Article

If you wish to become a leader, it is your actions that count, not necessarily your character. Life is not about what you feel; it is about what you do. You may be the most brilliant person, an Ivy League graduate, and a multi-talented prodigy with a spirit of heaven, but if your inner gifts and talents cannot translate into earthly actions, that better our world, your personality and leadership skills are futile.

Rabbi Allouche

Did he go to Harvard or to Yale? What kind of character did he have? Which friends did he surround himself with? Who were his role models that helped shape his vision and destiny?

Amazingly, no one knows. When it comes to describing who Moses was as a child, and what type of education he received, the Torah remains mysteriously silent.

Instead, the Torah introduces Moses — the person who is to become our nation’s most important leader of all times — with a single action that he performs at the age of 20: “And Moses grew up, and he went out unto his brethren,” (Exodus 2:11). There, the Torah explains how Moses demonstrates his unconditional love toward a Jewish slave and saves him from imminent death.

The lesson in this introduction is profound: if you wish to become a leader, it is your actions that count, not necessarily your character. Life is not about what you feel; it is about what you do. You may be the most brilliant person, an Ivy League graduate, and a multi-talented prodigy with a spirit of heaven, but if your inner gifts and talents cannot translate into earthly actions, that better our world, your personality and leadership skills are futile.

Judaism, at its very core, has never been big on emotions. My dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once told me: “Only two people truly care about your emotions – your mother, and maybe, your shrink. But seven billion people will care about your actions in this world. So, rather focus on the latter.”

Interestingly, our Torah also, in most cases, avoids describing emotions. And beyond its many stories, the vast majority of its commandments too are focused on deed alone. It’s not that emotions don’t count. They too are important. But we ought to use them as channels to good actions, as means to the goal, and not as the goal itself. And if our emotions cannot take us anywhere, we must still be able to continue to do our duty, and achieve our goal of making the world better. Life is too important. It ought not be interrupted by of emotions.

I am reminded of this important lesson each time I attend a funeral. Interestingly, most eulogies emphasize the actions of the deceased person, much less than his feelings. And it begs a question: Wasn’t the deceased, like all other human beings, presented with challenges that fueled his emotions? What of his temper, his doubts, his ego, his desires? What of his ambiguous times in which he was overcome by sadness and depression? Of this, you don’t hear a word.

Perhaps, this is because humanity understands that after all said and done, it is our actions that define us; not our inner sentiments. In the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel teaches in the Ethics of our Fathers (1:17): “What matters most is the deed.”

Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet, once wrote: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.”

Hugo was right: at times, it is best to put our feelings aside and become the children of our deeds. And a generous act will reverberate in the world infinitely more than an emotion, no matter how spiritual it may be.

So, have you performed any Mitzvahs and good deeds yet today?

Article

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

Rabbi Allouche

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B”H

Friday, Tevet 6, 5780 – January, 2020

Our Dearest Nina Rivka,

6,338,880 minutes. 105,648 hours. 4402 days.

That’s how many minutes, hours, and days have passed, since we last hugged you so strongly, so tearfully, so passionately. I’ll never forget that magical day. Mommy and I rushed to the Paradise Valley hospital in Scottsdale, and after so many prayers, so many swirling emotions, and so much pain and effort (mainly on Mommy’s end!), your tiny, pure, innocent and delicate being emerged onto planet earth. As we hugged you tightly for the first time, our eyes were tearing with joy. After four beautiful boys, we were blessed with you, our radiant princess, and our hearts were dancing with gratitude. Our souls were set aflame with jubilance.

Today, our beloved daughter, Nina Rivka, as we hug you so tightly as you become a Bat Mitzvah, and a fully-fledged adult, chassida, and mentsch, we feel the exact same.

It’s strange. These two distinct days are diametrically opposed. Then, on the day of your birth, you were so small. Today, you are such a giant. Then, you were facing life and all of its fluctuations. Today, life is facing you. Then you were developing your wings. Today, you are spreading them far and wide, to continue to soar to the heavens.

Still, our hug, then and now, felt the very same. And the reason, I believe, is telling: The circumstances of your birth and your Bat Mitzvah day, are certainly different. But our parent-child relationship is not. The oneness of our being, the strength of our bond, the fervency of our love, is beyond the grasp of any confrontational force, even if the latter includes geographical distances. Nothing – indeed, nothing – can ever menace the interconnectedness of our souls, that were woven so perfectly by G-d Himself.

A few days ago, as we observed you preparing your Bat Mitzvah video, your speeches, and your Mitzvah projects, our minds floated to an impossible place:

Did we do a “good-enough” job to lead you to this day and to equip you with all the tools that your adult life will now require? The answer, only G-d knows. Still, our dear daughter, below is another daring attempt to empower you with some ideas as you embark on this journey called life, in which you will undoubtedly continue to grow, shine and succeed, from strength to strength, to become a woman of G-d and His people, and an agent of wisdom and goodness to each and all:

1. Dream Big

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning, an English poet, once wrote. He was right: Don’t hesitate to place the bar of your dreams, very, very high. Even if it seems ‘too’ high. For it is our dreams that make us who we are.

In our Torah, all of our heroes dreamed big: Avraham dreamed of changing the world by teaching humanity about G-d and monotheism. Yosef dreamed of becoming a royal king. Moshe dreamed of leading our nation into Eretz Yisrael, our holy and promised land. They each faced the harshest of challenges, but they never stopped dreaming. That is what made them the greatest of the greats. And that is what will make you the greatest of the greats too.

2. Work Hard

Your great-grandfather, Sassi Pinchas Allouche and his wife, Nina for whom you were named, used to repeat a one-liner which has now been engraved in the consciousness of our family: “We must achieve today, much more than we did yesterday, and much less than we will do tomorrow.”

I have no doubt that you too, Nina Rivka, will follow his calling. At times, you will certainly be tested. Life is filled with challenges. But it is the people who work relentlessly hard to go forward, that eventually succeed, beyond measure.

3. You Can Be Your Greatest Friend or You Can Be Your Greatest Enemy

When I was your age, our dear Rabbi and mashpia, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, or “Rav Adin” as we like to call him, once called me aside and asked me: “Do you know what my greatest obstacle is?” Before I was able to utter a word, he replied: “It is me, Adin,” he said. “And the same goes for you. The greatest obstacle to you, Pini, is Pini. Once you will learn to master yourself, you will not have any problems in mastering the world.”

It was the best advice I had ever received. And it makes sense: each of us, as you know possesses a G-dly soul and an animal soul. It’s simple: the G-dly soul wants us to do good. The animal soul wants us to do animalistic things.

Both the G-dly soul and the animal soul talk to us throughout the day. That’s how G-d made us. But almost always, you will know and feel deep within you, which voice you ought to listen to. Here’s a tip: The G-dly soul will almost always lead you toward Mitzvot and good actions. Conversely, the animal soul doesn’t want you to engage in doing good. If you’re unsure which voice you should listen to, you can always ask me, Mommy or a teacher of yours that you trust.

And as Rabbi Steinsaltz taught, if you can follow your G-dly soul and control the animal one, you too will see that you will be able to master the world.

4. You Are Greater Than What You May Think. You are indeed an “Eshet Chayil”

The holy Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, once said that “the greatest tragedy of life, is when a prince stops believing that he is a prince, and a princess stops believing that she is a princess. They then settles for less because they think they are less.”

How true. I know that, sometimes, we doubt ourselves, and our ability to make a real difference.

Remember that line in The Lion King, when Mufasa tells his son Simba, whose territory and royalty had been robbed from him by a vicious uncle: “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.”

Today, Nina Rivka, as you take your place in the Circle of Life, you too must never forget to look inside yourself. There, you will always find your Divine soul with its infinite potential, and endless treasures. You are indeed a princess. Or, in the words, of King Solomon you are an Eshet Chayil, a woman of strength.

People may lure you into doing dumb things, just because “everyone does them.” Life may throw at you all sorts of challenges. But always remember that you were born to be G-d’s princess, and that He has given you all of the power and skills to be royal, and act royally, in every place, at every moment, with every person.

5. No, Don’t “Pursue Happiness”

Just Fulfill Your Purpose, and Happiness Will Come To You

Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite authors, once wrote: “Don’t aim at happiness…You have to just let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run, happiness will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.

Indeed, happiness happens, not when you pursue it, but when you fulfill your unique purpose in life. If you live every moment fully, and seize every opportunity that is presented to you, then you will be happy.

Here’s a little secret: As a Rabbi, my main goal in life is to make people happy by supporting and encouraging people to stay true to themselves, to their Jewish identity, to their Divine souls. Sadly, too often, I see people become that which they are not. And it pains me. Some become doctors when they really wanted to be lawyers. Some become racing business-men when they really wanted to be settled family-men. And some turn into a pathetic version of their neighbor instead of a version of their true selves. So they become sad.

Nina Rivka, Mommy and I know that you are truly special and unique. G-d created only one Nina Rivka in the entire world. And He wants you to be YOU the YOU that possesses a shining Jewish soul that yearns to follow Hashem’s Torah and do His Mitzvot, and the YOU that is blessed with so many special talents and skills – from the brilliance of your intellect, to the vastness of your compassionate heart, to your amazing artistic talents and many other skills, to your willingness to run to do a Mitzvah, no matter its degree of difficulty. And if you actualize your YOU fully, your life will be filled with blessings, and happiness will then come to you, and never leave you.

6. Ok, One Final Idea

Ok, here’s one final idea. Perhaps, this idea is the most important of all: Know that Abba and Mommy are always here for you, with endless and unconditional love. And if you ever need an ear to listen to you, a heart to feel you, a soul to shine upon you, Abba and Mommy are always, always available for you.

One of my favorite songs growing up, was an Israeli song composed by Arik Einstein, titled “Ouf Gozal / Fly Away Young Bird.” It is a riveting song about an older bird, singing to his young chicks, soon after they departed from his nest:

My little birds have left the nest

Spread their wings and flew away

And I, an old bird, remain in the nest

Really hoping that everything will be alright.

I always knew the day would come

When we’d have to part

But now it came to me so suddenly

So what is the wonder that I am a bit concerned.

Fly, little bird

Cut through the sky

Fly to wherever you want

Just don’t forget

There’s an eagle in the sky

Be cautious…

Our dearest, dearest daughter, Nina Rivka, we say to you too: fly, cut through the sky. Soar to the highest, most spiritual of heavens, in the ways of our Torah, Mitzvot and Chassidout.

And continue to bring us, the Rebbe, Rav Adin, Sidi Bahe, Nina for whom you are named, and all of your surroundings, abundant Nachat and pride, always.

ישימך אלוהים כשרה רבקה, רחל ולאה, יברכך ה’ וישמרך, יאר ה’ פניו אליך ויחונך, ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום

With endless love,

Abba & Mommy

Article

The message is profound: We each possess two identities. On the one hand, we are "Jacobs." And as Jacob's life was filled with tribulations, our inner Jacob too struggles, fights and is called to battle the evil "Esaus" of our lives, including our inner demons, impulsions, and temptations.

Rabbi Allouche

What is your name?

Jacob, our forefather, would have had a tough time answering this simple question.

In this week’s portion we read that, after wrestling with an angel, Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel.” Yet, after this name-change, the Torah, from time to time, still calls him “Jacob.”

The same applies to the name of our Jewish nation. At times, the Torah calls the Jewish people, “the congregation of Jacob” or “the seed of Jacob”; other times, we are called “the children of Israel.” So who are we? What is our real name?

The message is profound: We each possess two identities. On the one hand, we are “Jacobs.” And as Jacob’s life was filled with tribulations, our inner Jacob too struggles, fights and is called to battle the evil “Esaus” of our lives, including our inner demons, impulsions, and temptations.

But we also have moments in which we are “Israels.” And just as the first Israel, who triumphed over evil and became one with His Divine calling, we too have times in which we connect to our deepest self, assume our Divine roles and become G-d’s beacons of light and bastions of hope in our dark and broken world.

To always be an “Israel,” is, perhaps, impossible. Most of us remain both Jacobs and Israels throughout our lives, alternating between these two identities.

But the goal is to have more “Israel” moments than “Jacob” moments. And the objective is to invest all of our energies and efforts toward unleashing our Divine soul, and all of its light; actualizing our infinite potential; realizing our G-d given talents and skills; and engaging in uninterrupted deeds of goodness and kindness, even when our Jacob-like mentality and mood may seek to disrupt us.

At times, we may see ourselves as struggling “Jacobs” destined to live a life of hardships, from within and from without. Our minds may then be conquered by despair. We may even say to ourselves, “this is the way we were born, and this is the way I will always be.”

But our confining Jacobs can be altered; our narrow perspectives can be changed. And if we can just re-ignite our Israel, our flame of G-d within, and engage relentlessly in Mitzvahs, and in good deeds, we can rise beyond all of life’s challenges, and bask in the light of G-d and in the grace of His embrace.

So, have you unleashed your Israel yet today? Have you performed a Mitzvah? Have you risen above and triumphed over all that may be pulling you down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This message was also poignantly conveyed by the legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, when he once saw his student racing through the streets of his town.


“Why are you running so fast?” the Rabbi asked him. 

The man responded: “Rabbi, I’m racing in pursuit of my livelihood!”

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

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

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

“I learned the meaning of true love from two drunkards,” the legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, once told his disciples. 

“One day, as I was strolling in the streets of my neighborhood, I overheard a conversation between two drunkards:

The first drunkard exclaimed: “I love you!”

His friend, the second drunkard, responded: “No, you don’t.”

But the first drunkard was insistent: “Yes, I promise you. I love you with all my heart.”

So, the second drunkard retorted: “No, you don’t. If you truly love me, why don’t you know what hurts me?'”

In contrast to the opinions of many, this story demonstrates that love is not determined by the good feelings it may engender, and the benefits that it provides. For, after all, if love just about me and my pleasures, I am really only loving myself.

Rather, true love tells the story of an altruistic act that focuses entirely on the other – his joys and his pains, his emotions and his worries. This is also why the word for love in Hebrew, Ahava, also means “to give” (the root word of “Ahava” is “Hav”, which means “giving” in Aramaic). For love means to give to the other, selflessly and unconditionally.

In this week’s portion we read about the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca: “Isaac took Rebecca, she becomes his wife, and he loves her.” The order of affairs is telling: First, Isaac marries Rebecca. Then, he loves her. Love, the verse is implying, can only come after we have transcended our ego and its selfish desires, to become one with our beloved. 

Indeed, to experience true love, we must be able to set our personal feelings aside, and ask ourselves, “Have I cared for my counterpart today? Have I felt his or her hurts and aches? Have I rejoiced at his or her triumphs and successes? Have I devoted myself to his or her needs, even if they may, at times, rock my comfort zone?”

If and when we answer yes to these questions, we will then have discovered the meaning of true love.

Article

To develop our inner Isaac is, oftentimes, much harder than to develop our inner Abraham. We all love to go out, connect to others, launch projects and be smiles from ear to ear.

Rabbi Allouche

“If you had to condense the message of Judaism into one word, what would word would you pick?”

This was the question I posed my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, just a few years ago. I thought he would say something banal, like “Torah,” or “Mitzvah,” or even, “love.”

But his brilliant answer astounded me: “consistency,” he replied without a hiccup of hesitation.

In this week’s portion, Isaac takes the center stage. Unlike his father, Abraham, Isaac did not lead any revolutions. Quite the opposite, he was a man of few words, who was defined by his silence, more than his speech. And unlike his father, who traveled the world to preach monotheism to humanity, Isaac never left the Holyland. He stayed put, and he dug wells.

As Abraham and Isaac’s descendants, we too inherited both personalities. We are called to bring out our inner Abraham and bring the word of God to every human being. We must ignite every soul we meet with kindness, spark every mind we encounter with wisdom, and set ablaze every heart we connect to with love.

But even as we journey as “Abrahams” to touch, to move, to give, and to give more; we must also stay true to our inner “Isaacs” that ‘digs wells’, focuses inward – on his values, his G-d, his family, and his soul – consistently, each and every day.

To develop our inner Isaac is, oftentimes, much harder than to develop our inner Abraham. We all love to go out, connect to others, launch projects and be smiles from ear to ear.

Yet to be an Isaac, you need persistence, humility, and the strength of conviction. It’s painless to smile on the outside, especially when one feels like it. But how about smiling inside our homes, especially after a long day of work, when we come home drained and exhausted? To bring a child to the world is pleasurable. But to educate a child is much more difficult.

But an Isaac knows that beneath the stones and the dirt, awaits a wellspring ready to erupt and give life to all its surroundings with fresh and pure waters. And so, an Isaac never gives up, and he digs and digs and digs consistently until all treasures from within are unearthed.
Are we ready to develop our Isaac too, with consistency, inside ourselves, and inside our homes, and inside our communities?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

We, too, are faced -- each in our own way -- with "floods" that distract our minds, rock our hearts, and threaten to destroy all that is alive in our personal world. And we, too, ought to respond by constructing spiritual "arks" and "words" to hold and preserve the fractions of our lives that are important and precious to us.

Rabbi Allouche

Talk about pressure!

Noach, the hero in this week’s Torah portion, and his family faced some of our world’s most extreme pressures.

They lived in a society filled with all sorts of immoralities. I don’t know if it is humanly possible to remain moral, let alone, sane, amidst such unconscionable people. It would have certainly been much easier for Noach to “go with the flow” and raise children that didn’t have to be different.

Yet, Noach withstands the immense pressures with impressive conviction and he remains loyal to his true, Divine self and calling. But what was Noach’s secret?

Noach achieved this almost-impossible feat by building an ark that would hold and preserve small fractions of human and animal life. But it wasn’t just a physical ark that Noach build. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, reveals that the Hebrew word for “ark,” teivah, that Noach build, also means a “word.” To protect himself and his family, Noach built a spiritual “ark” of words of holiness and values of goodness and kindness. And when the raging flood erupted, G-d commanded Noach to come into his spiritual ark too, and enter into its serene haven of sanctity.

We, too, are faced — each in our own way — with “floods” that distract our minds, rock our hearts, and threaten to destroy all that is alive in our personal world. And we, too, ought to respond by constructing spiritual “arks” and “words” to hold and preserve the fractions of our lives that are important and precious to us.

At times, our efforts seem pointless. Can the small spiritual “arks” that we build really save us from life’s raging waters? Can a few minutes of prayer every morning really affect our day? And how about the time and resources we dedicate to doing a Mitzvah? Or the undivided attention that I devote to my child to help him with his homework, or with a dilemma he may be facing? Or the few seconds that I spend to smile, say a good word, ignite a soul, and brighten someone’s day?

Yet, this is the beauty, and power, of Noach’s lesson: He too couldn’t save the whole world. He too could not dedicate the totality of his time and the fullness of his heart to embrace and impact all that he wanted. So every day, he dedicated his time and energy to constructing an ark to preserve that which he could.

For at the end of the day, as Noach so shiningly demonstrates, it is those few moments that we dedicate daily and consistently, to building an ark of goodness for ourselves and our surroundings, that help us preserve our sanity, dignity, and divinity, and create a legacy that makes a real difference, and saves the world.

In the saintly words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory: “Remember that in a hall of perfect darkness, totally dark, (as was the world that Noach lived in), if you light one small candle; its light will be seen from afar; its precious light will be seen by everyone.”

So, have you devoted yourself yet today, to the building of your own ark, to the kindling of a candle of goodness? Your world, our world, may just be dependent on it.

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Indeed, Judaism believes that human beings are fundamentally good. We all possess a Divine soul. We are all born pure. In the history of mankind, we have yet to find an evil baby. Thus, instead of striving to change ourselves, all that is needed is that we become ourselves and heed the calling of our soul to actualize our unique, G-d given skills and talents, and serve as G-d's agents of goodness and kindness in this world.

Rabbi Allouche

These are days of introspection and change. In the poignant words of Maimonides: Despite the fact that Teshuvah, returning to G-d, is always timely, during these Ten Days of Teshuvah, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, it is exceedingly appropriate.”

But dare I ask, can people really change?

In France, where I was born, the common answer to this question is a resounding ‘no.’ There, most people will tell you that, “le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose” – “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

In American society, many agree with the French, but they would apply this idea only to adults, or at least, to the elderly. “You can’t teach an old dog, new tricks,” they would exclaim.

In Israel, this perspective is also common. To make their case, some people may even evoke the words of Jeremiah: “Can the Cushite change his skin, Or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23).

Nonetheless, Judaism’s take is refreshingly different.

“The topic of change is, maybe, good for politics,” my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, shared with me a few years ago. “But when it comes to people, the question of “can people really change,” ought to be replaced with the question of “should people really change?”

Indeed, Judaism believes that human beings are fundamentally good. We all possess a Divine soul. We are all born pure. In the history of mankind, we have yet to find an evil baby. Thus, instead of striving to change ourselves, all that is needed is that we become ourselves and heed the calling of our soul to actualize our unique, G-d given skills and talents, and serve as G-d’s agents of goodness and kindness in this world.

Bonnie Ware, an acclaimed speaker and author, who was a palliative care nurse in Great Britain for decades, recently wrote a moving piece about her experience attending to thousands of end-of-life patients. (https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying/)

“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” she wrote. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.”

As a Rabbi, I often see this phenomenon of “change” in people, and it pains me. Some people turn into doctors when they really wanted to be lawyers. Others, turn into racing business-men when they really wanted to be settled family-men. And some turn into a pathetic version of their neighbor instead of a becoming a version of their true selves.

Interestingly, the paramount regret that most of these patients shared was that they wish they “had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.”

As we prepare ourselves for Yom Kippur with self-reflection, introspection, and desires to “change” ourselves in all sorts of ways, let us remember that all that G-d asks of us is to simply return to our true selves, and realize our own unique talents, skills, and purpose.

During this upcoming year, let us live the unique life that we were given. Let us actualize the unique purpose that we were charged with. And let us become the unique person that our Creator wants us to be. Amen.