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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

We'd Still be Dancing...

This past Sunday night, I and 5,000 other shluchim and their supporters attended the, now famously known, annual banquet of the international convention of the Rebbe’s Shluchim. It is hard to describe in writing the feelings one experienced during those five hours spent among the greatest force of good and spiritual energy the world has ever seen. In that room you had rabbis from every corner of the world, literally. Vladivostok (who knows where that is?) to Alaska, Kenya to Finland, Tucuman to Halifax and everywhere in between was represented in that room. Every shliach in there had one goal in mind; to bring the Rebbe’s love of every single Jew to every single Jew, and at all costs, and to bring Torah and G-dliness to the whole world.

This was not a fund raising dinner nor was it an annual report of feel good-pat on the back accomplishments. Speaker after speaker talked of how much work there still is to be done, of how many Jews are still not connected to Jewish life and of how many Jewish children are still not receiving a Jewish education, etc. But one thing was clear to all in that room; if there is a chance that one day all Jews will be connected to Jewish life and that all children will receive a Jewish education, it was going to happen because of the people in that room. When the M.C. made the roll call and spent about a half hour introducing the countries and places where shluchim have come from, one knew that the entire globe was covered with Chabad shluchim and that the Rebbe had set the stage for every single Jew to be reconnected with G-d and Judaism. It was clear that what the Rebbe had done over the past six decades was so revolutionary and miraculous that only someone with a genuine burning love in his heart for every Jew could have managed to accomplish this. Everyone there understood and knew in his heart that this was the precursor to the coming of Moshiach, which was the Rebbe’s life’s mission.

 The Rebbe’s Shluchim and his Shlichus enterprise is such a phenomenon that it has become the marvel and envy of the Jewish world. Here you have a group of about 40,000 people (shluchim and their families) whom have devoted their entire lives to one goal and are ready 24/7 to do anything and everything to advance the Rebbe’s vision of spreading holiness and G-dliness and bringing the world one step closer to collective redemption. These troops and their families are out there in the trenches fighting to bring light to a very dark world, and the miracle happens in place after place; Jewish life springs up and into action in such spiritual wildernesses that most Jews would find it hard to even spend a weekend. It is no wonder that the shluchim are called “the Rebbe’s Army”.

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about the first Shliach, Jacob, who was sent away from Israel to live in Charan. Our sages tell us that Charan was everything Israel was not. No belief in G-d, no morality, and was a place that angered G-d. But then Jacob arrived, built the first Jewish family and succeeded to raise all of his children to be ambassadors of G-d. This ancient Shliach and his family taught the modern day Shliach how to raise a family on Shlichus. Never lose sight of why you are there and never lose sight of who you represent. Jacob knew why he was in Charan and never forgot his father Isaac. The modern day shluchim are able to do miraculous things because they never forget why they are there and they also never forget who sent them. It is no wonder therefore that as the banquet in the Brooklyn Marine was coming to a close the 5,000 men in that room broke out into a sea of circles of dancing that lifted everyone into a different world. When you realize that you merited being a shliach of such a great Rebbe and for such a great cause you cannot help but dance. If it were not for the fact that the people at that marine needed to ready the room for the next day’s business we would all still be dancing there.

May we merit celebrating next year’s convention together with our beloved Rebbe in Jerusalem. Amen.

The Forces of Good

As the details of this Tuesday’s attack in Jerusalem continue to come to light, one cannot help but wonder; are we going back to the days of pogroms and death that was so commonplace in Eastern Europe of earlier centuries? Are the sights of mobs killing and butchering Jews with butcher knives and cleavers coming back? Do these new age terrorists have any limits? Are we dealing with human beings? Can it really happen that in 2014, human beasts can just walk in to a synagogue in Israel on a regular morning and cut and slice people to pieces leaving young and old to die in pools of blood? Are so many citizens of the world so desensitized that they just offer empty and meaningless condemnations while at the same time drawing moral equivalences between these despicable horrendous monsters and Jews trying to fight this evil? When I see videos of students and professors on campus after campus identify with such evil people, I have to wonder if we have lost part of our soul. When did this happen and how? How did so many Americans become so misguided? (I am being very generous here). Which planet are they living on? Do they really not see the difference between those to whom life means nothing and are capable of perpetrating such atrocities, and their Jewish victims? How can anyone with a soul even attempt to draw a moral equivalence between us and them? Yet it happens again and again by scores of politicians, newscasters, professors and the herds of young men and women who follow them like blind sheep.

I cannot help but worry for the future of our society. While I believe that the vast majority of Americans know exactly who is good and who is evil in this conflict, I am still worried that much too many Americans are so lost and morally bankrupt. What is the future? How do we combat this darkness and expose it for what it is? Can we ever overcome the evil that so many so willingly identify with? Will the forces of good get a grip and unite to overcome this new manifestation of Pharaoh, Haman, Khmelnitsky, Hitler and so many others? Will light overcome darkness and vanquish it?

For me the answer to these questions is to be found this weekend in Brooklyn, New York, the site of the international convention of the Rebbe’s Shluchim. Some 4000 or so shluchim are gathered in Brooklyn for 5 days in which they will learn, converse, participate in workshops, eat and dance together. These shluchim who gathered from all corners of the globe are the answer to my questions above. They are the greatest force of light today in the world. In this darkened world, there was a great Rebbe who planted thousands of men and women to all its corners to spend their entire lives spreading Judaism and light. As long as these shluchim continue to do their holy work we can all be confident that the spirit of torah and morality will continue to spread and vanquish the darkness. Against those forces of evil that sow darkness and fear all over the globe we have an army of dedicated soldiers who shine light and bring hope to millions. I believe that the new evil the world is now fighting is part of the larger battle of good vs. evil, light vs. darkness and holiness vs. un-holiness. Before Moshiach comes, the darkness becomes even darker and there is a need to counter this darkness with a much stronger light and much greater holiness. This is what the Shluchim are all about.  They are the last great force of good and holiness that will herald in the era of Moshiach when G-d will eradicate all evil and wipe away our tears once and for all. May this happen speedily in our days without delay.

I want to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to do a special mitzvah today in the merit of those who were wounded and need our prayers and good deeds, and for the memory of the 5 victims who lost their lives while praying and saving lives. If you are a male (13 and over) please put on Teffilin today, if you are a female (any age) please light Shabbos candles before 5:13 this afternoon.  Do this in honor of the thirty new widows and orphans whose lives were shattered this Tuesday. Do this in honor of the recovery of the wounded and the memory of those who lost their lives. Your Mitzvah will also add so much light to a world that so desperately needs it.

May we hear only good news from Israel and the world over.

Shabbat Shalom 

The Right to Build

Lately there’s been lots of talk about whether or not Israel should or has a right to build in Jerusalem. We hear “this is not the right time to build” (I wonder when is the right time) or “building only inflames the situation” and “Jewish building in east Jerusalem is Illegal” and many other reasons why the Jews should wait to get a building permit from the UN or the US. It is hard to believe that after almost 7 decades of the modern State of Israel’s existence, we still have to deal with this constant barrage of insults from the international community, and what’s worse is that with time the critics become more and more brazen with their critique. What’s so blatantly obvious and bothersome is the dishonesty of the whole claim. Jews in Jerusalem are illegal? Jewish building in the old city of David needs a permit from Markel, Obama and Ban ki Mun? What a ridiculous notion! To question the Jewish connection to and ownership of Jerusalem is almost comical. Anyone with even basic knowledge of history knows how deeply rooted and connected Jews are with Jerusalem.

The truth is that the only way to bring peace in Jerusalem is by increasing Jewish building projects and by the thousands. Its very simple: there is a consensus in Israel regarding Jerusalem that it must always remain under Israel’s control. If we stop building because of pressure it shows that we too might have doubts regarding Jerusalem’s future, and that in turn only increases the appetite of the Arabs to pressure us via terrorism to consider giving away large parts of it. The more we build in Jerusalem the quicker our Arab neighbors will finally realize that we have no plans ever giving it away and they too will stop dreaming otherwise. So less building means more pressure and therefore more terrorism, more building means less pressure and less terror. It’s simple and every Israeli military expert knows this and so do the politicians as well, but they are weak of heart and are intimidated by international pressure.

In reality this is true of all of Israel as well. We owe no one an apology for being there or for settling any part of it. In this week’s Torah portion we read about the purchase of the Tomb of the Patriarchs by Avraham. He negotiated with the people who lived there and bought it for a hefty sum of money and recorded the deed. Hebron became ours 4000 years ago. It’s astounding that these biblical sites, which were bought by our patriarchs and recorded in the bible, which is the foundation of all religions, are still being debated 4000 years later, and by whom? By Johnny come lately’s who decided to rewrite history and concoct a new nation that never existed. Should Palestinians be able to live with dignity and respect? Of course they should, but unfortunately they have developed a culture of hate and death and continue to educate their youth with this vitriolic hatred of the Jewish people. Under such conditions it’s hard to allow them free movement in and out of Israel and other freedoms, because they have shown again and again that they abuse those freedoms and use them to kill Jews.

We must proudly announce that Hebron belongs to Jews, Jerusalem belongs to Jews and so does all of Israel. And when a certain piece of property belongs to you then you should not have to doubt your right to build on that given piece of property. The Bible must once again become every Jews best Friend. Quote it, use it, it is the best defense for our right to build and live in all of Israel.

 May we merit the day when all Jews will return to live in Israel with the coming of Moshiach when, as the prophet tells us, all peoples will recognize the truth that the Jews are the true owners of the Holy Land.

 

"Opening Your Heart - Opening Your Home"

One of the oldest Jewish practices and traits of kindness is the Mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim, opening our homes for guests. This practice is traced all the way back to Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews.

The Torah tells us in this week’s portion to what lengths they would go to open their hearts and tent/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 tent/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 G-dly presence”. And this is also derived from the story of Abraham. In the narrative, G-d comes to visit Abraham and while communicating with G-d, 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 etc., and G-d waited until Abraham was done and only then did he return to talk and converse with G-d. 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 the Spalter home did not have guest. Many times we had to move out 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. 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 me to admit, but I have gotten emails and calls from people who visited our Shul for daily davening or for a Shabbos and that not one person approached them to even say hello, let alone find out who they are, or do they need an invite for Shabbos, or anything else. This is very disturbing. I believe that 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, invite them to your home for a meal or for a Shabbos. And 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.

Shabbat Shalom. 

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