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My First Date & even Rabbis make “major” mistakes

When I was 23 years old my mother called me up and said “my dear son are you ready to date?” Until that age I had minimal contact with girls. I went to a boys-only school and I studied in Yeshiva. The only time I spoke to girls, was when I exchanged a Shabbat Shalom greeting with them in my father’s synagogue.

So I said to my mother “Well all my friends have just started dating so let me give it a shot.” My mother described the prodigy she had in mind- a kind-hearted, intelligent, attractive and generous young lady who came from an excellent family, However she was in Israel, so I’d have to leave New York to fly and meet her. Before my trip, I started calling around and doing a background check on this girl. I needed to be certain that on an intellectual level it was a fit. (Looking back now, I realize that there was very little that made sense, but hey, I was young and stupid, so I agreed.)

We went out on a couple dates and I thought it was going great. She really was an excellent girl and I found her company entertaining. After six dates, her mother called mine and asked “Nu when is the engagement party?” And so my mother called me and demanded, “Nu – it has been six dates - what are you waiting for?” I told her I really wasn’t sure yet. Although everything seemed to be going well, there was something very specific that bothered me about her. I could not make up my mind. I didn’t want to leave her hanging, so I called her up and told her that I couldn’t say no because I really liked her, but I was not quite ready to say yes either… That phone call turned out to be a big mistake.

Because when dating there are no maybes- it’s either a yes or a no. With age comes maturity, and the ability to either go ahead with the relationship or to end it right there.

When I think of my dating experience, I always wondered why G-d put me through such an ordeal. It is torturous to be indecisive. I was torn and utterly incapable of making a decision. After living in the Upper East Side for five years, the answer finally dawned on me. G-d made me go through all that so that I’d understand and empathize with others in the same position, namely, the singles of NYC.

A few months ago I decided to try my hand at matchmaking. I thought of a guy and girl who fit together, and started a texting conversation with the guy. Well, unfortunately, even rabbis make mistakes. I wrote, “I have a great match for you - a wonderful girl. I’d like you to date her. Please call me A.S.A.P.” But instead of sending the text to his phone, I texted it to my weekly Shabbat group, consisting of hundreds of people.

As you can probably imagine, within minutes my phone started ringing off the hook and text messages started flooding in. Here are three of the responses. A married father of three texted me, “Right now I am ok, but if anything changes, I will let you know.” Another married guy texted me, “Rabbi, this is why I love you!” And a woman married for barely a year texted me “Rabbi I just saw the text you sent my husband - is that what you think of me? My next text was a public apology explaining the mistake.

But in all seriousness, whenever I talk to singles there is one general issue. Boy dates girl. Boy likes girl. She is smart, attractive, and great company. But he cannot commit. At the back of his mind, a niggling doubt eats at him- maybe there’s someone better out there? Am I really in love? Maybe I will find a woman who will sweep me off my feet, a woman I will fall head over heels for? Maybe I should call the girl I dated two years ago and see where she is holding.

On the flip side, girls dating guys tend to think of grander issues, perhaps the economy. She thinks, maybe I should wait for the recession to end, then I’ll find a man who is managing a hedge fund and earning a million dollars a year. Or maybe this guy isn’t stable enough? Or intelligent enough? Will he be a good father? Maybe the timing is not right? Maybe I am not ready? All these maybes and what-ifs only serve to bog us down. The problem doesn’t even end in the dating arena, these concerns are carried forth into the marriage itself. Spouses often find themselves wondering if they made the right decision, because strangely enough, even after marriage commitment is a scary topic.

So how does one know that they made the right decision? The first thing that needs to be done is to pray to G-d to guide you to your other half. The next step comes with the realization that a marriage may be comprised of two separate bodies, but it involves only one soul. Practically, if you date someone, you need to first of all click on an intellectual level- i.e. the match needs to make sense. After that, if an emotional attraction develops it is time to take the leap. This is your sign that you have found the other half of your soul and now it is time to make the decision and marry.

The Torah describes Isaac’s nuptials in this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah. Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, sought out Rebecca and deemed her to be the perfect wife for his master’s son as she was a woman of sterling character. It all made sense intellectually, so Isaac took a leap of faith. The Torah emphasizes that the love in their relationship blossomed after the marriage, “And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her.”

Real love cannot precede commitment. When people don’t commit they are essentially conveying the message that they don’t consider their partner worth committing to. With each passing year of being together, the love becomes deeper and truer. So unless you have something specific to doubt, get married and indulge in one of life’s most rewarding journeys.

Detained in Israel

el al plane.jpgThis week’s Torah portion of Vayera features Abraham’s recuperation after the ordeal of his circumcision. On the third day of his recovery, G-d paid Abraham a special visit to inquire after his health. In the middle of the conversation, Abraham spied three guests from afar, and without batting an eyelid, ran off to welcome them into his home. It is from this scene that the Talmud derives that the mitzvah of hospitality surpasses the mitzvah of greeting the Divine Presence.

Recently I was honored to experience my own hospitality.

Two years ago when visiting Israel I was informed that although I was not born there, I am required to have an Israeli passport since my parents are Israeli citizens. Furthermore, lack of Israeli citizenship will prevent me from exiting the country. So, immediately preceding my recent trip, I turned to the Israeli consulate and arranged for a brand new Israeli passport. Thus geared, I travelled to Israel on a Friday morning to perform a wedding. Being that it was so close to Rosh Hashana I booked a ticket back on Motsei Shabbat. I was neurotic that I would be detained at the airport over matters pertaining to army conscription, so I requested that the Israeli consulate verify if this would be the case. I was not worried about being drafted, but rather about going through mounds of paperwork releasing me from enlistment. I was assured dozens of times that I would have no problems whatsoever.

I landed in Israel at 5:30am and confidently strode to passport control. The woman at the desk must’ve had a really long shift because she literally fell asleep at the job. I jokingly cajoled her, “Long night?” to which she shook her head to wake herself up and very alertly declared that I had no ptur (army exit permission). My worst nightmare come true. I told her that back home I was assured I would not need one, to which she shot back that she did not care, I would not be exiting Israel without a ptur. She explained that on Sunday morning I shouldn’t have any problem presenting my case at the local army office, since they are closed on Friday and Saturday. Which meant that in the best case scenario I would be able to catch a flight back late Sunday, but the chances of getting on a plane then were rare since they were full due to the close proximity to Rosh Hashanah.  As I left her desk, I commented, “You Israelis suffer from an overdose of hospitality. You love your guests so much that you refuse to allow them to leave!”

Anyway, I saw there was nobody to talk to, so I left the airport to spend the morning on the phone talking to any connection I had instead of doing the things I wanted to do. Turns out that our chairman in shul, Gal and my brother Motti who is the chief of hand surgery in a hospital in Petach Tikva, are very well connected in the Israeli army. Within two hours they had arranged all my necessary documents. Thank G-d I was able to leave Israel and spend the holiday of Rosh Hashana in Manhattan with my community.

Each morning we recite in our prayers, “Rabot machshavot belev ish, ve’atzat Hashem hi takum” – “Many are the thoughts in the heart of man, but it is the direction of Hashem that will prevail.” Nothing happens without G-d’s intervention, every business venture we embark on, every personal matter we work on, will only come to fruition if it is the will of G-d. A man can prepare tirelessly for a project, yet he needs always to bear in mind that it is G-d’s divine assistance alone that determines success and blessing in life. My experience with this G-dly method of intervention saw me work tirelessly for days on end preparing the necessary documents. My very goal of smoothing things out with the Israeli officials was thwarted despite me doing everything I needed to. Because at the end of the day, G-d decides what's best. Just my luck that in my case, G-d just relished the idea of me experiencing first class Israeli hospitality!

My mother was brutally attacked 19 years ago... What saved her?

Rebbe Vigler.jpgFebruary 1992 was a very special month for my mother as it was the first time she visited New York and subsequently, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. As was his custom every Sunday, the Rebbe stood handing out dollars and blessings on Sunday the 23rd. At 4:10pm, as my mother passed the Rebbe to receive her dollar, the Rebbe gave her his traditional blessing of good health and success. Once she had bid farewell to the Rebbe and moved on, the Rebbe called her back and gave her an additional dollar and blessing, stressing, “This is for long, good, healthy tidings” – something that was highly unusual at the time. In fact, my father, who received his dollar right after my mother was granted no special attention.  At the time, my parents did not understand what the Rebbe could possibly mean by the additional dollar and blessing.

Fast forward several months to Shabbat morning, 21 November, 1992. My father was (and still is) the rabbi of the Orange Grove shul in Johannesburg. It is customary among Chabad Chassidim to recite the entire book of Tehillim on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh.  My father had never actually done this but on that morning, for some reason, he decided to get up at 6am to recite the entire book of Tehillim.

By 8am he had finished and again, for some unknown reason, he insisted that all eight of his children accompany him to shul. Normally, my mother would walk to shul two hours later with the younger children, but strangely enough, despite my three year old sister’s vehement protests, my father took her along. A move that later proved to possibly have saved her life.

I was a child of fourteen years old at the time. It was at the end of the reading of the Torah that I noticed someone whisper urgently to my father. He immediately dropped his tallis, ordered me to continue leading the service, then dashed out the synagogue with my eldest brother in tow. The words he was told were, “Your wife has been attacked, but thank G-d she is ok now.” I will never forget my mother's bruised and marred face that greeted me upon my return home.

At 9:15am, two men had broken into my parents’ home No small feat, considering the huge fence, barbed wire and electronic gates. Once through those obstacles, the burglars would’ve had to overcome the watch dog, security bars on every window and the strategically placed panic buttons, which send an alarm to a private security company that dispatches an armed response. For lack of alternative explanation, we are forced to conclude that this was an “inside job”- they must have received help from the maid (whose name, ironically, was Faith). Once inside, these teenagers proceeded to tie my mother up and beat her senselessly. They held her hostage for over an hour, all the while thrashing her and helping themselves to valuables from every room. Miraculously, they left after that hour. My mother was able to untie herself and since she had been locked in her bedroom, jumped out the window to alert the neighbor and send someone to call my father. The second thing I will never forget from that day is the enormous, deadly knife that was left behind.

Thank G-d my mother is ok and remarkably unaffected. We have no doubt that it was the Rebbe’s extra blessing that ensured my mother’s survival. Our Sages teach us that would we but know the power of the words of Tehillim, we would recite them endlessly. We see G-d’s hand in every strange occurrence that took place that day.

Despite the trauma, I love South Africa. My parents still live there, as do some of my siblings. Many would regard my parents as crazy to continue living in such a place after such an ordeal. But the Rebbe gave the Jews of South Africa a most unique blessing—that it will be good there until Moshiach arrives, and further. If the Rebbe was so spot on with one blessing, surely his second is just as effective.

Below is image of actual dollar received.
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