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Rabbi's weekly messages

Pinchas- Focusing On Your Goal

 A city worker was observed digging holes in the city square, followed by another who refilled each hole. "What are you doing?" a puzzled onlooker asked. They explained: "It's Simple. We are really a team of three. Our job is to plant trees. We split the work like this: One of us digs, the second places the seeds and the third covers it up with soil. Our friend the planter called in sick, but why lose a day's work?!"...

Sometimes we get caught up with our work routines, and lose direction of our own values and goals beyond our immediate actions.

I was reminded of this yesterday.

Every morning for the past three years, I studied one chapter of Maimonides' magnum opus, Mishnah Torah, a clear and thorough overview of the entire system of Jewish law and mitzvah practice. This daily study curriculum was spearheaded by the Rebbe thirty-some years ago and has been adopted by tens of thousands worldwide.

Yesterday, we celebrated the conclusion of the study cycle with the final chapter of this 14-volume work.

Maimonides, in his halachic work, consistently sticks to the clear and concise Jewish legal system, without entering into underlying reasons or philosophy. But he chose to end his book on a spiritual high - two chapters dedicated to the belief in the coming of Moshiach.  

With this, Maimonides conveys an important message: Even while engaged with mitzvot and good deeds, you risk reducing your experience to habits and routines.

Remember the soul and spirit of each mitzvah you do. And keep an eye on the goal. Our collective mitzvahs will help the world realize its full potential. A world free of struggles and hate.  Envision the beautiful and healthy world we are creating; a world of redemption.

Shlach- Try Insulting your Boss

Have you ever tried insulting your boss?

I'm not suggesting you try it :)

Leaders often 'run' for the office and do all in their power to defend and protect their position. Without it, they sense they will be smaller or less. 

The Torah's approach to leadership turns this conventional model on its head.

At the end of this week's Torah portion, Shlach, a rebellion erupted against the role of spiritual leaders like Moses and The High Priest. The claim seemed rather pious: Imagine you have a synagogue filled with Torah scrolls; wouldn't it be pointless and unnecessary to affix a Mezuzah, containing a meager two paragraphs from the Torah, on its doorpost? So if everyone in the community has a soul and is inherently connected with G-d, why the need for a spiritual leader?

But the argument was flawed. (Just check the doorposts of the synagogue on your next visit:)) Why? Because though a Torah scroll is sacred, it remains tucked away in the ark and not accessible or relatable. The Mezuzah has a critical role then, of making Jewish spirituality alive, as people encounter and engage with it every time they come and go.

This is exactly the role of a Jewish spiritual leader. Leaders are not more privileged than regular people. Actually, ordinary Jews are as sacred as Torah scrolls! But a good Jewish leader serves his people by cultivating the inherent power and infinite goodness we all already possess. So we all recognize we are like Torah scrolls!

Behaaloscha- Unity after a Crisis

In a marriage, man and woman become one. The problems begin when they try to figure out which one.

The extraordinary unity we experienced as a result of the global crisis these past few months was awe-inspiring. People put personal interests aside to help and be there for others. But as our 'regular' life begins to emerge, we seem to be reverting back to disunity, resuming to our default, self-oriented behavior patterns.

How do we bottle this extraordinary unifying force and carry it into ordinary life?

The Temple's Menorah (discussed in this week's Torah portion) may shed some light on what it means to go about everyday life with a sense of unity. Two unique conditions were to be met in the construction and kindling of the Menorah: 1) The entire Menorah was carved out of one single chunk of gold (not welded parts). 2) The wicks and flames on the right and left branches were to lean toward the center.

When confronting a crisis, we draw energy from deep within, and we sense how at our core we are truly one, carved from the same stuff by our creator. That's powerful, but not enough.

It's when we emerge from that crisis, carrying our own distinctive 'torch', following our own unique path, reflecting our personality, talent, and strength. That's when we are reminded by the Menorah, that precisely now it's most critical to see ourselves as one part of a larger, diverse picture.

The distinct voices and personalities of diverse people join together to make one wholesome Menorah!

Behar Bechukosai- Sabbatical -Shabbos

Did you hear about the couple stranded on an island resort in the Maldives just as the worldwide lockdown was taking hold? They were in the midst of a  dream honeymoon, and as the hotel guests fled back home, they remained the sole guests on this exclusive 5-star picturesque paradise-like resort, pampered by a team of superb hotel staff...

It seems like an awesome situation, no?! As time went on, and the newlywed couple found no way to travel home, they didn't find it that amusing. A forced vacation, it seems, isn't appreciated.

As humans, we have this need to be productive. "Man is born to toil", goes a famous verse from Job (5,7). So what are we to make of the reality that so many of us  were forced into this 'vacation' with more time in our hands? An extra day or week of vacation might be a nice idea. But how are we to cope as it drags on for months?

This week's Torah portion can give us perspective. It talks about the Mitzvah of the Jewish day of rest, and the sabbatical year from working the land in Israel (Shemitah).

Contrary to common belief, Shabbat is actually designed to be a productive day. We accomplish a tremendous amount of work on our day of rest.

During the six days, we are caught in our work routine, constantly tending to what's urgent, we don't necessarily prioritize and focus on what's really important.

Enter Shabbat.

Shabbat is a time when we shift from focusing on what we do, to exploring who we are. What is our role as humans, as Jews, as members of our society? Shabbat is a time to invest our energy in developing our spiritual focus, mainly through prayer and Torah study. Shabbat is a time to invest our resources in strengthening our relationships. Now, that's serious work.

So whether or not your place of work is open for business (please G-d may it be real soon), we must get to work!

Acharei Kedoshim- Post Corona

I know it's hard to imagine, but one day, we will emerge from this quarantine :) While we will be thrilled to move on with life, will we take anything from this era into our post-coronavirus lives (other than a surplus of toilet paper rolls and a face-mask collection)?!

The truth is, beyond the difficult challenges this brought us, we've gained some valuable perspectives on life. Like: Getting to really know the people we share the same roof with… Humility (how little we really know)… Modesty (cutting back on extravagant parties)… Revisiting priorities (there's more to life than accumulating wealth)… Mutual responsibility… and more. Wouldn’t it be a pity to lose these hard-earned values? How can we ensure that we take these priceless treasures with us and not leave it behind?

This week's Torah portion Acharei-Kedoshim may hold the secret. In it we find both Torah readings of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. The first (read Yom Kippur morning) speaks of the awe-inspiring atmosphere that gripped the Jewish nation as they witnessed the Temple Service. Every soul was moved. The next part (read Yom Kippur afternoon) speaks of the most elementary and basic values of avoiding immoral marital relations.

It seems rather anti-climactic. To segue from an extraordinary transcendent experience to a rather obvious moral code of conduct. Couldn't we find anything more inspiring with which to conclude the most inspiring day of the year?

But that's exactly the point. Inspiration, whether induced from the Holy Temple or from a virus that brought the world to a stand-still, is all fleeting.

There's only one way to keep the benefits of inspiration flowing beyond the actual event. If, in the midst of the inspiring event, you think and take practical steps and commit to simple, yet concrete resolutions on how you will behave the day after. Make these resolutions enshrined in your daily schedule.

Act today to ensure you don't let your inspiration go to waste!

Tazria Metzorah- Planting

 Why we should all be planting now & Shabbat Shalom!

People are discovering new things these days. Our one-year-old Esther discovered Zoom and demands to get in on the action. Our kids discovered distance-learning, while I, as a parent, discovered up-close learning...

On one of my mid-day bike rides with the kids this week, we passed a neighbor planting a garden, so the kids wanted to know why we don't plant a garden too. I said I would, but unfortunately, the poor little seeds wouldn't stand a chance of blossoming or surviving under our care :)

Speaking of seeds - this week's double Torah portions are Tazria, opening with mitzvot pertaining to the seed, or birth of new a new life. The second portion is Metzorah, discussing the conduct of an individual in quarantine due to a supernatural skin related ailment called Tzaraat.

So, who came up with the idea of lumping these two portions with such opposite themes? An unfortunate ailment with something as miraculous as birth?

But if you observe the process of a seed's growth, it all makes sense. First, it is 'quarantined' into the ground, which must be terribly uncomfortable, then it begins to plotz and feel like it's losing its identity. But that's precisely when the miraculous growth and birth takes place.

This could be the story of our lives. This ailment could be the beginning of the birth of a newer, incomparably better version of ourselves and the world. If we seize this opportunity while the world's noise and distraction are shut down, and listen to and tend to our deep core, then with some patience, faith, and cultivating improved behaviors and habits, we can be on the verge of the birth of a new horizon!

Vayakhel Pekudei- Why is this Week Different

Why is this week different than all other weeks of my life?


On all other weeks of my life, I had a plan. I made goals and accomplished them. I was convinced I had life all (or mostly) figured out.

But this week, I was humbled to realize I know so little. I'm slowly coming to terms with the reality that my only plan is G-d's plan. And I know it will be good in the end.If it's not good yet, it's not the end. (Oh, and thank you, dear G-d, for taking the burden off my shoulders. It's quite liberating just letting go).

Friends: PRAY each day. Say the Modeh Ani, say the Shema. Allow yourself to internalize Hashem's presence in your life.


On all other Shabbat's of my life, much of the Jewish activity centered around the shul; Jews relied on the rabbi, cantor, and gabbai to keep the Jewish thing going.

But on this Shabbatour homes are the Shul. We are all the rabbi and the cantor. We will each step up to the plate, and we won't disappoint! 

Friends: UNPLUG from the relentless news cycle this Shabbat. Sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday. Light candles, make Kiddush, study the Parshah. Do it all the way!


On all other weeks of my life, I had daily routines and habits, some good some not so good. It's been quite challenging breaking the bad habits.

But this week, as the rug was pulled from under my feet, I was forced to kick every habit and routine. I now realize the amazing opportunity to reconstruct my daily routine to reflect my truest priorities.

Friends: INCLUDE Torah in your daily routine - join me online each morning next week for 15 minutes, as we explore one question/topic a day from The Jewish Course of Why.  See a sample of questions and topics here:  https://forms.gle/KBhyvPZATgNoYS2s9. Details to follow next week.


On all other weeks of my life, I've been inspired by isolated examples of kindness shown by some people.

But this week, I was moved by witnessing the never-ending gush and outpouring of selfless, remarkable, almost superhuman kindness shown by people all over the world. Medical personnel putting themselves in the line of danger to fight this pandemic, teachers stretching themselves to be there for students, parents giving their all to their kids, and strangers volunteering to bring food and other supplies to neighbors. Our father in heaven must be kvelling with nachas!

Friends: SIGN UP to volunteer. Your help will be needed by others in the community who are not able to venture out to do basic errands. Fill out this form  https://forms.gle/6wtinwNSUi3M9cSPA

Ki Sisa- Are THEY Making the Right Decisions?

Are THEY making the right decisions?! Are THEY failing us?!

As we are all endlessly refreshing the news to get the minute-by-minute updates, people are discussing and judging whether the decisions of those in positions of leadership are the smartest, best timed, is the tone too soft or too harsh.

I have a different question: Are WE failing THEM?

By ‘them’ – I’m referring to our youth, who for the first time in their lives are watching closely how grown adults respond to a situation that is greatly challenging and turns our plans and lives upside down.

Do we bicker, blame and grab; or, in addition to taking every precaution advised by the health experts, do we humbly and calmly accept the reality that as humans, we are always fragile, we do what we need and put our faith in Hashem to take care of the rest.

Are we able to maintain our composure, show sensitivity and care to a neighbor or a stranger, in addition to fending for ourselves?

If we go through this challenge out of a place of inner strength you will have built up your spiritual immune system and those of our fragile youth who look up to you, to better tackle the challenges that come their way, when COVID-19 will be just a distant memory.

As one rabbi put it: Wash your hands well. And when you do, pause to remember in who's hands you are in!

Terumah- Yahrzeits and Birthdays

One of the common requests we get at Chabad is for help determining the date of a loved one's Yahrzeit.

But this shouldn't just be a Yahrzeit thing.

It would be wise to keep note of the Jewish date of your birthday too.

Because your Jewish birthday holds the key to unleashing some really powerful energy.

How do I know?

There once was was an antisemite who wanted to kill every Jew on the face of the earth. His name was Haman. Haman had a problem: He knew that Jews were well connected - to G-d - and it would be tough to just take them all down. His best bet was to find a time that their mazel (spiritual power) was down in the dumps. He thought about it, and came up with just the right time. The Jewish month of Adar (the current Jewish month) was known for one thing - Moses' Yahrzeit. Perfect timing, he thought. He set the date for a mass extermination and even got the king to sign off on it.

You know the rest of the story. We had the last laugh and turned him into a pastry.

So, what was Haman's fatal error? The Talmud fills us in: Adar marks not only the date of Moses' Yahrzeit, but also Moses' birthday, and Haman underestimated to power unleashed on the Jewish date of one's birthday. It is why Haman didn't stand a chance.

But now that we know its potency, don't let the Jewish date of your birthday just pass you by. Your Jewish soul and mazel shine most brightly on your Jewish birthday. Take on new new initiatives. Set ambitious goals. Pray. Study more. Be generous. Because on your Jewish birthday almost nothing can get in your way!

For more about Jewish birthdays visit JewishOlney.com/Birthday.

P.S. Commemorating Yahrzeits are important too. At Chabad we offer annual notifications of the correct date along with a Yahrzeit candle. If you don't get them yet, you can, by simply filling out this form: https://forms.gle/JEZbR7E1GHQRARev8

Va'erah- The Best Training I Got

This week, we showed a film at Chabad, Outback Rabbis, which follows two young Chabad emissary (Shluchim) couples, in their quest to reach and connect with Jews living in the most remote areas of the Aussie outback.

There are many ways one can prepare for a life committed to serving the Jewish community: Brushing up on communication or counseling skills, Jewish scholarship, Public speaking skills, etc. While they are all important, I think there is something far more important than all of that.

When I was a Chabad yeshivah student, like most of my fellow Yeshiva students, I spent summers and Passovers taking part in the ‘Roving Rabbis’ program. We would visit remote areas, communities and countries, seeking isolated Jews and doing our best to connect them with their heritage – Through performing Mitzvos together and spending time with them, we would work to rekindle the Jewish spark.

How far would we travel to find them? As far as they may be! If we could not verify they would be home, we would still travel an entire morning, with the hope of meeting and being able to engage with them.

This taught me that serving the Jewish people, means cherishing and being 100 percent there for the individual Jew.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’erah, G-d begins to show Pharaoh an awesome display of strength with the first seven plagues. Moses’ introduction to Pharaoh, following G-ds instruction was: “Send out  My child [Israel] so that he will worship Me”

Notice that G-d doesn’t say my people or my nation, but my son in the singular form.

Each of us is G-d’s only child. 

It is not enough to be proud of and love ‘The Jewish People’, we must show unconditional love to the individual. Each one is G-d’s only child! 

When asked how many children I have, I sometimes respond “I have one of each”

Love is amazing. It defies all logic and rules of mathematics. Like all parents I loved my first child with every fiber of my being, I didn’t love him 99%, I loved him 100%. There was no room for more. Then we had our second child and I loved him 100%. I didn’t have to divide my love, I loved each one 100 percent. Each was and continues to be the entire universe to me

It doesn’t matter how many children you have, each one is an only child. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the nature of love.

G-d works the same way.

This is why the word “your” in the first of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord YOUR G-d”, is written in the singular form (in Hebrew the word “your” can be written in plural or singular form). 

The Torah was not given to “a people”, it was given to each individual. 

G-d doesn’t ask the Jewish people to light Shabbat candles or to put on Tefillin, He asks you his only child.

Often, I get the request, “Rabbi can you pray for me?” “Sure,” I say, “but, G-d would love to hear from you too – you’re his only child”

If G-d had many children, your mitzvah would be dispensable, but he doesn’t, he only has you. No one can light YOUR Shabbat candle, no one can don YOUR tefillin or say YOUR prayers or eat YOUR kosher.  

Can you imagine a child saying, my mother has other kids to hug her, she doesn’t need my hug! I don’t need to call her, she has other kids who call her. 

G-d wants your hug. He wants your Mitzvah, he wants to hear your voice and he wants to be involved in your life.

Vayechi- Clarity

The story goes of a traveler who comes to a fork on the road, unsure which path will take him to his destination. To his benefit, there was a signpost with clear arrows marking which city was in which direction. To his detriment though, the sign had been knocked down by a storm, and now seemed obsolete.

The traveler thought for a moment, then lifted the signpost with the arrow showing his city of origin pointing to the road he just traveled and smiled as it became clear to him where he needed to go.

Clarity is a cherished commodity as we make our way through life. They say hindsight is always 20/20. Except that it is foresight which we often so desperately seek.

Joseph, whose story continues in this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, knew more than anyone how tumultuous life can be, he had experienced extreme lows and soared to the greatest heights, yet, throughout it all, he maintained an inner calm, clarity of vision, and conviction, of where he was heading in life and what kind of person he wanted to be.

What was his secret sauce?! Pay attention to the names of his two sons born in Egypt. The first he named Menashe, expressing his attachment to his roots, where he's coming from. The second, he named Ephraim - expressing his confidence in his success and future. These themes were the two pillars that guided him in this uncharted turf. a strong connection to his past, and only then confidence in his future.

One of the greatest blessings in life is to have an inner sense of direction, with clarity of where you want to take your life, not merely following where it leads you. One sure way to achieve that is by planting yourself deeply into your past, your heritage. What were the Torah values your Bubbies and Zaidies found so empowering? As Jews, what values have we always stood for?

Know where you come from, so you can gain 20/20 vision of where you are heading!

Vayigash- My Kids Inspired Me

My kids inspired me this week.

Little Rivkah, who turns four today, finally took the plunge. She's been considering letting go of her pacifier and 'blanky', which she typically hung out with for 12-18 hours a day. This week, she just gave it up. Cold turkey. (I won't go into the bribes :))

Then something amazing happened. Her two older sisters, who had strong attachments of their own to their own comforts, watched what she did, and right then and there decided to give up their own attachments. Just a day earlier they wouldn't have even entertained the thought of it. But "if she did it, so could we"!

It made me realize that we are much stronger than we think we are.

Often, the strength and willpower we exhibit is the result of and reflects our circumstances. After scoring a big win, for instance, financially or academically we may feel really empowered and sense like we're on top of the world, and we can do anything.

We should not be limited to circumstances though. True strength can and must come from within.

In this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, Yehudah confronts the second most powerful person in the Egyptian empire (he did not yet know it was his own brother), to stand up and protect his brother Binyamin.

Circumstantially, Yosef was the one in the position of power and had every advantage over the desperate Yehudah.

Yet Yehudah didn't approach with weakness, desperation or inferiority. He approached and confronted respectfully yet driven and empowered. Yehuda's descendants ultimately held the seat of leadership for much of Jewish history (think: David and Solomon).

Sometimes, all we need is a little reminder of our inner strength and ability to make significant changes in our life. Little Rivkah inspired me. Who inspires you?

Vayishlach- Katonti


Imagine you find yourself riding a huge wave of success: Your start-up company is heading toward an IPO… You’ve graduated on top of your class... You won an Olympic medal…

How would that make you feel? Probably on top of the world!

Experiencing success can lead to a sense of power, entitlement, and worse yet, as our bubby’s would say, a lack of mentch-lichkeit.

Jacob in this week’s Torah portion experienced success, yet takes a radically different approach.

He goes from rags to riches. Despite others’ attempts to abuse him and put him down every step of the way. He outwits Laban, outmaneuvers Esau, wrestles with and overpowers an angel, and becomes extremely wealthy to boot.

His emotional reaction to all this? Katonti - I feel smaller, humbler as a result of my success!

Why would a wildly successful person feel ‘smaller’ and less entitled than their less successful peer?

Jacob’s reflection is truly empowering:

I can choose to see myself asthe primary cause for my success, that would naturally lead me to feel more arrogant, entitled, and probably less happy as a result.

Or I can choose to see my success as the result of the gifts given to me by my creator.That would lead me to feel humbled by the experience. Someone cares for me, and chose to generously share these blessings with me.

Every success you experience is the result of gifts, talents, wisdom and resources that were granted to you, recognize that and that will leave you feeling humbled, grateful and genuinely happy! 

This stands out as one of the most powerful lessons from my early days in Yeshivah.

(It is common for people who taste success to gradually lose touch with ‘ordinary folk’ in their life. After all, there are more important people to hang out with…)

Lech Lecha- Stories

 A story is told of two writers who rushed to the study of the famous Ruzhiner Rebbe, they wanted him to write the preface to their respective books, one on Jewish law, the other on Jewish stories. The attendant was sure that the rebbe would see the writer of law first, but he checked with his rebbe first. The rebbe told him that he would see the storyteller first. “Our Torah begins with stories. Were it not for the stories, the mitzvot that follow would simply not stick.”

Stories have a wonderful way to bring a value to life. Torah comes to life, when we pay attention to the stories and the lives of those who were molded by our sacred values. It opens us up to be shaped and influenced by their example.

This week we begin the story of our Patriarch and Matriarch, Abraham and Sarah. The stories of the Torah span the upcoming ten to fifteen Torah portions. Take the time to absorb them. Read them to your children (some great resources here), re-read them yourself at shabbat service (more on that here). Pick up some new insights and commentary as you go along.

It's been said: Others may tell stories to their children to put them to sleep, we tell stories to our children to keep them awake!

Noach- Finish the Fight

Most of us manage to accomplish most of our tasks, most of the time.

We ​​pretty much complete our work assignment before the deadline. We’re​​mostly there for our kids when they need us. and settle for ​​a few Jewish experiences over the year.

But is it OK to settle for 'just OK'?!

I read a sports column earlier this week, preparing Nats fans for the likely scenario that the Nationals ​will not become the World Series Champion​s. It’s message: 'Sports is not about the destination, but the Journey', after all, even making it to the World series under this year’s circumstances was quite an achievement, and fans should be proud.

Clearly, the Nationals players didn't buy that narrative.​ They didn't just #StayInTheFight. They #FinishedTheFight.

I​n this week's Torah portion we observe the difference between those who enjoy real success, ad those who just 'get by'.

​Terach​, the father of Abraham,​ took his​family and​ "traveled from Ur Kasdim to go to Canaan, and they came to Charan and​ ​stayed there.​"​​​ ​He realized the journey was a challenge, and figured he'll settle for less. 'Charan is ok too, I guess’.

Contrast that to the trip Terach’s son ​Abraham takes. ​G-d​ ​appears to him once, tells him to leave Charan and in spite of innumerable difficulties and adventures on the way, he makes it all the way to Israel.

And that’s why the whole world knows about​Abraham, while Terach’s name is largely forgotten. Terach was too easily distracted and easily gave up on his journey to the Promised Land, while his son persevered until his final destination.

​Invest some more effort in your work assignment and it will truly stand-out. Give your child that extra attention in helping them through a problem you could have overlooked, and you will help them truly shine. Take your Jewish involvement to the next level, not just settling for the status quo, and you will feel deeper fulfillment.

​We are Abraham's descendants. We should not settle for half journey. Take it to the end, and #FinishTheFight!

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