Article

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”?  

B”H

Friday, Tevet 6, 5780 – January, 2020

Our Dearest Nina Rivka,

6,338,880 minutes. 105,648 hours. 4402 days.

That’s how many minutes, hours, and days have passed, since we last hugged you so strongly, so tearfully, so passionately. I’ll never forget that magical day. Mommy and I rushed to the Paradise Valley hospital in Scottsdale, and after so many prayers, so many swirling emotions, and so much pain and effort (mainly on Mommy’s end!), your tiny, pure, innocent and delicate being emerged onto planet earth. As we hugged you tightly for the first time, our eyes were tearing with joy. After four beautiful boys, we were blessed with you, our radiant princess, and our hearts were dancing with gratitude. Our souls were set aflame with jubilance.

Today, our beloved daughter, Nina Rivka, as we hug you so tightly as you become a Bat Mitzvah, and a fully-fledged adult, chassida, and mentsch, we feel the exact same.

It’s strange. These two distinct days are diametrically opposed. Then, on the day of your birth, you were so small. Today, you are such a giant. Then, you were facing life and all of its fluctuations. Today, life is facing you. Then you were developing your wings. Today, you are spreading them far and wide, to continue to soar to the heavens.

Still, our hug, then and now, felt the very same. And the reason, I believe, is telling: The circumstances of your birth and your Bat Mitzvah day, are certainly different. But our parent-child relationship is not. The oneness of our being, the strength of our bond, the fervency of our love, is beyond the grasp of any confrontational force, even if the latter includes geographical distances. Nothing – indeed, nothing – can ever menace the interconnectedness of our souls, that were woven so perfectly by G-d Himself.

A few days ago, as we observed you preparing your Bat Mitzvah video, your speeches, and your Mitzvah projects, our minds floated to an impossible place:

Did we do a “good-enough” job to lead you to this day and to equip you with all the tools that your adult life will now require? The answer, only G-d knows. Still, our dear daughter, below is another daring attempt to empower you with some ideas as you embark on this journey called life, in which you will undoubtedly continue to grow, shine and succeed, from strength to strength, to become a woman of G-d and His people, and an agent of wisdom and goodness to each and all:

1. Dream Big

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning, an English poet, once wrote. He was right: Don’t hesitate to place the bar of your dreams, very, very high. Even if it seems ‘too’ high. For it is our dreams that make us who we are.

In our Torah, all of our heroes dreamed big: Avraham dreamed of changing the world by teaching humanity about G-d and monotheism. Yosef dreamed of becoming a royal king. Moshe dreamed of leading our nation into Eretz Yisrael, our holy and promised land. They each faced the harshest of challenges, but they never stopped dreaming. That is what made them the greatest of the greats. And that is what will make you the greatest of the greats too.

2. Work Hard

Your great-grandfather, Sassi Pinchas Allouche and his wife, Nina for whom you were named, used to repeat a one-liner which has now been engraved in the consciousness of our family: “We must achieve today, much more than we did yesterday, and much less than we will do tomorrow.”

I have no doubt that you too, Nina Rivka, will follow his calling. At times, you will certainly be tested. Life is filled with challenges. But it is the people who work relentlessly hard to go forward, that eventually succeed, beyond measure.

3. You Can Be Your Greatest Friend or You Can Be Your Greatest Enemy

When I was your age, our dear Rabbi and mashpia, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, or “Rav Adin” as we like to call him, once called me aside and asked me: “Do you know what my greatest obstacle is?” Before I was able to utter a word, he replied: “It is me, Adin,” he said. “And the same goes for you. The greatest obstacle to you, Pini, is Pini. Once you will learn to master yourself, you will not have any problems in mastering the world.”

It was the best advice I had ever received. And it makes sense: each of us, as you know possesses a G-dly soul and an animal soul. It’s simple: the G-dly soul wants us to do good. The animal soul wants us to do animalistic things.

Both the G-dly soul and the animal soul talk to us throughout the day. That’s how G-d made us. But almost always, you will know and feel deep within you, which voice you ought to listen to. Here’s a tip: The G-dly soul will almost always lead you toward Mitzvot and good actions. Conversely, the animal soul doesn’t want you to engage in doing good. If you’re unsure which voice you should listen to, you can always ask me, Mommy or a teacher of yours that you trust.

And as Rabbi Steinsaltz taught, if you can follow your G-dly soul and control the animal one, you too will see that you will be able to master the world.

4. You Are Greater Than What You May Think. You are indeed an “Eshet Chayil”

The holy Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, once said that “the greatest tragedy of life, is when a prince stops believing that he is a prince, and a princess stops believing that she is a princess. They then settles for less because they think they are less.”

How true. I know that, sometimes, we doubt ourselves, and our ability to make a real difference.

Remember that line in The Lion King, when Mufasa tells his son Simba, whose territory and royalty had been robbed from him by a vicious uncle: “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.”

Today, Nina Rivka, as you take your place in the Circle of Life, you too must never forget to look inside yourself. There, you will always find your Divine soul with its infinite potential, and endless treasures. You are indeed a princess. Or, in the words, of King Solomon you are an Eshet Chayil, a woman of strength.

People may lure you into doing dumb things, just because “everyone does them.” Life may throw at you all sorts of challenges. But always remember that you were born to be G-d’s princess, and that He has given you all of the power and skills to be royal, and act royally, in every place, at every moment, with every person.

5. No, Don’t “Pursue Happiness”

Just Fulfill Your Purpose, and Happiness Will Come To You

Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite authors, once wrote: “Don’t aim at happiness…You have to just let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run, happiness will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.

Indeed, happiness happens, not when you pursue it, but when you fulfill your unique purpose in life. If you live every moment fully, and seize every opportunity that is presented to you, then you will be happy.

Here’s a little secret: As a Rabbi, my main goal in life is to make people happy by supporting and encouraging people to stay true to themselves, to their Jewish identity, to their Divine souls. Sadly, too often, I see people become that which they are not. And it pains me. Some become doctors when they really wanted to be lawyers. Some become 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 version of their true selves. So they become sad.

Nina Rivka, Mommy and I know that you are truly special and unique. G-d created only one Nina Rivka in the entire world. And He wants you to be YOU the YOU that possesses a shining Jewish soul that yearns to follow Hashem’s Torah and do His Mitzvot, and the YOU that is blessed with so many special talents and skills – from the brilliance of your intellect, to the vastness of your compassionate heart, to your amazing artistic talents and many other skills, to your willingness to run to do a Mitzvah, no matter its degree of difficulty. And if you actualize your YOU fully, your life will be filled with blessings, and happiness will then come to you, and never leave you.

6. Ok, One Final Idea

Ok, here’s one final idea. Perhaps, this idea is the most important of all: Know that Abba and Mommy are always here for you, with endless and unconditional love. And if you ever need an ear to listen to you, a heart to feel you, a soul to shine upon you, Abba and Mommy are always, always available for you.

One of my favorite songs growing up, was an Israeli song composed by Arik Einstein, titled “Ouf Gozal / Fly Away Young Bird.” It is a riveting song about an older bird, singing to his young chicks, soon after they departed from his nest:

My little birds have left the nest

Spread their wings and flew away

And I, an old bird, remain in the nest

Really hoping that everything will be alright.

I always knew the day would come

When we’d have to part

But now it came to me so suddenly

So what is the wonder that I am a bit concerned.

Fly, little bird

Cut through the sky

Fly to wherever you want

Just don’t forget

There’s an eagle in the sky

Be cautious…

Our dearest, dearest daughter, Nina Rivka, we say to you too: fly, cut through the sky. Soar to the highest, most spiritual of heavens, in the ways of our Torah, Mitzvot and Chassidout.

And continue to bring us, the Rebbe, Rav Adin, Sidi Bahe, Nina for whom you are named, and all of your surroundings, abundant Nachat and pride, always.

ישימך אלוהים כשרה רבקה, רחל ולאה, יברכך ה’ וישמרך, יאר ה’ פניו אליך ויחונך, ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום

With endless love,

Abba & Mommy

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

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?

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.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

A Reflection In Honor of Tu B’av

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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