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Dear Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook Headquarters 
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Dear Mark,

I’ve been using Facebook for a very long time, and I am grateful to you for creating a platform that allows me to keep in touch with people all over the world, including congregants and friends who have left New York City. 

You see, I use Facebook for my job. I use it to spread Torah and mitzvot and try to do my part in bettering the world, which is why I was absolutely astounded to discover I’d been banned this week! 

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been giving my Torah classes online. For maximum accessibility, before each class I log into Zoom and connect it to Facebook. This allows me to reach more people. But this week, you cancelled my class, shut me out of Facebook, and sent me a message claiming I had violated your community standards!

What?! To say I was thoroughly confused would be an understatement of the highest order. 

I have never posted anything hateful or political in the 12 or so years I’ve been using your platform! As a rabbi, I serve a community comprising people on the right and people on the left, so I stick to my job—promoting and spreading Torah and mitzvot; I don’t dabble in politics. So what could have possibly led you to shut down my account? 

I took a closer look at which classes apparently violated your community standards. There were four, and the one that sent me to “Facebook jail” was this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEn7zRQDO6Y&t=760s - “The cure for COVID-19 is to be found in this week’s Torah portion.”

I wondered, what could possibly be in violation? In the video, I explained that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of hatred for one another. I explained that the Talmud equates that hatred to the three cardinal sins: idolatry, adultery, murder, and that to rectify this and rebuild the third and final Temple, we need to love each other more. True, expansive, unconditional love will lead to the Redemption, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the end to all ailments and illnesses, including COVID-19. 

This is one of our most basic beliefs, found in our holy Torah. So yes, the cure for coronavirus is in fact in the Torah!

Your message claimed, “We have these standards because misinformation that could cause physical harm can make some people feel unsafe on Facebook.” Well, I can assure you that there is no message the inhabitants of this universe need to hear more than what I shared! Unconditional love - it’s what we all need, the US more than anyone! Not only can this not possibly lead to physical harm, it can lead to great healing and unification. In fact, Mark, you and I probably disagree on about 99% of things, but that does not diminish my love for you. I love you, heart and soul, like a brother.

Misinformation, you say? I can assure you there is no book more authentic than the Torah. In fact, you and I were both present at the foot of Mount Sinai over 4000 years ago. You and I both heard the voice of G-d. You and I both received His Torah at the exact same moment. This is a proven historical fact. 

Mark, in this week’s Torah portion we read about the 10 commandments—G-d’s precious gift to us. In that spirit, I invite you to study Torah with me anytime. We can easily do it over the powerful tool you’ve created: Facebook! I also invite you to attend services at my shul, have an aliya, and be called up to the Torah. You see, Mark, despite our differences, my love for you is unconditional, and that is the message my classes promote. 

Our Triplets Escaped!

Nothing is normal about having triplets, including bedtime. But we have a routine that’s been serving us well. We sing the Shema and say the 12 Torah pesukim together while they lie in their cribs. We leave the room and we hear them chatting together (sometimes till quite late; they must be having deep conversations!), but eventually they fall asleep and stay that way until the morning. They wake up and chat happily some more, until we’re ready to take them out and start the day.

But this week they mastered a new trick. Avigayil discovered that she could easily climb out of her crib. Her two brothers watched and quickly realized they too could climb out on their own, and suddenly our mornings and evenings look very different!

No longer is the old routine effective. We put them to bed as usual this week, and within five minutes they were roaming around the kitchen, yelping with joy! The same scene repeated itself in the morning. One woke up at 6am, woke the other two, and they marched out of their room waking the rest of the family an hour earlier than usual.

Clearly, we need a new strategy.

And while the rest of us may have long ago graduated to real beds, the truth is that we are all stuck in “cribs” of our own. We all have things that are blocking us on some front, holding us back, caging us in, making it hard for us to succeed in life. We are stuck in our habits and routines, our fears and anxieties, and we haven’t yet figured out how to escape.

Now, more than ever, we are consumed by our anxieties. What will be when we wake up tomorrow? It seems impossible to predict. But one thing we know for certain, one thing we can latch onto, is that G-d is in charge, He controls the world, and He would never send us a challenge that we cannot conquer.

But we can break out. Resolve to wake up each morning and trust G-d. Really trust him. And you will see that you start to escape your prison of fear, and feel the relaxation slowly flow over you. It’s hard. It’s scary. But the results are indescribable.

And how about committing to a new mitzvah? Start lighting Shabbat candles each week on time. Or put on tefillin and say morning prayers. Set aside 30 minutes a day to study Torah, make sure your house has kosher mezuzot, commit to sending your child to a Jewish school (real or virtual!), or take on the huge commitment of keeping kosher. There are so many things you can do to break out of your prison of habit. Each step you take makes the next one seem a tad easier, until you’re jumping out of your “crib” with ease, without thought, day after day.

By doing this, we will help the world jump out of its "crib," habits and routines with the coming of Moshiach.

Imagine the Cure for Coronavirus … but Why Stop There?

Imagine waking up tomorrow morning to the breaking news that despite the 10-15 years it normally takes, we’ve been able to accelerate the research and testing for the COVID-19 vaccine, and it is now safe, effective, approved, and already widely available. 

Close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine, really imagine, how happy we will all be! Imagine the joy of being able to send our kids to school safely again. Think of the celebrations we’ll be able to attend! Weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, graduations … all the things we’ve missed these last few months. We could go shopping, fly, vacation—all the things we used to take for granted! We will all be ecstatic! The entire world will be filled with laughter and happiness!

But if we’re already dreaming, why not dream even bigger? We’ve eradicated COVID-19, why stop there? We still have cancer, heart disease, alzheimers, depression, anxiety, terrorism, anti-Semitism and enough other ailments to fill several volumes. So close your eyes again and this time imagine waking up to discover that the world has been cured from all diseases. 

And while there are scientists working around the clock, exerting tremendous effort to find a COVID-19 vaccine, our sages teach that it’s up to each and every one of us to find the cure for all of the world’s diseases. 

To that end, we can learn much from the race: 

The first step towards finding any vaccine is research. Scientists need to understand as much as possible about the disease, how it works, and how the body’s immune system can be catalyzed to fight it. 

What is the root of all pain and suffering in this world? The Talmud (Yoma 9b) teaches that baseless hatred is to blame. G-d, like a father, abhors seeing His children in conflict. In fact, the Talmud goes so far as to equate baseless hatred with the three cardinal sins: idolatry, adultery, and murder. That’s how bad it is! It is, in fact, the thing that caused us to be banished from the Beit Hamikdash, our home with G-d. 

So how do we combat and cure baseless hatred? With unconditional love, of course! By resolving to remove the judgement and dislike that are so familiar and intrinsic to our thinking, and replacing them with acts of care, concern, and love—regardless of the person’s habits, opinions, or political learnings. This will bring the ultimate redemption and will rebuild the Holy Temple.  

We now find ourselves at a time on the Jewish calendar known as the Three Weeks—the annual mourning period for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. What better time to work on rebuilding it? 

Lest you think that your simple act of unconditional kindness won’t make a difference, think again. COVID-19 started spreading when a guy in Wuhan sneezed, and look how that has rippled and ballooned across the world. Your good deed can have the same effect!

So let’s stop limiting our imaginings to a cure for COVID-19, and start imagining a cure for the entire world. It is within our power! 

It’s Too Dark; I Cannot See

It’s 2.30am and I’m fast asleep when four-year-old Mussya and six-year-old Sara come barging into our room, crying hysterically. Waking up in the night is not atypical, but usually they go straight to my wife and I don’t stir. This time, however, they were agitated, had woken each other, and were now both wailing. Their cry? “It’s too dark; I cannot see!” 

This was a first. Usually it’s a bad dream and we coax them back to bed by helping them think of pleasant things. Or “I’m thirsty” which is easily solved with a drink of water. But this I’d never heard before. I sat up groggily. “It’s the middle of the night, Mussya. Of course you cannot see. The lights are off, it’s dark outside, how do you wake up from that? And maybe the middle of the night is not the best time to test your eyes…” 

“Just close your eyes and fall asleep,” I cajoled. 

“But when I close my eyes, it’s too dark,” she insisted. 

It took some time and convincing and calming, but eventually she agreed to close her eyes and fall asleep in the darkness. 

The experience got me thinking. 

We’ve been in our current exile for close to 2000 years, and a lot of those years have been dark. But our sages teach that there is no darker period than ours. And we are surely feeling it, with the coronavirus and unrest causing so much fear and uncertainty all over the world! But the reason it’s so dark right now is because we are right before the breakthrough. The night is darkest just before dawn emerges onto the horizon, and that’s where we are right now: on the precipice of the Redemption. So yes, it’s dark, yes it seems like it will always be dark, but that’s good news! It means we’re on the verge of the greatest spiritual revelation—the one our people have been anticipating for millennia! 

We just started the annual period on the Jewish calendar known as The Three Weeks—a time of mourning for the destruction of our two Holy Temples. But this year we are ready, readier than we’ve ever been, for that third and final Temple. 

My daughters’ wails should be echoed by every single Jew. We need to cry out to our Father in Heaven and awaken His heavenly mercy: “It’s too dark! We cannot bear this anymore! Get us out of the exile; usher in the era of light.” 

May it happen immediately. 

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

I Bumped Into A Huge Bear!

This week I bumped into a bear. Yes, an actual lumbering, extremely large and ferocious-looking American black bear. 

We’ve been staying in a house just outside the city, and as I stepped out the other day, I immediately jumped back, startled to see a huge bear casually roaming around sniffing for food. I wasn’t more than 3-4 feet away! I quickly retreated into the house, locked the door, took out my camera, and started filming. 

Now, I grew up in South Africa, home to plenty of wild animals (baboons, lions, tigers, elephants), but we only ever saw those in the Kruger National Park, never just roaming the streets. Plus there are no bears in South Africa, so they are unfamiliar even to me. But apparently this is a common occurrence in rural America, as we’ve discovered in recent weeks. 

The bears aren’t only massive, they have huge claws, sharp teeth, run at 30 miles per hour, climb trees, and even swim well! So if a bear attacks you, there’s pretty much no escape other than praying to G-d to save you. 

But here’s the thing. The first time I saw this bear, I was terrified. But after speaking to the locals and doing my own research, it turns out these bears are actually quite timid and are probably more afraid of us than we are of them. Black bears are not grizzly bears or brown bears. They are quite gentle. 

Black bears are ruled by fear and food—in that order. Researchers are frequently surprised by how cautious these powerful animals are in response to the tiny rustling sounds of squirrels, mice, or birds. They are known to have retreated from butterflies, mallards, even a moth! Hunters can chase the biggest black bears with their smallest hounds, and many small, yapping dogs have chased black bears out of yards. Bear Center researchers have never encountered a black bear they couldn’t chase away. 

This weekend we celebrate the 12th of Tammuz, the day the Previous Rebbe was freed from imprisonment at the hand of the Soviets. Stalin forbade any kind of Torah study. Shuls, mikvahs, and yeshivas were not allowed to operate. Observance of the mitzvos was strictly prohibited. But the Previous Rebbe stood up to the raging beast of communism, confident and unafraid. Stalin killed millions of people, but the Rebbe knew the truth. He knew that G-d runs the world and he stood steadfast and strong even when arrested and tortured. Not once did he waver. Today, 92 years later, as we celebrate the Rebbe’s release from prison, we see the truth. The Soviet Union is long gone, Stalin is now remembered as one of history’s worst mass murderers, but Torah, Judaism, Chabad, the Rebbe’s legacy and chassidim—we are all still here and still going strong. 

What’s the message for us?

At times, it seems like our challenges are insurmountable. There is so much fear and anxiety in the world right now. But it’s like the ferocious-looking bear that is gentle at heart: We really have little to fear, as long as we realize that G-d runs the world. None of it can affect our souls. Our souls are part of G-d; they are eternal and untouchable. So instead of allowing fear and anxiety to consume us, let’s focus on strengthening our connection to G-d, so that when the beast of anxiety rears its ferocious head, we can talk it down and remind ourselves that we are safe, things will work out, and He has a plan that will ultimately be to our benefit.  

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