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When is a word not a word?

Blog.jpgEvery year Oxford Dictionaries chooses a Word of the Year, but this year’s selection was not a word at all. That’s right, this year they chose a pictograph—the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. 

But whereas recent years’ selections (such as “vape,” “selfie,” and “GIF”) were used millions of times, this year’s word was used 6.6 billion times on Twitter alone! It is, by far, the most tweeted emoji. 

It seems bizarre, but when you consider what an emoji actually represents, it all makes sense. Emojis are universal. They transcend language barriers, and are equally as understandable whether you speak English, Afrikaans, Japanese, French, Arabic, Chinese or Swedish. Emojis are visual representations of human emotions, which are understandable and relatable across the board.  A smile is a smile in any language.

There are so many emojis, but which one was chosen? The face that is laughing so hard it’s crying. Essentially, happiness. This is what people want to share and experience—the joy so extreme it leads to tears. No matter which languages we speak, we can all relate to that feeling.

Can you imagine a world where everybody speaks a single language? Historically, one of the major barriers to mutual understanding and cooperation between people has consistently been language. If we all spoke the same language, and could understand each other with ease, how much more could we accomplish?

We know that when Moshiach comes, that’s exactly what will happen. The entire world will share one language, as the prophet Zephaniah prophesied, “For then I will bring one language for all the nations of the world so that they may call out in the name of G-d.”

Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of that language—the emoji.

Despite the many terrible tragedies the world faced this year, from Jerusalem to Paris, Syria to Tel Aviv, San Bernadino to Afghanistan, maybe we are also inching closer to a universal language. A language free from boundaries. A language that we all know, and understand, and can use to wipe evil off the face of the earth. A language with which we can share feelings of sadness and frustration, but also hope, joy and delight.

May 2016 usher in a year of universal peace and happiness, for everybody.

Oops, Wrong Miss Universe

93445_02831_1.jpgThis past Monday night, Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez, was crowned Miss Universe on live television. Millions of people worldwide watched as she was awarded the grand title of glory and fame. Ecstatic, Gutiérrez paraded before the applauding audience in her glittering crown and Miss Universe sash with a tiny Colombian flag in her hand—a moment she had certainly yearned for and dreamed of for years. Finally, she had made it. 

For about three minutes.

Then, in what was considered one of television’s most awkward moments ever, the host, Steve Harvey, announced that he had made a mistake, and the real winner was Miss Phillipines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. Apologizing profusely, Harvey said he had made an error reading the card, and so, in a moment of much confusion, the crown, glory and fame was stripped from Miss Colombia and given to Miss Philippines.

Awkward as the moment was, its timing was uncanny, because it teaches us an important lesson in conjunction with this week’s Torah portion.

This week, we read about the Jews’ years of comfort and satiety in Egypt. Yosef, a highly-respected, well-regarded Jew, is viceroy of the entire country—the most powerful Jew ever to live. He helps save the country from famine, and the Jews are happy and prosperous. His father Jacob is considered a miracle worker and when he dies, hundreds of thousands of people attend his funeral.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. A new king replaces the old one, and the Jews become tortured slaves, blamed for everything. They are completely powerless, at the mercy of their taskmasters, beaten and massacred. For two hundred and ten years.

When a person passes away, all their physical wealth—gold, silver, Jewels, dollar bills—is stripped away. It becomes meaningless. The only items of value we can take with us as we journey into the Next World, are the good deeds that we performed during our lifetime. The Torah we have learned and the mitzvot we have performed cannot be taken away from us.

Life can change in the blink of an eye, but the more Torah we study, and the more good deeds we do, the better off we will be, no matter what else comes our way.

No Prayer Permitted at the Top of the Empire State Building


Last week I found myself surveying Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building—1250 feet high. I was there with 12 severely sounded IDF soldiers as part of our Belev Echad trip.

Wherever I go, I carry a pair of tefillin with me in case I meet a Jew who has not yet had the opportunity to put them on and say the blessing. On this particular day, all 12 soldiers had already done the mitzvah, except for one—Nitzan.

This seemed like an opportune moment and Nitzan agreed. I wrapped the tefillin around Nitzan’s arm, and then around his head. I took out my phone and launched the prayer app so we could say the Shema.

The view was breathtaking and praying there felt exhilarating. Looking down like that can make one feel closer to G-d. Everything on the ground looks so small and insignificant—one wonders if this is how G-d feels all the time from His view.

So we stood there together, basking in the spirituality of the moment, as Nitzan said the Shema, when a security guard approached us. “Praying isn’t allowed here,” he announced.

Now, this was no ordinary group of people. These IDF soldiers were all injured in serious combat with Hamas terrorists, and they were not about to back down. They explained to the security guard in no uncertain terms that they would, indeed, pray right here, right now.

And so, Nitzan finished praying in peace.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about Jacob and his children moving to Egypt, which essentially marks the onset of the Egyptian exile. This exile was the worst, because it was the first, and because all Jews were under Pharoah’s jurisdiction (as opposed to the later exiles, where the Jews were dispersed and did not all suffer at the same time).

The first thing Jacob did was send his son to Goshen (the area in which the Jews would be living) to establish a yeshiva—a house of prayer and Torah study. The very existence of our nation depends on Torah study, and Jacob knew for the Jews to survive as slaves in exile for over 200 years, there had to be a yeshiva.

Likewise, in 2015 we need Torah study and prayer to survive our current exile. So when the security guard at the Empire State Building tries to interfere, we make sure to demonstrate loud and clear that we will pray to our G-d even on top of the Empire State.


Saved by the Shema Prayer

chen.jpgOn Monday, I had breakfast with a group of 12 IDF heroes. Chen shared his breathtaking story with us:

Chen was a sergeant in the Nachal brigade. In last year’s Operation Protective Edge, he and his unit found themselves in BeitChanun, searching for terrorists.

As they searched one particular house, Chen remained downstairs while the rest of his unit proceeded upstairs to clear the top floor. There they were ambushed by hidden terrorists and most of the unit was injured. Chen and the other uninjured soldiers had to evacuate the wounded and also deal with the terrorists. Gunfire flew from nearby houses, and they returned fire.

Approximately ten minutes into this gun battle, there was sudden silence from the Hamas terrorists, and Chen knew that could only mean one thing: they were preparing to fire a missile at the house.

Certain that these were his final few moments on earth, Chen raised his right hand to cover his eyes and said, “ShemaYisrael, HashemElokeinu, Hashemechad” –“Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the L-rd is one.”

As his eyes were covered, the missile hit and a large piece of shrapnel came flying towards him and hit his right hand exactly where he was covering his eyes. The shrapnel wounded his hand severely, but had he not raised his hand to say the Shema, he surely would have died.

When Chen shared his story I was amazed. We have no idea what G-d has planned or why He does what He does. But in this case, praying clearly saved Chen’s life.

We are currently in the midst of the beautiful festival of Chanukah, when we commemorate the victory of light over darkness, and the triumph of a small group of Maccabees who defeated the mighty Antiochus and his massive army.

Chen and all his brothers and sisters in the IDF are our modern-day Maccabees. They are at the forefront of our battles, and with G-d’s help and the power of prayer, we shall surely win!

63 day war!

Blog1.jpgHow many days did it take the IDF to defeat the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies in the six-day war?

Yes, in just six days Israel utterly demolished these powerful armies, who were armed to the gills with guns, tanks and airplanes.

For how many days has the current violence lasted? 63!

And what is the primary choice of weapon? Knives.

So, let’s get this straight: Israel knows how to obliterate entire armies with the odds exponentially stacked against them, but they cannot defeat a bunch of people armed with knives?

We can’t help but wonder how that is possible.

But there is something different about this war. It is a war of individuals. A war where the enemy is not clear. The current violence is being perpetuated by individuals, who may be riled up from watching an anti-Semitic YouTube channel or reading a Facebook post about hurting Jews, who then take matters into their own hands and stab any Jews they can find.

This makes it virtually impossible for the Israeli army to track. There is no intelligence because it is not organized and pre-planned. No one knows when or where the next attack will take place.

Individuals armed with knives have managed to terrorize an entire country.

But if an individual armed with a knife can wreak such havoc, imagine how much each of us can do with a single good deed. Choose a mitzvah to do, and let it reverberate throughout the universe. Watch an inspiring Torah video, do a mitzvah and let’s see how much spiritual havoc we can wreak upon the world.

With the power of a single good deed we can bring Moshiach!

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