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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

In Memory of Mr. Stanley Cohen OBM

We humans have very short memories. Or better yet, selective memories. We remember what we want to  and conveniently forget other things. For example, we forget what our parents have done for us yesterday if they did not do the same for us today. Yesterday’s gifts are old news. Or as the saying goes “what have you done for me today”. This weakness is as old as mankind. Being ungrateful and not appreciating the blessings we have is something humans have grappled with for thousands of years.

Adam was ungrateful for the wife G-d had given him and instead focused on the problems she brought to his life. The Jews in the desert never ran out of things to complain about instead of appreciating daily miracles that G-d had performed for them. And, I wonder how many of us really count all the blessings we have rather than seeing the glass half empty.

In the book of numbers, the one we are reading these weeks, we learn about the Jews in the desert who complained about practically everything. Their food was not good enough, their drink was not exactly to their liking, they even complained about the miraculous Manna that fell from heaven every morning. Its appearance was not what they expected. Or the fact that they were now a free people who were on a mission from G-d to change the world was also something to complain about. They suddenly longed to go back to Egypt. In their words “we remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free” I guess the Egyptian chefs knew how to prepare a good trout or some really good grilled sea bass. I don’t know about the “for free” part. This is what the Jews complained about. Go figure. I don’t remember learning that the manna had to be bought in stores for a price, It was right there at their door post or just outside the camp, all they had to do was go pick it up every morning. And mind you, it had a miraculous nature about it, it had the taste of anything one wished. So for example if someone wanted their Manna to taste like steak, French fries or sushi, all they had to do was think of that food and there it was, the manna suddenly took on the taste of that desired food. But that was not good enough because It did not look like steak, French fries or sushi.

The truth is, nothing has changed. We in America have everything or close to it. We live such comfortable lives and yet study after study shows that Americans are increasingly unhappier than the generations of the past. We have the best schools, the best medical treatment, the best cars, most comfortable homes, entertainment 24 hours a day on TV, Movies and so on, and yet, everyone is complaining. It’s never good enough. What has G-d done for me today we ask… and if you remind the person that just that morning he/she drove to work in a nice car after eating a good breakfast, they tell you… but that was 4 hours ago.

We are often just simply ungrateful. We forget that relatively speaking, we should be in the synagogue 10 times a day (not three) thanking G-d for the incredible flow of goodness and wealth that comes our way. We're healthy, our children are healthy; we have more than our parents and grandparents ever had by far. But we look for this moment's excitement…. for something new. Yesterday’s blessings are alte zachen (old merchandise).

This then is the call of the hour. Thank G-d for everything you have. If you need help remembering it all then here is a simple piece of advice. Sit down with a pen and paper , contrast your life with that of your parents. I am sure that after three lines you will be looking for a prayer book to offer thanks to G-d. People usually say that we should see the cup as half full rather than half empty. I say, there is no need for that in our case; our cups are for the most part completely full all the time.  We just refuse to see it. We are like the Jews in the desert. We have almost everything or close to it, but we look to Egypt's fish and see that one thing we do not have.

I want to call your attention to a very special person whose Yahrtzeit we observed this week. My dear friend , Mr. Stanley Cohen, of blessed memory. Stanley was special in more than one way. I think it’s fair to say that he was the exact opposite of a complainer. He had much to be thankful for but he also had much to complain about. Those who remember him know how he suffered the last few years of his life. I visited with him almost every day to pray with him when he was no longer able to don Tefillin on his own. I will always cherish those moments. I never once heard him complain… Never. He always said that Hashem is good to him. He always remembered all the blessings that he and his family enjoyed,his illness was not going to make him forget that. This is one of the very important lessons I learned from Stanley. Be grateful. Remember what Hashem gave you and continues to give you. This is a lost art. As his Yahrtzeit always falls around the Torah portions when we read about the complainers, we have a perfect contrast in Stanley Cohen: a man who never complained. A man who knew where he came from. A man whom saw what he was given and never lost sight of that. A man whom loved Hashem and expressed that love in verbal gratitude every single day of his life.

May his memory be a blessing to all of us.
Shabbat Shalom

 

Mazol Tov Mollie

Life’s routines are fairly predictable. Children grow up from being infants to become toddlers, they move on to preschool, elementary school, middle and high school, then their off to college. Mothers and fathers breathe a sigh of relief when they finally send off their nudniks to higher education and are able to finally rest alone in their empty nesters’ home. I have heard this routine from so many and for the life of me, I can never figure out what is the great pleasure of having an empty house. My house is very quiet this year. We have only 4 children at home and I don’t like it very much. For Pesach we had all of our 22 immediate family members (children and grandchildren) at home and there was life. It was busy. We couldn’t get enough of it. I cannot wait for Sukkos to come around when they will all be back G-d willing. But so many love it when their children go off to college and their finally able to be alone, I guess different strokes for different folks. Then they graduate and either continue on to getting a master’s degree or others hopefully find jobs. This is a very familiar routine. Parents who are really lucky see their children under the Chuppah before their 30. Then come the grandchildren and so on.

This week one of our dear congregants graduated from college and received her degree, but it was most certainly not your average routine graduating student. Seeing this student in her cap and gown receiving her diploma was deeply inspiring and brought a lot of tears and emotion to her family, friends and loved ones. I can only imagine the Nachas, pleasure and overflowing joy that were the lot of her parents as she pushed her self-down the aisle to receive her degree.

I want to congratulate Mollie Zieper and her parents David and Polly on this momentous occasion. Mollie did not only push herself down the aisle this week, I watched her as she pushed herself through life and its many challenges over the years and she did it with grace, perseverance and fortitude. She never got lazy, never got complacent, never took no for an answer and never expected anything without working hard for it. I watched her grow up, go through high school, move across the state to attend college, take care of herself and reach milestone after milestone, as if this was natural and no big deal. She was active in all Jewish events on campus attending Chabad, Hillel and promoting Judaism and Israel advocacy with passion and determination. I have no doubt that we will see great things from Mollie in the future and one day we will walk her to her chuppah G-d willing as she starts her own family.

In the beginning of Bechukosai, this week’s Torah portion, G-d promises that if we toil in Torah we will be rewarded. It does not say if we ‘learn’ Torah rather if we ‘toil’ in Torah study. G-d asks us to ‘toil’, to work hard and then we are rewarded. Mollie worked hard and was rewarded this week. We should all learn from her. Don’t take life, health and everything we have for granted. It is all on loan from G-d to utilize for good, moral and G-dly ends. He never signed a contract to make life easy for us. If we are lucky enough and our lives are fairly good and easy, thank Him every day for that. If once in a while life takes unexpected turns and you are confronted with challenges, remember the saying: “when the going gets tough the tough get going” or just remember Mollie in her cap and gown earning what she worked so hard for during all these years when the going was quite tough.

Shabbat Shalom

In Memory of My Friend Daniel Wultz OBM

Twelve years ago today, my dear friend, student and congregant, Daniel Wultz Passed away in Tel Aviv 27 days after a suicide bomber blew himself up and took him and 10 other innocent Jews from our midst. Those of you who were in Weston at the time will remember that a special Torah was written and dedicated in honor of his first Yahrtzeit. Daniel, although only 16 years old, stood out in his unique care for others and made such an indelible impression on all who knew him. It is for this reason that every year as this day arrives, I together with his family and friends, a total of about 50-60 people, make a pilgrimage to his resting place to pray, reflect and say Kaddish for his holy soul.

As I was standing there today, and had a chance to think of him, his life and his death, I naturally thought about the tragedy of global terrorism and the struggle that Israel and the world has to deal with on a daily basis. Thousands of innocent Jews like Daniel lost their lives to senseless hatred and because of people, and a society, that places a greater value to death over life.  I think it was Prime Minister Golda Meir who said that there will be peace with Israel’s Arab Neighbors when they start loving their children more then they hate ours. I am still waiting. On a day like this I’d rather focus on Daniel’s life rather than on those who ended it. And with Lag B’omer just 2 days away, I want to especially focus on all that Daniel meant to his family, friends and all who knew him.

On Lag B’omer we celebrate the day when the plague that struck the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva ended. The sages tell us that the reason that they all perished in this plague was because they did not treat each other with respect. This does not mean that they did not love each other, G-d forbid. The problem was that they lacked respect for each other. Love and respect are not synonymous. You might love your spouse but might not respect his/her space. You might love your student yet show a lack of respect for their opinion and so on. Lag B’omer represents the end of that calamity, a day that respect was once again restored amongst the remaining of his students.

If there is one lesson Daniel taught us; it is how to respect one another. He stood out in his care for every person without distinction. Daniel believed that every person, being a creation of Hashem, has an inherent value and therefore deserves respect. He protected the less talented and helped those that were on the lower rung of society’s self-made social ladder. To him every one was equal. He understood the teaching of Rabbi Akiva that “to love your fellow is the cardinal rule of the Torah”. Daniel knew that when the Torah says “your fellow” it means each person. He lived this ideal and in so doing earned his place amongst those students of Rabbi Akiva who really “got it”.

This world would be a better place if Daniel was with us, but Hashem decided that He wants him with Him up in heaven, in that case then, we need to become the “Daniels” of the world. We need to step up and become students of Rabbi Akiva. We need to promote love and respect for others. It is very easy to speak about it or even to believe in it’s importance, but in order to live that ideal we must put our egos aside. So, on Daniel’s Yahrtzeit and in honor of Rabbi Akiva and his cardinal teaching about love and respect, think of someone, maybe an in-law, a friend, and old acquaintance; you know who I mean, and give him a call, reach out to him or her, extend that person some senseless love and repair a world where people like Daniel lose their life because of senseless hate.

May his memory be a blessing for all of us.

70 Years of Miracles

Israel and Jews the world over celebrated 70 years since the great miracle of 1948 when a tiny Jewish IDF was able to subdue five vast Arab army’s hell bent on destroying Israel and its Jewish population. The miracle of 1948 was just the beginning. In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur war and the 1982 Lebanon war were all follow up miracles that defy all military historical warfare. There are so many more miracles that have transpired over the past 70 years in the Holy Land but there is one miracle that stands out which I want to emphasize in this article. The Miracle of Israel itself.

With all the problems that Israel faces on a daily basis such as terrorism, bad neighbors, internal strife among Jewish factions; religion vs. secularism, Chareidim vs. the non-religious, right vs. left and many more problems that Jews in Israel have to contend with every day, Israel is still the greatest beacon of G-dly light, morality, generosity, freedom and love that the world has ever seen.

 Seventy years ago many wondered what kind of Jewish State Israel would turn out to be. Will it be too secular, too religious etc. When we look back at what Israel has accomplished during the past seven decades one cannot help but marvel at the incredible success in almost every area of life. There are thousands of Torah institutions, houses of prayer, institutions of Chessed, all over the country. The  Economic ingenuity that Israel has become known for, development in all areas of health, their annual export and their legendary creative technological breakthroughs have made Israel the eighth wonder of the world. While none of this should be taken for granted, and we owe so much to those who have dedicated their lives to the development of this great land and especially to the soldiers of the IDF, we as Jews know that Israel has a special blessing. Moses told the Jews over 3300 years ago: Israel is a land where G-ds eyes are upon it from beginning of the year to its end. That is what makes Israel so Holy and special a land; the fact that G-d continuously watches over it. It is this holiness that we should celebrate when we look back at the past seven decades. True, Israel has very few real friends in the world, but it has one really good friend in heaven without which none of the miraculous success it has enjoyed could ever have happened.

 The Holy Land of Israel and the Holy People of Israel are eternally intertwined. Many are hostile and even some “allies”, to Israel’s claim that the land is not fully ours because we have not been there for close to 2000 years. How can we have a claim to the land after such a long separation? Others have been there during this time and have taken root and they demand therefore, that we should give up parts of it or all of it. To this, there is only one legitimate answer; in the bible (which Christians and Muslims believe in) we are referred to as the Bnai Yisroel, the Children of Israel. A child is connected to his/her father regardless of how many years they may have been separated. A child never gives up on his/her parent. The nation of Israel is one with the land of Israel because of the Torah of Israel. As long as we hold tight to the Torah of Israel no one will ever be able to separate the Children of Israel from land of Israel.

 Am Yisrael Chai.  

ATale of Two Silences


In Israel and the world over, Jews commemorated a day of remembrance for the 6,000,000 Jews who perished at the hands of Hitler and his Nazi regime. Survivors told their horrific stories to young and old, thousands marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau in the March of the Living, memorial candles were lit in homes and synagogues around the world and thousands upon thousands flocked to hundreds of Holocaust museums and memorial events to reflect and proclaim “Never Again” and unite with the memories of millions of our people whose only “sin” was that they were Jewish.

Hitler and his Nazi regime were able to do what they did because so many around the world were silent. They let it happen. Some were very happy to remain silent and saw the Nazi’s as doing their “dirty work”, some were silent reluctantly and yet others would have been happy to stop it but were ‘unwilling’ to interfere in a war that was ‘not theirs’ and therefore remained silent. The common denominator of all the nations of the world was their silence. Their silence was the de-facto license the Nazi’s needed in order to be able to do what they did. As harsh as that sounds, if we are to take the slogan ‘never again’ seriously, we must understand that such murderous acts do not happen in a vacuum. We must understand that if we do not appreciate the sin of silence, such atrocities will happen again, in fact they do happen again and again all over the world only because of the sin of silence.

 

To be sure, silence is sometimes a great virtue. In the Torah portion of this week, Shemini, we read the story of the death of the two sons of Aaron the High Priest. They both died on the day of the inauguration of the temple that was built by the Jews in the desert. The tragedy of their death interrupted the jubilant celebrations surrounding the temple and its dedication. Needless to say, Aaron was shocked and devastated beyond description upon hearing the terrible news. The Torah relates that ‘Vayidom Aaron’, and Aaron was silent. Our sages tell us that as a reward for his silence G-d revealed himself to Aaron and communicated with him directly, not via Moses. In every other case G-d would speak to Moses who would then communicate to Aaron the message. This time G-d speaks to Aaron directly. His silence brought about a new and direct revelation of G-d. His silence opens him up to hearing the voice of G-d. This silence is different.

In 1963, Mr. Eli Wiesel came to meet with the Rebbe. He asked the Rebbe if he could explain the Holocaust. Where was G-d? How could He have allowed this to happen to his beloved chosen people? Why? This question was asked by so many and continues to be asked. The Rebbe told Wiesel that some things are beyond our capacity to understand at any level. The only response is that of Aaron: Vayidom. Silence. There is nothing to say. What possible explanation or rationalization could there be for the horrific slaughter of 1,500,000 children and millions of others? In this case speaking and explaining would be a sign of arrogance and therefore sinful.

[Parenthetically, The Rebbe went on to tell Mr. Wiesel that after such a Holocaust there is only one response for us as Jews; to rebuild the Jewish nation. The Rebbe encouraged him to get married and start a family which he did. On a personal level, my grandmother Libba Spalter was gassed to death in Belzec. My grandfather Moshe Spalter died in Russia in 1945 as a result of six years of gulag life and much illness. My father, may he be well, arrived to New York in 1950 with the shirt on his back and nothing else. He eventually married my mother and went on to build a family, 200 strong... That’s a real number. 9 children, 75 grandchildren and 116 great grandchildren. And they’re not done yet. May G-d give them many more healthy years and many more off springs. This is the only response the Rebbe talked about].

When Aaron was silent it was after the death of his children. He realized that he is unable to fathom the mysteries of G-ds world and accepted the decree. He never questioned his faith in G-d, instead he continued to serve in the temple. It was that faith which opened his soul to a new recognition and communication with G-d. The same is with the Holocaust. All we can do is ‘Vayidom’ be silent. It is this silence that is a Mitzvah. It is a sign of strength. It is a sign that our faith in G-d is steadfast and not dependent on our full comprehension of Him. It is a faith that says; G-d is beyond our puny little brains. If I am able to understand certain aspects of Him, great. But we recognize that He is ultimately beyond us and that’s what makes him G-d. In the words of the great Kabbalaists: if I were to know Him I would be Him.

By contrast, silence during the holocaust is a great sin. When lives could be saved and we are silent because we do not think we should interfere in the mysterious ways of G-d, that is an egregious sin. Then the world needed to shout at the top of their lungs and act to stop the Nazi murderers from killing their victims.

The world needs to repent for its silence. ‘Never Again’ means, never again will the world be silent when innocent people are getting killed by murderers. By the way, screaming loudly and doing nothing is a small virtue. If you can do something to stop bloodshed and all you do is shout from a roof top, that too is a form of silence and a grave sin. Of course I am not advocating going to war anytime and everywhere there is bloodshed, careful assessment must be made. But I think it is safe to say unequivocally that during the holocaust too many were silent and too few acted.

This then is the lesson of Yom Hashoah. ‘Never Again’ must not be an empty bombastic shout or an empty slogan that politicians and others use here and there. It must be a commitment from good people to never allow evil people to perpetrate their evil schemes. We must never be silent and we must never be inactive. It is such silence that the despots of the world crave so much.

Such silence destroys the world. Aarons silence builds the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Yud Aleph Nissan

This Tuesday, the eleventh of Nissan marks the 116th birthday of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of blessed memory. As I have written in other articles, I had the great merit to have lived 3 blocks away from the Rebbe and therefore spent over 25 years hearing him, seeing him, davening with him, etc. I do not take this for granted and I thank Hashem every day of my life for giving me this treasure and merit. With all that said, being so close made one recognize how far one really was. As one of the Rebbe’s secretaries once said, “the closer you got the further you realized you were.” How true that is. The Rebbe was a great Tzadik (righteous person) of enormous proportions. Listen to the thousands of people who recount their personal moments with the Rebbe. They all tell of the Rebbe’s love, passion, care, etc., but they also all talk about being enveloped in immense holiness. They describe the feeling of being in an oasis of spiritual closeness that is hard to describe but easy to identify with if you have experienced it. I did; time and time again. I have seen the Rebbe in moments of intense seriousness as when he blew the shofar on Rosh Hashanah; in moments of intense joy during the dancing on Simchat Torah. I saw the Rebbe when he davened and I saw him when he spoke at Farbrengens and taught Torah for hours on end. And I also saw him as he spent days at the Ohel (resting place) of his Rebbe and predecessor praying on behalf of the Jewish People. In all these experiences, one sensed a heavenly aura that was present.

To me and so many thousands of others the Rebbe was our modern day Moses who led the Jewish people with incredible devotion and self-sacrifice. His bounding love for every Jew was limitless. I think it is fair to say that never has there been a Jewish leader who made himself available with such love to every person as much as the Rebbe. For 30 years he would spend three nights a week often times until dawn, meeting Jews from all walks of life, listening and tending to their needs and problems, giving advice and counsel to the tens of thousands who came to meet him. Among them were Presidents, Prime ministers, Ambassadors, Army personnel, Jewish leaders, Rabbis, Authors, tailors, teachers, plumbers and your average rank and file member of society. After that was no longer possible he began, since 1986, to meet people every Sunday for four or five hours as thousands filed by for a quick moment to receive a blessing and a dollar to give to charity. It’s estimated that during these Sunday afternoons the Rebbe met and made eye contact with over one and a half million people. Think about that! One man in his ninth decade of life makes personal eye contact with 1,500,000 people. This is unprecedented in Jewish or any other history. This was the Rebbe. He loved, cared and gave everything he had to be there for his people.

It’s no wonder that even after 20 years since his passing, hundreds of thousands continue to flock to his resting place at the Ohel to seek his blessing and pray there. It’s no wonder that books, videos, documentaries and articles continue to be published about him. This week alone hundreds of proclamations from Mayors, Governors, Senators and Congressmen and women were signed and sealed to honor the Rebbe’s work accomplishments especially in the area of Education. The interest of millions to learn about this incredible leader grows with time, which brings me to one final, and maybe the most important point.

The Zohar says that real tzadikim (wholly righteous people) are alive after their passing even more than during their life as a soul in a body. I can say that this is precisely true with the Rebbe. I remember when the world suffered his loss in 1994, when all the “experts” were foretelling the future of Chabad and how it will be impossible for the movement to continue without him. After all, the Rebbe was the life behind everything, and the admiration that his Chassidim and admirers had for him was intense. No one could imagine how the movement could survive without his physical presence.  Today, even the most pessimistic doom sayers are all trying to figure out how it is that not only did Chabad not lose its steam, but in fact it doubled, tripled and quadrupled in the last two decades. Young Chabad Shluchim, who by the way never saw the Rebbe, are continuing to dedicate their lives to his message and are becoming his emissaries to such forsaken places that most people don’t even know exist.

How is this to be explained? To me it’s obvious. The Rebbe lives. Albeit in a different way, but its real. The Ohel (resting place) of the Rebbe is a place where millions of Jews visit and/or write letters to for blessings. I know firsthand that these requests are being answered in a most wondrous way. I suggest that on Tuesday, on the Rebbe’s birthday, a time when his Mazal (spiritual flow) is strong, write to the Rebbe and make that connection. If you have a problem, a need, a request that needs a blessing from a tzadik, write to the Rebbe and send it to the Ohel. He will find a way to answer you and you will find that you will be helped. This, of course, depends a lot of the way one writes and the seriousness with which one treats it. Try it, you will not regret it.

Shabbat Shalom

An Israel Experience to Remember

 

An Israel Experience to Remember


Last week I had the great fortune of joining a group of close to 800 Jews from around the country, including a delegation from Weston, for a special mission to Israel. This trip was unlike any other for a number of reasons which I will point out. The trip was organized by the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) who’s main mission is to educate Jewish adults through a variety of means including “The Land and The Spirit” Israel experience from which I just returned.

The trip itself was first class. Hotels, food, travel and everything in between was at the highest level. This was a luxury trip in every sense but the main thing was the mission itself. I have been to Israel many times and so have many of the participants on this trip been there more than once, but this was something entirely different. There are many great organizations that organize great trips to Israel, but this JLI Israel Experience was something other than your average Israel trip. What made this so special was the unique places that we visited. As I said this trip was motivated by education and as such every one of the five itineraries was designed to Educate. When you travel the length and breadth of Israel you are met with 3800 years of Jewish history and every inch of the Holy Land has so much potential for education. The holy soil was where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, David, Solomon, the Maccabees, the Talmudic Sages, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva all treaded. Over the past 2000 years of exile we managed to maintain a Jewish presence as well. Whether it was Rabbi Yehudah Hanasee, Nachmanides, the holy Kabbalist of the 16th century and all the way up to the 20th century builders of the land, every kilometer of Israel is saturated with a wealth of historical richness and unless seen up close one does not really capture its essence.

Last Thursday we were in the ancient biblical city of Shilo, the place where Jews came on pilgrimages for 369 years during the period of the Judges, about from the years 1250 to 880 BCE. It was there that they built the holy tabernacle, or Temple, which served as center of Jewish life for close to four centuries. What a beautiful mountainous region. The site was excavated and we now know precisely where the actual tabernacle stood. A new beautiful town was built there and the main Shul of modern day Shilo was modeled after the ancient tabernacle. Just stunning and so rich with meaning. I would say that that was one of the highlights of the trip. Our group was addressed by one of the leaders of the town and he thanked us profusely for visiting. I asked him why he was thanking us so much? He said because no groups visit there and explained that because Shilo is beyond the green line 90 percent of foreign tourist groups do not come there to visit and not because of security concerns. That is easy to deal with, Shilo and most of the Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria are located in areas where security is hardly a problem. He explained that its mostly political and that is a great shame. Hundreds of thousands of Jews who go to Israel to see and experience the land and who have no interest in the politics of the moment, are deprived of most of the biblical sites because they happened to be on the wrong side of the green line. The fact is that most of the biblical narrative happened in Judea and Samaria known as the West Bank. To deprive millions of Jews from learning and being inspired by their rich heritage is very unfortunate. Shilo was just one such place. Hebron where it all began with Abraham and Sarah and where King David set up his monarchy is the best kept secret for most Jewish tourists because of the same reason. The Jordan Valley where Joshua crossed the Jordan river and led the Jews into Israel is another site where most groups skip.

JLI skipped nothing and good for them and for the 800 participants who were with us on this trip. They got a taste of the Holy Land that sadly most don’t. We all danced in Hebron together with the local residents, dined in Shilo, prayed in the Jericho lookout, and of course saw and experienced Jerusalems old and new cities, Tel Aviv, Tibereas, Zefat, Acre, bet Shemesh, Latrun’s IDF’s military museum and so much more as well. We also got to meet and hear from so many Knesset members, US Ambassador to Israel, the chief Rabbi of Israel all whom addressed us during our meals and other occasions.  

If you are reading this article and want an Israel Experience that will connect you to 3800 years of Jewish History and life, join the next JLI “The Land and The Spirit” Israel Experience which will take place in 2020. You will not regret it. It is a thrilling 8 days where both body and soul are well nourished in the best accommodations and with the highest quality guides who make every minute of every day unforgettable. I cannot wait.

 

 

 

 

Mordechai, Esther and We The People

The Purim Megilah (scroll of Esther) if one of my favorites. In it there are so many life lessons for all times, all you need is to dig a little deeper and layers upon layers of truths are right there for the taking. Let me share one example with you.

In the fourth chapter of the Megilah, after Mordechai finds out that Haman plotted to annihilate the entire Jewish people, he goes to the palace to tell Queen Esther that she must go to the King and do whatever she can to save the Jewish people. Esther tells Mordechai that She is unable to do anything because she has not been invited to come to the King and the rule was that unless you were invited you could not just show up and if you did, you can be sentenced to death. Mordechai answers her that she must act because, although the Jews will be saved either way, she should be aware that she might have become the Queen only for this opportunity to save her people from annihilation. In other words, if she chooses not to get involved she might lose her entire raison d’etre as Queen and her whole legacy will be forever ruined. These words moved her and the rest is history.

When you analyze this back and forth you cannot help but wonder, what is going on here? Was her legacy more important to her than the thought of the Jewish people being exterminated? It seems that only when she realizes that her name and legacy will suffer if she remained silent is she moved to act. This seems out of character for the righteous Esther. The answer to this question is profound and touches upon one of the most important life lessons of all time. What Mordechai was telling Esther was a simple truth: The Jewish People’s survival was not dependent on the efforts of Esther or that of anyone else. Their salvation will come from G-d either way, but, Mordechai continued, this might be the moment that G-d has chosen for Esther. G-d might want to save the Jewish people through her efforts and that might be the reason He put her in such a position of power to begin with. Esther understood what Mordechai was telling her. That her moment has come. This is why her soul had come down to earth; to be the one through whom G-d saves the Jewish people. Imagine if she would have decided not to put her life in danger and as a result, failed to go to the King at that pivotal moment? Her ‘name’ and ‘legacy’ would be tarnished forever. Her entire purpose for being would have been missed. It was this truth that moved her.

Mordechai was telling Esther that this is not about the Jewish people. They will survive with or without you. This is about you, Esther; will you survive your purpose or not is the question. Esther understood that her moment was at hand and she acted. As a result, we have Purim and the Scroll of Esther.

This is true for every individual. The holy Baal Shem Tov once said that a soul may be sent down to earth to live an entire life, for the purpose of doing a favor to a fellow even one time. What the Baal Shem Tov meant was that every person is born into this world with a purpose, and that purpose might be to do something important even one time. The problem is that we do not know when that moment is and therefore anytime an opportunity arises for us to do something positive we must seize the moment because that might be the one we were created for. Can you imagine missing your moment? Imagine someone calls upon you to help a cause or to help a person in their time of need and because you were not in the mood you passed on the opportunity. That might have been your moment for which you came down to this earth. What a tragedy that would be.

I believe this is true not only for every individual but for the collective as well. Every nation has its moment and purpose. 240 years ago a nation was born, they called it the United States of America. The founding fathers recognized that a special moment in history was calling upon them to do something extraordinary; to establish a nation upon whom G-d and true morality would reign. The founders made sure that G-d would take a front seat in the minds and hearts of its population. They wrote a constitution which could have only been the product of people who believed in G-d and truly wanted Him in the lives of all Americans. 

John Adams said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”     For 200 years these United States lived and breathed the words “in G-d We Trust”. But then something happened. We relegated G-d to houses of worship and for many, G-d became a threat to their liberty and open mindedness. Instead of realizing that it is only through a strong faith in G-d that any people can be and remain free, some began seeing Him as a threat. As a   result, our children are confused and we are constantly arguing about ‘Church and State’ Issues, forgetting what the Founders understood; that only if we have a strong faith in G-d can we be assured that everyone will be free to practice their own religion i.e. their own interpretation of G-d. The separation of ‘Church and State’, which I am an ardent supporter of, was never meant to be a separation between ‘G-d and State’. In fact, the only way to ensure the separation between ‘Church and State’ is if we make sure that there is never a separation between ‘G-d and State’. Without a G-d conscience we run the risk of becoming like all those nations before us who’s leaders abused their power and caused so much suffering for their people. In some cases, they forced a particular religion on their population, in other cases they forced secularism on their populations. 

I believe that we are at a threshold in our own history as Americans, and that we are being called to seize a new moment in the American story. We need to bring G-d back to the conscience of our children and population so that we can continue to be the greatest nation on earth. We are great not because of our material successes, we are great because our foundation was based on G-d and precisely because of that we have been so successful. Like Esther back in Persia, we must not let this moment slip by. We must heed the words of Adams: this great constitution will only survive if we are a people whose lives are based on G-d’s moral code for humanity.

 

 

An End To Mass Shootings

Gun Control, Bump stocks, NRA, Armed teachers, Security guards, Second amendment, student protests etc. These and other clichés are all over TV, Online Media sites, Social media, Town halls and so many other venues and understandably so. Broward County and the country at large are still traumatized by the horrific slaughter that took place a week ago Wednesday. I myself will never forget that night. As I concluded my JLI class and turned on my phone I saw that I had many missed calls. They were all from my colleagues, Chabad Rabbis of Coral Springs and Parkland who were looking to inform me that one of the missing children was a grandson of a Weston resident who is a close friend of mine. I got into my car and drove straight to parkland. The surreal sight that unfolded in front of my eyes as I walked in to the Heron Bay Marriot Hotel will remain with me forever. I saw the Seventeen families waiting. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends; some crying, some praying, some just talking and others screaming. But all were waiting. Waiting for the authorities to inform them anything they could about their missing children. These families had all scoured the hospitals frantically looking and hoping that they will find their child in the emergency room, operating room or anywhere in the hospital with a sign of life. But sadly they were not found. They were told to gather in the Marriot Hotel and wait there for further information and wait they did…. for hours. To witness the agony of families waiting for long hours to hear what they probably already knew deep in their heart, was so heartbreaking. Only at 1:30 in the morning did the deputy Sherriff start calling in one family at a time and inform them that the worst had happened. As I said I will never forget that evening.

What saddens me a week later is not only the reality that 17 parents will never see their child again until Moshiach comes. It saddens me to see and hear the predictable discourse in the media and elsewhere unfold as if we have learned nothing. Over the last 20 years America has seen so many of these mass shootings and murderous acts. It behooves us to look at this honestly and ask ourselves, where is this coming from? What is the cause for this? Why have we never heard of this 30 and 40 years ago? The easy answer is: Mental Illness, guns etc. And it might be part of it. Of course, I will not get into a political discussion about the second amendment and all, I will leave that to others. I do, however, want to draw your attention to something equally or maybe even more important.

In April of 1981, after the attempt on President Reagan’s life by John Hinckley, The Rebbe spoke about that event and wondered how someone could do such a terrible thing. He was not from a poor background; he was well educated etc. How could he do such a terribly immoral act of trying to murder the President? The Rebbe spoke then about what is missing in our public educational system. He spoke of the importance of starting every school day with a Moment of Silence. A moment where every child can meditate on something higher than themselves. He emphasized that the parents should instruct their children on what that moment of silent meditation should be about. The Rebbe went on to say that a Moment of Silence is the only real way to ensure that all children will be aware that there is something above themselves. It might sound trivial to you but think about the affect of children thinking every single day about a higher authority. It is a sad fact that most American children today can go through weeks, months and even years without thinking even once about G-d, purpose of life etc. It is mind boggling but it is true. I am convinced that a Moment of Silence in the beginning of every day would be the most effective way to reduce crime in general and particularly mass shootings in America. There is no question that we need to beef up security in the schools and put in other necessary measures to create a safer environment for our children and citizens. But there is a spiritual component to all of this as well and neglecting it will do no one any good. Children need to be aware that this world is not a jungle. They need to know that G-d created the world with a purpose and that they are part of that purpose. A moment of Silence would go a very long way in creating this kind of awareness. And this awareness, if instilled from the child’s earliest years, would set him or her on a path and life of morality. If every school in America adopted this daily custom, we would raise children with a greater sense of morality and awareness and we would be a much safer society. On Monday, a group of Rabbis met with the governor to discuss this very initiative. He Showed much interest. I hope he does what he needs to make this happen. It will solve most of these issues.

May G-d console the families and the entire nation. May the prophecy of Isaiah that “G-d will put an end to death for ever and the lord will wipe the tear from every face…” be fulfilled with the coming of Moshiach, Now.  

The Women's Liberation Movement

The Women’s Liberation Movement

This weekend I am spending some very much needed quality time with my children at home. Leah is in New York attending the women’s convention of Chabad emissaries together with three thousand other women from around the world. That means, I get to baby sit my younger children and find out what it means to clean the house, make breakfast, get them into and out of bed Etc. Rabbi Mendel is going through the same basic training as Chaya is also living it up in the Big Apple enjoying some much deserved time with some family and friends. I always enjoy this annual weekend because it allows me to appreciate just how incredible the Shluchos of Weston really are. I don’t know how they do it. After five days of this I feel like I need a full physical and much more. Anyway, this is the weekend of the women, they go and get their spiritual batteries recharged.

We are told that it was in merit of Jewish women that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt. The women never lost faith, kept having children even though they were well aware of Pharaohs decrees against Jewish children. Their faith in G-d knew no bounds and they inspired their husbands to continue to be fruitful and multiply in Egypt. I have no doubt that like then, these Shluchos of today are the ones in whose merit the Jewish people will once again be redeemed through Moshiach. Their faith and commitment to their communities, while at the same time raising their own families which average about a football team each, is remarkable. With all the talk of women’s lib and feminism, these heroic Shluchos spanning the globe, are the true liberators of women. They have shown that women can be effective in the world no less than men, and in many ways much more, and at the same time be true to their most sacred role; being mothers and the progenitors of the Jewish people for eternity. These Shluchos are the ultimate Women’s Liberation Movement. Liberation as in maximizing one’s truest self, and they sure are maximizing the feminine powers that G-d gave them. The Rebbe empowered these women to go into the world and transform communities together with their husbands into havens of spirituality. These Shluchos manage to find the time and energy to co-direct institutions, schools, summer camps, Hebrew Schools, Friendship Circles (organization for special needs children) and so much more, while at the same time not forgetting for a moment their most important role as the mainstay of the home. They are blessed with the gift of managing both worlds; their homes and families and the outreach programs of their respective Chabad Houses. Look at any of these women as they light Shabbos Candles on any Friday evening; their faces shine and glow with true happiness. They are fulfilled. They are content. They are wholesome. They are mothers. They are community leaders. The are Liberated. Some would call them magicians, I call them angels or just true Chassidim of the Rebbe who believed in them, empowered them and gave a whole new meaning to feminism.

Indeed, this weekend is the convention of the most potent group of women the world has ever seen. It’s the convention of the true Women’s Liberation Movement. To them ‘women’s lib’ is not an empty slogan or worse, they are truly liberated women who live their lives to the fullest.

I hope they enjoy every minute of their conference, as for me I got to get back home to get it ready for Shabbos, If I don’t do it this week no one else will. I must admit, I look forward to next week.

Shabbat Shalom.

The Glory of the Princess is Inside


 

In honor of 22 Shvat, Yahrtzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka OBM (Wednesday, February 7)


As many of you know, I’ve had the great privilege of growing up in the neighborhood where the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rebbetzin lived for over 50 years. Growing up in Crown Heights, just a few blocks away from the Rebbe’s House and Shul, gave me the opportunity to see him almost every day. I would daven with him every Shabbos and many weekdays, attend all his Farbrengens (Chassidic gatherings) and be present for many other occasions that were held in the now famous 770 Eastern Parkway. In short, my youth was enriched by the all goings on in and around the Rebbe’s court. Being enmeshed in all of it is undoubtedly the greatest privilege one can have.

People ask me all the time how many times I saw the Rebbe? I simply cannot answer that question. I’ve seen him thousands and thousands times. But if you asked me how many times I saw Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe’s wife, the answer is very different. I saw her only once. The Rebbetzin avoided being in the public, in fact she hardly ever left her home. The Rebbetzin, an erudite and wise woman, carried the mantle of her position in a most humble and unpretentious fashion. There were those who would visit her at her home but they were far and few between. Ninety-nine percent of the Chassididm never saw the Rebbetzin. Though she was the wife of a leader revered by hundreds of thousands, almost nothing was known about her until after her passing, when those who knew her felt that they could tell of her life and personality without violating her jealously guarded privacy.

Before her husband became the leader and Rebbe, he too was completely reserved and did all he could to conceal his true greatness. Both the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, two of the greatest personalities of the last century, were the best kept secret. Of course, as people got to know him better they saw that behind his disguised façade was a giant. A giant in terms of holiness, Torah scholarship and character. Elder Chassidim related that when her father, the previous Rebbe, passed away in 1950, it was the Rebbetzin who convinced her husband to become the new Rebbe. She said to him after months of his refusal to take on the mantle of leadership, that he had no choice. Otherwise her father’s holy work would be discontinued. After much persuasion she finally convinced him and in 1951 he officially became the Rebbe and known to the public. Soon his greatness and holiness would become apparent to all. As for the Rebbetzin? She insisted on remaining a closed book. She continued in her usual fashion, doing her best to remain inside and away from the public disguising her true greatness. She gave the Rebbe to the world, supporting everything he did with complete devotion from behind. Her devotion to the Rebbe and Chassidim knew no bounds. For example, she never went to sleep before the Rebbe came home. At least three times a week that meant three, four or five a clock in the morning. Those nights were Yechidus nights, when anyone can make an appointment to see the Rebbe privately and seek out his counsel. Those audiences lasted into the wee hours of the morning, during which time the Rebbetzin would remain awake until the last person left and the Rebbe would come home. Only then would she retire herself. I can go on and on with examples of her steadfast commitment and loyalty to the Rebbe, to Chassidim and to the Jewish people.

It was only after she passed away that the Rebbe began to relate to the public her true quality and great personality. The Rebbe opened a window into the unknown depth and true nature of who the Rebbetzin really was. He said on one occasion that only G-d knows her true greatness. What he meant to say was that she was able to disguise her exalted towering greatness even from him. Her righteous soul and regal character became a symbol to tens of thousands of women across the globe. Her inspiration continues to light up the world as thousands of institutions carrying her name continue to bring light and love to millions of people. Thousands of young women and girls, my daughter included, who are the Rebbetzins namesake are all over the world carrying on her message of modesty, regality and steadfast devotion to the Rebbe and his holy goal of bringing redemption to the world with the coming of Moshiach.

May her memory be a blessing to all of us.    

 

 

 

The Night That Changed The World

Today, the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat (Yud Shvat) marks the 68th anniversary of the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson of blessed memory. It is also the day that one year later the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson accepted upon himself the leadership of Chabad Lubavitch.

It is impossible to describe in one article the true significance of this day. An entire series of books would probably be needed to truly capture the essence of Yud Shvat and what it represents. It is hard to imagine what the Jewish landscape would look like if not for the leadership of the Rebbe. The Rebbe, through his outreach revolution, transformed Jewry as it was known. One can say that the Rebbe revived the Jewish people after the holocaust when our hearts, spirits and souls were completely shattered and saved Jewry worldwide. Through his Shluchim, his emissaries, he oversaw a Jewish renaissance of epic proportions, one that no one could have expected or imagined. But not only that; The Rebbe changed the way Jews thought of themselves, the world around them and their sense of mission. With total dedication and unbounding love, he took a broken Jewish nation, who saw themselves as survivors and just happy to get through another day and breathed into them new life, purpose and perspective. The Rebbe inspired Jewish leaders, Jewish movers and shakers, Chassidic Rebbe’s, political personalities and so many more to move away from a survivor mentality and to begin to recognize the new opportunity that presented itself to the Jewish people for the first time in millennia; an opportunity to finally become the light unto the nations that we were always meant to be but was beyond our reach because of harsh circumstances we found ourselves in. In Poland and Russia, we had to dodge pogroms and other anti-Semitic acts constantly perpetrated against Jews. Here in America and especially after the war, all that changed. We finally had the opportunity to reach out and become the global ambassadors of G-d we were always meant to be. He did not just talk, he acted. Today Lubavitch is a source for everything Jewish all over the globe. From Alaska to Bangkok, Helsinki to the Congo and from Weston to Brisbane, the Rebbe’s love and dedication are present for all to enjoy.

In his first address as Rebbe, in January of 1951, he talked about this generation being the one who will finally complete the mission we were given at Sinai; to bring the world to its ultimate perfection and bring Moshiach and redemption to the world. He drew upon the Midrash, which teaches that when G-d created the world He was fully present and revealed here. But then Adam ate from the forbidden fruit and caused the divine presence to be removed from earth up to heaven, causing the world to be plunged into spiritual darkness. A series of other terrible sins ‘pushed’ the divine presence even further away from earth, all the way up to the seventh spiritual heaven. Then came Abraham., he began to reverse that process and draw the divine presence back down to earth. It took seven great Tzaddikim, over seven generations, to ‘bring’ G-d back down to earth. Moses, the seventh from Abraham, finally accomplished that feat at Sinai; we are told “G-d descended onto Mount Sinai”. His presence was once again here in full revelation as it was before the original sin. But sadly, that did not last long. The sin of the golden calf and subsequent sins caused the same process and again, G-d’s revealed presence was ‘chased away’ from our physical world. The Rebbe then said something truly remarkable. He said that the Chassidic renaissance which was initiated seven generations ago, began to once again draw G-d’s presence back down to earth. The Rebbe explained that we are the seventh generation and it is therefore our mission to complete the job and bring G-d down to earth once and for all. His message was clear; we are the ones who must bring Moshiach, end the exile, and bring the world to its fullest potential.

Imagine the people in the room hearing those words. Here you have a leader who has his eyes on the ultimate prize, Moshiach. Anything less than that spells failure from his point of view. This was his message to a nation who, just a few years earlier, lost 6,000,000 to Hitler, and millions more trapped behind Stalin’s iron curtain, cut off from Jewry and Judaism. You can well imagine that the Rebbe’s global outlook and grandiose vision probably fell on deaf ears. But he believed what he was saying. He said it again and again and slowly his message penetrated the hearts and minds of hundreds, then thousands and the rest is history. The Rebbe uplifted the shattered remnants of a downtrodden and broken people into a nation who saw themselves once again or perhaps for the first time in millennia, as a light unto the nations. He infused our people with hope and enthusiasm and asked that they join him in the greatest mission of all; to end this exile and bring G-d once again down to earth.

He did not just talk. He acted. He changed minds, Inspired hearts and unleashed a flood of goodness in the world. I have no doubt that the Rebbe's call sixty-seven years ago today, will become reality. Our generation will indeed bring Moshiach. May it happen now! Amen.

A Miracle in Mumbai

We live in strange times. Our lives are no longer our own. That little 3-inch by 5-inch gadget we keep with us 24 hours a day has robbed our freedom from us. We are bombarded every few seconds with another text, email, WhatsApp note, Facebook message, tweet etc. Then there are of course the constant distractions of “worthy” and “important” news items of the day; Is Haiti and El Salvador this or that kind of country, are the President’s cognitive faculties up to par, or what does Kim Jong-un of North Korea like to eat for dinner? In this environment it is no wonder that most of ‘life’ and ‘life happenings’ just pass right over us without so much as even giving it a fleeting glance. If we only paid closer attention we would realize that every day extraordinary things happen to us and all around us but we are too busy to look and see life for what it really is. This week something did catch my attention which I would like to share with you.

An 11-year-old boy flew to India together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the Chabad Center of Mumbai. If you will remember, in 2008 a group of terrorists stormed the Chabad Center and murdered Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, directors of Chabad of Mumbai, together with 4 other Jews who were there at the time. In the midst of the carnage, the two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, son of Gabi and Rivky, ran into the room where their bodies were laying covered in blood and began screaming/crying. The baby sitter, Sandra, who was hiding in a closet, heard the crying baby and without hesitation ran out of the closet to the room where the boy was, grabbed ahold of him and miraculously escaped the building and saved his life. This angel endangered her own life to save the life of little Moshe. The cameras captured their escape live on TV and for days that clip, shown again and again all over the world, became symbolic of the story of the Jewish people; in the midst of the worst Jewish tragedies a remnant is always saved to continue on. Little Moshe was taken to Israel with Sandra and grew up in the loving home of his maternal grandparents in the city of Afula. This week, 9 years later, the 11-year-old Moshe Holtzberg was invited to fly on Netanyahu’s plane on his state visit to India, and yesterday the Prime minister and his entourage together with Moshe visited the Chabad Center for an unveiling ceremony of the Memorial wall dedicated to his parents. The moving ceremony brought tears to my eyes as I watched this cute charming young boy so innocently talk about his parents and the place he spent the first two years of his life. Mr. Netanyahu was also visibly moved and kissed the boy as he thanked Hashem for the miracle of his survival and the Prime Minister for inviting him on this trip.

This young boy became a symbol of Jewish Survival. His story captured the imagination of tens of millions of Jews and non-Jews the world over. He announced that when he is all grown up and married he plans on joining the Chabad Emissary team in Mumbai to continue the work of his parents and pick up where they left off. As I was watching him speak so lovingly about his parents, who he obviously does not remember and will never know, the following thought dawned on me; will he really never know his parents? Or, does he really not know his parents? I ask you this: who is more connected to their parents? This eleven-year-old ‘orphan’ who lives his parent’s life goals and dreams or a child who might ‘see’ and ‘speak’ to his/her parents every day but never really connects to them on a deeper level. Where is there a greater generation gap between parent and child? Moshe Holtzberg might not ‘see’ and ‘hear’ his parents face and voice but does he not gaze at and perceive their true essence? Between Moshe and Gabi and Rivky there might be a physical gap but from what I saw this week, it’s clear that there is no gap at all. They live the same goals. He will eventually take over where they left off creating a seamless continuation of truth, devotion and love at Chabad of Mumbai that no terrorist can separate and no gadget can confuse. This is a boy who might be an orphan in the conventional sense but is so deeply involved in his parents’ life and they in turn are undoubtedly involved in his.

In the portion of this week, Bo, which talks about the exodus from Egypt and the laws of the Pesach Seder, we are taught that the Seder is all about parents teaching their children. “if your son will ask you tomorrow what is this service to you” says the verse in this week’s portion, “you shall say to him and teach him……” we are enjoined to create a continuum of Jewish life from one generation to the next, of Jewish children who understand why they are here and what Judaism is meant to accomplish. That is the mission of parent’s vis a vis their children. What I saw in India this week was a child who continues to ask his parents and I saw a child who continues to get the answers from his parents. I did not see an orphan of dead parents. Everyone was alive. If only all of today’s parents and children were ‘alive’ as are Gabi, Rivky and Moshe Holtzberg.

May we all live long lives physically and may all the gaps between parents and children be removed from each other and be connected as are the Holtzbergs. Amen. 

Peace vs. Truth

There is not a parent, teacher, rabbi or community leader who does not try to instill a hierarchy of morals and values to their children, students, congregants or community members. For example, we all try to teach our children not to lie, to be honest, to treat others with respect and to foster an atmosphere of peace between family members, friends and acquaintances. That’s obvious and clear to every thinking and moral person.

It becomes a bit tricky, when we try to figure out which of these values are higher on the scale and more important than others. For example, if saying the truth will offend someone, should we lie and maintain peace, or say the truth and cause discord? Say, your wife, who is not the best cook, serves you dinner and after the meal asks you how it was, If you say that it was not very tasty, which would be the truth, you will offend her and cause discord. If you say it was delicious, you will maintain peace but you compromised the truth. Which of these values trumps the other? Or, for example, one day you wake up and decide that you want to start keeping Kosher but your spouse thinks you have gone meshuga and is not interested? Do you compromise the truth (keeping Kosher) for Shalom Bayis, Peace in the home, or do you compromise peace for truth?  

This question might sound a bit trivial but when you think about it, we confront this moral dilemma almost every day of our lives. Your friend might ask you how you like his/her new article of clothing? Or how did you enjoy his/her graduation speech? Or how do you like the new car they bought? Do you always say it is beautiful or was great even though you might think otherwise just to maintain peace or do you say the truth and nothing but the truth no matter what the consequences might be?

This is not an easy question and there is no easy answer. Moral people grapple with this and other similar dilemma’s all the time and as Jews we naturally look to the Torah for guidance. It’s a very nuanced subject and would require more than one article to master, but let me at least try to whet your appetite with the hope that you will probe further.

In this week’s Portion, Va’eira, we read about the exodus from Egypt. G-d instructs Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh and convince him to let the Jewish people go free. In introducing Moses and Aaron, the Torah sometimes mentions Moses before Aaron and sometimes Aaron is mentioned before Moses. The Sages explain that the reason they are interchanged that way is to convey that they were both equally righteous. Had Moses always been mentioned first one might have thought that he was the more important one. And the same if it was vice versa, if Aaron was always mentioned first. By interchanging them we learn that They were really equal.

I think the Sages were trying to convey a deeper message with their explanation about Moses and Aarons ordered mention in the text. We are taught that Moses represents Truth while Aaron personified Peace. G-d gave the Torah (truth) to Moses. In fact, the Torah is actually called the “Torah of Moses”. Moses and Torah i.e. truth are synonymous. Aaron, we are taught, was the ultimate peace maker. The Mishnah tells us that Aaron loved peace and pursued peace. If Moshe represents “truth” Aaron represents “peace”. When the sages taught that Moses and Aaron were equal, they are not only telling us that they were equal in their holiness or some other virtue, but that their respective attributes “truth” and “peace” are equal on the hierarchy of values. Sometimes peace (Aaron) is mentioned first because there are times when peace must trump truth (Moses) and other times truth (Moses) is mentioned first to convey that in some cases truth cannot be compromised even at the cost of peace.

Did I not tell you that this was a difficult one? So let me try to offer a bit of practical guidance. In general, the Torah allows us to tell a white lie in order to maintain peace. You can tell you wife that the food she cooked was delicious even if the taste of it was wanting. You can tell her that the new dress she just bought is beautiful even though you would much rather she left it on the rack. In those cases, the value of peace is more important; Aaron is mentioned first. When it comes to a child you never ever lie. In that case truth trumps everything else. This can and should be applied when it comes to religious life in the home as well. Sometimes couples quarrel about how religious they want to be. I tell you with full authority that sometimes the truth should win the day and other times peace should be the guiding light. It depends on circumstances and many other factors. It is best advised to get advice from a Rabbi who knows your family and individual circumstance.

The Torah is nuanced and sometimes the most important truths and moral questions are conveyed in the order certain names are mentioned in the text. Moses and Aaron = truth and peace. The order in which they appear tells us how to navigate the moral dilemmas of daily life.

Shabbat Shalom.

  

You Will Clean Up Later

Please join me in welcoming Aaron and Dina Tolkin to our community and Shul as well as Mr. Eli Siboni and family. We wish them all the best in their new community and we are excited to welcome them to Chabad.

Please also join me in our wishes for a hearty Mazal Tov to Pablo and Jessica Weisfeld on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of their son Eitan this Shabbat, as well wishes for a hearty Mazal Tov to Geraldo and Andrea Maroniene for the Bar Mitzvah of their son Gaby this Sunday. We hope and pray that they will both be a great source of Nachas to their parents and entire families.

This Shabbos is the beginning of the month of Elul when, we are told, Hashem extends Himself towards us in a more revealed and cheerful way in order to awaken our inner connection that might have been neglected throughout the year. This helps us reconnect and prepares us for the upcoming High Holidays when we are judged and granted a year full of good and sweet blessings. During the next 30 days we have an opportunity to tap into the special Elul energy and what a shame it would be if we did not take advantage of it properly. Imagine you are in your home, in your comfort zone and suddenly you get a visit by the president of the United States or the Queen of England. You would welcome them in with joy and great honor. In Elul we get such a visit by G-d almighty Himself, but He comes to us on our terms. We might not be all that worthy but He comes anyway in order to inspire us to connect to him. This is the theme of the month of Elul. Hashem, the King, knocks on our door hoping we allow Him in. Does it occur to anyone not to answer the door? You may ask, but the house in not clean! I am not ready for such a royal visit! Well, that may be true but can we make G-d wait outside until we clean up our act? In Elul we greet the king first and then clean up. We pray and learn a little more, we give a little more charity and treat our fellow a little nicer. In short, we become better Jews during this month, which cleans us and prepares us for the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

May we have the sensitivity to appreciate the subtle but powerful spiritual energy of Elul and may we then merit a happy, healthy and sweet New Year. 

Shabbat Shalom. 

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