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A Message from Rabbi Spalter

The Night That Changed The World

Today, the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat (Yud Shvat) marks the 68th anniversary of the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson of blessed memory. It is also the day that one year later the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson accepted upon himself the leadership of Chabad Lubavitch.

It is impossible to describe in one article the true significance of this day. An entire series of books would probably be needed to truly capture the essence of Yud Shvat and what it represents. It is hard to imagine what the Jewish landscape would look like if not for the leadership of the Rebbe. The Rebbe, through his outreach revolution, transformed Jewry as it was known. One can say that the Rebbe revived the Jewish people after the holocaust when our hearts, spirits and souls were completely shattered and saved Jewry worldwide. Through his Shluchim, his emissaries, he oversaw a Jewish renaissance of epic proportions, one that no one could have expected or imagined. But not only that; The Rebbe changed the way Jews thought of themselves, the world around them and their sense of mission. With total dedication and unbounding love, he took a broken Jewish nation, who saw themselves as survivors and just happy to get through another day and breathed into them new life, purpose and perspective. The Rebbe inspired Jewish leaders, Jewish movers and shakers, Chassidic Rebbe’s, political personalities and so many more to move away from a survivor mentality and to begin to recognize the new opportunity that presented itself to the Jewish people for the first time in millennia; an opportunity to finally become the light unto the nations that we were always meant to be but was beyond our reach because of harsh circumstances we found ourselves in. In Poland and Russia, we had to dodge pogroms and other anti-Semitic acts constantly perpetrated against Jews. Here in America and especially after the war, all that changed. We finally had the opportunity to reach out and become the global ambassadors of G-d we were always meant to be. He did not just talk, he acted. Today Lubavitch is a source for everything Jewish all over the globe. From Alaska to Bangkok, Helsinki to the Congo and from Weston to Brisbane, the Rebbe’s love and dedication are present for all to enjoy.

In his first address as Rebbe, in January of 1951, he talked about this generation being the one who will finally complete the mission we were given at Sinai; to bring the world to its ultimate perfection and bring Moshiach and redemption to the world. He drew upon the Midrash, which teaches that when G-d created the world He was fully present and revealed here. But then Adam ate from the forbidden fruit and caused the divine presence to be removed from earth up to heaven, causing the world to be plunged into spiritual darkness. A series of other terrible sins ‘pushed’ the divine presence even further away from earth, all the way up to the seventh spiritual heaven. Then came Abraham., he began to reverse that process and draw the divine presence back down to earth. It took seven great Tzaddikim, over seven generations, to ‘bring’ G-d back down to earth. Moses, the seventh from Abraham, finally accomplished that feat at Sinai; we are told “G-d descended onto Mount Sinai”. His presence was once again here in full revelation as it was before the original sin. But sadly, that did not last long. The sin of the golden calf and subsequent sins caused the same process and again, G-d’s revealed presence was ‘chased away’ from our physical world. The Rebbe then said something truly remarkable. He said that the Chassidic renaissance which was initiated seven generations ago, began to once again draw G-d’s presence back down to earth. The Rebbe explained that we are the seventh generation and it is therefore our mission to complete the job and bring G-d down to earth once and for all. His message was clear; we are the ones who must bring Moshiach, end the exile, and bring the world to its fullest potential.

Imagine the people in the room hearing those words. Here you have a leader who has his eyes on the ultimate prize, Moshiach. Anything less than that spells failure from his point of view. This was his message to a nation who, just a few years earlier, lost 6,000,000 to Hitler, and millions more trapped behind Stalin’s iron curtain, cut off from Jewry and Judaism. You can well imagine that the Rebbe’s global outlook and grandiose vision probably fell on deaf ears. But he believed what he was saying. He said it again and again and slowly his message penetrated the hearts and minds of hundreds, then thousands and the rest is history. The Rebbe uplifted the shattered remnants of a downtrodden and broken people into a nation who saw themselves once again or perhaps for the first time in millennia, as a light unto the nations. He infused our people with hope and enthusiasm and asked that they join him in the greatest mission of all; to end this exile and bring G-d once again down to earth.

He did not just talk. He acted. He changed minds, Inspired hearts and unleashed a flood of goodness in the world. I have no doubt that the Rebbe's call sixty-seven years ago today, will become reality. Our generation will indeed bring Moshiach. May it happen now! Amen.

A Miracle in Mumbai

We live in strange times. Our lives are no longer our own. That little 3-inch by 5-inch gadget we keep with us 24 hours a day has robbed our freedom from us. We are bombarded every few seconds with another text, email, WhatsApp note, Facebook message, tweet etc. Then there are of course the constant distractions of “worthy” and “important” news items of the day; Is Haiti and El Salvador this or that kind of country, are the President’s cognitive faculties up to par, or what does Kim Jong-un of North Korea like to eat for dinner? In this environment it is no wonder that most of ‘life’ and ‘life happenings’ just pass right over us without so much as even giving it a fleeting glance. If we only paid closer attention we would realize that every day extraordinary things happen to us and all around us but we are too busy to look and see life for what it really is. This week something did catch my attention which I would like to share with you.

An 11-year-old boy flew to India together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the Chabad Center of Mumbai. If you will remember, in 2008 a group of terrorists stormed the Chabad Center and murdered Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, directors of Chabad of Mumbai, together with 4 other Jews who were there at the time. In the midst of the carnage, the two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, son of Gabi and Rivky, ran into the room where their bodies were laying covered in blood and began screaming/crying. The baby sitter, Sandra, who was hiding in a closet, heard the crying baby and without hesitation ran out of the closet to the room where the boy was, grabbed ahold of him and miraculously escaped the building and saved his life. This angel endangered her own life to save the life of little Moshe. The cameras captured their escape live on TV and for days that clip, shown again and again all over the world, became symbolic of the story of the Jewish people; in the midst of the worst Jewish tragedies a remnant is always saved to continue on. Little Moshe was taken to Israel with Sandra and grew up in the loving home of his maternal grandparents in the city of Afula. This week, 9 years later, the 11-year-old Moshe Holtzberg was invited to fly on Netanyahu’s plane on his state visit to India, and yesterday the Prime minister and his entourage together with Moshe visited the Chabad Center for an unveiling ceremony of the Memorial wall dedicated to his parents. The moving ceremony brought tears to my eyes as I watched this cute charming young boy so innocently talk about his parents and the place he spent the first two years of his life. Mr. Netanyahu was also visibly moved and kissed the boy as he thanked Hashem for the miracle of his survival and the Prime Minister for inviting him on this trip.

This young boy became a symbol of Jewish Survival. His story captured the imagination of tens of millions of Jews and non-Jews the world over. He announced that when he is all grown up and married he plans on joining the Chabad Emissary team in Mumbai to continue the work of his parents and pick up where they left off. As I was watching him speak so lovingly about his parents, who he obviously does not remember and will never know, the following thought dawned on me; will he really never know his parents? Or, does he really not know his parents? I ask you this: who is more connected to their parents? This eleven-year-old ‘orphan’ who lives his parent’s life goals and dreams or a child who might ‘see’ and ‘speak’ to his/her parents every day but never really connects to them on a deeper level. Where is there a greater generation gap between parent and child? Moshe Holtzberg might not ‘see’ and ‘hear’ his parents face and voice but does he not gaze at and perceive their true essence? Between Moshe and Gabi and Rivky there might be a physical gap but from what I saw this week, it’s clear that there is no gap at all. They live the same goals. He will eventually take over where they left off creating a seamless continuation of truth, devotion and love at Chabad of Mumbai that no terrorist can separate and no gadget can confuse. This is a boy who might be an orphan in the conventional sense but is so deeply involved in his parents’ life and they in turn are undoubtedly involved in his.

In the portion of this week, Bo, which talks about the exodus from Egypt and the laws of the Pesach Seder, we are taught that the Seder is all about parents teaching their children. “if your son will ask you tomorrow what is this service to you” says the verse in this week’s portion, “you shall say to him and teach him……” we are enjoined to create a continuum of Jewish life from one generation to the next, of Jewish children who understand why they are here and what Judaism is meant to accomplish. That is the mission of parent’s vis a vis their children. What I saw in India this week was a child who continues to ask his parents and I saw a child who continues to get the answers from his parents. I did not see an orphan of dead parents. Everyone was alive. If only all of today’s parents and children were ‘alive’ as are Gabi, Rivky and Moshe Holtzberg.

May we all live long lives physically and may all the gaps between parents and children be removed from each other and be connected as are the Holtzbergs. Amen. 

Peace vs. Truth

There is not a parent, teacher, rabbi or community leader who does not try to instill a hierarchy of morals and values to their children, students, congregants or community members. For example, we all try to teach our children not to lie, to be honest, to treat others with respect and to foster an atmosphere of peace between family members, friends and acquaintances. That’s obvious and clear to every thinking and moral person.

It becomes a bit tricky, when we try to figure out which of these values are higher on the scale and more important than others. For example, if saying the truth will offend someone, should we lie and maintain peace, or say the truth and cause discord? Say, your wife, who is not the best cook, serves you dinner and after the meal asks you how it was, If you say that it was not very tasty, which would be the truth, you will offend her and cause discord. If you say it was delicious, you will maintain peace but you compromised the truth. Which of these values trumps the other? Or, for example, one day you wake up and decide that you want to start keeping Kosher but your spouse thinks you have gone meshuga and is not interested? Do you compromise the truth (keeping Kosher) for Shalom Bayis, Peace in the home, or do you compromise peace for truth?  

This question might sound a bit trivial but when you think about it, we confront this moral dilemma almost every day of our lives. Your friend might ask you how you like his/her new article of clothing? Or how did you enjoy his/her graduation speech? Or how do you like the new car they bought? Do you always say it is beautiful or was great even though you might think otherwise just to maintain peace or do you say the truth and nothing but the truth no matter what the consequences might be?

This is not an easy question and there is no easy answer. Moral people grapple with this and other similar dilemma’s all the time and as Jews we naturally look to the Torah for guidance. It’s a very nuanced subject and would require more than one article to master, but let me at least try to whet your appetite with the hope that you will probe further.

In this week’s Portion, Va’eira, we read about the exodus from Egypt. G-d instructs Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh and convince him to let the Jewish people go free. In introducing Moses and Aaron, the Torah sometimes mentions Moses before Aaron and sometimes Aaron is mentioned before Moses. The Sages explain that the reason they are interchanged that way is to convey that they were both equally righteous. Had Moses always been mentioned first one might have thought that he was the more important one. And the same if it was vice versa, if Aaron was always mentioned first. By interchanging them we learn that They were really equal.

I think the Sages were trying to convey a deeper message with their explanation about Moses and Aarons ordered mention in the text. We are taught that Moses represents Truth while Aaron personified Peace. G-d gave the Torah (truth) to Moses. In fact, the Torah is actually called the “Torah of Moses”. Moses and Torah i.e. truth are synonymous. Aaron, we are taught, was the ultimate peace maker. The Mishnah tells us that Aaron loved peace and pursued peace. If Moshe represents “truth” Aaron represents “peace”. When the sages taught that Moses and Aaron were equal, they are not only telling us that they were equal in their holiness or some other virtue, but that their respective attributes “truth” and “peace” are equal on the hierarchy of values. Sometimes peace (Aaron) is mentioned first because there are times when peace must trump truth (Moses) and other times truth (Moses) is mentioned first to convey that in some cases truth cannot be compromised even at the cost of peace.

Did I not tell you that this was a difficult one? So let me try to offer a bit of practical guidance. In general, the Torah allows us to tell a white lie in order to maintain peace. You can tell you wife that the food she cooked was delicious even if the taste of it was wanting. You can tell her that the new dress she just bought is beautiful even though you would much rather she left it on the rack. In those cases, the value of peace is more important; Aaron is mentioned first. When it comes to a child you never ever lie. In that case truth trumps everything else. This can and should be applied when it comes to religious life in the home as well. Sometimes couples quarrel about how religious they want to be. I tell you with full authority that sometimes the truth should win the day and other times peace should be the guiding light. It depends on circumstances and many other factors. It is best advised to get advice from a Rabbi who knows your family and individual circumstance.

The Torah is nuanced and sometimes the most important truths and moral questions are conveyed in the order certain names are mentioned in the text. Moses and Aaron = truth and peace. The order in which they appear tells us how to navigate the moral dilemmas of daily life.

Shabbat Shalom.


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