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

Positivity Bias – A Book Review

Book Review: 
Title: Positivity Bias
Subtitle: Practical wisdom for positive living. Inspired by by the life and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Author Mendel Kalmanson 
Publisher: Chabad.org and Ezra Press.
Level of impact: Extreme
Genre: Self help, inspiration, entertaining, educational, biographical and more.

A Story: If you are anything like me, you can often let your lizard brain lead you down a deep and dark hole. Recently, one of my children went off to camp, and called home a few hours after being dropped off, upset, wanting to come home. Normally, my brain goes into fight or flight mode, and goes and takes the circumstance to its worst possible outcome.

Child will cry. Won’t be able to fall asleep. Will be miserable and sad. Won’t make any friends because of how this child feels. Will then feel further socially ostracized, and will fight with friends. Things will spiral downward, to the point where said child will be forced to leave camp, either by choice or by being thrown out. Upon returning, led by feelings of intense failure and boredom, will continue down a path of negative behavior and will further self destruct. So on and so forth, you get the point.

That is one possibility.

There is a second (more likely) possibility. Said child will be sad for the night. Will cautiously reach out to new friends. Said child’s great personality will shine forth, and child will shine and become a star in camp, with tons of friends and feelings of great accomplishment and a real boost to their confidence. And of course, a third and most likely possibility, which is some combination in the middle.

Which result will I get? Can I control that? The answer is only Gd knows, but you can influence the outcome. How so? Let me introduce you to the Positivity Bias.

Typically, as we approach the Yahrzeit of the Rebbe, of Righteous Memory, I reflect on what the Rebbe means to me, how he inspires my life. How I recollect my experiences with him and more. This year, however, in the lead up to the Rebbe’s yahrzeit, I got my hands on a new book, that has impacted me in a way, far beyond anything I have read in a long time.

Typically, I read a book for a particular reason. I like the author. I like the title. I like the subject. I need to pass some time and will read anything that will inform me a bit as I read.

Rarely however can you find a book that does all the above in one.

This book, inspires, and educates while entertaining you with myriad of stories to buttress the points being made. It is filled with Torah wisdom, but it is not complex academics where you can often get bored and lose focus. It is a book of teachings of the Rebbe in an organized manner, that takes you through the central theme of the book, positivity bias, that not only captures your attention, and lets you glimpse into the essence of this holy and great man, arguably the greatest leader in modern times. Most importantly, it inspires the reader to make actual and tangible changes in the way they act, speak, and most importantly, think.

It is the first Jewish “self-help” book that is also, inspirational, biographical, funny and entertaining all in one. It is peppered with a smattering of modern day statistics and studies which the author often uses to affirm a point, or point out the Rebbe’s bravery at bucking the science, and watch as the Rebbe trail blazed a new path, often validated by time and society, only decades later.

When addressing those in the special needs community, the Rebbe was one of, (if not the) earliest adopter of not calling people with physical, emotional and developmental challenges by the “old name” retarded or handicapped, rather special and unique. The author shares a story of an injured Israeli Soldier, depressed by his injuries and inspires him, by clarifying that he is not “less than” but in fact, better than others. If Gd gave him this challenge, it means Gd believes he can transcend his physical limitations in a way that others could not.

He covers the entire gamut of life. From how we think, how we speak, how we act, as being an indicator of the results we will find. Meaning, if we speak positively or negatively about job interview that we are worried about, the outcome will depend on what our bias is. We can influence the result with our thoughts, speech and action on the matter.

He addresses moral struggles, and spiritual struggles, in the Rebbe’s characteristic way. Seeing the ray of sunlight, not the gray clouds through which that ray is coming through. He explores the harnessing of life’s vicissitude, whether they be financial, emotional, academic, and using that same apparently negative experience to fuel further growth.

An example of the above is, when in 1982 on the yarhtzeit of his father, a day usually filled with solemnity, often sadness and bitterness, the Rebbe makes a dramatic parsing of the two. Bitterness is motivational. It can move you to fight back and pick yourself and and work harder, better, smarter to not allow yourself to fall into despair. Sadness or depression is the opposite. It can derail you and bring you to a very dark place where you don’t get motivated to do more, but rather you devolve to self pity and loathing that has no inherent value. You get to choose which path to go down. The results will follow your bias.

In short, this book was a real uplifting and inspiring page turner that can, and will change your bias, to a positive one that will reshape your approach to everything and will really improve your life for good.

***

So how is my child doing? It is too soon to know, but I know that I choose the latter option above. I will use my positivity bias to help control how things will turn out. If they don’t turn out as I want, I know that will be GDs way of giving an opportunity for different but better outcome. That’s my Positivity Bias

***

Local people, private message me if you want to buy a copy for about $15. I am going to make a bulk order ($ave). I don’t want to do any shipping though so I would people who are nearby. – I do not get any kickback 😁

You can also buy the book on Amazon

Blog 37/52 Picture Chabad.org

Zooming in. Seeing the blessings amidst the craziness of life.

On a recent quiet day, my wife and I drove up to a gorgeous quarry and hiking trail up in the Rockport area. The idea was to spend some quiet time together, catch up a bit, as a life with kids, bills, and pressure often don’t allow for.

It was truly majestic. Gorgeous water pools, rock formations of the most exquisite shapes. Waves crashing against the different rocky shores, and lush green forest hiking trails leading you to these beautiful sites.

(I am a big believer of the importance of couples to take periodic time outs to reconnect with each other, away from the pressures and journeys of life. So a secular holiday where my children had school was the perfect opportunity.)

As we hiked and climbed, walked and jogged, picnicked and of course taking many pictures on our phones, I was suddenly struck with a very basic epiphany. (Can an epiphany be basic?) It wasn’t rocket science, but it was as brilliant to me, insofar as clarifying an idea much bandied about in modern day psychology, and even in Chassidus.

We were finishing our day of hiking, and began exiting the State Park via one of those deep green lush trails, where the tree’s almost met each other at the tops, forming a canopy, making it feel like we were walking through a tube of nature. I just had to take a picture of that.

It was then that it became clear to me. Someone, anyone, myself included, if they were to look at us at that moment, or were to look at a picture of that moment, they’d see pure happiness and bliss. Total serenity, and complete perfection. A life devoid of challenge and struggle, just a blissful and happy couple enjoying nature together.

While I wish that were true, sadly, I have not yet arrived at that nirvana. Yet, I myself felt totally at peace at the moment myself.

So which is the real truth? My temporary magical moment? Or my larger life that is far from tranquil?

The answer my friends, was being held in my hand. Hi hanosenes, the one that brought the question, gave the answer. The camera/IPhone that generated the question is the same camera/IPhone that gave clarity to the answer.

You see, when you hold your camera, you can zoom in and zoom out. Sometimes you see a beautiful sight or setting, and it is most magnificent and gorgeous. However, When you expand the picture, widen the lens, or zoom out, the same scene can get marred by the ugliness or the simple mundanity of what is in front of you.

The reality of what is there did not change. However, focusing on the specific item of beauty, allows you to zero in on the object of your affection or item of beauty. This is the beauty and power of the whole photography industry. To capture that magical moment amidst the myriad of moments of the dull and humdrum, or worse yet, amidst the ugly and profane.

This is the clarity that I observed at that moment. In life, we can get stuck on the big picture and be unable to stop and focus on the beauty, the miracles and the blessings that are abundant in our lives. Some call it “seeing the forest for the trees.” There is indeed great wisdom there.

There is an old chassidic expression, “ א חסיד, וואו ער איז , איז ער אינגאנעען” which translates to, “ A chassid, where he is, he is there completely.” In a general way that means, don’t be half-hearted. If you are invested in something (good) be invested all the way.

I take it to mean something a bit deeper. You can zero in on the things that are good in your life. And you can be there completely. You can put all the other distractions aside for those few precious moments that you are focused on the blessings of that moment.

Sure, you will have to zoom out and deal with the larger issues of life at a later point, even in a few minutes from now. But now, your job is to be completely absorbed by your blessings of this moment. Relish them, than Gd for them, and celebrate them.

This is not only good for your physical well-being, but it is good for your spiritual well-being as well.

36/52 Picture TripAdviser

How to educate a child with ADHD

ADHD is all the educational discussion these days. How do you educate a child with a different learning method without compromising the essence of the material  you must teach? One head of school put it to me thus, “trying to teach a child with ADHD in a typical classroom setting is like locking a tiger in a cage and expecting them to be OK  with that.”

Clint Pulver – His Viral Video

You must have seen that video of Clint Pulver, the child with ADHD whom with the guidance of a caring teacher, saved him from the judging and cruel world around him. Instead of reprimanding him for his fidgeting, he told him, after calling on him to stay after class one day, “I don’t think you are a problem, I think you are a drummer.”

(If you haven’t seen the video, take a moment to watch it. It will move you to tears https://www.westernjournal.com/l/slarson/little-boy-adhd-becomes-successful-musician-thanks-one-caring-teacher/)

This simple and moving video and story has garnered millions of views on social media, not because of its daredevil stunts or its novel invention, rather it is because it is a most basic fundamental teaching that is so rare in today’s society.

King Solomon says in Proverbs 22:6, quoted by the Alter Rebbe in the second section of Tanya, “Educate a child according to ‘his’ ways, and even when he is older it won’t leave him.” This verse has been the source of myriads of articles, lectures and ideas of not being judgmental of children who learn differently, rather to find that secret sauce that speaks to them.  

If you can accomplish this, then you will be an effective teacher and the student will be able to be the very best student that they can be. Helping a child who is a round peg in a square world thrive and reach their maximum potential.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this for a moment. The Alter Rebbe continues in his essay to ask a basic question. If the way you are teaching the child is inauthentic and incomplete, since you must alter the “regular” or “natural” way of teaching, to help the struggling student comprehend, then what is the value of the latter half of the verse “even when he is older it will not leave him?”

Have you really done him a favor? You’ve altered or possibly watered down the teachings, in order that you can get through to him, but at the end of the day, what he has now been taught, is compromised material?

After a lengthy exposition, the A”R concludes, that in fact no such compromise has been made. There are different levels and methods by which to connect, love and comprehend (as it were) Gd, and by extension to understand any wisdom or information in this world.

There is the “traditional” method, that you study and you have immediate positive  results for your efforts. However, this traditional method is not so traditional. Most people don’t operate at that level. Only the truly righteous.

Most people work in a more contemplative and ongoing development modus operandi. Meaning, with slow and continued thought, one can develop a love for Gd. When one goes through the process – process being the key word – they can work their way up, stage to stage, level to level, to get to where they need to be in their academic journey.

 “As water reflects the face of a person, so too does the heart of man reflect what it is putting out.” Meaning, if we put out love to Gd, Gd will reflect that back to us. The point being that it is a educational process, not necessarily a destination. Your training the child in a system of thought, a process of knowledge attainment, will reflect back and reward him with success.

As such, if you teach the child according to ‘his’ way, and teach him to be contemplative, even if that is an alternative way from the traditional way, he will always be able to fall back onto that system of thought and be able to connect, study and learn.

This wisdom is ancient and modern all at the same time. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, knew what psychologists and educators today or just figuring out. If you try to force a child to study in a preordained proscribed format it will not only not work, it will backfire. The child will feel broken and depressed by their inability to “keep up” and will not learn the data being fed to them, and furthermore, they will quite possibly rebel, as no one wants to feel like a perpetual failure.

Yet, if you teach a child according to ‘his’ way, meaning, if you teach him, using language and systems that ‘he’ understands and connect with; if you teach him a technique that is basic and foundational upon which he can always fall back on when things aren’t going right, then “even when he gets old, it won’t leave him.”

You will have not only given him fish to eat, and not only a fishing rod by which to fish for his own fish with, but you will have taught him how to make a fishing rod when he has nothing!

Now that is a victory.

Blog 35/52 Photo Credit

Speech @ Rally for Good

Speech for rally

Thank you Mr. Mayor & Debbie Coltin of the Lappin Foundation, the soul behind this rally, the PCMA and specifically Joel Aderle and Richard Perlman, David Kudan for the great work you do for the community and the faith communities and all those from the various houses of worship in town. Thank to the Peabody Police and State police … your visits with your cruisers at the local Synagogues and my home is very comforting.

It means the world to myself, and my family personally, and to the entire Jewish community that so many organizations came out, including the CJP, ADL, Deputy consul General of the State of Israel and more…

However, more Specifically, I want to thank the residents of the city of Peabody and the surrounding communities. Thank you for showing up today and being counted, and standing by the local Jewish community, as I know you’d do for any faith that was attacked or maligned. This is a rally against anti-semitism, against intolerance, but it is not about me.

When I wrote the Facebook post that started all of this, it did not cross my mind that I would catch fire quite in the way it did.

But it is you, those of you who are present and those of you who could not make it, who chose to share it, like it, put a cry emoji on it, comment on it over 1000 times, that really pushed this whole thing forward.

If this incident, and my writing of it on Facebook, caused this rally FOR goodness, Mr. Mayor, you’ll forgive me for renaming this rally. It is not a rally against hate, but A RALLY FOR GOOD! …  and if there will be some actual substantive good things that will come out of it, more than simply saying “we won’t tolerate this,” , then as they say in the Passover Haggadah, Dayeinu … it would be enough.

While it is important for Jews to stand up loud and proud, wear their kippa and their Star of David , and to not cower in fear, and frankly that was the purpose of my post… if we look to history to be any sort of guide… it was the righteous Gentiles of the world that saved so many thousands of lives there in the darkest period in Jewish history , the Holocaust.  As many hundreds and thousands did then, so must many hundreds and thousands do  to today, and that is, to do something good in response to negative and hateful acts.

I will let the ADL tell you the statistics of hate, and the trends. Yes, they are frightening, and step one is to call it for what it is, but my, as a Chabad Rabbi and a student of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Righteous memory, is to guide myself and others who wish to participate, in the appropriate response, and that is to increase in goodness.

When my wife and I moved out here, 16 years ago, with 2 children this was a city that prided itself on being a “NO PLACE FOR HATE” city. Now, 16 years later, and 5 more children later, that slogan is being put to the test.

I stand here before  you today, to say, that that has not changed! (applause line).

The City of Peabody is a city of love, tolerance, compassion, diversity, warmth and acceptance. We are still that city, and sometimes someone or something rattles our cages and makes us unsure if this is still the case, but I assure you, Peabody is a city where there is NO PLACE FOR HATE! (applause line).

Yes, I am a rabbi here in town, but I am a regular person, a human being, a father. I have a need to keep my family safe and protected. I don’t have my head buried in the sand about what happened and other dangers that Jews face. I simply choose to focus on solutions, not on problems.

In that regard, there is a lot of good already going on, and this has already generated more.

Among those hundreds of comments on facebook, I also got many private messages as well as emails.

One, from Rhona said, “I pass you and your family every Saturday as you are walking to your Synagogue, and I love to see a family in today’s day and age, that still has values and wants to go to their house of worship and pray to Gd. I also noticed that one of the little girls was walking a bit too close to the street, and her older brother, ran quickly to protect her, and bring her deeper onto the sidewalk. How do you make such children these days?

Then there was a note from a local religious leader of another faith who told me, “that what happened is not reflective of his faith, nor of any faith, and that he will be wearing a star of David in solidarity. “

There were many more, perhaps even 100 more, but one final one.

Mikey, emails me and says, “Rabbi, I am so sorry you had to experience that. I am not of the Jewish faith, but I have a lot of respect for the Jewish People. Growing up, I was a troubled kid, and it was Mr. Goldberg, in Revere, who took a chance with me and hired me when no one else would, and that helped get me, and my life back on track.

I realize that you and Mr. Goldberg are really the same. You both are just trying to help out your local community. And now it is my turn to be Mr. Goldberg. I am going go to my next door neighbor’s house. She is an elderly woman who has trouble keeping up. I mowed her lawn, and now I am going visit her regularly, since she is just so lonely.

Thank you for what you do, and thank you for inspiring me to do better myself.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mikey really captured the essence of what this Rally for good is, what Peabody is, in my opinion.

We need to turn darkness into light. Sadness into happiness. Negative into positive.

How we react to negative things, is the ultimate differentiator.

Some are inclined to remove with the visible signs of their difference. Takeoff the yarmulke, hide the star of David, take their mezuzah off their door post. That works for some but that doesn’t solve the problem of hate. People of color cannot remove their skin. People of other oppressed communities cannot hide who they are.

So hiding your identity doesn’t fix anything. In fact, I think we need to do the opposite. We need to reinforce our individuality, stand louder and prouder in who we are.

The real solution however is to root out hate.

It needs to be in un-cool, un-woke, to hate.

It needs to become stylish, fashionable to do good. (More on that from Rabbi Baron in a moment.)

PAUSE…..

Back when Kennedy introduced Peace Corps, it became a good and noble and stylish thing to be giving to others. In Judaism we call that a mitzvah.

I call upon all those present and all those who will see or hear this at a later point, to do their part in rooting out that hatred by increasing in act of goodness.

Do a Mitzva! Replace the hate with something concrete…

PLEASE TAKE 30 SECONDS, RIGHT NOW, TO THINK OF SOMETHING CONCRETE THAT YOU WILL DO, SOMETHING THAT IS POSITIVE, THAT WILL MAKE THIS ALREADY GREAT CITY EVEN GREATER. SOME GOOD DEED, OF KINDNESS, … perhaps VISIT A FRIEND WHOM YOU HAD A FALLING OUT WITH, BRING FOOD TO SOMEONE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD WHO JUST HAD A BABY, BE CREATIVE, BUT PLEDGE TO DO SOMETHING GOOD.

WAIT 30 SECONDS!

Finally, hate begins at home… it is a learned trait… As I posted on facebook. we need to change the way children are educated. They need to learn that there are real people, real victims of who are impacted by what they say do and think, and there is life beyond video games and social media.

There was a movement in the past that I hope will be considered by the school committee boards to make a comeback. It was called a Moment of silence in our schools… you have heard about it in the news, when my colleague, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein made it part of the national discussion, after being shot in the hands, defending his Shul in Poway California.

The idea is, students are asked to stop for a minute, no talking, no phones, nothing, just closing their eyes and realizing that they are not alone here on this earth. There is a higher power, whatever that power may be to them, and that they, each and every individual, child – and adult – matter. YOU MATTER, therefore, WHAT YOU DO MATTERS! There is a God and Creator … a reason that we exist… we are not random… and nothing is by mistake.

If we heal this at the bottom, it will improve at the top. It may take some time, but it will get done.

So, again, thank you to you all who took time to come out on a busy late Wednesday afternoon, fight the downtown traffic and parking, to rise up and rally against hate, anti Semitism and may this be the last that we have to do such a thing for any faith or form bigotry.

Amen

Blog 34/52 Picture Heather Gravalese Facebook

Exhausted & Sleep Deprived Heroes – A Shavuot Thought

As parents of a growing family, a good nights sleep is mostly a thing of dreams, pun intended. There is always a diaper that needs changing, a midnight drink for a parched throat, and of course the occasional illness that needs soothing.

It is rare that the interruptions come from above. Literally, above my head. The other night, As I was beginning to dive deep into my REM portion of my sleep when the smoke alarms around the house started up. It didn’t stay on for long, so after a brief check of the house I didn’t think much of it. When it started again about 20 minutes later, and stayed on long enough to frighten everyone into my bedroom for an impromptu overnight family sleep out at the foot of my bed, I decided it is time to take this more seriously.

However, again after an exhaustive search of the house, even the attic I decided I need to call the Fire Department. Could be carbon monoxide, who knows.

After their ceremonious arrival, and their deduction that it was a faulty unit, finally, 4:30 everyone was back asleep.

Everyone, except for me that its.

I’ll muscle through the day, and there is always to tomorrow night, being my mantra. Another day in the life of…

What is about sleep that so consumes us? The insomnia medicine market is a billion Dollar industry. Why? The human body was designed to get more sleep than just a couple hours a night, and consecutive hour/s not piecemeal.
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So you think I am complaining? OK, maybe a bit, but there is a point at the end of this rant. Doing many (odd) hours awakings, and wondering if I will be able to function on fumes the morning after, got me thinking.

We are one week away from Shavuot, (June 9th and 10th to be exact) and we will have many wonderful services and parties, but there is a tradition that the night leading into Shavuot, June 8th in the evening, to stay up all night, and study Torah.

The reason? To “fix up” for the Jews who welcomed the Torah at Sinai by…. Wait for it… yup, SLEEPING!

So I don’t get it, you want to get ready for the greatest event of your life, they were going to experience Gd as humans never had prior, you’ve just spent the past 49 days counting down to this magic moment and when the big day comes, where are they? Sleeping?!

Now, I get it, when you are tired, you don’t function at your 100% optimum. I know, I’ve dropped a couple balls of my own in the past few days, but basic decency would suggest being present and awake when Gd is coming to meet with you. And even if you are bit wonky from tiredness, you still should get out of bed and show up?

Chassidism teaches that the Jews were preparing for Sinai in the way that they thought would be best. They figured, that when you are awake, your soul is stuck in your body, your body is an inherently selfish machine (always trying to do what’s best for it), and so they’d transcend their physical bodies by being asleep.

More than that, the soul, when the body sleeps, ascends to more heavenly spheres, hangs out in higher worlds, gets cleansed and polished while sleeping. So, in their perception, the best way to prepare for the giving of the Torah, was to be at their highest possible “personal self” and thus they were asleep.

And thus, we stay awake to correct their error. They may have been correct in theory, however, life exist in reality, not theory. In reality, you need to show up, even if it is not in your optimum state. You still need to be there.

And while we might be tired the next day, we are at least making sure that we there, present, and we showed up. Half the challenge for most things in life, is just showing up. Tired and all, warts and all, you gotta show up!

So, to our sleeping child, who finally went to sleep, but left us unable to do so, we thank you for keeping us awake, three nights in a row. We will get our revenge when you tell us that your kids kept you up all night. We are very patient ppl.

However, to the serious point, sleeping is important, kabbalah talks about the power of dreams that happen while you sleep as being the disjointed thoughts of your day getting expunged from your body. So sleep is necessary both biologically as well as spiritually. However, there is incredible value in being awake.

When you are awake, you do things. And this, is what makes us humans. Flawed humans are greater than perfect angels. Flawed and physical humans, do things and can break out of their personal limitation, angels, while perfect and flawless, are stuck in one spot.

That was the ultimate mistake of the Jews at Sinai, and that is what we flawed humans can fix. It is particularly in our physical reality, our vulnerability where Gd resides, and it is there that we are both human, and awesome!

So, whether it is a sleepless child, or a broken smoke alarm keeping us from our dream sleep, remember, that While sleep is the fuel to help us conquer another day of life, the goal is the awake hours where you do the real conquering.

Blog 33/52 Picture Raizel Schusterman