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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.

I don't want to remember the Rebbe

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On Tuesday, the 3rd of Tammuz (July 1st), the Jewish world will remember the Rebbe. The 3rd of Tammuz is the anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing, and the world is gearing up to remember. There have been a number of new books (‘Rebbe,’ ‘My Rebbe’ and ‘Turning Judaism Outward’) recently published, each book is well written, by wonderful people. The media is covering it too, including the NY PostWall Street JournalNational Review and the Huffington Post (among many others).

The world is remembering the Rebbe; but I don’t want to remember the Rebbe.

I’m striving to live with the Rebbe.

You see, the Rebbe is much more than a charismatic and visionary leader; the Rebbe is much more than a man with greater insight; and the Rebbe is much more than a man with a flair for being able to create a special connection with each person that he encountered.

The Rebbe is the “Moses” of our generation.

Yes, that’s quite a statement. Moses was the one who redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt, he gave them the Torah and led them through the desert for 40 years until bringing them to the border of the Land of Israel.

More importantly, Moses introduced the Jewish people to G-d - he trained them to trust G-d and rely on Him. For many years Moses was a shepherd by trade. Even after he began to lead the Jewish people, he continued to shepherd, only this time he shepherded people. Moses shepherded the Jewish people and nurtured their innate faith in G-d, helping them to recognize and rely on G-d’s hand in their everyday life.

And that is exactly what the Rebbe did, and continues to do.

The Rebbe, too, guided, and his teachings and example continue to guide, the Jewish world. After the devastation of the Holocaust, the Jewish world needed to be redeemed; it needed to be guided out of the devastation and into a new life. The Jewish world looked for guidance and the Rebbe provided the needed direction. And on the individual level, the Rebbe guided every Jew to faith and trust in G-d; just like Moses.

I consistently strive to integrate the Rebbe’s ideas and ideals into my daily life and I hope that I can have a positive influence on the people around me too. 20 years after the Rebbe’s passing I’m not looking to remember the Rebbe; I’m looking to live with the Rebbe.

Support the underdog?

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Typically, people tend to support the underdog. There’s a perception that if one is the underdog, they are being mistreated. But is the underdog always right?

Case in point: Prior to the Six Day War in 1967, the perception of the world was by and large that the Jewish people living in Israel were the underdog. And by and large, by public opinion and governments of the western world, there was no question that Israel was supported. But since the wars of 1967 and 1973, world opinion has slowly shifted to the point that today many people, even those that choose to support Israel, view the Jewish people living in their ancestral homeland as “occupiers” and their Arab neighbors as the underdog.

Should this make a difference? No – we have facts and truth and historical evidence on our side. But does it make a difference? You bet it does! A reasonable college student – even one who supports Israel – will empathize with the Arab position and rationalize their behavior. Why? Because they’re viewed as the underdog.

This week’s Torah portion is all about this idea: Do we support the charismatic Korach, the underdog, shut out of leadership positions, and his populist rebellion? Or do we support Moshe, the less exciting but honest-to-G-d and correct leader?

Oftentimes it is emotionally appealing to support the underdog but that doesn’t mean it’s right. It may take more effort and it may be less glamorous, but in the long term being on the right side is infinitely more important.

In the course of our long history there have been many populist rebellions. Some from outside, enemies who sought to destroy us; some from within – rebellions against the individual leader of the time or the authority of the Torah or the “rabbis”. But popular as these revolutions may be in the short term, remaining honest to the Torah – supporting what is true and correct and not necessarily the underdog, has consistently proven to work best.

You can do something!

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As I type this three Israeli teenagers are still being held by Arab terrorists. The Israeli Army is doing what they can to save them and bring them home safely – we are so far removed that we may feel like there is nothing we can do… In truth, there is much that you can do – as Jews we are connected and our additional mitzvah here can help them over there. Please add a mitzvah today in honor of the speedy and safe recovery of the three kidnapped teenagers.

Specifically, the families have called for Jewish women around the world to light Shabbat candles in their merit. If you don’t regularly light Shabbat candles, please do so tonight (in Folsom it’s at 8:14pm,  click here for times in other locations). If you already do light Shabbat candles weekly, consider calling someone who doesn’t and encourage them to do so tonight.

It's time to take ownership

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“It seems that a simple cleaning would fix your vacuum cleaner,” explained the salesman. “We would have to charge $50 to do it for you but it’s really not that difficult to do it on your own.”

“Thanks for your honesty,” replied the surprised customer, jokingly adding, “Does your boss know that you’re turning away business?”

“Actually, it’s his idea,” came the sheepish reply. “He maintains that we actually make more money on repairs when customers first attempt to fix it on their own.”

The biggest mistakes happen when we try things on our own – but then again, true success is only possible when we try things on our own.

The pivotal events described in this week’s Torah portion have decidedly negative results; the Jewish people are punished and have to spend 40 years in the desert and the entire generation would have to die out before they could enter the Land of Israel.

And it can all be traced to Moshe being handed the reins.

Until this point, every step had been directly guided by G-d. In the event of uncertainty, Moshe turned to G-d who provided clear guidance. This is the first time he is not given direct instruction; he is effectively told “make the call yourself.”

And the result? Decidedly negative. Yet, it symbolized a turning point; a coming of age of sorts. The Jewish people had finally been trusted to make their own decisions, with all the consequences that come along with it – sometimes good, and as in this first instance, sometimes bad.

American Jews today tend to rely on others for their Jewish involvement; Hebrew School is supposed to teach the kids how to read Hebrew and about their Jewish heritage, the Rabbi and the cantor are supposed to inspire the congregation on the High Holidays. But the truth is that no one can take the responsibility for you and your family’s Jewish involvement – not Hebrew School, not the Rabbi and not the cantor.

We won’t always make the right choices; but when we take ownership of our Jewishness, there is more likelihood that we will be successful. Only then can we truly grow.

Don't look for #HiddenCash, look for #HiddenGood

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“4 by palms, 2 by ivy, 2 in bushes, 1 by (not in!) trash. 9 total.” This is a real hint provided by an anonymous Twitter user going by the moniker @hiddencash. Beginning in San Francisco, followed by trips to LA and San Diego, now heading back to San Francisco, this individual has Tweeted hints to where he has placed envelopes with cash.

In a short time he has amassed over 460,000 followers on Twitter and every clue that he leaves results in hundreds of people showing up to scour the area (just check out this picture, the result of a clue in Bakersfield).

So just to recap, someone is dropping clues and cash and hundreds of people are dropping whatever they’re in the middle of doing to search for the few dollars (usually around $100).

No one is getting rich off the deal but they’re willing to expend time and effort in pursuit of this hidden cash. There’s possibly a number of explanations but there is no rational reason, it’s not logical.

This is not a new phenomenon - by nurturing people's irrational desires people can be led in all types of illogical ways. In fact there's an example of this in this week's Torah Portion: After being saved from the torture of Egyptian slavery and being fed miraculous Mannah from heaven, the people complained - they wanted meat. It was an illogical complaint, it made no sense. However, they desired it and complained until they got what they wanted

What caused the people to complain? Their complaint was instigated by the "mixed multitude" - the strangers who joined the Jewish people when they left Egypt.

The takeaway? We can influence people around us in all types of ways - the important thing is to use our influence for adding in positive activity.

My suggestion? Instead of looking for #HiddenCash, look for #HiddenGood and influence those around you to transform the world by adding in goodness and kindness. 

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