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A Million Dollars or a Passover Seder?

poker3.jpgEric Afriat
Montreal Quebec 

Dear Eric,

I read about your tremendous Passover dilemma in the Sun Sentinel with great interest. You were competing at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown Championship on Monday, the eve of Passover, and the game went on much longer than expected. As the hours ticked by, you thought about your extended family who were all gathered at your mother's house for the Passover Seder, a yearly family tradition.

You had a big decision to make - deal the next card and stay in the game for a potentially huge win, or leave and go eat matzah, maror and the four cups of wine with your family.

Ultimately, you decided to skip the Seder and stay in the game, and at the final game on Wednesday you won a staggering $1, 081, 184.

I was thinking about it, a million dollars or a Seder? It's a massive choice to face. Now, I know the value of a million dollars. In fact, I'd love to have a million dollars in my bank account right now! I could do quite a lot with that kind of money...

But even if I had a million dollars, I would spend Passover in exactly the same way I spent it this year - with my wife, four children and our community, telling the story of Passover which has been passed down through the generations for 3300 years. I would not break that tradition, ever. To me, sitting around the table, eating matzah, drinking the four cups of wine and telling my children about our slavery and redemption from Egypt is worth infinitely more than a million dollars.

When we do a mitzvah, we unlock the ability to transcend and cleave to the all-mighty and infinite G-d.  We connect with Him. This is priceless, as is spending time with family.

In fact, Eric, let me share a story with you: 

Two souls met midway between heaven and earth. One was descending to begin life on this earth; the other had just departed a body and was ascending to heaven to reunite with its Source.

"Nu, what can you tell me about the world I am about to enter?" asks the descending soul.

"Well, one thing I can tell you is that for two kopeks [a minuscule amount] one can purchase tzitzit!"

"Wow!" exclaims the descending soul, "a Mitzvah for two kopeks! I can't wait!"

"Not so fast," says the ascending soul, "wait until you see what you have to do to earn two kopeks."

Eric, You earned your two kopeks by playing a poker game, now let’s see how you utilize your two kopeks to do mitzvot.

My dear Eric, I sincerely hope that you utilize your newfound fortune to spend more time with your family. This Friday night, sit with your family around the Shabbat dinner table and make kiddush. Observe the Shabbat. For 24 hours turn off your computer and smart phone and tell your family how precious they are. On Shabbat morning go to your local synagogue and connect with G-d. In this way, you will ensure that you newfound million dollars will be a blessing indeed.

Money is a means to being able to do a mitzvah…money is not an end in and of itself. 

May G-d grant you the wisdom to make the right choices, now and in the future.

Yours truly,


Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Upper East Side, NY

Do You Hear, or Do You Listen?

Matzoh-Matzah-Matzo-Passover2008.jpgMy five-year-old son likes to climb onto the kitchen counter and hang out there. Each time he does it, I take him down and explain that he could hurt himself. But no matter how many times I tell him it's dangerous, the very next day (or next hour!) he's climbs right back up. 

Until this week. 

You see, last week, when he climbed onto the counter, he actually fell and hurt himself. Since then, he hasn't done it. And it's pretty easy to understand why. 

When I explain the dangers, he hears, but doesn't listen. He doesn't absorb and internalize what I'm saying. But when he actually falls and experiences the danger, now he understands. 

In truth, we are all like my little five-year-old.

I had lunch with a group of four people last week, and they asked me to share some words of Torah. I spoke about gossip and explained that gossip is considered as severe as the three cardinal sins - murder, idolatry and adultery. We discussed the topic for close to 20 minutes. 

Shockingly, just minutes later one of the people started sharing a juicy story about someone in his community, and they gossiped for the next 40 minutes. I couldn't understand it. We'd just finished discussing the severity of gossip, yet here they are gossping? 

When I was in yeshiva, my mentor, Rabbi Zalman Gopin, often said, "If you come to hear you will not be affected, but if you come to listen you will absorb.”

That's what happened at the lunch. Everyone heard, but no one listened. They didn't internalize it. It's natural. We hear hundreds of conversations daily, but we don't actively listen and internalize most of them. 

But Judaism is different. It needs to be absorbed. When we hear words of Torah, we need to absorb what we are hearing. We need to actively listen and contemplate. Only then, can we truly understand and internalize what we have learned. 

We're about the celebrate the beautiful, joyous holiday of Pesach - the time of our freedom. When we sit at the Seder, we're not just marking a historical event that occurred over 3000 years ago. We're experiencing and celebrating our current freedom in the 21st century. 

When we sit at the Seder next week, and recite the entire Haggadah, let's make sure we actively listen so we can absorb its messages. Let's experience modern-day freedom, liberated from all enslavement, physical and spiritual. 

We are instructed, “Remember the day that you left Egypt every single day of your life.” 

Don’t just hear these words, listen to them!

May we celebrate together, in Jerusalem. 

Igor, will you please call Nancy?


A couple of days before Purim I noticed one of my Facebook friends had posted, "There are 25 Purim parties to choose fromon Saturday night. Which one should I go to?" Thus began a long conversation where she and her friends discussed the merits of each party, trying to come to a decision. Judging by the end of the Facebook discussion, they failed to reach a consensus. 

Reading their conversation, I was reminded of an incident  that began a few months ago. 

Nancy* has been attending Chabad Israel Center events and parties for a number of years, and we've become well acquainted. Igor* was a shul regular, and I felt the two of them might be a good match. 

I phoned Igor and asked if he was currently dating. He was not. "Would you like me to suggest someone?" I asked. He agreed, so I told him a bit about Nancy. He asked me multiple questions about her. What does she look like? How old is she? What does she do? Where is she from? Is she kind hearted? What's her personality like? I passed his "interrogation" and he agreed that Nancy sounded like she might be a good match for him. 

So I phoned Nancy and had a similar conversation. She also had many questions and criteria, but agreed that I could pass along her phone number. I gave Igor her number and told him she was expecting his call. 

The next day I messaged Igor, "Did you call her yet?" 

He texted back, "Not yet, but I will." 

Two weeks later in shul I checked in with him. He still hadn't called!

The following day I messaged him, "Call right now. I'm stopping everything and waiting for you to call her." I also told Nancy to message me when he calls. 

The next day Nancy told me Igor had called when she was in a meeting and she'd texted him to call her back that night. He responded that he would.  

A week later I checked in with Igor and he said Nancy was going to call him back after the meeting and he was waiting for her call! So I asked Nancy what happened, and she took a screen shot of the text message and sent it to me. It stated clearly that Igor was going to call her. 

It was time for a very frank conversation with Igor, with whom I am very close. 

"I don't understand," I told him. "You've told me so many times how important it is for you to get married, how desperately you want to settle down and establish a Jewish family, how proud your parents would be... I finally thought of a match for you, and you agreed that it sounded promising. You're so successful in business, and when it comes to chasing a client you know exactly what to do. I've seen you in action. You once called one of our shul members four times in one day until they answered you! You are so smart, but when it comes to dating, you're acting so stupidly! I'm not G-d, I don't know if she's your soul mate, but can't you give her a proper phone call?!"

"Don't worry, Rabbi, I'm on it," he said. 

 It's now three months later and Igor still hasn't called Nancy... 

Why? Perhaps because, like the 25 parties on Saturday night, he feels there are too many girls to choose from. Too many dates. What to do? How to choose?

Isn't this the story of our lives?

We are about to celebrate Pesach, the holiday marking our exodus from Egypt. Egypt in Hebrew is "Mitzrayim." Another meaning of the word is limitations, or constraints. We all have our fair share of "issues" which hinder us from accomplishing what we desire, whether in business, marriage, dating etc. The holiday of Pesach is when we are empowered to break free of our shackles and limitations and go out and master what we've been trying to do. 

So, Igor, please, in honor of Pesach, pick up the phone and call Nancy!


*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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