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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Yud Aleph Nissan

This Tuesday, the eleventh of Nissan marks the 116th birthday of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of blessed memory. As I have written in other articles, 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 so 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 the Rebbe. For 30 years he would spend three nights a week often times until dawn, meeting Jews from all walks of life, listening and tending to their needs and problems, giving advice and counsel to the tens of thousands who came to meet him. Among them were Presidents, Prime ministers, Ambassadors, Army personnel, Jewish leaders, Rabbis, Authors, tailors, teachers, plumbers and your average rank and file member of society. After that was no longer possible he began, since 1986, to meet 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. Think about that! One man in his ninth decade of life makes personal eye contact with 1,500,000 people. This is unprecedented in Jewish or any other history. This was the Rebbe. He loved, cared and gave everything he had to be there for his people.

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 books, videos, documentaries and articles continue to be published about him. This week alone hundreds of proclamations from Mayors, Governors, Senators and Congressmen and women were signed and sealed to honor the Rebbe’s work accomplishments especially in the area of Education. 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 (wholly righteous people) 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.  Today, 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 two decades. Young Chabad Shluchim, who by the way never saw the Rebbe, 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 (resting place) of the Rebbe is a place where millions of Jews visit and/or write letters to for blessings. I know firsthand that these requests are being answered in a most wondrous way. I suggest that on Tuesday, on the Rebbe’s birthday, a time when his Mazal (spiritual flow) is strong, write to the Rebbe and make that connection. 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. Try it, you will not regret it.

Shabbat Shalom

An Israel Experience to Remember

 

An Israel Experience to Remember


Last week I had the great fortune of joining a group of close to 800 Jews from around the country, including a delegation from Weston, for a special mission to Israel. This trip was unlike any other for a number of reasons which I will point out. The trip was organized by the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) who’s main mission is to educate Jewish adults through a variety of means including “The Land and The Spirit” Israel experience from which I just returned.

The trip itself was first class. Hotels, food, travel and everything in between was at the highest level. This was a luxury trip in every sense but the main thing was the mission itself. I have been to Israel many times and so have many of the participants on this trip been there more than once, but this was something entirely different. There are many great organizations that organize great trips to Israel, but this JLI Israel Experience was something other than your average Israel trip. What made this so special was the unique places that we visited. As I said this trip was motivated by education and as such every one of the five itineraries was designed to Educate. When you travel the length and breadth of Israel you are met with 3800 years of Jewish history and every inch of the Holy Land has so much potential for education. The holy soil was where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, David, Solomon, the Maccabees, the Talmudic Sages, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva all treaded. Over the past 2000 years of exile we managed to maintain a Jewish presence as well. Whether it was Rabbi Yehudah Hanasee, Nachmanides, the holy Kabbalist of the 16th century and all the way up to the 20th century builders of the land, every kilometer of Israel is saturated with a wealth of historical richness and unless seen up close one does not really capture its essence.

Last Thursday we were in the ancient biblical city of Shilo, the place where Jews came on pilgrimages for 369 years during the period of the Judges, about from the years 1250 to 880 BCE. It was there that they built the holy tabernacle, or Temple, which served as center of Jewish life for close to four centuries. What a beautiful mountainous region. The site was excavated and we now know precisely where the actual tabernacle stood. A new beautiful town was built there and the main Shul of modern day Shilo was modeled after the ancient tabernacle. Just stunning and so rich with meaning. I would say that that was one of the highlights of the trip. Our group was addressed by one of the leaders of the town and he thanked us profusely for visiting. I asked him why he was thanking us so much? He said because no groups visit there and explained that because Shilo is beyond the green line 90 percent of foreign tourist groups do not come there to visit and not because of security concerns. That is easy to deal with, Shilo and most of the Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria are located in areas where security is hardly a problem. He explained that its mostly political and that is a great shame. Hundreds of thousands of Jews who go to Israel to see and experience the land and who have no interest in the politics of the moment, are deprived of most of the biblical sites because they happened to be on the wrong side of the green line. The fact is that most of the biblical narrative happened in Judea and Samaria known as the West Bank. To deprive millions of Jews from learning and being inspired by their rich heritage is very unfortunate. Shilo was just one such place. Hebron where it all began with Abraham and Sarah and where King David set up his monarchy is the best kept secret for most Jewish tourists because of the same reason. The Jordan Valley where Joshua crossed the Jordan river and led the Jews into Israel is another site where most groups skip.

JLI skipped nothing and good for them and for the 800 participants who were with us on this trip. They got a taste of the Holy Land that sadly most don’t. We all danced in Hebron together with the local residents, dined in Shilo, prayed in the Jericho lookout, and of course saw and experienced Jerusalems old and new cities, Tel Aviv, Tibereas, Zefat, Acre, bet Shemesh, Latrun’s IDF’s military museum and so much more as well. We also got to meet and hear from so many Knesset members, US Ambassador to Israel, the chief Rabbi of Israel all whom addressed us during our meals and other occasions.  

If you are reading this article and want an Israel Experience that will connect you to 3800 years of Jewish History and life, join the next JLI “The Land and The Spirit” Israel Experience which will take place in 2020. You will not regret it. It is a thrilling 8 days where both body and soul are well nourished in the best accommodations and with the highest quality guides who make every minute of every day unforgettable. I cannot wait.

 

 

 

 

Mordechai, Esther and We The People

The Purim Megilah (scroll of Esther) if one of my favorites. In it there are so many life lessons for all times, all you need is to dig a little deeper and layers upon layers of truths are right there for the taking. Let me share one example with you.

In the fourth chapter of the Megilah, after Mordechai finds out that Haman plotted to annihilate the entire Jewish people, he goes to the palace to tell Queen Esther that she must go to the King and do whatever she can to save the Jewish people. Esther tells Mordechai that She is unable to do anything because she has not been invited to come to the King and the rule was that unless you were invited you could not just show up and if you did, you can be sentenced to death. Mordechai answers her that she must act because, although the Jews will be saved either way, she should be aware that she might have become the Queen only for this opportunity to save her people from annihilation. In other words, if she chooses not to get involved she might lose her entire raison d’etre as Queen and her whole legacy will be forever ruined. These words moved her and the rest is history.

When you analyze this back and forth you cannot help but wonder, what is going on here? Was her legacy more important to her than the thought of the Jewish people being exterminated? It seems that only when she realizes that her name and legacy will suffer if she remained silent is she moved to act. This seems out of character for the righteous Esther. The answer to this question is profound and touches upon one of the most important life lessons of all time. What Mordechai was telling Esther was a simple truth: The Jewish People’s survival was not dependent on the efforts of Esther or that of anyone else. Their salvation will come from G-d either way, but, Mordechai continued, this might be the moment that G-d has chosen for Esther. G-d might want to save the Jewish people through her efforts and that might be the reason He put her in such a position of power to begin with. Esther understood what Mordechai was telling her. That her moment has come. This is why her soul had come down to earth; to be the one through whom G-d saves the Jewish people. Imagine if she would have decided not to put her life in danger and as a result, failed to go to the King at that pivotal moment? Her ‘name’ and ‘legacy’ would be tarnished forever. Her entire purpose for being would have been missed. It was this truth that moved her.

Mordechai was telling Esther that this is not about the Jewish people. They will survive with or without you. This is about you, Esther; will you survive your purpose or not is the question. Esther understood that her moment was at hand and she acted. As a result, we have Purim and the Scroll of Esther.

This is true for every individual. The holy Baal Shem Tov once said that a soul may be sent down to earth to live an entire life, for the purpose of doing a favor to a fellow even one time. What the Baal Shem Tov meant was that every person is born into this world with a purpose, and that purpose might be to do something important even one time. The problem is that we do not know when that moment is and therefore anytime an opportunity arises for us to do something positive we must seize the moment because that might be the one we were created for. Can you imagine missing your moment? Imagine someone calls upon you to help a cause or to help a person in their time of need and because you were not in the mood you passed on the opportunity. That might have been your moment for which you came down to this earth. What a tragedy that would be.

I believe this is true not only for every individual but for the collective as well. Every nation has its moment and purpose. 240 years ago a nation was born, they called it the United States of America. The founding fathers recognized that a special moment in history was calling upon them to do something extraordinary; to establish a nation upon whom G-d and true morality would reign. The founders made sure that G-d would take a front seat in the minds and hearts of its population. They wrote a constitution which could have only been the product of people who believed in G-d and truly wanted Him in the lives of all Americans. 

John Adams said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”     For 200 years these United States lived and breathed the words “in G-d We Trust”. But then something happened. We relegated G-d to houses of worship and for many, G-d became a threat to their liberty and open mindedness. Instead of realizing that it is only through a strong faith in G-d that any people can be and remain free, some began seeing Him as a threat. As a   result, our children are confused and we are constantly arguing about ‘Church and State’ Issues, forgetting what the Founders understood; that only if we have a strong faith in G-d can we be assured that everyone will be free to practice their own religion i.e. their own interpretation of G-d. The separation of ‘Church and State’, which I am an ardent supporter of, was never meant to be a separation between ‘G-d and State’. In fact, the only way to ensure the separation between ‘Church and State’ is if we make sure that there is never a separation between ‘G-d and State’. Without a G-d conscience we run the risk of becoming like all those nations before us who’s leaders abused their power and caused so much suffering for their people. In some cases, they forced a particular religion on their population, in other cases they forced secularism on their populations. 

I believe that we are at a threshold in our own history as Americans, and that we are being called to seize a new moment in the American story. We need to bring G-d back to the conscience of our children and population so that we can continue to be the greatest nation on earth. We are great not because of our material successes, we are great because our foundation was based on G-d and precisely because of that we have been so successful. Like Esther back in Persia, we must not let this moment slip by. We must heed the words of Adams: this great constitution will only survive if we are a people whose lives are based on G-d’s moral code for humanity.

 

 

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