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.

Are you a fool for making a New Years resolution?

This time of year has people talking about resolutions. One of my favorite (cynical) quotes about resolutions is this one from F. M. Knowles, “He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; He who makes one is a fool.” Or as a friend of mine announced on Facebook that he is opening a new business; for the first two weeks of the year it’s a gym and for the other 50 it’s a bar.

We have a tendency, in a moment of inspiration, to resolve to radically change our lives. And we all know how well that works...

The Talmud relates the story of Elozor ben Durdaya, who had the dubious distinction of having transgressed every prohibition in the Torah. It was said about him that for him to return to G-d was as distant as from east to west. In the end, the Talmud relates, he regretted his ways and died a repentant soul, earning his place in the world to come.

How was he able to bridge the seemingly insurmountable distance to his return, “as distant as from east to west”?

By turning around and beginning to head in the other direction.

For him to return did not mean that he had to become a perfect person overnight. It meant that he had to disavow his current lifestyle choices and begin to head in the right direction. And although he was still in the same place, because he had turned and begun heading in the new direction, his life was now deserving of a place in the world to come.

So when resolving to be better, in whichever area, it doesn’t mean radically changing your lifestyle. It means changing the direction in which you are heading. It doesn’t mean beginning every day with an hour long workout; it does mean paying more attention to leading a healthy lifestyle and incorporating healthy habits into your life. It doesn’t mean keeping the entire Shabbat fully this week; it does mean lighting Shabbat candles weekly, making kiddush weekly or coming to shul regularly. It doesn’t mean keeping kosher overnight, it does mean beginning to pay attention to what is and what isn’t kosher, learning how to keep a kosher kitchen and beginning to implement small changes in your eating habits.

We may not succeed in radically changing our lives, and can therefore be described as a fool for making a resolution. But we can succeed in incorporating small changes into our lives.

And before you know it – your life will be radically different!

Is Coca-Cola Kosher?

That was the question that was raised this past shabbat. It seems that the easily missed OU Kosher symbol that is on the cover of the bottle was not noticed, hence the question. The answer is yes - but it wasn't always so. Click here to read the interesting story how Coca-Cola became kosher.

Are you a wick or a flame?

Are you a wick or a flame?

“Neither,” is probably what you’re thinking. A wick and a flame have to do with a candle - what’s that got to do with me?

Man can be compared to a candle (see Proverbs 20:27); specifically, the wick refers to the survival instinct, our physical side and the flame refers to our ability to transcend, our spiritual side.

A healthy balance includes both aspects, physical and spiritual. Investing in our physical side while ignoring our spiritual dimension is not beneficial, and neither is the flip-side good for us.

But here’s the catch - by nature we are more in tune with our physical side and give it the priority. Our spirit tends to get neglected and that leads to imbalance in our lives. A feeling of emptiness or that there’s “too much going on,” never being able to get “on top of it,” are all related to this imbalance.

We need to invest in our spirit by adding in “transcendent” activities; an extra mitzvah, caring for another person. Transcendence means being outwardly focused; instead of looking for what we need, looking what we are needed for. And when we’ve incorporated this extra step into our lives and it becomes part of our regular schedule, it’s time to add another. This is the lesson of the Chanukah lights, we begin with one but we are never satisfied - we constantly grow.

What Are You Giving Your Children This Chanukah?

What gift are you giving your children this Chanukah?

This time of year can be challenging for Jewish parents. Many of your child’s friends are participating in non-Jewish holiday parties and celebrating a holiday that is foreign to us. Children invariably want to be part of it; they want to participate in the celebration. It looks exciting, alive. They want to be able participate in the Nutcracker performances and tree lighting ceremonies; they want to get presents under a tree just like their friends do.

Some parents wring their hands in despair, unsure how to react. Although hard to admit, you are uncomfortable with your child/ren celebrating Christmas... but at the same time you don’t want to deprive them of their fun.

I think this time of year gives parents a special benefit, a unique opportunity that at other times in the year has to be sought. It is the opportunity to give your children a special gift - pride in their heritage.

When your child asks to participate in a non-Jewish holiday celebration or performance, explain to them why as Jews we don’t celebrate these holidays. Tell your children of the special heritage that they have and how Jewish people have survived throughout the ages only by preserving their heritage, instead of forgetting it.

Setting a limit based on an untouchable standard rather than a constantly shifting position will give your child important tools for life. When you, as a parent, chooses to raise your child/ren in a proactive manner, rather than passively watching them grow older, this is the best gift you can give your child. This provides them with a moral backbone that will help them say no to drugs, look for the appropriate life partner and make the right decision in so many other situations which parents can sometimes only hope their children will choose wisely.

Instead of allowing (or encouraging) your child to participate in The Nutcracker or any other Christmas celebration, give them the gift of their very own heritage. A gift that has been preserved throughout the ages - through thick and thin...

...Just for them!

Are We All Equal?

Are we all equal? Or are some of us better than others?

I think we can agree that although we all deserve to be treated equally, we are not, in fact, equal. Some of us has have skills in areas that other don’t. It would be ludicrous for someone to demand equality in order to perform a brain surgery or fly a plane.

While some may allow their accomplishments or talents to get to their head, Judaism sees success as a responsibility.

The Talmud relates regarding the great scholar and redactor of the Mishna, Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, that he would honor the wealthy. Why emphasize that he honored the wealthy, rather than say the charitable or the pious?

Everything in this world is due to the Divine Plan. The fact that a certain person is wealthy and therefore has the means to impact the world in a positive way through that wealth, reflects the soul potential of the individual. This is also obviously true with regard to someone who has a particular talent or skill.

But this gift (of wealth or talent etc) is not just for personal use. Hashem gives us the extra blessings in order for us to share it for the benefit of others. So if you are wealthy, it’s in order to help support community organizations; if you are talented in a specific area, it’s in order to share your talent for the benefit of others.

Help spread the wealth!


Conference of Chabad Emissaries. (Click here for some inspiring videos from the banquet that took place at the end of the conference).

My flight home began as regular but I couldn't have anticipated that it would take me almost 24 hours to get home! We had a stop in LAX (while I was there, I checked in to ensure that my accent was still intact...) we boarded and left as usual, but as we arrived in the Sacramento area the pilot explained that due to low visibility we may not be able to land.

We circled the airport for a few minutes and shortly after the pilot announced that we will be returning to LAX. A short while later I was back at the gate from which we had just departed a few hours prior!

After an hour dealing with the airline to re-book, I finally checked in to a hotel to be able to sleep a little until my flight into Oakland (yes, Oakland Airport - Goldie had to drive two hours to pick me up...).

This little ordeal took up my whole Tuesday and threw my entire week off schedule...

This experience reminded me of an important fact. The bottom line is that sometimes we go through life and think that we are in control, we make the decisions. Every once in a while we are sent a reminder - “Hey, don’t forget - it’s really me, Hashem, who controls everything!”

And I find that pretty comforting, how do you feel about it?

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