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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 leave your chair empty!

Some people talk to empty chairs. Last night you may have seen one such person talk to an empty chair on national TV. And whether you love it or hate it, you can still learn from it.

You see, the empty chair reminded me of another empty chair. It is the suggestion that has been promoted many times in the Jewish community; to have an empty chair at the seder table. It’s been proposed as a way of remembering the victims of the Holocaust and those denied the right to emigrate from communist Russia. More recently it’s been proposed as a way of remembering the victims of Palestinian terrorism in Israel.

In the 1970’s, representatives of the Jewish Federation of North America visited the Rebbe in New York. The purpose of their visit was to ask the Rebbe to endorse a special campaign: that in every Jewish home should leave a chair empty as a remembrance to those who were not there due the Holocaust.

The Rebbe replied to their request, “Your idea of adding a chair is very important, and I’m ready to join the call. But, there is one condition… The extra chair should not be empty, but filled”.

I know it’s not Pesach time and we’re not planning a family seder. But in two weeks we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah. There is a seat waiting for you, please make sure that it is not empty. 

Do you suffer from High Holiday Syndrome?

Do you suffer from High Holiday Syndrome? It sets in at this time of year, when you know that you have to go to Synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That’s right! Your head begins to feel heavy just by thinking about it. You make the reservations because you know you have to, but can’t wait until they’re over. (Click here for a great article illuminating why so many Jews, who are far from religious, will still be in a synagogue for the High Holidays).

Does this sound like your experience? Like so many American Jews, you don’t experience the meaning of the High Holidays, and therefore the prayers don’t move you. There may be numerous solutions, but I think that a good dose of Jewish learning about what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would do wonders.

Please join us for one of our fascinating classes (see below for details) or contact me and we can set up a time to discuss and learn together. In addition our website has an extensive High Holidays section, take a few minutes to learn something and allow yourself to be moved by it!

May you be inscribed and sealed far a good year!

Can you feel it?

When was the last time you took inventory – of yourself? Inventory of your actions, inventory of your decisions and inventory of your general direction in life? In business, we are constantly working on our product, making sure that our service is the best out there. But how often do we stop and think about our life?

This week we begin the Jewish month of Elul – the last month of the year. We are now in the home stretch leading up to the High Holidays. This time of year is not only time to reserve your seat for High Holiday services (which I encourage you to do), it is the time to strengthen our positive traits and correct that which needs correcting.

Just Do It! Is what Nike tells us – and this an important message for Elul. Too often we push things off; I do plan to go to services BUT this week is not good for me. I would join that class BUT I’m so worn out in the evening. This month, don’t make too many calculations – Just Do It!

You can feel it in the air – a different wind is blowing. It’s the Elul wind.

The Previous Rebbe describes the unique atmosphere that enveloped the town of Lubavitch as the month of Elul approached: "Though summer still lingered and the day was bright and sunny, there was a change in the air. One smelled already the Elul-scent; a teshuvah-wind was blowing. Everyone grew more serious, more thoughtful... All awaited the call of the shofar, the first blast that would announce the opening of the gates of the month of mercy...."

Although the area we live in is a far cry from the bustling Jewish life that dominated the town of Lubavitch, we can still experience this Elul breeze by participating in some of the special Torah classes taking place in the next few weeks (see below) and coming to services tonight (and every Friday night) at 6:30 and tomorrow at 10.

Are you ashamed of being Jewish?

"I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member," Groucho Marx would say. And although so many of us don’t say it, we feel the same way.

Are you ashamed to be Jewish? Or should I reword that – are you ashamed to act Jewish publicly?

These are hard questions and definitely won’t be resolved in these few lines. But it may be somewhat of a comfort to know that we, as Jewish people, have always faced this challenge, and dealt with it in various ways. All too often however, the way of dealing with it was to “retreat into our shell”, to hide our Jewishness and hope that nobody would notice.

Tomorrow we will read the Torah’s description of the desert that our ancestors traversed. It reads as follows: “That great and awesome desert, [in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water,” (Deut. 8:15). The commentaries tell us that this verse metaphorically refers to our experience in exile, wherever that may be.

It is in our perception of the world around us as “that great and awesome desert” that causes us to feel as though we don’t belong. If we focus, however, on the unique privilege and great merit that we have to be Jewish; when we focus on the fact that we have a uniquely Jewish soul, that has sustained our people throughout years of physical persecution; when we cultivate our knowledge of what it means to be Jewish, and not just kvetch about the challenges, then we will have the courage to stand up for who we are.

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