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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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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. 

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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

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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. 

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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?” 

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We pray that this pandemic will come to an end soon and that world governments and agencies will speedily find the tools to combat and eradicate it. But, in the meantime, it would behoove us to also learn some life-lessons that have emerged from this disease, directly and indirectly. And so, here are five pressing lessons.

Rabbi Allouche

Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Chinese officials announced that they had identified a new virus. They eventually named it the COVID-19, now widely known as “the coronavirus.”

To date, more than 90,000 people have been affected by this virus globally, including 3,000 deaths. In many countries, schools and universities, malls and sports stadiums, have been ordered shut. Major conferences, trade shows, and world tournaments, and many international fights, have been canceled.

We pray that this pandemic will come to an end soon and that world governments and agencies will speedily find the tools to combat and eradicate it. But, in the meantime, it would behoove us to also learn some life-lessons that have emerged from this disease, directly and indirectly.

And so, here are five pressing lessons:

LESSON ONE: One Sneeze Can Change The World

It boggles the mind. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with COVID-19 spread viral particles through coughing and sneezing that can instantly infect tens, if not hundreds, of people. 

The lesson is powerful: we each possess two forces within – a body and a soul. Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist (1858-1917), and many others, famously called man a “homo duplex,” or, a “double man,” referring to this idea. But if small particles from our body can produce such havoc in our world, just imagine how much good our souls can create with its Divine particles! If one sneeze can affect our world so dramatically, one positive deed can certainly produce an even greater change!

This stands as one of the most underestimated truths of life: As the COVID-19 has proved, each of us holds the power to alter the state of our society. If we can allow our souls to produce some Divine particles through deeds of goodness and kindness, we too can then engender a positive revolution that can, and will, eventually change our world for the better. 

As Maimonides, the medieval Rabbi, physician, and philosopher, once put it: “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 and salvation to the entire world” (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Repentance 3.5).

LESSON TWO: A Little Bit of Fear Is Good

Franklin D. Roosevelt famously exclaimed that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself,” in his first inauguration speech on March 4, 1933. Yet dare I ask, is it true that we should not be afraid of fear? Is fear entirely illegitimate? 

Judaism would disagree. Don’t get me wrong: fear can be dangerous. It can paralyze the mind, stifle our growth, and lead to habits of destruction. But fear can also be positive and constructive.

Take, for example, the COVID-19 coronavirus. It is no secret that it has spread fear among individuals of all backgrounds and cultures. People are increasingly afraid to congregate, travel, attend public events, and even send their children to school.

But the more we fear for what will be in the future, the more we can also learn to appreciate all that we have, today, at this very moment.

Turbulent times like these, teach us – in such harsh ways – that life is so vulnerable, that seeming certainties are so uncertain, and that material achievements are so fleeting. The fear that then naturally emerges from these realizations can rattle us profoundly. But it can, and it must, also awaken us to a renewed appreciation and commitment to all that is firm and certain in our lives, such as deepening our relationships with our spouses, children, and friends, re-dedicating ourselves to living a life of purpose, and learning to recognize, and be grateful for, the infinite blessings that God bestows upon us each day. 

Perhaps, this is why the wisest of man, King Solomon taught that “happy is the man who is always fearful,” (Proverbs 28:14). A little bit of fear is very valuable. For it prevents us from falling into a stalemate state and it opens our eyes to all the good treasures that lie within us and in front of us, that we may have been too numb to notice.

LESSON THREE: The Unbreakable Power of unity

As I write these words, world-governments and international experts are collaborating in unprecedented ways to find a vaccine and possible cures for this coronavirus. Additionally, according to the Knights Center for Journalisms in the Americas, the coronavirus has brought together media personnel from 91 organizations in 40 countries “to disprove rumors and combat disinformation about the coronavirus epidemic.” 

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

It is no secret that we live in tumultuous and divisive times. Our status as “ONE” nation under G-d is menaced by discords, of all sorts. Yet, the coronavirus teaches us all that the health and success of our future rely on one essential pillar: Respecting each other for who we are: people of all kinds, who were created in the image of G-d. We can certainly disagree; but we must not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas; but we cannot battle people. We can frame the content of our conversation; but we cannot frame the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings.

And when we join hands together, a path of redemption is then paved. Like the colors of a rainbow or a symphony of instruments, true beauty and harmony will only emanate from our ability to unite and collaborate together.

LESSON FOUR: “Keeping Good Hygiene” Must Apply To All Areas

With the rapid spread of the coronavirus, health officials are constantly warning us to “keep good hygiene” by making sure to “scrub our hands for at least 20 seconds frequently, cover our noses and mouths when we cough, and try to avoid contact with strangers.”  Tech experts are also cautioning us to clean our tech-devices as often as we can as viruses can live on the surfaces of our screens for “up to 96 hours,” or “four days at room temperature.”

This has led many of us to undertake extra measures of protection from wearing masks to sanitizing our hands and faces compulsively.

But I wonder: are we as careful about physical infections as we are about spiritual ones? What if we were just as attentive about the spiritual viruses that we or others may spread, such as negative words and actions? 

It is no secret that we live in an age of impulsions and instant gratifications. In social media, we often do not hesitate to voice our immediate reaction to every story under the sun. But not every Facebook post is worthy of our likes, pokes, and comments. Not every Tweet is worthy of our re-tweet. And not every Snapchat and text are worthy of our response.

For in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreements, our minds often take the back seat, and spiritual viruses may be spreading themselves uncontrollably.

In the wise words of the 18th century Sage, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern: “All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read.”

LESSON FIVE: Man plans, G-d Laughs

So says an old Yiddish adage. As we all know, our personal plans are not always fulfilled. Sometimes, we do get ‘stuck in traffic.’ Other times, we receive a phone call that rocks our day.

The coronavirus has destabilized many of us. My dear brother-in-law was recently asked to quarantine himself for 14 days after returning home from a trip to Europe. Personally, I was notified yesterday that a six-day mission of young Jewish Leaders to Riga and Paris, in which I was to assume a role, was canceled.

Yet this disruption of plans teaches us one of the most important secrets to happiness. Every day includes two plans: the plan that we design for ourselves, and the plan that God designs for us. Unfortunately, they are not always synchronized. Sometimes we plan for A, but B happens. But the question then begs itself: how will we respond? Will we bury ourselves in frustration, or will we learn to accept the hidden blessings in God’s unannounced plans?

Viktor Frankl, the famed psychotherapist and bestselling author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” once spoke to his students about our responsibility to heed to life’s calling, even when it clashes with our life-plans. “Don’t ask what you want from life,” he asked them. “Instead, ask what life wants from you, and then you will live happy lives.”

Frankl was right. True happiness can only be achieved when we learn to accept what life wants from us, even when it interferes with our own plans. Some of history’s greatest heroes – from Queen Esther who we are about to celebrate in the story of Purim to Nicholas Winton who was, unexpectedly asked to save 600 children during the holocaust – rose to glory when they heed the call of the unplanned.

And so must we. At times, we may not see the blessings in the unexpected events of life, but we must believe that they exist, and that, one day, we will find within them the laughter of God.