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ELAL security guard detains one of our congregants

Last week, one of my dear friends was on his way to Israel. When he got to JFK airport, he went through the ELAL security. The security guard asked him the regular questions. Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you going to Israel? And then he asked him “Are you Jewish?” He replied yes. 

"Are you affiliated with any congregation?” Yes. “Which one?” Chabad. "Which Chabad?" Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side. "Well," the guard said, "which Jewish holiday did we just celebrate?" My friend answers "Gee, I don’t know." So the guard says "Well, which Jewish holiday are we going to celebrate soon?" So my friend answered: "Thanksgiving…"

At that point the guard called his superior and a few other guards and they took my friend to another room where they checked all his bags and clothing from top to bottom…

As Jews we thank G-d daily for everything He does for us. In fact the very first thing we do as we wake up every morning is thank G-d for returning our souls to us. We thank Hashem before we eat, we thank Him after we eat. We pretty much thank Him for everything that happens to us during the day. There is even a prayer we say after coming out of the bathroom, thanking Him for healthy digestion.
This is how Joseph, in this weeks Parsha, was able to maintain his sanity. Think of it: He was orphaned at the age of nine. His own brothers wanted to murder him and instead sold him as a slave at the age of seventeen. He was imprisoned at the age of eighteen for a crime he didn’t commit. Ten years he languished in prison, and instead of feeling depressed and embittered at the world he was happy, he was always praising G-d for His kindness. His happiness stemmed not from his external surroundings but rather from within, from G-d. He knew that there was obviously a reason for everything that happened to him.

And not only that, but he also sought to cheer up his fellow prisoners, Pharaohs ex-butler and baker. One day he notices that they were exceptionally down. Joseph, instead of wallowing in his own misery, asks why are you upset? Why are you depressed? And because of that question he was eventually catapulted into becoming the second most powerful person in the entire world. They related that they each had disturbing dreams. He interpreted them, and then two years later this same butler recommends him to Pharaoh, which led him into power.

As Jews we thank G-d all the time. We celebrate Thanksgiving every day, not just once a year. However, when an ELAL security guard asks you which Jewish holiday is coming up PLEASE know that the answer is Chanukah!

My thanks to Rabbi Avi Shlomo for editing this article. 

Are you an honest person?

After a person passes away, the very first question he is asked by the Heavenly Court is: Did you act honestly in your business dealings? Torah is not only concerned with a persons religious observance, but is equally adamant that a person conduct his business honestly and justly. No fraud, no stealing, no ponzi schemes.

But this doesn’t only apply to stealing people's money; it also applies to stealing people’s minds. 

I was twenty minutes early for an appointment in Midtown this week, so I went into a store to kill off the time. I walked around the aisles without any intention of actually buying anything. When one of the sales representatives came over to me and asked me if I needed help with any of the merchandise, I realized that I had just inadvertently transgressed on the prohibition of “גניבת דעת” which means the stealing of the mind, deception. 

Since I had no intention whatsoever of buying anything, I was misleading the optimistic salesman, and so it turns out I had 'stolen'. Saying 'Ill come back later and buy it', even if you just want to make the salesman happy, is also forbidden.
Likewise, if I sell someone a building, I have to tell him about any problem the building may have. If I buy a fake burberry bag and want to give it to my friend as a present, I cannot take off the sticker that says 'made in China'. I cannot paint my old car and make it look brand new in order to sell it. I cannot invite a friend for dinner knowing full well that they will not be able to make it.

Today, we are so careless about our pledges and promises that we already expect everyone to know we were only 'kidding'. But still that is not an excuse! If you tell me, 'Rabbi, I'll try to make it to shul' you have to really try!

This poses a question on a pledge that Jacob makes to Esau in this week's Torah Portion.

At their fateful reunion after twenty years of not seeing each other, Jacob promises Esau that he will meet him in Esau's homeland, Mount Seir. Yet, we don't find anywhere that Jacob ever actually fulfilled this pledge?! It seems like he is merely finding a polite way to say 'good riddance'? Wasn't this stealing Esau's mind?
But the truth is, that it is up to us to get to Seir. We are bound to fulfill Jacob's promise. When Moshiach, a descendant of Jacob, comes, the Torah tells us that he will be the one to finally ascend to Mount Seir, symbolizing the absolute transformation of evil, Esau, to goodness.

May we all reinforce our commitment to honesty and integrity in all walks of life. And especially the pledges we make to our business partners, our spouses, our children, and our rabbi. 

Shabbat Shalom.

My thanks to Rabbi Avi Shlomo for writing this article.

A billionaire addresses 5000 Rabbis

This past weekend saw five thousand rabbis gather together for a weekend of seminars and workshops during the annual Chabad Convention in Brooklyn. The conference concluded with a gala banquet in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In what is termed as the largest sit down event in New York, an entire warehouse was converted into a banquet hall with 95 chefs preparing the meal and 400 waiters serving it together with 15,000 glasses and 30,000 pieces of cutlery.

The guest speaker, Gennedy Bogolubov, flew in from the Ukraine to address the crowd. Bogolubov inspired the crowd as he related how his life took an upward turn after he started giving charity. To date, he has given millions of dollars to various Chabad causes, and expressed his amazement at how a mere act of giving can bring so much joy. “No longer am I focused on myself and my own needs, rather I get to concentrate on what other less fortunate people require. The ripple effect of charity is far reaching into many other areas of my life, creating an incredibly positive flow.” Many people believe that if they were to donate their hard earned money, they would automatically surrender some essential part of themselves. In fact, the opposite is true. Bogolubov concluded by saying that if given the opportunity, he wouldn’t change a thing and would gladly re-donate the same millions.

The Torah interestingly refers to the act of giving charity as “taking.” We learn this from the time when the Israelites were instructed to contribute toward the building of the Tabernacle. G-d commanded them to "take a contribution." The commentaries explain that the strange terminology refers to the benefit derived from the mitzvah of charity, for when one gives, it is not he that is doing the favour, rather it is the receiver who gives the donor the opportunity to perform this immensely beneficial mitzvah.

The Torah instructs us, "Tithe so that you shall prosper." The prophet Malachi swears that G‑d will "open the windows of heaven and shower us with blessing to no end." Our sages taught that in the merit of charity we are blessed with life, grace and abundance. Indeed, compassion toward others evokes Divine compassion toward us. In times of economic downturn, when we need G‑d's blessing more than ever, charity is not a luxury, it is a necessity. And one needn’t be a billionaire to give. For when the average Joe pledges ten percent of his earnings, his contribution rivals even that of the greatest philanthropist. So start giving!

Four Thousand Rabbi's

In this week’s Torah portion of Toldot, we celebrate the birth of Eisav and Yaakov. It would probably be fair to say that the only thing the two brothers shared in common was a date of birth, for while Yaakov chose to learn all day in his tent, Eisav diligently devoted himself to the murder and violation of all those around him.

Chassidic thought views Torah not as a mere history book, but rather as a timeless guide for every Jew, directing him toward a life of meaning and fulfilment. The twins thus represent the two inclinations that comprise each individual. Both the beastly soul and the G-dly soul desire exclusive dominion over the body, and each uses the organs at hand to achieve this purpose. While the G-dly soul attempts to steer the legs in the direction of shul, the beastly soul wishes to divert them toward stealing from the hot dog vendor. The brain is utilized by the G-dly soul to absorb words of Torah just as the beastly soul tries to use it to drink in criticism of others.

Unfortunately the ongoing clash between good and evil exists on a global scale as well. Today I found myself on a live battlefield as the largest and most powerful spiritual army in the world gathered to celebrate the annual Chabad Shluchim Convention which takes place in Brooklyn every Rosh Chodesh Kislev.

Picture the scene: four thousand rabbis gathering together for four days of workshops, meetings and seminars. A weekend filled with inspiration and warmth, a time to recharge their batteries and re-energize themselves so that they can continue giving back to their communities worldwide. Talk about combat training! Yesterday I drove to the Ohel to meet my father who had flown in especially from South Africa. As soon as I got out of my car, I bumped into a classmate who is now the chief rabbi of Estonia. While chatting with him, an old friend currently stationed in Sydney slapped me on the back. As I turned to greet him, a colleague from Cape Town began to unload his luggage from the next car.

You can imagine the deep sense of unity prevalent in the air. Crown Heights is literally swarming with rabbis and leaders of communities all over the world. During a conversation with a friend from Thailand, he shares his concern with me about his daughter’s education as there are no Jewish schools in Bangkok. Another rabbi from Zhitomir describes the intimidating incidents of anti-Semitism. Each one has his own challenges and obstacles to overcome, but together we make up an army fighting for a single purpose: to make the world a better place, to bring Moshiach closer.

Many times it seems that the other side has the upper hand, using merciless tactics to reach its goal. Whether they rain bullets on us or UPS bombs to our institutions, we will keep on fighting back. Because as long as they devote themselves to fanning the flames of hatred and seeking out innocent victims on which to let it out on, we will continue our pursuit of all that is good and sacred until we reach the ultimate triumph of good over evil. And we will prevail.

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