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Apology To My Fellow Passengers

Of all the crazy things my wife and I have done, flying with our triplets (and 5 others!) on a 15-hour flight must rank in the top two! 

Just getting from our home to JFK, with all our luggage and car seats, seemed insurmountable. So we kept pushing off the trip to see my family in South Africa. But now my sister is celebrating the bar mitzvah of her son, so we decided to take the plunge. And what a plunge it was!

The planning was endless; the logistics mind-boggling. Packing enough toys, books, food, iPads, diapers, and changes of clothes for so many kids (five of them are under age six!) was endless. But it paid off ... for the first four hours, that is! 

Each kid had their own backpack with their nosh, toys, arts and crafts, and electronic devices. But after 4 hours they were way past their regular nap time, and crankiness set in, in full force. 

The human being only has two hands, and with two parents and three babies we were one set short. With limited space, multiple other children with needs of their own, and a full audience of travelers… let me just say, it was stressful. Unlike anything we’ve ever done before. 

To my fellow passengers: I apologize for disturbing your sleep. I apologize for the kvetching, the crying, and yes, the shrieking. One lady sitting right behind us fell asleep with her fingers in her ears trying to block the noise! And I apologize to the passengers in front of me who had to endure my kids pushing their seats. 

I apologize to the wonderful crew who had to tell me dozens of times to sit down when I was walking back and forth trying to put another kid to sleep. When we boarded the plane the entire crew greeted us warmly telling us how cute and adorable our triplets were. When we exited the plane well let's just say they were ecstatic.

When I felt I could no longer manage, I looked at the flight map to see how much time we had remaining, and I saw we still had seven hours to go. That’s a full trip from NY to London!

Thank G-d, we somehow made it, and felt it well worth the effort to celebrate with our family. 

Wish us luck for the way back!

But the lesson is simple. As every parent knows, kids need structure and routine. When that gets disrupted, they don’t do well. 

The same applies to every Jew. Our souls crave routine, and as soon as we deprive ourselves of that, we suffer. What is our routine? A Jew needs to wake up every morning, and pray. Take that away, and the soul goes haywire. A Jew needs to study Torah every day. Disrupt that, and you have spiritual havoc. A Jew needs to stop working and disconnect from technology on Shabbat. Interfere with that, and you’re in dangerous territory. 

Fifteen hours may not be long for an adult, but for babies it is endless. Likewise, our time on this earth may feel endless to us, but in the scheme of things, it is brief, and we’ve been given all the guidance we need to stay on track: Torah and mitzvot.

G-d has gifted us with structure; it’s up to us to stick to it. 

Mr. Mayor, I love you!

Dear Esteemed Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai,

I must thank you. You have succeeded in a way that I, as a Chabad rabbi, have not. Jews all over the world are putting on tefillin at an unprecedented rate, in reaction to your policy. It’s called Operation Ron. Even here in Manhattan, Jews who have never done this mitzvah before are stopping me on the street and asking me to help them.
 
So I’m grateful to you. But you’ve also made me happy on a personal level. Allow me to explain.
 
As a yeshiva student in Kfar Chabad in 1998, I studied from 7:00am – 11:00pm every day, but Friday afternoons we closed our books and hit the streets, tefillin in hand. My 250 colleagues and I would spread out across Tel Aviv, erect temporary “tefillin stands,” and spend hours trying to entice people to don the tefillin and say the shema with us.
 
The people who passed us generally fell into three categories:
 
1.     Our weekly clients, always happy to see us and grateful for the opportunity to pray and do this important mitzvah. On average, we probably had about 70 of these steady clients.
2.     The handful of angry ones who stopped to shout and spew venom at us, telling us we have no right to stand in public putting tefillin on people.
3.     The vast majority who simply ignored us, walking right past, taking no notice of our pleas. These were the toughest clients, the ones who made us question if we were wasting the precious time we had taken off from our learning.  
 
You, Mr. Mayor, fell staunchly into the third category. You became mayor in 1998 and walked past our stands dozens (if not hundreds) of times, and always ignored us.
 
Ironically, we preferred the people who yelled at us to the people who blindly walked past. When someone cares enough to work up the anger and shout, it means they are, in some way, affected. Something has touched them so deeply it has triggered a response. Consider when one spouse yells at the other. Yelling back is not ideal, but it’s certainly better than ignoring the spouse completely. Responding in some way demonstrates that you have a relationship, even if you vehemently disagree with the other person’s behavior.
 
Every Jew has a soul, a neshama, deep within, but often that soul is buried under layers of dirt and grime. Sometimes it’s so covered up it cannot be touched. Rage, frustration, anger, even mild irritation—all show that the soul has been reached. You, Mr. Mayor, were the cold type who walked right past our stands for 22 years, ignoring our pleas for you to put on tefillin. For 22 years we tried to penetrate the layers of dirt and reach your soul, but for 22 years you continued to ignore us.
 
But now, finally, you have moved up a category. By coming out so publicly against our tefillin stands, you have demonstrated that you do care—deeply! After 22 years, we’ve touched you. We’ve reached your soul. We know now that our work was not in vain.
  
And I know, with full confidence, that you will eventually move up yet again, this time into a category-one client, and become a stead tefillin-donner. And when you do, Mr. Mayor, please be sure to send me a selfie at your local Chabad stand. I’m looking forward to it!
 
Yours truly,
 
Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Manhattan NY

Coronavirus: Let’s Infect the Whole World!

As I took the NYC subway this week, I noticed multiple people wearing masks, presumably in response to the coronavirus, and I thought to myself, “I should get one of those too!”

By now scientists are pretty sure the coronavirus originated with a single person who ate pangolin meat in Wuhan, China. Currently, 60,000 people are infected and 1,370 have died. 

Think about it: One individual, whose name we do not know, in a province in China that most of us had never heard of, eats meat from the pangolin—a mammal that is also unfamiliar to most of us—creating mass hysteria and a new disease termed COVID-19 with which we are ALL now very familiar. 

The actions of this single person have rippled across the entire world, creating massive waves of fear and panic. In Japan, 3000 people are stuck on a cruise, forced to spend 23 hours per day inside their rooms. Tens of thousands are stuck in makeshift hospitals in China without adequate medical care. Millions are afraid to travel by airplane, and dozens of countries have limited or entirely refused to accept flights originating from China. Almost every country in the world is feeling the impact. The coronavirus has already caused billions of dollars in damage and has the potential to reach trillions. 

Our sages teach that the power of goodness and kindness is infinitely stronger than the power of evil. “A little light dispels much darkness” is not merely an adage, it is the starting point from which we can transform the entire world. 

And so, I ask you: 

If one anonymous individual eating pangolin meat can unintentionally cause so much fear and panic across the world, can you imagine how much intentional love you and I can spread across the world by doing one mitzvah—eating kosher meat?

Just like patient zero in Wuhan, nobody knows our names and nobody sees us doing the mitzvot, but we can still have a massive effect on the rest of the world. Our mitzvot—eating kosher meat, or anything else—spread out into the world creating ripple effects whose end result we ourselves may never know.   

The coronavirus may be an invisible monster, but our sages tell us that when we do mitzvot, we create invisible angels that fan out across the universe. So let’s get out there and start infecting the world with goodness and kindness. There is no place for quarantine here!

Scared Triplets!

I recently noticed that whenever our triplets walk from the bedroom to the hallway they make sure to step over the threshold. Never on it. And once I noticed, I couldn’t un-notice it! It’s cute the way they avoid it, but I felt compelled to find out why.

I watched them toddle through every other doorway in the house with no qualms. It was only this particular threshold that they painstakingly avoided. But this week, I finally discovered the reason: residual fear!

A few months ago, there was a tiny nail sticking out of the floor right in that spot, which we discovered when they stepped on it and hurt themselves. That doorway now instinctively reminds them of that experience, and they automatically step over it.

Even when I try to coax them to step on the floor there, knowing the nail is long gone and they will not hurt themselves, they still avoid it. It’s a reminder of the past they cannot yet overcome.

It made me think of this week’s Torah portion, when the Jews find themselves facing the Red Sea after G-d virtually decimated their Egyptian captors with the 10 plagues. Finally free, they now found their path forward blocked by the Red Sea, with the Egyptians hot on their tail. They were trapped and afraid, divided as to how to proceed. Some wanted to die by drowning in the sea, some others preferred to return to Egypt in surrender. Still others wanted to try to fight the Egyptians, while another group felt they should drop everything and pray for Divine salvation.

To all these groups, G-d said, “Move forward!” Don’t give up, don’t be distracted by a fight, and don’t return to Egypt; just march ahead.

And that’s something we can all apply to our own lives anytime we’re afraid (which is pretty often for most of us!). Perhaps we’re afraid of committing to marriage, jumping into a new job, opening a business, having another child, taking on a religious commitment… It’s normal to feel afraid, and almost always the fear is based on a prior negative experience that is imprinted on our psyche and tries to prevent us from forging ahead.

But that’s exactly what G-d wants us to do. Go! Overcome your fears. March forward. Push past those negative experiences and take a chance. Commit. You’ll be surprised to see just how much you can accomplish when you learn to let go of the fear. 

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