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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Spun from Below

 

There are two Holidays in our Jewish calendar, Purim and Chanukah, which were instituted by the Rabbis. They both commemorate a miraculous salvation from an enemy who tried to destroy us, but the two stories are very different in the way G-d manifested himself in their victory and salvation. In the story of Chanukah, there are open miracles. There is a massive Greek army who is defeated by a tiny Jewish army (open miracle number one) and then there is the burning of a day’s supply of oil that lasts for eight days (open miracle number two). 

On Purim, however, it’s a very different story. We are told of a terrible plot to exterminate all Jews which was almost executed, but was foiled at the last moment by the wife of the King, who happens to be a Jew herself. The entire story from beginning to end is a series of events that all lead to a happy ending. The King, who executed his wife Vashti, needs a new wife/Queen. Esther, a Jewess, happens to be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom and becomes the new Queen. Haman, the vicious anti- Semite and villain in the story, plots to kill all Jews and is unsuccessful, because Esther intervenes and foils the plot. There might be a lot of drama here, but very little in terms of miracles and the open hand of G-d. In fact, the book of Esther is the only one in the Bible in which G-d’s name does not appear even once. It is as if this was a sequence of natural happenings where the right people were there at the right time, thereby allowing for this fortunate and happy ending. What is obviously missing in this saga, is G-d Himself and any trace of an open miracle.

Our rabbi’s explain that there are indeed two types of miracles. Open and obvious ones, the kind we experienced on Chanukah, and miracles that are not as open and obvious, the ones that come disguised in nature, yet upon deeper reflection, clearly lead one to conclude that G-d was there all along albeit in a more concealed way. This is the miracle that we celebrate on Purim. As mentioned, the story is a lengthy series of events that seem benign, but when put together, reveal the hand of G-d in all of it. According to our sages, the latter type of miracle originates from an even higher source within G-d that is so infinite that it does not have to abnegate nature in order for it to manifest itself. Purim, therefore, is the highest kind of holiday, one that revealed the highest level of G-d. This is also reflected in the different customs of the day. We dress up in costumes and masks in order to conceal ourselves, like G-d who masked and concealed Himself in the ‘miracle’ of Purim.

The above-mentioned difference between the miracles of Chanukah and Purim is also reflected in the Dreidel we use on Chanukah and the Gragger (noisemaker) we use on Purim. The Chanukah Dreidel and the Purim Gragger are both spun, but with one difference. We spin the Dreidel by holding the twister on top, while the Gragger is spun by holding the twister from below. These seemingly petty details reflect a higher truth and hint to the difference between the miracles of Chanukah and Purim. G-d is always ‘spinning’ our world and directing all that happens in our lives. Sometimes it is obvious to us and we can see how He is ‘spinning’ it from above. His involvement is open, revealed and miraculous like it was during the events of Chanukah. Other times, or shall I say most of the time, it seems as if we are the ones ‘spinning’ our own lives and fate from below, but the truth is that it is G-d who is always behind the scenes directing and ‘spinning’ everything that happens in our lives. He is ‘masked’ in nature like He was during the story of Purim.

So, as you celebrate Purim this coming Wednesday night and Thursday, remember and reflect on one of its most important lessons: It is in our daily lives, lived naturally, that G-d is most manifested. We sometimes don’t identify the hand of G-d in our daily lives, but like in the Purim story, G-d was present in all of it. Sometimes it is only after the whole event plays itself out that we are able to detect that while it looked like we are ‘spinning our own Gragger’, it is really G-d who was there all along directing it from above. Think about and reflect patiently about everything that transpired in the last week and you will undoubtedly find G-d everywhere. You will recognize that all those ‘unrelated’ things that just seemed to have happened were all really directed by Hashem, albeit disguised under the mask of nature.

A very happy and joyous Purim to all.

 

 

Don't Worry... Be 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 today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar, 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 most unhappy 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 once in two weeks. 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.

I received a call this week from a concerned woman who tells me that she is very worried about everything that is going on in the world 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. Europe is losing control, America is not far behind and there are very few voices out there that can give us some comfort and strength. Anti-Semitism has reached frightening levels with Jews being threatened all over the world. The terrorists have no red lines. They continue to show the world how low and barbaric human beings can become. They are in a ‘holy’ war, decapitating and burning alive scores of people in front of cameras is their version of holiness. In this kind of environment, can one be happy at all, let alone increase our happiness?

If we want to be happy and even increase 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 person. 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.

 

Perhaps it is for This Moment...

There are moments and events in one’s life that are of such importance that they become etched in the memory of the person - to the point that even insignificant details are also remembered. 9-11 is one such event. We not only remember what happened, but where we were when we learned of it. We even recall what kind of tea we were drinking when we heard the tragic news. Each of us has such moments in our lives as well: our marriage, the birth of our children and so on.

I believe that the events of March 2015 will be remembered as one of those pivotal moments in our lives which we will never forget. I am referring to the fiasco surrounding the speech that Mr. Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver to a joint session of Congress regarding Iran. The White House, as we all know by now, is not very happy about the speech. They say that the Prime Minister violated standard protocol when he failed to consult the executive branch before accepting the invitation. Anyone who knows anything about the issue is keenly aware that this protocol thing is all smoke and mirrors. The real reason why the President is so upset is because Mr. Netanyahu is about to tell the world that the President of the U.S. and other world leaders are about to sign an agreement with Iran that will endanger Israel, the Middle East and by extension, the entire world. Mr. Netanyahu wants American lawmakers to know that 2015 might turn out to be 1938 all over again when Chamberlain foolishly believed that “peace has arrived in our time”.

What is so upsetting and shocking about all of this is the political circus that this has turned into. We are quite literally dealing with an existential threat to Israel and our politicians are busy talking about protocol?! What is even more shocking about all of this is the reaction of some Jewish leaders and politicians. Some have come out against the Prime Minister on the grounds that he is causing the American Jewish community to choose between their loyalty to Israel and their loyalty and relationship with our own government.

There are two points I want to make regarding this:

1) The Jewish community in the United States must and should maintain good relations with the government.  Throughout our long exile, we have always tried to do that, no matter what country we found ourselves in. But does anyone really think that our relationship with the President is in any kind of jeopardy if we support Mr. Netanyahu in his attempt to alarm the world that Iran cannot be believed and that a bad deal with the Iranian government spells danger to the world? Is our relationship with the government so flimsy that showing support for something so crucial would in any way weaken it? I don’t think so.

2) In the forties, when millions of Jews were being massacred by Hitler and the Nazi’s, there were Jewish whistleblowers who demanded that Jewish leaders in this country do more to utilize their connections with the government and push hard to convince Roosevelt to instruct the army to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz. Then, too, there were those who were overly cautious about maintaining “good” relations with Roosevelt and were reluctant to push the buttons too hard. The Jewish Community today must understand that this is not a time to be worried about such matters when there looms such an existential threat over Israel’s head. The question must be asked: what is the purpose of such connections if we are too afraid to use them when we most need them?

In the Megillah of Esther, we are told that when the decree was passed to exterminate every Jewish man, woman and child, Esther was reluctant to go to the King to intercede on behalf of her Jewish brethren out of fear for her life. Mordechai sent her a message telling her those famous words “if you remain silent at such a time salvation will come from elsewhere, but, you, Esther, will have missed this opportunity to help. And who knows, perhaps it is for this moment that you have become the queen”. To every Jewish politician in Washington and to every Jewish leader today, we must echo those words! This is your moment to show your unconditional support to Israel and its Prime Minister. This is not politics, but life and death. If you waiver now and choose to be silent or stay away, you will have lost your opportunity like so many did in the forties. We need you now. We need you to show up and send a strong message to our government that they dare not repeat the mistake of 1938, G-d forbid, and allow Iran to do to us what Hitler did then to Chamberlain.

May G-d protect the people of Israel and as we say in our Yom Kippur prayers, “May He dispose the heart of the government, its advisers and ministers favorably towards us”. Amen. 

Good Shabbos.

 

 

"An Oasis In Time"

This week was a very busy week at Chabad of Weston. We hosted close to 200 women at the Mega Challah Bake and tonight we are hosting again close to 200 people for Shabbos Dinner with Scholar in Residence Rabbi Marvin Tokayer. At the Mega Challah Bake, everyone baked a Challah in honor of Shabbos and the Shabbaton is of course all about bringing the holiness of Shabbos to so many families. One can say that Shabbos was the theme of the week. This is very appropriate for on this Shabbos we will read the Ten Commandments, the fourth of which is the commandment to observe the Shabbos. 

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 are 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, that is its 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.

 

 

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