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Oh, So Your Texting Does Work?

Blog.jpgI have a friend who I text from time to time. Mysteriously, he never, ever responds. 

"Can you make it to our Sunday morning services? We really need you for the minyan." 

No response.

"Can you join us for a Torah class on Tuesday night?"

No response.

"We need a pair of hands to set up for our Purim party, are you available?" 

No response.

"Got an hour to help us get our sukkah up?"

No response. 

Now, it's fine if someone can't, or doesn't want to, help out. But most people at least text back to let me know. To just completely ignore me? Who does that?!

So I confronted him. 

"I don't understand, Rabbi," he said. "There must be something wrong with my phone. I haven't received any of your texts!"

Hmm... this guy has the brand new Iphone 5, with all the latest apps, and it works perfectly in every other way except getting my texts? So I continued texting him, and he maintained his silence.  

Then, this past Friday afternoon, I was completely astounded (shocked! astonished! flabbergasted!)  to receive a text message from this very same friend. Suddenly, his text messaging system is working flawlessly... and at such a convenient time - right when he needed something. Ha. Mystery solved. 

Such is the story of our lives. When G-d wants something from us, we are nowhere to be found. We have all kinds of excuses, and we convince ourselves that even the ludicrous ones sound plausible. But when we need G-d, all our excuses fall by the wayside and we are suddenly ready, willing and able to reach out. 

It's like the young man who dreamed of heaven. An angel was showing him around a large workroom, staffed by angels. 

First they stopped at the Receiving Station. Here, all prayers and petitions to G-d are received. There were rolls and rolls of paper, from all over the world. Dozens of angels scurried about, organizing and sorting. 

Further along, they reached the Packaging and Delivery section. This is where the blessings are packaged and delivered to the people who asked for them. Like the previous area, this station was extremely busy. Dozens of angels worked feverishly to get the blessings back to Earth. 

The last station was at the very back of the room. Unlike the first two, this one was practically deserted. A single angel sat there idly. "This is the Acknowledgement station," my guide explained. "Unfortunately, after people receive the blessings they seek, very few send back appreciation and acknowledgement." 

In this week's Torah portion we read about the Tabernacle, which was finally ready for the Divine Presence to rest within. Today, we no longer have the Tabernacle, or the Temple. We have no physical sanctuary at all. But every day, with each good deed that we do, we work towards building the third and final Holy Temple. This is what we can do for G-d on a daily basis. 

Let's remember to acknowledge and thank G-d for the beauty and goodness in our lives. Of course, we can turn to him when we are in need, too. But let's not wait until then. Let's start right now, with gratitude and appreciation. 

My Car is Stuck in the Snow

new-york-snow_1794308i.jpgThe East Coast has gotten more than its fair share of snow, ice, sleet and freezing rain this winter. So far, it has snowed 55.6 inches, making it one of the snowiest New York winters on record. 

At the Chabad Israel center we have a car that is used by assorted people for assorted errands. So it was only a matter of time before winter interfered with our vehicle. On Friday afternoon, one of our staff members tried to park the car on 3rd Avenue, and ran into a snow bank. Getting onto it was no problem, but getting off was an entirely different story. 

By the time I arrived on the scene, at least five kind strangers were standing around trying to help. One guy even brought a pot of boiling water which we tried pouring onto the snow to melt it, but to no avail. The car refused to budge. 

Had it been a regular weekday, it would have been annoying, but slightly easier to deal with. But this happened on a Fridayafternoon and I needed the car to run some errands before Shabbat. I didn't have time for this mess!

Alas, it quickly became apparent that the car was firmly embedded in the snow. 

In fact, the snow was actually a block of pure ice coated in a thin layer of snow. So we spent two hours chipping away at the ice, bit by bit. Finally, I was able to drive!

The Baal Shem Tov taught that we should search for meaning in every situation. So as I stood there on Friday, sweating and chipping away at the ice, I began thinking. 

In this week's Torah portion we read about the Tabernacle, a sanctuary for G-d, which the Jews constructed in the desert. It was to be a spiritual haven, a place for G-d to "reside" in the physical world. 

Today, we no longer have the Tabernacle or Temple, but our sages explain that there is a sanctuary for G-d inside each and every one of us. Our soul, should be a place where G-d can rest and feel at home. 

As we navigate through life, it's all too easy to get "stuck in the snow" and become numb to spirituality. We become so wrapped up in our physical surroundings and responsibilities that we no longer feel the warmth of Judaism. 

And that leads to apathy. We are simply not motivated to do anything beyond our comfort zone.  We become immobilized by the icy coldness that has crept up on us. 

That's when we realize we must do something about it. We cannot continue living in a frozen stupor! It's time to start chipping away at the ice and snow until we can feel our souls once more. 

How do we accomplish that? By doing one Mitzvah at a time. Each time we give tzeddakah, light Shabbat candles, pray, help an elderly person, say a blessing on kosher food or do a multitude of other mitzvot, we are chipping away at the ice, and allowing the warmth inside our soul to emanate. 

It took two hours to dig out my car. If the icy buildup around our souls has been accumulating for a while, it may take some time to recapture the warmth we know Judaism has to offer. But it's worth every minute. 

Snow or No Snow?

think-positive-positive-things-will--large-msg-135567951702.pngWhen the Jewish month of Adar begins, we are supposed to increase in joy. To that end, we flew in Israeli comedian, Ori Chizkiya, to perform at our Chabad center. 

We planned every detail meticulously. We rented an auditorium in a prestigious private school on Fifth Avenue and made sure we had everything we needed with regards to acoustics and stage lighting. 

Thank G-d, tickets were selling well. In fact, they were selling too well! A full week before the show we were completely sold out. All 400 tickets sold and accounted for. Still more people wanted to join and were upset to hear there were no tickets left. “Doesn’t Chabad accept everybody?” they wanted to know. “We don’t need seats, we’ll stand!” 

The day before the event I called the school to confirm a couple of details and the principal told me, “You know, Rabbi, there’s a major snowstorm headed our way…” 

“Oh, that’s no problem,” I answered. “We’re used to storms. We don’t cancel events. In fact, last year we had a beautiful Shabbat dinner with over 250 people in the midst of a snowstorm!” 

“Well, you may not cancel if there’s a snowstorm,” she said, “but we may cancel if there’s no school. No school, no show.” 

“But what about our show? We have a contract! Can’t you open just for us?” I begged.

“Absolutely not.” 

At this point, we began to panic. I phoned numerous auditoriums in Manhattan, and understandably most of them couldn’t schedule anything on such short notice. Finally, I found one place, a beautiful venue, willing to take us, but at four times the price! And they were pressuring me for an immediate answer since it was already the end of the day. 

I was torn. I’ve been living in New York for long enough to know that when the weather report says, “Severe alert! 100% chance of snow,” that’s exactly what will happen. So, if I cancel the show, I lose lots of money because I still need to pay the comedian’s cancellation fee and refund all the tickets. If I take the new venue, it’s considerably more expensive and very late notice. What if people don’t check their email and go to the wrong place? Two very un-ideal options!

Our Chassidic masters taught a revolutionary concept – “Think good and it will be good.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that positive thinking generates positive outcomes. With that in mind, I decided to think good thoughts and stick with the current plan – having the event at the school auditorium. 

I told everyone who called that night the show would be going on as planned, in the private school. When people asked, “What about the snow?” I answered, “Think good and it will be good.”

I was up all night, making sure to think positive thoughts, and obsessively checking the weather reports to see how bad the storm would be. Finally, at 6am, the mayor’s office announced that public schools would be open. 

I was still unsure, though, because our event was to take place in a private school, and a number of other schools were closed. Finally, at 11:30am I got an email that we were definitely on for the show! 

“Think good and it will be good” is something we need to internalize and live with every day, no matter what challenges and obstacles we face. With a positive attitude, we can overcome almost anything! 

My best friend Ringo

budweiser-puppy-love.jpgIf you had the attention of 100 million people, for a full 30 seconds, what would you say? What message would you try to convey?

Sunday's Super Bowl was the most-watched television event in U.S. history, with 111.5 million viewers. Companies were willing to pay $4 million to get their attention! 

So what was their message?

The Budweiser "Puppy Love" ad won by a landslide. 

Growing up in South Africa, we always had dogs. We had a big house with a huge garden and we kept them mostly for protection against burglars. My favorite dog, Ringo, was a German shepherd who was fiercely loyal and highly intelligent. We used to joke that he must have a Jewish soul because he would sit for hours listening to us sing at the Shabbat table, and his favorite food was cholent! It was easy to love Ringo. He slept in our house and was an all-around good dog. 

Because of my love of dogs, and Ringo in particular, I completely understood why "Puppy Love" was the most popular Super Bowl commercial. 

Puppies represent unconditional love. I often meet people who tell me they can't get along with their spouse but their puppy is a true friend who loves them unconditionally. I get it. Ringo did that for me. He never argued or criticized or yelled or cursed. Whether I was in a good mood, or a lousy one, he was always there, always attentive, accepting and loving. 

This week's parshah also discusses unconditional love. Just not the puppy type. 

When Moses descends from Mount Sinai, he sees the Jewish people worshipping the golden calf. They have betrayed G-d, one of the worst things they could possibly do. Just 40 days earlier they had entered into a marriage-like relationship with G-d, and already they're cheating?!

G-d wanted to destroy the Jewish people and begin a new nation from Moses. But Moses declines. He said, "G-d, if you destroy them, wipe my name from Your Torah." The most precious thing in his life was the Torah, but he was ready to give it up for the people he had led from Egypt. 

Ultimately, G-d listened and forgave the Jewish people. 

But there remains one parshah which does not contain Moses's name - Tetzaveh, this week's Torah portion. Because he said, "If you destroy them, erase me from Your Torah," G-d removed his name from this one parshah, which, interestingly, is usually read around the time of his yahrtzeit. 

This is a clear illustration of Moses's essence: Unconditional love for his people. 

Moses's love for the Jewish people was entirely different from puppy love. Dogs love us because they don't really know us. They don't know our weaknesses, our foibles. But Moses knew the Jewish people intimately. He knew what a terrible sin they'd committed. He knew they'd been complaining virtually  non-stop since leaving Egypt. But he was able to see past that. He was able to hold onto their purity and goodness and love them unconditionally. 

Moses saw the Jewish people in their darkest moments, when they embraced idolatry and rejected G-d. In fact, the golden calf was to replace not only G-d, but Moses as well. And yet, still, he did not abandon them. He loved them deeply, unconditionally, to the point of ultimate self-sacrifice. 

Let's learn from Moses and take that puppy love to a new level - unconditional love, for our family and friends. 

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