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I Want Somebody Normal!

This week I went to dinner with my close friends Shirley* and Simon*. After a pleasant conversation, I turned to Shirley and said, "You have a wonderful daughter. Nu? Isn't it time to think about marrying her off?"

Shirley let out a big sigh. "Oy, you've hit a raw nerve. Rachel is 25 years old, gentle, kind, intelligent, well-educated and absolutely beautiful. So many eligible young men want to date her—in fact, they chase after her! She has only one requirement, but has yet to find someone."  

I thought to myself, only one requirement? That should be easy enough! What could it be? The guy needs to be wealthy? Kind-hearted? Harvard-educated?

But, no. According to Shirley, her daughter's single requirement is for the guy to be NORMAL!

That's it. Somehow, though, none of the young men she's been dating have fit the bill.

Interestingly, I hear this from many young men and women. "I just want somebody normal."

What do they actually mean? Has everyone they've met until now really been abnormal? How do you even define normal? Am I normal? Are you normal? What IS normal?

According to the dictionary, normal means "usual or ordinary".

In this week's parshah we read about the 12 princes of Israel—the heads of the 12 tribes. The prince of Yehuda was Nachshon ben Aminadav. Nachson's sister, Elisheva, was married to Aaron, the high priest and brother of Moses. The Torah tell us that Aaron heard Elisheva had a brother who was "abnormal" and he liked that.

When the Jews left Egypt, and stood at the edge of the Red Sea, unsure how to proceed, Nachshon was the one who jumped into the swirling waters. Deeper and deeper he waded, until finally the waters split and the entire nation was able to pass through on dry land. No one else risked their lives like that—certainly, he was not "normal" (i.e., ordinary), and therefore Aaron married his sister.

Perhaps we should learn from Nachshon to be a little less normal. It's good to stand out and be different from the herd—for the right reasons. We need to identify closely with our Judaism and strengthen our connection with G-d. Then, surely, finding a spouse will become easier.

"So really, your daughter doesn't want someone normal and average," I said to Shirley. "She wants someone  unique and special." 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

I Want To Fight

Meir Raginyano, an IDF soldier and member of our most recent Belev Echad trip, shared his story with our community at our Friday night event.

Meir was born without fingers on his right hand, and spent much of his life fighting to be like everyone else. His parents insisted that he not be treated differently, and as a result he learned to work around his disability and keep up with his friends.
When he turned 18, Meir went to the draft office. They took one look as his hand and gave him an exemption. But for years Meir had dreamed of serving his country and he refused to be deterred. He trained and trained. He showed the draft officers that he could run as well as anyone else. He taught himself how to hold a gun. He even spent eight months training on one specific exercise until he mastered it just as well as everyone else, despite his lack of fingers.
Eventually, he proved that he would be of tremendous value and they agreed to draft him into active duty. Time and again, Meir proved he could stand ground with the best of them.
Unfortunately, while fighting the recent summer war, Meir was severely injured. Anti-tank missiles were fired at the building he was in, and he was seriously wounded in his leg and right hand. Shrapnel was scattered throughout his body. He was taken to Soroka hospital where he underwent several complicated operations. He currently still undergoes treatment and rehabilitation at Tel Hashomer hospital, but his greatest wish is to return to the army and once again fight alongside his comrades to protect his nation!
As I listened to Meir sharing his story, I realized it holds a tremendous lesson for all of us in our own lives.
This weekend we mark the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. When G-d gave us the Torah, He drafted us into His elite army. He gave us a mission—conquer the world by spreading Torah wherever you may be. Perform acts and kindness and encourage others to do so as well. Remember Who you represent and sanctify G-d's name.
Unfortunately, we are not all as determined to embrace our draft as Meir was. We may prefer to shirk our responsibilities and let others take the lead.
But we can learn from Meir how fortunate we are to have been drafted, and how hard we should work to embrace our mission. We can't just give up and expect others to take over! We need to fight the Good Fight, spreading goodness and kindness and Torah and mitzvahs wherever we go!
Meir wanted nothing more than the opportunity to join the army. We have that. Each and every one of us was automatically given that chance—all we need to do is implement it.
Go ahead! You are in the army—fight!

Turning Jews Away?!

10373834_964832746884274_4467211020526507506_n.jpgOver the last ten days our community hosted our 8th Belev Echad trip, where we welcome a group of severely wounded IDF soldiers and give them an incredible New York experience. One of the highlights of the trip is the Friday night dinner—hundreds of community members join for evening of inspiration with our heroic guests.

Knowing how popular the Friday night event has been in the past, I made sure to publicize it early. I sent out emails with all the relevant information, reminding people to get their reservations in early to ensure they had a spot. I posted multiple times on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus over several weeks.

Reservations came in steadily and I kept warning people that if they don't reserve soon, we might have no space left. When we reached capacity, we called the caterer and arranged for more space and more food, because we knew how much our community wanted the honor and privilege of spending Shabbat with the sounded IDF soldiers. So we opened up more seats. But eventually, those, too, were reserved, and we reached the point where we couldn't physically accommodate another person.

We closed the online reservation form and wrote clearly in red text, "We are sold out."

And that's when the drama began. Emails and Facebook messages poured in:

"Rabbi, check your website, I think something's wrong."

"Rabbi, did you get my reservation?"

"Rabbi, check your website immediately; it's malfunctioning."

In case it wasn't clear from our website, I posted to Facebook: "To all the dozens of people asking me, sold out means just that—sold out. And no, we cannot squeeze in even one more for tonight's Belev Echad Shabbat dinner of thanks and recognition. So sorry about that, please book earlier next time."

But even that didn't stop the barrage of phone calls, emails and text messages. In fact, once people knew that the event was really sold out, they realized it must be quite a special occasion and they wanted to join even more! 

"Rabbi, do you have room for just one more?"

"Rabbi, I just heard about this event, please, please can I come?"

The best call of all came late Friday afternoon, after all my office staff had already left for the day. I was half way out when the phone rang, and I knew I shouldn't pick it up, but I did anyway.

As expected, it was someone wanting to join the dinner. "Rabbi, do you have room for me?"

"I'm sorry, we're completely full." 

"Rabbi, you are Chabad, right? How do you, as a Chabad rabbi, turn a Jew away from experiencing Shabbat?"

How do I answer that?!

Some of these people were incredibly determined. Many people without a ticket showed up and just sat in any empty seat. Assigned seating? Apparently it didn't bother them and they assumed the person whose seat they took would just take someone else's assigned and paid-for seat! 

In fact, the assigned seating created its own problems. One woman emailed asking to sit with a particular friend, but the "friend" emailed in no uncertain terms that she absolutely will not sit with her! When the first woman arrived and realized she wasn't seated with her friend, she was fuming.

Again and again, who gets the blame when people are upset? Who can they yell at? The rabbi, of course! 

But then I realized, there's an important lesson here: If where we sit for two hours is so vital, how much more careful we should be about where and with whom we spend 70 years of our lives!

Moreover, we often don't appreciate things until we can't have them. When the event is sold out, it becomes much more attractive. When I can't have something, it becomes that much more valuable.         

We are about to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Each year, it's as if we are receiving the Torah all over again—this year for the 3328th time.  This will be a grand event, unlike any other. The Torah is more precious than anything else in our lives. We will stay awake all night in anticipation and excitement!

Now, unlike our Shabbat dinner, G-d's event will never be sold out, and He'll always have room for one more.

But don't wait until the last minute to get your seat for this grand event.

Start planning now.

Book your ticket! Come to shul! Do a Mitzvah! Prepare yourself to receive the ultimate gift—G-d's Torah.

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