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.

Take Your Time


You may not know this but the final minute of this month will have 61 seconds instead of 60. It’s called a Leap Second and yes, it’s really true - Google it. For most people it won’t make any difference and quite possibly this message is the extent to which it will affect you. But this discussion about the precision of time, and ability to alter it when necessary, got me thinking a little.

You see in Jewish teachings different times represent different approaches to life: The days of the week are a unit in time that are constant; they represent aspects of life that cannot be changed, the consistency and predictability of life.

Months in Judaism represent change. The very word for month, Chodesh, comes from the same root as Chidush, something new or innovative.

It’s important to remember that there are things in life that are beyond our ability to control or change, and we need to accept that. But there are also things in life that are within our purview to change - those things may take effort and may be difficult but it’s important we recognize our ability to make those changes - and actually do what needs to be done in order to make those changes.

On a mystical level these two aspects of life represent the physical, limited reality that we inhabit and the unrestricted G-dly energy that is beyond the physical reality. But unlike the abovementioned, these two dimensions of reality can and should complement each other. Not only that - our entire purpose is to do just that, to unite them.

Usually we are more aware of the physical reality that we inhabit. However, our job is to connect to the dimension of G-dliness that is beyond the limitations of this physical reality. Our job is to ensure that G-dliness permeate this physical world.

When we make it a point to notice the miraculous and wondrous events in our life, when we take time to daven (pray) and with each mitzvah we fulfill, we uncover and reveal the G-dly reality.

So whether or not this months leap second affects you, take a moment and consider the many lessons associated with time and how your time can be better used.

Who Is Greater?


“Who is greater - the Rebbe or Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses)?”

This question was once posed to a chassid by a non Chassidic friend. Knowing how much the Chassidim venerate their Rebbe, he tried to corner his Chassidic friend with this question.

The Chassid replied, “The Rebbe, of course.” And then he explained, “Were it not for the Rebbe, I wouldn’t know about Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses).”

This anecdote is especially true today, only thousands of times more so.

Almost every Jew alive today has somehow been touched by the Rebbe and his Chabad emissaries. And for many Jews today their entire connection to their heritage is due to the Rebbe’s guidance and influence.

Tomorrow marks 21 years since the physical presence of the Rebbe was no longer apparent. The passing of an individual is always difficult and in the Rebbe’s case compounded thousands of times. As painful and difficult that it is, we have to continue to share the ideas and ideals that the Rebbe lived and taught.

The truth is that if influence and inspiration is any measure of a person’s life, the Rebbe is very much alive today. Each of his emissaries in all corners of the world, and every single individual who - due to the Rebbe’s guidance - makes positive changes in their life, continue the Rebbe’s life and mission.

Yesterday we woke up to terrible news of a hate crime and senseless murder in South Carolina. Occasions like this are extremely painful and difficult but have to spur us to increase in positivity. The Rebbe’s attitude in this type of case would be to point out the extent of the havoc and harm one deranged and hateful individual can cause. This should serve as a reminder how much each and every individual can accomplish when they make an effort to spread goodness and kindness.

This Shabbat is an extremely important one, not only for Chabad, but for the entire world. Mark this auspicious date by learning more about the Rebbe and his teachings, participating in an extra Torah study session or Davenning (prayer) and make a positive resolution to continue taking one step at a time in the right direction.


It's OK to fake it!


You may have seen this story today about a woman who heads the NAACP chapter in Spokane, WA and claims to be African American, while in truth she was born in Montana to Caucasian parents of German and Czech descent.

True or not, it’s a strange story but I think there’s an important lesson that can be learnt from it.

While it’s not a good idea to misrepresent yourself in areas like your lineage (or for that matter experience, training or education), sometimes it is good to act different than you feel: Smile and act happy (even when you don’t feel it); project confidence (even if you don’t feel as confident as you would like) and act kind to others (even when you don’t feel like it). An amazing thing will happen, you will suddenly realize that you are actually happier or more confident or more kind. Our behavior doesn’t only influence others, it influences us too.

This works the other way too - act unhappy, project unconfidence and be judgemental towards others and suddenly you will find yourself actually feeling unhappy or unconfident or judgemental.

This discussion is also reflected in this week’s Torah portion, the bulk of which discusses the layered and profound narrative of the spies that Moshe sent to report about the land of Israel and the subsequent rebellion of ten of them. One important detail is how the rebellious spies described the way they were viewed by the inhabitants of the land, as grasshoppers. They said, “We perceived ourselves as grasshoppers and so we appeared in their eyes”.

This is important - what caused them to appear as grasshoppers to the inhabitants of the land? Their perception of themselves as such. They felt self conscious and weak compared to the mighty nations they encountered, therefore they were viewed this way too.

Many people tell me that if they lived in LA or New York they would be so much more observant; they would keep kosher and Shabbat and celebrate the way Jews do all over the world. But here…? All my kids' friends have birthday parties on Shabbat; how will I meet business associates for lunch?

If we take pride and have confidence in our rich and illustrious heritage, those with whom we come in contact will respect our commitment. If we treat our Jewishness with disregard, how can we expect others (and for that matter our children) to treat it any better?

The fact is that we live in a blessed country that values personal commitments to faith and respects those who are committed to their heritage. Let’s commit to further strengthening our Jewish involvement with pride!

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