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.

Your first class ticket is waiting - really


After saving for many months, Moshe, a simple, poor and hardworking man from a small village, travelled to the big city to purchase a train ticket. Having saved enough money, he bought a ticket and boarded the train. It was his first time on a train and he was very nervous.

The conductor was making his way through the next car and Moshe noticed a few people who had no tickets get up and begin to hide to avoid the conductor. As he sat there he noticed that the other passengers had different color tickets than he.

“What is the meaning of that?” He wondered. “Could it be that my ticket is not valid?”

Suddenly in a panic, he decided he too must hide.

“Your ticket, sir,” the conductor stretched out his hand waiting to see his ticket. He was caught! Nervously he fumbled through his pockets looking for his ticket. The conductor was getting impatient, “If you don’t have a valid ticket, you can be fined and arrested at the next station!” he thundered, fed up with all the vagabonds trying to steal their way on the train.

“, here’s my ticket,” Moshe nervously handed his ticket to the conductor. The conductor took the ticket in his hands, looked at it and arched his brow. Moshe was sweating. “This is a first class ticket, sir. You are in the wrong place.” Not understanding, Moshe began to apologize and plead for mercy. The conductor explained to him that his ticket actually made him eligible for a much better seat in a more luxurious car. “Here, come with me, I’ll take you to your seat.” And with that, the suddenly pleasant and respectful conductor led Moshe to the first class carriage.

This is unfortunately the story of many American Jews. We are first class ticket holders yet we act as though we don’t belong; we try to blend in and be accepted by society instead of being proud of who we are.

This week’s Torah portion tells us about the spies that Moshe sent to gather intelligence prior to conquering Canaan. They reported to Moshe negatively, leading to the Heavenly decree to spend 40 years in the dessert.

Let us take note of an interesting part of the dialogue. The spies reported, “In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” (Numbers 13:33) The Rebbe often quoted this verse and emphasized that the fact that they felt “like grasshoppers,” caused “so we were in their eyes.” The attitude towards them reflected the perception they had of themselves.

Don’t feel like a grasshopper! Please remember; you have a first class ticket. Be proud of it.

Goal Oriented?

Smart goals.jpg 

Have you ever fallen short of a goal? I’m sure you have, and most likely will again. Let me share with you a secret from this week’s Torah portion that will help ensure that next time you set a goal, you don’t fall short. Rather, you succeed just as you planned it to be.

Our ancestors were given a commandment by G-d to offer a lamb as a Passover sacrifice. They did this in Egypt and they continued to do this when they entered the land of Israel. What about the 40 years in between? In this week’s portion we learn that they did this just one time. The commentaries elaborate that the fact that they only brought the sacrifice once while in the desert reflects disparagingly on the Jewish people; they should have brought this sacrifice every Passover while they were in the desert.

However, upon further analysis, one realizes that the command to offer the Passover sacrifice was linked to their arrival in the land of Israel. They needed to be explicitly commanded in our Torah portion to offer it. So what exactly is reproachful about the fact that they didn’t offer it all those years in between?

A fascinating explanation is offered that provides profound guidance for our personal advancement and success: The fact that the Jewish people didn’t offer the sacrifice, in and of itself, is not wrong – after all, they weren’t commanded to! The issue is that they didn’t even request to be able to bring it. They should have demonstrated their willingness and enthusiasm for the mitzvah by requesting the ability to perform it.

Indeed, immediately following this episode, the Torah relates regarding a group of individuals who had not been able to bring the Passover sacrifice when everyone else did, due to their being ritually impure. They begged Moshe to be allowed a “rain check,” they wanted to be able to bring the sacrifice at a later date. And you know what? Their request was granted and even established as a precedent for the future: To this very day we celebrate “Pesach Sheini,” the second Passover.

With recounting these episodes, the Torah is communicating a profound lesson: Make yourself a goal, be specific and realistic; this will enable you to succeed. In your mind’s eye, see yourself as attaining your goal. If you plan it and work towards it, you will achieve it.

Make sure that you have a clear goal; then it is possible to reach it.

The Year in Pictures - Chabad Hebrew School

Are you getting the most out of life?


How do you view Jewish observance? Does it seem like a burden and a challenge to you or is it a personal benefit, a gift?

You don’t have to share your answer with me. But if your Jewish observance is not the first measure that you use to judge whether to engage in a particular activity, it’s safe to say that you view (perhaps unconsciously) Jewish observance as a burden.

Don’t worry – it’s perfectly normal.

We just read the Ten Commandments on Shavuot. Whether you heard the reading or not, I’m sure you’re familiar with them. Have you ever noticed how G-d introduces Himself? “I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt.” Ever wondered what the exodus from Egypt had in common with the Ten Commandments? If G-d is establishing His “credentials” in order to then command us to live in a particular way, He should have said, “I am the L-rd your G-d who created heaven and earth.” Surely creating the entire universe is a greater feat than redeeming a handful of slaves?

By describing Himself as the one who redeemed the people from Egypt, G-d is communicating to us, “This is good for you! The Torah that I am sharing with you today is going to enhance your life!”

Have you discovered how living a life guided by the Torah is actually physically beneficial? If you have yet to give it a serious try, how about trying it out? Study about it and then incorporate an aspect of Torah guidance into your life, then step back and watch what happens! (Need help getting started? Send me an email, I’ll be happy to direct you).

Can you tell the difference between dark and light?


“I can’t see anything in here – it’s so dark!” exclaimed the newcomer. The group had gathered in a cool, dimly lit wine cellar to avoid the heat of the day.

“Don’t worry,” someone replied, “soon you’ll get accustomed to it and then you will not even notice that it’s dark. It will seem as though it’s light in here.”

Hearing this exchange, Reb Hillel Paritcher, the great Chassid and mentor who was leading the gathering, commented, “This is the problem. We sit for a while, our eyes adjust, and suddenly we think that the darkness is really light.”

It’s true we live in dark times. It’s true there is much pain and suffering in the world. It’s true that there is evil in the world. We truly live in dark times. We live in times where Hashem’s presence in the world is concealed in such a way that the world seems to be self-sufficient, nary a hint that there is a True Power that’s making it work.

However, we don’t have to become accustomed to this darkness. Every time we add a mitzvah, every time we a selfless deed of goodness and kindness; when we work on attuning ourselves to the hashgacha protit, the specific divine providence that influences our lives ; we are effectively protesting the darkness and proclaiming that it is not the true state of being.

Take a moment and think about this; in which area of my life have I become “accustomed to the darkness” to the extent that it feels like light? How can I reverse this acceptance of the status quo and bring more light into my life?

Now realize that just the fact alone that you identified this part of your life, has already effected a tremendous paradigm shift. In this specific area of your life you no longer mistake the darkness for light.

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to a brightly lit future!

If you see something - do something!



The way the young girl was standing, keeping her distance from the car window, seemed strange. I slowed down and paid attention. She was shaking her head and starting to walk away. The driver followed her and again engaged her in conversation. I pulled over to the side of the road just ahead of the car and watched how the girl slowly, almost gingerly, climbed into the car.

Was I watching an abduction in process? Or was I just crazy?

As soon as the girl was in the car, the driver took off – hung a quick u-turn and was gone. I tried to catch up and get the license plate number but was unable to.

What was that? Did I just see someone pick up their moody teenage daughter or did I just see a predator lure a victim into their car? I wasn’t sure, so I called 911.

I don’t know the end of the story but I never did hear of a teenage girl being abducted from the streets in Folsom, so I assume that I had just witnessed an innocuous occurrence.

Just the other day we heard the story of Charles Ramsey of Cleveland. The man is being hailed a hero because he saw something and took action.

Too often we second guess ourselves. We don’t take action when we see someone in distress – “Is it my business? I’m sure the police are on the way...other people will deal with it,” or “I’m making a mistake and unnecessarily mixing into other people’s business."

It’s true; often our help is not necessary. Often others can and are doing the work. But the chance that we may be able to help someone else should motivate us to mind other people’s business.

This is precisely is what motivated the Lubavitcher Rebbe (the spiritual leader of the Chabad movement) to inspire his followers to move out of their comfortable cocooned environment and out into the “big world”. It would have been easier for the Rebbe to “consolidate his base” and ignore the rest of the world. Instead, the Rebbe taught, “When you see something – do something!”


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