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.

Do you observe Superbowl Sunday?

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Like most Americans, I’ve found it hard to miss the Superbowl chatter over the last few days and I’d like to share with you my thoughts; I’d love to hear your thoughts, too, so please do reply with your comments.

This Sunday is the Superbowl; that is, the largest and most participated in annual religious experience in the US. Just like a religion, it has it’s own rituals, and just like a religion, there are varying degrees of observance. There are those who not only watch the game, but spend an entire weekend at pre and post game parties; kind of like the people who spend the entire Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Then you have the people who just watch the game itself; that’s like those who just come to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (or just for Yizkor on Yom Kippur). You even have the people who just watch the commercials - like the crowd that comes just for the kiddush (or the JFK Club as it’s called)!

That’s right, the Religion of Sports has, for many American Jews, replaced their Jewish heritage. It provides community and a goal to work toward, and no doubt the euphoric sense of being in a stadium packed with fans can easily compete with the most inspiring religious experience.

Is there anything wrong with this? Of course, playing sports, and even supporting a professional team, is not in itself a terrible thing - far from it! However, I think the loss of a Torah-value centric lifestyle is truly detrimental.

The way I see it, the primary difference between the Torah centered lifestyle and a secular oriented lifestyle is this: The Torah focuses on giving and the secular value system is based on taking.

What do you think, is there something wrong with taking? Is there something wrong with watching out for your needs?

It seems that there is - there’s something unsettling about taking and it makes us uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because man is hardwired to be a giver, to contribute. Of course we have to take care of ourselves, but what is the end goal? Why are we taking care of ourselves? Just so that we can live a little longer and be a taker for more time? Or is there something more?

More to life there definitely is, but the secret is not looking out for yourself with more passion - it’s doing more for another. That’s how we fulfill our purpose in life.

The Torah advocates giving, both to G-d and to man. Doing a mitzvah because that’s what G-d wants from us, not just because it feels like the right thing to do. Helping another in times of need, not to varnish our resume or be awarded the “Humanitarian of the Year” award, but rather just to help them.

The most ironic part of it is, that the secret to finding happiness is not by getting what you want from life, it’s by giving of yourself to others. In other words, the more you focus on giving, both to man and G-d, the happier your life will be. So go ahead, try giving instead of taking; you’ll be happier for it!

How to measure holiness

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I’m told that the best test of a sermon is depth – not length. (I wonder how I score on that count…) No one can argue, though, that G-d definitely doesn’t go on for too long. Just last week we read the Ten Commandments – not a long sermon by any account, it’s just 620 letters long! But it was presented with such an impressive delivery that it has been resonating loudly throughout history.

The delivery included such amazing and overwhelming spiritual revelations that it caused the millions of Jewish people watching to faint! After such an intense spiritual experience, you would expect the continuation of the Torah’s narrative to focus on maintaining this deep connection. Yet this week’s Torah portion focuses on quite mundane laws; civil laws associated with redress of damages, loans and rules governing Jewish courts.

It almost seems as though the Torah is attempting to distract us from this amazing spiritual experience, by diverting our attention back to the mundane world!

The truth is, that in this juxtaposition is evident the intention and purpose of the entire Torah and Mitzvot: to live a physical life in accordance with a higher purpose. G-d created this world, and in fact the entire universe, with the purpose that we, small human beings that we may be, would live our lives in accordance with His will; not that we should seclude ourselves on a mountain top and meditate in an attempt to draw closer to the Infinite.

True holiness is not measured by how removed we can be from the physical reality, rather by how well we master our world and elevate our lives.

Rekindle the love

Image credit: Jan-willem

Your annual performance review at work is coming up and you have to prepare a report for your supervisor, outlining your accomplishments of the past year. Or maybe you’re trying to get hired for a new, long-coveted job. Will you list your most impressive accomplishments or will you only mention the areas that your performance was less than perfect? Will you list your primary talents, skills and experience or will you suffice with the mediocre?

Of course you will try to portray yourself in the best way possible, in order to be perceived as the best candidate for a raise or to be hired for the job!

Would it make sense for an accomplished scientist who is trying to establish his credentials and gain acceptance by his peers, to introduce himself as someone who enjoys to play golf on the weekends? Of course not!

Why then does G-d introduce Himself to us as the One who took us out of Egypt?

You’ve surely heard of it before - the Ten Commandments. Well, they’re in this week’s Torah portion and it’s always interesting how G-d uses the experience of the Exodus as a means of introduction. You see, G-d has a pretty significant accomplishment with which to establish His credentials - after all, He created the very world that we inhabit! Wouldn’t that have been a more credible way for Him to introduce Himself?

But there is a very important reason G-d chose this specific reference (and it has nothing to do with Darwinism). The purpose of this event at Mount Sinai, this awesome experience when G-d formally introduced Himself as it were to the Jewish people, was in order for us to enter into a relationship with Him. And what was most relevant to our ancestors? They had just been redeemed from a generations long slavery, they had only a few weeks before been set free by G-d Himself. This was most relevant to them.

G-d was reaching out - and continues to so today - in order to enter into a relationship. He is looking for closeness from us and the language of this relationship is Mitzvot. Each Mitzvah that we do connects us and strengthens our personal relationship.

Let go! Allow yourself to fall in love with G-d all over again - do a Mitzvah today! (Click here for some great Mitzvah ideas that require an investment of one minute or less). 

Unlikely, but not uncommon

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Image Credit: ba1969 

Goldie and I moved here with our two young children six and a half years ago, and by now you may even take it for granted that there is a full service Jewish center in Folsom/El Dorado Hills. But if you stop to think about it, you may realize how unlikely it really is. In fact, the most common reaction that I get when I first meet local Jewish families is, “Here!? You live here in Folsom?” And although it is an unlikely place for a Chassidic rabbi to settle, it is not an uncommon story. All over the world, in some of the least likely places, there are representatives of Chabad waiting to serve the local Jewish community.

Visiting AlaskaHawaiiWyoming or Montana? Going on vacation to Cancun or Playa Del Carmen? Find yourself in New ZealandCambodia or Singapore for some odd reason? You guessed it! Chabad is there. Today it is almost taken for granted, but it all began 64 years ago when the son-in-law of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe took on the leadership of the Chabad movement.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known simply as “The Rebbe,” revolutionized the Jewish world by setting in motion a global network whose sole mission is to reach out to every individual Jew and encourage them to reengage with their treasured heritage.

The Rebbe trained his followers to view people not by their superficial selves but by their core, their soul, that pure, untainted energy full of potential. That’s why this Shabbat is such a special date; it marks the day that this global revolution was put in motion. It’s the day that the tide of Jewish history changed forever, for the positive.

The Rebbe was known for many miraculous stories, but I think even more important is the Rebbe’s miraculous message: that every single person can perform miracles. When we do more than we did yesterday, when we do an extra mitzvah that we didn’t think possible to accomplish, that’s miraculous.

Let’s learn from the Rebbe’s example and live miraculously!


Here are some great links to learn more about the Rebbe and his teachings. Read what the Rebbe did before prayers and how his three word answer saved a village. Why the Rebbe sent a scientist to Soviet Russia and what the Rebbe was doing at 3:00am. Or click here to learn about the Rebbe’s profound teachings.


Do You "Have" Time?

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Image Credit: danjaeger

We’re now in the six months of the year that the clock in my car is one hour fast. Yes, this is embarrassing, but since I installed a new CD player I haven’t been able to work out how to change the time. Yes, yes, I know - when all else fails, read the manual. Someday I will get to fixing it but let’s not get too distracted from what I’d like to share with you today.

Here’s an important tidbit: the first Mitzvah in the Torah is featured in this week’s Torah portion and it’s got to do with time. It’s the obligation to establish a calendar with months and years and to sanctify some days as festivals.

In the beginning of creation, man was charged with a G-dly mission - to “rule over the world and subdue it,” i.e. to make use of the physical creations; to invent useful machines and develop modern technology. Not as an end in itself but as a means of serving G-d; everything can be used for a higher and holier purpose.

This is true about time, too. Time is also a creation and we are charged with the mission of sanctifying and elevating it. The Jewish calendar that we follow today indicates when Jewish holidays are celebrated. This fulfills the obligation to some extent, but truthfully there is more to it.

What does it mean to sanctify time? (I know, I know, “sanctify” is one of those religious words that when people hear it, their eyes glaze over and they tune out. Please, bear with me!) Simply put, it is to set aside certain times for holy occasions: e.g. Shabbat and Jewish holidays. We treat the day differently; we dress differently, we even eat differently. We separate and elevate the day from our usual grind.

This is important, but I think there is even more to it that we can incorporate in our day to day lives. Ideally, we should be the masters of our time. We should consciously choose how to spend each day and even particular times of the day. When we plan to spend time with our family, it should be “sanctified” - nothing gets in the way. When we plan to spend some time studying Torah or praying, it should be “sanctified”.

“Sanctified” means we should turn off the phone and computer and “tune in” to the moment.

When we can maintain control over our time, when we truly master our time, we not only live a happier life, we also complete the purpose of our being in this world: we elevate the world around us by using it for a higher purpose.

Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new Jewish month of Shvat. Tonight is Shabbat. When we sanctify time, when we honor time and elevate it; when we are conscious about how we spend our time, this not only affects the time which has been “sanctified,” it also changes the way we experience all time. Suddenly all our time is filled with a feeling of purpose, goodness, holiness and mitzvot.

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