When we encounter death and other challenges, we are faced with two options: We can succumb to despair and ask unanswerable questions, such as "why did this happen?" and "what will be?" Or, we can respond to death with even more life; to despair with even more hope; to darkness with even more light.

Rabbi Allouche

“I grieve for you, my brother; you were so dear to me.” – 2 Samuel 1:26

These words, spoken by David to Jonathan, have been reverberating in my ears this week, ever since the sudden passing of my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Micah Caplan, Spiritual leader at Congregation Or Tzion of Scottsdale, this past Sunday.

As we continue to join our hearts with the hearts of his beloved family and community, to cry, to grieve, and to also celebrate his life and legacy together, three lessons emerge:

1. Life Is Too Precious To Waste It On Trivialities:

Here’s a question: If today was your last day on earth, what would you do? Would you spend it with family, and tell them how much you love them? Would you try to fulfill any last wish?

As the sudden passing of Rabbi Caplan so painfully demonstrates, this question is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We really have no control over the timing of our death. We will never be able to know when that fateful day will arrive.

Yet, we do have control over our lives. And when we encounter death, we suddenly realize how vulnerable we are, and how we, therefore, ought to make the best of every breath we take, every moment we share, every relationship we have, and every opportunity we have. 

In 2005, in his commencement address at Standford University, Steve Jobs revealed that ever since the age of 17, he “would look at himself in the mirror every morning and ask himself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Steve Jobs’s words reveal a powerful truth: 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 today may just be our last day.

So why waste it on trivialities and not heed the call of our soul?

2. What You See Is Not What You Get

Of the many conversations I had this week with many people struggling to cope with this tragedy, the most agonizing of all came from a dear friend who called me crying that he could not find solace after learning that our beloved friend, Rabbi Caplan, was interred with so few people present (due to the coronavirus). “I don’t understand how a person who was kind to so many people, could be buried without the embrace of his friends and community” he lamented.

His cry permeated my heart. And although we, finite beings, cannot always understand the infinite God and His mysterious ways, I found myself asking: What should I reply? Is there a lesson here?

“Maybe, we’re not seeing this right,” I suggested to him. “What our eyes see is not all that there is. Yes, our physical senses may help us perceive aspects of our reality. But there is so much that exists beyond all that our physical senses can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch.”

Our Sages teach that when people die, they are not “alone.” Their good deeds and many merits are with them. When people are buried, they are not surrounded only by living beings. Scores of angels also accompany their souls from this world to the next. And when these souls inhabit the heavens, they continue to be with us, watch over us, and bless us.

I then blessed my friend, with the words I bless you, my dear reader, too: “May our “spiritual senses,” not just our physical ones, help guide our ways, always. And may they continue to teach us to see the unseen, hear the unheard, taste the intangible, and smell the ethereal.”

3. A Little Bit Of Light Dispels A Lot Of Darkness:

In 1948, just three years following the Holocaust, Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the State of Israel broadcasted a request to Jews worldwide: “After Hitler murdered a third of the Jewish nation, it is the foremost duty of every Jew to be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Please, I beg every Jew in the world, be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Triple your prayers, triple your good deeds, and make up for the third of our nation that was so brutally decimated.”

When we encounter death and other challenges, we are faced with two options: We can succumb to despair and ask unanswerable questions, such as “why did this happen?” and “what will be?” Or, we can follow the advice of President Weizmann, and respond to death with even more life; to despair with even more hope; to darkness with even more light. 

Judaism has always chosen the latter option. “Choose life,” Moses commanded us, in the name of G-d shortly before his passing, “so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) 

Throughout our history, we responded to every calamity with a burst of life and an expansion that eventually lifted us above our hardships, as difficult as they may have been. For, we have always known, that which was so beautifully expressed by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, that “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

Similarly, after the passing of good and holy people, such as Rabbi Caplan, we too must do everything in our power to increase, and “triple”, our deeds of goodness and holiness — from prayer to charity; from lighting Shabbat candles every Friday to doing a stranger a favor; from setting aside times to study Torah to lending a helping hand — to make up for the great vacuum that he has left in our world.

Their memory will then undoubtedly be a blessing, that will live on and on, in our minds, in our hearts, and most importantly, in our actions, today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.  

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Judaism offers a different approach: There really exists only one type of time. Yes, there are unexpected moments that we are thrust into. But those moments are Divinely designed for us. Every minute, every place, every situation, no matter how temporary, has a purpose, and it is up to us to discover it, and live it fully.

Rabbi Allouche

It seems the days of our lives are divided into two types of times: real-time and wasted-time.

The real-times are times in which we feel that we, and only we, are in control. They include moments such as quality-times with our family and friends, career-driven endeavors, and the times which we dedicate for the benefit of our physical and spiritual health.

The wasted-times include times in which we feel that we have lost control. They include moments such as the times we spend waiting, and waiting for an appointment. Or the times we are ‘stuck’ in traffic. Or the times we are quarantined in our homes and are unsure how to fill our days with “real time.” It seems like we have a lot of that these days…Most of us love the real-times of our lives. But we become frustrated with the wasted times, which seem, after all, “wasted.”

Yet, Judaism offers a different approach: There really exists only one type of time. Yes, there are unexpected moments that we are thrust into. But those moments are Divinely designed for us. Every minute, every place, every situation, no matter how temporary, has a purpose, and it is up to us to discover it, and live it fully.

This week’s Torah portion speaks of the cloud of G-d that “covered the Tabernacle” and guided the Jews in the desert during their many journeys (Numbers 9:17). But why did G-d create a cloud to serve as our nation’s GPS? Wouldn’t a bird, for example, be enough? What is the message of the cloud?
Clouds impede the sight of man. They don’t allow us to see beyond the present tense.

And the lesson is clear. It is as if G-d is telling each of us: “If you wish to live life fully and build saintly tabernacles in its every instance, you must learn to live within the clouds of life that block the experiences of the past and the illusions of the future, and allow you to focus on, and cherish, every minute of life.”

This does not mean that preparing for the phases of life is unnecessary. But we ought to focus entirely on the creation of our personal tabernacles in every step, within every moment, even in those times that seem so “wasted.”

One of the most revered leaders of world-Jewry in the 18th Century, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, was once asked how long it took him to achieve greatness.
“It only took me five minutes,” he replied, astonishingly.

But he further explained: “Every time there is a five-minute delay in my daily affairs – such as waiting in line at the grocery store, or waiting for a marriage ceremony to begin – I do not allow those minutes to go by idly. Instead, I take out a book to study, or I search for a Mitzvah to perform. It is those five-minute moments, used purposefully, is what enables a person to achieve greatness.”

So as many of us continue to respect the social-distance guidelines and seclude ourselves physically at home, let us remember that G-d is waiting for us to infuse our every moment of the day with meaning and holiness. It’s never too late or too early, to pick up that phone and mend a relationship or cheer up a friend, to work on developing a skill that can benefit your life and our world, to study more and join our many zoom classes, and to take upon yourself just one more Mitzvah.

We will then undoubtedly love living every second of our lives again, including those five-minute delays, and these trying times, and we too will then achieve greatness, each in our own unique way.

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Sadly, we don’t always see, and appreciate, the good in people, during their lifetime.  In my role as a Rabbi, I am, at times, deeply astounded how friends and relatives severe ties because of dumb banalities. And instead of focusing on the inherent goodness in each other, all they see is flaws and negative attributes. But when death suddenly strikes, a more wholesome picture emerges. We then begin to see, albeit a little too late, the favorable side of the person. Yet, this phenomenon begs the question: do we have to wait for people to die to cherish their value? Can we not see the good in every individual, today?

Rabbi Allouche

“I can’t breathe,” George Floyd pleaded, as his cold-blooded murderer suffocated him to death just a few days ago. 

Shortly thereafter, it felt as if our entire society could not breathe. The scene was too brutal to bear. The killing was too senseless to watch. The cruelty was too barbaric to comprehend. 

Ever since that day, we are still gasping for air, as we attempt to revive and restore our dignity and unity. Riots have ensued. Violence and looting have flooded our streets. And demonstrations have erupted everywhere. 

While there is never any place for violence and illegal actions, one cannot remain silent at the sight of this atrocity. Where does this callous hatred come from? Why this apathy? And most importantly, how can we heal and emerge from this crisis better, stronger, and more unified? 

The following ideas are an attempt to answer these questions, and provide a roadmap for change, in three fundamental areas, which, if implemented, will hopefully restore order and bring healing to our broken world: 

1. Changing Our Vision: 

Each time I attend a funeral, a thought comes to mind.

As I listen carefully to the eulogies, I ask myself: How come we never hear any negative eulogies? Where are the contemptible people of our world? Do they not die? Or do they suddenly change and become saints when they leave this world? 

The answer is telling: No, people do not change when they die. Rather, we change when encountering death, and our perspective then changes too. 

Sadly, we don’t always see, and appreciate, the good in people, during their lifetime.  In my role as a Rabbi, I am, at times, deeply astounded how friends and relatives severe ties because of dumb banalities. And instead of focusing on the inherent goodness in each other, all they see is flaws and negative attributes.

But when death suddenly strikes, a more wholesome picture emerges. We then begin to see, albeit a little too late, the favorable side of the person.

Yet, this phenomenon begs the question: do we have to wait for people to die to cherish their value? Can we not see the good in every individual, today?  

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote: “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”  

Similarly, instead of treating people as they “appear to be,” let us treat them as beings who possess souls with inherent goodness and infinite potential, regardless of their race, creed, and color.

Practical tips for achieving this change of vision:

– Search for three positive traits in every person that you will encounter today. Write them down. And meditate on them.

– Train yourself to only speak positively about others. And, as the old adage goes, “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it.”

2. Changing Our Discourse:

In 1991, during the infamous “crownheights riots” in Brooklyn, the then-mayor of New York, David Dinkins visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to ask for his blessing in achieving peace between the “two groups” in the city – the black community and the Jewish community. 

“We are not two people with two sides,” the Rebbe responded, “but one people on one side.” 

His words spoke an eternal truth: In essence, we are all one. Our physical appearances may vary. The G-d given purpose we were each charged with is different. But the “Divine Image” with which we were created, is one. 

Therefore, our divisive discourse must change. Instead of using terms such as “us” and “them,” let us use the word, “we.” For example, say not “what can we do for them.” Say “what can we do for we.” This does not mean that we cannot argue and disagree. We can, and sometimes, should. But we dare not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas, but without ever battling people. Our minds can carry differences of opinions, but our hearts ought to remain united as one.

Practical tips for achieving this change of discourse:

– Erase the words “they have to…” from your vocabulary, and replace them with the words “we have to…”

– Repair a broken relationship by highlighting the elements of unity in it. 

– Accustom yourself to blessing people randomly. Blessings have a unique power to unite people.

3. Change of Actions

As if the covid-19 pandemic wasn’t enough, we are not facing a societal turmoil that has left many of us asking: “What will become of our world?”

Yet, dare I suggest that we alter the question of ‘what will be?’ with the question of ‘what are we going to do?’ 

The difference is stark: Ask “what will be?” and you will have become a visionless person, roaming through life without a direction of purpose and meaning. Ask “what are we going to do?” and you will have become a participant of life, a good-doer, and a difference-maker, that can, and will, change the course of history.

Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet: “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, a smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold our lives, and our world, infinitely more than the emotions of our hearts. 

And so, what good action will you do today? 

Practical tips for achieving this change of action:

– Take upon yourself one good deed, that you’ve never done before, and perform it every day. 

– Smile all the time, especially in the company of others. 

Reach out, on a weekly basis, to at least five people, and share a kind word, a comforting message, an expression of care and love.

– Volunteer to help the vulnerable at least once a week.

– Fill your charity box every day. When full, give to the charitable cause of your choice and re-fill again.

One of the dangerous myths of our generation is the idea that people can simply "fall in love," get married, and live in a state of everlasting bliss, with little or no effort. Without a doubt, this myth is the reason behind many divorces and marital conflicts. Marriage, like life, is not smooth sailing. Highs and lows are an integral part of every existence. But when a married couple musters the courage to transform every crisis into an opportunity, and focus on their inseparable union above the trivialities of their differences, only then will true love will then emerge and endure forever.

Rabbi Allouche

Dear Friends,  

I’ll never forget that moment.

About a year and a half before I met my better half, my dear mentor, world scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, pulled me aside and asked me: “What type of woman do you want to marry?”

“Somebody to love,” I replied half-seriously, hinting at Queen’s song. But my flowery answer didn’t satisfy him.

“You’ve been reading too many love stories,” he replied. “Love does not lead to marriage, as many think,” he asserted. “Quite the opposite: Marriage leads to love.”

The Talmud describes the upcoming festival of Shavuot – which begins this evening until Saturday evening – as the “wedding day” between God and His people. On this day, we married God, and He presented us with His marriage contract, the Torah. In response, we exclaimed together, “we will do” and “we will listen,” and our marriage took off. 

But if the giving of the Torah was such an important event in which we “married” G-d, why is this festival not celebrated with as much flair and glamour as the others? Not only is this festival shorter than the others (it’s only two days in the Diaspora as opposed to the eight respective days of Sukkot and Passover), but it only includes one commandment, the commandment of listening to the Ten Commandments.

The answer reveals the secret to a lasting and successful marriage: Marriage is a work in progress, and its crucial elements of love and respect do not just magically appear “at first sight.” It takes much time, loyal commitment and selfless action, day after day, month after month, year after year, for true love and respect to appear. The wedding day alone, as exuberant as it may be, is therefore far less important than the time and resources that spouses ought to invest in their relationship thereafter.

One of the dangerous myths of our generation is the idea that people can simply “fall in love,” get married, and live in a state of everlasting bliss, with little or no effort. Without a doubt, this myth is the reason behind many divorces and marital conflicts. Marriage, like life, is not smooth sailing. Highs and lows are an integral part of every existence. But when a married couple musters the courage to transform every crisis into an opportunity, and focus on their inseparable union above the trivialities of their differences, only then will true love will then emerge and endure forever.

Our wedding day with God, Shavuot, is coming up this evening. We will certainly all read the Ten Commandments tomorrow, learn Torah, and eat some blintzes and cheesecake. But it would behoove us to remember that it is our active commitment to G-d, His Torah, and His commandments, on the days and weeks after Shabbuot, that will determine the sustainability and success of our marriage with The One Above.

And we ought to remember that the only love that can truly exist and persevere is a love that we ascend to, not fall into, one step at a time, one mitzvah at a time.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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