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The Powerful Virus Flame: Is it as new as we think?

flame.jpgIt's been described as “one of the most complex threats ever discovered.” It is 20 times more powerful than anything of its kind. It’s big, it’s sophisticated and it’s running loose.
 
Meet Flame; the newest, most dangerous, and most powerful computer virus ever discovered.
 
Flame is an espionage tool. It infiltrates the targeted computer taking screenshots. It intercepts and records email, chat and other network traffic. It can search for and copy specific files and turn on the internal microphone to record conversations.
 
Sound scary?
 
The U.N. certainly thinks so.
 
But is Flame really as new as we think?
 
I’m not so sure.
 
Because long before computers, viruses, or any other recording devices, we were targets of another kind of spying. We read in Ethics of Our Fathers, “Know what is above you: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded...”
 
But Flame brings a whole new level of understanding to that verse. The possibility of being spied on is now very real. Right in our own homes we can be watched and listened to. Our website history, keyboard activity and conversations can be recorded. There is nowhere to hide. Goodbye privacy, hello Flame!
 
But this is just a prelude for what’s to come. Because every single thing we’ve ever done in our lives has already been recorded, and after 120 years when we pass on, every conversation we’ve had, every deed we’ve done, will be replayed in front of us. There will be hard evidence – no way of denying our involvement in anything less than honest. Moreover, G-d is actually more progressive than Flame. He records not only our words and actions, but also our thoughts. We are not necessarily held accountable for all our thoughts, but they are still monitored and recorded.
 
flame.jpgFascinating that the G-dly soul inside each of us is often referred to as a flame by the Chassidic masters. The virus Flame has to be inserted via a USB cord in order to be active. Our G-dly Flame was inserted inside every single one of us the moment we were born. And from then on it begins recording.
 
Interestingly, Flame is not yet wreaking havoc indiscriminately. It has been used to target specific people and organizations of interest. The makers of the virus are not interested in the average person, so they are not expending the time and resources to spy on them.
 
When it comes to G-d, no such luck! He’s interested in every last one of us. No one is insignificant before Him. None of us is exempt from His “recording.” G-d cares about my actions just as much as the Iranian’s actions and as much as my neighbor’s housekeeper’s actions. Everyone is equal before Him.
 
Just prior to his passing, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, a great sage, warned his students, “Fear G-d like you fear man.” Should we not fear G-d a whole lot more than we fear man? The problem is, it’s hard to fear something we can’t see, and can’t quite relate to. G-d sees us, but we don’t see Him. So it becomes easy to sin in front of Him. But we are embarrassed, even afraid, to appear sinful before our friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Imagine if we felt G-d’s presence as much as we feel Flame. If our fear of G-d was as deep as our fear of Flame, we’d all be in pretty good shape. With the advent of this new virus, it’s a good time to reconsider – and try to live by - Rabbi Yochanan’s words.

My Ultimate Revenge Will Be When I Have Children

SherriChabad Israel Center recently hosted ten severely wounded female soldiers and victims of terror on our ten-day Belev Echad program. At a private and luxurious dinner reception Sheri Ben Aroya shared her story with the crowd:

“It was Pesach night; Seder night. Two hundred and fifty guests were gathered at the Park Hotel in Netanya to celebrate the Holiday, my family and I among them. The dining room, on the ground floor of the hotel, sparkled with holiday decoration and cheer.

“Little did we know, while we bathed and dressed and prepared for the Seder, a group of terrorists traversed the country in search of the “perfect target.” The Seder was at its peak: children asking the four questions, families singing, wine spilling.

“The clock read 7:15pm.

“A terrorist walked right into the middle of the room and immediately detonated the bomb he had strapped to his body.

“Screams and panic erupted as part of the roof fell in. My father was killed instantly, and all of my family members were wounded. Of all who survived that night, I was the most severely injured.

“For months I straddled the line between life and death. Shrapnel had flown into my right eye and out the back of my head. I lost all sight in that eye and became paralyzed down the right side of my body.

“Lying in that hospital bed, day after day, I realized that as much as I wanted my life back, it would be impossible to do it all at once. I knew I needed to take on one challenge at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time. I knew it would be a long, hard journey, but I was determined to succeed.  

“My first goal was to get rid of my wheelchair. With lots of hard work (including many tears), I successfully accomplished that goal. I was ready to move on to the next – getting rid of my crutches.  After that I began learning how to read again, how to speak again, how to write again. All the things most of us take for granted, I had to relearn as an adult, with painful injuries.

“Throughout my ordeal, I feel my father’s presence very strongly. I feel him encouraging me and guiding me. And when I feel ready to give up, I sense him cheering me on.  sherri2.jpg

“My biggest remaining goal is to have children and raise a family. This would be the ultimate revenge against the terrorists who tried to kill me, and almost succeeded.”

This weekend we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, marking 3,324 years since the Jewish nation gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Torah. At that time G-d charged us with a mission: transform the world, permeate the physical and the mundane with goodness, kindness and spirituality. Sounds like quite a daunting task! But if we learn frosherri3.jpgm Sherri, to take it one step at a time, it becomes doable. Start with a small mitzvah: Do something nice for someone else once a day. Study Torah once a week. Put on tefillin once a week. Make Shabbat more meaningful. Commit to another of the kosher laws. Start with one step, and once you’ve mastered that, move on to the next.

And just as Sheri feels her father guiding her through her challenges, our dear Father in Heaven is guiding us. He wants us to succeed. He is with us every single step of the way.

Sheri’s ultimate success will be creating a Jewish family and raising her children. When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish nation, He asked them to provide guarantors. They chose their children. Our children are the ones who will ensure our traditions are passed on to the next generation. Our children are the only guarantee we have. On this festival of Shavuot, spend time with your children. Read them a book. Play a game. And make sure to take them to hear the Ten Commandments being read on Monday.

Do it for yourself, do it for your children, do it for the future generations, and do it for Sherri and all those victims of terror whose lives have been mutilated.

“Today I am Falling, Tomorrow I Will Get Up”

IMG_9625.JPGLast week Chabad Israel Center hosted a magnificent Friday night dinner with 10 severely wounded female soldiers and victims of terror. Over 500 people attended, taking the opportunity to recognize and thank these heroines. During the meal, one of the soldiers, Chani Avramov, shared her story with us:

“I served in the Border Guard, in a unit that works to capture terrorists attempting to enter Israel.

“On the day of the attack, July 30th, 2001, several members of my unit were preparing to drive to Tulkarem, to go about regular army activities. I was not initially part of the group, but I volunteered to stand in for a friend who needed to be elsewhere.

“We piled into an army jeep and drove off. I was sitting at the very back of the vehicle, and I noticed a car driving behind us. I didn’t give it much thought, but the next time I turned around I saw four rifles sticking out of the car, pointed directly at me.IMG_0300.JPG

“I froze. Almost before I had time to react, a burst of gunfire began. Four terrorists shot 29 bullets. A total of 27 reached th

e back of the jeep. I was severely injured. One bullet lodge in my leg, and as I screamed to the driver a second bullet landed in my jaw. Part of my jaw fell onto the ground as well as a part of my tongue.

“Trying to escape as fast as he could, the driver sped up, and I fell out of the jeep onto the ground. It was a miracle that the terrorists did not come back to make sure I was dead.

“I remember no more from that day.

“I found out afterwards that it took three attempts to resuscitate me; the medics were not sure I would survive. And when I reached the hospital, the doctors predicted I would not survive the night. I had already lost an

 enormous amount of blood.

“In fact, they were so sure I was going to die, that my family was initially told I was already dead. 
  
“But I pulled through. My body did not let me down and I survived seven hours of emergency surgery. 

“My physical recovery started that day, and more than ten years and fifteen surgeries later it is still not over. I still have a long list of operations that I need to undergo.

IMG_9269.JPG

“My mental recovery was even more challenging. Those two bullets stole my two biggest loves: singing and dancing. The first bullet stole my voice; the second changed me from a promising young dancer to someone who walks with difficulty.”

I looked around as Chani spoke. I have never seen 500 people listen to a speaker so silently. I have never seen 500 people with tears in their eyes simultaneously. Chani’s story had touched each and every person present.

And then she shared something even more personal. She told us that even before the attack which almost killed her, her life had not been simple.

“My mother had been ill and I had been responsible for taking care of my siblings and the housework for a long time. But despite the pain and hardship our family endured, I never saw her father cry.

“Until I was injured.

“I remember lying in the ICU, falling in and out of consciousness, and I saw my father holding my hand and crying. This was something I had never seen before, and even in my semi-conscious state, unable to speak, I motioned for a pen and paper and wrote, ‘Father, don’t cry. Today I am falling, tomorrow I will get up.’”

A chill went down my spine when she uttered these words. What powerful words from such a courageous young woman. It’s unfathomable. Still in the ICU, condition unstable, Chani was already giving hope and strength to those around her.

The truth of her words still resonates, “Today I am falling, tomorrow I will get up.” On a personal level, Chani has indeed managed to “get up”, to heal, to carve out a new life for herself. And on a communal level, her words speak the fate of our nation. For millennia we have faced persecution, torture and suffering. But time and again we pull through, strong in our faith and our community. We have suffered so much in this current exile – more than 2000 years – but we know the time will come when we will get up. We will be redeemed.

I Have Nobody To Hug Me

IMG_0421.JPGChabad Israel Center just hosted ten severely wounded soldiers and victims of terror for a ten-day luxury trip to New York City. At our Friday night dinner with over 500 people, Tzippy Bloomberg, one of the guests, bravely shared her story.

“I was just a young teenager – only 14 years old - living with my family in Karnei Shomrom. On the day that would forever alter the course of my life, May 8th, 2001, I was in the car together with my family and another passenger. We were heading home, happy and calm, when traffic began to slow. My family and I were in one of several cars stuck behind a very slow-moving vehicle.

“The car slowing us all down had Palestinian identification plates. The car directly in front of us tried to overtake the car ahead. Suddenly, a spray of gunfire erupted from the Palestinian car. Bullets flew in every direction. The family in the first car managed to escape unscathed, but our car was hit badly.

“Everyone in the car was injured. My mother, in her fourth month of pregnancy, was killed instantly. My father was critically injured and remains paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair today. I was severely injured with gunshots to my spine and stomach.

“I was hospitalized for nine months and underwent three long and difficult operations. More than ten years later, I still attend daily physiotherapy. Nevertheless, I remain paralyzed; a constant reminder of the traumatic day which ripped my family and my childhood apart.”

Tzippy brought every single person in the room to tears when she said that the hardest part of her ordeal was not the physical pain. It wasn’t the countless surgeries, the blood tests or finding out she would never walk again. Tzippy continues to suffer severe pain to her entire body and there is nothing she can do to relieve the pain on a long-term basis. She has a device which she can switch on to provide some relief, but it is unreliable. At the moment it works, which is why she has been able to smile throughout the trip.

IMG_0784.JPGBut even that was not the hardest part. No. Tzippy confided in the guests that the most difficult part for her, lying in the hospital bed, was having no one to hug her. Nobody to kiss her. Nobody to hold her hand and reassure her. Her mother was killed in the attack, and her father was in his own hospital bed, dealing with his own pain and paralysis. Her very aloneness in the hospital brought her to tears, day after day.

But now, said Tzippy, she no longer feels so alone. She is happy despite her pain. Happy to be alive, and happy to be in New York. In fact, I kept on noticing Tzippy’s brilliant smile over the course of our trip. How can someone in so much pain keep smiling? 

And I realized, this is what Belev Echad does. It brings a smile to these brave young women’s faces; it makes them laugh, it gives them the warmth and love that Tzippy craved at her hospital bed. Belev Echad is like a giant hug, enveloping all 10 heroines with genuine love and affection.

When Tzippy finished talking, I was left with one thought: I need to learn from Tzippy. If she can find a way to be happy despite her tremendous ordeal, surely we can too. Let’s give it a try!

Why Does Stealing Make G-d Angry?

dont steal.jpg

Last week I almost became a millionaire. Well, maybe not a millionaire, but a seventy-dollar-aire.

It happened when I went to make a deposit at my local TD bank. I filled out my form, and it was sitting right there – an abandoned envelope full of cash. I looked around, but it was truly abandoned. I considered taking it home with me. And according to Jewish law, I may have been able to do just that. Or not.

Jewish law mandates that one who finds a lost object should try to locate the owner. In biblical times, there was a particular stone where people would announce the item they’d found, and others could come forward to identify and claim their lost belongings. But if an object has no recognizable signs or symbols, and the owner will have no way of verifying it is theirs, the finder can technically keep it.

With regards to the money in the envelope, there were enough identifiable signs to work with, and I knew what I had to do. 

I took that envelope right up to the manager and asked her to do her utmost to return the money to its owner. I suggested she could use the security cameras as a starting point. I had a feeling she was not going to do much about it. She looked at me like I was crazy.

But I knew I wasn’t.

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d commands, “Do not steal,” referring specifically to monetary theft. The Talmud likens theft to idolatry. Idolatry is one of the three cardinal sins, but stealing is not. So what is so terrible about theft that it’s likened to one of the “evil three”? How is it different to any other “regular” sin?

If a person eats something not kosher, it is a sin, but once he’s done, the sin is over and he can repent. If one insults his friend, it is a terrible sin but only a one time crime. If one desecrates the Shabbat it is also only one sin. Likewise with most sins – the sin lasts as long as the actual act. Once the act is over, the sin is over.

Theft is different. When a person steals money, every moment that passes - even if it is years later and the thief himself has completely forgotten - is considered an additional sin. And that is why  the sin of stealing makes G-d angry. The only other sin with similar properties is idolatry. We are told that G-d is angry as long idols can be found in the world. With both idolatry and theft, the sin accumulates until it is completely eradicated – either by destroying the idols, or returning the money (according to the conditions cited in Jewish law).

I meet many people in Manhattan and I find that this is a sin that is extremely difficult to resist. And truthfully, theft comes in many shapes and forms. Just the other day I met with three different people and all complained they were being stolen from! One suspected an employee of stealing from the company, another was dealing with a tenant refusing to pay his rent, and the third was an owner refusing to pay his employee. All are considered theft. An employee who takes his full salary while slacking off is also considered a thief. White collar crime is, unfortunately, also rampant, and it makes G-d angry.

After a person passes away the very first question he is asked by the Heavenly court is “Were you honest in business?”  

Let’s make sure we are ready to answer that question - honestly.

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