Rabbis' Blog

The Secret to Jewish Survival


Many Jews wonder how it is possible to ensure the Jewish education of their children in predominantly un-Jewish environments. Is it possible to create a proper Jewish infrastructure outside of major Jewish communities? I’d like to share my thoughts on this important issue as it connects to this week’s parsha.

I often meet Israeli Jews living in the States and when asked about their involvement in the local Jewish community the response very often is: We are in America for a short while. As soon as the children start school we will return to Israel and back home religious life is all set up for us. In reality, it often happens that years pass by, they remain in the Diaspora and the children grow up with minimal Jewish exposure and the results are not encouraging.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the routine of the Israelite journey through the desert for forty years. The Tabernacle was erected in the center of the camp and a heavenly cloud hovered above it, representing the presence of G-d. When the divine cloud would lift, this was the sign that it was time to dismantle the Tabernacle, pack up camp and to follow the cloud to the next destination. Every time the cloud stopped, the Tabernacle was fully erected and camp was set up in a permanent fashion.

Sometimes the cloud would remain there for barely a day and it was then time to continue traveling. There was no prior warning as to the extent of the stay. To their credit the Israelites followed the directions of G-d flawlessly, never hesitating to set up camp in the fullest way. For as long as they were in that spot, it would be considered home to the greatest extent possible. Sure, they were aware that the goal was to reach the Promised Land. But till G-d would lead them there, they ensured that their institution of divine service was fully operational every step of the way.

This national sojourn in the desert is a lesson for our own private journey through life. No matter where the will of G-d may lead us, we should never hesitate to transform our new locale into a healthy Jewish community. Throughout the long and painful history of our exile, Jews have strived to build a Jewish infrastructure even when in doubt of the length of their welcome in their new host countries. This is the secret to our survival. Wherever we may be, we treat it as a permanent arrangement and ensure to build and maintain synagogues, Torah educational opportunities and everything else a Jew needs to serve G-d.

A Jew once complained to the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek that the Jewish community in his town was lacking in many ways and he therefore wished to move to the Land of Israel. The Rebbe responded “Make your town the Land of Israel”. Don’t just complain about the sorry state of affairs. Do something about it! He returned home and got to work. In a short amount of time the Jewish landscape of the town was transformed for the better.

When we reach a destination in exile, the divine presence protects us - but we need to erect the “Tabernacle” – a vibrant Jewish infrastructure – for the cloud to settle.

Yes, You Matter!

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The festival of Shavuot will be celebrated on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday Night), Sunday and Monday. It is one of the three major festivals that, in Temple times, would attract a fabulous pilgrimage of the Jewish nation to Jerusalem.

The Torah does not determine a specific date for the holiday of Shavuot. The counting of the Omer, begins on the second day of Passover and culminates seven weeks (49 days) later followed by the festival appropriately called “Shavuot” – weeks. Clearly, Pesach and Shavuot are one unit that share a common theme.

The liberation from Egyptian slavery accomplished the physical freedom of the Israelites and the revelation at Sinai provided our nation with moral, ethical and spiritual freedom. G-d gifted us the Torah to illuminate our lives and to enable us to achieve the purpose of existence.

On Shabbat we will begin to read the fourth book of the Torah – Bamidbar (Numbers). The opening narrative of the Parsha is the command to count the nation. The final tally of men between the ages of 20 and 60 reached 603,550. Our sages have stated – had one Jew been missing at Sinai, we would have not received the Torah 3,328 years ago! Just as a Torah scroll is rendered invalid if only one letter is faded or cracked, so too the national acceptance of the Torah necessitated the participation of every Jew.

This is also understood from the fact that the Ten Commandments that G-d communicated at Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah), were articulated in singular tense – to emphasize the relevance of Torah to each individual. Yes, YOU matter!

Every year, the Revelation at Sinai is not merely commemorated – it occurs anew. The public reading of the Ten Commandments is a reenactment of this powerful event – and we all need to be there.

Join us in celebrating this special holiday. Torah Study and a festive dinner on Saturday night, Ten Commandments, Ice Cream Party and a festive Dairy Luncheon on Sunday and the recital of Yizkor on Monday. (See below for details). We look forward to celebrating together!

May we merit to joyously and meaningfully receive the Torah anew.

My Visit in the Hospital

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This week I visited an elderly woman in the hospital. She sadly expressed to me that for quite some time she is constantly suffering. “What have I done so terrible to deserve this?” she painfully asked. It is very difficult to respond in the face of such human misery, but Torah provides us with perspective on every facet of life – including suffering.

In this week’s parsha, G-d warns the Jewish people of the dire consequences for neglecting Jewsh observance. The list of curses is terrifying, yet the Torah assures us that we will survive all of them intact. How is it possible to endure such suffering and yet continue to have faith?

A story is told of the great sage Rabbi Akiva. He was on his way to a city when the sun set and due to the fact that the inhabitants were extremely inhospitable, he had to take shelter in the woods. It was a dark night. He lit the only candle he had. He also had a rooster with him to wake him early in the morning, and a donkey on which he rode. Now a strong wind blew out his candle and he remained in darkness. The next moment the rooster was snatched by an animal of prey and a similar fate befell his donkey. Each time Rabbi Akiva said, "All that the Merciful One does is for good."

In the morning when Rabbi Akiva arrived in the city he learned that a band of vicious robbers had passed through the forest that night and attacked the city and had captured all the inhabitants to be sold into slavery. Had they known of Rabbi Akiva's presence by seeing the light of the candle or hearing the crow of the rooster and the bray of the donkey he would have surely had suffered the same tragic fate!

True, he had suffered the loss of livestock and was forced to spend the night at the mercy of the elements in the forest, but in the broader picture these were the greatest blessings.

The powerful lesson of this story is derived from Rabbi Akiva’s reaction during his suffering. Alone in the forest prior to understanding the lifesaving results of his losses – he confidently stated "All that the Merciful One does is for good." G-d is the master of the world and all that He causes to occur is surely for the best. Just as a loving father cares for an only child.

The teachings of Chassidus allow us to discover the hidden good within our reality. On the surface the world may seem dangerous and forbidding, yet in truth it is a beautiful garden ready to realize G-d’s purpose in creation. Likewise, we are taught that each individual is truly a reservoir of goodness and kindness, possessing a divine soul yearning to be expressed.

Despite the truth explained above, we hope and pray – we can actually demand of G-d – that we should always experience only revealed good. May we merit the immediate arrival of Moshiach who will usher in an era of revealed goodness and kindness for the entire universe.

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