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I Miss You

I miss my synagogue. I miss the joy, spirit, and singing. I miss kissing the Torah and hearing it read aloud. I miss the warm bonding that happens over the weekly kiddush. I miss having guests at our Friday night Shabbat table and weekly coffee dates out of the house with my wife. I miss going to the mikvah and visiting people in their homes. And I miss my bi-monthly visits to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s ohel, where I stock up on inspiration. 

I miss real, live, in-person contact with all of you. I miss giving my sermons and Torah classes. I mean, I love Zoom; we’re so fortunate to have it. But it cannot replace the real thing. For one thing, in person I can see if I’m putting the crowd to sleep and adapt accordingly. But with Zoom, participants can simply mute themselves and turn off their camera and I have absolutely no idea if they’re bored to tears or deeply engaged!  

I miss my life and the structure I used to have. (So do my kids!)

I miss my dear Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, our spiritual leader. What would he have advised us in this situation? I think about this a lot. 

Of one thing I am certain: the world cannot and will not be the same place it was pre-corona. And I’m not referring to wearing masks and maintaining social distance.  

When I go back to shul to daven with a minyan, I am going to appreciate it exponentially more! I will run to be there on time, answer “amen” loudly and with feeling, and infuse every aspect of the davening with gusto and fervor. I can’t wait to shake peoples hands again and wish them a hearty good shabbos!

When we can finally sit together as a community and have kiddush, how much love and respect will we share! Everything will be different. The way we communicate, interact, and show appreciation … all will have new layers of meaning.  

There are only 87 commandments that have remained possible to fulfill since the destruction of the Temple around 2000 years ago, and now even some of these we can’t fulfill properly! Why did G-d take this privilege away from us? I can’t speak for Him, but the message I’m taking is to use this time to increase my appreciation for the mitzvot once we are able to do them again. 

The Klausenberger Rebbe was once asked, “Which day of the Holocaust was the hardest for you?” 

“The day I was liberated,” he replied. 

“What do you mean? Your wife, 11 children, and most of your students were murdered. You nearly starved to death. You suffered so much. Surely liberation should have been your best day?”

The Rebbe explained: “Through all the suffering, what kept me going was the certainty that this must be the onset of Moshiach. Knowing, without a doubt, that Moshiach would come and liberate us, and that the world we’d eventually return to would not be the same at all, that is what kept me going. When I saw that it was the Americans, not Moshiach, that was the hardest day yet.” 

With G-ds help, may Moshiach be the one to announce that the coronavirus pandemic is over, and that we are going directly to Israel to begin the era of Redemption. And if G-d forbid it doesn’t end that way, by infusing meaning and excitement into the mitzvot we have been barred from fulfilling properly, we can ensure that the world we return to will not be the same one we left. 

I Can't Pay My Rent

On the 20th of the month, my landlord emailed me a link: “You can pay your rent right here on this website.”

Since we moved to our current apartment around seven years ago, I have paid the rent diligently. I may have been late by a couple of days once in a while, but I certainly never missed a payment. This April, however, deep into the month I still had not paid my rent, and so he reached out to me.

Now this landlord owns thousands of apartments all over the city; I don’t know exactly how many buildings he owns, but I know it’s a lot. I figured this was a mass email sent out to all the tenants who still hadn't paid, so I didn’t respond.

The next day he sent a follow up: “GM, I had sent you an email about paying rent online. Have not heard from you yet. Pls call this AM in this regard, stay safe.”

Clearly, this was not a mass email. Oops! This was personal; he knows that I have not paid and has personally reached out to me himself, not through any of his numerous employees. So I responded. 

“Hope all is well with you,” I wrote. “Unfortunately I am not in a position to pay rent this month. Our entire operation has been shut down. Our shul, preschool, Torah classes and many other programs have all moved to Zoom, and donations to our Chabad center are down by 90 percent. Is there any way you can help us in this unfortunate time?”

Like millions of people across the world who are having this conversation with their landlord, I am not unique. Someone emailed me a few days ago, “Rabbi, this is the darkest period of my life. It has never been worse; my income is down to zero and I have lost all my money.”

My landlord replied immediately: “That is a big chunk of change to ask for. I have a bank breathing down my back.”

And then I realized that my landlord does not own the building I live in—the banks do! He owes them money, and he may in fact be in an even worse position than I am. “The more possessions we have, the more worries we accumulate,” the Mishnah tells us.

So who is responsible for the damages that have been caused by the coronavirus? Is it my fault that my operation has ceased to exist? Is it the landlord’s burden to bear? Is it the banks? Who is ultimately responsible?

But then I asked myself, how have I been able to pay rent the last few years? Of course, it’s all G-d! Yes, I work hard. Most mornings I am up at 4am, and my work is essentially helping other people, but I still have to pay my bills each month. And the one who has helped me until now is G-d. In fact, the Torah promises us, “G-d shall bless you in all that you do.” 

How is the doctor who has patients streaming through his practice able to pay his bills? We might assume it’s his skill and experience, but of course that’s not it. It’s G-d. 

How is the lawyer, who is inundated with high-paying clients, able to pay her bills? We may chalk it up to her superior intelligence and excellent education, but that’s not it either. Of course not. It’s G-d. 

And how about the finance guru who is raking it in through stocks? Is it because of his clever investment strategy? Of course not. His success, too, is all thanks to G-d. 

The same G-d that enabled the doctor, lawyer, finance guru, and me to pay our bills the last few years will continue to do so now. But we must create a vessel, a portal if you will, for that to happen. We can’t sit back and expect the money to flow from heaven. We must work and create natural channels for the blessings to come our way. 

Lest we think we are smart and tough and resilient and responsible for our own successes and earnings… this would be a huge mistake! The one who has been paying our bills is G-d.

And so now, during this difficult period in our lives, who will help? Of course, G-d will! We still have to put in the effort, and perhaps even redouble our efforts, but at the same time we must increase our faith in G-d and know that He will not abandon us.

As for me and my landlord, for now we’ve worked out a mutually satisfactory deal for the next three months, after which hopefully all will be well again. 

We Inspired Moses!

Moses was the most humble person to ever walk the earth - “V’ha-ish Moshe anav me’od mikol ha’adam,” the Torah tells us.

Why is that?

Kabbalah explains that when Moses looked to the future and saw Jews living today, he was humbled. 

Moses, whose greatest accomplishment was facilitating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai 3,332 years ago, was humbled when he saw that despite being forced to close down all our yeshivas and communal learning structures for the first time in history, there is an unprecedented amount of Torah classes being given over Zoom, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram. He was blown away by our dedication. 

Moses, the master of tefillah, greatest prophet and communicator, was inspired when he saw that despite all minyanim and shuls being shut down across the globe, we haven’t stopped praying. We’ve transformed our homes into places of tefillah, and joined forces over Whatsapp to say tehillim in groups; more davening is happening than before! 

Moses, the greatest leader in history, was humbled when he saw that although we have been orphaned of our Rebbe, our leader, for 25 years, we haven’t fizzled into oblivion. We have been forced to become our own leaders, even in isolation. 

Moses, who was taught us the true meaning of ahavat Yisrael with his willingness to sacrifice his own life to save the Jewish nation, was awestruck to see that despite the economic crisis and financial fear we’re facing, we have exhibited unprecedented levels of kindness and generosity during this pandemic. So much tzeddakah has been given, hatzalah volunteers are working round the clock, and doctors and nurses are putting their very lives on the line. 

Moses, who performed the greatest miracles, smiting the Egyptians with 10 plagues, splitting the sea for us, and feeding us in the desert for 40 years, looked at our generation and saw that despite our low spiritual status, we have the ultimate self sacrifice and love for Hashem and His mitzvot—the greatest miracle of all! 

On the 28th day of Nissan in 1988 the Rebbe gave a fiery talk and declared: “I have done all I can possibly do to bring Moshiach. Now I turn the matter over to you.” These words have never been more pertinent than in our times. We are doing all we can, but we can always do more. Let’s push ourselves and see what miracles we can procure.

 

Kabbala of Opening the World or Keeping it Shut?

The big question on everyone’s lips this week is whether we’re ready to re-open the world or if it would be wiser to stay shuttered for longer.

On the one hand, we’ve been in isolation for six weeks already and the world’s economy has been virtually decimated. Millions of people are out of work and it’s extremely difficult (and sometimes dangerous) for people to remain isolated.

On the other hand, if things open up too quickly, the virus will likely have a resurgence putting many more lives at risk. And we know, saving a single life is akin to saving the entire world.

And so, the debate rages on. Economy or health? How and when can we reopen? Under which conditions? How can we stagger it? What else do we need to have in place?

The truth is, this question is not new or unique to our day and age. It’s one that is asked every time a child is born.

On the one hand, the soul would love to stay in Paradise, pure, untainted, enjoying it’s isolation with its Father in Heaven, where each second is infinitely more pleasurable than anything this world can offer.

But on the other hand, in order to make this world a better place, the soul needs to descend into the physical realm, enter a body, and start refining the world around it.

Unfortunately, doing so endangers the soul. It can become contaminated from all the falsehood that exists in this world. Every time a person lies, cheats, steals, deceives, violates Shabbat, or eats non-kosher food, more damage is done to the soul than any coronavirus can possibly inflict. The coronavirus only harms a person in this physical world; spiritual damage affects a person both in the current world, and in the World to Come.

Ultimately, the decision is made to send the soul into the world, and G-d empowers it to succeed, equipping it with the tools to combat the hurdles and overcome the temptations that it will inevitably encounter. The mind rules the heart; if we so desire, we can overcome temptation and perform only mitzvot.

In fact, it says as much in this week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora. The Torah discusses a woman giving birth, referring to the soul desperately cleaving to G-d. We tell the soul, “We know how much you want to stay with G-d, but you can only fulfill your mission in the physical world. We need you here. It will be hard, but we’ll give you the tools you need. You cannot opt out. We need you too badly.”

And with this coronavirus, too, eventually we will need to re-open the world. It’s our mission. We cannot continue without it. But when we do, we will not only take the necessary physical precautions such as wearing masks and gloves and using Purell, but also the spiritual ones which will fortify us and enable us to fulfill our mission in this world!

Hope to see you soon in the real world!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

The Corona has Shattered my Heart but Inspired my Soul!

I underestimated this coronavirus. 

I’ve never given much thought to the High Holiday prayers where we say, “Our Father in Heaven, remove the plague from our midst.” 

Until now. 

I never imagined Corona could break my heart, but it did this week when I spoke to a woman who will be doing the Seder alone for the first time in her 76 years. No children or grandchildren. Just her, lonely, isolated, stuck in her apartment for weeks already. 

I never thought Corona would make me cry, but it did when I paid a virtual shiva visit to a woman who lost her father to the virus. I cried with her as she described not only losing her father, but sitting shiva with no visitors and nobody to say kaddish for him. 

I was devastated to learn that Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, Rosh Yeshiva of the school I studied in many years ago, passed away this week. May his memory be a blessing. 

My heart physically aches when I see the hundreds of names of people (including friends and family) needing our prayers for a speedy recovery. 

And when news arrives of people I know, admire, and respect, who have passed away, my heart shatters. 

But in tandem with the pain, the turmoil, and the heartbreak, Corona has brought out the best in us. I see it all around me. 

I see people praying for those they don’t even know. I see Torah being studied at an unprecedented rate across the universe. 

I am connecting with friends I have not seen in 25 years. Corona has brought us together. 

I am spending more time with my children, too. I’ve been with my family for breakfast, lunch, and supper every day!

Tens of thousands of homes have become beacons of light and sanctuaries of Torah. 

I spoke with a doctor this week who has volunteered to go into the eye of the storm—the hardest hit hospitals—to help complete strangers.   

These are the things, the people, the experiences that inspire me. In the darkest of times, there are still rays of light peeking through, illuminating the world for the rest of us. 

When the Jews left Egypt, we are told “their cries went up to Heaven,” and, “G-d heard their cries.” I cannot imagine that G-d does not hear us now. Our cries, our tears, our pleas. He hears it all.

Master of the Universe, we beseech you: It's time to end this plague and bring Moshiach right now!

Wishing you all a kosher and happy Pesach.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

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