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I Want a Family Like Yours!

lewfamily.JPGMy wife’s grandfather, Rabbi Zalman Jaffee, who was very close to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary in 1989. The Rebbe told him that the “Golden Anniversary” would be a “golden opportunity” to get together with his entire family.

Fast forward 24 years to the weekend of June 22, 2013 when my parents in law, Rabbi Shmuel and Hindy Lew, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They also wanted to utilize the opportunity to get together with the entire family, which is no easy feat considering they have 15 children and close to 150 grandchildren and great-grandchildren spread out across the USA and the UK!

In order to plan the weekend, we formed a Google group so everyone could contribute, communicate and help work out every last detail. We also have a family WhatsApp group where we exchange thousands of texts each week -literally! The planning began months in advance and emails flew back and forth as 15 (opinionated!) siblings tried to coordinate. All 15 are rabbis of their own communities and synagogues, or married to rabbis, and leaving for a weekend is not so simple.

But in the end, everything came together and we all met at a hotel in Somerset, NJ, for the weekend. Sitting around the Shabbat table with 150 close family members was deeply moving. We all made kiddush and sang Shabbat melodies together. We told chassidic stories, laughed a lot and reminisced about our shared history. The feeling of unity that bound us was powerful.

At the Shabbat meal, my father-in-law told us about the photographer’s challenge when he married off his 14th child. How to include the many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren into one family photo? It would take far too long! The photographer suggested that the family gather well before the ceremony, take as much time as needed to get a good photograph, and later he would Photoshop in the bride and groom. But my father-in-law insisted the photo be taken properly, with everyone present, after the chuppah. Incredibly, within 15 minutes the photo had been taken! Later on that evening, the photographer told my father-in-law how impressed he was with the family and asked for a blessing "I want a family like yours!" My father-in-law began blessing him to have a family double the size but the photographer stopped him. “I didn’t mean the quantity,” he said, “I meant the quality. The kinship and love they share—that’s what I want my children to experience.”

The “Three Weeks” began a few days ago—the annual mourning period where we mourn the destruction of the 1st and 2nd holy Temples and the ongoing exile. During this period we don’t cut our hair, buy new clothes, celebrate weddings or listen to music—all signs of mourning.

Our sages explain that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam—baseless hatred. The Talmud tells us that in order to merit the 3rd Temple and the final redemption we need to increase our love for each other. The Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred; unconditional love will lead to its rebirth.

Love begins at home. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s more difficult. But in the spirit of the “Three Weeks,” let’s all make an effort to reach out to our siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles etc. in a kind and meaningful way.

Let’s call a neighbor, a friend, or a family member for no particular reason. Offer to do a favor, give someone a ride, or help in any way needed. When we increase in love and kindness, that is more powerful than anything else in the world, and can only lead to goodness and the ultimate redemption. 

Watch Out! The NSA is Listening…

orwell-2-204x300.jpgThere was once a rabbi who hired a wagon driver to drive him to the next town. As the wagon passed a field of ripe produce, the wagon driver stopped the wagon, jumped out, and started picking some fruit. 

Within seconds the driver heard the rabbi shout, “Watch out! Someone’s watching you!” 

Frightened, he quickly jumped back into the wagon and drove off. But as he looked over his shoulder to see who was watching him, the wagon driver didn’t see a soul. “Hey rabbi,” he said, “Who was coming? I don’t see anyone.”

“G-d was watching; G-d is always watching,” explained the rabbi.                                               


Edward Snowden became a household name this week as he joined the ranks of world-famous whistle blowers. With high-level security clearance Edward had access to some of the most important—and most secret—programs at the NSA, including the monitoring of U.S. citizens’ phone calls and emails which he went public with after fleeing to Hong Kong. 

Without getting into the argument of whether the government should invade our privacy to protect us from terrorism, one thing is clear. Privacy does not exist. The government has access to all our emails, phone calls, text messages and Google searches. Everything we do on our computers is saved, studied and passed around—all without our consent.  

Why would Edward disrupt his life, leave his family and his girlfriend, and go into exile? He wanted to warn us that we are not as safe as we think, and that privacy is pretty much an illusion. 

Now, as long as we’re not doing anything illegal, why should we care if the government is watching? We have nothing to hide! 

Well, for one, the government could easily misuse our information. And there may be some time in the future when the government needs to take a closer look at me. They may want to look through all my emails, my searches, my Facebook posts. They may need to track my locations, my family and friends and every aspect of my private life. 

As Jews, the concept of being watched is not new to us. 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…”

We know that we are constantly under surveillance and accountable for every action. There’s no hiding and no pretending. And when we die, G-d plays that reel back to us, and we’ll hear every conversation and see every deed we did over the course of our lives. The evidence will be undeniable and we’ll be put on trial for it. The heavenly court will determine our fate. 

In fact, in this week’s Torah portion the Jews are about to battle Og, king of Bashan, and G-d tells Moses, “Do not fear him.” Why did Moses need the reassurance? 

Hundreds of years earlier, Og had done a favor for Abraham. Since we know that G-d records every single deed—good and bad—Moses was afraid that Og’s good deed would now come to his aid, and he would triumph. So G-d reassured him that he would indeed be able to kill Og during this war.  

If we keep in mind that all our words, deeds, and thoughts, are being recorded by Heavenly surveillance perhaps this will give us the inspiration to fill the world with good deeds! 

Do a Mitzvah - Watch out - G-d is listening! 

Seating 500 People

A couple of weeks ago we organized a Shabbat dinner in honor of the ten severely wounded IDF soldiers who were visiting as part of our Belev Echad program. It was a highly elegant affair with 500 people in attendance. Needless to say, the seating arrangements were no easy feat! It took hours upon hours to assign everybody to the right table, with the right companions.

At the dinner, my friend Jack* approached me and said, “Rabbi, I need to talk to you…” Noticing his tone of voice and the look in his eye, I knew immediately he was unhappy about something. Unfortunately, he was more than unhappy, he was livid. 

“I’m fuming mad, Rabbi!” he exploded.

“Why? What’s going on?” I asked.

“When I made my reservation for the dinner I specifically requested to sit with my friend Carol*. Now here I am and not only is Carol not at my table, she’s on the other side of the room and I’m mad!” he explained.

"Jack,” I said, “I’m so sorry, this was truly a mistake. But I’m certain our friendship is so deep that despite this mistake we still love each other.” 

In this week’s Torah portion we read about Datan and Aviram, two people who made Moses’ life a misery. They were the ones who, back in Egypt, told Pharaoh that Moses had killed a man, forcing him to flee the land. Then in the desert, at every opportunity Datan and Aviram undermined and defied him, and they were instrumental in the mass revolt—led by Korach—that we read about this week. Finally, G-d had enough of their rabble rousing ways and announces His plan to destroy these people. One would think Moses would be relieved, even elated, but no! He begs them to repent and mend their ways instead. Ultimately, they refuse and the earth swallows them alive. 

Moses demonstrated the true meaning of ahavat yisrael—love for one’s fellow Jew. Datan and Aviram caused him nothing but heartache, and when they were finally going to be taken off his hands, he went out of his way to beg them to mend their ways. 

This week marks the 19th yahrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe exemplified the mitzvah of ahavat yisrael and taught us—his followers—to do the same. To love one’s fellow Jew whole heartedly, this is the basis of the entire Torah.

Let's embrace this theme and live our lives with the utmost love and respect for each other!

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