Article

In order to find happiness and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be and do. Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I being true to my Divine being and values? Am I performing Mitzvahs, today more than yesterday, yet much less than tomorrow?

Rabbi Allouche

As long as he is happy, I’m happy too!”

A friend shared these words with me recently, as he was describing his cousin’s relationship with a lady that he was dating. He didn’t think she was a good fit for him, but he dismissed his feelings with this lame excuse.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sentence. Many of us utter it, or different versions of it, to excuse all sorts of behaviors. We convince ourselves that as long as we are “happy,” almost any behavior is legitimized – from dating the wrong person to engaging in self-destructive habits.

But I beg to differ. When we engage in behaviors that are opposed to our inner Divine beings, values, and purpose, we cannot be happy. Dating a person that stifles our self-growth and engaging in behaviors that squash our infinite potential, will not bring happiness. Other feelings, such as self-gratification and fleeting pleasures, may then emerge. But genuine happiness can only come from dedicating ourselves to the actualization of our Divine being, values, and purpose.

“Happiness, cannot be pursued,” Viktor Frankl wrote in his Man’s Search For Meaning. “Happiness must happen, and you have to let it happen by not caring about it. Instead, one should dedicate himself to actualizing his highest self; only then, will true happiness ensue.”

Perhaps, this is the reason this week’s portion tells us that only after we have settled our land and worked hard to fulfill our purpose of bettering our part of this world, then, and only then, will we “rejoice in all the good things G-d has given you and your household (Deuteronomy 26:11).”

As a young teen struggling to find my purpose in the vastness of our world, I recall seeking the advice of my dear mentor, world-scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, to confess to him that “I don’t know what I want to be ‘when I grow up.'” His poignant words have stayed with me until this very day:

“You ask a good question,” he told me. “But instead of asking what you want to be, ask what you ought to be and do. And if you ask what you ought to be and do at all times, your life will be happy, purposeful and satisfying to your inner ‘I.’”

He was right. In order to find happiness and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be and do. Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I being true to my Divine being and purpose? Am I performing Mitzvahs, today more than yesterday, yet much less than tomorrow?

If we can answer an affirmative “yes” to these questions, we will then undoubtedly find happiness, and we will each be blessed with a good, sweet, and happy year.

Article

Our foremost duty is to create peace and harmony between every single part of the collective body of our nation. Any topic that ignites flames of friction and disaccord should be off-limits. And if a Jew seems to have been led astray, instead of scolding them and their political party, we ought to embrace them and share with them the beauty and relevance of our Torah, whose “ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace (- Proverbs 3:17).” In the poignant words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

Rabbi Allouche

Dear Rabbinic Colleagues,

We live in unprecedented times. 

On the one hand, the global coronavirus pandemic has united us in ways that we could not have imagined. In spite of the “social distancing” guidelines, our communities have come together with many initiatives of kindness and with a wide variety of online programs where people from all walks of life have had the opportunity to pray and to learn, to laugh and to celebrate, and above all, to fight their solitude and connect, heart to heart, soul to soul. 

On the other hand, we are living in a deeply polarized and divided society, where our status as “one nation under God” is menaced by growing discords. People of all backgrounds are increasingly segregating themselves in self-imposed mental cages defined by political parties and ideologies.

So dare I ask, what is the role of us, Rabbis, especially during this unusual era? 

Interestingly, the Torah defines our role as “the heads of the thousands of Israel,” (Numbers 1:15). This verse implies that leaders, like us, ought to be “heads.” 

A healthy head can feel, attend to, and create peace and harmony between every single part of the body, even those parts that others may consider “insignificant” or “expendable.” And if a certain limb is in disarray, the head does not scold it. Nor does it issue statements to the whole world, via the pulpit or on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media avenues, claiming that it is broken and dysfunctional and that it ought to fix itself, or else… Rather, a healthy head attends to those limbs intimately, and with indefatigable patience, unwavering devotion, and unconditional love.

And so, we too, must be like those healthy heads. 

Our foremost duty is to create peace and harmony between every single part of the collective body of our nation. Any topic that ignites flames of friction and disaccord should be off-limits. And if a Jew seems to have been led astray, instead of admonishing them and their political party, we ought to embrace them and share with them the beauty and relevance of our Torah, whose “ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace (- Proverbs 3:17).” In the poignant words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

In 1963, NASA Professor Velvl Greene, wrote a lengthy letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, presenting his scientific views and disagreements. The two continued to communicate, but the Rebbe never related to Greene’s disagreements. Only after many months, in which Professor Greene had made strides in his personal Jewish journey, the Rebbe finally addressed his views in a letter. “You are probably wondering, why I waited this long to respond to your remarks on scientific matters,” the Rebbe wrote. “That is because my job in life is not to win arguments; my job is to bring the light of the Torah, its teachings, and its Mitzvahs to all.”

Similarly, I once asked my beloved mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, who just passed away over three weeks ago, why he doesn’t write about politics and current affairs.

“You write on so many important topics – from theological to social criticism,” I told him. “I’m sure your words could provide wisdom and clarity for so many.”

Without skipping a beat, he replied: “Pinny, I prefer to write for the next generations, not just for the next few months. You see, my goal in life is not to plant small plants, that come and go. My goal in life is to plant steady and long-lasting trees that will produce fruits for hundreds and thousands of years.”

As so, my fellow colleagues, I beg you: 

Please do not mix Rabbinics and politics. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not during the upcoming High Holidays. And not ever.

Focus your mind on the endless potential of the Divine souls that your congregants possess; not on the limits of their physical bodies. Use your heart to palpitate love and to impart on them compassion and empathy, instead of conveying all sorts of negative sentiments. And carry your voice to channel a message of unity and empowerment, rather than delivering words of discord and division.

Let us set before our eyes, always, our sacred duty to be ‘healthy heads,” who are endowed with the God-given merit to “bring the light of the Torah, its teachings, and its Mitzvahs to all,” and to “plant steady and long-lasting trees that will produce fruits” infused with a Divine taste of goodness, that will leave our communities hungry for more and more, “for generations to come.”

With admiration and respect,

Pinchas 

Article

I'll never forget those words of my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz: "It's easy to fly into a passion. But what happens after the passion is gone? And then what? Our children become Bat and Bar Mitzvah with great excitement. But what happens thereafter? Can they remain committed to Judaism, when no one is celebrating them anymore? Weddings, nowadays, resemble Holywood-style sound and light shows. But then what? Can our marriage continue to grow even when the sound of 'here comes the bride' has been replaced with the sound of a baby crying?"

Rabbi Allouche

If you’ve ever gone fishing, you probably know that the best time to catch a fish is immediately after it rains. Why so? Because the fish then rise up to the water-surface to ‘taste’ the new waters.

But if they are submerged in water from the day of their birth, why are they so attracted to new waters? The answer, according to the Midrash, is telling: Rainwater is fresh. And fish, like all creatures, are drawn to freshness…  

This inclination to freshness and the “next big thing” can become an easy trap for us, humans, too. We buy a sleek, new phone, for example, and we’re all excited. But then, a few months, and a few scratches and cracks later, we already want the next, new phone, which seems “so much better…”

We make the same mistakes in our relationships. When we first meet our beshert, our spouse-to-be, or a friend whom we are drawn to, our behavior is flawless, and our manners are remarkably refined. But after a few months, we begin to take each other for granted. Sure, we still love each other, but the promising excitement of those first months have, by and large, disappeared.

The same is true of our relationship with G-d. At times, our souls are set ablaze and our hearts are filled with inspiration to rid ourselves of our bad habits and to do good and add another Mitzvah to our lives. But reality then sets in, and those moments of spiritual elevation quickly vanish.

This is why the Torah commands us in this week’s portion that, “when you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof (Deuteronomy 22:8).” Too often, G-d warns us, we build our homes and we assume that we will “live happily ever after.” We start off with great thrill and are overly confident that all will go smoothly. Should we prepare for the future? Shall we erect any precautions, any roofs, for possible stumbles along the way? “No!” we say to ourselves. After all, our relationship seems to be going so well…

Alas, life isn’t as pink as it may seem. Every ignition needs a vision. And without it, we won’t have a reason to keep the flames ablaze. A fence around our roofs, and a real and consistent plan that ensures the continued growth of our fresh love toward G-d and toward our fellows will protect us from all potential falls, and ensure that our relationships thrive.

A few years ago, during a visit with my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, I asked him: “What would you say is life’s ultimate question?”

Without skipping a beat, he replied: “‘And then what?” (-in Hebrew: “veaz ma?”)

And he explained, with his characteristic brilliance: “You see, it’s easy to fly into a passion. But what happens after the passion is gone? And then what? Our children become Bat and Bar Mitzvah with great excitement. But what happens thereafter? Can they remain committed to Judaism, when no one is celebrating them anymore? Weddings, nowadays, resemble Holywood-style sound and light shows. But then what? Can our marriage continue to grow even when the sound of ‘here comes the bride’ has been replaced with the sound of a baby crying?”

So if you have been inspired to take upon yourself a new Mitzvah and a deed of goodness lately – make sure that you also “build a fence” and integrate this Mitzvah consistently in your daily life, to maintain it and grow it, from strength to strength.

To paraphrase the words of King David (Psalms 24:3): “We may ascend the mountain of G-d, but can we stand and remain there?”

Article

Just as a gate allows us to control who and what passes through it, so too do our eyes, ears and mouths. Our eyes control what they see and focus on. Our ears control what they choose to hear. And our mouths control our spoken words. We must therefore place “judges and officers” at those gates to safeguard them and ensure that they forever remain pure, and productive.

Rabbi Allouche

Which is the most important part of our body?

Some scientists will point to the brain, as it controls all of the things that make us human: our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions and reactions.

Others will say that the heart is the most important part of our body, for, without it, one dies.

Some storytellers like to say that it is the shoulders that are the most important part, because “they can hold the head of a friend or a loved one when they cry.”

In this week’s portion, the Torah offers a different perspective. The brain, the heart, and the shoulders may be important, but it is the “gates of our bodies” that count most. This is learned from the opening verse of our portion in which G-d commands us to “appoint judges and officers in all your gates.”

But what are those gates? According to our Sages, these gates are our eyes, our ears, and our mouths.

Indeed, just as a gate allows us to control who and what passes through it, so too do our eyes, ears, and mouths. Our eyes control what they see and focus on. Our ears control what they choose to hear. And our mouths control our spoken words. We must, therefore, place “judges and officers” at those gates to safeguard them and ensure that they forever remain pure, and productive.

When I was just 16 years old, my dear mentor, world-renowned scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who passed away just two weeks ago, pulled me aside, and he advised me, so poignantly: “Know that the greatest obstacle to me, Adin, is me. The greatest obstacle to you, Pinchas, is you. But once you learn to master yourself, you will not have any problem in mastering the entire world.”

Similarly, the legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, was once approached by a student who asked him for advice on how to conquer his temptations. The Rabbi instructed him to visit a certain person who “holds the keys to his question.”

Upon arrival, at a late evening hour, the student knocked on the door, time and again, but there was no answer… After many hours of wait – in the harsh conditions of the cold night – the person finally opened the door and let the student in.

When the student explained that the great Rabbi had sent him to learn from him how to control his temptations, the man responded: “Did you notice how I kept you waiting all night? This is my house, so I decide when you come in. And this is how you can fight your temptations. You are the master of your own being, and you too can decide who and what comes in, and who and what comes out…”

This lesson holds particularly true in our generation that is constantly inundated by Tweeter tirades, Facebook rants and raves, real and fake news, uncensored song-lyrics, obscene gestures, emotional outbursts, and dramatic video-games. Have we lost this vital art of self-control? Have we no restraint? Have we no shame?

In the wise words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the Kotzer Rebbe: “All that is thought should not be said. All that is said should not be written. All that is written should not be published. All that is published should not be read.”

It is high time the gates of our “cities” are restored so that our eyes can focus on the good versus the bad, our ears can discern Divine harmony from earthly noise, and amidst the boisterous noises of our society, our mouths can utter and sing the music of our souls.

I remember asking you, a few years ago, if you liked being famous. With your characteristic wit, you replied: "No, I'd much prefer chocolate." I also recall how a dear friend once asked you, "how it feels to be so wise?" With such humility, you responded: "I don't know - but when I get there, I'll let you know."

Rabbi Allouche on Rabbi Steinsaltz

Dear Rav Adin,

I wonder how you reacted this week, from your heavenly abode, as you witnessed thousands of people — presidents, prime ministers, Nobel prize laureates, world-scientists, acclaimed entertainers, and simple folks like me — eulogize your superhuman life-achievements. 

Some addressed your genius and how you were the “Rashi” of our generation who made the canon of the Jewish library accessible to all. Others spoke about the schools that you established and the many students that you groomed with unconditional love and dedication. And some others described your extensive travels across the world to reach as many people as you could and “infect” them with a yearning to know, a thirst to grow, and a duty to glow.

As you heard them all, you must have cringed. After all, you loathed honor and fame. 

I remember asking you, a few years ago, if you liked being famous. With your characteristic wit, you replied: “No, I’d much prefer chocolate.” I also recall how a dear friend once asked you, “how it feels to be so wise?” With such humility, you responded: “I don’t know – but when I get there, I’ll let you know.” And, in yet another instance, I asked you if you ever read what people write about you in newspapers. “Why should I?” you retorted. “If their opinion is true – I probably know it already; and if not, why read a lie?” It was thus no wonder to me that you did not want anyone to recite any eulogies during your funeral last Friday, as I learned this past week. 

The words “pretentiousness” and “haughtiness” never belonged to your life’s dictionary. Once, you even gave a piercing analogy for all those who possess those traits. “I once saw a peacock without feathers,” you said. “It looks like an ugly chicken. Sadly, I know a lot of people like that…”

Still, we mourn your passing greatly. The world seems so dim as if a good portion of light and joy has been sucked out of its streets and alleys. The void you left us is immeasurable. And the pain we sense is profound.

The words of the prophet (Lamentations 1:16) are left ringing in our ears: “My eyes, my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit.” You were our solid rock on whom we relied, our beloved mentor on whom we depended. Oy, we miss you so…

Yet, amidst the tears drenched with countless memories, your gentle voice emerges with a whisper: “Pinny, stop crying. It’s enough. And it does no good. It’s time to act.”

This evoked a precious memory from my teen years, when you called me aside after noticing my despondence, to tell me that I should “stop feeling so much.” “Remember,” you said, “only your mother truly cares about your feelings, but seven billion people will care about your actions – so focus more on your good deeds, each and every day.”

Of course, you weren’t just preaching. You were a living embodiment of those words. In our 30+ year relationship, I don’t ever recall seeing you inactive. During one of your visits to our community in Arizona, you confessed to me that, like Socrates, you saw yourself as a “gadfly” that keeps buzzing to keep yourself and others awake, vigilant, and geared toward more and more action. 

You also rarely slept. I would oftentimes call your office at 3am, to seek your advice on life’s many questions, and you were always there working into the wee hours of the morning, answering me with patience and care.

Yesterday, your sister-in-law in Los Angeles reached out to me, and we remembered when you came to her daughter’s wedding a few years ago. As you entered the hall, she asked you, with great excitement: “Adin, how are you feeling?” To which you countered: “Feel? Who has time to feel…”  

In 2010, we traveled together to San Francisco, where you expressed the same idea. After one of your lectures at the local JCC, a lady stood up and asked you: “But Rabbi, how can I feel to G-d? How can I come close to G-d?” Your answer was epic: “You are asking two separate questions. If you want to feel G-d, possibly a few milligrams of LSD will help you… But if you want to come close to G-d, you have 613 ways of doing so (referring to the 613 commandments of the Torah.) So pick one, and do it.”

And so, I promise you, my beloved Rav Adin, that I will throw myself into doing all that I can, to further your mission, to “let my people know,” as was your slogan, and to “infect” more and more people so that we, together with them, grow and grow and grow, and make our world a better place, each in our own day. 

I just beg you: as you so deeply cared for all of us, here below, please continue to so deeply care for us, there above. And as you so selflessly dedicated yourself to guiding us, here below, please continue to guide us, at every step of our lives, there above. And as you so fervently prayed for us here below, please do the same, there above. Cry out to G-d on our behalf. Shake the heavens. Beseech God to bring healing to our land, deliverance to our people, and redemption to our world. For, as you would so often said, “the time has come!” 

Finally, Rav Adin, in case I did not say it enough during your lifetime, know that… “Ani kol kach ohev otcha.” I love you so. From the depths of my soul. Today. Tomorrow. And forever.

With endless gratitude for thirty years of bringing your heaven down to my earth,

Your student, Pinny 

Rabbi Steinsaltz lived by the ideal that life is not about what we are and what we desire for ourselves. Rather, it is about what we are called to do, and what God, and our surroundings, desire from us. This is the way he lived his life – a life that knew no vacation; a life that knew no sleep; a life that knew no taking. At every given moment, in every place, and with every person, Rabbi Steinsaltz sought to give of himself with relentless dedication, and unreserved love.

Rabbi Allouche

On Monday evening, November 12, 2010, a large crowd gathered in an exquisite ballroom in New York City to celebrate my beloved mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s magnum opus, his monumental translation and commentary of the entire Talmud, which he had worked on for 45 years.

Toward the end of the evening, my beloved Rabbi Steinsaltz — or, as his close students call him, “Rav Adin” — walked onto the main stage, and with his characteristic transparency and grace, he shared the following words:

“After I die, I really don’t care whether I will go to heaven or to hell. I also do not care at all about what will be written on my tombstone. All I care about is whether I have been able to touch people throughout my lifetime, and cause them to grow more and more each day, in thought, speech, and action, each in their own way.”

I remember that day vividly. And I recall how many of the attendees in that room were overcome with astonishment.

After all, here was a giant of mankind, coined by Time magazine as a “once-in-a-millennium-scholar,” and just today, in a moving tribute by the President of Israel, as the “Rashi of our generation.” Yet, he dedicated his life to the most assimilated, making the entire canon of the Jewish library – the Bible, Mishna, Talmud, Maimonides, Tanya, and more – accessible to each and all, regardless of their level of knowledge and background.

Here was a Rabbi, who appeared to have emerged from the 18th century, dressed with a black hat, a shirt at times disheveled, and a wild beard with streaks of yellow, painted by his signature pipe. Yet his all-encompassing encyclopedic knowledge and uncanny wisdom enabled him to converse with ease with the most brilliant scientist and the smallest of children equally.

But his superhuman capabilities, his rare skills, and his never-ending list of accolades and unparalleled life-achievements, never came in the way of his relentless devotion to fulfill his G-d given purpose, each and every day of his life, to “touch people and cause them to always grow more and more.”

Rabbi Steinsaltz lived by the ideal that life is not about what we are and what we desire for ourselves. Rather, it is about what we are called to do, and what God, and our surroundings, desire from us. This is the way he lived his life – a life that knew no vacation; a life that knew no sleep; a life that knew no taking. At every given moment, in every place, and with every person, Rabbi Steinsaltz sought to give of himself with relentless dedication, and unreserved love.

If only, we could learn from his example, and give and give and give, without ever asking “what’s in it for me?”

If only, we can learn from his death, on how to live truly, meaningfully.

If only, we could open up our minds and our hearts, and enable Rabbi Steinsaltz to touch us so that we, too, can be more, study more, do more, and “grow more and more, in thought, speech, and action, each in our own way.”

Rabbi Steinsaltz who passed away just a few hours ago, will then, undoubtedly, continue to live on and on. In us. Through us. And through our limitless growth of good thoughts, words, and actions.

Surely, we will then merit to also usher in a new era of peace, happiness, and redemption.

For, as my beloved Rav Adin once told me: “When one person takes one step ahead, something good happens in our world. But when one million people take one step ahead, the whole world shakes.”

Article

Love comes with toil. It doesn't just appear magically at "first sight." What appears then may be lust, or some other type of attraction. But it certainly isn't love. For it takes much time, loyal commitment - and most importantly - selfless action, day after day, month after month, year after year, for true love to emerge.

Rabbi Allouche

“G-d is in my heart; I don’t need all this religious stuff,” someone told me a while ago.

My response was simple: “My wife is in my heart; I don’t need all the religious stuff. You know: the flower-buying, the garbage-throwing, the car-pooling, the diaper-changing.”

He smiled, but I wasn’t kidding. After all, Judaism – just like a good marriage – believes that we are what we do, not what we feel. It is our actions that shape our life and our destiny; not our feelings.

This is why the commandments that instruct us to “love” in the Torah, are always connected to deed. For example, in this week’s portion, in the famous portion of the Shema, G-d commands us to “love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

But how so? The answer does not tardy: “Talk about them [the teachings of the Torah] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.”

In other words, in order to love G-d, you can’t just keep Him in your heart. Rather, you must put Him “in your mouth” also (“talk about Him and his teachings to your children”), and you must ensure that your love for Him is translated into deeds, such as wearing Tefilin on your arms and forehead (“tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads,”) and affixing Mezuzahs on the doorposts of your home (“write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.”)

Do you remember that lovely chant from “Fiddler on the Roof”? After twenty-five years of marriage, Tevye the milkman asks his wife, Golda, if she loves him. Baffled, Golda replies to herself, “For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought him, starved with him, twenty-five years my bed is his – if that’s not love, what is?” But Tevya is dissatisfied. So he persists: “Then, do you love me?” And Golda finally confesses: “I suppose I do.”

Their words reveal a powerful truth: Love comes with toil. It doesn’t just appear magically at “first sight.” What appears then may be lust, or some other type of attraction. But it certainly isn’t love. For it takes much time, loyal commitment – and most importantly – selfless action, day after day, month after month, year after year, for true love to emerge.

Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet once wrote: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.” Indeed, we may experience all sorts of moods, but at the end of the day, it is our actions that make us or mar us. A smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold us and our lives infinitely more than the emotions of our hearts.

This applies to our Jewish lives too. For how many of us deprive ourselves of the gift of a mitzvah, just because we are scared? How many of us are reluctant to get involved in Jewish life, just because we are intimidated? How many of us are hesitant to move forward in our spiritual journey, with study, prayer, or a good deed, just because we are not “feeling it”?

I thus invite each of you to join me in adding yet another Mitzvah to your lives. Any Mitzvah counts. From Tefilin to Mezuzah, from repairing a relationship to forging a new, and impactful one.

Your Mitzvah will, without a doubt, bring true love, light, and healing to our broken world, and it will make a difference today, and tomorrow, in our lives, to eternity.

Article

The answer is painfully simple: There is a real self, and there is a superficial self. The real self is pure, wholesome, and even holy. The real self would never do anything to hurt anyone. The superficial self, on the other hand, can act apathetically, or worse, cruelly, as it usually has a big ego. So why do sometimes allow the superficial self to demonstrate itself? Why do we allow it to eclipse the pure goodness within each of us?

Rabbi Allouche

Imagine this:

You behaved nastily to a friend and you now feel terrible about it. So, you ask for forgiveness and you say: “I am so sorry about what happened. I really don’t know what came over me. I just wasn’t myself today…”

Your loved one forgives you, and even expresses sympathy and understanding, and hopefully, life moves on.

These scenarios happen all the time to mortal beings. But what does it mean that “I was not myself”? Are we schizophrenic? Do we live a dual life?

The answer is painfully simple: There is a real self, and there is a superficial self. The real self is pure, wholesome, and even holy. The real self would never do anything to hurt anyone.

The superficial self, on the other hand, can act apathetically, or worse, cruelly, as it usually has a big ego.

So why do sometimes allow the superficial self to demonstrate itself? Why do we allow it to eclipse the pure goodness within each of us?

Perhaps, the most basic answer is because we sometimes cease to view ourselves as utterly good beings, created in the image of G-d, who are called to fulfill our unique, Divine purpose, and charged with a mission to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly in the ways of G-d” (Micah, 6:8).

In the year 1792, King Louis XVI of France was captured, dethroned, and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was exiled to a faraway community. There, they exposed the prince to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer, in an effort to demoralize him and erase any memory of his royal status.

They exposed the prince to delicacies, that would make him a slave to his appetite. They exposed him to promiscuous behaviors that would make him a slave to his lust. They exposed him to foul words and fluctuating moods that would make him a slave to his anger.

For over six months he was given this treatment, but not once did the young prince buckle under pressure. Finally, they questioned him: why had he not submitted himself to these luring temptations and seductions? What was holding him back? With exemplary calmness and profound dignity, the prince replied: “I cannot do what you ask, for I was born to be a king.”

This week, we will be celebrating the first of the month of Av which marks the beginning of the “nine days” in which we commemorate and mourn some of the greatest tragedies in the history of our people, including the destruction of both Jerusalem temples on the Ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., and the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.).

As we strive to transform this era of hatred and darkness into a period of love and light, let us see each other as great souls, with unreserved love and unhindered faith. Let us remember, now more than ever, that we were born to be kings and queens.

Our superficial selves, and the excuse of “oh, I really wasn’t myself today,” will then surely exist no more.

Article

How many times do we sink into the traps of self-blame, just because we can’t see the fruits of our labor? How many times do we fall into the abyss of despair, just because we were so consumed by our expectations to "see results?" Don't get me wrong: results are important, and setting goals and 'destinations' are a vital part of almost every endeavor. But we ought to remember that the journey is, in and of itself, also a destination; that the results are also in the labor itself; that light can be found within the walls of our life's tunnels too - not just at their end.

Rabbi Allouche

A few years ago, I visited with my beloved mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, to express my frustration and seek his advice, after the seeming failure of a project I had launched in my community.

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s words, which were full of love and empathy, surprised me. I was expecting him to analyze the project itself, yet instead, he analyzed my perspective on it.

First, he mentioned that my demand for immediate results is unfair. In his words: “Sometimes the fruits of our labor don’t appear for many years.

Then, he lamented that our generation is so focused on “reaching destinations,” that “we forget that the journey itself is just as important, if not more, than the destinations we set for ourselves.”

Finally, he urged me to substitute my “work-for-results” approach with a “work-for-work” approach, because, “you were appointed to labor; not to reap the fruits of your labor.”

When I asked him, “appointed by whom?” He replied, with his characteristic smile that lit up his face: “By G-d Himself. He wants you, Pinny, and I, Adin, to labor. Let someone else enjoy the fruits…”

As we read Moses’ heartfelt plea to G-d in this week’s portion, to appoint for the Jewish People a leader, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s advice re-appeared in my mind. Moses knew that he wouldn’t live to see the ultimate “results” of his painstaking labor of leading the Jewish people for 40 years in a barren desert. He knew that the delicious fruits of his labor, soon to be enjoyed by all in our holy land that flows with milk and honey, would be left for others to enjoy.

Yet he remained as devoted as ever to his work, to his journey, to his calling. And he continued to devote himself to G-d, and to His people – with equal passion and enthusiasm – until his very last breath.

The lesson is clear. And it begs the questions: How many times do we sink into the traps of self-blame, just because we can’t see the fruits of our labor? How many times do we fall into the abyss of despair, just because we were so consumed by our expectations to see results?

Don’t get me wrong: results are important, and setting goals and ‘destinations’ are a vital part of almost every endeavor. But we ought to remember that the journey is, in and of itself, also a destination; that the results are also in the labor itself; that light can be found within the walls of our life’s tunnels too – not just at their end.

And we ought to know that each of us too was appointed by G-d Himself to work and partner with Him daily in making our world better, each in our own way, each with our own Mitzvahs.

This type of Divine work will undoubtedly prove itself to be more precious and more valuable than any “result” that any human being can ever produce. For, as the Sages teaches us in the Ethics of our Fathers, “the best reward for a Mitzvah – is the Mitzvah itself.”

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Our thoughts can transport us to the highest of heavens. Or, they can pull us down to the depths of the abyss. The more we "ruminate" about our flaws and occupy our minds with feelings of guilt and unworthiness, the more bitter we will be. But the more we exit our bubble of self and keep ourselves and our minds 'busy' with good deeds, the happier we will become.

Rabbi Allouche

“If you go to sleep like a dog, you’ll wake up like a dog,” my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once told me. “But if you go to sleep like a lion, you’ll wake up like a lion!”

His message was clear. The way we go to sleep at night is the way we will wake up the next morning. If we go to bed at night in a jubilant mood, with an inspired heart, and an enriched mind, we will, most likely, wake up with that modus operandi. But if not, our next day may start off on the wrong foot.

Following my mentor’s wise advice, I decided to read excerpts of Jewish texts before going to sleep, every night. This custom has brought light and joy to my mornings (- you should try it too; I promise, you won’t regret it.)

Recently, as I prepared to bid farewell to yet another day, I stumbled upon a moving letter by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was addressed to a person who was complaining about his inability to shake off his “bitterness” and his “melancholy.” The Rebbe’s words are profound:

“It seems that the principal cause of your situation is that you ruminate about your situation constantly. The more you take your mind off of it the better it will become, and the medical avenues you are trying will be more successful.

In order to make this easier-you should keep busy with something completely different, no matter what it is (a job, studies, and the like.)

If you take your mind off of it completely – within a short time you will be healed.”

How resoundingly true: our thoughts can transport us to the highest of heavens. Or, they can pull us down to the depths of the abyss. The more we “ruminate” about our flaws and occupy our minds with feelings of guilt and unworthiness, the more bitter we will be. But the more we exit our bubble of self and keep ourselves and our minds ‘busy’ with good deeds, the happier we will become.

Take a look, for example, at a young child running around and enjoying life (-I am blessed to have a few of those at home :)). Now try this: sit that child on your lap and ask him or her: “So tell me, dear child, do you feel good about your identity? Do you feel valued? Are you happy?” The child will most likely gaze at you strangely, and think to himself, “What do you want from me? Who’s thinking about me? I’m busy living!” That is because children are not preoccupied with themselves, and with the way others may (or may not) look at them, so they are free to enjoy life, engage with the world, and consequently, be happy.

Sadly, as we grow, we become more and more self-preoccupied. It’s not our fault; after all, we must take good care of ourselves, of our education, of our profession, and of our lives. But some of us get stuck with the “I.” All some people think of, is me, me and me — my problems, my wishes, my dreams. But this self-preoccupation quickly turns into self-absorbedness, and this self-absorbedness then turns into moans and cries on how miserable life is.

Perhaps, this is why G-d tells us, in this week’s portion, that, “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; G-d is with them, and the shout of a king is in them.”

It’s not that Jacob and Israel do not have iniquities. But G-d does not “observe” them. And He is certainly not consumed by them. Instead, He prefers to focus on the “king” within us, and its infinite opportunities to share its ‘shouts,’ its music, its light, and its goodness with its surroundings.

If that is G-d’s choice, shouldn’t it be ours too?