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?

Rabbi Allouche

When history happens, it leaves a trail behind.

Bill Gates, founded Microsoft in a tiny Albuquerque garage, with room for only two people. Bob Dylan’s musical genius began to show promising signs, in his childhood home, at 2425 Seventh Avenue East, Hibbing, Minnesota. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I have a dream” speech, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. And the examples are many.

Yet, the most important event in Jewish history – in which G-d revealed Himself to the Jewish people and gave them the Torah – has no geographical trace! Yes, this Divine revelation occurred on the Sinai mountain, in the Sinai desert, but Moses and his nation did not see it necessary to mark the exact location of this mountain for future generations. And today, no one knows where Mt. Sinai really is.

The reason is telling: Judaism seeks consistency. Big splashes, quick, grandiose achievements and Mt.-Sinai-moments, are easy to produce. But G-d wants us to persevere even when the excitement of new beginnings has evaporated. He wants us to persist and do good, even when we are not “feeling it.” And He wants us to stand for what is right, even when Divine truths are out of fashion.

Humanity is filled with examples of prodigies who made big news quickly, and then just as fast, vanished into obscurity. How often do we hear of music groups that release a Billboard hit and then waste the rest of their careers on drugs and other addictions? How about sport-stars that never meet the standards set for them by expert scouts? And we wonder: Why? What happened to all that hidden potential?

The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai was only the beginning of our long-lasting relationship with G-d. But the location of Mt. Sinai’s remains unknown because what G-d desires most is our commitment to Him and His teachings, today, and tomorrow, even if the thrill of our honeymoon is long gone.

Two years ago, during a visit with my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, 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?”).

And he explained, with his characteristic brilliance: “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?”

The same can be applied to “love” and “marriage.” 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?

This holds true with our “marriage” with G-d. Over 3000 years ago, G-d gave us the Torah. We were all there blissfully, together as one, when we accepted its teachings upon ourselves by proclaiming to G-d: “we will do and we will listen.”

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 our most important day of our lives may just be... today.

Rabbi Allouche

News of Kobe Bryant’s sudden death yesterday has sent a wave of shock to millions of people worldwide.

Sport-stars, politicians, and fans of all backgrounds have also voiced their grief and condolences as they spoke about the tremendous influence that Kobe has had on their lives. But as many continue to mourn the passing of this larger-than-life basketball legend, allow me to suggest three lessons we ought to draw from this tragedy and from Kobe’s life and legacy:   

1. You Only Own What You Give

From the moment Kobe Bryant rose to the center stage of the basketball world, he never ceased to dazzle, and inspire, fans across the globe. 

His unique talents and athletic abilities and his elevated basketball-IQ were extraordinary. But they weren’t the only reason behind the profound admiration of his fans. For more than his marvels on-the-court, it was his marvels off-the-court that captivated our minds and won our hearts. 

Rabbi Reuven and Chani Mintz, the directors of Chabad of Newport Beach, shared with me how Kobe would visit their “Friendship Circle” — an organization dedicated to “providing pure friendship for children with special needs” — to play basketball with these children, to fortify their spirit, to give them hope, and to beg them to “never stop dreaming and believing.” This is one of many examples that demonstrate Kobe’s kindness and sensitivity, far away from the limelight, to countless individuals in need.

I am sure that, as time goes by, Kobe’s unique combination of his basketball-prodigy that inspired a generation along with the myriads of good deeds he did for goodness sake alone, will stand, bright and tall, as his eternal legacy. 

And the lesson to us all is clear: our physical gains are temporary; our materialistic achievements are fleeting; our worldly accomplishments are short-termed. Ultimately, the only true and lasting possessions we possess, are our spiritual ones. Like the charity we give; or like the time we take to heal a broken heart; or like the kindness we demonstrate toward people in need. 

In the profound words of my dear mentor, world scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “We only truly forever own, what we give.”

2. Time for A Change Of Perspective

The thought struck me, once again, as I was reading today the many eulogies and obituaries that have been written thus far on Kobe. 

But I dare ask: what happened to all of the criticism? What about the tumultuous relationship he once had with his teammate, Shaquille O’Neal? And what about his brush with the law in 2003, his mistakes, and his failures? Of this, we don’t hear a word. 

The reason, I believe, is telling: No – Kobe did not suddenly change upon his passing, and, magically, become a saint. Rather, it is we — and our perspective — that changed. 

During a person’s lifetime, we sometimes get lost in the details of life and fail to see the “big picture” in people and in situations. In my Rabbinic capacity, I am, at times, deeply astounded how people severe ties and end friendships because of such banal stupidities.

But when death strikes, a greater, more wholesome picture, emerges. We then begin to see, albeit a little too late, the bright side of the person, and the beautiful life he or she led. Our focus then shifts to the many good deeds the deceased accomplished, with wisdom and grace, generosity and love.

So, here is the question: Do people need to die in order for us to appreciate them? Do we need to lose a loved one before we can truly find him or her? Must “beloved husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister,” become a posthumous annotation, or can we announce it throughout his or her lifetime as well?

Let us not wait for death to direct our attention to the light and goodness in people. And if we may currently find ourselves in a tenuous relationship with relatives or friends, let us make up with them, today, and not with their tombstones, someday in the distant future.

3. What Matters Now Is Now

Kobe Bryant died at the young age of 41 years old. Yet we are in awe at how much he managed to accomplish in such a short period of time. One wonders how much more he could have achieved in life. But his years went by too fast. 

But this sentiment is true, not only as we look back at the life of Kobe. 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. And then, life too also ends way too fast. 

In the words of my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “We devote so much time to the “before” and “after” 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 tomorrow, but rather life for the sake of today. What matters now is what is now.”

The lesson is clear: if we wish to live life fully, we too must learn to cherish each and every moment of life, fully and unreservedly. This does not mean that preparing for the phases of life is unnecessary or unimportant. But we ought to treat every day as if it were the most important, and perhaps, the last day of our lives. 

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 our most important day of our lives may just be… today.

For, as the late Lubavitcher Rebbe once asked, “if we wait until we find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?”

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The answer is as poignant as it is surpassingly beautiful: When righteous people leave this world, they don't die and disappear into the ground, and on obituary pages. Instead, they are "gathered unto their people." They are then engraved into the hearts of the people they touched and into the souls of the people they inspired. Their good deeds are then gathered unto their people, and there, they remain forever alive.

Rabbi Allouche

It is an astonishing description; one that sends shivers down our spine.

After a life filled with trials and tribulations, Jacob prepares for his death meticulously. First, he blesses his grandchildren. Then, he calls each of his children and blesses them too with words that will shape their destiny.

And then, in the words of our Torah, Jacob ” drew his feet up into the bed, expired, and was gathered unto his people.” But what does it mean that he was “gathered unto his people”? Why can’t the verse simply state the obvious that Jacob “died,” or at least, “passed away”?  


The answer is as poignant as it is surpassingly beautiful: When righteous people leave this world, they don’t die and disappear into the ground, and on obituary pages.  Instead, they are “gathered unto their people.” They are then engraved into the hearts of the people they touched and into the souls of the people they inspired. Their good deeds are then gathered unto their people, and there, they remain forever alive. 

The famed British Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore was once asked by a simpleton “how much he was worth.” 

“I am worth forty thousand pounds,” Montefiore replied.

The simpleton was amazed, and he exclaimed: “I thought you were worth so much more!”

Montefiore smiled and responded: “I do possess millions. But you asked me how much I am worth. And since forty thousand pounds represents the sum I distributed during the last year to various charities, I regard this sum as the barometer of my true worth. For it is not how much a person possesses, but how much he is willing to give and to share that determines his real worth.”

Montefiore’s words are resoundingly true. Indeed, our true worth lies in our actions of kindness; not in our bank accounts. It is the goodness that we do, the help that we offer, the charity that we give, and the joy that we infuse in people, that will determine our true worth, not just in the present tense, but for eternity. For after our death, we are “gathered into our people.” And then, our only personal worth that remains is the positive influence and impact we made on others and on the world around us.

Jacob’s worth is immense and eternal. But today, and every day, we must also ask ourselves: what will be our real worth? After 120 years, will we too be “gathered unto the people”?  

Earlier this week, I caught myself asking my child, who had just received a gift from a friend: “That was so nice of him. Did you say ‘thank you’?”

It then dawned on me how we teach our children to say thank you for the love and kindness that others give them. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Being polite and grateful, are some of the key ingredients to raising a generation of “mensches”. But how often do we, and our children, offer ‘thank you’ for all of the gifts — physical and emotional, material and spiritual — which we already possess?

Alas, in our age of distractions, we are at times so preoccupied with the outside world and all the benefits that we desire to withdraw from it, that we forget to peer inside ourselves to discover and say “thank-you” for all of the blessings that already exist within.

An old tale tells the story of two young fish who were once swimming along in an ocean. One morning, they happened to meet an older fish swimming the other way. 

The older fish looks at them and says, “Hello, young fish, how’s the water today?” 

The two young fish nod back, continue on swimming for a bit, and after they passed the older fish, one says to the other, “what is water?”

Most of us too ‘swim’ in life’s many blessings – from the good health that we have, to the loving families that surround us, to the innate talents and skills that our Creator has instilled in each of us. Yet, how often do we pause to “smell the roses,” recognize, and appreciate the many water-like blessings which are constantly enveloping us?

Perhaps, this is why Jewish law teaches that we ought to begin our every day, as soon as we awake and open our eyes in the morning, with the blessing of Modeh Ani: “I give thanks before you, King living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is Your faithfulness.” 

Indeed, as we face a new day, and just before we race to work and draw the many blessings that may be awaiting us in the outside world, we dare not forget to open our eyes and first thank God for all of His blessings that can be found here and now, not just there and later. For, His shining light also exist from within the walls of our life’s tunnels too – not just at their end. And His great treasures also blossom forth from the very soil we are treading – not just on the soils we wish to explore.

This message was also poignantly conveyed by the legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, when he once saw his student 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!”

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

And so, on this Thanksgiving, let us stop this race, and all of life’s races, for just a few brief moments, and offer our gratitude for all of the blessings that we are so lucky to have, around us and inside of us, right now, at this time, at this moment, at this place. Like the innocent smile of our children. Or like the love of our family and friends. Or like the fresh air and splendid nature that surrounds us. Or like the blessing of just being able to say “thank-you” on this wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

And let us emit these “modeh ani” prayers and implement these moments of reflection and gratitude, more and more, each and every day, as we open our eyes in the morning, and as we continue on to swim in the many blessed waters of our lives. 


An overlooked ‘detail’ about Abraham’s life has always fascinated me. And it can teach each of us volumes about life and living. 

By the time Abraham was 75 years old, he could have retired with much satisfaction. His resume, by then, was quite impressive. He was a monotheist who stood up for his beliefs. He had transformed countless lives and had accumulated a massive following of fans and students everywhere.

But then G-d appears to him and asks him to leave everything behind, and “go to a place that I will show you.” No, not to Hawaii, or to his dream retirement home. But to a mysterious place, where he will have to continue to work tirelessly. What would you have done?

Many of us would have replied with a resounding “no.” But Abraham was a great man, and he knew that as long as he was alive, he had to fulfill his purpose, and make a positive difference in our broken world. 

So at the ripe age of 75, he jumped on his next task ahead. He took his revolution to a whole new level. He became the “father of many nations,” and he transformed the landscape of history. 

Many of history’s giants have followed Abraham’s model too. Some examples include Moses who was 80 years old when he became our nation’s leader. Rabbi Akiva was 64 when he was finally recognized as the most eminent scholar and leader of his time. And the Lubavitcher Rebbe was 49 years old when he assumed the mantle of leadership of the Chabad movement and of the Jewish people in 1951. 

In the business world, one may find such models too. For example, Winston Churchill was considered a “political failure” for most of his adult life, until he finally became England’s prime minister in 1940 at the ripe old age of 62.  And Harland Sanders was also 62, when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952. Today, it stands as the world’s second-largest restaurant chain after McDonald’s.

Indeed, the Abrahams of history have forever shared one common denominator: they never stopped growing. No matter the challenge. No matter the circumstance. No matter the age. And this is what made them robustly alive, and truly great.

My dear mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, may G-d send him a full and speedy recovery, also has a list of many dreams that he wishes to accomplish in spite of his age of 81. A few years ago, during a visit in his Jerusalem office, and after he had just completed his life-work of translating and adding his own commentary to the entire Talmud (the first to do so, ever since Rashi, the 11th Century Jewish Sage), he revealed to me: “”I am preparing for the next 170 years because I have a lot of work to do. Now if the Boss decides that he wants me elsewhere so I will have to move, but as long as I am here I have lots of things to do.”

The lesson is clear: to live is to grow. And to grow is to live. And so long as we can, we ought to continue to heed to G-d’s calling to each of us, at every moment of life: “Go!”

Regardless of our age, we too ought to prepare “for the next 170 years.” Let us set goals, especially in our spiritual journeys, for the next year. Which books will we study? Which mitzvahs will we achieve? Which Jewish values will we introduce to our families? Which act of goodness and kindness will we perform today, and tomorrow?

A Reflection In Honor of Tu B’av

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.

This is the reason why the notion of love in the Torah is always connected to deed. As an example, take the commandment in the famous portion of the Shema (in this week’s portion), where 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.”)

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 our community’s incessant plea to take upon yourself just one Mitzvah. Any Mitzvah. From wearing Tefilin to affixing Mezuzahs, from Shabbat candle-lighting to joining our daily minyan, from repairing a relationship to forging a new, and impactful one.

Your Mitzvah will, without a doubt, bring true love, light, and healing to your life and our world.

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Every day ought to be treated as the most important day of the year. For 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.

Rabbi Allouche

In the 16th century, an innocent Jew was sentenced to life in prison by an anti-Semitic baron. One day, this cruel baron decided to show him a bit of mercy, and he said to him: “Look Jew, I am willing to grant you one day of freedom each year. I don’t care which day you choose. But remember, you only have one day a year.”

The Jew was torn. Which day should he choose? Should he choose Yom Kippur? Should he choose his birthday, or perhaps, his wedding anniversary?

He decided to pen a letter to one of the foremost rabbinic leaders of his generation, Rabbi David ibn Zimra, to share with him his great dilemma. The Rabbi’s advice did not tarry: “Don’t wait,” he replied to him. “Choose the first available day he gives you. Grab it immediately. Be it a holiday or a regular Tuesday.”

Rabbi David ibn Zimra words share a powerful truth. Every day ought to be treated as the most important day of the year. For 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 our most important day of the year may just be… today.

In this week’s portion, we read about the forty-two journeys of the Jewish people through the desert. The founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, compares these journeys to the various stages of life. Over a lifetime of experience, we each undertake “forty-two journeys,” forty-two self-transformations, before we reach “the holy land.”

His underlying message is poignant: Life in an upward journey, in which we must constantly strive to make very day better than yesterday. That is not to say that life doesn’t have any setbacks and regressions. Even in the desert there were stops. But these stops were themselves a part of the journey. Indeed, every setback and interruption, are parts of our learning and growth, as they too can spring us further and deeper, than ever before.

During a trip to Israel a few years ago, I paid visit to my old high-school Yeshiva, the prestigious Mekor Chaim High-School, founded by my mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. As I entered the walls of the Yeshiva, I became the humble witness of an extraordinary sight: the 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 with the fire of G-d.

But it was the words of their song that moved me most:
“Ma shehaya, haya, ha’ikar lehatchil mehatchala…
Whatever was – was, the important thing is to start anew.
Father in Heaven, renew me completely, ignite my soul.”

I can still hear them sing those poignant words: “whatever was- was, the most important thing is to start anew. Today.”

So, have you turned today into your life’s most important day yet to date?

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But, deep inside, there exists another face. It stems from our very depth and it exposes our deepest vulnerabilities and strengths. This is the face of our inner self, and it cannot be fooled. If you would give yourself the chance to glance at this face, what would you find? Shame? Pain? Fear? Insecurity? A yearning for love? A quest for meaning?

Rabbi Allouche

It seems like FaceApp – the new app that can make your face look younger or older – has taken over our phones, and our lives.

To date, more than 150 million people have downloaded this app. Many of them, including numerous celebrities, have also posted their FaceApp images of how they may look like in a few decades.

But aside from the security concerns that have arisen concerning the origins of this app, I dare ask: Why have we become so obsessed with this app? Why this new craze?

Some psychologists have suggested that we love looking at FaceApp’s version of our old self because FaceApp only changes our faces. Our bodies and our posture remain young and strong. And so, when we look at the version of our old selves we are overcome with a soothing feeling and we say to ourselves: “Oh, getting old is not as bad as we thought… After all, we will still look pretty good in twenty years from now!”

Others think that our FaceApp obsession is reflective of our society’s ongoing pre-occupation with the selfish self. “This is just another way of taking a selfie,” a social critic wrote earlier this week. “But so long as we are so self-preoccupied, we will never be able to appreciate the blessing of selflessness and unity – a virtue that is, sadly, so lacking in our day and age.”

While many of these experts may have a point, I believe the reason is deeper.

FaceApp hit a sensitive chord because it relates — at least, partially — to an unavoidable truth: We each have many faces. We have a “young” face, an “old” face, a “happy” face, a “sad” face, and so on. But FaceApp does not reveal the entire truth. For these are all faces of our external self. They can, therefore, easily be tricked. Some band-aids, a little make-up, a FaceApp makeover, and abracadabra, all looks perfect and shining. Most of us wish these external faces were the only ones.

But, deep inside, there exists another face. It stems from our very depth and it exposes our deepest vulnerabilities and strengths. This is the face of our inner self, and it cannot be fooled. If you would give yourself the chance to glance at this face, what would you find? Shame? Pain? Fear? Insecurity? A yearning for love? A quest for meaning?

Of course, it is much more pleasant and comfortable to look at, and define ourselves by, our external face only. Thus, the obsession with FaceApp, selfies, and all sorts of other external-face exposures.

Alas, our inner face, which Kabbalists call “the Divine Soul” — is restless and it begs to be recognized, and, nurtured, too. And it yearns to serve its Creator, by doing good and actualizing its unique Divine purpose in our world.

In this week’s portion, we read that, “He (G-d) 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.”

This does not mean that Jacob and Israel do not have iniquities. But G-d does not “observe” them. And He certainly does not define His people by them, by their FaceApp appearances, and by any external face we may wear – young or old, mischievous or righteous. Instead, He prefers to focus on our inner face, on the “king” within us, and on 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?

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Indeed, sometimes, the cure for the many 'snakebites' of life, is to look upward. Sometimes, the best remedy for the plagues and challenges of life that are filled with menacing venoms, is to focus heavenward. And if we are then able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, our 'Father in heaven,' He too will be able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, and bring us His many blessings of healing and strength.

Rabbi Allouche

Have you taken on “the bottle-cap challenge” yet?

This new challenge, that has taken the world by storm, has participants attempting to unscrew a bottle cap without the use of hands, (and preferably with an acrobatic kick).

Many “celebrities” have attempted this challenge as well. Mariah Carey, the famed singer, successfully removed a bottle cap just with the help of her high-pitched voice. Shaquille O’Neal, the ex-NBA superstar, in his unique style, turned the challenge into an act. Instead of kicking the bottle-cap off the bottle, he kicked the person holding the bottle for him.

While this challenge is not of high interest to me, I still wonder: Why has this challenge, as opposed to many others, spread across the world so quickly? Is it because this challenge involves a particularly difficult task? Is it because we have developed a newfound love for bottles and bottle-caps? Interestingly, the answer may be found in this week’s portion.

There, we read about the many venomous snakes that bit the people of Israel in the desert. After Moses prayed their behalf, G-d offered him a solution (Numbers 21): “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten may look at it and live. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake on the pole, lived.” (Perhaps, this is also the origin of the symbol of medicine with the two snakes called “Caduceus.”)

Pondering 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.”

Indeed, sometimes, the cure for the many ‘snakebites’ of life, is to look upward. Sometimes, the best remedy for the plagues and challenges of life that are filled with menacing venoms, is to focus heavenward. And if we are then able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, our ‘Father in heaven,’ He too will be able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, and bring us His many blessings of healing and strength.

When the late Lubavitcher Rebbe (whose 25th yahrzeit fell this past Shabbat) was just three years old, his mother found him playing a game with his friends. They were each trying to climb to a tree to its highest peak.

All the other children tried to climb the tree to no avail, but he her son had succeeded in just a few minutes. So she asked him, “How did you manage to climb that tree so quickly?” The young boy — who was later to become the beloved Lubavitcher Rebbe — responded wisely: “My friends looked down, so they became afraid of falling, but I looked 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.”

Perhaps, this is why our generation has become so obsessed with the bottle-cap challenge. For, like the fly, we too desire to come out of our life-bottles that are often filled with emotional, psychological and spiritual limitations. Our Divine souls yearn to cleave to the One Above, without any obstruction, and without any caps separating us from G-d.

But unlike the fly, we also know, consciously or subconsciously, that the only way to come out of these limitations is by aiming upward. And so, we attempt to kick the bottle-cap off our bottles, so that we can come out of our bottles, creating a perfect and seamless unity between Heaven and Earth.

This is the type of bottle-cap challenge we should all attempt. I thus nominate you and all human beings with this #BottleCapChallenge.

May G-d bless us all with immense success. Amen.

This piece was initially published online in the Times of Israel, HuffPost, and other publications.

This Shabbat, Jews worldwide will be marking the twenty-fifth 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.

Much ink has been spilled on the Rebbe, and on his unparalleled influence. While most leaders only focus on their own constituents and following, the Rebbe was a leader of the world and all of humanity. And with his transcendent persona, the Rebbe successfully resuscitated a post-holocaust generation, by breathing into it new hope for a better future, and by arming it with a relentless mission to heal and rebuild our world with unconditional love.

But above all, the Rebbe changed the way we think, and thereby, act. Excuses that sought to stifle our growth, were disproved. Social norms that aimed to turn us into creatures of habits, were overturned. Preconceived notions that shackled our potential, were removed. And myths that were thought of as truths, were debunked.

Here is a sample of revolutionary lessons and ideas that the Rebbe gave our world:

1. No Such Thing As “Follower”:

In 1964, Israeli thinker, activist, and former Knesset member, Geulah Cohen, had a private audience with the Rebbe that lasted over two hours. A few days later, she described this meeting as life-changing.

In her words, “I have been in the company of wise of great learning and intelligence… But sitting opposite a true believer is quite a different matter. After having met a wise man, you remain the same as before — you have become neither less of a fool nor more of a sage. Not so with a believer. After having met him you are no longer the same… For the true believer believes in you as well.”

Similarly, Rabbi Sacks recently spoke about his life-altering meeting with the Rebbe, during his years as a student at Cambridge. “Here I was, a nobody from nowhere, and here was one of the greatest leaders in the Jewish world challenging me not to accept the situation [at Cambridge], but to change it,” Lord Sacks revealed. And he concluded, “That was when I realized what I have said many times since: That the world was wrong. When they thought that the most important fact about the Rebbe was that here was a man with thousands of followers, they missed the most important fact: That a good leader creates followers, but a great leader creates leaders.”

2. No Such Thing As “Overworked”:

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.”

This was the Rebbe’s approach with every person he encountered. He was never satisfied with past deeds, as glorious as they may have been. Rather, he always challenged us to do more, to be more, each and every day. The Rebbe once quipped: “every living thing must grow!”

Why? Because he believed in us, and in our infinite potential. And he knew that as much as we have achieved yesterday, there is still so much more we can achieve today, and even more so, tomorrow.

As Rabbi Steinsaltz observed: the Rebbe wanted to change our very nature, from living as ordinary people with ordinary dealings, to becoming extraordinary people, with extraordinary achievement.”

3. No Such Thing As “Stuck”:

In the winter of 1967, a group of young ladies called the Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask him for a blessing. They were “stuck” at the Detroit Airport, on a Friday afternoon, and their flight home to New York had been canceled.

They spoke briefly with the Rebbe’s secretary, and after putting them on hold for a short while, he returned with a reply from the Rebbe: “The Rebbe doesn’t understand the word ‘stuck.’”

They tried to explain to him what the term “stuck” means, but the secretary interrupted them, saying: “The Rebbe knows what ‘stuck’ means. But the Rebbe says that a person is never stuck.”
They understood the Rebbe’s wise advice, and they rose to the occasion. Shortly thereafter, they ran around the airport, smiling at strangers, lending their support, and igniting souls with the light of Judaism.

The Rebbe’s words taught this group, and us all, that there is no such thing as ‘stuck.’ Indeed, every moment has a Divine call. Every place has a holy purpose. Every person has a vital role to play on the many stages of God’s world.

4. No Such Thing As “Disabled”:

Shortly after the Yom Kippur war of 1973, a group of “Disabled Veterans,” of the IDF, visited the Rebbe. Joseph Cabiliv — a veteran whose legs were amputated after his jeep hit a Syrian mine in the Golan Heights – was privy to this special meeting with the Rebbe, in which the Rebbe challenged them to see themselves not as “disabled,” but as “exceptional.”

Here is how Joseph chronicled this exceptional encounter with the Rebbe:

“The Rebbe passed between us, resting his glance on each one of us. From that terrible day on which I had woken without my legs in the Rambam Hospital, I have seen all sorts of things in the eyes of those who looked at me: pain, pity, revulsion, anger. But this was the first time in all those years that I encountered true empathy. With that glance that scarcely lasted a second and the faint smile on his lips, the Rebbe conveyed to me that he is with me-utterly and exclusively with me.

“The Rebbe then began to speak, after apologizing for his Ashkenazic-accented Hebrew. He spoke about our ‘disability,’ saying that he objected to the use of the term. ‘If a person has been deprived of a limb or a faculty,’ he told, ‘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.

“‘I therefore suggest,’ he continued, adding with a smile ‘-of course it is none of my business, but Jews are famous for voicing opinions on matters that do not concern them-that you should no longer be called nechei Yisrael (“the disabled of Israel,” our designation in the Zahal bureaucracy) but metzuyanei Yisrael (“the exceptional of Israel”).’

Indeed, the Rebbe did not see “disabilities” in people. Rather, he chose to focus on their abilities. He never saw what we lacked physically. Instead, he saw what we possessed spiritually.

Imagine if we saw “disabled” people of all kinds, as the Rebbe saw them. Imagine if we saw our friends and neighbors, even the most “disabled” ones, as champions of the world. Imagine if we saw our fellow beings, even at their lowest state, and during their lowest hours, as beacons of mankind. Would our world then not become a better and happier place?

5. No Such Thing As “Retirement”:

Mrs. Chana Sharfstein, a noted author and educator, once visited the Rebbe, in honor of her son’s thirteenth Bar Mitzvah birthday.

“We had discussed everything we planned to, when the Rebbe surprised me by asking about my uncle, Rabbi Note Zuber of Roselle, New Jersey,” Mrs. Sharfstein recounted. She responded that “he was doing well, thank G d, and he had just retired.” Upon hearing these words, the Rebbe shook his head and said, “Retired, what does that mean?”

The Rebbe rejected the notion that people ought to “retire” and stop working. We may explore other vocations and channel our talents and experience into different avenues. But we cannot retire from life and from our Divine purpose to continue to make a difference in our world, each in our own way.

This gem of wisdom, perhaps also reveals the hidden ingredient behind the greatness of every giant of history: they never stopped growing. No matter the challenge. No matter the circumstance. No matter the age (- the Rebbe once quipped: “I am not as old as I am on my passport!”) And this is what made them robustly alive, and truly great.

6. No Such Thing As “Passivity”:

In 1974, the then Chief Rabbi of North Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, journeyed to New York to visit the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and seek his advice and blessing.

During the course of their conversation, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lau what was the mood “in the streets of Israel,” as people were just beginning to recover from the devastating 1973 Yom Kippur war in which close to 3,000 Israelis were killed, and over 9,000 were wounded.
Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “What will be?”

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

This was the Rebbe’s approach to all of life’s tribulations. Passivity was not in his vocabulary. Inaction was never a legitimate response. The question of “what will be,” may belong to the passive and visionless being, roaming through life without a direction of purpose and meaning.

But the Rebbe believed in a different route. He asked not “what will be,” but “what are we going to do?” And with this question, he challenged Rabbi Lau, and us all, to become true leaders and difference-makers, who rise from the challenges of the past and the present, to march forward and upward into the opportunities of the future, with unending deeds of goodness and kindness.

Today, twenty-five years after the Rebbe’s passing, we are left with the Rebbe’s question of “what are we going to do,” ringing in our ears. For we each face challenges and moments of despair. But the Rebbe believed that actions are more powerful that sighs; that the acts of hope are mightier that feelings of despair; and that achievements that generate light are so much stronger than any type of darkness we may face.

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 and sublime holiness. Sometimes I wonder how different our world would be today if the Rebbe was still physically with us.

But we must make up for his physical absence, with his spiritual presence in our own lives. And we ought to continue to learn from the Rebbe, his weltanschauung, and his ever-shining model, by becoming agents of goodness and ambassadors of healing in our broken world.

The Rebbe, as a leader par excellence, believed in each of us. It is now time we also believe in our deepest selves, and in our unique ability to change the world, and usher in a new era of lasting peace.