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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.

In your own words

It’s not enough to repeat what you’ve been taught; it has to become “your own words”.

This is what we learn from fifth book of the Torah which we begin reading tomorrow. The distinction between the first four books of the Torah and the fifth one, is the context in which it is written. The first four are written in third person, this one is Moses’ words and is recorded in first person.

Too many American Jews are raised in an environment that encourages their participation in Jewish life in a way that is “repeating Hashems words,” but they haven’t connected with it. Therefore, so often the level of observance diminishes over the generations. Almost everyone has parents or grandparents that were more observant than they are.

In order for us to reverse the trend, our Jewish involvement must be “our own words”; we must find personal relevance in Judaism for it to be a real and lasting experience.

But you won’t find relevance unless you look! I encourage you, take the time, explore, study and find your relevance in Judaism. There’s a lot more to it than what you learned in Hebrew School!

How do we respond to random acts of hatred?

Not a good week – first a terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria and now a shooting in Colorado. It’s the kind of week that leaves you with a real sinking and helpless feeling – at first. And then, distress and anger that these events weren’t avoided – when often they could have been. Then you read the news stories describing the victims, (like this one and this one) and the emotions turn to pain…

These type of stories affect each of us differently; to me, the timing – during the Three Weeks (the period of Jewish national mourning), makes it all the more poignant. During this time we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem), as well as the exile of the Jewish people from our land.

But woven into the mourning and commemorating of these terrible events is the hope for the future. Crying about our downfall and our loss, at the same time looking to the future, to the era of Moshiach; the ultimate redemption of this world.

We can’t allow these events to take us down, and we also can’t brush them aside and try to ignore them. We have to channel the emotions to positive action. Add a mitzvah in your life. The terrorists (and the crazed gunman in Colorado) increased darkness in this world – let’s combat it with more light. They acted with random hatred; let’s respond with random acts of goodness and kindness!

Every mitzvah is important, but the mitzvah of Shabbat candle lighting is specifically linked to increasing peace. The local time to light Shabbat candles is tonight at 8:07pm (if you’re reading this in another part of the country, click here to find your local time). Even if you don’t usually light Shabbat candles, please, take a few minutes and light them tonight. (Learn more about how it’s done here). While you’re lighting your candles think how you can do your part to add more light in this dark and pained world.

Challenging Perspectives

Are you going on vacation or have you just returned? Everyone seems to be using this time of year to relax and rejuvenate. On the Jewish calendar, the three week period that began this past Sunday, is a time of national mourning. Many tragic events occurred on the 17th of Tammuz and on the 9th of Av, and the three weeks between them are observed to commemorate them.

When commemorating a tragic event there are two parts; commemorating the past and planning for the future. Let me tell you a story that highlights the difference.

In the 1950’s, shortly after the establishment of the first Camp Gan Israel overnight camp in upstate New York, the Rebbe went to visit the campsite and speak to the children in the camp. The staff gave the Rebbe a tour of every part of the facility, including the Arts and Crafts room.

Anticipating the Rebbe’s visit, and slightly ashamed of the appearance of the room - with remnants of past projects all over the place – the staff painted a large circle on the ceiling with the word’s Zecher L’Churbon, a remembrance to the destruction.

(We Jews weren’t always spread around the world in such a fragmented manner, with no central and uniting place of worship. From the time our ancestors left Egypt (in 1313 BCE) until the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed in (70 CE), the center of the Jewish world was in the Temple. Since the destruction of the Temple many have the practice, when building a new home, to leave one section of the wall near the front door unfinished as a remembrance).

When the Rebbe saw this, he pointed to it and in a surprised voice asked, “Zecher Lechurbon? Zecher L’mikdash! A remembrance to the destruction!? It should say, ‘A remembrance to the Temple!” The Rebbe was communicating an important lesson: Rather than focus on the destruction, we should focus on the existence of the Temple and anticipate its rebuilding.

When we experience a setback in our personal or professional life, we should not allow it to get us down. We should look to the future and think how we can ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes in the future.

When is YOUR Independance Day?

At a reception in honor of Ukrainian Independence Day, my colleague Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Washington, D.C. noticed the Russian ambassador in the crowd. Curious, he turned to the ambassador with a question, “Isn’t it from you, Russia, that the Ukrainians are celebrating independence.”

“True” agreed the Russian ambassador and continued to explain; “Now there are diplomatic relations between our countries. I join them in celebrating their independence and they join us in celebrating ours”.

Rabbi Shemtov was surprised, A Russian Independence Day? “From whom are you celebrating your independence?” he asked. The Russian ambassador looked confused, “that’s a good question” he replied in a thick Russian accent. “Maybe from ourselves?” he mused out loud.

This cute story highlights an important truth. So often the biggest obstacle that we face is ourselves. We have great plans, big dreams and lofty ideals. But when it gets down to it, we are in the same place that we were yesterday.

This past week we celebrated July 4th, American Independence Day – my question to you is; when is your personal independence day?

In Chabad, we have been taught by The Rebbe to celebrate the journey, and not only the destination. Each step – in the right direction – is a goal in itself. We overcome our self made obstacles not by radically changing over night but by taking one step at a time in the right direction.

This Talented Teen is Keepin' his Kippah

The Rebbe and Prime Minister Shamir

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