Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side. Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed from ChabadIC.com

English Blog

“The Vigler Boy is a Good Guy but he Limps”

itta.jpgIn September 2002 I spent some time in Israel, teaching Torah at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. One night I found myself travelling back from a Tel Aviv wedding at 1:00am with four of my friends. It was late, it was dark, and we were all tired. Things were going smoothly until I noticed (or at least I thought I noticed) the car swerving. It looked like the driver had dozed off! I grabbed the steering wheel and straightened it out. He came to and grabbed the wheel back, turning it the other way. The car flipped on its side but miraculously it did not roll off the cliff at the side of the road. We all climbed out the car with nothing more than some scratches and bruises. I hurt one of my legs and ended up limping slightly for the next couple of weeks. Looking back I probably should have kept my hands to myself.

I returned to New York a few weeks later, still limping slightly. I was 23, and starting to think about settling down. A friend suggested a young woman for me to potentially date. Her parents began to inquire about me, and I later found out that someone told them, “The Vigler boy is a good guy all around, but just between you and me – he limps!” And that was the end of that. The young woman’s mother certainly didn’t want her marrying anyone handicapped, so the suggestion went no further than that.

What a perfect example of Lashon Hara, speaking badly about another – even if it’s true! In this week’s Torah portion we read about Tzaraat, a supra-natural bodily affliction commonly mistranslated at “leprosy”. According to the sages, Tzaraat was contracted from speaking Lashon Hara. Speaking negatively about someone can hurt quicker, and more powerfully, than almost anything else. Words are like arrows, explains the Midrash, because a man speaking Lashon Hara in one place can hurt someone many miles away.

Someone came to see me a few weeks ago. Clearly distraught he cried in my office for almost three hours. Someone had started a rumor about him that he had stolen something and the backlash affected every aspect of his life. The rumor – completely unfounded as it was – had prevented him from landing a job he desperately wanted. This kind of gossip is called “Motzie Shem Ra” – defamation.

I’m often asked, “If I’m asked about somebody as a potential marriage prospect, and I know he or she has a serious problem, what should I say?”

My father in law, Rabbi Shmuel Lew, who has over 50 years experience in this field told me he was once in this position. He knew that if the woman and her family heard about the young man’s medical condition, they would immediately stop considering him. So he first spoke highly of the boy’s virtue, painted a picture of a truly exceptional young man, and only then did he mention the medical condition, how it was being treated, and how it would or would not affect the young woman. Today the couple is happily married.

We have to be ever so careful with our words. They are one of the most dangerous weapons in existence and every Joe, Lisa and Harry is armed. It’s dangerous! If you have nothing other than gossip to talk about, try opening up a book about the weekly Torah portion instead.

And when it comes to dating, the good news is that G-d is involved, and He likes things to work out. He often organizes it so that when the right person comes along, they will not hear a particular piece of gossip which may have made them re-think. And that is exactly what happened with me. My wife started asking around about me in November of 2002, and G-d orchestrated it that she should only find out the good things. We got married in February of 2003, and will - G-d willing - be celebrating our 10-year anniversary next year.

Aren’t we all in the secret service?

0417-secret-service-colombia_full_600.jpgA Jew shuffles into shul on Yom Kippur, and the rabbi greets him, “Reb Moshe! I haven’t seen you the entire year. Where have you been? Are you not in the army of G-d?” Reb Moshe answers, “Of course I am! I’m in the secret service.”

This week the U.S. Secret Service faced an embarrassing moment. It was called the biggest scandal in the history of the secret service.  Eleven agents were busted soliciting prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia.

Apparently, what those agents did is technically not illegal in Colombia, but President Obama stated most strongly that he would be “very angry” if the reports were true. According to Obama, those Secret Service agents were not in Columbia for themselves but rather they were representing the entire United States and should have held themselves to a higher moral standard.

I read Obama’s words with fascination, for as Jews, we too are held to a higher standard.

Secret Service agents are hand selected and rigorously trained. Huge amounts of money are invested in producing top notch agents who are then sent on important missions.

Each and every one of us is a member of a different kind of secret service. Our souls, before descending into this world, were trained, briefed, and hand selected. Then those souls were given their missions: uplift the world, elevate its inhabitants, spread G-dliness and spirituality. With their training behind them, our souls were ready to tackle the task. They came right down, entered our bodies, and together we do the work…

But as we go through life, challenges try to prevent us from fulfilling our missions. The evil inclination gets in the way and tries to derail us. Interestingly, the Zohar likens the evil inclination to a prostitute. A parable is told of a king who wishes to test his only son to determine his loyalty. He hires a prostitute to seduce his son again and again to see if he passes. Similarly, the evil inclination is there to test us, again and again, as we try to live a life of holiness and spread that holiness to others.

Here in this world, we are not just “us”. We are G-d’s representatives and we are held to a higher standard. As Rashi writes in this weeks Torah portion. "Just as I am holy, so too you should make yourselves holy." Not just for 10 days at a time. This is a long-term mission, and we need to uphold the standards. Eat kosher food? Sure! Put on tefillin? Absolutely, it’s part of my mission. Nail a mezuzah to my door? Go right ahead! Observe Shabbat? Of course, it’s a weekly reminder that G-d created us and sent us on this mission.

When the Colombia scandal came to light, General Martin Dempsey said, “We let the boss down.” 

As long-term secret service agents, we know our Boss is relying on us. Let’s not let Him down.

Thanks to Rabbi Mendel Prus, Chabad Rabbi in Doylestown PA for the inspiration of this article. Thanks to Miriam Szokovski for editing this article

Moving To An Apartment Double The Size & Half The Rent

community.jpgMy friend Dan was recently given an offer almost too good to pass up: a friend of his owns an apartment on the West Side and was willing to rent it to him at a price far below market value. He really just wanted the maintenance fees and property tax to be covered; if Dan would take care of that, he could live there with his wife for as long as he wished. The apartment is twice the size of Dan’s current apartment, and the rent would be half. 

If you live in Manhattan, you probably just felt a tinge of completely justifiable envy. After all, isn’t that everyone’s dream? More space, less money. Why on earth would anyone turn that down? 

But as I needled Dan, “Does that mean we won’t be seeing you in shul anymore? You’ll be able to sleep in peacefully now – no more annoying text messages from me begging you to help us make a minyan,” he surprised me by saying, “Rabbi, I turned down the offer.” 

It is entirely possible my mouth dropped open in shock. “Are you crazy?” I genuinely wanted to know. “How can you turn down such a rare and generous offer?”

But Dan explained to me that while the offer seemed irresistible in almost every way, there was one major problem: community. Dan has frequented the Chabad Israel Center since we opened five years ago. He explained that to him the sense of community, the friendships and the shul are irreplaceable. And he shared his desire to hold onto that for as long as possible. 

Wow. Dan was giving up a golden opportunity to embrace something I’d once only dreamed of: the Chabad Israel Center community. For the first time since we moved to Manhattan, I truly feel like we’d succeeded in creating it. 

And while we, on the East Side, may be feeling that sense of unity and cohesiveness that defines community, the reality is that world Jewry is all one extended community. We may live far apart. We may follow different customs, speak different languages and eat different foods. But we are part of a single entity: the Jewish nation. 

Sometimes we feel those bonds more strongly. Sadly, tragedies tend to bring that sense of global community closer to the surface. When a Jew suffers, we all feel his or her pain. When a mother loses her child in a terror attack, we all mourn.  When a young soldier is held captive in hostile land, we all rally for his release. When rockets are fired into civilian areas in the South of Israel, their outrage is our outrage. 

Imagine if we could feel that same sense of community on happier occasions? In just a few short days Jews worldwide will be sitting down to a Seder to celebrate freedom– past, present and future. Passover is statistically one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays. When we set up our Seder plates, so will all our Jewish brothers and sisters. When we drink four cups of wine, so will they. When we tell the story of the Exodus, so will they. 

This year, when we sit at the Seder with our family and friends, our finest china and bitterest herbs, let’s remember that we are not individual entities; we are part of a larger community. We are part of a single nation, following a singular path with a universal goal: Redemption. 

There is strength in numbers and strength in community. But in order to access that power, we need to recognize and acknowledge its source. This Passover, let’s do it.

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.