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

Rabbi Allouche

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

This Sunday evening, December 22, Jews worldwide will be celebrating the first of the eight days of Chanukah, by kindling their Menorahs, playing the dreidel, and eating delicious donuts and latkes.  

While Chanukah also celebrates the miraculous victory of the few yet righteous Maccabees over the many yet wicked Greeks, the kindling of our Menorahs commemorates the miracle of the Menorah’s olive oil burning for eight days instead of just one day. 

The story is well known. When the Maccabees came to rededicate the Temple in the year 164 B.C.E., they found a single cruse of oil still intact. With that single cruse of oil, they lit the Temple’s grand menorah. The oil was sufficient for only one day, yet, miraculously, it burned for eight days. This is why Chanukah is celebrated for eight days.

But why do we focus only on the miracle of the Menorah? Why is the military victory almost ignored in our Chanukah celebration (with the exception of its mention in the special prayer of “V’al Hanissim” which is added in our daily ‘Amidah’ and ‘Grace After The Meal’ prayers)?

Perhaps, the reason is rooted in the centrality of light in Judaism. Indeed, ever since the first day of creation when G-d uttered the words “let there be light,” Judaism has been obsessed with spreading G-d’s light to our world. Thus it is no coincidence that Judaism has chosen to, yet again, focus on the miracle of the Chanukah lights over the military miracle. For these lights embody our vocation and our very raison d’etre. 

And so, as we gather together to light our Chanukah Menorahs, from this coming Sunday evening, December 22, until (and including) Sunday evening, December 29, I humbly submit to you eight very brief yet eternal life-lessons that we may draw from our shining Chanukah-lights, which will hopefully help us connect us and re-dedicate us to who we are, and we were born to be: 

1. Our Chanukah candles are unfazed by darkness and any other opposing force. Instead of focusing on the darkness that they are fighting against, they are focused on the Divine light that they are fighting for. Indeed, the only way to overcome darkness fully is by lighting the lights of our souls, one light at a time, one Mitzvah at a time.

2. Our Chanukah candles are only “bodies of wax.” They only become true candles, when they kindle their wicks with fire. The same can be said about human beings. We are only bodies, of flesh and blood, until we kindle our spiritual wicks and bring light to a person in need, and healing to a broken spirit. 

3. Our Chanukah candles must sacrifice their wax in order to continue to shine bright. Indeed, light is produced by self-sacrifice. It is not enough to talk the talk. We must also walk the walk, give of ourselves, and invest all of our resources in order to create light and make a positive and lasting change in our part of the world. 

4. Our Chanukah candles are proud of who they are and what they are called to do. They have no second-thoughts, third-thoughts, and four-thoughts. They stand tall, with conviction and determination, and are unintimidated by any challenge along the way. And so must we. 

5. Our Chanukah candles may produce a small light. But that small light dispels a lot of darkness. We too may say to ourselves that, in the face of the world’s darkness, our light is too small, and that the Mitzvahs we desire to do are insignificant. But our Chanukah candles prove that our small lights too can triumph and dispel much darkness.

6. Our Chanukah candles unite the past, present, and future. And while they remind us of the miracle of Chanukah some two thousand years ago, they also illuminate our lives in the present, and teach us and our future generations invaluable lessons on our imperative duty to shine bright and far. We too ought to be deeply rooted in our past. Yet, we must also focus on illuminating the present, and ensuring that our light and the light of our Divine values permeate our children and shine on into the future. 

7.  Our Chanukah candles do not feel threatened by other lights. Quite the opposite, they feel bolstered and empowered by the lights that join them. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said about human beacons of light, who are filled with insecurity and jealousy when faced with other people who also strive to bring light to humanity. Yet we ought to remember that when lights join together, our personal lights are not diminished; rather, they are increased. They are not dimmed; rather, they shine brighter than ever. 

8. Our Chanukah candles continue to live on, long after they are gone. Although light may be physically extinguished, its spiritual impact of warmth and love forever remains in the lives of the people it illuminated. That is the power of light. The same applies to people of light. Although they may pass on, they continue to live on in the hearts of the people they have touched, and most importantly, in their actions. In the words of the Talmud (Berachot 18a): “The righteous, in their death, are called living.” And so, will you, and your light, also live forever? 

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?

“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?

Article

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

Rabbi Allouche

Talk about pressure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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.