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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

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 Year’s (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, fireworks, 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 Year’s Eve is one big party with very much drinking and sadly 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 the greater emphasis is on a day of endless partying and having fun. The result is that 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 Year’s eve party. It would be so nice if January first were a day which people dedicated to something more meaningful and content full. Maybe one day that will happen. Until then let us pray that 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.

A very Happy New Year to all!

Shabbat Shalom

 

The Public Menorah Lighting

As I and one thousand other Jews celebrated Chanukah at the Weston Town Center this past Tuesday, I could not help but marvel at the incredible outpouring of Jewish pride that was on display as we lit a twenty-foot-tall menorah together with our State’s and City’s dignitaries. One Israeli woman approached me during the lighting and said with obvious excitement, that she simply could not believe that this kind of event was even possible. With tears in her eyes, she expressed her amazement at the incredible Jewish Community that she saw and met at the Town Center. She was so happy to see that Am Yisrael Chai. Her words touched me.

I remember when the Rebbe first began encouraging public Menorah lightings in the 1970’s. He asked for menorahs to be lit in the open with government officials in attendance and if possible in government buildings as well. The Rebbe believed that the message of religious freedom that the Menorah represents and the American way of life have much in common and are really one in the same. The early pilgrims fled Europe and desired to establish a country which would tolerate and allow people to worship as they wished. With hard work they succeeded to establish what later became the United States of America, with its constitution in which liberty for all and religious freedoms were its founding principles. The story of Chanukah shares a similar message. The Greeks tried to destroy the soul of Judaism by outlawing many of its observances. A small group of Jews known as the Hasmoneans fought this oppression and eventually overpowered the Greeks and rid Israel from the regime that robbed Jews of their freedom to serve
G-d. The Chanukah Menorah therefore became the symbol of religious tolerance and freedom.  The Public Menorah lightings on the American landscape and specifically in government institutions are therefore a most natural evolution. Over the past forty years the Public Menorah has been challenged in courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, who ruled in favor of the Public Menorah and based its decision on the fact that the Menorah is indeed a symbol of religious freedom and does not violate the separation of church and state. Today the Public Menorah is an American phenomenon and is observed in thousands of American cities, City Halls, State Capitals, shopping malls and everywhere in between. This hard fought battle is now common place all over the world.

So when an Israeli woman with tears in her eyes tells me how touched she is that in the center of a city in the diaspora she witnesses a thousand Jews bonding together in unity, singing and dancing in celebration of this wonderful holiday, it behooves me to stop and think for a moment about this phenomenon; Where did it come from? Who had the vision and how did it become so popular?

It was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who had the vision and foresight to light up the world on Chanukah and help Jewish children during this time of year to feel proud of being Jewish and he put this vision into practice through his army of Shluchim whom he encouraged again and again to organize these public Menorah Lightings all over America and the entire world. He wanted that America should always remember what this country is all about.

So if millions of Jews are proud of being Jewish and dance in the streets during the Public Menorah Lightings in celebration of Chanukah and their Jewishness, we have one man to thank; The Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory. His vision and love for Jews and Judaism and his appreciation for America and what it stands for, gave way to one of the most innovative and successful displays of the American dream; The Public Menorah Lightings.

 Happy Chanukah and may G-d continue to bless America.

Shabbat Shalom 

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