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?

This afternoon, Jews worldwide will continue to celebrate Chanukah, with the lighting of the 6th candle of Chanukah, alongside the lighting of the Shabbat candles that are lit each and every Friday. 

But here’s an interesting question: what if we discover, at the last minute, that we only have one candle in our home? Should we use it to light the Shabbat candle or the Chanukah one? Interestingly, Jewish law states that, although Chanukah candles are ‘highly important’, we should designate this single candle as a Shabbat candle, and not a Chanukah one.

The reason is moving. In the words of Maimonides: “The Shabbat light takes precedence because it symbolizes peace in the home. And our responsibility toward creating peace in the confines of our home is greater than our responsibility toward creating peace in the world.”

Maimonides’ words ring true, especially in our day and age, in which many are so passionate to “create peace in the world,” that they forget to “create peace in the confines of their own homes.” They will be the first ones to fight against bigotry, sexism, and racism, and G-d bless them for that. But are they willing to invest just as much energy toward fighting against their bad tempers, and their animalistic inclinations? Can they exercise self-control, not just other-control? Can they ensure that their light shines inward, not just outward? 

My dear mentor, world-renowned scholar – Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once advised me, so poignantly: “Know that the greatest obstacle to me, Adin, is me. The greatest obstacle to you, Pinny, is you. But once you learn to master yourself, you will not have any problem in mastering the entire world.”

Indeed; Judaism has forever placed the home above the battlefield, family harmony above military victories, and the purity of innocent children above the might of decorated army-commanders. 

Don’t get me wrong: it is important, even vital, to better our world, each in our own way. Doing a Mitzvah for the other, not just for the self, and involving ourselves in “Tikun Olam projects” and other forms of social-aid initiatives are essential to the peace and success of our society. But we also ought to remember that our light needs to shine inward, not just outward, and that “our responsibility toward creating peace in the confines of our home is greater than our responsibility toward creating peace in the world.”

And so, as we continue to kindle our lights of Chanukah toward the public streets of our neighborhoods and cities, let us not forget to also illuminate our own homes too with the fire of our souls. Let us use these festive times, to connect and re-connect to the members of our household, with peace, harmony, and unconditional love. 

 Our unobstructed light, emanating from within, will then shine forth, bright and far, to eternity. 

Article

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

Rabbi Allouche

What is your name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine a complete stranger approaches you in the street, and after offering a brief greeting, he begins to criticize your every move.

How would you react? Would you respond emphatically or just ignore him? 

Well, that stranger is Jacob, in this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 29). Upon arriving to the city of Haran, he encounters a group of shepherds and immediately rebukes them for taking a break and not working: “You should be out in the fields, still grazing with your sheep, instead of slacking off, and taking a break!”

Oddly enough, the shepherds react cordially, explaining to Jacob, that they are simply waiting for other shepherds to arrive. Not only are the shepherds not bothered by Jacob’s words, but they actually take the time to offer an excuse and justify their behavior. Wow! What did he say in order to elicit such a dialogue? What was his secret of communication?

The answer lies in one word: When Jacob initially approaches the local shepherds, he addresses them as… brothers. Listen to his words: “And Jacob said to them: “My brothers! Where are you from?” (Genesis 29:4). Had he greeted them and said, “Hey, you lazy workers, get back to work,” their response would have undoubtedly been different. But Jacob called them ‘brothers!’ with a sincere heart, and that made all the difference.

How true. If we can’t love others, we can’t rebuke them. If we can’t see the other as a brother or a sister, we can’t criticize him or her. Our words of critique will simply not penetrate.

As a Rabbi, I witness this phenomenon on a regular basis. “Rabbi! My wife is really making horrible mistakes,” someone shared with me this week. “I keep on telling her to fix them, but she only gets angrier with me.” Or conversely, a woman might complain: “My husband is really lazy, and as much as I try to reproach him nicely, he just blows up, leaves the room, and disappears for 2 hours.” Parents also come begging: “I am observing my children making terrible choices, but they reject all my advice. Can you please talk to them for us?”

Every case is surely unique, and this advice may not apply to all. But, at times, all that is lacking is this brotherly approach of love. And if we can first love them unconditionally, treasure them, and compliment them, then, they will surely listen. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first drunkard exclaimed: “I love you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

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

Rabbi Allouche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

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

Rabbi Allouche

Talk about pressure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.