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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.

Don't listen to the rabbi!

“G-d is dead.” 
            – Nietzsche

“Nietzsche is dead.”
            – G-d 

Who’s right? I vote with G-d on this one. And I’m joined by most of the American public. A vast majority of Americans believe in G-d; if G-d would be running for election, He would win in a landslide. So why then are we so uncomfortable discussing G-d with our children (or anyone else for that matter)?

I’m bringing this up because next week is Rosh Hashanah and you are thinking about participating in – or not participating in - High Holiday services. Although you may not have an inkling as to why, you are thinking about it and notwithstanding your final decision, this time of year reminds you of your Jewish soul.

Your soul is calling and I encourage you to answer the call. You may actually like what it has to say. Throughout the year you experience it. You recognize the feeling that you often have. There is something that’s lacking in my life. Hint – it’s not a new car or another vacation (although either of those may dull the empty feeling for a short while).

So what to do about it? For starters, join us for High Holiday services. Block out some time, any amount of time, and plan to be fully engaged. Come in, sit down and tune in. Don’t listen to the cantor, don’t listen to the rabbi – listen to your soul. (Click here for the full High Holiday schedule and to reserve a seat).

May you and your family be blessed with a happy and healthy, sweet New Year!! I look forward to seeing you on Rosh Hashanah.

A lesson from a pickpocket

Mr. Bay, my sixth grade teacher, never did work out what was happening to his “Scholar Dollars”. When a few of my classmates broke into his “bank” and walked away with thousands of “dollars”, it caused rampant inflation to be injected into the “marketplace” and threatened to destroy his whole incentive system.

The big question was, where were they hiding it?? Where was the stash of pilfered “Scholar Dollars”? It turns out that the clever scammers were hiding their booty under his nose! In the back of the classroom there was a large locker where Mr. Bay would keep his supplies. Every morning it would be unlocked and every evening after school it would be locked. And unbeknownst to him, every day a nondescript pencil case at the back of the closet would be opened and a few more “Scholar Dollars” would find their way into a few boys’ pockets.

Drawing on lessons learned during many years in Soviet gulag, Reb Mendel Futerfas, one of the Chassidic teachers of the past generation, would tell a similar story. His cell mates, talented pickpockets on “the outside”, were compulsive gamblers and although outlawed in the prison, managed to keep their practice going. Their trick? When the guards would come in to search the cell for cards, they would slip the pack into the guards own pocket and before he would leave the cell they would retrieve the cards.

You already know that I must have a lesson buried in these two stories!

When we observe a negative character trait in a friend or relative; when we see someone whose behavior is not up to par; we must first realize that this is a sign of our own deficiency in the same area.

Elul is a month of introspection (a long extinct practice once known to mankind…). It is so easy to help others with evaluating their behavior! We have a knack in knowing just what the other person should do. However when it comes to ourselves, we are so quick to excuse. It’s been a long week; I’ve got such a busy schedule; how can I afford it? If you were a teacher and a student handed you a late note using one of your own excuses, you would not accept it!

In the lead up to Rosh Hashanah, let’s recover the long lost practice of introspection and choose to make thoughtful decisions about our life and our Jewishness.

Enough with the excuses!

Where were you on 9/11?

Where were you on 9/11?

 I was in Toronto, studying in yeshiva. We had just finished our morning tefillah and we heard the news…

A friend’s father worked in the World Trade Center and as he tried calling home, his nervousness quickly turned to near panic. The lines were jammed and calls were not getting through. It turned out that his father, usually a punctual person, was inexplicably running late that morning. Everything had taken longer than it should have; little did he know that it saved his life.

But what now, ten years later? What should we focus on when commemorating this most devastating attack in which 2977 innocent people perished? Do we hold a moment of silence and move on? All of us feel that something must be done but we don’t know what it should be. So we participate in some memorial service and try to feel the emotions of the day… and then we move on. It doesn’t come back to us until next year 9/11…

In 1957, the fledgling community of Kfar Chabad in Israel was attacked by a group of terrorists, who killed 6 young men and wounded many more. The people of the village, many of them refugees themselves, were in a state of despair and many were prepared to move elsewhere and close down the village.

And then a telegram came. It said three words that made all the difference. “Bhemshech Habinyan Tenacheimu - By your continued building will you be comforted.”  The telegram was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and its succinct but powerful message saved the community.

Let us take this message to heart. By our continued building, we will be comforted. The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 want us to conform to their ways, to be subjugated to their religious dictates. A most appropriate response is to strengthen - and promote - our way of life.

It is most fitting then, that our Hebrew School begins the first lessons of the new school year on 9/11. 32 young Jewish children are being educated with the timeless lessons of the Torah, to enable them to build a better tomorrow. In effect we are saying that we are building and growing; our continued building is a fitting memorial to those who perished. By our continued building we will be comforted.

Will the truly humble please stand up?

Happiness is intimately connected with humility. True humility is recognizing your G-d given talents and unique abilities, and expressing them for the benefit of others. Only one who is truly humble, will be truly happy.

It was Yom Kippur eve, the congregation was silent and expectant, when suddenly the Rabbi got up from his place and walked to the front of the synagogue. There, in front of the open ark, he stretched out his arms heavenward and exclaimed, “G-d! I am unworthy of leading this holy congregation; I am nothing in Your eyes!” The president, impressed by the rabbi’s display of devotion, approached the platform and likewise called out, “G-d! I am but a lowly human being, I am worth nothing in Your eyes!” One of the congregants, a poor laborer, slowly approached the podium and following the rabbi and the president’s example cried, “G-d! I am a miserable sinner; I am nothing in Your eyes!”

The president turned to the rabbi and whispered, “Now look who’s calling himself a nothing!”

Rav Yosef, a great Talmudic scholar, stated “Don’t say ‘humility is gone,’ for I am here.” How’s that for a humble statement?

Humility is often mistaken as feeling unworthy and undeserving. Those feelings are not honorable! On the contrary, such an attitude will lead one to insecurity, the root of arrogance. An insecure person constantly needs others approval and needs to convince themselves and others of their value.

A humble person is someone who is fully aware of their strengths and their weaknesses but recognizes that they come from G-d and not due to themselves. A humble person feels safe within their identity and is therefore able to make room for others. A humble person is able to tolerate different opinions and is able to achieve without the need for publicity.

That is why the Torah defines Moses as “more humble than any man on the face of the earth.” Moses was fully aware of his position in history as the greatest prophet of the Jewish people, as the leader who redeemed them from slavery and received the Torah on Mount Sinai. At the same time though, he did not think of himself as greater than the next and considered himself equal to the next person.

Exercising humility means acknowledging our qualities and accomplishments while recognizing that any other person, given the same abilities and opportunities, could have accomplished much more! The reason that you were awarded these unique gifts is in order to help others – try it, you’ll see that this will bring you true happiness.

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