Musings and Schmoozings

Covered California [Happy] Blues

I owe so much to ‘ObamaCare’. Nothing political here – but without the new healthcare system my life would be so different.

For starters – I’m on hold so long, that I wrote my entire weekly message while listening to sweet jazzy hold music…for the millionth time! [Deep breath]

What can I do? All I can do is laugh.

Like yesterday, when I waited on hold for over an hour, only to be told by the agent, “sorry, the system needs to be updated, you’ll have to call back later…” – the only thing to do is laugh.

Like when we already waited on hold for an hour in December…three different times!

Or, like when after we already chose a plan and paid our first premium, only to receive letters two months later demanding us to choose a plan and to pay our premium… And now, we discover that our medical clinic is not in-network (now they tell us…) and so I wait on hold yet again to switch plans.

Ha! Isn’t that funny! And so I laugh.

And since laughter is the best medicine—and there has been an awful lot of laughter—ObamaCare is working like a charm! I’ve never been so full of laughter [sic], and therefore health!

Oy it’s a mess!

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement enjoined us all to focus on the Human Lesson in every one of life’s encounters. So what’s to learn from this?

The Talmud tells us: “He who becomes angry it is as if he worshipped idols”. Really? Isn’t that harsh considering that idol-worship in Number Two on Hashem’s top-ten list?

The Tanya, the most important work of Chassidic Philosophy, explains that anger is actually much worse that we realize. Inherent to our belief in G-d, is our belief in Divine Providence. When a situation arises and we become angry, we are thus denying G-d’s role in the scenario.

I have no idea what Hashem wants from me in this particularly frustrating reality – but it is certainly better to laugh than to shout. Better to wish the nice lady who will inevitably come onto the phone a good afternoon, rather than…

Besides, what better way to pass the time than to wish you all a happy and peaceful Shabbat.


I finally got a live person. And, they told me… [I have to stop laughing]…the system is still not fixed. He told me to call tomorrow. Oy!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

Impressing the Ayatolla

It was December of 1979. 52 American hostages had been taken by angry mobs in Tehran. Three Jews were among them; Barry Rosen, Malcolm Kalp, and Jerry Plotkin. The Red Cross had finally obtained permission for a delegation, including a Rabbi and three priests, to support the beleaguered hostages and help negotiate an end to the crisis. America and the world waited with bated breath. The Middle-East was to forever be changed by the face of tyrannical, fanatical Islam.

Khomeini personally approved the Rabbi, Rabbi Hershberg zt"l, of Mexico City, Mexico.

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Hershberg, a”h was a Torah Giant. A prodigious student in the legendary Yehivas Chachmei Lublin, a holocaust survivor who fled during the war to Shanghai, China and set up Yeshivot in Chicago and Mexico City , where he served for 25 years as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi.

On the first Friday there, without notice, the delegation was suddenly summoned to a mass religious rally. Nearly a million people had gathered to hear the Ayatollah’s words of hate and incitement. The clergy was placed up on the dais near the Ayatollah himself.

At one point of the rally, the huge mass of humanity suddenly dropped to their knees in prayer. Everyone bowed, that is, except for Rabbi Hershberg. He alone remained standing. The crowd stirred, and one of Khomeini’s aides approached in fury, demanding in Farsi as to why he did not bow. The Rabbi's response: “I am a Jew and I believe in the Torah of Moshe…”

Rabbi Ezrahian, the Chief Rabbi of Tehran at the time, who translated this message, was shocked at the strength of the man-- yet deeply apprehensive of what would arise from it. They did not need to wait long. The Ayatollah sent a message that he wanted to see the Rabbi immediately.

When Rabbi Hershberg entered, Khomeini, who had been sitting with his head bowed,  lifted his head and smiled as he said the following: “I congratulate you for not flattering me … You did not bow and you were not afraid of a human being. That shows me that you are a person of truth.”

Rabbi Hershberg proved to be a pivotal person in protecting not only the Jewish American hostages, but with his newfound respect, he was able to advocate for his Jewish Iranian brothers as well. The wearing of Talitot, having access to Kiddush wine, breaking curfew to attend synagogue -- were some of the threatened religious rights successfully defended by a man… who refused to bow.

When I reflect on this story, I am moved deeply. We, thank G-d, do not face the likes of Hitler, Haman, and Khomeini, Yemach shmam, for the most part -- but we do face social pressures. It is difficult to stand out in the conformist Silicon Valley culture by leaving early on a Friday, by sporting a kipah or by standing by our Torah-values.  

Like Mordechai, and (Rabbi Avraham) Mordechai --when we will declare simply and faithfully, “I am a Jew, and I believe in the Torah of Moshe”, the world will take note… and respect.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht 

Humble Pie!

The letter Alef in the first word of this week’s Torah portion, the word Vayikra, is written in a small font.  

There is a story told about the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Chabad Rebbe) on his first day of school. Following the ancient Jewish custom, the very first verse that he studied at the Cheder, was the first verse of this week’s Parsha – Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:1.  

When the future great scholar and spiritual giant returned after the ceremony, he turned to his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe with a question. “Zayde”, he asked, “Why is the letter Alef in the word Vayikra small”?

His grandfather meditated deeply, as was his custom before answering a profound question, and then gave his little grandson the following explanation:

A big letter represents haughtiness – a small letter, humility.   Adam, the first Man, become conscious of his own greatness, which in turn caused him to sin. Therefore, in the Book of Chronicles, the Alef in Adam’s name is big.  

Moshe, on the other hand, despite his clear greatness, was able to remain humble by attributing his greatness to a gift from G-d. It was this humility, explained the Alter Rebbe, which prevented him from sinning. The small Alef is the word Vayikra in reference to Moshe – is a testament to his humility.

At times in life we think that we are on top of things, our superior characteristics and qualities are what enable us to succeed.  At other times, as the old Jewish saying goes, “G-d laughs”. In my case this past week, G-d and I both had a laugh.

Tomorrow morning, our oldest son Shmuli will begin wearing his tefillin as he prepares for his Bar Mitzva which will take place in just over two months. Shmuli has been anticipating this day for years, and the tefillin were duly ordered from the scribe more than a year in advance.

Nu, so G-d laughed.

Something happened on the ‘supply side’, and the scribe, who lives in Canada, informed me on Tuesday mid-day, that there was no chance that I would get the Tfillin in time. I was disappointed, both personally as well as for Shmuli.

And then it was I who laughed.

While heading to my car in SPHDS parking lot while picking up my children after school at 4:00pm, I saw a colleague of mine who was doing the same. I can’t explain why, but I struck a conversation that went something like this:

Me: “I know this is a crazy question to ask, but by any chance, do you know anyone coming here from Montreal?”  

My Colleague: “Well, I don’t know anyone flying in from Montreal, but my wife is on the way to Toronto for a wedding and will be returning on Thursday.  A brother-in-law of mine who live in Montreal is traveling to Toronto for the same wedding -- I’m sure that he’d be happy to bring them for you.”

I planned and G-d Laughed. G-d planned, and then I laughed.

Lesson learned! I am somewhat more humble today, knowing that G-d is in the driver seat. And boy, can He drive!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

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