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Rabbis' Blog

Marching to Victory


Sunday will be a very special day for our community. The inauguration of our brand new Chabad Lubavitch Center for Jewish Life will begin a new chapter in the annals of Judaism in El Paso. It will be a home for every Jew in the region - a place to celebrate, learn, discover and thrive.

Throughout the years since the capital campaign started and the first sketches of the new building were publicized many wondered why the facade is an imitation of the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn. The brown bricks and three peaks seem out of place in our desert region, some observed.

Shortly after the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe miraculously escaped war ravaged Europe in 1940, the three story building located at 770 Eastern Parkway was purchased to become the new headquarters of the centuries-old Chabad movement, becoming the most important address for Jews around the world, known to all simply as “Seven Seventy.”

Ten years later the Rebbe assumed leadership of Chabad and personal responsibility for the Jewish world and set in motion the greatest Jewish renaissance in a millenium. Seven Seventy is where the Rebbe taught Torah for thousands of hours, responded to a volume of mail rivaled only by the White House and met personally with countless human beings from all walks of life. The revolution of Jewish outreach we take for granted today can be traced directly to Seven Seventy and every Jew in the world knew that it was a place they would be heard, cherished and helped.

In the early 1970s as the Rebbe started sending emissaries to every country, state, city and town with Jews a song was composed in summer camps where the future emissaries were being educated on the importance of committing their lives to servicing the Jewish world.

“From Seven Seventy we’re marching out, on to victory without a doubt…”

The choice of military language to describe the Rebbe’s campaign to create a permanent presence of Chabad in every corner of the globe can be traced to an idea in this week’s parsha where the Torah communicates a host of battlefield laws. A simple question is asked: Since every mitzvah is relevant to every person, at all times and all places, how can the laws of war be meaningful to us in times of peace?

In truth, even when there are no physical battles to fight, there is a constant spiritual battle raging in the world in general and within every individual as well. The war against apathy and assimilation. The battle against ego-centrism, selfishness and materialism.

The soldiers marching out of Seven Seventy are charged with the mission of bringing the light and joy of Torah to every human being to enable everyone to overcome the many spiritual battles we face on a daily basis. The three peaked facade of Seven Seventy has become an icon of the ability every person has to be victorious in sharing the beauty and joy of Judaism to all. We are proud to join the ranks of the close to twenty other cities around the world who host an imitation of Seven Seventy and we look forward to increasing our ability to bring the Rebbe’s message to the entire region.

Thank you for joining us in this mission.

Stop Predicting and Start Shaping


Today a photojournalist came to the new Chabad Center on behalf of a local media site in preparation for an article about the grand opening we will be celebrating in ten days. I had last seen him in April when he came to our home for a Pesach photo-op and as we greeted each other in masks he commented “I hoped we would be past all this by now!”

True. In April most of us thought that by August we would not be walking in public masked up and plenty of experts were predicting the same, but here we are in the midst of the pandemic, making the best of it and growing wary of predictions.

In this week’s parsha Moshe speaks with the people about the nations they were preparing to conquer. The Canaanites were pagans steeped in superstition, witchcraft and sorcery who would divine through sticks, devise omens on premonition and consult with skulls about the future. G-d prohibits us from imitating these practices in any shape or form.

Although the details of their divinations sound primitive, foolish and downright disgusting, their culture developed out of a basic human craving for knowing the future. There are numerous sources in Jewish tradition acknowledging that these practices were effective and the future could be divined through them, but they are off limits to Jews.

“Be wholesome with G-d” Moshe concludes. Don’t try to obsessively divine the future. Instead, trust in G-d completely and accept whatever comes your way. G-d provides us with prophets in every generation who communicate the future to us when necessary, but we are compelled to live our lives based on G-d’s instructions elaborated in the large corpus of Torah literature available to us.

Predicting the future is a comfortable way of making decisions in the present. Investors buying stocks want to be sure they will grow and politicians pay fortunes to pollsters and analysts to predict where the political winds are blowing and who their voters are. Philanthropists commission studies costing in the six digits to determine the next big initiatives to save the world and millions consult with shrinks on the streets holding crystal balls.

Judaism provides us with a context for life that fits every era and every location and by following the Torah guide book for life we know we are doing the right thing. And about the future - our prophets have already ensured us that the purpose of everything happening today is to prepare our world for the era of redemption when there will no longer be war, hunger, illness or jealousy and peace and tranquility will reign for all.

It is up to us to shape that future as quickly as possible through learning more Torah, doing more Mitzvot and sharing this truth with everyone we can reach.

El Paso is going back to school


The start of a new school year is normally exciting but next week everyone is entering the new school year with tense apprehension. Everything we know about the mechanics of education has been upended and this coming Monday is going to be a first for everyone in education: the students, faculty and parents. Online education is a fairly new vista for most El Pasoans and the knowledge that everything can change overnight doesn’t make it any easier.

As we rethink so many areas of education it’s appropriate to dwell on the purpose of education as well.

This week’s parsha opens with a profound statement that reverberates in our personal lives every single day. “Behold I (G-d) have given you [the opportunity to choose between] a blessing and a curse.”

After teaching the Torah to the Israelites for forty years in the desert, Moshe communicates on behalf of G-d the hard reality of life. We can be taught everything, but the opportunity to utilize all of this knowledge in a positive and constructive manner is our choice alone.

Knowledge is powerful but can be dangerous as well. Penmanship can promulgate hatred and terror and arithmetic can be used to swindle and cheat. Medical knowledge can be used to save lives or terminate them efficiently and scientific discovery can enhance our quality of life or produce tools to destroy civilization.

For over forty years the Rebbe spoke incessantly of the crucial need for the educational system to have a soul. Children are not computers to be fed information. They are humans endowed with a conscience and a mutual responsibility for their families, communities and the world at large. As parents and educators we cannot simply equip our children with the tools to embark on successful careers, we need to teach them how to choose right over wrong and good over evil. To live lives of service and higher purpose.

To this end the Rebbe was a strong advocate for public schools beginning the day with a “moment of silence.” When school children reflect silently on the purpose of education it has an indelible impact on their moral and ethical perspective in life, with far reaching results. To ensure educators do not advance their personal religious beliefs in the public school classroom, parents inform their children of what values and ideas to reflect on during that minute - another golden opportunity to foster parental involvement in their children’s moral and ethical education.

Today it is mandated in over twenty states including Texas, but the Rebbe explained that this moment of silence, when implemented meaningfully, can have a transformative effect on our youth and change the course of history.

Sixty seconds of silence on Zoom is disastrous and will probably not be part of the curriculum of online education most children are returning to. I know the early morning hours in every household are hectic and no one is looking for more chores, but I encourage parents to ensure their children are afforded the opportunity of reflecting silently for a minute before starting their formal education each day so that the soul of education flourishes as we work together to get through this time period in a healthy and hearty manner.



Change Your Mind


Problems need solutions and ailments need cures but often the first step to fixing the problem is through changing perspective.

Exile is a problem and our world afflicted with war, jealousy and evil needs healing and the weeks following Tisha B’av are a time to focus on preparing ourselves and the world for redemption when our world will be perfected for all. The Torah portions we read each Shabbat between the saddest day of the year and the beginning of the new year provide us crucial lessons in how to make this happen.

In this week’s parsha Moshe continues recounting the many details of the forty-year long journey the Jews experienced in the desert before inheriting the Land of Israel. He implores upon them to not forget G-d “who led you through that big and awesome desert, [in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water.”

Our national experience three thousand years ago was in fact a beta test for what’s happening now. The desert represents exile and entering the Land of Israel represents redemption. Since the diagnosis is half the cure and by properly understanding exile we know how to neutralize it and usher in redemption, let’s unpack the different adjectives Moshe used to describe the desert.

The first issue with the desert is that it’s “big.” Desolate desert land dwarfs civilized habitation by millions of square miles. The same imbalance is true regarding divinity and morality in comparison to selfish depravity; altruism is certainly in the minority. When the “big desert” becomes “awesome” it’s intimidating and you will struggle doing the right thing even in the privacy of your own home.

“Snakes and scorpions” come next. Snake venom is hot and represents a situation where one is enthused and excited with exile matters. Scorpion venom is cold and represents a situation when one is uninspired and listless about life in general.

Worst of all is when “drought” sets in. Even when one is inspired to search for meaning he or she has a hard time finding the “water” of Torah to quench their soul’s thirst - the harshest expression of exile.

It all begins with seeing the “desert” as “big.” Of course Torah and Mitzvos are quantifiably dwarfed by everything available out there, but Jews are legendary for ignoring the arithmetic and focusing on quality and depth. Rather than ignoring reality we can choose to see it from a more elevated position.

To view the desolate mundane world as a place of opportunity for revealing G-dliness instead of losing ourselves in the crowd by setting aside time from the busy work-day to study Torah, boldly giving charity above and beyond what society dictates and adopting more Mitzvot that initially seem frightening to keep.

The ailments of our fractured and bleeding world can be healed with this simple paradigm shift because it all begins in the mind.



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