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Musings and Schmoozings

Musings and Schmoozings

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'Let There Be Headlights'

 Harry is on his hands and knees looking for something under a street-lamp.
“What are you looking for?” asked his wife Sadie.
“I lost my wallet.”
“Where’d you lose it?
“Back there”, motioned Harry pointing behind him.
“Then why are you looking here?!” asked his annoyed wife.
“Because there is light over here!”
 

**** 

"LET THERE BE HEADLIGHTS" 

My heart skipped a beat—I felt a bit queasy. My wife’s engagement ring was lost.

It was February, 2002, and my wife of six months and I were on our ‘honeymoon’—a ski trip we’d arranged for 14 local Jewish Teenage girls. During the drive, my wife’s ring had slipped off her finger and fallen to the floor of the van, near the passenger door.

“No matter what, don’t open the door!” I recall Miriam saying.

After dropping off the girls at their accomodations, we headed off to Chabad of Reno for the night, when the realization suddenly hit me. I had forgotten about the ring and I’d opened the passenger door…

Scrambling, we looked all over the van, but we couldn’t find it. It was lying somewhere, anywhere—in a vast, dark, frigid parking lot.

Doubling back, we pulled into the parking lot, the big van lurching as we pulled into the apartment complex--the darkness illuminated only by the van's headlights. Miraculously, a tiny spark of light glinted in the darkness, we'd found the ring. All it took was a beacon of light.

In this week’s Parsha, we read about Avraham’s dedication to G-d. We read about Abraham’s circumcision, about his unsuccessful defense of the city of Sodom, and about his total commitment which extended to his willingness to offer his only son to G-d.

Remarkable. Yet there is something even more amazing—the fact that Avraham did this against the backdrop of a society which was totally ‘in the dark’ about G-d.  Echad Haya Avraham – he was alone.

The Chassidic masters describe the world as having sparks of The Divine concealed within it. It is our job -- by doing Mitzvot-- to find these spark and reconnect them with G-d. Working in a dark landscape, Avraham forged ahead, focusing a steady ray of light -- thus illuminating both his world and ours. 

When we focus on the darkness that surrounds us, we are easily overwhelmed. A good set of headlights will help us find the Divine Diamonds we seek.  

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht 

Condemned!

Memories… Sukkot conjures up some very special ones.

As a child of 6, my family moved to suburban West Hartford, CT--a small and quiet town. Abba, a no-nonsense practical guy, decided to build a sturdy Sukkah, strong enough to withstand the Nor’easters that tend to start up this time of year. OSB panels on 2”x 4”, our sukkah wasn’t going anywhere. Not even Hurricane Gloria in 1986 could move Abba’s Sukkah.

First month in our new house, our Sukkah stood proudly in our driveway, right alongside our kitchen. Erev (the day before) Sukkot, we arrived home to discover huge orange placards stapled all over our sukkah, screaming out in huge letters:

STOP WORK ORDER. THIS BUILDING IS CONDEMNED By the order of the West Hartford Building Department.  

A (Jewish) neighbor, offended by the temerity and chutzpa of a Sukkah invasion into Suburbia, complained to the city, and a stop-work order was placed. A hearing was set on the intermediate days of the holiday.

The resolution – a classic. We were given 7 days to take it down!

While the story has a humorous ending…the story didn’t end there. The orange ink ran in the rain and the walls were permanently stained—a permanent reminder of the story.   

Our sages tell us that Sukkot is a lesson on the fact that while we attempt to build ourselves Ivory Towers -- once a year we do something a little… MESHUGA--a little crazy. When the weather is starting to turn cold and nippy, we hit the outdoors in our flimsy shade structure.

A week out in the elements teaches us that the roof that truly protects us is G-d’s loving embrace. The sukkah reminds us to have faith, but the orange stains on the Sukkah of my childhood – had a further lesson. 

To me, those bold orange blotches were a permanent lesson in Jewish Pride, and for the need, at times, for a little chutzpa. When needed, divine (and civic) justice will rule in your favor--and forever provide a good chuckle.

Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

 

Mulligan

 

In honor of a dear friend Erez A. --a devotee to Judaism and…Golf.

***
It was the morning of Yom Kippur and Harold should have been in synagogue, but instead, he decided to catch a quick round of 18 at the local golf course. Standing at the Tee on 18th Hole, Harold takes a shot, and to his shock--he aces it. A hole-in-one!

The angels challenge G-d. “Is this justice? Why reward Harold with a miracle shot? He should have been in Shul on this Holy Day! He should be punished, not rewarded!

Then a heavenly voice rings out. “Indeed. And whom…can he tell?!”

*** 

Golf.

A gentleman’s game of hitting tiny balls–only to chase after them and hit them again. When the ball finally reaches the hole–400 yards and several strokes later–the players line up and do it all over again.

All it takes to ruin a good round of golf is one misplaced shot. A few degrees off, and the ball rests not on the green–but hopelessly embedded in a sand-trap or in the rough. One bad shot, and one’s score card ‘is cooked’ for that round of golf.

And that is where the Mulligan comes into play.

As Wikipedia says succinctly: Mulligan: [Wikipedia] A stroke that is replayed from the spot… without penalty, due to an errant shot made on the previous stroke. The result is… as if the first errant shot had never been made.

Life is Like a Round of Golf

As we approach Rosh Hashana, we observe the errant shots that we have sprayed left and right, way off the fairway. Lying in the rough, sand-traps, and perhaps, even in the living-room of the unfortunate fellow who lives near the golf course–our errant ‘shots of life’ are way off-course.

In life, as on the Golf course, we are given the opportunity for a ‘do-over’. Like our genteel company on the course, G-d will graciously afford you a chance to fix your mistake “as if the first errant shot had never been made.” But you need to ask.

Tshvua --our Mulligan

Our Mulligan is the gift of Tshuva, repentance. As we say throughout the Liturgy on Rosh Hashana, G-d doesn’t desire the punishment of the wicked “But the returning of the wayward”.

As we take stock and prepare for the coming Rosh Hashana, don’t give up hope. Pick your ball up from wherever is landed. Put it back on the Tee, and start again fresh.

G-d, I’m asking for a Mulligan.

Fore!  

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

Mozhish Da. Nye' Chotshish!

The News N’ Schmooze is just over a year old now.

For the past 52+ weeks, I’ve sat down at my computer, pondering --“What can I write about this week?” Invariably, something will come to mind. Either something in the the news or something that I observed -- framed by a Torah inspired lesson. 

To be honest, this week I’m struggling with what to write. I guess I could regale you with the still unfolding story of my box of 100 uncut shofars mysteriously sucked into oblivion, presumably littering some UPS warehouse in Oakland. But in truth – I have nothing POSITIVE to share about that story.

(Although, if the lesson is patience...I'm failing miserably) 

***

The Birthday of the Baal Shem Tov 

This Shabbat, the 18 of Elul, marks the Birthday of the Baal Shem Tov (as well as the Birthday of the Alter Rebbe, the First Rebbe of Chabad).

An early 18th century scholar and mystic, Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem was known for founding of the Chassidic movement. He restored Love of Fellow Man and Love of G-d to the cold, elitist, Jewish establishment that he encountered. He imparted warmth and life in Judaism. In addition, he restored the values of sincerity and emotional engagement to Jewish life.

One of the more famous sayings of the Ba’al Shem Tov, is that everything that one observes in life, must be used as a lesson in one's service of G-d. See something? LEARN something!

An example of this credo, is found is the famous story told about the Baal Shem Tov: He was once in the synagogue giving a class, and a gentile coachman knocked on the door. Covered in mud, the coachman was seeking someone to help out with a broken wheel on the fellow's wagon. The Baal Shem Tov, in the middle of his Torah lecture, deferred and said in Ukranian, “Nye Mozhish—I can’t”

The frustrated coachman’s bitter reply startled the assembled crowd, "Mozhish Da. Nye’ Chotchish!"

You can--but you don’t want to!

The Baal Shem Tov turned to his students, and true to his motto – he explained the lesson to be learned by the coachman's retort. How many times do we protest that we are unable to do something? How many times do we defer responsibility and avoid our divine service with the cry of Nye Mozhish? It’s Impossible! The  Baal Shem Tov said that we must always remember – We CAN, but we don’t want to.

***

In light of the Baal Shem Tov's teaching to look towards life for guidance and inspiration, in the weekly 'News and Schmooze', I try to look for the lessons behind the banality of life.   

So what lesson can I learn from my UPS fiasco? I’m still working on it, and still don't know... 

However… it’s gotten me thinking.

Shabbat Shalom,

Confessions of a Failed Gardener

I confess -- I am a failed gardener. I admit it. 

In my past, I was fixated on creating a lush green vegetable garden overflowing with G-d’s bounty. I yearned to feel that special feeling of contentment, eating 'by the sweat of my brow'.  

But there was only one problem…DSC02701.JPG

Year after year, the aphids got my zucchini plants, disease got to my tomato plants, and fungi never quite allowed the melons to do anything other than disappoint. My wife kept reminding me that the stuff tasted better at the store – and I had to admit (secretly) that she was right!

But this only helped fuel my obsession to make next year’s garden successful. This will be the year of the ‘Vegetable Garden Messiah’. It was only because of my son Shmuli’s Bar Mitzva this past spring, that our family was spared the vegetable garden drama this year.

Alas – last week, I hit rock bottom. 

You know that pile of broken furniture that you hide from your visitors’ and guests’ view --while you are waiting for the extra garbage pick-up day? Oh, it’s only me?

Anyhow, this past Thursday, my son Shlomo excitedly announced that he found growing under THAT pile, a HEALTHY and LUSH ‘Tomato Plant’! Without my tender love and care and without being obsessively watered and tended to—a lush HEALTHY tomato plant had mysteriously erupted beneath the broken benches and random wooden backyard stuff.

And then it hit me. Hashem had managed to provide a healthly plant, where my best efforts for an impressive garden fell woefully short.

Perhaps there is a three-fold message here:

First of all -- never take out the garbage (Miriam--Just kidding!)

Secondly -- We need to know that despite our best efforts, it is Hashem that makes us successful. Even in our successful life-endeavors, give it up to the true Maestro, who coordinates the musical movements of life.

And lastly, in the mounds of the broken aspects of our lives--the past mistakes that we regret--Hashem can make lush garden patches grow forth. That is, so long as we allow Him to.

A little humble pie will certainly help this failed gardener…until next Spring!

Shabbat Shalom,

Uncle Mottel

Beitar, Israel, Spring of 1998.

I had stopped off in Israel for a week, on the way back to Sydney, Australia, where I was studying for my Rabbinical Ordination.  I had driven down from Kfar Habad in my rental car to visit my great-uncle Rabbi Mottel Altein, Shlit”a.  A Torah Scholar and Chassidic Giant–Uncle Mottel was the ‘real deal’.

As I sat down in their living room, Uncle Mottel leaned back on his chair and started the conversation by asking me, “Yisroelik – nu, so what are you learning for your Semicha [Rabbinical Ordination]…?”

“Um…Siman [Code] 97-110 – the Laws of Milk and Meat…” , and I then started proudly listing the commentaries that we were expected to master for our Semicha exams.

Leaning forward and with a smile–Uncle Mottel challenged me to do more. 

“Yisrolikel – that is what everyone ELSE is learning. But what are YOU learning?!

Ouch!

The Jewish Month of Elul, the final month of the year, has arrived. Its crisp evenings and shorter days, herald a time of self-reflection and introspection. With the upcoming Jewish New Year, it’s time to get serious and reconnect to G-d.

But we ask ourselves: Perhaps I have already maximized my ‘growth potential’? We already did this exercise last year! Can I do any better than what I already am doing? Perhaps when G-d looks at me it is WYSIWYG?

For me, my Uncle Mottel erased that thought, and refused to allow me to settle for less than what I was capable of. “Yisrolikel – you can do more!”

We all can do more, and so long as we are breathing – there is still more mountain left to climb.

G-d sees greatness in us, whether we see it ourselves or not. At this special moment of the year, it is time look at ourselves from Hashem’s perspective—instead of our own.

It’s Elul, let’s do some spiritual growing.

Shabbat Shalom,

"One Caramel Macchiato..."

 Many have set out to change the world. Wicked tyrants, wealthy tycoons, generous philanthropists—all people with big-time aspirations and who either swing a big stick or a mighty checkbook.  

However, the Rambam (Maimonides) takes another approach to the ‘Change the World’ idea. He writes, loosely translated : A person should always see the world as hanging in balance, with you–the individual, and your individual act, as having the power to change the World’s destiny to the ‘Good Side’.

Me…My mitzvah…Change the world?!

Talk about megalomania!

Which reminds me of a story told of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, who as a confident young Rabbi declared, “I’m going to change the world!”

Then he rethought, “The world is an awfully big place—that’s impossible!”

Setting a more reasonable goal, the Rabbi decided to merely change his country, only to realize that even that goal was impossible. Then he thought about changing his town, his neighborhood, and finally his own household--each time resigning himself to the fact that changing them was beyond the limits of his control.

Finally, the Rabbi came to the realization that all that was in his control was the ability to change was himself.

 “Aha!”, he exclaimed. “But if I change myself, then I may in fact influence my household, which may in fact change my neighborhood, and perhaps the town, the country…and one never knows—maybe the World.”

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was later famous for his teachings of Mussar, a system of ethical and moral conduct.

At 7am this past Wednesday morning, at a Starbucks in S. Petersburg, FL, a lady pulled up at the drive-thru window and asked to pay for a ‘caramel macchiato’ for the stranger in the car behind her. With this small kind act, a ‘pay it forward’ chain of 378 customers was started, which lasted until 6pm--as each person covered the drink of the customer behind them.

Perhaps all it takes to change the world is a couple of (Star) bucks, and a desire to share with others.

Now, let’s go change the world.

Jewish-Identity Theft

IS YOUR (JEWISH) ID SAFE?

“And it will be, because you have listened to my voice.”
If you will listen to my voice regarding the light (or simple) [mitzvot] that are trodden underfoot–then, “G-d will keep his promise…”
-- Deuteronomy, 7:12, Rashi ad loc in Italics

“Moshe was the most humble man on the face of the Earth” -- Bamidbar 12:3.
Moses prophetically saw the generation prior to the exile
[literally the generation of the Heels of Mashiach] and he was humbled.

--Likkutei Torah, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, First Chabad Rebbe

As usual, after the weekly Torah Studies class finished, we sat around shmoozing. The conversation turned to the hard realities of growing up Jewish in anti-semitic Soviet Russia.

One attendee clutched her Magen David proudly and said, “Growing up in Russia, I would always wear my Magen David. I never wanted anyone to make a mistake about who I really am…”

She could easily have passed for a gentile, yet she insisted that her Jewish Identity be clear to everyone--no matter the repercussions.

Another woman then told of her experience when she received her Russian passport. Soviet citizens would receive their passport at age 16, in which the holder’s nationality would be listed. Ethnic Russians (and ‘lucky’ Jews) were listed as Russki or Ruskaya –while Jewish citizens were listed as Yevrey, or Yevreyiskaya. The Russkaya stamp entitled the holder to ease of employment and academic access. Yevreyiskaya?–A permanent mark of hatred and scorn, and a life filled with challenge.

Arriving home with her new passport, she opened it up and was shocked to read that she was listed as RUSSKAYA – Russian!  

Rushing back to the government office, she said to the clerk. “I believe that you made a mistake! I’m JEWISH, not Russian. Please fix it for me.”

The stunned clerk replied, “You seemed like a nice person, I was only trying to do you a favor…”

What a display of heroism, pride and honor!

Listening to this conversation, I was silent and quite humbled.  Certainly, the Magen Dovid (a symbol) and a passport (Does G-d really care about what is written in my passport?!) don't fit in the category of important Mitzvot--or even 'Light-weight Mitzvot' that are 'trampled underfoot'. And yet—here were two people who unceremoniously risked so much to maintain these marks of Jewish Identity. 

Perhaps, these stories of simple, yet courageous displays of Jewish Pride—are what humbled Moses so many years ago. While Hitler tried to exterminate Jewish Life, and while Stalinist Russia attempted to steal Jewish Identity and Faith -- in a class 8,000 miles away and decades later, we sat listening to stories of courage and defiance, of people who fought to retain their identity and who thrust it proudly in the face of their oppressors.   

In a day and age in which ‘Identity Theft’ is a common issue – let’s protect our Jewish Identities. By proudly expressing our Judaism—we will protect our Jewish ID. In the world we live in—it may not be easy. Some may say that it is downright uncomfortable–but it sure seems easy compared to the struggles of two proud Jewish women in the USSR.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht 

Isaiah's Comet

What is the shortest distance between two points? Of course, a line.

Just don’t tell that to the consortium of scientists who announced yesterday the stunning accomplishment of the Rosetta Mission–a mission that has a space-craft catching a comet. Looking at a map on the mission’s website, the track of this space craft has a closer resemblance to the journey of a meandering, staggering drunkard, rather than a meticulously planned path that has been lauded by experts as “shooting a bullet with a bullet—a billion miles away!”

To paraphrase a motto of the Baal Shem Tov: Every that one observes in life, must become a guiding light. So what can we learn from this?

A few standout aspects of the mission:

Gravity Assist –A significant portion of the propulsion of the Rosetta spacecraft stems from the ‘Gravitation Assist’ it has received from the wide, circular orbiting path. Using the gravitational pull of large objects which are certainly not the desired destination (Earth three times, and Mars once), –Rosetta has used the energy harnessed by these ‘fly-bys’, to move into its present precise location.

Mission Purpose: Scientists have pointed to comets as a potential source of the origins and building blocks of the solar system. The purpose of Rosetta is to analyze Comet 67P to enlighten scientists as to the source of Life on Earth and Earth’s development.

A Lengthy Hibernation:  During one of these wide orbits, the spacecraft was so distant from the Sun (1 Million Miles!) that the craft went into a near four-year hibernation. Despite this, it now stands in perfect position.

Rosetta’s mission parallels our soul’s life-mission on Earth.

Placed on Earth, the souls is charged with the mission  to uncover the source of it all—G-d.  Embedded in this world are sparks of G-dliness, which we reveal with every mitzvah. The soul is sent on this challenging mission with no less lofty a goal than to expose the Divine, the true building blocks and fundamental reality of our world.

Mission success is never as simple as a straight line of accomplishment. We tend to swing from one extreme to the other. At times, we achieve great progress.  At other times, we experience terrible missteps in the wrong direction--having lost track of our objective, we confuse life’s ‘bright lights’ with our distant Comet's guiding light.

Our solar arrays are fully unfurled, yet unable to give our lives the positive spark of true vitality. We have become so distant from our sun that we have spiritually shut down and we lie dormant.

Looking at Rosetta, we find inspiration. Much like the craft employs its circuitous trajectory as a means to its destination—so too we must realize that life’s mistakes can subsequently power us in the 'right direction'. Judaism instructs us not to merely repent for our mistakes, but rather to do Teshuva—a corrective maneuver which returns us to our Mission, but now with the ‘Gravitational Assist’ directly resulting from our wayward trip.  

In the final words of the Haftara this Shabbat, Isaiah urges us:  “Lift your eyes heavenward”, Isaiah says, “ and you will see Who created these. He brings forth their legions by number, He call them all by name. Because of His abundant might and powerful strength--there is not missing even one [orig. Heb. Ish -Person]"

This Shabbat, perhaps these words have an even deeper meaning. Let us look heavenward, and may Rosetta inspire us to find our source, and to never feel that we are ever terminally off-mission.

Running

"They run and we run. We run towards the World of Eternity and they run towards the endless abyss" -- Liturgy, Siyum Ceremony

Never have I been more proud of being Jewish, never have I felt closer to my fellow Jews, and never have I been more hopeful about the future of our great people.

The above quotation expresses our gratitude to G-d for endowing us with the Torah's gift of Purpose. In moments of darkness like today -- I can deeply understand how unique we truly are, and how grateful we must be, for a Torah enlightened identity. 

Consider this: A Holocaust denying people have the Chutzpa to accuse us of perpetrating a Holocaust!

Hamas, an offshoot of the fanatical Islamic Brotherhood, which was itself inspired by perhaps Hilter's (ym"sh) greatest fan, calls US "worse than Hitler"--MADNESS! Even more maddening is for the most part -- the world is silent. 

But in this there is hope. We look around us, and we see what makes us unique. The sharp contrast between US and THEM--is clear to us. 

Today we may feel lonely and frustrated that NO ONE UNDERSTANDS. Yet, we are empowered with the knowledge that we are a special people.

This Tuesday we celebrate Tisha B'av. The Talmud states that on the day of Tisha B'av--the darkest day in Jewish History--the [hope of the] Messiah was born. On the darkest of days, humanity's hope was born. 

Looking around, it sure is dark. Let us pray that this year, the salvation will be fully realized.

AM YISRAEL CHAI!

Gaza, Truth & The Red Apple

An older fellow was driving on the freeway when his phone rings. He picks up the phone, it’s his wife on the phone with a warning.  “I heard on the radio that a Meshugane is driving in the wrong direction on the Freeway -- please be careful!”

“ONE car going the wrong way?!” the husband replies. “There are HUNDREDS!”

What do you do when you KNOW something to be the TRUTH, and yet everyone around you insists otherwise? 

Do you change your tune? Do you second guess the veracity of your position?

If everyone else is traveling in an opposing direction on the freeway – does this necessarily mean that it is YOU are driving the wrong way?

Rabbi Baruch Hilsenrath, my Elementary School Principal, had a poster in his office. Depicted on it was an arrangement of 11 green apples and only one red one. The poster read, “Dare to be Different”.

Reuters, AP, CNN, SKY, Al-Jazeera, all spout lies and hatred. Skewed news and outright lies. Journalistic objectivity becomes license for hatred and Anti-Semitism. Even moderate [respectable] press establishments feel the need to sprinkle in a sense of balance with their reporting – as if reporting truth is somehow wrong.

The world is upside down, and it seems like it is all on our heads.

Prime Minister Yiztchak Rabin z’l, recalled an audience that he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe while serving as Israeli Ambassador to the US. The Rebbe was addressing the isolation of Israel in the eyes of the world; her morality and noble nature ignored by everyone.  He quoted the Prophecy Biliam, who said “[Israel is] A nation who will dwell in isolation, who will not be reckoned amongst the nations” Am Lvadad Yishkon Uvagoyim Lo Yitchashav. (Bamidbar 23:9)

The Rebbe’s question for Rabin, which he went on to answer, was whether this isolation is by force or by our choice.

The Rebbe explained that both are true. We choose to be unique; we are steadfast to our traditions by our choice. Throughout our history, we’ve strongly CHOSEN to be unique, despite being in foreign cultures and environments.

Yet, sadly, at times outside factors present themselves, evil is imposed upon us. At such times, we are then forced to unite and embrace the unique ‘isolated’ status. As a people, we are then forced to strengthen ourselves as an isolated, yet strong national entity and faith.

More than just citizens of the world – we are strong and proud Jews. Our legacy is one of compassion, morality, and sense of Justice inherent to our spiritual DNA. In moments like these – we don’t engage in self-doubt or self-criticism – we forge a sense of deep allegiance and connection to our faith and our way of truth.  

In closing, I’d like to relate a conversation at a Bar Mitzva Kiddush in our Shul two weeks ago. The Israeli father of the Bar Mitzva boy, whose brother was tragically killed in Lebanon in 1981, asked me, “Have you ever been in Israel during a war?” I replied that I hadn’t.

His response: You should know that Israel during wartime is a special place. Everyone gets along, there is a special atmosphere. You wouldn’t recognize it as the same place.   

Hashem, we turn to you in Prayer: See how your children are unflinching in the face of isolation and world condemnation. See the acts of love, sacrifice, and courage. See how the opinion of the masses does not change their commitment to what they know is true.

Hashem, please answer the prayers of your children, with the coming of Mashiach Tzikeinu, an era of peace and harmony, in which Truth will be recognized without sacrifice.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

In Golda Meir's Words

On a day like today, when the brave men and women of the IDF are courageously risking their lives, battling against terrorists –any words I write will ring hollow.

I therefore lift from the words of Golda Meir, the famous Prime Minister of Israel, as told by statesman, Yehuda Avner.

During the Yom Kippur War, Yehuda Avner was the head of the Prime Minister Golda Meir’s Foreign Press Bureau. When the war started, he was appointed to deal with the huge throng of international press that had converged on Israel to cover the war.

On the 5th day of the war, Golda Meir decided to see the northern battlefield with her own eyes. At the start of the war, the Syrians had overrun to the north of Israel, and miraculously, the IDF soldiers with great courage and significant sacrifice, succeeded in pushing the Syrian forces back and pursued them to Beirut.

Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir, press entourage in tow, landed above the so called, “Emek Habacha”  (the Valley of Tears)— scene of a horrific tank battle which turned the tide of the war. It was a horrific scene of devastation and loss of life.

Golda approached the soldiers and thanked them for their service, and talked to them for a short while. When she was finished she turned to the soldiers and asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”

A soldier covered with soot and dust, raised his hand and asked a painful question.

The solder began, “I lost my father in the 1948 War of Independence. I lost my uncle in the 1967 Six-Day War. I lost my best friend in this war”.

“ Golda— what’s the point if we can’t win the peace?”

Yehuda Avner recalls that a deep sadness swept over the Prime Minister as she began her reply.

 “You know, you might well be right. If it is only for ourselves [that we are fighting]— you might well be right. But [since] it is for the sake of the entire Jewish People —any sacrifice is worthwhile.”

And then Golda elaborated on her answer by telling a personal and well known story.

In 1948 Golda Meir was appointed as the first ambassador to Stalinist Russia. The first Shabbat in Moscow,  the secular future Prime Minister went to Synagogue to attend Friday Evening Services.  It was virtually empty.

The second Shabbat, a historic event unfolded. Tens of Thousands of Jews gathered at the synagogue, yelling out “A Gut Shabbos Golda-le!” “Sholom Aleichem Goldale!” “A brocha oif dir Golda-le.”

Word had somehow spread that Golda Meir was going to attend synagogue and the glowing embers of Jewish Pride burst forth into a flame of love and desire to connect with their Judaism outside of the Iron Curtain, and to connect with Golda Meir despite the risks in Stalinist Russia.

Golda Meir’s response:  “Ich Dank Eich, Vos Ir Hot Geblibin Yiddin” – Thank you for remaining Jewish.  

Golda then turned to the soldier,  as she recalled the Moscow scene where she had witnessed the sacrifices of Soviet Jewry, the interconnected and unified nature of the Jewish People, and the optimistic tenacity with which Jews maintained their Jewish root despite the risks.

“I now realize that for the sake of the Jewish People —any of our sacrifices are worthwhile."

May Hashem Protect and Bless the Soldiers of the IDF.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabi Yisroel Hecht 

News-Worthy

I admit it – I am somewhat of a news junkie.

If something is going on somewhere in the world, I have an insatiable and perhaps [what my wife will call a] compulsive desire to learn about it.

Can I control or affect what is going on? Does my knowledge of what ‘talking heads’ think about events on the other side of the globe matter? Not really.

But this is different.

When our brothers and sisters are under fire in our homeland, there is a justifiable [I say] need to know. I’ve been following live blogs over the past few days, identifying with the fear of Acheinu Bnei Yisrael, our Israeli Brethren.

I’ve felt consumed with the round the clock hell of a life dictated by the uncertainty borne of our enemies hatred of us – and in fact themselves.

I find myself trying to come to grips with the complicated dilemmas of life under rocket attack: Will there be enough time to have a bath, or use the restroom before the next Code Red? Will there be enough time for me to grab my child from the crib and the toddler from the yard and still make it into the shelter? Will elderly parents living alone make it to the shelter safely? Is one’s bed or the bomb shelter a wiser place to sleep for the night?

My Uncle Moshe, a resident in quiet and serene Rehovot, told me about his horrible experience of having to rush to their local bomb shelter only to find it locked.

Unreal.

And then, this morning, when I – of course—rushed to the computer to find out what occurred overnight in Israel, I was confronted with the following headline: Kiev - 19 Ukraine Servicemen Killed In Rocket Attack.

A Grad missile attack – yes, one of the missiles of choice of murderous Hamas, killed 19 Ukrainian soldiers, fired from 15 kilometers away. A terrible tragedy and one that could push that conflagration closer to war, G-d forbid.

I was floored.

For the past four days, barrage after barrage of missiles have reigned on Israel. Over 1000 missiles have been fired, with the ingenious Iron Dome stopping 90% of them. This still leaves 100 lethal rockets which did land. They have caused considerable damage, but very few injuries. Baruch Hashem, with G-d’s bountiful mercy, there has been no direct fatalities – may G-d continue to protect us.

Consider, on the other hand, that one rocket volley in the Ukraine snuffed out 19 lives. If this is not miraculous, I don’t know what is.

Israel is called the Land which “the eyes of G-d A-mighty are upon, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” [Deut. 11:12]

   "ארץ אשר עיני ה' אלוקך בה מראשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה"

May Hashem continue to shower our people with protection and blessings.

May there be true peace in Israel – a peace that can only be achieved by strength and determination. We pray for the safety of the IDF who are putting their lives on the line to protect the 6 Million Jewish lives and all the citizens of other faiths who benefit from the only true democracy in the Middle East.

May Hashem bless the leaders of Israel with the wisdom to protect its citizens, and may we recognize the clear miracles that G-d is bestowing upon us.

And here’s the bottom line. While my watching the news is probably a complete waste of quality time and has no impact, there is no question that every Mitzva that we do in honor of Israel—certainly makes a world of difference.

With the valiant efforts and self-sacrifice of the IDF, coupled with G-d’s continued blessings, in addition to the Mitzvot done is Israel’s honor -- we will certainly be reading good news – whether I check the latest headlines or not.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

When the Rebbe Invited the Hippie

Every heard the one about the Hippie, the Chabadnik and the Satmar Chassid waiting in line for Honey Cake?  -- No joke!  

Rabbi Levi Bukiet, Chabad Shaliach to Chicago was waiting in line, to together with hundreds of others, to receive Lekach –traditional Honey-Cake accompanied by a Shana Tova wish –from the Lubavicher Rebbe in the early 80’s. Waiting on line in front of Rabbi Bukiet was a hippie – confirmed by his bushy beard, long hair and overalls.  Behind Rabbi Bukiet, stood a distinguished Satmar Scholar.  

The Rebbe turned to the Hippie, gave the honey cake with the felicitation for ‘Gut Gebetch Yohr’ and asked the fellow what his plans were for the evening.

“Nothing”, replied the Hippie.

 “It would be my great honor and privilege,” the Rebbe replied, “if you would attend hakofos [the festive dancing with the Torah] tonight with me in the synagogue.”

The fellow thanked the Rebbe for his invitation, but remained noncommittal. “I’ll think about it,” he said, and walked away.

Rabbi Bukiet received the cake and the blessing, and then he stopped to listen to the conversation that ensued between the Rebbe and the Satmar Scholar.

The Rebbe started the conversation by saying, “I see that you’re wondering why I’m pleading with this fellow to come to hakofos tonight. What connection do I have with him?”

The Rebbe explained with a story – a story that he quoted in the name of the ‘Tehila L’moshe” – a book written by a Rebbe who was the ancestor of the Satmar Rebbe.  

The story, as quoted by the Rebbe and transcribed by Rabbi Bukiet goes like this:

Reb Itzikel of Drobitch, father of the famed Rabbi Michel of Zlotchev, the renowned disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the Magid of Mezritch — once encountered the soul of Rashi, the renowned commentator on the Torah, in heaven. Rashi, had a question for Reb Itzikel.

 Rashi : Why is there such a commotion On High about the greatness of your son, Reb Michel?

Reb Itzikel: My son studies Torah purely for the sake of Heaven.

Rashi: But aren’t there many who do the same?

Reb Itzikel: “My son fasts and deprives his body of worldly pleasures.

Rashi: But aren’t there many who do the same?

Reb Itzikel: My son gives away huge sums of money to the poor.

Rashi:  ‘Aren’t there many who do the same?’

Reb Itzikel: ‘My son has made many baalei teshuvah [those who have returned to G-d] across the world. He returned many from the path of sin to their Father in Heaven.

When Rashi heard this response, he was finally satisfied; he understood clearly why the heavenly angels are so excited about the greatness of Reb Michel.

 The Satmar Chassid, understanding the Rebbe’s response, replied “Ich hob Git Farshtanen” --  I understand.

This Tuesday marks the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 20th Yarzeit. Three biographies have recently been published telling the story of the life of the Rebbe. One book, The Rebbe by Josef Telushkin has catapulted to the top of Amazon, New York Times’ best sellers lists, among others.

Thousands have been inspired to ask and learn, as Rashi did of Reb Michel of Zlochev – What’s the hullabaloo about the Rebbe all about?

That the Rebbe was an historic scholar and thinker – CERTAINLY!
That the Rebbe was a saintly man – ABSOLUTELY!
That the Rebbe was a person who was a paradigm of leadership – WITHOUT QUESTION!

But what made the Rebbe unique? What made him perhaps most impactful leader in recent Jewish History?

It is the fact that the Rebbe was focused on each and every individual – warmly embracing them, and inspiring them to restore and maintain a strong link to their Judaism. While traditionally and historically, Chassidic movement are maintained with an insular gravitational pull towards the Rebbe’s court – the Rebbe turned it around, creating an outward centrifugal force of goodness, progressively widening the circle of good – one Mitzva at a time.

As we approach the 20th Yartzeit, let us respond by adding one more mitzvah and dedicate it to honor the Rebbe’s legacy. As the Rebbe’s life was dedicated to inspiring us – in our inspiration the Rebbe lives on.

Just ask Rashi.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

To learn more about the life and legacy of the Rebbe visit www.therebbe.org

Finding Grandfather's Prayerbook

They say a story about a Rabbi on an airliner that was in danger of crashing. The captain gets on the PA system and announces, “Ladies and Gentleman, we are about to crash…everyone DO SOMETHING RELIGIOUS!”

The Rabbi gets up and makes…an appeal.

I read something today that inspired me; it touched my heart to the point of tears. Since last Friday ‘The Boys’ – the three innocent children who have been ripped away from their families by savage and heartless evil men – have been on our collective minds. We have all been moved to do something “religious”, to do something in the merit of these pure and innocent souls who are in the face of danger.

An Israeli Government official said the following to the family of “The Boys”: “I haven’t prayed in six years. I haven’t gone into a synagogue since my son’s bar mitzvah. When I heard what had happened to your sons, I turned my house upside down to look for my grandfather’s prayer book. I sat down and prayed.”

Who was this official? Yair Lapid -- someone who has been accused by his opponents of waging a war with the Jewish religion. http://bit.ly/1lFethX

Why, as a nation, do we care so much about three individuals? Why does this calamitous event, which will surely end positively with Hashem’s help, move us to such an extent? Why does a self-avowed secularist feel the need to pray?

I’d like to suggest the following:

The world around us uses words like “collateral damage”, “inevitable civilian causalities”, “regrettable deaths” without skipping a beat. However, in Judaism, three souls have shredded our collective heart, as we worry and we prayer for their well-being together with the families of the “The Boys”.

Why? Because when we peel back the onion-skins of individuality that separate us, we discover a vibrant and pulsating Jewish Soul. Thus, as members of the Jewish People, we are not merely a unified people  – we are ONE. One heart, one soul, one people.

We care for each other despite our differences.  Beneath the layers of indifference and division, our Jewish Heart beats strongly as ONE. Touched so deeply -- our Jewish soul is bared, and it drives to do something because we care.

What can we do? Let us do a Mitzva in their merit.

The father of Ayal Yifrach, one of captives, has asked that every Jewish household throught the world ensure that Shabbat Candles are lit. [Shabbat Candles are to be lit before 8:14pm today] for more information www.chabadsunnyvale.com/shabbatcandles

It is well known that the symbolism of the Shabbat Candles represents the power of positive and spiritual influence on the world. Let us create a spiritual fortress of Good – and let us pray to G-d, in the merit of our unity, to grant freedom to “The Boys” and to all of your People Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

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