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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Two Anniversaries

This past Tuesday, January 27, 2015 the world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Meaningful memorials were held and speeches were delivered with the theme of “Never Again”. Never again will mankind allow for such atrocities to be perpetrated on other peoples regardless of who they are. The world believes that the lessons of the holocaust were internalized and that such evil is something of the past.

As I was reading about the world’s Holocaust Memorial Day and the event that was held in Auschwitz on Tuesday, I could not help but wonder if indeed all the above is really true. Has the world learned anything from those horrible years? Is ‘Never Again’ a real promise or just an empty slogan? Has mankind truly changed? Will the world pull together in a moment of truth to fight the next Hitler? I have to tell you that while I used to think so I am no longer sure. Iran says openly that Israel should be wiped of the face of the earth while at the same time it is racing to develop a real and tangible way to accomplish their stated goal. And what does the free world do? They engage in endless negotiations that go nowhere and when finally there are signs that this ‘modern day Hitler’ is cracking because of harsh economic sanctions we cower and look for every way to lift them and limit their damage so that we can get them to help us fight the ‘other modern day Hitler’ called ISIS. If this weren’t so dangerous it would be comical. What’s even worse is that if one did not know better one would think that Netanyahu is the big villain here who is trying to torpedo a ‘successful’ deal that is about to be reached between the President and ‘peace loving’ Iran. I hope the world will see Auschwitz as a stark reminder of what evil people are capable of doing and what a complacent world is capable of allowing to happen.

As for us Jews, the 70th Anniversary of Auschwitz has a whole different meaning. If you analyzed the Jewish people in 1945 it was impossible to imagine that this shattered people can build itself up again, let alone ever being a force in the world to be reckoned with. The notion that the Jewish people could rise again and be a ‘light unto the nations’ and prepare this broken world for Moshiach was not even a dream.  It was the last thing on any one’s mind. This brings me to one more important anniversary that we are celebrating on this very day. Today, the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat marks sixty five years of the Rebbe’s ascension to the leadership of Chabad. On this day in 1950, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away and his son in law became the new Rebbe. When he officially assumed leadership, he held a Farbrengen and addressed the chassidim in a small room which accommodated at most 200 people. They were all survivors of the camps, the gulags and everywhere in between. Many of them had just arrived from Europe’s D.P. camps and were happy to be able to begin living again. During that first gathering the Rebbe laid out a plan for the Jewish people, which was so broad in scope and grandiose that the people in the room were just stunned and flabbergasted. He talked about our generation being the one who would finally transform the world and usher in the final redemption through Moshiach. He did not only talk but actually put into action a plan for a real renaissance of Jewish life on a global scale. While most Jews were barely managing to begin new lives, the Rebbe was focused on a global Jewish Mission that would change the world forever. He said that we did not go through a Holocaust of such proportion only to emerge from it and move Warsaw to Boro Park or Lodz to Bnai Brak.

The Rebbe’s vision and burning love for Hashem and Jews was becoming contagious. His farbrengens and gatherings began to attract hundreds, then thousands and then tens of thousands of Jews from all over who drank up everything he said with such excitement and enthusiasm. Here was someone who really cared about every Jewish person alive. Here was a leader who believed that Jews should not just shake off the ashes of Auschwitz and live life again, but should and must change the world and end evil once and for all by preparing the world for the final redemption. 

In order for this to happen he began sending young couples all over the globe with a simple mission: Love Jews. Reach in and find their souls. Create Jewish life everywhere and those that do will see success, and success they saw. Jewish life is thriving everywhere.

Rabbi Chaim Gutnick of Australia once remarked; Hitler hunted down every Jew in hate and the Lubavitcher Rebbe hunted down every Jew in love. On a day like this it behooves us to strengthen our commitment to this vision and to do another Mitzvah for the sake of hastening the coming of Moshiach, may it happen speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

"Break Through"

At my Parsha class this past week, I told the participants that I was going to talk about the Exodus from Egypt which happens to be the main topic of this week’s Torah portion. One of the students complained about the topic and remarked that it was already spoken about in the past and that it was old news. How many times do we have to hear about a 3300 year old story? What new information was there to share? And besides, there is the new movie “Exodus” that is showing in theaters and we can go see that movie anytime. You Rabbi, he said, should teach us something more relevant and timely, something we can relate to.  The sentiment that this student was sharing with me, was, I believe, one that many of us feel when we read these stories in the bible and celebrate the holidays marking those events. It’s a yearly reminder of something that happened ages ago during a time when people thought the world was flat and pagans worshipped stones. Basically, a story that was significant at its time but not really meaningful material to a twenty first century youngster who can see in the palm of his hands what’s happening on Mars.

I told my students that we would be talking about Egypt and the exodus nonetheless, but one they never heard of. I explained that Egypt is not only a geographical point on the globe but a concept or a mindset. The word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim which means ‘constriction’ and ‘limitations’ and leaving Egypt means letting loose from those constrictions. Each of us has all sorts of limitations and things that restrict us from being who we really want to be. These may be the result of circumstances that are imposed upon us, or they may be imaginary and self-imposed. Either way, they stand in the way and hold us back. A person might feel that they are unable to devote time to learn because they simply do not have time or because they do not know how to learn. Another might dismiss praying due to their inability to read Hebrew or because they find it too boring. A third person may not fathom how he/she can give 10% of their income to charity and yet for another, Jewish Education for their children seems out of reach because of all the expenses of daily living. This is true not only in our spiritual lives but in our material lives as well. How many of us know we need to do exercise but simply ‘have no time’. Some are afraid to take on new opportunities in business because of fear, or a man or women in their thirties who just cannot make a commitment because they did not yet find the ‘right match’. And the list goes on and on. the truth is that all these ‘excuses’ are nothing but a new English term for the ancient ‘Egypt’ or ‘Mitzrayim’ synonymous with ‘limitations’ and ‘constrictions’.

Do you really have no time for exercise? Who decided that? If you had an emergency G-d forbid would you not find the half hour to tend to it? The same is with giving charity, learning and praying. Who decided that we cannot do these things? Humans have a way of limiting themselves and really believing that they are truly limited. So many of us could have been so much more successful, had we believed that we did actually have the ability to achieve that success.

I believe that this is true in the bigger picture as well. The world, it seems, has descended into Egypt. Mankind has so many Pharaohs it has to deal with, whether it’s Iran, Isis, Hamas, anti-Semitism which seems to be rearing its ugly head again etc., but we don’t think we have the strength do really take them on and eradicate this evil.  This too is a self-imposed restriction which is holding back mankind from real progress.

It is time for a new kind of Exodus. It is time to allow ourselves to break out of this psychological ‘Egypt’ that has taken hold of us and stands in the way of our material and spiritual growth. This then is the purpose of reading the story again and again and again. The rabbis tell us that the Exodus must be a daily occurrence, because every day there is something that constricts and limits our connections to our deeper selves and to G-d.

May we merit to be redeemed from our personal ‘Egypt’ and from our collective ‘Egypt’ with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

"Worshipping the Nile...?"

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 consequences 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 farther from the truth. Pharaoh and Egypt, it turns out, is 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 there is a G-d 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 a G-d. The reason for this was because Egypt was/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 all their fields resulting in constant growth of their fields. It turns out that 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 destroyed 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 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 if 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 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 we also turned into ‘G-d’s’ that we worship. 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 blessings. The plagues He can bring upon others, and if He needs, I have a long list of those others.

Shabbat Shalom.

"Why...?"

The horrendous news that just came in from Paris leaves us all numb and speechless and with nothing to say. Another terrible tragedy perpetrated by an evil Islamic terrorist against innocent Jews shopping in a Kosher market before Shabbos. What can we say? What can we think? There is only one word that comes to mind, WHY? Why did G-d allow this to happen? Did the Jewish people not endure enough already? The truth is that this question was asked over 3300 years ago by Moshe himself, and recorded in this week’s Torah reading; Moshe asked: Why, G-d, have You dealt badly with this people?  Why do the Jewish people have to suffer so much? What have they done wrong? No human being has the answer to this question, and the truth is that I really have no interest in an answer. What good will it do for me if I “understood” why innocent Jews were murdered while shopping for Shabbos? The only thing I want is for this suffering to stop. When Jews ask ‘why’ they are not looking for some ‘rational’ answer for suffering. They are really asking for G-d to put an end to suffering rather than giving us some ‘reason’ why it exists.

But there is one important message I do want to impart. Sadly, every so often terrorists and other anti-Semites remind us that we are Jewish. Just in our life time, the Jewish people have had so many reminders of our Jewishness. Wars, terrorism, international criticism and never ending anti-Israel/Jewish sentiment are almost everywhere. Sadly those reminders are almost always negative reminders. While there is little that the average Jew is able to do about that, there is one thing we could and should do. If the world and its evil elements will continue to give us negative reminders of our Jewishness, we should give ourselves positive reminders of our being Jewish. Tonight every Jewish family should gather around their dining room tables and make Kiddush and have a Shabbat meal and express our gratitude to G-d for making us Jewish and sanctifying us by choosing us as his treasured nation. Remind your children that they are Jewish but do it through positive means. Our youth need to know that being Jewish is something to be proud of. Our youth need constant positive reminders of their Jewishness.

I heard this morning that the Charlie Hebdo newspaper was planning to circulate one million copies of this weekend’s paper. (They usually circulate one hundred thousand copies). That is their response to the terrorist attack on their headquarters that claimed the lives of twelve innocent people. We too must respond with doubled and redoubled efforts to bring a positive feeling to our young and not so young that being Jewish is really special.

There are so many positive things we can do to show how proud we are to be Jewish. Put a Mezuzah on your front door. If you have one on your front door put one on an inside door, (every door in your home should have one). Light Shabbat candles and celebrate a Shabbat meal with your family. The main thing is to create a way for your family to constantly have positive Jewish experiences in their daily lives. The world keeps making sure to remind us through negative means that we are Jewish. We as parents and educators must counter that with giving our children and students constant positive Jewish reminders.

While the details of the Paris tragedy are still unfolding let’s make this Shabbat a little holier. Let’s feel the beauty of Judaism just a little more this Shabbat, and in merit of our collective merits let us hope and pray that we hear only good news from the wounded that they all recover very quickly. May the families of the four Jews who lost their lives be consoled by Hashem himself and may He give them the strength to cope with their terrible and tragic loss. And may G-d, once and for all, answer the question of WHY by bringing an end to our suffering and eradicate all evil from the world with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

 

"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 Years (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, fire works, 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 Years Eve is one big party with very much drinking and 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 it is a day of endless partying and having fun and that aspect is much more emphasized. 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 Years party.                                                  

May 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.  

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