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.

Chanukah candles at the hospital

Allow me to share something that happened this week. My son Levi (5) had to have a hernia repair operation. First thing Wednesday morning we went down to UC Davis. (I should mention the staff at the hospital were amazing!)

Levi’s surgeon is Jewish so I suggested to him that we take a box of Chanukah candles to give to her. He was very excited about this idea and was particularly concerned to ensure that she received her candles. With all the nurses who came to check on him and ensure everything was under control, he was happy when his surgeon finally came and was pleased that he was able to give her the candles and wish her a “Happy Chanukah!”

After the surgery, just as the anesthetic was beginning to wear off, Levi sat up in his bed and asked the nurses for the drink of apple juice they had promised. He took the cold apple juice and proceeded – to the amazement of the nurses - to make the proper blessing that is said prior to drink

What is the “theology” behind this behavior?

Without doubt the most famous Jewish prayer is the Shema. The first line of the Shema reads: Sh'ma Yis-ra-eil, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, A-do-nai E-chad (Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One – Deut. 6:4). The continuation of the prayer then includes some of Judaism’s basic messages: Love G-d, study Torah, reward and punishment and our exodus from Egypt. (Click here for the full text). This special prayer is biblically mandated to be recited at least twice daily, first thing in the morning and before we go to sleep at night.

In Hebrew, the word used here for “one” is “echad,” which means one, but in the context of many (i.e. the first of many: one, two, three etc). Perhaps a more appropriate word would have been “yachid” which means singular? After all, isn’t “the one and only” G-d a Singular entity in this world to which nothing can compare? Why use the term “echad,” oneone which implies the potential for plurality?

The Torah is teaching us a profound message: even within the apparent plurality of creation, “G-d is one” – absolute Oneness. This idea would not have been communicated had the Torah used the word “yachid” (Singular) because that would have implied that G-d is transcendent and separate from creation.

We begin and end each day with this recognition that the world and all that we experience is truly one with G-d. Knowing this enables us to experience life in an entirely new light, with a new perspective, and empowers us to make decisions that are in line with the Torah’s standards.

So whether you are going in for surgery or just going about your daily business, your center and focus is always the same.

What in your life is worth being thankful?

What are you truly thankful for in your life? Put slightly differently, what in your life is worth being thankful for? 

After giving it some thought, you surely noticed that most of what you experience daily is not truly worth being thankful for. Of course living in a comfortable home and driving a working car are deserving of thankfulness, but what are the things that are truly valuable in your life? There is something incongruous here.

The truly important things in life are not the physical, temporary experiences; rather they are the deeper, more spiritual side of our lives. Why then do we spend most of our time and effort pursuing the physical and so little time pursuing the truly important side of ourselves?

We are happier when we spend our time helping others than when we focus on fulfilling our desires. We are happier when we are with family. And we are happier – even on the most basic level – whenever we do a mitzvah.

In order to live a truly happy and thankful life we have to live in a way that is consistent with our deepest truth – a truth which we ourselves are sometimes not fully aware of. We have to get in touch with our soul. Humans have a unique soul, a soul that is different than that of all other creations. Our soul yearns to transcend, it yearns to grow and it yearns to share. When we build our life to include the needs of our soul, our body lives a more satisfied and content life as well.

Be a part of the solution

We’ve all heard the terrible news out of Israel. Three Israelis killed, many more injured and hundreds of rockets being fired at civilian centers. It’s not the news that we want to hear.

Most difficult is the feeling of helplessness, what can I do? How can I help my brothers and sisters living in the Holy Land who are facing this peril? I’m so far away, what can I do?

In truth, there are many things that you can do. First, be informed! With all the propaganda out there it’s important to know about our right to the land. It doesn’t come from the UN or the United States, it doesn’t come from any government body recognizing our right to the land – it comes from G-d. He created this world and gave the Jewish people the land of Israel.

Our enemies are adept at propaganda – today with social media we can combat their lies by sharing the truth. “Like” the official page of the IDF Spokesperson and follow the IDF Blog, then share the factual real-time information that they share.

And perhaps most importantly – do a mitzvah! A mitzvah, a G‑dly deed, has the power to reach deep into the core of our being—where we are all one. At this core, a positive deed on our part can help bring peace and goodness to this troubled world. Click here for some ideas and then take the pledge to do a mitzvah today!

Finally, in all times, especially in times of distress, it is important to strengthen that which unites us as Jews. This can take many forms, but one cherished way of strengthening Jewish unity is to participate in the writing of a Torah. It’s very timely then that we will be beginning to write a brand new Torah scroll this Sunday afternoon – right here in Folsom! Please click here for the details and email [email protected] to RSVP for the event.

You CAN help!

Hurricane Sandy devastated the northeast, killing over 100 people, leaving thousands homeless and millions without power. Watching the storm from across the country, we read the news reports horrified by the extent of the damage. We hear the unfortunate stories of those stuck in the storm’s path and who didn’t make it out alive. We are awed by the heroic acts of some and horrified by the selfishness of others.

In the wake of the storm many people responded with an outpouring of generosity, hospitality and kindness. It’s heartwarming to see the images of volunteers leaving their safe and dry homes to help those who have been displaced by the storm.

The question is what can we do? We live thousands of miles away and it’s not realistic for us to host people who have been displaced or to help clean up. My answer is this: make a donation. Even if you can’t afford to give a lot of money, give something. Although there are many organizations that are raising funds for this effort, here are my suggestions: will go directly to the families of Chabad Rabbis whose homes and lives have been devastated and are in desperate need of support. is a central fund that has already distributed over $30,000 to individuals and families that were hardest hit. It will continue to be used in overall support of communities, families and the rebuilding effort.

Chabad representatives live in these communities that were hardest hit. They are in direct contact with the local community members and they know their needs. Your donation will go directly to help those caught in this unfortunate situation.

As you know, I don’t generally make appeals for donations for outside causes but this is different; this is an emergency. Please do whatever you can – it will make a world of a difference. 

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