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What Does an Injured Soldier Ask For?

Blog.pngThis week, we said goodbye to Yarin Ashkenazi who we hosted for 10 days as a guest on our Belev Echad trip.

Yarin is a sergeant in the Givati Brigade and he was injured 18 months ago when a terrorist rammed his car into him at 70 miles an hour. Yarin was able to shoot at the car, causing it to overturn, but it still crashed into him, injuring him severely in the head and legs. The terrorist then exited his car and went after the other soldiers with an axe. Fortunately, one of the other soldiers was able to shoot and neutralize him, preventing more injuries and deaths.

At the end of the week, I asked Yarin what had been the highlight of his trip. I assumed he would choose the helicopter ride, motorcycle trip, or one of New York’s famous tourist attractions, but he surprised me by choosing our visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens. 

“It was a very moving experience,” he explained.

“What did you pray for?” I asked.

“I prayed for a blessing to be strong in Torah and mitzvot.”

“Did it work?”

“Yes! For the first time since my injury, here on the Belev Echad trip, I kept Shabbat fully! I did not answer my phone or check my emails. I kept Shabbat 100%.”

I was astounded!

Here is a man who has suffered tremendously over the last year and a half. When he arrived at the hospital after the attack, the doctor’s tried to revive him three times without success. The head doctor indicated they would try once more before giving up, and it was that final time that brought him back to life. After that he had to undergo tremendously risky surgery, where the doctors reattached his skull. He had to re-learn how to walk, talk, eat, laugh, smile, and perform basic daily functions that every child knows how to do.

And when presented with the opportunity to pray at the Rebbe’s grave and ask for a blessing, what does he choose? He asks for strength in Torah and mitzvot!

On Simchat Torah 49 years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe told a story. He had received a letter from a young student in Russia, who was stuck behind the iron curtain, persecuted for being Jewish. In the letter, he asked the Rebbe to bless him with the ability to properly focus on his prayers.

As he told the story, the Rebbe cried profusely. The boy did not beg for an easier life. Even though he was suffering tremendously in Russia, he didn’t beg for freedom. All he asked was for help in serving G-d better. 

I think the Rebbe received another such letter from Yarin last week!

Next week we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, when we will receive the Torah for the 3328th time. This is an opportunity to emulate Yarin, and ask Hashem to grant us strength and clarity in our understanding of the Torah, and excitement and motivation in our fulfillment of the mitzvot.

A True Hero!

Blog.jpgThis week I met a true hero.

Gabi Shoval, 43, has served as a Staff Sergeant in the Combat Engineering IDF unit for the past 23 years.

During Operation Protective Edge, Gabi’s unit was responsible for destroying Hamas tunnels. Thank G-d, they successfully obliterated 29 tunnels, saving countless lives, and earning a medal of honor for his courage and bravery. But while destroying the 19th tunnel Gabi’s luck ran out. Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at his unit and three soldiers, including Gabi, were severely injured.

Doctors performed 65 complicated operations to try and save his right leg, but despite their best efforts, five months ago they were forced to amputate.

Gabi’s 18-year-old daughter is now being enlisted into the IDF, and guess which unit she will be joining? The same unit in which her father served for 23 years—Combat Engineering.

As for Gabi, what does he plan to do with the rest of his life? His desire is to recover and go back to serving in the IDF!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke often about the tremendous merit of the IDF soldiers, who put their lives at risk for the sole purpose of protecting their brethren and their country. Their portion in the world to come is guaranteed!

What a privilege to meet this hero, who is so dedicated to his country that wants to return to service despite a life-altering injury. A true hero, in every sense. 

Lost My Car!

Blog.jpgA few weeks ago we took the kids to Six Flags, anticipating a fun family day. Because it was Passover, thousands of others had the same idea and the place was jam packed. We found a parking spot quite far from the entrance, and my wife asked me to look around and make a note of where we'd parked, which I did. We were in section three, near the trees, far from the entrance. Easy! Or so I thought...

Fast-forward several hours, and after an exhilarating but exhausting day, we were ready to leave. I left my wife and oldest four children at the front gate to save them the walk, and I took the baby and went to find the car. Well, I went straight to section three and looked around but...no car! I walked up and down the rows, but there was no sign of it.

I tried to call my wife but her phone was dead, so I had no way of letting her know why it was taking so long. I was also carrying my baby who was getting heavier by the minute, and this little misplaced car issue was turning into quite a problem.

Fortunately, my brother happened to have had the same idea and brought his family to the same park, so he was able to give me a ride through the parking lot in his car, to look for my missing car, but still we couldn't find it. 

After waiting a while, my wife and older kids walked to the car. She knew exactly where it was and she borrowed someone's phone to explain to me that there are dozens of section threes at six flags! Apparently I had parked at section three of a particular cartoon character and now I was in section three but the wrong one. She even texted me a picture of the right cartoon character to make it easier to find, and finally, I found them!

3329 years ago the Jewish nation stopped roaming the desert and parked at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, G-d revealed Himself to us in all His glory. He gave us our mission statement, the reason for our existence. He gave us the tools with which to live in the physical world—the Torah.

But fast forward 3329 years to the holiday of Shavuot in 2017, and some of us are struggling to remember where we parked. In fact, some of us have even stopped looking! Every day from Pesach until Shavuot we count down in anticipation of the holiday. The counting is intended to remind us of the day G-d entrusted us with His Torah, and to build anticipation for Shavuot, when we will re-accept the great gift He has bestowed upon us.

He gave it to us so we would live with it and use it to elevate our material world. It's our job, as we count the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, to keep doing those mitzvot that will bring us closer and closer to our parking spot. Take the opportunity to put on tefillin, keep Shabbat, give charity, love your fellow Jew, etc. Each mitzvah brings us closer to finding that spot–remembering how and why G-d gifted us the gift of all gifts, His holy Torah.

I’m Addicted

Blog.JPGThis week the internet went crazy, and I mean crazy! WhatsApp, which is used by over one billion people, went down for two hours, and people were panicking.

We addicts rely on WhatsApp to communicate with absolutely everyone, but it is more than just a messaging app. It tells you when your friend is online, when your boss read your message, and it gives real time reports of when others are responding.

Now, I am in the inspiration business. It is my job to inspire Sarah to light Shabbat candles, to convince Mark to marry a Jew, to persuade Harry to send his son to Hebrew school, to inspire Michael to come to shul, to explain to Rebecca the importance and value of giving charity, and even to excite you about the Torah message you are reading right now.

What better medium to use than WhatsApp? When I send Jennifer a picture of a wounded soldier wearing tefillin, it is instant. It travels across the globe and I can see when she opened my message.

I also love WhatsApp when it comes to our Sunday morning minyan. I send a message out to my congregants “Can you make it to the minyan at 9am?” and WhatsApp will actually tell me who is still sleeping and who has woken up but is ignoring my message. It’s that good!

The reason it is so popular is because there is nothing like it. It’s free. You can communicate in groups, in chats, across the globe, with family, etc. Distance means nothing.

So, understandably, when it went down, the world freaked out.

But it got me thinking. Could there be a parallel here, to our relationship with G-d?

G-d is constantly online; His status is always set to ‘available’. He never goes to sleep. He always reads our messages. Send him a message from any country in the world, in any language, at any time, and He will receive it instantly. His Wi-Fi is constantly on.

Would you freak out if for two hours you thought you didn’t have a connection to G-d?

Can you (and I) become addicted to G-d?

Here’s an idea: This Friday evening, around sunset, join me and make yourself a G-d-imposed 25-hour WhatsApp outage. You might even enjoy it. 

P.S. I hope you are reading this message on WhatsApp

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler


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