When You Are Down To nothing, God Is Up To Something

(Much of this is culled from the teachings of Rabbi Shais Taub)

When will I smile again? This is the line that has been percolating through my head. As the dust settles and the new normal, which is anything but, settles into its bumpy routine, I wonder, when will I smile again?

When will I feel the carefree spirit I felt just a few weeks ago again? I know all the slogans.

One day at a time.
Let go and let God.
This is not happening to you, it is happening in front of you.
When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.
And there are thousands more where that came from.

I believe them all. I know that they are all true, but for once my pontifications are failing me. I am not being inspired by my own words. I used to believe that “fake it till you make it” was a worthy enough slogan, to actually be worth utilizing as a life principle.

You don’t have to always feel what you believe for it to be true. Just because I don’t feel it at this moment doesn’t mean it isn’t so. I am aware of this as well.

Perhaps I’m grieving the relative peace that I (thought) I was living. The truth is, the unravelling had already begun, I was just unaware of it. Is ignorance truly bliss? Or is it a delay or stall tactic? A bandaid on a gaping wound? Denial or not, I was living relatively calmly.

Now, the knot in my stomach never goes away. Even when I distract myself with worthy and some unworthy projects, my kishkes are twisting.

I know I need to really let go and dig into my Faith. Belief that all will be well – and I do in fact believe that – I am just afraid that I will have lost my soul before that time arrives.

I think at the core is the inability to have any control on my destiny, self and outwardly imposed.

They talk about surrender being at the epicenter of recovery. Only when someone hits “ego death” can they begin to rebuild.

Is this what it feels like? Is ego death the sense of loss of self? Is it only for the addict or does it apply to everyone? In all situations?

The analogy given is only when the seed in the ground is fully rotted and loses its identity entirely does it begin to sprout new life and growth. That is certainly true for some, but must it be true for all? Can you ONLY heal when you’ve completely lost your identity?

What if I am only partially crushed, is that enough for the healing and recovery to begin?

Is rock bottom the only place where true rebounding can occur? Is there somewhere in the middle where we can meet and agree that this is enough lessons learned, enough growth having occurred?

It boils down to this, I believe. Bottom doesn’t mean that you are totally and utterly obliterated as a person, as an entity and being that has some self worth. Bottom means when you realize that “I can’t do this on my own.”

For the addict, that usually means that they have lost everything, including their marriages, their jobs, the sense of self-worth their whole identity until they realize that they are powerless to do this on their own. Then they turn to God.

Others, family and friends, or just ordinary strugglers of the world, need to merely (it is not so merely, it is a lot more than that) realize that what God put on their shoulders (or plate if you wish) is more than they can do on their own.

At that point you are at your bottom. If it doesn’t propel you to change, live deeper, more meaningfully, more authentically then most likely you haven’t reached your personal bottom. As long as there is a part of you that still thinks (somewhat cockily) “I got this on my own” then there is likely still more work to be done. More ego death-ing to go through. More bottoming out.

When I have indeed reached my bottom, I realize that any growth or improvement that goes on from here on forward is not something I do for myself is something that I do for God.

It is not about me. Then, only then, have I begun to journey to recovery.

Picture – Medium.com

RECOVERY – Part 5

“I Have Many Questions But Have I No Doubts!”

“I have many questions but I have no doubts!”These are the words the recent widow of my dear first cousin, Benny Wolf, of Hanover Germany who was taken from us tragically early due to complications related to COVID. . Her name is Shterny Wolf and she is one of my new heroes. I could in fact stop this article right here and it would be complete because in the wake of such a truth not much more needs to be said.

Nevertheless:

In one sentence she encapsulated the journey of humanity in the most pithy but perfect way. I have many questions but I have no doubts. Isn’t that all of our story. Thankfully, most of us don’t need to pay that herculean price that she paid to to be able to authentically state this truth. Most of us have lesser problems than she had endured but we all feel this truth.

This is true regardless whether we have big T or small T trauma but we all have trauma’s that generate these questions. Dr. Edith Eva Eger stated. “There is no hierarchy in pain.” Each one of us endures our pain . Our pain is the most real to us. We don’t compare our wounds, we just share the pain of our independent journeys.

Questions in and of themselves are good. We are the Jewish people. We are Yisroel, we wrestle with the Divine. That is, literally, our name. Questioning is fine, getting to a space of “I have no doubts” now that requires deep work.

It is easy to be in pain. Frustrated, asking why me, or woe unto me, but taking that pain and bedding it with the knowledge that this too is for the good, or “I have no doubts,” now that requires inner strength. Fortitude. Or a connection that is so deeply ingrained that your questions don’t knock you off your pedestal of complacency that doubts don’t creep their way in.

I read a deeply moving commentary on a verse in this week’s Torah Portion, Beshalach, by Rabbi Shais Taub.

We read in the Song of Az Yashir, that the Hebrew sang after they passed through the sea of reads, and they stated,Exodus 14:2, זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ אֱלֹהֵ֥י אָבִ֖י וַֽאֲרֹֽמְמֶֽנְהוּ This is my God and I love him, this is the God of my fathers and I exalt him.  On the most simplistic level this means, this is my God as I accepted him for myself, and this is this is the God as I understand him as was taught to me by my  parents. In other words, there is the God that I know that I was brought up with and trained to know and believe in, and there is the God that I know that is MY God. The God that I got to know through my journeys and experiences.

From a chronological perspective it would seem that the God that my parents taught me should precede the God that I discovered on my own, via my own challenges and journeys. Yet if you look closely to the order as laid out in the text it begins with my God and only then the God of my father’s.

Embedded here is a very very deep message in the world of recovery which is essentially the truth that we all share. 

First I must experience God as MY God. Not that he is limited or subjected to the inherent limitation of my understanding, but for Him to be real He has to be mine. Even if I am not understanding or portraying Him in His entirety, he still has to become mine first.

Only then can I fully experience and appreciate that he is both the God of my ancestors, and then, even that which I thought I understood as I was growing was oh so much deeper. My parents taught me what they thought I could comprehend. That built into my fabric and DNA a depth of blind faith in God that was what was possible at that time.

When I accept and recognize or discover God as my own, then the fullness and depth of what my parents tried to incorporate into me becomes so much larger and fullness of what they meant when they taught me about faith in God becomes exposed.

It is in that space only, after I’ve journeyed and discovered God as my own, I can be in a space where I have questions but still have no doubts.

RECOVERY – Part 4

God Has No Grandchildren

As parents we are constantly faced with challenging parenting moments. Sometimes they are the more basic frustrations like waking up to a crying child who needs a new diaper or a bottle, and sometimes they are the more annoying moments when you need to resolve silly sibling disputes, or the inevitable my-teacher-is-picking-on-me scenarios. 

All of these test our mettle as a parent, and in moments of strength and resolve (usually that coincides with a good night’s rest) we show up with our best self and do our duty with aplomb. 

Then there are those seriously difficult moments when you – if you are honest – ask yourself? What was I thinking? Was this (child) a mistake? Is it worth it? What resources can I draw upon to have a better approach to my parenting dilemma (being kind) or crisis (being honest)?

There is a story told of a father who confided in the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he has a temper and on occasion he hits his children. The Rebbe responded, something to the effect of, “if they were your neighbors children would still hit them?” To which the father of course replied that he would not.

The Rebbe then went on to explain that in fact, each of our children is also God’s child and as such ought to be viewed as not – exclusively – your own and just as you’d never hit your neighbors kid, don’t hit your own.

This is a great lesson though we are not always in the learning mind frame to truly incorporate this approach to our own child rearing.

We often have more patience for the neighbor’s kid than our own. I know, at times, that is me. As a Chabad Rabbi, the craziests looniest folks will often walk through my doors of the Chabad, and for them I have a hug, an offer of a cup of coffee and a kind word. If if my child came in looking/acting that same way, I’d have far less patience for that kind of behavior?


Why?

Perhaps an even deeper appreciation of the Rebbe’s word above about God being a partner and therefore parent to my child might help me get into the right mind frame.

The Torah in multiple locations has God referring to the Jewish people – the regular folks like me and you, not just Moses – as His Children. (Exodus 4:22) And you shall say to Pharaoh, “so said God, My firstborn son is Israel.” (Deuteronomy 14:1) “You are the children of the Lord your God.” and many other examples. 


So clearly, we need to be viewing our children as God’s children, not God’s grandchildren. In fact, the Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) states clearly that there 3 partners in creation, mother, father and God. Each contributes components. The parents give the physical “whites and reds” meaning the bones, the blood, the genetics, and God gives the soul. The energizing force to the physical contributions of the mother and father.

This is a very deep idea but critical in solving the parenting crisis that arises. If we realize that our child is annoying us on the mild side or killing us on the severe side, either way our reaction has to be that of a person viewing their neighbors child. Or more accurately, a child that is not only my own.

However, it gets even better. Since this child actually also belongs to God, then everything he is going through that is creating problems for you is actually by design. It is a direct result of his 3rd parent, God. 

Furthermore, since it is coming from parent number 3, and parent number 3 is omnipotent and omniscient we know that we are up to the task. 

Finally, since this child is a son/daughter of God, certainly God will provide him/her and me/you the parents the resources both mental and material to withstand whatever this child may throw at you (literally at times).

While this 3-way-marriage is always true, when we truly become aware of it, and take it into our essence, then it is worthy of an anniversary celebration. 

The bonus is, learn into your spouse, God, He’s got it.

Psalms 55:23

הַשְׁלֵ֚ךְ עַל־יְהֹוָ֨ה | יְהָֽבְךָ֘ וְה֪וּא יְכַ֫לְכְּלֶ֥ךָ לֹֽא־יִתֵּ֖ן לְעוֹלָ֥ם מ֗וֹט לַצַּדִּֽיק:

Throw your burden on the Lord, and He will bear you. 

RECOVERY – Part 3

You Are Our Gift

Gifts are a funny thing. We all love getting them, some of us love giving them and in general they awaken a sense of happiness and festivity as they are exchanged. Most gifts are done by choice, that is what makes them special. 

The gift we choose to give or receive is a firm statement of our love or dedication to the recipient or on behalf of the giver. We could have simply chosen not to give it, or refuse to accept it. The transaction is an overt or even covert statement of appreciation for the other person.

An ordinary gift fills you by the fact that you were able to show up for another. You showed up by making them happy. It can be a piece of paper that recognizes their accomplishments and worth to you, or something materially substantial like a piece of jewelry or the like. 

Conversely, on the receiving side, you are filled by that we were noticed for something that you did or simply because you are. Either way, there is still some transactional element. Two willing parties.

Then there is the unexpected gift. 

The one you didn’t ask for, the one you didn’t even want, in some cases the one that you prayed you’d never get, yet it arrived. These kinds of gifts don’t feel like gifts at the time, in fact sometimes it takes a lifetime to appreciate them as being gifts. In fact, there are times when such a gift never ever ends up feeling like a gift.

These gifts are ones that we didn’t know we needed, and are the ones that often turn out to be  – quite clearly -the ones that are the best. These gifts are the ones where someone did you a favor even when you resisted it.

This exists on a basic level, for example, when your parents vaccinate you against your will but for your good. Your mind is simply not developed enough to appreciate that they did you a favor. Yet, while it felt painful at the time, they will have saved you a lifetime of potentially much more serious agony.

On a more serious level, when you are already a mature adult and you believe that you know what is best for yourself and your parent/God outranks you and tells you that notwithstanding what you think, I still know what is best for you. 

I know that you have more growing up to do. I know that you have more expanding to do. I know that you have more mental stretching to do. I know that as capable as you thought you were before, there is more that you can do. I know that you have deeper loving to do. I know that you have a depth of strength, character, love, kindness and compassion that you thought you had mastered. In fact you have even more.

This is a deep gift. It comes from a deep place and requires deep humility to accept it as such but a gift it is.

The Mishna (Eiruvin Ch. 7 Mishna 11, Talmud Kiddushin 23b) says זכין לאדם שלא בפניו – that you can “benefit a person without their permission”.) Simply this means that if I find a good deal for you, that I know you will want, I can buy you that item even without asking you since I am allowed to benefit a person -you – without their permission.

I think on a much deeper level this is an approach that God takes as well. He decides, at times, that He knows that something is good for us even if we vehemently disagree. At that point we become the petulant child screaming to not get the vaccine and He becomes the parent that “knows best.”

The choice element that normally conveys love between giver and receiver is less visible in that kind of gifting, but it is not any less there. In fact it is there more than any other gift.

We can fight it and resist it, but ultimately, like the shot, when we humbly submit to it, it gets less painful and easier to swallow.

So my child, this is your gift. 

This is our gift.

You are our gift.

We will all do better when we accept that what is happening is a gift.

RECOVERY – Part 2

The Purpose of Pain

Much ink has been spilled on the topic of pain and suffering in Jewish thought and lore. I will leave the “in-depth” philosophy and theology discussion to the experts. Today I want to focus on one very simple element, how it can help us and serve us.

One of the most basic uses for pain is to let you know you have a problem. If we didn’t feel the heat of a hot oven on our hands, we wouldn’t know to avoid it until it was too late. If our heart didn’t race, we wouldn’t be on the alert for a cardiovascular problem.

This is true beyond the physical pain we endure but the emotional pain we experience. If we are worried, scared, stressed or anxious, that is an indication that there is a concern in the air. We need to be curious and explore that. These feelings will guide us and instruct what things we should avoid, what we should just “buck up” and push through.

Regardless we need to have these feelings to helps us navigate next steps. Stop a certain behavior, or gird our loins to have the energy to conquer an upcoming challenge.

There is yet a deeper value that only life will teach. These experiences of pain – all of them – help us to realize that we have reservoirs of strength that we didn’t know we had and were previously untapped. Without the pain, we wouldn’t even have mined our souls to search for these super-powers because life was humming along just fine.

It is, in fact, the pain that exposes the treasure that was hidden beneath.

Think of a oil exploration beneath the earths surface.

I grew up in Long Beach, California and there were these horse-shaped oil wells that were pumping and pulling oil from deep within the earth. They were always fascinating and wonderful to watch. You saw something majestic happening even if you couldn’t see the whole process of the pumping horses to the filling up the gas tank of your car.

How did the oil companies know where to strategically place those oil wells? While not an expert on this topic, I’ve watched how they drill tiny holes deep into the ground and bring up small samples of what lies beneath before investing the many thousands of dollars needed to install these pumping stations.

Yet we human beings have been blessed – though it usually doesn’t feel that way at the time – with a Divine drill that does that exploration for us and saves us that step in the process. He – the big HE – God, lets us know that there is (liquid) gold deep inside of us. He sends us pain. Experiential, physical or emotional pain to let us know exactly where to start digging to find the treasure within.

We can get overwhelmed by the work involved mining for the treasure; the woe unto me and the tears and pain, or we can dig deep – pun intended – to bring out His gift that he is giving us.

There is a Jewish expression, “lo m’duvsheich v’lo m’uktzeich” which means I don’t need your honey and I don’t need your sting. This is a prayer to God not to give us so many treasures and not so much pain. Yet if He in his infinite wisdom thinks we can handle it, it must mean there is a really great treasured deep inside of us.

May we know no pain or suffering.

RECOVERY – Part 1

The Man Who Sneezed (A Fictional Short)

The Man Who Sneezed 

My name is Zhang Wei, I am 41 years old and I live in Wuhan, China. I am writing this to share my difficult journey of the past year. Over the past many months, I have been accused of many crimes, I have been shamed, othered, mocked, cursed and more.

Let me give you a little background. I am an ordinary man from a small remote village in Central China. I got a basic education and got average grades throughout my years of schooling. Since there is little financial opportunity in my village and given my very average education even less opportunity, I decided to try my luck in Wuhan, where I hoped to find a job where I could make a basic living and support a small family. 

I tried many different things, however ultimately nothing really panned out so I went into hospitality management. That is a fancy way of saying that I do the laundry for the towels at one of the big hotels in town that hosts many international travelers. While I am not famous or well known, I do take a lot of pride in my work and my ability to support my family. 

Jobs are hard to come by here and my income is a little more than the national average, roughly $10,000 USD a year. I live in a small house not far from the wet market in Wuhan, where my wife of 15 years raises our two children and keeps house.

I have been doing this for over a decade and while my life is not particularly special, I am a happy person and I like my life. I never aspired to have major wealth or accomplish anything super noteworthy. I am happy with my lot in life. A wife, two children and a salary that pays my bills. We don’t live extravagant lives, and I save money here and there where and when I can. 

And this where the trouble started. I heard there was a sale on some lower end meats at the wet market and I decided to treat our normally vegetarian family to some inexpensive meat as a special treat. I purchased a package of combined meats, basically the scraps of larger cuts of meat all mixed together and I figured my wife would be able to make stew or something that would be a tasty delicacy for our family.

My wife worked her magic and we had a wonderful dinner that night. My stomach started to gurgle a few hours later but I chalked it up to my body not being used to meat and tried to ignore that. 

The next day I wasn’t feeling well but I couldn’t afford to take off too many days off of work so I went to work and hoped that this was just a cold and that it would go away. It didn’t. In fact it got worse and now I was coughing, having a hard time breathing and I felt like I had a bad case of the flu. 

I went to the local clinic for a check up and they told me that in fact it was probably the flu and they told me to rest up and drink lots of fluids. I did what I was told and even though my breathing was quite difficult and I didn’t think that was associated with the flu, and my fever spiked quite high, after a couple of weeks.

In that time I tried to go to work as often as I had the strength, but my boss who saw me sneezing and coughing all over the towels as I was folding them, was concerned that some foreigner staying at the hotel would complain so he told me to go home until I felt better. I did finally feel better and thankfully my job was still waiting for me when I returned.

What I didn’t know was that that in that package of meat that I ate a few weeks prior, was some virus that the meat vendor wasn’t aware of and that I became patient zero for what was quickly becoming a national pandemic. It seemed as if everyone in my city was now sick. The authorities were closing down the stores and ordering everyone to stay at home in an effort to stop the spread of this strange virus. Apparently, this virus was now considered “airborne” meaning that it could be transmitted simply by someone breathing, sneezing or coughing in the vicinity. 

In fact, over the course of the next few months it seems that my virus now spread to the whole world. Flights stopped going in or out of the country, stores were closed, businesses stopped, it was as if the whole world just grinded to a halt!

It was truly a strange time, and while I felt terrible about my part in all of this, it really hurt my feelings to have people talking about me as if I was some crazy or strange person. Why was everyone blaming me for just living my life and trying to work and feed my family? I found it almost laughable that they could somehow think that this whole catastrophe was my fault?

I am, as I said earlier, just a simple person trying to live a normal life. I am a nobody. I am not very powerful at all. I could count all the people that I know on my hands and feet. If you met me, I wouldn’t make much of an impression on you. I look average, I am just an average Zhang.

As the lockdowns continued and the world seemed to spin off its axis, I started to secretly feel a bit differently. I had always thought that my whole life would pass and no one would take any notice of me. Suddenly, I was the most talked about person in the world. True, it wasn’t in a positive light, but for the first time in my life I realized that I mattered. I didn’t intend on becoming infamous, in fact I don’t think I actually even did anything wrong at all. 

What did become clear to me was that all this talk about our world being interconnected was really true. If an unknown and unnamed man – me – in China could shut down the whole world, clearly our lives and existences are more intertwined than we ever knew.

I only wish that my virus was somehow a good virus. Imagine it was a virus that somehow cured cancer? There would be no one left on the planet that would have to feel the pain and suffering and loss of that horrible disease! If only I was able to work in some kind of lab where they could have infected me with something positive that would spread like this pandemic did except instead of spreading disease, illness, death, sadness, pain and suffering it would spread health, recovery, life, happiness, joy and celebration.

Alas, fantasy’s are only real in the movies. Or so I thought.

It struck me, if I could have unintentionally caused so much havoc around the world, imagine how much goodness I could cause if I was actively and purposefully intending to impact the world. 

Sure, I don’t have the medium of an airborne virus, but I do have other mediums that could go viral (pun intended). I could use my social media platforms to spread goodness and kindness. I could actually do something that matters and can, in fact, impact the whole world. I simply need to be creative in making it happen.

I heard of something called the butterfly effect. I am googling it and found that while it is debated if it is actually true and can impact the weather, the concept is most certainly true. Whether it is carbon emissions affecting the ozone layer and global warming or random acts of kindness and the concept of paying it forward does travel forward.

I think my takeaway from all those who are hating on me and Wuhan shaming and bat shaming me is that while I didn’t have bad intentions, in fact I didn’t have any intentions and yet so much still happened, then if I do have intentions and do try to impact the whole world I know that I can. You would be better off of learning from my unfortunate experience than hating on me for it.

The End.

Epilogue

Zhang Wei ultimately lost his job due to the downturn in the local economy. Foreigners were not visiting and the hospitality industry was crushed and along with it Zhang’s job.

Zhang decided to go back to school and use his newfound knowledge and existential realization that he really can impact the world. More importantly his realization that while he thought that he was a nobody that didn’t matter and in fact he was a somebody that really did matter, he was committed to really making a difference.

He graduated from state university with high honors and became a scientist in the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention based in Beijing. There he worked for 7 years on a vaccine for cancer and in fact he was successful. His work was speedily approved by all international governmental agencies that monitor vaccine development and became a standard vaccine given to children inoculating them from cancer for the rest of their lives. 

He received the nobel prize for his cure for cancer and in his acceptance speech he pointed to the Great Pandemic of 2020 as the catalyst for this great development.

He lived till 109, surrounded by generation of family including tens of grandchildren, even more great grandchildren and even a newborn great-great grandchild.

How We Will MAKE 2021 Better

So many of us are getting ready to kiss – while masked of course – 2020 goodbye and welcome in 2021 that is sure to bring new hope and optimism and goodness that was so sorely lacking in 2020.

2020 brought pain and devastation to so many. So many untimely deaths, job losses, destruction to our economy impacting everyone on some level. Somehow, though, we are of this mindset that when the clock strikes midnight on New years eve, somehow that will just all turn around and the dawn of January 1st will usher in a new era of healing happiness and health!

Why? Should the movement on a clock suddenly change everything? The pandemic should still theoretically need to run its course (of course vaccinations are on their way, but that was true in December already), the gears of a crushed economy need to grind back into action, jobs and incomes need to be repaired and repatriated. Those broken by loss and illness sill need to contend with that pain and heal. 

So why will 2021 be the savior that will make everything better? It is an inanimate movement of time, not a spiritual or physical stimulus that should be able to independently change anything?

***

There is a concept that I’ve taught tens of Bar mitzvah boys over the years as I’ve prepared them for the Rosh Chodesh Torah Readings. In ancient times, the new Jewish month would only begin when two witnesses testified that they saw the birth of a new moon. If the two witnesses were found to be correct, then Rosh Chodesh – the new month – began.

 Why would G-d command such a strange system to establish the new month? Why couldn’t he just say, “look at the calendar?” In fact, later Hillel the great sage did in fact compile a calendar and we do use a calendar to determine the next month. However, that calendar was only instituted since the original witness system was in jeopardy of being able to continue. The original system was a biblical mandated system so there must be a really good reason for this strange way of knowing when the new month began?

He did this in order to teach us a lesson.

First of all, it is to teach us that things in life don’t JUST HAPPEN. Just like the new Jewish month doesn’t just happen, because the clock struck midnight of the 1st day of the month, but rather people had to witness and testify to the new month’s arrival, so too in our lives. 

The sun and the moon exist because G-d made them exist. My house, clothes and food happen because my parents bought them, prepared them, and gave them to me. My dirty socks and clothing that I threw in the corner of my bedroom, didn’t just launder itself and fold itself and put itself back in my drawers. There is a loving mother or father behind it, even if not seen that made that miracle happen. 

This lesson is taught by the Rosh Chodesh System.

When one is younger they might think things just happened on their own. As they get older, they might think that any goodness that happens is their own brilliance and has nothing to do with Divine blessing. The Rosh Chodesh system teaches us that even a new month, which we’d think would just happen on its own without any input from me, simply with the passage of time still cannot begin as a new month unless witnesses take the time to testify that they’ve seen and thus all will acknowledge that it happened.

Things don’t just happen. We need to make them happen. On a most practical level that means doing what we can in our power to be involved in making our destiny a better one. If it means creating a vaccine or perhaps securing a vaccine for myself and family or simply practicing safe behaviors and masks to keep myself and others safe.

On a more spiritual level it means recognizing that the sun doesn’t just rise in the west and set in the east and take that for granted. I need to recognize that each time this happens it is an active miracle that Gd chose to do for me personally again today. 

We have a tendency to take ongoing miracles for granted and assume that they are now the new normal AKA nature. However, even nature, in Hebrew “Hateva” has the same numeric value as the Divine name for Gd, “Elokim.” Which is a name of Gd that hints at concealed/restricted revelation, but no less Gdly than an open miracle. 

In fact, we say it in our daily prayer המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית   “who creates in His goodness, daily the acts of creation” i.e. that each day He re-creates from scratch what we just assume will be created again.

So too, in my opinion, can be said for this move to 2021. Sure the vaccine rollout is in process, and stimulus package/s are on their way. However, they will not on their own make 2021 better.

To make 2021 better we have to actually do something to make that happen. Like the affixing of a new month doesn’t just happen, witnesses must seek out the birth a new moon, and have their sighting affirmed by the Bet Din, so too, the simple moving passage of time, moving of the dial of the clock beyond midnight of December 31st, and the dropping of the ball will not make it a better year.

We need to work on the three A’s.

Attitude, action and acknowledgement.

Having the right attitude towards what has happened in the year gone by and realize that the Puppeteer in Chief was moving the marionettes and nothing that happens is random.

Taking action by working towards a better year and improving our connection to the one above, through increased prayer, Torah Study and Mitzva observance.

Acknowledging that we are but pawns in the Divine master plan and notwithstanding the hardship and suffering of 2020, recognizing that there were many blessings and silver linings amongst the challenges.

Then in fact 2021 will usher in a year of health healing and happiness.

Gives a whole new meaning to ringing in the New Year!

2021 won’t be better, we will make 2021 better.

If These Candles Could Speak

If These Candles Could Speak oh what a story they would tell.

They would tell of a time gone by when light was impossible to come by. Not only because the oil wasn’t available due to the attack of the Greek Hellenists on our holy Temple, but because the ethereal concept of light was under attack. The secularist society of the time had no space for optimistic and therefore religious expression.

They’d tell how against all odds a small band of disrupters would simply not accept the status quo. They’d fight back against the war-on-light and they pursue all avenues to procure the critical cruise of possibility. 

If these candles could speak they’d relate how this battle replays itself again and again throughout history. 

They’d tell of a time during the crusades, pogroms, and the Holocaust where the “Greeks” of that era continued to propose darkness as a solution in place of light. Death and destruction were the energy dejour or so they hoped. Yet, lamplighter after lamplighter refused to accept this verdict. It was – among others – Victor Frankl in Auschwitz or Rabbi Y.M. Lau the youngest survivor of Buchenwald and the countless other Rebbes and ordinary people who would not allow their spirit to be snuffed out. They were the Chanukah heroes in their day. 

If these candles could speak they’d talk about a generation of incredible material abundance where the Greek’s dejour wasn’t a nation or a tribe rather a society they told us that hedonism (modern day Hellenism) is the “light” to be worshiped. It told us that we should worship Teslas and our body shapes, our social status “uber alles.” How many friends on any social platforms do we have and how many likes do we get, telling us that this is light and disconnecting and being at peace internally is not woke and is a darkness. It attempted to tell us that vanity is real and authenticity is false. 

Yet the miracle of Chanukah was that we refused to accept society’s norms and real and allowed the Torah’s timeless wisdom to be our oil and guiding light.  

If these candles could speak they’d share how in 2020 during an unprecedented pandemic where all seemed dark, people’s absolute best came out. Like the pure oil made only from the very first drop of the squeezed olive our unprecedented best was exposed. Kindness that we didn’t even know we beheld arose to the surface. 

We shopped for others, we fed one another, we clothed and paid bills for those who were hurting. Each of us in our own way, led our “small armies” into battle and victory over a world illness that threatened to overwhelm us and snuff out our selflessness. 

When push comes to shove, these candles are telling us that history simply repeats itself again and again. It changes shapes and flavors and manifests itself uniquely for the attempted darkness of that time. In the end, if there is a will, then the small army, the underdog can always, and will always prevail over the many – the darkness that threatens to redirect us from our truest mission of light, love and healing.

These candles do speak, for eight nights and days they have the megaphone and they sing this message of hope at their top of their waxy lungs.

Are we open to hearing their song?

The Sweetest Donation

Tis’ the season to be generous. If your inbox looks anything like mine it has been flooded with donation requests. #GivingTuesday requests alone exceeded 100 of emails. I don’t complain since I am one of the senders of those emails.

Face it, organizations all need to survive and non-profits are not different. We all recognise that December is giving month, for whatever reason society has made that a “thing” be it year end tax deductions or just a culture phenomenon and try to leverage that sentiment.

So, when we launched our 30 hour “match campaign” this past Wednesday, we joined hundreds of thousands or organizations that endeavor to tell the world why our cause is important and worthy of support. I am happy to report that our efforts were rewarded and we successfully concluded our campaign raising the entire amount we had hoped for. 

Of the 211 donations that made up the campaign, all were appreciated, but one donation stood out above them all. It was by far the sweetest donation.

My Friend *Phillip is a fellow that I simply know as Phil the Starbucks guy. In fact, that is how his name and number are saved on my cell phone. I don’t know where he lives (at least I didn’t until a few days ago) I don’t know what makes him tick but I do know that he is a lover of ppl.

I know he doesn’t work, and I know he has some emotional challenges but other than talking a few octaves higher than is comfortable, he is mostly harmless and just a nice guy.

Somewhere in the past few years he managed to get a hold of my cell phone number and I often get phone calls or text messages from him and I see the words  “PHIL THE STARBUCKS GUY” pop up on my screen. When I can, I take his calls and talk for a few minutes, other times a text has to suffice, but I realized that in many ways I became one of his few friends that he could talk to. 

Then Covid hit. Everything shut down, even Starbucks. For us dark coffee lovers, this was just an added pain of this crazy pandemic. For folks like Phil, this was the insufferable final straw. His one haven for social interaction was now taken from him. Even when the stores reopened, first drive-through then even the main store, it was only opened as a walk-up-to-the-counter purchase and that’s it. Only a certain amount of people were allowed into the store at a single time and schmoozing and hanging out was strictly forbidden.

This bothered Phil to no end and he made his feelings known. He isn’t on social media so I fielded many of his calls of frustration. First the messages were left on the office line, then to my cell. I answered as many of them as I could promising that things would reopen very soon. Alas, they didn’t open very soon. He ranted and raved about the injustice of it all, and how it wasn’t fair that he couldn’t see me or anyone for that matter.

My heart broke for him but I couldn’t fix his problem but I was able to listen, so I did. When I told him that we’d be having in person services he was delighted and told me that he might even join. Knowing that he doesn’t have a computer to make reservations as was required by our Covid Taskforce, I told him that he’d be welcomed to join us for the holidays without a reservation, just show up and we will seat you, safely separated by his closest neighbor by at least 6 feet. 

I didn’t think he’d show up, since he told me he hadn’t been to Shul in decades, and honestly I was a bit concerned that he would show up since I didn’t want him making much of a ruckus. Well, he did show up and he was on his best behavior. He sat there the entire time and just took it all in. His soul did more praying than his mouth, but I am certain that Hashem delighted in his prayers more than many others. His purity and simplicity shined through his tattered jeans and stained shirt.

After the holiday, he disappeared and after a few weeks hiatus his calls started up again. He always looked forward to us being able to have coffee again and I always agreed. I smiled inside and realized that this pandemic was having a harder toll on some more than others and was grateful that I could at least lend him an ear. He professed his gratitude to me for being there and I patiently accepted his praise and tried to conclude the conversation quickly without hurting his feelings.

With this background you will understand that I found it quite a surprise, when I received an envelope in the mail for our fundraiser from a guy named Phil. I didn’t recognize the last name and the address was not yet in our database but the $18 dollar check was written by the loving but shaky hands of a man named Phil. I still wouldn’t have connected the dots until I I opened the second envelope inside the first envelope which had a Starbucks gift card for five dollars.

It was then that I put the two pieces together and realized who the donor was. Now it was my turn to initiate a phone conversation with him. I found Phil’s number and called to thank him for giving what must have been a very large sum of money for him to the Chabad. Even more, to thank him for the personal touch of the coffee card.

When he didn’t answer I thanked him via a text message.

His text reply: “Tov. See. You. During. Chanukah. To. All Chabad. Touches”.

I am not 100% sure what he meant, but it was consistent with the Phil that I’ve come to know.

No, it was not the largest donation, but it sure was the sweetest.

*A Pseudonym

Hurt People, Hurt People

Hurt People, Hurt People

We are living in a time of unprecedented division in our country. It is the best of times and the worst of times. Never in history – perhaps since the days of King Soloman – has it been this good for the Jewish people in respect to their ability to practice and observe Judaism without the fear of the leaders of a country or it’s citizens interfering.

Yet, the division is also unprecedented. After the elections, I received three emails within an hour, the first one thanking Gd for this pandemic, claiming that barring the pandemic the current president would have won, and was thanking me for helping the election results.

The second email was it’s polar opposite, frustrated with the fact that the election was being stolen.

The third one was downright racist and I won’t dignify it by even discussing anything more about it.

(I am not sure why I got the emails, since I am not that powerful, and I didn’t swing the vote one way or the other.)

Yet, it’s been on my mind wondering why is it that people are so incredibly divided. It isn’t only Jews, it is really all people. This country is split nearly down the middle? Ethnicities that were reliable votes in a certain direction are now split as well. Why?

I think the famous quote attributed to many, “Hurt People, Hurt People” is at play. The premise, if it isn’t obvious, is that a person who is hurt, perpetuates that hurt that they received by then going and hurting someone else. That person then perpetuates it by hurting the next person and thus, generations keep on getting hurt by people who were themselves hurt by others.

People on all sides have been so “hurt” by the other side that there is simply zero space for that other party. I’ve seen it in shul, sadly, and you’ve all seen it on the news and in your lives most likely. One fellow who I hadn’t seen in months, I’d assumed due to covid fears, reached out to me and said, “I can finally come back now that the elections are over.” I thought I misheard, and he was saying now that Covid is over… but upon my question, he confirmed that he in fact meant what he said.

He couldn’t fathom the thought that someone might havea different opinion than him in Shul?

Not that he is wrong, but we have to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, my teacher and mentor excelled at this. He found ways to find common ground focusing on the areas of agreement.

In all the history of our people we have always been arguing. Gd and Abraham regarding the destruction of Sodom. Moses and God regarding the planned destruction of the Jewish people. Abaya and Rava, Rav and Shmuel, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Akiva and hundreds of others. They disagreed without hurting the other. They had different opinions, and they strongly disagreed yet they found a way to disagree and not be disagreeable.

The trick is to reverse the quote. Not, to be hurt and then still not hurt others, but to not be hurt in the first place. Find empathy and rachmanus for the other party. When someone says something disagreeable, let’s try to feel empathy for them and their opinions if we truly feel they are completely wrong. If I feel that they are not 100 percent wrong, I should seek to find the1 percent of common ground where we do agree. When in fact you are hurt, to choose to not perpetuate that hurt by hurting back or by hurting another.

The Rebbe taught that when you are hurting, the only way to heal that hurt is by channeling that negative energy into something positive. In memory of his father passing away, he established a study center for the elderly giving them a new lease on life. When his wife passed away he took the hurt and established an international birthday campaign. To commemorate death by celebrating the beginning of life.

It is counterintuitive but it is in fact the only thing that works. To turn hurt into healing. Pain into growth.

Hurt people, help people is the antidote.