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Rabbi's Thoughts

Rabbi's Thoughts

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Thoughts that may provoke inspiration.

Living the Dream

Search on Google: “How dreams create success”, and you will find over 39 million results. We were brought up with the idea of the “American dream”. How many times have we been told to “dream bigger”? I'm sure all of us have been told countless times never to give up on our dreams.

Yet it all seems so cliché. Yes, it's nice to dream big, but a dream is just that- a fleeting neurological phenomenon. How does that help us achieve success?

In this week's Torah portion, we come across the story of Joseph, the quintessential dreamer. Joseph had a dream that he would one day be a king, that he would have the ability to change the entire world and make it a better place.

The funny thing about dreams is that they have a way of disappointing you. Joseph, hated by his brothers, was sold as a slave to Egypt. Yet even in Egypt, Joseph maintained his dreamy naivetè. Though he was a slave who was worked to the bone, he always saw the best in people. Young and good-looking, he was an easy target for his seductive mistress. Rejecting her advances, Joseph's dreams were dashed even further after he was thrown into a dungeon.

Yet even in prison, Joseph continued to dream. He worked hard to gain the favor of the prison warden. He even helped a couple of his fellow prisoners in interpreting their dreams. He asked them to remember him after they were freed from prison. Yet, his dreams were dashed once again as they forgot him.

Finally, his dreams were fulfilled. Pharaoh needed help interpreting his dream and the rest is history.

How was Joseph different in that his dreams were fulfilled, while millions of dreamers worldwide find themselves with dashed hopes and broken dreams?

Joseph was very unique. He did not feel entitled to his dreams but realized that they were something that he had to work toward. Before he was sold as a slave, his father asked him to go visit his brothers. Joseph knew how hated he was by his brothers, yet he went anyway, daring to fulfill his father's wishes. After he was sold as a slave, he decided to live his dream as a king by making his master's house the best it could be. While in prison, he worked to make the prison the most comfortable place it could be for everyone there, smiling to those who needed a smile, hugging those who needed a hug, and even interpreting the random dream or two.

Joseph understood that in order to be a king, one must be able to rule himself. Circumstances may change, but his actions are under his control. He understood the importance of acting like a king and creating a better and kinder environment, be it his master’s house, a prison, or an empty pit.

Joseph didn't just wait for his dreams to come true; he lived the dream, until his dream became a reality!

Hangover or Opportunity?

The election cycle is over. Many of us feel disappointed (or worse) with the results. Many of us felt disappointed with the candidates. Still, it’s over, so now what?

How do we get ourselves into the right mindset? How do we make sure that we are now proceeding in the right direction? What can we use as our inspiration or motivation?

This week’s Torah portion begins with G-d’s instruction to Avraham: “Lech Lecha”- Leave your home, your land, and your family. In other words, G-d is telling Avraham and his wife Sarah to leave their comfort zone. Their mission is to be accomplished somewhere else. The effect they will have on the world, the legacy they are to create, will happen somewhere out of their once peaceful environs.


Avraham and Sarah follow G-d’s command and leave Haran to begin their travels to Canaan, only to find that their new home is suffering from famine. Their new residence, the new sanctuary of their love, is also taken from them, so they must continue moving. They arrive in Egypt and encounter more trouble. Finally, they travel back to Canaan and begin to build a new home.


During all these travels, Avraham and Sarah did not complain, nor did they drown their sorrows in scotch (though, had they gotten their hands on some, they may have). They saw it as an opportunity to make connections with people, all the while teaching every person they met about bringing G-dliness into the world through acts of goodness and kindness.


Avraham and Sarah didn't just preach; they practiced as well.  We see this during their numerous struggles on their journey, where we can find the first mention of the idea of tithing- giving 10% of their earnings to a cause they believed in.  They also endangered their lives twice, once, to make a positive and G-dly connection with the pharaoh in Egypt, and a second time to rescue POWs from being sold into slavery.


After all this struggle, G-d made an everlasting covenant, that the children of this amazing couple- the fruits of their arduous labor- will forever be known and that their message of kindness and goodness will forever be valued.


We, too, have been forced from our “sanctuaries”, our comfort zones. The world today does not look like it did yesterday. But we can learn from Avraham and Sarah, and we can also use this moment when we are looking for comfort, even from strangers, to make connections. Not just by giving out free hugs, though that is a wonderful idea, but to teach the people we meet, the new friends we connect with, to add in their acts of goodness and kindness.


We shouldn’t just teach; we should be the shining example of it. Give charity to organizations that promote kindness and education. Fight for the rights of the underprivileged, and make sure to remind our leaders that kindness and justice must prevail.


G-d made a covenant with us that our efforts will not be in vain. Just like our ancestors, that power couple, the message we relay will forever be valued.


All we need is a little bit of light to chase away a lot of darkness! -Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

Driving in the Fast Lane

I am a born and bred New Yorker, so being an aggressive driver seems to come with the territory. But I am also a consistent driver. When I get on the highway, I typically use cruise control and change lanes as many times as necessary to pass slower vehicles, but no more. My pet peeve is when a driver speeds up to pass someone else, only to slow down immediately after the pass.

Yesterday, as I was driving back from SeaTac Airport, on the I-5 north at about 11 pm, I saw a car speed up to dangerously tailgate another car. The other car wisely moved to the right lane. The car that sped up inexplicably slowed down in the left lane and did not pass. As I pulled even with the car, I noticed that the driver was talking on the phone.

Besides feeling annoyed at the driver for doing something dangerous and aggravating, I wondered what I could learn from the episode.

We just finished the High Holiday season, and it was inspiring. We started with Rosh Hashana, reconnecting with G-d. Then on Yom Kippur, we reconnected with our inner selves. We united with the Jewish community and nation over Sukkot, and for the grand finale which took place on Simchat Torah, we danced joyfully and ecstatically, celebrating our gift which is the Torah.

We are all energized and motivated, driving in the fast lane, ready to pass any and all difficult hurdles and challenges that life will throw at us this year. Then we get distracted by something small and seemingly insignificant, and that can cause us to dangerously crash and burn or lose sight of our destination.

Let us not be those people. Let us use our “drive” to reach our destination using consistent growth, making this year our most successful and fulfilling one yet.

Gratitude.

I remember watching a YouTube video called “The Science of Happiness” (on the Soul Pancakes channel) and was awed by the idea that saying thank you to someone makes you happy. The video was quite powerful.

This week's Torah portion begins with the mitzvah of "Bikurim"- bringing first fruit to the Beit Hamikdash (the Temple) in Jerusalem as a show of appreciation to G-d. The Jewish people had gone through a long winter, when food was a questionable proposition. Would it rain enough for new food to grow? Would the food in the storehouses last all winter? As soon as they saw the new fruit, they lovingly tied a string or bow to the tree’s branch to dedicate it as a gift and thanksgiving.

Since they have started the Happiness Index, Israel has been consistently rated among the top 15 happiest countries. In 2015, Israel was number 11. The top ten countries have the combined stress level of a cat being stroked!  How do Israelis remain so happy?

I think that this week's Torah portion gives us the answer. The Torah strongly encourages gratitude in so many ways. Honoring one’s parents, saying blessings over food, praying, celebrating holidays, etc. But one way is very special to me, and that is the Modeh Ani prayer said every morning. Twelve words that express appreciation for life and are dedicated to realizing that every day is a gift.

The Modeh Ani correlates to Bikurim in another way. The Bikurim are the first fruit, and the Modeh Ani is said in the first precious moments of our day -our gift from G-d- thereby training ourselves to feel appreciation and happiness just to be alive!

The point of all this, is to just say THANK YOU!


 

The Election We Deserve

In this week's Torah portion, G-d instructs us with the commandment of crowning a king for the Jewish people.  400 years later, the prophet Samuel is disgusted with the Jewish people for making this exact request, asking Samuel to help them crown a Jewish King.  What’s going on? Is it a mitzvah or a travesty to have a king?

Chasidic philosophy explains that there are two types of kings:

1) One whose job it is to keep the people in line.

2) One to help lead the people to greater glory.

The first king is necessary when there is a depraved people that cannot control themselves. They need a king who rules through fear to keep them in line. The second king is for a people who have achieved personal greatness but need a leader to help them individually and communally achieve their greatest potential.  Samuel was angry that the Jewish people wanted the first type of king, while the mitzvah is for the second type of king.

A big election will soon be upon us. While in every election the stakes are high and the rhetoric fierce, this election is truly special, in a bad way. We have the most disliked candidates in the history of polling. How did we get here?

As with the king who matches the people he rules over, we, too, get the election we deserve. We have to do some major soul-searching (the month of Elul is a perfect time for that); what did we do to deserve such candidates?

A very large majority of us want to do good, be kind, and inspire our families and friends. We talk about it and think about it, but do we always match it with our actions? Are we kind to strangers, respectful to neighbors, and charitable in our communities? Do we control our anger when we want to lash out?

This week’s Torah portion tells us to raise ourselves up, and we'll deserve better leaders. Work on ourselves, our families, and communities, and we won’t get untrustworthy and fear-mongering candidates, but rather candidates whose main clash is how they can help us "be all we can be."

When details matter.

As I sit here working on the back-end of our website with Rabbi Yosef, we notice how a mistake in one place can have effects in many different areas of the content. It can be a small and seemingly meaningless mistake, but that only makes it harder to find and correct.

This got me thinking about the upcoming month of Elul, the month when we are supposed to make a "cheshbon Hanefesh" -a soul accounting- of our last year.

Why are our actions not up to par?  Why do we feel like we can give more to the world, but we haven't yet?

Oftentimes, the solution is in the back-end of our "programming". Looking into the details of who we are, how we react under pressure, and how we treat our families may give us the answers we seek.  If we can find the small detail in our character that needs correcting, our whole system can suddenly become aligned. With this alignment, we will be able to reach our true potential and be positive influences on our families and surroundings.

Pokemon go, just keep going.

By now, you must have seen all those crazy people walking, running, or biking around with their phones out, and wondered what they're doing?

Well, there's this new phenomenon of Pokémon Go, it has become all the rage among Americans of all ages. 

As you may know by now, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game where people run around the city, using their phones to find imaginary critters.

The Baal Shem Tov (founder of the Chassidic movement) taught that one should always learn a lesson from anything s/he hears or sees. So, what lesson can we learn from Pokemon Go?

As a religious Jew, I don't believe anything is coincidence. It all happens for a reason. Therefore, I don't think that it was a coincidence (though obviously not the intention of those who released the game) that the game was released on Thursday, the 1st of the month of Tammuz in the Hebrew calendar, right before the 22nd anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's passing.  

The Lubavitcher Rebbe created and promoted the original augmented reality game, a “game” to augment our mundane reality with holiness and goodness. The game was released back in 1967, just weeks before the Six Day War. The Rebbe started sending young people around their respective cities, to use their "Jew-dar" to find other Jews and put on tefillin with—gathering Pokemon, so to speak. 

Over the next 9 years, the Rebbe added 9 more missions. He encouraged young men and women to go out around the city and find other Jews to perform mitzvahs that included affixing kosher mezuzot, lighting Shabbat candles, keeping kosher, giving charity, loving your fellow, promoting Jewish education, teaching the beauty of Jewish family life, etc.

The Rebbe also taught us to not to be afraid to use modern technologies as a part of the effort to augment goodness and kindness throughout the world. 

So while you all are running around, trying to find Pokemon gyms:

#1: Be careful! Your life is more valuable than any Pokemon. 

#2: Use this game as an opportunity to spread goodness and kindness:

A) Be sure to find a charity along the way and donate a dollar or two (or twenty). 

B) If you pass a synagogue, hop in and put on tefillin or pray. 

C) Try to find a store along the way and buy a kosher snack. 

D) Be kind to someone in need. Not just if the need falls into your lap, but search for someone in need, as you would for a Pokestop. 

I'm sure we can all use this as an opportunity for many creative ways to spread light throughout our communities!


 

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