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Rabbis' Blog

Start preparing the party now!


Life can be tough but often when asked “What will be?” many will answer “It will be good!”

It’s a great attitude but how can one be sure that everything will turn out for the best? Is this a naive way of navigating the treacherous waters of challenge and tragedy or is there something to it?

I’m often reminded of how horribly the English language translates the word “Torah.” “Bible” simply means a book, but the word Torah is better translated as a guide. Torah guides our life not just because it outlines Jewish law in all areas of life, but even the historical narratives serve as lessons to us. Even minor and often glossed over details contain profound insights to life.

In this week’s parsha Vayigash we learn of the dramatic reunion between Yosef and his brothers who had sold him into slavery twenty two years earlier.

Yosef, now viceroy of Egypt, urged them to rush back to their father Yaakov with the good news that his missing son was very much alive and to bring him and the family down to Egypt immediately.

The Torah records that Yosef sent provisions to his father for the way. “And to his father he sent the following: ten he donkeys carrying of the best of Egypt, and ten she donkeys carrying grain, bread, and [other] food, for his father for the way.” (Genesis 45:23)

The Talmud explains that “the best of Egypt” refers to aged wine. While the other provisions of grain, bread and food were certainly necessary to send, as the famine had wiped out all the food in the region, why was Yosef certain that Yaakov’s wine supply was depleted as well?

One may argue that we shouldn’t think too deeply into this and it’s a beautiful gesture on the part of a long lost son, but in truth, the aged wine Yosef sent his father expressed the depth and strength of his faith and trust in G-d that had sustained him throughout the painful years of separation.

For twenty two years no one in the family drank wine. Yaakov was in mourning, the brothers were miserable with regret and Yosef was far away from home. Now, as the long awaited reunion was finally happening they were all going to toast a Lechaim on wine. But Yosef sent his father aged wine to show that although he had not touched wine for so many years, he was preparing it throughout these terrible times in anticipation for the good days ahead.

When times are tough we ought to believe in the future good times to the point that we prepare champagne in the thick of our pain and suffering for the celebration we will have when it all ends. As we continue to navigate through the dark and treacherous two thousand years long exile, let’s learn from Yosef to anticipate the imminent arrival of Moshiach when the entire world will be redeemed from all suffering and peace and tranquility will reign for all.

Start preparing the party now by living a more elevated and meaningful life through increasing in Torah study, Mitzvah observance and caring for others.


Light beats darkness in every language


Before Chanukah I was interviewed by Duke Keith from KLAQ for an El Paso Townsquare radio story that aired early Sunday morning. During our conversation he asked me about Chanukah liturgy and I realized that in over 10 years no one has ever asked me such a question on a public forum. Even in Jewish circles, Chanukah is most popularly associated with lighting the Menorah, but not with its liturgy.


While there certainly is a unique Chanukah liturgy - the V’al Hanissim prayer recited during the Amida prayer and the Grace After Meal - it’s not nearly as well known as the liturgy associated with most other Jewish holidays. While we can certainly do more to focus on this special prayer, the core message of Chanukah comes across to the world in such a powerful way through the Menorah, because light is something we can all readily appreciate. Liturgy must be studied and is not accessible to all, whereas flames of fire brighten darkness no matter what language you speak.


In this week’s parsha Miketz we continue learning about the dramatic saga of Yosef. Sold into slavery by his brothers, he wound up in an Egyptian dungeon for a crime he never committed. 

Pharaoh dreamed of seven scrawny cows devouring seven fat cows and seven dried out ears of corn devouring seven full ears of corn, which Yosef explained were a divine message that Egypt will enjoy seven years of plentiful harvest followed by seven years of famine. He suggested hoarding the seven year surplus to save the region from the devastating famine and Pharoah tapped him for the job of implementing the survival plan. He was now viceroy to Pharaoh, wielded tremendous power and bore sole responsibility of the Egyptian economy.

When the famine struck and people streamed to Egypt for provisions, Yosef’s brothers came as well, but when they stood before the viceroy, the Torah emphasizes that Yosef recognized them but they did not recognize him. Of course, a 22 year absence can cause you not to recognize a brother but our sages teach us that there was a deeper reason why the brothers did not recognize Yosef.

When Avraham started his ideological revolution of monotheism, he remained independent of all nations. The same was true of his son Yitzchok and his grandson Yaakov and his sons. In order to maintain their spiritual orientation it was crucial for them to be separate from all others and engage with civilization on their own terms.

Yosef was the first member of the Abrahamic tribe to lose this unique independence, becoming an Egyptian slave who remained beholden to them even after his meteoric rise to power with the immense pressure of managing the affairs of state. Nevertheless, Yosef retained his spiritual equilibrium and even managed to elevate the moral and ethical orientation of the depraved Egyptians themselves.

This was an accomplishment his brothers could not fathom.

Yosef was the first Menorah. Just as flames illuminate darkness no matter what language you speak or which culture you associate with, the lessons of Judaism are meant to inspire humanity in every place and at all times. Yosef and Chanukah teach us that a Jew must never be intimidated by opposition or apathy and proudly live life Jewishly in a way that will inspire all humanity to greater moral and ethical heights, preparing our world for the era of Moshiach, when peace and tranquility will reign for all.

Why this pandemic Hanukkah may be the most important of our lifetime


If you would have asked me before Passover — as I packed matzah and other items for Jews preparing to experience their first Seder alone at home — whether we would need to rethink Hanukkah celebrations, I would have laughed you off. December felt a lifetime away and most of us assumed normal life would resume in a matter of months.

But here we are, gearing up for a Hanukkah that will keep us home at a time when we would normally be viewing public menorah lightings in huge crowds, celebrating and enjoying latkes with friends and family. This year’s public celebrations are mostly limited to drive-in events, parades, other creative ideas that facilitate proper social-distancing behavior and of course the endless smorgasbord of online events we can enjoy from our couches.

Like everyone else, we at Chabad-Lubavitch here in El Paso, Texas, have to improvise. Instead of our annual Hanukkah Playland, Home Depot menorah workshop, holiday parties in senior centers and nightly public menorah lightings, we are hosting a drive-in Hanukkah festival and nightly Zoom events. While we look forward to the intimate nature of lighting together with our community, each in our own homes, as well as the extra family time we will all enjoy, it will certainly not be the same.

Although it seems Hanukkah this year will be more subdued, I predict it will actually be more meaningful than ever. In fact, I believe it can help us appreciate the unique opportunity that our physical isolation can really present.

Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the heroic Maccabees over the heathen Syrian-Greek empire in 139 BCE. But the essential observance of the holiday — lighting the menorah for eight nights — commemorates the discovery of a single cruse of ritually pure olive oil that miraculously burned for eight days and nights in the menorah of the newly restored Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In an ironic twist, although the kindling of the Hanukkah lights invokes the miracle associated with the Temple menorah, the process of actually lighting the candelabra was instituted by our Sages in a much different format. While the Temple menorah had a set number of flames kindled in broad daylight in an indoor communal space, Hanukkah candles are meant to be kindled at home, after dark and with an increasing amount of flames every night.

Instead of simply commemorating distant history, the Hanukkah lights are meant to inspire us here and now to the unique ability of every individual to transform the dark and increasingly chaotic world around us into a place of brilliant serenity. We light them after dark to emphasize the power of a single good deed to neutralize much evil — as a small flame vanquishes even immense darkness; in ever increasing numbers to inspire us to consistently add in our goodness; and at home because our impact on the world begins from our own home.

For over two millennia, the Hanukkah experience was a personal one. In 1973, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, inaugurated a massive Hanukkah awareness campaign, encouraging one and all to share the mitzvah and message of Hanukkah in public and with pride. The next year, Chabad emissaries erected a public menorah outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and by the end of the decade there were giant menorahs going up in public spaces from San Francisco to New York’s Fifth Avenue, bringing the celebrations to the streets. 

Public menorah lightings in city centers large and small throughout the world are by now an established and beloved part of the Hanukkah experience, and giant menorahs at landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate and, of course, outside the White House are all signs of the season. These large Chabad menorahs and the 15,000 like them around the globe — with the accompanying newspaper and television coverage bringing the light of Hanukkah directly into millions of living rooms — ultimately introduced Hanukkah into mainstream culture. All of this was because of the Rebbe’s vision to share the Hanukkah message with humanity at large.

In a 1980 public letter addressed “To all Participants in the Public Lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah in the U.S.A,” the Rebbe emphasized what the public Hanukkah celebrations are really all about.

“The Hanukkah Lights remind us in a most obvious way that illumination begins at home, within oneself and one’s family, by increasing and intensifying the light of the Torah and Mitzvos in the everyday experience … But though it begins at home, it does not stop there. Such is the nature of light that when one kindles a light for one’s own benefit, it benefits also all who are in the vicinity.”

This year, more than ever, we need to light the menorah at home every night of Hanukkah and focus on this message: Even when we are limited in our public in-person interactions, creating more light in our private spaces impacts everyone around us. 

And since by now Hanukkah is universally known — thanks to its increasing ubiquitousness over the last four decades — we can share this crucial idea with humanity at large and beyond just the eight days.

Every person should know of and be empowered by the menorah’s eternal message: The energy created by increasing acts of goodness and kindness in the privacy of our own homes generates a ripple effect that can be felt on the outside, ultimately engulfing what so often appears to be a cold and dark world in the warmth and glow of divine goodness.




Darkness is controlled by creating light

Often in conversation nowadays people share with me that - although they continue following social distancing guidelines and all - they are emotionally done with this virus. The constant disruption of daily life, the economic and emotional devastation and, of course, the public health crisis is dragging on for much too long. When it started we thought it would be a simple bump in the road, but here we are eight months later dealing with it in even greater measure.

If only it would just go away.

You can’t wish away a virus, or any crisis for that matter, and the Jewish holiday of Chanukah teaches us an important lesson about coping with our challenging times.

Over 2,000 years ago the ancient Syrian Greek empire conquered the Land of Israel and commenced a tyrannical campaign of persecution against the Jews. They seized and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, effectively dismantling organized Jewish life. It was a time of darkness and despondency.

After several years of unbearable religious persecution, a small group of devout Jews – commonly known as the Maccabees - revolted and miraculously decimated the occupying forces, ushering in an era of relative peace for close to a century.

When they prepared to rededicate the Holy Temple service of lighting the seven branched candelabrum — the menorah — they found only one night’s supply of ritually pure olive oil and replenishing the supply would take eight days. With complete trust in G-d they lit the menorah and were overjoyed when the seven flames miraculously burned for eight days and nights.

In celebration, Chanukah was born. Instead of focusing on the military victory, the eight day festival is observed by kindling flames for eight nights in commemoration of the miracle of the oil. However, whereas the same amount of candles were lit in the Holy Temple every day in broad daylight, the holiday observance was instituted so that every individual lights an increasing amount of candles, in their home, specifically after dark.

Far from being a commemoration of the distant past, the Chanukah lights inspire us here and now to the unique ability we all have to brighten a dark world. You can’t banish darkness through brute force, condemnation or wishful thinking. Only by introducing light - even very little light. 

The one flame we kindle on the first night of Chanukah proves that even one good deed can brighten a dark environment. The next day we cannot be satisfied with yesterday's accomplishments because living things must grow; light, goodness and kindness must increase every day.

This observance is done at home to remind us in a most obvious way that illumination begins at home, within oneself and one’s family, but does not stop there. The nature of light that when one kindles a light for one’s own benefit, it benefits also all who are in the vicinity.

As we continue to face this unprecedented crisis in our community and throughout the world, let us be heartened by the message of the Chanukah lights, that although we can’t wish it away, we can certainly brighten up our reality with increasing acts of goodness and kindness, starting with one single positive act.

On a practical note, beyond the Chanukah observance, I suggest having a designated giving box at home and at work. Every day place a little bit of money in the box for charity and when filled give the value of the contents to a worthy cause. It’s a small gesture of kindness, but when done daily it can have a profound impact on ourselves and our families. Share this observance with everyone you know and together we can make our world a more peaceful place for all.




Here’s why I’ll be wishing you “Shana Tova” this Shabbat

Earlier this week I was recruited to petition a legislator to sign a congressional letter advocating for the release of a federal prisoner who has served a veritable life sentence for a non-violent crime and should be released on moral, ethical and humanitarian grounds. His story broke my heart and I hope he experiences his long awaited redemption very soon.

Two hundred twenty two years ago the founder of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, was imprisoned for 53 days on false charges of treason and was released on the 19th of Kislev. It was a truly joyous occasion - just as anyone’s release from imprisonment is - but the celebration of this auspicious day only intensified with time and today there are thousands of celebrations happening all over the world. This is because his release was a watershed moment in history, earning it the name “Rosh Hashanah (the new year) of Chassidus.”

Let me explain how the Alter Rebbe’s release from prison connects to Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first human beings. From the moment of their creation, humanity was entrusted with the mission of leading and developing the universe. But for thousands of years, the purpose of creation and the intellectual process of appreciating the divine plan in creation was accessible only by a select few through the study of Kabbalah, remaining a mystery for everyone else.

Then the Chassidic movement was founded by the Baal Shem Tov with the express goal of bringing these hidden treasures to the masses. Two generations later, the Alter Rebbe was sharing the deepest insights of the esoteric levels of the Torah in such relatable terms, essentially transforming the Jewish paradigm in ways that we take for granted today. The inherent value of every mitzvah, the impact every individual can have on the world and our essential bond with G-d are but a sampling of the topics he revolutionized. In fact almost every Chassidic discourse has some variation of the question “Why was the world created?” worked into its syllabus.

Revolutions have consequences and the fierce resistance his teachings faced from within the Jewish community led some radicals to cross every red line and convince the government that the Alter Rebbe was a threat to the czar, leading to his arrest. Based on the premise that everything in our world is a reflection of a spiritual reality, however, the Chassidic masters explain that the resistance to Chassidus was mainly playing out on a spiritual plane: Would the Alter Rebbe be allowed to continue sharing G-d’s secrets in such an unprecedented manner?

His miraculous release on 19 Kislev 222 years ago was a resounding endorsement of the Chassidic mission statement and marks a turning point in the way we access the deepest teachings of the Torah and apply them to our day to day life, setting the stage for an era of global peace, serenity and divine awareness through Moshiach.

On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate creation and on 19 Kislev we celebrate our ability to properly understand its purpose and how to achieve it. Sounds to me like a good reason to celebrate Rosh Hashanah again.

As we celebrate the “chassidic new year” this Shabbat, the 19th of Kislev, I wish you a “Shana Tova” and invite you to peruse through our online library of chassidic texts and audio and video classes and see how you can benefit from these precious teachings.



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