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.”

Article

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?

The Rebbe believed in us, more than we, sometimes, believe in ourselves. No, the Rebbe did not see “disabilities” in people; he saw their abilities and their real worth. He never focused on what we lacked physically; he focused on what we possessed spiritually. And he never spoke about what we cannot do; he spoke about what we can, and should, do.

Rabbi Allouche

Tonight and tomorrow, Jews worldwide will be marking the twenty-sixth anniversary since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, one of the most influential Jewish leaders of all times.

Personally, I miss the Rebbe terribly. I miss his penetrating gaze that set my soul ablaze. I miss his all-embracing smile that filled my being with warmth. I miss his unconditional love that made the small child that I was, feel like a giant of mankind. And I miss his words of advice that came from a rare combination of exceptional wisdom, unconditional love, and sublime holiness. Sometimes I wonder how different our world would be today if the Rebbe was still physically with us.

But the Rebbe — his spiritual presence and his world-embracing influence — lives on. His inspiring weltanschauung, his ever-shining model, and the unwavering faith that he had in each of us and in our ability to become God’s agents of goodness and change the world, continue to mold us and guide us every day. And his saintly teachings continue to rewire our brains and infuse meaning and purpose into our lives.

So, here is a humble attempt to provide a glimpse into three of the Rebbe’s ever-relevant ideas:

1. It’s Not About You. It’s About What You Were Called To Do

In 1988, Mr. Gordon Zaks, an American businessman, visited the Rebbe. As Mr. Zaks walked into the room, the Rebbe greeted him warmly, and exclaimed: “It’s been many years that I have not seen you….” The Rebbe then proceeded to remind Mr. Zaks of the conversation they had in their prior meeting about Jewish education.

Mr. Zaks, who was astonished that the Rebbe had remembered him and their conversation after so many years, declared: “Rebbe, you’re amazing! It’s been nineteen years since I last saw you, and you remember that!”

But, without skipping a beat, the Rebbe retorted: “And what will be the benefit for the community that I am amazing?”

———-

In 1978, NASA Professor Velvl Greene, a world-renowned epidemiologist, asked the Rebbe if he could fulfill his profound desire to move to Israel. In a beautiful two-page letter, the Rebbe advised him to stay in America.

The Rebbe wrote to him: “It is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you again that the only reason for my opinion that you ought to continue in the USA is that American Jewry, and especially the younger generation, have a priority claim on your services to help permeate them with Yiddishkeit (Jewish values), especially after you have had such considerable Hatzlocho (success) in this area…”

———-

The Rebbe’s message — as demonstrated in both of these exchanges, and in so many more — is profound. We may be “amazing.” We may also desire to move to a different place. But 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 the Rebbe lived his life – a life that knew not one day of vacation; a life that knew no sleep; a life that knew no taking. At every given moment, in every place, and with every person, the Rebbe sought to give of himself without end. If only, we could learn from his example, and give and give and give, without ever asking “what’s in it for me?”

2. Never Underestimate Your Real Worth

My dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once shared with me that in his last communication with the Rebbe, he asked the Rebbe whether he should be slowing down, as his plate was over-flowingly full.

At the time, Rabbi Steinsaltz was involved in three full-time jobs: scholarly writing, outreach work in Russia, and a network of schools in Israel. The Rebbe’s reply to Rabbi Steinsaltz was typical: “Continue to do all these things and to do more things and work even harder.”

———-

Shortly after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, a delegation of “Disabled Veterans,” of the IDF, visited the Rebbe. In this extraordinary meeting, the Rebbe challenged these “disabled veterans”, who had been wounded during this devastating war, to see themselves not as “disabled,” but as “exceptional.”

With visible gentleness and love, the Rebbe explained to them: “If a person has been deprived of a limb or a faculty, this itself indicates that G‑d has given him special powers to overcome the limitations this entails and to surpass the achievements of ordinary people. You are not “disabled” or “handicapped,” but exceptional and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.” 

———-

As these stories, and so many others, reveal, the Rebbe believed in us, more than we, sometimes, believe in ourselves. No, the Rebbe did not see “disabilities” in people; he saw their abilities and their real worth. He never focused on what we lacked physically; he focused on what we possessed spiritually. And he never spoke about what we cannot do; he spoke about what we can, and should, do. 

Imagine if we adopted the vision of the Rebbe, and saw our friends and neighbors, even the most “disabled” ones, as champions of the world who can achieve what seems to them as impossible. Imagine if we focused on the infinite potential in ourselves and in people. Would our world then not become a better and brighter place?

3. Every Challenge Is An Opportunity of Growth

In 1987, after prevailing over a deeply painful challenge, which also affected his disciples across the world, the Rebbe delivered an address with the following insight: 

“When a person is confronted with a challenge, he must see the challenge as a Divine mission… Of course, G-d could have caused events to happen in a pain-free manner of obvious and revealed good. But G-d creates challenges so that their apparent descent can propel us to ascend even higher than ever before. Therefore, we must now do more, and realize our full potential.” 

———-

A youngster once asked the Rebbe why life is so difficult. “Why do I have to face so many difficulties and challenges?” he asked. 

The Rebbe answered with a brilliant analogy. “Let me ask you a question,” he said to this young man. “Why are paintings so much more expensive then photographs? After all, paintings are full of inaccuracies, while photographs capture every detail perfectly!” 

The young man remained silent. “I’ll tell you why,” the Rebbe said. “When an artist paints, his soul paints with him. You can almost sense his emotions and his challenges in every stroke of the brush. The camera, on the other hand, is cold, dry, and robotic.”

And the Rebbe continued: “G-d has many “cameras” in heaven. They are his angels. They never make mistakes, and their vision is perfect. But they are robotic. But we, human beings, are G-d’s portraits. Our freedom of choice, and the fluctuations and challenges that are part and parcel of our existence, create the beautiful portrait of our lives.”

The Rebbe lived these words. His life was replete with unfathomable challenges. In communist Russia, where he was raised, his own father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, was arrested and torture in Stalin’s infamous prisons, for his activities on behalf of Judaism. He was then sentenced to five years of exile in Central Asia, where he later passed away. The Rebbe then moved to Europe which saw the rise of the evil Nazi party and the extermination of millions of Jews. The Rebbe’s own brother, Dovber, was murdered by the Nazi machine. Miraculously, the Rebbe and his wife were able to escape to the United States in the summer of 1941, where he was faced with the daunting task of rebuilding Jewish life everywhere.

Yet, within the many moments of crisis, the Rebbe saw blooming buds of blessings. In every pain, he found gain. And from every suffering, he emerged with renewed vigor and joy. As he so poignantly quipped: “Imagine you could open your eyes and see only the good in every person, the positive in every circumstance, and the opportunity in every challenge.”

———-

As we connect to the Rebbe and his everlasting teachings today, let us commit to making up for his physical absence, with his spiritual presence in our own lives.

In the Rebbe’s honor, may we fulfill what we were called to do. May we realize our true worth, and act upon it, at all times. And may we turn our every challenge into opportunities of growth, and increase our deeds of goodness, without reservation.

Amen.

When we encounter death and other challenges, we are faced with two options: We can succumb to despair and ask unanswerable questions, such as "why did this happen?" and "what will be?" Or, we can respond to death with even more life; to despair with even more hope; to darkness with even more light.

Rabbi Allouche

“I grieve for you, my brother; you were so dear to me.” – 2 Samuel 1:26

These words, spoken by David to Jonathan, have been reverberating in my ears this week, ever since the sudden passing of my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Micah Caplan, Spiritual leader at Congregation Or Tzion of Scottsdale, this past Sunday.

As we continue to join our hearts with the hearts of his beloved family and community, to cry, to grieve, and to also celebrate his life and legacy together, three lessons emerge:

1. Life Is Too Precious To Waste It On Trivialities:

Here’s a question: If today was your last day on earth, what would you do? Would you spend it with family, and tell them how much you love them? Would you try to fulfill any last wish?

As the sudden passing of Rabbi Caplan so painfully demonstrates, this question is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We really have no control over the timing of our death. We will never be able to know when that fateful day will arrive.

Yet, we do have control over our lives. And when we encounter death, we suddenly realize how vulnerable we are, and how we, therefore, ought to make the best of every breath we take, every moment we share, every relationship we have, and every opportunity we have. 

In 2005, in his commencement address at Standford University, Steve Jobs revealed that ever since the age of 17, he “would look at himself in the mirror every morning and ask himself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Steve Jobs’s words reveal a powerful truth: Every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed. Yet, too many times, we are shackled by the troubles of our past or the fears of our future that we become complacent, and forget that today may just be our last day.

So why waste it on trivialities and not heed the call of our soul?

2. What You See Is Not What You Get

Of the many conversations I had this week with many people struggling to cope with this tragedy, the most agonizing of all came from a dear friend who called me crying that he could not find solace after learning that our beloved friend, Rabbi Caplan, was interred with so few people present (due to the coronavirus). “I don’t understand how a person who was kind to so many people, could be buried without the embrace of his friends and community” he lamented.

His cry permeated my heart. And although we, finite beings, cannot always understand the infinite God and His mysterious ways, I found myself asking: What should I reply? Is there a lesson here?

“Maybe, we’re not seeing this right,” I suggested to him. “What our eyes see is not all that there is. Yes, our physical senses may help us perceive aspects of our reality. But there is so much that exists beyond all that our physical senses can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch.”

Our Sages teach that when people die, they are not “alone.” Their good deeds and many merits are with them. When people are buried, they are not surrounded only by living beings. Scores of angels also accompany their souls from this world to the next. And when these souls inhabit the heavens, they continue to be with us, watch over us, and bless us.

I then blessed my friend, with the words I bless you, my dear reader, too: “May our “spiritual senses,” not just our physical ones, help guide our ways, always. And may they continue to teach us to see the unseen, hear the unheard, taste the intangible, and smell the ethereal.”

3. A Little Bit Of Light Dispels A Lot Of Darkness:

In 1948, just three years following the Holocaust, Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the State of Israel broadcasted a request to Jews worldwide: “After Hitler murdered a third of the Jewish nation, it is the foremost duty of every Jew to be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Please, I beg every Jew in the world, be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Triple your prayers, triple your good deeds, and make up for the third of our nation that was so brutally decimated.”

When we encounter death and other challenges, we are faced with two options: We can succumb to despair and ask unanswerable questions, such as “why did this happen?” and “what will be?” Or, we can follow the advice of President Weizmann, and respond to death with even more life; to despair with even more hope; to darkness with even more light. 

Judaism has always chosen the latter option. “Choose life,” Moses commanded us, in the name of G-d shortly before his passing, “so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) 

Throughout our history, we responded to every calamity with a burst of life and an expansion that eventually lifted us above our hardships, as difficult as they may have been. For, we have always known, that which was so beautifully expressed by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, that “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

Similarly, after the passing of good and holy people, such as Rabbi Caplan, we too must do everything in our power to increase, and “triple”, our deeds of goodness and holiness — from prayer to charity; from lighting Shabbat candles every Friday to doing a stranger a favor; from setting aside times to study Torah to lending a helping hand — to make up for the great vacuum that he has left in our world.

Their memory will then undoubtedly be a blessing, that will live on and on, in our minds, in our hearts, and most importantly, in our actions, today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.  

Article

Judaism offers a different approach: There really exists only one type of time. Yes, there are unexpected moments that we are thrust into. But those moments are Divinely designed for us. Every minute, every place, every situation, no matter how temporary, has a purpose, and it is up to us to discover it, and live it fully.

Rabbi Allouche

It seems the days of our lives are divided into two types of times: real-time and wasted-time.

The real-times are times in which we feel that we, and only we, are in control. They include moments such as quality-times with our family and friends, career-driven endeavors, and the times which we dedicate for the benefit of our physical and spiritual health.

The wasted-times include times in which we feel that we have lost control. They include moments such as the times we spend waiting, and waiting for an appointment. Or the times we are ‘stuck’ in traffic. Or the times we are quarantined in our homes and are unsure how to fill our days with “real time.” It seems like we have a lot of that these days…Most of us love the real-times of our lives. But we become frustrated with the wasted times, which seem, after all, “wasted.”

Yet, Judaism offers a different approach: There really exists only one type of time. Yes, there are unexpected moments that we are thrust into. But those moments are Divinely designed for us. Every minute, every place, every situation, no matter how temporary, has a purpose, and it is up to us to discover it, and live it fully.

This week’s Torah portion speaks of the cloud of G-d that “covered the Tabernacle” and guided the Jews in the desert during their many journeys (Numbers 9:17). But why did G-d create a cloud to serve as our nation’s GPS? Wouldn’t a bird, for example, be enough? What is the message of the cloud?
Clouds impede the sight of man. They don’t allow us to see beyond the present tense.

And the lesson is clear. It is as if G-d is telling each of us: “If you wish to live life fully and build saintly tabernacles in its every instance, you must learn to live within the clouds of life that block the experiences of the past and the illusions of the future, and allow you to focus on, and cherish, every minute of life.”

This does not mean that preparing for the phases of life is unnecessary. But we ought to focus entirely on the creation of our personal tabernacles in every step, within every moment, even in those times that seem so “wasted.”

One of the most revered leaders of world-Jewry in the 18th Century, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, was once asked how long it took him to achieve greatness.
“It only took me five minutes,” he replied, astonishingly.

But he further explained: “Every time there is a five-minute delay in my daily affairs – such as waiting in line at the grocery store, or waiting for a marriage ceremony to begin – I do not allow those minutes to go by idly. Instead, I take out a book to study, or I search for a Mitzvah to perform. It is those five-minute moments, used purposefully, is what enables a person to achieve greatness.”

So as many of us continue to respect the social-distance guidelines and seclude ourselves physically at home, let us remember that G-d is waiting for us to infuse our every moment of the day with meaning and holiness. It’s never too late or too early, to pick up that phone and mend a relationship or cheer up a friend, to work on developing a skill that can benefit your life and our world, to study more and join our many zoom classes, and to take upon yourself just one more Mitzvah.

We will then undoubtedly love living every second of our lives again, including those five-minute delays, and these trying times, and we too will then achieve greatness, each in our own unique way.

One of the dangerous myths of our generation is the idea that people can simply "fall in love," get married, and live in a state of everlasting bliss, with little or no effort. Without a doubt, this myth is the reason behind many divorces and marital conflicts. Marriage, like life, is not smooth sailing. Highs and lows are an integral part of every existence. But when a married couple musters the courage to transform every crisis into an opportunity, and focus on their inseparable union above the trivialities of their differences, only then will true love will then emerge and endure forever.

Rabbi Allouche

Dear Friends,  

I’ll never forget that moment.

About a year and a half before I met my better half, my dear mentor, world scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, pulled me aside and asked me: “What type of woman do you want to marry?”

“Somebody to love,” I replied half-seriously, hinting at Queen’s song. But my flowery answer didn’t satisfy him.

“You’ve been reading too many love stories,” he replied. “Love does not lead to marriage, as many think,” he asserted. “Quite the opposite: Marriage leads to love.”

The Talmud describes the upcoming festival of Shavuot – which begins this evening until Saturday evening – as the “wedding day” between God and His people. On this day, we married God, and He presented us with His marriage contract, the Torah. In response, we exclaimed together, “we will do” and “we will listen,” and our marriage took off. 

But if the giving of the Torah was such an important event in which we “married” G-d, why is this festival not celebrated with as much flair and glamour as the others? Not only is this festival shorter than the others (it’s only two days in the Diaspora as opposed to the eight respective days of Sukkot and Passover), but it only includes one commandment, the commandment of listening to the Ten Commandments.

The answer reveals the secret to a lasting and successful marriage: Marriage is a work in progress, and its crucial elements of love and respect do not just magically appear “at first sight.” It takes much time, loyal commitment and selfless action, day after day, month after month, year after year, for true love and respect to appear. The wedding day alone, as exuberant as it may be, is therefore far less important than the time and resources that spouses ought to invest in their relationship thereafter.

One of the dangerous myths of our generation is the idea that people can simply “fall in love,” get married, and live in a state of everlasting bliss, with little or no effort. Without a doubt, this myth is the reason behind many divorces and marital conflicts. Marriage, like life, is not smooth sailing. Highs and lows are an integral part of every existence. But when a married couple musters the courage to transform every crisis into an opportunity, and focus on their inseparable union above the trivialities of their differences, only then will true love will then emerge and endure forever.

Our wedding day with God, Shavuot, is coming up this evening. We will certainly all read the Ten Commandments tomorrow, learn Torah, and eat some blintzes and cheesecake. But it would behoove us to remember that it is our active commitment to G-d, His Torah, and His commandments, on the days and weeks after Shabbuot, that will determine the sustainability and success of our marriage with The One Above.

And we ought to remember that the only love that can truly exist and persevere is a love that we ascend to, not fall into, one step at a time, one mitzvah at a time.

"My soul yearns and even faints for the holy land." My great-great-grandfather, the saintly Chief Rabbi of Constantine, Algeria in the late 1800s, Rabbi Sidi Bahe Eliyahu Allouche, wrote these words with tears, as he longed to live in the holy city of Jerusalem. Following a perilous journey, his life-long dream was fulfilled and he arrived to Jerusalem in 1891... But why would so many of our people throughout history embark on a danger-filled journey to settle in a faraway land? Because Israel is our home, and Jerusalem is its most intimate bedroom. Or, as Elie Wiesel beautifully put it: "When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time, it is a homecoming."

Rabbi Allouche

“My soul yearns and even faints for the holy land.”

My great-great-grandfather, the saintly Chief Rabbi of Constantine, Algeria in the 1880s and 1890s, Rabbi Sidi Bahe Eliyahu Allouche, wrote these words with tears, as he longed to live in the holy city of Jerusalem.

With tremendous self-sacrifice and perilous risks, his life-long dream was fulfilled. In 1891, at the ripe age of 77, arrived at the shores of Haifa, after a long and tedious journey. A year later, he passed away, and he was buried in the Mount of Olives in the outskirts of Jerusalem’s old city.

This was the story of so many of our ancestors who “made Aliyah” and moved to Israel from all four corners of the world.

Why, one may wonder, would so many of our people leave the comfort of their home – sometimes as elderly and fragile beings – and embark on a danger-filled journey to settle in a faraway land? Why did their souls boil from within and “yearn and even faint for the holy land”?

Because Israel is our home, and Jerusalem is its most intimate bedroom. Or, as Elie Wiesel beautifully put it: “When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time, it is a homecoming.”

This is why every time we pray, we turn toward Jerusalem, and we beseech G-d to “return to Jerusalem” and “re-establish the throne of David within its walls.” Every Passover, we conclude the Seder with the reverberating wish of “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Every time we eat, we ask G-d to “rebuild Jerusalem, bring us up into it, and gladden us in its rebuilding.” And every time a Jewish couple enters into the covenant of marriage, they pledge to never forget Jerusalem, while proclaiming the words of the Psalmist: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

Today, Jews worldwide will be celebrating “Yom Yerushalayim,- Jerusalem Day.” On this day, we rejoice and offer our words of gratitude to God, for the miracle of the liberation of our home, Jerusalem, by the Israeli Defense Force during the six-day war, exactly 53 years ago.

I can still hear the words of “Motta” Gur, the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, on that day, broadcasting the famous words on his army wireless device: “Har HaBayit BeYadeinu,”–The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!” These words sent shivers down the collective spine of our people.

Yet, this miracle has yet to be completed. Yes, 53 years ago, Jerusalem, our home, was returned to us. But we must now return to it, fully, unreservedly.

We ought to recommit ourselves to our home and its majestic story and add to its infinite treasures, our own pages of Jewish life and living. And we ought to join our light to its Divine light, and illuminate every corner of our world, with acts of goodness, and deeds of kindness.

Amen.

Article

Will we emerge from these historic times as better, healthier, and stronger people? Will we have responded to this universal crisis with a mightier show of love and unity? Will we have learned the many lessons that this global upheaval has taught us all - that our sense of certitude is an illusion; that the journey of life, with all of its fluctuations, is the destination; that the only true anchors of life are our beloved families, our true friends, our values, our moral compass, and our God-given skills and purpose; and that although we have no control over external circumstances, we do have full control over our attitude, and our ability to turn challenge into opportunity and darkness into light?

Rabbi Allouche

Judaism loves questions.

During our daily prayers, we confront G-d with questions. On Shabbat and holidays, especially on Passover, we ask our children to ask us questions. And when a Jew meets another Jew, questions are often asked, and answered with… other questions.

If that is not enough, in the Talmud, there are more than 30 synonyms for the word “question,” alluding to our love for asking questions and leaving no stone unturned.

Isidor Isaac Rabi, the American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1944, was once asked how he became such a prominent scientist. He replied: “It was thanks to my mother. Then my friends would come back home from school, their mother would ask them, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother asked me a different question. She would say: ‘Izzy, did you ask your teachers a good question today?’ That made all the difference. Asking my teachers good questions turned me into the scientist that I am today.”

Inspired by this obsession to question, I recall asking my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, just a few years ago: “What would you say is life’s most important question?”

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

“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 can they remain committed to Judaism, when no one is celebrating them anymore? Many weddings resemble extravaganza shows. But 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? We graduate from school and celebrate our achievements with great pride? But can we continue to study with devotion, to live with passion, and to do good with conviction?”

His brilliant response sheds light today on two burning topics which we are all facing today: a. “how will our world look like after this pandemic fades away?” b. “Judaism’s take on graduations.”

During the upcoming months, we will hopefully also find ourselves in a new, post-covid-19 world. 

But will we emerge from these historic times as better, healthier, and stronger people? Will we have responded to this universal crisis with a mightier show of love and unity? Will we have learned the many lessons that this global upheaval has taught us all – that our sense of certitude is an illusion; that the journey of life, with all of its fluctuations, is the destination; that the only true anchors of life are our beloved families, our true friends, our values, our moral compass, and our God-given skills and purpose; and that although we have no control over external circumstances, we do have full control over our attitude, and our ability to turn challenge into opportunity and darkness into light?

During the upcoming month, many of us will also congratulate relatives, friends, and acquaintances on their graduation from college, high school, elementary school, and yes, even kindergarten!

But will our graduates continue to grow and learn? Will they be able to say “hello” to the opportunities of tomorrow, with the same passion, joy, and enthusiasm, as they are saying “goodbye” to the efforts of yesterday? Will these graduations be remembered as the end of their achievements, or will they signify the beginning of a new and brighter chapter in their lives?

Indeed, life is an ongoing journey. We must pause to reflect on the past and present, however difficult as it may be, but we must never fully rest the flaps of our wings that push us forward and pull us upward. For no matter how much we have learned and accomplished, there is still so much more we can become, and do.

May God bless us with wisdom and courage to always respond to the “and-then-what question”, with vigor and conviction, and with never-ending growth, in all good areas, from strength to strength. Amen.