Living Intentionally

When I was 15, I went to an overnight Yeshiva summer program in Italy, where I met a counselor who continues to have an impact on my life today. He is, in a word, a mashpia. A spiritual mentor. He is someone I can call to get guidance when facing spiritual or personal dilemmas. I do call him, and he is there for me. He is honest and wise and discreet, he is my friend.

I bumped into my mentor this past weekend in New York at a large Chabad conference and I had the opportunity to reconnect with him a bit, and was reminded of some of our good times together. I gave him a lift in my car and due to NY traffic a short ride turned into an hour long discussion.

I heard some of what is going on in his life, and shared with him much of what is going on in mine. I told him I am on a journey to live more intentionally. I am too old to be reactive all the time. I share that I am working on having intention in everything that I am doing. I find, I told him, that when I make a decision, good or bad, then I feel better about my life. I don’t look over my shoulder second guessing or thinking that it might have been better elsewhere. I don’t have “FOMO” or fear of missing out, because I am living intentionally. So where I am, I am completely, including in my head, and certainly in my body.This is a modern application of a well known chassidic discipline, Ah Chassid, vu er iz, iz er ingantzen – A Chassid, where he finds himself, he is there in entirety.

Obviously this is not always easy, and often I need to recalibrate to get back to this centering thought tool, it is a truth and perhaps one day, this may become an involuntary muscle that can operate with this intentionality more naturally.

Friday afternoon, on this same weekend conference I found myself walking down the main drag in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn heading to the large Shul where thousands (literally) go to pray, and bumped into my mentor friend again. This friend is saying Kaddish for his late father so he needed to lead the service at the afternoon Mincha Prayer.

This process requires a minyan of ten, so he asked me and the handful of others heading down the street to be part of his minyan when we entered the Shul building. He led the services flawlessly, easily reading the prayers that he must have said many thousands of times.

I watched and was transported to a time when he didn’t read so smoothly.

Some 25 years ago, when I had first met this man in Italy, he would teach us Torah, however then he had a lilt in his voice as he articulated each word very very slowly, and with a soft musical melody as he read the words.

Blog 44/52

Photo Credit Psychology Today

Trade-Offs

Trade-off – Definition – a balance achieved between two desirable but incompatible features; a compromise

Life is full of trade offs. Everyone knows that. What we often don’t realize is the depth to which it guides and can help our lives.

I travelled to New York this week for a quick visit to celebrate the engagement of my niece, the first grandchild of my in-laws to get engaged. In Torah-observant circles this is a major event and a large community party is held to celebrate.

My office assistant, when hearing that I’d be out of town, mentioned something to the effect of “you guys are always going away for many fun simchas.”

She is right, we do get to have many family celebrations but that too comes at a cost I explained to her. A “trade-off” that I’d gladly make again and again. The fact of the matter is, we do have large families, and if you simply do the math, if I have 11 siblings and my wife has 10, that is 21 opportunities for weddings, hundreds of bris(im) or baby naming celebrations, hundreds of bar mitzvah parties, and so on.

There is a price paid for that though, because the families are large, there is usually less personal space, roommates are almost inevitable, there is less money available for some of the luxuries of life. You have to work harder to be heard, or to get what you want.

However, are any of those truly a bad thing? Forced interactions makes you more social and resilient. Learning to work hard to be heard or get those extras that your parents cannot provide teaches work ethic and the value of money. Learning to speak smart and wise rather than loud. And so on.

In fact, I mentioned to my assistant that while many American’s can afford the time, money or simply the strategic ability (someone to watch their kids, or to bring them along) to get away on an annual or twice a year multi-week vacation, for us, given our family dynamic, getting away for a night or a two by ourselves costs us more on the home front, holding down the fort than the vacation itself. Alternatively, bringing the crew along can raise the costs of a getaway by six or seven times depending on how many kids you bring with you.

But this is a trade-off that we gladly make. The price is worth it.

At work we make trade-offs, more hours or overtime for more pay. Or less, in the pocket but more family time and more time in the heart.

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong but an awareness that every decision has a consequence. What do we choose?

This trade-off enters the religious observance domain as well. I can choose to lead a more Torah-centric life along with the perceived limitations and restrictions it imposes on my life but celebrate the reward of a life full of meaning and purpose.

There are no rules, that a religious person will have eternal happiness and meaning and wealthy people will have eternal luxury but eternal unhappiness or lack of purpose, and as Tevya might have said, “Isn’t Gd so great that he could provide us with all?” And he’d be right. I pray that we all have the best and most of everything. The reality is that that is a utopian dream that for the most part doesn’t exist. To quote Dennis Prager’s mom, “The only people I know who are completely happy, are people I don’t know too well.”

Until such a point that we can have it all, we have to make choices.

Should I risk that money for a large investment? The payout may be huge or I may lose pants…..

Avraham made a choice. He chose to go against the grain and be a maverick monotheist at a time when absolutely no one else was doing it. Even his father worshipped idols and reported on his “wayward” son for breaking the mold (and his idols). He took a great risk, he made a trade-off.

He chose to live purposefully and mindfully and dedicate his days to spreading that message with the world. In so doing, he lost many friends and family members, and had to live in isolation for much of the time. I am sure if we could ask him, he’d tell us that it was the best choice he ever made.

So, life is full of trade-offs. Make sure to choose wisely. It is OK to trade some of the material things for a deeper existence. Grandpa Avraham did it, and so can we.

Blog 43/52 Photos Courtesy #Starbucks Baristas

Quid Pro Quo

My Thoughts On Quid Pro Quo

Sermons I will never give #2

These days the news if saturated with the term quid pro quo. Was there a pro quo? We all know that there was a quid.  So let’s take a moment to analyze this.

I get it, there are people in all camps with all kinds of opinions. Some feel that He has been at it too long, and it is time to get Him out of here, and if there was only a pro quo, then we could be done with Him once and for all.

Others, feel quite the opposite. They feel that this is their Man! There was no pro quo so leave Him alone. Look at yourself they say, when you are pointing a finger at someone else, you are point three fingers right at yourself.  In fact, you should really be thanking Him for all that He has done for you!

Others, land somewhere in the middle, and they want to take everything on case by case basis. Don’t judge the Man, judge the actions. replicawatches.nu

Now, try this on for size. What if we were in the hot seat, and the question of “was there a pro quo” was for a quid that gave us? Feels very different if we are in that seat. Huh?!

Is it only bad for there to be a quid pro quo if it someone else? Someone in power? Maybe quid pro quo is actually a good thing?  Shouldn’t there be a bit of tit for tat? Shouldn’t I have to give to get, and get to give?

Listen, starting Sunday night, Rosh Hashanah, we are going to be meeting Him, and I hope that there is whole lot more quo than quid. You see, I for one know that I do not deserve nearly as much quo that I want and am praying for given the amount of quid I gave. I really do need to pick up my game and be doing a lot more quid-ing this year.

What about you? Do you think He/Him – Hashem of course – (who did you think I was talking about?)  has given you more in return for what you gave him this year?

Something to think about.

Shana Tova

Blog 45/52 Picture Credit Kickstarter.com

Don’t Worry About the Disappearing Jews

Sermons I will never give #1.

Don’t worry about the disappearing Jews.

As a Rabbi, this is the season where you do some serious soul searching. You see the numbers of your Shul’s membership, wax and wane. You see the level of Jewish interest in your community rise and fall and, at times, not reach the level of participation rise to where you think it ought to be.

You discuss with colleagues about sermon ideas, and wonder if you are going too deep, and content rich, where you risk putting the crowd to sleep, or are going too shallow and not having enough faith (pun intended) in your audience that they can handle more.

You ask yourself, am I inspiring the crowds to find their best Jewish self, or am I chasing them away.

Why does it appear that day two or Rosh Hashanah has almost disappeared, a day that was sacred even with the so-called 3 day a year Jews? Why do people send kids to religious school, but then not pull them from school to attend services?

What else can we do to engage today’s Jewish generation? We have already cut so many corners, that its starting to look less and less like the original Judaism?

The Pew Research poll of a few years ago, painted a bleak picture of the outlook of non-orthodox Judaism. Are we to believe the “professional” studies and throw in the towel?

Will our Shuls and schools be shuttered in 25 years, to be turned into condos sold to the highest bidder?

It is easy to feel melancholy and hopeless about the future of Judaism if you look at it via the myopic lenses of today.

Is there hope?

Of course there is. It doesn’t absolve us of doing what we can, to convince, bribe, hoodwink those we know to get to Shul, go to Religious school or Jewish Day School, improve in their overall Jewish practices, but the fact is, it is not the worst its ever been. In fact, it may be better than its ever been.

Case and point.

Rewind a few year, like to the year 539 BCE, in the days of Ezra the leader and Nechemiah the prophet, the two leaders of the Jewish people of their time. They led the return of much of the Jewish people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the destroyed Temple.

You’d think they were operating in an environment of a spiritual revolution like in the spiritually heightened 60’s. In fact, it was a time of such extreme desertion from Judaism, intermarriage was at an all time high, assimilation at a point that the prophets needed to exhort the people to leave (in some cases even leaving their families behind ) and restart their lives in Jerusalem.

(Even more starling, according to Yeshiva University Historian Maurice Lamm, there was a time in history when there may have been as few as 10,000 identifiable Jews!)

Compared to that, today we live in near biblical times. While suburban and even big city Jewry may be struggling, there are still yeshivas and Shuls across the globe that are expanding and growing to numbers never seen before in history.

Despite the extreme desertion from mainstream of Judaism, with the help of of the prophets and Ezra’s inspiration, he instigated a revolution of return, where people left their sinful ways, and ultimately rebuilt the Temple on the basis of the Torah Law, as it was.

From there it flourished and expanded and spawned rebirth to the point that it was transformed into one of the brighter times of our Jewish people.

I always refer to this era when the going of Judaism appears to be rough. It’s been rough before and from there it has gone through good metamorphosis and back from the brink to some of the brightest times.

So, to the naysayers, be they internal or external. This is not a time for despair. It is a time for hope and renewal.

As long as there are Shuls and people in them, it is a good day. There are many Ezra and Nechemia’s out there to lead the genesis of the next rebirth of suburban Judaism. They my be the folks who show up early and sit on the front row, or they can be the people who stand in the back and schmooze.

They are there, and that itself is reason for hope and optimism.

Shana Tova and Happy New Year.

Blog 44/52 Photo Credit https://legalanchor.com

Nachas Vs Nachos

Nachas vs. Nachos

I like nachas. Of course I like nachas, who doesn’t? But I like more than the experience of Nachas, I also like the word nachas. I write it, say it, bless people that they should have it. In letters I always close with it, “you should have nachas” etc. etc.

The funny thing is that my spell checker doesn’t seem to care for it. As a matter of fact it has its own constant wish that every single time I wish nachas it wishes for its secret desire. It wishes for nachos. Just a difference of one letter but it really makes a world of difference. I want nachas it wants nachos.

What is nachas? If you don’t know then I can help you with a general definition but it won’t do the word true justice. The mainstream dictionaries don’t have a translation. The online Wikipedia research considers it not to be English but rather Yinglish and meaning (נחת) — pride (usage: I have naches from you). So it is Jewish pride. When one gets/gives a sense of joy from/to a relative, usually a parent or grandparent for something they’ve done or accomplished.

It has a lot of similarities to nachos, in the sense that they both make you feel good, they fill you up etc. However, unlike nachos, you can never have too much nachas. It is like “wonder” bread, or even better like the beer, it fills you up and never lets you down.

So, I wonder, why is my computer bent on nachos when I want nachas?

[This column didn’t start out with the intention to be funny or witty or an experiment of the English language, however, let’s see where this leads us.]

As the great Baal Shem Tov taught, everything in life is there to teach us a lesson and ultimately bring us closer to G-d, so I asked myself, what am I to learn from my computers constant peppering me with a choice between nachos and nachas?

We are ending the holy month of Elul, the 30 day preparation period before the high holy days. Where each moment counts and is an opportunity to delve deep within ourselves and find aspects of our character or behavior that needs repair. From the Kabbalistic perspective the last 12 days prior to Rosh Hashanah (that began this past Wednesday) is actually so precious that one can repair a month in a day. I.e. the 18th of Elul corresponds to the Hebrew Month of Tishre and the 19th to Cheshvon etc., so if utilized properly one can genuinely get huge amount accomplished in a very short space of time.

If this is indeed so, perhaps my computer’s friendly reminder is in effect asking me to make a choice; Do you want to give your Father in heaven nachas, true joy, or do you want to give yourself temporal pleasure (nachos), the choice is yours.

The funny thing is that even when I answer the computers question regarding whether I want to use that word, it then asks me do you “really” want to use that word, it’s not in our dictionary, and I have to say yes, yet again, to really affirm how I feel. Perhaps this is G-d’s system of letting us know that giving nachas isn’t easy.

The only way to remove the constant asking of the question “are you sure you meant nachas and not nachos?” is by “adding it to our permanent dictionary.

Blog 43/52 Picture Wikepedia

He Who Laughs, Lasts

As we approach Tisha B’av, my heart begins to shudder. I wish it were about the lofty things like the fact that I am mourning the destruction of the two temples, or the many other tragedies which happened on this day. In truth it is more about my missing cup of coffee in the morning.

You see, unlike Yom Kippur where, as a rabbi, I am busy with other things, like sermons, machzors and chairs, on Tisha B’av, it is usually a hot summer day and, like this year, the fast is pushed to Sunday, so I am home with the kids, and fighting a lack-of-caffeine induced migraine. No distractions from my personal needs, only dealing with other humans (my kids). Regardless of my caffeine addiction or the more lofty thoughts I should be having about this serious day, there is much to be learned from Tisha B’av, nearly 2000 years later.

Tisha B’av is the date of one of the major fasts in the Jewish faith and is more widely observed and has deep significance to our people. More than the eternal pain of the destruction and lacking of both our Beis Hamikdashs, our holy Temples, there is more that this day embodies. It has become associated with remembrance of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism awareness and more. It is also the day that both world wars began and the expulsion from both England, in 1290, and Spain in 1492 happened.

Our sages teach us that it is baseless hate that brought us Tisha B’av, and that is baseless love that will rebuild the destroyed Temples. So the clear message is that we need to purge our new world order of ego and micro-aggressions, and try to dig deeper into our core and find our inner soul that is able to forgive and forget, love and embrace, move on and move forward.

However, there is a much deeper layer that provides great hope encouragement for the many who feel that the world is in the darkest state it has been in a long time. The government is corrupt, anti-Semitism is on the rise, and the future looks bleak. “For this our heart has become faint, for these things our eyes have grown dim.” Lamentations, 5:17.

The Talmud (Makkos 24a&b) tells us 2 stories, both involving the same characters. Rabbis Gamliel, Elazar ben Azaria, Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva.

Story one: They were traveling near Rome and heard the partying of the Romans from 120 miles (mil) away. Three of the Rabbi’s started to weep and R. Akiva started to laugh. They asked him why is he laughing and he responded, why are you crying? They said, we are crying, because the nation that destroyed the Temple sits tranquil, and the Jews, servants of G-d are not secure. R. Akiva answered, and said, this is why I laugh. If this is the reward of those who sin against Gd then how great must be the reward of those who follow G-ds wishes.

Story two. Same group of rabbis went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed. Same back and forth. Why are you laughing? Why are you crying? They said, “A place [so holy] that it is said of it, ‘the stranger that approaches it shall die, and now foxes are walking through it, how could we not weep?”

To which Rabbi Akiva answered “That is why I laugh. For it is written, ‘I shall have bear witness for Me faithful witnesses—Uriah the Priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.’ Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah lived [in the time of] the First Temple, and Zechariah lived [in the time of] the Second Temple! But the Torah makes Zachariah’s prophecy dependent upon Uriah’s prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: ‘Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; [Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.]’ With Zachariah it is written, ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.

“As long as Uriah’s prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah’s prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that Uriah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah’s prophecy will be fulfilled.”

With these words they replied to him: “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”

These stories are both powerful ones, and teach us a powerful life lesson, an appropriate response to fear, terror, anti-Semitism, pain, loss and suffering of any sort. 

The Rebbe explains in a talk from 1974, that in both stories there is a deeper question to be asked. Why do the sages wait to cry? In both stories they should have cried sooner. In the first story, why did they only cry when they heard the Romans celebrating? They should have cried at the fact that the Jewish people had been conquered. Why only when they saw the enemy partying did their tears begin?

In the second story too, why didn’t they cry when they reached Mt. Scopus, why only when they saw the fox going in and out of the Holy of Holies?

The Rebbe explains, that what really bothered the rabbi’s was not that this was Gd’s wish. They accepted that Gd does things that are not understood to man. Things that in fact feel like a punishments of sorts, or simply unnecessary pain at least from the human perspective.

What they were couldn’t fathom was the adding insult to injury. I accept that the Temple needed to be destroyed (for some Divine reason), but why must they party and be tranquil too? I accept that Temple lies in ruin, but why must animal stroll in and out of it? What is the need to mock us on top of it all?

To rephrase this in (my personal) modern vernacular, as believing Jew I accept that Gd allows pain and suffering, destruction, hate and anti-Semitism for whatever Divine reason, by why the shootings, why a Holocaust, why such devastation on top the loss? I accept that there must be loss of loved ones, but why the emotional trauma on top of it all? A “certain amount” of pain is a Divine part of life, but it seems like too much. It feels like Gd is putting salt on the wound?

And to this R. Akiva says essentially one point. Stop focusing on the loss, but turn on your positivity bias and focus on the gain. If this is the reward of the wicked, imagine the reward of the righteous. If the prophesies of negative come true, then the positive prophesies certainly come true.

According the darkness is the light. The greater the darkness, the greater the light. The greater the suffering, the greater the ultimate reward. Until then, we have a choice. To move forward and laugh or sit on our hands and be cry.

This was Rabbi Akiva’s lesson to the other rabbis and his legacy to all of us. Sure things are not perfect. In fact, they may seem downright bad at the moment. Yet, we have assurances that it will be better. Let’s not get stuck on the bad that has happened, but focus on the good coming our way! Choose to laugh, not to cry. Focus less on what happened and more on what will/can be!

 You don’t see it yet? Well, this is why we await Moshiach, the fulfillment of these realities.

And they responded, “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”

42/52 picture freepik.com

Lost my cell

As I was out of town this past weekend, my cell rebelled. It first played with me by pretending to remain charged at 100% far past the point where that was even possible, and then it died. I tried to resuscitate it, I gave it fresh round of CPR (cell phone repair), I charged it with the highest octane electric I could find, but alas, it had breathed its last.

The problem, I was in the Jewish Alps, the Borsht Belt, the Catskills, and I am now an expert on Cell phone repair options for most of those 100 miles; in a word, NONE.

I began my few stages of grief. I called my therapist (on someone else’s phone of course) and he was not sympathetic enough so I of course I fired him. I figured I would rough this tragedy all by myself. It would be Tuesday a five day delay until I could get it fixed (without ruining my 
family trip to spend a day to get it addressed), and one of them was Shabbat, when I dont even use my phone. So, all in all, I figured I could do it, a 4 day break from my phone.

Turns out I am addict. All the things the experts say about our addiction to our phones are true. I couldn’t function for the first day. I had this involuntary jerking motion of my right hand to my side where my phone holster lives/ed and, as much as I knew my phone wasn’t there, that didn’t stop my hand from doing its own thing.

I couldn’t drive, because how can you got anywhere without your GPS? Follow directions and street signs? So, 1990’s 🙄.

I couldn’t find my wife and kids, because that would actually require me to get up and look for them, verses the completely normal thing, like texting them, “where r u?”

It got progressively worse. I had a few spare minutes that weren’t designated with something to fill my brain with, and that right arm did its thing again, to get the phone so I could scroll some FB or Instragram, and well, no phone, I had to actually be stuck there, in the mountains, with only my thoughts. Oy! Pain.

I started getting sweats and other ailments, as more and more of my life unravelled as I couldn’t function like a normal human being, without my phone.

I mean, even my jog, which is one of my joys on vacation, was ruined since I actually had to look, and breathe and be mindful of what was around me. Imagine, having to look at gorgeous scenery, tall trees, fields of green grass as far as the eye can reach, rivers, and Dams, and other natural beauty was all I could do. If only my phone was working, I could drown these sights out with music or better, important news, about what new crisis was happening in Washington.

I tell you, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. To have to endure such pain, is just not human.

Well, day three arrived and weird thing happened. I guess I was detoxing, but I stopped missing my phone. And then, that’s when the really crazy stuff happened.

Turns out I have 7 kids, 4 of whom who were with us. Turns out they speak, and are really great company.

Apparently, if you sit on a hammock with a couple of your children and no phone, they speak and say some of the funniest and wisest things. Shocking, I know, but true.

Turns out, if you dont have your cell nearby, you might find a child of yours that could use your attention to teach them how to ride a bike. In fact, if your face is not turned towards a phone, they may even learn to ride that bike in under 2 days.

Found out a number of new things, but here are just a few more.

Shockingly, my wife likes it when I look at her when she speaks, when I smile when she makes a funny comment. My ears suddenly started working and that I hear her when she asks me to take out the garbage.

Turns out that the miracle of creation can actually be seen.

Sometimes, you just need to experience a little bit of loss to realize that actually you found something so much better.

Alas, all sad things must come to an end, and my phone, now sporting a fresh new battery has rejoined my life. Relegating that wonderful fantasy into the dumpster of history? However, this near death experience has taught me that it may just be time to slow down and smell the roses, and perhaps leave the phone at home by mistake/on purpose more often, and allow my phone-sickness to heal a bit.

Just a thought… quick let me text that to someone… just kidding…

Blog 41/52

The most beautiful sad funeral

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a woman whose whole mission on earth may have been to share with others how you are supposed to die.

Some background is important. Yesterday I joined a group of men, mostly Chabad Rabbi‘s, or their recruits, in an effort to pull together a minyan for a woman who otherwise was known to virtually no one.

Her name was Nancy Shapiro. Unfortunately that is about as much as we know about her. We don’t even know her Jewish name.

Approximately 7 1/2 months ago, Nancy’s pure and holy soul departed this earth, at a hospital somewhere in Metro West near Boston. Having no named next of kin, the hospital held onto the body for an indefinite period of time.

At some point, when no one claimed the body, the hospital reached out to a funeral home in Worcester to respectfully dispose of the body. I.e. cremation. A big no no in Judaism.

For whatever reason, perhaps it is the law, the funeral home put out a notice in the Framingham local newspaper, that one Nancy Shapiro was going to be cremated.

Rabbi Lazarus, the Chabad Rabbi In Framingham, was notified about this notice from a community member, concerned that with a name like Shapiro it seems pretty likely that she was Jewish and perhaps he should step in to help avoid this cremation.

First thing Rabbi Lazarus did was contact the funeral home to see if it was too late. Thank Gd it was not. He then asked them to put everything on hold for a brief period of time.

He then reached out to the Chevreh Kaddisha – Jewish Burial Society of Boston, to see what can be done.

Some background work was done to ascertain that indeed Nancy Shapiro was Jewish, and to see if anything more about her life could be found out.

As it turns out, poor Nancy was in an abusive relationship until it ended, and she was the mother of a beautiful daughter. Unfortunately, her daughter a victim of life, circumstances and abuse, is no longer mentally stable and was now institutionalized.

Nancy, having lived a life of pain and suffering, finally found herself destitute and alone on this earth. After some time, she got ill and passed away from her illness.

With no friends (or relatives capable of) taking charge, her poor body was left to lie alone, marking a devastating ending to an already tragic life.

Through a series of Divine providences, and with the herculean efforts of Rabbi Lazarus, and the Boston Chevreh Kadishah, and this very decent funeral home in Worcester, Nancy Schapiro was able to finally be laid to rest with a Kosher and proper burial.

Her soul and body which I’ve been in limbo for 7 1/2 months – as tradition teaches us, the soul cannot rest until it is interred – was finally put to rest.

***

I don’t know Nancy Shapiro, it seems like not many people did know her, and the few who did hurt her, and then abandoned her.

What a waste. What a tragedy, what purpose did this woman and her suffering on this earth bring?

I am not Gd and I am not a prophet so I cannot tell you anything with any level of certainty.

Perhaps, her tragic story was to bring a bunch of rabbis and laypersons together, to unite in this holy mitzvah of escorting the dead to their final resting place.

Perhaps, even more importantly, it was so that the story is told. To communicate to the world, about the growing crisis of Jewish people accepting cremation as an acceptable form of burial. Here you had a consortium of people, good people, who do not know one another, who joined hands to right this wrong.

They were united in the common goal, to make sure that a Yiddishehe neshama, A Jewish soul, should have a proper kosher Jewish burial.

***

It is said, that the kindness done to someone who has passed on, is called ‏חסד של אמת, True kindness. It is called thus because there can be no expectations of recompense.

I don’t know if that could be any truer today.

While one of the assembled pledged to say Kaddish in her memory, and another to put a plaque on their Shul wall to make sure that Kaddish will be said on her yahrtzeit for all future years, perhaps in fact she is paying something forward to those assembled.

She may have done more to inspired in her death, she did in her life.

She left a legacy of letting the world know, that this is how a Jew ought to be buried. And this is how a Jew must react – as Rabbi Lazarus did – when you see a fellow Jew in distress. Even if that distressed person is no longer alive.

For more info on Jewish Burial vs. cremation see this linkhttps://www.chabad.org/…/179…/jewish/Cremation-or-Burial.htm

Blog 40/52

Goodbye My Friend

Dear Tzemach,

It has been just shy of a week since your passing and I am still at a loss for words? What can I say to you? Your family? The world? This is an epic tragedy! Our Rebbe would often know how to put a “Positivity Bias” on events like this. He’d know the right words to say, how it was a challenge and an opportunity, something that will generate good to make the pain worth it. But I am not a Rebbe. I am just a person who sees the fallout, the collateral damage, and I have been mulling this over and over again, and I am simply without wise words. I have no words of comfort. I, like many greats before me am left to emulate, Ahron HaKohen in his tragedy, and that is to be silent. V’yidom Ahron. I cannot explain away Gd’s behavior. I know that He is the True Judge, and that He comforts the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim but I cannot make any sense of it all.

I can talk about you a bit.

We met in 4th grade, when I graduated the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, to join the “big leagues” in Cheder in Los Angeles. You and I had history before we had history. Our mutual friend, Mendel Schwartz, my cousin and your friend, would have me over for Shabbos often, and you guys would show me around Westwood Village, and particularly the Chabad house.

I particularly remember the mikveh “barrel” that the heat could be cranked to well into the 100’s degrees. We’d dare each other to get in without getting scalded. We were a bunch of hooligans having a good time, without a care in the world. When we went to camp, first CGI and later in Montreal, I finally bonded in camp Makos. More on that in a moment.

Later when I joined YOEC, we maintained our friendship. More you, than me, as I felt the need to continue old family grudges, but you were better about that than me, and didn’t allow our differences to come between us. That in itself is a great lesson for me about you.

Back to camp. I am going to guess we were about 10 or 11 years old, and we were in overnight camp in Montreal. There was a “select” group of boys who were not particularly good at following the rules, to be mild. There was a group of 10 boys, and some bright mind, decided to quarantine us, so that we wouldn’t infect the others, so they named us Camp Makos – Camp Plagues. Since there were 10 of us, each of us was named for a specific plague. The problem was that I had not misbehaved enough to qualify for membership – originally. Eventually, I earned my street-cred and I was initiated. You all had a good friendly laugh at my expense.

While certainly unconventional, at that time and even today, there was some merit in that segregation system they implemented, as they motivated us, with special trips and prizes, to be our best, and I think we did get there. I hope.

Point is, you were a fellow “Makah,” and the three of us, you, Mendel and I were the representative California boys, and we had a special bond there.

We were the envy of the other kids in camp, simply for the friendship-bond that we shared. It was as if we were Chabad kids, like the rest of the camp, but in a league of our own, as children of Shluchim, as well as kids from across the country. That bond never left.

Throughout our Yeshiva years, our paths crisscrossed, time and again. At times were in Yeshiva together, at other times we were not, but always maintaining the friendly connection and West Coast bond.

When we both married girls from Morristown, NJ, we would see each other every so often, and still, you continued to reach out and keep the relationship going. (That is to your credit.) You would even call at random times about some project you were working on, always holy and Moshiach-centric in nature. You never complained, even as I recall one time you were sharing some extreme challenges you were having in your Shlichus, I don’t recall if it was financial or otherwise, but it was weighing on you, and you shared a bit. Perhaps it was just to share with a friend, or bleed off some of the pressure, but you shared and shared… and suddenly you stopped. You caught yourself and then you said, “but Moshiach is coming, and this will all be unimportant. The main thing is that we get the job that the Rebbe wants us to do, done.”

You always shared updates about the books/seforim in Russia and how they were going to be released imminently; you had faith, more than most.

You were a young man, you are a young man.

***

So where do we go from here? For a wordsmith, I remain without words of explanation and real comfort. I am normally a person with endless ideas, never short on what to say, but Gd, you really leave me without any brilliant thoughts.

Hamakom Yinachem Eschem…. That is what we are told to say, even when it doesn’t seem to answer any of the questions. Perhaps questions are good. The moment we make peace with things that are difficult, we make them acceptable.

***
Perhaps this will be of help to some…

I recently saw a TED talk where the woman explained that she had been married to a man, and had a child and then her husband died. She then got remarried and had three more children. She was still grieving the first spouse and was constantly being told to “move on.” Forget about what was, and invest in what is now.

She rejected that notion, explaining that who she is now, is a result of what was, of what had happened to her. All the challenges and tragedies made her the person that she is today. It made her the person who was capable of marrying her new husband and having 3 more children with him. She was able to go forward in her life, specifically because of who she had become. Her past experiences formed her into who she now is.

Her point was, in a sentence, you don’t need to move on, you need to move forward. In fact, you cannot move on, because we are who we are as a result of what has happened to us. We cannot move on from that.

We can however move forward.

Tzemach, we won’t move on, we will do our best to move forward. May Hashem protect your family and keep them safe.

***

To those who read this and want to help out, please consider making a donation to help Tzemach’s family move forward.

Blog 39/52 – Picture Meir Geisinsky

https://www.jewishcenturycity.com/…/443…/jewish/Campaign.htm

Hatch Match & Dispatch

It is always fascinating, how and when people reach out to me for my rabbinic services. Rarely, however, does it cross the gamut of the lifecycle in the space of one week. In the last seven days (written a week ago), I did a funeral, two brisim and a wedding. Even for me, that is a bit unusual.

I laughingly noted to myself, that this was the proverbial line my late uncle, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz would often share. Something to the effect that regardless of how assimilated or secular a Jew views themselves, when it comes to the major lifecycle events, birth, marriage and death, people get deeply in touch with their Gdly soul essence, and they seek out an orthodox rabbi to make sure it is done right.

Obviously, this is not 100% true across the board, as often, people traverse these events, without a rabbi at all, and often not an orthodox rabbi. However, as a Chabad Rabbi, where the vast majority of those who I interact with, are not affiliated, and are assimilated, nine out of ten times, those who ask for my help with a bris/naming, a wedding or a funeral are not particularly religious, yet.

Which begs the the question, why are they seeking out spiritual guidance, and particularly from the toughest of the streams of Judaism? The one who is actually going to insist on a background check and demand a litany things at the highest religious level that they may be spared from if they went an easier route?

(An orthodox halachik bris, is more involved than others (not expanding on this one), as is the wedding, and associated rules, as is the funeral, and the demands of the performing orthodox rabbi. So why do that do that?)

There is a story I had heard many times as a yeshiva student and was recently printed with a source in the new book, Postivity bias, published by Chabad.org by Rabbi Mendel Kalmanson, a must read, and for which I recently wrote a book review), that I think answers this soul question. 

A chassid from another Chassid sect, visited the Rebbe and after discussing his person matters, he raised a Talmudic question. It states in the Talmud, “even the sinners of Israel are filled with a mitzvos like a pomegranate is full of seeds.” His question, if they are truly a sinner, how can the Talmud say they have so many mitzvos? 

The Rebbe in his classical way, turned the question on its head and said, “I have a question on that same quote, and wonder the opposite, “if the person is so full of mitzvos, how can he be called a sinner.”

The difference between the two approaches is a fundamental one. How do you view the essence of a Jew? Is he/she an essentially holy a soulful person who for whatever reason has lost their way a bit and has engaged in or adopted unholy behaviors or lifestyle, but their essence has not changed; They are holy and pure.

Or are they essentially bad, and they happen (like a broken clock hits the right time twice a day) to occasionally do good deeds, to the point that they (the unholy Jew) are full of good deeds like a pomegranate is full of seeds?

This distinction, I believe answers the question I raised above, as to why people will reach out for the highest level of Jewish practice and observance during the monumental life events. Hatch, match and dispatch.

At the core, every Jew is holy and pure. Some of us lose our way a bit and get side tracked and end up living and behaving in a manner that is not truly consistent with who we are at our essence. When a major lifecycle event comes their way, for reasons that they cannot necessarily explain, because they transcend logic, they hail from a place far deeper than the prefrontal cortex, they draw from the soul itself; A Jew is a Jew. 

A Yid, Nit Er Ken un nit er vil, zein upgerissen fun Getlichkeit… (The Alter Rebbe quoted in Hayom Yom) A Jew, (at his core) he doesn’t want to, and he is unable to separate himself from Gdliness.

When we distill it down to its basics, a Jew, particularly when pressed,  cannot separate themselves from who they truly are, that is, a fully connected Jew, connected to Gd. 

As such, it makes perfect sense that an unaffiliated Jew would call an orthodox rabbi. All they are doing is being in touch with who they are at their essence.

Blog 38/52 Picture Google Images