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Rabbis' Blog

Here is a photo you should see

 Rebbe with Children.jpeg

Let me describe this photo captured in the summer of 1987 at a “Farbrengen” at Lubavitch World Headquarters. “Farbrengen” is the simple yiddish word for gathering, but in the 250 year old Chabad lexicon it represents the idea of Jews coming together and connecting on multiple levels through chassidic discussion, soulful tunes and brotherly toasts of L’chaim over glasses of wine or vodka.

When the Rebbe assumed the Chabad leadership after the passing of the Previous Rebbe, the Farbrengens he held frequently on Shabbat, Jewish and Chassidic holidays and at times randomly served as his platform to communicate with the world. He taught unique innovations in all levels of Torah scholarship, launched multiple campaigns aimed at transforming the Jewish landscape and shared his approach to critical issues facing the global Jewish community and humanity at large.

In attendance were thousands of people from across the social spectrum. World leaders, pulpit rabbis, businessmen, activists, rabbinical students and curious observers. But this photo reveals a demographic one would never expect to find at such a gathering; dozens of children - on the dais no less!

They were usually hidden from the crowd by the table, but in this photo taken from behind the dais as the Rebbe gestured a greeting to one of the guests sitting behind him, you can see how close these children were to the Rebbe as he communicated to the world. Rather than being a nuisance, they were encouraged to attend even though they were unable to follow the Rebbe’s talks at all.

Much has been written describing the Rebbe’s personal greatness, charisma, leadership, scholarship and impact on the world, but the core of the Rebbe’s mission can be summed up in the Zoharic description of Moshe who led the Israelites to freedom - a shepherd of faith.

As Moshe guided the Israelites through the desert, they experienced miracles on a daily basis. Surrounded by divine clouds and nourished by heavenly bread and water flowing from a rock, the Israelites lacked no proof of G-d. But their faith needed to be nurtured so that when they entered the Promised Land and the daily miracles ceased, their faith would permeate every fiber of their being and every aspect of their lives.

When the late Shimon Peres visited the Rebbe he later shared that on every subject the Rebbe displayed brilliant depth, but when speaking of faith he spoke like a five year old child.

Faith is the core of our identity and must be nurtured at every juncture of life. For the Rebbe, communicating the deepest Torah thoughts or addressing major world crises were all expressions of his role in making our inherent faith more relevant and applicable. In this capacity children are as important as venerable sages in their eighties.

Yesterday marked 26 years from the Rebbe’s passing, yet the Rebbe continues to nurture our faith through his teachings published in hundreds of books, preserved in thousands of hours of audio and video recordings now available in multiple languages, online as well. I encourage you to visit www.therebbe.org and avail yourself to this treasure which continues to transform and empower millions to make our world a better place, preparing it for the ultimate redemption through Moshiach.

Climbing Ladders to Heaven

“What is your ultimate goal here, Rabbi?”

A friend blurted out the question in the midst of an intense conversation about community challenges. I answered him honestly, but I continue to contemplate the question often. Whatever I am doing, is it leading to the ultimate goal?

In this week’s parsha we learn of the dramatic events that lead to the greatest tragedy in our history. The Israelites, poised to enter the Promised Land a little over a year after being redeemed from Egypt, inexplicably demanded Moshe send spies to scout out the land before conquering it.

Reluctantly twelve representatives were sent and upon returning, ten of them declared “mission impossible.” The cities are strongly fortified, giants abound and everything about the land is so strange that attempting to take it would be certain suicide.

Two of the spies insisted their colleagues were terribly mistaken. Yehosua and Kaleiv, appalled that the people had so easily lost their trust in G-d by the foreboding report, courageously attempted to sway public opinion. After reminding them of Moshe’s credentials as G-d’s undisputed messenger, Kaleiv movingly declared, “If Moshe would instruct us to build ladders and climb them to heaven - we would certainly succeed!”

The statement about climbing ladders to heaven sounds like poetic license, but a deeper understanding of this episode reveals that Kaleiv was making a precise declaration, relevant to us today more than ever.

The Israelites were instructed to transform a land inhabited by depraved and immoral nations into a holy land. This is a microcosm of creation’s purpose; to reveal the divine brilliance hidden within the mundane and meaningless reality of our world. To bring heaven down to earth or bring earth closer to heaven.

Ten of the spies worried that the Jews would succumb to the spirit-numbing mundane realities of life settling the land would inevitably present and disconnect from the Torah they had recently received at Sinai. “The land will consume them,” they fretted. Better to remain ensconced in the spirituality of desert life, surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, nurtured by the heavenly bread called manna while studying Torah directly from Moshe.

But Kaleiv proclaimed that since the mission of imbuing divinity into the humdrum of regular life was coming from G-d through Moshe, it was certainly attainable.

In the winter of 1951 as the Rebbe formally accepted the mantle of Chabad Lubavitch leadership, he declared our generation is charged with the urgent mission of ushering in the era of Moshiach. To cause the long awaited redemption to actually happen by revealing the divine brilliance hidden within the mundane and meaningless reality of our world. To bring heaven down to earth or bring earth closer to heaven.

Everything was imbued with this urgency, and the Rebbe educated and inspired tens of thousands of Chassidim to devote their lives to this mission and millions more to get involved as well.

As we observe the Rebbe’s 26th Yartzeit this coming Thursday, the Third of Tammuz, Kaleiv’s immortal declaration serves as an inspiration for us all. Even when the job of revealing goodness in every detail of reality seems impossible and perhaps far-fetched, realize that we are truly empowered to make our world more heavenly by adding in Torah study, doing an extra mitzvah, increasing our Tzedakah giving and connecting with each other in the true spirit of Ahavat Yisrael.

The Rebbe continues to lead and inspire our way towards redemption and we need to keep climbing “the ladder” one mitzvah at a time.

Being a lamp is not enough


Being an inspiration to others is a blessing, and although the feeling of sharing a meaningful lesson, heartwarming anecdote or some thoughtful advice is very special, it is far from the end game in the purpose of our creation.

The opening verse of this week’s parsha describes the Holy Temple service of lighting the Menorah, the seven branched candelabra which stood in closest proximity to the holiest spot on earth. The expression used is “Beha’alosecha es haneiros - when you (Aharon the high priest) will light the candles (of the Menorah).”

The way I just translated the verse is true to its general meaning, but if you were to translate the words literally it would read “when you elevate the candles.” There are other words in Hebrew which mean “kindle” and the like, but the Torah chose to employ the word which also means “to elevate.”

The most authoritative explainer of Torah, Rashi tells us the following: Since the flame rises, Scripture describes kindling in terms of ascending. He is required to kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself.

Technically speaking the kindler can hold the flame to the wick and cause it to shine brightly even if the fire did not catch on to the wick very well. But then the fire would cease to exist once the kindler moves away. Hence the Torah exhorts the Kohen to kindle the wick in such a manner that the flame would ascend on its own without the kindler’s help.

Seems like a simple and self evident idea, but probing into the deeper meaning of the Menorah and its spiritual function, this detail becomes the catalyst for a profound paradigm shift in understanding our purpose in life.

Every Jew is a lamp, filled with fuel and a wick ready to illuminate the world with divine light and inspiration. Our wick is kindled through Torah study and Mitzvah observance, filling the world with divine brilliance, but that’s not enough. We need to be lamplighters, ensuring that all the lamps around us are also kindled, able to illuminate and kindle more lamps.

When the Kohen entered the sanctuary with a light, the service was not complete by just introducing light there. He needed to share that light in a way that the lamps of the Menorah would shine brightly on their own and kindle other lamps as well.

Being the bearer of good cheer and doing good things is not enough. We need to invest time and energy in inspiring others to the point that they are empowered to be an inspiration to many more. Our success is only realized when we elevate another to the point that they can in turn elevate someone else.


We Named Her Rivka


On Tuesday afternoon we were blessed to welcome a beautiful soul to the world, our baby daughter Rivka. Thank you so much for your joyful messages of congratulations, mazel tovs and best wishes.

Her birth was especially joyous for me since she is the first child to be named for a special woman in my life, my maternal grandmother Mrs. Rivka Karp, who passed away two months ago, several days before Pesach.

Bubby Karp, as we grandkids knew her, lived down the block from us for as long as I can remember and was a fixture of my childhood and adolescence. Always caring and doting yet respectful of our space and individuality, Bubby always prepared us our favorite lunch on Sundays and sent us treats for snacks on school days.

Although she surely made a memorable impression on us through her delicious cooking and baking, it was her refined and dignified demeanor that made being in her presence a warm and comfortable experience. She was socially in tune and intuitively understood what others needed. She was proud of all her children and grandchildren for the way they were and knew how to make all of us feel special and appreciated.

Her namesake Rivka, the matriarch of our nation, was born to a family of thieves and con artists in a depraved and immoral society. Despite all these challenges she was exceptionally refined and excelled in caring for others. This characteristic is what made her a fitting match for Yitzchok and when a complete stranger asked her for a drink of water near the well, this seemingly simple act of kindness set in motion her becoming an integral part of shaping history.

My Bubby was born in Voronezh, a small town in southwestern Russia to a well to-do family but needed to flee from the advancing Nazis when she was twelve years old. They endured much suffering in the war years and her sister died of typhus during this terrible ordeal. She experienced so much chaos and suffering as a teenager, but like Rivka, our matriarch, this did not affect her refined character and empathy for others.

She married my grandfather in Paris after the war, and in the 1950s immigrated to Montreal, Canada where they raised their six children. My grandfather, Rabbi Avrohom Karp, taught Talmud to younger students and to adults as well, and his dedicated Torah study at all hours of the day was the most precious thing to her.

I have so many memories of her and a wealth of life lessons her behavior taught me. She never preached, but her silence spoke volumes. As I cradle precious little Rivka in my arms I pray to have the strength and wisdom to impart to her the refined and elevated character my Bubby embodied and that she will grow to be a source of pride to us all.

One of the Mitzvot associated with Rivka, our matriarch, is the Mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles. Today, as I light the Shabbat candles before sunset I will add another candle in honor of our new little Rivka and I invite all Jewish women in El Paso to join me at 7:51pm (for El Paso) in this beautiful Mitzvah, bringing more and more divine light to our world.

Good Shabbos,

Shainy Greenberg

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