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Rabbis' Blog

Let's Leave Our Cages

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This week, during the intermediate days of Passover, our family took a trip to the El Paso Zoo. Our grandchildren were delighted to see the various animals in their respective cages and enclosures.

As we made our way through the zoo I was reminded of a cute anecdote. A child once asked his father about the origins of the human race. The father explained that humans originate from apes. Then this curios child approached his mother and asked the same question. “We originate from Adam”, she responded. Confused, he admitted that he had previously asked father and received a very different answer. The mother replied, “Father’s side comes from apes, my side comes from Adam.”

At the zoo most animals, even those that usually share natural habitats, are kept separate from each other. I imagine a main reason for this is that they should not fight with each other, or worse. On Shabbat, Acharon Shel Pesach, we will read the prophecy of Isaiah. In the messianic era “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the young goat . . . the young lion and the fatted ox”. How will this be accomplished?

The Rebbe explains: Children are more prone to squabbling with each other due to their immaturity. They do not possess the intellectual capacity to appreciate that petty things are not worth fretting about. The more people mature, the less they are prone to anger and confrontation.

Moshiach will usher in an era of global maturity. All of humanity will be so enlightened by the wisdom of Torah that it will affect the animal kingdom as well. Predator and hunted alike will share the same space in absolute harmony.

The arrival of this era of universal perfection depends on our preparation. We all live in a self-made cage. Each is preoccupied with providing for and protecting their own. We must leave this cage and truly care for another, even at our own expense. This will surely prepare us for a brighter future to come.

It is customary to celebrate the close of Pesach with a festive dinner celebrating the imminent redemption. I invite you to join us on Shabbat, April 30 at 7:00pm for dinner and a fascinating discussion about Moshiach.

I look forward to celebrating together.

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The Seder Moon

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The Passover Seder is the prime time for families and friends to joyously participate in age old rituals and traditions that have defined the Jewish experience for millennia. At a table duly set with the Seder plate and its ingredients, prominently featuring Matzah and wine for all assembled, the proceedings of the evening follow the well-established template determined by our ancestors (as recorded in the Haggadah) to express the true meaning of the freedom we were granted 3,328 years ago.

While many Passover lessons are gleaned from the various components of the Seder, I would like to focus on an inherent natural aspect of the evening: The Seder is always celebrated under a full moon.

Shortly before the long-anticipated liberation from Egypt, G-d communicated the very first mitzvah: The technique of determining the Jewish calendar. The lunar cycle would hold the most central role while provisions were set to ensure that it remain aligned with the solar seasons. The schedule of Judaism would forever revolve around the moon. On the fifteenth of Nissan (full moon) the festival of Passover is to be celebrated. On the first of Tishrei (new moon) we are to observe Rosh Hashanah.

From the get-go, the destiny of our nation has been linked to the moon. As we experienced the cataclysmic transformation from a family of slaves in a foreign and hostile land to a free and independent nation we were directed to pay attention to the moon and its cycle.

Termed as the Nocturnal Luminary, it is the moon’s responsibility to reflect the light of the sun to illuminate the darkness of night. Yet its revealed effectiveness fluctuates over the course of thirty days. Due to its constantly changing posture it grows and recedes at a rapid pace. At times it is eclipsed by external forces as well. Yet, even when the moon is all but concealed in the vast black sky we are confident that it will return to its majestic glory in due course.

At the dawn of our freedom we were cautioned to be mindful of this reality. We are charged with the mission of illuminating the universe by reflecting the light of G-d through Torah study, Mitzvah observance and actively educating humanity the moral and ethical tenets of Judaism. At times we may not be postured appropriately to fulfill this role and there are cases when our light is eclipsed by external pressures of persecution and assimilation. Yet we are assured that this is only temporary and we are destined to be renewed and set to achieve fullness once again.

This message is pertinent in a personal sense as well. The journey of life is traveled on a road with successes and challenges – and one must never be disheartened by perceived setbacks. These are the stepping stones through which we achieve the greatest heights. 

Throughout history the Seder has been celebrated in every imaginable setting. During eras of peace and prosperity and in the shadow of persecution and sorrow. Every time, under the graceful glow of a gloriously bright full moon.

May the celebration of our past redemption pave the way for the final redemption which will herald in an era of global peace and tranquility for all.

Best wishes for a Kosher and joyous Pesach!

Happy Birthday, Rebbe!

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Tuesday, the 11th of Nissan (April 19), will mark the 114th birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. All birthdays are special occasions and cause for celebration, but the birthday of a Jewish leader is in a category of its own.

The Talmud relates that when the wicked Haman endeavored to determine the most opportune time to annihilate the Jewish people he was delighted that the result of his lottery was the month of Adar. Moses, the beloved and eternal leader of the Jewish nation had passed away on the 7th of Adar. Haman was confident that this was a bad omen for the Jews and his stroke of good luck. He failed to take into consideration the fact that the Moses was born on Adar 7 as well. The Talmud concludes that the tremendous national merit of the birth of Moses neutralized all of Haman’s nefarious designs, culminating in his defeat and our salvation.

Our generation has been gifted with a leader of historic proportions. The Rebbe’s impact on the global Jewish community is unmatched in close to a millennium of Jewish scholarship and leadership. In addition to the Rebbe’s monumental accomplishments on the communal level, it was his attention to even the seemingly small and insignificant that expresses the Rebbe’s true greatness.

Prior to entering the synagogue for the mincha (afternoon) service, it was the Rebbe’s custom to personally distribute coins for charity to the children present. The children would immediately deposit the coins in the large charity box mounted at the synagogue entrance. My cousin (today the dean of a prestigious yeshiva in Beitar, Israel) was ten years old and very short and had difficulty reaching the box to deposit the coin he had just received. To the surprise of the assembled, the Rebbe immediately lifted him up so that he may do the mitzvah of tzedaka.

Nothing and no one was insignificant or on the periphery and everything was done with enthusiasm and alacrity. This was the Rebbe’s modus operandi in fulfilling his mission of helping every individual and how he educated a generation of leaders.

At birth, everyone is granted the mandate and energy to fulfill their respective mission in life. Annually, this mandate is refreshed on the birthday.

Although the Rebbe’s physical presence is no longer with us, his life continues to thrive through the innumerable human beings inspired by his teachings and example every day. On 11 Nissan this towering beacon of light is refreshed and shines brighter than ever.

Birthdays are an appropriate time for gifts. To his many followers and admirers that wished to prepare a gift in honor of the auspicious day, the Rebbe clarified that he most appreciates additional time and effort invested in Torah study, greater generosity in giving tzedaka and intensified efforts in sharing the beauty of Judaism with fellow Jews.

We have all been effected by the Rebbe’s message of love. Let us present the Rebbe a gift he will surely appreciate. Make a commitment to devote more time for Torah study on a consistent basis and share what you learn with family and friends. As Pesach approaches be sure that all your Jewish acquaintances have been invited to a seder.

Mazel tov, Rebbe!

What's New?

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A common conversation starter between Jews is “Nu, what’s new?” Israelis greet each other with “ma chadash?” and speakers of the Yiddish mameh loshen (mother tongue) say “vos iz neias?” Not that Jews are more inclined to be journalists, rather we have an instinctive expectation that something fresh and different is going on.

This week, during Shabbat morning services we will read from three Torahs. In the first we will read the weekly parsha – Tazria. The second Torah reading is the standard for every Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month) and the third is a unique preparation for the festival of Pesach – Parshat Hachodesh.

Shortly before the long-anticipated liberation from Egypt, G-d communicated the very first mitzvoth to the Jewish nation through Moshe and Aharon: The laws of the Pascal Lamb and the very first seder observances. These were prefaced with the intricate laws of determining the Jewish calendar. While we read this Torah portion just two weeks before Pesach as a reminder to prepare for the approaching holiday appropriately, it is called “HaChodesh” because the first instruction in this divine communique is regarding the Jewish calendar which revolves primarily around the lunar month (chodesh).

Why was the mitzvah of “Chodesh” – the Jewish calendar – chosen to be the very first commandment to the Israelites?

The Hebrew word for month – “chodesh” – is etymologically linked to the word “chadash” – new. The focus of our unique calendar is the cycle of the moon which experiences recession and renewal approximately every 30 days. The foundation of Jewish reality is never to be satisfied with the status quo. We are empowered to partner with G-d in His creation by revealing the limitless secrets imbedded in our universe – thereby enhancing our way of life and the world at large. It is no wonder that Jews are disproportionately represented in all areas of science and discovery.

The same is true with regard to spirituality. Even before the birth of our nation G-d communicated to us that our mandate is to generate “Chodesh” – renewal in all areas of creation. When a Jew utilizes a physical object to do a mitzvah it becomes divine. Animal hide has the potential to be transformed into tefillin and a Torah scroll, a candle can be used to welcome Shabbat and money can be channeled in a divine way by donating it to the poor or to a synagogue.

As we approach Pesach, Parshat HaChodesh inspires us to revitalize our commitment to Judaism and to partner with G-d in creation by introducing divinity into every aspect of our world. Have the courage to do a new mitzvah or to explore a new area of Torah. This transformation begins with ourselves and will have a ripple effect on the universe.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg

 

The Precious Deed

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“I have a story to share with you, Rabbi.” As I entered Jeff’s office he seemed visibly shaken. I know him as a calm and collected individual but today I could tell something unusual had occurred.

“This afternoon as I was driving on the freeway my tire had a blowout. By the time I managed to pull over to the shoulder the tire was a total wreck and I could not manage to pop it off. I called AAA and they assured me assistance was on the way. A few minutes later a car pulled up behind mine and a fellow approached and offered to help in rapid Spanish. Showing him my AAA card I tried to determine if he was from AAA. Ignoring the card, he pulled out a few tools from his car, popped off my shattered tire, replaced it with the spare like a pro and in less than ten minutes sped off down the freeway. At that point I realized that there was no connection to AAA and he had simply stopped to help a complete stranger in need.”

By now Jeff was in tears. “I wish I had paid him. Such random kindness, such selflessness... I know this is a blessing from Above so I decided to be sure to see you today to wrap Tefillin and say a prayer.”

While the actions of Jeff’s anonymous auto repairman are impressive and quite noble, I was moved by Jeff’s reaction to the ordeal. Possibly this fine fellow works in a body shop and to him the job was a standard procedure. Chances are that he will forget about the ten-minute stop in a short time, but Jeff will remember it warmly for a long while. Although such kind gestures occur fairly often, it made a deep impression on Jeff. None of his close friends and associates were able to assist him and this mentch of a human being did him a supreme favor.

As we wrapped Tefillin it dawned on me that this is one of the most empowering ideas articulated in Chassidus for over two centuries. Whereas Jeff’s fond memories of that roadside encounter may fade over time, the effect of each individual mitzvah is eternal. In our universe it may seem like a fleeting moment, but when we recite a blessing on the Lulav, give a coin to charity or light Shabbat candles we are fulfilling G-d’s desire – and G-d transcends time.

Think about it! Currently, none of the great Jewish leaders and saints of the Biblical and Talmudic eras can arouse such joy by G-d. Only living mortals on planet earth are capable of it. Even if the language of the blessings may be foreign and the environment of the synagogue strange, the action is what truly counts. It may seem random and out of context, but every mitzvah is elevated to a realm of infinitude and G-d will cherish and be delighted by it for eternity.

Appreciate the divine preciousness and everlasting relevance of even an isolated random mitzvah.

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