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.

What Can I Do?

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As I wrote last week, the miracles that are taking place in Israel now are absolutely mindboggling! I highlighted a few specific events last week and there are continual amazing miraculous reports: rockets landing in places that only seconds before people had been standing; rockets landing next to gas canisters and not exploding and so many more! Painfully, this week we saw the first Israeli casualties, but even so, we still recognize how many more casualties there could be in these sort of events.

Yesterday, after over a week of airstrikes, Israeli troops finally entered the Gaza Strip to take the battle to the terrorists by ground as well.

The question everyone is asking is what can I do to help? I live overseas and I don’t have the ability to enlist and fight, what can I do? Am I merely relegated to obsessively checking news updates?

There are, in fact, many things that we can do - now and continually - to assist our brothers and sister in the Holy Land. Here are but a few ideas:

Strengthen awareness; your awareness that is. By that I mean take the time to understand our true, historical and eternal connection to the land. Our primary connection to the land, the Title Deed if you will, is the Torah. It’s not the Balfour Declaration or the UN Partition Plan, it’s not even the Israeli Declaration of Independance. Without the Torah establishing our eternal right to the land, we would never have a claim to begin with. A legal document drafted by a few individuals and accepted by a small percentage of the world is hardly a firm footing from which to establish our right to the land.

Foster connections; Mitzvot are direct connections to G-d. We Jews are responsible for one another in every sense; when one of us steps out of line, we’re all held at fault. So too, when we do a mitzvah, we benefit not only ourselves but also our brethren around the world, and especially in the Land of Israel.

Wrapping tefillin is a powerful defense against the enemy and lighting Shabbat Candles spreads goodness and holiness in the world. (Men - if you haven’t yet put on tefillin, please do so today and if you need help, reply to this email and I’ll meet up with you somewhere to “do the wrap.” Women - even if you don’t do so weekly, please light Shabbat Candles tonight, click here for the time and blessings).

Spread the word - not only on Facebook. While sharing unbiased facts about the nature of the terrorists that we are fighting is good and commenting to protest the unfair coverage of much of the news media is perhaps noble, nothing can be more effective than actually speaking with your friends and family. I still get surprised when I hear from people, that are ostensibly “on our side,” saying things like “Israel should end the occupation” and the like. These comments come from a profound lack of information regarding our claim to the Holy Land. So go ahead and spread the word, once you’ve strengthened your own awareness and fostered your own connections. Go out and help another strengthen their awareness and help them foster their connections.

Looking forward to hearing good news! 

Allow yourself to get excited!

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“Only our bodies were sent into exile and subjugated to alien rule; our souls were not given over into captivity and foreign rule.”

This was the message shared by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (my namesake) as he boarded the train. The Rebbe had been arrested a few weeks prior by the Yevsektsiya, the Jewish division of the GPU (the predecessor of the KGB in Soviet Russia). He had been arrested and tortured for the “crime” of strengthening Jewish observance in communist Russia. (Today, the 13th of Tammuz, marks the day that he was finally released).

Although his life was still in danger, and his audience included many communist guards and spies, he communicated this message of encouragement to all who had gathered to greet him and wish him well.

In simple words the message is: We are free to live as we wish as Jews and need not be influenced by those around us.

Then, the intimidation was very real and tangible - you could be imprisoned or killed for the slightest supposed infraction. Today it’s less of a threat and more of a silent intimidation.

And in truth, it’s mostly self imposed.

There is no reason to be unsure of ourselves when it comes to Jewish observance, there is no reason to be uncomfortable with keeping kosher or shabbat. On the contrary, in America today people with deeply held convictions and standards are respected, and even envied.

But this is all about external barriers. We can overcome them and we should, but they do take some effort. The bigger concern is the blinders we place upon ourselves. We refuse to allow ourselves to get excited about something “holy” - does the word itself make you uncomfortable?

“Our souls were not given over into captivity and foreign rule.”

If we choose to “open our eyes” and allow ourselves to “see,” there are amazing things happening in each of our lives on a daily basis. I encourage you to allow yourself to get excited about them - recognize the great miracles in your daily life and celebrate them!

But nature has a way of covering things up - if we’d see a dead body come to life we may recognize a miracle, but we’re so used to seeing living people continue to live that we take it for granted.

Occasionally though, G-d pulls away the curtain a little and allows us a glimpse of the true reality. G-d occasionally shows us miracles to help us perceive the true nature of this world. And if we choose, we can literally see the miracles taking place.

But we have to choose to see.

Case in point - the events of the past week in Israel. We look at the news and we notice the terrible situation - and don’t get me wrong, it is not good. However, if we choose to tune in, we can see the amazing miracles taking place. Here are but a few:

1) First and foremost: Despite being attacked by hundreds of deadly rockets, over 500 just in the last three days, as of this writing there have been minimal casualties. (Please pray for Mordechai Chai ben Bracha Yehudit who was injured in an attack).

Contrary to the way this is portrayed in the media, these rockets are extremely powerful and deadly (click here to see video of a rocket landing in Sderot). By way of comparison, just this morning it was reported that pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine fired a Grad missile (similar to the rockets used by the Hamas terrorists) at a Ukrainian army base killing up to 30 soldiers.

2) The other day a missile landed a few feet from an apartment building; a few feet over and the building, with all the people inside, could have been destroyed.

3) Yesterday a missile scored a direct hit on a gas station in Ashdod. There were lots of people in line to fill up and there was a gas tanker refueling the station. Miraculously, the rocket didn’t hit any people and the gas lines and the tanker did not explode - there was only property damage and no casualties (three people were lightly injured).

And there are many, many more!

“Our souls were not given over into captivity and foreign rule.”

Allow your soul to get excited by these miracles. A miracle is G-d’s way of raising us up to have a higher spiritual appreciation. In fact, the Hebrew words for miracle (נס - ness), means to raise up.

Allow yourself to be raised up.

And then, do something about it. G-d is reaching out to us, respond by reaching out to Him. Do an extra mitzvah. Today, stop by Chabad to put on tefillin or study some Torah online. Tonight, turn Friday night into shabbat by lighting shabbat candles and tomorrow join us for the Shabbat morning services beginning at 9:30 with Torah study and continuing from 10-11:30 with tefillah).

Allow your soul to express itself, you’ll be truly happy that you did.

May we have peace in Israel and in the entire world!


why.jpg This past week brought such terrible news; words do not do justice to the pain that the families must be enduring.

It’s only natural to turn to G-d and ask “why”? Why do such terrible things have to happen? Why must we suffer? Why?

And there is no answer. There is no legitimate explanation; rationalizing another person’s suffering is misplaced and downright callous.

We are privy to a mere snapshot of existence, a small blip in the grand scheme of things. Our ability to understand is on par with the backwater tribesman’s ability to understand his first visit to the hospital operating theatre. To him, the lifesaving operation looks like a heinous crime; a group of masked individuals sadistically butchering a helpless person. To this person, coming from his background - with his lack of context – it looks like the opposite of what is actually taking place.

Perhaps it is a blessing that we don’t understand everything? If we understood why bad things happen it would rob us of the ability to empathize and share the pain.

One thing is certain, while we can’t control what happens and we don’t understand why it happens, we can control our response. The response to the tragic murder of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali has been a global outpouring of love and unity. Let us make sure that our personal response to this negative event be one of adding in goodness and kindness.

Don’t just read this – take a minute and think of a person that you have lost touch with, think of a person who could use a call or a visit. Do an extra mitzvah in memory of these young Yeshiva students, taken from us before their time.

May we share good news!

PS. This is worth your time – please take a few minutes and read this account of one Rabbi’s trip to Israel to comfort the families whose son’s were murdered. It’s worth the few minutes! 

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