Printed from ChabadElPaso.com

Rabbis' Blog

Rabbis' Blog

 Email

Taking the Initiative

 Camels at well.jpg

It was time to find a suitable match for Yitzchok. The miracle baby – born to Avraham and Sarah at the advanced ages of 100 and 90 respectively – the first Jew circumcised at eight days and a consecrated “sacrifice” to G-d. Avraham knew by way of prophecy that the lucky girl was a relative somewhere in Charan – his former homeland.

He dispatched Eliezer, his devoted servant, to the foreign land, granting him power of attorney to negotiate with the family.

Arriving at his destination at dusk, he positioned his caravan of ten camels near the well at the outskirts of town and offered a prayer to G-d requesting success in his mission in the merit of Avraham.

“Here I stand by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water. Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Please tilt your pitcher so that I may drink,’ and she replies, ‘Drink, and I shall give water to your camels as well,’ will be the one You have designated for Your servant Yitzchak.”

The test was straightforward. Avraham was the paragon of kindness and generosity and trained his family to be the same. Only a girl gifted with a natural sense of benevolence and goodness would be worthy of joining the family and mothering the future of the Abrahamic legacy.

Now, consider this important nuance that is often overlooked. Eliezer will only request a drink for himself. If she graciously offers him a drink alone as he requested and does not do the same for the rest of his entourage, she will have failed.

Avraham’s kindness was not limited to those who entered his tent. He actively searched out ways to help others. As we learned in last week’s parsha, three days after his circumcision he begged three reluctant travelers to avail themselves to his hospitality.

Eliezer therefore searched for the maiden who would take the initiative.

The rest is history. Even before completing his prayer, he noticed Rivkah, the beautiful daughter of Avraham’s nephew Besuel, approaching the well and she passed the test with flying colors.

We are all obligated to influence change for the good and many wonder how they can do so. Rivkah teaches us that being ready to help when called upon is not enough. We need to search out opportunities to help another.

Interest yourself in the needs of your friends and neighbors and seek ways to alleviate their financial or emotional pressures. Start up new friendships and nurture old ones without being prompted. Share your knowledge of Torah and the joy of a mitzvah to those who know less and see how gratifying it is.

When we all take the initiative in the proper direction, we will prepare the world for an era when peace, harmony, kindness and graciousness will abound.

To Give Even When You Lose

After close to a century of devotion, Avraham was finally commanded to observe the mitzvah of Bris Milah (circumcision) thereby entering into an eternal covenant with G-d. His willingness to go through with the deed at the advanced age of ninety-nine despite his enormous spiritual accomplishments until then, earned him a special revelation of the Shechina - the Divine Presence, three days later.

While sitting at the entrance to his tent seeking passersby to tend to, G-d revealed himself to Avraham in a manner he had never experienced before. During this immensely uplifting and spiritually gratifying experience he noticed three travelers passing by and ran toward them in greeting, begging them to avail themselves to his hospitality.

Think about this. Avraham paused a rendezvous with G-d A-lmighty Himself to invite three men with the appearance of heathens into his home!

A careful examination of Avraham’s self description sheds light on this peculiar behavior.

Later on that day, he was notified that the cities of Sodom and Gemorra would be destroyed on account of the moral depravity of their inhabitants. Avraham argued with G-d to spare them, with a lengthy negotiation seeking to find some redeeming elements in the cities.

Avraham prefaced his argument by expressing his sense of humility by saying “I am merely dust and ashes”. The Talmud teaches that Avraham’s humility expressed in the word “ashes” was later embodied in the mitzvah of the Red Heifer.

During the glorious era of the Holy Temple, only one who was ritually pure was allowed to enter the hallowed building. There are many laws regarding the state ritual purity necessary for entering the Temple and we will focus on one of them.

Contact with a corpse caused one to become ritually impure. After immersing in a mikvah (ritual bath) one needed to be sprinkled with spring water mixed with ashes of the Red Heifer - a perfectly red cow that was slaughtered and burned in very specific manner. This process of preparing the Red Heifer was observed only nine times in history.

Interestingly, all of the Kohanim involved in preparing the ashes of the Red Heifer were rendered ritually impure - and thus barred from entering the Holy Temple for a day. They were expected to forgo their own spiritual elevation and experiences to enable others to achieve ritual purification and the ability to enter the Holy Temple.

The ability to be so selfless as to help others while personally losing out is our heritage from Avraham. His kindness did not stem from a feeling of superiority and the ability to share, rather from an utter humility asserting that everyone else deserved more than him. It was only natural for him to pause such a divine revelation to lend a helping hand even to the dregs of society.

Avraham teaches us that the Jewish ethic of giving is not only when it is convenient but specifically when it demands much sacrifice on multiple levels.

The Zigzag Course Upwards

 line up.jpg

The name designated by Torah to any given object, person or idea is not merely a form of reference but an expression of its true essence. It follows that the name of the weekly parsha articulates the all-encompassing and common theme of every story and lesson contained therein.

This week we learn about the first time G-d communicated a direct command to Avraham. Although he had a glorious past of courageously sacrificing his life for G-d, it was all a preparation to receiving the divine instruction of “Lech Lecha – Go forth into the world and spread the knowledge of G-d to all of civilization!” By traveling upon G-d’s instruction, Avraham reached the Holy Land and, at the crossroads of civilization, was able to accomplish his divine mission.

The words Lech Lecha, designated as the name of the entire parsha, represent constant spiritual elevation and accomplishment.

Most of the stories recorded in the parsha fit the theme of Lech Lecha. Upon reaching the Holy Land he received special messages and blessings from G-d. He set up a hospitality center with the sole purpose of spreading the awareness of G-d and was wildly successful. He miraculously vanquished four trained enemy armies thereby rescuing entire cities from ruthless oppression and entered a covenant with G-d twice, faithfully observing the mitzvah of circumcision at the old age of ninety-nine.

The first major incident of the parsha is glaringly different. During his first year in Canaan, there was a famine in the land, which many pagans were able to interpret as the vengeance of their deities on the newly arrived monotheist. To make matters worse, Avraham had no alternative but to travel to Egypt, the most morally depraved region at the time, exemplified by the fact that his wife Sarah was seized by the Pharoah and was rescued only by divine intervention.

How are these details part of the spiritual elevation of Lech Lecha?

When shooting a rubber band, you quickly learn that the further back you stretch it the further it will travel forward when released. Regression for the sake of progress.

Avraham and Sarah’s descent to Egypt and the problems that followed culminated in their ultimate triumph. Pharaoh begged them for mercy, lavished them with many gifts and riches and sent them on their way with much honor and respect equipped with the tools they needed to fulfill their divine mission going forward.

This became the prototype of all descents and regressions Jews experienced throughout history. Each time we get pulled back, we spring forward with even greater velocity.

On a personal level, although we pray every day not to experience adversity and challenges are no cause for celebration, we must be aware that all regression is temporary and certainly no reason to become despondent. There is always a way to transform every pitfall into a steppingstone to greater heights.

Saving the World

save world.gif

A millennium after creation, humanity had descended into utter chaos. With no law and order and natural human selfishness unrestrained, civilization was rampant with corruption, thievery and murder. G-d was unwelcome in His own world.

To refine the earth so that it be able to once again reflect divinity, G-d caused a devastating flood to wash away all living organisms. Only Noach, his family and a representation of all species of animal and bird life miraculously survived in the legendary Ark that Noach was instructed to build. 

Noach dutifully followed G-d's instructions and he toiled on the project for 120 years. In addition to constructing the massive boat, he needed to stock provisions to sustain his family and all the animals for the 365 days they would be ensconced in the floating box.

You would think that after his mission was complete and the rain began to fall Noach would kick up his feet and enjoy the year-long cruise. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas animals in the wild fend for themselves, Noach was the very first zookeeper and he was responsible for the animals sailing with him. He tirelessly fed them around the clock and it was only due to his great devotion and attention that they all survived and were able to continue their species in the new world.

Despite the fact that his family assisted him with the feedings, the non-stop work proved to be a heavy burden for the 600-year old Noach and he soon became ill. To make matters worse, he was once delayed in feeding the lion and the ferocious cat bit Noach, causing him to groan and cough up blood for the rest of the voyage.

Nevertheless, Noach did not call in sick and he relentlessly forged ahead with his routine of non-stop care for all on the Ark.

This detail of the story is an inspirational lesson for all time. We all have a unique role in nourishing the world with G-dliness. Sharing Torah messages, encouraging others to do another mitzvah and perpetrating acts of goodness and kindness to the best of our abilities.

At times we encounter hardships in fulfilling our mission and we could start to wonder if it is all worth it.

Noach teaches us that even when saving the world, do not expect it to be easy and comfortable. If you encounter challenges on the way, don't complain. Keep moving forward.

This lesson is communicated to us through Noach whose name means rest and relaxation. We pray that as we continue to execute our respective missions to the world, G-d should grant us all our needs in the best possible way.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Levi Greenberg

Rosh Hashanah Teaches the Value of Making Good Choices

 20170918_080937.jpg

 

Jewish festivals have a way of confusing people because they occur on different dates each year. Jewish tradition has maintained an independent calendar for over 3,000 years that is unique in its format and sophistication.

At sundown on Wednesday, Jews in El Paso and throughout the world will start celebrating the beginning of the new year of the Jewish calendar. We observe the holiday by spending extra time at the synagogue engaged in prayer and introspection.

A traditional shofar (a ram’s horn) is blown in a specific series of sounds. Of course there is an emphasis on celebrating with festive meals and various symbolic foods eaten in anticipation of a sweet new year.

Interestingly enough, unlike most other Jewish festivals, Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate an event uniquely relevant to Jewish history.

Passover commemorates the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt. Shavuot was the revelation at Mount Sinai. Sukkot reminds us how G-d protected us during our 40-year journey through the desert. Yom Kippur was the day of atonement for the sin of the golden calf.

Rosh Hashana commemorates creation. More specifically, it is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve – the first human beings – as recorded in the Bible. This is an event that is relevant and meaningful to all humanity.

Like Adam and Eve, who were formed and created by G-d Himself. Every human being, of all races and creeds, is created in G-d's image, with a unique purpose that only he or she can achieve. The shared goal of humanity is to transform this world into a place of goodness and kindness, thereby revealing the inherent divinity within it.

Adam and Eve were challenged on their first day of life and failed miserably. Remembering their story allows us to be mindful of the fact that we are granted free choice and doing the right thing is not a given. Perfecting our world depends on the choices we each make every day.

Consider waking up in the morning and recognizing the miracle of being granted once again the gift of life. In gratitude, choose to make this world even better than it was yesterday. A new day brings new opportunities for good.

These choices need not be monumental in breadth or scope. A single act of charity, a cheerful greeting to a stranger and an encouraging word can have far reaching effects. And if you doubt the validity of this assertion, think of the nuclear world we live in today.

Less than a century ago it was believed that quantity determines quality and that in order to effect major change one needs access to huge amounts of resources. Nuclear science revealed that even a single atom contains astronomic amounts of energy – as long as its fullest potential is utilized.

Affix a charity box at your home or office and give a few coins each day for those in need. Add an extra dollar to your employees’ paychecks and encourage them to get involved in charitable acts. Treat others with respect. Show more consideration for your family, friends and neighbors.

One person at a time. One good deed at a time. One good choice at a time.

Together it will add up to the perfect world we all wish for ourselves and for future generations.

This article was published in The El Paso Times on Monday, September 19, 2017 and is available online:

http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/opinion/2017/09/17/rosh-hashanah-teaches-value-good-choices-rabbi-greenberg-column/670891001/ 

United In Blessing

 

On the last Shabbat of the Jewish month, we sanctify the following month with a special prayer during synagogue services called “Kiddush Hachodesh”. In the presence of the Torah scroll, the upcoming day of Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month) is announced and we proclaim that the new month be one of life, peace, joy, deliverance and consolation.

On the last Shabbat of the year, we refrain from this procedure for various reasons.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that on the final Shabbat of the year, G-d A-lmighty Himself blesses the new month of Tishrei, thereby giving us mortals the capacity and strength to bless the following eleven months of the year. How is this Heavenly Blessing communicated to us?

The Torah portion that we read each Shabbat is G-d’s way of communicating to us the relevant message for that particular week. This Shabbat we will read the double portion of Nitavim and Vayeilech. The main themes of these Parshas educate us as to how we will have the power to bless the coming months.

Nitzavim opens with Moshe preparing the Jewish people to strengthen their covenant with G-d. “You are all standing this day before the L-rd, your G-d. The leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel. Your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers.”

Every Jew is present. The absence of one affects the entire community.

Throughout the Torah, the introduction to a communication between Moshe to the Jewish people is a generic “And Moshe spoke to the children of Israel.” The opening and closing statements of parshat Vayeilech however, make a rare reference to the fact that Moshe is speaking to the entire nation of Israel.

The two mitzvoth recorded in the parsha - writing a Torah scroll and gathering the nation every seven years at the Temple for “Hakhel” - also emphasize the idea of unity. Every Jew is represented in the letters of the Torah scroll, and the once-in-seven-year gathering was the only event every Jewish man, woman and child was obligated to attend.

The message is clear. Unity is the vessel to receive blessing and the tool through which we can bless. As we wrap up the old year and look forward to a new one, let us be mindful to include everyone. Encourage a fellow Jew to hear the Shofar this Rosh Hashanah and participate in a festive meal. Full synagogues are insufficient as long as there is even one Jew within our orbit not doing Rosh Hashanah.

We know what to do and we will get the job done.

It's Not About Enhancing Life

 

The Jewish calendar date of this Shabbat is the 18th of Elul. The Jewish numerals for 18 are the letters “yud” and “chet” spell the word “Chai” which means life. So the calendar date reads as saying “The Life of Elul.”

It is the birthday of two legendary Jewish leaders.

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, was born in the year 1698. His life long mission was to reveal the inner dimension of Torah and the Jewish people. He captivated the minds of the greatest scholars of his time, and invigorated the masses by ensuring the simple folk that their service of G-d was precious and meaningful. (Learn more about the Baal Shem Tov here.)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad movement, was born in the year 1745. As a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov’s primary disciple he revealed a profoundly straightforward intellectual approach to the exhilarating teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Whereas in the past the study of Kabbalah was limited to a select few, this new Chabad approach made the mystical teachings of the Torah available to anyone that was willing to learn. (Learn more about the Alter Rebbe here.)

Since then the teachings of Chassidus have been an integral part of Torah scholarship and an integral aspect of preserving the global Jewish community for generations.

There are many ways to appreciate the contribution of these great sages but I will focus on an idea that is best expressed through the idea of birth.

Before birth, the fetus is a complete body including hair and nails. During pregnancy, the life of this fetus is considered an extension of the mother. The independent life of this child begins when the soul is breathed into its nostrils upon birth. At that moment the soul and body are not two entities working together, they are united together as one indivisible entity.

For many, Torah study and Mitzvah observance is a way to enhance life, making it more meaningful. The insightful teachings of Chassidus allow us to realize that Torah and Mitzvoth are life itself. Everything we experience is a mere detail in fulfilling our mission of serving G-d with joy.

As Elul is the month we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, this realization infuses fresh life into our preparations and sets the stage for a new year of focusing on the epicenter of life – Torah and Mitzvoth.

Team Work

 

During the weekend, Hurricane Harvey ravaged through Southeast Texas leaving in its wake destruction and crisis. With so many people displaced, homes damaged and a total disruption of normal life, there is an outpouring of support from around the world. Channeling this overwhelming support effectively is crucial.

By Sunday morning, the amazing team of over a dozen Chabad emissary couples serving the Houston kicked into high gear, coordinating search and rescue efforts, kosher food supplies and volunteer groups to help the thousands desperately in need of help. Throughout the week, many of their colleagues in Texas and beyond assisted in arranging shipments of kosher food, other supplies and many teams of volunteers are converging on Houston from around Texas.

The key to their success is the fascinating teamwork on display. Everyone has a role that he or she is executing phenomenally.

In this week’s parsha, Ki Teitzei we learn of the mitzvah of paying workers on time. If the job is complete before evening, payment must be rendered before the next morning, unless both parties have agreed upon other terms and conditions.

The Talmud teaches that G-d follows His own rules. The Torah instructs us to observe mitzvoth today and we will receive the ultimate reward of our labor in the era of redemption. This seems to contradict the law against delaying payment. Is it acceptable for the millions of Jews who lived throughout the generations to wait so long for their payment?

G-d created a world devoid of divine revelation and empowered us to perfect it and reveal the divinity within. This mission is vast and complex spanning the globe and generations. Like a mammoth assembly line, every Jew fills a crucial role in bringing our world to the perfection of redemption. Until then, the job is not complete.

We are all a team and every team member is important. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, reflect on how well you are fulfilling your role in our collective mission. Perhaps you know some “team members” that need help in understanding their role in our mission.

Learn more Torah daily and share the knowledge with others. Commit yourself to greater mitzvah observance and encourage your friends to follow your lead. Invite them to a Torah class, to services or to Shabbat Dinner. The mission can be accomplished only once we are all on board.

Making The Right Choices

 

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, one of the great Chassdic masters, was known as the consummate advocate for the Jewish people. He once made the following observation.

“G-d A-lmighty: You created a world with all the delicacies and amenities of life on full display in the streets, and the Torah, Jewish morality and Mitzvah observance is accessible only through intense study of the holy books. Is it a wonder that Your children are distracted and choose to indulge in worldly matters? Had You placed the delicacies of life in the books and displayed Torah and Mitzvot in the streets, they would surely make the right choices always.

This week’s parsha, Re’eh, opens with the fundamental tenet of Jewish life: Free Choice. We are free to choose the way we live. Lightening does not strike the sinner in the act and gold does not fall from heaven to the righteous. It is all set up in a way that allows for distraction from living a life of commitment to G-d.

Yet, G-d provides us the tools to make the proper choices. Studying Torah and following its instructions enables us to navigate the stormy seas of reality and to remain anchored in truth and morality. It is our obligation to educate our children so that they have the necessary information and training to make the right choices in life.

We just concluded Camp Gan Israel. For two weeks, over forty children were treated to an amazing program of refreshing summer fun. The daily schedule was filled with creative activities, crafts, field trips and many surprises. Throughout it all they learned and reviewed many things about Torah, Mitzvoth, Jewish history and practices. The cheers and songs instilled them with a greater sense of Jewish pride and belonging.

Many thanks to the wonderful counselors who made the trip from Brooklyn to spend these two weeks with our El Paso children: Chayale, Rochel, Devorale and Chaya. Your devotion to the campers and enthusiasm for Judaism made camp very special. Thank you to all of our local volunteers for all of your time and effort. We could not have done it without you.

Thank you to all of our friends and supporters for making it possible to have first-class Jewish educational opportunities for the children of our community. Together we will help them make the right choices.

Unconditional Sacrifice

 

This past Monday, the 15th of Av, we celebrated the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar. Many have not heard of this holiday and it is largely under the radar, but the Talmud states that there is no holiday as joyous as the 15th of Av. There are several reasons for this celebration and I will focus on one of them.

At the beginning of the Second Temple era, a time of communal poverty, there was a shortage of firewood to keep the fire on the Holy Altar burning. No fire means no sacrifices, which is a major crisis in a functioning Holy Temple.

Several wealthy families stepped up and donated huge supplies of firewood to keep the Temple operational. As an expression of gratitude to these generous families, the anniversary of their donation was commemorated each year by feeding the fire of the Altar with firewood donated by that family on that day. That day was a joyous occasion for that family.

The 15th of Av was also a day that a family had donated firewood, but there was a unique twist in their donation. The wood used on the Altar was top quality. It needed to be very dry, hence, the window of opportunity for chopping that wood ended at the conclusion of the summer season – the 15th of Av. Wood chopped from the forest after that date was considered of inferior quality.

Here is the catch. Whereas the families who donated earlier in the summer were able to replenish their supply with high quality firewood, the family that donated on the 15th of Av had no such recourse. The selflessness and sacrifice of their donation was greater by al means.

We celebrate the awesome capacity to give of ourselves unconditionally. To care for the needs of another, even if we may lose out in the end.

This Shabbat, the 20th of Av, is the Yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, the Rebbe’s father. As the chief Rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and the sole remaining member of the Schneerson dynasty in a rabbinic position during the 1930s, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was the standard-bearer of Judaism against the enormous pressures of the evil Stalinist government.

In 1939, in response to his vigorous work on behalf of Judaism, he was arrested and exiled to a remote area of Kazakhstan. Beyond the physical torment of living in such a primitive place with limited food and medicine, the spiritual anguish of separation from his community and his library was excruciating. His courageous wife, Rebbetzin Chanah, brought him a few Torah books, and with the home-made ink she managed to produce from wild berries, he annotated the margins of those books with his innovative teachings. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away in exile due to his suffering, and those marginal notes serve as his only Torah legacy for generations to come.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sacrificed everything dear to him to ensure that the Jews of the USSR continue to live connected to their heritage of Torah and Mitzvos. May we be inspired by his example to do our utmost in strengthening Judaism wherever we may be – unconditionally.

From Switch board to Ipod: Keeping It Fresh

 

On my recent trip to New York, I was fortunate to visit a small office in Chabad Headquarters known as WLCC (World Learning Communications Center).

The Rebbe’s primary platform for teaching and inspiring world Jewry was through the traditional “Farbrengen” - a Chassidic gathering. In the early 1970s, a few young, tech-savvy rabbinical students developed a telephone system enabling Chassidim from around the world to tune into the Rebbe’s weekday Farbrengens live. The pilot project of three phone lines blossomed into WLCC; an elaborate system connecting dozens of locations and thousands of individuals to the events transpiring at Chabad HQ.

In the famous passage of Shema Yisrael, recorded in this week’s parsha Va’etchanan and recited twice daily, Moses instructs the Israelites: “These words which I command you TODAY shall be upon your hearts.” Although we received the Torah at Sinai long ago and the mitzvoth have been in effect for over 3,000 years, we are to view them as brand new – received today.

This is one of the most powerful elements of the Rebbe’s teachings. Every message is permeated with the awareness that each passage in the Torah is timeless, the smallest details of Jewish law are consequential and even the simplest stories are profoundly relevant. The Rebbe transmitted this refreshing approach to Judaism at the Farbrengens, thus initiating a revolution in Jewish life, by invigorating a generation of survivors and educating future generations of Jewish leaders.

In addition to the content of the message providing such spiritual energy, the Rebbe’s unique style of delivery truly energized the listeners. The clarity, passion and urgency inspired thousands to action. This is why WLCC was so important. Reading a transcript cannot compare to hearing it directly from the source.

When my parents moved to El Paso to establish a Chabad presence, their first purchase was a phone line by WLCC. (In the bottom right corner of the attached photo, you will notice the switch marked E.PSO). This was their lifeline to the refreshing inspiration of the Rebbe’s teachings and instructions.

Today, I receive this very same inspiration from the recordings of those Farbrengens. In addition to learning Torah from printed books, the Rebbe’s voice and delivery brings it all together and keeps it fresh. The playlist of these Farbrengens on my Ipod is my spiritual lifeline today, as the WLCC line was for my parents, years ago.

Although the Rebbe’s public talks were in Yiddish, JEM is publishing many of the videos with subtitles in various languages. I invite you to partake in this valuable treasure. Join us at Chabad after Havdalah (half hour after Shabbat ends) for the weekly segment of the Living Torah series. View the videos online at TheRebbe.org, YouTube.com/JewishMedia or FB.com/JewishMedia.

Visions and Messages

 fancy suit.jpg

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon (Vision) because the Haftarah we read during Shabbat services opens with the phrase “Chazon Yashayahu – the vision of Isaiah”. The prophet foretells the defeat of the Jewish kingdom, the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the complete dispersion of the Jews throughout the world. As the anniversary of this devastation will be observed next week on Tisha B’Av, it is an appropriate preview to this sad event.

It is a harsh and traumatic reality but not fatal. After all, after experiencing this type of destruction twice and close to 2,000 years of exile, we are still here to tell the story. So what is the message of this week’s Haftarah? Are we simply crying over lost glory and missed opportunities?

One of the great Chassidic masters, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev provided the following analogy for our current situation. A father once commissioned an expensive suit for his beloved son. The little boy proudly wore the handsome suit all the time. After several hours, he joined his friends playing in the mud and by days end the suit was soiled and torn beyond repair.

The father’s devotion to his son was such that he immediately ordered an even more expensive suit by the tailor and lovingly presented it to his son. Chastened by the previous experience, the boy was extra careful with his clothing and managed to keep the suit intact for a little bit longer than the first one. But a child is a child, and some time later the suit was reduced to rags.

The loving father requested that the tailor prepare a third suit of far superior quality but did not allow his son to wear it. Instead, once in a while he would show it to his son, to motivate him to train himself to be worthy of wearing such a special garment.

We merited to have a Holy Temple in our midst. An edifice that served as a gateway to Heaven and a place of G-dly revelation. Alas, we got carried away with frivolities and became unworthy of containing such divinity. The second time around we lost our moral vision and descended into utter civil war, causing the greatest national tragedies in our history.

This time around, the Third Holy Temple is waiting behind the scenes until we achieve greater spiritual maturity. Each year, on Shabbat Chazon every soul has a “vision” of the Third Holy Temple so that we are motivated to do more. To strengthen our commitment to Torah study and Mitzvah observance with the acute awareness that the redemption of the entire world depends on every good deed.

While the vision of Isaiah reads as a message of doom, Chassidus provides us the inner meaning of this vision. Exile is not G-d’s revenge for our failure to perform as expected. It serves as the catalyst for the ultimate redemption. The message of this Shabbat is one of joyful hope. We are not serving out a sentence. We are preparing for the greatest realities of all time, with the arrival of Moshiach.

As Isaiah concludes, “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through righteousness.” May it happen right now!

Inspiration in Defeat

 world.jpg

For three weeks, we commemorate the defeat of our nation with the destruction of the two Holy Temples and the subsequent exiles. In contrast to other ancient civilizations, our dispersion did not result in our assimilation to our host countries. For close to two millennia our heritage of Torah and mitzvoth persevered despite constant persecution, tragedy and challenge.

The Haftarah (portion of the prophets) that we read this week during Shabbat morning services contains the secret to our miraculous endurance. G-d ordained the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) to communicate perhaps the harshest messages to the Jews, rebuking them for forsaking their covenant with G-d and foretelling the impending tragedies to come. The bible records a fascinating exchange between G-d and Yirmiyahu before he received the prophecy of doom (Jeremiah 1:4-10):

And the word of the L-rd came to me, saying: When I had not yet formed you in the womb, I knew you, and when you had not yet emerged from the womb, I had appointed you; a prophet to the nations I made you. And I said, "Alas, O L-rd G-d! Behold, I know not to speak for I am a youth. And the L-rd said to me; Say not, "I am a youth," for wherever I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Fear them not, for I am with you to save you, says the Lord… Behold, I have appointed you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to uproot and to crush, and to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.

Jeremiah feels inadequate to get the job done and he is reassured that he will succeed because G-d is with him.

This powerful message of hope sets the tone for the Jewish experience of exile. Our dispersion is not simply a punishment for our communal iniquities. It is the setting in which we are meant to reach greater spiritual heights and accomplish greater spiritual feats than we were capable of during the Temple era.

It is a difficult mission. Rife with pitfalls and danger zones. Embarking on this journey was a terrifying experience. Therefore, G-d sends us the reassuring message that He is with us throughout. As long as we remain conscious of His presence, nothing can stand in our way.

In our defeat, we became closer to G-d than ever before. It is up to us to tap into this powerful and encouraging reality and to reveal the inherent good within creation through the following our eternal guide, the Torah, and inspiring others to follow suit. We will surely succeed and merit the arrival of Moshiach and the era of ultimate good for all of creation.

Judaism Does Not Forget About You

 Rebbe.jpg

Several years ago, a young Jewish man from a remote town in Alaska moved to El Paso for personal and economic reasons. He contacted Chabad and was graciously invited to join my parents for Shabbat dinner. At one point during the meal, my father mentioned that he had recently spoken with his brother, Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, the Chabad Rabbi in Anchorage, Alaska. He remembers that this young man celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Chabad Center in Anchorage with an informal ceremony.

The young man admitted that he remembered doing something for his thirteenth birthday but that he could not recall the details of the ceremony let alone the name of the officiating Rabbi. My father smiled and said, “You might forget about Judaism, but Judaism does not forget about you.”

It turned out that a few months later he experienced a serious medical emergency here in town and only due to Chabad’s services did he receive the necessary treatment in time to save his life.

In this week’s parsha, Korach, the intelligent, wealthy and powerful cousin of Moses expressed frustration at the lofty elevated status of Moses’ leadership. “The entire nation is holy,” he argued. “Why is Moses so unique?” He felt that although Moses surely surpassed him in academics, piety and humility, they were surely within comparable levels and therefore should share the leadership of the masses.

Korach’s approach to leadership was fundamentally flawed. He thought that those on the higher end of the ladder received leadership positions by default. Torah has a different metric system for this.

Moses was chosen to be the leader of G-d's people after he demonstrated an extraordinary characteristic while tending Jethro’s flock. As a shepherd, he was dedicated to the welfare of the sheep, ensuring each one grazed in pastures best suited for their needs. But that was not enough.

Once, a tiny sheep strayed away from the flock and ran off into the wilderness. Moses ran after the little creature and returned it to the flock. No sheep was dispensable. This episode convinced G-d of his ability to lead the Jewish nation.

True Jewish leadership means to assume personal responsibility for every individual Jew. This is a position of soulful commitment not a political office acquired through elections or political intrigue.

In our time, the Rebbe assumed this responsibility for every individual Jew. The enormous empire of Chabad emissaries in every corner of the globe is the result of the Rebbe’s personal commitment to ensure that not a single Jew be forgotten to Judaism.

As we observe the Rebbe’s Yartzeit on the Third of Tammuz - Tuesday, June 27, reflect on how you can participate in the Rebbe’s mission to connect every Jew to G-d. Be inspired by the Rebbe’s message and encourage a fellow Jew to observe another mitzvah. Share the beauty of Torah with someone who knows less.

When we gather the entire Jewish family together, we will merit the arrival of Moshiach who will herald in an era of true peace and tranquility for all.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Levi Greenberg

Please click here for more information about the Third of Tammuz.

Please click here to learn more about the Rebbe.

Permanent Stopovers

travel.jpg 

Travelling is a part of life. For some it is a pleasure, for others it is a bother. No matter the reason you travel it is best to arrange your itinerary in the most practical, efficient and convenient way.

For the first forty years of our nation’s existence, we were in constant travel mode. The Torah in this week’s parsha Beha’alosecha describes the procedure followed by the Israelites throughout their journey to the Promised Land. The divine cloud that hovered over the Tabernacle would ascend, indicating that it was time to travel forward to the next destination.

While the Israelites packed their tents, the Levites hurriedly dismantled the Tabernacle and loaded its various parts onto their designated wagons. A trumpet blast signaled the beginning of the journey and the entire camp of several million strong marched forward. When the cloud stopped, the Levites reconstructed the Tabernacle under it and the Israelites camped around it in the designated pattern.

There was no set schedule as to how long they would camp in a specific area. At times, they were stationary for years and sometimes the cloud signaled a new journey after only one night! Regardless, the Tabernacle was fully constructed at every single stop. As the Torah reiterates several times “At G-d’s bidding they encamped, at G-d’s bidding they travelled.”

Is it fair to demand such a labor-intensive activity as constructing the Tabernacle for a rest stop of several hours?

When you follow a map to get from point A to point B every stop on the way is a means to an end. But when you follow a divine GPS, every stop is a destination. G-d transcends time and fulfilling His will is enshrined in eternity. A stopover of several hours is as consequential and important as a 12-year encampment. Therefore, the Tabernacle was fully assembled every time.

Life is a divine journey. Wherever you may be there is a something special you need to accomplish. When you are travelling or moving around searching the right place to live, every stop is important no matter how long you are there.

View it as home. Find a synagogue and join them for services. Bring along your Tefillin and pray every day. Keep kosher as if you were in your kitchen and celebrate Shabbos just as you would at your dining room table.

Because wherever you may be, G-d has something special in mind for you.

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.