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Let’s Play “Knockout” (Seriously!)

Dear players of the “knockout” game,

 Wow! I just read about you on CBS news and I'm fascinated. As I understand it, the rules of "knockout" are as follows:

1. A group of youngsters roam the streets.

2. One of the teens decides to prove his strength.

3. The teen chooses an unsuspecting passer-by to be his victim.

4. The teen punches the stranger as hard as he can, hoping to completely knock him or her down with a single blow.

5. Sometimes, another member of the group records the event and posts a video of the "achievement" online to be sent around and "celebrated."

6. Said teen has now proven his strength. Hurray!

What fun! I'd love to play this game. In fact, I would strongly encourage my entire community to join in as well. Well, with a few tweaks, that is. Let me teach you how the game is really played.

The real "knockout" was pioneered by Joseph several thousand years ago. We read about it in this week's Torah portion.

Joseph was 28 years old, and had been in prison for 10 years, for a crime he didn't commit. We can only imagine how dispirited and helpless he must have been feeling. A young man, in his prime, locked away because of false accusations.

One day, he gets company - Pharaoh's baker and butler join him in prison and they look downright miserable. It would have been so easy for Joseph to think, "They're upset? They just got here! If anyone has a right to misery here it's me."

But instead, he takes it upon himself to cheer them up. And this is when the "knockout" game actually began. With one powerful blow - a blow of kindness, he showed the baker and the butler that he truly cared about them. Regardless of his own predicament, he went over and asked them, "Good morning, why are you so upset? What's wrong?" That one little inquiry was so genuine and heartfelt, it was enough to completely knock them off their feet. They felt cared about.

Ultimately, this simple display of concern for a stranger lead to a complete turnabout in Joseph's life. Two years later Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream and was made second most powerful person in the world! All because he played "knockout."

So it's ok to target unsuspecting strangers, not with disgusting violence, but with unrelenting kindness. In fact, let's make a concentrated effort to do so. Find a stranger and knock them off their feet with your kindness. Surprise them. Help them in an unexpected way. (Then again, in NYC most kindness is unexpected!) Sweep them off their feet with your kindness.

It could be a warm smile that someone desperately needed to get through the day. It could be helping someone carry their groceries home. It could be buying a warm breakfast for the homeless person you see on your way to work every day. The options are endless. When we keep our eyes open and look for them, we'll find them staring us right in the face at every turn.

Oh, and it's ok to record your act of kindness and share it with your friends. Hopefully, it will inspire them to join the "Kindness Knockout" game too.

Next week we'll be celebrating Chanukah and Thanksgiving, which overlap this year for the first time since 1918 - a rare phenomenon.

The miracle of Chanukah took place in the 2nd century BCE, when a small band of Jews - the Maccabees, triumphed over the King Antiochus IV's fully armed, strong and highly trained army. Chanukah marks the victory of light over darkness; the triumph of purity over impurity. Thanksgiving is an American holiday thanking G-d for our wonderful land and everything He does for us.

Let's celebrate this "Thanksgivukkah" by playing "knockout" the way it's supposed to be played -with blows of love, kindness, care, concern and support. And we invite the entire world to join in with us. Imagine how powerful this could be!

Yours truly

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side 

You are getting insurance in Queens

It's 8pm, the night before our 2nd annual gala dinner.

Months and months of planning and hard work have gone into this event, to ensure that it will be a fabulous celebration.

We are marking seven years of Chabad Israel Center.

As is to be expected, the night before is the busiest time. Last minute arrangements need to be taken care of, the sound and lighting systems need to be perfectly set up and the greatest fear of all party planners needs to be faced head on - seating arrangements.

But shockingly, I have never felt readier.

My good friend, Joseph Sokol, calls me. I answer and we chat for a few minutes. He sounds surprised that I have time to talk, so I ask, "Do you know where I am?"

"I have no doubt you're on your way to Queens to pick up some "insurance" for the gala," he said. 

And, indeed, that's exactly what I was doing. 

At 8pm I run out of my office and head to the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. I ask for a blessing, and pray for a successful evening; a successful event. Because, although we planned everything down to the last detail, at the end of the day success comes from G-d and G-d alone.


Yaakov finds himself in quite a bind in this week's Torah portion. He's about to meet Eisav, his estranged twin brother and sworn enemy. Eisav despises Yaakov virulently and is advancing with a huge army, preparing to kill Yaakov and his family.

First, Yaakov prepares himself physically. He sends lavish gifts to try and soften Eisav's heart, and perhaps even ward him off. Then he sets up his family in the safest way and prepares for war.

But even when all is ready, he still has one last thing to do. Yaakov stops and prays. He knows that the success of any mission, any war, any task, is dependent on G-d. And ultimately, he succeeds.

Through his conduct, Yaakov teaches us an invaluable lesson.

Whatever we're doing, whatever new initiative we're embarking on, whatever bumps in the road we're facing, after we put forth our best effort, we cannot forget to pray. It's vital.

You have a closing in the morning? A court case coming up? Trying to buy a new house or car? Starting a new job? Preparing for a new baby? Do everything in your power to prepare yourself, but then pray.

With G-d's help, our dinner will be fabulously successful, and will help our Chabad Center start its eighth year on an incredibly positive note. 

The Life Of A Rabbi

A student of the Alter Rebbe (the first Chabad Rebbe) once spent close to half an hour complaining to his Rebbe about all the things he felt his life lacked. "I need money to pay the rent, money to marry off my daughters, money to buy my wife clothing..." and that was just the tip of the iceberg. He continued to tearfully list his needs, one after the next.

The Alter Rebbe looked at him sharply. "For half an hour you're crying about what you need, but you haven't once mentioned what you're needed for!"

As a Rabbi, I often find myself on the receiving end of people's needs - and their complaints.

"Rabbi, I need a document signed, can you help me?" (from a guy who hasn't answered any of my texts, calls or emails in several years...)

"Rabbi, there's no soda at this kiddush! Why isn't there soda?" (despite the beautiful, catered meal of salads, cholent and meat...)

"Rabbi, the cholent's too spicy. Rabbi, the cholent is tasteless. Rabbi, where are the salads?"

Such is the life of a Rabbi. Even Moses struggled as a leader, with the Jewish nation complaining about his every move. 

And it's a hard job. It doesn't start at 9am, nor end at 5pm. A Rabbi needs to be available virtually 24/7 for counseling, burials, marriages, divorces, circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, torah classes and synagogue services... not to mention fundraising and balancing an entire budget!

But this week, I was reminded why I do what I do, and what it's all about.

At the annual Chabad convention in Brooklyn, I found myself among 5000 Chabad rabbis from all corners of the world. We had representatives from Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Guatemala, Laos, Slovakia, Tunisia and dozens of other countries, not to mention 47 states across the USA.

The convention culminates in the grand banquet - where all 5000 rabbis and some of their supporters gather for an evening of unity and inspiration. At my table alone we had rabbis from Thailand, California, Florida, Israel and Brazil.

The highlight of the banquet is the "roll call," which is when Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, director of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries and vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Chabad-Lubavitch’s educational arm, lists all the countries represented in the room, and everyone breaks into spontaneous dance.

While I was dancing, with 5000 of my contemporaries, there came a moment where I forgot about myself. I got lost in the dancing, oblivious to my surroundings. And suddenly I realized, it's not about me, or my needs. It's about what I'm needed for. What can I contribute to society? Not, what can I take from society. 

There, in that room with 5000 other Rabbis, all of whom are dedicated to the same cause I am - spreading the light of Torah and mitzvot, and permeating the world with the joy and passion of judaism - I realized that I wouldn't change my life for anything in the world. Not a thing. I am an emissary of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

Perhaps this is a message for all of us. Instead of focusing on our own needs and desires, let's try to focus more on what we can do for others. Surely, with practice, it will become second nature. 

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