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Rabbis' Blog

Inspirational Torah Messages from Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso

Birthday of the Jewish Calendar


This Shabbat will mark 3,330 years from the day we received our first Mitzvah from G-d.

Before whisking the Jews out of Egypt, it was necessary to introduce some basic elements of divinity to them, so that they should be worthy of deliverance. On the first day on Nissan, 15 days before the Exodus, G-d communicated to Moshe the mitzvah of setting up the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar guidelines in place today are embedded in the divine communique to Moses 3,330 years ago.

A year later, on the same day, the young Jewish nation celebrated the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) service, in the Sinai Desert. This edifice served as the prototype for the subsequent Holy Temples built in Jerusalem. As Aharon the High Priest concluded the inaugural service, a divine cloud descended upon the Mishkan, representing the permanent revelation of G-d in the midst of the Israelite camp.

Ever since, the divine energy never departed the Jewish scene. Even after the destruction of the Temples, we are capable of creating a space in which divinity is readily apparent.

The fact that these two incidents, the establishment of the Jewish calendar and the inauguration of the Tabernacle occurred on the same day, emphasizes their correlation to each other and their relevance to us today 3,330 years later.

Jewish months are determined by the lunar cycle. The barely visible crescent represents new beginnings and a full moon represents great achievements. The reflexive changes in the moon’s size are due to its posturing in reflecting the light of the sun – the dependable luminary of our sky.

To serve as a platform for Divine revelation one needs to be in a position to reflect G-d’s light as it is transmitted to us through Torah. Through constant study and Mitzvah observance, one can become a conduit through which true goodness and kindness can radiate.

This dynamic also sheds light on how the idea of redemption can be applied and relevant in all times. Humans are chronically shackled to the needs of the physical body. A surgeon performing a life-saving operation, an officer on a search and rescue mission or a scholar in the midst of a major academic discovery all need to pay close attention to their nutrition and sleeping behaviors. An exhausted body can sabotage even the greatest endeavors.

Nevertheless, within this physical “exile” we are capable of attaining great divine accomplishments, just as the Israelites started keeping a Jewish calendar while still enslaved by Pharaoh. As long as we are always aware of our potential to reflect the Divine, thus making this world a true dwelling place for G-d, redemption will always be attainable.

Doing Shabbat Right

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Hosting guests for Shabbat dinner on Friday evening is always a source of pride and pleasure for our family. Shainy prepares a delicious spread and the table is set to perfection. One week, a young boy came over with his family and was amazed at seeing the table set as if it was Thanksgiving. 

“Do you do this every week?” he asked.

“Every week.”

“Wow! You guys do Shabbat right!”

His genuine compliment was greatly appreciated but it also got me thinking about what it means to “do Shabbat right.”

In this week’s parshah Moshe communicates to the Jewish people the instructions for building the Mishkan - an edifice to serve as a divine dwelling place within the Israelite camp. In preface, Moshe reminds the people of the importance of keeping Shabbat.

“Work shall be done for six days and the seventh day shall be holy for you - a complete rest from work.”

Lest their enthusiasm inspire them to prepare G-d’s home 24/7, the Torah clarifies that construction of the Mishkan must halt on Shabbat. But there is an additional reason for mentioning Shabbat in this context.

Contrary to common perception, the definition of “work” in relation to Shabbat observance has nothing to do with making a living or physical exertion. In fact, the specifics of Shabbat observance are modeled after a defined set of labors that were employed in the construction of the Mishkan. These specifics are discussed at length in the Talmud and the Code of Jewish Law.

Beyond providing the Halachic template for Shabbat observance, this verse also teaches us the proper Jewish work ethic with one curious grammatical nuance. Why does the Torah employ the passive expression “Work shall be done” instead of the active “You shall work?”

About resting on Shabbat our sages declare: One must regard himself as if all work has been done. One should not only take a break from work - one needs to feel as if there is no work left to be done! How is this practical?

The secret of “doing Shabbat right” is embedded in the passive expression of “work shall be done.” Take the work you do during the week seriously and give it all you got. But the stress and preoccupation that comes along with it is unnecessary, spiritually numbing and emotionally draining. Being mindful that success is a blessing from G-d and that work is merely a natural channel for the Divine blessing to flow into our universe, is a sure way to erase stress and anxiety from the experience.

“Doing Shabbat right” is not limited to observing the relevant laws starting Friday at sundown through nightfall the next day. A peaceful and spiritually uplifting Shabbat depends on a more focused and spiritually balanced work week.

Conversely, when observed properly according to Jewish law, Shabbat redefines the workweek. It’s divine energy permeates every fiber of our being and every moment of our lives allowing us to live up to our greatest potential.


Moshe's Enduring Legacy


Have you ever been so stressed that you wanted to punch a hole in the wall? A new business called the “Anger Room” provides the opportunity to break useless junk in a controlled environment.

Anger management is not my expertise and Jewish law forbids wasteful destruction, but perhaps the popular notion that breaking stuff is a valid stress relief method fuels a common misconception of a fascinating occurrence in this week’s parshah.

During the Revelation at Sinai G-d verbally communicated the Ten Commandments and then instructed Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights to learn the entire Torah and receive the Two Tablets containing a written record of the Ten Commandments. These Tablets were entirely prepared by G-d and were miraculous in many ways.

Meanwhile, after miscalculating the day of Moshe’s expected return from the mountain, the Israelite camp was in turmoil. Mixed messages, raw nerves and overall confusion resulted in the unfortunate creation of a Golden Calf which was subsequently served by a number of Jews. The self sacrifice of Chur (Moshe’s nephew) and Aharon’s heroic attempts to quell the rebellion did not stop the disaster from happening. Just forty days after pledging allegiance to G-d at Mt. Sinai, idolatry infiltrated the Israelite camp.

Moshe descended Mt. Sinai holding the divine Two Tablets when he beheld the obscene scene of Jews serving the Golden Calf. Moshe became angry and smashed the Two Tablets at the foot of the mountain.

Far from being a reckless reaction due to an anger management problem, Moshe’s instantaneous decision to break the Two Tablets is considered the most heroic and selfless act ever done by a Jewish leader.

The Talmud invokes the analogy of a King who flew into a rage upon hearing rumors of his bride’s unfaithfulness. A close friend hurriedly destroyed the marriage contract so there would be no legal recourse for the King to swiftly punish the Queen under duress. His quick thinking allowed for a thorough investigation which revealed that the rumors were untrue and the king was forever grateful to his friend for intervening.

At Sinai the Israelites made a verbal commitment to G-d and the Two Tablets represented the written contract of their exclusivity. Seeing the Golden Calf, Moshe understood that so long as the written contract remained intact, G-d’s retribution would be swift and complete. Moshe sacrificed everything by destroying the most priceless objects in the world to save his nation from annihilation. His quick thinking paid off, and he ultimately elicited G-d’s forgiveness for their sin and we are here today to tell the story.

This is the profile of a true leader and a powerful lesson in Ahavat Yisrael. To effectively inspire others to embrace more Torah study and Mitzvah observance one must first sincerely and unconditionally care for their physical wellbeing and safety - even at great personal sacrifice.

Purim with Chabad was a beautiful experience. Hundreds of Jews in El Paso were impacted through our various events, classes, publications and private visitations. Thank you to all our sponsors, volunteers and participants for making this all happen.

Complete photo albums will be available online next week. Click here to see photos and read about last night’s Purim in Hawaii as published in the El Paso Herald-Post.

Only the Best Will Do

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Hearing the Scroll of Esther read from a proper “Megillah” (twice) is the core of Purim observance and an entire tractate of the Talmud is dedicated to the laws of this important Mitzvah. 

The Mishna declares that one who read the Megillah “backwards” has not fulfilled the Mitzvah. Practically speaking, if one hears the story from Chapter Three until the end and afterwards hears the first two chapters – it doesn’t count. You need to hear the story from the beginning to end - in order.

The Baal Shem Tov taught a profound lesson from this rule. Using a slightly altered translation, this Mishnaic statement can be understood as follows: “One who reads the Megillah as a story of the past” is missing the whole point of the Purim celebration. This is not only history, it is the story of today. Every line in the Megillah contains relevant messages for every one of us, here and now.

In the opening chapter of the Megillah, King Achashverosh throws a 180-day banquet celebrating his ascent to power and the solidification of his kingdom. After half a year of drunken revelry, he orders another seven-day feast for the citizens of his capital Shushan.

The Megillah describes in intricate detail the setting of this lavish feast. “In the courtyard of the king’s palace garden, with white, green and blue hangings, embroidered with cords of linen and purple wool, on silver rods and marble columns; couches of gold and silver, on a floor of alabaster and marble in rows and circles.”

If the setting impresses you, check out the service protocol. “Drinks were served on golden vessels, each of the vessels differing from all other vessels.” No two vessels were the same. Imagine the opulence!

This vivid description gives us an inkling of Achashverosh’s stratospheric wealth, but is it necessary to understanding the Purim story? Must we religiously read in the synagogue so many lines describing how ancient heathens partied and wasted 187 days on frivolous drinking?

Achashverosh chose to celebrate his reign with such extravagance because he had the resources to do so. Every detail of the party needed to exhibit his vast wealth, down to the rods holding up the courtyard curtains. Had the rods been wood instead of silver, had two of the same wine vessels been used or had the party lasted 186 days instead of 187 days - it would not have met Achashverosh’s true potential.

Clearly, this is not the Jewish ethic of celebration. Rather, the Megillah is teaching us the Jewish ethic of achievement. Aim to realize your fullest potential because “Better than nothing” is not an option. Whether it is about our own Torah study, religious observance, Tzedakah donations or inspiring others to follow suit – we must expect of ourselves the very best.

Examine your schedule and find more time for Torah study. Make the effort to observe more mitzvot regularly and take a hard look at your income to be sure your charity is up to par. Ultimately, you are the only one capable of achieving what only you can.

Purim this year begins on the Wednesday evening, February 28 and continues through Thursday, March 1.

Please be sure to observe the four Purim mitzvot:

  1. Listen to the Purim story read from a proper Megillah on Wednesday evening and Thursday during the day.

The following three must be done on Thursday during the day.

  1. Give charity to at least two poor people or two organizations that care for the poor.

  2. Share a gift of two ready-to-eat foods with a friend.

  3. Eat a festive meal.

Click here to learn more about Purim.


Your Birthday is a Big Deal


I am under the impression that Facebook caused a renaissance or comeback of “the birthday.” Although many people celebrate their birthdays every year, typically children are the ones that have annual parties, complete with invitations, birthday hats, entertainers and decorated cakes. Adults usually celebrate milestone birthdays and are often more self conscious of their advancing age than joyful about it.

Nowadays I receive daily birthday reminders about all the wonderful people in my life and cheerful encouragement from a sophisticated algorithm to reach out and join the virtual birthday party. I believe this is a positive development and it is connected to the month of Adar.

The Talmud records that when the evil Haman cast lots to determine the most opportune month to destroy the Jewish nation, he was overjoyed when the dice landed on Adar. It was on the seventh day of this month that Moshe, the iconic and legendary Jewish leader passed away. Haman concluded that it was a bad omen for the Jews.

He was unaware that the seventh of Adar was also Moshe’s birthday. Haman’s ignorance was his undoing, because the merit of Moshe’s birth was so strong as to cause the entire month of Adar to be a powerfully auspicious time for the Jews, outweighing any negative effects from his passing. This triggered what the Megillah describes as “Venahafoch Hu” - which literally means “topsy turvy” - the ultimate reversal of fortunes. Haman and his sons were killed and the Jewish people were spared - gaining a major holiday from the whole ordeal.

Moshe was a great leader and the spiritual energy of his birthday was able to affect positive change for his people close to a thousand years after his passing. However, the specialty of a birthday is not reserved for the spiritual elite. The birth of every person marks the beginning of a new divine mission in our universe and the anniversary of that day is cause for celebration.

When a baby is born a new soul begins to shine in the world. As the child develops and matures his or her light shines brighter and clearer. This progression of goodness continues to intensify each passing year, and on the birthday it is especially potent.

This is the reason the Rebbe encouraged everyone to celebrate their birthdays in a meaningful manner. Throughout the day be sure to learn more Torah, say an extra prayer and give more charity. Spend some time alone to reflect on the blessings of the past and make good resolutions from the future. Most importantly, throw a party for friends and family. Include them in your special day as you celebrate the mandate you were granted by G-d to make this world a better place.

Today is the first day of the Jewish month Adar. As we enter this joyful month of Purim, I encourage you to mark your birthday on the calendar as the day you will celebrate in a most meaningful manner. Click here to learn more about Jewish birthday observances.


Chabad's Real Success


While society struggles with gender inequality in the workforce and the dearth of women CEOs in America, Brooklyn is hosting thousands of Chabad Women Emissaries (Shluchos) from around the world.  Equal partners in the historic and legendary Chabad Lubavitch imprint on the global Jewish community. The annual convention is an opportunity for them to network, strategize, share inspiration and enjoy each other’s company.

In their respective communities they serve prominent roles in education, leadership and influence. But if you would approach these remarkable people at the conference and inquire about their main occupation, pride and passion in life they will undoubtedly say raising their families and being a homemaker.

It should come as no surprise since they are full fledged members of the Chassidic community and appropriately fit this specific stereotype projected on Chassidic women. But what sets them apart as revolutionaries and untraditional is the fact that they are creating such homes and nurturing such families outside of the large communities that normally facilitate them, to say the least.

The Rebbe addressed the participants of the first International Convention of Chabad Women Emissaries in the winter of 1991 and provided the context which sets apart their unique form of leadership than that of their husbands.

After the Revelation at Sinai, the Israelites were instructed to build a edifice that will serve as G-d’s home. “They will make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell within them”.

Our sages note that grammatically the verse should have employed the singular term “in it” - to imply the G-d intends to dwell in the edifice the Israelites would build. However the verse specifically concludes with the plural form “in them” to express G-d’s ultimate purpose and desire in Judaism. We are empowered to transform our private lives and homes into a dwelling place for the Divine. G-d wants to dwell “within us.”

As the mainstay of the home, it is the Jewish woman that has the ability to fulfill this divine wish. This concept eclipses all other considerations and history has proven that proper, healthy and happy Jewish households are the reason we are here today.

Although it is vital to develop organized Jewish communities and services throughout the world, the paramount reason the Rebbe dispatched young couples to every corner of the globe was so that they set up traditional Jewish households and serve as a prototype to the local Jews they encounter and engage. It is a mission that is accomplished primarily through the women and their credit alone.

This weekend I and thousands of my colleagues are getting a taste of what our wives do year round. While the administrative and ceremonial elements of our work may slow down for the next few days, the work of Jewish homemaking never stops.


When You Have It All

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A fellow passenger on a flight told me he would like to meet someone who adopted full Torah observance when life was going well. “Most people I know became religious during a crisis or after some type of personal tragedy,” he said. 

Although I had a long list of names for him, I realized that was beside the point. He had just articulated a perspective all too prevalent in our society. Faith and religion is viewed as crisis management tools and religious leaders as de facto social workers.

This week’s parshah teaches us the truth about Judaism.

The legitimacy of our glorious heritage rests solely on Matan Torah, the Revelation at Sinai. Maimonides writes that it is the only reason we believe in the truth of Torah and its traditions.

It is striking therefore, that the Torah prefaces the story of the events at Sinai with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law to the Israelite camp. This reunion was so significant, that the entire parshah in which we read about Matan Torah and the Ten Commandments is called “Yisro”!

Yisro was a man of great accomplishments and had an impressive resume. Aside for being a former trusted advisor to Pharaoh, he had served as the highest ranking priest in every institution of idolatry known to man at the time. He was a deep thinker and his approach to idolatry stemmed from his vast knowledge of nature. Considered the foremost intellectual powerhouse of pagan traditions, he was accorded many honorary titles and enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege.

But above all, he was a man of integrity, genuinely searching for the truth, which inevitably led him to acknowledge the fallacy of idolatry and to embrace the belief in the One G-d, Creator of the Universe. Together with Moshe’s wife Tzipora, and his two grandsons Gershom and Eliezer, Yisro left Midian and his prestigious position among the family of nations to convert to the brand new religion called Judaism, headquartered in a barren desert.

This event puts Judaism in proper context. It was not only embraced by the Abrahamic family who had recently been rescued from two centuries of persecution and slavery. By what can be perceived as a nomadic tribe wandering in a wilderness, dependent solely on miracles to survive.

Yisro broke all the stereotypes and myths about Torah and Mitzvos. They are not crutches to lean on when life is tough, rather conduits through which we connect with G-d and celebrate life.

Every stage in life is the prime time to focus on our relationship with G-d by increasing in Torah study and doing another Mitzvah. Of course, in hard times it will provide strength and direction. But it is during the good days and successful moments that our divine relationship is best nurtured and cemented.

How Does Chabad Do It?

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Chabad’s success worldwide is a phenomenon that intrigues scholars, journalists, outreach activists and curious Jews alike. Brandeis University’s Dr. Mark Rosen, an expert on Jewish institutions, who recently completed a study on Chabad on Campus concluded the following: “It defies logic. So there must be some deeper truth that’s escaping our understanding and that our social science skills don’t quite encompass.”

While I certainly believe we are regular people doing extraordinary things, Dr. Rosen might be on to something by saying that his rational mind is not capable of explaining it.

The men and women of Chabad are called Shluchim - emissaries. Our day to day functions can  categorize us as Rabbis, Rebbetzins, fundraisers, activists and social workers, but the title we identify most deeply with is “emissaries” - bearers of a message from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is the Rebbe and his message that places the work of Chabad on an entirely different social scale.

In honor of the Shabbat of the 10th of Shevat 1950, the Previous Rebbe published a Chassidic discourse titled “Basi Legani”. The Previous Rebbe passed away that Shabbat morning and the Rebbe, his son-in-law and successor, emphasized that this discourse contains the marching orders for the new generation of Chabad.

Exactly one year later, the Rebbe ceremoniously assumed the mantle of Chabad Lubavitch leadership by reciting an original Chassidic discourse on the same theme as the “Basi Legani” discourse his father-in-law had published a year earlier and continued to do so each year. While the specific topics of the “Basi Legani” discourses changed every year, the opening lesson and its monumental message became the running theme of the Rebbe’s leadership and perhaps the secret of the unprecedented renaissance he unleashed.

The discourse opens with a quote from King Solomon’s Song of Songs (5:1): “I have come to my garden, my sister my bride.” Our sages explain, when the Israelites built the tabernacle in the Sinai Desert and divinity became permanently manifest and revealed in the physical edifice, G-d clarified that this was not a new phenomenon. It was a homecoming. G-d’s presence had been manifest in this physical universe before Adam committed the first sin.

Think about that for a moment. Social science perceives the world as chaotic, corrupt and devoid of divine purpose. A veritable jungle where the weak fail and the mighty prevail. An entity becoming increasingly broken and in need of fixing.

“Basi Legani” proclaims that the original pristine state of our universe is a divine paradise and remains so. All the chaos and corruption, while very real and tragic, are man-made distractions caused by humanity’s obsession with self and survival. While ego and evil are real problems that need to be dealt with, they are not inherent in G-d’s creation. The world and its inhabitants are not faulty. Rather, our perception of it is tainted. And as long as we remain cognizant of this truth, every obstacle can be transformed into a stepping stone to greater heights and every competition can be harnessed to generate more good.

Everyone can be Chabad. I am not referring to the dress code and the like. The Rebbe’s mandate to view the world for what it truly is and to share this idea with others is a gift for anyone willing to embrace it. I encourage you to learn more of the Rebbe’s teachings and to join the team joyfully preparing our world for the imminent era of Moshiach, when peace and prosperity will abound for all.

Click here to learn more about “Basi Legani” 

Freedom Dress Code


Seder night is a big deal and many dress their finest for the occasion. However, Jewish law is not particular about the Seder dress code. So long as you participate, eat the right amount of Matzah and Marror, drink four cups of wine and retell the story of Exodus – you’re a Passover pro.

The first Seder in history was different. On the eve of the redemption from Egypt the Israelites were commanded to slaughter a lamb, place it blood on the lintel and doorposts of their homes and to eat a roasted piece of the meat together with Matzah and bitter herbs. Additionally, G-d specified how they should dress at this meal: “And this is how you shall eat it: with your waist belted, your shoes on your feet, your staff in your hand, and you shall eat it in haste…”

On the surface, this instruction is simply a practical way of ensuring that they be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. But this is a description of the creation of our nation, recorded in the Torah which serves as a guidebook for eternity. Every detail contains layers of meaning that inform us today how to live a wholesome Jewish life.

A belt is used to organize our clothing - wrapped around the waist which supports the entire body. The first priority is to be organized in your own Judaism. Ensure that you are confident and informed on how a Jew should live and observe Judaism. Balance and cohesion are central to healthy Jewish living.

Shoes allow us to interact with our immediate surroundings without injuring ourselves from the assorted hazards that abound on the ground. Judaism should not be reserved to the privacy of our homes or the religious comfort of the synagogue. Torah lessons and prayer inspiration must be the filter through which we interact with society.

Although the secular world seems hostile to Jewish ideals, by influencing friends, coworkers and neighbors to live a more ethical and moral life inspired by Torah lessons we are less susceptible to being distracted from our own religious commitment. We become an inspiration to others and garner genuine respect and acceptance.

Finally, on a long journey over treacherous terrain, a walking stick becomes essential and enables us to reach places we cannot on our own. Our Jewish imprint must be global, inspiring people we may never meet in a lifetime. Every individual is capable of this and modern technology makes this task more achievable than ever.

Use your social media presence to broadcast Jewish messages. You never know who is reading your post about the latest Torah lesson you learned or viewing the photo of you doing a mitzvah – and its effect can be greater than your wildest imaginations.

These are the components of Jewish freedom: Strengthen your personal observance, inspire your immediate surroundings and take your message to the world.

Suit up quickly because redemption is at hand.


Passion is the Key to Redemption


This week, I offered a Jew the opportunity to do the mitzvah of Tefillin. “Rabbi, I have not worn Tefillin since my Bar Mitzvah,” he responded. “I don’t think it would be proper for me to do so now. I would feel like a hypocrite.”

Our conversation continued on to his past involvements in Judaism and at one point he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning with my Tefillin.” The next morning, he wore Tefillin for the first time in seventy years!

Egypt, the ancient superpower that enslaved the Jewish nation and sadistically pursued a program to annihilate them, is called “Mitzrayim” in Hebrew. Understanding the meaning of the name “Mitzrayim” enables us to apply the lessons of the long-ago redemption to our modern 21st century lives.

Following the revelation at the burning bush, Moshe delivered a divine message for the downtrodden Hebrews and the evil Pharaoh that so viciously persecuted them: The time had come to leave Egypt and serve G-d.

After initially dismissing Moshe’s demands as the whinings of lazy laborers, Egypt started experiencing the terrifying plagues that gradually caused a societal breakdown and led to its eventual destruction. At one point Pharaoh proposed a compromise: The slaves will have three days off from work to offer sacrifices to G-d in Egypt. No need to pack up and leave. Be as religious as you’d like right here.

This compromise was unacceptable. The geographical location within the borders of the nation called “Mitzrayim” was not conducive to divine service. The word “Mitzrayim” is etymologically linked to the word “Meitzarim” which means borders and limitations.

Pharaoh represented a world-view professing that life is calculated and defined; What you see is what you get. The Nile River irrigated the entire land on a seasonal schedule and the Egyptian economy ebbed and flowed with the tide. The cycle of nature is unchanging and once we master the nuances of nature we can control our destiny.

So long as the Jews remained Pharaoh’s subjects, it would be impossible to live a life focused on revealing the inherent divinity within all of reality. Pharaoh’s closed-minded and primitive perspective needed to be utterly rejected.

To achieve redemption, Pharaoh was afflicted with the Ten Plagues, starting with all the water being transformed into blood for seven days. This miraculous malady provides us with an eternal lesson in overcoming our daily challenges today.

Water is cold and blood represents life which is associated with warmth. The first step in being part of G-d’s team is to get rid of spiritual apathy and indifference. True goodness can be revealed and perpetuated only when it is pursued with passion and excitement.

Earlier this week, my friend felt trapped in a life devoid of Tefillin and was not able to break the habit. After tapping into the inherent warmth of his soul, he had the courage to do a mitzvah - regardless of what happened for over seventy years.

Good Thoughts Make Good Things Happen

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The doctor’s prognosis for his son’s recovery was grim, so the Chossid traveled to the Rebbe in the town of Lubavitch to request a blessing. As the Rebbe read his petition, the Chossid cried bitterly realizing that it might be too late. “When I left home several days ago, the doctors were hopeless,” he thought sorrowfully. “Perhaps the worst occured in my absence...”

The Rebbe fixed him with a piercing glance and said soothingly; “Don’t cry. Think good and it will be good. You will celebrate the Bar Mitzvahs of his children.”

This was an instruction, not only a blessing. Channelling his thoughts in a positive direction would affect a complete recovery for the young child.

Parshat Shemot is primarily focused on the story of Moshe. Throughout his adolescence he was the sheltered adopted son of Batya, the Egyptain princess. On his first visit to the construction sites, he was shocked to see a taskmaster brutally beating a Hebrew slave. After ensuring that no one was watching, Moshe killed the sadistic Egyptian, thus saving his fellow Hebrew from a gruesome death.

The next day, he observed two Jews quarreling with each other to the point that one was ready to strike the other. “Why are you going to hit your fellow?” Moshe intervened. The would-be assailant did not appreciate his meddling and retorted, “Who appointed you as a leader and judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”

The Torah records that Moshe became frightened and worried that Pharaoh would hear about the incident and order his execution. The two quarellers indeed reported on the young Moshe and he was forced to flee for his life, only to return over fifty years later as the savior of the Jewish people.

Every detail recorded in Torah is precise and necessary to understanding the narrative. Why is it important to know that Moshe was frightened when he discovered his secret was out?

Had his Bitachon - trust in G-d - been strong enough to remain calm and confident that no harm would result from his noble actions, the story would have never reached Pharaoh. Moshe failed to harness the power of positive thought to affect positive change.

To be sure, this level of trust is very high and can be difficult to master, but it is within reach.

On a practical note, observing mitzvot in a secular environment can be challenging and it is natural to assume the worst will happen as a result of sticking to religious principles; Loss of employment, friends and social status. Torah empowers us to be confident and assume the best, thereby causing that, as long as we do our part, our observance of G-d’s mitzvot will elicit respect from our peers, acceptance in society and only blessings, success and happiness for ourselves and our families.


Jews are a Worldly People

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Many wonder why the Torah opens with the story of creation. Since the Torah serves as a religious guide book, it would be appropriate to begin with the first mitzvah communicated to Moshe on the eve of the redemption from Egypt - the birth of the Jewish nation.

This question is so troubling that Rashi, the 12th century sage Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, addresses it in the first entry of his authoritative commentary on the Torah. Seemingly the first book of the Torah, Bereishis, is out of place.

Equally perplexing is the closing statement of this week’s parsha and the entire book of Bereishis: Yosef passed away and the Egyptians took his body hostage by sinking it in the Nile River. Quite a sad and tragic ending, uncharacteristic of Torah literature which emphasizes the need to end on a positive note.

Torah is not just a book of laws. It is the divine blueprint of creation and the eternal guidebook to Jewish life. The purpose of Torah study and Mitzvah observance is not to isolate a small tribe from society, but rather to empower the tiny Jewish nation to be an example and inspiration to all of humanity.

The lives of our forefathers, recorded in the book of Bereishis serve as the prototype of this ideal. Avraham single handedly promoted the awareness of G-d by setting up a free luxury hotel at the crossroads of civilization. Yitzchak illustrated the ability to find life-giving waters in barren deserts and forged a long-lasting alliance with the local king. Yaakov successfully raised a devout family in the spiritual wastelands of Charan.

Yosef eclipsed his ancestors in achieving this goal. Alone as a slave in a corrupt country, faced with unprecedented moral challenges, slandered and imprisoned on false charges, he never ceased to be a divine inspiration to all. He attributed his eventual rise to power in Egypt to the work of G-d so convincingly, that even Pharaoh was obliged to acknowledge the Creator.

His influence was so great that during his and his brother's lifetimes, their family was respected and admired by the hedonistic and idolatrous Egyptians. Yosef’s passing marked the twilight of the good times and the onset of the dark era of slavery. Nevertheless, he promised the fledgling Abrahamic family that redemption will eventually come, since this exile was the preparation for the revelation at Sinai and inheriting the Holy Land.

This is the overarching message of Bereishis, thus beginning with creation and concluding with Egypt's desire to keep Yosef indefinitely. Judaism is not the product of strange esoterics hiding out in caves nor does it flourish in spiritual isolation. Living a Torah true life empowers the Jew to engage with the world and to be a shining light of divine awareness, moral clarity and care for another.

As we celebrate the conclusion of this foundational book, let us be mindful of our abilities and embrace our responsibilities to the world with confidence and joy.


Instantaneous Transformation


The dramatic moment arrived. Yosef managed to manipulate his brothers into a scenario reminiscent of his tragic sale 22 years earlier. Posing as a tyrannical Egyptian viceroy demanding to keep the youngest brother as a slave, he assured them that there would be no problems henceforth and they should return home in peace.

Led by Yehudah, the brothers heroically prepared to battle the entire country to save their brother Binyamin from slavery and a painful separation from Yaakov. Their repentance for their previous error was complete and Yosef pulled the curtains on the show by revealing his real identity to them. “I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?” he exclaimed tearfully.

Before they could overcome their shock and shame, he urged them to view the past in a positive light and quickly share the good news with Yaakov that he is still alive. Tell him to “come down to me; do not tarry!”

One can easily appreciate Yosef’s concern for his father and his fervent wish that he be liberated from his unbearable suffering as quickly as possible. If so, why did he not send a message to his father earlier about his whereabouts? He had been viceroy of Egypt for nine years by now, was it so difficult to send a message? If it could wait nine years, what was the rush now?

Even more perplexing is the fact that Yosef did not immediately travel to his father in person so that the reunion occur as early as possible.

Yosef explained to his brothers that the tragic circumstances that brought him to Egypt were part of a divine plan so that he rise to power in Egypt. He had a divine mission to sustain all of civilization during the terrible famine by presiding over the sale of provisions that had been stored during the seven years of plenty. As long as the world was coming to Egypt for food, Yosef had the divine obligation to remain there to execute his duties.

He also understood that the painful separation from his father was Divine providence, as a reflection of the twenty-two years Yaakov was away from his father Yitzchak. Now that the twenty-two years were over, there was no need for Yaakov to mourn a moment longer.

The lessons of this story resonate today. For close to 2,000 years we are missing the divine reality of a functioning Holy Temple in which G-d’s presence is revealed in a permanent way. It is imperative to know two things. As long as we are still in Exile, we have a divine mission we cannot forsake. And as soon as the mission is complete, and the time of “separation” has ended, our reality will be transformed immediately - without a moment’s tarry.

Let us get the mission done by increasing our Torah study and Mitzvah observance and we will surely merit the arrival of Moshiach right away!

P.S. Chanukah with Chabad was amazing! Photo albums of the various events will be available online next week. Here are several links about Chanukah in El Paso this year. Enjoy!

El Paso Times: Opinion by Rabbi Levi Greenberg

KVIA Channel 7: Chanukah Interview with Rabbi Levi Greenberg and Menachem Greenberg

El Paso Times: Photos of First Night Menorah Lighting

KTSM Channel 9: Chanukah Playland

El Diario de El Paso: Chanukah Playland

KTEP 88.5: Chanukah Interview with Dennis Woo

The True Story of Life

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Civilization was in the throes of a miserable famine and the ten sons of Yaakov traveled to Egypt to purchase food like everyone else. To their surprise and ultimate chagrin, they were singled out from the multitude of international customers and summoned to appear before the viceroy.

After prostrating themselves in the presence of royalty the viceroy inquired after their families in Canaan. The interview took on an intimate nature and the closest guarded secrets of the family were divulged. Unwittingly they revealed that there was a younger brother at home and a brother that went missing years before.

To their astonishment and great distress, the viceroy accused them of espionage and arrested them on the spot. He presented them with an impossible ultimatum: To prove their innocence, nine of them would be held hostage until their youngest brother was brought to Egypt.

The brothers faced a libel of epic proportions. Nothing of their behavior warranted special attention, let alone such a preposterous accusation and the idea that Binyamin coming to Egypt would prove their innocence seemed downright silly. They were also cognizant of the fact that their grandparents Avraham and Sarah faced a similar challenge in Egypt when they arrived there during a famine.

Nevertheless, they did not attribute their troubles to the pathetic penchant of Egyptian monarchs to harass Hebrews. Rather, they understood that everything is orchestrated by G-d and surely their current problems were the result of an error that needed correction. A thorough soul searching determined that the tragic sale of Yosef that had occurred 21 years earlier was the single sin they had yet to correct.

They said to one another, “We are indeed guilty regarding our brother, for we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we did not listen. That is why this misfortune has come upon us.” (Genesis 42:21) Their verbal declaration of guilt was the crucial process of Teshuvah (repentance) that paved the way for their salvation.

Tyrannical accusations and persecution are beside the point. The relationship with the One pulling the strings from Above makes all the difference.

The Maccabees at the time of the Chanukah story understood this same truth. The Assyrian Greek empire did not successfully conquer Israel by dint of their military prowess - and training an army comparable in size and strength would accomplish nothing. The terrible oppression of the time was a reflection of a divine reality and overcoming the enemy would be the result of genuine self-sacrifice.

We celebrate the victory of the few over the many and the righteous over the wicked, by kindling flames of light and warmth in increasing measure. It is crucial to consistently grow in our Torah study and Mitzvah observance, thus introducing more divine light to the world. By focusing on the true dynamics of reality we experience miracles in our personal lives and in the world at large.

Celebrating the Big Picture

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Yosef was estranged from his brothers for several reasons but nothing agitated them more than the fact that his dreams foretold his ultimate rise to power and that they would all bow to him. The tensions came to a boiling point when the brothers attempted to kill him and ultimately sold him into slavery.


Thus began a painful saga in the history of Yaakov’s family. Yaakov mourned inconsolably, the brothers were wracked with guilt and Yosef was subjected to a life of servitude, imprisonment and rejection.


Fascinatingly, Yosef himself did not process these terrible events as a punishment or the result of his brothers’ revenge. He understood that this was divinely orchestrated so that he be put in the right place at the right time to do something extraordinary.

This becomes increasingly clear as we follow Yosef during this painful 22 year separation. During his tenure as a slave to Potiphar, a high ranking Egyptian minister, he was promoted to manager of the estate. Yosef continuously attributed his success to G-d, that his pagan Egyptian master was compelled to recognize this truth.

After being falsely accused of immorality and unjustly sentenced to prison, Yosef continued to provide divine inspiration to all. Ultimately he was instated as the viceroy of Egypt, assuming control over the entire country and by extension all civilization.

The greatest expression of Yosef’s firm belief and pristine understanding that his tragic circumstances were part of a greater plan can be found in the first message he tells his brothers during their emotional reunion.

“Do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you... You did not send me here, but G-d, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt.”

Today, (Thursday, December 7) the 19th of Kislev, marks 219 years since the liberation of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad (known as the Alter Rebbe) from Czarist prison. His opponents attempted to destroy the newly established Chabad movement by arranging his arrest on false charges of high treason. Truth prevailed and the Rebbe was miraculously released 53 days later on the 19th of Kislev.

The Alter Rebbe understood that his arrest was the result of a heavenly debate whether Chassidus should be revealed on a large scale. The circumstances of his release were such that the truth of Chassidus was acknowledged by the highest echelons of the gentile government, thus allowing for its dissemination on an unprecedented level. It was all part of the divine plan.

Chassidus is the innermost dimension of Torah which allows us to tap into the strength of our inner selves. By learning it each day, we open our hearts and minds to discover the pathway to redemption for ourselves and the entire world. Lechaim!

Click here to learn more about 19 Kislev.


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