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Did You Post Yet

image1.JPGJust over a year ago, my seven-year-old niece was diagnosed with a terrible illness. Chana bas (Mushka) Yehudah Leib Kesselman lived with her family in Greenville, South Carolina, as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and despite the many mitzvot and prayers done in her honor by family, friends, and complete strangers around the world, this week she was taken from us. 

Every single day since her diagnosis 13 months ago, the entire book of Tehillim has been recited at least 10 times through 10 different Whatsapp groups, spread across the entire globe. That's 1500 chapters each day, totaling approximately 585,500 over the 13 months, in her honor.

My wife and her sisters, stayed on top of the Tehillim campaign, making sure everyone did their part. "Did you do your Tehillim yet? Did you post it to let everyone know?" my wife would remind me daily. 

Towards evening, as she was cooking supper, bathing the kids, and putting them to bed, the busiest time of day, my wife was still keeping half her mind dedicated to making sure everyone was doing their part—their Tehillim, their good deeds, their prayers, for our sweet little niece.  

For 13 months we begged, pleaded, and demanded that G-d perform a miracle and restore her health, but tragically, that was not His plan.  

Every day for the past 13 months I have added an extra 10 chapters of Tehillim after morning prayers, for my dear niece Chana. During this time, every email I sent out, every newsletter I printed, every holy thing I did, was dedicated to ensuring a full and speedy recovery for this sweet seven-year-old girl. 

And this week, at the funeral, I cried. I cried for her short life, for her parents' grief, for the siblings who will not remember her. I watched her being lowered into the ground, and my vision clouded with tears—tears for Chana and the suffering she had to endure, for her parents who have been through something no parent should ever experience, and for all the people who watched her slip away despite the massive amounts of prayer and good deeds performed in her merit. 

We are taught that the power of prayer is tremendous. Although we begged G-d for a miracle, we beseeched Him to take away her illness, this was not to be. 

But we know that as Chana is greeted by the Heavenly court, she takes with her all the pages, words, and hours of Tehillim that were recited in her honor. We know that the countless mitzvot done in her merit accompany her, as the angels greet her, and take her to a place where she will know no more pain.  

May her neshama have an aliya, and may her parents, siblings, and extended family find comfort. 

I Smashed Your Car, Rabbi!

Blog.jpgRushing out the door on Friday afternoon on my way to shul a few weeks ago, I noticed my car had a flat tire, which seemed strange since I had parked it literally an hour earlier in perfect condition.

There’s never a good time for car trouble, but this was particularly inconvenient as I was leaving town immediately after Shabbat and changing tires is not something I learned at rabbinical college!

Fortunately, my good friend Motti Seligson was able to come over right after Shabbat to help me install the spare, and I was on my way.

Not two weeks later I approached my car and noticed the entire front had been ripped off! A note on the windshield read, “Sorry for doing this; I called the police and filed a report,” but of course when I followed up, no report was filed and I had no way of locating the mysterious note-writer.

In this week’s parsha we read about the first seven of the ten plagues. When Moses initially approached Pharaoh and demanded he release the Jews at G-d’s command, Pharaoh asked, “Who is this G-d? I have never heard of him.”

Hence, the purpose of the ten plagues was specifically to teach Pharaoh that there is a G-d and He is in charge. Indeed, by the time the plagues had ended, Pharaoh was well and truly aware of G-d’s power.

We know that every small detail in our lives is divinely ordained. Every encounter we have, every decision we make, has a purpose and message. Nothing is random.  

Even seemingly meaningless incidents, like my flat tire and smashed car was subtle messages from G-d, and it’s up to us to try and decipher them and respond appropriately. Even if we’re not sure the exact message, we can never go wrong by increasing in mitzvot—giving more tzedakah, learning more Torah, being kinder to those around us.

This week’s parsha is that reminder we all need from time to time: G-d it there, running the world, orchestrating our every encounter.

I Fell Asleep in 2018, and Woke up Back in 2017!

Blog.jpgOn Monday night I flew from Johannesburg to New York. The plane left at 9:45pm, and the crew wore festive hats to celebrate the new year. At 11:59pm, whichever passengers weren't sleeping (myself included) counted down to 2018 and cheered at the stroke of midnight.

I'm not a fan of long flights, but being from South Africa I often have good reason to travel, including this time where all nine siblings gathered to celebrated my father's 70th birthday. The flight was long and uncomfortable, and after the countdown to 2018, I feel asleep for a couple of hours.

Being a veteran flyer, I have discovered that the MyZmanim app uses advanced aircraft tracking technology to calculate in-flight times for prayer and other timely Jewish practices for most commercial flights worldwide. I simply enter a flight number and departure time and receive a PDF with the information in my inbox, which allows me to pray at the correct times while flying through multiple time zones.

In fact, the week before it was particularly important because I was flying on a fast day - the 10th of Tevet. Usually, the fast is about 14 hours, from dawn to nightfall, but since I was flying from New York to South Africa, the duration of my flight was only seven hours, beginning as we flew over Dakar, Senegal.

Now, awake a couple of hours after the New Year's celebration, and checking with MyZmanim, I discovered that I was in fact right back in 2017!

Which got me thinking...if you could go back in time to 2017, what would you change? What you fix? What would you do differently? Who would you treat with more kindness? Which priorities would you rearrange?

Even if 2017 was an overall good year, I'm certain we all have things we would like to go back and alter.

The good news is that we can! The Tanya teaches us that although it takes hard work and an investment of time, if done correctly we can undo all our past misdeeds, erasing any sign of them from our soul.

As we celebrate the beginning of 2018, we hope and pray that G-d will shower us with tremendous blessings, peace, happiness and prosperity.

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