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Plagiarized Speech!

blog.jpgThis week a speech was given, and it was no ordinary speech. 

The speech was long-anticipated, and watched around the globe.

It was a speech that was intended to shake up the world. 

The speaker was paid top dollar, for what was supposed to be completely original. “Original,” that was the key to the value of the speech.

When the moment arrived, the speaker spoke gracefully and with eloquence. But there was one big catch—the words were not original, and the person who hired the speaker was furious!

This was the largest case of plagiarism in the history of the world!

Who was the speaker? 

None other than the prophet Bila'am. 

Bila'am, who we read about in this week's Torah portion, was the most sought after speaker in the world at that time. He was hired and paid an exorbitant sum of money to give a monumental speech, cursing out the Jews. Balak, the anti-Semitic king, hired the prophet Bila'am—whose words usually came to fruition—to curse the Jews and wipe them off the earth. 

But his plans were thwarted. G-d rewrote the speech, and Bila'am found himself speaking about the beauty of the Jewish nation. He was forced to stick to the text that G-d provided him. 

He praised them: "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!" He spoke glowingly of their modesty, humility, strength and virtue. He spoke about the future Redemption and the coming of Moshiach at the end of days. 

As Jews, our strength lies with our words. This is the message we need to internalize in 2016.

It's so easy to get into negative speech patterns. To find fault with others and to discuss their shortcomings among ourselves. It's tempting to criticize and poke fun and argue. Of course, there are so many things we disagree about and people we disagree with, but let's make an effort to use our mouths to highlight the things that unite us. Let's focus on finding the good in others and speaking only positively about one another. The power of speech is inestimable. 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

I've Been Playing Pokémon Go Since I was 13

Screenshot 2016-07-14 at 5.13.13 PM.pngUnless you've been on an internet cleanse this week, you must have heard all about the new game, Pokémon Go, which has taken the world by storm. It's been downloaded more than 10 million times since its launch on July 7, which means that in just one week, it has almost as many users as Uber!

The game is based on augmented reality, but unlike other games which are usually played while sedentary, Pokémon Go requires the player to physically move around, exploring different locations in an attempt to find and capture virtual creatures called Pokémon. The hunt is on!

To me, the game is nothing new. As Jews, we have been playing a version of Pokémon Go for thousands of years.

According to Kabbalah, the world that we live in is "augmented." The world that we see is not the real world. There is a deeper spiritual reality hidden in the world, which will only be revealed with the coming of Moshiach.

For example, we see a delicious steak sitting on a plate, just waiting for us to bite into and enjoy. But in that steak is a spark of G-dliness for us to "capture”. How can we do that? By making a blessing before we eat it, and then using the energy the steak gives us to do something holy.

Likewise, when we see a $100 bill, what we don't see is the powerful spark of G-dliness hidden within that will be "captured" as soon as we give 10% to charity.

The same way virtual Pokémon are all around you, so are these Divine sparks. And just like Pokémon Go requires the player to go outside and visit different locations, our job is to go outside, find and capture these Divine sparks wherever they may be.

Pokémon Go brings people together—it directs people to communal "Pokéstops" and makes strangers team up and talk to each other. So does Torah. Our "Pokéstops" are shuls, Chabad houses, and learning centers where we gather to study and better ourselves.

In Pokémon Go, players can climb the ranks and become trainers by catching more Pokémons. Likewise, we are all trainers. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, "If you know an aleph, teach an aleph." It's our job to teach others any Torah we study, or mitzvos we know, even if we don't feel like experts.

Pokémon Go continues to play as long as your battery is running. It's constant. Likewise, from the moment a girl turns 12 and a boy turns 13, we are on the go, searching out Divine sparks to capture and elevate. And like the game's slogan, our goal is to "Catch 'em all!"

The game only ends when the player "dies" and that's when the score card is revealed. When we die, and our souls return to Heaven, we will finally be able to see how many Divine sparks we caught during our lifetime. As long as we're here, in the physical world, our job is to go out and accumulate as many as possible.

A large part of the Pokémon Go thrill is the social media sharing and competitiveness. It's something to post about, tweet about, share and compare with others. Players feed off one another, trying to outdo each other.

While we are not in competition with each other, by posting and sharing when we do a mitzvah, perhaps we can inspire and motivate others to spread Torah, do more mitzvos and help one another. By working together, we can collect more sparks and hasten the coming of Moshiach.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Lessons from the Star of David

trumpstar8e-1-web.jpgWhat’s on America’s mind this week? The Star of David of course!

Donald Trump set off a firestorm when he tweeted a graphic criticizing Hillary Clinton which featured a six-pointed star, a pile of cash and the words "most corrupt candidate ever."

Critics complained that the graphic evoked anti-Semitic imagery because it was a Star of David, and Trump responded that it was intended to represent a sheriff’s badge. 

Meanwhile, the argument continues all over social media, with millions of people talking about the six-pointed star. Which was it? The Star of David or the sherrif’s badge?

If you examine the Star of David closely, you will see one of the most beautiful messages for both Presidential candidates and for all humanity.

The Star of David comprises two triangles—one pointing up and the other pointing down.

The triangle pointing upwards symbolizes our mission to elevate ourselves. It is our job to refine and uplift ourselves, becoming better, holier, and gentler, more loving people.  Not to lie, not to be corrupt or greedy.

Then we have the second triangle, the one facing downwards.  This signifies our quest to draw G-d down into this world. G-d wants to feel comfortable here. He wants to call it His home, His garden, and it’s up to us to create that environment for Him.

Treating every human being with dignity and respect helps make G-d comfortable down here. Making sure there is no trace of anti-Semitism around is greatly appreciated by G-d. Setting aside our ego and arrogance, and embracing humility instead, invites G-d into the world. When we pray or study or give charity, we help draw G-d into our world.

The foundering fathers of this country understood the meaning of the Star of David. They founded the greatest, most benevolent, generous, kind, humane, and free country in the history of the world (that’s the triangle pointing up).

Later leaders wrote on the dollar bill, "in G-d we trust," and adopted "G-d bless America" as one of the country’s best-known songs. This is the triangle facing down.

I have no doubt that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton love this great country, as we all should.

Take a step back and absorb the lessons of the Star of David!

Dear Rebbe, I Miss You

Rebbe1.jpgDear Rebbe

I miss you. We all miss you.

It's been 22 long, dark years since we last saw you.

Twenty-two years is a long time. Too long.

More than two decades have passed since we had the privilege of hearing you bless, inspire and teach us.

Rebbe, the world has changed tremendously over the last 22 years.

In 1994 we were using VHS, cassette tape recorders, transistor radios, walkmans, calculator watches, dial-up modems, floppy discs and VCR's.

Now our children don’t even know what any of those technologies are. Instead we use email, smartphones, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, tablets and wifi.

Not only has the world changed, but at times it seems that humanity itself is deteriorating rapidly. Terrorism is growing, the stability of long-time Western super-powers is in question, and the world seems ever more dangerous. Concerning, too, are people’s reactions to terror. People care more about a gorilla being shot to save a toddler’s life than they do about a 13-year-old girl who was brutally murdered in her bed.

After 22 years of darkness, it’s hard to stay optimistic, Rebbe. I struggle to convey to my children the fire you lit within us and how connected we were to you. I struggle with my own cynicism and doubt. I struggle to keep your vision and mission in the forefront of my mind.

There was once another child torn away from his father for 22 tortuous years. Joseph. He was separated from his beloved father Jacob, sold into slavery, and exiled to Egypt with absolutely no glimmer of pending salvation.

What kept Joseph strong during those 22 years? The Torah that his father had conveyed to him when he last studied with him.

Like Joseph, we have not forgotten what you taught us. Although the world has changed drastically, one thing that has not changed since 1994 are your words of hope and inspiration which we continue to cherish.

Rebbe, you taught us to believe in humanity. You taught us to believe in the power of goodness, hope, and the ultimate triumph of light over dark. You promised that we will ultimately prevail and that we will see the arrival of Moshiach in our generation. And that has not changed. That promise is what has kept us going for the last painful 22 years.

Elie Wiesel, who just passed away this week, came to see you after the Holocaust. The victim of unfathomable suffering and atrocities, he expressed his refusal to bring children into this dark and bitter world. But you taught him to believe. You taught him to continue, to have children, and that doing so would be the best revenge against those who had tried to obliterate the Jewish people.

Rebbe, you promised us that the darkness will end soon. We’re still waiting.

Wouldn't now be a good time to reunite?

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

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