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Every one of us is a Mossad agent

mossad.jpgI read a fascinating article this week on Ynet about a group of Israeli Shin Bet agents who were sent to Arab villages as spies. The goal of the unit, which was established in 1952, was to have men on the inside in case a war would break out and the Israeli Arabs would join the enemy. The ten Iraqi-born men spent one year training for the mission. They learned the Palestinian dialect, studied the Koran and espionage techniques in an Intelligence Corps base near Ramla. With a new identity and a detailed cover story, they entered the Palestinian villages and integrated into society by marrying Arab women and starting families with them.

By 1962 the unit was disbanded. The mission was deemed a failure. The agents had integrated far too deeply into Arab society. They now had Arab wives and children with them. The mission had totally consumed them.

Every single one of us is a Mossad agent. It all began before we descended to this physical world, a time when our entire existence consisted of just a soul. The soul was charged with a sacred mission: go down into the world below, uplift it and elevate it. After spending years training for the task, attempting to soak in as much spirituality as possible, the soul entered the world and married a body.

The problem is that the longer the soul lives and the more entrenched it becomes in society, the higher the risk of abandonment of the mission. This material world is foreign to the soul. There are tremendous physical temptations down here. As engrossed as we may get in our jobs, and as demanding as our life becomes, we may never forget that it is all simply a part of a cover story, a means to achieve the true goal. Like the Mossad agent, the soul must constantly be aware of a deeper, higher form of existence. The moment it crosses the boundary and integrates fully with the world is the moment it has failed in its mission and can be disbanded.

This is also what it says in this weeks Torah portion. "Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of sabbaths to G‑d." Not “six days shall you work,” but “six days shall work be done.” The passive form suggests that even during the week’s six workdays, when the Jew is permitted and obligated to work, he should be occupied with, but not preoccupied by, his material endeavors.

Let us never forget that we are agents here in this world. We have a mission to fulfill.

*My thanks to Mendel Prus, shliach in Doylestown, PA for the concept of the article.

Our quest for love

heart.jpgI received a desperate e-mail this week from my friend *Joe. He had been dating his dream woman for several months, utterly thrilled with their compatibility and physical attraction to one another. The chemistry was electric; the elusive “spark” lit up each date.  As time went on, he grew hopeful that the relationship would turn into something more permanent. And then out of the blue, they had an argument and the dream shattered. His e-mail contained a heartfelt plea, requesting that I pray for him to find a woman he could love. “I give each relationship my all, and it never seems to work,” he wrote. “Is there a prayer that I should be saying? I have no idea what to do anymore. I want to be in a loving relationship so badly...” 

In this week’s Torah portion we are taught the meaning of true love. It was following the violation of the marriage contract between G-d and His people, Bnei Yisrael. Arguably one of the most dramatic weddings in history, the ceremony occurred at the foot of Har Sinai, amid a violent thunderstorm and amplified heavenly vows. Apparently the fireworks failed to sufficiently impress the bride; indeed, she strayed a mere forty days later. Like a jealous lover, G-d was livid upon learning of the Golden Calf. So great was His fury that He desired to annihilate the Jewish people and rebuild an entirely new nation from Moshe. Moshe, however, vehemently rejected the plan, choosing instead to stand by his people, fighting for them with every excuse available to him. “If You destroy them, G-d, destroy me as well. My people and I are one, inseparable.” Moshe allowed no room for negotiation. Bnei Yisrael, though they had hurt him many times over, were his treasure, his love.

Moshe’s devotion to his people defines the essence of love. A relationship is a commitment to another person to stand by them come what may. The same Jews who insisted on replacing him with a new leader, who complained against him constantly, were the very same ones for whom he fought. For Moshe understood that, like all people, these too were not perfect. Sure, they had faults, but those faults were not enough to disqualify his love for them.

Once a year we set aside a day to bask in the warmth of love in our lives. Each year, in preparation for Valentine’s Day, store owners stock up on flowers and chocolates, billboards display hearts and puppies and the city is painted in a splash of pink and red. It’s interesting that the very purpose of Valentine’s Day is its flaw. Appreciation of your partner should never be restricted to one day. Every hour, every minute needs to be dedicated to the betterment of a relationship.

It’s not for no reason that relationships crumble like cheese all around us. Love is hard work, it requires total selflessness: constantly seeking the happiness of another individual. For many, the commitment is too great. In a society where people seek instant gratification (no matter how long it takes), it’s not easy to stay when the going gets tough. Our world thrives on a disposable attitude: things are easily achieved and just as easily tossed out. The concept of total devotion to another is sadly very foreign- most times we are in it for what we get. So the minute things don’t work out, we abandon ship, because it’s a lot easier to start over than to rebuild.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day by all means but do not limit it to one day a year.  Do your relationship a favour: bring home a gift for your spouse tonight. Just because.

*names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual 

The people of Israel

shalhevet.jpgI just arrived back from a beautiful ten day trip to Israel and let me tell you, there is nothing like it. I visited Chevron, Tzfat, Yerushalayim, The Dead Sea, and the country's breathtaking beauty never fails to amaze me. 

But what really hit me was not the gorgeous scenery, but the incredible people. I met Jews who have been challenged with trials and tribulations unimagined by sheltered Americans, yet have emerged ever stronger.
 
In Chevron I stood where Shalhevet Pass, a ten month old baby, was murdered by a sniper on March 26, 2001, from the hills of Abu Sneina. There is a monument there and you can clearly see the exact house where the sniper shot her from. (The IDF has since razed it.) As I was standing there, Shalhevet's mother walked past. Just looking at her gave me an incredible feeling. I saw how she still lives in the exact same place where her daughter was murdered. I saw how she still raises her kids beneath the shadows of Abu Sneina. I saw how she still walks with inner strength and courage that has proved more powerful than any terrorist.  I saw her pure self sacrifice. 

What strength! What power! She could easily have picked up her belongings and moved to a different neighborhood. But she didn’t. Why? Because her ideals and her values, her love of Israel and of Chevron, are more powerful than anything else. She is larger than life.
 
I met a man who lives on one of the hills of Chevron in a caravan, together with eight other families. The government offered him $250,000 cash to abandon his house and relocate. Although he finds it hard to put bread on his table, he refused because of his love for the land, and for his people.
 
In the heart of Jerusalem stands a tent with a big sign – 'For Gilad Schalit'. The tent was erected by his parents trying to create awareness and get their son out of captivity. When I was there, the sign marked 1689 days since his captivity. May G-d grant Gilad’s parents the strength and power to be able to withstand their terrible trial and tribulation. May they emerge strong and may they be reunited with Gilad very soon!

The first verse of our Parshah tells us to kindle the Menorah with "pure olive oil, from olives, crushed to become a luminary." Olives are a metaphor for the Jewish people. In the words of our sages, just as the purest oil is extracted only when the olive is crushed and compressed, so does the Jew become a beacon of strength, faith, light, and warmth when he is oppressed. Exile attempts to crush our faith, our hope, our commitment to our people and our G-d, but in truth it is all in order to reveal our deepest inner strength, the essence of our soul.

This is how Jews throughout history were able to remain committed to the Torah despite the tremendous danger that this commitment entailed.

Let us learn from the heroes of our people to become a luminary to our families, our communities, and to the world.

The Most Spiritual Years of My Life

uv.jpgIt’s been four years since I was last in Israel, yet as I landed in Tel Aviv this week, I felt an overwhelming sense of homecoming. There is something special about the air here, as the Talmud puts it, “Aviva shel Eretz Yisrael Machkim” – the very air of the holy land makes one wise.

Just today I decided to take a trip back to my old Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad and indulge in a little nostalgia. Walking through the familiar study hall, I began reminiscing about the many years I had spent bent over my books at these very tables. Those years were by far the most spiritual I have ever experienced, as my schedule demanded rigorous study from 7am until 11.30pm. My day revolved around pages of Talmud and Mishna, in my spare moments my brain pondered concepts in Chassidus and Tanya. We lived in a Torah bubble with no television, no radio, no internet, no blackberry, no email and certainly no magazines. The two hundred bochurim were expected to share the two public payphones on campus.

And yet, despite the demanding program, I reveled in the sharpening of my mind and I drank in the words of my teachers. Those were the most incredible years of growth and development. The lack of outside communication was welcomed- that way, we could study undisturbed for hours on end. The years that a boy spends in Yeshiva not only impact his physical development, transforming a child into a man, but more importantly, those years mould his mind and shape his character.

I look back and am amazed at the discipline of the system- today I cannot go more than five minutes without checking my blackberry and responding to the numerous messages received.

In this week’s parsha we read “Ve’asu li mikdash veshachanti besocham.” – “Make Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell within it.” Our purpose in this world is to build a home for G-d. We create a home for Him not just in our physical world, but also in our hearts. When we set aside time for Torah study, even a small amount of time, we welcome G-d into ourselves and make Him comfortable in our lives. Each person ought to make a daily commitment to switch off all blackberries and all internet to retreat into a space inhabited by only G-d and I. A half hour is all it takes: thirty minutes of no outside communication, thirty minutes of pure heaven. Try it out - you won't regret it!

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