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Ten Hours of love

Blog.jpgThis week Israel has been fiercely divided over the controversy surrounding the IDF soldier who shot and killed a terrorist who had already been “neutralized.” The soldier was arrested. 

In fact, I posted a video on my Facebook page asking people if they viewed the IDF soldier as a hero or a criminal, which lead to a heated discussion with very strong opinions on either side. Clearly, this case struck at people’s hearts very strongly. 

I am, right now, sitting in an EL-AL airplane on my way to Israel. 

To my right sits a Jew who hasn’t been to Israel in 35 years, because he believes that if he visits the holy land, he is not allowed to leave. Across the aisle sits a young woman covered in tattoos. There are many chassidim on the plane who have already prayed the evening service, causing quite a tumult. I can only imagine how difficult the morning service will be. There are people watching movies and people studying Talmud. There are secular Jews sitting alongside Satmar Jews. There are families, couples, children, teenagers, young adults and the elderly. Looking around, I think we must represent the entire spectrum of world Jewry!

As different as we are, for ten hours we are all here, together, on the same plane. For ten hours we are hurtling through the sky to a place that unites us all. Our country; our homeland. Israel is our common denominator. Israel gives us strength. We are all Jews with the same G-d, the same Torah and the same home. 

When it comes down to it, the things that unite us are so much more powerful than the things which divide us. We are brothers and sisters with the same heritage. 

We can debate and we can argue ad nauseam, as long as we remember that we are all part of the same family, and Israel belongs to all of us equally. 

I think we can all agree that the terrorists are our enemies, and our enemies hate us viciously. It is our job to look past the differences we may have with other Jews, and develop a love for one another that is infinitely more powerful than the hatred our enemies feel for us. 

The plane is now descending to our beautiful holy land—home to our ancestors for thousands of years. I look around at my fellow passengers, and the glowing faces and teary eyes tell me all I need to know. 

Welcome to Israel.

Fulfilling a dream of driving a Porsche

Blog.jpgOne of the IDF soldiers currently here in New York as part of our Belev Echad tour is Noam. 

While working in the IDF, Noam’s job involved driving a bull dozer and clearing mines. Unfortunately, during Operation Protective Edge, his entire body was burned in a terrible oil explosion. 

During dinner one night this week, Noam sat next to Yankel, one of our congregants. They chatted about this and that, and Noam happened to mention that since he was a young child, he had always dreamed about driving a Porsche. Even all these years later, after his life has changed so drastically, this dream has remained a constant. 

Well, Yankel needed to hear no more. He arrived the next day with his sleek Porsch, surprising Noam with it. He handed over the keys and Noam was able to drive around to his heart’s content, at long last fulfilling his life-long dream. 

Noam, of course, was thrilled. It was patently clear how happy he was driving that Porsche. Interestingly, Yankel was no less euphoric than Noam! From the smile on his face, it was clear he, too, was ecstatic. In fact, perhaps he was even happier!

Our sages teach that the joy of giving is greater even than the joy of receiving. When a person is given something, he receives something quantifiable. He knows exactly what it is. But at the same time, he gives the giver a much larger gift—the gift of giving. 

When we give to others we connect with the Divine, which is what makes the joy of giving so great. 

This Purim, let’s enjoy the gift of giving. Let’s think of those who need our charity, and keep them in mind when we do the mitzvah of matanot la’evyonim. Think of someone who might not receive mishloach manot from anyone else, and go out of your way to give to them. Not only will you be giving to others, they will be giving you the gift of giving. 

Purim sameach!

What Will You Sacrifice?

Blog.jpgEvery year I study the Torah portion of Vayikra when it comes around, but this year, thanks to a recent encounter, I understood the parshah—which talks about sacrifices—in a whole new way.

This week I met Shaul, an IDF soldier our community is hosting for 10 days in NYC. When Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, Shaul was already 46.

In Israel every adult is obligated to do military duty for three years when they turn 18. It is mandatory. Then, when those three years are over, all soldiers are required to do reserve duty for one month a year. Shaul did all this, sacrificing much of his life for his country, and by age 40 he was exempt from any further commitment.

Nevertheless, with his country at war, Shaul could not stand back and watch. He volunteered to serve his country yet again, this time in Operation Protective Edge.

Stationed on a battlefield near Bari, Shaul’s unit was hit in a devastating missile attack. Four of his friends were killed, and several others injured. Shaul was severely sounded. His left hand was smashed, and full of shards from the explosion, leaving him permanently handicapped.

This was someone who volunteered. He certainly did not have to fight. But he did, and now his life is drastically different as a result. He lost his job. He cannot work. He cannot perform basic functions. He cannot sleep at night. He suffers constant, debilitating pain.

But despite all that, when I asked Shaul if he regrets volunteering, he responded, “Not only do I not regret it, but if Israel went to war again, I would gladly volunteer again to protect our people.”

Shaul’s dedication gave me an insight into true sacrifice. We no longer have Temple sacrifices, but our sages teach us that in current times, we need to sacrifice of ourselves for G-d.

If Shaul can sacrifice his hand, his job and his life to protect us, then surely we can make small sacrifices in our lives, for G-d. Let’s take upon ourselves to give a little more charity, learn some more Torah, spend more time with our children and do more mitzvot. Our small sacrifices add up, and together we can make a difference. 

Are You Dissatisfied?

Blog.jpgDonald Trump is making history. A candidate whom few took seriously early on, who has been denounced as a bad, even dangerous, choice in the media, is a clear favorite with GOP voters.

How did this happen? Nation-wide dissatisfaction with the status quo.

It seems everyone is dissatisfied. People are upset with Obama, with Wall Street. Angry at the establishment and the economy. Upset about immigration and the state of politics in Washington.

This dissatisfaction has fueled millions of Americans to vote for two polar opposite candidates—Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, something unprecedented in the history of the country. 

The 2016 campaign has become an obsession. People are voting in droves, with a much higher turnout than usual. Social media is flooded with talk about the candidates; it seems like the only thing on people’s minds!

People are unhappy with the status quo, and feel strongly that their candidate is the path to major change.

Judaism, in fact, values dissatisfaction. We are taught never to be satisfied with the status quo, but to constantly strive for improvement. If today I did one mitzvah, tomorrow I’ll try to do two. If today I gave $1000 to charity, next time I’ll give some more. If today I spent 10 minutes visiting a sick person, next week let me spend 15.

This is what it means to be religious—constantly striving for the next level: more shul, more Torah study, another mitzvah, another Shabbat guest, another kind deed.

On a global level, we need to tap into our dissatisfaction with this long and bitter exile. We need to be upset that Moshiach has not yet arrived. We need to feel fury at the bitter bloodshed in Israel. We need to feel angry that innocent people are being slaughtered daily all over the world.

Ad Matai? How much longer must this continue?!

My thanks to Rabbi Avi Shlomo for the idea of this article

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