Article

We ought to remember that G-d's eternal blessings, can be found here and now; not just there - at a faraway destination - and later. His shining light can also be found within the walls of our life's tunnels too - not just at their end. And His great treasures can also be found on the very soil we are treading.

Rabbi Allouche

Did you know that the word in Hebrew for “tunnel” (minhara) also means “light”? 

The reason is profound: The word for a tunnel in G-d’s language means light because joyous occasions and luminous moments of “light” in our lives are not just found “at the end of the tunnel,” but they can be found “within the tunnel” itself too. 

In this week’s portion, G-d warns us not to fall into the illusion that “my strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth,” (- Deuteronomy 8:17). Rather, we should forever remember that G-d is “He who gives us the ability to produce wealth.”

This does not mean that G-d is asking us to sit back and wait for His blessings to appear miraculously. Quite the opposite, He wants us to toil, to engage with the world, and to pursue our livelihood, using all of our strengths and skills. But we must also remember that, ultimately, our blessings come from the One Above. All we can do, through our tireless work, is to prepare the channels from which His blessings can flow uninterruptedly.

But the message goes deeper: As we race toward ‘making a living’ we dare not forget that G-d’s blessings are everywhere – yes, even in the thickness of our journey, and in the sweat of our actions.

And we ought to remember that G-d’s eternal blessings, can be found here and now; not just there – at a faraway destination – and later. His shining light can also be found within the walls of our life’s tunnels too – not just at their end. And His great treasures can also be found on the very soil we are treading. The legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, once saw a man racing through the streets of his town.

“Why are you running so fast?” the Rabbi asked him.

The man responded: “Rabbi, I’m racing in pursuit of my livelihood!”

But the Rabbi retorted, brilliantly: “How do you know that your livelihood is somewhere in front of you, and you are racing to catch up to it? Maybe it is behind you, and by racing, you are actually distancing yourself further and further from it?”

Do you also remember the anecdote about the two young fish that were swimming in the Atlantic ocean?

One morning, they happened to meet an older fish swimming the other way. He nods at them and says, “Good morning, boys, how’s the water today?”

The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What is water?”

Just like those fish or that man in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s story, sometimes we can forget that G-d’s refreshing waters are enveloping us every day in the place we found ourselves, right now. And if we could just open our eyes to appreciate them – we will find them in the beauty of our spouse, in the innocent smile of our children, in the love of our friends, in the fresh air and splendid nature that envelops us, and yes even within the challenges and tunnels of life. We will then undoubtedly exclaim, with all heart, the very first Jewish prayer of the day:

“Modeh Ani Lefanecha Melech Chai VeKayam,” – “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King,” for all of Your “water” that sustains us. 

Personally, I miss Rav Adin terribly... Nonetheless, and in spite of the profound pain and streaming tears, his spiritual presence continues to permeate our beings, his sweet voice continues to ring in our ears, his eternal teachings continue to lead our every way, and his marching orders continue to propel us to “do more and more and more,” as were his parting words to me, just two weeks before his passing.

Rabbi Allouche

Across the globe, people from all walks of life will come together this coming Monday, the 17th of the Hebrew month of Menachem Av, which corresponds with July 26, to mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of saintly memory. 

Rabbi Even-Israel Steinsaltz, lovingly known to his students as “Rav Adin”, was recognized as a “once-in-a-millennium scholar,” who revolutionized the world with his trailblazing translation and commentary of the entire Talmud, Bible, Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, the Tanya, his authorship of many books on Jewish mysticism, philosophy, and sociology, his educational institutions, and his life mission to “let my people know.” 

Personally, I miss Rav Adin terribly. For close to 30 years, my mentor and I spoke regularly. He guided my every step, illuminated my every pathway, molded my every thought, and inspired my every action. And now, ever since his passing a year ago, our world is so much dimmer, and our lives – so much lonelier.

Nonetheless, and in spite of the profound pain and streaming tears, his spiritual presence continues to permeate our beings, his sweet voice continues to ring in our ears, his eternal teachings continue to lead our every way, and his marching orders continue to propel us to “do more and more and more,” as were his parting words to me, just two weeks before his passing.

To encapsulate the genius of Rav Adin in words is impossible. Still, here is a humble attempt to provide a glimpse into ten lessons of our beloved Rav Adin that changed my life, and brightened our world: 

1. Life’s Most Important Question:

A few years ago, during a visit with Rav Adin, I asked him: “In your eyes, what is life’s most important question?” 

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

He then explained his statement: “You see, it is easy to fly into a passion. But what happens after the passion is gone? And then what? What is left from that which we were so passionate about? 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? Can our love continue to blossom, even when the romantic scene of ‘you may kiss the bride’ has been replaced with the unavoidable reality of bills that need to be paid?”

2. Seven Billion People Will Care About Your Actions; Not Your Feelings

Rav Adin once called me aside after noticing my despondence during my years of study at his Makor Chaim high school in Jerusalem. 

“The problem is that you focus on your feelings too much,” he mentioned. “Maybe that’s why you seem so despondent.”  

“So, what should I do?” I retorted. 

“Instead of focusing on your emotions, focus on your deeds,” he replied. 

With his characteristic wit, he concluded: “Remember, 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.”

3. The Difference Between a Wise Man And a Fool

A few years ago, Rav Adin, asked me, out of the blue: 

“What do you think is the difference between a fool and a wise man?” 

I did not know what to say. So, he replied in my stead: 

“The difference is simple: a wise man keeps the important issues of life – important, and makes sure that the trivial issues remain trivial. The fool does the opposite. For him, important issues become the trivial ones, while he considers the trivial issues to be important.”

4. Focus On The Results; Not So Much The Process

Following the failure of a project that I had launched a few years ago, I called Rav Adin to express my frustration and seek his advice.

After listening carefully, he replied with his characteristic smile:

“Pinny, you focus too much on the results. But you forget that you were appointed to work; not to reap the fruits of your work. It sounds like you put in the right amount of work, and that you did what you could. Now, let G-d take care of the results…”

“It’s like planting trees,” he said. “Sometimes, we plant a tree, and we think that we’ll be able to enjoy its fruits within a year or two. But some trees, like the olive tree, take a few years to grow and produce fruits. Yet, once those trees grow, they turn into very strong trees that then never stop producing an abundance of fruits…”  

5. Ask Not “How Much Have I Accomplished”; Ask “How Much More Can I Still Accomplish”

In an unforgettable address to our 10th-grade class, Rav Adin mentioned:

“The main problem is that you ask yourself ‘how much have I accomplished thus far,’ instead of asking yourself, ‘how much more can I accomplish.’

You see, it’s not that ‘the sky is not the limit.’ Rather, the sky is the launchpad of your life. Doing your best is not good enough. I know this may not sound like a recipe for an easy and comfortable life, but it is my expression of great hope. And it comes from my belief that people do not just have stomachs, but they also have wings with which to fly.

I would want for my students to take upon themselves what may seem like an undefined resolution, yet it is, nonetheless, very concrete. I would call this resolution: “one step forward.” Wherever you are in your life journeys, please, I ask you, take one step forward.”

6. The Power Of Now

A few years ago, I asked Rav Adin, which of his 80+ books was his favorite one. His answer baffled me, and it taught me volumes on how to appreciate the now.

“It is the book I am working on right now,” he mentioned. 

Similarly, Rav Adin once lamented the mindset of many in our generation who focus so much on the future that they forget to live the present. 

“We devote so much time to the “before” and “after” [stages of life] that we no longer have time to experience the thing itself. When we are in the “before” stage, we think about what will be; in the “after” stage, we think about how things were. Either way, there is nothing to make us hold on to the present… But the focal point of our thinking is not life for the sake of the morrow but rather life today. What matters now is what is now.”

7. The Best Way To Face Challenges

I’ll never forget that moment.

It was a late afternoon in 2001. I was visiting a Jerusalem hospital when I suddenly bumped into Rav Adin in the hospital’s elevator.

“Good afternoon, Rav Adin!” I greeted him. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m going to study the Talmud,” he replied with a playful smile.

“To study the Talmud? In this hospital? Are there no better places to study?” I retorted.

His wise response still reverberates in my mind: “Well, the doctors here have to connect me to a dialysis machine for a few hours, and in the meantime, I’ll study the Talmud.”

At that moment I had learned that my beloved mentor suffered from a genetic condition named “Gaucher” from a very young age, which required him to be connected to a “dialysis machine” each and every month, for approximately three hours. But what stunned me most is not the fact that he never shared this with me and his close students. Rather, it was the idea that Rav Adin never saw this monthly medical treatment as a challenge. For this giant of man, it was an opportunity to study the Talmud for three hours, without interruption. And even as his disease threatened to limit him, he felt free and limitless.

His approach taught me an invaluable lesson for life: We all face challenges, big or small. We all suffer from diseases, physical or mental. We all endure pain, temporary or permanent. But it is the way we choose to address them that makes all the difference.  

8. Don’t Just Say Thank-You; Do Thank-You

I recall how my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory — who despised flowery words and superficial shows — once told me that “the world would be a much more beautiful place if people would do thank-you, instead of just saying thank-you.”

When I asked him what he meant, he replied: 

“Say you just gave a poor man some money. Now, if he is polite, he will probably say “thank you.” But, imagine if this poor man would learn from you and, in return for your act of kindness, he would also do a good deed. Wouldn’t that help our world much more than his words of gratitude?”

9. The Power Of A Smile

Rav Adin once shared with me that when he was a young seven-year-old boy, he found himself in an overloaded bus, surrounded by a group of beautiful girls, who were just a few years older than him. 

His words were so sweet: 

“As I was observing them as a phenomenon of nature, one of these girls turned to me and gave me a big smile. I had never seen such a beautiful smile. I remember thinking to myself that it felt like I was walking in a dark street, when, all of a sudden, a ray of dazzling sunshine came out.

I don’t think that this girl and I ever saw each other again. But I will never forget her smile. And I will never forget how this beautiful girl came out of her circle, to brighten a little boy’s day with the unique gift of a smile that G-d had blessed her with.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes to fulfill our purpose: To smile at someone else, with our own unique smiles. Try it. You won’t regret it.”

10. How To Achieve Lasting Happiness

In 2014, I had the privilege of escorting Rav Adin to a JLI conference in Chicago, IL. There, he was asked about his view on achieving happiness. His words of truth still reverberate in my mind: 

“There are so many people all over the world that are searching for happiness, but they don’t really know what they want because they can’t define happiness.

But we forget that happiness is a form of self-fulfillment. When a person does what he has to do, what he should do – not necessarily what he wants to do, because what I want to do is, possibly, to sit and do nothing – then he has a sense of fulfillment, and that engenders happiness. And to achieve fulfillment, I have to be in agreement and fully “in tune” with my unique purpose and with what I am supposed to do – sometimes as a husband or a parent, or a worker…whatever that may be. 

So, if we wish to be happy, we first ought to be listening to that small, thin voice inside of each of us, which tells us what we are uniquely supposed to do.”

Article

If we wish to live life fully, we too must learn to live within a cloud that blocks the illusions of the future, and fully cherish each minute of our lives. This does not mean that preparing for the phases of life is unnecessary or unimportant. But we ought to treasure every second that G-d gives us, and infuse our every moment, our every encounter, and our every opportunity, with joy and meaning.

Rabbi Allouche

“Life goes by so fast,” we often hear.

Indeed, it seems that life is always eluding us. When children graduate from school, they are convinced that life is still way ahead of them. “We first have to graduate high-school, go to college, get a degree and a well-paying job for life to really begin,” they think to themselves.

But when those goals are finally achieved, many believe that life has still not really begun. And they impatiently wait to reach the years after their retirement to begin to explore and enjoy all that they have always wanted.

In the words of my beloved mentor Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory: “We devote so much time to the “before” and “after” [stages of life] that we no longer have time to experience the thing itself. When we are in the “before” stage, we think about what will be; in the “after” stage, we think about how things were. Either way, there is nothing to make us hold on to the present… But the focal point of our thinking is not life for the sake of the morrow but rather life today. What matters now is what is now.”

This week’s Torah portion speaks of the cloud of G-d guiding the Jews in the desert during their 40-year journey in which they also had 42 stops. But why did G-d create a cloud to bestow His glory and serve as a GPS? Wouldn’t a bird, for example, be enough?

Clouds impede the sight of man. They don’t allow us to see beyond the present tense. Here lies the lesson from this cloud of glory: if we wish to live life fully, we too must learn to live within a cloud that blocks the illusions of the future, and fully cherish each minute of our lives. This does not mean that preparing for the phases of life is unnecessary or unimportant. But we ought to treasure every second that G-d gives us, and infuse our every moment, our every encounter, and our every opportunity, with joy and meaning.  

During a trip to Israel a few years ago, I visited to my alma mater, the prestigious Mekor Chaim High-School, founded by my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz aforementioned. As I entered the walls of the Yeshiva on a late Thursday evening, I noticed that the young Mekor-Chaim high-schoolers had formed a perfect circle around the Bima, as they held hands in unity, and danced with overflowing joy, as if that moment, was the most important moment of their lives. Their faces were beaming, and their hearts were set ablaze, as they erupted into a song.

I can still hear them sing those poignant words: “whatever was- was, the most important thing is to start anew. Today. Father in Heaven, renew me completely, ignite my soul.”

May we have the courage to live by these words, and see every moment of life — and its infinite opportunities — anew, each and every day. Amen. 

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

Following the failure of a project that I had launched a few years ago, I called my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, to express my frustration and seek his advice.

After listening carefully, he replied with his characteristic smile: 

“Pinny, you focus too much on the results. But you forget that you were appointed to work; not to reap the fruits of your work. It sounds like you put in the right amount of work, and that you did what you could. Now, let G-d take care of the results…”

In that unforgettable conversation, he also 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.”

“It’s like planting trees,” he said. “Sometimes, we plant a tree, and we think that we’ll be able to enjoy its fruits within a year or two. But some trees, like the olive tree, take a few years to grow and produce fruits. Yet, once those trees grow, they turn into very strong trees that then never stop producing an abundance of 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 powerful. For 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 to work and partner with G-d daily in making our world better, each in our own way, each with our own Mitzvahs.

This type of 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

A few years ago, my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, of blesses memory, asked me: "What is the difference between a fool and a wise man?" After a short pause, he replied: "The difference is simple: a wise man keeps the important issues of life - important, and makes sure that the trivial issues remain trivial. The fool does the opposite..."

Rabbi Allouche

This Sunday, Jews worldwide will be fasting and ushering in a three-week mourning period which will culminate with yet another day of fast; the fast of the Ninth of Av. (All this will occur, of course, if G-d forbid, the Messiah will still not have arrived.)

This period commemorates one of the darkest periods of Jewish history, in which the first and second Jerusalem Temples were destroyed, bringing havoc and exile to our people.

Our Talmudic Sages blamed these calamities on baseless hatred. In their words: “Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because the Jewish people were overcome with baseless hatred toward one another.”

Their lesson is clear: if our light is to expel the world’s darkness, we must consistently engage in acts of unconditional love, and the commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself” ought to be restored as the “most important rule in the whole Torah,” as it is described by the legendary Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Akiva.

But how can we truly love? And what if we were harmed, or wronged, by others – can love still prevail?

The answer, perhaps, lies in the following three simple life rules:

 ONE: We Never Know

When I was just 16 years old, I had an experience that changed my life. On a Tuesday afternoon, as I was praying the afternoon prayers in an isolated Jerusalem synagogue, a man walked in with his four children. They were uncontrollable. They were running, screaming, and pushing each other, and I quickly began to judge the father. Can’t he control his children? He should have left them at home!
 
At the conclusion of the service, the man summoned his children, with five words that filled my conscience with guilt. “Let’s say Kaddish for Mommy,” he said to them. These children had just lost their mother and they were now saying Kaddish for her. My heart skipped a beat, but the lesson I learned stayed with me forever.
 
Indeed, we never know. We never know why people act the way they act. And it would behoove us to relegate this judgment to “the Judge of Our World” alone. For when it comes to the judgment of others, the only thing we can know for certain is… that we do not know.
 
TWO: Re-Thinking ‘Likes,’ ‘Pokes,’ and Other Knee-Jerk Reactions

We live in the “social-media age” in which many feel compelled to voice their reaction to every story under the sun. But not every Facebook post is worthy of our likes, pokes, and comments. Not every Tweet is worthy of our re-tweet. And not every Snapchat and text are worthy of our response.
 
For in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreements, our minds often take the back seat.

In the wise words of the 18th century Sage, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern: “All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read.”
 
THREE: How To Disagree

It is no secret that we live in tumultuous and divisive times. Our status as “ONE” nation under G-d is menaced by increasing discords, of all sorts.
 
Yet, we ought to remember that the health and success of our future depend on one essential pillar: Respecting each other for who we are: people of all kinds, who were created in the image of G-d. We can battle ideas, but we cannot battle people. We can frame the content of our conversation, but we cannot frame the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings.
 
A few years ago, my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, of blesses memory, asked me: “What is the difference between a fool and a wise man?” After a short pause, he replied: “The difference is simple: a wise man keeps the important issues of life – important, and makes sure that the trivial issues remain trivial. The fool does the opposite. For him, important issues become the trivial ones, while he considers the trivial issues to be important.”
 
Similarly, we too must “make the important – important.” We all want to make the world a better place. We all care deeply about our communities and our country. We all try to nurture our families with morals, and values. These are the issues that ought to forever remain important.

And we ought to forever remain wise, and loving of every person, for the image of G-d that they are, and will always be.

Article

When we look up, we are seldom afraid. When our eyes gaze upward, our hearts are filled with faith and reassurance. And when our hands reach out to hold the hands of our heavenly co-captain, we may just discover that He is continuously helping us navigate our lives in the best of directions, even when, from time to time, we may lose control.

Rabbi Allouche

Did you know that looking down at your phone is like having a 60-pound weight on your neck, according to a recent MIT research? And most of us look down at our phones, between two to four hours a day!

So, what’s the cure for our “age of information”?

Well, medically, there are a few things we can do. For example, we can hold our phones straight in front of us instead of bending our heads down towards them. But in this week’s portion, a different, and more spiritual, approach, is proposed.

There, we read of many venomous snakes that bit and killed many Israelites. Moses prays on behalf of his people, and G-d offers him a solution: ‘Make yourself a serpent and put it on a pole, and let whoever is bitten look at it and live. Moses made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.’ (See Numbers 21). Perhaps, this is also the origin of the symbol of medicine with the two snakes called “Caduceus.”

Pondering on the meaning of this story, the Talmudic Sages ask: “But is the snake really capable of determining life and death?!” Their answer is surpassingly beautiful: “No, the snake does not have that power. Rather, when Israel would gaze upward and bind their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they would be healed; and if not, they would perish.”

The lesson of the Talmud is surpassingly beautiful: Sometimes, the cure for the many snakebites of life, is to look upward. Sometimes, the best remedy for the plagues of life – which often inundate us with venomous challenges – is to focus heavenward. And if we are only able to connect with our ‘Father in heaven,’ He too will be able to connect with us and bring us His many blessings of healing and strength.

Indeed, when we look up, we are seldom afraid. When our eyes gaze upward, our hearts are filled with faith and reassurance. And when our hands reach out to hold the hands of our heavenly co-captain, we may just discover that He is continuously helping us navigate our lives in the best of directions, even when, from time to time, we may lose control.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, the 19th Century Philosopher once said that his aim as a philosopher is “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.” And he explained: “The fly keeps banging its head against the glass in a vain attempt to get out. The more it tries, the more it fails, until it drops from exhaustion. The one thing it forgets to do is look to the sky.”

May we all find the wisdom and the courage, to look to the sky, to soar to the heavens, and to return back to our planet Earth, in order to create a heavenly abode, in our homes, in our cities, and in our world, for generations to come. Amen.

Article

We are what we think we are. As the spies demonstrated, if we appear in our eyes like “grasshoppers” – that is who we will be in the eyes of others too. But if we think of ourselves as giants, that is who we will be too. As an American entrepreneur once said, "if you think you can, or if you think you cannot - you are right."

Rabbi Allouche

It stands as one of the most disappointing tales in the Torah.

Shortly, before the Jewish people’s anticipated entry into the land of Israel, Moses sent twelve spies to “tour the land” of Israel (Numbers 13).

Ten of the twelve spies returned with a negative report. And they concluded that “we are unable to go up against the giants and warriors [of the land of Israel], for they are stronger than us… we appeared like grasshoppers in our eyes, and that’s how we were in their eyes.”

The people of Israel believed them, and they complained to Moses that they would rather return to Egypt. For their stunning lack of faith in G-d, the spies and the people were punished. G‑d decreed that their entry into the Land shall be delayed by forty years until their generation dies out in the desert.

But, if the spies were sent to explore the land and return with an accurate report, why were they punished? The answer is poignant and it speaks to one of the great truths of life:

We are what we think we are. As the spies demonstrated, if we appear in our eyes like “grasshoppers” – that is who we will be in the eyes of others too. But if we think of ourselves as giants, that is who we will be too. As an American entrepreneur once said, “if you think you can, or if you think you cannot – you are right.”

G-d believed that the Jewish people, including the spies, could conquer the land, in spite of the many obstacles that stood in their way. He had great faith in us and in our potential. But we did not. And when we lack faith in ourselves and in our G-d given talents and purpose, nothing meaningful can be achieved.

Much ink has been spilled on our generation’s record-breaking low of self-worth. Too many of us evaluate our self-worth based on the amount of Facebook likes, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, and yes, even Tinder inquiries. As a Rabbi, my office is often visited by despondent youngsters who have to re-program their method of self-evaluation, from a mindset of “what others think of me,” to the mindset of “what G-d thinks of me.”

The perspective of “what others think of me,” almost always creates self-made prisons, that stifle our growth and prevent us from maximizing our infinite potential. Yet the perspective of “what G-d thinks of me,” frees us from our self-imposed limitations, unleashes our innermost potential, and restores our belief that “impossible is nothing,” as Adidas once put it.

So here is a suggestion, inspired by the story of the spies: Adopt the perspective of “what G-d thinks of me.” Now, think of two or three particular limitations in your life which are holding you back, that you think you may have. Then, make a resolution to overcome them and the negative thoughts and self-definitions that they may be feeding you.

It may be as simple as making that telephone call that frightens you, changing that terrible habit, taking upon yourself a Mitzvah, and making time for G-d and for your soul and its desire to pray, to learn Torah, and to do good.

For, if G-d believes in you and in your infinite soul, shouldn’t you believe in yourself too?  

Life is an ongoing journey, in which there are no beginnings and ends. We may have graduated from schools and institutions, but we must never graduate from life and from study, and feel as if we have now reached a final destination.

Rabbi Allouche

The 2021 graduation season is here!

During this celebratory month, many of us will congratulate relatives, friends, and acquaintances on their graduation from college, high school, elementary school, and yes, even kindergarten…

But while we share in these moments of joy for our accomplished youth, I dare ask: Does Judaism really believe in “graduations”? Does the Hebrew language even have a word for “graduation”? And does the Bible and Jewish history have any recorded examples of graduates and graduation ceremonies?

The simple answer is… no. Judaism does not quite believe in “graduations,” Hebrew does not have a word for this celebration, and there are no records in the Bible and in Jewish history of such ceremonies.

Nonetheless, Judaism does has a very similar ceremony, named “siyum.” This ceremony is held at the completion of our study of a tractate of the Mishnah or the Talmud.

But these two ceremonies are quite different. Graduation ceremonies celebrate the accomplishments of the past. Siyum ceremonies, on the other hand, focus on the feats yet to be accomplished in the future.

Thus, the “Hadran” prayer — which speaks about our future plans to continue to study — is recited. Here are the words: “We will return to you, oh tractate, and you will return to us. Our mind is on you, oh tractate, and your mind is on us; we will not forget you, oh tractate, and you will not forget us – not in this world and not in the world to come.”

The reason for this contrast is striking:

Life is an ongoing journey, in which there are no beginnings and ends.  
We may have graduated from schools and institutions, but we must never graduate from life and from study, and feel as if we have now reached a final destination.

We may stop to reflect on the achievements of the past, but we must never stop our growth forward and upward.

We may bid farewell and say ‘goodbye’ to the efforts of yesterday, but only if can welcome and say ‘hello’ to the opportunities of tomorrow.

A few years ago, during a visit with my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even Israel of blessed memory, I asked him: “What would you say is life’s most important question?”

Without skipping a beat, he replied: “‘And then what?” (-in Hebrew: “ve’az ma?”) And he explained, with his radiant 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 then what? Can they remain committed to Judaism when no one is celebrating them anymore? Weddings, nowadays, resemble Holywood-style sound and light 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?”

Graduations must, therefore, signify the beginning. They ought to become the foundational pillars to the dreams of our future. For no matter how much one has accomplished, there is still so much more that one can study, and do.

And so, as we wish a wholehearted “mazal tov” to our graduates, we also wish them a wholehearted “good luck” on their continued journey of growth in all areas, materially, and most importantly, spiritually, from strength to strength, always.

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No one ever feels good after a sin (there's always an "oy!" that follows the "ahh!"), and no one feels bad after doing a Mitzvah (and it always ends with an "ahh!"). Yet, at times, we are overcome by our temptation, and we slip and sin anyway. That’s the human condition.

Rabbi Allouche

A wise father once took his son to dip in a freezing mikvah, a ritual bath of rainwater. (And no, it wasn’t our Scottsdale’s Congregation Beth Tefillah’s Mikvah – ours is a world-class, state-of-the-art, and warm mikvah!)

The son entered the waters with a loud sigh of “Oy! Oy! these waters are freezing!” He quickly immersed in the waters, jumped out, and went straight into a warm towel that his father was holding for him. “Ahh!” the boy exclaimed, “this feels so good!”

His father then responded: “Son, may this be a lesson for the rest of your life. Whenever you do something, and the ‘Oy!’ comes before the ‘Ahh!,’ you can rest assured that what you’ve done was good. But when the ‘Ahh!’ comes before the ‘Oy!,’ when all you sought to accomplish was a self-gratifying ‘Ahh!’, know that you almost always an “oy” will follow.

In this week’s portion, we read about the Sotah, a wife who was suspected of being unfaithful to her husband (Soteh would be the term used for an unfaithful husband.) The Talmud points out that this word can also be pronounced “Shotah,” which means “foolish.” The lesson that the Talmud draws from this dual-meaning is that sin and foolishness are directly connected. In the words of the Talmud, “a person does not sin unless overcome by a spirit of foolishness.” 

Indeed, sinning is foolish. We all know it. No one ever feels good after a sin (there’s always an “oy!” that follows the “ahh!”), and no one feels bad after doing a Mitzvah (and it always ends with an “ahh!”). Yet, at times, we are overcome by our temptation, and we slip and sin anyway. That’s the human condition.

But maybe, just maybe, if we take the aforementioned story of the wise father to heart, we will pause and think more before we indulge ourselves in that tempting “ah”; or before we are about to blurt out that knee-jerk reaction to a friend; or before we say “no, I’m too busy” to the people around us who need our love, our attention, and our help.

And after all said and done, it is these small victories, that can, and will make a difference and change our world.  In the saintly words of the author of the Tanya (Chap. 27), Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813):

“Every time a person subdues his evil inclination, even if only for a short while, the glory of G-d and His holiness is greatly elevated on high, and a sublime holiness is then issued forth upon the person below, to bless and assist this person in all ways.”

"The main problem is that you ask yourself 'how much have I accomplished thus far,' instead of asking yourself, 'how much more can I accomplish.' You see, it's not that 'the sky is not the limit.' Rather, the sky is the launchpad of your lives.

Rabbi Allouche

At the ripe age of 80, Moses went on a hike. 

In this week’s portion, we read how G-d commands Moses to embark on a physically challenging expedition and hike to the peak of Mount Sinai, to receive the Torah on behalf of our nation. 

The physical effort must have been enormous for his elderly body. So why couldn’t our all-powerful G-d descend a few more feet, instead of making one of our history’s foremost leaders climb up?

The answer is compelling. Yes, G-d could have easily come down all the way to the valleys of the Sinai desert to greet Moses and give him the Torah. But that would have defeated the very purpose of the Torah itself. For the Torah was given to us to make us climb, and grow. 

This is why G-d asked Moses to meet Him at the peak of the mountain. This was His Divine way of saying to Moses, and to all of humanity, that, in order to connect to G-d we too must actively ascend toward Him. And so long as we can – and in spite of the fears, the doubts, and the naysayers – we ought to muster the courage to ascend, to break through our psychological and spiritual barriers, to exercise self-control, to change a terrible habit, and to do a Mitzvah.

I recall the day as if it was yesterday. My beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, walked into our classroom at his Makor Chaim High-School in Jerusalem, and, with passion and love, he spoke to us these fiery words, that are left ringing in my ears: 

“The main problem is that you ask yourself ‘how much have I accomplished thus far,’ instead of asking yourself, ‘how much more can I accomplish.’ 

You see, it’s not that ‘the sky is not the limit.’ Rather, the sky is the launchpad of your lives. Doing your best is not good enough. I know this may not sound like a recipe for an easy and comfortable life, but it is my expression of great hope. And it comes from my belief that people do not just have stomachs, but they also have wings with which to fly. 

I would want for my students to take upon themselves what may seem as an undefined resolution, yet it is, nonetheless, very concrete. I would call this resolution: “one step forward.” Wherever you are in your life journeys, please, I ask you, take one step forward.”

Indeed, let us ascend our mountains of life, by taking one step forward each and every day. G-d and His abundant blessings, will then undoubtedly await us, at the summit of our every climb. Amen.