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Giving $20 to a Multi-Millionaire

10511.jpgLast week my phone rang and I answered it only to be greeted by the age-old question, "Do you have some money for me?" Under normal circumstances, this is certainly not a strange or unusual request. In fact, I often receive this same request multiple times daily, and I myself approach others for money to fund Chabad Israel Center projects. As a rabbi, these calls are par for the course and whenever I can help out I do.
 
But this request was different, because it came from Moshe*, a multi-millionaire who has more money than I could ever dream of! I've called Moshe countless times to ask him the exact same question, and he has donated tens of thousands of dollars to our Chabad center of the past 10 years. He always gives whatever he can.

So why, now, was Moshe asking me for money?

Every week we learn Torah together at the Chabad center and this week was no exception. By the time he called, Moshe was actually a few minutes late for our meeting, and explained, "I was already in the taxi on the way to learn with you when I realized I left my wallet at home. I have nothing on me—no cash, no credit cards. Can you give me $10 for cab?"
 
Of course I gladly went outside to give him the money, and then after the class another $10 to get home. My pleasure.
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Last Sunday evening I attended the international convention of Chabad emissaries together with 5000 of my colleagues. Five thousand Chabad rabbis from 49 states and every country which has a sizable Jewish population. Five thousand rabbis who have dedicated their lives to giving. These rabbis and rebbetzins leave the comfort of their surroundings, the homes they grew up in, and travel to places as far away as Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, Brazil, Australia—you name it! One of the rabbis I met at the banquet was recently uprooted from his home in Ukraine because of the war.

These rabbis, together with their wives and children, are dedicated to giving. Giving everything they have for their communities.

From experience, I can tell you there is no pleasure like that of giving to others. And it's not every day that G-d gives me the pleasure of helping a multi-millionaire from one of the world's wealthiest neighborhoods—the Upper East Side.
 
In this week's Torah portion we read about Rachel who was supposed to marry Jacob. On the night of her wedding she realized that her father intended to send Leah under the wedding canopy in her place. Having suspected he might try this, she and Jacob had set up a secret code word they could whisper to each other at the wedding. But, wanting to prevent her sister's humiliation, Rachel shared the code word with Leah.

So giving was she, that she gave up her husband, her marriage, her own happiness for her sister's sake. (Although, ultimately, she too married Jacob.)

From Rachel, and the Chabad emissaries stationed all over the world, we learn how to give. Each of us has something to give, whether it's time, skills, money or a listening ear. There is no one with nothing to offer. So, what are you waiting for? Go and give!

*Name changed to protect privacy.

The $100,000 Lesson

Close friends of mine have a child named Benjamin who was diagnosed with cysts in his lungs as an infant, and had surgery to remove them when he was five months old. Due to labored breathing he never learned to eat properly and was given a feeding tube at five weeks.  As a result, he developed a severe oral aversion and refused to eat anything.  

Other than the feeding tube sticking out of his nose, Benjamin is like any other child—learning to crawl and walk and babble. I’ve watched his mother try to force feed him but he simply cries and cries and it doesn’t work. 

At a loss for other options, Benjamin’s parents put him on the waiting list for an intense three-month feeding course for children which cost $100,000. Seven months later there was an opening in the program and little Benjamin began the course. Thank G-d, their insurance paid the bill.

Benjamin was taken by the nurse and his parents were not allowed to be in the room. Parents can watch from behind one-way glass, but the children are not to see their parents. 

After the first week, Benjamin had already made tremendous progress, and after three weeks his parents knew he was well on the way to eating like a normal, healthy child. 

Upon reflection, Benjamin’s mother realized that essentially all the doctors did was force feed her child, something she had tried countless times herself. Curious, she approached the main doctor and asked, “How is it that you’ve succeeded where I’ve failed? I tried the exact same method, my husband tried it, but with us he just cries and cries, whereas with you he actually swallows the food! Considering how much this program costs, I assumed you would have some magic formula…” 

The doctor explained, “Your child knows that you and your husband love him to pieces. He knows that the last thing you want to do is hurt or upset him. And he knows that when you force feed him, if he resists enough, you will stop. So he cries and cries and you cannot get him to eat. But I am a stranger, and he doesn’t trust me the way he trusts you. He doesn’t feel confident that I’ll stop if he cries, so he eats. That’s the trick.”

Wow! A $100,000 program because a child knows that his parents love him!

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We can take a lesson from Baby Benjamin. Benjamin knows his parents love him so he cries and cries and resists until they relent. We know that G-d loves us; it’s time for us to do some screaming. This is not a time for platitudes; it’s a time for outrage. 

We must cry and scream on behalf of the widows and orphans, the wounded and the traumatized. Ad matai? How much longer, G-d? No more!  We refuse to accept it longer. It’s time to take us out of this dark and bitter exile, to a better, brighter future, where peace will reign and violence will have no place. 

And while we cry and beg and beseech G-d, we will keep our faith. We will pray for the IDF which does everything it can to protect Israel, and we will take on extra mitzvot in the merit of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Put on tefillin, light Shabbat candles, give extra charity. We may be far away, but even our small deeds can help make a difference. 

“I Never Called You”

Verizon-iPhone-4-Incoming-Call.jpgA Hebrew school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her six-year-old students. After explaining the commandment  of "honor thy father and mother," she asked, "Is there a commandment to teach us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"

Without missing a beat, one little boy (older brother to several siblings) answered, "Thou shall not kill!" 

As much as we love our siblings, sometimes it's hard to get along.

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My close friend, Yankel, shared a very painful secret with me several years ago. He has only one brother and they haven't spoken in many, many years. They are a small family, and it hurts him terribly that they are not on speaking terms over a fairly minor fight. In fact, he no longer recalls the exact details of what they were fighting about!

I strongly encouraged Yankel to reach out to his brother (who lives in Israel) and try to reconcile, but he insisted that he cannot. Perhaps his ego was getting in the way, or maybe he was afraid of being rejected by his brother, or perhaps it had simply been too long, but the silence continued for another few years. I even dedicated a Yom Kippur sermon to this topic a few years ago in the hope of inspiring a reconciliation. 

It's been 22 years now since the brothers last spoke. 

But, just recently Yankel told me he saw a missed call from Israel on his phone from a number he didn't recognize, so he called back to see who was trying to reach him. He didn't recognize the voice of the man who answered his call, so he said, "My name is Yankel, I got a missed call from this number, who am I speaking to?" 

"I happen to be your brother," the man replied, "but I didn't call you." 

"What do you mean? I have a missed call from you!" Yankel insisted. 

"Well, you must have made some sort of mistake with the numbers," the brother explained, "because I never called you." 

Seizing the moment, Yankel said, "Well, it must be divine providence that connected us today..." and they started chatting easily, both eager to make up for lost time. And for the last two weeks they've spoken every day, with plans to meet soon in person and officially reconcile. 

The Torah tells us about Avraham who was forced to send his son Yishmael away because he had become evil and was persecuting his brother Isaac. Avraham certainly would not have done this unless he had absolutely no choice. They became estranged and although Avraham went to visit Yishmael twice, both times he missed him and only his wife was home. But Yishmael did not reciprocate. He never visited his father in more than seven decades, until after his father's passing. 

In this week's Torah portion we read about Avraham's funeral, which Yishmael attended, walking side by side with his brother Isaac. Tragically, he didn't make amends during his father's life.  

As a community rabbi I witness countless fights between people who truly love each other and it's painful to watch. Parents and children, siblings, cousins...you name it! We get into fights and often forget why we were fighting in the first place—we just know we're not talking. But who ends up in the most pain? We do. We hurt ourselves more than anybody else. 

Life is too short. It's time to make up. Even if you have to pick up and phone and dial your estranged relative and then deny that you made the call, so be it! Do it anyway. Pick up the phone and make amends with those you love. 

Housekeeper Convinces Jews to Pray

This past Shabbat morning we'd just begun services in our synagogue, which is in the Marriot hotel, when one of the housekeepers came running over. 

"There's a young Jewish couple upstairs," she explained, "Can I invite them to join your prayer service?" 

"Of course!" I agreed. 

This young couple from Israel had recently married and were honeymooning in New York. Wanting a nice, quiet, private vacation they booked into the Marriot. They certainly hadn't planned on attending services. But when the housekeeper realized they were Jewish, knowing there was a synagogue right there in the building, she told them they should go. 

Reluctant, they gave her all kinds of excuses. "We're tired...We're on our honeymoon...We aren't members...etc." So she came running down to ask me if it's ok, and when I said yes she managed to convince the couple to at least check out the place. Little did they expect to find a full Chabad house operating from the very hotel they were staying in, complete with a big minyan followed by a delicious kiddush!

Well, they stayed and enjoyed a delicious lunch with good cholent, and of course the wonderful company of our community, and they loved every moment. Their parting words were, "What a treat to do this on our honey moon." 

In this week's Torah portion we read about Avraham. G-d Himself came to visit Avraham because he was sick after  being circumcised at the age of 99. But in the middle of their conversation, Avraham sees strangers passing by, so he tells G-d to wait and rushes over to invite the strangers into his home! He prepares a delicious meal for them and makes sure they are satisfied and comfortable. From this incident, the Talmud teaches that the mitzvah of welcoming guests is even greater than speaking to G-d. 

Often, G-d throws us opportunities to do mitzvahs. They come in all kinds of shapes and forms—sometimes via a Marriot housekeeper who is able to convince an Israeli couple to attend services and help us fulfill the mitzvah of welcoming guests.

If Avraham managed to go out of his way, even interrupting his conversation with G-d(!), when he was sick and in pain, to welcome guests into his tent, certainly we can find ways to fulfill this important mitzvah. 

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