Where were you on September 11?

If you’re 21 years old and older, you probably remember exactly where you were on that dreadful day. Whether you were in New York or on the other side of the world, that moment in time stands frozen. But why? Why is this day, and that moment, etched in our memories?

Some may tell you it is because you lived a part of history. Others may say that it is because every one who wasn’t there, feels as if their life has been saved. And evidently, survivors who escape death, remember their miracle forever.

Yet, perhaps, there’s another, more profound, reason. September 11 did not just attack the tallest towers of the outside world, but it also threatened the innermost towers of inner being. Suddenly, life seemed so vulnerable. The achievements and ‘towers’ of our lives appeared so fragile. The creations and ‘buildings’ of our years on earth seemed so shatterable.

Interestingly, on the week of September 11, 2001, we read the Torah portion which speaks of the special mitzvah of “the first fruits”: If you owned land in Israel, and it was blessed with sweet fruits, you had to pick your first-ripened fruits, put them in a basket, and offer them to priests in the Holy Temple, to express your gratitude to G-d. But what did the landowners do with their basket? Did it go to the priest together with the fruit, or did they take it back home with them? It depends, the Talmud reveals. If the baskets were cheap and inexpensive, they were left in the Temple. If they were made of gold and silver, the landowners would keep them. But why? Isn’t a valuable basket a worthy offering too?

The lesson is profound: Baskets may be nice and flashy. But at the end of the day, baskets are only baskets. They come and go. And they certainly cannot substitute the fruit-offering itself.

Same with life. Our physical and conceptual baskets, our cars, our homes and our jobs, our buildings and towers, can be deceptive. They may be made of gold and silver, and can give us the sense that we are on top of the world, safe and secure. But we dare not loose sight of the fruits that we ought to plant, of the goodness that we ought to bring, of the sweetness that we ought to spread. For after all said and done, it is that fruit-offering that lives forever. In the words of Winston Churchill, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” And as opposed to the fleeting baskets of life, these fruits of giving, can never be destroyed.

When we ask ourselves, “Where were we on September 11,” we ought to ask:

Where were we, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, on September 11? Where were our instincts and feelings on September 11? What did they awaken in us? Did they shake our perspective on the meaning — and vulnerability — of life? And did we change in any way?

18 years have passed, but the same questions remain: Have we developed? Have we rebuilt our ruins with towers of goodness and kindness? Have we produced real, lasting fruits?

The state of our nation, and our world, may have forever changed on that fateful day. But the direction of that change depends on you and me. Let us make it productive, “fruit-full”, and eternal.

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In order to find happiness and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be and do. Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I being true to my Divine being and values? Am I performing Mitzvahs, today more than yesterday, yet much less than tomorrow?

Rabbi Allouche

“If he’s happy, I’m happy!”

A friend shared these words with me recently, as he was describing his cousin’s relationship with a lady that he was dating. He didn’t think she was a good fit for him, but he dismissed his feelings with this lame excuse.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sentence. Many of us utter it, or different versions of it, to excuse all sorts of behaviors. And we convince ourselves that as long as we are “happy,” almost any behavior is legitimized – from dating the wrong person to engaging in self-destructive habits.

But what do we really mean by “happy”? Can we be truly happy when we engage in conducts that are opposed to our values, and purpose?

The answer is a resounding “no.” A behavior that stifles our self-growth and engaging in actions that squash our infinite potential, may bring us temporary pleasure, but it will not engender long-term happiness. For genuine happiness can only come about when we dedicate ourselves to the vocation of our inner self and its values, and to the Divine calling of who we are asked to be.

The famed psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, whose book, “Man’s Search to Meaning,” has become the second best-selling book of all times (after the Bible), shares a similar perspective on the secret to happiness:

“Happiness, cannot be pursued,” he wrote. “Happiness must happen, and you have to let it happen by not caring about it. Instead, one should dedicate himself to actualizing his highest self; only then, will true happiness ensue.”

Perhaps, this is the reason this week’s portion tells us that only after we have settled our land and worked hard to fulfill our purpose of bettering our part of this world, then, and only then, will we “rejoice in all the good things G-d has given you and your household (Deuteronomy 26:11).”

As a young teen struggling to find my purpose in the vastness of our world, I recall seeking the advice of my dear mentor, world-scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. His poignant words have stayed with me until this very day:

“You ask a good question,” he told me. “But instead of asking what you want to be, ask what you ought to be and do. And if you ask what you ought to be and do at all times, your life will be happy, purposeful and satisfying to your inner ‘I.’”

He was right. In order to find happiness and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be and do. Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I being true to my Divine being and values? Am I performing Mitzvahs, today more than yesterday, yet much less than tomorrow?

If we can answer an affirmative “yes” to these questions, it will then be easy to find happiness, and we will then each be blessed with a good, sweet, and happy year!

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the Heart 2 Heart AZ Conference, here, in Scottsdale, Arizona, that gathered hundreds of Jewish singles from across the globe, to gather together and learn about subjects such as love, dating, and relationships. This conference was organized by our very own Congregation Beth Tefillah members, Randi Friedel Jablin & Alan Jablin, and it was an immense success!

In honor of this conference, I also prepared this short video which addresses the following questions:

“How do I find the best partner for me?”
“Why is finding love so hard?”
“I don’t want to settle, but am I being too picky?”
“How do I know if I’m dating my beshert?”

Thank you to Avi Basha for his help with the video!

May we each find true love, and may true love find us, in our every relationship, in good health and happiness, always!

A Reflection In Honor of Tu B’av

Do you remember that lovely chant from “Fiddler on the Roof”?

After twenty-five years of marriage, Tevye the milkman asks his wife, Golda, if she loves him. Baffled, Golda replies to herself, “For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought him, starved with him, twenty-five years my bed is his – if that’s not love, what is?” But Tevya is dissatisfied. So he persists: “Then, do you love me?” And Golda finally confesses: “I suppose I do.”

Their words reveal a powerful truth: Love comes with toil. It doesn’t just appear magically at “first sight.” What appears then may be lust, or some other type of attraction. But it certainly isn’t love. For it takes much time, loyal commitment – and most importantly – selfless action, day after day, month after month, year after year, for true love to emerge.

This is the reason why the notion of love in the Torah is always connected to deed. As an example, take the commandment in the famous portion of the Shema (in this week’s portion), where G-d commands us to “love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

But how so? The answer does not tardy: “Talk about them [the teachings of the Torah] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.”

In other words, in order to love G-d, you can’t just keep Him in your heart. Rather, you must put Him “in your mouth” also (“talk about Him and his teachings to your children”), and you must ensure that your love for Him is translated into deeds, such as wearing Tefilin on your arms and forehead (“tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads,”) and affixing Mezuzahs on the doorposts of your home (“write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.”)

Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet once wrote: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.” Indeed, we may experience all sorts of moods, but at the end of the day, it is our actions that make us or mar us. A smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold us and our lives infinitely more than the emotions of our hearts.

This applies to our Jewish lives too. For how many of us deprive ourselves of the gift of a mitzvah, just because we are scared? How many of us are reluctant to get involved in Jewish life, just because we are intimidated? How many of us are hesitant to move forward in our spiritual journey, with study, prayer, or a good deed, just because we are not “feeling it”?

I thus invite each of you to join our community’s incessant plea to take upon yourself just one Mitzvah. Any Mitzvah. From wearing Tefilin to affixing Mezuzahs, from Shabbat candle-lighting to joining our daily minyan, from repairing a relationship to forging a new, and impactful one.

Your Mitzvah will, without a doubt, bring true love, light, and healing to your life and our world.

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Ask "what will be?" and you will have become a visionless person, roaming through life without a direction of purpose and meaning. Ask "what we are going to do?" and you will have become a participant of life, a good-doer, and a difference-maker, with a spirit of hope and a weltanschauung that can change the course of history.

Rabbi Allouche

“What will be? What will become of our world?” someone asked me this week.

I understood where he was coming from. After all, the calamities we faced this week were, indeed, too painful to bear.

Just two days ago, 19-year-old Dvir Yehuda Sorek, was stabbed to death by Palestinian terrorists as he returned to his yeshiva, alone in the dark, after purchasing books as gifts for his teachers. Dvir is being described as a “tzaddik,” a righteous young man, who was studying in yeshiva before beginning his IDF service. Tens of thousands of Jews who felt, as each Jew should, that their own brother had been murdered, attended his funeral last night in the settlement of Ofra, in Judea and Samaria.

And, as we all know by now, just this past weekend, at least 31 people were brutally murdered in mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

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, with alacrity and tenacity, 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 traversing mountains and plains to dedicate his lifetime to Torah, Mitzvot and the Jewish people, our leaderless ancestors may have succumbed to the evil decrees of the Romans, and the prestige of our people and its eternal values and life-transformative teachings, may have been reduced to fragments and ashes.

And if the great 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 indescribable pains of its aftermath, and allowed them to dim the light our souls and the buoyant spirit of our youth. And the examples go on and on.

“So, it’s 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?”

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

This Shabbat is coined the “Shabbat Chazon – the Shabbat of Vision.” The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev revealed that on this Shabbat we are each given the power to visualize the rebuilding of the Third Temple – even as we are about to mourn the destruction of the first two temples of Jerusalem, from Sat. evening until Sunday evening (see below for our inspiring program at CBT – all welcome.)

Individual challenges and recent news may, at times, threaten this vision. But we cannot allow them to silence the call of “what we are going to do.” And if we assume our responsibilities as G-d’s agents of goodness and light in this world, I can promise you, my friends, that one day, we will open our eyes, and we will see that we will have built together a splendid world, where Hashem’s presence is felt in its every atom.

So, I implore you — as thoughts of “what will be” may permeate our minds — to join our community’s and our nation’s good-doers and take upon yourself just one Mitzvah. Let us fight evil with goodness, hatred with love, indifference with positive action, and become the answer to our own questions.

For who knows? By doing one good deed, as Maimonides writes, we may be tipping our world’s scale of good and evil and bring for ourselves and the entire world, a full and complete redemption.

May it happen speedily. Amen.

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Every day ought to be treated as the most important day of the year. For 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.

Rabbi Allouche

In the 16th century, an innocent Jew was sentenced to life in prison by an anti-Semitic baron. One day, this cruel baron decided to show him a bit of mercy, and he said to him: “Look Jew, I am willing to grant you one day of freedom each year. I don’t care which day you choose. But remember, you only have one day a year.”

The Jew was torn. Which day should he choose? Should he choose Yom Kippur? Should he choose his birthday, or perhaps, his wedding anniversary?

He decided to pen a letter to one of the foremost rabbinic leaders of his generation, Rabbi David ibn Zimra, to share with him his great dilemma. The Rabbi’s advice did not tarry: “Don’t wait,” he replied to him. “Choose the first available day he gives you. Grab it immediately. Be it a holiday or a regular Tuesday.”

Rabbi David ibn Zimra words share a powerful truth. Every day ought to be treated as the most important day of the year. For 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 our most important day of the year may just be… today.

In this week’s portion, we read about the forty-two journeys of the Jewish people through the desert. The founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, compares these journeys to the various stages of life. Over a lifetime of experience, we each undertake “forty-two journeys,” forty-two self-transformations, before we reach “the holy land.”

His underlying message is poignant: Life in an upward journey, in which we must constantly strive to make very day better than yesterday. That is not to say that life doesn’t have any setbacks and regressions. Even in the desert there were stops. But these stops were themselves a part of the journey. Indeed, every setback and interruption, are parts of our learning and growth, as they too can spring us further and deeper, than ever before.

During a trip to Israel a few years ago, I paid visit to my old high-school Yeshiva, the prestigious Mekor Chaim High-School, founded by my mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. As I entered the walls of the Yeshiva, I became the humble witness of an extraordinary sight: the Mekor-Chaim high-schoolers had formed a perfect circle around the Bima, as they held hands in unity, and danced with overflowing joy, as if that moment, was the most important moment of their lives. Their faces were beaming, and their hearts were set ablaze with the fire of G-d.

But it was the words of their song that moved me most:
“Ma shehaya, haya, ha’ikar lehatchil mehatchala…
Whatever was – was, the important thing is to start anew.
Father in Heaven, renew me completely, ignite my soul.”

I can still hear them sing those poignant words: “whatever was- was, the most important thing is to start anew. Today.”

So, have you turned today into your life’s most important day yet to date?

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Don't get me wrong: results are important, and setting goals and 'destinations' are a vital part of almost every endeavor. But we ought to remember that the journey is, in and of itself, also a destination; that the results are also in the labor itself; that light can be found within the walls of our life's tunnels too - not just at their end.

Rabbi Allouche

“You were appointed to labor; not to reap the fruits of your labor.”

I’ll never forget these words that I heard from my mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, just a few years ago. I had come to see him to express my frustration and seek his advice, after the seeming failure of a project I had launched in my community.

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s words, which were full of love and empathy, surprised me. I was expecting him to analyze the project itself, yet instead, he analyzed my perspective on it.

First, he mentioned that my demand for immediate results is unfair. In his words: “Sometimes the fruits of our labor don’t appear for many years.”

Then, he lamented that our generation is so focused on “reaching destinations,” that “we forget that the journey itself is just as important, if not more, than the destinations we set for ourselves.”

Finally, he urged me to substitute my “work-for-results” approach with a “work-for-work” approach, because, “you were appointed to labor; not to reap the fruits of your labor.”

When I asked him, “appointed by whom?” He replied, with a characteristic smile that lit up his face: “By G-d Himself. He wants you, Pinny, and I, Adin, to labor. Let someone else enjoy the fruits…”

As we read Moses’ heartfelt plea to G-d in this week’s portion, to appoint for the Jewish People a leader, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s advice reappeared in my mind. Moses knew that he wouldn’t live to see the ultimate “results” of his painstaking labor of leading the Jewish people for 40 years in a barren desert. He knew that the delicious fruits of his labor, soon to be enjoyed by all in our holy land that flows with milk and honey, would be left for others to enjoy.

Yet he remained as devoted as ever to his work, to his journey, to his calling. And he continued to devote himself to G-d, and to His people – with equal passion and enthusiasm – until his very last breath.

The lesson is clear and powerful. For how many times do we sink into the traps of self-blame, just because we can’t see the fruits of our labor? How many times do we fall into the abyss of despair, just because we were so consumed by our expectations to see results?

Don’t get me wrong: results are important, and setting goals and ‘destinations’ are a vital part of almost every endeavor. But we ought to remember that the journey is, in and of itself, also a destination; that the results are also in the labor itself; that light can be found within the walls of our life’s tunnels too – not just at their end.

And we ought to know that each of us too was appointed by G-d Himself to work and partner with Him daily in making our world better, each in our own way, each with our own Mitzvahs.

This type of Divine work will undoubtedly prove itself to be more precious and more valuable than any “result” that any human being can ever produce. For, as the Sages teaches us in the Ethics of our Fathers, “the best reward for a Mitzvah – is the Mitzvah itself.”

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But, deep inside, there exists another face. It stems from our very depth and it exposes our deepest vulnerabilities and strengths. This is the face of our inner self, and it cannot be fooled. If you would give yourself the chance to glance at this face, what would you find? Shame? Pain? Fear? Insecurity? A yearning for love? A quest for meaning?

Rabbi Allouche

It seems like FaceApp – the new app that can make your face look younger or older – has taken over our phones, and our lives.

To date, more than 150 million people have downloaded this app. Many of them, including numerous celebrities, have also posted their FaceApp images of how they may look like in a few decades.

But aside from the security concerns that have arisen concerning the origins of this app, I dare ask: Why have we become so obsessed with this app? Why this new craze?

Some psychologists have suggested that we love looking at FaceApp’s version of our old self because FaceApp only changes our faces. Our bodies and our posture remain young and strong. And so, when we look at the version of our old selves we are overcome with a soothing feeling and we say to ourselves: “Oh, getting old is not as bad as we thought… After all, we will still look pretty good in twenty years from now!”

Others think that our FaceApp obsession is reflective of our society’s ongoing pre-occupation with the selfish self. “This is just another way of taking a selfie,” a social critic wrote earlier this week. “But so long as we are so self-preoccupied, we will never be able to appreciate the blessing of selflessness and unity – a virtue that is, sadly, so lacking in our day and age.”

While many of these experts may have a point, I believe the reason is deeper.

FaceApp hit a sensitive chord because it relates — at least, partially — to an unavoidable truth: We each have many faces. We have a “young” face, an “old” face, a “happy” face, a “sad” face, and so on. But FaceApp does not reveal the entire truth. For these are all faces of our external self. They can, therefore, easily be tricked. Some band-aids, a little make-up, a FaceApp makeover, and abracadabra, all looks perfect and shining. Most of us wish these external faces were the only ones.

But, deep inside, there exists another face. It stems from our very depth and it exposes our deepest vulnerabilities and strengths. This is the face of our inner self, and it cannot be fooled. If you would give yourself the chance to glance at this face, what would you find? Shame? Pain? Fear? Insecurity? A yearning for love? A quest for meaning?

Of course, it is much more pleasant and comfortable to look at, and define ourselves by, our external face only. Thus, the obsession with FaceApp, selfies, and all sorts of other external-face exposures.

Alas, our inner face, which Kabbalists call “the Divine Soul” — is restless and it begs to be recognized, and, nurtured, too. And it yearns to serve its Creator, by doing good and actualizing its unique Divine purpose in our world.

In this week’s portion, we read that, “He (G-d) has not observed iniquity in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; G-d is with them, and the shout of a king is in them.”

This does not mean that Jacob and Israel do not have iniquities. But G-d does not “observe” them. And He certainly does not define His people by them, by their FaceApp appearances, and by any external face we may wear – young or old, mischievous or righteous. Instead, He prefers to focus on our inner face, on the “king” within us, and on its infinite opportunities to share its ‘shouts,’ its music, its light, and its goodness with its surroundings.

If that is G-d’s choice, shouldn’t it be ours too?

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Indeed, sometimes, the cure for the many 'snakebites' of life, is to look upward. Sometimes, the best remedy for the plagues and challenges of life that are filled with menacing venoms, is to focus heavenward. And if we are then able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, our 'Father in heaven,' He too will be able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, and bring us His many blessings of healing and strength.

Rabbi Allouche

Have you taken on “the bottle-cap challenge” yet?

This new challenge, that has taken the world by storm, has participants attempting to unscrew a bottle cap without the use of hands, (and preferably with an acrobatic kick).

Many “celebrities” have attempted this challenge as well. Mariah Carey, the famed singer, successfully removed a bottle cap just with the help of her high-pitched voice. Shaquille O’Neal, the ex-NBA superstar, in his unique style, turned the challenge into an act. Instead of kicking the bottle-cap off the bottle, he kicked the person holding the bottle for him.

While this challenge is not of high interest to me, I still wonder: Why has this challenge, as opposed to many others, spread across the world so quickly? Is it because this challenge involves a particularly difficult task? Is it because we have developed a newfound love for bottles and bottle-caps? Interestingly, the answer may be found in this week’s portion.

There, we read about the many venomous snakes that bit the people of Israel in the desert. After Moses prayed their behalf, G-d offered him a solution (Numbers 21): “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten may look at it and live. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake on the pole, lived.” (Perhaps, this is also the origin of the symbol of medicine with the two snakes called “Caduceus.”)

Pondering the meaning of this story, the Talmudic Sages ask: “But is the snake really capable of determining life and death?!” Their answer is surpassingly beautiful: “No, the snake does not have that power. Rather, when Israel would gaze upward and bind their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they would be healed; and if not, they would perish.”

Indeed, sometimes, the cure for the many ‘snakebites’ of life, is to look upward. Sometimes, the best remedy for the plagues and challenges of life that are filled with menacing venoms, is to focus heavenward. And if we are then able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, our ‘Father in heaven,’ He too will be able to connect with, and devote ourselves to, and bring us His many blessings of healing and strength.

When the late Lubavitcher Rebbe (whose 25th yahrzeit fell this past Shabbat) was just three years old, his mother found him playing a game with his friends. They were each trying to climb to a tree to its highest peak.

All the other children tried to climb the tree to no avail, but he her son had succeeded in just a few minutes. So she asked him, “How did you manage to climb that tree so quickly?” The young boy — who was later to become the beloved Lubavitcher Rebbe — responded wisely: “My friends looked down, so they became afraid of falling, but I looked up so I was never afraid!”

Indeed, when we look up, we are never afraid. When our eyes gaze upward, our hearts are filled with faith, and reassurance. And when our hands reach out to hold the hands of our heavenly co-captain, we may just discover that He is continuously helping us navigate our boat, called “life,” in the best of directions, even when, from time to time, we may lose control.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, the 19th Century Philosopher once said that his aim as a philosopher is “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.” And he explained: “The fly keeps banging its head against the glass in a vain attempt to get out. The more it tries, the more it fails, until it drops from exhaustion. The one thing it forgets to do is look to the sky.”

Perhaps, this is why our generation has become so obsessed with the bottle-cap challenge. For, like the fly, we too desire to come out of our life-bottles that are often filled with emotional, psychological and spiritual limitations. Our Divine souls yearn to cleave to the One Above, without any obstruction, and without any caps separating us from G-d.

But unlike the fly, we also know, consciously or subconsciously, that the only way to come out of these limitations is by aiming upward. And so, we attempt to kick the bottle-cap off our bottles, so that we can come out of our bottles, creating a perfect and seamless unity between Heaven and Earth.

This is the type of bottle-cap challenge we should all attempt. I thus nominate you and all human beings with this #BottleCapChallenge.

May G-d bless us all with immense success. Amen.

This piece was initially published online in the Times of Israel, HuffPost, and other publications.

This Shabbat, Jews worldwide will be marking the twenty-fifth anniversary since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, one of the most influential Jewish leaders of all times.

Much ink has been spilled on the Rebbe, and on his unparalleled influence. While most leaders only focus on their own constituents and following, the Rebbe was a leader of the world and all of humanity. And with his transcendent persona, the Rebbe successfully resuscitated a post-holocaust generation, by breathing into it new hope for a better future, and by arming it with a relentless mission to heal and rebuild our world with unconditional love.

But above all, the Rebbe changed the way we think, and thereby, act. Excuses that sought to stifle our growth, were disproved. Social norms that aimed to turn us into creatures of habits, were overturned. Preconceived notions that shackled our potential, were removed. And myths that were thought of as truths, were debunked.

Here is a sample of revolutionary lessons and ideas that the Rebbe gave our world:

1. No Such Thing As “Follower”:

In 1964, Israeli thinker, activist, and former Knesset member, Geulah Cohen, had a private audience with the Rebbe that lasted over two hours. A few days later, she described this meeting as life-changing.

In her words, “I have been in the company of wise of great learning and intelligence… But sitting opposite a true believer is quite a different matter. After having met a wise man, you remain the same as before — you have become neither less of a fool nor more of a sage. Not so with a believer. After having met him you are no longer the same… For the true believer believes in you as well.”

Similarly, Rabbi Sacks recently spoke about his life-altering meeting with the Rebbe, during his years as a student at Cambridge. “Here I was, a nobody from nowhere, and here was one of the greatest leaders in the Jewish world challenging me not to accept the situation [at Cambridge], but to change it,” Lord Sacks revealed. And he concluded, “That was when I realized what I have said many times since: That the world was wrong. When they thought that the most important fact about the Rebbe was that here was a man with thousands of followers, they missed the most important fact: That a good leader creates followers, but a great leader creates leaders.”

2. No Such Thing As “Overworked”:

My dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once shared with me that in his last communication with the Rebbe, he asked the Rebbe whether he should be slowing down, as his plate was over-flowingly full. At the time, Rabbi Steinsaltz was involved in three full time jobs: scholarly writing, outreach work in Russia, and a network of schools in Israel. The Rebbe’s reply to Rabbi Steinsaltz was typical: “Continue to do all these things and to do more things and work even harder.”

This was the Rebbe’s approach with every person he encountered. He was never satisfied with past deeds, as glorious as they may have been. Rather, he always challenged us to do more, to be more, each and every day. The Rebbe once quipped: “every living thing must grow!”

Why? Because he believed in us, and in our infinite potential. And he knew that as much as we have achieved yesterday, there is still so much more we can achieve today, and even more so, tomorrow.

As Rabbi Steinsaltz observed: the Rebbe wanted to change our very nature, from living as ordinary people with ordinary dealings, to becoming extraordinary people, with extraordinary achievement.”

3. No Such Thing As “Stuck”:

In the winter of 1967, a group of young ladies called the Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask him for a blessing. They were “stuck” at the Detroit Airport, on a Friday afternoon, and their flight home to New York had been canceled.

They spoke briefly with the Rebbe’s secretary, and after putting them on hold for a short while, he returned with a reply from the Rebbe: “The Rebbe doesn’t understand the word ‘stuck.’”

They tried to explain to him what the term “stuck” means, but the secretary interrupted them, saying: “The Rebbe knows what ‘stuck’ means. But the Rebbe says that a person is never stuck.”
They understood the Rebbe’s wise advice, and they rose to the occasion. Shortly thereafter, they ran around the airport, smiling at strangers, lending their support, and igniting souls with the light of Judaism.

The Rebbe’s words taught this group, and us all, that there is no such thing as ‘stuck.’ Indeed, every moment has a Divine call. Every place has a holy purpose. Every person has a vital role to play on the many stages of God’s world.

4. No Such Thing As “Disabled”:

Shortly after the Yom Kippur war of 1973, a group of “Disabled Veterans,” of the IDF, visited the Rebbe. Joseph Cabiliv — a veteran whose legs were amputated after his jeep hit a Syrian mine in the Golan Heights – was privy to this special meeting with the Rebbe, in which the Rebbe challenged them to see themselves not as “disabled,” but as “exceptional.”

Here is how Joseph chronicled this exceptional encounter with the Rebbe:

“The Rebbe passed between us, resting his glance on each one of us. From that terrible day on which I had woken without my legs in the Rambam Hospital, I have seen all sorts of things in the eyes of those who looked at me: pain, pity, revulsion, anger. But this was the first time in all those years that I encountered true empathy. With that glance that scarcely lasted a second and the faint smile on his lips, the Rebbe conveyed to me that he is with me-utterly and exclusively with me.

“The Rebbe then began to speak, after apologizing for his Ashkenazic-accented Hebrew. He spoke about our ‘disability,’ saying that he objected to the use of the term. ‘If a person has been deprived of a limb or a faculty,’ he told, ‘this itself indicates that G d has given him special powers to overcome the limitations this entails and to surpass the achievements of ordinary people. You are not “disabled” or “handicapped,” but exceptional and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.

“‘I therefore suggest,’ he continued, adding with a smile ‘-of course it is none of my business, but Jews are famous for voicing opinions on matters that do not concern them-that you should no longer be called nechei Yisrael (“the disabled of Israel,” our designation in the Zahal bureaucracy) but metzuyanei Yisrael (“the exceptional of Israel”).’

Indeed, the Rebbe did not see “disabilities” in people. Rather, he chose to focus on their abilities. He never saw what we lacked physically. Instead, he saw what we possessed spiritually.

Imagine if we saw “disabled” people of all kinds, as the Rebbe saw them. Imagine if we saw our friends and neighbors, even the most “disabled” ones, as champions of the world. Imagine if we saw our fellow beings, even at their lowest state, and during their lowest hours, as beacons of mankind. Would our world then not become a better and happier place?

5. No Such Thing As “Retirement”:

Mrs. Chana Sharfstein, a noted author and educator, once visited the Rebbe, in honor of her son’s thirteenth Bar Mitzvah birthday.

“We had discussed everything we planned to, when the Rebbe surprised me by asking about my uncle, Rabbi Note Zuber of Roselle, New Jersey,” Mrs. Sharfstein recounted. She responded that “he was doing well, thank G d, and he had just retired.” Upon hearing these words, the Rebbe shook his head and said, “Retired, what does that mean?”

The Rebbe rejected the notion that people ought to “retire” and stop working. We may explore other vocations and channel our talents and experience into different avenues. But we cannot retire from life and from our Divine purpose to continue to make a difference in our world, each in our own way.

This gem of wisdom, perhaps also reveals the hidden ingredient behind the greatness of every giant of history: they never stopped growing. No matter the challenge. No matter the circumstance. No matter the age (- the Rebbe once quipped: “I am not as old as I am on my passport!”) And this is what made them robustly alive, and truly great.

6. No Such Thing As “Passivity”:

In 1974, the then Chief Rabbi of North Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, journeyed to New York to visit the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and seek his advice and blessing.

During the course of their conversation, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lau what was the mood “in the streets of Israel,” as people were just beginning to recover from the devastating 1973 Yom Kippur war in which close to 3,000 Israelis were killed, and over 9,000 were wounded.
Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “What will be?”

The Rebbe refused to hear these words. He grabbed Rabbi Lau’s arm and exclaimed, “Jews don’t ask: ‘What will be?’ Jews ask: ‘What are we going to do?”

This was the Rebbe’s approach to all of life’s tribulations. Passivity was not in his vocabulary. Inaction was never a legitimate response. The question of “what will be,” may belong to the passive and visionless being, roaming through life without a direction of purpose and meaning.

But the Rebbe believed in a different route. He asked not “what will be,” but “what are we going to do?” And with this question, he challenged Rabbi Lau, and us all, to become true leaders and difference-makers, who rise from the challenges of the past and the present, to march forward and upward into the opportunities of the future, with unending deeds of goodness and kindness.

Today, twenty-five years after the Rebbe’s passing, we are left with the Rebbe’s question of “what are we going to do,” ringing in our ears. For we each face challenges and moments of despair. But the Rebbe believed that actions are more powerful that sighs; that the acts of hope are mightier that feelings of despair; and that achievements that generate light are so much stronger than any type of darkness we may face.

Personally, I miss the Rebbe terribly.

I miss his penetrating gaze that set my soul ablaze. I miss his all-embracing smile that filled my being with warmth. I miss his unconditional love that made the small child that I was, feel like a giant of mankind. And I miss his words of advice that came from a rare combination of exceptional wisdom and sublime holiness. Sometimes I wonder how different our world would be today if the Rebbe was still physically with us.

But we must make up for his physical absence, with his spiritual presence in our own lives. And we ought to continue to learn from the Rebbe, his weltanschauung, and his ever-shining model, by becoming agents of goodness and ambassadors of healing in our broken world.

The Rebbe, as a leader par excellence, believed in each of us. It is now time we also believe in our deepest selves, and in our unique ability to change the world, and usher in a new era of lasting peace.