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.

Divinity in Discipline


One question that I get asked more often than others is about restrictions: Why so many?

There’s restrictions on what we can eat and when we can eat it; there’s restrictions on what we look at and what we touch; and then there’s Shabbat - in some people’s perception the entire day is about restrictions.

What’s with all the limitations? What happened to a bit of freedom?

It’s easy to wonder, when Hashem told the forefathers that they’re descendants were to be the Chosen People, did they get to read the fine print? Did they know that being the Chosen People came with a long list of confining stipulations??

It sounds like a difficult question to answer. Thr reality is that the opposite is true: it’s difficult to rationalize a life that is not guided with specific constraints. To achieve success in any area of life requires devotion, dedication and yes, lots of discipline (i.e. restrictions).

Take Shabbat, sounds like a long list of restrictions? Yes, but that allows us to create rejuvenating and sacred space in our life that is not distracted and diluted by the noise of the rest of the world.

Kosher is limiting? We can’t eat at so many restaurants? True. And this helps us remain focused on the actual purpose of eating food, to fuel our doing good. Much more elevated and free than the Epicurean model where we are essentially led by our food and jot our mind.

The examples abound but the point is the same; In reality, the restrictions themselves are the most freeing aspects of our lives.

There’s a great parable of a young bird that was frustrated by the large and heavy growths that weighed it down. Until it discovered that they were wings that enabled it to fly. I encourage you to explore and discover how all the restrictions in the Torah are actually the most freeing guidelines.

Come fly with us! Isn't it time you learned to fly too?

One more thing: The mechitza, the partition between genders in the synagogue, is a pet peeve of so many yet it too is a reflection of the above theme. The restriction of the partition creates the space for each of us to freely and deeply connect with G-d, sans the distraction.

Whose potential?


Yesterday I ate lunch with two rabbis from Sweden (one from Stockholm and the other from Malmo), another two from England, one from Israel and a few more from various corners of the US. You may have guessed it - I’m in Brooklyn, New York attending the annual International Conference of Chabad Emissaries.

This is the once a year where we take off a few days to reflect on our achievements over the past 12 months, and more importantly share with, and learn from, our colleagues from around the world.

But I’ll be honest with you - it’s so easy to end up feeling a little inadequate. One colleague has 174 people joining his latest JLI course (we have 16 enrolled in Folsom); another colleague has successfully structured a robust planned giving initiative that will ensure that their local Chabad will be well funded for the long term (let’s just say that our website is up, but that’s the extent of it right now); yet another was explaining how the teen club that they run is so well attended (we’ve just begun planning our kick off event) - it’s easy to feel less able.

Here’s the thing: It’s much easier to feel bad about not being able to match up to others, rather than to celebrate another’s success.

Once I’m sharing such deep, dark secrets I will also share with you how I overcome the possible negative reaction and ensure that instead of resenting a colleague's success, I can actually be inspired and motivated by it.

But first I have to share with you a general thought (that I actually discussed on this past Tuesday’s Ten MInutes of Torah call). We’re currently studying the first book of the Torah. Each week we study about our forefathers and their complete and sincere dedication to Hashem.

Studying about the greatness of Abraham and his willingness to do whatever it was that Hashem asked or about the trials he faced without once questioning, it’s easy to think “How is this relevant?” I mean, how many of us are as spiritually accomplished as our forefathers? Is it encouraging to study about their service of Hashem or maybe it will actually cause a negative response, leaving us feeling utterly inadequate?

The truth is that although we may not be able to replicate their service of Hashem, we can and absolutely must incorporate the guidance of our forefathers in our daily life. Abraham enthusiastically served Hashem, we must too. Abraham faced down the obstacles that were strewn in his path - that too is something we are all able to accomplish.

The specifics are dependant on many external circumstances but the idea remains true.

So when I hear about a colleague who has 174 people registered for his latest course, I’m excited for him and I ask what he had done to draw unaffiliated Jews to his class; when I learn about another’s accomplishments I don’t resent them, I learn from them.

We are not expected to match another’s accomplishments, we are expected to live up to our own potential. That’s what I strive to achieve and I encourage you to do so too.

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