Rabbis' Blog

Making The Right Choices


Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, one of the great Chassdic masters, was known as the consummate advocate for the Jewish people. He once made the following observation.

“G-d A-lmighty: You created a world with all the delicacies and amenities of life on full display in the streets, and the Torah, Jewish morality and Mitzvah observance is accessible only through intense study of the holy books. Is it a wonder that Your children are distracted and choose to indulge in worldly matters? Had You placed the delicacies of life in the books and displayed Torah and Mitzvot in the streets, they would surely make the right choices always.

This week’s parsha, Re’eh, opens with the fundamental tenet of Jewish life: Free Choice. We are free to choose the way we live. Lightening does not strike the sinner in the act and gold does not fall from heaven to the righteous. It is all set up in a way that allows for distraction from living a life of commitment to G-d.

Yet, G-d provides us the tools to make the proper choices. Studying Torah and following its instructions enables us to navigate the stormy seas of reality and to remain anchored in truth and morality. It is our obligation to educate our children so that they have the necessary information and training to make the right choices in life.

We just concluded Camp Gan Israel. For two weeks, over forty children were treated to an amazing program of refreshing summer fun. The daily schedule was filled with creative activities, crafts, field trips and many surprises. Throughout it all they learned and reviewed many things about Torah, Mitzvoth, Jewish history and practices. The cheers and songs instilled them with a greater sense of Jewish pride and belonging.

Many thanks to the wonderful counselors who made the trip from Brooklyn to spend these two weeks with our El Paso children: Chayale, Rochel, Devorale and Chaya. Your devotion to the campers and enthusiasm for Judaism made camp very special. Thank you to all of our local volunteers for all of your time and effort. We could not have done it without you.

Thank you to all of our friends and supporters for making it possible to have first-class Jewish educational opportunities for the children of our community. Together we will help them make the right choices.

Unconditional Sacrifice


This past Monday, the 15th of Av, we celebrated the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar. Many have not heard of this holiday and it is largely under the radar, but the Talmud states that there is no holiday as joyous as the 15th of Av. There are several reasons for this celebration and I will focus on one of them.

At the beginning of the Second Temple era, a time of communal poverty, there was a shortage of firewood to keep the fire on the Holy Altar burning. No fire means no sacrifices, which is a major crisis in a functioning Holy Temple.

Several wealthy families stepped up and donated huge supplies of firewood to keep the Temple operational. As an expression of gratitude to these generous families, the anniversary of their donation was commemorated each year by feeding the fire of the Altar with firewood donated by that family on that day. That day was a joyous occasion for that family.

The 15th of Av was also a day that a family had donated firewood, but there was a unique twist in their donation. The wood used on the Altar was top quality. It needed to be very dry, hence, the window of opportunity for chopping that wood ended at the conclusion of the summer season – the 15th of Av. Wood chopped from the forest after that date was considered of inferior quality.

Here is the catch. Whereas the families who donated earlier in the summer were able to replenish their supply with high quality firewood, the family that donated on the 15th of Av had no such recourse. The selflessness and sacrifice of their donation was greater by al means.

We celebrate the awesome capacity to give of ourselves unconditionally. To care for the needs of another, even if we may lose out in the end.

This Shabbat, the 20th of Av, is the Yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, the Rebbe’s father. As the chief Rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and the sole remaining member of the Schneerson dynasty in a rabbinic position during the 1930s, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was the standard-bearer of Judaism against the enormous pressures of the evil Stalinist government.

In 1939, in response to his vigorous work on behalf of Judaism, he was arrested and exiled to a remote area of Kazakhstan. Beyond the physical torment of living in such a primitive place with limited food and medicine, the spiritual anguish of separation from his community and his library was excruciating. His courageous wife, Rebbetzin Chanah, brought him a few Torah books, and with the home-made ink she managed to produce from wild berries, he annotated the margins of those books with his innovative teachings. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away in exile due to his suffering, and those marginal notes serve as his only Torah legacy for generations to come.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sacrificed everything dear to him to ensure that the Jews of the USSR continue to live connected to their heritage of Torah and Mitzvos. May we be inspired by his example to do our utmost in strengthening Judaism wherever we may be – unconditionally.

From Switch board to Ipod: Keeping It Fresh


On my recent trip to New York, I was fortunate to visit a small office in Chabad Headquarters known as WLCC (World Learning Communications Center).

The Rebbe’s primary platform for teaching and inspiring world Jewry was through the traditional “Farbrengen” - a Chassidic gathering. In the early 1970s, a few young, tech-savvy rabbinical students developed a telephone system enabling Chassidim from around the world to tune into the Rebbe’s weekday Farbrengens live. The pilot project of three phone lines blossomed into WLCC; an elaborate system connecting dozens of locations and thousands of individuals to the events transpiring at Chabad HQ.

In the famous passage of Shema Yisrael, recorded in this week’s parsha Va’etchanan and recited twice daily, Moses instructs the Israelites: “These words which I command you TODAY shall be upon your hearts.” Although we received the Torah at Sinai long ago and the mitzvoth have been in effect for over 3,000 years, we are to view them as brand new – received today.

This is one of the most powerful elements of the Rebbe’s teachings. Every message is permeated with the awareness that each passage in the Torah is timeless, the smallest details of Jewish law are consequential and even the simplest stories are profoundly relevant. The Rebbe transmitted this refreshing approach to Judaism at the Farbrengens, thus initiating a revolution in Jewish life, by invigorating a generation of survivors and educating future generations of Jewish leaders.

In addition to the content of the message providing such spiritual energy, the Rebbe’s unique style of delivery truly energized the listeners. The clarity, passion and urgency inspired thousands to action. This is why WLCC was so important. Reading a transcript cannot compare to hearing it directly from the source.

When my parents moved to El Paso to establish a Chabad presence, their first purchase was a phone line by WLCC. (In the bottom right corner of the attached photo, you will notice the switch marked E.PSO). This was their lifeline to the refreshing inspiration of the Rebbe’s teachings and instructions.

Today, I receive this very same inspiration from the recordings of those Farbrengens. In addition to learning Torah from printed books, the Rebbe’s voice and delivery brings it all together and keeps it fresh. The playlist of these Farbrengens on my Ipod is my spiritual lifeline today, as the WLCC line was for my parents, years ago.

Although the Rebbe’s public talks were in Yiddish, JEM is publishing many of the videos with subtitles in various languages. I invite you to partake in this valuable treasure. Join us at Chabad after Havdalah (half hour after Shabbat ends) for the weekly segment of the Living Torah series. View the videos online at, or

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