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A Muslim Helps a Rabbi

This week I had dinner with Daniel Fish and his brother Tal. The Fish brothers are alumni of our annual Belev Echad program which brings severely wounded IDF soldiers to NY for ten days of excitement.

Daniel was severely wounded by Hamas terrorists in Operation Protective Edge last summer. He was in a UN clinic near Khan Younis when a huge explosion collapsed the building, killing 3 soldiers and wounding 26. Later, a tunnel filled with explosives was discovered directly under the building.

Shortly after Daniel was rescued from the rubble, he lost consciousness, and a respiratory path was opened in his throat to help him breathe. The rescue was incredibly quick but very complicated, because Hamas terrorists continued firing mortars at them, causing yet more injuries and putting the rescuers' lives in danger as well.

Daniel, and his brother Tal who has taken care of him since his injury, were back in New York, so we had dinner together. I very recently had albums of our trip printed, and after dinner I gave 15 copies to Daniel and Tal to bring back to Israel for the rest of the group.

We said our goodbyes, and they hopped in a taxi and headed to their hotel. Their driver's name was Mohammed Islam, a religious Muslim from Bangladesh. Seeing Daniel's wheel chair, the taxi driver asked him about his injury, and when Daniel explained that he was injured in the war, he was visibly shaken.

Back in their hotel room, Daniel and Tal suddenly realized they'd left the box of albums in the back of the taxi! Hands full with the wheelchair, they'd simply forgotten.

Daniel panicked. This wonderful gift—with which he and the rest of the soldiers could relive their trip over and over—was gone. He called me and apologized profusely.

Based on my own experience losing cell phones in taxis, and knowing that Daniel had paid cash and not taken a receipt, I knew the likelihood of tracking down the albums was close to zero.

But, by Divine providence, the albums were sponsored by a woman in Texas who had flown in to participate in the Belev Echad trip in May. Her phone number was on the back of each album, so that the soldiers could thank her.

I called her and explained the situation, in case by some miracle the taxi driver called her. And, indeed, that's exactly what happened. Mohammed Islam, the taxi driver, called the woman in Texas, who gave him my address. He made a special trip all the way from his home in Queens to deliver the albums personally. Thank you, Mohammed! We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me that he feels strongly that Jews and Muslims should not be at war with one another.

Israel and the West are currently fighting radical Islamic terrorism. We are used to seeing Jews and Muslims fighting against each other. Almost weekly there is another terror attack against us in Israel. What a breath of fresh air to meet this lovely gentleman, Mohammed Islam. May the world be blessed with many more righteous people, and may we all get along just fine!

Bar Mitzvah at 53, at Starbucks

Dear Amit, Nir, Daniel, Dvir, Amit, Ohad, Amir, Shai, Elnathan and Meir,

You have been back in Israel for several weeks now, but we continue to feel the impact of your visit. You thanked us for the trip, but you have made a tremendous difference to our community, and for that I thank you.

Let me tell you a story:

John* is a 53-year-old Jew who grew up in New York with very little Jewish upbringing. No day school, Hebrew school or bar mitzvah. Despite growing up in one of the most vibrantly Jewish cities in the world, John grew up with virtually no Jewish experiences or education.

When he heard that we were bringing a group of severely wounded IDF soldiers to New York through our Belev Echad program, John decided to attend one of the events. He wanted to hear your stories of bravery and heroism. When he found out how young you all were when you joined the army to protect us and our land, he was in awe.

Although John had never before attended any of our programs or step foot in our shul, when he heard about you guys, he came right in. You caused a Jew to step foot in our doors—somebody who would never otherwise have attended. If not for you, John and I would likely never have met. So, thank you!

After chatting with John for a while, I realized he had never had a bar mitzvah. When I offered him one, he said, "I'm 53 years old! How can I have one now?

But, as we know, it's never too late.

We met at Starbucks this week and started learning Torah. John thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and we made plans to learn together regularly. Then we stood up, in the middle of Starbucks, and John put on tefillin and recited the Shema. I explained to John that by doing so, he is helping the IDF soldiers, because it says in our Torah that, “...when the nations of the world see that the name of the L-rd is upon you they will fear you.” So, he is, essentially helping the IDF from thousands of miles away.

Starbucks was quite crowded, and when I explained to the curious onlookers that we were celebrating John's bar mitzvah, they cheered proudly and respectfully.

So thank you Amit, Nir, Daniel, Dvir, Amit, Ohad, Amir, Shai, Elnathan and Meir for providing us with the opportunity to host you, and thank you for inspiring us and our community. Thank you for leading John to his bar mitzvah, and thank you for all the other mitzvot you inspired us to perform. 

This week we mark the 21st yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe taught us to love every Jew, and to appreciate and value the G-dly soul that is inside each of us! The Rebbe taught us that it is never too late to learn, never too late to do a mitzvah and never too late to celebrate a bar mitzvah. The Rebbe taught us to view each mitzvah as the one that may potentially tip the scales and bring Moshiach.

The soldiers didn't meet John and had no idea how profoundly they had changed his life. Likewise, we can and do influence those around us, both knowingly and unknowingly. Let's make sure we do so positively.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Lost $22,000

A close friend and congregant, Paul*, was in Vegas recently on business.  

Now, Paul does not keep Shabbat, but he recently committed to turning his phone off each week. While it may sound easy to those who do it regularly, it is certainly not easy in the beginning! For somebody who is used to texting, emailing and Googling at any time, going 25 hours without is supremely difficult.

So, there was Paul, in Vegas, on a Friday night, on his way back to his hotel room which happened to require walking through a casino. Walking through the very non-kosher, non-Shabbat-like environment was tough. From the bar, to the music, to the slot machines...everything is made to entice.

Just as Paul was nearing the end of all these temptations, he happened to bump into an old friend from the East Coast. They sat down, near the slot machines, chatting and catching up on old times. His friend was in a gambling mood and encouraged Paul to join him. "Just throw a few coins in that slot machine," he said. "...see what happens!"

Paul was torn. Gambling is fun and enticing, and of course he wanted to play the slot machines. But, when he thought about his phone, which he had recently started turning off for Shabbat, he managed to control himself and refrain.

An hour or so later, Paul and his friend parted ways and Paul stood up to leave. He saw a young woman immediately seat herself exactly where he had been sitting. She put a few coins in the very machine he had stopped himself from playing, and voila! She won $22,000!

Paul was flabbergasted. He so easily could have won that $22,000. He sat in front of that machine, so tempted, for over an hour. And this is his reward? He kept Shabbat and lost $22,000? How can that be?

When he returned from his trip, Paul came to me quite distressed. "I could have gotten that $22,000!" he said. I don't understand. It's like G-d was telling me if I hadn't kept Shabbat, I would have got that money!

I explained to my friend Paul, that every year on Rosh Hashanah the amount of money we will make during the coming year is decreed. We cannot make more than G-d has allotted to us. We do, of course, need to make sure we create a vessel through which that money will arrive. ie. we cannot sit at home, with no job, and wait for the money to fall from Heaven.

That money, I explained to Paul, was not money allotted to you. So don't feel like you missed out. That money belonged to the other women, even before she entered the casino. But the money that G-d has planned for you? He will get it to you through kosher channels.

It's our job to create a strong, kosher vessel for G-d's blessing, which includes keeping Shabbat, as Paul did. When we do our part, surely G-d will do His.

*Name changed to protect privacy

United We Stand

About a year ago, I received a group email from my wife's family. Their grandmother had passed on, and they were asking the extended family to join in studying Talmud in her memory. My wife has 15 siblings and a very large extended family, so they decided to ask everyone to commit to collectively completing the entire Talmud.

Now, the Talmud contains 63 tractates and over 6300 pages. Under normal circumstances, completing the Talmud requires intense study several hours each day for a full seven years! But in this case, if everyone agreed to chip in, and we were to divide it between so many willing participants, we should be able to complete it in just one year.

Asking people to study Torah in memory of the deceased is very common in Judaism. By learning something, or doing a mitzvah, specifically in that person's memory, we help elevate their soul in the higher world.

At the time, I was under a lot of pressure at work and unable to commit to anything, so I deleted the email, assuming they could do it without me.

But a few days later my wife's cousin called me. "I didn't see your name on the list!" he said. "We still have tractates available. Can you please commit to one?"

I tried to get out of it. Studying a tractate of Talmud is a serious commitment which takes hours and hours of time. Finally he wore me down and I agreed to take half the tractate of Berachot. 

Months passed, and while I kept intending to start studying, somehow I got no further than the first page. As the end of the year drew near, I kept getting reminder emails but I simply ignored them...

...until the last minute! Sound familiar? We all leave things till the last minute occasionally.

But here I was, with everyone depending on me. Out of the 6300 pages of the Talmud, only my 80 pages hadn't yet been studied! And this wasn't simply an hour or two of reading. Each page requires hours of study to be understood.

What could I do? I refused to let the whole group down. I had made a commitment and I intended to honor it. So I turned to my trusty Whatsapp groups. I have a few family groups and a group of South Africans, so I posted in all the groups that I desperately need people to help me complete my pages of Talmud. Lo and behold! Within minutes, I had dozens of people agreeing to take a couple of pages each, and within a few hours we had finished my entire section. Mission accomplished!

In this week's Torah portion we read about the Jews carrying the Holy Ark through the desert. Every time the Jews camped, they collectively assembled it, until it was again time to travel, when they collectively dismantled it.

There are times in life when a burden is too big to carry alone. But if we work as a team, the task becomes suddenly surmountable. In this case, collectively completing the Talmud is what made it doable. When we unite, we become a powerful force, able to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

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