Article

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

Rabbi Allouche

Judaism loves questions.

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

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

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

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

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

“You see, it’s easy to fly into a passion. But what happens after the passion is gone? And then what? Our children become Bat and Bar Mitzvah with great excitement. But can they remain committed to Judaism, when no one is celebrating them anymore? Many weddings resemble extravaganza shows. But can our marriage continue to grow even when the sound of “here comes the bride” has been replaced with the sound of a baby crying? We graduate from school and celebrate our achievements with great pride? But can we continue to study with devotion, to live with passion, and to do good with conviction?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

Sometimes, the only way to achieve greatness is to quarantine, enter into 'caves', distant ourselves from the chaos of society, and immerse ourselves unreservedly in all that which is truly important: our souls, our loved ones, and our life-purpose. There, in these cave-like moments, we can maximize our time and our potential and achieve all that God expects of us. There, we can love without reservation; we can study without interruption; we can pray without distraction; we can care for without inhibition.

Rabbi Allouche

“This pandemic has forced us to make so many changes to our daily lives. But when it’ll be over, which changes would you keep going forward?” 

This question was posed during our riveting Q & A zoom session last night, which we hold each and every Thursday evening (at 7:30pm, here: https://zoom.us/j/182171484, and all are welcome!).

While I am sure we will all do our best to retain the many blessings that we have come to embrace during this historic era, I pray and hope that we will have the courage and wisdom to retain what, perhaps, stands as the most important blessing of all. 

Interestingly, this blessing is also drawn from the special holiday of LagBaomer coming up this Monday evening and Tuesday. This day marks the passing-anniversary, of one of our nation’s most imminent sages, and the author of the foremost book of Kaballah, the “Zohar,” Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who lived shortly after the destruction of the second Temple in the year 70 CE.

Due to Roman persecution, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son were forced to quarantine (sounds familiar?) in a cave for 13 years. Upon their return to civilization, Rabbi Shimon and his son were greeted by Rabbi Shimon’s father-in-law, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair. Seeing the devastating effects of the long cave-life on the health of his son-in-law, Rabbi Pinchas proclaimed, “alas that I see you so!”

But Rabbi Shimon was unfazed. And he replied: “Blessed are you that you see me so. For if you did not see me so, you would not find me so learned.” Rabbi Shimon was revealing that he could have never attained such a high level of wisdom and holiness, had he not spent so many years in the cave.

Rabbi Shimon’s words share a powerful, and eternal, truth:

Sometimes, the only way to achieve greatness is to quarantine, enter into ‘caves’, distant ourselves from the chaos of society, and immerse ourselves unreservedly in all that which is truly important: our souls, our loved ones, and our life-purpose.

There, in these cave-like moments, we can maximize our time and our potential and achieve all that God expects of us.

There, we can love without reservation; we can study without interruption; we can pray without distraction; we can care for without inhibition.
There, we can become “Rabbi Shimon’s” and leaders in our own right, and serve the world, with conviction and determination.

My only hope is that we will be able to re-create these cave-like moments and retain all of the blessings that they offer, even after God will finally heed our prayers and eradicate this pandemic from our world. 

Article

All in all, there are two ways to live life. One way is the way of resignation. The other is a way of determination. The way of resignation is nothing short of a tragedy. In the holy words, of the great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, "the greatest tragedy of life, is when a prince begins to believe that he is but a peasant, and he settles for less because he thinks he is less."  On the other hand, the way of determination empowers the person with a resilient drive that never tires until one's greatness is actualized.

Rabbi Allouche

“I can’t take this new normal anymore,” a person wrote to me, privately, during one of our popular weekly zoom and Facebook-live sessions this week. “It’s been one of the worse times of my life.” 

After the class, we spoke longly. I admitted to her that I too have such moments of despair, especially during these historic times, as I am sure many others do. But thankfully, Judaism provides us with a GPS on how to best navigate these turbulences: 

All in all, there are two ways to live life. One way is the way of resignation. The other is a way of determination.

The way of resignation is nothing short of a tragedy. In the holy words, of the great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, “the greatest tragedy of life, is when a prince begins to believe that he is but a peasant, and he settles for less because he thinks he is less.” 

On the other hand, the way of determination empowers the person with a resilient drive that never tires until one’s greatness is actualized.

“Be holy, for I am holy,” G-d commands us in this week’s portion. With these brief words, G-d reminds us that since we have a fragment of the Divine in us. And it is our duty, to reveal our core holiness and “be holy,” at every moment, with every person, and in every place, regardless of the circumstances.

Perhaps, this stands as the single most important difference between quality shared by all great men and women of history. They never despaired. No dream was unreachable, no challenge was too big, no obstacle was too tall. The indeed epitomized the words of Winston Churchill who defined success as “going from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.” 

Some modern-day examples include J. K. Rowling — whose Harry Potter series as sold over 500 million copies worldwide — was initially rejected by twelve publishers. The late Steve Jobs — the founder of Apple and one of the pioneers of the Information Age — was initially fired from Apple, the company he co-founded, and suffered for many months from pancreatic cancer. Oprah Winfrey — one of the most successful TV personalities — was fired by her first Television Show because she “wasn’t fit to be on screen.” And the Beatles — who need no accolades — were told, by reputable music-mavens, that “they have no future in show business.

In our own Jewish history, Abraham, our forefather, was called to leave the comfort of his birthplace and undergo ten trials, yet he revolutionized the world with the belief in one G-d.

Rabbi Akiva was deemed ignorant and illiterate and he was disowned by his father-in-law, yet he dedicated himself to Torah study, and he became one of Judaism’s most illuminating teachers.

And the Lubavitcher Rebbe faced immense opposition, particularly as he launched his army of emissaries across the globe, in the early 1950s. To date, all recognize that these very emissaries have rescued Judaism from the pitfall of the post-holocaust era, as have brought the light and joy of Judaism to the four corners of the world. 

The determination of these models affirmed their loyalty to their inner calling and turned them into beacons of light to their surroundings.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, one of the leading rabbis of the 19th century, once addressed his disciples with a surprising yet important request:

“Write two truths on two separate notes,” he told them. “On one note, write down the verse uttered by our forefather Abraham: ‘I am dust and ashes.’ On the other note, write down the teaching of our Sages: ‘For my sake, the world was created.'”

And he continued: “Now place these two notes in your pockets. If your achievements engender arrogance, take out the first note and remember that you are but ‘dust and ashes.’ But if you are feeling despondent and dejected, take out the note that states that ‘the world was created for you.'”

Indeed, at times like these, when many are overcome with feelings of despondency and resignation, we ought to remember that the world was created for us, and for our holiness.

And it is awaiting us, now and at every instant, to be and act holy, each in our own way, each with our own vocation.

Article

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. Every one of us has family members and loved ones that deserve our unreserved love. So, let us throw away our fears, count and value our every day, and infuse our every moment, every encounter, and every opportunity, with undivided attention, purpose, and joy.

Rabbi Allouche

Growing up in France (until the age of 8), where antisemitism sometimes rears its ugly head, I remember being told that “Jews love counting money.”

I have yet to find a source for that (and for the vast majority of the many antisemitic slurs), but there is one thing Jews love to count indeed: time. Every week, we count the times when Shabbat enters, and when it ends. Every day, we also count the hours, minutes, and seconds of the day, to calculate when we should pray the three daily prayers.

And during this period of time, from the second day of Passover until Shavuot, Jewish people count the 7 weeks and 49 days until the Shavuot holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, 3332 years ago.

But if the goal is to count the days leading to Shavuot, why didn’t our Sages institute a proper “countdown” (as my children are currently doing, to count the days until their summer vacation, or as politicians are doing to count the days to the November elections…)? Why don’t we designate Shavuot as the “Big Day,” and start counting 50, then 49, then 48, etc. until we arrive at the final and exciting Shavuot destination?

The reason is simple yet profound: Judaism does not believe in “countdowns.” In fact, the word “countdown” doesn’t even exist in Hebrew, G-d’s Divine language. For, in Judaism, every day counts. Every minute is valued. Every moment is treasured. The journey itself, is also a destination. And the days that lead us to the “Big Day” are themselves “Big Days.” 

Our Sages further teach that each of these 49 days must be used for self-refinement, introspection, and action so that by the time we reach the fiftieth day, we shall have amassed forty-nine segments of time and countless purposeful actions that have brightened and elevated our world.

This lesson holds particularly true during this coronavirus era. As we together face the many unknowns of our future, we too ought to remember that “what matters most,” as my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, says, is “what is now.”  

Will the day after look any different? Will the stock market continue to fluctuate so frantically? Will our society have become better and stronger? No one really knows. Yet, there is one truth that remains forever certain:

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. Every one of us has family members and loved ones that deserve our unreserved love.  So, let us throw away our fears, count and value our every day, and infuse our every moment, every encounter, and every opportunity, with undivided attention, purpose, and joy.

To paraphrase Yoni Netanyahu, who sacrificed his life to save his fellow Jews – who were held hostage by terrorists – during the IDF raid on the Entebbe airport in 1976:

Man does not live forever. He should put the days of his life to the best possible use. He should try to live life to its fullest. How to do this I can’t tell you. I only know that I don’t want to reach a certain age, look around me, and suddenly discover that I’ve created nothing. I must feel certain that, not only at the moment of my death shall I be able to account for the time I have lived, I ought to be ready at every moment of my life to confront myself and say — this is what I’ve done.” (July 8, 1964 – from “The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu.”)

May we each merit to live by these words fully, every single day.

Article

The lesson is clear: like that bird, we too can focus on the death and destruction that the COVID-19 has brought upon us. Our eyes can lock onto all that was taken from us and is no more. Or, like children, we can opt to concentrate on all of the blessings we do have, and all of the "favorite parts" of this "quarantine life."

Rabbi Allouche

What is your favorite part of our new “quarantine” life?

I asked my children that question yesterday, as we were celebrating together the last day of the Passover holiday. One child said that his favorite part is the “family time we spend together.” The other said it was “the free time,” that enabled him to “work on all of his hobbies.”  

After hearing their beautiful and most positive replies, my turn came. “My favorite part of this quarantine,” I told my children, is ” seeing your eyes.”

My answer referred to their unique eyes and perspective on life. After all, they could have focused on the many negative sides of our coronavirus era. But they chose to look at the light within the darkness, and the blessings within the curses, and speak of their favorite parts of this “new normal” with a sparkle in their eye, exuberance in their voice, and hope in their hearts.

In this week’s portion, we are introduced to a list of “non-kosher birds.” This list includes a unique bird by the name of “ra’ah.” The Talmud states that the eyesight of this bird is so acute that “it can stand on the mountaintops of Babylon and see corpses in Israel.” Yet, in spite of its uncanny sense of sight, this bird is not-kosher. The reason is telling, and it shares one of life’s great secrets:

When the kite glances at the magnificent land of Israel, all it can see are corpses. Instead of focusing on Israel’s supreme beauty and its overflowing blessings, this bird directs its sight on Israel’s dead bodies. It may have a 20/20 eyesight, but it has a 20/400 vision on life. Thus, it is rendered a non-kosher bird.  

The lesson is clear: like that bird, we too can focus on the death and destruction that the COVID-19 has brought upon us. Our eyes can lock onto all that was taken from us and is no more. Or, like children, we can opt to concentrate on all of the blessings we do have, and all of the “favorite parts” of this “quarantine life.” 

Indeed, 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 like children, and unleash the blessings and opportunities within. 

"Esta es la vida," as my beloved wife would say in her native Spanish. This is indeed the story of life. As the picture of Menashe Gil and his wife so powerfully demonstrates, we too will never know which will be our last moment. We never know which picture of ourselves will we leave for the world to see. And we never know the impact of a life lived with passion, meaning, and purpose, in its every moment and its every crossroad, even those that were imposed on us against our will.

Rabbi Allouche

Over the door of the anatomy department at Oxford University reads a banner that says: “Here is where death teaches life.”

Death can teach us death. It can suck us into the darkness of its experience and overcome us with the bitterness and despair of its effect. As a Rabbi, it pains me deeply to see how some people also die, spiritually, when they are struck with death. Their physical being is, thank G-d, well and alive. But the robustness of their life is greatly diminished.

But death can also teach us life. It can awaken us to live more, to love more, to be more. For, G-d forbid, when it strikes, we suddenly realize how vulnerable our lives are, and how we, therefore, ought to make make the best of every breath we take, every moment we share, every relationship we have.

I was taken aback this week upon seeing the picture of an elderly couple in Israel, celebrating their Passover Seder, alone, in quarantine (see picture above). It was taken by a security guard who was deeply moved by their simple yet radiant interaction, and it was reported by Israeli Journalist, Nir Devori. The next day, the man in the picture, Menashe Gil, passed away. His day of passing was also his 80th birthday. 

“Esta es la vida,” as my beloved wife would say in her native Spanish. This is indeed the story of life. As Menashe Gil and his wife so powerfully demonstrated, we too will never know which will be our last moment. We never know which picture of ourselves will we leave for the world to see. And we never know the impact of a life lived with passion, meaning, and purpose, in its every moment and its every crossroad, even those that were imposed on us against our will.

This is also the lesson drawn from the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, celebrated during the final holidays of Passover which begin tonight until Thursday evening. As the Jews experienced six days after the Grand Exodus from Egypt, at times, we too may face frightening waves that threaten to drown us and destroy all that is dear. But we too must seize the day, march forth with persistence, courage, and faith, in spite of the seeming dangers, and create pictures of beauty and light for our broken world. Without a doubt, G-d will then “split our red seas” too, and reveal His blessings of individual and collective redemption.  

May it happen speedily. Amen.

~~~~

PS – How You Can Recite Yizkor This Year:

In defiance of these menacing waves that are forcing many of us to say Yizkor alone this year, (and if G-d forbid, Mashiach is still not here), here is a suggestion: 

– On Thursday, I intend to walk to our beloved Congregation Beth Tefillah, to perform the Yizkor service on your behalf, alone in body, but united in heart and soul, with you and your loved ones. As is customary, during our usual Yizkor hour at 11:30am, I will take out the Torah scroll from our holy ark, and pour out my heart and soul to G-d, with the recital of the traditional Yizkor prayer. If you would like to send me your names for this Yizkor prayer, please do not hesitate to email them to me at Rabbi@BethTefillahAZ.org or on my contact page. I hope to be worthy of this awesome task with which you will have entrusted me. 

– For the full text of the Yizkor prayer (which I encourage you to print out today, before the holiday begins, and recite it too on Thursday), visit: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/371509/jewish/Yizkor-The-Memorial-Prayer.ht

Article

Once a year, G-d calls upon us to come out of our Egypts, and believe that nothing is impossible. We may suffer from our own Egypts but we cannot allow suffering to define us. We may possess a disease, but we are not the disease. A part of our body or mind may have been diagnosed as feeble or unhealthy, but our deepest core remains good, healthy, pure, Divine, and yes, limitless.

Rabbi Allouche

I’ll never forget that day.

Several years ago, I traveled to Israel to visit my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, may he be well, after he had suffered a stroke.

As I was searching for a parking spot in the busy lot of his Jerusalem hospital, a car zoomed into a disabled parking space. A police officer who was standing there, approached the driver and asked him: “Excuse me, are you disabled?” Without hesitation, the driver responded: “No, I am not disabled. But I do have a disability.”

The driver’s simple yet wise answer was profoundly moving. Here was a man who obviously suffered from a disability, yet he refused to define himself as “disabled.” To him, he was much more than that. In his mind, he was a Divine being without limits.

This is the message of Passover, our festival of freedom. For many of us are shackled by all sorts of “Egypts.” Some suffer from mental, psychological or spiritual disabilities, that stifle our growth and prevent us from maximizing our infinite potential. Others, are entrenched in behaviors and habits that cripple their development.
Alas, oftentimes, these disabilities are so real and painful, that we convince ourselves that “this is reality,” and that “it will never change.”

Globally, we have all been affected by the coronavirus pandemic that has quarantined us and shattered our comfort-zones. And as we hear of the increasing number of deaths, the pain deepens and the darkness intensifies.

But once a year, G-d calls upon us to come out of our Egypts, and believe that nothing is impossible. We may suffer from our own Egypts but we cannot allow suffering to define us. We may possess a disease, but we are not the disease. A part of our body or mind may have been diagnosed as feeble or unhealthy, but our deepest core remains good, healthy, pure, Divine, and yes, limitless.

So here is a suggestion for this Passover:

Think of two or three particular ‘disabilities’ in your life that are holding you back. 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 new Mitzvah, and making time for your family, for G-d, and for your soul and its desire to pray, to learn Torah, and to do good.

And then, without a doubt, “next year we will be in Jerusalem” where our personal and collective redemption and freedom will finally ring, to eternity.

A very happy, healthy, joyous, and liberating Passover!
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche

Article

And in the merit of all of these deeds, and in the merit of Your people who love you and yearn for you, please eradicate this plague from our world immediately, and bless us all with healing and good health. Grant us Your blessings of peace, happiness, and redemption.

Rabbi Allouche

Dear God,

Sometimes, I wonder how You feel about your children.

On the one hand, your blessings are abundant. Each day, You wake us up to the beauty of Your majestic world, and we are wowed.

We see You, and we sense Your love in every ray of sunshine, in every drop of rain, in the sweet melodies of your creatures, and on the smiling face of every child. Your kindness and faith in us are also evident in every breath we take, and in every journey, You lead us on. King David’s words resonate profoundly: “G-d is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

On the other hand, your children’s lives are replete with pain and suffering. The coronavirus has disrupted our entire globe and has caused havoc and destruction in the four corners of Your world. In our Scottsdale community alone, good and innocent people have fallen ill and are still struggling to recover from this dreadful virus. Others, have lost their jobs, and are struggling to stay afloat, physically and emotionally.

It is also beyond me how this new reality has also prevented us from following the guidelines that you have set in place since creation. Our Synagogue in Scottsdale, which we recently built from the ground up for Your name’s sake, as well as countless Synagogues across the world, are now closed. But didn’t You ask us to fill them with Your children and their prayers? And how about weddings that are now left unattended? Haven’t You required us, from the beginning of times, to fulfill the Mitzvah of rejoicing the bride and the groom on the day of their matrimony?

On a more personal note, I could not comprehend the dire circumstances you created for a dear friend and congregant this week. His father, lost his battle to the coronavirus this past Wednesday, in Paris, France, and my friend was unable to attend to him during his last moments in this world, to bury him, and to properly mourn for him. But did you not instruct us to respect our parents, to fulfill all of their needs, and to mourn for them properly in due time?

Yes, it is true. Among the many curses that this pandemic has brought upon us, many blessings have also emerged. Your people, who have been forced to self-quarantine, have also learned to go inward, and re-connect to all that is dear and important: their families, their values, their souls. We have also learned that we are all interconnected, and if a sneeze can have such a global impact, a smile and a good deed can impact our world just as much, if not more. And we have also developed a deeper appreciation for living the now fully and unreservedly, filling every moment with meaning and purpose, as tomorrow is not guaranteed.

And so, as we are about to conclude yet another turbulent week, let us make a deal:
We, your children, will continue to internalize the life-lessons which you have thrust upon us. We will continue to hold fast to Your values, to unite together, and to make Your world better and better each day, with acts of goodness, and deeds of kindness.
We will also do our very best to fulfill our G-d given purpose in Your world, and to focus on that which “we are needed for,” much more than on “what we need.”

I know that You trust us when we utter these words to you. After all, You and I know of our community members, and countless more, who have taken upon themselves to deepen their connection with their Divine selves, with their families, and with the human family. During these uncertain times, they have also grown spiritually in so many ways: some have affixed Mezuzot on their doorposts; others have taken upon themselves to light Shabbat candles every Friday afternoon, and many others have reached out to the vulnerable in our communities and showered them with generous gifts.

But You, God, the One who “sees the heart of man” (I Samuel 16:7), we ask that You take into account all of these deeds, along with all of the future needs that we will take upon ourselves, and place them lovingly before Your holy throne.

And in the merit of all of these deeds, and in the merit of Your people who love you and yearn for you, please eradicate this plague from our world immediately, and bless us all with healing and good health. Grant us Your blessings of peace, happiness, and redemption.

And above all, may we finally merit to witness the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: “Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”

Amen.

Yours faithfully,
Pinchas

Article

Thinking about it, I much prefer the new COVID-19 normal, as I am certain you do too. After all, it has, in some bizarre way, opened our eyes to the infinite treasures that lie within us and in front of us, that we may have been too numb to notice until now.

Rabbi Allouche

It is astonishing: 

A few weeks ago, normal meant that we spent most of our days, outside of our homes, speeding through the rat-races of life. Today, the new normal means that we spend much more time inside the confine of our households, connecting to our families and our loved ones.

Up until a few weeks ago, normal meant that others – teachers, tutors, babysitters, and nannies – would be left to educate our children, and if and when we had time, we would join their efforts. Today, the new normal means that we have taken ownership over our children’s education, and others are pitching in when need be.

Up until a few weeks ago, normal meant that we would eat out most of the time, and consume foods that others prepared with fine skills.  Today, the new normal means that we gather around our dining room tables with our families, and eat together foods that have been prepared with fine hearts.

Up until a few weeks ago, normal meant that we would run out of our homes to “go out” and find gratification in movie theaters, concerts, plays, bars, and night clubs.  Today, the new normal means that we run into our home, and find meaning and joy in the stories we tell our children, in the meditative moments we create for ourselves, and in the quality time we spend with our spouses.

Up until a few weeks ago, normal meant that we would spend exorbitant amounts of money on extravagant weddings, and focused on the glare and the flare, sometimes, more than focusing on the meaning of marriage. Today, the new normal means that we spend our money modestly on weddings, and focus much more on the souls of the bride and groom merging into one with love. 

Up until a few weeks ago, normal meant that we would invest so much time and resources in socializing and networking, running away from our sense of loneliness. Today, the new normal means that we have come to learn how to embrace our solitude, and find in it, a healthy balance between mind, body, and soul. 

Thinking about it, I much prefer the new COVID-19 normal, as I am certain you do too. After all, it has, in some bizarre way, opened our eyes to the infinite treasures that lie within us and in front of us, that we may have been too numb to notice until now.

My only hope is that we will be wise and courageous enough to retain the new normal, today, and forever, especially when God will finally heed our prayers and eradicate this pandemic from our world. 

May it happen speedily. Amen. 

Article

Let us substitute every emotion of anxiety with an action of goodness. Every physical hug not given for the fear of spreading germs, ought to be traded with a mental hug of unconditional love and care. Every hand not shaken for the same reason, ought to be replaced with a hand that extends with a kind deed that shakes and lifts up souls. And every empty space that is created with a distance of suspicion, should be filled with our relentless commitment to creating heart-to-heart relationships that will unite our world, instead of dividing it.

Rabbi Allouche

In my weekly Friday call with my dear father this morning, he shared with me a powerful anecdote, that resonates profoundly during these uncertain times.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe once advised a man, who felt sick, to seek the advice of two distinct doctors.

The first doctor diagnosed the man with a disease, and he recommended that he undergoes a thorough medical treatment. The second doctor asserted, with great confidence, that the man is completely healthy and he need not worry.  

The man, now confused, returned to the Rebbe to ask whose advice he should follow. The Rebbe’s response was poignant: “Your body should follow the advice of the first doctor. Go ahead and treat yourself, as he suggested. But your mind should follow the advice of the second doctor. And instead of filling your mind with anxieties, think positively, as if you were completely healthy.” 

How brilliant. And how relevant to our turbulent times. 

Without a doubt, we too should take all necessary precautions to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, we should keep good hygiene at all times. We ought to refrain from attending public events if we are exhibiting any signs of illness. And we must ensure that our homes, offices, and organizations, are held to the highest standards of sanitization as recommended by our local health experts. 

“Be very careful about your lives,” the Bible warns us (Deuteronomy 14:5). Indeed, we must treat the health of our bodies, with utmost vigilance and care. Yet, the health of our minds ought to be treated in the same way too. 

But how can we maintain a healthy mindset when panic threatens to destabilize our world? How can we not succumb to fears when facing the unknown?

The answer, I believe, is rooted in Judaism’s revolutionary approach to fear, conveyed in the following three ideas:

1. What matters most is now:

My dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz once shared with me that, “we are often so preoccupied with our plans for the unknown future, that we no longer have time to experience life itself, as it is evolving in the known present. And sadly, we then forget that what matters most is what is now.”

As we together face the many unknowns of our future, we too ought to heed the wise words of Rabbi Steinsaltz and remember that what matters most is “what is now.” 

Will the coronavirus continue to force people into quarantine? Will the governments of our world take any additional measures? Will we be affected, in spite of all of the necessary steps we are undertaking? Will the stock market continue to fluctuate so frantically? No one really knows. 
Yet, there is one truth we do: 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. Every one of us has family members and loved ones that deserve our unreserved love.

So, let us throw away our fears and infuse our every moment, every encounter, and every opportunity, with undivided attention, purpose and joy.

2. “Trust in God with all your heart” – A suggested prayer:

A few months ago, I had the immense privilege of meeting a holocaust survivor who reminded me of the stirring line that was found on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jews were hiding from the Nazis. It read as follows: “I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining. I believe in love, even when I am alone. I believe in G-d, even when He is silent.” 

With a trembling voice, the survivor then said: “Although nothing will compare to the evil I faced during the holocaust, the silence of G-d is, once again, heard today. Why is this pandemic happening? I don’t know. But in spite of G-d’s silence, I still believe in Him, and my trust in Him is unwavering.”

This brave hero is correct. Notwithstanding the many questions we may have, G-d is still in charge. There is little we can control. But He, remains the “Master of the Universe,” as Jewish liturgy states time and time again, who “controls all aspects of His creations.” 

So, at this fateful moment of our history, it would behoove us to internalize this idea, and meditate on the saintly words of King Solomon (Proverbs 3:5-6): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

And as we do so, let us pray to Him, the following prayer: 

Master of the universe, may you be overcome with mercy upon us and all the world’s inhabitants, and protect us from all harm, and rescue us from every sickness, disease, plague, and pandemic. May all patients infected with the Coronavirus be completely cured. May it be Your Will O Compassionate G-d, Healer of all to abolish all harsh and evil decrees. and may You help us and redeem us for the sake of Your Kindness. Hear now please the voice of our plea, for You hear the prayers of all; Blessed is He Who hears prayer.” 

3. Ask not ‘What will be?’; Ask “what will we do?” 

“What will become of our world?” someone asked me just yesterday. 
After gathering my thoughts, I shared with my friend the known story about a meeting in 1974 between the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and Israel’s Chief Rabbi Lau. 

During the course of their conversation, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lau what was the mood “in the streets of Israel,” as our nation was recovering from the devastating Yom Kippur War. Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “Ma i-ye, what will be?” Upon hearing these words, the Rebbe grabbed Rabbi Lau’s arm and passionately replied, “Jew’s don’t ask: ‘What will be?’ Jews ask: ‘What are we going to do?” 

How true. Asking, ‘what will be,’ has never been the Jewish approach. If Moses had asked ‘what will be’ instead of confronting Pharaoh, and imploring upon him to “let my people go and serve G-d,” our nation may have endured many more years of slavery. 

If Rabbi Akiva had asked ‘what will be’ in lieu of dedicating his life to his people, our leaderless ancestors may have succumbed to the evil decrees of the Romans, and our people may have been reduced to the relics of history.

And if the late Lubavitcher Rebbe had asked ‘what will be,’ and not revolutionized our generation with the call of ‘what we are going to do,’ our parents may have buried ourselves in the sorrows of the holocaust and the unfathomable pains of its aftermath.”It is our choice,” I answered my friend. We can join the sad choir of our world’s prophets of doom, and perpetually ask, “what will be?” Or we can choose to march to the empowering and cheerful tune of “what we are going to do?” 

Therefore, may I suggest that we substitute every emotion of anxiety with an action of goodness. Every physical hug not given for the fear of spreading germs, ought to be traded with a mental hug of unconditional love and care. Every hand not shaken for the same reason, ought to be replaced with a hand that is extended with a kind deed that shakes and lifts up souls. And every empty space that is created with a distance of suspicion, should be filled with our relentless commitment to creating heart-to-heart relationships that will unite our world, instead of dividing it. 

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