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Matzah-- The Ultimate Lifesaver

matzah.jpgThis week after returning home from delivering boxes of matzah to members of our community, a woman emailed me to say thank you. She wrote that matzah holds a cherished place in the hearts of her and her family because it had saved her husband’s life. Intrigued, I called her to find out the story…

Two years ago Pesach, Lisa* and her husband Adam* sat at the seder table, surrounded by family and friends, crunching matzah as is customary. Only, Adam apparently ate way more than he should have. On the last night of the chag, he experienced severe stomach pain and was rushed to the emergency room. The matzah had caused a blockage in his small intestine and the resulting obstruction needed to be removed surgically.

On the table, surgeons discovered Adam harboured a very rare cancer in his jejunum, a section of the small intestine. The matzah had gotten caught in the tumours, resulting in excruciating pain. Small bowel cancer amounts to only two percent of all gastric cancers, resulting in a dismal survival rate since symptoms and thus diagnosis only occur during stage four when other organs have already been affected.

Adam’s cancer had already progressed to stage three; his prognosis, a mere six months.

What does a Jew do when a doctor tells him he has six months to live? Change doctors, of course! But due to the rarity of the disease, no chemotherapy treatments had been proven effective, so Adam was instead treated for regular bowel cancer with successful results. The tumours shrunk and no further treatments were necessary. As Lisa herself put it, “If not for the shmura matzah the tumour would never have been discovered in time and there is no doubt I would be a widow today.”

Six months later, on Rosh Hashana, a perfectly healthy Adam, together with Lisa, first davened at our shul in the Marriot. On the holy day when members are called for an aliya to the Torah, I encourage them to commit themselves to keep one extra mitzvah for the upcoming year. Call it a new year’s resolution if you wish. So when Adam asked me to suggest a mitzvah to him, I proposed tefillin. After yom tov, Lisa called me to find out where she could purchase a pair.

I must admit that after the chagim, with the return to regular routine and the demands of the shul and office overwhelming me, Adam’s commitment slipped my mind and I forgot to follow up with him. When I finally did months later, it turned out Adam had not missed a single day since he had bought his tefillin. Until today he remains devoted to his commitment.

This past Rosh Hashana Adam again received an aliya. This time I recommended he take on the mitzvah of kashrut. Due to its challenging nature, we came to a compromise: Adam agreed to keep kosher once a week. Since then, Lisa informed me that the family orders Glatt kosher take-outs at least once a week, sometimes more than that.

Kabbalists have described matzah as “bread of faith” on the first night and as “bread of healing” on the second. Judaism advocates that if healing precedes faith, you can be certain the afflicted was indeed ill. But if faith is followed by healing, there was no sickness to begin with.

While it is indeed praiseworthy to remember G-d and thank Him after a recovery, this attitude is somewhat twisted, for a primary component of the healing process involves initial prayer and a firm trust. Hence the Kabbalists labelled this person sick. Those whose faith sustains them through a dark period, spurring them to constantly pray and beseech G-d’s mercy, remain totally healthy at the core. They appreciate that ultimately it is G-d who decides the outcome, no matter how bleak the test results may be.

* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

Join Chabad and Meet Your Match!

yair.JPG

At Chabad Israel Center, everyone has a “shul agenda”. Some show up to pray, some revel in the tantalizing Kiddush spread served at the Marriott hotel, while others are inspired by the sense of deep unity among congregants of our shul. Many can hardly wait to drink in the Rabbi’s sermon, while their friends prefer to hum along to our chazan’s catchy tunes.

But for Yair Morgenstern, a native of Petach Tikva, Israel, davening in shul was simply a matter of bridging a gap. Yair was raised in a secular home where shul attendance occurred on rare occasion, least most on a regular Shabbat. In his home country, surrounded by friends and family, the lack of observance was not deemed problematic in the slightest, connection to Judaism could be remedied merely by breathing the air of the holy land. Once Yair relocated to New York however, he needed to find a new way to feel Jewish, so joining a shul seemed the perfect solution.

Yair originally planned to move to the States for a period of four years. He began frequenting services at our shul in the Marriot Hotel, often helping to complete a minyan during the days of our humble beginnings.

It happened around eight months ago while chatting with friends during the Kiddush. Yair was enjoying the delectable cholent when his friend introduced him to Jane. They immediately hit it off.

Jane Abrahim grew up in Kitchener, Canada and had also recently joined our shul. On that particular Shabbat morning, she was tired and didn’t really feel up to sitting in shul. At the last minute she figured she’d go anyway. Great move, because at the Kiddush, she and Yair engaged in conversation-- the first of many -- as the pair soon became a couple. Over the next few months they attended shul events and programs together, culminating this past Shabbat when Yair stood up to announce their engagement.

Wow. Talk about the side benefits of coming to shul!

Interestingly, the Parsha that we read on the Shabbat of the announcement was Vayakhel Pikudei. The Torah portion details the precise commandments relating to the building of the Mishkan whose purpose was to create a home for G-d. The classic wish we bestow upon a couple embarking on a marriage is that the consequent home that they establish together should welcome G-d and embrace Judaic values. While others may view three as company, Judaism promotes the invitation of a third party into a marriage. For the Jewish union is a unique one, liable to dissolve without the equal contribution of man, wife and G-d.

The idea is demonstrated in the Hebrew terminology of the words, "איש" and "אשה" – man and woman. Both words contain an aleph and a shin. The remaining two letters, yud and hey, spell out "י-ה", the name of G-d. When a union incorporates G-d, the marriage is by far more likely to thrive and succeed. If on the other hand, G-d is shunned, what remains are aleph and shin, spelling "אש" – an all-consuming fire of destruction and grief.

Yair, Jane and G-d will G-d willing be marrying this summer. We wish them much luck in their future endeavours and a meaningful life of joy and commitment. May they build an eternal edifice together, a home that will radiate with the warmth and light of our cherished tradition.

Thanks to our editor Efrat Schochet 

 

 

Where will you be this Pesach?

seder.jpgTradition has it that one of the main functions of the Pesach seder is an educational one. During the service, we encourage our children to ask questions by triggering their curiosity with narratives and customs. The Torah allows that every child is unique and thus each must be reared according to his own personality. Thus the Haggada lists four types of sons who grace the seder table every Pesach: a wise son and a wicked one, a simple son and one who does not ask any questions.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe opened our eyes to the reality of a fifth additional son who differs from the others. While the first four are all present at the Pesach seder, their brother wanders about, oblivious that Pesach has even arrived. The fifth son, explains the Rebbe, is not necessarily a child, but an adult Jew exclusive to our generation, lost in its modernity and technology, foreign to all things Jewish.

The Rebbe devoted his life to reaching out to all the fifth sons of the world, dispatching thousands of emissaries worldwide to locate these individuals and cater for their Jewish needs. Thus, today it is possible to attend a Pesach seder in almost any city on the globe.

It was during the Pesach of 2000 that I was privileged to lead one such seder in Kathmandu, Nepal. The city boasts the largest seder in the world with over two thousand attending annually. It was by far one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Walking around the room one could hear practically any language, with Jews originating from exotic places like France, Australia, Morocco or Brazil. Sure, there were a great many differences between us, but the electricity in the room was generated by a certain knowledge that that there is so much more that unites us than what separates us.

As a yeshiva student I would often travel the globe scouting these “fifth sons” hoping to familiarize them with their Jewish roots. The summer of 2000 was thus spent in Eastern Europe. It was in the city of Varna, Bulgaria that a Jew named Haim invited my friend and me into his home for a chat. Toward the end of our visit, Haim donned tefillin and promptly broke down during the recitation of the shema. Amidst sobs he explained his life story. As a child he attended a local Bulgarian cheder right until his bar mitzvah. Around that time the country turned communist, the transformation washing away all remnants of his Judaism.

Retrieving a family album, he showed us photos of his family. “I married a non-Jewish woman,” he explained. “My children will never be Jewish and my grandchildren too, will never know the beauty of our faith. I have a lived a life devoid of Judaism. Not once have I put on tefillin, no Rabbi officiated at my wedding, and I have never behaved remotely Jewish since I was a child.” Yet despite the total alienation with all things Jewish, one thing intrigued Haim. “Rabbi, now as the tefillin are strapped to my arm and head, I feel such an intense connection to G-d…”

Such is the nature of these fifth sons. Although far removed from anything Jewish, at the core each one nurses a tiny G-dly spark, waiting to be nurtured and fired into a flame. And each one, no matter his level of observance, can always find his place among the fold. For Judaism is not defined by a set of actions, rather it is a state of being, an irreversible fact of life.

P.S. Wherever you may find yourself this coming Pesach, don’t spend your seder alone. In almost any location, your Jewish brothers are looking to welcome you into their homes, please see our website  for details on sedarim around the world.

A 3 Hour Walk

Last week, we returned from a trip to South Africa for my sister’s wedding, just in time for Shevy`s sister’s wedding which took place last night. Yocheved`s entire family flew in from all over the world to join the celebrations. As she is the fourteenth child out of a total of fifteen, and many of the Lew siblings are parents to eight, nine or ten kids, you can only imagine how many cousins were running around! The immediate family alone tallied in at over 100 people! Needless to say, it was one heck of a fantastic experience!

The Shabbat Sheva Brachot will take place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The good news is that despite our location, services at the Marriot Hotel will be on as usual, because luckily, Crown Heights is within walking distance. On Shabbat morning, I will G-d willing be waking up at 5am and start heading out to Manhattan at about 5:30am. The plan is to arrive by 8:30am, just in time for our Torah class at 8:45am, since it is a three hour trek. Now, if I can make it from Brooklyn, you can make it from a few blocks away! Join us at shul - don’t be late! In fact, if you’d like to meet me on the way, I’ll be walking up First Avenue.

This week’s Parsha chronicles the Israelites` greatest and most tragic national sin, the construction of the Golden Calf. Barely forty days after their marriage to G-d at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people betrayed Him. On that fateful day, they requested of Aron the Kohen Gadol to assemble the idol. Not wishing to transgress the Law of G-d, and at the same time afraid of their murderous wrath, Aron stalled for time, promising to build it the following morning. Aaron hoped that by that time Moshe would have already descended and the nation would be appeased by him. He had no way of anticipating that the people, in their excited state, would arise extra early and would have sinned by the time Moshe returned.

Let us transform the Israelites` negative enthusiasm into a positive one. We too should arise extra early with the intention to perform Mitzvot, just like Avraham who arose with dawn to fulfill G-d`s command of sacrificing Yitzchak.

See you on Shabbat morning!

Shabbat shalom!

 

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