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R.I.P. Cecil the lion

Cecil.jpgI am one of the only Rhodesian-born Chabad rabbis in the world today. Growing up in Africa, I developed and maintain an intense love of lions. I used to, and do still, enjoy travelling to Kruger National Park where I can observe these majestic animals in their natural habitat. So I was horrified, along with the rest of the world, to discover that our beloved Zimbabwean lion Cecil was killed by American dentist Walter Palmer.

The killing, and his role in it, unleashed a torrent of anger online.

The Yelp page for his dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, was inundated with reviews posted by people irate over his lion hunting."Shame on you, killing a majestic creature," wrote a user named Charmie P.The website for Palmer's business, River Bluff Dental, appears to have been taken down.

Outrage continued to flow on social media with celebrities lambasting the dentist. Sharon Osbourne tweeted, "I hope that #WalterPalmer loses his home, his practice & his money. "He has already lost his soul."

Cecil wasn’t just killed. Palmer and his guides attached the carcass of a dead animal to the back of their truck and used it as bait, to lure Cecil out of Hwange National Park. When Cecil arrived on the scene, Palmer shot him with a crossbow. Palmer paid $55,000 to be able to hunt Cecil! Cecil was mortally wounded and walked off, in pain, for 40 hours, until Palmer came and shot him. He decapitated Cecil, skinned him and then left his carcass in the wild. And it doesn’t end there. Cecil’s cubs will probably be killed by the next male lion who will take over the pride.

This week, Jews worldwide fasted for 25 hours in mourning for the destruction of our two Holy Temples. It is the saddest day of the year.

The Torah describes the destruction as follows:

 “עלה אריה במזל אריה והחריב את אריאל” – A lion [Nevuchadnezzer] arose in the month of Av (who’s sign is a lion) and destroyed “the lion of G-d” —i.e., the Temple.

Walter Palmer travelled thousands of miles from his home country for a trophy kill. Nevuchadnezzer set off from his home country of Bavel in order to destroy the lion of G-d, our Temple. And, in fact, the trophy, i.e., many parts of our Holy Temple, are kept to this very day in the Vatican, in Rome (the Romans destroyed the 2nd temple).

Cecil was no ordinary lion. He was a known and beloved Zimbabwean icon and tourist attraction. His tall, majestic features earned him scores of adoring fans. He was king of the animals.

Likewise, Nevuchadnezzer did not destroy any ordinary city. He targeted Jerusalem, our home, our holiest city, king of all cities.

Cecil has been mourned throughout the entire world this week. The outcry and shock is real and palpable. We ought to learn from this outcry, to also shout out in pain, to truly feel and show our distress over the destruction of our G-dly lion, our Temple.

The Talmud explains that “A generation that has not witnessed the building of the Temple, it is considered as if the Temple was destroyed in its lifetime” Our precious lion has been destroyed. It is in shambles, and we pray and yearn for its rebuilding every single day.

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he my tarry, nevertheless I await his coming every day

In Conversation with an IDF Soldier

Last week I had breakfast with Avi*—an IDF soldier who was wounded in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. At a bus stop in Jerusalem, someone tapped Avi on the shoulder. When he turned around, he was facing a terrorist holding a gun and looking him in the eye. The terrorist shot him point blank three times in the abdomen. He suffered severe injuries to his internal organs, but miraculously he survived. Through sheer will and determination, Avi has been able to continue living his life, despite his immense pain and ongoing struggle.

As we chatted over breakfast, Avi confided in me that his faith and spiritual observance had decreased significantly since the attack. He told me how angry he felt with G-d, every single day, for putting him in this situation. How could G-d allow this to happen?!

He asked me to explain, and I answered truthfully, “Avi, I have absolutely no idea.”

“But you are a rabbi! What do you mean? How do you not know?”

“If I understood G-d,” I explained, “I would be G-d. Only G-d understands why He does the things He does.”

“But,” I added, “You actually believe in G-d much more so than I.”

“How is that even possible?” he asked. “You put on tefillin every day. You pray. You observe Shabbat and keep kosher. I do none of this. So what do you mean when you say I believe in Him more than you?”

“The very fact that you are angry proves you believe in Him,” I explained. “If you didn’t believe, who would you be angry with? If you didn’t have a deep and unshakable believe in G-d, you would have no one to complain about. You do, in fact, have a very real relationship with Him. You are upset that your relationship with him is not going the way it should, but believe in Him you certainly do! Yes, even more than I.”

This Sunday we mark TishaB’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On this day, both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and on this day, almost 2,000 years ago, we were sent into exile, where we remain. It is on this day that G-d hid himself from us, turning away so we can no longer see him.

We are bitter and angry about this long and dark exile, but despite our pain we know that G-d loves us. We trust that he will rebuild our Holy Temple and create and era of eternal peace. He will have a lot of explaining to do, when he finally sends us Moshiach, but until then, we continue to have a strong relationship with Him.

*Name changed to protect the individual’s privacy

The Signing of a Deal

This week a deal was signed.

A deal that involved intense leader negotiation.

A deal with much at stake.

A deal that aroused powerful emotion on both sides.

A deal where one side's love for Israel was challenged.

A deal where one side needed assurance that the other side would, indeed, honor the agreement.

A deal in which the entire Jewish nation felt invested.  

A deal which required painstaking negotiation, would take years to play out and could literally fall apart at any turn.

It was a deal signed over 4,000 years ago by Moses and the tribes of Gad and Menashe.  

The Jews were camped in the desert, poised to finally enter the Land of Israel, but first they needed to conquer the mighty nations living there. Two of the twelve tribes approached Moses, wanting to settle trans-Jordan. "We would rather receive our inheritance on this side of Jordan, and not enter Israel, they explained.

Moses could not understand. In fact, he was livid. "Will your brothers go to war while you simply stand by? Do you not want to enter Israel? Are you afraid? Do you not love Israel?"

The tribes reassured Moses of their love for Israel and explained that, as cattle-owners, the trans-Jordan land would be better for them.

So Moses consults with Elazar the priest, the heads of all the tribes, and Yehoshua—future leader of the Jewish nation. They all negotiate and ultimately present the two tribes with an offer: Moses will give them the land they want, but when the rest of the Jews go to conquer Israel, they will fight alongside them.

The tribes counter offer: "Not only will we fight alongside our brothers and conquer Israel but we will not leave Israel to settle our land until the entire Land of Israel has also been divided up amongst our brothers. Only then will we settle down."

Moses asked for a little, they offered more. This is how real deals are done—with mutual understanding, common ideals and each other's best interests at heart.

Close Call!

This past Tuesday, at 12pm, we launched a 24-hour online fundraising campaign. Our goal was to raise $240,000 in 24 hours, to bring three groups of IDF soldiers to NY in 2015. We had a group of very generous backers who had agreed to match each donation that came in, which meant that each donated dollar would instantly be quadrupled.

Sounds great, right? But there's a major catch. The campaign was all or nothing. Either we raise and receive the entire sum, or we don't meet our goal and receive nothing at all.  

The goal was ambitious, but I felt confident. We were using a state of the art fundraising platform developed by the Charidy company, run by my friends Ari Shapiro and Moshe Hecht. Last year, we ran a similar campaign and succeeded in raising $200,000 within 24 hours, so I assumed this year we would be just as successful.

That was mistake number one! Never take anything for granted. Just because you do something once, does not mean you can do it again.

At exactly 12 noon we launched our campaign with blast email and Facebook messages, and the donations started trickling in. A few hours later, I realized we may have overestimated. The donations were not adding up, and we were well behind schedule. I started emailing and texting and it helped a little, but eight hours in, we had only raised 36% of our goal.

Donations trickled in overnight, but by morning we knew we were in trouble. We had only a few hours left and were not even halfway to our goal.

I wasn't the only one concerned. I received an almost constant barrage of texts and emails from family, friends and those who had already donated, asking, "What are we going to do? What is our backup plan?"

Two hours before the campaign closed and we were still way off.

With 31 minutes to go, we still needed another $40,000. Would we make it? We weren't sure.

But this is when people really came through for us, and there was a last-minute outpouring of support and donations. Whew!

Many people had initially thought their contributions weren't needed, since we met our goal relatively easily last time around. But that was not the case at all—every single person is vital!

Seeing us so close to our goal, but knowing we might forfeit the entire sum if we couldn't quite get there, our community kicked in, not wanting to let us down. With just eight seconds left, we made it over the finish line!

Why is Charidy so successful? Firstly, the 24-hour time limit. Everyone is focused on a singular goal for a short period of time, and every donation is seen in real time. But more importantly, it's a communal effort. Everyone is invested. We either all succeed, or we all fail. My success is your success, my failure is your failure.

Thank G-d, our community succeeded in making our campaign a fabulous success. Together, 245 donors helped us reach our goal. Each of those individuals helped us get there, and we are so grateful to all of you. Thank you!

This weekend, we begin the Three Weeks—the saddest time on the Jewish calendar. During these weeks we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was destroyed because of a lack of love between us Jews, and will be rebuilt when we show true brotherly love for one another.

Charidy is a perfect example of how we love, support and care for each other. Let's continue the momentum and increase in acts of love and kindness, and together we can bring the Third Temple ever closer. 

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