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My lottery ticket

lottery.jpgThis week was the first time it ever dawned upon me to purchase a lottery ticket... I figured, if G-d could split the sea, surely making me win the lottery isn’t that big a deal—even if the odds are 178 million to one. I thought our Chabad Center could probably make use of an extra $300 million... investing it in a new home for the Center’s various activities-- a school, a gym, community center, social hall and shul. Well, I waited for that lucky call, and you guessed it- it never came.

This coming Shabbat marks the start of the first month of the Jewish calendar, the month of Nissan. You may be wondering, why then do we celebrate Rosh Hashanah-- the head of the new year-- six months later in Tishrei? The reason for this is because Nissan is traditionally marked as the head of months, whereas Tishrei signifies the head of the year. As such, the Jewish calendar is characterized by two heads.

The Tishrei head represents the natural order of the world; indeed, it was in Tishrei that the world was created. The Nissan head represents the miraculous; it was in this month that the Israelites were extraordinarily redeemed from their Egyptian bondage. The Jewish calendar accommodates both cycles, because together they form the essence of the Jew-- although citizens of the physical universe, Jews are privy to a supernatural connection to G-d. 

So with this in mind, I realized why I had not hit the jackpot. Throughout our history, we’ve witnessed G-d’s penchant for performing jaw-dropping miracles, yet those kinds of miracles are few and far between. Because what G-d really likes is miracles clothed in nature. In accordance with G-d’s preferred methods, He expects us, His chosen nation, to likewise lead a natural life in a physical world despite our supernatural tendencies, seeking G-dliness within the parameters of nature. So since scooping a $300 million fortune hovers on the supernatural extreme, G-d clearly ruled it out.

Sarah* had been attending Chabad Israel Center’s services for quite some time. Her search for a spouse became increasingly desperate as time dragged on. This past Simchas Torah, Chabad threw a lavish sushi party. Mike* had never been to a Chabad House before-- he considered himself too irreligious and secular. However, when he heard about the huge sushi spread, he decided to give it a shot. Sarah and Mike met that night, and just a few days ago Sarah shared with me the wonderful news that they will be getting married this summer. I told her that now I know why we had to spend so much money for the party…to attract her husband.

If each of us examines the story of our lives, we will discover that G-d has been with us every step of the way. Many times He’s hard to recognize, but eventually, He always reveals Himself. The two Jewish heads teach us that G-d prefers to clothe His miracles within natural garments, rather than lighting up the sky with a nature-defying feat. Sarah, like many of us, struggled in an area of her life. But eventually, despite the mundane, unromantic circumstances, when her Prince Charming showed up, to Sarah, G-d had just performed another miracle as elaborate as the Splitting of the Sea.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

The Mystery of the Missing Wallet…

lost wallet.jpgWhile on a beautiful trip to Israel a month ago, my wife lost her wallet. We searched the car, overturned our apartment and called all our relatives who we had stayed by, all to no avail. Her credit cards, driver’s license and other important documents had simply vanished.

At the back of my mind, I couldn’t help the niggling thought that my wife was slightly careless. I mean, how does someone lose a wallet? Of course, I didn’t breathe a word to her, but the accusations still festered in me.

I called Amex to cancel the card and they informed me that someone had called them to report Shevy’s lost credit card, and in accordance with Amex’s policy, they immediately cancelled it. So we knew the purse had been found, but had no idea by who or where.

I got the answer this week while chatting with my sister-in-law from Israel. We were staying in Petach Tikva for Shabbat, and while packing the car after Shabbat to return to our apartment, I accidentally dropped the purse. I realized, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was me who dropped it on the street, because my wife wasn’t even with me at the time. A young secular Israeli found it, and realized it belonged to an American. The problem was, he had no idea how to locate the owner. For four weeks he kept the purse, not knowing what to do. Finally he figured he'd go back to the street where he found it and knock on the first door. Turns out that out of the hundreds of doors that he could have knocked on, the door that he did knock on was somebody who knows my brother very well. He immediately made the Vigler connection and the wallet was back in our possession.  

Many times we find ourselves in similar situations-- we want to do what’s right, but have no idea where to start. All G-d requires of us in these circumstances is to take the first step—go to the street and knock on a random door, from then on, G-d’s the boss. The Midrash captures this idea in the statement, “Open a crack for Me the size of a needle, and I will open up for you a hole the size of a hall…”

This week’s parsha of Shemini relates an unusual conversation that occurred between Moshe and Aharon. For seven days Aharon had been practicing his task of sanctifying the Sanctuary as High Priest, in preparation for the actual sanctification on the eighth day, when G-d’s glory would descend unto the structure. Seeing Aharon’s hesitation when the eighth day arrived, Moshe urged him, “Approach the altar, and carry your sin-offering and your burnt-offering . . .” Aharon got cold feet when he realized that he - an individual who had sinned through his indirect involvement in the Golden Calf-- would be the trigger of the fusion of heaven and earth. Moshe reproached Aharon, reminding him that he had not chosen his role, G-d had chosen him! As such, it was Aaron’s job, uncertainty aside, to take the first step. G-d would see to the rest.

Let us take the first step to do what is right and G-d will surely take care of the rest! 

He burned his evil inclination

During Chabad of the Upper East Side’s 2011 Avraham Fried Annual Auction and Concert, the singer related a moving story. About eighteen months ago, on a fateful Friday night, a catastrophic fire broke out in a Jewish home in Kfar Chabad, Israel. The members of the family all managed to escape, except for one nine year old boy who suffered burns on ninety percent of his body. He was transported to Ohio’s famous burn center in the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

The family forwarded a request to Avraham Fried to sing to the ill child and raise his spirits. Upon his arrival in Cincinnati, nothing could have prepared him for the sight that met his eyes, for the severity of the little boy’s injuries required the total amputation of his legs. After several joyous songs, the patient declared to Fried, “You know, G-d did a good thing by burning me. Because by so doing, He has totally burned my yetzer hara (evil inclination).”

This story got me thinking about the sacrifices mentioned in this weeks Torah portion.

The verse reads, "אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה'..." – “A man, when he sacrifices, from among you a sacrifice...” The obvious question is why the Torah chose to employ such nonsensical wording. It would be more fitting for the Torah to have written something along the lines of, “A man, from among you, who offers a sacrifice...”

The Chassidic Masters explain that the wording of the verse urges us to conclude that Torah does not only imply a physical sacrifice, but also, a much deeper and more personal offering. The word “sacrifices” in the verse, “A man when he sacrifices from you a sacrifice...” shares the same root as the phrase “to come close”. In other words, the verse is guiding us—when a man desires to come close to G-d, he must sacrifice from himself.

Some people sacrifice their hard earned money by distributing it to charity, others refrain from non-kosher foods in favor of permissible ones. A woman sacrifices a minute of her time a week when she lights Shabbat candles. We also sacrifice our evil impulses and temptations by controlling them. This is the ultimate condition of Judaism - you want to come close to G-d, you’ve got to sacrifice something.

Scrolling through Ynet earlier this week, a gruesome headline caught my eye: “Student Amputates Own Hand”. Intrigued, I clicked on it -- and was not let down. A young man walked into a fish store in Jerusalem’s Me’ah She’arim, headed straight to the electrical saw and proceeded to amputate his right hand, elbow down. Turning to the horrified onlookers, he explained that he had to do something to curb his terrible temptations and evil inclination—alas, this was his last resort.

As a religion that honors life above all else, the concept of human sacrifice has no place in Judaism. So the guy who severs his own limb to restrain his immorality has really missed the point. The true sacrifice lies in the utilization of our G-d given assets and circumstances for a higher purpose. This is the way we come closer to G-d.

The wealthy American Jew

A poor Jew from Bnei Brak once found himself in a desperate situation. With seven kids all crammed into a minute three bedroom apartment, he urgently needed to relocate to a bigger property. The problem was that after selling his current apartment, he’d be short $150,000. Not knowing where else to turn, he made his way to the Kotel where he poured out his heart to G-d. After spending two hours reciting the entire book of Tehillim, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turns out a wealthy American Jew took an interest in the man’s sorry plight, and after hearing his tearful story, promptly wrote out a check for the required amount.

A month later, the satisfied Jew sat by the Kiddush in shul and related his miraculous story to a friend. This friend happened to be in an even worse situation, and decided to try the trick himself. He went to the Kotel and began reciting Tehillim. He cried to G-d to help him, tears pouring down his face. All the while, he couldn’t help looking over his shoulder, wondering when the American Jew would finally notice him. After he’d completed the whole Tehillim with no results, he had no choice but to start over. And over. And over. Eventually he left, totally disappointed. He went straight to his rabbi’s house to discuss the issue. “G-d knows I need the house more than my friend, so why didn’t He send me an American Jew as well?” The wise rabbi replied, “Your friend went to the Kotel searching for G-d, so G-d answered him. You, on the other hand, went to the Kotel searching for an American Jew...”

Living in a competitive, expensive world, the daily quest to earn a living is not foreign to us. Each of us, no matter how much we earn, finds ourselves dependent on some force or another. The question, however, is the attitude behind the pursuit—when we seek sustenance, do we turn to G-d for help or do we place our trust in an obscure American Jew? When we make a killing off the stock market, do we bask in the brilliance of our move, or do we attribute the success to the hand of G-d?

Hashem’s Sanctuary is constructed in this week’s Torah portion of Pekudei. The actual edifice of the mishkan sends a clear message to man - G-d does not merely reside in the heavens; He is here among us in a physical address. No matter how lowly and mundane our affairs may seem, there’s always place for G-d. So next time you want to go for the jackpot, get a new perspective - invite G-d to choose the numbers, who knows, He may just pick the right ones.

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