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Let's Create A Hurricane Of Love

Blog.jpgThis past week Hurricane Harvey pounded the Gulf of Texas as a category 4 storm.

In order for a hurricane to form it requires two key ingredients: powerful winds and warm ocean water. In Harvey’s case the storm passed over an extremely warm part of the ocean called an “eddy” reaching 85 - 86 degrees Fahrenheit in places, pushing it from a category one to a category four. The hotter the water, the more energy it drives into a storm, and this storm’s powerful winds reached 132 mph.

We currently find ourselves in the month of Elul, during which we also need to create a powerful Hurricane with these two key ingredients: warmth and strength. During this month, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, powerful winds blow.

These winds require warmth to fuel their growth - the warmth of good deeds, of compassion, of helping another, of charity. And like Harvey, the warmer it is, the more energy will be driven into the hurricane that results.

During the devastation, we saw hurricanes of goodness and kindness being created. Stories and photos of strangers helping strangers were shared on social media. These acts create powerful winds. 

Hurricane Harvey affected 13 million people. The hurricane that we create could potentially reach all 7 billion humans on planet earth.

Harvey is the worst disaster Texas has ever seen, yet out of it are emerging forces of goodness and kindness, that with enough momentum, could build up into the greatest hurricane the world has ever seen. Here are some small examples of how:

32,000 people have been displaced, but one person alone, Jim McInvale, “Mattress Mack,” has turned two of his furniture stores into temporary shelters for evacuees, housing almost 800 people in total. Hundreds of others have opened their homes and hearts to complete strangers.

Harvey has already destroyed 40,000 homes. My friend and classmate Rabbi Yudi Horowitz, who lives in Plano Texas, opened his home to a family who had to evacuate New York a few years ago because of Hurricane Sandy, and now had to evacuate their new home in Texas. Together we will rebuild thousands of homes. 

8,700 flights have been cancelled since the storm began, but Nick Sheridan drove his big rig 200 miles to help rescue the stranded, dozens of members of the Louisiana “Cajun Navy” volunteer group hooked up their boats to their jeeps and joined the search and rescue efforts, and people all over the country have racked up countless miles sending help and supplies to the area. 

Chabad in College Station, Texas, led by Rabby Yossi and Manya Lazaroff, called upon students to help shop, cook, and pack enough food to fill two 20-foot trucks, with more to come. 

Rabbi Yitzchok and Malky Schmukler who direct Chabad of the Bay Area in League City, as well as many other Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins, have been out with neighbors and friends to rescue those still stranded, as well as visiting those in shelters to offer encouragement and support.

People have been donating funds from all over the world for the relief efforts. As soon as Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky of Bellaire, Texas, put out the word that his home had flooded, friends and strangers arrived to help. 

You too can help by donating to the relief efforts here: http://chabadic.com/hurricanerelief

Let’s take that inspiration and translate it into action. Together we can create a large-scale worldwide hurricane of kindness that will bulldoze the earth. And when we create that hurricane, it will surely penetrate the very Heavens and demand that our dear Father in Heaven bring the final and eternal Redemption—an era where we will know no more pain, sadness or suffering.

Let’s get to work and create one massive hurricane of love!

Wrong Turn

Blog.JPGI spent the week vacationing with my family in Knysna, South Africa, with plans to travel to Cape Town on Thursday—a drive of six or seven hours. Mid-drive we were running low on gas, so I planned to stop at the next gas station, fill up the tank, and give the kids a chance to get out and stretch their legs. Twenty minutes later we finally spotted one, but I was too far across the highway to get to the exit in time.

I moved over to the slow lane and stayed there until we next chanced upon a gas station, about half an hour later, in a town called Heidelberg. I paid for gas and purchased some snacks for the kids, and just as we were piling into the car to continue on our way someone tapped me on the shoulder and said “shalom aleichem” in a heavy South African accent.

It was Moshe and his wife Susan, excited to see other Jews in this far-flung town, hundreds of miles from South Africa’s established Jewish communities. Moshe gladly took the opportunity to put on tefillin, explaining that he had not done so in years. The more we talked, the more I realized why we had missed that first turn on the highway. It may have gotten us to a gas station thirty minutes earlier, but we would have missed out on the opportunity to meet Moshe and Susan. It’s always refreshing to see Divine providence so clearly at work!

In a sense, we’re all on a fast-moving highway: the highway of life. With the High Holidays on the horizon, it’s time to re-evaluate which way we are driving down that highway. Are we heading the right way? Are we traveling in the direction that will take us to where we need to be spiritually? Or are driving just as fast in the opposite direction, away from all that is holy and important?

If you discover you’re headed in the wrong direction, even if you’ve been driving that way for months or years, it’s not too late. You don’t need to reach your destination before the High Holidays, you just need to make the decision and turn the car around. You have plenty of time to forge ahead, but the first, most important, and most difficult step is to acknowledge that you’ve been going the wrong way, and to take that first step in the right direction. With four weeks to go, surely we can all manage to do that.

Rabbi Rides Ostrich

1u7xcl.gifThis week I visited the ostrich capital of the world: Outdshoorn, South Africa.

Before World War One, the ostrich feather trade was very popular, and many Jews moved to Outdshoorn to make a living from the business. 

While visiting one of the many farms in the area, I was given a tour and lesson about history of this majestic animal. 

The ostrich is the only bird that cannot fly, but G-d compensated it by giving it the ability to run faster than any other two-footed animal, up to 45 miles per hour!

So a popular sport in the area, believe it or not, is ostrich riding, which I was given the opportunity to do at the end of my tour.

I wouldn't quite call it riding, because there was no saddle and no reins. Two guides hoist you up and run alongside the ostrich to catch you in case you fall, while you hang on for dear life! There's no way to dismount, either. You have to slide off the ostrich’s back with the guides’ help. 

After the ride (which I survived!), I was offered an ostrich steak to complete the experience. I declined, of course, because it was not kosher, but it struck me that it is this week’s parshah that lists all the birds which are not kosher, including one referred to as “bat haya’ana” which many commentaries define as ostrich. 

While the Torah does not give reasons for why certain foods are or are not kosher, it does mention that the ostrich is considered a cruel animal because it mistreats its young. While I enjoyed my ride, I certainly do not wish to emulate the ostrich’s nature. 

With the high holidays well on the horizon, this is the time to begin looking inwards and evaluating our conduct. How do we treat those around us? Are we kind, cruel, or indifferent? Are we kind to our acquaintances at the expense of our families? Sometimes it's easier to be thoughtful and patient with those more distant, but aren't our families equally (if not more!) deserving of our best behavior?

If you look at your behavior with an honest eye and see that you are lacking in how you treat others, it's not too late. Start with doing or saying two kind things today: one to a family member or friend, and one to a stranger or acquaintance. Do it every day until it no longer feels like an effort. Then continue gradually adding or amending one behavior at a time.

Now, more than ever, the world needs more kindness and it's up to each of us to make it happen.

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