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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Build the Wall!

This Sunday, July 1, millions of Jews will fast from dusk to nightfall in remembrance of a tragic event that took place on this day some 1950 years ago. On this day, the 17th of Tammuz, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem after a long siege and went on to destroy the holy temple and Jerusalem, driving the Jews into a long exile in which we still find ourselves. Our sages explain that while the actual destruction would happen only three weeks later, the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem spelled the end and it was only a matter of time when the temple would also go up in flames. In other words, when our protective walls were broken through there was no longer any hope, it was downhill from there. It is for this reason that we dedicate this day to fast and better our ways so that we can hasten the day when we will end this exile and once again build Jerusalem and the Temple.

 Like everything in Judaism, this too has a lesson for us living in America (or where ever you live) today. Our fasting is not only to remember the tragedy that happened many years ago but it is also a reminder that today, as then, we are vulnerable if we allow our ‘walls’ to be breached. You’re probably wondering which walls I am referring to, so let me explain.

Life can be very challenging. We marry, build a family and try to raise our children as best as we can so that they can grow up as mentchen (good people) and good Jews. We hope that our children will befriend only good and like-minded moral individuals. We pray that when they go off to college they will do well and be focused on the right things. We look to heaven and ask that G-d lead them in the right direction and find them good matches. People always ask me how to raise good children? What is the secret to successful parenting? There is more than one answer to this question obviously, but drawing upon the lessons of the upcoming fast day and what it represents, let me advise the following: Build Walls! Build walls of morality around yourself, your children and your homes and never let those walls to be breached. Sit down with your spouses and decide how you want your children to grow up? What moral values you want to instill in them? What values are absolutes and which are not. This is extremely important.

I was invited last year to give a talk to a group of Chassidic women in Wisconsin on how to raise Chassidic children. I opened my talk with a question to one of the women in the audience. I asked her how she and her husband wanted their children to grow up? What kind of children they wanted? She looked at me and said; what do you mean? We want our children to grow up to be real Chassidic Jews, to follow in its ways and to cherish being Chassidim. This answer was too general I explained. Of course we want our children to be ‘good’, but “the devil is in the details”. I asked her if she was able to tell me more specifically what she meant by Chassidic children? How Chassidic? What was a must and what was secondary? I gave her the same advise; that she should spend a half hour with her husband to figure out more or less what their outlook was and how they plan on getting that result.

We all want good results. But just like in a business venture, it is inadequate to just set out a goal to earn a profit. One must be more specific; how much of a profit is realistic and what would be considered success. The same is with the most important business venture ever; raising children. It is simply not enough to desire ‘good children’. Define for yourself the meaning of ‘good’ and figure out how you plan on achieving that goal. For some ‘good’ means becoming a doctor, for others ‘good’ means being honest, for others it means being kind, for some it means marrying Jewish and still for others ‘good’ means observing all of the Torah’s commandments. I am sure for most of us it is a combination of some or all of the above. In each case we need to define it and set practical ways of achieving that outcome. If you want your children to be honest you need to be doubly honest yourself. You need to erect a ‘wall’ of values that breed honesty and those walls may never be breached. Too often people allow their ‘walls' to be breached and then just move the goal post when it becomes convenient to do so.

This then is the lesson of the fast day commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem. We need walls. We need to build walls of moral values around our families and protect those walls so that they are never breached. We live at a time when walls keep coming down. Morality has become relative. There are so few values that are absolutes. If we allow our ‘walls’ of morality to be 'breached' we run the high risk of our very ‘temple’ (our children) to be completely destroyed. So yes, build that wall, make it thick and tall, and do it quickly.

Shabbat Shalom and have an easy fast.

 

 

A Crisis at The Border?

I’ve been following the latest political storm regarding the children at the US-Mexican border and the controversy surrounding the separation of these children from their detained or arrested parents. Politics aside, this whole saga got me thinking about my own children and my relationship with them.

I think we can all agree that the forced physical separation of children from their parents is traumatic and can be devastating to the child and his/her development. It is a tragedy every time it happens and I have seen it more than once. I served as a US chaplain in the Federal Detention Center in down town Miami for a few years and every week I saw the devastation of new arrestees who were brought into prison and were separated from their children. (this detention center was where people who were just arrested were brought for detention until their trial etc.). The arrests were fresh, the separation from their children was fresh and every week I would observe young children coming to visit their incarcerated parents (and yes, sometimes it was both, mother and father who were in prison). It is heart wrenching to observe babies, toddlers, young children and adolescents have to visit their parents once a week and talk to them through a glass window. If they were lucky, they would then go home to be with grandparents or other family members or if they were not so lucky, they would be taken back to a foster home and the like. It was a weekly tragedy that I observed and which I will never forget.

But I ask myself, is only physical separation devastating? How about emotional separation or psychological separation? Let’s be honest, there are millions of children who live with and are physically ‘united’ with their parents in nice houses and all, but whose parents are all but ‘separated’ from them on so many other levels. Children today yearn to talk to their parents. They yearn to just spend time with their mothers and fathers. They yearn and long to just play a game with their parents and be a family as it used to be. Many parents are so busy and just simply have no time to talk to their children on a daily basis. I had parents tell me that they would love to talk to their children but their conversations last for two minutes because they run out of what to talk about. Their interests are just not the same. How tragic? For all intents and purposes, there children are ‘separated’ from their parents. Think of your own patterns and ask yourself, is my child separated from me or am I really there for them. I know we tell our children that they can count on us anytime and everywhere, but trust me they just want you to talk to them on a regular Tuesday. They desperately want and need you not only when they “need” you. They want to be connected to you. Stop giving in to their every silly desire whenever they throw a tantrum. They don’t want to be bought off with stuff, they want YOU. Often the reason they throw a tantrum is because they feel alienated, they feel distant and are seeking meaningful relationships with their parents whom they love more than anything else and whom they need more than anything else.

We Jews were given the unbelievable gift called Shabbos. One day a week we close our phones, computers, televisions, tablets and any and all electronic devices and connect to family and friends for real. We spend time together in prayer or at the Shabbos dinner table where parents and children connect spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and of course physically as well. Remember? No face time, no phone connections or face book and the rest. If you want me on Shabbos you have to be right near me physically. It is said that the connectedness of family on Shabbos is what kept the Jewish people going for thousands of years. I would suggest to each of you to try this idea in small measures. If you are unable to observe the entire Shabbos then start with something. This Friday night/Shabbos you and your children should try it for one hour. Turn off your phones, TV’s etc. for sixty minutes and eat a meal together, talk together, hug each other, play a game of monopoly together. You get my point. CONNECT to your children and help them connect to you. Once you get used to one hour you can go to two and then three and so forth.              

It would be so nice if as a result of the latest crisis parents would take a real look at their own homes and families and see if they have ‘forcibly separated’ their children from themselves. Forcibly separating children from parents is devastating not only at the border, it is equally devastating when it is done in our own homes as well. Let’s reunite parents and children immediately.

One Man’s visit to Hebron

The story of this week’s portion, Shlach, is one of the most famous of biblical stories. It tells of a group of twelve men who were sent by Moses and the Jewish people to scout the land of Israel in preparation of their eventual conquest which was to take place weeks later. After spending 40 days in Israel scouring its length and breadth, they return to the Jewish People in the desert and ten of them give a very negative assessment of the land and the prospects of taking possession of it. They turn the people against G-d and Moses and convince the people that going to Israel and conquering it would prove impossible under the circumstances. The other two, Joshua and Calev, remain loyal to their mission and try their hardest to restore faith and morale into their Jewish brethren. The result was that the entire Jewish people were punished and wandered in the desert for forty years until that entire generation would die. Only the next generation of Jews would enter and take possession of the land of Israel. No doubt, this episode is one of the greatest failings of the Jewish people of all time.

There is much written about this event in biblical commentary. I would like to zero in on one detail of the story that is perhaps unnoticed. Moses had sent twelve men on this mission. Ten of them turn against him, while the other two remain loyal. As mentioned, these two loyalists were Joshua and Calev. The question is, what caused them to remain loyal to their mission, to G-d and to Moses and not fall prey to peer pressure and all the rest? Joshua, Moses greatest and beloved student, received a special blessing from Moses before he left. That blessing saved him. But what about Calev?

The answer can be found in an obscure word the Bible uses in relating the story. The text tells us that the twelve men left the Sinai desert and went to scout the land. The text then continues: “They went up to the Negev and he came to Hebron……”. It changes from ‘they’ went up to the Negev, to ‘he’ came to Hebron. The Talmud tells us that while they all went up to the Negev (and the rest of Israel to scout it) only one of them (he) came to Hebron. This was Calev. As soon as he arrives in Israel he leaves the group to visit Hebron where the forefathers were buried to visit their resting place, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  The Talmud tells us further that Calev petitioned Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to pray on his behalf that he should succeed in the mission and remain loyal to Moses and G-d. He asked for their blessing and asked them to pray on his behalf. It was this visit to the grave site of the righteous forefathers that saved him. Calev understood that the Tzaddik’s resting place was the conduit to heaven and as such made sure to go there first.

This little detail, perhaps lost on many, is crucial in understanding the story of the spies and our own little personal stories. Like the spies, we are all on a mission from G-d to make the world a home for G-d. Our souls are sent here by G-d to conquer this world for G-d and make it a holy place. We all know that life here on earth is not easy. There are so many distractions and influences that can make us think that we cannot ‘conquer the land”. We sometimes become demoralized and give up. Can a minority of fifteen million Jews change this world and “conquer it” for G-d? Can we as individuals navigate the rat race of life and stay true to ourselves? For this, we need to look to Calev and what he did. He went to the grave of the Tzaddim (The righteous) and connected to them. That connection saved him.

Next Shabbos, June 16 (Tamuz 3), marks the 24th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory. The Rebbe was the Tzaddik of our times and I will be visiting the Ohel (his resting place) as I do every year to connect, learn, pray and ask for his blessing that I continue to succeed and remain loyal to my own personal mission in life. It would be a very good idea for every one reading this to also write a letter to the Rebbe for his blessing for all that you need, for health, Nachas, good livelihood and for spiritual success as well. This connection is vital for all of us as it was vital for Calev 3300 years ago. You can send me your letter and I will bring it to the Ohel or you can email it to ohel@ohelchabad.org and it will be placed in the Rebbe’s Ohel on your behalf. Don't miss this opportunity.

 

 Shabbat Shalom.   

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