the ADL so they have a record. The police actually came by and took it seriously and were able to track down his phone.

Israel is currently in a state of war. Thousands of missiles and rockets have fallen across cities throughout the country, indiscriminately hitting houses, buildings, roads, and buses.

My cousins, my brother, and my friends in Israel are spending sleepless nights running to bomb shelters. Millions are living in fear, day and night, often with just 45 seconds to find shelter. No other country would tolerate this.

And it’s not just missiles. There are literally pogroms happening in Lod, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Jerusalem … Arabs are rioting, lynching Jews, destroying synagogues. The scenes coming out of Israel are horrifying.

But make no mistake. This is not Israel’s war alone. This is a war against every single Jew across the globe. This war has nothing to do with Sheikh Jarrah or Israel occupying land. Hamas hates and would like to annihilate every Jew in existence. 

In fact, just today Hamas proudly announced, “The decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Dimona and Jerusalem is easier for us than drinking water.” And yet so many people, ordinary Americans like Kevin, blindly side with the “innocent Palestinians” and call upon Israel to show restraint. It’s outrageous and based in pure hatred!

David Ben Gurion said, “It doesn’t matter what the non-Jews say; it matters what the Jews do.”

So what will we do? How will we respond?

We must do everything in our power to protect ourselves. We need to support our military. And we need to actively counter the evil lies spreading like wildfire across the internet. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism and should not be tolerated, no matter who the perpetrator is.

But what else can we do? How can we help?

As counterintuitive as it might seem, by being louder and prouder Jews!

They hate us? They hate Judaism? Well, let’s examine our own love for it. Do we feel it with a fiery passion on a daily basis? No? Ok, so how can we reignite that, instill it in our children, awaken it in our friends, and show it off proudly?

By increasing our Jewish engagement.

Commit to putting on tefillin daily, and when you say Shema, remind yourself of your eternal and everlasting link to your ancestors, all the way back to Abraham. Picture the unbroken chain connecting you; it’s powerful!

Commit to lighting Shabbat candles every single week, and when you do, picture the light dispelling evil and hatred from the world. A small amount of light dispels great darkness. You may not see the significance of your two candles, but they are powerful!

Log on to Chabad.org and study Torah. Educate yourself and your children, reignite that passion and love for G-d and His Torah.

We have to be a light unto the nations. We have to inspire each other to be strong in our Jewish observance and proud of our identity. We cannot cower and hide away in fear. We must stand strong, proud, and united; it is the only way to fight the current upsurge in anti-Semitism.

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