Sometimes, the best way to deal with negative emotions, is not to deal with them. The best method to fight feelings that bolster despair is to engage in actions that bolster hope. The best remedy for a heart that feels threatened by darkness, is a Mitzvah, a positive deed, that reassures it with a Divine light.

Rabbi Allouche

It has always amazed me.

After 210 years of slavery in Egypt, G-d “hears the cry” of His people, and sends Moses to deliver them from bondage to freedom. 

But what about the emotional state of all of these slaves? Did G-d ask Moses and his co-leaders to provide them with intense therapy after so many years of slavery and trauma? Did he offer them any psychological treatments? 

Of this, we don’t hear a word. But why this insensitivity to the people of Israel? Surely, they needed some sort of emotional support and psychological treatment?  

The reason shares a powerful truth: G-d and Moses were not being indifferent to the emotional state of their people. Instead, at the brink of their exodus, they focused on that which was vitally needed: actions, not feelings. Moving forward and focusing on the future, instead of standing still and analyzing the present. 

Because, sometimes, the best way to deal with negative feelings, is not to deal with them. The best method to fight emotions that bolster despair is to engage in actions that bolster hope. The best remedy for a heart that feels threatened by darkness, is a Mitzvah, a positive deed, that reassures it with a Divine light.

So Moses tells his nation to put their feelings aside, offer a pascal lamb, eat it with their “cloak tucked into their belts, and their sandals on their feet. and their staff in their hands,” and march forth toward redemption. Sure enough, their anxiety vanishes, their trauma, dissipates, and their confidence is regained. 

The lesson is clear: at the end of the day, our actions, not our feelings, define who we are. We may experience all sorts of moods, but at the end of the day, it is a person’s deeds that mold his life. A smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold us and our lives infinitely more than the emotions of our hearts. In the words of Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.”

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, 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 recall the story of a woman who sought the advice of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, who became the unrivaled leader of the Jewish people exactly 71 years ago. She wanted to cancel her wedding because she had a “bad temper” and she was afraid that this would ruin her marriage. The Rebbe’s response was astounding: “G-d will bless you with many children and these children will teach you patience,” the Rebbe replied. “Meanwhile, do volunteer work – preferably in a hospital with children – and you will find your patience growing. Don’t call off the wedding.”

Similarly, the Rebbe once wrote to a man who was complaining about his inability to shake off his melancholy that, “it seems that the principal cause of your situation is that you ruminate about your situation constantly. The more you take your mind off of it — the better it will become, and the medical avenues you are trying will be more successful. In order to make this easier, you should keep busy with something completely different, no matter what it is. If you take your mind off of it completely – within a short time you will be healed.”

So, if your feelings are holding you back with all sorts of excuses, just march forth, and do good, again and again.

You will be doing yourself a favor that you, and the world, will surely benefit from, to eternity.

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We might 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, pure, Divine, and yes, limitless.

Rabbi Allouche

“I am bipolar.”

“I am hyperactive.”

“I am crazy.” 

These are sentences that are usually said by people who suffer from psychological disorders to explain to the world who they are. But do psychological disorders really define who we are? If a person is mentally sick, does it make his entire being sick? Why would we restrict a person’s essence and G-dly soul into the pages of psychological diagnosis?

What is even more astonishing is that when we speak of bodily diseases we use the words, “I have.” For example, “I have a cold.” Or, “I have a toothache.” But when it comes to psychological evaluations, we employ the words, “I am,” as if they define us much more than our bodily issues!

Moses, in this week’s portion, speaks in the same way. When G-d asks him to assume the mantle of leadership and redeem his people from slavery, Moses objects, by responding to G-d: “How can I expect Pharaoh to listen to me, as I am a stutterer (- in Hebrew, “Va-ani Aral Sefatayim.”) Yet, surprisingly, G-d ignores Moses’ claim. G-d does not say a word about Moses being a “stutterer.” Instead, He replies to Moses with the repetition of His commandment: “G-d commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.”

The lesson is powerful: we can’t allow ourselves to be defined by any of our sicknesses, including the mental ones. G-d ignores Moses’ claim that “I am a stutterer,” because G-d does not believe in claims that aim to limit the endless potential of His creatures and squeeze them into self-made, mental prisons. We may stutter, but we are not stutterers. We might 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, pure, Divine, and yes, limitless.

A few years ago, our community, Congregation Beth Tefillah, had the great privilege of hosting world-educator, Rachelli Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali Fraenkel of blessed memory, who was kidnapped and murdered in Israel in the summer of 2014, along with two of his friends, Gilad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach, of blessed memory.

During an interview with Rachelli, I asked her: “Rachelli, how do you deal with the unfathomable pain of losing a child? How can you still smile?” Her answer will forever stay with me: “I won’t sit here and lie to you that I do not feel pain and sadness. But although I feel pain, I refuse to become my pain, and although I feel sadness, I refuse to become my sadness.”

Friends, we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by feelings, or by medical matters. We may have them, but we are not them. So next time someone asks you, “how do you feel?” say not “I am so and so.” Rather, say, “I have so and so.”

For deep within us, there is a heavenly soul that is not limited by that which we feel or possess. In the words of the morning prayer that we recite every day shortly after we wake up: “My G-d, the soul that You have given me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me…”

Indeed, that soul is who we are. And we ought to define ourselves by it and by our ability to listen to — and act upon — its yearnings, that call upon us to perform Mitzvot and do good, today, more than yesterday, but much less than tomorrow. 

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We live in a broken world. Growing discord in this great country is threatening our status as "one nation under G-d." We too need steady "cedar trees" that can guide us, inspire us, and whisper to us all that brighter and better days are to come.

Rabbi Allouche

Did you know that the Jewish people, who were enslaved in Egypt for 210 years, persevered because of… trees? 

When Jacob, their ancestor, came to Egypt from the Holyland, he brought with him cedar trees to plant there. With his holy vision, Jacob foresaw the suffering that would befall his descendants. So he brought these trees to remind them where they came from, and to reassure them that they will eventually merit to return to the land of these trees. 

“Don’t despair,” these trees whispered to Jacob’s descendants. “Soon, you will leave this desert and return to your home.” (Ultimately, when the Jewish people were freed, they took with them these very trees and build with them a tabernacle for G-d in the desert.)

We live in a broken world. Growing discord in this great country is threatening our status as “one nation under G-d.” Just two days ago, mobs attacked the US capitol bringing havoc and destruction.

We too need steady “cedar trees” that can guide us, inspire us, and whisper to us all that brighter and better days are to come. And so, here are three immediate suggestions:

1. Know what is above you: No, we do not live in a ruleless society. We live in G-d’s world. And in His world, there are rules to follow, principals to adhere to, and a G-d that holds us accountable. In the saintly words of our Sages in the Ethics of our Fathers (Chap. 2:1): “Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds are being inscribed in a book.”

Modern science has also confirmed the idea that the belief in G-d makes people “nicer.” In a recent study scientific study, psychologists proved that students cheat less in bright rooms than in dark rooms, because the brightness of the room increases their awareness that they are being watched. The conductor of this study, Ara Nozenrayan, author of “Big gods”, concluded that this proves that “watched people are nicer people.”

On a macro level, it is also high time for schools to re-institute a “moment of silence” – a brief period of reflection or meditation – at the beginning of each school day. This will allow students nationwide to begin their day with a heightened awareness of their Divine self, and a renewed commitment to fulfilling their Divine mission to make this world a better place, each in their own way.

2. Be a player, not a fan: On a chilly winter night in 1955, a young boy and his father visited the late Lubavitcher Rebbe.

During their moving discussion, the Rebbe and the young boy spoke about the game of baseball and how the fans can leave when they like, but the players need to stay and try to win until the game is over.

“That is the lesson I want to teach,” said the Rebbe to the young boy. “In life, you can be either a fan or a player. I ask you, please, be a player.”

Indeed, at almost every given moment, we are presented with the opportunity to be “players” do everything in our power to better our surroundings, especially when evil so threatens it. 

Yet, for too long, many have relegated these sacred responsibilities to political, social, and even spiritual leaders. We put our faith in all sorts of people, hoping that they would “play the game of life” for us, and make our world, and our lives, better. Yet, imagine how better society would be if we saw ourselves as “players” and active agents of positive change, instead of being silent spectators? Imagine how brighter our world would be if each of us would ignite a light of goodness in our world, instead of waiting for our leaders to start that fire? 

The men and women in positions of power will hopefully play this game of life, in the best of ways. But G-d is waiting for us to join this game too. So, will we be fans or players?

3. “Watch your words…”: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue,” King Solomons warns us in the book of Proverbs. 

How true. Our words can heal, lift up spirits, and create life. Or, if used improperly, they can create havoc, destruction, and even death. 

We live in an age of impulsions. In social media, we often do not hesitate to voice our immediate reaction to every story under the sun. But in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreements, discord and dissonance can conquer the center stage of some of our lives’ most important relationships. 

Therefore, let us remember that words possess power and carry consequences. Not every thought is worth verbalizing. Not every Facebook post is worth posting. Not every Tweet is tweeting. And not every email, text, and Snapchat is worth writing. 

In the words of Margaret Thatcher: “Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”

May we muster the courage to implement these teaching of Judaism swiftly, and may the healing of our society spring forth speedily. Amen. 

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Judaism teaches that everything happens for a reason. In the words of the saintly Baal Shem Tov of the 17th century: "Nothing in G-d's world, happens by chance... Every single thing one sees or hears must serve as a Divine instruction." And so, dare I ask: Before we bid farewell to 2020, what can we learn from this tumultuous year?

Rabbi Allouche

“There are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen.”

Apparently, this quote was one of the most popular quotes of 2020. And understandably so. 2020 was a year of epic proportions. From the global COVID-19 pandemic to the US presidential election, from political protests to millions of people worldwide losing their jobs, it certainly feels as if “decades have happened” in this historic year of 2020.

It is thus no wonder that so many have expressed their wish to “delete 2020,” as if this year was akin to a virus-filled computer program that can simply be deleted.

Yet, Judaism teaches that everything happens for a reason. In the words of the saintly Baal Shem Tov of the 17th century: “Nothing in G-d’s world, happens by chance… Every single thing one sees or hears must serve as a Divine instruction.”

And so, dare I ask: Before we bid farewell to 2020, what can we learn from this tumultuous year? Here are five possible lessons to consider:

1. If one sneeze can affect our world so dramatically, one positive deed can certainly produce an even greater change. 

Think about this: 2020 was filled with turmoil and havoc, largely because of one individual in Wuhan, China, who sneezed. His COVID-19 respiratory droplets quickly spread and brought about a pandemic that the world hasn’t seen in over a century. 

The idea that invisible molecules can create such havoc, is astonishing. But it also begs the question: If such small particles from our body can produce such a pandemic, how much good can our souls create with its Divine particles? 

To paraphrase Maimonides: “Each person must view himself and the entire world as being half meritorious and half guilty. If he does one single good deed, he can tip the scale and bring deliverance to the entire world.” 

2. A little bit of fear is good. 

It is no secret that 2020 was replete with fear and uncertainty. 

But as much as fear can rattle us profoundly, it can also awaken us to a renewed appreciation and commitment toward all that is certain, such as our family, our health, our values, and our raison d’être. 

Perhaps, this is why the wisest of man, King Solomon taught that “happy is the man who is always fearful” (Proverbs 28:14). It is true: A little bit of fear is valuable, for it prevents us from becoming apathetic and indifferent, and it opens our eyes to all the good that lies in and around us.

3. When we come together as one, even the most destructive of diseases become curable, and even the cruelest of challenges are, eventually, surmountable.

As I write these words, people worldwide are being vaccinated against COVID-19. This vaccine is a result of the unprecedented collaboration between world-governments and international experts. 

It is in historic moments of unity such as these that we are privy to the power of collective responsibility. And in spite of the divisiveness in our society, 2020 has taught us that when we come together as one, even the most destructive of diseases become curable, and even the cruelest of challenges are, eventually, surmountable.

4. Keeping good hygiene is true both physically and spiritually.

In 2020, health officials have warned us, time and time again, to “keep good hygiene.” But I wonder: are we as careful about physical infections as we are about spiritual ones, such as negative words and actions? 

We live in an age of impulsions. In social media, we often do not hesitate to voice our immediate reaction to every story under the sun. But in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreements, spiritual viruses can spread uncontrollably.

In the wise words of the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859): “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.”

5. Ask not what you want from life; ask what life wants from you.

Viktor Frankl, the famed psychotherapist, once taught his students to “not ask what they want from life.” Instead, they should ask “what life wants from them, and then, happiness will follow.”

What we wanted from life in 2020 was surely different than “what life wanted from us.”  We may have planned for ‘A’, but ‘B’ happened. But the question begs itself: how did we respond? Did we bury ourselves in frustration, or did we learn to accept the hidden blessings in God’s unannounced plans for us?

Frankl was right. As we march into 2021, we must learn to accept what life wants from us, even when it interferes with our own plans. At times, we may not see the blessings in the unexpected twists and turns of life, but we must believe that they exist if we can muster the courage to embrace them and heed their call. 

6. What matters most is what is now. 

2020 was a year that no one could have predicted. 

Yet, it is precisely this unpredictability that gifted us the awareness that the only predictable moment is right now. Thus, it would behoove us to focus our full attention on the present, rather than on the future. In the words of my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel of blessed memory: “What matters most is what is now.”  

Indeed, 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. But will we recognize them, and act upon, them before they slip away? 

7. The only senses that are reliable and trustworthy are our spiritual ones.

2020 has, in many ways, has demonstrated the unreliability of our physical senses. After all, what they perceived as certain — our wellbeing, our jobs, our future — has become so uncertain.

But 2020 has also taught us that the only senses that are reliable and trustworthy are our spiritual ones. Such as our ability to love and to care. Or, our power to be kind and compassionate. Or, our capacity to have faith in the One Above, and in ourselves.

Astonishingly, it is those spiritual senses that have helped so many of us cope with our apparent solitude during this year. For, our spiritual senses know that solitude is but an illusion, and we are never truly alone.

When we found ourselves “alone” at home, God is with us. When we were forced to celebrate festive occasions “alone,” the affection of our loved ones, still enwrapped us. And when people die “alone”, we realized that their good deeds and many merits were with them, accompanying them from this world to the next.

May our spiritual senses, and of all of the aforementioned lessons, continue to guide us in 2021, to a better, healthier, and brighter future. Amen.

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If we view ourselves as being 'sold'; if we blame our life's turbulent twists and turns on other people's dealing with us, we will forever remain powerless victims, imprisoned by the callousness of others. But if we view ourselves as being "sent," we will have become G-d's active agent in this world, charged with a purpose to fulfill G-d’s mission, and spread goodness and kindness, even in the worst of places.

Rabbi Allouche

Did you know that Biblical Hebrew does not have a word for “excuses”?

The reason is telling: According to the Torah, there are no rooms for “excuses.” Sure, we may have good reasons for our failures, but excuses are not welcome in Judaism. Why? Because excuses, more often than not, stall our progress forward and turn us into victims of life’s challenges.

In this week’s portion, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, 22 years after they had sold him into slavery. The brothers are overcome with fear that Joseph, who had become the vice-king of Egypt, will now execute his revenge. But Joseph reassures them, with admirable compassion and dignity: “Now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourself for having sold me here, for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me ahead of you… G-d has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance.” “It is not you who sent me here, but G-d (- see Genesis 45:1-11).”

Joseph was telling his brothers that they may have sold him to Egypt as a slave. But that was not the way he chose to view his saga. Instead, Joseph saw himself as a person who was sent to Egypt by G-d, charged with a mission to do good, at every moment, in every place. And although Joseph suffered terribly for many years, he never became a victim of his circumstances, and he never provided excuses to compromise his values.

By doing so, Joseph taught us one of life’s greatest lessons: if we view ourselves as being ‘sold’; if we blame our life’s turbulent twists and turns on other people’s dealing with us, we will forever remain powerless victims, imprisoned by the callousness of others.

But if we view ourselves as being “sent,” we will have become G-d’s active agent in this world, charged with a purpose to fulfill G-d’s mission, and spread goodness and kindness, even in the worst of places.

Just like Joseph, we sometimes may feel imprisoned and shackled like slaves by psychological and emotional prisons. But it is up to us to decide whether we have been sold into these situations, or whether we were sent to bring healing to ourselves and to the world around us, to kindle a light in a place of darkness, and to ignite a spark of hope in a moment of despair.

So, my friends, at this very moment: are you sold, or are you sent?

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Success is defined by the strength of our character; not by the size of our salary. It is determined by what I am doing today, at this very moment; not by what I will become, sometime in the unknown future. And it is about living life's journeys fully and unreservedly; not about reaching destinations, however lofty they may be.

Rabbi Allouche

Do you consider yourself successful? 

Well, to be fair, let us first define the word “successful” based on Judaism’s revolutionary perspective.

Joseph, whom we read about in this week’s portion, is the first person described as “successful.” In the words of the Torah: “G-d was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Genesis 39:2).

Yet surprisingly, the Torah does not deem him as a “successful man” when he reaches the peak of his career as he becomes the viceroy of Egypt. Joseph is not even described as “successful” when he became known as the world’s best dream-interpreter. Rather, he was coined “successful” as he labored as a slave in the house of Potiphar. Then again, the Torah calls him “successful” as an inmate in an Egyptian dungeon.

The reason is poignant: Success is defined by the strength of our character; not by the size of our salary. It is determined by what I am doing today, at this very moment; not by what I will become, sometime in the unknown future. And it is about living life’s journeys fully and unreservedly; not about reaching destinations, however lofty they may be.

In our day and age, people are often called “successful” because they are listed on the Forbes World Billionaires’ list, or on the New York Times’ Bestseller list. These “successful” individuals may have cheated on their spouses, they may have become estranged from their children, and they may have turned as lonely as wolves because they never had the time to invest in friendships. But they have done so well in their career, that people say, “I wish we were as ‘successful’ as they.”

Don’t get me wrong. It is important to do well in our jobs and develop the careers that suit us, to the best of our abilities. But it is even more important to do well in life, by living with honesty and integrity, meaning and purpose, and dedication and devotion to deeds of goodness and kindness and bettering our world each and every day. Such as caring for a friend in a time of need; or treating our parents and elders with respect; or loving our spouse with an understanding heart; or contributing to our community not just with money, but with time and effort too; or investing in our Jewishness by taking upon ourselves more and more Mitzvahs, and by engaging ourselves in more and more minyans and Torah study.

Just as with Joseph, G-d, will then “be with you” as you too become truly “successful.”

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We cannot be perfect in every area of life. In the words of Lucius Seneca, a 1st Century Roman Philosopher: "Everywhere is nowhere." Rather, we ought to know ourselves, listen to the inner and unique calling of our souls, and actualize our G-d given talents and skills to fulfill the purpose for which we - yes, just we - were created for.

Rabbi Allouche

We all strive for perfection in life. We want the perfect job, we seek out the perfect doctor, we desire to connect with the perfect friends, and we want to marry the perfect match. 

But what does “perfection” mean? And is it really achievable?

The book of Genesis is filled with examples of seemingly-perfect human beings. Adam and Eve were created and molded perfectly in the image of G-d. Noah was coined a “righteous man.” Abraham and Sara were the perfect visionaries, Isaac and Rebecca were the perfect well-diggers, and Jacob, in this week’s portion, is described as a “wholesome person.” 

But, at a deeper glance, each of these models chose to be perfect in a very focused area. They knew that being perfect in every area of life is not what is asked of us. So they channeled all of their skills and talents into very specific areas of perfection.

Adam and Eve were the perfect builders. They came into an empty world, and they built and planted gardens, built buildings, and they founded the human family.

Noah was the perfect student who followed the directions of G-d immaculately. His generation was corrupt, but he obeyed every rule and walked in the saintly ways of the One Above.

Abraham and Sara were the perfect embodiments of love. Every meal of theirs was shared, and every moment of theirs was imbued with a mission to better our world. Isaac and Rebecca dedicated their lives to digging wells and establishing a home for our nation in the holy land of Israel. Jacob was the perfect embodiment of resilience. Nothing fazed him. He was haunted by the hatred of his brother, Esau, and the animosity of his surroundings, yet he faced every challenge, with determination and conviction, and eventually triumphed.

The lesson from each of these prototypes is clear: We cannot be perfect in every area of life. In the words of Lucius Seneca, a 1st Century Roman Philosopher: “Everywhere is nowhere.” Rather, we ought to know ourselves, listen to the inner and unique calling of our souls, and actualize our G-d given talents and skills to fulfill the purpose for which we – yes, just we – were created for.

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The lesson is clear: to live is to grow. And so long as we can, we ought to continue to grow, each in our own way. Alas, all too often, we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and we are filled with feelings of despair and resignation. Marriages get stuck in habitual patterns. Spiritual dreams are pushed aside. Self-growth is delayed. And mediocrity becomes the routine.

Rabbi Allouche

“The greatest malady that can befall a person is that he or she stops growing,” my mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz once shared with me.

Jacob, our forefather, who takes the center stage of this week’s portion, epitomizes this trait. And even into his nineties, Yaakov did not stop to grow.

By that age, Jacob’s resume was quite impressive. Together with his wives, Rachel and Leah, he raised a sizable family, raising his children as model citizens and beacons of light in a dark world. He had also become a successful businessman who had amassed large amounts of wealth. And he had inspired a generation of students with the belief in One G-d. 

But Jacob was never satisfied. For he too knew that “the greatest malady that could befall him is that he stops to grow.” So at the ripe age of 97, he departs his home, to tackle bigger and greater challenges, including reconciling with his brother Esau and moving back to the Holyland to plant the roots from which the nation of Israel would stem and blossom. 

The lesson is clear: to live is to grow. And so long as we can, we ought to continue to grow, each in our own way. Alas, all too often, we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and we are filled with feelings of despair and resignation. Marriages get stuck in habitual patterns. Spiritual dreams are pushed aside. Self-growth is delayed. And mediocrity becomes the routine.

I recall how my beloved mentor Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz shared with me, at the age of 79, that he had a list of many dreams that he wished to accomplish. In spite of his many superhuman achievements (which included making the entire canon of the Jewish library — the Bible, Mishna, Talmud, Maimonides, Tanya, and more – accessible to each and all), he then shared with 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 same is true for each of us. If we cannot prepare “for the next 170 years,” let us at least set goals, especially in our Jewish journeys, for the next year. Which Jewish topics would we want to study? Which mitzvahs would we desire to achieve? (Please share them with us here, MitzvahForRavAdin@bethtefillahaz.org, so we can include them in our Mitzvah Bank in loving memory of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz)? Which Jewish values will we aspire to introduce to our families?

Finally, let us ensure that our growth also expands beyond ourselves. Let us add kindness to a person that needs it, and goodness to a place that has yet to experience it.

Amen. 

As America is about to celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving next week, let also do thank you, not just say it. A good deed will reverberate in the world infinitely more than a good word. As Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel so poignantly teaches in the Ethics of our Fathers (1:17): "The essential thing is not the spoken word, but deed."

Rabbi Allouche

A few years ago, an international convention of neurologists discussed the medical condition of people fainting upon waking up in the morning.

One of the lecturers revealed that she had determined that “the sharp change in the position of our bodies from lying down to standing up, does not allow enough time for sufficient blood to flow back to the brain, hence, some people faint.”

Her solution was simple: Before rising up from our beds, we ought to wait 12 seconds to allow enough time for sufficient blood to flow back to our brains. She guaranteed that this practice will eliminate any dizziness and faint upon waking up.

At the conclusion of her lecture, a Jewish professor revealed to her an astonishing fact: 

“For centuries, Jews have been reciting a 12-word prayer of gratitude to G-d, as soon as they open their eyes in the morning, even before they rise from bed. If one says this prayer slowly, with focus and concentration, it will take 12 seconds to say it. Isn’t it astonishing that our heritage has held this medical treasure for so many thousands of years? And isn’t it inspiring that a simple Jewish prayer of gratitude can fortify us with renewed health and vigor, each and every day?

Indeed, a simple prayer of gratitude can transform our days. And it can create a paradigm shift of perspective on our lives and their countless blessings; on our souls and their endless potential; on our G-d and His infinite grace.

If this prayer is not a part of your morning ritual yet, I humbly encourage you to include it, if only, in honor of Thanksgiving. Let us recite it together, today, and every day, as soon as we awake in the morning:

מודֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ
“I thank you, living and eternal King, for mercifully returning my soul to me. Great is your faithfulness.”

———-

But, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

Perhaps, this is why, this “thank-you” prayer recited every morning, is, immediately, followed by the action of washing our hands. This simple act comes to ensure that we translate our words of gratitude to G-d for returning our souls into our bodies, into actions that aim to maintain the purity of our heavenly soul and the cleanliness of our bodies. 

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

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

As America is about to celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving next week, let also do thank you, not just say it. A good deed will reverberate in the world infinitely more than a good word.  As Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel so poignantly teaches in the Ethics of our Fathers (1:17): “The essential thing is not the spoken word, but deed.” 

And in the spirit of doing thank you for all of the blessings that G-d has given us, please join our Mitzvah bank, if you haven’t had, and add a Mitzvah in loving memory of our beloved Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. 

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 “doing thank-you” will surely make a difference in our world, today, tomorrow, and forever. 

Love comes with toil. We don't just "fall in love". We must ascend to it with persistence and endurance. No; love 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 selfless actions, day after day, month after month, year after year, for true love to emerge.

Rabbi Allouche

I’ll never forget that moment.

Out of nowhere, my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, pulled me aside, and asked: “What type of woman do you want to marry?”

It happened about a year before I met my better-half. My cryptic answer, of course, did not satisfy him. Especially since it may have sounded a little too ‘romantic’ for him. “You’ve been reading too many love stories,” he replied. “Love does not lead to marriage, as many might think,” he asserted. “Quite the opposite: marriage leads to love.”

In this week’s portion, we read about the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. Listen to the words of the verse: “(Isaac) took Rebecca, she becomes his wife, and he loves her.” First: he marries her. Second: he loves her. Love, the Torah asserts, only comes forth after we commit ourselves to one another, eternally and unconditionally.

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, as do the aforementioned words of the Torah, reveal a powerful truth: 

Love comes with toil. We don’t just “fall in love”. We must ascend to it with persistence and endurance. No; love 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 selfless actions, day after day, month after month, year after year, for true love to emerge.

Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet once wrote: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.” Indeed, we may experience all sorts of moods, but at the end of the day, it is our actions that make us or mar us. A smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold us, our relationships, 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 ‘not in the mood’? How many of us are reluctant to forge a relationship with G-d and get involved in Jewish life, just because our emotions are ‘not there’? 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 add your Mitzvah to our Mitzvah bank, which aims to collect 2000 Mitzvahs in loving memory of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz 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 will, without a doubt, bring true love, light, and healing to our broken world, and it will make a difference today, and tomorrow, in our lives, to eternity.