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The Golden Standard of Jewish Education

The Golden Standard of Jewish Education

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When You Are Not in the Mood

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What to do when we are not in the mood? Those times when nothing is exciting and motivation is at an all-time low. Even in the best of physical health, it can be tough to get out of bed in the morning or to have the discipline to pay the bills on time. Yet, even on those monotonous and boring days, we do what needs to be done anyway.

This week we conclude the second book of the Torah by reading the joint parshas of Vayakhel and Pekudei. The content of both portions describe the manner in which the Israelites prepared the  Mishkan (Tabernacle) that they were instructed to build as a dwelling place for the Divine Presence within their camp.

The final verses of the entire book describe the pivotal moment, after all was in place, when the divine presence descended upon the Mishkan. During the day it was seen in the image of a cloud and at night it was seen a glowing fire. Mission accomplished! Human beings had succeeded in inviting G-d to dwell in their midst!

This major endeavor was the beginning of a series of magnificent buildings that would serve as conduits to reveal the unbreakable bond between G-d and the Jewish people. The spiritual properties of the subsequent Holy Temples in Jerusalem, including the Third Holy Temple that will be built by Moshiach, are all sourced in the Mishkan built in the Sinai Desert.

Yes, the spiritual energy that pulsed in the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Holy Land flowing with milk and honey – initially entered this world in the parched and desolate wilderness of Sinai. A place devoid of life and beauty, unsuitable for human habitation and filled with ferocious snakes and scorpions. In this space of seeming nothingness, divinity was permanently revealed for the first time.

So the next time you find yourself in a spiritual desert – lacking the motivation and inspiration to learn some Torah, do a specific Mitzvah or to give charity, know that your greatest opportunity is now. When you do what is right even when you are not in the mood, you are inviting G-d into your life in a most meaningful and permanent way. Even a lackluster mitzvah can accomplish magnificent things!

I Forgot!

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Forgetfulness is the universal age-old excuse for anything and everything in life. Since memory is limited, forgetfulness has its advantages.

We can forget the bad, irrelevant and the petty things and remember the good, relevant and important things. It allows us to forget bad habits and to learn new ones. To forget past grievances and mend relationships. It motivates fresh beginnings and repeated good behavior.

Most importantly, forgetting is the beginning of forgiveness.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the first pardon the Jewish people received from G-d for the grave sin of the Golden Calf. Only forty days after experiencing the most intense divine revelation to man, they forgot their obligations and served an idol. G-d’s wrath was aroused and only due to Moses’ sacrifice and heroic prayer were they spared certain annihilation.

G-d revealed to Moses how to pray for forgiveness and promised that these prayers will cause Him to “forget” the iniquities of His people and forgive them.

This seems counterintuitive. If the human is guilty of sin, why should G-d forget? How is transgression of the Divine Will forgivable?

If you think about it, sin is the most counterintuitive idea imaginable. G-d is constantly recreating you from nothingness, providing you with life, health, sustenance, housing and happiness – and you violated His laws?! Is it possible to so shamefully disregard the king’s wishes in his presence?

Parents are rightfully aggravated and hurt when their children blatantly disregard or disrespect them. After everything they do for them, it is inconceivable they should reciprocate so negatively.

It is possible to sin when we forget that we are in G-d’s presence. Routine takes its toll and we start to take our many blessings for granted. As long as we forget G-d – He remembers the sin. Once we remember G-d and express remorse for our improper behavior – He gladly forgets the sin and graciously pardons.

Children do not mean to hurt their parents. Showered constantly with love, affection and care (which is a great thing) allows them to take this for granted. After a gentle reminder, we are happy to forget their negative behavior as well.

The key to our relationship with G-d is the knowledge that as humans, we are chronically forgetful of the source of our success and happiness. Once we remember the truth, G-d is grateful to forget the past and look forward to a positive and productive future.

May we merit the realization of the ultimate redemption, when forgetfulness will cease, ushering in a world of peace and tranquility, through our righteous Moshiach!

The Message of Wine

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Festivals are an integral element of Jewish tradition. Can you distinguish between holidays included in the Torah and those that were introduced by the sages at a later time?

Interestingly enough, the popularity of a holiday is not an indicator at all. Chanukah is an all-time favorite, and it was established over 1,000 years after Sinai. Shavuot is virtually unknown and it is part of the major three biblical holidays.

Purim is also a fairly new holiday in Judaism. During the Babylonian exile following the destruction of the first Holy Temple, the Jews finally started to grow accustomed to their new reality. They were accepted by the broader society and enjoyed much prestige in the royal Persian court. Kosher food was prepared at the royal banquet in their honor and a Jewish woman was the queen of the world. Their beloved leader, Mordechai, was a trusted aide and advisor to the king himself.

The times were good and the people relaxed in their anticipation for a return to the Holy Land and a new Holy Temple.

Then came Haman, the diabolical Amalekite with the wherewithal to take care of the Jewish Problem. He deceitfully manipulated the mind of the foolish king Achashveirosh (who was no Jew lover himself) to issue a genocidal decree against the Jews.

The Jewish response was swift and decisive. Under the influence of Mordechai they joined together in repentance and prayer, re-accepting upon themselves an uncompromising commitment to a life of Torah and Mitzvos. The outcome was an epic reversal and turnover of political fortunes: Haman was executed and we are here today to celebrate the miracle.

We celebrate by toasting Lechaim on wine. Wine represents the essence of the message of Purim. All fruits are of superior quality than the juice extracted from them. This is reflected in their prices and in the respective blessings recited before eating fruits or drinking juice. The juice of grapes is an exception. Wine produced from grapes is far more expensive and the unique "Hagafen" blessing is recited upon it. It is the beverage with which we sanctify Shabbat, Yom Tov and every celebratory Jewish milestone.

Just as when the grape is crushed it releases superior quality, so too the Jewish nation. Whether we are pressured by mortal enemies or internal struggles, we manage to pull through on a greater spiritual plane than before.

I invite you to join us in celebrating Purim. On Motzei Shabbat (Saturday Night) at 7:30pm we will read the Megillah, followed by Havdalah and a Falafel Bar. The celebration will include a masquerade, balloon art, face painting and a Purim craft. Don’t miss out on the fun!

Megillah readings on Sunday will be at 9:00am and 4:30pm. Purim in the Shtetl Dinner is open to all at 5:00pm! Enjoy a delicious traditional menu and celebrate away. Kindly let us know if you will be joining. Couvert is $15. Kindly consider being a cosponsor of all the Purim events for $200.

On Sunday at 2:30pm the children and seniors of the community will celebrate with a Hamentash Bake Off at the Monte Vista.

Throughout the day on Sunday be sure to give Mishloach Manot - gifts of food to a friend. At least two ready madefoods are necessary for the Mitzvah. Also, give Matanot Le’evyonim – gifts to the poor. We need to give money to two poor Jewish families. If you are unsure of whom to gift the money, Chabad has a special fund to help the needy and we will distribute the money on your behalf.

Best wishes for a joyous Purim!

Why Do We Need a Synagogue?

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The omnipresence of G-d is a fundamental Jewish belief. Why then do we limit His dwelling to a single structure?

In the last two parshas we learn of the first divine revelation to the Jewish nation: Matan Torah – the revelation at Sinai. This week begins the detailed instruction of the construction of the Mishkan. Upon completion, the people experienced a second divine revelation.

There is a crucial difference between these two rendezvous with G-d.

Leading up to the revelation at Sinai, G-d warned the people not to touch the mountain. Since it would serve as the physical location of such an intense G-dly revelation, a mere mortal would die by simply touching the mountain. However, once the spectacle was over – it was a mountain like any other. In fact, Judaism finds no interest in locating Mt. Sinai in the desert, as it currently contains no divine uniqueness. After the pomp and ceremony of Matan Torah, it remained mundane as ever.

The divine revelation in the Mishkan (and subsequently in the Temples in Jerusalem) is a different story altogether. Since the inauguration of the Mishkan, the divine presence has not departed the subsequent structures built throughout our history. Even after the destruction of the Temple, the divine presence remains at the same spot.

The contrast is striking as the lead up to these respective events. Whereas Matan Torah excluded human involvement, the building project of the Mishkan necessitated the financial and labor participation of the entire Jewish nation.

When the people erect a beautiful and quality structure for G-d as they would their own homes, they express their desire to have G-d dwell in their midst. Then, the divine presence is not limited to the dedicated structure; it finds expression in the homes of every individual. The Mishkan is a symbolic of the fact that G-d is a desired presence in our lives.

Wherever there is a community of Jews, it is crucial to construct a special home for G-d – the synagogue. It should be beautiful, comfortable and conducive to being a welcoming place for everyone to connect with G-d.

I invite you to join us in bringing this project to fruition in El Paso. Together we will construct a beautiful edifice where every Jew in town can join in prayer, study and celebration of our beautiful heritage.

The Fine Art of Tzedaka

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I'd like to share with you a story we discussed yesterday at the bi-monthly Pirkei Avot Lunch and Learn.

A blind homeless man came to the village of the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov. He settled down at the side of the road with a tin can waiting for the wonderful locals to donate some much needed money.

Alas, the villagers did not pay much attention to his plight and the can remained empty. Rabbi Eliezer noticed this sorry state of affairs and he sat down next to the beggar without saying a word.

Sure enough, word spread like wildfire that the venerable sage was in the company of the mysterious beggar. Surly this man must be a giant in his own right! The crowds came out to view the scene and the coins started falling into the can by the dozens.

Although unable to see, the poor man sensed that there was a significant change in his surroundings. "What is going on? Why are the donations flowing all of a sudden?"

"Don't you know who is sitting next to you?" the townspeople replied. "The great Rabbi Eliezer!"

The man realized the great kindness the Rabbi had done for him and he blessed him: Just as you were so gracious to do this kindness for a man who is seen but cannot see, may the One who sees and cannot be seen (G-d) bless you with immeasurable kindness.

In this week's parsha we learn about the mitzvah of Tzedaka. Although giving seems to be an elementary concept, we truly need to train ourselves in the right way to give.

Every time we are solicited for much needed donations from worthy organizations and causes, we are confronted with the gnawing feeling that perhaps this money could be better used somewhere else. How can we be sure to get the best return on the investment? For example, in smaller Jewish communities, creating a children's program for $1,000 might cater to 50 children, whereas in a larger community, the very same program for the same price would attract and benefit 200 children. Is the local investment worthwhile?

The truth is that giving tzedaka is not natural. Why should I part with my hard earned cash?

The healthiest reason to do so is to fulfill the wish of G-d A-lmighty. SInce success is a blessing of G-d, we need to be aware that we are merely guardians of His wealth to appropriate accordingly. It is important to give out G-d's money the way He instructs in the Torah.

The Torah addresses the tzedaka quandary in the following verse (Shemot 22:24): When you lend money to the poor people in your locality, you must not act toward him like a creditor.

Rashi explains that in the precise articulation of this verse we learn the order of giving. Faced with the option of giving money locally or out of town - G-d wants you to give local.

May we inculcate the lessons of giving and always merit to be on the giving end of the wheel of life.

Wealth, Poverty and Waste

 

Capitalism seems to be working for most of us in the United States. Yet, just like every man-made system, it has its drawbacks. There are three negative attitudes that can result from living in a capitalist society.

a)    For the large majority of us who are not scraping the bottom of the barrel, there can be a tendency to waste money on petty, foolish and unproductive things. We lose our appreciation for the value of pocket change or small money. After all, I can spare a dollar or two.

b)     Those that have been blessed with great success and have amassed a large fortune, can sometimes delude themselves into thinking that they can succeed alone and don't need the little guys.

c)    People on the lowest rungs of the financial ladder can grow despondent and lose hope of ever making a true impact on society.

This week, in addition to reading the weekly Torah portion of Mishpatim during Shabbat services, we will read an extra Parsha - Parshat Shekalim. This portion of six verses deals with the mitzvah of Machatzit Hashekel - the annual half shekel tax.

In Temple times, the Jews were obligated to pay several taxes for the upkeep of the Temple service, to provide support for the Priestly and Levite families and to care for the poor and destitute. The specific amounts of these taxes varied based on the individual. If one harvested a large crop, his taxes were considerably higher than one who had yielded a smaller crop.

There was one tax that obligated everyone to give an equal amount. Every day, the Temple service would begin each morning with a Korban Tamid, a communal sacrifice offered on the Alter and close with a communal sacrifice offered in the late afternoon. On Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and Festivals there was an additional prescribed amount of communal sacrifices as well. These communal sacrifices were an essential element of G-d's relationship with His people.

The livestock used for these communal sacrifices was purchased with money from a special communal account. Each year, during the month of Adar, every Jew was obligated to hand over a half shekel - a value of less than $7 - to the Temple collector to be deposited in the communal sacrifice account. By giving a paltry sum once a year, every single Jew was represented before G-d with the entire nation every morning and afternoon.

You see what can be accomplished with seven bucks? This teaches us the value of every dollar. Appreciate the huge potential your money has for good and spend it wisely. Even a small sum can have a major impact.

There is an important thing you should know about this Community Sacrifice Account. Amounts larger than a half shekel per individual were not accepted. If a fabulously wealthy and philanthropic Jew wished to foot the bill of the daily sacrifices for the entire year - a huge expense - the response would be unequivocal. It is a generous offer and the money can surely be used for many worthy causes - but the daily relationship between G-d and the Jewish people cannot be funded by one individual. At the same time - one half shekel cannot purchase even one sacrifice. For the financial elite to be represented daily in the Temple - they needed the combined contributions of the entire community.

Finally, no one was absolved of this minimal obligation. No matter the circumstances, this amount was collected from even the poorest of the poor. Their half shekel was needed to complete the picture.

So remember, money is powerful and every dollar should be used wisely. Even if you may be blessed with financial, intellectual or social success you still need the rest of the community. And no matter how little you may have - you can also make a great impact.

Chabad Feminine Power

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One weekend a year, Chabad Rabbis assume the roles of babysitter, cook and homemaker. In connection with the yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of saintly memory, the Rebbe’s wife, Chabad Rebbetzins gather in Brooklyn for the International Conference of Shluchos. The largest annual gathering of Jewish women leadership in the world.

Four hundred Chabad women emissaries participated in the first conference 28 years ago. This weekend, over 2,000 Rebbetzins are converging on Crown Heights from every corner of the globe. They will inspire each other and create new strategies to bring the joy and beauty of Judaism to every Jew in their respective hometowns and regions.

According to age-old stereotypes of Jewish religious communities, it would seem strange that Chabad women are spearheading Jewish outreach and gathering to celebrate their leadership roles. This week’s parsha gives perspective to what is going on now in Brooklyn.

In preparation for the Revelation at Sinai, G-d instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to discuss various mitzvoth of the Torah with the Jews to be sure they willingly accept it. “Thus shall you say to the Congregation of Jacob (the women), and speak to the Israelites (the men)” (Exodus 19:4). Approach the women before the men. After the women consent, the men will surely follow suit. (As if the men have a choice? ;))

The woman, as the mainstay and foundation of the home will set the tone for generations to come. The eternity of Jewish tradition is dependent on her commitment and sacrifice.

A feuding couple once came to a compromise. He will make the big decisions and she will make the small decisions. The big decisions included; how to vote in the presidential election, the strategy the US should adopt in defeating ISIS and what ought to be on the agenda at the UN. The small decisions included; which schools the children attend, bedtime routine, afterschool activities and where the family will vacation.

Yes my friends, the mother of the home influences every detail of the home. Jewish tradition and observance is an integral part of her sphere. As the saying goes, “When Mommy is happy, we are all happy.”

Since the beginning of our glorious history, the Jewish woman has been the standard-bearer of Torah.

Even though this Shabbos may be lonely and difficult for many Chabad Rabbis, it is the greatest investment we can make to energize the global Jewish community. I am certain that Chana will return next week with renewed vigor, joy and great ideas that will greatly benefit our community. In addition to the workshops, learning sessions and celebrations, these gracious Jewish leaders will pray on our behalf at the Ohel, and at the resting place of the Rebbetzin. As Shabbat marks the 29th anniversary of her passing, the Rebbetzin surely intercedes on our behalf, that the entire Jewish world be blessed in every way possible, and with the ultimate blessing, the arrival of our righteous Moshiach.

Traveler's Food of Faith

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As a frequent flyer, when preparing food for trips I take into account the possibility of lengthy delays, but there is a limit to what I can shlep. Once, during a peak season I was stranded in Dallas at midnight, rebooked to an early morning flight the next morning with no food left. Obtaining kosher food before arriving El Paso was not an option. Yes, it was a hungry trip.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the grand journey the Israelites embarked upon as they left Egypt. They were not given an arrival date to the Promised Land and the food provisions they took with them were wholly inadequate for a lengthy desert sojourn. Miraculously, the matzah baked on their first morning of freedom lasted thirty days!

As the 15th of Iyar dawned, the matzah was finished and the Jews faced the frightening probability of starvation. In response to their concerns, G-d notified them that He would provide them food every day from heaven. Each morning the Manna, cushioned between two layers of dew, would descend upon the camp and each family was to gather an “omer” measurement per head.

There were specific rules associated with this divine nourishment. 1. No extra was to be gathered. No matter how much one gathered in the field, back home the manna would always equate one “omer” per mouth. 2. No hoarding. Each day’s portion of manna needed to be consumed on the same day. No leftovers for early morning breakfast.

On the first Friday of this arrangement, upon returning home from gathering manna, the Jews realized that there was a double portion in their jars. Moshe explained that on the seventh day, Shabbat, food will not fall from heaven and on Friday G-d would provide for two days.

This is the reason for the custom of having two Challahs at the Shabbat meals.

The peculiar food arrangement that sustained our forebears in the desert for forty years was a training period in true faith and trust in G-d. Going to sleep at night without food in the cabinet or fridge for breakfast is a frightening prospect. To follow the rules of “gathering” our sustenance can be challenging. Most of all, forgoing a full day of obtaining a livelihood seems irresponsible at best.

Yet, this is the essence of faith and trust in G-d. By adhering to His guidebook to life, regardless of what the big world says, we are assured a sufficient and plentiful livelihood, even in the “desolate wilderness” of life. Honesty in business, tithing accordingly and Shabbat observance are the keys to monetary success.

As you recite the Hamotzi on the two challahs on Friday night, be mindful of the message of the manna. Even when making a living seems as challenging as finding bread in a desert, by sticking to G-d’s rules we will certainly receive His blessing. If you are thankfully in the higher income bracket, be thankful for G-d’s continued blessing and find ways to improve the clarity and size of your vessel. If good is good – better is always better.

Our Beautiful World

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In preparing this message, I chose to open with an inspiring quote about optimism. Google yielded this gem from Winston Churchill:

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

On the Shabbat morning of the 10th of Shevat, 1950, the Previous Rebbe passed away. Exactly one year later, the Rebbe assumed the mantle of leadership of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.

By divine providence, the Previous Rebbe had instructed that a Chassidic discourse entitled Basi Legani be published for that fateful Shabbat. The Rebbe considered it a spiritual guide for the next generation of Chabad, elaborating on its message and revealing deeper insight each year on the anniversary of his leadership.

The opening line of the discourse is a verse in King Solomon’s Song of Songs (5:1) describing the revelation at Sinai: “Basi Legani - I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride.” It is understood as follows: “I (G-d) have come (returned) to my garden (this physical/corporeal world), my sister, my bride (- this statement addresses the Jewish people – G-d’s bride).”

The discourse addresses a broad range of deep philosophical subjects including the purpose of creation, humanity, good versus evil and the ability of self-transformation. While there are limitless layers of insight in every line, the very first verse sets the tone for this foundational text. It describes the world we live in as a beautiful garden – a divine one, no less!

The intention is not of a utopian fairyland drifting in the clouds of our dreams and best imaginations. This physical universe, the same space that contains nuclear weapons capable of landing in the hands of madmen and terrorists, is the beautiful divine garden in which G-d is so proud to dwell! Can a world so insecure and volatile be a reflection of divinity and G-dly purpose?

In 1986, the Rebbe addressed the seeming contradiction between reality and King Solomon’s statement, in connection with the (behind the scenes) turbulent years of the Second Cold War. Can a world constantly on the brink of World War III be G-d’s beautiful garden?

Surprisingly, a lesson derived from nuclear weapons serves as the counterbalance to the global jitters they cause. The destructive powers of a nuclear bomb can be unleashed with the press of a button. Thus, the simple action of one individual can affect millions and alter the course of history.

Approximately 800 years ago, Maimonides declared: “One is obligated to view himself and the world as equally balanced. One positive action can tip the scales and bring salvation to the entire world”. Until recently, this assertion may have seemed as an exaggeration. The technological advance that debuted on the world scene as a cause of mass destruction clearly illustrates the truth of this inspiring statement. Especially in light of the fact that the powers of goodness and productivity greatly outweigh the forces of evil and destruction.

This world is a divine garden filled with billions of individuals each capable of unleashing the powers of goodness and kindness that can positively impact the entire universe. We need only to identify the opportunities that abound. The boldness and ability to overcome the difficulties they present will come in due course.

Learn More About The Rebbe's First Discourse Basi Legani 

 

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.

Removing the Generation Gap

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Pharaoh and the Egyptians were taking a beating. Plague after plague befell them, robbing them of their comfort, sanity, much of their property and their sense of security. The plagues served the dual purpose of breaking the Egyptians to the point that they would agree to release the Israelites from slavery and to strengthen the faith of the Israelites in G-d’s power in creation.

By the time Moses warned Pharaoh of plague number eight, his ministers and advisers had had enough and they convinced Pharaoh to negotiate. Pharaoh opened with the following question: Who will be joining you on this three-day journey to the desert to sacrifice to G-d? Moses responded: We will go with our young people, the elders, our sons, our daughters, the sheep and cattle.

Pharaoh refused to permit the youngsters to attend. Adults offer sacrifices. Children have no place at such events. Moses refused and that round of negotiations fell apart. In fact, Pharaoh was furious with Moses and he banished him from his presence.

On the surface, Pharaoh’s obstinance seems quite strange. Egypt was falling apart and he desperately needed to preserve what remained by staving off another devastating plague. Was control over a group of children joining their parents in the desert for a three-day service worth risking the well-being of the country?

For close to a century Pharaoh had been searching for the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. Eighty years prior, he decreed all male babies be killed, forcing the girls to assimilate into Egyptian society. His plan failed and now one of the survivors of that plot was poised to redeem the Israelites from his servitude.

There was one last chance at success: Creating a culture that views prayer and religious participation exclusively for old timers and children stay away. If only retirees join the ceremonies Moses had in mind, the Jewish future would be doomed. Moses torpedoed his efforts by insisting on taking the children, dashing his hopes of cleansing the world of the family of Abraham.

This message resonates today more than ever. It is imperative to involve the youth in every aspect of Jewish life: Prayer, philanthropy, study, celebration and organization. Fusing the wisdom of the elderly and the energy of the young will ensure the eternity of our nation.

The Debate of Staffs

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I once asked a professional magician if he can advise me of which numbers to play in the next lottery. Can you guess his response?

There are tzaddikim - righteous people that are capable of performing nature defying miracles and there are magicians that can manipulate the natural order as well. The difference between them is that spiritual giants affect positive change through their prayers and magicians are good for entertainment.

In this week's parsha we read about the epic showdown between Moses and Pharaoh. Moses relayed G-d's message that the Israelites immediately be released from Egyptian slavery and Pharaoh mockingly refused.

In response, Moses instructed Aharon to throw down his staff to the floor and it transformed into a snake. Pharaoh was the least bit impressed and he instructed his numerous sorcerers to do the same, until the entire room was filled with slithering snakes. For some time the magical powers of Egypt seemed capable of competing with a divine miracle.

But then, Aharon's snake returned to its former self of a staff - and then proceeded to swallow the staffs of the sorcerers that moments ago had been slithering snakes!

This staff/snake show was the crux of the debate between Moses and Pharaoh. A staff represents authority. Pharaoh believed that although G-d is the creator of the universe, it is beneath His dignity to be involved in the day to day realities of this world and so the relevant power was Pharaoh - whose icon was a snake. As such, all decisions regarding the economy and the welfare of his subjects were within his control alone.

Moses illustrated to Pharaoh that this approach is a grave error. G-d is in control of every aspect of creation at all times. While the constancy of nature may dull our awareness of this truth, G-d is capable of disrupting the natural routine as a reminder to all mortals where the true power is to be found. G-d's authority (staff) swallows the authority (staffs) of the Egyptians.

Yes, while a sorcerer or magician can make optical illusions and manipulate our sense of reality, they do not provide solutions to real problems. At all times we need to be aware that G-d is the source of everything and in times of trouble we turn to Him for help and when things are great we need to joyfully express our thanks to Him alone.

A New President

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Greetings from the East Coast! Chani and I express much gratitude to Hashem for the wonderful blessing of seeing our daughter Rochel marry her wonderful and smart husband Abi. We thank you all for participating in the joyous occasion of their wedding and we look forward to celebrating together for many years to come.

As the wedding celebration continues through the weekend, we are mindful of the national celebration of Inauguration Day in America. One of the cornerstones of the democracy we are blessed to live in, the peaceful transition of power is a cause for joyful reflection. As a “Kingdom of Kindness” with a divine mandate to bring justice and morality to the entire world, it is invigorating to see the system work.

Yet there will always be one side that is disappointed with the dynamics of the event. Losing an election is upsetting and what does Judaism teach us in this regard? Our sages caution in Pirkei Avot “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive.” Even a disastrous government is much better than no government. We always count our blessings.

In this week’s parsha G-d communicates to Moshe His desire that he be the messenger for redemption. Moshe’s first rendezvous with the divine is in the setting of a burning - yet unconsumed - thorn bush. This brought powerful context to the mission at hand. G-d was communicating an important message to the oppressed and enslaved children of Israel.

1) Throughout all these years of suffering G-d is suffering together with them (as indicated by the thorns). The same is true about all subsequent exiles as well. 2) No matter the challenges the Jewish people currently face or will experience in the future – they will never disappear (as indicated by the miraculous fact that the bush remained unconsumed).

As a Jewish nation, we have witnessed the long twists and turns of the history of civilization. To put it mildly, we have been around the block a few times. Throughout, we have learned to pray for the welfare of our host countries at all times.

May the new president be a true advocate for the American people and a defender of or brethren in the Land of Israel. And may he succeed in leading the United States of America to new heights in all areas of concern: Our economy and the state of education with an emphasis on morality and kindness.

The Jewish Blessing

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It is with much gratitude to Hashem for all of His kindness that Chani and I look forward to the wedding of our dear daughter Rochel to her wonderful groom Abi. May they merit to build a home upon the foundations of Torah and Mitzvot, illuminated by the teachings of Chassidus and the guidance of the Rebbe. An open and welcoming home that shall serve as a beacon of light for all.

Parents naturally wish to bless their children with everything, all the time. However, no one is interested in hearing long and detailed laundry lists of blessings – all the time. It is important to distill all the love and best wishes into a few concise and meaningful words. How does one do that?

In parshat Vayechi Yosef brings his two sons Menashe and Efraim to his father Yaakov to receive his blessing before he passes away. The short blessing they receive links them to Jewish posterity for all times. "Whenever Jews will bless their children they will wish them to be as Efraim and Menashe." These two children will serve as the role model for Jewish children forever.

Efraim and Menashe were very dear to Yaakov since they were born in a foreign land, far away from the holy and spiritual environment of the House of Yaakov in Israel and nevertheless developed into pious and committed Jews. They serve as an eternal testament that the ideals and morals of Judaism can be transmitted to the next generation regardless of the staggering odds due to external circumstances. Jewish education is possible everywhere.

Upon deeper reflection on this blessing, we find something strange. Menashe was the firstborn and yet Yaakov mentions Efraim first. Moreover, Yosef presented his two sons to Yaakov by placing Menashe to Yaakov's right and Efraim to his left with the intention that Yaakov place his right hand on the head of the first-born Menashe. To his shock, Yaakov crosses his arms, placing his right hand on Efraim's head. Yosef insists that the right hand be placed on Menashe's head due to his first-born status. Yaakov refuses saying, "I know, my son, I know; he too will become a people, and he too will be great. But his younger brother will be greater than he, and his children['s fame] will fill the nations."

Although the progeny of both of them will accomplish great things, the quality of the deeds of Yehoshua Bin Nun - the grandson of Efraim - will outshine them all.

The disagreement between Yaakov and Yosef was essentially the debate of quantity versus quality. Upon entering the Land of Israel the tribe of Menashe numbered more than 50,000 strong whereas the tribe of Efraim numbered approximately 32,000 men. Yosef believed that quantity is the defining factor in nurturing a nation. The more members you have on the team the greater chance of them succeeding in the collective mission.

However, Yaakov determined that quality is of paramount importance. No matter our population size we will always be in the minority. Jewish vibrancy and continuity depends primarily on the integrity and quality of our commitment to Torah study and Mitzvah observance. Therefore, the quintessential Jewish blessing places Efraim before Menashe.

This is our blessing to Rochel and Abi. As you embark on this new and shared journey in your lives, may you build and nurture your home with solid quality. A home of warmth, love, mutual respect and an ironclad commitment to serve as the Rebbe's messengers to bring the light of Torah and Chassidus to your fellow Jews and to be an inspiration to all.

Is It Any of Your Business?

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Tourists to Israel are often bemused by a peculiar phenomenon. People are constantly meddling into the affairs of total strangers. “Why are you not wearing a coat? It’s freezing outside!” “Your baby is not sitting well in that stroller!” “Why did you come so late to the airport? You almost missed your flight!”

Throughout the world such behavior is considered rude and intrusive, whereas in Israel it is a way of life. The same can be said about the synagogue culture. Congregants often share unsolicited advice with others or comment on their clothing and whatnot. It seems to be a Jewish thing. From where does this genetic attitude come from?

In Parshat Vayigash we read about the dramatic climax of the saga of Joseph and his brothers. Sold into slavery as a teenager, Divine providence brings him to the pinnacle of power in Egypt. During the terrible famine years, all of civilization came to Egypt to purchase food that Yoseph had stored during the years of plenty, and the sons of Jacob were no exception.

Yoseph, unrecognizable to his brothers due to the 22 years of separation, accuses them of espionage and demands that they return with their younger brother Binyamin. Yaakov reluctantly allows Binyamin to join the brothers on their return trip to Egypt and Yoseph arranges that he be framed of thievery. Binyamin is condemned to remain in Egypt as a slave while the rest are free to return home.

Yehudah alone confronts Yoseph – the most powerful man in the world at the time – and demands that he remain as a slave in exchange for Binyamin’s release. The showdown between the two warriors is fierce and Yoseph wonders aloud why only Yehudah is creating such a tumult to save Binyamin. “I have assumed sole responsibility for the lad,” Yehudah declares. “I cannot return to my father without him!”

This was a watershed moment in Jewish history. Yehudah was the first to display the eternal responsibility we have for each other - to the point of self sacrifice. As Jews we have no right to concern ourselves only with our own personal issues. We must ensure that the needs of our entire community are met. Indeed, in all Jewish communities there are charity funds, free loan societies, committees and volunteer groups that look out for the wellbeing of the less fortunate. Whether it is a material deficiency or a spiritual and religious void it is our responsibility to do something about it.

This is why we mix into each other’s business, because we naturally care. It may be awkward and annoying at times, but the inconvenience is well worth it. Much better than living alone in the world.

Increasing the Light Every Day!

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This year Chanukah there was light in El Paso! Every Jewish household received The El Paso Chabad Times Chanukah edition which included a holiday guide and much Chanukah inspiration. Public menorah displays were set up at the Sunland Park Mall, Cielo Vista Mall and The Outlet Shoppes. The traditional giant Menorah in front of the Chabad House was illuminated each night no matter the weather. A menorah on the corner of Westwind Drive and a car menorah paraded around town.

The message of Chanukah reached the greater El Paso via the media in various formats. Click here for media links.

Every night of Chanukah was a time to celebrate. The first night with a falafel bar; Night number four with a grand concert and extravaganza (see photos below); Each night with the public menorah lighting at Chabad; Special Chanukah parties for the senior communities at The Monte Vista and Royal Estates; and a special pre-Chanukah visit to the La Tuna federal prison.

CGI Winter Camp debuted this year, providing a Chanukah experience on steroids for over 20 campers!

And we are not done yet! You are all invited to join us for the grand Chanukah finale on Saturday Night at 7:30pm for Havdalah and a Soup Bar as we kindle all eight flames on the Menorah.  Click here for details.

Yes, my friends, there was light in El Paso this Chanukah!

In Judaism there are three mitzvoth with candles. The kindling of the seven branched Menorah in the Holy Temple as part of the daily service, the Shabbat candles kindled by the woman of the home before Shabbat and the eight Chanukah lights.

While all three represent addition in light, there is something unique about Chanukah. A woman lights the same amount of Shabbat candles each week, within the home and specifically before sunset. The Temple candles always numbered seven and were lit during the day as well in the inner sanctum of the Temple. Chanukah candles must be lit after sunset, at the doorway (representing its relevance to the outdoors) and their number is constantly increased.

This is the message of Chanukah: Darkness can be jarring and uninviting. The way to battle it is not by condemnation rather by 1) brining the light outside 2) specifically when the darkness is most acute and 3) increasing our efforts on a daily basis.

This is the story the Chanukah flames share and the lesson we take with us as we forge ahead into the rest of winter energized to illuminate every area of our influence. We have two more lights to go, let’s do this!

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