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From The Desk of Rabbi Yehuda

Popularity

It’s natural to gravitate to what’s popular. Whilst natural it’s not always wise, however.  

Indeed, the Talmud states, “blessing is found in things that are concealed”. Undiscovered if you will. 

This doesn’t change nature however. Fads, trends are all the rage and not changing anytime soon.

Ironically, at the core of it all, the Jewish nation is in a constant struggle and disbelief as to how unpopular and alone we — a peace loving people are — at times or is it oftentimes. It would be fine if we were “left alone” but even that seems elusive. 

In a further note of irony, in this week’s Torah portion it is Balaam, an arch enemy and non-Israelite prophet who despite his zeal to curse the Jewish nation heaps blessings upon the Jewish nation. Gd wouldn’t allow him to get his vile words out and out -pours blessings considered so lofty that a number of his statements are included in our prayers. 

In describing the Jewish nation he says, “they are a nation that dwells alone”. 

Former Prime Minister of Israel Yitzchak Rabin recounts of his private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe at which time in conversation, the Rebbe asked him for his thoughts on this Biblical verse. Is it by choice that we dwell alone or is it imposed upon us? See here for Rabin’s recounting of this episode.

Its a really thought provoking question to say the least that both inspires reflection and can be quite bothersome. Yet though it may bother us it must not weaken us, not even one bit. Ultimately, it starts with knowing who we are, what we represent and standing tall and proud in our Divine mission to make this world a better place!

Yes, blessings come to things that are concealed to others. We may not be the most popular but at the core of it that matters not an iota!!

 Our very existence proves this — AM YISRAEL CHAI!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Dress Rehearsal!

 

It was Wednesday morning and on went the tie. 

 

I was off to the Capitol in Hartford for an event marking the 30th Yartzeit of the Rebbe in the Senate Chamber.

 

Until I wasn’t. 

 

Some groups from camp were heading to the waterpark and despite the great ratio of counselors to children and the many head-staff members that were there— we felt one senior director should be there. I was chosen. 

 

Off came the tie and on came the T-shirt. It sounds sort of poetic yet it was anything but poetic. It was reality. It was where I needed to be. 

 

King David the great Psalmist writes, “the steps of man are directed by G-d”. We are where we are because we need to be there. And this too isn’t poetic and neither is it dramatic. It’s reality. A phenomenon we often agitate over. 

 

Sometimes we feel the deep sense of mission where we are, other times we need to seek out the mission of how to maximize the place that although we haven’t sought it out — is where we find ourselves. 

 

Ironically, this was one of the central messages of the Rebbe. Life is mission based. We live it, we love it, we uplift it and at the end of the day —the underlying purpose of making this world a better place—is what it’s all about. 

 

Whether the tie or the T-shirt we are always in the right place at the right time the rest is mere dress!

 

The Best Policy!

I grew up on the words, “Honesty is the best policy”. It’s a fundamental. It’s also sort of logical yet it’s not always the easiest path because it all stems with being honest with “oneself” and that, based on the way Gd created us — can be challenging.

A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast about the war in Israel and the guest on the podcast said, you need to understand “in the Middle East, what you think, what you say and what you do are rarely the same”. 

Yes. We all know that. But it’s also the case outside of the Middle East. It’s the human condition. The challenge to calibrate thought, speech and action. Think about a regular day and in a moment of self reflection you’ll see it’s true— oftentimes, thankfully so. We say certain things and do certain things that we may not want to, but that we know is right.

This Tuesday we commemorate the 30th Yartzeit of the Rebbe. It’s been a long time since he passed away yet his presence is felt more than ever. His reach continues to touch multitudes through the many thousands of Chabad Houses that he continues to inspire and encourage despite his physical passing. Just look locally and see the hundreds of campers at Gan Israel and one can see the continued inspiration of the Rebbe and the bright future of the eternal Jewish nation. 

The secret to all this? 

Whilst there’s many things to say — one can decisively point to the Rebbe’s unyielding confidence in each and every person whilst gently prodding and assisting to calibrate thought speech and action. He fostered self reflection which in turn teased out inner strength and resolve that would otherwise remain untapped. He was an unequivocal believer in everyone’s ability to contribute to the world in their unique and impossible-to-replace manner. 

In short — he helped people be honest with themselves and that is the most powerful and potent tool to helping each of us become more and do more than they ever could imagine!!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Sing Even Louder!

 

“Cause I’m a Jew, a proud one too”. What power to hear that from hundreds of this year’s Gan Israel campers who finish their first week of the season, today. 

Jewish pride is more important than ever now, especially for our youth!!

Let’s face it.  They are all observing or experiencing the challenges of being Jewish in the current climate — the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. They no doubt hear or are experiencing the rise in anti-semitism more so than most of us when we were growing up. The images they are seeing of the existential struggle taking place in Israel now are difficult for them to contextualize. The youth of today need the tools to navigate this like never before. 

Yet it begs the question — what else are they seeing and feeling? 

As parents, guides and educators we must make sure they see the pride, the wisdom, the ethics, the ruach, the JOY, the strength and the Gd given mandate that the Jewish nation has as ambassadors of this world. 

We need to be certain that their pride of identity, connection to community and inner strength outweighs and catapults them to a place whereby they can navigate this challenging time and enjoy the blessings of being part of Am Yisrael. 

“Cause I’m a Jew, a proud one too”. The kids are singing and no doubt you are too. Let’s sing it louder and let’s make sure we do it with strength, joy and love!!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yehuda and Dina

P.S.  Gan Israel is committed to ensuring every camper can afford to attend camp. Our SCHOLARSHIP fund still needs funds to cover those who need to be subsidized — click here to help ensure every child can attend. 

We also thank the Jewish Federation of Greater Fairfield County and the Jewish Family Services for assisting. 

Blissful Love!

 

Moments are fleeting or not…


Existentially, human beings are imbued with a healthy desire to live and exist, BH. Yet the choice as to our very existence isn’t ours. It precedes us. 


This past week Dina and I had the great joy of celebrating the wedding of our daughter Rivka. The absolute delight and bliss of marrying off a child is difficult to describe. It’s beyond words. Words simply don’t do it justice because it’s not a mere emotion — it’s an existential experience. 


Moments can be fleeting. The marriage of a child however, isn’t a moment. Rather, the encapsulation of the cosmic intention of creation. G-d’s creation that is… predicated on love and the fusion of two souls, the imbued eternal nature with which Gd created the world — is recognized. 


It precedes us. It empowers us to do our best and leave our own distinct mark on this world. It ensures that moments aren’t fleeting rather eternal. 


No, it’s not an emotion and nor does one’s vocabulary contain the word that can aptly describe the moment. It’s transcendent — beyond the limitations of finite life. 


At times like these — when the nation of Israel is under attack — both in Israel and in the diaspora, it’s the wedding that sends the resounding message that we all so need — the message of eternity. Good prevails over evil, period!


We aren’t merely our own selves, we perpetuate those who precede us and create the future of those who succeed us. 


Yes, we shall succeed — as in in be victorious —precisely because the Jewish ethos and prescribed way of life as transmitted in the Torah is to recognize our own individual ability to achieve something way greater than ourselves. We touch the Divine and we assure eternity. 


I  am definitely the proud father of the bride and the joy will only get greater as they embark on their journey to transform this world to a Divine abode! 

Proof or Pudding?

 

“I can’t believe it exclaimed one person to another, believe it their friend responded — seeing is believing.. it happened!”


Yes, it did happen. A long time ago yet it isn’t showing signs of aging and it doesn’t require “belief” to accept it. The proof is in the pudding — it happened!


Life can be confusing. We oftentimes accept the indefensible and reject what we call the  unbelievable even though it doesn’t actually require belief. Facts on the ground scream its veracity. 


Our minds and hearts find it difficult to accept certain things. I for one find it difficult to believe that October 7th happened. After all, the Israeli army and the intelligence are second to non. Yet it happened, we “know” it happened. Yes, my mind and heart find it difficult to accept but that doesn’t change the reality and it doesn’t require “belief”. 


We just celebrated Shavuot. The Festival that we received the Torah on Mount Sinai. This too doesn’t really require belief. Yes, it happened a long time ago — 3336 years ago. The mind finds it difficult to accept things that precede us by a lengthy period of time as if life didn’t exist or our ancestors are debatable. Which is of course laughable. After all, our very existence is predicated on their existence and this doesn’t require belief at all. The proof is in the pudding!!


The Jewish nation has a rich illustrious Heritage. Many ups and many downs. Faith is a big part of it. The First two of the 10 commandments deal with belief and faith which sometimes could be challenging. Yet our existence and the existence of the Torah — the Divine guide of ethics and morals for the entire universe — doesn’t need to be relegated to faith. It’s been meticulously preserved and handed down Dor L’dor for thousands of years and we live it every day. 


WE are living proof of this. It’s a colossal task and responsibility to be sure — as much as it is an honor. Yet let’s say it the way it is — Jewish vibrancy attests to the veracity and the timelessness of our Heritage despite the challenges that are thrown our way. We need to stand strong tall and proud regardless of the external pressures as at the end of the day — the proof is in the pudding. Am Yisrael Chai!!

Bold and Brilliant!

 

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. (Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon)

 

It’s a bold and brilliant statement that although less poetic can be read as “A giant leap for mankind is achieved by one small step”.

 

The mission statement for humankind. The Divine design. The capacity to create or to destroy. One small act. One word with outsized results. 

 

From the moment the Torah was given at Mt Sinai — this capacity and this charge was handed over to the world. Direction and connection clearly delineated in the Torah through small acts and equally important — refraining from destructive small acts. 

 

There you have it. Achievement by doing but also by not doing. Each side of the coin resulting in a giant step for mankind. 

 

Earlier this week, the wider Chabad Lubavitch organization lost a giant of a man — Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky OBM. He was a friend to all the Shluchim in the field as a result of small acts. Many of them. To many people. The outpouring of condolences post his passing far surpassed what one could have conceived — all a result of small acts. 

 

This coming Tuesday night — Thursday, we celebrate Shavuot. It’s the day we received the Torah at Mt Sinai 3336 years ago. It’s been a wild, incredible and challenging ride for the Jewish nation ever since. The road map clearly mapped out in the Torah. Obstacles galore, setbacks & challenges for sure — yet outsized and miraculous achievements far greater than the world wants to believe— all through small acts. 

 

Fast forward a few thousand years, the  roadmap remains the same. Small acts. Our job mapped out. Some do’s and some don'ts. Some easier, some harder yet at the core of it — it comes down to “one small step by mankind equals one giant leap for the universe”!

 

Be a part of receiving the Torah for the 3337th time. It doesn’t take long but it lasts for an eternity!!

 

Metrics!

 

Achievements can be measured in many ways. 


The problem is, if one measures an achievement by erroneous metrics and values, they’ll surely come to an incorrect conclusion. Hardly an achievement. 


It can get confusing and it becomes subjective and self serving at times. That is, unless there’s one universal transcendent standard that withstands the test of time and generational shift. 


In under two weeks we celebrate the Festival of Shavuot. The day we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. It’s an event that happened over 3300 years ago and the Torah has been lovingly preserved  and perpetuated throughout the ages. 


Historical events that have occurred way in the past are oftentimes relegated to the dustbins of history. Fascinating studies perhaps but humans are for the most part forward thinking creatures. We are always either worrying or anticipating the future. Forget about the past — the present is hardly existent. 


Thankfully, Jewish Holidays aren’t really about the past. It’s about the present and future. Indeed, when it comes to the wondrous gifting of the Torah, the moral compass of humanity we derive daily guidance from the timeless Divine wisdom — it’s beyond inspiring to see how painstakingly so many toil and persevere to pass our Heritage on to their children.  


Regardless of political affiliation and personal sensibilities — rising above our subjective selves and connecting with a higher purpose and beacon of light — insures true achievement. The sort that connects the past with the future to eternity. 


On Wednesday June 12 — for the 3337th time we will read the Ten Commandments in Shul. The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged everyone of all ages to hear the actual reading. To simulate if you will the same experience our ancestors experienced as they stood at the mountain.


It was a long time ago — but our illustrious history and indisputable achievements attest to the enduring power of connecting with a source of energy that transcends all limitations!


The Oath!

 

It was big news in Westport this past week. The Bible that was used at the inauguration of George Washington, was here local, on display. 

I didn’t know much about this Bible, but upon reading of it I discovered that when he was administered the oath of office the President’s hand was on the page of the story of our Patriarch Jacob giving blessings to his children, the 12 tribes from which each of us descend. 

The swearing in took place a long time ago —but it pales in comparison to the blessings of Jacob to his progeny which transpired over 3500 years ago. It’s quite wondrous when you think about it. 

The miracle of our survival. Or more accurately the miracle(s) of our survival. It isn’t one miracle it’s an infinite series of miracles that have unfolded — each generation experiencing their own subset of miracles. 

But the truth is, the biggest miracle of all, is not the physical survival of the Jewish nation rather the spiritual and intellectual survival. It has required tremendous precision, care, and toil to ensure this. The very same Torah with the same reverence, adherence and love for the  sacred principles. Mezuza, circumcision , Shabbat, Kosher, Holidays all intact with no sign of erosion. Incredible and miraculous. 

The past seven months have been really tough for us all. Our existence has been physically threatened in so many arenas. We are a nation that dwells alone and yet the state of Jewish life has never been stronger. Jewish pride  and identity are stronger than ever.  Star of David necklaces sales, Mezuza purchases, Tefillin laying & Shabbat candle lighting are at all time highs. No, we’ve been physically attacked but the soul of who we are has been polished.

Whether the actual page that the Bible was open to for George Washington’s oath was deliberate or not, we may never know. One thing is for sure however, the blessings from our Forefather Jacob — also named Yisrael — are stronger than ever.  The nation of Yisrael and the land of Yisrael have endured, prospered, been challenged and overcome. This is our history. Our story. Our lives. Together, we constitute the greatest miracles of all times the miracle called Israel!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,

Dedicate and Elevate

 

I didn’t know him but he made a profound effect on me and many others this past week — may his soul rest in peace!

Moshiko Davino was killed in battle during the war of Protective Edge in 2014. His Tefillin — which he always brought with him into battle —is the only thing that survived the explosion that took his life. 

With the scent of the fire’s dust still strongly on the Tefillin bag, his mother Ruchama (who can possibly imagine her pain?) presented his Tefillin to Prime Minister Netanyahu who promised to wear them and dedicate this mitzvah to the elevation of her son’s soul and for the elevation of all our fallen. 

This past Sunday, the PM posted a photo of himself wearing these Tefillin with the above commentary. How thoroughly touching!

The PM also included in the caption a passage from Deuteronomy that states, “and all the nations of the land will see that the name of G-d is upon you and will be fearful of you”. He included this passage as it references a statement of the Talmud’s Rabbi Elazar the great  — who explains that the fear of the nations —will specifically be induced by the Tefillin that we place on the head. 

This photo touched me deeply and gave me comfort. Over the past months I’ve been voraciously reading the news and I’m incredibly proud and indebted to the bravery and selflessness of our dear brothers and sisters in Israel. Yet the ferocity of our enemies is alarming. It seems like an impossible feat to vanquish them. That is, unless G-d is brought into the equation. 

Our existence is indisputably a miracle. This isn’t the first time that we’ve been besieged by enemies, attacked from all sides quite literally and despite all that we are a thriving nation —an eternal nation. We’ve endured the worst and achieved the greatest. 

Moshiko Davino may have paid with his life but it wasn’t in vain. The photo of the PM in Moshiko’s Tefillin was just what we needed to show our enemies —the name of G-d hovering over our eternal nation in our eternal homeland —led by those who have sacrificed so greatly and continue to inspire us all. 

Turns out, I too needed to see it — for after all, it’s only by standing tall, proud, strong and connected to the One Above the are we assured total success and the vanquishing of our enemies — AMEN!

Gifted!

 

This past week Dina and I had the joy of celebrating our grandson’s bris. 


So many thoughts flashed through my mind. Wishes for little Gedalya named after his great grandfather, worries for some of the troubling developments in the world, anticipation and excitement for all the opportunities that Gedalya will have — and the list goes on. 


My grandparents had the same feelings no doubt. The same wishes, anticipation, worries at a totally different time and generation.


Yet the core underlying wishes were exactly the same. It was the same for the grandparents of my grandparents too and-so it was, for the entire unbroken linked chain stretching back to Moses at Mount Sinai. 


It’s a cool concept. Actually let me correct that, it’s a mind blowing concept. Dor L’dor — through thick and thin — the values, principles and underlying wishes of every single generation was the preservation of that gift that was handed to us at Mount Sinai— the Torah. 


Ironically, our unyielding and selfless system of preserving and sharing this Divine wisdom is the fury of the world. The truth about the nation that invented the word mentsch, that greets one another with the word shalom, that reveres life and tikun olam, that innovates, teaches and  gives charity like no other people, provokes lies, discomfort and ultimately outward aggression. 


Most of all, standing at my grandson’s bris as he was flanked by two sets of great grandparents (may they be healthy and strong) I was praying — praying that he take a page out of their book, their great grandparents book — that same book that was the prayer on all of our great grandparents lips for millennia!!


Dor L’dor. Let’s keep up the heroic efforts of ensuring Jewish continuity and vibrancy despite the challenges and despite the news headlines.  Truth always prevails — Am Yisrael Chai!!



Immovable!

 

Time may move but experience lingers.

There’s something that outlives the physical part of the experience and remains present. Some call it memory but it’s so much more. 

Passover 2024 came and left but in truth it never leaves. This year especially, coming on the heels of October 7th and the more recent shameful encampments on college campuses —Passover mustn’t leave us. 

Jewish existence is a miracle. Preserved tirelessly and meticulously  “Dor L’dor” from generation to generation for thousands of years withstanding the ultimate test — the test of time. It’s mind boggling if you think about it. Abraham, Sara, Moses, Rachel, the greats of our history all feeling comfortable at our Seders. The language, the content of the Haggadah, the matzah and the list goes on. 

Time may move but truth endures. No, it’s not mere memories that we create when we connect with Torah and Mitzvahs — experience lingers and how. For the Jewish nation — the timeless nation — it’s something we intimately know. We are here, going nowhere, timelessness the only constant. 

Time moves but the needle on our compass doesn’t!!

Next Year In Jerusalem!!

Tune Up!

 

Happy Pesach!!

I’m sure I feel this way every year — but this year more-so than ever, I’m finding strength in the celebration of Pesach which celebrate the miracle of our existence. 

The world currently, is a mess. Reading the news nowadays isn’t for the faint hearted. It could be downright disheartening. (although I think reading news is better than watching news as it comes with less spin and commentary). 

Yet at the same time I’ve been reading about massive Pesach Seders at multiple college campuses. Over 1200 students at University of Florida — and the list really goes on. Even at Columbia University, which has been at the forefront of the news this past week —the Chabad house ran a vibrant Seder with a message from Rabbi Drizin that resonated deeply with me. 

Tuning out the noise

"This will be the only time we mention what's happening out there," Drizin said, gesturing toward the door as he began the seder. "Matza is meant to be eaten without talking. It's a kind of meditation -- a way to tune out the noise. I want us at this seder to tune out the noise." We were just far enough away not to hear what was happening outside. Now Drizin wanted us not to think about it either”. 

——————

How brilliant. Tuning out the noise. 

Creating space to reflect on the miracle of our existence. Space to appreciate with immense gratitude the miracle that took place last Sat night as Iran tried viciously to inflict pain and damage to our brethren in Israel; space to focus on the tremendous gifts and blessings that we have in our lives; space to take a deep breath and break the cycle of fear that tends to build up when the mind unceasingly focuses on the negative. 

Incredibly, by tuning out the outside noise we are able to hear a different tune. The proverbial message of Matzah. A message of hope and endurance. The truth about our existence. An eternal nation with a special mission of being a light unto the nations!

Yes, it’s a rough patch that needs activism and thoughtful attention yet it must be based on the immutable foundation of the Passover story. 

“For with an outstretch arm G-d took us out of Egypt” — that same arm is outstretched — let’s tune out the noise and march forward with conviction, wisdom, strength and joy. 

Happy 3536th Pesach & counting!

With best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom & Happy Pesach,

Hope-Full

“In the darkness that surrounds our lives, there is a light we hold onto — a light of hope… right now in these tough times our faith is being tested but it also shines the brightest…

It’s been over six months since the Jewish nation has been ripped asunder. Incredibly, these words above are uttered by families of hostages … 

Where does the strength come from?

This is a question that will dominate for us all —at the Seder. It’s not one of the specified 4 questions yet the whole Haggadah’s response is designed to address this very challenge. Our whole history is one that requires meticulous unpacking, thoughtfulness, preservation and ultimately celebration

To be sure, the answer isn’t given in PowerPoint form nor is it one that can be relegated to a few throw-away lines. It’s an answer that is weaved throughout the Haggadah. It’s an answer that is deliberate. One that slows us down and says let’s start at the beginning. Our story starts thousands of years ago and includes all four seasons of life — we never stall at one season or in one era, we keep trucking, questioning and ultimately celebrating

As all good bedtime stories start—“once upon a time” and end “they lived happily ever after”— we know that by recounting the Haggadah and sharing the miracle of our existence with our families — the end will be “happily ever after”.

One season. One Torah.  One people. One G-d. Am Yisrael Chai!!!

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Yehuda and Dina

P.S.  Watch the video and please light Shabbat candles this week with deliberate intention to increase light for the hostages, their families and all those in duress and missing their loved ones. 

P.P.S. TZEDAKAH — It’s an added Mitzvah to increase with “giving” at times of celebration. As we celebrate our Heritage — please consider making a donation to Chabad — and furthering our ability to provide Heritage, Judaism & Celebration to our entire community. — Passover Donation link 

Bittersweet

 

Bittersweet. 

What does it mean anyhow? I mean either something is bitter or it’s sweet, no?

Next week we sit down to the Passover Seder. The story of the Jewish journey. We recount our historic highs and lows. We eat bitter herbs and imbibe four cups of  wine. We meticulously eat Matzah that both represents bread of affliction and bread of freedom. We hide the Afikomen, a small portion of Matzah all the while that we load large amounts of brisket on our plates.  All so confusing to the untrained eye. 

Yet the Jewish nation are masters at combining contrasting emotions and events. At every Jewish wedding, at the height of joy we break a glass — not so fast — the destruction of the Temple etched into our consciousness. So happy yet so sad with the list of additional examples too many to fill one small column or even a long column for the matter.

So which is it? Bitter or sweet? Happy or sad? Highs or lows?

The Seder is undoubtedly the story of Freedom and Redemption. It’s the story of the Jewish nation both in the past, with fuel to propel us forward to eternity. It’s the recounting of the very miraculous existence of our nation despite all adversity and it’s the festival that helps us reinforce and nurture our essential identity and mission to make this world more goodly and G-dly. 

This year we have another chapter to add to the story. It’s been a tough year for the Jewish nation yet the story remains the same. The story of Passover makes that clear. We will endure. We will prosper. We will be there one for another. We will double down on ensuring the continuity and thrival of the Jewish nation. We will continue to share the values and gift of Judaism with our children and families. We will continue, period!

Yes, parts of our history are bitter.  Yet at the core of it, is sweetness. Maybe that is the true definition of bittersweet. We ask only that G-d stretch out his hand once again and reveal the deepest hidden secrets of transcendence so that the bitterness falls to the wayside and all the we are left with is reveal and experiential sweetness. Amen!

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