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Do you delete my emails?

delete.jpgWhen I send out my weekly e-mail, there are usually three types of reactions. Reaction number one is from people who actually read the e-mail and then comment on what a wonderful message it held. The second response is from those who argue that the content makes no sense whatsoever. And the third reaction is to simply hit delete upon arrival. In fact, when delivering a sermon, I see the exact same thing: some listen attentively, others argue back and the third group hit the snooze button as soon as I start to talk.

In the denial of G-d there are three types. The first was Bilaam, the Midianite prophet who communicated with G-d yet possessed a twisted belief in that he had no issue with G-d’s existence, only G-d’s unity. Sancheriv, King of Assyria, was the second non-believer whose denial expressed itself in his constant cursing and blasphemy of G-d. Pharaoh made it to third when he famously ignored Moses’ demand to let G-d’s people go, declaring, “Who is this G-d that I should listen to Him?”

At first glance it would seem Sancheriv is the worst of the lot based on his constant cursing. But in actual fact, Pharaoh far surpasses him, for his denial is based on a total lack of acknowledgement of G-d. Sancheriv was at least affected by G-d, no matter if that effect was negative.

It works exactly the same way in a marriage. The worst reaction to a shouting spouse is to ignore him or her for a week. Because when you shout back, at least you acknowledge each other while ignoring the spouse is in actuality denying their existence.

It reminds me of my days as a student in Yeshiva. I would stand in the streets of Tel-Aviv, offering pedestrians to don tefillin. Some people would immediately acquiesce. Others would shout and curse me out for intefering with their lives. But worst of all were the people who would simply continue walking, pretending they had not heard a word I had said.

This is why G-d brought frogs upon Egypt. Because the beastly kingdom is also divided into three categories: first are dogs and cats that are loveable animals as well as useful to man; the second type comprises poisonous animals that at least say something about creation, and the third category includes animals whose existence seems totally pointless. Such as frogs. Not good, not evil; simply harmless, bland creatures.

Judaism is the antithesis of Egyptian culture. For a Jew to thrive, he must be driven by a passion, powered by an engine of holiness. As such, the Jew’s worst enemy is apathy, or lack of interest - the defining element of the Egyptian empire and its plague of frogs.

FML FML FML OR LML

A recently conducted survey by the creators of Facebook found that the most common status update is the term “fml.” We’ll leave the ‘f’ open to your interpretation, but the ‘m’ and ‘l’ stand for ‘my life.’ With one twelfth of the world’s population using the website-- approximately 500 million-- Facebook has become the largest cyber country in the world. Why are so many people frustrated with their lives? Makes me wonder what can possibly be affecting such a broad span of the population and, more importantly, how did they get to this point?

The Torah portion of Sh’mos relates the concern of a young Moses for his Jewish brothers. While visiting them one day, he witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster striking a Hebrew. Seeing no one around, he killed the Egyptian and buried him. The next day he encountered two Hebrews quarrelling and asked one, “Why are you about to strike your friend?” To which the man retorted, “Will you strike me as you struck the Egyptian?” Upon hearing this, Moses grew very afraid that Pharaoh would find out, which in fact he later did.

The Torah is renowned for its brief, concise terminology. Since every word holds dozens of secrets and lessons, the Torah scrupulously avoids adding in even a single superfluous letter. The question here is, why did the Torah see fit to share the emotional state Moses found himself in? Of what benefit is the knowledge that Moses was afraid?

The lesson the Torah wants to teach us is the power of thought. We all know the saying, “Think good and it will be good.” The Chassidic masters taught that the power of positive thoughts lies not merely in the fact that they lead one away from negative ones, but rather that when one thinks positively, he literally draws down G-d’s blessing. Positivity breeds positivity-- by thinking good one places his full and unequivocal trust in G-d, urging Him to oblige. The problem is, is that it works two ways. So when Torah tells us the Moses was afraid, it concludes by saying that Pharaoh did actually find out. Because Moses triggered it.

So for all those “fml” users out there, take note. Negativity is a catalyst for more negativity. Instead of starting your day with “fml”, why not try “lml” – “LOVING my life?”

Mimi the hamster

mimi.jpgLast Friday as I picked up my four year old daughter from school, she bounced into my arms, barely containing her excitement as she declared she was bringing home a guest for Shabbos. I asked her who this special guest was, to which she replied simply, “Mimi.”  I don’t know her classmates that well, but I’m pretty sure there are no Mimi's. Just then she pointed to a hamster- the class pet- informing me that she was given the honor of spending Shabbos with us.

And quite a Shabbos it was. Hamsters, as it turns out, are nocturnal, so Mimi spent the entire night running on her exercise wheel while our kids stared enthralled.

After Shabbos I googled the hamster’s obsession with the wheel and discovered that due to very poor eyesight, it doesn’t realize it is running around in circles all day. But all ends well for the rodent, as G-d compensated it with an acute, almost supersonic, hearing sense and a highly sensitized sense of smell.

The same principle holds true for all of G-d’s creatures: when we are deficient in one area, G-d compensates us by giving us something else.

Every one of us carries a burden in some form or another, each one of us endures an exile of some kind. For some it’s a constant financial stress. For others it is the pain of loneliness, or the agony of infertility. But know this: G-d handpicks our hardships for us, no man is laden with a worry he cannot carry. And furthermore, when G-d makes us suffer in one aspect of our lives, he allows us to excel in another aspect.

Perhaps this is why we bless our children with the blessing that Jacob bestowed upon his grandchildren Ephraim and Menashe, “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” But why would Jacob perpetuate the names of these two grandchildren as opposed to his own children, the twelve tribes of Israel? What was so special about these two that turned them into beacons of our nation?

The answer lies in the interesting fact that out of all Jacob’s seventy children and grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe alone were born and raised in Egypt. They were kids who grew up in a hostile environment, challenged by a total lack of Judaism. No cousins to play with, no grandparents to share stories of their tradition. Yet, through all this, not once did they cave in to peer pressure. They remained loyal and devout Jews till the end.

Ephraim and Menashe inspire us to overcome our own hurdles and weaknesses. Their legacy stirs us to live our lives as real Jews despite our challenges and obstacles.

Selling land to the Arabs - a nation torn apart

Chanukah is always an especially joyous holiday for yeshiva students. As a student, I remember handing out doughnuts, latkes and menorahs in the streets of Israel and New York, sharing the light of Chanukah with our dear brothers and sisters. In the pre-9/11 days, I would get security clearance at Ben Gurion Airport and share the loot with all the duty free employees and passengers. It was over there that I wondered how the recipients felt about our Chanukah expeditions. And it was only twelve years later, this week in fact, that I finally found out.

With thanks to one of our congregants, I was enlightened:

As a waiter in a local New York restaurant, Sam was a regular with the yeshiva boys on their Friday tefillin route. After two years, when Sam found himself a new job in an upscale non-kosher restaurant, he was relieved to finally get away from the pesky boys.

That Chanukah he began reminiscing about his father lighting the menorah, and the joyous family celebrations that always followed, punctuated with games of dreidel, hours of singing and mouth watering, homemade doughnuts. He recalled his religious upbringing and felt his mood darken as he pondered his current dismal position, far removed from anything religious, serving pork in a lonely and unfriendly restaurant.

As if reading his thoughts, a mitzvah tank pulled up outside and ten yeshiva boys streamed out, laden with doughnuts, latkes, menorahs and more. Sam realized how much he had missed his old pals as they explained their efforts to track him down. Together they lit candles, sang traditional Chanukah songs and danced in brotherly love. For the first time in two long years, Sam felt connected to his heritage. Since that day, Sam welcomes the boys on Fridays with open arms…

As a child, Yosef was terribly abused. It was a miracle that his brothers only sold him into slavery instead of murdering him as they originally intended. For the next 22 years, Yosef suffered in silence as he was tortured and tormented in Egypt. After all that time, unbeknown to his brothers, he meets them face to face, only now he is second in command to the Pharoah. Anyone would expect a person in Yosef’s position to relish the opportunity for revenge.

Instead, after revealing himself, Yosef assures them he has no such intentions, for the entire saga was G-d’s plan, the brothers were merely the messengers chosen to execute the chain of events.

Few others would have reacted as righteously as Yosef. What a gem this man is and how worthy he is of his title, Yosef HaTzaddik, Yosef the Pious, for his entire character radiated a deep and unmatched goodness. How much better off we would be if we were to learn from Yosef and find the courage to forgive and forget.

This is ultimately what the miracle of Chanuka is all about. The differences of opinion today in Israel regarding selling land to the Arabs is almost tearing our nation apart. Sure we are all different. But whether religious or not, Sephardi or Ashkenaz, we all share one thing in common: a small flame of G-d burning deep within us. And when we stand before the menorah, we gaze at its candles and are reminded of our common fire and the ties that bind us. Let us unite together as one!

 

Can a Menorah be covered with a tree?

This week one of our preschool parents asked me if it was ok for her family to have a tree this year. She explained that her son's friends enthuse about their trees at home, sharing vivid details of its decorations and the mountains of gifts that pile up underneath. Naturally, her son asked Mom and Dad if they too could bring a tree home. "Instead of a tree," I replied, "why don't you try a beautiful menorah which you can light for eight nights in a row, enjoying games of dreidel after and handing out chanukah gelt and gifts?"

In the end she decided to compromise by decorating a menorah with branches to make it resemble a tree.
 
The exchange left me somewhat confused. Chanukah is a holiday filled with meaning (as are all Jewish holidays), a celebration of light over darkness, of purity over evil and the conquest of goodness over immorality. Why on earth would someone wish to mix a practically meaningless tree into this significant holiday? More to the point, how can we hope to implant our children with a love for Judaism and an appreciation for its values if we confuse them with conflicting practices?
 
An man once firmly told a rabbi that he does not believe in G-d and is thus a confirmed atheist. The rabbi asked him, "Have you ever studied the Torah?" "No." he replied. "Mishna?" Again, negative. "Talmud? Prophets?" When all the replies came out similar, the rabbi told the man, "You, my friend, are no atheist. You are an ignoramus!"
 
While hopefully not atheists, many of us suffer from a lack of knowledge. The word "Chanukah" shares its root with the word "lechanech"- to educate.  The beauty of Chanukah lies in the opportunity it grants us to learn about our religion. The Macabees' victory was not just physical, but also spiritual. The Greeks forbade the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot. In fact, the game of dreidel was invented by the Jewish kids of the time who would whip the toys out to conceal their books of Torah when the Greek soldiers would approach. The miracle of Chanukah is the triumph of the Jewish soul, and we perpetuate that victory today in our children’s lives by instilling them with Jewish pride.
 
So although we may live in a society that celebrates trees and revels in superficial gift giving ceremonies, we as Jews need to stand apart and delve into the wonders of our own faith. That said, a tree and menorah cannot go side by side. Only a menorah will do.
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