Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

A Thanksgiving thanks, even when it hurts

We are once again approaching the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a time where families get together and celebrate life. Last year, our celebrations were severely limited due to the pandemic, but this year, things are looking better. We should be thankful for this positive change and pray that it continues.
The concept of offering thanks is not alien to Judaism. In fact, as we shall see below, thanks are offered every single day in a myriad of ways. The basic thrust is that we need to thank and thank often, and never take anything and anyone for granted.

When the holy Temple in Jerusalem stood before it was destroyed by the Romans, there was a special thanksgiving sacrifice offered by those who wanted to say thank you to God. The Talmud informs us that there are four situations which obligate a person to bring this thanksgiving offering.

1.   One who has crossed the sea.
2.   One who traversed the desert.
3.   One who was sick and became healed.
4.   One who was incarcerated and became free.

The common denominator of all four occurrences is that they were saved from danger. To recognize this fact and thank the one above, a special offering is brought. Since there is no longer a Temple, we substitute these offerings with a special blessing during a public Torah reading. There is also a Jewish custom to invite family and friends to a special thanksgiving meal upon surviving a life-threatening illness.

We are taught in the Jewish code that the first thing we do upon awakening, before we say good morning to our kids and sorry to our spouse, is to sit at the edge of our bed, bow our heads and say a thank you prayer. The specific wording is that we thank God for restoring our Soul, and giving us another crack at completing our unique mission in this world. An acknowledgement that life is fragile and that there is much to accomplish.

As a Jew, I pray three times a day. These prayers are held in the morning, afternoon and evening. The Morning Prayer is the longest and is said before we go to work and begin our tedious day. The very first word that we utter as a congregation is the word “Hodu” which means thank you God for listening to our prayers.
At the pinnacle of all these three prayers, we are advised to ask God for individual and specific help. We stand, put our feet together and ask God to fulfill our wish list. This prayer is called the Amidah Prayer. The last page or two of this comprehensive wish list is completely devoted to thanks. Essentially, we are thanking God in advance for our very breath, food, job, children and life.

We are all human and most of us have had a thought-flicker that perhaps God is not listening to our prayers. And some of us are completely convinced that the thing they asked of God definitely went unanswered. I, as a Rabbi, get asked this over and over again.
My thoughts on this are that God’s sense of fairness, justice and thought is completely different from ours. We are a finite being and trying to understand God’s way of reasoning is impossible. We have not fully discovered and neither do we understand how our own brain works, let alone God’s brain. Even scientists who have mapped out the brain admit that they have only scratched the surface. Therefore, it is unreasonable to say that what God did or did not do was wrong or that He did not listen. God operates on a completely different wavelength.
It is very possible (I don’t know God’s brain either) that God did hear everything you asked for, and for whatever reason the answer was a resounding no! Does this make God inattentive or obtuse? I don’t think so. Is a mother evil when she refuses to allow her child an ice cream right before dinner? Even though there are plenty of other mothers (every dad will offer the ice cream and more) who do allow the dessert before dinner, a mother saying no to her child does not make her a bad parent. Quite the opposite. Not only is she not a bad person and mother, she is acting responsibly and fulfilling her divine obligation flawlessly. Likewise, when God says no, it is because there is a reason for it. We are like the child who does not understand how his/her parents can be so mean and not allow ice cream.

The bottom line is this. There are literally so many things to be thankful for. Even if we are hurting from something that is plaguing, troubling or afflicting us, we are obligated to see the good as well. Even if it is not easy to think positively, we must summon the strength to do so. To only see the negative without also seeing the positive is wrong and can be dangerous to one’s physical and spiritual health.
Some examples of simple but important thanks and recognition of the good: We need to be thankful for living in a civilized country with laws and courts as opposed to a place like Afghanistan that is ruled by whims and bullets. We must be thankful that we have a job, home, spouse, family and friends (a great Rabbi?). Even if you do not like your current employment, this should not stop you from being thankful that you have an income and are not homeless and living on the street. Your kids may be a massive drain on your energy, but always be mindful that there are people who are desperate to have children but cannot, etc.

My daughter recently sent me a picture of my grandson at the zoo. His mouth was agape with wonder, his eyes filled with love and hands reaching out to touch whatever animal he was looking at. The picture made me realize that sometimes children are way more appreciative of their surroundings than their parents. Why is this? Because adults are too cynical and are unable to see the forest for the trees. We need to be hyper sensitive to all the good things happening around us and less critical.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to start.
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My late sister's legacy

In the past I have written about my youngest sister’s recent passing at the age of 49 and how it profoundly made me hyper aware of lost connections and also made me rethink my priorities in life. Shortly after she passed, I made myself a promise that just as I reliably show up for familial negative events, such as her funeral, I pledge to be equally present for the better times.

So, as a man of my word, when I received the good news that my sister’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby girl, I made my way to Colorado to where this little baby was brought into the world.

Another reason to travel all the way to Denver was because this little girl is my sister’s namesake as she now shares the same name as my sister (as hard as that may be).
Selecting a Hebrew name for a baby is a serious responsibility and is not to be chosen flippantly. The Talmud teaches that a Hebrew name has a significant influence on its carrier. Therefore, it is imperative for parents to name their children after individuals with positive character traits who have led upright and moral lives.
We are also taught that parents are blessed with a prophetic vision at the moment they finalize on a particular name. One of the great Chassidic masters, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, opines in his magnum opus that there is an incredible connection between the soul of an infant and the soul of the person for whom he or she is named. When a child is named after a person, the soul is elevated to a higher plane in heaven and a spiritual bond is created between the soul of the departed and the soul of the newborn child.
As this baby was named with the exact name of my sister, she is now endowed with all the positive qualities, values, morals and principles that my sister was charged with during her truncated life. This baby has big shoes to fill, and I am sure that with the support of her parents and siblings this should not be an issue.

One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. At every Jewish funeral we recite the following words from (Ecclesiastes), “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G d, who gave it.” The body is mortal but the soul continues to live on eternally.
One of the basic laws of physics, known as the First Law of Thermodynamics, is that no energy is ever “lost” or destroyed; it only assumes another form. If such is the case with physical energy, how much more so a spiritual entity such as the soul, whose existence is not limited by time or space. Certainly, the spiritual energy that in the human being is the source of sight and hearing, emotion and intellect, will and consciousness does not cease to exist merely because the physical body has ceased to function. Rather, it passes from one form of existence from the physical to the spiritual.
So, while I went to celebrate with my sister’s children and grandchildren, I was also celebrating with my sister in a very apparent manner. I believe as taught that we can connect with a loved one and a loved one is able to connect with us.

There is a fascinating custom that says that before a wedding, the bride and/or groom should go to the cemetery, if at all possible, and personally invite the loved ones to attend the wedding. Do not share this information with the caterer. At $300 a plate, this can get quite expensive.
The Talmud in a number of places discusses that the soul is very aware of what goes on in this world, even many years after they have passed. While the soul does leave the physical body after death, there is a part of the soul that remains attached to the body and grave and eventually the headstone. This part that remains is the part of the soul that we connect with and in turn this earthly remnant is currently connected with the rest of the soul up in heaven. Because the soul is not spatial or limited in any way, it can be in two places at the same time.
A further thought. Since the soul is acutely aware of both its earthly and heavenly surroundings, it can prevail upon God to assist us in both physical and spiritual ways. This is precisely the reason we visit the graves of the righteous regardless of where they are buried. I personally have visited holy graves in New York, Israel, Germany, Russia and Ukraine to ask the holy spirits to intercede on my behalf, my family and my community.

I bless this little baby girl called Chanale with a long and happy life filled with meaning and purpose. May she not only make her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and extended family proud, she should bring much joy to her grandmother in heaven whom I am positive is beaming with her dazzling smile and rooting for her physical and spiritual success.

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The 7 things that were withheld from humans: #7 When the wicked regimes will topple

As a quick review or if you are reading this for the first time, the Rabbis in the Talmud discuss the seven things that were withheld from earth, and are only known to God. This is the last in this series.

The first six were as follows. 1. The day we pass on. 2. The day we can stop grieving and move forward. 3. The ways of God’s judgement. 4. What another person is really thinking.  5. Which business will turn a profit. 6. When the utopian era will be ushered in. We have dissected the first six in previous articles. If you would like to read them, please go to

All of these items are withheld so as not to allow mankind to abuse them, as only man can.

The Torah and the Prophets are very clear in this regard. There will be a time when wicked regimes, monarchies, governments and rulers will have their immoral and perfidious leadership come to an end. All their power will be extinguished and they will have to answer for all the wickedness they have perpetrated.

One of the most frequently asked questions is, why did God allow the Holocaust to happen in the first place? If wicked rulers and their equally wicked cohorts will eventually collapse, why not eliminate this garbage at the outset and not allow their ugliness any space? Why wait to crush them?
Truth be told, we can ask this type of question not only about the Holocaust and other similar genocides. We can also ask as to why a young person’s life was cut short, and why this gentle soul has to go through so much grief and trouble? Why do good people suffer? On and on.
Obviously, I cannot speak for God. Not because I refuse to but rather because I can’t. As we discussed in #3 of the things that are withheld from us in a previous column, namely God’s sense of justice. Our finite mind cannot understand, grasp and appreciate the infinite. I was once asked the following. If you have no idea as to God’s ways, then how can you be His representative? My answer to this is that clearly I am not his agent, I am simply an employee on a spiritual W2. I further told the person that I work in sales and not in management. There is much truth to this.

There is one answer to the above question on the Holocaust that resonates with me. We want to know where God was during the killings from 1939–1945. I have a better question. Where was man? I am not referring to Hitler who was a sadist and personified evil and a lost cause. I am talking about the German people. Where was their morality, compassion, activism and concern? How about the Polish people (Poland has a law that we are not allowed to blame them for their atrocities. Pathetic.), who stood outside the cattle cars and cheered? President Roosevelt knew much about the horrific extermination camps but refused to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz, even though the bombers were less than a couple of miles away!
So, you may ask, where was God? I say, where was man? The lack of intervention and the glee of the masses is an indictment of man and not God. The reason we commemorate Kristallnacht is because it proves that when good people do nothing, evil will prosper with pleasure.

As this article is the seventh in a series, we already have a couple of answers based on the previous articles on this topic of God not allowing us certain knowledge.

Clearly, we do not know God’s ways and how He dishes out punishments and justice, etc. The little we do know, based on Talmud, Maimonides, Zohar and many other sources, is that there is a method to all this.
You see, Judaism believes not only in the one God, but also in two worlds. If one believes that this life on planet earth is the only existence, then the question of suffering in the here and now is a good one. However, the belief in an afterlife is a game changer. Some people suffer a little in this world and will experience bliss in the afterlife or in the next life. Some seem to float on easy street from the first moments of their life, but will have to answer for misdeeds when and where it counts.  
The same is true of evil and corrupt leaders. They may be the big malevolent kahuna for a 30-year span but at some point, it will all end, either by death or by revolution. Either way, the reign will be over. Therefore, an immoral leader needs to correct his/her/their leadership before their final day of rule comes to pass. There is no reason for God to give a timeframe or an end date. Get your ministers, commissioners and cabinet together and fix the immorality, cruelty and maleficence post haste. The sooner the better as the clock is ticking. Get it fixed now while the sun shines.

Judaism believes wholeheartedly in second chances. The caveat is that the corrections made are voluntary and not because there is a gun to your head. Arch monsters like Saddam Hussein, Mu'ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī, Pol Pot and of course Hitler had every chance to stop the brutality. They chose not to and their time ran out. Therefore, if God gave these losers (and they are) a date to stop their cruelty, being wicked, they would take full advantage of the time given.

History has taught us that no matter how strong, powerful and influential a regime may be, the kingdom will eventually topple. I think of the Romans, Babylonians, the Ottoman Empire, the 1000 year Reich, which lasted slightly over a decade. Gone. Poof.  

There is no time to waste.
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The 7 things that were withheld from humans: #6 When there will be utopia & world peace

As a quick review or if you are reading this for the first time, the Rabbis in the Talmud discuss the seven things that were withheld from earth, and are only known to God.

The first five were as follows. 1. The day we pass on. 2. The day we can stop grieving and move forward. 3. The ways of God’s judgement. 4. What another person is really thinking.  5. Which business will turn a profit. We have dissected the first five in previous articles. If you would like to read them, please send me an email.

All of these items are withheld so as not to allow mankind to abuse them, as only man can.

The sixth one out of the seven is probably the hardest to explain and clarify. The first five were extremely practical and hands on. This one however, is more ethereal as it talks about a utopian era when the Messiah will come and usher in world peace. While Messiah is prevalent in all walks of life in some fashion, there is truly a limited grasp on what this actually means. I will do my best to clarify.

For the sake of length, I am going on the assumption that the reader believes or accepts there will at some point be utopia and world peace.

Firstly, at this present moment, the world is so far from utopia. We have a divided political country. There is a worldwide pandemic. Iran and China are out of control. Israel and Taiwan are being threatened. Both Syria and Sudan are in vicious civil wars. There is chaos on the US southern border. There are global vaccine opinions and arguments that threaten the fabric of society. World peace? Utopia? In your dreams perhaps.

The sages say that the utopian era can come about in one of two ways. The first being when mankind is respectful, honest and generous to one another. In other words, we can earn world peace, utopia, years of plenty. This does not seem too likely to happen as of the present moment.
The other way that Messiah and utopia will arrive is if we are so immoral, selfish, stingy and divisive, then the Messiah will be forced to come. The thought is as follows; If Messiah tarries any longer, mankind will be at the point of no return and completely irredeemable. This second way looks more likely to occur as we seem to fit this bill.

Truth be told, even with the aforementioned troubles in the world today, there is much good as well. In fact, I would argue that most people are moral most of the time. In my tenure as the Rabbi and Director of The Chai Center over the past 28 years, I have met hundreds if not thousands of incredible people who are selfless, giving, kind and warm. In fact, for every bad encounter I have had with a person, I have at least 10 good ones with others. When I think of good people, I am reminded of the dozens of teenagers who come to our center week in and week out and sometimes twice a week to volunteer. I ask myself, did I volunteer as much when I was their age? These teens volunteer to buddy up with children with special needs.
We can learn a thing or two from these hero youngsters. They have no judgement whatsoever. They share time, love and talent for a couple of hours with their friends. It literally brings tears to my eyes, and you have to believe that God takes notice.
Having said that, I firmly believe that many of the troubles in this world are not caused by the people at large. Some of the issues are caused by many of the world’s leaders who are conceited, full of self-importance. They put their whims and needs before their fellow countrymen. We regular folk are much purer.  

Why is the date of the utopian era hidden from us? To me, the reason is obvious. Take employees as an example. If told that they would get paid and receive a bonus regardless of their work and what they accomplish, then their job would take a backseat to the game of Tetris. So too, if God told us that the utopian era will come on a specific day, regardless of what we accomplish, we would just whistle away our lives waiting for the big day without working for it.

We need to have goals. This is the way we were designed by God. If there is no goal then there can be no aspiration. This is true with regards to one’s whole life. If there are no plans, objectives or drive, we would be totally forlorn, depressed and uninspired to do anything. God wants us to know that things can get better (or worse), it is totally up to us. There is no set in stone date, as we are the ones to make it happen. This is by divine design.

We need to be the best people we can be. We need to create Shangri-La in our own homes, communities, cities and states. The more people we can inspire to do the same, the quicker the world’s current turbulence that we are all feeling will be corrected.

Up for the challenge?
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