Article

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.

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

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!

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

The real self is pure, wholesome, and even holy. The real self would therefore never do anything to hurt anyone. The superficial self, on the other hand, can act apathetically, egotistically, and cruelly.

Rabbi Allouche

Imagine this:

You behaved nastily to a friend. You hurt his or her feelings, and you now feel terrible about it. So, you ask for forgiveness and you say: “I am so sorry about what happened. I really don’t know what came over me. I just wasn’t myself…”

Your loved one forgives you, and even expresses sympathy and understanding, and life moves on.

In our friction-prone society, these scenarios happen all the time. But what does it mean that “I was not myself”? Are we schizophrenic? Do we live a dual life?

The answer is painfully simple: There is a real self, and there is a superficial self. The real self is pure, wholesome, and even holy. The real self would therefore never do anything to hurt anyone.

The superficial self, on the other hand, can act apathetically, egotistically, and cruelly.

So why do we sometimes allow the superficial self to demonstrate itself? Why do we allow it to eclipse the pure goodness within each of us?

Perhaps, it is because we sometimes cease to view ourselves as essentially good beings, created in the image of G-d, who are charged with a mission to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly in the ways of G-d” (Micah, 6:8). We then forget that real Divine self of ours and we fall into all sorts of compromised views of who we are and who we ought to be.

This is why the Jewish calendar has times like these. Tonight, tomorrow and on Sunday, we will usher in the Hebrew month of Elul, in which we prepare ourselves for the New Year and the high-holidays with much self-reflection and introspection. But it is also a month, in which G-d gives us the opportunity to jump-start our relationships with G-d and our loved ones and re-ignite the passion, love, and commitment toward our mission to serve as G-d’s agents of goodness in this chaotic world.

Here’s how great the Chassidic master, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi of the 18th Century, put it:

“During this month, the king comes out of his palace to the fields of his city. There, everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him; he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all. Later, however, after he enters his royal palace. None can enter into his presence except by appointment, and only special people and select individuals. So, too, by analogy, the month of Elul is when we meet God in the field…”
– Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b

Indeed, during this special month, our Divine King re-appears. He visits us in the city’s fields, but he also emerges from within, in our inner fields, deep within the chambers of our soul. And He waits for us to meet Him and heed His call to persist through our tribulations, and actualize our very best, Divine selves, at every moment of the day.

This encounter with our King yes may turn out to be the most rewarding moment in our lives.

Article

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.

Article

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?

Article

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?

Article

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.