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A Message from Rabbi Spalter

A Birthday: A Day of Reflection

 The Rebbe taught us that a Birthday is a day for more than balloons, cakes and candles. It's actually a very important day in a person’s life. After all it’s the day the person’s soul descended into this world to fulfill a G-dly mission that is reserved for that person alone. That’s pretty serious stuff to ponder. In other words, a birthday is a time to think and contemplate about our raison d’etree.  Why we are here? Are we accomplishing this goal and mission? What might be missing? And so on. A birthday is also a day when the person is given new powers and new invigorated soul strength to fulfill ones purpose.

The Rebbe himself took this very seriously. His birthday was a day on which he was mostly secluded alone in this contemplation. To illustrate how serious this was to the Rebbe, I would like to share with you something that happened in relation to his 80th birthday. As is well known the Rebbe had a very special relationship with President Ronald Reagan. In 1982 when the Rebbe turned 80, President Reagan invited the Rebbe to come to the White House to meet with him. The Rebbe who never left New York, explained that he could not accept the invitation. When the president then said that he would like to call the Rebbe on his birthday to wish him well etc., the Rebbe sent back through his D.C. emissary, Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov, that he is very honored by the presidents gesture, but that his custom has been for many decades already, that on his birthday he would spend the day in solitude and in deep thought and meditation without any interruption from the outside. He explained that to him a birthday was a time to ponder the greatest questions of life, mission, purpose and how well he was fulfilling all this. He therefore asked for the president’s understanding, that he allow him to continue to observe his birthday the way he spent it all his life. The president was deeply moved and, as Rabbi Shemtov later related, their relationship was enhanced greatly as a result. Reagan saw a person who took his life and birthday so seriously to the point of even declining a call from the president.

The reason I am focusing on birthdays is because this coming week we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, the day on which G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai.  This day is similar to a birthday and a new beginning. It’s a day when we too should collectively and individually ponder these important questions. Are we living up to our mission? Are we behaving as a chosen people? Are we a light unto the nations? Are we committed to Torah? Do we live as Jews should? And so on. Like a birthday, we are also given new power and our Jewish souls are invigorated with renewed energy which we must translate into action.

There is also one more reason I wrote about birthdays in this column. You guessed it right. Today is my birthday and I want to thank all of you who have wished me well. If Presiden Obama wants to call me and wish me a happy birthday, I probably will take his call. I am not at the level of the Rebbe. But I do hope that my soul's mission here on earth to be his shliach and emissary in Weston is being fulfilled properly. I hope that I utilize the renewed strength and vigor that is bestowed upon my soul on this day for the best.

Do You Count?

We all count. We count our money, we count our children, we count their successes, we count the days left to our vacations and we continuously take census’ of many facets of society in order to get a picture of reality. This is nothing new. In the torah G-d keeps counting the Jewish people. In this weeks portion, G-d asks Moshe to count the Jewish People and find out how many we are. Really? Does G-d need to take a census to know how many we are? Doesn he know everything?

The truth is that G-d knows our number with or without Moses taking a count. But there is something very important the torah wants to share with us in telling us that he actually counts us.

How many times does it happen that you go over to your jewelry box to count how any pieces you have? Or how many times do you count the cash you have in your possession? We do so not to know how much we have, We already know that. Rather it’s an expression of endearment. We love our jewels and money so we keep counting it. The same with our children’s achievements and talents, or the days left to vacation. We love our children and we really want that vacation. So we keep counting them.

G-d loves the Jewish people so he keeps counting us. But it’s much more than that. When the Torah counts us it gives exact numbers. This is important because all too often we round off numbers. For example we say that there were 6,000,000 jews who perished during the holocaust or there were 10,000 jews killed during the war of independence or any other large scale count. We all know that it was not exactly 6 million or 10 thousand. It was even more than that but we round it off. This may sound trivial but when we do that its like saying that those beyond the round number are not really important. Otherwise why are we not mentioning them? I know that for purposes of linguistic style its much easier to say ten thousand then to say every time ten-thousand-one-hundred-and-fifty-two, but those extra 152 got lost and are not counted.

The torah does not do that. It counts all of us even if it means longer sentences. The reason is so that we should know that we count and are indispensable.

G-d keeps counting us, tells us about it and does not round us off. This he does for two reasons; so that we know that He needs each and every single one of us and so that we know that we are loved by him. This message is crucial to impart to our children. They must know that they count and are indispensable. It helps as well to know that we are loved. When they know these two truths they will have a true healthy self esteem and will live more focused and productive lives.

May Hashem keep counting us and may we all have not just ourselves to be counted but our achievements as well.

In Memory of Daniel

Eight 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 ceased. 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, but they lacked respect for each other. So 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 each other. He stood out in his care for every person without distinction. He believed that every person, being a creation of Hashem, has an inherent value and therefore deserves respect. Daniel protected the less talented. He 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, 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.

My family joins me in wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Yisroel Spalter

Israel, Always on Our Minds

Israel is on everyone’s mind all the time. The media is obsessed with Israel as are the representatives of many of the nations at the UN. Members of all governments of the west and the east are very concerned about the Middle East and especially Israel. On almost every campus throughout the US and other countries, there is a student body that concerns itself with the Jewish state. Needless to say, almost all human rights organizations love to talk about the IDF and its massive army power. You would think that Israel is the size of Africa based on the amount of interest the world shows regarding her.

This should be no surprise, after all we are talking about the Holy Land and G-ds chosen nation. The problem is; the Media, the UN, international governments, student bodies and the human rights organizations never talk about its holiness or it being chosen. They are always looking for ways to besmirch and paint the Jewish state in ways that arouse questions not only of its behavior but its very existence.  I don’t think anyone reading this, needs to be convinced that these organizations etc. are nothing but anti Semites who disguise themselves and appear as caring for the “downtrodden” etc. That I think is obvious to all. What I think, and fear, is not obvious to all, is that the lies they spread about our soldiers and the people of Israel in general is just that; lies. It bothers me when I hear Jews and friends of Israel who say that “while Israel has its faults and makes many mistakes, they are not  at all as bad as they are made out  to be” and “Israel is still much better than the terrorists”.

I wonder what ‘faults’ and ‘mistakes’ they are referring to? Israel makes no mistakes that are out of the ordinary and they should never be contrasted against, or even mentioned in the same conversation as the atrocities done by the terrorists who don’t value life at all. If Israel does make mistakes that are out of the ordinary, it’s that they are always bending over backwards to protect their enemies. This mistake is one that no other country makes and I wonder when Israel will realize that that policy only exacerbates the situation.

In this week’s portion the Torah talks about the holiness of Israel. This past week thousands of people in Israel memorialized the holiest of Israel; the fallen soldiers of the IDF. This is the truth; these holy soldiers of blessed memory, and the entire IDF, are the most moral and holy fighters the world has. To talk about them in the same conversation as the worst people the world has is exactly what the detractors of Israel want. They want us first to agree that Israel has its faults (and we readily agree to concede that point, otherwise we sound unreasonable), and then we will agree to talk about these ‘faults’ and contrast them with the evil of the terrorists. And from there the road is very short to complete condemnation and even questioning our existence. We need to stop being apologetic about Israel. We need to stop stuttering when it comes to defending Israel’s obligation to defend itself. And most important we need to stop saying or believing that Israel fights faulty wars or makes mistakes during these wars. They don’t. They are the most justified of all wars. They are wars of self-defense which is not a right but an obligation. Israel is holy, its soldiers are holy and in the past 66 years, Israel has made no mistakes in regards to the wars they fought.

Let’s be proud of Israel.

Am Yisrael Chai

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