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Red Carpet For Obama; And For Moshiach?

art-obama-620x349.jpgOne morning this week, I met my friend in shul for the morning services. He looked casual and comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, so I asked him, “Are you taking the day off? Or going to work like this?”

“No, no,” he answered. “After this I’m going home to shower, brush my hair and get dressed properly.”

“So for G-d you don’t need to shower, but for your boss you even wear a suit?!” I was floored. 

President Obama is currently visiting Israel for the first time. Like the rest of the world, I watched him step off the airplane at Ben Gurion airport. Israel literally rolled out a red carpet in the airport! Months of preparation went into designing the most spectacular reception: School children formed choirs to perform for the President and Israel’s famous singers are preparing to give him a wonderful concert. Every detail has been taken care of to ensure Obama and his entourage will be safe and comfortable. 

One organizer was even seen asking the press not to throw lit cigarette butts onto the ground—a virtual Israeli national pastime, while during the official ceremony there was an almost laughable request that the horde of Israeli and foreign journalists turn off their cellphones! Behind the bleachers organizers checked up on what must have been, for a few hours on Wednesday, the cleanest portable toilets in the history of the Middle East.

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The other morning my daughter Rosie fought with her brother Mendel during breakfast, and she took away his chair. Mendel was in tears and when I asked her to give him back his chair she refused. I thought for a minute and explained to her that we need to prepare for Moshiach’s imminent arrival. Every good deed that we do brings him one step closer. “So when you give Mendel back his chair,” I said, “it means Moshiach will get here quicker.” It took some convincing but in the end she returned the chair and everyone was happy. 

But the incident got me thinking: we need to prepare for Moshiach the same way we prepare for Obama. Imagine if we were as focused and dedicated to preparing for Moshiach as Israel has been in preparing for the President. He would surely be here already! 

Next week, we are expecting an important guest: Pesach. This is a guest we’ve definitely been preparing for! We’ve been busy cleaning every nook and cranny of our homes, vacuuming under the seats in our cars, clearing out our gym lockers and desk drawers—looking for every last crumb of chametz. 

At the same time, we’re also cleaning out ourselves. The difference between chametz and matzah is the puffiness. Leavened dough rises; matzah is flat. Bread represents egotism; matzah is humility. Along with our physical preparations, we are preparing spiritually. We need to clean out our egos and other negative character traits and go back to basic humility which brings out the best in us. 

This level of intense preparation—the kind we’re doing for Pesach, and the kind Israel is doing for Obama—this is how we need to prepare for Moshiach.

The holiday of Pesach represents personal and communal redemption. By focusing on preparing for Moshiach, we can help hasten the imminent and final redemption. 

I Lost A $10,000 Check

467_519414391435168_428434971_n.jpgA couple of weeks ago I wrote a $2,000 check to pay a bill we owed to a friend of mine. A few days later this friend called, and apologetically asked me to cancel the old check and write a new one, since he had lost it. Of course, I agreed, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, “How do you lose a check? Who does that? Is it so difficult to keep it in a safe place until you can deposit it?” But I kept my mouth shut, cancelled the check and wrote him a new one. 

Two weeks later I received a check for $10,000 from a different friend. He gave it to me when I was in Brooklyn, and the following morning when I was ready to take it to the bank I discovered it was missing. I searched high and low. I scoured my house, my car, my office—even my children’s toy box! Finally, I had to concede it was truly lost. I called my friend and asked him to cancel that check and write me a new one. But interestingly, the thoughts going through my mind in this instance were vastly different from the thoughts I had when it was my check that was lost. Instead of thinking, “How could you lose a check?!” I was telling myself, “Hey, these things happen. It was an innocent mistake. It’s not such a big deal. All the guy needs to do is write a new one…” 

A couple of days later I received a phone call from a stranger. She’d found my check on the ground outside one of the stores I’d visited in Brooklyn. 

I contrasted these two events in my mind. The check I lost was for five times(!) the amount of the check my friend lost, so how was I able to completely absolve myself of responsibility while feeling disgruntled towards him? 

By nature, we love ourselves dearly, despite our flaws. We all have faults, we all have flaws. But somehow, those very same flaws that bother us in others are so easy to gloss over when it comes to ourselves. 

When someone else double parks, you bet we’re quick to judge. How inconsiderate! But when we double park, what’s the big deal? It’s just for a minute… I just had to pick something up and there was nowhere else to park! 

When someone else’s kid is throwing a tantrum in the supermarket, we’re quick to judge. What kind of parent lets their kid do that in public?? But when our kid loses it, we tell ourselves, hey – kids will be kids. 

“Love your fellow as you love yourself,” the Torah instructs us. Practically, what does that mean? It means that the same way we are quick to excuse our own shortcomings (like losing the check), we should be quick to excuse faults in others. Instead of judging those who struggle with anger, mood swings, inflated egos, or grumpiness, we need to view them the same way we would view those shortcomings in ourselves. We love ourselves despite our flaws; we need to love others the same way. 

We are currently in the month of Nissan, the time when the Israelites left Egypt over 3,000 years ago and became the Jewish nation. We are told, “B’nissan nigalu, uv’nissan atidin l’higael,” – “In Nissan we were redeemed and in Nissan we will be redeemed again in the future.” We are still awaiting that future redemption… Perhaps by focusing on our love for each other, despite our shortcomings, we can hasten the coming of Moshiach and that final redemption. 

We Are Moving

We_are_moving.jpgSix and a half years ago, my wife and I moved into an apartment in the Normandie Court on 95th and 3rd. We were thrilled to be able to open our Chabad center out of our apartment. We hosted Shabbat dinners and Torah classes, but it quickly became apparent that we simply didn’t have enough space for all the activities we wanted to do!
 
For the last couple of years we have been searching for a bigger apartment, and a few weeks ago we finally found something to our liking. After we looked at the apartment and decided we were satisfied with it, we gave our paperwork to the broker.
 
Slight problem.
 
Since our new apartment is bigger, and therefore more expensive, than our current apartment, the broker wanted to know, “Who will be your guarantor?”
 
My mind immediately jumped to that week’s Torah portion, which happened to be Yitro, where G-d asks the Jews “Who will be your guarantor?” for keeping the Torah. At first the nation replies “Abraham!” but that is not good enough. “Isaac? Jacob? Moses?” they keep guessing but each time G-d says, “No, not good enough.” Finally, they tell G-d, “The children will be our guarantors. Our children will ensure we pass on the Torah to the next generation and the generations after that,” and at last G-d is satisfied and accepts their bid.
 
With this story fresh in my mind (I had been reading it to my children the night before!), I told the broker, “My children will be my guarantor.” She might have thought I was crazy, but patiently said, “That definitely won’t work…”
 
So I explained. In the Torah, the world “child” can also refer to a person’s good deeds. So I was suggesting that our reputation for doing good deeds could be our guarantor.
  
“Chabad Israel Center has a strong track record and sterling reputation for helping people and spreading warmth and kindness. We are honest people who stand for morality and integrity. This is the backbone of our faith. If we say we will pay the rent then we will pay it. Ask around about us and you can find out,” we suggested. Our broker looked taken aback and highly skeptical, but agreed to try the landlord.
 
Well, lo and behold, last week the broker phoned us to let us know that our offer was successful and we would soon be moving into our new apartment three blocks south of our current one!  
 
We look forward to making our new apartment a place where we can again host Shabbat dinners, Torah classes, and other community events.
 
In this week’s Torah portion we read about G-d's house. G-d wanted the Jews to build Him a “house” in their midst – i.e., the Tabernacle. The Torah is not repetitious in general, but when it talks about the building of the Tabernacle, everything is written twice, and in detail. Why? To emphasize how precious G-d’s home is. It’s the place where His divine presence rests; a place of purity, kindness and mitzvahs.
 
Although the Tabernacle and the Temples are long gone, it is our duty to make our own homes mini temples for G-d. It’s our responsibility to make our homes (and our hearts) places where G-d feels comfortable because we are living the way He wants us to.
 
And when our homes are built on the foundation of Torah and mitzvahs, that is the strongest guarantee that the Torah will be kept, cherished, and passed on to the future generations. 
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