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I Bumped Into A Huge Bear!

This week I bumped into a bear. Yes, an actual lumbering, extremely large and ferocious-looking American black bear. 

We’ve been staying in a house just outside the city, and as I stepped out the other day, I immediately jumped back, startled to see a huge bear casually roaming around sniffing for food. I wasn’t more than 3-4 feet away! I quickly retreated into the house, locked the door, took out my camera, and started filming. 

Now, I grew up in South Africa, home to plenty of wild animals (baboons, lions, tigers, elephants), but we only ever saw those in the Kruger National Park, never just roaming the streets. Plus there are no bears in South Africa, so they are unfamiliar even to me. But apparently this is a common occurrence in rural America, as we’ve discovered in recent weeks. 

The bears aren’t only massive, they have huge claws, sharp teeth, run at 30 miles per hour, climb trees, and even swim well! So if a bear attacks you, there’s pretty much no escape other than praying to G-d to save you. 

But here’s the thing. The first time I saw this bear, I was terrified. But after speaking to the locals and doing my own research, it turns out these bears are actually quite timid and are probably more afraid of us than we are of them. Black bears are not grizzly bears or brown bears. They are quite gentle. 

Black bears are ruled by fear and food—in that order. Researchers are frequently surprised by how cautious these powerful animals are in response to the tiny rustling sounds of squirrels, mice, or birds. They are known to have retreated from butterflies, mallards, even a moth! Hunters can chase the biggest black bears with their smallest hounds, and many small, yapping dogs have chased black bears out of yards. Bear Center researchers have never encountered a black bear they couldn’t chase away. 

This weekend we celebrate the 12th of Tammuz, the day the Previous Rebbe was freed from imprisonment at the hand of the Soviets. Stalin forbade any kind of Torah study. Shuls, mikvahs, and yeshivas were not allowed to operate. Observance of the mitzvos was strictly prohibited. But the Previous Rebbe stood up to the raging beast of communism, confident and unafraid. Stalin killed millions of people, but the Rebbe knew the truth. He knew that G-d runs the world and he stood steadfast and strong even when arrested and tortured. Not once did he waver. Today, 92 years later, as we celebrate the Rebbe’s release from prison, we see the truth. The Soviet Union is long gone, Stalin is now remembered as one of history’s worst mass murderers, but Torah, Judaism, Chabad, the Rebbe’s legacy and chassidim—we are all still here and still going strong. 

What’s the message for us?

At times, it seems like our challenges are insurmountable. There is so much fear and anxiety in the world right now. But it’s like the ferocious-looking bear that is gentle at heart: We really have little to fear, as long as we realize that G-d runs the world. None of it can affect our souls. Our souls are part of G-d; they are eternal and untouchable. So instead of allowing fear and anxiety to consume us, let’s focus on strengthening our connection to G-d, so that when the beast of anxiety rears its ferocious head, we can talk it down and remind ourselves that we are safe, things will work out, and He has a plan that will ultimately be to our benefit.  

Coronavirus Is Over - Yay!

This week I Googled, “When will the coronavirus end?” and received no fewer than 5.2 billion results! My next question, “When is the coronavirus vaccine coming out?” narrowed it down to a mere 1.7 billion.  

Considering every conversation we have these days is about our fears and concerns over the great unknown… it’s hardly surprising that we’re all fruitlessly Googling the same questions. 

This week I found myself preparing our annual calendar, as I do every summer. Only this year, I don’t know where to start. When should we schedule our annual gala? Will we even be able to have a gala? What kind of Simchat Torah should we prepare for? Will we be able to have our usual High Holiday services? Which Friday nights will we be able to host community meals? What theme should our Purim party be? Each year we plan these events meticulously and mail out a schedule in September so people have ample time to prepare and save the dates. But this time, I found myself putting down, “I don’t know!” “I have no clue” and “no idea!” Question mark after question mark after question mark… 

It was one thing when the end of the year was in sight; not knowing from March till June was manageable, but now as we head into a new year, the not knowing feels insurmountable. 

One of the things we cherish most is control. Even those who aren’t usually Type A personalities are realizing just how much we are used to feeling in control. We feel at ease when we have plans. Having a vacation on the calendar makes it easier to get through the stressful winter. Knowing our job is stable, knowing which schools our kids will be attending at each stage, and what kind of party we’ll be making for their bar and bat mitzvahs in three years time gives us the sense of stability we all crave, whether we realize it or not. 

But at this point it’s been nearly four months since we had any clue what to expect, or any possibility of planning for the near or distant future, and we’re feeling the effects. 

So when will the coronavirus end? Whenever you decide! It’s that simple. You can end it right now if you want.  

You see, what we don’t realize is that we were never actually in control. Even when we feel like we are, it’s just an illusion. The only one running the world is G-d, so breathe deeply, meditate, contemplate His existence, place your trust in Him and let Him lead. You’ll be astounded by how quickly your fears and anxieties are allayed! 

I can assure you that the worldwide coronavirus will only end when the One Who is truly in control chooses, in His infinite wisdom, to end it. But we can end it right now for ourselves by placing our full trust in Him. 

This week we marked the 26th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. One of the things the Rebbe emphasized again and again, in all his talks, letters, and private audiences, is the importance of placing our trust in G-d and thinking positively. When we think optimistically, we can actually generate the positive outcome we’re hoping for. 

As I write this article, the news headlines read, “US sees single day record of coronavirus cases, suggesting the sacrifices made by millions of Americans were in vain,” “COVID-19 outbreaks are popping out across American farms,” “United States of Infected,” “World Putting America in Quarantine,” and “Houston Facing Apocalyptic July 4th.”

As Shabbat begins this evening, I look forward to turning off my phone for 25 hours and disconnecting from the onslaught of anxiety-inducing media. But we don’t have to wait for Shabbat. We can shut out the noise and the headlines every day, by placing our trust in the One Above. Let yourself have that experience, this week and beyond. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Would The Rebbe's Message To The World Be?

Dear Rebbe,

I miss you. It's been 26 long years since we last saw you, and more than ever, we need you now. We need your voice, your leadership, your far-reaching and unconditional love.

What would you say if we could hear you speak? What message would you convey to us and to the rest of the world? I try to imagine. 

You’d see the chaos and unrest on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. You’d see the boarded up stores, the angry protestors, the rioting and the looting. 

But you’d look deeper. 

You’d see the frustration and exhaustion, years in the making, that are bursting to the fore. You’d listen, really listen, and understand how fed up with the system people are. You’d gaze into the eyes of ordinary Americans and feel their immense dissatisfaction with the leadership, being locked down with no income for over three months, and you would recognize the deep and growing—seemingly unbridgeable—divide in this country. 

Dear Rebbe, I have lived with your teachings every day for the last 26 years, reading and re-reading your talks and letters, and I can picture you addressing us at a farbrengen this very Shabbos. 

While I don’t know exactly what you would say, I know you would reassure us. Your words would both calm and empower us. You would remind us that there is a Master to this Universe, Who is choreographing every move. You would emphasize the importance of good and the power of each individual to effect change. 

You would teach us to alter our perceptions and look beyond the surface. Beyond the frustration, we would see hope. Beyond the exasperation, resilience. Beyond the anger, determination to change. And beyond the hatred, we would see deep love for humankind and a desire to better the world for everyone. 

You would bring the kind of clarity we can only dream of! 

I know you’d tell us not to panic at the thought of the second wave that medical experts are predicting. You’d remind us that G-d is in charge, and you’d inspire us to place our full trust in Him. You’d encourage us to think positively, because doing so can actually change our reality. 

Dear Rebbe, I hear your voice in my head. I hear you crying at this bitter exile from which we have not yet broken free. I can hear you insisting—demanding!—that G-d send the immediate redemption. 

I can imagine your message to the world: 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.

Looking forward to reuniting with you physically real soon!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

Stuck Without Gas on the West Side Highway

This past Sunday I was sitting on my couch when a text flashed across my screen with a message from Rabbi Chaim Alevsky, a friend and colleague on the Upper West Side. Two teachers from Chabad of the West Side, Shternie Bulua and Dorit Gafni, were stranded on the West Side highway, their car stalled in the middle of traffic. Was anyone in the area and available to help?
 
I must say, my initial reaction was: “How does one get stuck in 2020, in NYC where there are gas stations everywhere, without gas? Can you not check your gas meter? There’s even a flashing light that warns you when you’re running low!” 
 
But within seconds I remembered that I had found myself in the exact same predicament just a few months ago: stuck without gas at Lexington and 92nd, despite the ample warning my car gave me!
 
We humans are so skilled at identifying faults in others, but more often than not, we are blind to our own. This was a powerful reminder for me to love others as we love ourselves. When I was in the same situation, I didn’t blame myself. I just filled up and went on with my day. 
 
Once that registered, I decided to jump in and see if I could help. I wasn’t in the area, but I posted on our community WhatsApp group, and within seconds my dear friend Shay Zach offered to help. He was on the Upper West Side, heading downtown, and was happy to stop and assist. I put him in touch with Rabbi Alevsky, who put him in touch with the stranded women, and sure enough, he found them, gave them a ride to the gas station, and they were on their way. 
 
I learned a couple of lessons from this story.
 
At first I wanted to ignore the message. I was happy to let someone else do the mitzvah. Helping takes time and effort and I was in my comfort zone. But that is a battle we face every moment of our lives. The good and evil inclinations are constantly at war. The evil inclination thinks only of itself; the good one wants to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult or time-consuming. 
 
A mitzvah and a sin both have an “oy!” and an “ahhh!” component; the difference is in the timing. While doing the sin, it’s so pleasurable that you feel “ahhh,” but when you realize what you’ve done, you’re hit with the “oy!” When you do a mitzvah, on the other hand, it’s hard, and you first grapple with the “oy!” But when it’s done, you can enjoy the “ahhh!”—the good feeling that comes from knowing you did the right thing. 
 
Going out of one’s way to help a stranger takes effort, but the reward is immense. Now, in my case, I hardly did a thing. It took minimal effort—just a phone call and a text. For Shay, it was about 30 minutes out of his day—a more significant contribution. And I can tell you that he definitely got a boost from the encounter. This pleasure that we experience when we help others is better than any Netflix show can make us feel … try it and see! 
 
When I talked to Shay afterwards, he told me how thankful he is for life slowing down these last few months. Pre-Corona he would have ignored the message, sure that he didn’t have time to help. But with nowhere to rush back to, he was happy to step in. “I hope to take this lesson back to my life even when things ramp up again: Slow down and help others along the way.”        
 
And when you help others, you won’t lose out, G-d promises. In this case, when Shay told the women he’s involved in packing and distributing packages to healthcare workers, they offered to come and help, so it’s a clear win-win all around. 

Miracle at the Rebbe's Ohel

Going to the Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens gives me a tremendous boost of energy. It enables me to really connect and focus, and before COVID-19 hit I prayed there at least twice a month. 

This week, I went again, weighed down by the overwhelming financial burden our Chabad center is facing. All our programs are on hold, and as the economy has taken a dive so has fundraising. Even for those who are still able to give, it’s very hard to solicit people when both parties are in quarantine. So much of fundraising needs to be done in person. It’s tough. 

As I prayed, I had a very large number in mind to cover immediate debt. But where could that possibly come from at a time like this?

And then—I kid you not—the phone rang. 

I had one psalm remaining and the caller ID said “restricted number.” In the era of sophisticated spam calls I rarely answer the phone unless I recognize the number, but since I was at the Ohel I took the plunge. Lo and behold, it was my friend Ilan*.

“Hi Ilan, how are you? What’s going on? It’s been a while.” 

We made small talk for a few minutes and then he got to the point. 

“It’s been a while since we connected, and I’d like to give your Chabad center some charity,” he explained. 

I’m always touched when people think of us, especially in hard times, but when I heard how much he wanted to give us, I couldn’t believe it. 

It was the exact amount I needed plus ten percent

Wow! I was blown away. This felt like a genuine miracle! 

I said, “Ilan, do you know where I am right now? I’m at the Ohel!” And he started to cry on the phone. 

I hesitated before sharing this story. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s personal. I’m exposing myself. But if it inspires one more person to go to the Ohel, to pray to G-d and connect with the Rebbe, it’s worth it, especially in these uncertain times. 

The Talmud talks about one “who believes in G-d and so he plants.” Planting will naturally yield results. The farmer’s hard labor will be rewarded when he eats the resulting fruit. So why must he believe in G-d and pray for success? The Talmud explains that all our financial worries and successes come from G-d, even when the delivery appears natural. 

Yes, we are living in treacherous and uncertain times. We’ve been in isolation for almost three months, hundreds of thousands have been sick, and now we’re seeing civil unrest on an unprecedented scale. The entire world seems to be in turmoil. But as our forefather Abraham discovered, there is a Master of this universe and He is in charge. It’s His job to sustain us and bring us to better times. We need to strike a balance between surrendering to Him and creating natural pathways for His blessings. 

I am so grateful to my friend Ilan for his incredible generosity, and to G-d for sending the blessings through him. But I cannot relax yet. This check only takes care of the immediate issues; I will be back at the Ohel next week with a lot more on my mind. Will you join me? 

*Name changed to protect privacy.

I Want to See You … NOT on Zoom!

It's been close to three months now since we started isolating, but this week restrictions eased up somewhat, and I was able to give out cheesecakes to our community in honor of Shavuot. We invited people to come and pick up the cheesecakes from the Chabad center, with masks and social distancing, and I noticed something unexpected.

It was such a pleasure to see everyone in person, even those I’ve been in regular contact with via video chat, phone, and Whatsapp.

I always made good use of social media, but since the quarantine started I’ve ramped it up tenfold, if not more! I give classes, have meetings, talk one-on-one to community members, stay in touch with family and friends and so much more. So the people who came to our Chabad center this week, I’ve seen—and recently! I talk to Jack on Zoom and I speak to Sarah via WhatsApp. Justine and I see each other on Facebook Live and I’ve been in touch with Natalie via phone. But when I saw the four of them, it was different. We were so excited to see each other in person, it was as if we hadn’t been in touch all this time! 

It had me wondering … what’s the big difference?

Zoom is wonderful, and we’re so fortunate to have it (and other platforms like it), but it doesn’t come close to real-life, in-person interaction. There is something compelling about being in another person’s physical presence that social media cannot capture. Even though we weren’t able to touch (no hugs or handshakes!), just seeing each other without the computer screen felt authentic and energizing. 

This weekend we celebrate Shavuot, when the our ancestors demanded “retzonenu lirot et malkeinu - we want to see our G-d!” And indeed, G-d revealed Himself and gave us the Torah. 

The Jews at Sinai demanded nothing less than G-d Himself. They wanted the real deal. They did not want G-d on Zoom. They refused to hear His words via Moses, His emissary. They demanded direct contact. Why? You simply cannot compare the spiritual experience. This is something the Jews appreciated even 3000 years ago. 

So today we turn to G-d and demand the same thing. We want direct contact. We want the virus to end so we can see and hug people in person. But more than that, we demand to see Moshiach, our redeemer, who will bring us to the era when we will finally see G-d and His doings up close and with clarity. 

Happy Shavuot

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

My Recipe for Happiness During Corona

 “Will your camp be open this summer?” 

“How about your preschool in September?” 

“Are we going to get paid at the end of this month?”

“Are we going to have a minyan for Shavuot?”

“Do you think there will be a second, more deadly, wave of Covid-19 in the fall?” 

“When can we go to the pizza store? Or bowling? Or ice skating?”

There are so many unknowns right now. So many reasons to feel frustrated, angry, depressed. 

No one seems to know anything, and the isolation is wearing us all down. 

I’m not used to this. I’m used to running events, a preschool, camp, Hebrew school, lectures, classes, Shabbat services, dinners, parties, and programs. But now my life revolves around my kids, my home, and a couple of Zoom meetings every day. I try to maintain a schedule. I still wake up at 5:00am and run two miles every day, which definitely helps, but is not enough on it’s own. 

And yet, I am happy. 

Of course I have my moods like everyone else, and I am certainly frustrated with the current situation. So how do I do it? Here’s my recipe.

Think to yourself, “What would make me happy today?” 

For me, well … I’d be thrilled if G-d saw fit to bless us with another set of triplets! If our Chabad center suddenly received a $10 million donation, I would be ecstatic. And I wouldn’t say no to a two-week exotic cruise. 

But this kind of happiness is derived from external circumstances. These are things that make me happy, but it doesn’t mean I’m truly happy inside. How do I get that? 

Three words. 

Surrender. Control. Give.

Surrender. I surrender myself to G-d. I know He has a plan and I know that my livelihood comes directly from Him. Yes, right now it seems like our income sources have crumbled, and the more days that go by the harder we will have to work to rebuild. But G-d can provide, even in quarantine. He is not limited by the physical circumstances that limit us. Surrender yourself to G-d and His plan, and you will feel a deep peacefulness replace the anxiety in your chest.

Control. We all like to feel in control, but even when it seems like we are, it’s illusory. We are not in control and neither are our elected officials. G-d is. Every single thing that happens is because He wills it so. The fact that Covid-19 swept across the globe was His doing. And we know that everything He does is for our good, even if we don’t see it at the moment. When we embrace the fact that G-d is steering the ship, instead of trying to counter-steer, we can let go and enjoy the ride.  

Give. Inspire others. I find that when I focus on myself, the misery accumulates, but when I give to others, the happiness can push through. So if you want to tap into that happiness, call and check in on a friend. Send words of encouragement (or flowers!) to someone you know is struggling. Donate to your favorite charity or individual in need. You’ll be helping others and improving your own state of mind in the process. 

Oh, and if you want to make me happy today? Drop a comment and let me know what this article means to you!

Will We Ever Go Back to Normal?

What is normal? If we know anything at all, it’s that the definition has radically changed over the last two months.

Normal used to be commuting to and from work each day, but Corona has forced us to reconsider whether we need to commute at all or if we can work entirely from home.

Normal used to involve eating out multiple times a week, but Corona has necessitated that we learn how to eat primarily from our own kitchens.

Normal used to mean entertainment required broadway shows, movies, and concerts, but we have shattered that notion by entertaining ourselves at home with our families and online Torah classes.

Normal Saturday nights used to mean getting dressed up and going out with friends; now we happily stay in with family, play games, and eat popcorn.

Normal used to be getting dressed up and driving out to attend celebrations. Corona has shown us that we can celebrate via Zoom.

Normal used to be that in order to be happy, we needed to make lots of money, go on vacations, travel the world. Corona has forced us to stop and notice how happy we can be taking life a little slower, staying home with family.

Normal used to mean business must be conducted in person, with lunches and office meetings, but Corona has taught us that we can strategize just fine over Zoom.

Normal used to include the assumption we could plan and schedule months ahead of time. Now we’ve gotten used to living day by day.

Normal used to mean there were answers to simple questions, like “When does summer camp begin?” Now, there are no answers and we’ve learned to live with that.

The truth is, Corona has shown me so clearly what it means to be a religious Jew.

To be Jewish means that whatever I considered normal yesterday cannot be the norm today.

Every day we need to challenge ourselves to defy what we know to be the norm. If yesterday keeping Shabbat seemed beyond my reach, today let me rethink that. Perhaps I can do it. If yesterday keeping kosher was too difficult, let me lean on what Corona has taught me: nothing is impossible. If yesterday learning Torah was not stimulating enough, today I will break that boundary and embrace it.

Every single night when I go to bed, I need to examine my actions during that day and resolve to do things differently the next day. Tomorrow I will be different. I will be kinder and more patient. I will overcome my evil impulses and temptations. And the day after that? I will be even better! Because Corona has taught me to strategize and rethink.

In the face of Corona we feel absolutely powerless. Will there be a second wave? Will there be a cure? Will schools reopen in September? Will there be summer camps? We don’t know. But one thing we do know, one thing Corona has brought to the forefront, is that we can put our trust and reliance in our Father in Heaven. He knows, He’s in control, and whatever He does will be in our best interest.

We wait patiently for the person who will be the ultimate defier of the norm—Moshiach himself, who will heal all the sick, bring a cure to all diseases, and bring peace to the entire universe.

Let’s defy our norm and pray even harder today that he arrives right now.

 

Have You Passed the Worldwide Marshmallow Test?

I’m finding that the deeper into this Covid-19 isolation we get, the more focused I’ve been on educating my children. This week, my wife and I decided to try the famous Stanford Marshmallow experiment on our triplets.

The experiment was first done at Stanford University as part of a study on delayed gratification. The researchers would offer the children the choice between one immediate marshmallow, or two marshmallows if they waited a period of time. The researcher would leave the room, so the children were alone with the marshmallow for a good 15 minutes or so.

We wondered how this would play out with our little ones, so we gave them each a giant marshmallow, with the promise of a second one if they were able to wait five minutes without eating it. The two boys did pretty well and waited obediently, even though they were tempted to take a nibble. My daughter, however, could not contain herself and enjoyed every bite before the five minutes was up, even with one of her brothers repeatedly reminding her not to!

Our experiment was all in good fun, but if you think about it, we all face the marshmallow test every day.

Ask yourself, what’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you grab your phone to check what’s new, or do you take the two minutes to wash your hands and say Modeh Ani? The satisfaction of checking your phone may be immediate, but if you can delay that gratification, training yourself to thank G-d first thing every morning, you’ll see that your life will transform in the long term.

Before you dive into your work emails, take the time to wrap tefillin and pray. You won’t see the results immediately, but over time you will develop an invaluable connection with the One Above.

And consider teaching your children to eat only kosher. The temptation to eat the non-kosher candy may be tremendous, but the self-control they will learn by delaying that gratification will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Keeping the laws of mikvah means you cannot be with your spouse until she dips in the mikvah, but the reward for the wait is a strong and vibrant marriage!

In fact, so many aspects of Judaism are about delayed gratification, it even has its own term: Itkafya.

For the last two months, we’ve all been in a large-scale marshmallow test. Our health experts and government officials have told us we need to remain in social isolation. It’s the only weapon we currently have in our arsenal to fight Covid-19. If we exit our homes we risk becoming sick and infecting others. And it’s hard. We want to go outside. We want to enjoy the beautiful weather, see friends and family, get back to work, go on with life. But if we can just hold on a little longer, we will reap the rewards of a much safer world.

Researchers in the original study followed the children’s progress over the following decades and found that those who resisted the instant gratification turned out to be more positive, self-motivated, and persistent, better able to face difficulties and achieve their goals.

Now, I think my daughter will be just fine even though she technically “failed” the test.

But ask yourself this - did you pass the marshmallow test today?

I Miss You

I miss my synagogue. I miss the joy, spirit, and singing. I miss kissing the Torah and hearing it read aloud. I miss the warm bonding that happens over the weekly kiddush. I miss having guests at our Friday night Shabbat table and weekly coffee dates out of the house with my wife. I miss going to the mikvah and visiting people in their homes. And I miss my bi-monthly visits to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s ohel, where I stock up on inspiration. 

I miss real, live, in-person contact with all of you. I miss giving my sermons and Torah classes. I mean, I love Zoom; we’re so fortunate to have it. But it cannot replace the real thing. For one thing, in person I can see if I’m putting the crowd to sleep and adapt accordingly. But with Zoom, participants can simply mute themselves and turn off their camera and I have absolutely no idea if they’re bored to tears or deeply engaged!  

I miss my life and the structure I used to have. (So do my kids!)

I miss my dear Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, our spiritual leader. What would he have advised us in this situation? I think about this a lot. 

Of one thing I am certain: the world cannot and will not be the same place it was pre-corona. And I’m not referring to wearing masks and maintaining social distance.  

When I go back to shul to daven with a minyan, I am going to appreciate it exponentially more! I will run to be there on time, answer “amen” loudly and with feeling, and infuse every aspect of the davening with gusto and fervor. I can’t wait to shake peoples hands again and wish them a hearty good shabbos!

When we can finally sit together as a community and have kiddush, how much love and respect will we share! Everything will be different. The way we communicate, interact, and show appreciation … all will have new layers of meaning.  

There are only 87 commandments that have remained possible to fulfill since the destruction of the Temple around 2000 years ago, and now even some of these we can’t fulfill properly! Why did G-d take this privilege away from us? I can’t speak for Him, but the message I’m taking is to use this time to increase my appreciation for the mitzvot once we are able to do them again. 

The Klausenberger Rebbe was once asked, “Which day of the Holocaust was the hardest for you?” 

“The day I was liberated,” he replied. 

“What do you mean? Your wife, 11 children, and most of your students were murdered. You nearly starved to death. You suffered so much. Surely liberation should have been your best day?”

The Rebbe explained: “Through all the suffering, what kept me going was the certainty that this must be the onset of Moshiach. Knowing, without a doubt, that Moshiach would come and liberate us, and that the world we’d eventually return to would not be the same at all, that is what kept me going. When I saw that it was the Americans, not Moshiach, that was the hardest day yet.” 

With G-ds help, may Moshiach be the one to announce that the coronavirus pandemic is over, and that we are going directly to Israel to begin the era of Redemption. And if G-d forbid it doesn’t end that way, by infusing meaning and excitement into the mitzvot we have been barred from fulfilling properly, we can ensure that the world we return to will not be the same one we left. 

I Can't Pay My Rent

On the 20th of the month, my landlord emailed me a link: “You can pay your rent right here on this website.”

Since we moved to our current apartment around seven years ago, I have paid the rent diligently. I may have been late by a couple of days once in a while, but I certainly never missed a payment. This April, however, deep into the month I still had not paid my rent, and so he reached out to me.

Now this landlord owns thousands of apartments all over the city; I don’t know exactly how many buildings he owns, but I know it’s a lot. I figured this was a mass email sent out to all the tenants who still hadn't paid, so I didn’t respond.

The next day he sent a follow up: “GM, I had sent you an email about paying rent online. Have not heard from you yet. Pls call this AM in this regard, stay safe.”

Clearly, this was not a mass email. Oops! This was personal; he knows that I have not paid and has personally reached out to me himself, not through any of his numerous employees. So I responded. 

“Hope all is well with you,” I wrote. “Unfortunately I am not in a position to pay rent this month. Our entire operation has been shut down. Our shul, preschool, Torah classes and many other programs have all moved to Zoom, and donations to our Chabad center are down by 90 percent. Is there any way you can help us in this unfortunate time?”

Like millions of people across the world who are having this conversation with their landlord, I am not unique. Someone emailed me a few days ago, “Rabbi, this is the darkest period of my life. It has never been worse; my income is down to zero and I have lost all my money.”

My landlord replied immediately: “That is a big chunk of change to ask for. I have a bank breathing down my back.”

And then I realized that my landlord does not own the building I live in—the banks do! He owes them money, and he may in fact be in an even worse position than I am. “The more possessions we have, the more worries we accumulate,” the Mishnah tells us.

So who is responsible for the damages that have been caused by the coronavirus? Is it my fault that my operation has ceased to exist? Is it the landlord’s burden to bear? Is it the banks? Who is ultimately responsible?

But then I asked myself, how have I been able to pay rent the last few years? Of course, it’s all G-d! Yes, I work hard. Most mornings I am up at 4am, and my work is essentially helping other people, but I still have to pay my bills each month. And the one who has helped me until now is G-d. In fact, the Torah promises us, “G-d shall bless you in all that you do.” 

How is the doctor who has patients streaming through his practice able to pay his bills? We might assume it’s his skill and experience, but of course that’s not it. It’s G-d. 

How is the lawyer, who is inundated with high-paying clients, able to pay her bills? We may chalk it up to her superior intelligence and excellent education, but that’s not it either. Of course not. It’s G-d. 

And how about the finance guru who is raking it in through stocks? Is it because of his clever investment strategy? Of course not. His success, too, is all thanks to G-d. 

The same G-d that enabled the doctor, lawyer, finance guru, and me to pay our bills the last few years will continue to do so now. But we must create a vessel, a portal if you will, for that to happen. We can’t sit back and expect the money to flow from heaven. We must work and create natural channels for the blessings to come our way. 

Lest we think we are smart and tough and resilient and responsible for our own successes and earnings… this would be a huge mistake! The one who has been paying our bills is G-d.

And so now, during this difficult period in our lives, who will help? Of course, G-d will! We still have to put in the effort, and perhaps even redouble our efforts, but at the same time we must increase our faith in G-d and know that He will not abandon us.

As for me and my landlord, for now we’ve worked out a mutually satisfactory deal for the next three months, after which hopefully all will be well again. 

We Inspired Moses!

Moses was the most humble person to ever walk the earth - “V’ha-ish Moshe anav me’od mikol ha’adam,” the Torah tells us.

Why is that?

Kabbalah explains that when Moses looked to the future and saw Jews living today, he was humbled. 

Moses, whose greatest accomplishment was facilitating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai 3,332 years ago, was humbled when he saw that despite being forced to close down all our yeshivas and communal learning structures for the first time in history, there is an unprecedented amount of Torah classes being given over Zoom, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram. He was blown away by our dedication. 

Moses, the master of tefillah, greatest prophet and communicator, was inspired when he saw that despite all minyanim and shuls being shut down across the globe, we haven’t stopped praying. We’ve transformed our homes into places of tefillah, and joined forces over Whatsapp to say tehillim in groups; more davening is happening than before! 

Moses, the greatest leader in history, was humbled when he saw that although we have been orphaned of our Rebbe, our leader, for 25 years, we haven’t fizzled into oblivion. We have been forced to become our own leaders, even in isolation. 

Moses, who was taught us the true meaning of ahavat Yisrael with his willingness to sacrifice his own life to save the Jewish nation, was awestruck to see that despite the economic crisis and financial fear we’re facing, we have exhibited unprecedented levels of kindness and generosity during this pandemic. So much tzeddakah has been given, hatzalah volunteers are working round the clock, and doctors and nurses are putting their very lives on the line. 

Moses, who performed the greatest miracles, smiting the Egyptians with 10 plagues, splitting the sea for us, and feeding us in the desert for 40 years, looked at our generation and saw that despite our low spiritual status, we have the ultimate self sacrifice and love for Hashem and His mitzvot—the greatest miracle of all! 

On the 28th day of Nissan in 1988 the Rebbe gave a fiery talk and declared: “I have done all I can possibly do to bring Moshiach. Now I turn the matter over to you.” These words have never been more pertinent than in our times. We are doing all we can, but we can always do more. Let’s push ourselves and see what miracles we can procure.

 

Kabbala of Opening the World or Keeping it Shut?

The big question on everyone’s lips this week is whether we’re ready to re-open the world or if it would be wiser to stay shuttered for longer.

On the one hand, we’ve been in isolation for six weeks already and the world’s economy has been virtually decimated. Millions of people are out of work and it’s extremely difficult (and sometimes dangerous) for people to remain isolated.

On the other hand, if things open up too quickly, the virus will likely have a resurgence putting many more lives at risk. And we know, saving a single life is akin to saving the entire world.

And so, the debate rages on. Economy or health? How and when can we reopen? Under which conditions? How can we stagger it? What else do we need to have in place?

The truth is, this question is not new or unique to our day and age. It’s one that is asked every time a child is born.

On the one hand, the soul would love to stay in Paradise, pure, untainted, enjoying it’s isolation with its Father in Heaven, where each second is infinitely more pleasurable than anything this world can offer.

But on the other hand, in order to make this world a better place, the soul needs to descend into the physical realm, enter a body, and start refining the world around it.

Unfortunately, doing so endangers the soul. It can become contaminated from all the falsehood that exists in this world. Every time a person lies, cheats, steals, deceives, violates Shabbat, or eats non-kosher food, more damage is done to the soul than any coronavirus can possibly inflict. The coronavirus only harms a person in this physical world; spiritual damage affects a person both in the current world, and in the World to Come.

Ultimately, the decision is made to send the soul into the world, and G-d empowers it to succeed, equipping it with the tools to combat the hurdles and overcome the temptations that it will inevitably encounter. The mind rules the heart; if we so desire, we can overcome temptation and perform only mitzvot.

In fact, it says as much in this week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora. The Torah discusses a woman giving birth, referring to the soul desperately cleaving to G-d. We tell the soul, “We know how much you want to stay with G-d, but you can only fulfill your mission in the physical world. We need you here. It will be hard, but we’ll give you the tools you need. You cannot opt out. We need you too badly.”

And with this coronavirus, too, eventually we will need to re-open the world. It’s our mission. We cannot continue without it. But when we do, we will not only take the necessary physical precautions such as wearing masks and gloves and using Purell, but also the spiritual ones which will fortify us and enable us to fulfill our mission in this world!

Hope to see you soon in the real world!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

The Corona has Shattered my Heart but Inspired my Soul!

I underestimated this coronavirus. 

I’ve never given much thought to the High Holiday prayers where we say, “Our Father in Heaven, remove the plague from our midst.” 

Until now. 

I never imagined Corona could break my heart, but it did this week when I spoke to a woman who will be doing the Seder alone for the first time in her 76 years. No children or grandchildren. Just her, lonely, isolated, stuck in her apartment for weeks already. 

I never thought Corona would make me cry, but it did when I paid a virtual shiva visit to a woman who lost her father to the virus. I cried with her as she described not only losing her father, but sitting shiva with no visitors and nobody to say kaddish for him. 

I was devastated to learn that Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, Rosh Yeshiva of the school I studied in many years ago, passed away this week. May his memory be a blessing. 

My heart physically aches when I see the hundreds of names of people (including friends and family) needing our prayers for a speedy recovery. 

And when news arrives of people I know, admire, and respect, who have passed away, my heart shatters. 

But in tandem with the pain, the turmoil, and the heartbreak, Corona has brought out the best in us. I see it all around me. 

I see people praying for those they don’t even know. I see Torah being studied at an unprecedented rate across the universe. 

I am connecting with friends I have not seen in 25 years. Corona has brought us together. 

I am spending more time with my children, too. I’ve been with my family for breakfast, lunch, and supper every day!

Tens of thousands of homes have become beacons of light and sanctuaries of Torah. 

I spoke with a doctor this week who has volunteered to go into the eye of the storm—the hardest hit hospitals—to help complete strangers.   

These are the things, the people, the experiences that inspire me. In the darkest of times, there are still rays of light peeking through, illuminating the world for the rest of us. 

When the Jews left Egypt, we are told “their cries went up to Heaven,” and, “G-d heard their cries.” I cannot imagine that G-d does not hear us now. Our cries, our tears, our pleas. He hears it all.

Master of the Universe, we beseech you: It's time to end this plague and bring Moshiach right now!

Wishing you all a kosher and happy Pesach.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

The most powerful weapon ever created

My dearest child,  

We spent billions of dollars developing and producing the deadliest weapon on earth —the hydrogen bomb—so that if anyone dared to harm you, we could keep you safe.   

We gathered the finest minds in the world to design the most advanced F16 fighter jet, capable of destroying an enemy thousands of miles away, so that you could go to school safely. 

We created the strongest army in the world, training millions of soldiers to be ready to face any enemy so that you could visit your grandparents anytime you wanted.

We devoted massive amounts of time, energy, and resources inventing the most powerful tanks, submarines, missiles, and guns, so that you could go to the park and play in peace. 

We spent years training the best doctors and building the greatest hospitals and research programs, so that if you ever became sick we would know how to heal you.

Now, my beloved child, despite all this, we find ourselves powerless and unequipped to stave off the invisible monster, COVID-19. 

But let me assure you, we have one weapon left in our arsenal. One superpower we can still use. It can penetrate deeper than a nuclear bomb. Its power is greater than the mightiest army. It can destroy what tanks, missiles and submarines cannot.

What is this weapon, you ask? 

Prayer.

When we pray from the depths of our hearts, the virus stands no chance. If we band together and beseech G-d for mercy, corona cannot prevail. 

This weapon has a proven track record. Our ancestors used it, and so did their ancestors, all the way back for thousands of years. 

So now, dear child, let’s pray together, continuing the legacy of those who came before us. Let’s say Shema together, read some Psalms, put on tefillin and make sure the mezuzot on our doors are kosher, talk to G-d in our own words and beg him to eradicate this devastating coronavirus and heal all those already afflicted. 

And, dear child, let us pray that He bring the Final Redemption with Moshiach, when all evil, suffering, and illness will be banished from the world.

Take heed, my child. The power is ours. Let’s embrace it. Together, we can accomplish the impossible. 

Your loving father

*Written by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Manhattan NYC*

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