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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

"The Rebbe"

This Tuesday, the third of Tamuz marks the 20th 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. After 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 20 years since his passing, hundreds of thousands continue to flock to his resting place at the Ohel to seek his blessing and pray there. It’s no wonder that just in the last month alone three books were published about the Rebbe life and teachings, one of them making it to the New York Times best seller list. The interest of millions to learn about this incredible leader grows with time, which brings me to one final, and maybe the most important, point.

The Zohar says that real tzadikim 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 20 years. Young Chabad Shluchim, who by the way never saw the Rebbe, are are continuing to dedicate their lives to his message and are becoming his emissaries to such forsaken places that most people don’t even know exist.

How is this to be explained? To me it’s obvious. The Rebbe lives. Albeit in a different way, but its real. The Ohel, 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 this coming Tuesday, on the Yahrtzeit itself everyone 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."

Shabbat Shalom

 

"Israel - Exceedingly Good"

 Like all of you, I awoke this morning to the terrible news coming out of Israel of what looks like a kidnapping of 3 young Israeli teens by terrorist groups. I shudder to think of what awaits these teens and their families. The demands, the long negotiations and who knows what else.

Before I continue, let me offer a prayer that even before Shabbos begins we should hear the good news that these young men were rescued and brought back to their families unharmed and quick. If every one can say a chapter in Tehillim for them it would be great.

Its so difficult to accept this especially when in this week’s Torah portion we read of the immutable words uttered by Kalev Ben Yefunah, of the 12 spies who were send by Moses to scout the land. He said that “this land (Israel) is indeed exceedingly good”. He was confident in the Jewish people’s ability to conquer the land, settle it and protect it with G-d's help. How do such events fit Kalevs description that the Land in exceedingly good? Here you have 3 young men who want one thing, to live in the land where Kalev visited and loved, and live there and prosper. They believed in those immutable wards. The land is exceedingly good. Yet they find themselves kidnapped by the worst people in that very land described as “very Good”. Obviously we mortals cannot fathom the ways of G-d and why G-d would allow for such things to happen. If I knew everything I would be G-d. But I am not. The only thing left for us to do is to pray and do another Mitzvah in honor of their safety and quick reunification with their families.

What I would like to share with all of you regarding this matter is the following: I do believe that Israel is the best land in the world as the Torah says. But that goodness depends a lot on how we behave. if we compromise and show weakness to the terrorists they will take advantage and cause us even more harm. For example, the question of negotiating the exchange of large numbers of terrorists for one Jew. This is a very painful subject but one that the Torah and Jewish law is emphatic about. This is obviously not allowed. And the truth is that one does not need to be a genius to understand the detrimental effects that such swaps have on our security. The terrorist themselves say it. In a report on an Israeli news outlet this morning, they quoted the terrorists as saying that the only way we can get Israel to release our “fighters” i.e. terrorists, is by kidnapping Israelis. This is very simple: you exchange one time and two things happen. 1) Those terrorists go back to their terrorist activity and endanger more Jews and 2) they become very motivated to kidnap more Jews to get even more prisoners released. Can you imagine the two terrorists who murdered the Fogel family being released? Who does not remember those two human animals that broke into the Fogel home on a Friday night and slaughtered their entire family; father, mother, 3 children, with knives. The country shook as a result. It’s those killers who get released as a result of these one-Jew-per-thousand-terrorists exchanges. I am very well aware of the value Judaism puts on even one Jew and how each one is an entire world, but that cannot be a reason to release thousands of terrorists. It’s simple; you release one Jew and then 3 others are captured as a result. (the terrorists say it openly). So if you value each Jew as they should be, then we must stop this ridiculous behavior which comes from weakness not from strength.

Many ask; what then should Israel do? My answer is, and I know it’s not the easy or popular one, but the only logical one. Be strong. Never give the terrorists a victory. When you do, you endanger every one. This is not always popular.  Its a lot more popular to be the hero who negotiated the release of a captured Jew, but if the price is too high then it's very short sighted.

This criticism is not directed at a specific party or prime minister. This is not a matter of politics. It’s a Jewish Law issue and life and death question. I hope and pray that the world and especially Israel learns from its past mistakes, becomes firm and makes Israel once and for all a land “that is exceedingly good” as the Torah wants it to be.

May we only hear good news from Israel and from everywhere else in the world. I would like to suggest that every women light Shabbos candles this evening in honor of those 3 young Israelis. With this merit may we hear about their release very soon.

Shabbat Shalom

A Man Who Never Complained: In Memory of Stanley Cohen

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

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

In the story of this week’s Torah reading we are told of the desert Jews who complained about practically everything. Their food was not good enough, their drink was not exactly to their liking, they even complained about the miraculous Manna that fell from heaven every morning. Its appearance was not what they expected. Or the fact that they were now a free people who were on a mission from G-d to change the world was also something to complain about. They suddenly longed to go back to Egypt. In their words “we remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free” I guess the Egyptian chefs knew how to prepare a good trout or some really good grilled sea bass. I don’t know about the “for free” part. This is what the Jews complained about. Go figure. I don’t remember learning that the manna had to be bought in stores for a price. It was right there at their door post or just outside the camp. All you had to do was go pick it up every day. And mind you, it had the taste of anything you wished. So for example if they decided to have for breakfast bagels and lox, or pancakes, no problem; just think that that’s the taste you wanted and there it was, the manna suddenly took on a taste of bagels and lox or pancakes. But that was not good enough because It did not look like bagels and lox.

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

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

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

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

May his memory be a blessing to all of us.

 

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