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The Danger of Complacency in the Face of Hate

Last week, I was in the office right before Shabbat when the phone rang. I picked it up and the caller asked, “Do you guys help IDF soldiers?“

“Yes, that’s right, you’ve reached the offices of Belev Echad,” I said.

“Great,” he replied. “Can I ask you a few questions?”

I of course agreed, hoping he was interested in partnering with us to support our programs.

He asked what we do for the soldiers, and I gave him the whole rundown of all the resources and programs and support we offer, explaining that essentially from the moment an IDF soldier is hospitalized, our team is there taking care of everything they need to make a complete recovery.

“How many soldiers do you help?” he asked.

“Right now we have approximately 1,700 under our direct care,” I answered, thinking to myself, “After all these questions, I hope I’ve made a persuasive argument and he decides to get involved.”

He then said, “Who am I talking to?” and I said, “This is Rabbi Vigler.”

“What do you do?”

“I founded the organization.”

And then came the bombshell.

“How do you feel about helping people who are murdering millions of innocent women and children?”

Gevalt!

He then went on a rant about how we are killing and murdering and how shameful it is, and so on. 

I hung up at some point.

And I thought to myself, “Wow! This guy is good. First he leads me to believe that he is truly interested in our work, but really he is only really fishing for information …” And then I put it out of my mind.

While searching for an idea for my weekly blog, this story came to mind, but what really hit me was that this story hardly even registered. I didn’t report it to the police. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even think about it until I sat down to write my weekly blog! I simply moved on and forgot about it pretty much as soon as I hung up the phone.

But this is the true danger—complacency in the face of Jew hatred. Getting used to it. Accepting it as the new norm.

If you’d asked me two years ago what I would do after a phone call like this, I wouldn’t have hesitated to call the police and press for a complete investigation.

But now, I’ve gotten so used to the phone calls, the antisemitic incidents on the streets, the hate and lies being spread all over the world, that I didn’t even flinch.

Getting used to it is the true danger!

If we don’t take it seriously, who will?

This is really the story of our lives in general.

We have been living in this dark and bitter exile for close to 2000 years. We are not at home. Our true home is in Jerusalem with the rebuilding of the third Temple and the coming of Moshiach. But the darkest and most dangerous part of exile is when we become so comfortable living in exile that we stop demanding its end!

We need to demand from G-d: “Ad Mosai – until when?” How much longer must we wait for redemption? We cannot bear the pain of exile anymore. We cannot bear to be away from You, our true Father, any longer. Please take us home!

15 Years of Motorcycle Rides for One Mitzvah

For 15 years, we’ve been hosting an annual motorcycle ride for our wounded IDF soldiers. It’s one of our longest-running programs, with motorcycle riders from all over the tri-state area coming together and volunteering for the day, to give our heroes the ride of a lifetime. We go up to Bear Mountain to enjoy the incredible scenery and end off with a lavish BBQ somewhere upstate. 

It’s a win-win all around: the soldiers love it, the riders have a great time, and we all appreciate the opportunity to do a mitzvah for the soldiers who have given so much for us. Everyone gets to feel good!

This year, over 75 volunteers came with their enormous Harley Davidsons, Slingshots, and all other fancy kinds of motorcycles.

One of the riders, Sarah,* comes every year with her husband Peter.* As we said our goodbyes at the end of the day, I asked Sarah if she would consider lighting Shabbat candles each week. I explained that it only takes a minute to do, but releases infinite light and energy into the world. Sarah politely declined, telling me that since she and Peter come from different religions, they have an agreement not to bring their religion into the home. 

I left it at that, but a week later I received a beautiful message: 

“Hello Rabbi. This is Sarah from the IDF ride. I want you to know that you and the host of the BBQ (I believe his name is Barry) had a positive impact on me when we talked before *Peter (my Christian husband) and I left. I lit Shabbos candles last Friday and plan to do so again tonight. Wishing you and your family a Good Shabbos!”

I was blown away! So much work goes into this event. From the planning to the execution, every detail is worked out by our devoted team. Bringing the wounded soldiers to New York is a huge undertaking: we fill up 10 days with incredible experiences, and some of them undergo medical treatments while they’re here. 

Just the motorcycle ride requires months of meetings and planning to make sure everything runs smoothly, followed by the over-the-top BBQ hosted by Barry and Rissie with so much love, dedication and generosity, along with the Grillfather who does an incredible job. 

And as I read Sarah’s message, I thought to myself: “All this effort and planning was worth it just for Sarah to light Shabbat candles. Perhaps that’s the very reason we even held this event!” 

The Baal Shem Tov famously taught that our souls may descend into the world, and spend 70 or 80 years here, just to do a single act of kindness for a fellow Jew. 

We have no way of knowing, though, what that specific act is. 

Could it be that 15 years of motorcycle rides were solely for this moment—for Sarah to start lighting Shabbat candles? I don’t know. But it’s certainly possible. 

Since we can’t know, it’s all the more important that we value every mitzvah and grab every opportunity to serve G-d and do acts of goodness and kindness for those around us. Who knows which mitzvah is the one we were sent here to do? And who knows which mitzvah will be the tipping point that will usher in the coming of Moshiach and Final Redemption? It could be any of us. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

*Names changed to protect privacy. 

Did He Give His Legs or Did He Lose Them?

Last week, I met an extraordinary hero, *Avshalom, who left an indelible mark on my life. Our Belev Echad community just finished hosting 11 wounded IDF soldiers for a 10-day restorative trip. Each soldier has an incredible story, but Avshalom's courage and resilience stand out.

On October 6th, Avshalom returned to Israel from a trip to South America. He had already been discharged from the army and had no requirement to go back and serve. But when war broke out on October 7th, instead of going straight to Ben Gurion airport and heading back to South America, he went to the south of Israel and joined his unit.

Avshalom and his friends from the Maglan unit were among the first to enter Gaza following the October 7th terrorist attack. On November 10th, during a search for terror tunnels in Beit Hanoun, his team encountered a hidden 100-kilogram bomb. Hamas terrorists detonated it, killing four soldiers and severely injuring six others including Avshalom. Despite losing both legs above the knee, damaging one eye, and injuring his right hand, Avshalom's positive attitude and warm smile inspire me daily.

At one of our breakfasts on the trip, I referred to Avshalom as a tremendous hero who gave his legs for Am Yisrael. Someone else pointed out that my choice of words was inaccurate, and that actually Avshalom lost his legs rather than giving them.

This subtle difference in language got me thinking—the distinction between giving and losing is profound.

Losing implies victimhood, a circumstance beyond his control, but giving implies a heroic act, a choice made for the greater good. Avshalom had already finished his army service but chose to re-enlist after October 7th, knowing the risks. He chose to fight and protect Am Yisrael against ruthless terrorists.

He is a true hero who gave his legs! He didn’t lose anything.

In the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s words, “There is no greater merit than to give of your own body to defend the Land of Israel and the holy nation of Israel.”

This dichotomy applies to our daily lives: there doesn’t exist a single person in the world who does not face obstacles and challenges. Not necessarily on the same scale as Avshalom’s challenges, but we all have them. We all deal with frustrations and pain, but we have the power to choose how we respond. Do we let circumstances defeat us, or do we transform them into opportunities for growth and empowerment?

Every day, we can ask ourselves, “Did I give or did I lose?” Because if we give, we are heroes, and if we lose, we are victims.

When I spend 10 minutes in the morning wrapping my tefillin and reciting the Shema, am I giving 10 minutes or am I losing 10 minutes?

When I give $1,000 to charity, am I giving $1,000 or am I losing $1,000?

When I go out of my way to visit a friend in the hospital, am I giving my time or am I losing it?

In the face of persistent antisemitism and ongoing conflict, Avshalom's story teaches us that even in darkness, we have the power to choose. We can choose to give—to sacrifice for something greater—or to let circumstances control us.

The choice is ours, every morning, every day.

Let us rise to the challenge, fulfill an extra mitzvah today, and bring goodness into the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the individual

What Would You Do In Your Final Moments?

This week I met an incredible hero: Yarin. Our Belev Echad community hosted 11 wounded IDF soldiers for a 10-day restorative trip. Each one has an incredible story; this is Yarin’s.

Yarin served in the Givati brigade. On November 18, 2023, after fighting in Gaza for a few weeks, his unit was tasked with entering the Jabalia refugee camp.

They went in around 8pm, and the mission continued until around 4am. They had just gone to sleep when they were awakened by a loud boom at 5am. Chaos erupted. The armored vehicle they were in had been hit by an RPG missile. They had to get out of the vehicle which was quickly filling with smoke, only to be fired on yet again—with another missile as well as gunfire. They were under heavy terrorist attack.

At this point, Yarin was completely unable to see or hear anything, and he was terrified. When his vision returned, he noticed his entire body was covered in blood. He had been shot 4 times.

Certain that these were his final moments in this world, Yarin lay down and recited the famous prayer “Shema Yisrael … ”

A medic arrived and began treating his wounds. He looked back, realizing a fellow soldier’s quick actions had saved them.

As he was being evacuated by helicopter, he saw his best friend, Shlomo, lying on the ground, killed.

Yarin went through months of surgeries and rehabilitation, and he still has a bullet lodged inside of him which doctors will hopefully be able to remove. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope this 10-day restorative trip will give him strength for his upcoming surgeries when he gets back to Israel.

Listening to Yarin’s story, I was blown away. With all the chaos around him—literally in a war zone, on an active battlefield with heavily armed ruthless terrorists—what did he do when he thought his life was about to end? He lay down and connected with G-d, saying Shema—the prayer Jews have said for millennia.

What would you do in your final moments? What would you think about? Throughout history, our people have turned to the Shema. This is what makes our nation so strong!

We can all learn from Yarin, too, and follow his example in our day-to-day lives. We’re often surrounded by chaos. Not an active battle scene, but chaos nonetheless. We’re inundated with a constant stream of noise and news. But we can take a moment every day to stop and recite the Shema, preferably while wearing tefillin. A momentary reprieve.

Do it for Yarin. Do it for our soldiers. Do it for the hostages. Do it for yourself. You’ll see, it will pay dividends.

I Almost Lost $58,550 This Week

My bank phoned me on Tuesday morning asking me to approve a wire transfer to Kathryn Combs.

 
I didn’t think much of it at first. My Bank is very careful about fraud, so I get these calls multiple times a month. I didn’t recognize the name, but I wasn’t overly concerned; our bookkeeping office sends ACH payments routinely.
 
I emailed our bookkeeping office to check in, and they forwarded me an email from my wife with an invoice for $58,550 attached and a note asking them to take care of it immediately. That sounded strange, so I sent it to my wife and she said, “No, that wasn’t me!”
 
I examined the email closely and realized not only was it fraudulent, it was extremely sophisticated fraud. The thieves had clearly done their research!
 
They made their email address so similar to my wife’s, even my bookkeeper—who is extremely sharp-eyed and careful—believed it. Not only that, the email included a back-and-forth conversation between my wife and another senior staff member about the invoice, both using email addresses that could easily be mistaken for authentic. They even nailed the tone and content! It was exactly how they would communicate. And everything was so professional; there was nothing that made the invoice look “off.”
 
Thank G-d, the bank called to verify and we were able to stop the transfer from going out.
 
Once I breathed a sigh of relief, I realized we can all learn a tremendous lesson from my encounter.
 
The reality is that every single one of us is “impersonated” on a daily basis, and we need to discover who is the “real” me and who is the “impersonated” 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 impersonated.
 
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 impersonated? Who is the real you?

Antisemitism Today Is Worse Than the 1930s

This week, we tried opening a new bank account for Belev Echad—helping wounded IDF soldiers. We filled out all the paperwork, got all the approvals, and thought we were good to go. But then we received the following email:

“Unfortunately our bank does not have an appetite for this type of business. This is due to the nature of business. I do apologize for any inconvenience caused. If you have any questions, please do let me know.”

In other words: We don’t want to do business with an organization that helps wounded Israeli soldiers. Wow. I suppose we should be grateful at least it came with an apology (not!).

The World Zionist Organization published a report this week noting that the current state of Antisemitism is worse than the 1930s, with social media spreading hatred like wildfire.

To think that our grandparents who lived in Europe in the 1930s experienced less Antisemitism than we are in 2024 boggles the mind!

Our grandparents watched their neighbors turn on them. They left Europe to escape Antisemitism. Many came to the US—the land of freedom and opportunity—to start over. And we have been able to be successful here in this country, more than any other period in history.

November 2023 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents documented since 1985, followed by April 2024, with over 10,000 antisemitic incidents documented worldwide since the start of the war in Gaza.

The report also points to a 360% increase in antisemitic incidents in the United States since October 7th, 733% in Canada, and 433% in Australia.

So where do we go from here? These numbers are both terrifying and heartbreaking, and they don’t appear to be improving anytime soon. Social media—the very tools we use to enhance our lives—have made it so much worse. There is nowhere to hide.

Fortunately, we can always look to the teachings of our sages for comfort and guidance. Our sages teach that the darkest time of the night is just before dawn breaks. That’s good news for us! We’ve been in exile for 2000 years and experienced every variety of persecution. The fact that in 2024 Antisemitism is worse than it was in the 1930s is a strong indication that we are on the verge of finally experiencing the ultimate illumination—the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

The only thing we can do now is work furiously to catapult ourselves headfirst into that reality by standing proudly as Jews, increasing our observance of mitzvot, and adding blinding light to the world.

That is the only true answer to Antisemitism.

Five Lessons We Can Learn From the Protestors

The past couple of weeks have been rough for us Jews. Seeing the vile and hateful rhetoric coming out of the protests at college campuses across the country is like watching a horror film. All those stories of ancient pogroms and Jews being beaten in the streets, all the stories we heard from our grandparents and great grandparents … it’s coming to life before our very eyes, unfolding with such rapidity we want to stare openmouthed and look away in terror all at the same time.

A beast has been unleashed and is spreading its venomous tentacles all over social media, college campuses, high schools, businesses, sports, etc. And all of this is taking place in America—the place we fled to for safety. A place that was supposed to harbor and protect us. And now, Antisemitism unlike anything we’ve seen since the Holocaust is spreading its wings right here in our place of refuge.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything we see in life can teach us a lesson in our service of G-d—even these protestors! Here are some lessons I’ve found:

  1. Someone in shul asked me the other day, “Why do they hate us?” But the only correct answer is that there is no rationale. Their hatred makes no sense. To counter this, we need to perform acts of love even if they make no sense. Don’t understand why you should keep Shabbat? Keep it anyway. Keeping kosher makes no sense to you? Embrace it anyway. That’s the call of the hour.
     
  2. Their hatred runs deep and wide, its tentacles spreading across the globe, siding with bloodthirsty Hamas terrorists and ferrying that hatred throughout the world. The only thing we can do to counter this, is to spread love deeper and further than they can spread hatred. Help whoever you can whenever you can. Reach out to your fellow Jews. Love, love, love. 
     
  3. They have set up tent encampments, meaning they are protesting around the clock, day and night. To counter this, we need to ensure that our Judaism is alive and recognizable day and night. This means starting the day with Modeh Ani and washing our hands, and going to sleep by covering our eyes and reciting Judaism’s central tenet—the Shema.
     
  4. Look at their passion! We need even more passion in our service of G-d and our fellow Jews. Bring your children to shul. Bring your neighbors to shul. Bring everyone you know! Study with passion. Give charity with passion. Host Shabbat meals with passion! Don’t be lukewarm about your Judaism.
     
  5. They don’t want Jews on campus. They’ve physically barred them from entering and studying. Fortunately, we don’t need them for our studies. Come to shul or a Torah class and study with me. Visit Chabad.org and access the full gamut of studies for whatever interest or level of intensity calls your name. Sign up to Chayenu.org and study like you have never studied before.

The nation of Israel is compared to a slumbering lion. Well, that lion has been jarringly awakened by the nightmare unfolding before us. But lions are powerful! Let’s unleash that power with a great roar, and go out and do good in the world.

Our sages teach us that the power of light is infinitely more powerful than the power of darkness.

Look what the protestors have done with the power of darkness. Can you even imagine what we can accomplish with a little bit of love? Jump in and let’s find out!

How Should We React to the Horrifying Calls for Our Extermination?

The calls for the mass extermination of Jews that we’ve seen across college campuses this week are nothing short of horrifying. The similarities to 1930s Germany are bone-chilling. 

To think that these Ivy League universities are supposed to educate and mold the brightest minds, and yet here they are siding with terrorists, murderers, and monsters. What has happened? Where is the critical thinking? How do the smartest students side with Hamas?

And in the face of this existential threat, how do we react? Well, as they say, “two Jews, three opinions,” and we’re seeing that in real time. Some people feel compelled to go out and protest; others prefer to stay safe at home. Some consume every scrap of media and video content; others avoid it entirely. We’re all reacting differently. 

By Divine Providence, we are about to celebrate the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea—an existential crisis facing the Jewish nation at the time. In front of them, the Red Sea blocked their path, and on their heels the Egyptian army was chasing them with deadly intent. What did they do? They splintered into four groups, each pushing a different approach. 

The first group wanted to fight. Why give up easily? they argued. These are the people who today say, “Let’s counter-protest. Let’s march, let’s demonstrate and stand up for our rights. Let’s call every senator and congressman. We will fight our enemies head on!”

The second group proposed surrender. They were willing to return to Egypt, to their old familiar life. That’s the group who this week advised students to leave Columbia and wait for things to get better. 

The third group wanted to jump into the Red Sea. Mass suicide, cutting all ties with the world. These are the ones who say “Let’s ignore the protests, hide our Judaism, and quietly go about our lives without antagonizing anyone. Eventually, the protestors will move along and forget about us. 

The final group insisted on praying to G-d for salvation. “We don’t need to do anything, G-d will resolve all our problems,” they said—the equivalent of today’s people who say, “Let's just pray to G-d. The end!" 

And yet, to all four groups G-d  said "The way forward is to forge ahead." Only one Jew jumped in: Nachshon ben Aminadav. He said, “G-d gave us our clear orders. He told us to go to Mount Sinai and receive the Torah. There’s a sea in the way? Never mind! I have my marching orders.” And indeed, when he pressed onwards, G-d split the sea allowing safe passage for the entire nation.

With the current campus crisis, we’re once again divided, but we can look to the past to inform the present. Like Nachson, we should follow G-d’s instruction: march forward as proud Jews. We have our mandate, given to us at Mount Sinai. Keep Shabbat. Give charity. Study Torah. Eat only kosher food. Go to synagogue. Wrap tefillin. Say a blessing when you eat. Light Shabbat and holiday candles. That’s the call of the hour.

And while in today's climate we probably need a combination of all four groups nonetheless the call of the hour is our marching orders. To forge ahead prouder than ever displaying our Judaism with love.

When we stand tall and proud as Jews, the protests will dissipate and Moshiach will come, heralding in the Ultimate Redemption. 

Chag Sameach!

The Haggadah of 2024

Imagine you were a Jew living 4000 years ago. You witnessed the 10 plagues, the Splitting of the Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh and G-d’s protection. A year has passed and you’re sitting at the Seder with your children. Can you imagine how exciting it would be? You’d be enthusiastically telling and retelling the story, every detail of every near miss and miraculous rescue. You’d want to relive the experience and make sure your children never forget a single moment.

Well, this year we’ll be having just that experience. In 2024.

When we sit around the Seder table Monday night—Jews all over the world—telling the story of our Exodus from Egypt and the resilience of our nation, it won’t be like every other year. This year—in addition to the story of the Exodus—we’ll be telling our children the story of the miracles unfolding in front of our very eyes.

The characters are different, but the story’s the same. Here is how it reads:

Once upon a time, we were surrounded by blood-thirsty enemies who wanted to annihilate us. Hamas attacked us on October 7, 2023, in the most murderous and gruesome way. Catching us completely off guard, they managed to slaughter 1400 of us and take many captives, 134 of whom are still languishing in Gaza.

And after coming into our towns, going house to house, murdering, raping, terrorizing, Hamas somehow inspired tens of millions of people around the world to rally for their cause. The lies and hatred that these people spew across mass media, social media, in schools and at protests is terrifying and dangerous.

Then Hezbollah joined in with their equally bloodthirsty venom, and fired thousands of missiles to destroy us and our cities.

Iran, who was technically behind all of this, sent—for the first time ever—close to 500 missiles directly aimed at civilian areas of Israel in the worst missile attack the world has ever seen.

But as we read the Haggadah, we will show our children the secret weapon we possess: the Big Boss. G-d. The same G-d who saved us from Pharaoh 4000 years ago, has saved us countless times since then, and despite all the odds and the very perilous situation we currently face, we know He will continue to save us. 

This past Saturday night Israel witnessed a miracle of Biblical proportion. By all logic, Israel should have sustained extensive damage and thousands of casualties. What actually occurred was the equivalent of the splitting of the sea!

This is the story of Passover. It’s our story. A universal story of our survival. It’s the story we’ve been telling our children for thousands of years through all kinds of different persecutions. This year, we are watching it unfold in front of our eyes.

So as we gather around the Seder table to tell our children the story of our Exodus, let’s tell them our story. Our enthusiasm will be elevated, our love for Hashem palpable, as we realize the incredible miracles he has done for us.

As we eat our matzah and drink 4 cups of wine, we will pray more than ever for the Final Redemption and the coming of Moshiach. Israel is and always will be the safest place in the world. L’Shana Habaah B'Yerushalayim. Next year in Yerushalayim!

The Ma Nishtana of 2024

In a few days, Jews worldwide will sit around the Seder table celebrating the Festival of Our Freedom.

In short: the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians, led by the tyrannic Pharoah, for over 200 years. Finally, by way of Moses and Aaron, the 10 plagues, the Splitting of the Sea and many miracles, G-d took us out of Egypt, out of slavery, out of spiritual desolation and brought us to Mount Sinai and eventually to the Land of Israel.

At the Seder, we recall both the slavery and the freedom, and consciously pass that piece of our heritage on to the next generation. We do things to pique the children’s interest, and encourage them to ask about everything they see. 

After they ask the Ma Nishtana—the Four Questions—the parents answer, by going into the details of the story. 

But this year, there are questions we cannot answer. 

If this is the night of our freedom, the night Pharaoh finally let us go, then why are 134 of our brothers and sisters still held hostage in deplorable conditions after more than half a year? Ma Nishtana?

If this is the night G-d obliterated our enemies, why am I deathly afraid of an imminent attack from Iran which has proven itself an existential threat to millions of Jews? Ma Nishtana?

And if Pharaoh, arguably the first antisemite, was shown up by G-d that night, why are we experiencing a tidal wave of antisemitism in every country across the world right now? Ma Nishtana?

Ma nishtana? How is this night different? Has anything really changed? Are we even free? 

As we sit around the Seder table and try to answer these four questions, we will lift our glasses and sing “Vehi She’amdah” - “In every generation, our enemies try to kill us, but G-d will always save us.” 

This is the only answer we can offer: Our beloved Father in Heaven is the only one we can turn to. He and He alone is steadfastly on our side. Just as He saved us from the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, Hitlers, Stalins and Arafats of the world, so too will He save us from Hamas, Hezbolla and the Iranian regime.  No one else cares; no one else is our friend. Only Hashem. 

So let’s invest in that relationship. Let’s turn to him and pray with all our hearts, “L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim,” next year may we celebrate Passover in the Holy Land together with all our brothers and sisters from across the world, with Moshiach and the Final Redemption. May it happen imminently.

Wishing you an uplifting Passover

My Son Is So Excited!

My son Zalman will be celebrating his bar mitzvah over the summer, and he’s very excited.

A few months ago I commissioned a scribe in Israel to write the scrolls for my son’s tefillin; it takes a good few months to write the scrolls meticulously, with a feather quill and ink, so they need to be ordered well in advance.

Every week or so Zalman asks for an update. “When am I getting my tefillin? Are they ready yet? Where are they?”

Well, finally this week the tefillin that we ordered six months ago arrived and his excitement reached peak levels. He wanted to try them on immediately even though his obligation doesn’t begin for another few months.

His eagerness was tangible; his face lit up when he wrapped the straps around his arm.

It took me back to my own excitement 33 years ago when my first pair of tefillin arrived for my bar mitzvah. I remember handling them with such care. Thank G-d, I have not missed a single day since, and I hope and pray Zalman will do the same.

Witnessing my son’s enthusiasm, I realized there’s a tremendous lesson we can all learn from it.

Consider what excites you in life. Is it the new iPhone? The new car you want to purchase? A new couch? Your next vacation?

When you get up in the morning, what motivates you? What are you excited about?

For Zalman, it’s his new tefillin. Sadly, for most of us it’s our material possessions. But we can all learn from my son to reignite our passion for spiritual things. Let’s get excited about putting on tefillin, discovering a new Torah thought, giving charity … any mitzvah!

In fact, the Torah advises us: “Every day the Torah should be for you like something new.”

I hope that we all find ways to incorporate my son’s excitement into our own lives, and I pray that Zalman remains as excited about his tefillin for the rest of his life. 

Yankele Gave Two Fingers for Am Yisrael

Our community just hosted an incredible group of 10 severely wounded IDF soldiers. Our community treated these heroes to the finest restaurants, Broadway shows, helicopter rides, a Knicks game, shopping, spectacular views, Times Square  and everything else Manhattan has to offer, as well as a visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens.

But more than we gave to them, they gave to us. These soldiers visited our homes and inspired our community. At our Shabbat of Thanks, Yankele* shared his story.

Yankele, 31, enlisted in the Givati Brigade in August 2012. On October 7th, he was called up from the reserves to fight and serve his country. After fighting for 75 days in Gaza, on December 15th, while searching for and uncovering tunnels with his team, Yankele entered a house in Khan Yunis. In the dining room, he found a cupboard suspiciously positioned right in the middle of the room and asked for permission to fire. Permission was granted.

He fired at the cupboard and three terrorists burst out. He was able to neutralize all three, but then a fourth emerged and fired a volley of bullets at Yankele. Yankele was hit in the stomach multiple times, as well as in his shoulder and hand. Because of his hand injury—he ended up losing two fingers—he could no longer operate his machine gun, but managed to take out his handgun and kill the terrorist with that.

Within 10 minutes he was evacuated to the hospital for surgery.

During his hospital stay, Yankele received a call from the Belev Echad staff inviting him to come visit the Belev Echad house in Kiryat Ono. It took some nudging but eventually Yankele stopped by, and as soon as he did, a light came on in his eyes, he fell in love, and as he says, “It saved my life!”

I watched Yankele throughout the trip and what I saw is a person who does not see himself as a hero at all. Yankele saved so many lives, and our Sages teach, saving a single life is like saving an entire world. And yet, he is so humble. He sees himself as someone who follows his mission and simply does what he needs to do.

We may not be active soldiers, but there’s much we can learn from Yankele. We are all spiritual soldiers. Our mission is to conquer the world and make it a better place, to illuminate the world with G-dliness and purity. Our challenges don’t compare with those of a soldier in Gaza, but nevertheless we face hurdles on our quest to transform the world. Like Yankele, we need to do the right thing, without fanfare, with simple humility. Just doing the right thing to elevate our world and bring Moshiach and the Final Redemption, when we will experience peace in Israel and around the world.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Moshe*, our heroic soldier!

This week, our community is hosting ten severely wounded IDF soldiers. These soldiers have all been injured in Operation Swords of Iron and they are in NY to recuperate from their injuries and to receive love from the community.

One of these soldiers, Moshe*, shared his story, and I was blown away. 

Moshe, 21 from Beit Shemesh, enlisted in the Golani Brigade in March 2021. On October 7, he was on the Kissufim base when Hamas attacked. Moshe was in charge of communications and radioed for help, only to find out that terrorists had overrun the entire south of Israel and they were on their own.

They were 10 soldiers up against an enormous amount of Hamas terrorists who had infiltrated Israel and their base and were firing RPGs, missiles, machine guns and grenades at them rapidly. The IDF soldiers tried their best to defend themselves. 

Moshe heard a fellow soldier cry out for help so he raced over to help him. On the way, he was shot in the face. The bullet struck his jaw on the right side of his face and came out his neck on the left side.

His friend placed two fingers over the hole and had to keep them there for eight hours to save Moshe's life. There was no other option; no way to evacuate. By keeping his fingers there for hours upon hours he saved Moshe’s life. 

Moshe has already had multiple surgeries to reconstruct his jaw, and faces multiple more upon his return to Israel. 

Where were we when Moshe shared his story with me? Eating dinner at Wolf and Lamb Steakhouse! 

Because of extensive nerve damage, Moshe finds it extremely painful to eat. He suffers with each bite. “Why eat steak?” I asked him. “Why not stick to yogurt and other soft foods that won’t cause pain?” 

“Are you kidding?!” he exclaimed. “And let the terrorists defeat me? Every time I eat, it’s a victory over Hamas. I will eat and enjoy my steak, even if it’s painful. I won’t let them make me change anything in my life.”

So he enjoys every bite even though he is in pain from the nerve damage. 

“What a hero!” I thought to myself. There is much we can learn from this young man!

Being Jewish requires sacrifice. It’s painful. We have to push ourselves past our comfort zone.  Wake up a little early and put on tefillin, even though you’re exhausted. As difficult as it is, turn your phone off for 25 hours of Shabbat. Set aside time each day to study Torah, no matter how busy and overworked you are. 

This week, as we celebrate Purim, we read all about the wicked Haman and the lengths he went to to try and kill all the Jews. Switch the “n” for an “s” and Haman becomes Hamas. And indeed, Hamas—the modern-day Haman—is trying their hardest to destroy us. 

The story is both historic and contemporary. 

But we will not be defeated. We survived then and we’ll survive now. It’s painful. It’s difficult. But just as Esther gathered the Jews together to pray and fast and beseech G-d for salvation, we will remain committed to our heritage and prevail over our blood-thirsty enemy.  

Moshe, you are our hero and we will forever be grateful to you! 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler


*Name changed for privacy reasons

Can You Imagine a Stress-Free World?

Imagine a world without any fear.

A world with no stress.

A world without sadness.

I had a glimpse into such a world this past Sunday. In fact, I step into this world almost every week when I visit my son’s yeshiva in upstate New York.

It’s a yeshiva where 55 boys study Torah day and night. They have no smartphones, no television, no radio. They are completely disconnected from the outside world. What they do have is lots of Torah, some basketball, some swimming, and no stress—it’s a blissful utopia.

It’s a world I’m envious of. This is how I lived my life as a student, and I often wish I could go back and recapture the experience.

I spent two hours there this week, studying Torah with my son. It’s so refreshing to disconnect from the world, delve into the intricacies of the Talmud, connect to what’s true, and forget about everything that’s wrong with the world for a few hours.

For these boys, this is how they live their lives until they grow older and are ready to “take on the world.” Their learning fortifies them, sharpens their minds, and gives them the strength to withstand all the challenges that this world has to offer.

When the world frightens us into thinking, “What will be? How will Jews survive with so many enemies and the growing antisemitism all over the world?” it’s those years of Torah study that fortify us. We know the answer: G-d is the one Who saved us time and again—like Esther and Mordechai in the Purim story—and G-d is the one Who will continue to save us.

When we wake up with the weight of the world on our shoulders—worried about work, bills, and all sorts of other problems—we can tap into the knowledge that everything that happens is directed by G-d and shrug off the stress.

When the world tells us to be sad because there is so much pain and suffering, we tell the world, “That’s true, but we’re commanded to be happy during the month of Adar. G-d is in control and has a master plan, so relax, be happy.”

“But I didn’t go to yeshiva,” you might say. “I didn’t fortify myself.”

Well, good news—it’s not too late.

Start your day with a little bit of Torah. Study it. Learn it. Absorb it. Until it becomes with you—part of who you are and how you think. 

Turn off your phone and your devices for Shabbat. Disconnect from the world for 25 hours and connect to G-d, your family, and your community.

Create that stress-free environment for yourself. Lean into the belief that G-d is in control, and you won’t believe how much easier life gets.

A Thief In Our Chabad House!

When I walked into my office on Sunday morning, I immediately knew something wasn’t right. I was the last one to leave the night before and I’m meticulous about turning the lights off, but now they were on. The door was open, something I am even more careful about. I lock the door every night and double-check it; growing up in South Africa, it’s second nature to me.

At first, I thought perhaps one of our cleaners forgot something and came back to retrieve it, but then I noticed a mess on the floor. 

Fortunately, we have state-of-the-art cameras and I started looking back to see what I could find. 

Lo and behold, at 7am that morning a thief broke into our offices. I saw him clearly on the cameras working on the lock for all of 20 seconds before gaining entry, while still somehow leaving the lock intact. I thought that lock was state-of-the-art, but apparently not!

I then watched him helping himself to whatever was around. He looked closely at the Torah, luckily it was of no interest to him. He liked some toys lying about. And he grabbed an Amazon package which I am sure he did not notice contained only some brochures, which are of no value to him.

In total, he was in our Chabad house for about 3 minutes—very quick work!

He even saw a $20 bill lying around on one of the desks but did not touch it.

Of course, we filed a police report and they came and took it seriously. Thank G-d, this was not an act of antisemitism. Just a New Yorker who broke into a few buildings on a random Sunday morning.

We’re fortunate we have cameras and that nothing substantial was taken or destroyed. It was a hassle, but nothing more, thank G-d. But I found myself wondering—why? What is the lesson here? What does G-d want me to learn from the experience?

And I thought of Rabbi Zusya of Anipoli, who learned a number of methods of serving G‑d from a thief. 

a) Thieves worked quietly without others knowing. In our Divine service, it's admirable to do good deeds without broadcasting them to others.

b) A thief goes to great lengths—even placing himself in danger—to achieve his goals. This guy could’ve easily been caught; I’m often in my office at 7am. We should be fearless in our service of G-d and our commitment to His mitzvot.

c) Minor details are critical to the thief. The police noted how quickly and expertly he unlocked the door. By paying attention to the smallest of details, we will become experts in our service of G-d.

d) A thief works hard! I mean, look at this guy—no sleeping in on the weekend! Up early and hard at work by 7am. If only we had this dedication in our tasks.

e) Thieves work quickly and efficiently. This one spent less than three minutes in our Chabad center. Surely we can embrace that alacrity and use it in our service of the Creator.

 f) Thieves are confident and optimistic—qualities we should emulate.

 g) Perseverance: If he does not succeed the first time, a thief tries again and again.

If we commit to doing a mitzvah—going to shul, lighting Shabbat candles, eating only kosher—and we struggle to keep the commitment, we just have to keep trying. Commitment. Perseverance. Just like the thief.

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