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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Seventy years strong!

This coming Wednesday, the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat (Yud Shvat) marks the 70th anniversary of the ascension of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson to the leadership of Chabad Lubavitch.

It is impossible to describe in one article the true significance of this day. An entire series of articles and essays 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. Through his outreach revolution, the Rebbe transformed Jewry as it was known. The Rebbe revived the Jewish people after the holocaust, when our hearts, spirits and souls were completely shattered and saved Jewry worldwide. Through his teachings, campaigns and his Shluchim (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 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. The Rebbe did not just talk; He acted. He changed minds, Inspired hearts and unleashed a flood of goodness in the world. 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.
When he officially assumed leadership, he held a Farbrengen and addressed the chassidim in a small room which accommodated at most 200 people. They were all survivors of the camps, the gulags and everywhere in between. Many of them had just arrived from Europe’s D.P. camps and were happy to be able to begin living again. During that first gathering the Rebbe laid out a plan for the Jewish people, which was so broad in scope and grandiose in vision that the people in the room were just stunned and flabbergasted. He said that our generation would be the one who would finally transform the world and usher in the final redemption through Moshiach.
He drew upon the Midrash, which teaches that when G-d created the universe His presence was felt and completely revealed everywhere, even in our physical world. But then Adam ate from the forbidden fruit and caused G-d’s presence to be removed from earth up to heaven, causing the world to be plunged into spiritual darkness. A series of six additional cosmic 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; as 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 a repeat of 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 were 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.
In Jewish literature and thought the number seventy represents perfection and fulfillment. I have no doubt that in this seventieth year of the Rebbe’s leadership his call to bring Heaven down to earth and indeed bring Moshiach will be fulfilled and be completed. May it happen now! Amen.
 
Shabbat Shalom 

What Does It Take To Be A Leader?

In this week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, we read about Jacobs last moments of life. He gathers all his children, the 12 tribes, around his bed and blesses each of them, foretelling what would happen to them and their progeny in the future. He designates each child’s destiny. Who will be the leader, the scholar, the spiritual leader, the entrepreneur, the warrior and much more. The scene must have been so beautiful and majestic. After a very long tumultuous life, Jacob finally can enjoy some real Nachas. On his death bed he sees that all his children and grandchildren are following in his footsteps and living the life he educated and taught them to live. Most of us can only dream of such a result. However, when you analyze his words to them you see that not all is as smooth as we would expect. Let me site a couple of examples.

Rueben, the first born, seems to have been shorthanded. As a first born you would expect Jacob to confer upon him the position of leadership. From him should have come the kings of Israel. Yet, not only is the future monarchy of Israel not from his line, he is not given any leadership positions at all. He is not the future spiritual leader, nor is he the future scholar. Instead, the kings all come from Judah, the priests come from Levi, the scholars from Isachar and so on. In fact, in our history, Rueben and his offspring have hardly made any mark and have not risen to anything of note at all. Why?
 
Rueben was a very holy and righteous person. When the brothers plotted to kill Joseph it was Rueben who begged them not to shed Joseph’s blood themselves, instead, he convinced them to throw him into a nearby pit to die on his own. Rueben’s intent, of course, was to come later and rescue him. Unfortunately for Joseph, Rueben then went to pray and engage in spiritual perfection and repentance for a past sin he had committed thinking he would return to the pit when his brothers were no longer there. In the interim a caravan of Arabs passed by and Judah, feeling guilty seeing his brother Joseph linger in a pit to die, reasoned with his brothers that it would be better to sell Joseph as a slave to the caravan and not be guilty of his death. This they did and as they say, the rest is history.
 
In the final analysis, Rueben, the righteous holy man, missed the boat. He was missing in action when he was most needed. He was praying and being all spiritual when a Jewish boy was lingering in a pit. He had great intentions, but as they say; the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. In that sense Rueben failed as a leader. When he needed to act as the first born and the leader of the group he was not present. Judah, on the other hand, saved his brother from certain death. He might not have had the best of intentions, but he showed leadership at that pivotal moment. This one incident shaped the future for not only themselves but for generations to come. Rueben never became a leader in the Jewish story, whereas Judah and his progeny became the kings and leaders of Israel until the end of time.
 
It seems unfair but life is not always fair. Life is short and there are moments in our lives when we are called upon to take a stand, to be a leader, not to delay, not to be silent even if it means going out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, it is those moments and opportunities that define our lives. All the rest might turn out to be incidental or less important. When there is a child in the ‘pit’ of addiction, in the ‘pit’ of apathy, in the ‘pit’ of spiritual death, in the pit of…. pick your choice, you mustn’t walk away. Do something, speak up, take a stand, be a leader and do not rely on someone else or even on a later opportunity. That later opportunity might never come. Before you know it that child might be ‘sold’ into ‘slavery’ of his or her own abyss. One more point; No one cares about your intentions; you will have ample time to work on the nobility of your intentions. When a child is 
in a pit you act, with or without the proper intentions. That’s leadership. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi's Article -

With so much going on in the news just this week alone, from the horrific stabbing at a Chanukah party in Monsey, to the assassination of Iran’s Gen. Qasem Soleimani and other incidents of note in between, It is hard to think straight and come up with a sensible take away if there even is one and if it is our responsibility to even attempt at one. But we know that as Jews we are enjoined to learn from every event that takes place in our world and try and grow from it in our relationship with G-d and other human beings.

The stabbings, which were a wakeup call to politicians, community leaders and to every Jew alive, must be seen in context. The reality is that for 50 years anti-Semitism was unpopular. That is no longer the case. Anti-Semitism is not only alive and well but it has become popular by many and in most cases goes unanswered. Most of the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts are never brought to justice. Politicians turn a blind eye. The media is sleeping on the job. They do not find it news worthy and no longer even report it. This is because the incidents are so frequent but more importantly, there is little if any appetite to even tell the story. Why bother? Another Jew was beaten up in the streets of NY? Who cares? Some are even ok with it. And why should this be surprising? Look what’s going on in congress; there are out right anti-Semites serving in the people’s house. They are not ashamed of it and look for every opportunity to smear Jews and Israel thinking that this might get them more votes. As Shocking as this sounds, it is undeniably true. Jews of all walks of life are suddenly afraid and are shaken out of their comfort zones. They wonder if they are still living in the country they so loved and called home. Can this really be America?

The truth is that anyone who learned and understands history should not be surprised. As I mentioned, this hate towards Jews has been unpopular for some time after the horrors of the Holocaust but anyone with basic understanding knew that this unpopularity will last for a generation or two and that’s it. The default position on the world and its relationship with Jews will fall right back into place. Does this mean that we should just accept it? Of course not. We must hold our elected official accountable and not let them be silent. We must continue pressuring leaders of all kinds to speak out and not let this continue. Law enforcement must do a better job punishing those who perpetrate hate crimes. It should make no difference if their victims are badly hurt of mildly hurt. If we are serious, then any kind of hate violence must be completely uprooted.

I still believe that this blessed country is good at the essence and if we keep to the core values upon which this society was founded on, we will continue to be the society that is the envy of the world. America will continue to be blessed by G-d if we never forget Him. As for us Jews, the answer is not to keep a low profile. That never worked for us. While we take extra security measures which are absolutely necessary, we should, at the same time, take the lesson of Chanukah with us for the rest of the year. Chanukah is about bringing Jewish light, the Menorah, to the outdoors. We need to double down on our Jewishness; we need to live more Jewishly and more openly. That is the only response. If this year we held 20,000 public menorah lightings all over the globe, we must make sure that next year we increase that number. If you do not wrap Teffilin every day, consider starting. If you do not light Shabbos candles every Friday evening this is a great time to take that on. If you do not go to Shul to pray often enough, think about doing just that.

In all of the reaction to the stabbings and violence that I saw and read, there is one good thing I can point to; no one suggested that the Chassidic Jews of Monsey should try to hide their openly Jewish look. No one suggested that they or any Jew should stop wearing their kippah or distinct Jewish garb in public. This is because it is simply out of the equation and everyone knows it. No Jew in Monsey or in Brooklyn or anywhere else in the US would even consider such a thing. All the reaction was pointed in the direction of our elected officials and law enforcement to do a better job protecting the Jewish community in NY and elsewhere.

I hope and pray to G-d that the victims of last Saturday’s attempted massacre recover fully and that the US should continue to be a welcoming and safe home for its Jewish communities and that it continues to be the beacon of light and inspiration to the rest of the world for many years to come.

Shabbat Shalom     

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