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From The Desk of Rabbi Yehuda

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The are few things in life that lift a person up as decisively and powerfully, as inspiration.

Yet inspiration can be elusive. It’s not exactly the flip of a switch. In fact, it requires conscious pursuit. 

This past week I was communicating with a couple of members of our community who are currently in Israel on a solidarity mission. I could feel their inspiration through the wires.  The rawness of their experience — to our people and our land — clearly touching their soul in a profound way. They were in the right place at the right time and the results were apparent.  

Some people are easily inspired. Like when walking down the street and marveling at something that barely makes it to your radar. Or those that see the hand of G-d in some story that bores you 20 seconds in. Then there are those who can stand in front of the most beautiful sunrise, experience the birth of a child or narrowly escape a harrowing experience and shrug their shoulders, rationalizing their experience with the ever elusive word —nature, or clinging to the irrational concept of randomness. 

Yet inspiration is only half the picture!!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke hours and inspired multitudes. He delivered the most motivating and inspirational talks. Every single one of his talks finished with the words “deed is the main goal”. In other words — it’s what you do with your inspiration that counts. 

One can talk about the virtue of helping another and be inspired to help but unless there is resultant help it’s missing the main point. One can be inspired with faith and love to Gd but it’s what we do with it that counts…Not as a belief rather in action. 

Action — the partner of inspiration. Or better yet, the sole purpose of inspiration. From non tangible thought and  emotion, to the very tangible and quantifiable results of deed.  

Judaism requires action. There’s infinite inspiration and faith at the core of our Heritage but at the end of the day — the core foundation of Jewish life is deed!! It’s what has ensured the perpetuation and continuity through thick and thin without one ounce of erosion. We lay Tefillin as they did thousands of years ago.. Shabbat, check. Tzedakah, check. Kosher, check. Torah, check….

And we do so in our style. Indeed we are encourage to do so in style!!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

The Gift of Giving!

Giving is getting. 

It sounds cliche but it really is far from that. Take the simple act of giving to one’s child, loved one or friend. There’s a deep satisfaction that is felt as a result of the giving. 

This past week I wrote a letter of condolences to a bereaved family in Israel. I don’t know them personally, but had been receiving notices from one of the numerous WhatsApp groups I had joined after October 7th with info on sending condolences to bereaved families as a result of the massacre. The only information I had was the short bio they provided so that it could be personalized somewhat. 

After I pushed send on the email, I was filled with a feeling that surprised me. What started as an exercise of exploration. As in — let’s try this once — didn’t end there, rather, it opened up a new portal. It felt satisfying and motivating to write to yet another family. In short, it felt really good and tremendously satisfying. 

Last week we hosted a soldier who had been on the front lines in Gaza. He responded to a question of what kept him going in Gaza, “letters of encouragement from people in the diaspora”. He said that his whole unit were energized by these letters. 

Who would have known the power of simple gestures? Until being reminded of course.. at which point it’s clear of the dual experience that transpires and is inherent being on the giving side. Or is it the receiving side?

The truth is, a quick perusal of this week’s Torah portion spells it out fairly clearly. It’s a fund raise for the traveling Tabernacle / Synagogue — the house of G-d. The wording from G - d to Moses is communicate with the Jewish people and instruct them to “take for me a contribution”. Take? Should it not be give?

Hopefully the thread above flows and the answer is clear. When giving one is taking. The perfect circle and cycle. May we all be blessed with numerous opportunities to be the giver — the reward is felt immediately and at the same time the world becomes a raised experience and a perfect setting for G-d’s presence and blessings!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yehuda and Dina Kantor

 

P.S. If you’d like the info to be added to the “letter to the nation” WhatsApp lmk. It’s a Divine experience. 

P.P.S. At the Dara Horn event — we will be having letter writing to IDF soldiers that will be delivered by hand during the men’s Israel solidarity mission to Israel.  

P.P.P.S. We will be inaugurating a beautified bomb shelter for the community in the Gaza envelope — decimated by the greater Westport community. To be a part of it click here.

100+


For some reason I find it remarkable that the oldest Jew in the world —till last week — was right here in the USA.
 
She passed away at the ripe age of 114 — may her memory be for a blessing — and incredibly, as a member of her synagogue’s sisterhood, she was still writing notes to bereaved families at the age of 105. 
 
All excitement — about the growing number of “supercentenarians” in this world (yeh I had to look the definition up too :) aside — my inspiration is that she lived in the US. 
 
Let’s face it: life is good here in the US. Healthy lifestyle, economic success, decent climate, friendly enough population, freedom and liberties — as good as it gets. So why the surprise? Well, perhaps precisely because it’s so good-- the possibility for distraction, the challenge to retain identity and appreciate our history, culture and religion-- is heightened. 
 
October 7th touched us all deeply. It was the most existential threat that many of us have ever experienced. It has reached us to the core of our souls. Judaism transcends time and place — and the American Jewish community has been amazing. The people of Israel have felt our love palpably. It really is no surprise therefore, that the oldest Jew lived in America but it is each and every one of our responsibility to ensure that the Jewish community both here locally and our brethren in Israel get even stronger!
 
We've survived the test of time with the guidance of the Torah and the focus on doing Mitzvahs. We shouldn’t ease up on increasing both Torah study (podcast under 10 mins) or mitzvahs — Clothes drive this Sunday for Israel for all gently used clothes that will be sent to Israel. I'm sure you have much to drop off - see below for details. 
 
Candle lighting time this evening - 5:02PM --Link to the blessings & how to
 
Link to the Kiddush prayer for Friday night and how to!
 
Together, we will ensure that the USA and every Jewish community is the oldest yet most current, vibrant and joyous Heritage that it can possibly be.
 
With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

One or Won?

 Am Yisrael is unified!

It’s the silver lining — post October 7th. It’s not that we are united due to tragedy and shared trauma, rather, October 7th stripped away the superficial differences and highlighted our inherent unity! 

One nation. One people. One land. One Torah. One future. 

Rewind 3300 odd years ago —standing at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Torah describes this particular leg of the journey — which started in Egypt slowly traveling to the Holy Land — in the singular. The whole nation focused and fused without differences or division all ready to receive the great revelation from On-High. 

Fast forward. Here we are. The emergence of something deeper and more essential. A indivisible connection between us all, bursting forth to the fore. The ability to shamelessly proclaim and simultaneously share with our children — the feeling of being a part of a whole — the power that exists way beyond the sum of our parts. 

What is it the binds us?

One nation. One Land. One Torah. One G-d = One Future!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yehuda and Dina Kantor

P.S. Thank you to all those made the Gala a tremendously festive and powerful evening. If you’d like to support the Gala fundraising goals — you can do so here. All amounts appreciated!!

Selfless

He saved lives & ultimately gave his life.

Earlier this week we awoke to horrendous news of 20 plus soldiers having died overnight in Gaza, defending our people, our land — essentially, our very existence. 

One of the fallen heroes was Adam Bismut, an engineer who amongst other achievements had invented a camera that helps lifeguards save lives. 

Once, while walking at the Dead Sea he heard the screams of someone drowning unnoticed by the lifeguard. He realized, the lifeguard’s eyes are limited in what they can detect and how vast an area they can scan. He set out to change this by inventing a camera using AI that could scan and detect people in distress alerting the lifeguard and ultimately saving the person drowning.  

Saving lives was a motivator to him. Transforming the world to be less harsh. To be nurturing & life preserving. The Jewish ethos. But more than the Jewish ethos — it’s the actual cosmic intention of the creation of the world.

Human beings as the bridge between making this world a place of Divine light — a good place. Or G-d forbid, the opposite. It’s a choice. It’s a mission. It’s called purpose. 

Nothing is too small neither too large. We each have our own unique ability to effect our environment and make it better, warmer and illuminating. 

Adam was motivated to do good. He saved lives. He saves lives. He will continue to save lives and sadly but incredibly he dedicated his very life to preserve the life of Am Yisrael. 

The ways of G-d are not for mortals to understand — we simply don’t have the capacity to comprehend the infinite. We do however have the ability to reach for the infinite, each of us in our own domain reaching higher and higher. 

The lives of those who have fallen must continue to inspire us to reach to greater heights. To fuel us in our quest of making this world a better place, a G-dly and goodly place!!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom

Garden or Jungle?

 It’s been over 100 days since the unthinkable and inconceivable yet it is precisely because it was so  beyond expectation that it was able to transpire. 

Life can be counter-intuitive to say the least. Paradoxical describes the world better. The world, beautiful and brutal at the same time.
So is the world a garden or a jungle?
 
In 1951, the Lubavitcher “Rebbe” accepted the leadership role of the Chabad Lubavitch movement with an address that specifically referred to the world as a garden. Not but a few years after the Holocaust — the worst tragedy that befell our people — he pointedly spoke about the world as a garden with the responsibility for each of us to tend to it accordingly. 
Perhaps that too, then, was counterintuitive yet it’s not difficult to see the results of that talk. Moreover, the crux of his address was that specifically in this world, despite the vestiges of evil and the capacity for destruction one could effectuate the greatest impact — the cosmic intention of why this world was created. 
 
Here again, it’s not difficult to see the beauty that has emerged post October 7th. The unity of the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. The outpouring of love and care from one Jew to another; the resourcefulness and the support converging from all corners of the world upon one small sliver of land that was Divinely gifted to One nation as an everlasting inheritance, our beloved land Israel. 
 
Garden or Jungle? It’s not an analysis that can be determined over coffee or even in a synagogue. It’s a reality that can only be established on the ground. For to make it a garden requires each of us to become gardeners. We become tenders of the world by living a life of ethics, morals, mitzvah and Torah. 
 
Yes, the world doesn’t quite see it. That’s part of the paradox but the reality doesn’t change. Each of us, with a Divine code that has been handed down from Moses at Sinai, lovingly preserved for thousands of years, has what it takes to forge forward and to ensure that the Garden of G-d looks as well tended as possible— may that inspire the next stage of life — the arrival of Moshiach speedily in our days!
 
With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Six Words!

 

For six hours he was trapped in a small bathroom inside Kibbutz Be’eri. 

Sounds of intense explosions, mayhem and destruction all around. The only weapon he had for the entire six hours was “six words” that he kept or repeating. 
 
Six words!!
 
Shema Yisrael Adnai Elokeinu Adnai Echad. 
 
He isn’t religious and his experience was harrowing, yet he had an inner strength and what he terms “a weapon”. A source of protection if you will.  
We all possess this weapon that protects and safeguards. Sometime we bury this weapon deep in our hearts, sometimes we express it verbally in formal prayer and sometimes we find our own mode of expression. We display it and hang it on our doors in the form of the Mezuza and we teach it thoroughly to our children. We rise with these words and retire at night with these words. 
 
These six words, Shema Yisrael —Hear o Israel the L-rd is Our G-d the L-rd is One— has sustained us for millennia. It is definitely a weapon and it’s not a secret weapon at that. It’s there for us to draw upon every day and whether we consciously know it or not, it comes with us wherever we go, accessible as long as the heart beats!
 
Six words! 
 
With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Sing Your Melody!!

Today's piece requires the sense of hearing. It’s the only way to experience the full intensity and beauty of what moved me greatly.


To be honest,  I don’t know all that much about Yehuda Becher obm.  I know he was 23 when he was murdered at the Nova music festival. I know there’s a clip of him singing to cheer up his friend a week before the fateful day and I now know of the last conversation he had with his father.   


“G-d, the soul that you gave me, is pure. You created it, you fashioned it  you breathed it into me and you safeguard it within me and eventually you will take it from me — to restore it to me in the time to come. As long as the soul is within me I gratefully thank You. My G-d and the G-d of my forefathers Master of all works L-rd of all souls “.

The above is a prayer from the morning prayers. I say it every day — yet rarely with the heart and passion with which he’s singing it.

The last time his father spoke with him was on the Festival of Sukkoth. He was telling his son a story from the great mystic, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev who describes the journey of the soul as it descends from the celestial heights to this physical world. An angel accompanies the soul and primes the soul of what to expect from life including some of  the challenges it will encounter. 

The physical world with all its challenges is quite a shock for the soul so the angel teaches the soul  its own unique melody to accompany it and which serves —at difficult times—to remind it of its purpose, instill  faith and hope—to weather the challenges. 

Did Yehuda have an intuition of his impending passing? Most likely he was just living life to its fullest and expressing his gratitude for all the blessings of life as it’s gifted to us by the L-rd of all souls! 

What a powerful demonstration for each of us to appreciate what we have, express gratitude to the gifter of life, listen closely to our distinct melody — and to refocus our attention to the soul and transcendence — our true purpose in this world!

May the soul of Yehuda ascend on high, replete with its own melody, sung together with the angles at the footstool of the Master of All!!

Building Blocks

 

“A year in review” was the subject title of an email I recently received. 
 
I was amazed at how much had transpired and how much I’d simply forgotten about. Was it water under the bridge?
 
When it comes to life and living — there’s no water under the bridge. Everything in life is a building block. 
 
A few weeks ago someone from a community near Gaza shared the following with me. For context bear in mind, he lost many friends in the terrible October 7th massacre, he is displaced from his home, he’s dealing with children who have severe PTSD and the list goes on. 
“You think about your house your family etc but then you think about what you’re living for and what you’re protecting … everyone is very motivated to get the job done”. 
 
But then you think about what you’re living for what you’re protecting
 
The power of this concept is what has preserved and sustained Judaism for millennia. It’s the secret to living a meaningful, rewarding and joyous life. It’s not easy at times and nor is it for most people the natural default. Yet it’s the Jewish way of life. It started with a promise to Abraham and Sarah and almost 5,000 years later it remains the same. 
 
There is no water under the bridge. There are stepping stones. We build on the past to create the future.  
 
2023 was a really tough year. We will grow from it. We will build upon it. As a united and Eternal Jewish nation we have our work cut out for us. The good news is, we have the strength, the inspiration, the wisdom, the Torah, the Almighty, the inner talents and convictions — we need only to remember what we’re living for and both physically and spiritually— AM YISRAEL CHAI!!
 
With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom & best wishes for a joyous and meaningful year ahead,

Unimaginable Heights!!

 

The human spirit has the capacity to rise to unimaginable heights. 

Imagine this. Iris Haim, mother of one of the hostages mistakenly killed by friendly fire, recorded a message to the soldiers that killed her son telling them that she and her family love them and do not blame them for his death.

“We received your message, and since then we have been able to function”, the soldier told Iris Haim, according to Kan. “Before that, we had shut down”.  

It’s a story of absolute heroism ( to read the full story) all around. The soldiers themselves serving selflessly in the most extreme conditions to protect Am Yisrael and of course Iris’s beyond gracious and supremely heroic message to the unit. 

Where does this strength come from?

Truth is, in this week’s Torah portion we read the famous Biblical story of Joseph— who was sold into slavery by his brothers—reuniting with them. The setting takes place in Egypt and Joseph is the second most powerful man in the world. He has all means at his disposal and every opportunity to exact his fair due from his brothers who consorted to kill him. 

His response when he sees them recoiling in shock and with deep regret? “Don’t be upset or angry with yourself that you sold me to this place, for now we see that G-d sent me ahead of you to save your lives”. In fact, it wasn’t you who sent me it was the Divine plan all along. 

I’ve always felt this response from Joseph was too incredible. A Biblical story if you will. Yet clearly Iris’s message to the soldiers rises to this level and just as clearly it’s a lesson to each of us that we too can rise to higher levels that at first glance may seem superhuman. 

Indeed, if we tap into the Divine sparks that we each possess we can rise to heights previously unimaginable. A worthy goal for 2024! 

What Are The Odds?

 

Miracles is a major theme of Chanukah! 
We celebrate “major” miracles. Yet ironically the Talmud says, “the recipient of a miracle doesn’t usually recognize the miracle they’re receiving”.
This had me thinking about the definition of miracle. How could that be? I mean, isn’t a miracle something that is out of the ordinary right there in plain sight? 
Earlier this week I read about someone in Brooklyn who won 10 million dollars in a scratch-off lotto. Apparently the odds of winning is one in 3.5million. Hmm. Is that a miracle? Don’t answer that yet, because 15 months later he won a second scratch off lotto game for another 10 million. Now it gets exciting. The odds of that happening is one in 12 trillion. Is that a miracle?
Perhaps the words “out of the ordinary” are the key words here. Yet the irony is, for the person that wins twice, do they  feel more or less likely to win again? Do they continue to play or do they cut and run?
We all know the answer… the more something happens, the more it seems likely to happen again and it takes an objective observer to point out just how miraculous and out of the ordinary it really all is…
Chanukah is a time of miracles. Each of our lives are full of miracles. Do we see them? Based on the above it seems likely that the answer is “not enough”. Perhaps that’s the very message of Chanukah— to count our blessings & appreciate the miracles that fill our lives!!

Incredible!

 

Incredible or rather “so credible”!
A few days ago a new archeological discovery in the City of David in Jerusalem, was announced. Roof tiles dating back to the time of the story of Chanukah! It was an exciting find in the archeological world, dating back almost 2200 years. 
Ironically, as amazing as it is, it’s not at all surprising. After all, the Menorah tells the same story in a different manner. It’s a story that has been painstakingly and lovingly preserved for thousands of years. 
In truth, the greatest miracle of all is, that despite all the challenges that the Jewish nation has endured, the lights of the Menorah continue to light up every corner of the world. Adversity hasn’t brought erosion or weakness. Our mission of creating light, if anything, has only intensified. Now that’s truly incredible!
Archeological finds, in addition to helping piece parts of history together underscores the truism — “truth endures”. It may not be the most popular and it may not get the most air time, it fact people may want to squelch or eradicate the truth, yet ultimately, it is truth that ensures — lies and deceit don’t. Tiles emerge even thousands of years later!
It hasn’t been the easiest couple of months for the Jewish nation. Yet once again, despite all adversity, the Jewish nation has banded together to do the incredible and we don’t need archaeological proof of that — we merely need to inhale deeply and then proclaim our gratitude and exultation to the Almighty — just as we’ve been doing for thousands of years!!
With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom & a Happy Chanukah,

Duality!!

 

War has resumed in Israel and with it, the internal conflict that perpetually exists in the Jew. 
This perpetual conflict, once understood, sheds untold light on virtually everything in life. 
It’s called the two soul dynamic. Each of us have two souls, not one. Each of these souls have a different nature. One is focused on personal needs, delights, gratification and physically enduring. Shamelessness and determination is its nature.
The second soul strives for the Divine. Its nature is G-dliness, transcendence and goodness — lack of self and self aggrandizement — is its nature. 
This is the complexity of the Human. Driven by seemingly two contradictory states. Yet the truth is they aren’t contradictory. They are really complimentary one of the other. Each of them bring to the table something that the other doesn’t and in synthesis produces the most refined and successful result. 
We go through our days giving expression to each of these sides. At times we are shamelessly driven for all sorts of personal and ego driven motives. Whilst at other times we would give the shirts off our back and selflessly dedicate ourselves to causes, ideals and aspirations that aren’t at all with an eye to self or personal gain. It may be an internal struggle but ultimately the second soul has the ability to dictate!
This is the power of the human being.  The ability to transcend and the empowerment to become something greater each day over the prior day. The strength to selflessly do what needs to get done despite the challenges that exists. 
It is this underlying source of strength that ensures that Israel will successful in the mission of vanquishing evil and creating light. It may sometimes be unsettling but the power to overcome we all have in abundance!!
With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom & for internal strength and clarity,

It's A Choice

 

We are living in tough times. At the same time we all have so much to be thankful for —it’s not a contradiction. 

Yet it is a choice! The choice of, how to “play with the cards we are dealt”.

The strength and wisdom of our people comes from the Torah. This week we read about our Patriarch Jacob who runs for his life quite literally —away from his family, single, destitute, vulnerable and unsure of his future. 

Well, that’s the beginning of the story. Because all the trappings of a good story are incorporated into his life. He gets married, becomes rich, doesn’t get along with his in-laws, creates a family, has outsized relevance and meaning in his life. A perfect thriller which started with a choice of how to “play with the cards he was dealt”.

You see, Jacob understood that the cards he was dealt was part of his Divine destiny. He was to make lemonade from the lemons. In fact the lemons themselves were there specifically for the lemonade not the opposite way around. 

Stories of our ancestors aren’t mere stories about them, rather they are insights and guidance of how we are to live our lives. 

We are living through tough times. We’ve been dealt some rough cards over the past 7 weeks. Yet at the same time we have so much to be thankful for and the way we play these cards are in our hands. 

For me, it’s as clear as can be, that one of the things to be thankful for this year, is seeing the amazing unity and resurgence of Jewish pride that has engulfed our nation. Now that’s playing the cards the right way and no doubt that will continue to give us strength to endure and prosper — Am Yisrael Chai!

 

Simply Essential!

Earlier this week the largest Jewish American rally took place it Washington. It was historic and the energy was electric. 


As the rally kicked off, the first speaker (Tovah Feldshuh) made an astute observation. “Usually, ten Jews result in ten thousand opinions, today we have tens of thousands here, as One, to proclaim Am Yisrael Chai!”  

So true. One people. One Torah. One land. One G-d. 

Shema Yisrael…. Hashem Echad —the L-rd is One. 

Natan Sharansky made a similar point. “When we started the struggle in the former Soviet Union we were thinking, how can a few people bring down the most evil empire of the time, alone?
The fact is, we knew that we were not alone. The Jewish people and the State of Israel were behind us. 

There’s a knowledge that exists as a Jew that isn’t a mere intellectual knowledge rather, an essential knowledge. The knowledge isn’t derived from any outside proofs rather from something that lies deep inside each of us. It’s our core identity. 

Standing at the Rally in Washington and looking at the wide spectrum of Jews in attendance this truth was palpable, and no doubt felt, the world over. I have no doubt that the hostages too feel us just as Sharansky did. 

Yet as unified as we are at the core, we need to ensure that this results in continued action. Each of us  in our own way, with our unique talents and resources. For only then, is the true unity of Am Yisrael realized!!

Am Yisrael Chai!
 
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