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Walking to Shul in a Blizzard!

blizzard.jpgWhen winter storm Jonas ripped across New York last weekend, it was declared the 2nd biggest snowstorm in the city's history.

At the height of the storm, Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency. Mass transit was largely shut down, Broadway shows went dark, and New Yorkers huddled indoors as 55-mph gusts howled outside.

Truthfully, I was not expecting such a blizzard. Having lived here for many years, I have become accustomed to weather predictions which are rarely fulfilled. And so, last week I walked to shul with my kids as I do every Shabbat morning. Boy was I surprised when I stepped outside and saw just how much snow there was!

I immediately realized this was a serious storm, and there was no way my 2-year-old daughter was going to make it, so I took her back home. My older kids were excited to brave the storm and make the short trek. 

And so, we walked.

For me, the snow was an inconvenience; for my kids it was sheer pleasure.

I hated it. My kids loved it.

I tried to avoid walking in the snow as much as possible. My kids fully embraced the piles of fluffy snow. 

While I tried to keep to the sidewalks where the snow had already been cleared, my kids walked on top of every pile. 

Where I tried to walk in the footsteps that others had already made, my kids wanted to create their own. 

I arrived at shul damp and miserable, but my children arrived drenched and ecstatic. 

Along the way, I learned a number of important lessons from my uninhibited children. 

1. When life throws you hurdles, enjoy the experience.

2. Sometimes the solution is not to avoid the problem but to embrace it.

3. Don’t be too set in your ways. Try forging new paths.  

4. As the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Chabad Rebbe, used to say, “When you have a problem, don’t go around it, just jump over it! Lechatchila Ariber!"

5. When you're truly committed to something, even a blizzard can't stop you. 

6. Listen to weather reports, but don't treat them as G-d's word. He is the final authority. 

7. One person's misery is another's enjoyment. Try to change your perspective. 

8. Things often turn out better than we expect. 

9. When faced with anything outside the ordinary, use the opportunity to learn something new about yourself and your service of G-d. Looking for the G-dly lessons in our daily lives will surely make us better people.

Are You Crazy, Rabbi?

Blog.JPG“Rabbi, are you crazy? How many kids do you have?”

“Five.”

“Five?”

“How on earth will you pay tuition for five kids?”

“Do you know how much college costs these days?”

“How will you save money to provide for your five children?” 

“How will you afford to feed five children?” 

“How will you buy a house on the Upper East Side that can house five children?”

“How will you ever go on a family vacation?”

“You are a Chabad rabbi, right? Do you know how much Chabad rabbis make? Yup, zero, or close to that at least.”

This past Shabbat morning, G-d blessed me and my wife with a beautiful baby girl, our fifth child: a Shabbat baby, named Chana Mushka. 

When I introduced the baby to my four-year-old son, Zalman, I said to him, “Zalman, look, we have a new baby!” To which he replied, “What happened to Sara (our two-year old)? We don’t have her anymore?”

Fortunately, we have a seven-seat minivan, and as I moved my four-year-old’s car seat to the back to make room for the new baby’s car seat, I asked myself all these questions and more. How will we cope with five kids? How will we afford them? 

And truthfully, I do not have it all figured out. 

But in this week’s Torah portion the Jews found themselves in a serious trouble. The Egyptians were chasing them from behind, with a very well equipped army, and in front of them, blocking their way, was a deep sea. To the left and the right they were surrounded by wild, dangerous animals, so they were completely stuck, with their lives in imminent danger from every direction. 

They began to argue, unable to decide cohesively how to proceed, until one individual, Nachshon, jumped into the sea. He said, “G-d, you promised to redeem us from Egypt and bring us to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. You promised! So I am going to ignore this major obstacle in front of us and forge ahead. He waded in, deeper and deeper, until the water reached his nose. Another step and he would be unable to breathe. As he took that final step, the sea split and the entire nation was able to cross through safely on dry land. 

There are times in life when you just have to jump in with both feet and trust that G-d will do His part. Thinking about whether or not to have another child? Just jump in. I have yet to meet a person on their deathbed who regretted not having more children. 

There are times to think, and times where it’s better not to ponder too much, but just to go for it. When we do a mitzvah, G-d helps. He is the boss, the conductor of this world. With His help, we will all bring many more healthy children into the world.

The Morning After

image1.JPGTens of millions of Americans work up this morning with their dreams shattered. Just yesterday we were all conjuring up images of what life would look like with 1.5 billion dollars: the mansions we would buy, kitchens we would decorate, and charity we would give…the vacations we would take and the cars we can only dream of…early retirement and living the beach life…eternal bliss and happiness… We could picture it all.

But now, our hopes are crushed and our dreams have evaporated into thin air. Yes, there were some lucky winners in California, Florida and Tennessee, but for the rest of us, life goes on as usual. We still have to deal with work, daily life, and the very same commitments we had yesterday. The struggle to make a living continues…

Our sages teach that we can live our entire lives enjoying all the world’s pleasures—that dream car, boat, vacation, beach house, etc.—but none of it rivals even one moment of pleasure in the World to Come. In fact, we have literally no idea what the true meaning of the word pleasure is!

 

True pleasure is the pleasure of the soul—spending time with the Divine. When we do a mitzvah, we unlock the ability to transcend and cleave to the all-mighty and infinite G-d—something which is far more valuable than 1.5 billion dollars. It is priceless.

This world is temporary. We spend 70-80 years here, and then we pass on. But the soul lives eternally, so it is the soul we must worry about. And the soul’s greatest pleasure is in connecting to G-d.

This Friday night, sit around the Shabbat table with your family and make Kiddush. Turn off your phones and computers and televisions for 24 hours and focus on family and spirituality. On Shabbat morning, go to your local synagogue and connect with G-d. Then you will have won the true lottery, worth much more than 1.5 billion dollars.

So dream on, my friends…dream on! You can still fulfill your dreams.

Puppy vs. My kids

Blog.JPGAs I left my apartment one day this week, I bumped into my next-door neighbor with his brand new puppy, Winter. We chatted a while, and I asked if I could introduce Winter to my kids. He agreed and I brought Winter inside.

Now, I love dogs, and at one point in my childhood we had three living in our house— a English Mastiff and two German Shepherds. My favorite was Ringo, our German shepherd, who I grew to love. 

Because I grew up with dogs, I know how loyal they are and how much love they can give, and I was excited for my children to meet this adorable labrador. So Winter came racing into our apartment, jumping with joy, ready to play. She started playing with the pillows and wanted to play with my children, but they were, unfortunately, not being very good hosts. They tried to jump out of the way and hide from Winter, and my younger children started to cry and beg me to take the dog out of the house immediately.

All this got me thinking. These kids have a father who absolutely loves dogs, but they themselves have no appreciation for them, and are even terrified! Why do they not love Winter as I do?

Simply put, they do not know her. If they would agree to spend time with Winter, they would learn not only to feel comfortable around her, but even to love her. In order to appreciate dogs, you need to spend time with them. Only then will you understand that they are fiercely loyal, unconditionally loving and always non-judgmental. I am certain that if my kids were willing to do that, they would realize how cute she is and spend hours playing with her.

The same is true of our relationship with G-d. Many of us do not appreciate Him, because we refuse to spend time with Him. If we would make time to spend with Him, surely we would come to love Him. 

If we would start learning His Torah, we would realize its sheer brilliance. If we would start coming to shul on Shabbat, we would realize how fulfilling prayer can be. If we would take time to light the Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon, we would realize our own potential, and how much spirituality and light we can share with others.

So do yourself a favor and come to shul this Shabbat, and together we will read about the first seven of the ten plagues that destroyed Egypt. By focusing on the meaning of the plagues, we will discover the timeless and eternal lessons they teach, making the Bible just as pertinent to our 2016 lives, as it was millennia ago. 

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