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Rabbis' Blog

The Small Town Communities Make All The Difference

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This weekend I will attend the annual International Conference of Shluchim (Chabad Rabbis) in Brooklyn, NY. In fact, this will be my 30th year participating in this magnificent display of Jewish leadership. Colleagues representing almost every Jewish community in the world will meet, catch up and share strategy and inspiration to bring the message of living Judaism to every Jew on the planet.

I will be seeing friends and family who serve communities around the world. Some really small. Growing up, we had more Jews on our street than some of these communities have in their entire state. To be sure, the chances for establishing a large synagogue or a functioning Day School are close to none. The Jewish population in some of these places is miniscule and spread out over large areas.

You may ask, is it worth-while for a young, talented and idealistic couple to establish themselves in such a remote locale to provide some semblance of Judaism to a handful of Jews? Perhaps their energy and talents would reap greater gains if they would be invested in larger communities with a denser Jewish population. Certainly the data would confirm this position.

In the NICU one can find a tiny infant laying in a crib surrounded by a team of highly educated, experienced and talented physicians and nurses equipped with sophisticated and expensive machines and equipment. They toil to find the proper treatment for the baby and spend hours monitoring the progress. If one were to ask these courageous individuals: What is the future of this child? What are chances of survival? Is it worth your time and energy? The response would certainly be that it does not matter. Each moment of life they can provide for this tiny human being is precious and invaluable.

This is the Rebbe’s view of a Jew. Each and every one is valuable and cannot be forgotten.

At the convention in 1987, during the Shabbat Farbrengen, the Rebbe explained the necessity of establishing a permanent Chabad presence in even the most remote locations and communities. The universe is a combination of numerous details. If one detail is missing, the entire world is incomplete. The same is true with the Jewish nation. If we would only operate in areas that generate large turnout, New York, Chicago, Israel and the like, there is a large section of our people that will be left behind.

This is why these young couples move to what some in large urban areas may call the boondocks. And this is why we are proud to be here in El Paso despite the fact that it will never be Brooklyn.

We have a mission to inspire every Jew to grow in Torah study and Mitzvah observance. To recite a blessing before drinking a glass of water, to give some coins to tzedaka every day, light a candle before Shabbat and the list goes on. Transforming ourselves and the world one mitzvah at a time.

I wish myself and Rabbi Levi a safe and successful trip to the conference and we will return next week with refreshed inspiration and new stories to share.

 

The Test of Family

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An integral part of the early morning prayer liturgy is a request from G-d that we not be challenged with a nisayon. The literal translation of the word nisayon is “test” – and in the context of this prayer it means the temptation to sin. The prayer continues that if we are tested from Above, we should not be shamed by failure to overcome it.

Seemingly, much would be accomplished if we were not distracted by constant tests. Besides, a nisayon is risky business: Failure is a real possibility.

Avraham Avinu was tested ten times by G-d to examine the strength of his conviction. In this week’s parsha we learn of the final and most difficult test set in his path – the Akeida. He was commanded to offer his beloved son Yitzchak, miraculously born to him at the ripe old age of 100 - now aged 37, as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. The two righteous men passed this test with flying colors and this was hailed as the defining moment of the unbreakable bond between G-d and the progeny of Avraham forever. What was so unique about this challenge that outshined all the rest?

The revolution of monotheism that Avraham introduced to the world was viewed by the global leaders as a passing fad. Given his childlessness, they reasoned that the younger generation would not follow his lead. Even after the birth of Yitzchak it was commonly understood that he would be too young to properly fill the shoes of his courageous father when the time would come. Idolatry would remain the mainstream.

This is why the Akeida was so consequential. The previous nine tests were experienced by Avraham alone. This time, his son Yitzchak was equally challenged. As an adult he had the ability to opt out of this seemingly strange rendezvous with the divine. He was keenly aware that human sacrifice was unacceptable to G-d and he had not received the communication from G-d that he be offered on the altar. Yet, his trust in his father Avraham as the prophet of G-d was unshakable and he proudly (and joyfully!) ascended the altar to obey the will of G-d.

It was the test of the next generation. It determined that monotheism will have a champion after Avraham leaves this world and beyond.

Divine tests serve to strengthen our commitment to Torah and mitzvoth. And the greatest test of all is the challenge of educating our family. To provide our children with the proper knowledge and training in Judaism so that they can be the proud, happy and observant Jews of the future.

Avraham and Yitzchak provide each and every one of us with the power and motivation to rise to the challenge and to ensure a strong and healthy Jewish future – one child at a time.

The Eternal Candles

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On Wednesday evening, Chabad hosted a Jewish Women’s Circle event at I Panted That! social art studio. Here are some of the thoughts I shared with my fellow painters about the image we painted together.

This week the Jewish world is learning about the story of Abraham our forefather. He was the revolutionary trailblazer that discovered G-d on his own at the young age of three. Instead of keeping the news to himself, he risked his life to enlighten anyone he can reach and ultimately became the forefather of Jewish nation.

In the course of the biblical narrative of his life and accomplishments we find that his wife Sarah was of equal righteousness, prominence and courage. In fact, the Chassidic masters teach that the impact Avraham had on the world was only due to the unique qualities of Sarah. She was his partner in all of his endeavors to bring the knowledge of G-d to the world.

The Talmud relates, that Sarah would light candles to usher in the Shabbat. Miraculously, these flames would continue to glow until the next Friday afternoon. Upon her passing this miracle ceased – even though Avraham continued the custom each week. When Yitzchak married the righteous Rivkah, this weekly miracle resumed with her Shabbat candles.

The mitzvah of kindling the Shabbat candles is symbolic of the role of the Jewish woman to illuminate her home with love and warmth. As Shabbat approaches, bringing pause to the hectic and mundane realities of life – the Shabbat candles shed light on the accomplishments of the past week and beacon forth a bright week to come. Shabbat reminds us that everything we do should be motivated by a sense of mission to serve G-d, and ultimately result in fostering more goodness and kindness in our families, communities and the entire world.

You will notice that there are three candles in the sketch. It is customary for married women to kindle two Shabbat candles. The third, shorter candle is for the daughter. The Rebbe encouraged young girls, from the age of three, to join their mothers in ushering in Shabbat by lighting a candle of their own – obviously with mom’s assistance. The educational implications are enormous. This is not only a way to train the child into the mitzvah. Her current action as a young girl, before Bat Mitzvah, already has immediate results. She has made her home a brighter place and as a result the entire world is better off than before.

The third candle represents the unbroken chain of every Jewish woman linked through our long and glorious history – directly to Sarah and Rivkah – the mothers of the Jewish people.

Learn more about the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles here. 

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Against All Odds

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One man alone defied all the odds. Despite being opposed by the entire political establishment, the mainstream media apparatus and with the scientific data stacked against him, somehow, Donald Trump managed to win the elections to become the 45th president of the United States of America. Like so many millions around the world, I was in utter disbelief when I saw the returns on Tuesday evening. Regardless of your preference this time around, the outcome of this election was one of a kind.

In this week’s parsha we learn of a single man that introduced a foreign idea to humanity at his time. Upon discovering G-d, Abraham set out on the daunting and often dangerous mission to bring the message of One Creator to the world. He was utterly alone in his position. Ridiculed and persecuted by the greatest monarch of the time, even the threat of death would not weaken his stance of what he knew to be true.

Abraham ultimately prevailed, and monotheism has been the dominating religious perspective of most of humanity for millennia. He followed G-d’s instruction to move away from his home to the Land of Canaan, becoming the patriarch of the Jewish Nation – the chosen people charged to be ambassadors of G-d to the world.

The overarching lesson of the fascinating story of Abraham is clear: Even one single person can make a profound difference despite an avalanche of naysayers.

This week’s events proved this idea in all it’s fascinating glory: There is no excuse for you to lift your hands in despair because everyone is against you. When there is a will, there is a way.

As a people, our religious convictions and observances are challenged by the argument that we are a tiny minority. We must know that there is no reason to be intimidated. Be secure in the knowledge that we are the offspring of Abraham, who bequeathed to each one of us the ability to fight for justice, goodness and faith in one G-d. There are challenges, but they don’t matter. We have a divine mission to accomplish – and accomplish we will!

Judaism teaches us to pray for the well-being of our government. We deliver heartfelt prayers that our current president should succeed in continuing to lead or country for the final two months of his term and that the president-elect should succeed in leading this great nation as it continues to be a beacon of light to the entire world of liberty and justice for all.

Break Out of Your Box

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You know the setting. After several hours of flight, even before the aircraft has been brought to a complete stop, passengers are out of their seats and rushing to the doors. Even if they had reached their destination and there is no rush to be anywhere – flying culture dictates the necessity to leave that plane ASAP. It makes sense: People do not appreciate being locked into any place without the freedom to leave at will.

This week we learn of the dramatic story of the Great Flood. 1,656 years after creation, civilization had proven itself to be an epic disaster. Corruption, murder, thievery and deceit were rampant and G-d had finally had enough. The plan called for a complete wash down of the globe and a reset of humanity from one righteous family. Noach was instructed to build an ark that would save his family and a representation of all animal life to repopulate the planet anew. We know the rest of the story: He survived and we are here today to retell the story.

There is a striking detail at the end of the story. Noach and company were locked in the ark for 365 days and even after it was determined that the coast was clear, G-d needed to command him to leave the ark and to force all the animals to disembark with him. Would you need to be coaxed off an enclosed sea liner after twelve months?

It is common to resist change. Once one is accustomed to a certain routine it is difficult to break ingrained habits. Many prefer the problems of familiar territory than to face the daunting task of acclimating to a new order – no matter the advantages it may offer. When circumstances force a change, it is often done with apprehension and dread.

This is the divine message of the story of Noach. Life had flourished in the confines of the giant box called the ark for a full year. Noach, his family and the animal kingdom felt secure and comfortable in their life boat. Nevertheless, greater opportunity waited for them on the outside. G-d entrusted them with the mission of building a new world anchored in goodness, morality and faith in G-d.

 “Tzei Min HaTeivah” – “Leave the Ark!” is the divine message that reverberates today to each and every one of us. Leave your comfort zone and embrace the challenges of realizing new opportunities. Many of us become limited to a familiar clique of several families and resist the golden opportunity of new relationships. Realize the invaluable gifts you have and share them with others. Invite strangers to participate in holiday celebrations, synagogue services and Torah classes. This is the true way of building a strong and vibrant community for us all.

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