Musings and Schmoozings

Fidel Castro & The Chief Rabbi

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote a memoir of his miraculous ascension from the ashes of Buchenwald to the lofty position of Rav Harashi (Chief Rabbi).

In his book, (which was given to my son as a Bar Mitzva gift, and which I borrowed) he describes a meeting with El Comandante – Fidel Castro.

Fidel asked Rabbi Lau the following question: “How did you get to where you did? Here in Cuba a child of eight who grows up without his parents, especially one who doesn’t speak the language, will become a juvenile delinquent!”

Rabbi Lau’s answer was profound, yet simple. Acknowledging his older brother who made an oath to ensure his survival, his aunt and uncle who raised him, and the staff of the yeshivot that he attended -- he attributed his improbable rise to the fact that “I represent the 38th generation of a rabbinic family”.

This past weekend, Miriam and I celebrated the Bar Mitzva of our son Shmuli.

My message to Shmuli was similar. At times in life, expectations as viewed as burdens. Often, the pressure of continuing our parents' and ancestors’ legacy, is viewed as burdensome. Rabbi Lau was someone for whom his 1,000 year-old legacy, became –not a burden—but a powerful motivator in his life success.

Shmuli’s Grand-Fathers, Great-Grandfathers, Great-Great-Grandfathers, and more --- have carried the Torch of Jewish Leadership and the Rabbinate before him. May they illuminate and inspire Shmuli on his journey forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Hecht


Igor, an Oleh Chadash (new immigrant) and former refusenik arrives in Israel. Taken in by the sights and sounds of the Holyland, he mutters over and over, “What a Special Land!” He notes the beautiful hills, and exclaims, “What majestic hills! Even the hills here are special!” He takes in the view of the Kinneret and exclaims, “What a scenic lake! Even the lakes here are special!”

Wandering into an orchard, he picks an apple, sits on a rock and takes a bite. He then says, “Such sweet apples! Even the apples here are special!”

Suddenly he hears someone shouting from behind him, “Adoni (sir) – Don’t you know that the Torah says Lo Tignov-- Don’t steal!”

Igor throws his arm around the farmer and says, “Unbelievable! A farmer that quotes from the Torah! Even the farmers here are special!”

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov moved to Eretz Yisrael, then part of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of his life. Shortly after he arrived, he remarked that he finally understood a verse in this week’s Parsha that had always bothered him.

Ki Tavau El Haaretz Asher Ani Noten Lachem…When you will come into the land that I am giving you…

This verse, which introduces the Mitzva of the Shmita, the biblically mandated agricultural sabbatical year, seems odd. Shouldn't the Torah have used the past tense – “When you come into the land that … I HAVE GIVEN you”, rather than “…I AM GIVING you?”

Rebbe Nachman answered as follows: Living in the Holyland is an art of living in the present. Each and every day is a new appreciation, a new holiness, and new adventure into the divine. In Eretz Yisrael, one does not live in the past; one appreciates, more and more, each moment in the present.

While we may not merit to dwell in the holyland, we can create in our lives a spiritual state of Israel. When we are focused on human growth, and our deeper life purpose, we too can live a life of mindfulness and growth. By being a better person today than I was yesterday, each day is full of discovery, meaning and excitement.  

‘A New York Minute’ ? Try a Jerusalem or Tel Aviv second. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

And the Rebbe Cried...

Kfar Chabad, Israel, May 2nd 1957--exactly 58 years ago today.

Fedayeen terrorists murdered five children and their teacher in cold blood.   The Chassidim, recent Russian immigrants, who tenaciously built the farming village from scratch in the shadow of the terror of Stalinist Russia -- were devastated. They penned a letter to the Rebbe, asking whether they should consider abandoning the dream of a Chassidic Village, and move to a more secure city. Their spirit was broken.

In New York, the Rebbe mourned with them.  For three days, the Rebbe closed his door – in seclusion.

His answer, in a telegram, was a mere three words: Behemshech habinyan tinacheimu – With the resumption of building—you will be comforted.

In those three words, the Rebbe imparted so much.

The answer to mourning… is to have the courage to build.
The answer to terrorism… is to find an inner strength.
The answer to despair…  is hope.

The Rebbe then immediately dispatched emissaries to vitalize the Chassidim and to energize the village. The Rebbe’s response saved the village and the town of Kfar Chabad thrives today.

The message of this date rings out to us today. Let us respond to our seemingly insurmountable life-struggles by courageously building our lives… with strength and hope.

Read more here

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

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