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A Spiritual Mitzvah Or A Physical Kiddush Cup

1056-kiddush-cup_2.jpgA couple of weeks ago I celebrated my birthday. Mayer Naftoli Stock – a good friend and community member – wanted to buy me a birthday present. He asked my brother-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Lipsker, what I might like, and Rabbi Lipsker suggested a kiddush cup. And so, Mayer Naftoli presented me with a beautiful new silver kiddush cup, which I intend to use every single week at the shul kiddush.

A short time later, Rabbi Lipsker was celebrating his own birthday, and Mayer Naftoli asked me for an idea of what to give him. I suggested he commit to keeping a new mitzvah and call Rabbi Lipsker to let him know that this mitzvah would be in honor of his birthday.

When Mayer Naftoli called him, Rabbi Lipsker quipped, “Tell Rabbi Vigler he can keep the mitzvahs, but I want the silver kiddush cup!”

But the gift of a kiddush cup is really also the gift of a mitzvah.

When the Jewish nation was in the desert, they decided to send spies into the Land of Israel, to scout out the terrain and its inhabitants. Their report was so negative that the people concluded they’d rather stay in the desert.

They sound ungrateful. G-d promises them an entire country for their own homeland, and yet they prefer to wander endlessly in the hot, dry desert?

But Chassidic masters explain that there was more to it than that. In the desert, they were provided with manna for food, the Well of Miriam for water, and protective clouds which not only kept them safe, but also washed and ironed their clothes for them. With all their physical needs taken care of, they were free to study Torah, connect to G-d and live a spiritual existence.

They knew that in the Land of Israel, life would change. They’d have to clothe, house and feed themselves, and there would be much less time for Torah study. So naturally, they preferred to stay in the desert where they could live a life closer to G-dliness.

But, what G-d actually wants – from us and from them – is a combination of the physical and the spiritual. When we use the mundane world around us for spiritual purposes, we are able to permeate the world with spirituality. For example, if someone works hard and uses a chunk of his salary to send his children to a Jewish school, he elevates his job to a spiritual plane. If a young woman uses facebook to invite a friend to a Shabbat meal, or a Torah class, she elevates her social networking tools.

In Today’s world, powerful technological tools are readily available. Most can be used positively or negatively. Our job is to use them for the right purpose, to permeate them with holiness.

And that is exactly what I’ll be doing when I use my new kiddush cup. When I say the blessings, the cup and wine will become permeated with G-dliness. This is what He wants. 

Disaster Averted At The Last Second

be.jpgThe highlight of our yearly Belev Echad program is our Friday night dinner honoring the 10 wounded IDF soldiers. It is a chance for our community to get to meet and chat with the guests in a happy, relaxed atmosphere.

Two years ago, we were expecting 250 people for this dinner. We booked a caterer, discussed the menu, planned seating arrangements, and everything should have been set up and ready early on Friday afternoon. Imagine my horror when I walked in at 4pm to a big empty hall! No tables, no chairs, no caterer, no food.

Just space.

Lots and lots of space.

Panicked, I called the caterer. No answer. I tried his work number, his cell number, even his home phone, but I couldn’t reach him. Desperate, I called the numbers over and over. In just three hours 250 people would be expecting a beautiful Shabbat meal and nothing, but nothing was ready.

Finally, at 5:30pm I reached the caterer who somehow got stuck in an elevator for half the day. He told me he was on the way (nothing like Manhattan rush hour!) and not to worry.  I almost laughed out loud. Was he seriously telling me not to worry? How could he possibly have everything ready for our 7 o’clock dinner?

At 6pm he waltzed in and I quickly realized that we would certainly not be ready in time. I sent an urgent text to over 30 people, many of whom rushed over to help us whip the party into shape.

Dinner guests began trickling in at 6:45pm and with some quick thinking we directed them to another room for “hors d’oeuvers”. Meanwhile, our devoted team rolled out the tables, arranged the chairs and helped plate the food.

The whirlwind effort paid off and at 8 o’clock we were ready to open the doors for dinner.

What we were sure would be breeze had turned into a disaster and then been quickly and wonderfully salvaged. We were all a bit worse for wear, but most of the dinner guests weren’t even aware of all the drama. Whew!

So, with memories of that near-disaster in mind, this year I was taking no chances! We hired a new caterer and checked with him numerous times that the tables would be set up a couple of days in advance. We cleaned the space well ahead of time, the caterer was working on cooking for the 500 people who had reserved, and I actually felt quite calm.

Come Friday, everything seemed under control. The hall was ready, the food was on its way, the caterer was not stressed, seating was organized and I left the hall at 3pm feeling cool as a cucumber. be2.jpg

I went home to get myself ready, and when I returned to the hall 2 hours later I was in for a shock. There was no air conditioning, no refrigerator, no freezer, no food warmer, no lights. The electricity was off.

I ran to find the super who discovered we’d blown a fuse. He tried to fix it without success.

Our guests were due to arrive in one hour. This dinner was to be the biggest event we’d ever organized, and even though we’d paid meticulous attention to detail to avoid another disaster, disaster had found us.

And that’s when I realized. We can plan, and plan, and plan, but ultimately, everything is in G-d’s hands, and it’s up to us to trust Him.

It was this trust that G-d tried to help the Jews cultivate in the desert. Every morning they received tasty, fresh manna from heaven. It was the kind of food every kid dreams of – it tasted like anything they wanted. But there was a catch. Each person could only take as much manna as he or she needed for that particular day.

In a vast desert, it could be easy for the Jews to wonder, “Hey, what will I eat tomorrow? How do I know I’ll get more food?” And their worry was legitimate. If G-d hadn’t sent more manna, they surely would have died. But this is the very lesson G-d wanted to teach them. He was telling them, “Trust Me, and I will provide for you.”

So, reminding myself that our livelihood, our successes and everything else in our lives comes directly from G-d, I made a phone call. We are told that prayer at the graveside of a righteous person has a more direct route to G-d, so I called our programming director – Itty Prus who had spent hours working on this dinner – and asked her to arrange for someone to pray at the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s resting place on our behalf. At the same time, I stopped what I was doing and prayed to G-d myself. I asked G-d to help us go through with the wonderful, uplifting evening we had planned and I recited some Psalms.

Feeling calmer, now that I’d involved G-d in the problem, I found the super and tried to work with him on finding the problem. He identified the problem and I sent him to buy the replacement piece we needed. Within a short time, our electricity was back up and running. We took some precautions – unplugged some of the air conditioners – to ensure the fuse wouldn’t blow again half-way through the evening.

It was slightly warmer in the room than we would have preferred, but all in all it was a delightful evening, with one very important lesson learned: We can plan and plan and plan, but ultimately, we need G-d’s blessing to succeed. 

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