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I Love Running Pre-Dawn

Blog.jpgOn Monday morning I awoke at 4am, as I frequently do. I love the pre-dawn hours and find them particularly productive and invigorating. In fact, the first sentence in the code of Jewish law instructs, “One should strengthen himself like a lion to get up in the morning to serve his Creator, so that it is he who awakens the dawn...”

I studied Chassidic texts for half an hour, answered some emails, put on my sneakers and went for a run. It was cold outside—35°F—with strong winds, I loved it. I had my headphones on and as I ran I listened to a talk given by the Rebbe.

It was still dark outside and I headed for the Central Park reservoir. Although the reservoir is usually well-lit, with lights every few feet, for some reason on this morning the lights were only working three quarters of the way around. The rest was dark. Pitch black, in fact.

As I ran, I thought about the words of our sages, “The darkest time of the night is immediately before dawn.” And indeed, I finished my run just as dawn broke, heralding morning light across NYC.

Over the years, I have used these words to comfort many people, including myself. When faced with a crisis, it’s important to realize that just as the darkest time of night is immediately followed by dawn, the hardest times in life are followed by relief. Whenever you think that you are in a terrible, dark place and you cannot see the light, don’t worry. Know that G-d will help and it will soon be light again. In fact, our positive thoughts can actually influence the outcome, as the third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was known to say, “Think good and it will be good!”

This weekend is the international conference of Chabad emissaries. Over 4000 rabbis from across the globe will gather for workshops, lectures, seminars, and most importantly, to strengthen and encourage one another. We will talk, inspire, share ideas, and focus on our most important mission—how to end this darkness. We are currently in the longest, darkest and most bitter exile in Jewish history. It seems it cannot get any darker, but that means dawn must be right around the corner. Together we will usher in that “dawn” throughout the world, finally ending this bitter exile and embracing the new and wondrous era of Moshiach. 

How Many Hours Until You Die?

Blog.jpgTwo weeks ago I flew to South Africa for my nephew’s bar mitzvah. As a child, I loved flying. I looked forward to it—getting on the massive jet, having my own seat (which felt so spacious!), walking up and down the aisles feeling very important, etc. Now my kids love flying, but I seem to have outgrown the thrill. Perhaps it’s because of my age, or maybe it’s because I’ve flown to South Africa approximately 55 times thus far!

At any rate, I found myself on one of the world’s longest flights, from New York to Johannesburg, and time seemed to crawl. I had a nice chat with the person sitting next to me, I caught up on some work, got a drink, ate something, learned some Torah, walked around the plane several times looking for Jews to do a mitzvah with (no luck—nobody else had even ordered a kosher meal). I took a nap, prayed mincha and visited the restroom. After all that I consulted the flight map on my screen and realized we had only been in the air for three hours, with another twelve to go.

The flight feels endless. You fly and you fly and you fly… and there are still hours to go. In fact, my entire trip there and back lasted 96 hours: 40 travelling, 56 on the ground.

With so much time on my hands, I got thinking. Isn’t life just one big flight? Ethics of our fathers tells us, “This world is like a corridor. Prepare yourself to enter the palace at the end of the corridor—the World to Come.” How many hours do we spend preparing ourselves for our Final Destination? How much time do we have to accomplish something useful before we arrive?

 Here’s what my calculation looks like:

There are 24 hours in a day, and the average person sleeps 6-8 hours, which I’ll average as 7. So a day now consists of 17 hours.

Now think about how many of those 17 hours we waste on things like watching television, waiting on line at Starbucks, Googling ourselves, checking Facebook for the umpteenth time, etc. Then there are necessary things like meals, bathroom breaks, getting dressed, cleaning, commuting—all of which take time. For many people it’s probably more, but let’s be conservative and deduct 7 hours for all of the above.

That leaves us with 10 hours per day to be productive, kind and spiritual. We have 10 hours per day to make this world a better, holier place.

Let’s say you’re 25 years old. The average American lives until the age of 75. That leaves you with 50 years to live. Ten hours per day may not seem like much, but at that rate you have 182,500 hours remaining, which is nothing to sneeze at!

If you are 35, you have 146,000 hours left

If you are 45, you have 109,500 hours left

If you are 55, you have 73,000 hours left 

If you are 65, you have 36,500 hours left. 

In this week’s parsha we read about Abraham, who the Torah describes as, “Coming in days,” meaning that he lived every day of his life to its fullest. He utilized every moment, every opportunity to accomplish. He did not waste time; he knew his time here was limited.

Every hour that passes by unutilized is gone forever, and every hour that passes brings us closer to the World to Come. Let’s make sure we are adequately prepared, by using that time to make this world a better place.

The world is an airplane; life a journey—one which lasts much longer than my 15-hour flight. Nevertheless, it will eventually end, and we will arrive at our destination. Now you know exactly how many hours you have left, go and utilize them!

Let's Make America Kind Again!

Blog.jpgThis week the US finally finished an extremely long and divisive election. Despite all the pundits and pollsters predicting a win for Clinton, after a mutually ugly, vitriolic race, Trump pulled off a win that will be remembered as the most stunning upset in American history thus far.

This election has divided us unlike any other. It has pitted friends and even family members against one another. Shul member against shul member. Brother against sister. Husband against wife. Families have been torn apart; friendships demolished.

I received dozens of phone calls and emails yesterday, from people on both sides—those wishing to celebrate Trumps win, and those looking for comfort after Clinton’s loss. And, as always, Facebook and Twitter provided a very public platform for everyone to air their feelings, whether jubilation or outrage.

And I found myself wondering, who really won the election? 

                                                                        ******

As a young child, Reb Zalman Aharon (the “Raza”), the older brother of Rebbe Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (the “Rashab”), often complained that he was noticeably shorter than his younger brother.

One day, the Raza snuck up behind his brother and pushed him lightly into a small ditch. As the Rashab stood up in surprise, the Raza seized the moment and pointed out that now he was taller.

Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (the "Maharash"), the father of the two boys, observed the entire episode. The Rebbe asked for a chair, ordered the Raza to stand on it, and asked him, “Tell me, who’s taller now?”

The Raza answered excitedly that yet again he was taller.

 “Aha!” said Rabbi Shmuel. “There you are! To be bigger than your friend, there is no need to pull him down. Simply elevate yourself!”

                                                                          *****

When it comes to our lives, we all ultimately want the same things—peace, security, jobs, healthcare, comfort. And when election time comes, we argue and debate endlessly about which path will bring us to that shared goal.

But all too often we get caught up in the debate, and make the mistake of degrading and belittling those who feel differently. We have extremely strong opinions about who should lead the country but Instead of lifting ourselves up, we push the other person down. We all have faults, and it's easier to point out the other person's faults than to elevate and fix our own.

So, in that sense, we all lost the election.

Now we are finally post-election and can begin the healing process. We need to rekindle the love we feel for each other, the love that may have become hidden over the last few months because we were so busy debating our election choices.

Let’s focus on what unites us—our love for each other!

We read about the covenant G-d made with Abraham, the first Jew, in this week’s parshah. The Covenant of Parts—a guarantee that no matter what comes between us, we will remain connected eternally. We are all part of the same family, we share the same destiny and the same G-d.

It’s time to remember that we’re in this together, for the long haul. By shaking off all the election drama, and reuniting with our brethren, we can and will make America kind again. 

Yes, the Election IS Rigged!

Blog.jpgI’ve been hearing the same sentiment, over and over again, from my family, friends and congregants lately. "Rabbi,” they say, “if ____ wins the election, I think we are all doomed!"

In just a few days Americans will elect a new president. The 2016 election cycle has been an incredibly tumultuous election cycle. There is no middle ground in this election; no one who is happy with either candidate. People have incredibly strong opinions and everyone is certain that if the other candidate wins,life as we know it will end. 

Just come to our synagogue on Shabbat morning and listen to the various conversations taking place throughout the room. In fact, I am hesitant to even mention the candidates by name in the shul. I have congregants who are firmly in Camp Clinton and others who are staunchly Camp Trump, and some people are even considering moving out of the US if their candidate is not elected.

For months, my Facebook feed has been filled almost solely with everything election-related, and the links, articles, videos, heated posts and vitriol are only hitting my wall faster and with more force as we get closer to Election Day.

Claims have been made that the election is rigged. And indeed, yes, it has.

We might think that come Tuesday morning, when we head out to the ballot, we are choosing the next president. But we aren’t.

The next president has already been chosen.

You see G-d, the supreme and Almighty leader is the one who decides who will be president. He is the one who rules the world, and He is the one has chosen the president. 

King Solomon says in the book of Mishlei, "A king’s heart is in G-ds hand; wherever He wishes he turns it" 

As we go through life, we can forget that G-d is orchestrating everything behind the scenes. If He wants Clinton, she will be president. If He wants Trump, then Trump will be the president. It’s that simple.

We may think that the polls are driven up and down by things the candidates say and do, but that is all a façade. G-d is directing this election, and the outcome will be the one He has chosen. No amount of voter fraud, rigged ballots or miscounts can change that. 

Of course we must vote and do everything in our power to make sure that the person we think is best suited to rule the country will become leader, but ultimately everything comes from G-d. 

And so when you go Tuesday to the ballot and make your choice, please choose the candidate you think will best carry G-d’s message to the entire world. 

May the person who ultimately becomes president be a worthy messenger of G-d!

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