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First and foremost, even before we cast our ballot, we must first adhere to Judaism's fundamental idea that although our world is populated with people of all kinds, we were all created in the image of God. We can certainly disagree, but we must not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas, but we cannot battle people. We can argue about the content of politics, but we cannot argue about the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings.

Rabbi Allouche

Many pundits have claimed that the upcoming 2020 Presidential Elections next Tuesday, are “the most important elections of our lifetime,” and they are, therefore, encouraging everyone to “go out and vote.”  

But how should we vote? No, I don’t mean to ask “whom should we vote for?” (I’ve long been against mixing rabbinics and politics). 

Rather, how — with what mindset — must we vote? How should we approach these polarizing elections? How can we vote for one candidate over another, without filling our hearts with emotions of hatred and anger toward the other side?

Here are five perspectives which will, hopefully, provide some vital tools on how we should truly vote, as we are quickly approaching these 2020 presidential elections: 

1. We Can Battle Ideas; But We Can’t Battle People

It is no secret that these elections have ripped our country apart. Our status as “one nation” under God is menaced by increasing discords, of all sorts. In some cases, these divisions have become so severe, that they have devastated friendships and family relationships.

And so, first and foremost, even before we cast our ballot, we must first adhere to Judaism’s fundamental idea that although our world is populated with people of all kinds, we were all created in the image of God. 

We can certainly disagree, but we must not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas, but we cannot battle people. We can argue about the content of politics, but we cannot argue about the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings.

Shortly after the infamous “Crown-heights riots” of 1990, the then-mayor of New York, David Dinkins, visited the late Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask for a blessing for peace “between the two groups — the Jews and the blacks — in their neighborhood.” 

The Rebbe’s response was stirring: “Not two people and two sides, but one people on one side.” 

Indeed, intrinsically, we are all united by the image of God with which we were all created. We can be externally different, but internally, we are “one people, on one side.” Or, as the great seal of the United States proclaims: “E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.” 

2. Re-Thinking ‘Likes,’ ‘Pokes,’ and Other Knee-Jerk Reactions

We live in an age in which many feel compelled to voice their reaction to every story under the sun, including many political stories and statements.

The reasons for this phenomenon are many. Some feel empowered by having their voices heard. Others think that it is their social duty to respond to every message, to warn their friends of imminent threats to our society.

They may be right. But I beg to disagree. Not every Facebook post is worthy of our likes, pokes, and comments. Not every Tweet is worthy of our re-tweet. And not every text is 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 disagreement, our minds often take the back seat.

Recently, a lady shared with me that she hasn’t spoken to her brothers in over 10 years because of a small fight that deteriorated with ongoing gossip among her family and friends. Unfortunately, as a Rabbi, I’ve encountered these family feuds many a time.

But I asked her, I asked myself, and I ask you: Does every word of gossip one hears, need to be repeated? Does every piece of polarizing news need to be reported? If we know we’re not helping the situation, we’d surely be better off controlling our urges and staying quiet.

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.”

3. Master Thyself First

Many believe that their upcoming vote will help fight all that is bad in our country – from racism to bigotry, from sexism to fanaticism. Additionally, some people are not content with just ‘voting,’ but they also engage themselves in many worthy endeavors that seek to better our world. 

Yet, sadly, in the pursuit to better the world, many fail to better their own selves. In their desire to do good, they forget to be good. Their good work is then tarnished, and sometimes overcome, by their hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

My beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, once 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.”

And so, as we are about to cast a tangible ballot that can better our society, let us first cast an intangible ballot that will aim to better ourselves. Our world will then be so much brighter, within and without. 

4. The “Smaller Stages” Counts More Than The “Bigger Stages”

“If you had to condense the message of Judaism into one word, which would you pick?”

This was the question I once asked my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory. I thought he would say something banal, like “Mitzvahs,” or even, “love.” But his brilliant answer astounded me: “Consistency,” he replied without a hiccup of hesitation.

He was right. After all, history is filled with examples of individuals who made big splashes quickly, and then just as fast, vanished into obscurity. And we wonder: what happened to all that hidden potential? Where did it all go?

Don’t get me wrong: we should certainly seize every opportunity we have to make a difference on the “big stages” of life, in the realm of politics and in other realms too. 

But let us not forget that fundamental and lasting changes occur on the “smaller stages”, with our consistent actions of goodness and kindness. Like the time we dedicate daily to praying to God not only with our mouth but with our heart and mind as well. Or like the two minutes, we spend doing homework with our children. Or like the extra phone call, we make to mend a broken relationship. Or like the assistance we continuously offer to friends and strangers alike. 

Our world can be impacted by elections and political powers. But it will only be changed for the better by the consistency of our good deeds, each and every day. 

5. The General of Generals

In spite of the many uncertainties, one thing remains certain:

God is still in charge. God has, and will forever continue to, manage the affairs of our world. And His sovereignty will never be dependent on a president, or a ruler of any kind.

On September 17, 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the saintly Klauzenberg Rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halbershtam, at the DP Camp set aside for Holocaust survivors in Feldafing, Germany.

General Eisenhower arrived during the morning services, but Rabbi Halbershtam refused to speak with him until he had finished his prayers. When Rabbi Halbershtam was done, he apologized for his delay and explained to the General: “I was praying before the General of generals, the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He. So, the earthly general had to wait.”

And so, at this fateful moment of history, let us also place our trust in the General of generals who, in King Solomon’s words, “controls the hearts of all kings,” and all who hold positions of power, (see Proverbs 21:1). Let us lift our hearts up to the heavens, and plead to Him: 

Oh, God! Guide all of our elected officials so that they may govern with ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to feel, and hands to help.

Grant them wisdom and justice, grace and empathy, so that they may continuously bring honor to Your name, And Your blessing to humankind. 

Fortify and inspire them, and us all, with humility and courage, strength and compassion, sensitivity and vision, wisdom and kindness, so that they may lead us ably and turn crisis into opportunity, bad into good, despair into hope, darkness into light, and help mold us all into your diverse yet united family on earth.

To quote our great teacher Moses, “May it be your will that the glory of your presence dwells in the work of our hands..” Indeed, may it dwell in the work of the hands of our political leaders and advisers, in the work of the hands of our courageous armed forces, and in the work of the hands of all of the citizens of our great state and of our great country. Amen.

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We, too, are faced with "floods" that distract our minds, rock our hearts, and threaten to destroy all that is alive in our personal world. The coronavirus pandemic is just one major example of the many types of floods that can shake our world with instability and doubt. But we, too, ought to respond by constructing spiritual "arks" and "words" to hold and preserve the fractions of our lives that are important and precious to us.

Rabbi Allouche

Talk about pressure!

Noach, the hero in this week’s Torah portion, and his family faced some of our history’s most extreme pressures. He lived in a society in which every one of its members was filled with immoralities. Every single one, without exception. I don’t know if it is humanly possible to remain moral, let alone, sane, in such a world. It would have certainly been much easier for Noach to “go with the flow” and raise children that didn’t have to be different.

Yet, Noach withstands the immense pressures with impressive conviction and he remains loyal to his true, Divine self and calling. But what was his secret?

Noach may have achieved this almost-impossible feat by building an ark – not just a physical one, that would hold and preserve G-d creatures, but also a spiritual one.  

The saintly Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, points out that the Hebrew word for “ark,” teivah, that Noach build, also means a “word.” To protect himself and his family, Noach built a spiritual “ark” of words of holiness and values of goodness and kindness. And when the raging flood erupted, G-d commanded Noach to come into his spiritual ark too, and enter into its haven of sanctity.

We, too, are faced with “floods” that distract our minds, rock our hearts, and threaten to destroy all that is alive in our personal world. The coronavirus pandemic is just one major example of the many types of floods that can shake our world with instability and doubt. But we, too, ought to respond by constructing spiritual “arks” and “words” to hold and preserve the fractions of our lives that are important and precious to us. This ark will then surely serve as a “spiritual vaccine” for covid-19 and all other negative floods.

At times, our efforts seem pointless. Can the small spiritual “arks” that we build really save us from life’s raging waters? Can five minutes of prayer every morning really affect our day? And how about the seven minutes that I dedicate to calling a friend or a stranger who needs help? Or the fifteen minutes that I devote to my child to help him with his homework, or with a dilemma he may be facing? Or the six seconds that I spend to smile, say a good word, and brighten someone’s day?

Yet, this is the beauty, and power, of Noach’s lesson: He too couldn’t save the whole world. He too could not dedicate the totality of his time and the fullness of his heart to embrace and impact all that he wanted. So every day, he dedicated a few hours to constructing an ark to preserve that which he could.

With this big idea in mind, I encourage you to join me in injecting this spiritual vaccine into your lives and building this spiritual ark, by filling our Mitzvah bank in loving memory of Rabbi Steinsaltz that aims to collect 2000 Mitzvahs until his first Yahrzeit. Please email us your Mitzvah here: MitzvahforRavAdin@BethTefillahAZ.org  

It can be anything: from wrapping Tefillin, to affixing Mezuzot on all your doorposts, to going to the Mikvah, to lighting Shabbat candles, to helping the needy, to visiting the sick. Your Mitzvah is sure to create a heavenly ark here on Earth, that will save you from the floods of life, and bring about blessings of healing and goodness.

For at the end of the day, as Noach so shiningly demonstrates, it is those few moments that we dedicate daily and consistently, to building that ark of goodness that will help us preserve our sanity, dignity, and divinity, and create a legacy that makes a difference, and saves the world.


Disclaimer: While this “spiritual vaccine” is, by no means, a medical proposal that aims to heal us physically, I have no doubt that it can heal us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, and, as mentioned, bring a dose of sanity, dignity, and Divinity, into our lives and our world.

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Will we rise from this pandemic, from this global fall, as better, healthier, and stronger people? 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 spring ahead and turn challenge into opportunity?

Rabbi Allouche

It seems like an opening replete with sin.

The snake sins as he seduces the inhabitants of Eden. Adam and Eve defy G-d’s commandment and they too sin as they eat from the forbidden tree. Cain sins as he murders his own brother, Abel. And eventually, the entire human experience on earth fails, as we succumb to our worse inclinations: jealousy, promiscuity, thievery, and more.

But is that a fitting introduction to such a saintly book? Why can’t the pages of G-d’s Torah open up with a smile?

The answer is telling. And it shares an invaluable lesson for life:

By opening His Torah with so many flops, G-d was teaching each of us that failure is an inevitable part of life. In the words of King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:20): “There is no righteous man who never sins.” Yet, the big question of life is not whether we fail or if we sin; the big question is if we can find the courage and strength to rise up after we fall.

Unfortunately, many people find it very hard to rise again, after experiencing falls. Why? Because falls breed despair. Despair then hurts our self-esteem. And a damaged self-esteem, in which a person ceases to believe in himself, brings about more and more falls.

But the founders of humanity acted differently. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, and they immediately began to raise a family. Cain commits one of the worst sins ever. But he then immediately repents, marries, begets a child, and builds a city, naming it after his son, Chanoch. The human experience fails, and a devastating flood emerges. But then, the surviving family of Noach plants a vineyard, and rebuilds the world.

Adam and Eve, Cain, and Noach and his family, did not lock themselves in their bedroom for endless days after experiencing failure. They did not drink themselves to oblivion, nor did they fall into a state of debilitating depression. Instead, they went out and made a difference. They understood that they could never undo their past. In fact, they would actively repent for the rest of their life; but that didn’t stop any of them from doing the right thing. Because they understood, what Winston Churchill proclaimed a few millennia after them, that, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

The lesson for all of us is vital: the reaction to destruction must be construction. The best answer to evil must be goodness. The only response to darkness must be light. And as long as the soul still resides in the body, and as long as the breath of G-d replenishes our lives at every moment, one must make a positive difference in this world in spite of the many falls and challenges, without loss of enthusiasm, and with more light, more love, and more peace.

We also pray with all our might that we will soon find ourselves in a new, post-covid-19 world. 

But will we rise from this pandemic, from this global fall, as better, healthier, and stronger people? 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 spring ahead and turn challenge into opportunity?

May God bless us with the wisdom and courage to learn from Adam and Eve and the many giants of Jewish history, so that we too can rise again after each fall, and continue to grow in all good areas and make a positive change in our part of the world. Amen.

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As we enter the last holy days of this High Holiday season, "Shemini Atzeret" and "Simchat Torah," and as we are about to dance with our Torah and celebrate our relationship with its Giver (at limited in-person Synagogue services or at home with our families), let us set aside any ache we may be carrying, and fly into a transcendent trance of holiness and joy.

Rabbi Allouche

Friday evening, October 4, 1969. At a Simchat Torah celebration in a Brooklyn Synagogue, a young man was dancing with such vigor and passion that it seems as if he had transported himself to a heavenly world, surrounded by angels and their sublime music.  

A 14-year-old boy watching this surreal scene pointed his finger toward this young man, and proclaimed to his father: “This man must be the happiest man on earth.”

With tears in his eyes, the boy’s father shared with his son, that this young father, who seemed to be “the happiest man on earth” had just lost his 37-year old wife to leukemia just a few days ago. He was now left alone to raise his five children, who were with him at this Simchat Torah celebration.
“Then how could he be dancing with such joy?” the young boy asked his father.

“Because today is Simchat Torah, and it is a Mitzvah to dance and to be happy,” his father responded.

After the dancing was over, the widowed father dropped his five children at their grandmother’s home, and he proceeded to join the Lubavitcher Rebbe who was holding a “farbrengen,” a Chassidic gathering, with talks delivered by the Rebbe, and Chassidic melodies sung by the thousands of people who were there.

After one of the Rebbe’s talks, this widowed father erupted in an old, chassidic song. Its Russian words pierced the hearts of all who were there: “Mi vadiom nye patonyem, ee v’agniom nye s’gorim” (We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn.”) 

The Rebbe looked up and stared at this young widowed father, with a sharp and penetrating gaze. The Rebbe then jumped out of his chair and began dancing in his place, flying into a ‘trance’ with intense fervor, and with a blinding glow of holiness. Witnesses who were present recount, that in all of the Rebbe’s Simchat Torah gatherings, they never saw the Rebbe dance with such ecstasy. 

At that moment, all troubles seemed to have vanished. All challenges seemed to have disappeared. And all pain seemed to have melted away. “We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn.”

Fast-forward to 1989. An anonymous donor calls called a large Jewish Children’s Organization in Brooklyn, and he asks to sponsor a program for children on Simchat Torah. 

“If I may ask,” the responder of the call questioned, “what made you call us and offer us this generous gift?”

“It was a young widow who inspired me to do so,” the anonymous donor revealed. 

“When I was just 14 years old, I noticed a man in my Synagogue who was dancing with all his might on Simchat Torah, as if he had no worries at all. But then I learned that this man had just lost his young wife to cancer.  I was so moved by how he was able to put aside all of his pain and dedicate himself to this Mitzvah of being happy on Simchat Torah that I decided, that when I grow up, I will also share with children the happiness of Simchat Torah, as this widowed hero had shared it with me.”  

Friends, as we enter the last holy days of this High Holiday season, and as we are about to dance with our Torah and celebrate our relationship with its Giver (at limited in-person Synagogue services or at home with our families), let us set aside any ache we may be carrying, and fly into a transcendent trance of holiness and joy. 

Let us exclaim that, “we, in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn!” 

Let us overcome sadness with joy, despair with hope, darkness with light, and human pain with Divine gain.

The ripple-effect of our happiness will then, undoubtedly, create wonders in our world, and bring about G-d’s abundant blessings, and His ultimate redemption. May it happen speedily. Amen.  

My thanks to my dear friend, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, and his son, Mendel, for sharing with me this story, which was first published here. Rabbi Simon’s wife, Tzivia, is the daughter of this widowed hero.

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This temporary building comes to remind us that our homes on planet earth are temporary too; that our materialistic achievements are fleeting; that our physical edifices are short-termed. And, at the end of the day, the only true and lasting possessions we can have, are the spiritual ones. Like the tzedakah we give to our community and to the poor. Or like the time we pray to G-d not only with our mouths but with our hearts and mind as well. Or like the two minutes, we spend doing homework with our child. Or like the extra phone call, we make to mend a broken relationship.

Rabbi Allouche

A year ago, upon hearing the news about the novel “coronavirus” that erupted in China, I doubt anyone would have imagined that it would have had such far-reaching effects on our lives. 

Yet, as of today, 7.7 billion people have been disrupted by this pandemic that knows no color, creed, or race. 

The negative effects are evident. Many have lost their jobs. Others, have fallen into the abyss of despair and depression. And some, have suffered the worst of all — the passing of their loved ones. 

Nonetheless, and lest we forget to also count our blessings, we must also acknowledge that this pandemic has also produced many positive results. Families, who were now forced to spend more time with each other, solidified and strengthened their inherent bond, like never before. Relationships were repaired. Acts of kindness, particularly toward so many individuals who were, and are still, quarantining alone, increased multifold. 

But above all, this pandemic has shifted our perspective on life itself. Suddenly, we have come to the realization that our physical senses are unreliable and deceptive. What we thought was certain — the comfort of our homes, the security of our jobs, the health of our physical body — has become so uncertain. What our physical senses thought was true, has been revealed as so untrue. 

Our physical senses may help us perceive aspects of our reality. But, we now understand, that there is so much that exists beyond all that we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. And the only senses that are truly and fully reliable and trustworthy are our spiritual and intangible ones. 

In some magical way, these spiritual senses have now taught us to recognize that even as we found ourselves “alone” at home, God, and the love and affection of our loved ones, are still with us. Even when our jobs are gone, our family remains forever. And even when people die “alone”, their good deeds and many merits are with them, and scores of angels accompany them from this world to the next. 

This is the refreshing message of this festival of Sukkot (which begins this evening), in which we are asked to dwell in a “Sukkah,” a “temporary hut” (according to Jewish law, if it is built entirely as a permanent edifice it is disqualified.)  

The lesson is surpassingly beautiful: this temporary building comes to remind us that our homes on planet earth are temporary too; that our materialistic achievements are fleeting; that our physical edifices are short-termed. And, at the end of the day, the only true and lasting possessions we can have, are the spiritual ones. Like the charity we give to our community and to the poor. Or like the time we pray to G-d not only with our mouths but with our hearts and mind as well. Or like the two minutes, we spend doing homework with our child. Or like the extra phone call, we make to mend a broken relationship. 

In the profound words of my beloved mentor, world scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, of blessed memory: “We only truly own, what we give.”

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I once asked my beloved Rabbi, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, what was his main goal when dealing with people. With his unparalleled wit and wisdom, he replied: "I want people to know that they also have wings to fly, not just feet to walk. I want them to know that even if they travelled to the four corners of the world, they can, and should, still travel to the heavens, and bring a piece of it back to their place on earth."

Rabbi Allouche

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

So, what’s the cure for our gadget-generation that is so obsessed with looking downward? 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 during this high-holiday season, a different, and more spiritual, approach, is proposed. And it is encapsulated in the first words of this week’s portion, Haazinu.

“Listen, O heavens,” Moses exclaims, during his last days on earth, as he faced his nation for one last time. With those few words, Moses was implying that we too ought to look up, from time to time, to the physical heavens above, and to the spiritual heavens — to our very own Divine souls — within, to connect, to grow, to heed its call, to fulfill our G-d given purpose, and to then bring a piece of heaven here on Earth, by doing good, more and more each day.

Indeed, sometimes, the best remedy for spines that are curved downward is to gaze heavenward and reconnect with the One Above and with the unique mission which He infused in each of us. 

When the late Lubavitcher Rebbe was just three-years-old, his mother found him climbing a tree to its highest point. When she asked him what he was doing, he replied that he was playing a game with his friends to see who could climb to the tree’s peak. All the other children had tried to achieve this feat but to no avail., Yet, the three-year-old Rebbe-to-be, had succeeded in just a few minutes.

So she asked him, “How did you manage to climb to the peak of that tree so quickly?”

The young boy responded brilliantly: “When my friends were climbing, they looked down, so they became afraid of falling. But I never looked down. All I did was look up, so I was never afraid!”

Indeed, when we look up, we are never 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 boat, called “life,” 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.”

Similarly, I once asked my beloved Rabbi, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, what was his main goal when dealing with people. With his unparalleled wit and wisdom, he replied: “I want people to know that they also have wings to fly, not just feet to walk. I want them to know that even if they traveled to the four corners of the world, they can, and should, still travel to the heavens, and bring a piece of it back to their place on earth.”

So, have you traveled heavenward yet today? And have you brought a piece of it back on earth, and taken upon yourself yet another Mitzvah? 

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True inspiration is not dependent on outside events, but rather on us, and our deeds. When we do good -- even if we feel unmotivated -- we become inspired. When we come out of our comfort-zones and engage in actions of kindness -- even when we are "not in the mood" - our souls are set ablaze.

Rabbi Allouche

“I feel uninspired.”

Every now and then we experience these words, which fill us with feelings of sadness and despair. We then embark on a journey, searching for meaning and purpose. We google the word “inspiration,” watch endless videos on the meaning of life, visit with Rabbis, life-coaches, and therapist, and sometimes, we even pay hefty sums to attend seminars on wellness and happiness.

Alas, the positive effect of these actions, seldom last, and we quickly sink back to our lowly modus operandi.

The reason for this all-too-common phenomenon is simple:

Inspiration, many think, comes from without. If we listen to our favorite song, hear a good speech, and watch a stimulating movie, we will feel good and get “inspired.”

Yet, Judaism disagrees. True inspiration is not dependent on outside events, but rather on us, and our deeds. When we do good — even if we feel unmotivated — we become inspired. When we come out of our comfort-zones and engage in actions of kindness — even when we are “not in the mood” – our souls are set ablaze.

So, on this Rosh Hashanah, as we will gather together to celebrate, pray, meditate and return to our true, soulful selves, let us focus on our deeds, and add a Mitzvah to our daily lives; from wearing Tefillin to affixing Mezuzahs on our doorposts, from lighting Shabbat candles to eating Kosher; from repairing a relationship to forging a new, and impactful one. 

Just a few hours ago, our community announced the establishment of a new Mitzvah Bank which is seeking to gather 2000 Mitzvahs until our beloved Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz’s first yahrzeit. So, I implore upon you, begin the year with a new Mitzvah, and add it to our bank by emailing it here: MitzvahForRavAdin@BethTefillahAZ.org

Instead of waiting for meaning to come to us, let us live meaningfully, with deeds of goodness. Instead of waiting for inspiration to magically appear, let us live a life that inspires others, by doing good, for goodness sake.

Life is too short to spend it on “waiting to feel inspired.” In the brilliant words of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe: “If we wait until we find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?”

With many blessings for a Shana Tova u’metuka, a good, sweet, healthy, happy year,  with the sweetness of Hashem’s blessings felt in every area.

Shana Tova u’metuka, Shabbat shalom, and many, many blessings,Rabbi Allouche

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May I suggest, that we substitute every emotion of anxiety with an act of goodness. Every physical hug not given, ought to be traded with a mental hug of unconditional love. Every hand not shaken, ought to be replaced with a hand that is extended with kind deeds that lift up souls. In the words of my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz: "A society must ask, seek and demand, that each individual give something of himself…If all of us light the candle of our souls, the world will be filled with light."

Rabbi Allouche

It is no secret. 

The coronavirus pandemic has forced individuals and communities worldwide to rearrange their High Holiday plans and come up with creative ways to make them meaningful, relevant, and engaging.

In our warm and ever-growing Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona, we crafted a meticulous plan that includes inspiration-packed, and limited in-person services for singles and families alike, which will take place indoors and outdoors, at different times. In addition, we have also prepared an immersive “basket of inspiration” for our members, which will include prayer-books, learning materials, fun and educational activities for the whole family, and a variety of gifts. 

But the question still remains: How will we be able to overcome the many constraints of this pandemic and celebrate the holidays joyfully and wholesomely in the confines of our homes and limited in-person services? 

The answer, I believe, is rooted in the following three ideas: 

1. Ask Not ‘What Do I Lack?’; Ask ‘What Do I have?’

“What are you looking forward to this upcoming High Holiday season?” 

I asked my children that question the other day. One child said that she is looking forward to the Rosh Hashanah Seder and dipping the apple in the honey because it will remind her of “how sweet my life is.” Another child said that he is looking forward to “listening to and blowing the shofar.” But it was my 6-year old child, who moved me most: “I’m looking forward to spending more time with Hashem (G-d).”

After hearing their beautiful replies, my turn came. “I’m looking forward to seeing the holidays through your eyes this year.” 

Indeed, we can focus on all that was taken from us during this pandemic. Or, like children, we can opt to concentrate on all of the blessings that we do have. 

We too must believe that within every destruction there is a promise of construction; within every bitter challenge there lies a possibility waiting to be born; within every sight of darkness, there is a vision of light. All that is left for us to do is to open our eyes and focus on the blessings and opportunities within. 

2. Ask Not ‘Where G-d Is’; Ask ‘Where G-d Is Not.’

A few years ago, I had the privilege of accompanying my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz — whose passing a few weeks ago left an immeasurable void in our lives and in the world — to a New Jersey Synagogue, where he was invited to speak. 

In his inimitable style, he concluded his lecture, with the following request: 

“I beg you: Please do not treat G-d as some people treat their old Papa, here, in America. They lock him up in a home, and from time to time, they visit him. G-d, shouldn’t be treated like that. He shouldn’t be locked up in a Synagogue and visited periodically. Rather, take Him home with you. Let Him into your lives. Introduce Him to your family members. Eat with Him. Sleep with Him. Talk to Him. And walk with Him everywhere.”

This year, many of us may not be able to visit our Synagogues. But, as my mentor so poignantly suggested, this year, let us bring G-d, His Torah, and His Mitzvahs, into our homes, where He truly belongs. Let us celebrate our holidays with Him, with personal fervor and passion, and with love and intimacy. And let us allow His holy presence to permeate our every area of life and guide us, today, tomorrow, and forever. 

His abundant blessings will undoubtedly follow. 

3. Ask Not ‘What Will be?’; Ask ‘What Am I Going To Do?’

In a private audience shortly after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asked Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau what the mood was like “in the streets of Israel.”

Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “What will be?”

The Rebbe grabbed Rabbi Lau’s arm and exclaimed, “Jews don’t ask: ‘What will be?’ Jews ask: ‘What are we going to do?”

Indeed, passivity has never been a word in our vocabulary. Instead, we are called to become difference-makers, each in our own way, regardless of the challenges we face.

We live in a broken world. Many face daunting challenges. Others carry deep ache and hurt. Therefore, may I suggest, that we substitute every emotion of anxiety with an act of goodness. Every physical hug not given, ought to be traded with a mental hug of unconditional love. Every hand not shaken, ought to be replaced with a hand that is extended with kind deeds that lift up souls. In the words of my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz: “A society must ask, seek and demand, that each individual give something of himself…If all of us light the candle of our souls, the world will be filled with light.”

So, let us fight apathy with love, passivity with positive action, and become ourselves the answer to the question of “what will be?”

Article

September 11 did not just attack the tallest towers of the outside world, but it also threatened the innermost towers of inner being. Suddenly, life seemed so vulnerable. The achievements and 'towers' of our lives appeared so fragile. The creations and 'buildings' of our years on earth seemed so breakable.

Rabbi Allouche

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

If you’re 22 years old and older, you probably remember exactly where you were on that dreadful day. Whether you were in New York or on the other side of the world, that moment in time stands frozen. But why? Why is this day, and that moment, etched in our memories?

Some may tell you it is because you lived a part of history. Others may say that it is because everyone who wasn’t there, feels as if their life has been saved.

Yet, perhaps, there is another, more profound, reason. September 11 did not just attack the tallest towers of the outside world, but it also threatened the innermost towers of our inner beings. Suddenly, life seemed so vulnerable. The achievements and ‘towers’ of our lives appeared so fragile. The creations and ‘buildings’ of our years on earth seemed so breakable.

Interestingly, on the week of September 11, 2001, we read the Torah portion which speaks of the special mitzvah of “the first fruits” (which we studied just this past Shabbat): If you owned land in Israel, and it was blessed with sweet fruits, you had to place your first-ripened fruits in a basket, and offer them to the priests in the Holy Temple to express your gratitude to G-d. But what did the landowners do with their basket? Did it go to the priest together with the fruit, or did they take it back home with them? It depends, the Talmud reveals. If the baskets were cheap and inexpensive, they were left in the Temple. If they were made of gold and silver, the landowners would keep them. But why? Isn’t a valuable basket a worthy offering too?

The lesson is profound: Baskets may be nice and flashy. But at the end of the day, baskets are only baskets. They come and go. And they certainly cannot substitute the fruit-offering itself.

Same with life. Our physical and conceptual baskets, our cars, our homes, our jobs, our buildings, and towers can be deceptive. They may be made of gold and silver and can give us the sense that we are on top of the world, safe and secure. But we dare not lose sight of the fruits that we ought to plant, of the goodness that we ought to bring, of the sweetness that we ought to spread. For after all said and done, it is that fruit-offering that lives forever. In the words of Winston Churchill, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” And as opposed to the fleeting baskets of life, these fruits of giving, can never be destroyed.

When we ask ourselves, “Where were we on September 11,” we ought to ask: Where were we, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, on September 11? Where were our instincts and feelings on September 11? What did they awaken in us? Did they shake our perspective on the meaning — and vulnerability — of life? And did we change in any way? 

19 years have passed, but the same questions remain: Have we developed? Have we rebuilt our ruins with towers of goodness and kindness? Have we produced real, lasting fruits?

The state of our nation, and our world, may have forever changed on that fateful day. But the direction of that change depends on you and me. Let us make it productive, “fruit-full”, and eternal.

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.