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My brother the doctor

motti.jpgMy eldest brother Motti holds the title of Chief Surgeon in Hasharon Hopital in Israel. My earliest memories of him swirl around a skull in his bedroom and rigorous studying. Since the day he was born he dreamed of a medical career. Living in South Africa afforded him the opportunity to play doctor in his teenage years - his Saturday night partying consisted of trips to the rural Baragwaneth Hospital to stitch up patients. Finally after fifteen years of studying, he made it and is now an orthopaedic hand surgeon.

This week he related an incredible story. An eighty four year old patient arrived for his consultation. After assessing and diagnosing him, Motti concluded in his usual manner by stating that medicine can only do so much. The real cure is much more reliable - using the hand to don Tefillin.

This man was born in Europe to a Chassidic family. World War Two broke out when he was just a boy. At the age of twelve he was hauled to Dachau concentration camp where his entire family perished. Many miracles later, he arrived in Israel where has led a secular life ever since.  In all his sixty five years living in the Holy Land, not once had he put on Tefillin. But he decided today would be the day. His eyes welled with tears as he recited the blessing, for this was in actual fact his Bar-mitzva.

The Talmud states that one who has never performed the mitzva of Tefillin is called a ‘karkafta’. My brother likes to think of himself as the official Orthopaedic Hand Surgeon Shliach of the Rebbe in accordance with the Rebbe’s advice to doctors, “I am sure that you follow the practice of many G‑d fearing doctors, in advising patients who seek your advice regarding a health problem that it is appropriate to also effect a healing of the soul…” To a patient the Rebbe once wrote, "It is clear that a physical ailment needs to be treated by improving one's spiritual health as well. When one improves the vitality of the soul, this has the effect of improving the vitality of the body and aids in the effectiveness of the medical treatment…"

This week’s Torah portion tells us וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא- “And he will surely heal.” The Talmud derives from these words that a doctor is given special permission by G-d to heal. [Many doctors have a difficult time processing this, as the old saying goes, “The difference between G-d and a doctor is that G-d doesn’t think He’s a doctor.”] G-d has gifted our generation with the wondrous secrets of medical technology. But let us not for one moment forget where true salvation stems, for as much as medicine may accomplish, G-d accomplishes more.

Are you excited about your age?

watch.jpgAlmost every day I hear the same question from my four year old daughter. When am I turning five? I want to be five already! And every time she asks, I patiently answer her that her birthday is a long way away. It’s after Purim and before Pesach, and so she keeps demanding when Purim is and when Pesach is. Recently my friend celebrated his 42nd birthday. I wanted to honour him with a Kiddush in our shul and a party, but he refused. He explained that as he was still single he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of aging by a year. He prefers to stay young.

Chassidim often tell the tale of the special clock owned by the famed Chozeh of Lublin. While their primary task is to display the time, regular clocks serve as depressing reminders of the fragility of our existence, casually drilling our mortality into us with a monotonous tick-tock.  Every second passed hails another minute of life gone and spent, never to be reclaimed. With each tick of the clock we inch closer and closer to death.

The Chozeh refused to succumb to the ruthlessness of the clock. He gloried in every tick of the clock, for each second passed brought him one step closer to the Final Redemption. The mournful tone of every other clock was absent in the Rebbe’s clock, replaced by the joyous and hopeful melody of salvation.

It wasn’t until this week that I put on a watch for the first time in fifteen years, always preferring to tell the time with my Blackberry. A friend of mine gave me the gift, a beautiful piece with a background of a dancing rabbi. When I noticed the picture I immediately put it on, for it was so alive and positive, recalling to me the legendary clock of the Chozeh of Lublin. Every time I see the dancing rabbi I am reminded of the importance of treasuring time, and most of all viewing it as the greatest source of joy and the ultimate harbinger of redemption.

As time wary adults, there is much to learn from a four-year-old child constantly brimming with life and energy. Keen and enthused, she lives in the fast lane, breathlessly awaiting the thrill of a new day. Each second is utilized thoroughly, not a moment wasted on idle activity. Oh to live like in the world of a child!

It is in this week’s Torah portion of Yisro that G-d entrusts the kingdom of Israel with His Torah and with it, our mission statement. Our purpose both as individuals and as a nation is to accommodate G-d in our world, to build a home for Him in the physical realms. This is achieved through incorporating spirituality in our very material lives: performing acts of goodness and kindness, as well as mitzvot. Each deed forms a brick in G-d’s home, leading us to the pinnacle of our existence. If we each do our part, we can ensure the arrival of Moshiach one moment sooner.

Entranced by a video game

video game.jpgThis morning as I dashed through my building’s lobby to drop the kids off at school, I witnessed something sensational. A mother was leading her son, maybe six or seven years old, to her car. Only she couldn’t hold his hands as they were both occupied with his video game, as was the rest of his tiny body. I stared unabashed at this entranced child, oblivious to his surroundings, with only the sound of his mother’s voice connecting him to the outside world. When he knocked into a pillar I was certain he’d snap out of it, but he simply continued walking as if nothing had happened. I mean, I know video games are fantastic, but I think on anyone’s scale this case rates somewhat extreme.

Upon witnessing a Jew sinning, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once exclaimed, “Almighty G-d! Surely you understand why Your children sin all day. All temptations, physical desires, movies, video games, You plaster all around them, whereas spirituality and Torah You assign solely to the books. Perhaps if You’d reverse the order and put the temptations in books and Torah out in the open, they would cease to sin entirely!”

For one moment in history this is precisely what occurred. The Torah records the historic event in this week’s Parsha under the title, “Splitting of the Red Sea.” Chassidic thought teaches that dry land symbolizes the revealed aspects of our lives, or the physical, whereas the sea represents the hidden areas, the spiritual. In order to uncover the secrets of the sea, one must dive beneath the surface and reach to its depths. Thus the splitting of the sea reversed the normal order: that which is regularly concealed suddenly became revealed as an entire nation experienced G-d in His entirety. Even the simplest of Jews was overwhelmed by the electric spiritual atmosphere, not so different to the video game-obsessed kid.

Today, 4000 years after that fateful moment, we are charged with a mission to recreate our personal Splitting of the Sea. By attributing more importance to spirituality and tuning in with the Divine, we transcend our regular selves and touch a higher plane. So, give G-d the front row seat in your life and expose yourself to the most sublime of underwater experiences.

Do you worship your blackberry?

Last week I was praying in shul using the downloaded prayers on my blackberry. Throughout the entire service I noticed a man staring at me constantly. Sure enough, when I was done, this total stranger made his way over to me and angrily exclaimed, “If you were in a meeting with a high profile CEO, would you also check your e-mails and phone? How can you do that while praying to G-d?”

I looked at him calmly and then showed him the siddur downloaded to my blackberry. In fact, in addition to the prayers, I also have the entire mishna, Rambam, chumash and code of Jewish Law so I can study in peace on the subway. Needless to say, the man was very apologetic.

The ancient Egyptians counted the sacred sheep among their gods. The sheep was the “in thing”. They worshipped it. G-d commanded the Jewish people to take a sheep and tie it to their bedposts for four days in preparation of slaughtering it. And should the Egyptians query as to what exactly they were doing, they should tell them nothing but the truth. The reason behind G-d’s command was because taking the Jews out of Egypt was no problem at all, but taking Egypt out of the Jews was a different matter altogether. The Egyptian culture of pagan idol worship was so embedded in the Jews that G-d knew the only way to break the obsession was to take the Egyptian god, mock it, and flush it out their systems.

Four thousand years later, we in America also worship the sheep. Only we call it the internet. Or TV. Or blackberry. Now, I’m not suggesting G-d forbid, that we slaughter our gods (although that may not be such a bad idea!).  But perhaps once a week we can make a 25 hour commitment to turn off all our technological gods. This is the beauty of Shabbos. G-d granted us a day to disconnect from the rush of life, choosing instead to spend quality time with our families, focusing on building the bonds and relationships that truly bring meaning to our lives. Not only that, but for half an hour each day turn off your blackberry and spend quality time with the people you love. Try it out - you won't regret it!

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