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I Want Privacy!

Blog.jpgMany Americans are up in arms after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill a set of internet privacy rules, paving the way for service providers to share and sell their customers’ sensitive information — including everything from browsing histories and financial records to information on children.

The big internet providers will “sell” this information to marketers and who will send targeted ads based on your likes, searches, and preferences. At the core of the issue is the sense that my browsing history is my personal business. Nobody should know what I like to do, what I like to buy, what movies I like to watch, and any other personal information about me. It’s nobody’s business unless I choose to share. The information is private and belongs solely to me.

In a way, as Jews we already receive targeted “ads” based on our likes and preferences. Every time a person performs a good deed or a sin an angel is created. Everything we do is recorded. 

The Talmud tells us, “In the way that a person wants to go, he will be led. (Tractate Makkot)”

So if Jack wants to spend his Shabbat afternoon visiting sick people in the hospital, he will actually be targeted with “ads” to point him in the right direction. The “ads” might come in the form of friends encouraging him to go, or beautiful weather that makes the long walk tempting or enjoyable.

Or perhaps Sarah wants to give charity. She will receive targeted “ads” which may include an unexpected bonus, an invitation to a fund-raising dinner, or a link to a charity campaign she identifies with.

On the negative side, if we persist with poor habits and unfavorable pursuits, we will be led in that direction too. Let’s say Peter likes to frequent bars where he drinks too much. He may receive targeted “ads” such as a friend inviting him on a bar crawl, or an invitation to an open bar event.

Every time we do either a good deed or a bad one, an angel is created. Those angels then encourage us to pursue either positive or negative behaviors.

As for privacy, it doesn’t truly exist. G-d sees everything, and every thought we have, every word we say, and every action we do, is recorded permanently.

It’s up to us to ensure that the angels we create will be good ones, who will target us with “ads” that will help us do more good deeds, give more charity, help more people, pray more, eat kosher food, and study more Torah.

Mistake in our Torah

Blog.jpegAs a child, my father taught me the art of reading from the Torah—"leining". Since the age of 13, I've been reading from the Torah almost every Shabbat. I've done it in South Africa, Namibia, Sydney, Brazil, London, and more. But this past Shabbat while reading from the Torah I had a unique experience.

As I was leining, I suddenly noticed a letter which should have been a "taf" but was actually written as a "chet," changing the word in question from "et" to "ach". Some of the ink had been scratched off.

The Torah is the foundation of our faith, the reason for our existence, and hence our most sacred possession. In its entirety, the Torah has 304,805 letters, and although the difference between the letters chet and taf is miniscule, this tiny error renders the entire Torah scroll invalid.

I had to stop reading, cover the Torah up, and put it away so that it can be sent to a scribe for fixing.

Every single Jew is like one of those 304,805 letters. If even one Jew in the entire world is sinning, it affects the entire Jewish nation. Our actions are intertwined. It's our responsibility to reach out to our fellow Jews and help them, so that our "scroll" (nation) does not become "invalid."

P.S. Check out the attached picture to see the “mistake” in our Torah.

Brotherly Love!

Blog.jpgThis week our community hosted 12 severely wounded IDF soldiers as our VIP guests. During the trip, one of the soldiers lost his wallet. He was understandably distraught, because the wallet contained all his credit cards, his license, and all the cash he had for the trip.

He searched everywhere without success. He thought it might have been left on the bus, so we called the driver who looked around but didn't find it. We retraced he steps, searching everywhere he had been, to no avail. Not in the hotel room, or the lobby, or any of the other places we looked.

When the other soldiers on the trip saw how devastated he was, they came up with an idea.

In an act of incredible brotherly love, they decided to each contribute $35, for a total of $385, so that he wasn't left with nothing.

Now, these soldiers did not know each other before the trip. They didn't grow up together, weren't friends, didn't serve in the same army units. They were complete strangers. Some are religious, some are atheist. Some lean to the right politically, others to the left. But during the trip they bonded in a unique and lasting way. This generous show of unity—each donating $35 for a friend in need—is but a small example of their newfound friendship.

Ahavat Yisrael—love for one's fellow, is something we all need to learn and implement in our own lives. Let's look to these heroes as examples, and start to focus on all that unites us. 

Forced To Kill A Child

Blog.jpgThis week I met Ran, who was an officer in the Paratrooper brigade of the IDF. In 2003, his brigade was searching a refugee camp for terrorists when a 16-year-old Arab boy surprised them. He was carrying a Molotov cocktail, about to fling it at the soldiers. To save the lives of his fellow troops, Ran had no option other than to shoot the boy.

This image of this child affected Ran tremendously, and he now battles Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on a daily basis.  

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance. On the Shabbat before Purim the weekly Torah reading is supplemented with the Zachor reading, in which we are commanded to remember the evil of Amalek and to eradicate it from this world. Zachor literally means “Remember!” and we read it the week before Purim because on Purim we celebrate the survival of the Jews after Haman, the evil Amalekite, plotted to kill them.

Unfortunately, Amalek is still alive and well in 2017. There is no end to people who want to kill the Jews, as is evidenced by the ongoing terrorism and violent attacks in Israel, as well as the current wave of anti-Semitism in the United States.

The greatest evil in our time is undoubtedly attacks rendered by suicide bombers. Surely, there is no greater crime than educating one’s children to become suicide bombers, and to celebrate people killing others by blowing themselves up.

This Shabbat our 12 Belev Echad guests—all soldiers who have been wounded while fighting the modern day Amalek—will be our guests at our shul. When we remember the commandment to eradicate Amalek, we will have living proof that there is still work to do, and our brave heroes are doing it. 

I Lost My iPad

Blog.jpgA couple of weeks ago I lost my ipad. I rely on it for work, and I also use it to study Torah with people over Facetime. I'm usually very careful with it, and I knew where I'd left it, but alas, it was no longer there. 

And so my search began. 

I scoured my office from top to bottom and hunted through every nook and cranny of my apartment, to no avail. It wasn't in the car either. My wife joined the search, but she had no success either. 

My frustration grew as days passed and I was forced to ask favors and borrow friends' iPhones each time I had a remote learning session scheduled. 

I searched several more times, assuming it had to show up eventually, but it seemed well and truly gone. After all, this is Manhattan; offices and apartments are small—there aren't that many places to look!

But just this past week, when I'd entirely given up on ever finding the errant tablet, one of my children was playing under the dining room table and lo and behold—they found it! It was ingeniously hidden between the leaves that extend the table, a place only my three year old Sara could've reached. 

Relief! I had my iPad back, was feeling eternally grateful, and life could go on as usual. 

A couple of days later, as I ran through Central Park, I listened to a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 

The Rebbe explained that when we are in exile, G-d is hiding from us, just as a father hides while playing hide and seek with his child. He wants the child to look for him! G-d hides from us so that we will search for Him. The problem is that G-d has hidden Himself so well that we have stopped searching! The Rebbe cried profusely as he described this deepest part of the exile which we are currently in, where G-d is so hidden that we no longer look for Him. 

Next week we celebrate the holiday of Purim, when we read Megillat Esther—the only book of Tanach in which G-d's name is not mentioned at all. But even though G-d's name is hidden, we still know that all the events told in the Megillah (i.e., the story of Purim) were directed exclusively by Him. 

So let's make a concerted effort not to succumb to the exile; if we actively search for G-d, we will surely find Him present in every aspect of our lives. 

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