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Rabbis' Blog

Here is a photo you should see

 Rebbe with Children.jpeg

Let me describe this photo captured in the summer of 1987 at a “Farbrengen” at Lubavitch World Headquarters. “Farbrengen” is the simple yiddish word for gathering, but in the 250 year old Chabad lexicon it represents the idea of Jews coming together and connecting on multiple levels through chassidic discussion, soulful tunes and brotherly toasts of L’chaim over glasses of wine or vodka.

When the Rebbe assumed the Chabad leadership after the passing of the Previous Rebbe, the Farbrengens he held frequently on Shabbat, Jewish and Chassidic holidays and at times randomly served as his platform to communicate with the world. He taught unique innovations in all levels of Torah scholarship, launched multiple campaigns aimed at transforming the Jewish landscape and shared his approach to critical issues facing the global Jewish community and humanity at large.

In attendance were thousands of people from across the social spectrum. World leaders, pulpit rabbis, businessmen, activists, rabbinical students and curious observers. But this photo reveals a demographic one would never expect to find at such a gathering; dozens of children - on the dais no less!

They were usually hidden from the crowd by the table, but in this photo taken from behind the dais as the Rebbe gestured a greeting to one of the guests sitting behind him, you can see how close these children were to the Rebbe as he communicated to the world. Rather than being a nuisance, they were encouraged to attend even though they were unable to follow the Rebbe’s talks at all.

Much has been written describing the Rebbe’s personal greatness, charisma, leadership, scholarship and impact on the world, but the core of the Rebbe’s mission can be summed up in the Zoharic description of Moshe who led the Israelites to freedom - a shepherd of faith.

As Moshe guided the Israelites through the desert, they experienced miracles on a daily basis. Surrounded by divine clouds and nourished by heavenly bread and water flowing from a rock, the Israelites lacked no proof of G-d. But their faith needed to be nurtured so that when they entered the Promised Land and the daily miracles ceased, their faith would permeate every fiber of their being and every aspect of their lives.

When the late Shimon Peres visited the Rebbe he later shared that on every subject the Rebbe displayed brilliant depth, but when speaking of faith he spoke like a five year old child.

Faith is the core of our identity and must be nurtured at every juncture of life. For the Rebbe, communicating the deepest Torah thoughts or addressing major world crises were all expressions of his role in making our inherent faith more relevant and applicable. In this capacity children are as important as venerable sages in their eighties.

Yesterday marked 26 years from the Rebbe’s passing, yet the Rebbe continues to nurture our faith through his teachings published in hundreds of books, preserved in thousands of hours of audio and video recordings now available in multiple languages, online as well. I encourage you to visit www.therebbe.org and avail yourself to this treasure which continues to transform and empower millions to make our world a better place, preparing it for the ultimate redemption through Moshiach.

Climbing Ladders to Heaven

“What is your ultimate goal here, Rabbi?”

A friend blurted out the question in the midst of an intense conversation about community challenges. I answered him honestly, but I continue to contemplate the question often. Whatever I am doing, is it leading to the ultimate goal?

In this week’s parsha we learn of the dramatic events that lead to the greatest tragedy in our history. The Israelites, poised to enter the Promised Land a little over a year after being redeemed from Egypt, inexplicably demanded Moshe send spies to scout out the land before conquering it.

Reluctantly twelve representatives were sent and upon returning, ten of them declared “mission impossible.” The cities are strongly fortified, giants abound and everything about the land is so strange that attempting to take it would be certain suicide.

Two of the spies insisted their colleagues were terribly mistaken. Yehosua and Kaleiv, appalled that the people had so easily lost their trust in G-d by the foreboding report, courageously attempted to sway public opinion. After reminding them of Moshe’s credentials as G-d’s undisputed messenger, Kaleiv movingly declared, “If Moshe would instruct us to build ladders and climb them to heaven - we would certainly succeed!”

The statement about climbing ladders to heaven sounds like poetic license, but a deeper understanding of this episode reveals that Kaleiv was making a precise declaration, relevant to us today more than ever.

The Israelites were instructed to transform a land inhabited by depraved and immoral nations into a holy land. This is a microcosm of creation’s purpose; to reveal the divine brilliance hidden within the mundane and meaningless reality of our world. To bring heaven down to earth or bring earth closer to heaven.

Ten of the spies worried that the Jews would succumb to the spirit-numbing mundane realities of life settling the land would inevitably present and disconnect from the Torah they had recently received at Sinai. “The land will consume them,” they fretted. Better to remain ensconced in the spirituality of desert life, surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, nurtured by the heavenly bread called manna while studying Torah directly from Moshe.

But Kaleiv proclaimed that since the mission of imbuing divinity into the humdrum of regular life was coming from G-d through Moshe, it was certainly attainable.

In the winter of 1951 as the Rebbe formally accepted the mantle of Chabad Lubavitch leadership, he declared our generation is charged with the urgent mission of ushering in the era of Moshiach. To cause the long awaited redemption to actually happen by revealing the divine brilliance hidden within the mundane and meaningless reality of our world. To bring heaven down to earth or bring earth closer to heaven.

Everything was imbued with this urgency, and the Rebbe educated and inspired tens of thousands of Chassidim to devote their lives to this mission and millions more to get involved as well.

As we observe the Rebbe’s 26th Yartzeit this coming Thursday, the Third of Tammuz, Kaleiv’s immortal declaration serves as an inspiration for us all. Even when the job of revealing goodness in every detail of reality seems impossible and perhaps far-fetched, realize that we are truly empowered to make our world more heavenly by adding in Torah study, doing an extra mitzvah, increasing our Tzedakah giving and connecting with each other in the true spirit of Ahavat Yisrael.

The Rebbe continues to lead and inspire our way towards redemption and we need to keep climbing “the ladder” one mitzvah at a time.

Being a lamp is not enough

 

Being an inspiration to others is a blessing, and although the feeling of sharing a meaningful lesson, heartwarming anecdote or some thoughtful advice is very special, it is far from the end game in the purpose of our creation.

The opening verse of this week’s parsha describes the Holy Temple service of lighting the Menorah, the seven branched candelabra which stood in closest proximity to the holiest spot on earth. The expression used is “Beha’alosecha es haneiros - when you (Aharon the high priest) will light the candles (of the Menorah).”

The way I just translated the verse is true to its general meaning, but if you were to translate the words literally it would read “when you elevate the candles.” There are other words in Hebrew which mean “kindle” and the like, but the Torah chose to employ the word which also means “to elevate.”

The most authoritative explainer of Torah, Rashi tells us the following: Since the flame rises, Scripture describes kindling in terms of ascending. He is required to kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself.

Technically speaking the kindler can hold the flame to the wick and cause it to shine brightly even if the fire did not catch on to the wick very well. But then the fire would cease to exist once the kindler moves away. Hence the Torah exhorts the Kohen to kindle the wick in such a manner that the flame would ascend on its own without the kindler’s help.

Seems like a simple and self evident idea, but probing into the deeper meaning of the Menorah and its spiritual function, this detail becomes the catalyst for a profound paradigm shift in understanding our purpose in life.

Every Jew is a lamp, filled with fuel and a wick ready to illuminate the world with divine light and inspiration. Our wick is kindled through Torah study and Mitzvah observance, filling the world with divine brilliance, but that’s not enough. We need to be lamplighters, ensuring that all the lamps around us are also kindled, able to illuminate and kindle more lamps.

When the Kohen entered the sanctuary with a light, the service was not complete by just introducing light there. He needed to share that light in a way that the lamps of the Menorah would shine brightly on their own and kindle other lamps as well.

Being the bearer of good cheer and doing good things is not enough. We need to invest time and energy in inspiring others to the point that they are empowered to be an inspiration to many more. Our success is only realized when we elevate another to the point that they can in turn elevate someone else.

 

We Named Her Rivka

 

On Tuesday afternoon we were blessed to welcome a beautiful soul to the world, our baby daughter Rivka. Thank you so much for your joyful messages of congratulations, mazel tovs and best wishes.

Her birth was especially joyous for me since she is the first child to be named for a special woman in my life, my maternal grandmother Mrs. Rivka Karp, who passed away two months ago, several days before Pesach.

Bubby Karp, as we grandkids knew her, lived down the block from us for as long as I can remember and was a fixture of my childhood and adolescence. Always caring and doting yet respectful of our space and individuality, Bubby always prepared us our favorite lunch on Sundays and sent us treats for snacks on school days.

Although she surely made a memorable impression on us through her delicious cooking and baking, it was her refined and dignified demeanor that made being in her presence a warm and comfortable experience. She was socially in tune and intuitively understood what others needed. She was proud of all her children and grandchildren for the way they were and knew how to make all of us feel special and appreciated.

Her namesake Rivka, the matriarch of our nation, was born to a family of thieves and con artists in a depraved and immoral society. Despite all these challenges she was exceptionally refined and excelled in caring for others. This characteristic is what made her a fitting match for Yitzchok and when a complete stranger asked her for a drink of water near the well, this seemingly simple act of kindness set in motion her becoming an integral part of shaping history.

My Bubby was born in Voronezh, a small town in southwestern Russia to a well to-do family but needed to flee from the advancing Nazis when she was twelve years old. They endured much suffering in the war years and her sister died of typhus during this terrible ordeal. She experienced so much chaos and suffering as a teenager, but like Rivka, our matriarch, this did not affect her refined character and empathy for others.

She married my grandfather in Paris after the war, and in the 1950s immigrated to Montreal, Canada where they raised their six children. My grandfather, Rabbi Avrohom Karp, taught Talmud to younger students and to adults as well, and his dedicated Torah study at all hours of the day was the most precious thing to her.

I have so many memories of her and a wealth of life lessons her behavior taught me. She never preached, but her silence spoke volumes. As I cradle precious little Rivka in my arms I pray to have the strength and wisdom to impart to her the refined and elevated character my Bubby embodied and that she will grow to be a source of pride to us all.

One of the Mitzvot associated with Rivka, our matriarch, is the Mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles. Today, as I light the Shabbat candles before sunset I will add another candle in honor of our new little Rivka and I invite all Jewish women in El Paso to join me at 7:51pm (for El Paso) in this beautiful Mitzvah, bringing more and more divine light to our world.

Good Shabbos,

Shainy Greenberg

Welcome Back to School

 

Today millions of American children finish the school year and I salute our educators for meeting the challenge for seeing this semester through to its conclusion despite the rude disruptions we all experienced these past three months.

I find it ironic that the school year ends right around the time we celebrate the anniversary of when we all started going to school thousands of years ago.

When the Israelites were redeemed from Egyptian slavery on Pesach Moshe led them on a forty-four day journey to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah six days later on Shavuot. Our sages describe this journey as Moshe “bringing the children of Israel to Cheder (Hebrew/Yiddish expression for school) to learn Torah from their Melamed (Hebrew/Yiddish expression for teacher) G-d A-lmighty.”

Before entering school students need to be prepared with supplies, books and most importantly an openness to learning, but the preparation for entering G-d’s school at Sinai was of an entirely different caliber.

This coming Sunday will be Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the first day of the Jewish month Sivan, which marks 3,332 years since our ancestors arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Torah records this monumental event with a sentence which seems to be grammatically incorrect. “And Israel (singular) camped by the mountain.” There were millions of Jews camping at the mountain and the biblical expression implies that it was a camp of one?

Our sages explain that for the first time in history millions of Jews were on the same exact page intellectually and emotionally. They were of one heart and mind to receive the Torah. All of their differences disappeared as they united in the singular purpose of being worthy to become G-d’s ambassadors to the world through Torah and Mitzvot.

What’s the connection between Jewish unity and preparing to learn Torah from G-d? If you think about it, there is no way for the Creator’s divine, transcendent wisdom to be grasped by lowly mortals. It is a contradiction in terms! Nevertheless, G-d wished to override this fundamental division and allow for these polar opposites to unite.

The greatest spiritual heights we can achieve on our own are no preparation for the awesome revelation at Sinai. But achieving unity within our ranks even when our differences may seem so monumental is the most appropriate precursor to the “unity of opposites” that happened with the giving of the Torah.

Each year on Shavuot we receive the Torah anew and are once again welcome to join the academy of divine wisdom. Prepare for the “new school year” by finding ways to connect with others and nurturing a culture of mutual understanding and love. There is no better time to start than now, because the school bell will ring in under a week.

 

What can we take from all this?

 

“Empathy,” my friend said to me this week. “We need to have empathy for people and realize that everyone is handling this crisis differently. Folks are scared.”

He is deeply involved in the COVID-19 response locally and will be the first to tell you that no matter what measures are implemented, reactions will vary greatly due to personal circumstances. The data is evolving, the analysis is fluid and leadership on all levels is facing challenges our modern society has never imagined. No wonder people are frightened.

As we work together to adapt to our new reality it would be prudent to seek the positive things we can take from these unprecedented times. I believe the fact that we now feel so small and intimidated by a mysterious force beyond our control is an opportunity to reframe our approach to life.

The name of this week’s parsha gives reference to the fact that the Torah and Mitzvot were revealed to us at Mount Sinai. When the talmudists wish to express the idea that our tradition traces back to the original divine communication between G-d and Moshe they often use terms such as “received from Sinai.” Why is the original location of the revelation so important?

Mount Sinai was not the tallest nor the prettiest mountain. It was rather small and plain. Tradition teaches that this mountain was chosen to teach us the importance of humility. If so, why did G-d not give us the Torah in a valley? Because the Jewish way of life demands pride and a sense of spiritual elevation.

How can these two seemingly opposite traits complement each other?

Here is how the Rebbe defines the teachings of Chabad philosophy which seeks to uncover the essence of Judaism:

Chassidus is Divine intelligence, an understanding which shows man how small he is, and how great he can become. (Hayom Yom 19 Iyar)

Judaism is forever anchored to Mount Sinai because Torah provides us the framework in which we can appreciate how small (Sinai) we truly are within context of the awesome divine reality, but that specifically within this context we are capable of achieving true greatness (Mount).

COVID-19 has jolted all of us to the jarring realization that we are very small. Instead of becoming confused and despondent in the face of this perceived human failure, let’s embrace our tininess in a wholesome and healthy matter. Realize that we are tiny yet integral cogs in a massive divine plan and discover how we can achieve the greatest heights by fulfilling our G-d given mission.

While we can’t control the virus at large we can control how we make our world a better and more divine space. Make Torah study a priority in life, take on a new and daring Mitzvah or boldly increase your charitable giving. Be humbled yet empowered - just like Mount Sinai.

 

Coming out of the cave

 

It’s been two months now since staying home is the best way to preserve our health. Although prudent during a pandemic, most of us are getting tired and irritated from the lack of personal social interaction we cherish and many are asking what could possibly be the silver lining of such a reality, aside for the practical health benefits.

This Tuesday we will celebrate Lag B’Omer, anniversary of the passing of the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. While it seems counterintuitive to party on the day such an important Jewish leader passed away, it was Rabbi Shimon himself who instructed his students to mark the day as a nation-wide celebration.

Rabbi Shimon lived in the era immediately following the destruction of the second Holy Temple and his leadership was crucial to preserving Torah scholarship and observance for generations to come. His signature contribution to Judaism is the foundational book of Jewish mysticism called the Zohar and all of Chassidic philosophy traces its roots in his teachings.

One day a Jewish traitor reported to the Romans that Rabbi Shimon critiqued them and the local governor ordered his execution. Together with his son Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Shimon fled to the mountains and hid in a cave for thirteen years, until the governor died and his decree was annulled. For thirteen years the two sages had no contact with humanity and lived off the fruits of a carob tree that had miraculously grown at the cave’s opening and the refreshing waters of a nearby spring. They studied Torah day and night while enduring immense physical suffering.

Upon rejoining society Rabbi Shimon immediately sought to be helpful. In this week’s parsha we learn about the lifestyle of the Kohanim, the priestly family dedicated to serving in the Holy Temple. They are forbidden from coming in contact with a corpse or a grave so as not to contract ritual impurity, that would bar them from entering the Holy Temple at any time.

Even in the absence of the Holy Temple this restriction is still in place, and in Rabbi Shimon’s town there was a grave in the middle of a busy thoroughfare that had been lost. Somehow the grave marker had disappeared and the local Kohanim were unable to use the road for fear of walking over the grave.

Utilizing his divine supernatural powers Rabbi Shimon located the grave and life became more convenient for the local Kohanim.

The fact he was secluded in a cave for thirteen years did not make him aloof and grow apart from his people. On the contrary, his enforced solitary confinement strengthened his desire to make the world a better place.

Our current sheltering will not drag on for nearly as long as Rabbi Shimon’s but let’s ensure that the time we spend away from others nurtures a stronger desire within us to connect with each other and make a positive impact on society at large.

Be like Rabbi Shimon. Utilize the time alone for more Torah study and when we come out of all this we will be better equipped than ever before to make the world around us a better place.

 

Who would have known that silence could be so loud?

 

It was a gut punch. Hearing that my 43 year old uncle in Germany passed away over Shabbat caused a searing sensation of pain and sorrow inside that has not subsided for a week now. So young, so fast and during the busiest and happiest time of life.

Rabbi Benny Wolff and his wife Sterni established a permanent Chabad presence in Hannover, Germany fifteen years ago and have served the local Jewish community as well as thousands of visitors non-stop. Their eight young children are part and parcel of their vital work and the Chabad House of Hannover is a source of genuine warmth and inspiration for so many.

Upon Benny’s tragic passing many wondered if this operation of kindness and love would survive, but then my aunt made a decision that shocked everyone but surprised no one. Instead of bringing Benny to Israel, he was buried in Hannover and their family is staying there to continue their mission.

In this week’s parsha we learn about the service in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. There was a room there called the “Kodesh Hakadashim (Holy of Holies)” which was off limits to everyone. In this space the highest level of divine revelation was manifest on earth and any mortal who dared enter died immediately. The only exception was the Kohen Gadol - the High Priest who entered on Yom Kippur.

The holiest person, entered the holiest space on the holiest day of the year and achieved atonement for us all.

The first man to observe this sacred service was Aharon the High Priest and the Torah specifies that the details of the Yom Kippur service were communicated to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two eldest sons. During the inauguration of the tabernacle, as Aharon and his sons started off their lifelong careers as Kohanim (priests) serving on behalf of the Jewish nation, Nadav and Avihu suddenly died.

It was a crushing blow which threatened to torpedo the most important celebration in Jewish history and Moshe sought to console his brother Aharon by extolling his son’s unique spiritual greatness. But Aharon did not seek consolation, nor did he collapse under the excruciating pain. “Aharon was silent” the Torah records and continued with his duties without interruption.

Aharon is the paragon of unwavering faith while experiencing incomprehensible loss. He was undeniably devastated from his loss, but never faltered in his service to G-d and the Jewish nation.

As I watched Benny’s funeral via Zoom I noticed that after the recital of Kaddish, Sterni gathered her children in front of his fresh grave. On the live feed I heard silence but one of the few participants present (due to social distancing) shared her words with us afterwards.

“Father is buried here and we are staying here. He will continue his mission from heaven and we will continue our mission down here.”

I had just witnessed Aharon’s heroic silence manifest in our time. A young mother of eight dedicating her life to continue her divine mission in the face of devastating loss.

We established a fund to help support them as they continue life with so much strength and inspiration and I am so grateful to everyone who has already contributed. If you have not yet had the chance to do so, please consider donating to this worthy cause so near and dear to my entire family.

Please click here to donate: charidy.com/wolff/70554

May Sterni’s resounding silence be the final expression of fortitude and faith necessary to usher in an era when all sorrow and weeping will be silenced forever with the arrival of Moshiach.

 

Simple As That

 

Imagine a perfect world. No war, famine, disease or jealousy. Is it possible?

We have a hard time imagining how this is possible, especially on a global scale but the story told in the Haftorah connected to this week’s parsha teaches us that the unfathomable can happen without much complicated drama.

Approximately 2,500 years ago the Kingdom of Israel was attacked by the neighboring nation Aram. Samaria, the capital city was surrounded and a terrible famine ravaged the population. One day King Yehoram was overcome with grief and blamed Elisha the Prophet for not praying to G-d to alleviate the pain and suffering of his fellow Jews.

Arriving at Elisha’s home with evil intentions the prophet greeted him with the following words. “Tomorrow at this time, one se’ah of flour will sell for one shekel in the streets of Samaria.” The king’s officer scoffed at his words, saying: “Even if G‑d made windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?”

To the rational mind it seemed that a reversal of their sorry fortunes was only possible if flour would rain from heaven - and even that would not suffice to cause such a transformation.

That night, four quarantined Jews barred from entering the city due to their affliction of tzara’at decided to surrender to the enemy instead of dying from hunger. Approaching the enemy camp they discovered it was deserted! G-d had caused the Aramean soldiers to hear a thunderous noise which they thought to be a huge army attacking their camp and they fled for their lives leaving everything behind.

The king was notified of the fantastic discovery and the next day when the population streamed out of the city to plunder the enemy camp, there was so much excess food that indeed one se’ah of flour was sold for one shekel in the streets of Samaria. The Jews did not need to experience any drama to be redeemed from their terrifying crisis. The abundance of food already situated right outside the city walls just needed to become available to them. Simple as that.

The same is true about Moshiach and the onset of an era when there will be no war, famine, disease or jealousy. All the components for such a reality are already here in our world and Moshiach will just maneuver everything into their proper place to make it all happen perfectly.

While Moshiach is tasked with achieving global redemption, we are tasked with achieving personal redemption. To cleanse ourselves of negative character traits and behaviors and to nurture a lifestyle that is in sync with G-d’s wishes. All the components to achieve such a lifestyle are within our reach, we just need to tap into them and set everything up properly.

Devoting more time to Torah study, applying its lessons, observing more Mitzvot properly and spreading goodness and kindness to everyone around us is how we achieve personal redemption thereby paving the way for global redemption through Moshiach. Simple as that.

 

It's not Sci-Fi or Fantasy

 

The great chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, known as the great defender of Jews once complained to G-d. “It’s not fair. Torah and Mitzvot and the motivation to live a moral and ethical life are packaged neatly in a book while life’s pleasures and everything rotten about human behavior are all out there in front of us. If You would only stuff evil into a book and put goodness out in the streets everyone would live a proper life.”

I’m pretty sure he was not seeking to justify bad behavior. We are responsible for our actions under all circumstances and pinning the blame on G-d is not helpful. But this short anecdote reveals a deep truth about life that we all should know and take to heart.

Yesterday we concluded the festival of Pesach. For eight days we were tucked away in a festive cocoon celebrating our liberty and the birth of our nation. The strict Matzah and zero Chametz (leaven) diet represents the departure from the norms of ego and self centeredness and the focus on our relationship with G-d and our responsibility for each other.

After a week it abruptly ends and we start eating Chametz, re-entering a world that hasn’t changed much from before Pesach. What was the purpose of the week-long spiritual high if we find ourselves back to square one?

The final day of Pesach we read a portion from Isaiah describing the ultimate redemption. The prophet assures us that in that blessed era there will be no famine, war or disease and everyone will be preoccupied with understanding our Creator. All this will happen through a mortal human being “Moshiach,” similar to Moshe from the story of Exodus and this new reality will encompass every detail of creation; every human, every specimen down to the inanimate minerals.

But reading these amazing ideas from a holy book presents the challenge of it remaining abstract. One can possibly feel that Moshiach is science fiction or the type of fantasies novels are made from.

Therefore the Baal Shem Tov introduced the custom of eating a special meal celebrating Moshiach in the final hours of Pesach, to appreciate that Moshiach is as practical as the food we digest and continues to be relevant even after Pesach ends when we re-enter regular life. To bridge the chasm between our week-long Matzah diet to our routine year-long Chametz diet.

Moshiach is not about disrupting life. It is about revealing what life is really all about. Moshiach will take the beautiful and inspiring ideas currently packaged in the holy books and make them as accessible and relatable as the facts of life we encounter all the time.

Since the redemption from Egypt was all about smashing natural norms we commemorate it through eating different foods and disconnecting from certain realities. But the ultimate redemption is all about elevating and inspiring our current routines. To bridge the chasm between transcendent miracles and regular nature.

We can live this way even before the flesh and blood Moshiach arrives, by introducing more Torah in Mitzvot into our routines and allowing our belief and trust in G-d to dictate how we perceive life today. Doing so will hasten his arrival and the onset of that wonderful era we hope and pray begins immediately.

 

Individually Social

 

Life is a balance between fending for ourselves and contributing to society. On the surface these two ideas are contradictions, but Pesach teaches us how these two extremes complement and enhance each other.

One of the recurring themes of the Seder is the fact that the centerpiece of the Seder is missing. In preparation for redemption G-d commanded the Israelites to prepare a Pesach sacrifice. Each family was to purchase a sheep, tie it to their bedpost for four days, slaughter it on the 14th of Nissan and roast and eat it on the eve of the 15th of Nissan in their homes together with Matzah and Marror. The next morning the long anticipated exodus arrived and the Jewish nation was born.

For generations to come the miracle of Pesach would be commemorated by families and groups offering a Pesach sacrifice on the day before Pesach, roasted and eaten on the first night of Pesach together with Matzah and Marror. Unlike the first Pesach in Egypt, the Pesach sacrifice can only be done in the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem, hence this centerpiece has been missing from our Seders for close to 2,000 years. But we continue to learn about it and discover important life lessons for here and now.

There were two categories of sacrifices offered in the Beit Hamikdash: Communal and personal. Communal sacrifices were purchased from the account every Jew contributed a half shekel annually and personal sacrifices were purchased privately.

The Pesach sacrifice is unique in that it had both private and communal characteristics. It was purchased with private funds but was offered in the Beit Hamikdash in large groups and every Jew was obligated to do the same thing at the same time in the same way.

The message is clear. Every individual is capable of and expected to sacrifice their personal interests for the enfit of the community, and the community is obligated to put everything on the line for the benefit of every individual.

Sounds like a contradiction? Perhaps. But the name of the sacrifice is “Pesach” which means to “leap over.” Upon confronting obstacles one needs to jump, and there is no greater obstacle than our personal interests that separate us from each other and from the community at large. We have the power to rise above it all by tapping into our essence, rooted in divine truth, causing all other issues to become irrelevant and disappear as we unite as one.

Let’s focus on tuning into our “Pinteleh Yid” - our Jewish essence - by adding in Torah learning and Mitzvah observance just because, thereby allowing us to unite with world Jewry and prepare the universe for the final and complete redemption.

Time to Focus on Our Own Homes

 

We are living through a crisis like no other. Aside from the horrors of COVID-19 playing out in hospitals around the world and the global economic upheaval, we all have been impacted in some way by the virus. For many, the fact we no longer regularly interact with others in person is a major issue that has made this past week so difficult.

Although we still connect through phone calls and video conferencing, congregating is a simple yet powerful human need that I, for one, will no longer take for granted. But as I learned this week’s parsha, and the Rebbe’s unique insight on the sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple, I discovered a powerful lesson for us in our current situation.

The third book of the Torah “Vayikra” focuses on the various services performed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago. The Korbanot (sacrifices) were the centerpiece of the Temple service and served as a means for the community and each individual to come closer to G-d. There were many different types offered every day, but two of them expressed the essence of what Korbanot are all about.

Every early morning and late afternoon a single sheep was offered, purchased from the monies of the community fund every Jew contributed their yearly half shekel to. These two daily sacrifices were called “Korban Tamid” - which is roughly translated as “the consistent/constant/forever sacrifice.” They served as the foundation of every Jew’s connection to G-d and it was achieved on a communal level.

Getting closer to G-d does not mean we need to sacrifice everything. One single sheep sufficiently represented millions of people, but when offered every day at the beginning and end of the day it was considered the “forever sacrifice.” Even if you are able to give G-d so little, so long it is done at the right time and with the proper frame of mind, the connection remains strong and healthy.

Today, in the absence of a Holy Temple, we can no longer offer physical sacrifices to achieve this connection on a communal level, nevertheless we achieve this closeness in a personal way.

Every Jewish home is a Holy Temple and our personal “Korban Tamid” is the recitation of “Modeh Ani” in the morning, expressing our thanks to A-lmighty for the gift of life. Starting the day with this short and simple prayer, but with the proper concentration and feeling, permeates every moment of our day with our timeless connection to G-d.

Although temporarily we cannot congregate to celebrate our heritage, our divine connection can be vibrant as ever in the privacy of our own homes. Now is a good time to focus on making it real and personal.

With prayerful wishes that this terrible crisis ends immediately and that we merite very soon the arrival of Moshiach and the era of redemption, when all disease and illness will cease forever.

 

 

Here's what we can learn from the moon as we battle COVID-19

 

No one could imagine a time that synagogues would shutter and all public Jewish gatherings would cease. The current reality is extraordinary and many wonder how it will be possible to celebrate Pesach or if the community can sustain its powerful vibe under these circumstances.

This week, if we would have been gathering together in the synagogue for Shabbat morning services we would have used two Torah scrolls. In the first we would read the final two portions of the book of Shemot “Vayakhel & Pekudei” and in the second we would read the portion titled “Hachodesh” which documents G-d’s instructions to the Israelites about the Pesach sacrifice on the eve of their redemption from Egypt.

The opening statement of the Pesach preparations is the mitzvah of the Jewish calendar. Jewish festivals and observance are determined by dates following the lunar cycle, and provisions are set in place to ensure the festivals are celebrated in the proper seasons. 

In a nutshell, Jewish life revolves around the month-long cycle of the moon, and there is something fundamental we learn from the moon that allows Judaism to thrive under all circumstances

Although the moon was created to illuminate the night, it has no control over how much light it can project at any given time. At the beginning of its cycle it is a thin crescent, and regardless of its best intentions and efforts, the moon cannot get brighter than that. True, every day it progresses and fills up, reaching its fullest potential on day fifteen, but after that it recedes and wanes even if it wished it could remain brighter.

But no matter its current position or capacity to shine, it shines no matter what - fulfilling its G-d given mandate to illuminate the world.

Judaism works very much in the same way. Every mitzvah depends on specific circumstances and even when circumstances limit our ability to observe many mitzvot, we continue to radiate divine light to the world by investing more effort into the mitzvot we are able to observe.

We are a social people and it seems implausible to be vibrantly Jewish when we cannot congregate and celebrate together. As we pray for all those already affected by this terrible virus and for the entire world to heal from its impact, let’s absorb the lesson of the moon and realize that specifically now we have been granted unprecedented opportunities to grow in our Judaism and appreciation for each other.

The blessing of modern technology will allow us to remain united while we are physically apart.

I invite you to join the Chabad virtual community. We will be hosting all of our regular classes and the weekday evening services online as a video and phone conference. Below you will find information about next week’s online events. If you would like to receive regular updates and reminders with the necessary online liks and phone numbers please join our Chabad EP Updates WhatsApp group here: https://chat.whatsapp.com/HIwrzkXNxmO6bs89kySPqu

Stay tuned for our online DIY Passover tutorials to ensure you are ready to celebrate the Seders on Wednesday, April 8 and Thursday, April 9.

In addition, please reach out and check up on each other. If you are in need of assistance or emotional support please do not hesitate to contact us. Together we will pull through this difficult period, hearty and healthy.

May we merit very soon the arrival of Moshaich who will usher in the era of redemption when peace, health and tranquility will reign for all.

Just Listen

 

Have you ever felt compelled to do something against your conscience? It is a terrible feeling when you need to behave contrary to your entire belief system. But sometimes it must be done.

This week during synagogue services on Shabbat we will read the short Torah portion “Zachor” reminding us of the diabolical Amalekite nation who attacked the Israelites after their exodus, for no good reason other than senseless hatred. G-d commanded us to remember the despicable act and to cleanse the world of this evil. In the Haftara we read the story of King Shaul, who was commanded by G-d through the prophet Shmuel to wage war on the Amalekites and ensure nothing remains, no human or animal.

King Shaul obeyed G-d’s command with one caveat. When he realized how prized the cattle and sheep were he reasoned that it would be more appropriate to offer them as sacrifices instead of killing them randomly and he had mercy on Agag the Amalekite king, taking him prisoner instead of killing him in battle.

Destroying everything in one fell sweep seemed to contradict so many Jewish values and Shaul rationalized these slight changes to the divine instruction. After all, Agag and the animals would eventually die in accordance with G-d’s instruction.

But these small changes rooted in his rationalization based on Jewish values proved fatal for Shaul and for the Jews. G-d disqualified Shaul from being King of Israel and Agag sired a child during the last night of his life whose ultimate descendant was Haman, who came dangerously close to annihilating the Jewish people hundreds of years later.

Queen Esther, a descendant of Shaul, corrected her grandfather’s mistake thereby saving her people from Haman’s genocidal plot. When she was drafted to the king’s beauty pageant, her uncle Mordechai, the venerable Jewish leader of the time warned her against disclosing her heritage. She endured extreme pressure from Achashveiros and even endangered her life by keeping silent although she could have rationalized that once she was crowned queen, surely her people would only gain by Achashveiros knowing she was a Jewess. Nevertheless she kept silent, never doubting Mordechai’s judgement.

When word of the decree to kill the Jews was out Mordechai signaled Esther that the time had come to reveal her secret to the king and to plead for her people, but she knew that such a move was certain suicide. Appearing before the king unannounced was a crime punishable by death and was certainly not in sync with her Jewish education. But she obeyed Mordechai, the undisputed Torah authority of her time and the rest is history.

Shaul’s "values" based rationale jeopardized world Jewry; Esther’s steadfast obedience saved it.

The lesson is clear. The most important Jewish value is obedience to G-d. If you manage to understand a certain mitzvah, great. And if the mitzvah boggles your mind for now, just listen to G-d because that’s the surest way to doing things right.

 

Goodness is Viral Too

This morning I studied Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) with a friend and we had the great pleasure of completing the entire book after many months of weekly study. The final paragraph of this timeless treasure of Torah insight and wisdom states that everything in our world was created for the purpose of glorifying G-d - our creator.

Fundamental to Jewish belief is the idea that everything is an expression of G-d and can teach us something unique in perfecting our lives and the world around us.

Coronavirus is a big deal and every day it affects more and more people. Countries are shutting their borders, markets are tumbling and world leaders are hard pressed to find solutions. On a personal level, my family members who serve as Chabad emissaries in China were compelled to leave in haste and their communities have been displaced. What can be “glorious” about this uncontrollable nightmare?

The physical, emotional and financial toll this health menace is having on so many is terrible and I pray it all comes to a swift end. But coronavirus is one of the greatest illustrations of an important Torah message that we often find hard to relate to.

The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a "wet market" in Wuhan, China. The poor hygiene created the perfect setting for infections originating from bats to spread to animals sold there. Think of it: a few infected chickens in Central China allegedly caused a public health crisis currently gripping humanity with fear.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the mitzvah to build the Mishkan (tabernacle) in the Israelite camp in the desert as a traveling temple for G-d. Hundreds of years later King Solomon built the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem which he designed with “narrowing windows.”

Typically windows then were designed to be narrow on the outside and wider on the inside to diffuse the outside sunlight inside the structure. But these were designed narrow on the inside and wider on the outside symbolizing the fact that the Beit Hamikdash is not illuminated from the outside light, rather the entire world is illuminated by the divine light emanating from the Beit Hamikdash.

When G-d communicated the instructions to build a Beit Hamikdash to Moshe He said “Make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell within them.” Even in the absence of the physical Beit Hamikdash, twice destroyed thousands of years ago, its function continues through every one of us, and we need to have “narrowing windows;” to be a source of light and inspiration to the entire world.

Never underestimate the impact your one mitzvah can have on the entire world. If illness can be viral, goodness most certainly can be as well. And when we all appreciate this truth and act upon it joyfully, we will prepare the entire planet for an era of peace and tranquility for all, when all illness will cease, with the coming of Moshiach.

 

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