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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Open your Hearts! Open Your Homes!

I am asked all the time ‘what is the greatest Jewish value, belief, truth or Ideal?’ G-d never told me directly but I think the answer may be gleaned from the life stories of the first Jews to ever live; Abraham and Sarah. Over the next few weeks we will be reading about them and their lives in the weekly Torah portions.

Of all the Ideals important to Jews, Abraham and Sarah personified the lifestyle of Charity and acts of loving kindness. To be sure, they taught the world many ideological truths that the world knew nothing about, including monotheism and so forth, but when you analyze their life as it is recorded in the Torah, Abraham and Sarah symbolized, more than anything else, the attribute of Chesed-kindness towards others. We are told that they fought for justice and equal rights for all, they helped anyone in need, fed the hungry, protected the vulnerable and on and on. Of course these traits have become the hallmark of the Jewish People ever since.

One of the oldest Jewish practices and traits of kindness is the Mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim, opening our homes for guests. This practice too is traced all the way back to Abraham and Sarah. The Torah tells to what lengths they would go to open their hearts and home for guests. Even when Abraham was extremely weak he was there, together with Sarah, cooking up a storm for wayfarers who happen to pass by their home. They spared nothing. At one point they decided to open the first ‘bed and breakfast’ for any one in need, but with two differences; they served not only breakfast but lunch and dinner as well, and it was all free of charge.

This important character trait is so central to Judaism and Jewish life that we are told that “greater is hosting guests than even welcoming the Shchinah" (G-ds presence). And this too is derived from the story of Abraham. In the narrative, G-d comes to visit Abraham and while communicating with him, Abraham suddenly sees three strangers pass by. He asks G-d to excuse him while he invites those strangers into his home for a meal. G-d waits until Abraham is done feeding his guest and only then continues to converse with him. From this we see that hosting guests is more worthy and takes precedence even over welcoming G-d’s presence. Pretty amazing.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, our home always had what we called ‘guest traffic’. There was not a weekend that went by in which our home did not have guest. Many times we had to move out of our rooms to make place for people who came to stay over for a Shabbos or holiday. I remember many a night when my bones got a good work out as there was nowhere for me to sleep but on the floor or on the kitchen chairs, or the time I ended up with 10 guests sleeping in my room, no exaggeration (I had a big room). We made no big deal of this. After all, if God can be put on hold, then certainly my comfortable night sleep can be put on hold.

It saddens me to see how this ideal is lost on many of us. We live in suburbia behind closed doors and gates, and it’s rare that we come in contact with strangers. The result is that this fantastic Jewish ideal is for many Jewish homes an almost nonexistent phenomenon. I’ve spoken to many fine people who have confided that their home never hosts a stranger. This is very sad. The result is that we are disconnected from strangers to the point where we stop paying attention to them. It hurts to admit, but i have been told by fellow Jews that they have visited Shuls for a daily minyan or for a Shabbos and that not one person approached them to even say hello, let alone find out who they are, or if they need an invite for Shabbos, or anything else. This is very disturbing. I believe this is the result of falling out of the habit of hosting guests on a steady basis or never having been in that habit to begin with.

So the next time you see someone sitting in shul who you do not know, please go over to them, welcome them, say hello, if you can, invite them to your home for a meal or for a Shabbos. If you need to move one of your children out of ‘their’ room, so be it. Besides the mitzvah and kind deed, it will make an invaluable impression on your children as they will be part of something incredibly important as well. One can start with Friday night meals and not necessarily with strangers. Invite a friend, someone you know. Get into the habit of hosting guests. It will transform yourselves and your children and you will be acting very Jewish at the same time. Abraham did it, Sarah did it and hundreds of generations of Jews did it. Let’s follow this old time honored tradition and open our hearts and homes to others. That is what a Jewish home looks like. A true Shabbos table is one where strangers are present.

Caring for strangers and doing acts of kindness for others is indeed the greatest Jewish Value.

We learned many great values from Abraham and Sarah; monotheism, circumcision, self-sacrifice and so on, but the most important Abrahamic value which became the Hallmark of the Jewish people is the value of Chesed/kindness towards others in all forms.

Open your hearts! Open your homes!

Shabbat Shalom.

 

"Time To Unpack"

This past month has been a very busy one as we all celebrated a marathon of holidays and did a whole lot of praying and cooking. A simple calculation has my wife producing a total of 600 meals cooked just for my family and guests during this past holiday season. No wonder she could not look at a pot, stove, oven or even get close to our kitchen in the past few days. The good news for the rest of my family is that tonight is Shabbos again and so unless I get a quick crash course in cooking, she might just have to find her way back to that part of our home again. I guess we will all lend a helping hand.

The past month and its saturated
spiritual energy are gone and now we move on to the next stage: sorting it all out. In Chabad there is a song about the Chassid who travels to his Rebbe for the month of the holidays and then comes back home. The song talks about the Chassid spending the month “purchasing” and filling up “suitcases” full of spiritual “merchandise” to last for a year. When he returns home after the holidays he spends the next few weeks “unpacking” and putting everything he “bought” in the right “closet”. This is true for every Jew.  When we leave the wonderful spiritual oasis of the holidays and “come back home” to real life we need to sort it all out. Did Rosh Hashanah and its Shofar blast really wake us up?

Did Yom Kippur and its theme of repentance truly change us? And if so, to what extent? Will the unity of Sukkot and the joy of Simchat Torah have lasting effects on us?

These questions and their answers are the business of the next days and weeks. We must make certain that we don’t lose the momentum and the newfound inspiration we all experienced over the past 30 days.
Otherwise, if we just let go of it all we will be left with little to remember and even less to hold onto in the coming year.

So now is the time to journey back home and to real life, to take something of this inspiration and hold onto it and develop it into something real. Find the right “closet” and “storage space” in your soul where it can affect your Jewishness in real and tangible ways. Otherwise the only thing we will have left is lots of calories and newfound chunks of belly fat to deal with. Not very inspiring.

This Shabbos we will begin reading the Torah anew beginning with the first portion ‘Bereishit’, as such it is a new beginning. There is an old Chassidic adage that says: “the way we set ourselves on Shabbos Bereishit that is how the entire year will go for us”.

This means that how one observes this Shabbos is an indication on how the rest of the year will be observed. This is because this Shabbos serves as
a bridge between the super charged Holy Days and the rest of the mundane year.

All of us are inspired on the great
 holidays of the past month, that is a given, the problem is that we go from such spiritual high’s right back into our un-spiritual mundane lives too quickly and forget that we were inspired.


For this we have Shabbos Bereishit:
on the one hand, this Shabbos is still part of the month of the Holidays and thus shares some of its holiness, but it is also a Shabbos that comes ‘after’ the holidays and is part of the ‘rest of the year’. Hence, it serves and the perfect bridge to help us transition from the greatest ‘high’ of Tishrei to the ‘low’ of the rest of the year. It is this transitional Shabbos that if observed properly, will have lasting effects. 

For us at Chabad of Weston, the past month has also been packed with action and activities for young and old. It was a month of learning, praying, eating, celebrating, shofar blasting, sukkah mobile’ing, Lulav shaking and so much more. After such a rich month of activity we plan to keep the inspiration going with more of the same albeit with different emphasis. Instead of the sound of a shofar you will hear the sound of Torah classes in abundance. Instead of dancing with the Torah we will dance to the music of children learning Hebrew and Jewish tradition. Instead of delicious meals in the Sukkah for hundreds of Jews, we will deliver delicious kosher meals to scores of patients and their families at Cleveland Clinic, and instead of and instead of somber Yom Kippur introspections we will begin planning the festive celebrations of Chanukah, Shabbatons and beyond.

“Unpack you Suitcases” and keep the inspiration going. Have a good Shabbat Bereishit.

 

The Life of Elul

 

This coming Wednesday, the 18th of Elul, is the birthday of The Baal Shemtov, founder of the Chassidic movement and of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chassidism. These two giants and historic figures have changed the landscape of the Jewish People forever.

The Chassidic movement, and especially Chabad Chassidism, has revolutionized the way we understand G-d, Torah, the Jewish people and the world at large. Chassidic philosophy as taught by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the subsequent Chabad Rebbes, has uncovered the inner dimension and soul of the Torah.

Everything is made up of a ‘body’ and a ‘soul’.  The body is the part that we see, observe with our flesh eyes and other senses. The ‘soul’ is that which lies beneath the surface concealed, but at the same time, is the life source and energy of the said being. The same is with G-d, Torah, Jews and the world. There is the part that we see or understand readily, which is the ‘body’, and then there is the inner dimension, the underlying truth and energy that animates and serves as the quintessence of things, the ‘soul’.

Let’s take Torah and its Mitzvot as an example. We have the mitzvah to blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The ‘body’ of this mitzvah would be the actual performance with all its details. What a shofar can be made of, how long it has to be, what kind of sounds must be heard etc. etc. The ‘soul’ of this mitzvah is the underlying spiritual energy that is accomplished by the blowing of the Shofar. We are told that when Jews blow the shofar G-d’s attribute of Malchut (kingship) of the highest world of Atzilut and even higher is being built. In simple words G-d’s kingdom and royalty is being established. (The details of this esoteric idea are beyond the scope of this article). And so it is with every mitzvah and word in the Torah. There is the body and the soul. Chassidus and Chabad Chassidus particularly elaborate in lengthy discourses on the soul of the world, Torah, Jews and G-d himself.

Judaism can be observed and studied without appreciating the soul behind it all but then it’s like a body without a soul. That would be lifeless.  The Baal Shemtov and the Alter Rebbe gave us the soul of the Torah, and in so doing breathed a new life into Torah, Judaism and the Jewish People. It is safe to say that the Chassidic revolution was so successful that all of Jewish thought and observance is influenced by its teachings.

There is a Chassidic saying that Chai (18) Elul brought chai, life, into Elul. Elul, the last month of the year, is the time to return to G-d and better our ways in preparation for the High Holidays. Before Chassidism, Elul was observed with dread, fear and anxiety as Jews trembled in anticipation for the Day of Judgment when G-d will sit on his throne and judge each of us to see whether or not we are deserving of a year of life and sustenance. Preachers would go around during this month and deliver speeches of fire and brimstone and warn simple Jews of the dreadfulness of the days of awe. The Chassidic Elul is a very different experience. Elul is in fact a time of grace. A time when G-d is much closer and more accessible. G-d accepts each of us with a smile helping us turn to him and become even closer. Elul is actually a happy month. It’s a time when our souls feel its natural connection with G-d as a child feels his or her parent. G-d too feels a deep connection to His children and looks for ways to inspire us to enhance the relationship so that he can grant us what we need on Rosh Hashanah. Why would one feel scared in a month like that? Yes, there is awe and humility because of the distance we caused by our negative behavior throughout the year, but great optimism that on Rosh Hashanah our father will bring us back in to his loving embrace and grant us all everything we need. But this positive twist is due to a deeper ‘soul’ understanding of Elul and Rosh Hashanah, hence Chai Elul (the birthdays of the Baal Shemtov and Alter Rebbe) brought ‘life’ into Elul.

May we all be inspired and be blessed with a life filled Elul which will lead to a life filled High Holidays and to a year filled with life, sustenance and blessings for all.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson , OBM

This Saturday, the third of Tamuz, marks the 25th anniversary of the Yahrtzeit of The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory. As my fingers type these words I cannot help but wonder how any one article can do justice to this giant of our times.

 

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 that 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 our dear Rebbe. For 30 years he would spend three nights a week often times till dawn, meeting Jews from all walks of life, listening and tending to their needs and problems, giving advice and council to tens of thousands of Jews who came to meet him. When that was no longer possible he began, since 1986, meeting 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. This is unprecedented in Jewish or any other history. It’s no wonder that even after 25 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 after all these years there are still thousands upon thousands of books, biographies, videos and articles being published about the Rebbe’s life and his teachings. Just last month a new book about the Rebbe’s unique approach to social issues has been published. Millions of people want to learn about this incredible leader and the number grows with time, which brings me to one final, and maybe the most important, point.

The Zohar says that real tzadikim 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. 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 25 years. Many hundreds of young couples whom never even saw the Rebbe, are dedicating 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 in a real way. The Ohel, or resting place, of the Rebbe is a place where millions of Jews come to or write letters to for blessings. I know firsthand that these requests are being answered in a most wondrous way. 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.

I would like to suggest that on, or before the Yahrtzeit, (on friday or on Saturday night) you should write to the Rebbe, the leader of our time, and make that connection. It is real.

The Talmud says about Jacob our patriarch that he never died and explains, “Just as his children are alive, he too is alive”. The way I understand those words is: Because Jacob is alive that is why his children are alive. To those wondering how it is that the Chabad has so proliferated over the past two decades, it is said: Because the Rebbe is alive that’s why his children are alive. May this day inspire us to live more Jewishly and may it bring blessing to all of the Jewish people.

Shabbat Shalom

Mrs. Pearl Lazarus, OBM. A lesson in Love and Commitment

How often do you hear the phrase “oy, I miss the good old days” or “if only we can bring back the fifties and sixties”. I was not around during those decades to remember much, but often times I do identify with those sentiments. While I try not to live in the past and instead try to make my present meaningful and long lasting, there is obviously so much we can learn from our parents and grandparent’s generation.

It is interesting that while our elders rely on our generation more and more for modern technological developments which makes our and their lives so much more convenient, we find ourselves having to rely on their generation more and more for basic human behavior and morals and ethical truths. It seems as though the more we develop technologically, the more we lose touch with our inner souls and core values. Maybe physical comforts and the spiritual ethical lifestyle are like a seesaw. When one side is up the other is down and vise versa. Does it really have to be this way? The Torah of course says no. One can have all the comforts in the world [after all G-d created all of it] and at the same time be a good moral and ethical human being. But for that we must keep in touch with the “fifties and sixties” or whatever decade of the past you choose. We need to be anchored in the values that were so obvious to our elders and for some reason got lost on our youth.

Let’s take marriage as an example. In the past, marriage was treated as something sacred. It was a sacred commitment. A sacred union. Our parents fought to stay married and at all costs. Divorce was out of the question. It was entertained in such extreme cases that it was almost unheard of especially amongst Jews. I know that some say many couples were trapped in miserable marriages as a result, but the truth is that even if that were true [and I am sure it was in some instances (by the way, much less then you are led to believe)], it only emphasizes how the institution of marriage was treated. You married your soulmate and that was it. As a result, deep love and commitment was palpable. Absolute devotion to one’s spouse was commonplace. Compare that to today’s attitudes. The numbers are well known. Over 50 percent divorce rate. So many people see marriage and the commitment to a spouse like to a leased car. When you reach 36,000 miles and the headaches begin, you change it in for a new one. This is a catastrophe of enormous proportion. Probably the single greatest cause for the problems with our youth, and those problems do not go away when they become adults. When you sum it all up, we are dealing with over 60 percent of society who have no idea what proper family life looks like. How can we not “miss the good old days”.

Wednesday night a very dear friend of Chabad of Weston passed away. Mrs. Pearl Lazarus. I met Pearl about 24 years ago. She was special in so many ways, but I want to point out just one of them. I am sure that she and her husband, may he be well, will not know what I am talking about. In their minds there is nothing unique about it but in today’s day and age, it is very unique and special. I refer to their marriage.  Theirs was the paradigmatic marriage. They loved each other to no end and that led to an absolute commitment they had to each other. For over 60 years they knew one thing. That they are bashert and they are one. They cared for each other in ways that leave the observer in awe and in wonderment. Even as their health began to decline and deep into their ninth decade of life they remained completely and utterly devoted to each other. Even as she lied in bed Wallace would read the newspaper to his Pearl every day even though he was not sure if she was able to hear and understand what he was reading. He took care of her to the last day with so much love. This was the Lazarus way. There was no if, what’s or buts about it, and of course it was mutual. The funny thing is, that if I told Wallace and Pearl Lazarus how special they were and how in awe I am at their commitment to each other, they would not understand what I was talking about. What to us is so inspiring is to them regular every day thinking. This world is a better place after 89 years of Pearl Lazarus of Blessed Memory. It would be great if our hip and sophisticated young couples can look to this gleaming Pearl and her husband and learn a thing or two from them.

May her memory be a blessing for her family and all of us.

Good Shabbos.

Poway: From Darkness to Light

Once again America has been shaken by another horrific shooting last Saturday at the Chabad Center in Poway. Once again, it’s a young teenager who, we are told, had everything going for him and was destined to a glorious future and no one who knew him can believe he did this. Once again, innocent life was cut short and others wounded in this senseless act of anti-Semitism. Once again the pundits, Media professionals, Politicians, psychologists, Radio and TV hosts and syndicated writers all over the fruited plain are busy analyzing the brain and mentality of John Earnest and are trying to figure out what got into him. I am sure the ‘professionals’ have this killer’s profile all spelled out and can tell us exactly when and why he went off the deep end.  

I am sorry my friends; the question is not what got into him but rather what did not get into him.

What unfortunately did not get into him and so many other young Americans is the simple truth that there is a G-d who created the world and every human being in it in his image.

What did not get into him is that there is a higher authority who created both, Lori Kaye and John Earnest, for a purpose and that G-d needed them to live here on earth as free people with a mission to fulfill.

What did not get into him was that life has meaning and value and that the world is not a jungle.

What did not get into him was that skin color and ethnicity is irrelevant to G-d. We are all created with a unique soul and He needs every one of us without exception to do our part in making this world a place where G-d can feel at home.

How unfortunate it is that these simple truths did not make their way into this monster’s consciousness.

The question is why? Why does the obvious not make it into the thought process of our youth?

The Heroic Rabbi of Chabad of Poway, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, gave the answer to millions who watched him and listened to him. But first a few words on this incredible human being. If you tuned in to him over the past few days you saw a Jew, whose soul is on fire. You saw an emissary of G-d inspiring millions from his hospital bed to stand tall and turn darkness into light. You saw a man who without his index fingers pointed towards G-d and helped millions rediscover those above mentioned truths. What a Jew. What a Chassid. What a Shliach (emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). He is the envy of so many fellow religious leaders. No one envies the ordeal he experienced, but perhaps many envy the emergence of a wholesome soul who rose to the occasion and proved to the world that G-d lives, Judaism lives, Chassidism lives and basic human dignity lives.

Rabbi Goldstein was invited yesterday to attend the national day of Prayer held on the White House lawn during which President Trump asked him to speak. The rabbi spoke so eloquently about the past week, how it changed his life for the good and what it all meant to him. Then he spoke about the youth in American and what we need to do to really stem this kind of violence. He said that we have to get back to basics. He implored and spoke about a Moment of Silence in our public school system. That every school day should begin with a Moment of Silence when every child can contemplate life, meaning, purpose and who created them and why. Can you imagine the impact that would have on our youth? This is not a one-time thing. We are talking about every single day for sixty seconds. The parents (not teachers) are the ones who will tell the children what to think about. This is the only real way to change the consciousness of our youth, set them on a path of morality and basic decent behavior and give them a healthy moral compass with which they can navigate and live lives of meaning and purpose.

I know that some of you think this might be trivial. Believe me it is not. This one moment will change the tide. The fact is that millions of children and teens go through years of their life without thinking about G-d at all. It’s sad but true nonetheless. We need to change that. Our founding fathers envisioned a society who would be G-d conscious. They understood that without G-d America will become a jungle. Indeed, it sometimes feels like we are living in a jungle. Last Saturday morning was one such moment. Ever since, Rabbi Goldstein has been transforming the jungle into a home for
G-d.

If only America listened to him.

The problem with John Earnest is not “what got into him” but “what did not get into him”.

Let’s make sure he is the last killer. Adapt the Moment of Silence.

Shabbat Shalom.

As you might have heard, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway, has urged Jews all over the world to attend Shul services this Shabbat. The Jewish response to such evil and darkness has always been to add more light and goodness. Let us all unite with millions of other Jews around the world and fill our synagogues this Shabbat.  I received this poem and am sharing it with you, as it so powerfully captures the mood, the moment and the call to action to which we must all respond.

 

 

And wherever you are : Go To Shul !

 

Rabbi Yisroel Spalter
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Written by Blumie Raskin Abend

This week
I will go to Shul.
For Lori Kaye,
A woman in 2019 who died
Because she was born
A Jew.

I will go to Shul
For my grandfather
Who survived the hellish nightmare
That was Auschwitz
But who’s family
I never knew.

I will go to Shul
For Eva, the instagram poster
Who wanted to live
Who wanted to be a child
But her youth
Was ripped away from her.

I will go to Shul
For Gabi and Rivky Holzberg
Who were murdered
In cold blood
In their home.

I will go to Shul
For baby Shalhevet
The child of Chevron
Who barely lived on this earth
And now occupies a place
On High.

I will go to Shul
For my grandmother
Who’s parents died of starvation
Under Stalin’s rule
Who survived by the skin of her teeth
Through Russian orphanages
And cruel dictatorship.

I will go to Shul
For the Six Million.
I will go to Shul
For the Israeli soldiers.
I will go to Shul
For the Russian progroms.
I will go to Shul
For the Roman massacres.

I will go to Shul
For the heroes of
The Spanish Inquisition.
I will go to Shul
For the Jews sent to Siberia
I will go to Shul
For the Babylonian exile.

I will go to Shul
For my children.
I will go to Shul
For your grandchildren.
I will go to Shul
Even though I can’t help but feel
A tiny bit afraid.

I will go to Shul
To show them we are strong
We are brave.
We are not the people
Who cowered in fear.

This week
I will go to Shul
Because I am a Jew.
Will you

 

Miracles Month

Wouldn’t it be great if G-d would perform miracles for us today as He did for our ancestors in the distant past? I get this question all the time. There are two ways of answering this:

1) Why do we want miracles? Miracles are wonderful displays of G-d’s strength, but they do very little for those who experience them. Take for example the Jews in the desert during the times of Moses. Miracles were everywhere. Did it change them? Did they not rebel against G-d and Moses again and again despite the miracles? Sure, it is exciting to see a sea split and water turn into blood, and it might even have a short term effect on the observers, but in terms of having long lasting effects? Nothing. Nada. The Jews worshipped a golden calf just after witnessing the greatest miracles of all time; the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the daily Manna, and most importantly, the revelation of G-d himself at Mount Sinai. So do miracles really change anyone for real and create more committed Jews? I am not sure.

What is even more important to ponder is this: why do we even want miracles to happen? Is it so that we can be one hundred percent sure that G-d really does exist? That would mean that G-d would need to prove His existence for every generation, say every 50-100 years. Because a miracle that my great grandfather experienced would convince him, but would it convince his great grandchild? Perhaps not. And, if the only way to convince us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that G-d really exists is by Him showing His omnipotence and His ability to alter nature, then He would need to do something grandiose for every generation or two so that they too have no doubts. That is a very immature way to get people to believe in G-d’s existence. G-d expects mankind to mature up and reach a point where His existence and relevance are absolute and unshakable with or without Him having to prove himself all the time. Perhaps we should stop asking for miracles unless we really need them. For example, I have been praying that G-d perform a miracle for my friend who is battling cancer and can use G-d’s supernatural powers to heal him, may he be well and recover quickly. But I am not asking for this miracle in order to convince me of His existence. For that I do not need miracles. Miracles should not be a crutch that keeps our spiritual balance. Over three thousand years of Jewish existence, tradition and Jewish scholarship are enough to convince anyone of the existence of G-d.

2) Miracles do happen and they happen all the time. This past week began the Hebrew month of Nissan. Our sages tell us that the first of Nissan, the month in which Passover falls, is also a Rosh Hashanah of sorts. They explain that the Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei (September) is the New Year for the natural order. Then the world is judged and it is decided whether we will enjoy nature’s gifts of life, health, livelihood and all the rest. Nissan, on the other hand, is the New Year for a higher miraculous order. It is during this time that a higher supernatural energy is revealed; an energy that is the source of all the daily miracles which occur. So yes, miracles do indeed occur, and they are meant to strengthen us and bring greater blessings into our life. They happen either because we deserve them or because we are in need of a miracle and G-d, our loving Father, makes it happen even if we are undeserving.

If you are in need of some supernatural energy in your life, i.e. a miracle, this is the month to tap into this energy and make it happen. Can one of your children use a miracle? Is your business and livelihood in need of some supernatural intervention? Is someone in the family not well and in need of a miraculous recovery? Nissan (this month) and especially during Pesach we can all make that happen. This is for real. I hope and pray that none of us should ever need miracles, but we should be good vessels to receive them nonetheless. We should be blessed with a year full of miraculous supernatural blessings from G-d for ourselves and our families for life, health, Nachas, good livelihood, both materially and spiritually.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Miracles Month

Wouldn’t it be great if G-d would perform miracles for us today as He did for our ancestors in the distant past? I get this question all the time. There are two ways of answering this:

1) Why do we want miracles? Miracles are wonderful displays of G-d’s strength, but they do very little for those who experience them. Take for example the Jews in the desert during the times of Moses. Miracles were everywhere. Did it change them? Did they not rebel against G-d and Moses again and again despite the miracles? Sure, it is exciting to see a sea split and water turn into blood, and it might even have a short term effect on the observers, but in terms of having long lasting effects? Nothing. Nada. The Jews worshipped a golden calf just after witnessing the greatest miracles of all time; the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the daily Manna, and most importantly, the revelation of G-d himself at Mount Sinai. So do miracles really change anyone for real and create more committed Jews? I am not sure.

What is even more important to ponder is this: why do we even want miracles to happen? Is it so that we can be one hundred percent sure that G-d really does exist? That would mean that G-d would need to prove His existence for every generation, say every 50-100 years. Because a miracle that my great grandfather experienced would convince him, but would it convince his great grandchild? Perhaps not. And, if the only way to convince us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that G-d really exists is by Him showing His omnipotence and His ability to alter nature, then He would need to do something grandiose for every generation or two so that they too have no doubts. That is a very immature way to get people to believe in G-d’s existence. G-d expects mankind to mature up and reach a point where His existence and relevance are absolute and unshakable with or without Him having to prove himself all the time. Perhaps we should stop asking for miracles unless we really need them. For example, I have been praying that G-d perform a miracle for my friend who is battling cancer and can use G-d’s supernatural powers to heal him, may he be well and recover quickly. But I am not asking for this miracle in order to convince me of His existence. For that I do not need miracles. Miracles should not be a crutch that keeps our spiritual balance. Over three thousand years of Jewish existence, tradition and Jewish scholarship are enough to convince anyone of the existence of G-d.

2) Miracles do happen and they happen all the time. This past week began the Hebrew month of Nissan. Our sages tell us that the first of Nissan, the month in which Passover falls, is also a Rosh Hashanah of sorts. They explain that the Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei (September) is the New Year for the natural order. Then the world is judged and it is decided whether we will enjoy nature’s gifts of life, health, livelihood and all the rest. Nissan, on the other hand, is the New Year for a higher miraculous order. It is during this time that a higher supernatural energy is revealed; an energy that is the source of all the daily miracles which occur. So yes, miracles do indeed occur, and they are meant to strengthen us and bring greater blessings into our life. They happen either because we deserve them or because we are in need of a miracle and G-d, our loving Father, makes it happen even if we are undeserving.

If you are in need of some supernatural energy in your life, i.e. a miracle, this is the month to tap into this energy and make it happen. Can one of your children use a miracle? Is your business and livelihood in need of some supernatural intervention? Is someone in the family not well and in need of a miraculous recovery? Nissan (this month) and especially during Pesach we can all make that happen. This is for real. I hope and pray that none of us should ever need miracles, but we should be good vessels to receive them nonetheless. We should be blessed with a year full of miraculous supernatural blessings from G-d for ourselves and our families for life, health, Nachas, good livelihood, both materially and spiritually.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Miracles Month

Wouldn’t it be great if G-d would perform miracles for us today as He did for our ancestors in the distant past? I get this question all the time. There are two ways of answering this:

1) Why do we want miracles? Miracles are wonderful displays of G-d’s strength, but they do very little for those who experience them. Take for example the Jews in the desert during the times of Moses. Miracles were everywhere. Did it change them? Did they not rebel against G-d and Moses again and again despite the miracles? Sure, it is exciting to see a sea split and water turn into blood, and it might even have a short term effect on the observers, but in terms of having long lasting effects? Nothing. Nada. The Jews worshipped a golden calf just after witnessing the greatest miracles of all time; the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the daily Manna, and most importantly, the revelation of G-d himself at Mount Sinai. So do miracles really change anyone for real and create more committed Jews? I am not sure.

What is even more important to ponder is this: why do we even want miracles to happen? Is it so that we can be one hundred percent sure that G-d really does exist? That would mean that G-d would need to prove His existence for every generation, say every 50-100 years. Because a miracle that my great grandfather experienced would convince him, but would it convince his great grandchild? Perhaps not. And, if the only way to convince us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that G-d really exists is by Him showing His omnipotence and His ability to alter nature, then He would need to do something grandiose for every generation or two so that they too have no doubts. That is a very immature way to get people to believe in G-d’s existence. G-d expects mankind to mature up and reach a point where His existence and relevance are absolute and unshakable with or without Him having to prove himself all the time. Perhaps we should stop asking for miracles unless we really need them. For example, I have been praying that G-d perform a miracle for my friend who is battling cancer and can use G-d’s supernatural powers to heal him, may he be well and recover quickly. But I am not asking for this miracle in order to convince me of His existence. For that I do not need miracles. Miracles should not be a crutch that keeps our spiritual balance. Over three thousand years of Jewish existence, tradition and Jewish scholarship are enough to convince anyone of the existence of G-d.

2) Miracles do happen and they happen all the time. This past week began the Hebrew month of Nissan. Our sages tell us that the first of Nissan, the month in which Passover falls, is also a Rosh Hashanah of sorts. They explain that the Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei (September) is the New Year for the natural order. Then the world is judged and it is decided whether we will enjoy nature’s gifts of life, health, livelihood and all the rest. Nissan, on the other hand, is the New Year for a higher miraculous order. It is during this time that a higher supernatural energy is revealed; an energy that is the source of all the daily miracles which occur. So yes, miracles do indeed occur, and they are meant to strengthen us and bring greater blessings into our life. They happen either because we deserve them or because we are in need of a miracle and G-d, our loving Father, makes it happen even if we are undeserving.

If you are in need of some supernatural energy in your life, i.e. a miracle, this is the month to tap into this energy and make it happen. Can one of your children use a miracle? Is your business and livelihood in need of some supernatural intervention? Is someone in the family not well and in need of a miraculous recovery? Nissan (this month) and especially during Pesach we can all make that happen. This is for real. I hope and pray that none of us should ever need miracles, but we should be good vessels to receive them nonetheless. We should be blessed with a year full of miraculous supernatural blessings from G-d for ourselves and our families for life, health, Nachas, good livelihood, both materially and spiritually.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Miracles Month

Wouldn’t it be great if G-d would perform miracles for us today as He did for our ancestors in the distant past? I get this question all the time. There are two ways of answering this:

1) Why do we want miracles? Miracles are wonderful displays of G-d’s strength, but they do very little for those who experience them. Take for example the Jews in the desert during the times of Moses. Miracles were everywhere. Did it change them? Did they not rebel against G-d and Moses again and again despite the miracles? Sure, it is exciting to see a sea split and water turn into blood, and it might even have a short term effect on the observers, but in terms of having long lasting effects? Nothing. Nada. The Jews worshipped a golden calf just after witnessing the greatest miracles of all time; the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the daily Manna, and most importantly, the revelation of G-d himself at Mount Sinai. So do miracles really change anyone for real and create more committed Jews? I am not sure.

What is even more important to ponder is this: why do we even want miracles to happen? Is it so that we can be one hundred percent sure that G-d really does exist? That would mean that G-d would need to prove His existence for every generation, say every 50-100 years. Because a miracle that my great grandfather experienced would convince him, but would it convince his great grandchild? Perhaps not. And, if the only way to convince us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that G-d really exists is by Him showing His omnipotence and His ability to alter nature, then He would need to do something grandiose for every generation or two so that they too have no doubts. That is a very immature way to get people to believe in G-d’s existence. G-d expects mankind to mature up and reach a point where His existence and relevance are absolute and unshakable with or without Him having to prove himself all the time. Perhaps we should stop asking for miracles unless we really need them. For example, I have been praying that G-d perform a miracle for my friend who is battling cancer and can use G-d’s supernatural powers to heal him, may he be well and recover quickly. But I am not asking for this miracle in order to convince me of His existence. For that I do not need miracles. Miracles should not be a crutch that keeps our spiritual balance. Over three thousand years of Jewish existence, tradition and Jewish scholarship are enough to convince anyone of the existence of G-d.

2) Miracles do happen and they happen all the time. This past week began the Hebrew month of Nissan. Our sages tell us that the first of Nissan, the month in which Passover falls, is also a Rosh Hashanah of sorts. They explain that the Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei (September) is the New Year for the natural order. Then the world is judged and it is decided whether we will enjoy nature’s gifts of life, health, livelihood and all the rest. Nissan, on the other hand, is the New Year for a higher miraculous order. It is during this time that a higher supernatural energy is revealed; an energy that is the source of all the daily miracles which occur. So yes, miracles do indeed occur, and they are meant to strengthen us and bring greater blessings into our life. They happen either because we deserve them or because we are in need of a miracle and G-d, our loving Father, makes it happen even if we are undeserving.

If you are in need of some supernatural energy in your life, i.e. a miracle, this is the month to tap into this energy and make it happen. Can one of your children use a miracle? Is your business and livelihood in need of some supernatural intervention? Is someone in the family not well and in need of a miraculous recovery? Nissan (this month) and especially during Pesach we can all make that happen. This is for real. I hope and pray that none of us should ever need miracles, but we should be good vessels to receive them nonetheless. We should be blessed with a year full of miraculous supernatural blessings from G-d for ourselves and our families for life, health, Nachas, good livelihood, both materially and spiritually.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Amalek Then and Now

This Shabbos, known as Shabbat Zachor, Jews in synagogues around the world will read a special additional Torah reading. We will read about the commandment to erase the memory of Amalek. Amalek was the nation who attacked the Jewish People after they crossed the sea of reeds following the Exodus from Egypt. Amalek was not the first or the last to inflict harm on the Jewish people. Yet we are commanded to erase the memory of specifically this one nation, not Egypt, Edom, Moav, Midian, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece etc. all of whom attacked and fought the Jewish people. What was so unique about Amalek that so angered G-d to the point where He considers their existence an affront to Him and His name?

Our Sages explain it this way: The Exodus and the crossing of the sea were watershed events in world history. The miracles associated with the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea were a magnificent display of G-d’s love for the Jewish people. The Torah tells us that following these miracles and the downfall of Egypt, “All the dwellers of Canaan trembled and their hearts melted in fear of the Jewish People”. Everyone was scared of the Jewish People. They simply would not consider getting close, let alone attack or go to war against the Jews. “Anti-Semitism” became unpopular. The nations all respected the Jewish people and understood that G-d was on their side and the idea of going to war against the Jews was unthinkable. That all changed with Amalek. They were the first to attack and show the world that the Jews are not untouchable. The Amalekites were defeated but the “can of worms” was opened and Anti-Jewish sentiment was once again fashionable. It was Amalek who “cooled” off the nations who were too afraid to get close to the Jews for fear of getting “burned” like the Egyptians and their leader Pharaoh.

On the Shabbat before Purim we read about Amalek and of the Mitzvah to remember what Amalek did.  [Haman of the Purim story was a descendent of Amalek]. As I always tell my congregants, the Torah is not some ancient book with stories of the past. The Torah and everything in it must be relevant to our daily lives even in 2019 and every line, verse and chapter has morals and lessons for our daily lives. The story of Amalek is no exception. The nation of Amalek may not be here physically anymore but boy-o-boy is the idea of Amalek still, sadly, alive and well, and it seems made its way into our House of Representatives. Over the past couple of months, we continue to hear from some freshmen members of the House statements about Jews that we thought were long gone from the lexicon and thought process of decent people, especially from people who serve in the government of the most enlightened and decent country on earth. Rep. Ilhan Omar keeps reminding us that anti-Semitism is a consistent current that flows throughout history. Rep. Omar is bothered by the “power of Jews to hypnotize the world” or “their money controlling American policy” or “their allegiance to a foreign country”. She, like every anti-Semite before her, cannot make up her mind why she hates us. We are too powerful, too powerless, too capitalist, too socialist, too controlling, too different, too whatever. The excuse changes but the hatred does not. What is so concerning about her and her ilk is that if this goes unchecked I fear this can become more and more accepted thinking and worst of all, it can begin to shape policy. She and a few others are now the ‘proud’ representatives of the BDS movement in congress. Who knows where this ends.

After World War II anti-Semitism became unfashionable. Even Germany passed laws which protected Jews against anti-Semitism and punished those who were of that mind set. To be sure, there still were many anti-Semites, but they were out laws, out casts and no one to be taken serious. It seemed that the world and its governments had learned the lessons of Hitler and what happens when such people are allowed to come to power. For 70 years many nations, especially the United States were on the lookout and protected Israel and Jews from the ills of bad people who still harbored anti-Jewish sentiment. But like back then in the days of Moses, there is always an ‘Amalek’ who is ready to make Jewish Hatred fashionable again. What makes Rep. Ilhan Omar and co. so dangerous is the fact that she is not the KKK or Neo-Nazis etc. who are seen for what they are and are not taken seriously by anyone. Her hatred of Jews is explained away; ‘She did not mean this’ and ‘she did not mean that’ and slowly but surely the ugly heads of other anti-Semites, who know exactly what she means, are able to feed off of her and her status as a member of congress. I have no illusions that she will change her ways, but I do hope the leadership in congress will grab a hold of itself and stop this this cancer from spreading and will “erase the memory of Amalek” from its committees, from any influence and hopefully very soon from congress itself.

Here is the good news; the Haman’s of the world have tried to destroy the Jewish people and their homeland many times in the past and with the help of G-d we have always been victorious. I have no doubt that Israel and the Jewish people will triumph once again over our modern day Haman and we will be blessed with a joyous Purim and a joyous eternity.

Shabbat Shalom and a very Happy Purim to all.

Are You Happy?

Our sages instruct us that “Mishe’nichnas Adar Marbim Bi’simcha” when the month of Adar begins, we increase in our joy. Being that the month of Adar began this past Tuesday, we must look for ways to increase our joy.

The language the rabbi’s use is: in the month of Adar we should ‘increase’ our joy. This means that they take for granted that we are already joyous as it is, only that in this month we need to just ‘increase’ it. Is this indeed the case? Are most people happy? The statisticians have us believe that this is the unhappiest generation of all time and I for one believe that they are right. Half of our families are broken; the other half are also reporting high levels of anxiety and many other serious psychological problems with our youth etc. and the question is why? Why are we so unhappy? One would think that a generation such as ours would be the happiest. After all, there has never been a generation that had as much as we do. In addition, we are the most educated generation ever. Most High School graduates continue on to higher education, something our ancestors could never afford to do. Communication is at an all-time high. I remember when I went to study abroad, (in the early eighties when I was fourteen years old) I would only receive a phone call from my parents twice a month. Beyond that, I had to write letters and send them by regular mail (sounds like ancient history). Today, my children who are abroad sometimes call me three times a day and they can Skype with us if they want. Distances hardly separate anyone these days. Yet with all we have and all we possess, the fact remains that we are less happy than ever before.

In a conversation I was having with a woman this week, she shared with me how concerned and worried she was about everything that is going on in our society these days, I told her that she is not alone. There is indeed a lot to be concerned about. Watching television is very depressing. We see a world that has gone mad and no one really knows what to do about it. The New York legislature gave themselves a standing ovation for making third term abortions easier. Virginia and its governor are talking about doing the same and are even suggesting allowing abortion to happen at birth G-d forbid. All this in the name of women’s health and a woman’s right to choose. (A right to choose what? To end the life of someone else?) Our leadership is nowhere to be found or heard. Anti-Semitism is on the rise and has reached frightening levels with Jews being targeted all over the world and especially in Israel. Just this morning Israel buried a 19-year-old singer who was murdered after being mutilated and tortured in a most horrific way. The anti-Semitic BDS movement and its supporters (now even in the US congress) are on a mission to destroy Israel, and there are very few voices out there that can give us some comfort and strength. In this kind of environment, can one be happy at all, let alone increase our happiness?

If we want to be happy and even add in our joy, we first need to understand what happiness is and where is comes from. Happiness results when our inner self and outer self are in sync. We are all made up of body and soul. Our body is the outer self while the soul is our inner self. When those two elements of the human being are in sync, the person will be a happy one. What makes us unhappy is when our outer lives are not in line with our inner selves. When a Jew has a good job, is well educated, eats healthy, goes on fun vacations, lives in his/her dream home and has everything else imaginable, but for whatever reason completely neglects his or her soul’s needs, the result is unhappiness. In that case, the outer self is well pampered, but is not at all in sync with the soul which is not being tended to. The body’s successes do not talk to the souls needs at all. This is a life that is not well aligned and it is only a matter of time that the person or perhaps his/her children will begin to feel the misalignment. The same is true for a person who is extremely soul oriented, but completely neglects the body. This too is not a life well aligned and will result in unhappiness. Happiness is the result of the soul and body working together. When the body’s successes are employed to further the soul’s passions, the result is unbounding joy.

Our ancestors might not have had as much as we do, but their lives were aligned far better and were therefore much happier. The world they lived in was not the Garden of Eden and they had many problems, but they were happy because their own lives were aligned well. We might have much more and we may know much more, but those advantages will not necessarily lead to happy lives if we don’t sync our inner and outer selves.

In the month of Adar, when the story of Purim happened, we are able to not only be happy, but increase our happiness. On Purim, we read of how the Jews realigned their inner and outer selves in a most fantastic way. The story is about repentance, closeness to G-d, commitment to Torah (the inner self) and saving of the Jewish people from physical extinction (the outer self) … hence the increased level of joy and happiness we experience during this month.

A happy Adar and a most joyous Shabbos to all.

 

The gift that keeps giving

“Remember the Shabbos day and keep it holy” reads the fourth of the tenth commandments read in all Synagogues this Shabbos. Oy Shabbos, what a day, what a concept, what a gift.  

There is an old adage that Jews think they kept and observed the Shabbos for over 3,000 years; but, in truth, it’s the Shabbos that has kept and observed the Jewish people for over 3,000 years. How true that is. I cannot even imagine the Jewish people without Shabbos. If you observe it properly, you know what I mean. It is that oasis in time when the messy and out of control world just stops. For twenty-four hours, we are in a spiritual oasis when we turn off all electronic gadgets. No phones whistling and ringing. No email, WhatsApp, text, television and all the other “important” never ending distractions that tear us away from our families, our work, our children, etc. I cannot understand how people live these days without this - once a week - tranquil holy day that makes it possible to stay focused and normal. Shabbos is the greatest gift that G-d has given the Jewish people.

The moment Shabbos begins with the women lighting the Shabbos candles, one feels the calmness that sets in. There is that special glow and beauty that emanates from everyone who just spent the whole Friday afternoon cleaning, shopping, cooking and bathing in honor of the Shabbos. The children that kvetched all afternoon are unrecognizable; it is as if they were just born anew. The tranquility and the confidence that exudes from them is priceless; the family is together and the children know that for the next day they have their parents’ embrace without interruption. Dining together around the Shabbos table is one of the highlights of every Jewish family. The food is divine and tasty of course, and sitting three or so hours with your family and guests is really a gift that keeps giving. Singing and talking between courses creates the special bond between family members that sadly so many are missing in this day and age. And I haven’t even talked about the special Shabbos cholent; now that’s heaven itself, and throw in a good piece of Kishke and you are now experiencing the Garden of Eden. Well, I would not go that far, but a glimmer of the Garden of Eden we do experience when we observe the Shabbos correctly.

I know that so many think that Shabbos is so limiting. You cannot do this and you’re forbidden to do that, etc. While it is true that Shabbos comes along with a lot of restrictions, but that is it’s secret. Those ‘restrictions’ are what allow you and the Shabbos to fuse and enjoy each other. The energy that comes from within can only emerge when the external layers are peeled away. Hence all the ‘don’t do’s’ that accompany the Shabbos.  They are designed to allow the soul uninhibited expression and elevation to higher places. I see those restrictions similar to a beam of laser whose light is so powerful only because the light is restricted into a beam of concentrated light. If the light were unrestricted, it would hardly have any power. The restriction is what gives it power and focus allowing it to pierce through any obstacle. The same is with the light of Shabbos, it is the concentrated energy through the restrictions that unleashes its true spiritual power and energy.

This week let us all try to observe Shabbos with more commitment. Try it and see what happens. It is magic.

Have a wonderful Shabbos.

Egypt and Us

As we read the story of the ten plagues that were inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, (the Torah portions of these weeks) most of us relate to it as a justified punishment wrought on an immoral society who saw no problem killing thousands of Jewish babies every week and enslaving and torturing their parents for over one hundred years. We read about the water turning into blood, millions of frogs everywhere, lice and wild animals, etc. turning Egypt into a hell on earth. To the average reader, the story has very little relevance because we don’t think of ourselves as having anything in common with ancient Egypt; we abolished slavery long ago and therefore the crime and its punishment have no relevance to us. The only relevance the story has is that as a result, the Jews were redeemed and became a nation who received the Torah some seven weeks later. But Egypt and its downfall?  It’s ancient history and with little meaning to the modern mind.

Upon further reflection however, we begin to realize that nothing can be further from the truth. Pharaoh and Egypt, it turns out, are alive and well not only in the Middle East but in every one of us. The Torah tells us that the main purpose of the Plagues was not only to punish the Egyptians but to force them to recognize that G-d exists and that He is in control of everything. Pharaoh did not believe in G-d, in fact he and the Egyptians worshiped the Nile River as their G-d. The reason for this was because Egypt is a land where no rain falls and their entire support and livelihood comes from the Nile River. The waters of the river would rise and irrigate their fields resulting in constant growth of wheat etc. The Nile was their source of income and their entire economy was dependent on that river; hence the Nile was their G-d. It was for this reason that when G-d decided to break the Egyptians and teach them the truth, He first plagued the Nile turning it into blood. This showed the Egyptians that their ‘G-d’ was powerless. Only then were they able to begin to think about and recognize the true G-d. In fact, after the third plague struck, Pharaoh’s advisors finally told him that it was the finger of G-d that brought about the plague, and with every ensuing plague they began to recognize more and more that the Nile was meaningless and that there was a true G-d that was the real source of everything they had.

Understanding this, we begin to recognize that in each of us lingers a massive Egyptian belief system and that ancient Egypt was not so primitive after all. We too often times begin to worship the modern day ‘Nile Rivers’ and forget that G-d is the true benefactor of all our blessings. The Nile River might be the ‘University’, our ‘Jobs’ or our ‘money’, we see these as our source of life and begin to worship them. If you ask the average person if they believe in G-d they will probably answer that they do, but when you analyze their behavior patterns as they relate to the three above mentioned modern day ‘Nile Rivers’ one begins to wonder if most of us are not actually worshiping them? Our attitudes towards higher education are such that it overrides everything else. Almost every parent I speak to is petrified of sending their young adult children to college because of the environments that exist there. We all know the reality, yet how many ever consider alternatives? We sigh and krechtz about it but at the end of the day, college is our Nile River. We are so dependent on it for our future careers that the thought of prioritizing our children’s integrity which is horribly compromised in today’s colleges and instead rely on the true G-d for our livelihood, is not even a fleeting thought. You’re probably wondering what I am getting at? Is this Rabbi saying that we should not send our children to college? I am not saying that. What I am saying is that we are so sold on it that the very thought of placing our children’s purity and morality above this Idol does not even enter our minds. This then is a modern day ‘Nile River’ that we worship as a G-d.

Our jobs have also turned into ‘G-d’s. How many people will compromise their standards if the job requires it? What do we do when Shabbos has to be violated in order to keep our employment? Do we look for another job or do we look for another Shabbos?

We forget that G-d is the source of our success. The Nile River can only irrigate because G-d wills it to. Our jobs can only provide our livelihoods if G-d blesses it. So in the end, the story of the Egyptian attitude and stubbornness is our very own story. Sometimes G-d feels a need to remind us that the river is nothing and He turns it into blood making it worthless. If that does not help he finds other ways to help us remember that it’s the finger of G-d that makes everything happen.

May we merit our own exodus from Egypt and recognize G-d outstretched arm in everything that happens to us and realize that without his constant providence we would not make it through even one day. If we really internalized that and spent time thinking about it, we might not be so quick to compromise our standards rather than to compromise our jobs. We might actually recognize that a ‘Nile River’ that violates G-d’s commandments can hardly ‘irrigate’ our ‘fields’.

May we be blessed that we should be reminded of G-d’s providence through positive means and through an extra abundance of his blessings rather than through plagues.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Happy New Year?

January first is an interesting day for me. Wherever I go and whomever I meet, I am always greeted with Happy New Year. That in itself is perfectly fine and natural. The problem is that when it’s a Jew who is doing the greeting they are almost always doing it with some visible reservation. They are not quite sure if they should be wishing a Rabbi “Happy New Year” on January first. After all, isn’t our New Year on Rosh Hashanah? I usually ease their discomfort by nodding and returning the greeting, but upon further reflection it is an interesting question. Should we as Jews recognize this day as something special? Is there some new energy manifest in the world on January first or is it just a day that mankind has decided to mark as a new beginning for purposes of dating checks and paying taxes?

The answer might surprise many of you. In fact, not only is January first a day of special spiritual significance for the rest of the world but surprisingly for Jews as well.... let me explain. In the book of Psalms, King David tells us that “G-d will count in the register of people”, which means that G-d counts and recognizes the register and dates of all peoples. If people recognize a certain date as a new beginning, G-d too counts that day as a new beginning. In other words, from G-d’s perspective January first is recognized as a New Year for the world.One of the great Chassidic masters even went a step further and said that on New Year’s (Jan. 1) Jews are judged once again. He explained that when G-d sees how the peoples of the world celebrate their New Year (drinking, partying, fireworks, drunkenness and all the rest) and contrasts this with the way Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah (prayer, repentance, Shofar sounding, Crowning G-d as king of the universe etc.), He immediately nullifies all negative decrees with which we might have been judged on Rosh Hashanah and turns it all around and judges us favorably with only blessings for the coming year.

The truth is that the world has a lot to learn from the way Jews celebrate a new year. It always amazes me that on December 31, all one hears on the radio and other media outlets is endless advertising of all the different bars, night clubs and parties one can go to that evening and that everyone should make sure to have a designated driver before going, and for good reason; New Year’s Eve is one big party with very much drinking and sadly with very little content. Contrast that with Rosh Hashanah, have you ever heard any one talk about the necessity of designating a driver on Erev Rosh Hashanah? I haven’t and nor have you. Rosh Hashanah is all about G-d, Family, Judaism and spiritual development. I am sure that many people treat January first as a day to take on new resolutions as well, but sadly the greater emphasis is on a day of endless partying and having fun. The result is that Instead of praying on New Years that G-d should grant all peoples a good year, parents are busy praying that their teens should return home safely from their New Year’s eve party. It would be so nice if January first were a day which people dedicated to something more meaningful and content full. Maybe one day that will happen. Until then let us pray that our fellow citizens be blessed with a very happy New Year and may we Jews be judged favorably by Hashem for only good for the rest of the Jewish year.

A very Happy New Year to all!

Shabbat Shalom

 

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