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.

Getting Un-Stuck

A truck driver was driving down the highway at full speed when he saw a sign that said Low Clearance. He had no time to stop and before he knew it, Wham! he was stuck under the bridge. He tried to back up; he tried to inch forward; to no avail. Traffic was backing up and his frustration was mounting when a police officer swaggers over, puts his hands on his hips and in a very condescending manner calls out, “Hey! Stuck Huh?”

The truck driver looks down to the police officer and in no mood for his attitude replies, “No, I was just delivering this here bridge, when my truck ran out of gas.”

Have you ever experienced the feeling of being stuck? I mean well and truly stuck. In life? In a relationship? In work? Not just stuck in a way that a small change here or there will be effective but stuck in a way that every attempt at change, every attempt to get un-stuck, just gets you more stuck?

To get un-stuck from such a situation requires a very dramatic change. Not an incremental change here or there but a radical change. A completely new beginning, rebuild from scratch. It requires letting go of ourselves and making room for something higher than ourselves. We need to surrender and let Hashem take the reins.

The truth is that every night when we go to sleep our soul ascends on high and each day our soul is returned to us fresh and like new. Every day we have the ability to restart our life.

But we naturally resist this type of radical change. We like to be in control. We have grown comfortable with our personality as it is. Although we may find some fault, we are very familiar with our character traits and behaviors as they are. We have built a whole life around this personality, how can we just abandon it?

(Did you know that when the Jewish people were told that they were being freed from Egypt, 80% said “No, thanks!”? Only 20% of the Jewish people in Egypt had the courage to abandon their life as they new it and follow Moses into the unknown. It’s not an uncommon reaction to hesitate and resist real personal change.)

In order for a seed to grow into a plant it must first decompose and be completely open to the new plant that will grow out.

In order for us to get un-stuck and, in keeping with the theme from Passover, in order to become free, we must first “let go and let G-d.”

The question is, do we have the courage?

What Is True Freedom?

How do you make decisions? Have you ever thought about that? The advertising agencies operate on the premise that we make decisions based on our emotions. They try to create an emotional connection to a product by portraying it in an attractive manner, thereby luring us to buy their product.

When drawn in by an advertisement, are we making a rational decision or is our decision-making ability clouded? Are we making a free decision or are we held captive by our emotional connection to the product?

The first step to being truly free is to be able to make decisions based on truly rational motives.

Man was created such that the “brain rules the heart.” Our emotional connections should be based on a sober, rational and objective decision. Not based on passion and emotion.

Only then can we be truly free.

The Passover Seder begins by listing the 15 steps of the seder. Interestingly the first two, “kadesh, urchatz,” seem to be in a different category than the others. 1) Unlike any of the other steps, they are connected by the letter “vav” which means “and.” 2) They appear in the context of a command (e.g. kadesh, recite the Kiddush) as opposed to the others that are merely reporting what takes place (e.g. magid, the haggadah is recited).

Kabbalistic teachings provide some insight – the first of the 15 steps refer to the intellectual capacity of the person. The intention is that the person’s intellectual capacity will have a positive effect on the person’s emotions and behavior.

This is the first step to freedom, the intellect is in control.

May we celebrate Passover this year in true freedom!

There's a Treasure in Your Wall!

In the early 1900’s, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a local Rabbi once ran into the Episcopalian Minister who was not very fond of his immigrant neighbors’ ghetto-like lifestyle. "What a coincidence!” remarked the minister: “It was just last night that I dreamt I was in Jewish Heaven."

"Jewish Heaven," mused the Rabbi. "What’s it like in Jewish Heaven?"

"Oh!" replied the minister snidely, "In Jewish Heaven children with dirty faces, un-tucked, un-pressed shirts play in the dirt. In Jewish heaven women haggle with vendors as panhandlers rudely interrupt.

In Jewish heaven laundry hangs from a maze of clotheslines; dripping water on to the muddy surface. And of course,” continued the minister with a wry grin, “There are plenty of Rabbis running to and fro, with large tomes under their arms!”

“How amazing!” retorted the Rabbi pursing his lips: “In my dream last night I found myself, of all places, in Episcopalian heaven.”

"Really?” muttered the minister. "I’ve always wondered what Episcopalian Heaven was like. Please tell me what you saw.”

“I must admit,” said the Rabbi with a wide smile, "It is nothing short of immaculate. The streets glitter as if they had just been washed, homes are lined-up in perfect symmetry, as their fresh paint sparkles in the sunlight, the lawns and gardens are manicured to perfection.”

"Not at all surprising,” said the pleased, almost giddy minister, nodding excessively. “But tell me about the people! I’m curious to know what the people are like.”

“The people,” frowned the Rabbi, as he looked the minister in the eye. “What people? There were no people to be seen!”

I think that the Lower East Side in the early 1900’s is a great metaphor for life – dirty and difficult but with much value and meaning buried within.

Who ever said life is easy? Judaism, unlike other religions, does not promise eternal bliss and tranquility. Life is a constant struggle, a struggle within and a struggle with our circumstances. We have ups and we have downs.

There is a beautiful message in the Torah regarding these challenges. In describing the case of tzara’at* that could come in one’s home, the verse makes it sound as though it should be expected.

The question is asked: tzara’at was an affliction that came as a result of one’s negative behavior, why does the Torah relate it in a manner that implies that it is inevitable? The commentaries explain that the nations living in Canaan at the time hid their treasure in the walls of their houses. The Torah is promising the Jewish people that Hashem will provide circumstances that will reveal the hiding places of these treasures.

So what looked like aggravation and misfortune – tzara’at could even lead to the demolition of one’s home – turned into blessing and wealth.

We do not experience tzara’at anymore but there is an important lesson here. Often we will experience challenges and difficulty in our lives. We can be tempted to get despondent and give up. But every challenge has a hidden shine. There is a benefit within.

May we recognize and appreciate the benefits and not have to suffer through protracted challenges!

*Tzara’at was a spiritual ailment that had a physical manifestation resulting in blemishes appearing on one’s home, clothes or body. For more information on tzara’at, click here.

Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Person

A young, successful secular Jew sat down on the train. As he looked up from the latest book he was reading on his Kindle, he noticed a chassid sitting across from him. Complete with his long coat, strange hat and dark beard he looked like a relic from the past, a holdover from the old country. “Hey!” he called to the chassid, “why don’t you join the modern age!? Your way of life is obsolete and irrelevant nowadays, be more connected and up to date!”

“Excuse me,” replied the man “I’m Amish…”

“Oh, I’m sorry! Please forgive me. I truly respect your dedication to your heritage and way of life. It is such an honorable way to live and so good for the rest of society to have you as an example…”

A professor once visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe. After discussing many topics, the professor turned to the Rebbe and exclaimed, “Rebbe! I want to be your chassid.'' ''Nu, what’s holding you back?” asked the Rebbe. “But I don’t look like a chassid, I don’t act like a chassid,” replied the professor. The Rebbe responded, “If you contemplate each day how you can grow, how you can do one more mitzvah today than you did yesterday – that is a chassid!”

According to Chabad Chassidic guidelines, the term "chassid" refers to one who recognizes his own essence-character and his standing in the knowledge and study of Torah, as well as his situation in observing mitzvot. He knows what he lacks and he is concerned and takes steps to fill that void.

So, here’s how to be a chassid in three easy steps. 1) Know yourself 2) Know what you lack 3) Take meaningful steps in the right direction.

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