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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.

You CAN share this in polite company

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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

They say never discuss religion or politics with family; I think we need to actually add another “untouchable”: Apple vs. Android. Many people are uncomfortable speaking about things that, although truly important to them, they feel may not be "politically correct" to share.

This week's Torah portion, however, advances a strong case for sharing the greatness that you experience. It speaks about the final stage of the Exodus, the miracle of the Splitting of the Reed Sea. But it doesn't just mention it, the Torah records how the Jewish people, led by Moshe, sang songs of thanksgiving for this miracle. In addition to recognizing G-d's miracles it also served to publicize them.

Chassidic thought teaches that a primary purpose in life is to reveal the G-dliness within the physical reality. This is accomplished primarily through fulfilling the Mitzvot and recognizing G-d's existence in the world.

When we see something, we should say something. When we marvel at the beauty of G-d's creations or experience miraculous events, we shouldn't keep it to ourself, rather we should share it with others.

I'm not advocating changing Judaism into a proselytizing religion, but I do think it's integral that we ensure that we are knowledgeable and confident enough to be able to share it. After all, we have a responsibility to share it with our children and raise them to be knowledgeable and engaged Jews. And when our non Jewish friends or coworkers ask us why we do this or why we don't believe that,it wouldn’t hurt to be able to answer properly (not just saying that's the way we do it).

The very first step is to study and be knowledgeable. Get started now, there's no time like the present.

 

Let go and let G-d!

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A new month began this past Wednesday. We are still January but we began the Jewish month of Shevat. On the Chabad calendar it has much significance as it is the month in which the Rebbe began his leadership of the Chabad movement. We also commemorate the passing of the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.

The Hebrew letters that make up the word Shevat are also an acronym for the words "Shenishmah Besurot Tovot," which mean - "May we hear good news." Always a fitting prayer but especially so, given the recent bad news out of France, Israel, and Nigeria.

However, I'd prefer to alter the acronym slightly, as this one is too passive; we're waiting, patiently, to hear good news. I'd prefer it to read "Shepo’el Besurot Tovot," "May we create good news."

Events around the world are beyond our control, but how we react to them is within our control. But let's bring this a little closer to home. You wake up in the morning and promptly stub your toe - do you shout and curse at your bed? Or do you (after initially crying out in pain) thank G-d for having a comfortable bed to stub your toe on?

You head to the kitchen and brew yourself a fresh cup of coffee, only to spill it on your freshly pressed shirt - do you get angry at the coffee maker for spilling on you? Or do you appreciate the amazing blessing to be able to dress in fresh clothes (and even have a new shirt to change into)?

You get to work and realize that you left your laptop with all the important files you were working on for your 9am meeting at home. Do you blame your spouse who moved your laptop, causing you to forget it? Or do you recognize how much you value the fact that you have a job and a spouse?

We all have a tendency to see the one black dot on a white sheet of paper, to complain about a tiny bump in an amazingly blessed life. This month let's pledge to "create good news" by choosing to only focus on the good in every situation.

However - and here comes the big question - what if our challenges are not trivial matters like stubbing toes and spilling coffee? What if we're dealing with serious challenges? What if someone dear is very ill? Or we lose our job and have no income to support our self? It's much harder to focus on the good in those situations!

True. For these types of challenges we need to turn to this week's Torah portion for guidance and inspiration. The goods news is that we don't have to look too far. The very first words of the Torah portion enlighten us.

The narrative of the Exodus began last week and this week we continue with Moses being instructed by G-d to go to Pharaoh and warn him regarding the eighth plague. The strange thing is that when we look at the Hebrew, we discover that G-d doesn't actually say, "Go to Pharaoh," rather He says, "Come to Pharaoh."

You see, Moses was nervous about the powerful negative forces that he perceived in Pharaoh - maybe this meeting with Pharaoh will produce more harm than good? To allay his concerns G-d tells him, "Come." Moses, you're not in this alone. I, G-d, will be with you every step of the way.

Notice that G-d doesn't tell Moses, don't worry it will all be fine. G-d simply points out to Moses that he is not alone, G-d Himself is accompanying Moses and supporting him.

Whether in the simpler challenges we face (like spilling coffee), or the more difficult ones (like serious illness), we need to remember that we are not facing it alone. G-d is with us and supporting us.

We can therefore choose; either we can passively wait for good news to come our way - and complain righteously if it doesn't. Or we can actively create good news by reminding our self to focus on the blessing.

On all things, big or small, we've got to "let go and let G-d." Trust me, no matter how big our problem may be, G-d CAN handle it too.

Internet, Abraham and Me

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Do you remember when the internet was just a gleam in some tech geek's eyes? I remember using the internet in it's early publicly available form; limited access, no graphics and email to fax (because most people didn't have email addresses).

What was your reaction when you heard about this outlandish idea to sell things over the internet? I remember people saying how these types of businesses will not be able to be commercially viable, there's not enough consumers using the internet, people want to touch items before purchasing etc.

And today? Almost everything we interact with on a daily basis is connected to the internet. You can buy almost anything online and most of us use the internet as our primary method of communication.

And it's not over, the internet is continuing to grow and it is continuing to get into areas of our life that we couldn't have imagined even 2 years ago. Soon it will be affecting our life in areas that we cannot fathom today, no matter how technologically savvy we may be.

Here's the thing; although our internet today doesn't resemble the early stages of it's development, by the Department of Defense in the 1960s, there is a direct connection between what we use to view pictures of our friends and relatives and send email to the very first message transmitted from a lab in UCLA to the Stanford Research Institute.

However, for the internet to be able to proliferate the way it has, there is an integral key component needed. And that is you and I, consumers who are willing to change the way they do things and adopt this new technology. Today the internet is everywhere, and this is thanks to all those scientists and engineers who developed it over the years, but it's adoption as a primary form of communication and commerce is only thanks to us, those who use the internet.

Here’s an interesting parallel to this week’s Torah portion: When reaching out to Moses, G-d reminds him about the contribution of the forefathers and the promises G-d made to them. But then G-d emphasizes that only the Jewish people, by receiving the Torah and entering the Land of Israel, will merit to experience the ultimate G-dly revelation.

Which begs the question - why focus on the contribution of the forefathers when our contribution is so much greater?

Just like the internet, our usage today far surpases that of the 1960's, 70's, 80's and 90's put together, still had it not been for the earlier stages of development we wouldn't have the internet in it's current form. So too, without the initial contribution of our forefathers, the Jewish people would never have been able to receive the Torah and enter the land.

This idea extends to us too. We know that in the time of Moshiach, G-dliness will be revealed in a much greater way than today. One could think that our work today, living as Jews, studying Torah and fulfilling Mitzvot, is less important - after all, we don't see and appreciate the G-dly revelation that it causes.

The truth is that our Mitzvot today directly affect the G-dly revelation at the time of Moshiach. Just as the forefathers were an integral piece to the ability for the Jewish people to leave Egypt and receive the Torah, so too our choices today directly affect the revelation of G-d and our experience in the time of Moshiach.

#JeSuisJuif?

jesuisjuif.jpgMuch has been written about the Charlie Hebdo attack in France with many people expressing solidarity by using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (this author raises a good point).

Today, the news out France is perhaps more disturbing: an attack on a Jewish grocery store during the busiest time of the week. Will we see an outpouring of support or are Jewish targets legitimate?

#JeSuisJuif? Again, a hashtag is NOT enough.

Tonight, for the first time since the Holocaust, Synagogues in Paris are not open for services. Demonstrate your solidarity with our brothers and sisters in France by participating in Shabbat services tomorrow morning. Join us at 9:30am for Torah Study and 10am for Shabbat morning services. 

#JeSuisJuif. 

Is a #hashtag enough?

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Unfortunately, we’ve recently seen too many news reports about terrorist attacks. It has come to the point that we’re almost not surprised by the news… What's different about the news out of Paris this week is that this was not a random attack; it was a premeditated and well planned assault, on a pre determined target. These terrorists were well trained, well armed and knew exactly what they were trying to do.

How do we respond to terrorist attacks? I don’t mean politically, that’s an entirely separate discussion. We all have opinions on the matter but few of us have the influence to implement our ideas, however correct they be.

Focusing on the political side of the story is a distraction. It distracts us from responding in ways that we truly have the ability and influence to achieve.

Usually I encourage people to respond to random acts of hatred by engaging in random acts of kindness. Terrorists are aptly named because they usually aim to create terror; their goal is not about the strategic impact of their actions. They aim to strike fear in their enemies; to cause people to be afraid to live their lives normally.

And the correct way to respond to such terror is to engage in random acts of kindness.

But this week we saw a different kind of terrorist attack. It’s goal was to silence an opponent. The events this week at the Charlie Hebdo offices were targeted killings, specific people who were targeted by these terrorists.

This type of terror needs a different response. It’s not enough to increase random acts of kindness; we need to increase in planned acts of kindness.

Random acts of goodness and kindness are beautiful, they have a positive effect on all those involved. They tend to create a ripple effect of kindness, spreading the positivity to more and more people. However, they are random and unreliable, dependant on our mood or schedule or whatever else is happening in our life at the time.

We need to engage in deliberate, planned and targeted acts of goodness and kindness. We need to spend some time to think about the people in our life who could use our help. Someone struggling to get by. It could be financially, it could be emotionally; maybe they are in a strained relationship or just suffered a terrible loss. Too often we tend to find excuses why we can’t help, we’ll offer lip service to their challenges and go on with our life. After all, we have enough problems of our own to deal with.

We only came to know about this terrible attack in Paris in order to learn from it. Let’s use it as the impetus to begin to engage (or increase) in deliberate and planned acts of goodness and kindness.

May we share good news.

Goldie's Grandfather: Rabbi Dovid Edelman OBM

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It with sadness that I share with you the unfortunate news that Goldie’s grandfather, Rabbi Dovid Edelman of Springfield, MA, passed away this morning. He was 90 years old.

Rabbi Edelman was a true chassid in every sense of the word; a loving, caring and warm person who only had positive things to say about anyone.

Rabbi Edelman was the eldest Chabad representative, having served in this capacity for over 70 years. After short stints in various cities across the East Coast, Rabbi Edelman, and his wife Leah (may she live and be well) were sent to Springfield, MA to open a Torah-true Jewish school.

Building a brand new Jewish school is no easy task. In fact, at first he would literally stand on street corners holding a handmade sign announcing the opening of the new school. Over the years the school has grown and today it is a well established school with an excellent reputation that draws students from as far as over an hour away.

He was the proud father of 8; his grandchildren and great-grandchildren number over 250.

His unfailing positive attitude stands out from all his positive characteristics. Undoubtedly, this, more than anything else, brought thousands of Jews closer to Judaism.

The board of the school was once complaining about the landscaping in front of the building, it had been unattended for too long and needed to be maintained. One board member suggested that they discuss the matter with Rabbi Edelman. Another member of the board, a close friend of Rabbi Edelman said,  "To the Rabbi there is no need to talk because he does not see the weeds."

Truly it was through this positive lense that he saw the world; he never saw weeds, he only saw the flowers. No matter who, he always had something positive to say about a person or situation. When the good was hidden he found a way to bring it out,  focus on it and live with it.

May his memory be for blessing and continue to provide inspiration to all.

Click here to read more about Rabbi Edelman and to watch an amazing video where he discusses his life and engaging in acts of goodness and kindness.

Resolutions vs. Reality

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It is entirely possible that by now your optimistic New Years resolutions have met harsh reality. Although not the Jewish New Year, January 1st is recognized my billions of people around the world as a milestone, a new beginning. And if it motivates us to make positive changes, that can't be a bad thing.

But what to do when the plans go awry? How do we still hold our head high when we feel like a failure?

Sounds like a big question but it's not. It's a simple question with a simple answer: How do we avoid feeling like a failure when we are not successful? We don't feel like a failure. Make sure not to feel like a failure and you won't be one.

What does that mean? Don't feel like a failure and you won't be one. Nice. Semantics are always fun but they don't really solve the problem.

Read the rest of this email because today I am sharing with you a true secret that will lead you to happiness. To introduce the idea I have to share with you something related to this week's Torah portion. In the Torah portion this week we learn about the passing of our father Jacob, the third of the forefathers of the Jewish people. Although his name was Jacob, he was also known by another name, Israel. (Yes, that's where the name of the country comes from too).

He wasn't given that name at his brit, the name was given to him by an angel. Yes, an angel - with whom Jacob had wrestled. Yes, Jacob and the angel of Esau wrestled all night - with neither one prevailing. When dawn broke the angel wanted to leave but Jacob refused to let it go until it blessed him. That's when he was given the name Israel.

In our lives too we face challenges, wrestling matches if you will; we don't always come out on top but we must always get a blessing. Every experience - even negative ones - can provide blessings in our life. If we allow ourselves to learn and grow from every experience we will never view ourselves as failures, rather we'll see ourselves as we truly are: blessed.

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