Musings and Schmoozings


He walked into the room like a proud general – a room he had never entered before.

Fifteen twelve-year-old boys, as part of Chabad’s Bar Mitzva Discovery Course,  waited in anticipation for 88-year-old Nathan Moncharsh to begin his story.  Despite his age, his strong voice delivered a powerful message – a positive and uplifting message lifted from the Holocaust. Thumbnail of YfWn5027316.jpg

“Do you believe in G-d”, he challenged the boys -- his eyes aflame with purpose. “I believe in G-d, and I’ll tell you ‘Vy’”

He them spent the next forty minutes sharing his story of determination, survival, tenacity, and heroism. He told of his childhood in Lodz, and his miraculous escapes from certain death. The boys and I were mesmerized – a real-life hero, a symbol of what overcoming adversity means.

And then, I asked a question. After all, it was my job to frame the conversation for the boys.

”Mr. Moncharsh, was there ever a time during the Holocaust that you woke wishing that you hadn’t been born Jewish?”

The look of shock and horror on Mr. Monscharsh’s face at the Chutzpa of such a shocking question – just blew me away.


That is how he survived. That is how we will survive.

As the world commemorates the Holocaust with cries of “Never Again” – on this Monday I will also reflect on “Vat?! Never!”

The strength with which the ‘survivors’ courageously and boldly answered the Holocaust, inspires us to build a ‘Jewish Today and Tomorrow’.

Let us remember those that perished and let us remember that we must never let up our guard. But perhaps more importantly, let us strongly embrace our Jewish identity with tenacity, with courage and with pride.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

Binary Jew

Are you a '1' or a '0'?

In 9th Grade, Rabbi Dovid Yerushalmi, a substitute, delivered a powerful lesson. He put me in my place -- with a challenge and some humble pie. He had been telling about the early history of Chabad in the US, a significant portion of which was impacted by my namesake and Great-Grandfather, Rabbi Yisroel Jacobson z"l.

Quite proud of my 'Yichus', I proudly raised my hand and announced, "Rabbi Jacobson was my Great-Grandfather!". 

Rabbi Yerushalmi's response?

"Yichus (Jewish Pedigree) is like a row of zero's -- the greater the Yichus, the more zeros. Put a '1' in front of it and now you've got something. Otherwise, you remain a ... string of zeros."

I was sure that the entire class heard my audible gulp.

This Tuesday, Jews the world over will recite Yizkor, the Memorial Prayer. We will remember generations past -- whose self-sacrifice and perseverance have created the deep sense of Jewish identity and belonging within us. They are the "Zeros" -- the deep innate love of Judaism that we each have welling up within us. They are the "religious grandparents" whose picture rests atop the fireplace mantle, they are Bubbies and Zaidies whose memory we will recall.

But in addition to the charity that we will commit to give in their honor at the Yizkor Service -- let us honor them by committing to become a "1". Our parents and grandparent will certainly back us up with their beautiful legacy of love, warmth, and Jewish Identity and Practice; an endless string of 'Zeros'. 

Let us Zero in on what truly matters. At this auspicious time,  let us be #1.  

Chag Sameach! 

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht
Chabad of Sunnyvale

Legacy of Love

What is your Legacy? Do you think about it?

I had an interesting conversation with my neighbor’s 80-something year old father the other day about Bill Gates. Bill Gates’ reputation for most of his life was that he was uninterested in anything more than himself and his corporate success.

In the conversation, I suggested that it was Warren Buffet who challenged him to  give charitably to others. My neighbor quipped – “It must have been his wife Melinda”.

Most of us go through life focusing ourselves; what I need, my own fears, and my desire for security. The idea that I am here to serve others – never enters the equation.  

There is a story of the Alter Rebbe, regarding a Chassid who was facing financial difficulties. The Chassid unloaded his concerns on the Rebbe’s desk, lamenting his problems in great detail. He then went on to ask the Rebbe for a blessing for financial success.

The Alter Rebbe leaned forward and contemplated before responding. “You have told me what you need – but what you are needed for, you neglected to tell me…”

The Rebbe was telling him not to focus on his own needs; but to focus on what his personal needs would help him achieve for the benefit of others.

Today, 11 of Nissan, marks what would have been the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s, zy”a, 112th birthday. The Rebbe was an individual who had no personal life – other than his legacy of selflessness and love for others. He lived every moment with Ahavat Yisrael – inspired love for each and every Jew. He taught us to love and cherish each and every Mitzva, and never to judge another person harshly. He challenged each and every one of us to change the world with love, and Mitzva Light.

Let us today take up the Rebbe’s Legacy. May each and every one of us do one Mitzva in his Honor – let us share the love of Torah with others. May we learn to focus not on what I need, but what I can achieve to benefit others.

You and I -- we are the Rebbe’s Legacy. And we owe it to him to keep his dream alive – one additional Mitzva at a time. 

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach, 

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht
Chabad of Sunnyvale  

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Flat Tire

Thump! Thump! Thump! …The unmistakable sound of a flat tire against the pavement.

There is nothing like the realization that whatever I thought I was doing today is no longer the plan. There is nothing like changing a spare tire in the rain, and certainly, nothing like changing a tire in a suit. And why does it always seem to happen on the ‘Worst Possible Day’?

These thoughts were going through my head as I pulled up to South Peninsula Hebrew Day School on Tuesday, when I already had many more things on my plate than I could handle.

In this week’s Parsha, we learn about the laws of Tzara’at – the biblical leprosy, which the Talmud explains afflicted a person because of a spiritual cause, manifesting itself with physical symptoms. At times the malady appeared on one’s body, on one’s clothing, and, as in our Torah Portion, on one’s home.

Upon observing the Tzara’at on his home, the owner was to go the Priest and tell him, “Kanega Ra’eeti lee ba’bayeet – I saw this lesion for myself on my house.” Why mention the word ‘Lee --for myself’? Just say ‘I saw this lesion on my house’? Forgot the ‘for myself’.

The Midrash relates that the Tzara’at disease was progressive. First it appeared on one’s home, and if one got the message, meaning, that the person identified the spiritual root-cause – he repented, and was done with it. For some, the warning on their home wasn’t enough, and so the Tzara’at then appeared on their clothes. And if that wasn’t enough, one’s very skin displayed -- for themselves and others -- their spiritual flaws which needed fixing.

In this context – we see that Tzara’at is a demonstration of G-d’s love and patience with us. The message was for us, the punishment should have been directed at me, were it not for G-d’s love. Instead, I received a message through my home or my clothing.  Therefore, the owner was instructed to verbalize “The affliction that was ‘Lee – [inteneded or destined] for me’ was instead placed on the house.  

I guess Hashem was telling me a message this past Tuesday. Baruch Hashem it was only a tire –changed in business attire. It could have been much worse. Not sure what the lesson is, but I’m sure there is one, and I just need to dig (or ask my wife) to discover it.

The Talmud tells us that there is a real positive to ‘House-Tzara’at’. When removing the affected parts of the home, one would invariably find valuables hidden by previous owners.

The rewards of fearless introspection are the real ‘Launchpad’ of life-success. And now we can understand a further reason the Torah says ‘Lee—for me’: the Tzara’at is for the owner’s benefit.  The pathway to personal spiritual wealth is open to those who bravely find growth –in the Tzara’at in their homes –and in their flat tires.

Now if I could get rid of the spare-tire ‘round my waist...

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

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