Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

New Year Resolutions

This coming weekend, we will officially be ending the year 2021 and entering a brand-new year of 2022 filled with dreams, hopes, aspirations and a little anxiety. As a Jew, my new year was actually in September. The holy day of Rosh Hashana is day we celebrate a new year. By the Jewish count, we are now in the year 5782.

Are there any similarities between the two new year celebrations or are they completely different?

The first difference that comes to mind is New Year’s Eve. Comes December 31st, there is much revelry, partying, celebrating, dancing, cheering and toasting. The Jewish New Year’s Eve in contrast is that we are in bed by 11 pm as the next day is an extremely long day of prayer in the Synagogue. It is the time to beseech God to give us a better year physically, spiritually, financially, medically and emotionally.
This does not mean that we are to be nervous agonizing wrecks biting our fingers to the bone. We are told that Rosh Hashana is a happy time filled with hope. In fact, Jewish law dictates that on Rosh Hashana we enjoy good food, wine and company. We are to happily view the new year as an opportunity where God is open to our requests and wishes.  We are very optimistic that the coming year will be one of great fortune. While it is true that there is no ball drop celebration to be had at the Jewish New Year, there is however plenty of matzah balls to go around.

The last thing we want to do on Rosh Hashana is to become inebriated. This is not to say that on December 31st every celebrant gets drunk or stoned, as it is simply not true. We do as a rule however, make sure that we stay very sharp over Rosh Hashana as we need as many prayers answered as we can. In fact, for 30 days prior to Rosh Hashana we spend great chunks time formulating our requests and organizing our thoughts. It would be a shame to be blotto come the actual day itself.      

There are also a few similarities between the two new years. Aside from losing weight, spending more time with family is the resolution that is made the most by all peoples where ever they live. This is true of December 31st and Rosh Hashana Eve. Family is a common denominator no matter the culture, religion or ethnicity. We all resolve that this year we are going to keep in touch more, see each other more and make the extra effort. As far as weight is concerned, Rosh Hashana is the day we traditionally serve tzimmes (glazed carrots), potato pudding(doused in oil), the aforementioned matzah balls and honey cake. Clearly, weight is not the foremost thing on our minds. As for me, I can be found in the gym on January 2nd and 3rd and then on January 4th I am usually found in a restaurant.

I have always found it fascinating that there are certain days of the year, where we are so reflective, that we actually feel positive changes come over us to the point where we resolve to become better people. In an ideal world, this reflection should happen every day. Sadly, for most this is not the case. But on the new year and also on one’s birthday, something magical happens where the focus on the self is minimized and therefore attention, compassion and care can now be offered to others. A global new year’s resolution or an individual and very  personal birthday new year resolution is such a powerful energy, we should try and harness it for longer than just a few days.       

Regardless of the when one commemorates the new year, we all have to get back to the daily grind after it is over. Back to school, work, desk, computer, phone and the commute. This is a truism that life does not stop after the new year does. What we need to keep in the forefront of our minds is that while the daily grind may be the same, we are not the same. We pledged to be better person this year. Last year, we may have lacked in a certain area, but this year will be completely different in terms of moral choices.

Something very important to remember; regardless of what day, month or year it is, we need to focus on looking forward and not backward. While it is true that we must learn from our previous mistakes, we must not however become paralyzed by them. What is amazing is that we can learn so much from the way our bodies are constructed. Think about this, it would be much easier to parallel park if we had one eye in the front and the other in the back. The second eye in the back also makes sense when walking through a dangerous area. As the saying goes, you have to have eyes in the back of your head. However, not only were we made without an important eye in the back of our head, our neck does not even allow us to rotate a full 180 degrees. If we try to turn our head to much, we will get injured. We are only able to turn our head slightly backwards

The lesson is obvious. We only need to look partially back to learn and gain from our past experiences, but we have to be careful not to look all the way back and ruminate. If we attempt to push ourselves back in the past, we risk getting hurt. The best thing we can do is to resolve to do better, be better, act better and smile more. A little faith will help as well.

La Multi Ani - You shall have many more years to come. 

Feel free to share

Dealing with Hurt, Anger & Disappointment

I recently received a call from a constituent who is also a dear friend. He was really upset that his best friend and confidant let him down, and he is literally losing sleep at night. This was no ordinary friend; this was more like a brother from another mother. Essentially, this “friend” reneged on a deal and cheated him, and to add salt to the wound, he was demeaning. He was rightfully hurt, angry and disappointed. He proceeded to ask my advice on how he can get over all this pain.

The Talmud discusses pain and comes to the conclusion that time does indeed heal wounds. As an example, the Talmud states that the reason we mourn the loss of a loved one for a year is because after a year it is not appropriate to mourn excessively. Instead of sadness we must be positive. Instead of lying in bed with one’s thoughts of loss and despair, we need to honor the person by doing constructive actions in their honor.
This is true in most cases of loss. However, in my experience this does not hold true when a parent loses a child, as it is a completely different loss and cannot, and should not, be lumped into the generic term loss. Losing a child is not natural. God designed the world so that children say Kaddish and mourn their parents. Parents in the position where they (God forbid) have to say Kaddish for their child is so unbelievably painful, they cannot rebound from this loss. They learn to live with the pain. I know a group of incredible parents who have lost children who have somehow gathered up the strength to assist other parents like themselves who have lost children. There is a beautiful organization called The Cope Foundation which supports parents and siblings dealing with premature loss. I am in awe.
The bottom line is that for most, loss, whether it be literal loss of a loved one passing or a lost opportunity or a lost friendship, is something we need to give time.

The Rambam, Moses Maimonides writes that when one becomes angry, it is as though he has worshiped idols.
Why is Maimonides so extreme to compare anger to worshiping idols? He could have simply said, losing one’s temper is unacceptable. The author of the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, explains as follows, “That at the time of his anger, faith has departed from him. For were he to believe that what happened to him is of G d’s doing, he would not become angry at all.”
The author continues, “It is a person possessed of free choice who is cursing him, or hitting him, or causing damage to his money, and therefore is guilty according to the laws of man and the laws of Heaven for having chosen evil—nevertheless, as regards the person harmed—this was already decreed from Heaven, and ‘the Omnipresent has many deputies.’”
What this means is that instead of getting angry and all worked up to the point of not being able to function, one should ask themselves, “What is the message, what is God trying to tell me?” This is clearly a teachable moment and one should use this opportunity to learn from it.

Disappointment is attached to expectations. I always tell people that if you have expectations from this individual, then you have the possibility of getting disappointed, which is painful. On the other hand, if there is no expectation then there will be no disappointment or minor disappointment.
So, does this mean to avoid disappointment we should have no expectations?
While there is truth if one minimizes one’s expectations of others this will make you less disappointed, this does not mean we should not have expectations. What it does mean is that we need to do some soul searching when the “alleged” disappointments occur.

The first thing we need to do is split expectations into two categories. Namely, reasonable and unreasonable. If after some contemplation, you come to the conclusion that your expectations were in fact unrealistic, then there should be no disappointment as you are the one who made the initial faulty judgment. This should relieve 90% of the disappointments in your life.  A newly married couple trying to understand each other may make the mistake of shooting too high in some expectation or another. As an example, it may not be realistic for your new wife to pick you up at the train station every night at 8PM. Just because you expect her to does not make it right. Therefore, you will have to take an Uber and leave her be.

The real pain comes when you have realistic expectations and they do not happen as you expect them to. Let’s take the same aforementioned couple. The new wife expects to spend most weekends together but it never happens because the husband is out of commission due to friends and sports. This is true disappointment because she is right to be upset. He needs to be told that he is not meeting her expectations as a husband.
The congregant who called me told me that this was his best friend. Here is the good news, he will never be able to disappoint him again as now he knows not to have expectations or any dealings with him.

One way to deal with real disappointment because of another or even within ourselves, is to forgive the person or our inner self. It does not eliminate the feelings of disappointment but it allows one to move on in a more positive way. We need to first and foremost protect ourselves from toxicity. Forgiving someone who hurt, angered and disappointed you allows the inner poison, which can lead to depression, despair and hopelessness, to exit the body and soul, and allow us to heal.
I am reminded of a one-liner that I once heard. “Don’t let the offender occupy space in your body rent free.”

Feel free to share.

Listening to Life's Messages: Don't be obtuse

Judaism stresses that the word coincidence is just an 11-letter name for God. Nothing is random, chance or happenstance, and mostly everything that we encounter we must learn and grow from. Admittedly, this is a tall order, as some things are just so benign that it seems impractical to glean a lesson from them. Truth be told, people today are constantly moving so fast, so much so, that we barely have the mental capacity to understand obvious cues, let alone life’s lessons from a simple occurrence or path crossing. Sometimes, an important message slips through our fingertips because they are occupied searching through Instagram. If we could just slow things down, we would gain so much more out of life.

Case in point, I learned a life lesson in a grocery store this past week. I was placing my groceries onto the conveyor belt, and the cashier looked at my unmasked face and asked, “Any preference in what type of bag?” Normally, I bring my own but this time I forgot and so I needed to purchase new ones. I responded to her bag question with a shrug as if to say anything is ok. She started to scan my groceries when she stopped and asked me, “Do you celebrate Xmas?” She obviously knew what my response would be as I was wearing a kippah, looked Jewish, and hopefully somewhat rabbinical. I responded with a smile, “No, I do not.” She then said to me, “If you do not celebrate Xmas, then why would you want a Xmas grocery bag?” She then proceeded to procure a non-holiday bag for my groceries. I thanked her and thought nothing of it until I was driving back home.

After reflecting about this interaction with the well-meaning cashier, I was overcome with the following thoughts. The cashier read me way better than I can myself. She asked me out of sensitivity which bag I wanted and I was ambivalent. She was the one who decided that it was not becoming of me as a Rabbi to walk out with a Xmas bag. So much so, that she left her register to get me another more befitting one. She also understood that whether I care or not, or think it is a big deal or not, that I do not live in a vacuum, and I represent something bigger than myself.  
The cashier also had more pride than I did. I have no idea what faith she was. What I do know is that she had her sense of right and wrong, while I was simply oblivious and blew any which way the wind did. Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe a grocery bag is a big deal, and I do not believe that a bag defines one’s faith. However, once asked I should have responded that I will have a non-holiday bag and not simply shrug my shoulders, which is a sign of apathy. This meant a lot to her that I have pride in who I am and what I represent and I was too focused on something else to realize. She wanted me to have a strong sense of Jewish pride, while I was more interested in the sushi I just purchased.

Let me tell you what Jewish pride is. The following story happened with a classmate of mine who is the Chabad Rabbi in Ft. Lauderdale. President George W. Bush was running for reelection and he was stomping the campaign trail which led him to Florida. The President’s staff contacted the Rabbi and arranged for the President to speak at the Synagogue on a Friday night. The Rabbi was tickled pink that his community was the chosen one. He made it clear that while it is the greatest honor to have the President of the United States speak, as it is Shabbat, there can be no microphone or press, which is consistent with traditional Jewish law to respect the holy Sabbath. The campaign staff agreed and it was all set.
A few weeks later they called the Rabbi again and said that while there will be no microphone or press, can there be one still photographer who works for the White House present? They assured the Rabbi that the photographer will not be obtrusive. The Rabbi did not allow it for the same reason, to respect the sanctity of the Shabbat. They persisted to ask him to allow just one single solitary picture so that they could place it in the South Florida papers. Once again, the Rabbi declined.
The staff then told the Rabbi that if he did not allow the one picture, then they would have to go elsewhere. The Rabbi did not hesitate and he said that this is not his call but rather a call from a higher authority. The bottom line was that President Bush did not come to the Chabad House and went elsewhere instead.

To me, this is a story of Jewish pride. As hard as it was to decline the leader of the free world’s wishes, he felt that the leader of the free and unfree universe comes first, and that despite a huge disappointment, it was the right thing to do. Let the President know that as great as he is, he still plays second fiddle to the Torah.

The bottom line is that we need to be sensitive to our surroundings. When something transpires, do not simply dismiss it as trivial. Pause for a moment and ask yourself, what can I gain from this experience. There is a quote attributed to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneersohn that goes something like this -- when two people cross paths, the end result is that it should benefit a third person.

I am thankful to the cashier. I learned a life lesson and I am grateful.  
Please feel free to share.

Listen to the Flames: A Reflection on Chanukah

Unless you live in Afghanistan or Iraq, you are keenly aware that this is the week of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. So many beautiful menorah candelabras in windows, malls, shops and even sports arenas. Chanukah lasts for eight days and nights. On the first night one candle is lit, and an additional candle is added every night. The menorah is complete on the eighth night as all eight of the candles are now lit.

The fact that we add a candle each night seems elementary to us, but it was not always so. There were some, back in the day, who lit eight candles the first night and then decreased a light each successive night. Ergo, on the last night, there was just one simple flame.  
The difference of opinion of adding vs. subtracting was not arbitrary, but rather due to a difference in outlook. The school of thought for those who decreased the light each night was that time is fleeting and we need to recognize that the days are short and there is much to do, and time waits for no one. Those who increased the amount of light each night were of the opinion that we need to increase light, holiness and motivation, and not, God forbid, decrease. A census was taken and the latter view became the common practice. Fascinating, no?
There are so many messages that the lights of the Chanukah menorah represent. The following is a short synopsis of the eight nights.

The menorah must be lit after dark. If one lit the menorah before dark, it would need enough wax or oil to last into the nighttime. As we know, light is only needed in darkness. It is obvious that there is no reason to hold a flashlight outside in the middle of the day. The flashlight is effective when there is no light. The first flame teaches us that a little light dispels and literally banishes darkness.
Just one solitary flame represents that though it is a small flame, it has a powerful impact. Similarly, a simple smile can be so helpful to someone who is having a rough day. Hold the door open for someone else. Not a difficult thing to do but speaks volumes.

Adding a candle is another life lesson. We must not be happy with the status quo. Each day we need to grow in all aspects. If we accomplished much yesterday, this does not allow one to shirk today’s new responsibility. In fact, Judaism teaches that if one does not grow emotionally and mentally, then they are actually sliding backwards.

There were three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why not two?  Why not four? The reason we are taught is that each patriarch represents something that is fundamental to our existence. Abraham was generous and charitable. Isaac recognized that prayer to God is an essential part of being a human, and Jacob embodies the idea that we need to pursue knowledge, and not remain ignorant. We need all three to succeed. We cannot simply just focus on one of the attributes as this is not considered a balanced life.

There were four matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Each one of them teaches us something powerful. Sarah was attuned to her child’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. In fact, the Torah testifies that during a parenting argument between the couple, God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. A mom is way more in tune than her counterpart.
Rebecca understood that each of her twin boys were vastly different. Just because they were brought up in the same household does not make them the same. A great parenting lesson.
Rachel protected her sister Leah’s dignity even though she had a lot to lose. Life is not only about you; it takes a village, and a little altruism goes a long way.
Lastly, Leah taught us the lesson of perseverance, and to never give up. Despite a dark future, it all worked out for the best. We must never give up.

Five fingers make up a hand. Every finger may be a different size, however, all five fingers function together as a unit and there is complete harmony between them. We are all created in God’s image. We may look different and have different views and cultures, but we must work together to lend a hand.

On the sixth day, after the very long and arduous creative process, God created man. He was created last after beasts, fowls, insects, water, air and flora. This teaches that man must be humble, as even a small gnat came before him. Alternatively, man is now responsible for planet earth which was handed to him on a silver platter.

The seventh day is the Sabbath, the day of rest. This is the day not just to sleep in and relax the body, it is also designed to soothe the soul with added prayers and enriched family time. Taking a break from the office is not only healthy, it is a powerful lesson that your business will not be negatively affected if you take the Sabbath off. Let go and let God. The break from the rat race allows us to reevaluate our priorities. One should ask themselves the following: Am I running my work, or is my work running me?

The number eight when placed on its side is the infinity sign ∞. This is because the number eight is transcendental. The creation took seven days which is the natural process. The number eight however, is above and beyond creation. This is why we circumcise a baby on the eighth day. The word bris means bond and a bond is something that is above and beyond a simple promise or agreement. We must realize that we are not simply material beings with physical needs and desires. We are also souls. We are transcendental. We are holy and Godly. Our souls are infinite.

Please feel free to share.       

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.