Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Resolution Gym

So, what’s your New Year's resolution?

You know, the statement you make that reflects your image of the ideal “You''. Though so often not replicated in the real world, it’s always nice to indulge ourselves the pleasure of imagination. 

As a primary source of invaluable insight, Facebook status updates provide us with great inspiration and ideas, like this one: “He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; He who makes one is a fool.” Or as a Facebook friend informed me recently “David is opening a new gym called Resolutions ... it has exercise equipment for the first 2 weeks of each year, then becomes a bar for the remaining 50!”

On a serious note, whether on New Years or any other time of the year, introspection is the key to growth. And rather than make some sweeping resolution that will be doomed to failure, let’s resolve to improve ourselves incrementally in ways that will affect us, our family and all the people we encounter.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the UK, has a helpful list of real, meaningful habits that – when implemented – lead to a more fulfilled existence. Here are the first two (follow the link for the rest):

1. Give thanks. Once a day take quiet time to feel gratitude for what you have, not impatience for what you don't have. This alone will bring you halfway to happiness. We already have most of the ingredients of a happy life. It's just that we tend to take these for granted and focus on unmet wants, unfulfilled desires. Giving thanks is better than shopping – and cheaper too.

2.  Praise. Catch someone doing something right and say so. Most people, most of the time, are unappreciated. Being recognised, thanked and congratulated by someone else is one of the most empowering things that can happen to us. So don't wait for someone to do it for you; do it for someone else. You will make their day, and that will help make yours.


And as he concludes, life's too full of blessings to waste time and attention on artificial substitutes. Live, give, forgive, celebrate and praise: these are still the best ways of making a blessing over life, thereby turning life into a blessing.

Jewish History in Four Minutes

Challenge or Opportunity?

What do you think Moses’ mother was thinking when she placed him in the Nile? Do you think she realized that this was actually the beginning of the salvation of the Jewish people?

We are all faced with challenges in our lives. Indeed, there are times in life when we encounter challenges that seem to bury us. Many times in hindsight we realize that in reality, the challenges were opportunity.

There's a parable told about a donkey that fell into a deep pit. The villagers, assuming the donkey would die, threw dirt into the pit to bury the animal. However, the donkey saw the dirt as a tool to his survival, and used it to create a mound to climb out of the pit to safety.

The Talmud teaches that G-d does not present an individual with a challenge that he cannot overcome. Our lives are shaped by the nature of the challenges G-d sends our way, each of us being directed on the precise journey destined for our unique soul. But we are provided the tools to respond to these challenges and use them to our advantage.

Life has its ups and downs and it takes strength to realize the opportunity in each challenge.  Let us remember that the challenges we face are not there to bury, but rather to uplift!

Seasonal Lights vs. Jewish Pride

Do you bless your children?

Did you know that there is a specific Jewish tradition by which to bless our children?

Many families have the beautiful tradition to impart to their children a special blessing before Shabbat or on other special occasions like the High Holidays. It reads (in part) simply as follows: “Yesimcha Elokim K’Efraim V’Chimenashe” – “May G-d make you like Efraim and like Menashe.”

This blessing is paraphrased from the blessings that Jacob wished upon his grandchildren Efraim and Menashe (Joseph’s children), as recounted in this week’s Torah portion.

Who were Efraim and Menashe anyway?

But why the custom to bless our children to be like Efraim and Menashe? Why not like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob our forefathers?

Joseph’s children, Efraim and Menashe, were different than their entire extended family; they were born and bred in Egypt, a foreign country with idolatrous ways. Though surrounded by a society that did not value what they held sacred and did not uphold the morals that guided their lives, still they remained faithful to the ways of their ancestors.

This is why we bless our children that they should be like Efraim and Menashe –

We bless our children – who are raised with internet and iPods, in non-Jewish surroundings – to be like Efraim and Menashe.

Seasonal Lights vs. Jewish Pride 

At this time of year, with the seasonal lights and festivities all around us, we need to provide an extra dose of Jewish warmth and pride. Join in Shabbat services; gather the family around the Shabbat table and explain to them the unique privilege that they have in being Jewish.

Celebrate being Jewish and instill Jewish pride in your family, it will last a lifetime.

May your children be like Efraim and Menashe.

Shabbat Shalom!

The Ninth Day of Chanukah

Have you ever heard of the ninth day of Chanukah?

What? They didn’t teach you about it in Hebrew School? Your menorah only has eight candles?

Let me explain with a story –

In 1977 on Shmini Atzeret (the last holiday of the High Holiday season), the Rebbe suffered a major heart attack that left him bedridden for over a month.

Customarily at the end of each holiday the Rebbe would pour a small amount of wine from his cup to all those assembled (this was referred to as “Kos Shel Brocho” lit. “Cup of Blessing” – click here to watch a video clip of this event from 1986). That year due to the heart attack the Rebbe was unable to carry out his usual custom.

Then two months later, on the last day of Chanukah, the Rebbe called his chief assistant Rabbi Hodakov into his study. The Rebbe instructed him to make the necessary arrangement for a farbrengen (a Chassidic gathering) to be held that afternoon and to ensure sufficient wine and cups in order for the customary distribution of Kos Shel Brocho to occur.

Those were the days before email, text and Blackberry messenger, yet the word spread fast nonetheless. It didn’t take long and a large crowd of Chassidim assembled for the farbrengen. The Rebbe spoke about two points that day:

1. Chanukah is a joyous time. It’s always encouraged to add in all matters of goodness, especially when the result is added Torah study and performance of mitzvoth. Although the last day of Chanukah is generally not celebrated with festive meals and gatherings, we can still be assured that our adding in celebration is a commendable thing to do.

2. There are discussions amongst Torah authorities as to whether in the Diaspora Chanukah should be observed for an extra day (as we do during the other major holidays of Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot). The decision is that we do not. However, the Rebbe explained, the question itself shows that the original hypothesis has an element of validity.

Based on these points the Rebbe continued, it would be appropriate to maintain the joyous spirit of Chanukah into the Ninth Day. We can utilize the joy and energy of Chanukah to increase in one’s own effort in the study of Torah, especially Chassidic philosophy, and the performance of mitzvot and to use one’s influence to encourage others to do the same.

Friends, there you have it. Today is the Ninth Day of Chanukah!

Now, I don’t propose that you order a new menorah with nine candles. But I would encourage you to draw on the added measure of joy, energy and Jewish pride from Chanukah and make it impact today and the entire year.

May G-d protect our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom!!

Happy Ninth Day of Chanukah!

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.