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My son’s nightmare/ dream

dream_a_z.jpgChabad Israel Center was thrilled to host a Chanukah concert this week featuring Israeli pop singer Gad Elbaz. Even more thrilled were my kids who got to stay up late and witness the spectacular show. They ended up going to bed rather later than usual at 10:30pm. By the time I had wrapped things up backstage and in the hall itself, it was well past 1am, and so I was looking forward to a good few hours rest. Almost as my head hit the pillow though, I heard my three-year-old son Mendel calling out for me.

I gently lifted him out of his bed and brought him to mine- a tactic that usually has him calm and asleep within seconds. Only this time, he simply wouldn’t relax. Mendel was in the midst of a gripping nightmare, and quite simply could not shake himself out of it. He was screaming and fidgeting, and so eventually Shevy held him in her arms and soothed him for several minutes.

Interestingly, Mendel’s experience is not limited to children nor to the middle of the night. Precisely the same scenario shapes human life. The Chassidic Masters note that the first exile of the Jewish people in Egypt came about through a haze of dreams. Joseph’s dreams regarding his sovereignty over his brothers, the baker’s and butler’s dreams in the Egyptian dungeon, and Pharoah’s dreams signifying the famine that would befall Egypt were all catalysts that triggered the arrival of Joseph and his entire family to Egypt where their descendants were to suffer enslavement and persecution until their liberation by Moses. As the Psalmist notes in Chapter 126, "When G-d will return the exiles of Zion we will [see our experiences in exile] as having been dreamers."

The world of dreams is vaporous, unstable and totally limitless. We live in such a dream state, where we are so engrossed in our petty, trivial lives that we don’t even recognize we are in a dream. The seemingly real and vivid exile that we currently find ourselves in forms the backdrop of the dream, compelling us to believe that this is a definite actuality. Our dear Father yearns to rouse us out of the slumberous state, yet we are too absorbed to notice. Comes Chanukah and we illuminate the darkness of the world with the flicker of a candle. We shed light onto the true reality, briefly dispelling the falseness of our existence. The flickering flame is G-d communicating to us, urging us to awaken, to bid farewell to this exile and move on.   

The main character of a riveting movie is in danger. As he ducks to avoid a fatal shot, you feel a surge of adrenaline, your fingers cross unbidden, and your mouth urgently forms a prayer of salvation. Sure, you are aware that the scene before you is staged, and that the fates of each character have been predetermined, yet you still hang off the edge of your seat, refusing to lose hope.

Each of our lives in exile is but an extensive movie, with each of us playing the main character. Recognizing this fact lends us great freedom and power. It grants us the awareness and the desire to pursue what truly matters in life, so that after 120 years, we can play back the reel in our minds and sit back relaxed and assured that the script has been followed to our exact liking.

Happy Chanukah! 

Wedding of the 15th child

lew.JPGThis past Tuesday night I attended a very special and most unique wedding of Moishy Lew to Chavee Rosenblum. What made it so special was the fact that it was my wife’s brother’s wedding, but it was unique because my parents-in-law married off their fifteenth child, Moishy. The oldest sibling, Yossi, is 47 years old and is himself a father of ten kids as well as a grandfather. He was just twenty three when his baby brother was born. You can imagine taking the family picture at the wedding - it was a tremendous ordeal as we had to get over 130 immediate family members together!

During the wedding my father-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Lew, shared the following story.

On the 5th of Elul 5747/1987, he spontaneously joined the line to receive a dollar from the Rebbe. His eldest daughter Chaya, was then in the process of dating and he was tormented as to how he should be guiding his child, what he should say to her and which direction he should steer her in. Finally, after an hour and a half wait, he stood before the Rebbe and was handed a dollar accompanied by the standard blessing of “blessing and success”. The Rebbe then called him back after he had left and added, “G-d should help that you should merit good matches and excellent partners for all your children.” And indeed, his greatest blessing from G-d is his kids, and even more so his kids’ spouses!

My father-in-law says that during the years of his children dating there were some difficult moments when he didn’t know if they would find the right spouse. There were times where he thought that perhaps he wasn’t worthy of this special blessing given by the Rebbe. (I wonder how strong his doubts were when I was dating his twelfth child!) His wife was adamant in her faith in the Rebbe’s blessing. This last wedding was the closing of a circle- the Rebbe's blessing was fulfilled with the marriage of his youngest child.

I looked at the faces of my dear parents-in-law during the wedding and I could see that they were the happiest people in the world. Money can buy a lot of things. It can buy luxury cars and state-of-the-art houses but no amount can purchase the nachas and joy that they felt during the wedding. It’s time that we idolized such people instead of the empty society around us. As somebody put it at the wedding, “I would give away all the money that I have to be able to have such a family.” As a beautiful conclusion to the Rebbe’s wonderful blessing, a friend of my father-in-law blessed him that he should merit to dance at the weddings of each of his grandchildren...

The message that I learned that night is to simply have faith in our dear G-d. Keep having faith- even during the harsh times. G-d is out there and He will surely help.

The hero of this week’s parsha, Yosef, is renowned for the rough circumstances that shaped his life. His mother died when he was extremely young, his brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. He was incarcerated for twelve years for a crime he didn’t commit and all the while his father believed him dead. But through it all, what led him on and what kept him alive was a simple, flawless faith in G-d. We all require a dose of faith in our lives, and like it was for Yosef and my father-in-law and my mother-in-law, usually the outcome is very satisfactory.

Stuck on a subway

subway.jpgThis past Monday I was heading to my weekly Talmud class in Midtown. I have the subway schedule timed to the minute. That particular morning, as always, I left my office at exactly 11:08am feeling confident that I’d arrive at 11:29. But suddenly the train started to slow in between 68th and 59th Streets, until it eventually came to a complete stop. The conductor explained there were technical difficulties which were being resolved. Five minutes passed, then ten and I knew I was late.

Our class is comprised of extremely busy businessmen who lead hectic lives. Any delay is crucial. The class runs for exactly forty minutes, with a strict policy of no cell phones. So here I am on a broken train, thinking of all the people relying on my arrival, probably incensed at this total waste of time. We ended up stranded for thirty minutes, the hardest part for me being unable to tweet, text or update my Facebook profile.

After thirty minutes the train suddenly started chugging along, only to stop shortly after. The conductor announced the train will make its final destination at 59th Street, at which point we would all need to depart and find a new train to take us to 42nd Street. Now any chance I had of learning was totally quashed…

As Jews we know that nothing occurs of its own accord, everything is ordained by divine providence. G-d orchestrates the movements and existence of every creation- from a gust of wind to a grain of sand. Although I know everything G-d does is for a purpose, I still have no idea why He would prefer my train breaking down to me teaching a Torah class.

While stuck underground, I gazed around me and was somewhat surprised to note the atmosphere of calm and serenity. The reason for the amazement was that in any other circumstance, New Yorkers are usually stricken with “ants in their pants.” Take, for example, a drive down Lexington Avenue on an average Wednesday afternoon. When I wait by a red light, the guy behind me starts honking the second the light turns green. That’s because the city is always on the go, always moving. So it was with great amusement that I pictured the scene several feet up as opposed to the unnatural one down below.

And then the answer dawned upon me. I realized that the passengers had perfect faith in the conductor to solve the situation. They knew with absolute certainty that the train would start operating again. They could choose to get anxious and perhaps break down doors, but their simple faith negated such a reaction, for they were convinced that shortly they would be out of this predicament.

The same holds true in our lives. I paid a spiritual visit to a friend of mine recently who is undergoing a financial crisis as a result of losing his job. I put up mezuzot in his house and showed him how to don tefillin every day. I explained to him that he still needed to do everything possible to find a new job, but in addition to that, there was one other thing. Our Sages teach us that the thoughts of man generate tremendous power. “Think good and it will be good” is nothing new to Judaism- we have been practicing this mantra for centuries. Because it works. In my situation on the train, I couldn’t help but notice the people’s faith and positive reaction toward the conductor. If we can trust a cunductor surely we can put our faith in the One Above.

This is the very lesson we learn from Yaakov in this week’s parsha. He encounters his twin brother Esav who has designs on his life. Twenty two years previously Yaakov had fled from his father’s home after he “stole” Esav’s blessings and Esav never stopped resenting him for the deception. Now, after all these years, Yaakov prepares to face the music. Before the dreaded meeting, Yaakov sends Esav gifts to try to appease him. Next he arms himself and prepares to fight. Lastly, Yaakov prays to G-d and places his full faith in His hands.

When one finds himself in a sticky situation, he is required to do everything in his power to resolve the situation. Just like Yaakov. But most importantly, he must remember where true salvation lies. In our dear Father in Heaven.

Running Rabbi

mot_running_co_1_lk0w.jpgThis past Monday morning, a dear friend of mine managed to convince me to work out with him in Central Park. We began by circling the park reservoir- a light 1.6 miles. We then headed to the benches where we did forty pushups and forty dips. It has now been three days since those thirty minutes of exercise and I am still feeling extreme agony in muscles I hadn’t even known existed. In fact, it is even painful to be typing these words.

As every athlete knows, exercising without being in shape is a painful ordeal. I suppose as a rabbi I have been studying a lot of Torah and eating too much cholent by the Kiddush while not paying enough attention to the physical health of my body. Lack of regular physical activity has placed an enormous amount of strain on my muscles. Well, that’s about to change. I have decided to get fit, although that won’t really alleviate my present predicament. When I next work out, though, I’m going to have to take it easy. Start off with less, then build up gradually to allow my body to become accustomed to the routine.

I often urge people to get into spiritual shape. I suggest starting off by studying Torah once a week. The most common excuse is lack of time, to which I respond that if there is time to nurture the physical body by feeding it every day and exercising it, then time has got to be set aside as well for the soul. And just as it is with physical training, spiritual training need also be gradual. If on day one you begin by lifting forty pound weights, you may kill yourself. Start by learning Torah once a week and gradually build up. Rome wasn’t built in one day! You need to start somewhere, taking baby steps…

This week’s Parsha details Yaakov’s initiation into the business world. Upon arrival in Charan, he spent twenty years working, guarding his uncle Lavan’s sheep. The Midrash relates that before Yaakov made his way to Charan, he spent fourteen years studying Torah constantly in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. And it took fourteen years of nourishing his soul before he felt ready to delve his body in the art of business.

This is not to suggest that we study for fourteen years before making our millions, but we can do the minimum and that is at least an hour’s Torah study a week. It’s time to get into shape both physically and spiritually!

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