Deconstructing Chassidus

Chassidus, a term often associated with bearded and black hatted men, and often with long side locks, but is about as misunderstood as the Halicephalobus gingivalis (the rarest worm according to google).

In fact, this week, Tuesday and Wednesday Chassidim of all stripes celebrated the release from Jail of the Alter Rebbe, or Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe. To on outsider, this must seem seriously strange. A bunch of funny looking people celebrating a holiday that seems to make no sense. Celebrating a spiritual grandfather being released from a Russian prison hundreds of years prior.

I grew up in a home that was replete with Chassidic teachings, and dedication to the ideals of our Chassidic master, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe of Righteous Memory, but in truth, while I studied the required texts, the daily study, and the requisite discourses and speeches taught in school, I never understood how that morphed from intellectual and mystical concepts, and moved into the arena of the practical.

Growing up, I often heard my father comment, that the difficulties of his life were overcome in large part by his intense study and focus on Chassidic discourses and studies.

To me, there was always a disconnect. How does study about Gd, creation, souls, heavenly spheres, mystical realms, all wonderful intellectual pursuits, convert into a practical actionable behaviors that can truly help me in physical mundane pinch.

How does my esoteric studies pay bills that I don’t have money for? How does 5 levels of soul, soothe the pain of of life, and dreams unrealized? How does studying what systems Gd did or didn’t use when creating a world, (starting with Chaos before settling on Order – Tohu/Tikkun ) help me in day to day struggle to be a good person, parent, spouse, keep my temper in check, make good choices, stand up in the face of temptation and so on?

I think the answer lies in how I have always looked at it. I’ve looked at this question of Chassidus and my relationship to it, as I would any other topic or concept I don’t understand well. I’d seek to define it. If you look at wikipedia, you get an interesting definition, that describes the body of the topic but not the all too important soul of it.

Wikipedia: Hasidic philosophy or Hasidism (Hebrew: חסידות‬), alternatively transliterated as Hasidut or Chassidus, consists of the teachings of the Hasidic movement, which are the teachings of the Hasidic rebbes, often in the form of commentary on the Torah (the Five books of Moses) and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Hasidism deals with a range of spiritual concepts such as God, the soul, and the Torah, dealing with esoteric matters but often making them understandable, applicable and finding practical expressions.

This is all curious and interesting but is missing the concrete essence of what Chassidus really is.

While technically,Chassidus is a form of study; A deeper layer to Torah study. What is known as the “sod” – the Mystical or the secret parts – of Torah, what Chassidus really is, is a life manual wrapped in academic lingo.

Meaning to say, true, you need to study the material to get the info, but the knowledge of the various levels of the soul, or the 10 mystical sefirot and the four mystical worlds is not a goal unto itself. That is like studying math in a classroom but not applying it to your profit and loss sheets when running a business etc.

The purpose of all this study is to realize that just under the surface of the world and life we live is a deeper layer that is in a lot of ways more truthful than our very existence.

That deeper truth is that Gd while not visible is actually ever-present in our everyday existence. He is observing, actively involved, orchestrating in fact every single element of our life. He gives us the ownership stake to make decisions based on the realities He puts in front of us, but he is undoubtedly aware and invested in our every act.

That being the case, suddenly there is a no such thing as randomness in our life. Everything is part of a larger whole. The puppeteer being Gd and as such, we, the marionettes have nothing to fear, as we are really part of a larger play being performed by the Master.

Of course this doesn’t pay bills or solve the actual pain of loss etc. or guide us specifically when working through a crisis, but what it does do is tell us the bills, the pain and the crisis are not random events that should throw us off kilter. These are events that were choreographed for us, and the choreographer has a solution to them. We simply need to go and find that solution.

If we believe in Him, then we believe He doesn’t make mistakes. So, along with the problem, is the solution. In fact the solution was brought in before the problem.

And this, perhaps is what Jews and Chassidim are celebrating on 19 and 20 Kislev. On the surface it is the freedom of the Alter Rebbe from jail. On a deeper and more global level, we are celebrating the freedom of the letters of Chassidus – the mystical parts of the Torah – from their imprisonment of simple academic understanding, and releasing them into the actionable, practical application that they were really meant to for.

Wishing us all freedom from our personal imprisonments.




Hating Hate

This blog is dedicated to the Jews massacred in Pittsburgh, the Jews in Israel dodging rockets, the Jews on the North Shore scared by the swastikas and blown out windows by BB bullets, and Jews around the world that are scared by what appears to be an old trend creeping back in – Jew Hatred

I hate, hate.

I hate having to hate.

The haters love to hate, as much as I hate to hate.

To have so much hate that you will go and wantonly destroy other people’s property and and mark up spaces with symbols of hate, requires a lot of hate

To have so much hate, that you can willfully, unprovoked, cause death and destruction, to both structure and humans, well, that’s whole a lot of hate. The willful taking of a parent from a child, a spouse from his or her beloved, or a child from a parent requires so much hate.

I don’t know how to hate like that. I received no training on how to hate like the haters that hate. How do I combat that hate, if I cannot hate like them?

We are told to spread light in the face of darkness, but does unending lightness and kindness put a damper on hate? History has not shown this to work effectively. You can combat pain with love. Anger with joy. Resentment with charity. But can you respond to hate with love?

Does love really kill hate? Do haters want to hate? Do they hate that they are filled with hate? Would they like their own hate to end? Would the haters even know that I responded to their hate with love?

I hate that people don’t call hate for what it is; hate. I hate that people are in denial and refuse to see the hate that is staring at them in the face. They give the hate a different title. They call the hate by a different name, thus making it impossible to react to it accordingly. If you can’t call it by its name how can you get rid of it?

I hate that my children are growing up in a world that cannot reign in its own fellow humans. A (secret) society that glorifies fear, pain and suffering of others as a goal unto itself.

I hate that Jews (and others) have to be afraid when it seemed we had matured as a nation beyond this kind of stuff.

I hate that this conversation is even necessary. That’s what I hate.

I hate that we are divided.

I love that there is hope. I love that there are lovers out there. I love that I am not defined by the hate or the haters. I love that I can choose my response to their hate. I love that I can control what I do with their toxic infusion of hate. I love that I choose to turn that poison into medicine. To cure with the ingredients that they intended for harm. I have a lot of love in me. I still have some hate as well.

I hate that there is so much hate, but I’d hate for you to mistakenly assume that my hatred of hate will make me accept the hate.

Oh no, sorry Mr and Mrs Hater, you have not seen the last of me yet. We will eradicate you like the cancer that you are. We will remove you and all your friends and relatives for our midst, so  that love and his and her family can replace you.

Goodbye Hate

Hello Love


Blog 8/52


On why we have children

I once heard Dennis Prager comment that the hardest but most rewarding thing you will ever do is have/raise children. I understood that at the time he said it some 10 years ago or more. But seem to be relearning it again and again.

At this very interesting stage of my life where I have my youngest child in diapers and my eldest in college, I find myself pulled a bit in both directions. I don’t sleep either because I am worried about something my older kids are doing or working through, and when I do finally get some sleep, I might be awoken by the my baby’s need for a diaper change or a wayward bottle or pacifier.

In truth, I have learned, as much as I can fret and worry about either side of the family sandwich, there is not a whole lot accomplished by worrying about it. The diaper doesn’t stay drying, and the “snowflake” drama doesn’t diminish with the amount of time I put in thinking about it. “Don’t ride the roller coaster with them”, an experienced veteran educator recently told me.

So why do we do it? Why do we subject ourselves to never ending work of raising kids? Wouldn’t life be so much easier having a small family or even no children at all? Not to mention the exorbitant cost? I feel like an ATM machine, except I have to dispense money regardless if there is actually any dough in the account?

I’ve heard it said, that the other side of pain is joy. Meaning one cannot exist without the other. The spout that emits joy is the same one that emits pain. You can’t have one without the other. If you shut off the spigot that brings pain, you don’t get only joy, you get nothing.

One of my teens recently spent time berating me for some imagined crime for which I was not only not guilty of, in fact I was working to help them. Totally at loss, I seethed inside before throwing in the towel, licking the wounds of failure, wondering if there was hope. The next morning, as if nothing had happened, that same child snuggled next to me on the couch telling me how lucky they were to have me as a parent.

The ecstasy of that moment, not only made me forget the previous days pain, it made it worth yesterday’s pain.

How is it that one child, or one conversation with said child can cause so much tears? Some of joy and some of despair?

Rabbi Lau, writes in his book “From the Depths” about an incident in post war France, where the boys in his group were asked to hear a philanthropist speak to them, and they were none to happy as they felt like props in a fundraising propaganda machine.

Later when one of the speakers, a survivor himself, spoke to them, empathized with them, validated them and told them that they were his hope for a future, the boys began to cry. It was as if the floodgates of years of pent up pain and tears finally broke forth like a breached dam.

Later, one of the boys thanked that speaker saying that now they had cried, he knew that they could also laugh as well. Previously he had felt nothing inside, not happiness or sadness, just dead-ness. Now he felt that his emotional faucet had been turned back on.

I don’t know why life is designed this way. That is a theological question above my pay grade. And this doesn’t mean to say that people without children cannot live, have fun, joy, laughter or the like.

What it does mean, is that if one is forced to endure pain, any kind of pain (today I am talking the pain of child raising, but this concept applies to any kind of pain), it means there is a deeper joy on the other side of that self-same pain coin.

So, as I visit my college aged son, after having changed one last diaper before heading off to the airport, I will consider myself, the luckiest guy on the planet.


Blog 7/52


The Black Hat Wave

Everyone is in election mode. On the right, they are explaining how not losing too many seats was a win of sorts. On the left, they are celebrating how they won back one of the houses of congress and can finally check the conservatives.

In the center… well there doesn’t seem to be much of a center.

One thing is clear, that the blue wave, or the red wave, didn’t happen. So, while some people won certain battles, the war, the war for a country united was lost. Not much of a surprise to our sadly polarized country.

I am starting a new movement, I am going to call it the Black Hat Wave. More on this in moment.

Tuesday night, election night, we had a full house at our Chabad Center, literally bursting at the seams, it was a crowd, hungry, starving in fact, for some solace, and guidance, from a Holocaust survivor. A Jewish people broken yet again by the massacre in Pittsburgh, jittery and insecure, turned out in massive numbers to what we thought would be a perfect response to Pittsburgh.

Firstly, showing that we are not afraid, and we will show up to a Temple without fear. Secondly, to hear from a Survivor, someone who had witnessed and experienced the worst horrors known to humanity, to give guidance as to what we ought to be doing in reaction to these horrors.

We had figured what could be more uniting, than rallying behind a survivor and her story. What could be less polarizing and something everyone could get behind, hearing about the Shoah from someone who was there, and some suggestions about what we ought to do to go forward. Indeed, the attendance in the room bore out this sentiment. A full house as we had not seen since Yom Kippur.

Yet, even in her talk, our dear guest speaker was filled with political lingo, clearly leaning to one political direction. Now, I don’t deny her right to have a political opinion, I have one myself. I had just assumed that she didn’t need coaching to stay on message and not go political as the call of the hour was to unite our people. In fact I told her before the talk, that if you lean on one direction politically, you will alienate half the crowd, and their minds will turn off. Regardless of which direction that is.

She chose not to listen to my suggestion, and well, exactly as I expected. Some loved her others didn’t. Ultimately, I think she squandered a somewhat a perfect opportunity. She undercut her own message of unity. She did have a message about standing up in the face of anti-semitism and not staying silent. However, that message for many (that contacted me afterwards) got lost in the political jabs inserted in her talk.

To be clear. She is the sweetest, kindest, nicest, warmest and beautiful 92 year olds I have ever met. She was poised, confident and commanded respect, all 5’1” inches of her. So this is in no way an attack on her.

Rather, to me it highlighted the intense division in this country, so much so that something that I had assumed to be the most “parve” of topics, (in the sense of being not able to be politicized) was influenced by the division of modern day politics. And it struck me, is there nothing that is devoid of politics? Are there no sacred spaces?

Is there any hope? What can we do?

I introduce, the Black Hat Wave.

I recently returned from the conference of Chabad Rabbi’s representing nearly 5000 Chabad Rabbi’s and Rebitzens, from across the world. Literally.

At my table at the farewell banquet, was a friend from Boise, Idaho, and rabbi’s from Paris, Georgia (the Country, not the state) and beyond. What unites us all? How did we communicate when there were at least 5 languages just at my table of 12?

The secret is the black hat that we all wore. I’m kidding, but only kind of. The black hat is part of the Chabad chassidic uniform, but it an external marking of a Lubavitcher. What unites us is the common theme and life message and mission, which is common to all of us under our black hats.

That is, the Rebbe of Righteous memory’s dream to transform the world to a place of radical love and acceptance. When asked about Conservative Jews or Reform Jews, the Rebbe replied, that he didn’t like labels as they only serve to divide.

When people came to the Rebbe for guidance or blessings, the Rebbe didn’t ask them if they were Jewish or not, or if they were conservative or liberal, dark skinned or light. In fact the Rebbe didn’t require any thing. He did often – even always – requested that people do what they can to increase goodness and light in this world. For each person that meant something else, but the Rebbe’s one common goal that all of us 5000 black hatters in the room know and make our life’s mission, is to love, and not judge any other human being. We can have deep differences, but that does not have affect how I feel about them.

There are many differences between us all, but focusing on that doesn’t do anything good. Focusing on our commonalities, well that can only bring to more collusion. The good kind. Uniting together to get more good things done. Ideologically we may not be on the same page, how could we be, we are different people?

However, we are all created in the image of Gd. Meaning, there is a transcendent, unifying factor that exists in all of us. That’s your Black Hat.

In this incredible time of extreme division and polarization I call for a Black Hat wave. A wave, where that message of radical love is so extreme, it doesn’t distinguish between peoples, and parties. That radical love is your black hat

Think about it, how many family gatherings, Thanksgiving dinners, even Temple services been ruined by a spat about some (political) division or another? And really, how often have you actually succeeded in convincing others to see it your way? I bet the answer is never! The fact is, there is a lot that divides us, but there is so much more that unites us. That is the Black Hat.

The Black Hat wave. Please, let that be the wave that sweeps this country. That is my party. That is what I am voting for. I hope you will join me.

(Ps. Do you know how many different types of black hats there are? The same amount as different Jewish opinions.)


Post 6/52

Picture –

The New IOS

The New IOS 

I was listening to a recent tech podcast, (I am nerdy like that) where they were analyzing the virtues of the latest Iphone XS versus the latest Samsung 9 plus. They analyzed screen size and operating systems, and which one the expert would use for video and game streaming etc.

Then the interviewee said something that stuck with me. He said “Apple’s Ecosystem works really well in helping you toggle in between devices.’ If you are not an apple lover, this is annoying, but if you are part of their ecosystem, the integration between all their products make transitioning and embracing the new stuff very user friendly.”

Meaning, if you have your contacts on your Iphone, you can use them on your Mac Computer, and Ipad etc. In fact, I’ve seen that in action. Until I split them apart, when my cell phone would ring, it sounded like a fire alarm went off in the house. With phones, Ipods, Ipads, Macbooks etc. fake watches all buzzing as they were linked.

It is a pretty exciting stuff, if you are a Luddite trying to take advantage of the ever increasing introduction of newer and better technology.

This has been stuck in my head for a few days and now I think I know why.

I think this is a great model for the another great IOS, and that would be the Gdly or Infinite Ones System.

You see, Hashem in his majesty also created His own ecosystem. A system where everything integrates. In this case however, it is more than devices and data that synchronize, but it is life, family, children, health, wealth and beyond. When things are working, it is an entire ecosystem that designed improve and integrate all areas of your life.

Not unlike Apple, Hashem wants to be in control of everything. Gd is in charge of our health, our wealth, our successes and even our failures.

Gd pretty much says, if you are in my ecosystem, I will handle all your needs. I will update, and upgrade, guide and counsel and do what you need to succeed.

At times, you may find out that a feature is not available, meaning, for now the answer to your request is no.

At other times you may find that you can get what you want, but you need to make an appointment at the (like at the Apple) store even if there is a long wait. There are times when I will be available to you, exclusively, like at times of prayer and the like. When it is your turn, kind and courteous people will guide you and help you.

The people that help you will possibly not look like anything you expected, perhaps they will have hair colors and other features that might be what you’d least  expect, but they will help you nonetheless. Meaning your help will come even if it is from sources and people you’d last think could help you.

Because if you are in the IOS – the Infinite One’s ecoSystem, everything is super integrated and ends well.

We can run with this a step further, or let’s take this to the next generation, if you will…  While Apple doesn’t have much a reward point system, they do have a way of keeping brand loyalty and taking care of their own.

They will do a lot to woo you in, and keep you there once you’ve joined.

Ironically,  Gd works in a lot the same way.

Gd invites us into His world, he tells us that once you’ve let me in, if you truly embrace me, I will take care of my own. I spread my love and vision to the whole world, not only my ecosystem. However, should you enter my ecosystem, well, lets just say, I am into brand loyalty. I take care of my own.