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