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?


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.

Article

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

It seems like an opening replete with sin.
The snake sins as he seduces the inhabitants of Eden. Adam and Eve defy G-d’s commandment and they sin as they eat from the forbidden tree. Cain sins as he murders his own brother, Abel. And eventually, the entire human experience on earth fails, as we succumb to our worse inclinations: jealousy, promiscuity, thievery, and more.
But is that a fitting introduction to such a saintly book as the Torah? Why can’t the pages of G-d’s book open up with a smile?
The answer is telling. And it shares an invaluable lesson for life:
By opening His Torah with so many flops, G-d was teaching each of us that failure is an inevitable part of life. In the words of King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:20): “There is no righteous man who never sins.” Yet, the big question of life is not whether we fail, or if we sin; the big question is if we can find the courage and strength to rise up after we fall.
Unfortunately, many people fall again and again, after experiencing failure. Why? Because falls breed despair. Despair then damages a person’s self-esteem gravely. And a damaged self-esteem, in which a person ceases to believe in himself, brings about more and more falls.
But the founders of humanity acted differently. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, and they immediately began to raise a family. Cain commits one of the worse sins ever. But he then immediately repents, marries, begets a child, and builds a city, naming it after his son, Chanoch. The human experience fails, and a devastating flood emerges. But then, the surviving family of Noach plants a vineyard, and rebuilds the world.
No; Adam and Eve, Cain, and Noach and his family, did not lock themselves in their bedroom for endless days after experiencing failure. They did not drink themselves to oblivion, nor did they fall into a state of debilitating depression. Instead, they went out and made a difference. They understood that they could never undo their past. In fact, they would actively repent for the rest of their life; but that didn’t stop any of them from doing the right thing. Because they understood, what Winston Churchill proclaimed a few millennia after them that, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”
The lesson for all of us is vital: the reaction to destruction must be construction. The best answer to evil must be goodness. The only response to darkness must be light. And as long as the soul still resides in the body, and as long as the breath of G-d replenishes our lives at every moment, one must make a positive difference in this world, without loss of enthusiasm, and with more light, more love, and more peace.

Article

For Judaism is not about bringing earth up to heaven. Rather, it is about bringing heaven down to earth, and creating an abode for G-d, here, below.

Rabbi Allouche

It stands as one of my most vivid memories.

Each year in high school, just before the summer break, our school’s dean, my dear mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, would come visit us, and share with us a stirring message:

“I don’t know, really, if you’ve advanced this year,” he would tell us with his characteristic forthrightness.

“It’s really hard for me to judge that. And you surely cannot judge yourself. So go home. You have parents and siblings. Ask your parents and siblings if you’ve become any better. Now, if they say, ‘you definitely became better’ then it means you’ve advanced this year. But if they say that they do not notice any difference, perhaps you did not study well enough, or perhaps, it was the wrong thing to do to study all year long. If the latter is the case, please think about your journey and come see us before coming back next year.”

He would then conclude his words with a riveting lesson:

“You see, my dear students: The question of life is not whether you soared to the heavens this year. The real question is where you landed at the end? Sometimes you don’t land anywhere. And then you are compelled to ask yourselves: Is that what your great spiritual search was all about?!”

I am reminded of my mentor’s impassioned plea, as we exit the spiritual highs of Yom Kippur, in which we “soared to the heavens.” The feeling of elevation and inspiration at our ever-growing Congregation Beth Tefillah was unparalleled. Close to 1200 of our holy brothers and sisters united together for our most meaningful and inspiring services.

In the words of one our attendee: “I have never in my life felt a truly meaningful Yom Kippur, until I came to CBT on Yom Kippur.”

Or in the words of yet another attendee: “In all the Yom Kippur’s in my entire life, this was the most special and educational one for me.”

But, friends, we now need to land back somewhere. For Judaism is not about bringing earth up to heaven. Rather, it is about bringing heaven down to earth, and creating an abode for G-d, here, below.

This is why G-d gave us the holiday of Sukkot (coming up this Sunday evening! – a full schedule will be sent out on Sunday), in which we land back on earth, building a Sukkah, and shaking four of Earth’s special species: to bring the G-d that we connected to on Yom Kippur, down below, into our everyday life. To channel the holiness of our souls into the physicality of our body. To draw down the extraordinary Divinity of the heavens onto the ordinary earthiness of our world.

Will you join me in this landing, as you so inspiringly joined me in our High Holiday take-off?

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’

Steve Jobs’ voice trembled as he shared these words to college students in 2005. (https://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html)

He continued: “Since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Friends, during the next 24 hours, we too will be looking at ourselves in the mirror as we ask the same question. “Am I being true to myself, to my purpose, to my Jewish identity?” It’s not an easy question. But it is Yom Kippur’s most important question.

So on this eve of Yom Kippur, I beg you: this year make a decision to take upon yourself one more Mitzvah. Make a decision to grow Jewishly with one good deed. Make a decision to create an additional connection, to build a stronger bridge, between you – the real you – and G-d.

It could be anything: from wearing Tefillin every day, or more than you do now, to affixing Mezuzot on all your doorposts, to going to the Mikvah, to lighting Shabbat candles, to helping the needy, to visiting the sick. Any Mitzvah can, and will, enrich and empower. And you never know; your mitzvah may carry a “ripple-effect” and bring about positive change not just to your world, but to our entire globe.

Article

The lesson is powerful: if we wish to live purposefully and meaningfully, we must not allow our mental, psychological, and emotional barriers to limit us.

Rabbi Allouche

“The year of breaking barriers.”

This is how this upcoming Jewish year, is being coined, among many Jewish circles across the world.

This idea stems from the Hebrew letters – Hey Tav Shin Peh – that represent the total number of 5780 years, from the creation of Adam and Eve, until this year’s holy day of Rosh Hashanah, which begins this evening. These Hebrew letters also stand for the Hebrew words – Tehe Shnat Peritza – which mean, may this year be a year of breaking barriers.

The lesson is powerful: if we wish to live purposefully and meaningfully, we must not allow our mental, psychological, and emotional barriers to limit us.

We may each have our own limitations, but we cannot be defined by them. We might possess a disease, but we are not the disease. A part of our body or mind may have been diagnosed as feeble or unhealthy, but our deepest core remains good, pure, Divine, and yes, limitless. We may not practice all of the mitzvahs that are soul so desires to practice, but we dare not sink in our comfort zones and accept our status quo as a fait-etabli.

During this year of “breaking barriers” G-d is calling upon us to come out of our own limits and believe that, for our limitless Jewish soul, “impossible is nothing,” as a shoe company once put it.

So here is a suggestion for this Rosh Hashanah:

Think of two or three particular ‘barriers’ in your life which are holding you back. Then, make a resolution to overcome them and the negative thoughts 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 Mitzvah from affixing Mezuzot to Tefilin to Shabbat candle lighting, and making time for G-d and for your soul and its desire to pray, to learn Torah, and to do good.

Time and again, the Torah orders us to fight evil by… burning it. In its saintly words: “You must burn the evil from within you,” (Deuteronomy chapters 17, 21, 22 and more). But do we really have to burn evil in order to overcome it? Can’t we just combat it? And if the Torah is implying that we should eradicate it, why not say so explicitly?

The answer reveals one of the great secrets of education. For there are two ways to tackle the evil “from within us.” One way is to engage in a face-to-face confrontation with it. When evil comes our way, we converse with it, we analyze it, we strive to understand its root and only then do we engage in an attempt to surgically remove it.

Another way to tackle evil is to simply burn it before it even has time to conquer the stage of our consciousness. How so? By igniting our soul with the flame of G-d, His Torah and His Mitzvot and allowing it to grow and expand until evil burns and fades away.

These two methods are diametrically opposed. The first gives room for evil to express its opinion. It may even legitimize its stance. Worse, it may even give evil an opportunity to allow its venom to permeate our mind. The second method dismisses evil completely. Not because we don’t believe in its existence, but because we believe in the power of the soul, so much more. Evil may have a way, but in the presence of our Divine soul, it stands no chance.

In the words of the author of the Tanya, the saintly Chassidic master, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “A little bit of light, dispels a lot of darkness.”

Friends, we too have the power to ignite just a little light that is brighter and mightier than any menacing force. We might define ourselves by the size of our height, the waist of our body, the dimensions of our home or the limits of our natural tendencies. We may even say to ourselves, from time to time, “this is the way I was born, and this is the way I will always be.”

But our confining nature can be altered; our narrow perspectives can be changed. And if we can just re-ignite our flame of G-d within, and engage relentlessly in deeds of goodness and kindness, all of life’s challenges will “burn” and melt away.

So, have you connected to G-d yet today? Have you performed a Mitzvah? Have you ignited just a little light of goodness that can, and will, expel a lot of darkness?

Article

Let us remember that G-d's watchful eyes are indeed always upon us. No, they are not there to judge us; that, we have to do. But they are there to care for us affectionately and ensure that we remain "nice people," who make the world "nicer" and brighter each day.

Rabbi Allouche

Did you know that the average American is caught on camera more than 75 times a day!

Although many may think that this is a blatant intrusion of our privacy – we need not worry. For, after all, we are always watched. No; not just by video cameras at the corners of our every street and every building. Rather, Judaism teaches that it is G-d Almighty who has his loving eyes on us, at all times. In the words of our Sages in the Ethics of our Fathers (Chap. 2:1): “Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds are being inscribed in a book.”

Similarly, in this week’s portion, G-d commands us to appoint judges and officials at the gates of our every city (Deuteronomy 16:18). The founder of the Chassidic movement, the holy Baal Shem tov, teaches that this holds true regarding our inner cities too: our bodies and souls. For they too deserve inner judges, guided by the watchful eye of G-d, to decide which sights, sounds, and feelings, are allowed to come in, knowing all too well, that not all that we see, hear and feel, can benefit them.

Modern science has also confirmed the brilliance of this teaching. In a recent study, researchers set-up a coffee table in the hallways of a North American university. A box was placed on the table, where people could leave some tips after serving themselves with coffee. On some weeks, a large poster with big eyes was hung by this coffee-table. On other weeks, a poster with flowers. On the weeks where the big eyes were displayed, people left an average of 2.76 times as much money as at other times. The conductor of this study, Ara Nozenrayan, author of “Big Gods”, concluded that “watched people are nice people.”

Perhaps, this is also why the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, who compiled a list of 12 verses for children to learn by heart, included in this list the following awe-inspiring verse from Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Tanya book:

“And, behold, G‑d stands over him, and the whole world is full of His glory, and He looks upon him and searches his reins and heart to see if he is serving Him as is fitting.”

As we continue to prepare in earnest for the High Holidays during this Elul month of introspection, let us remember that G-d’s watchful eyes are indeed always upon us. No, they are not there to judge us; that, we have to do. But they are there to care for us affectionately and ensure that we remain “nice people,” who make the world “nicer” and brighter each day.

May G-d’s loving gaze inspire us to do good during our life’s every moment, and may it bring upon us Hashem’s abundant blessings for a good, sweet, healthy and happy New Year. Amen.

Article

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.”