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Tornado's of Love

oklahoma-tornado-photos.jpgA monstrous tornado roared through Oklahoma this week, decimating entire neighborhoods, killing at least 24 people including 9 children, and injuring hundreds. The footage looks surreal and other-worldly. In less than one hour thousands of lives were drastically changed. 

No other weather phenomenon can match the destructive power and fury of the tornado. In fact the Oklahoma tornado packed more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. I’m no meteorologist, but I do know that the formation of a tornado requires the presence of both cool air and warm air mixing together. 

This week’s Torah portion also discusses the power of the warm-air-cool-air combination. 

The High Priest is instructed to light the seven-branched, pure gold menorah each morning. The flames burned right through the night, symbolizing the Divine light which radiated from the Holy Temple to the world. Essentially, he was mixing warm air (the flickering menorah) with cool air (the outside world). 

Like the High Priest, our job in this world is to illuminate the world. When we reach out to those around us and show them kindness and generosity, we are sending warm air into the cool atmosphere, creating a tornado of goodness and kindness. 

Rhonda Crosswhite created one such tornado this week. She draped her body across six students inside a Plaza Towers Elementary School bathroom stall. She focused on providing what little comfort she could to the screaming and sobbing children beneath her. The tornado of warmth and purity that she created is not limited to Oklahoma—it reverberates across the entire country and beyond, and we admire her and learn from her example. 

The courageous teachers in Oklahoma have inspired and touched people across the globe. We’ve all watched the news coverage and heard about neighbors, friends and strangers all helping people get out from the rubble. Oklahoma City Chabad House, run by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, immediately opened their doors to those in need of shelter or comfort. The Chabad volunteers canvassed the affected areas, bringing food, water and other necessities to the shocked survivors. Rabbi Goldman arranged the shipping of 20,000 pounds of meat and 1000 pounds of cheese products to the relief area. These people have inspired us all. 

Let’s take that inspiration and translate it into action. Together we can create a large-scale tornado of kindness bulldozing the earth. And when we create and grow that tornado, it will surely penetrate the very Heavens and demand our dear Father in Heaven bring the final and eternal Redemption—an era where we will know no more pain, sadness or suffering. 

Let’s get to work!

Rabbi Mistaken For Wax Image

madam.jpgI hardly ever get a chance to tour Manhattan, but two weeks ago I found myself at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum with 10 wounded IDF soldiers. It was fascinating to see how life-like the wax statues appeared and we all posed with the Obamas in the White house.

I stepped to the side for a few minutes because I needed to make a phone call. I was trying to reach the Israeli embassy in Washington, and like any embassy you have to listen to at least half a dozen long messages before you can even dream of speaking to a real person. So I leaned against the wall for a few minutes, lost in my own thoughts, while I waited for the recorded messages to end. 

Well, when I finished daydreaming I noticed a group of tourists taking pictures of me! I guess they’d seen me, dressed in my Chassidic garb, unmoving, and mistaken me for a wax statue. I didn’t want to disturb their fun (or my own!) so I stayed in position for another half minute or so. 

Imagine their surprise when the Chassidic wax statue started moving—they got the shock of their lives! And they sure were embarrassed.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, there is a lesson for us in everything that happens. So I thought to myself, what is the lesson in being mistaken for a wax statue?!

I started noticing that as real as the statues look, they’re all missing something. I have eyes, ears, a nose and mouth, and so do the wax replicas. Arms, legs, hands, feet—they’re all there. In fact, they’re so life-like that they almost look real. Almost, but not quite. They’re missing life; vitality.

We may not realize, but many of us live our lives like wax statues. We wake up in the morning, drink our coffee, read the paper, check for Facebook updates, catch up on overnight emails, go off to work, then to a party and a function. We’re moving, we’re doing, but in a zombie-esque, wax-statue-like manner. 

The High Priest is instructed to light the seven-branched menorah in this week’s Torah portion. The menorah was lit every single day in the Temple and its purpose was to illuminate the physical world and imbue it with spirituality. 

Our mission, in this oft-gloomy and mundane world, is to illuminate our surroundings as we go about our day. We need to permeate the world, and those around us, with goodness and kindness. We need to infuse the world with holiness and prepare it for the Redemption. 

When we live our lives with a sense of purpose, and a mission, when we do a mitzvah to help another, that’s what differentiates us from the wax statues in the museum. When we write a check to charity, help a wounded soldier or enrich the life of a stranger, then we are really living. Try it – it’s easier than you might think!

It Could Have Been Worse

noam2.jpgTwo weeks ago, 500 members of our community came together is a magnificent show of support, solidarity and gratitude, at a Shabbat dinner honoring ten severely wounded IDF soldiers and victims of terror. The soldiers shared their stories and the community was able to bond and identify with Israel’s struggles and victims. The evening was extremely moving and memorable.

Noam Nakash, one of the soldiers, shared his story. He served as a company sergeant major at the Nahal Oz army base until a routine evening four years ago when a barrage of rockets was fired from Gaza into Israel. Three mortar shells hit the base, injuring eight soldiers, including Noam who lost a leg. Noam described feeling his leg fly 20 feet in the air, while he was still conscious and aware.

He told us about the intense sense of misery and despair he felt when he woke from surgery. He felt as if his life had ended. He wondered, how can I live like this? Why was I given such suffering? Why can’t I just be like everyone else? But just as those thoughts were swirling through his troubled mind, in walked Kfir Levi. 

Kfir was an IDF sniper with the Givati brigade. He was standing guard at the Netzarim yishuv in Gaza when he was hit by a terrorist-fired RPG. For two months he lay unconscious, straddling the narrow fence that bridges this world and the next, often closer to the next. 

Since that attack, he has undergone 192 surgeries! His injuries include paralysis to his left hand and leg, loss of his teeth and right eye, and a shattered right hand. His face needed to be completely reconstructed and he now requires a hearing aid. 

Two years ago, Kfir was one of our Belev Echad guests. Despite his massive injuries, Kfir manages to put on a smile. When Kfir visited Noam to cheer him up, Noam realized how much worse off Kfir was. Seeing that Kfir was able to continue living happily gave Noam the strength and perseverance he needed to continue his recovery. He even learned to be thankful for his lot. 

The last of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall not covet your friend’s house; or his wife, servant, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to him.” In simple English, “Don’t be jealous of your coworker’s house in the Hamptons, your best friend’s wife, your brother’s dream job, your cousin’s bank account, and all the other great things those around you seem to have. 

Essentially, the Torah is reminding us to look at the bigger picture. Don’t just see the Hampton beach house; look at it in context of that person’s entire life. You might not be so jealous anymore. 

Each of us is given a unique combination of problems, challenges and hardships. There is no one out there without any problems. So, when we see Cousin Steve, who seems to have made it big without much effort or work, G-d’s reminding us, “Don’t forget it’s a package deal.” Look at his problems along with his wealth, and chances are you’ll choose to keep your own little bag of troubles.

Noam, who lost a leg and now requires a prosthetic and a leg brace, had this very realization. Looking at Kfir, he realized, it could have been worse. And that’s when he was finally able to accept and embrace the burden G-d had landed on him. 

Soldier In Excruciating Pain - Prays for What?!

dror.jpgLast Friday I accompanied ten severely wounded IDF soldiers and victims of terror to the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Queens. This trip was part of the ten-day Belev Echad trip, where we give the soldiers an experience of a lifetime.

The entire group felt moved by the experience at the Ohel. It was an opportunity for each of us to pray intensely, pouring out our hearts for everything we need.

I noticed that Dror Z., in particular, was exceptionally emotional and I found a moment to quietly and gently enquire what he had prayed for at the Ohel. “I prayed for the sick people in my family to have a speedy recovery, and I prayed for the wellbeing of my friends,” he said.

“What about you?” I asked. “Did you pray for yourself?”

To my surprise, he answered, “I’m ok. They really need the prayers.”

I thought about it.

I knew Dror's story well.

Dror served in the Nachshon Battalion and was severely wounded on duty in Tulkarm in December of 2005. There had been warnings of possible attacks during Chanukah, especially in crowded places, and the IDF was being particularly careful at the checkpoints.

Dror was at a checkpoint when a Palestinian taxi arrived. It looked suspicious so the commanding officer asked the passengers to get out.  One man wore a bulky coat which he was asked to remove. Instead, he detonated the explosives he had hidden under it and the officer was killed instantly. Dror was severely wounded. His feet had been hit directly and he had to undergo multiple surgeries over the next few years. He spent years in hospital and rehabilitation, but thanks to the efforts of his unit, dozens of families and children were spared from the attack.

As a result of his injuries, Dror suffers from severe and excruciating pain on a daily basis. Yet here he was, at the Ohel, with the opportunity to pour out his soul to G-d, and ask for a speedy recovery, and what does he do? He doesn’t think of himself and prays for others instead!

What a powerful lesson for all of us, as we approach the festival of Shavuot when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. We read that when the Jews camped in front of Mount Sinai, they were “Like one man with one heart.” Rashi explains that every other time the nation camped in the desert there was fighting and strife, but this one time there was peace and unity. When faced with the importance of the giving of the Torah, their differences suddenly melted away and became completely irrelevant and unimportant.

If we follow Dror’s example, and put other’s needs before our own, we will be well on our way to once more becoming a nation that is “Like one man with one heart,” and G-d will usher in the era of redemption where suffering and pain will cease, and all will be instantly healed. 

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