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Rabbi Greisman's Blog

Rabbi Greisman's Blog

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Executive Orders

Upon the invention of the tape recorder, a lazy college student came up with the brilliant idea that instead of attending class in person one can simply place a tape recorder at their desk and listen to the class at their leisure. The idea appealed to others in the class and before long the poor instructor found himself talking to a class full of tape-recorders. His solution: He prerecorded the next lecture and at class time he simply pressed play and had his machine talk to their machines.

I was reminded of this joke last night, after watching a clip from the Chanukah party at the White House that a friend had forwarded to me. The clip, which was apparently taken by someone in the back of the room, showed the President speaking to a bunch of cell phone cameras. Virtually everyone in the room was holding up their phone and filming an event that they can get a much better video of on the official website just moments later. I’ve seen this many times before at events with politicians, celebrities or other important personalities and it always strikes me as rude and disrespectful. Further, trying to get a good picture or video robs you of the opportunity to enjoy and experience the moment. If I were the President, a thought crossed my mind, I would sign an executive order forbidding any cellphone video taking at White House events.

Earlier this week, my wife Dobi began a seven-part program for women entitled “Pause and Affect,” a course that illuminates the beauty and sanctity of the Holy Shabbat. Before the class, she shared with me some of the topics she was going to address. (An unsolicited marriage tip: Before you make a presentation of any kind, ‘talk it through’ with your spouse; it will not only enhance your presentation, but your marriage as well.)

Much research was done and plenty of data is available to prove the damage to our safety, character, personality and mental health as a result of the non-stop use of smart phones – from the tragic cases of online bullying and suicides to the alarming rates of depression and social awkwardness it brings on, to the dangers of texting while driving. Yet, despite us all knowing the data, we simply cannot unplug. As a society, we are simply addicted to our phones.

But there is one group of people in the entire world that actually takes an entire day off from using their smart phones. You guessed it, that group consists of those who religiously observe the Shabbos.

The reason is simple. Just like “a prisoner cannot free himself from the house of bondage” so too our human-self cannot rise above and overcome its’ own human flaws. It is only through an ‘executive order’ from the truly Supreme Commander in Chief that we are infused with the power to overcome our weakness and connect to something greater than us. A Mitzvah is much more than a commandment, it is an act of attachment to G-d; and when we are attached to the Infinite – there is no limit to what we can accomplish, even the seemingly impossible task of keeping our hands off our phones for 25 hours.

While many courts and societies have attempted challenging this executive order, from the ancient Greeks in the time of Chanukah to the soviet regime in our lifetime, this “sign that will forever be between Me and the children of Israel” is alive and well and will forever keep the Jewish nation strong.

I wish you a truly wonderful, serene and phone-free Shabbos.

Gate C10

Why is it that when you have a 32-minute layover you have to run the length and breadth of the airport to make your next flight but when you have a three hour layover your connection is just two gates away? This seems to be the story of my travels recently. There appears to be an odd correlation between the layover time and the distance between the gates – the shorter the one, the greater the other.

Do the airlines do it on purpose? Do they enjoy the scene of a Chassidic rabbi arriving breathlessly to his connecting flight? Do they simply want to give you as many opportunities to buy a soda at 3.79 a piece?

Why is life so easy at some times and so challenging at others? This question bothered me as I was comfortably strolling from gate C6 to C10 in Charlotte Airport during my three hour layover on Wednesday morning.

Three of my sons and I were traveling to NY to attend the International Conference of Chabad Shluchim – Emissaries of the Rebbe, rabbis of Jewish communities throughout the world. A four-day get together, where we brainstorm, network, meet, Farbreng, pray, learn and recharge ourselves for another year of dedicated service to our communities.

‘The Kinus’, as it is called, also includes the “Young-Shluchim’s Kinus” – a three-day mini-camp for over 1,000 young boys, the sons of the rabbis and the future of Jewish leaders. It was heartwarming to see my 12 year-old Berel embracing his online-school classmate Asher, from Samara, Russia, who he’s seen every day for four year on his computer screen but met for the first time in real life on Wednesday.

Last night, when – as I do every evening before I go to sleep – I was reading the daily Torah portion (only that this time it was at 1:45 am, as I just got done catching up with Chaim Shmaya from Portland, OR), I came across the verse (Gen 27:4) where our forefather Yitzchok tells his son Esau to “make me delicacies, such as I love”.

I recalled an interpretation for the word delicacies that is written in the plural, indicating two kinds of pleasure. With these words, explains the Alter Rebbe in Tanya, G‑d asks of the Jewish people to please Him with their divine service . Just as with material food, there are two kinds of delicacies— one of sweet and luscious foods, and the other of sharp or sour articles which are unpleasant to eat in their natural state, but have been well spiced and prepared so that they become delicacies which revive the soul — so too are there two kinds of spiritual delicacies. One is provided by  the righteous, who are occupied solely with matters that are “good” and “sweet” — holy matters and they no longer grapple with the evil inclination.  The second kind of delicacy is provided by the rest of us, who are occupied with “bitter” matters, with battling against the evil inclination in our soul, and with the evil thoughts that it spawns. When we succeed, we provide a whole new type of delicacy that is equally pleasing to G-d.

I believe this to be true within each life as well. Sometimes G-d wants to see how we act when things are sweet and easy and at others He wants to see how we react to challenges. Both forms of behavior are equally pleasing to him.  This is why life sometimes seems easy and sometimes much harder.

Every Jew has aspects of Judaism that come easy to them and others that are more challenging. Some can’t wait for Shabbos to start and others can’t wait for it to end; some find it difficult to eat only kosher and others never crave anything but kosher; but if you find a specific Mitzvah to be especially challenging for you – it’s not because it’s too much for you. It only means you have an opportunity to paint a supersized smile on G-d’s holy face.

Something to think about next time you have three hours to walk the distance between two gates …

Shabbat Shalom

Lights-out Shabbat

Last Friday night about 9:30 pm, something went wrong with a substation transmission power line and over 10,000 Rogers residents were left without power. I am not sure what the other 9,999 did, but in our home there was not much we can do -- it was Shabbos and no flashlights can be turned on or phone calls made. Fortunately, we were still able to continue our Shabbos dinner without interruption.

It is a custom in many communities that with the birth of each child we add one more Shabbos candle to the required two; so, with 8 children thank G-d, my wife lights 10 candles each week. Those, in addition to the ones lit by our daughter and our guest, provided enough illumination to continue Shabbos dinner uninterrupted.

1.jpgI don’t know if I ever appreciated the Shabbos candles as much as I did last Shabbos. With the lights usually on, I was never able to notice just how much light and warmth they provide. Enjoying a ‘candlelight dinner’ in a pitch black home and neighborhood was amazingly beautiful and peaceful.

As the evening progressed and the candles were reaching their end – one by one – I was surprised to see the difference in the room with each missing flame. I never had the chance to witness just how much light one little candle emits.  

And I thanked G-d for each and every little candle.

The following morning in Shul, enjoying Shabbos prayers with our wonderful community, I couldn’t help but make the connection between the previous night’s events and that morning in Shul.

Yes, ours is a small community. We don’t have hundreds of people in Shul like they have in Jerusalem or Brooklyn. But because of that, each person that is there makes a palpable difference to the atmosphere and the warmth of the community. It isn’t easy to notice the value of each individual when “the lights are on” – when you’re in Shul with 500 people. Thank G-d for our small community, where we can appreciate the difference each and every one of you makes when they enter Shul.

And I thanked G-d for each and every member of our Jewish community.

Shabbat1.jpgSo after-all, last week I had a well-lit Shabbos. Tonight, as Dobi lights her candles; and tomorrow as we sit and pray with whoever is in Shul, I will once again thank G-d for the light and warmth each candle and each Jew brings.

I welcome you to join me in lighting Shabbos candles in your home tonight and in joining us in Shul tomorrow. Bring in the light!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

P.S. In case you’re wondering, about an hour and a half later, as the last of the candles were about to go out, the power came back on.  

A Bedside Bar Mitzvah (and a dozen years)

 

This coming winter, Chabad of Northwest Arkansas will celebrate its “Bar Mitzvah” – thirteen years of dedicated service to our wonderful Jewish community. For technical reasons, my family couldn’t relocate right away and in the beginning we commuted frequently to run programs and services. It was the day after our daughter’s first birthday that we moved and since she turned thirteen this Wednesday that means it’s been twelve years yesterday since we became legal residents of the Natural State.

Milestones are always a time to reflect; a time to look back at what has been accomplished and look forward to what is going to be accomplished in the days ahead. In the time that passed we’ve had the scared privilege to be a part of many inspirational moments and life changing events. One of those, I will share with you today.

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“Rabbi, we have a Jewish patient who is about to pass away any moment now, are you able to come by today to say final prayers with her?”

I received this call a few weeks ago from a hospice worker in Southwest Missouri, about 50 miles away from our home. Usually, I would drop everything and go, but I had a ‘minor’ problem:  my family and I were on a road trip in Canada, 1000 miles away from home. I explained that barring a miracle, it would take three more days for me to get home and that’s the soonest I can get there. I was told that she probably wouldn’t make it until then, as she’s 92 and already hadn’t eaten for several days. I was disappointed but didn’t know what else to do.

Remarkably, she was still hanging in there by the time we got home and the next day I drove over and met Faye*, a Jewish woman that grew up in NYC and moved to this area decades ago.  She was unresponsive and sleeping but her daughter, who was so thankful for our visit, told me all about her and her family and their history in Europe, NYC and in southwest Missouri. I proceeded to recite the Shema and other prayers that are said in one’s final moments.

When we were about done, her son, Bernie* arrived. I introduced myself and we were chatting, when I casually asked if he ever had a Bar Mitzvah. “No”, he responded, “I know Mom would have really liked it, but we just never got around to doing it”.  ‘Let’s do one right here, right now’, I offered, and  some fifty years after his thirteenth birthday, Bernie put on Tefillin for the first time in his life, recited the Shema, and celebrated his impromptu Bar Mitzvah. “Mom,” announced her daughter, “look, Bernie is having his Bar Mitzvah now.”  

IMG953656.jpgWhat happened next was truly remarkable. Faye, who had been unresponsive until that point, opened her eyes wide, lifted her head slightly, and took a long, long look at her son. Too weak for further expression, she fell back asleep, but I will never forget that look. A look of a “Yiddisheh Mamme” finally able to celebrate her son’s Bar Mitzvah.

She lived for a few more days and I had the chance to visit again and when she passed away my wife and the women of our Chevra Kaddisha had the sacred honor of performing the Tahara in accordance with our tradition.

It is not every day that we get an opportunity to be part of something so special, but Chabad of Northwest Arkansas is here for every Jew at any time and for any need. For the Fayes and Bernies in their time of need, for the adults who and are seeking a connection after a long break and for the children who are learning Alef-Bet at our Hebrew school; for the travelers that can use a hearty meal after a long journey and for the senior who needs a friendly visit – Chabad of Northwest Arkansas will always take the call and always answer the need.

As we mark this milestone, we are truly thankful to Hashem for giving us His blessings continually and enabling us to continue with this holy work;

We are truly thankful to the Lubavitcher Rebbe whose devotion and dedication to every single Jew and endless commitment to bring Torah-true Judaism to every corner of the globe is the inspiration that keeps us going every day;

We are truly thankful to our donors, who support our work and enable us to provide these vital services to every single Jew;

And we are truly thankful to each and every member of the Jewish community of Northwest Arkansas – whether you participate twice a week, twice a year, or just let us know that our presence in the area is meaningful to you – all of you are the brick and mortar of our community and are an integral part of Chabad of Northwest Arkansas’ success story.

As we move forward we would be honored if you would take a moment and let us know what Chabad of Northwest Arkansas means to you. Your feedback is truly heartwarming and important to us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

To support the work of Chabad of Northwest Arkansas, click here.

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the family.

 

 

A Jew from Antarctica

Life is full of twists and turns and unexpected events; some will cause a major change in one’s life –job, place of residence, relationships, etc. – while others will only have minimal impact and some will be no more than a nuisance. Some of these events are anticipated and planned and they make perfect sense, but most of the time they are engineered by Divine Providence and we don’t always get to know why they happened. It is a basic principle of Jewish faith to believe in the Hand of G-d that ordains the footsteps of man, and causes every event and move in our life, big or small.

We often use flight delays – which have got to be in the top five list of annoying unplanned events – as an example of events that happen to you for a purpose, regardless of whether you ever find out the reason. It is so rewarding, however, when you do find out the reason for flight delays and cancellations. I had such one example this week.

I had planned a short trip to Israel this week to participate in a family Simcha. I had scheduled the latest flight out on Monday, so I can clean up and reorganize everything after the Purim Party (which was amazing, by the way. Close to 100 Jews celebrating together, it was truly a sight to see. Thank you to the Spalter, Greene, Brown (Barry) and Nissenbaum families for your sponsorships).  My original route included just one stop in Newark, but late Sunday night, due to the impending snowstorm back east, I was rerouted to a Houston/Frankfurt/Tel Aviv flight, as the XNA-EWR flight was cancelled. I wasn’t happy having to leave five hours earlier than planned, but I was even less happy when I had to spend those five hours in XNA waiting for a lightbulb cover to be replaced on the wing of the plane, causing me to miss my flight to Germany and be placed on a later flight, and cut down the 31 hours I planned to be in Israel to 26.

Finally in Frankfurt on Tuesday afternoon, at the gate to the Israel flight, I asked some Jews waiting for the flight if they would like to put on Tefillin. After one of them was done he tells me: You know, I’m happy you asked me to put on Tefillin. Today is my mother’s Yohrtzeit, and by the time we land in Israel, it will be after sunset, so I won’t be able to say Kaddish for her; at least I did tefillin. ”A minyan for Kaddish?!”, I replied, “Well, guess what. I’m a pro at that; I do it all the time back home. Just wait here for a few minutes.”

Well, ten minutes later, a full minyan of ten Jews were praying Mincha together at the gate, and the soul of Shprintza bas Eliyahu, a holocaust survivor,  was relieved to have her son recite a Kaddish in her memory, in Germany…..

2017-03-14 07.50.13.jpgWalking to the gate with Gedalyeh, the son, I recalled how, upon leaving on Monday, my son Mordechai handed me a leftover Purim food gift bag, known as Shalach monos. “Tatty”, he tells me, “Maybe you will find a Jew on your flight that did not get a Purim shalach monos. Give this to him!” Turning to Gedalyeh, I ask, “Did you celebrate Purim this Sunday? Did you get a Purim shalach monos?”  His reply surprised me: I was in Antarctica on Purim eve, and took a boat Saturday evening to Argentina, and now I’m on my last leg, and will be ending up in Israel on Tuesday night. (You see, Arkansas is NOT the furthest place from Israel on earth, it takes much longer to get to Israel from Antarctica.) ”Tell Mordechai”, he tells me, ”that you gave his gift package to a Jew from Antarctica.”

And there you have it, my friends. Now I knew why I had to be on that specific flight….

I think “the Jew from Antarctica” is going to be my new line to calm me down when my flight gets delayed or cancelled next time.

Gut Shaboos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

 

Inauguration

While I strongly believe a rabbi should never publicly take a political side or voice political opinions, I also firmly believe a spiritual leader needs to direct his audience to derive important lessons from current world events. How then, does one treat a Presidential Inauguration, specifically today’s inauguration? Is it politics or news?

In an effort to determine that, I sent a text message last night to about a dozen and a half friends, asking them – putting their political views aside –had they learnt something positive from the elections or the new President?  I was hoping to get an unscientific idea of the feelings out there. Some replies still had political undertones and I cannot share them here; most have focused on the idea that “anything can happen”, something I wrote about in early November; one responder encouraged me to just “stay on Twitter”, not knowing that I haven’t yet learned how to navigate the world of social media.

I found this response to be most inspirational: “I’ve learned that life can be better when you turn off the TV and read a book.” This is so true. At the end of the day, whatever your political view, following politics is guaranteed to give you a headache and if it doesn’t, that only means you haven’t followed it enough. Actually, following anything too much will do the same: work, sports, Facebook, etc.

This is just another great reason to celebrate Shabbos. Imagine having a 25-hour built-in oasis in your life; an entire day that you spend on the gifts of Judaism and family and on no other nonsense? Even if you aren’t yet ready to commit to full Shabbos observance, don’t you think disconnecting from your TV and/or Facebook for one day a week will do you amazing good?

Come to think of it, there is one member of the First Family who is going to be doing just that in Washington. Like or dislike her, I think that as Jews, that’s one message we can rally around.

Gut Shabbos (without your smartphone),

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

 

Death of a Drive-through

Earlier this week I read a news report about the “Pioneer Cabin Tree” in California, better known as “the drive through tunnel tree”, that fell down after a storm rocked the area. Though I grew up in Israel, I heard about this tree – that is presumed to be well over 1000 years old – in my childhood and I was “going to get there” one day. I did make it to Yosemite in 1999, but never to the tree. Now, it’s a part of history.

I always like to learn a lesson from current event, and there are many we can take from this story, but there is one unconventional one I would like to focus on today: Every one dies, even a 1,000 year old giant tree.

Though we all know that – until Moshiach comes – we are all going to die one day, death is not something we like to speak about. Most people shy away from the topic and shift uneasily if they absolutely have to speak about it. I, for one, am not afraid to discuss this topic when needed; perhaps it’s because of dealing with my mother’s passing when I was 13, or maybe another reason; but it’s still not a favorite topic of conversation.

The reluctance to discuss death leads to situations, whether because someone died suddenly or just didn’t get around to discussing it, that family members aren’t aware of what the wishes of the deceased are.

Judaism is very clear about end-of-life rituals and traditions and they are spelled out at length in Halachic texts. The most important rule in my opinion is that after our long life, our bodies must be buried in the ground and not cremated. This is stated as early as the first portion of the Torah in Genesis, through countless references in Talmudic and Halachic sources.

The reluctance to discuss death, however, has led many to simply not be aware of this fact or not discuss it with their children. Over time, the rising rates of cremation in the USA have trickled into the Jewish community and tragically, many Jews don’t merit to “die like a Jew”.

This is why the National Association of Chevra Kaddisha (NASCK) has created TEAM (Traditional End-of-life Awareness Movement) to educate and encourage others to discuss the traditional approach to end-of-life matters and encourage people to make the proper choice and be buried. In addition to their year-round efforts, they have designated this Shabbos, where the Torah discusses at length the death and burial of Jacob our patriarch, as TEAM Shabbos, a weekend to encourage rabbis and lay leaders alike, to overcome the natural shyness to discuss this topic and begin the conversation. Let everyone be aware of Judaism’s approach, and the more knowledge there is out there, the more Jews are going to make the right choice for end-of-life.

I intend on addressing this topic in Shul tomorrow, and I encourage you, whether you are twenty years old or a hundred years old, to have a conversation with your family and friends on the subject. While this platform is not one suitable for a lengthy discussion on the topic, you can find a lot of information here and here. I will be glad to set up a time to discuss this subject with you and your family.

Collectively, we can all make sure that every Jew is not only born as a Jew, but lives a long healthy life as a Jew and after their long, happy life, will also die as a Jew.

To end with a positive note, I wish each and every one of you a gut Shabbos and may we all have a happy and healthy long life, full of meaning and growth.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 

 

Do something Seventeen

I love numbers. In school I loved math, and until this day I enjoy any problem or discussion that deals with numbers. So here’s a “number” on 2017.

In Hebrew, every letter has a value: Alef is worth 1, Bet 2 and so on. From Yud through Tzadik we go with tens; Yud is ten, Kaf – twenty and so on; the final four letters represent 100 through 400 respectively. This is known as “Gimatriya”. Often, we will look at the numerical value of a word, i.e. adding up the combined value of each individual letter and thus certain ideas and words can be expressed with numbers.

A famous Gimatriya you may be familiar with is 18. It’s a popular Jewish number and many give charity in multiples of 18. The Hebrew word Chai – which means “alive” of “life” is spelled Yud – 10 and Chet – 8, hence 18 represents life; and since the Talmud teaches that “Tzedakah saves from death” that through charity we earn a blessing for life; it became popular to associate charity with multiples of 18.

The number 17 is a number most of us are going to use daily for the next 360 days or so. This number is almost as popular as 18, as it represents the Hebrew word Tov – good (Tet – 9, Vav – 6 and Bet – 2). In my adolescence I had the merit of attending many of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s talks and often on the 17th of any Jewish month he would refer to that day as “Tov” of the month, rather than the standard “Yud-Zayin”.

So if one needs any indications or encouragement that this coming year will be a good one, there you have it, right in the number.

As Jews, we celebrate our new year and our annual cycle from Rosh Hashanah, but living in a secular world, our fiscal year still begins in January.

Looking at the financials, 2016 was an amazing year for Chabad of Northwest Arkansas. 181 donors have come forward to cover our entire budget of just below $200,000. We are humbled and full of gratitude to each and every one of them, as “every little bit adds up to a large sum” and many small amounts makes a huge difference.

With the onset of 2017, I would like to encourage you to do something so seventeen, so “tov", so "good" and join a growing number of locals and visitors to our area who are part of the “Chai Club”, a group of people who contribute a small fixed amount at the beginning of each month.

The idea is simple: Chabad has no membership dues so we are supported entirely by the generosity of our community members and friends. By allocating a small amount each month, you are making a huge impact on our budget without making a huge impact on yours. Think of it as one leisure activity a month. Pick an amount that you would spend without thinking twice: whether it’s 10, 36 or 50 dollars and designate it as your support for Chabad. Not everyone can dedicate a building, but everyone can make a difference.

Since you’re joining dozens of others, you will be making a big difference in our monthly budget; but even more than that, you will become a partner in every Mitzvah Chabad enables that month; and there are hundreds – if not thousands – each month. It’s a worthwhile investment.

Take a moment and visit our donate page, fill in your generous donation and click the recurring button on bottom to indicate you want this amount to be charged each month. You will feel good knowing you make a difference in the Jewish landscape of Northwest Arkansas.

Thank you very much and Shabbat Shalom, 

Historic?

Supermoon in Rogers.jpgI was driving to Fayetteville early Monday evening, taking back a U of A student who came up to Bentonville to help a mourner say Kaddish at evening prayers. The sky was clear and the “historic” Supermoon was shining brightly over Walton Blvd. We were in middle of determining whether it truly looked larger than usual as suggested by everyone on the news and social media, when he breaks out in laughter and shows me a text message he had just received from his mother in South America: Tonight is supermoon. You must go out and watch it (I don’t read Spanish but I do trust his translation).

We’re obsessed with ‘historics’. We love to be part of or witness a historic moment. In the last few weeks we had a historic supermoon, a historic election and a historic sports championship; we have historic interest rates and historic real estate values; and the list goes on and on.

I define historic as something which alters the course of history – positively or otherwise – permanently and irreversibly. I think of events like the giving of the Torahat Sinai, an event that changed the face of humanity forever, as historic; something we and the world at large still speak about 3,300 years later.  I’m willing to consider the founding of the USA and some other events – positive or negative – that have truly lasting ramifications, as historic. But historic events happen once in a century, perhaps; not once a week. Most, if not all, of what we define as historic is merely a slightly louder version of politics, economics, sports or even astronomy as usual. Sooner or later they’re all meaningless.

So why are we so obsessed with histroics? What drives the human being to label any event that is slightly out of the ordinary as historic?

A few months ago there was a historic Powerball Jackpot. Everyone that had a spare dollar that week, purchased a lottery ticket. On one of my Whatsapp groups someone made the following observation: When it comes to texting and driving, we’re all convinced that an accident ‘won’t happen to me’ despite the huge odds of it happening; yet when it comes to the 1 in a billion (or so) chance of winning the lottery, we’re all convinced it’s going to happening to me. Why?

I believe the answer is the same. We’re all pre-programmed by G-d with the will and ability to do something historic. We naturally thirst for that moment. It is only because of the confusion that the ambiguous world we live in presents that we are searching in the wrong places to make history.

 G-d created the world with a plan. That plan is being executed every time a Jew does another mitzvah, adding holiness to the world and bringing Moshiach one step closer. There is a single solitary deed that is going to tip the scale and be the final deed to make it happen. Who is going to do that last one? G-d left that for us; one of us will perform the final Mitzvah and do something truly historic. It can be you!

In the words of the Rambam: a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one sin, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of guilt and brings destruction upon himself. [On the other hand,] if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others.

So instead of looking to witness or make history in politics, economics or sports -- look in the right place: Yourself. Do a mitzvah NOW and tip the scale. It will be truly historic.

Gut Shabbos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

 

It Can Happen

“Can I ask you a personal question?” I was asked – eight years and two months ago, in the heat of the 2008 election cycle – by a woman who just walked into my house; “Who are you voting for in November? – You see,” she continued, “last night during dinner my high-school senior announced “I’m really curios who the Rabbi will vote for in November” and that made me curios, too. I hope it’s ok to ask” she concluded.

I assured her that while I had no intention of answering her question, it’s was perfectly ok, even more than ok, to ask. It made me happy that she asked. As a rabbi, I explained, my mission is to help every single Jew celebrate their Judaism at their level, regardless of where they stand religiously, ideologically or politically. At Chabad, I explained, you will never ever be part of a political conversation, as we simply don’t let those happen; so every Jew can feel comfortable here. Since most Jews are very passionate about their politics and the views of my best friends vary wildly, I make sure that my personal politics remain personal so I’m able to maintain a friendship will all of them. The fact that her son had no clue whom I was planning to vote for, means that I was successful.

If you read this column regularly, you know that I always try to find a lesson from events I experience personally as well as from regional, national or international events. Surely, I thought to myself over the last two days, there’s a message we can derive from what happened this week, that all of my friends in this community can connect to – from the person who wore sackcloth of Wednesday, to the person who jubilantly recited a prayer of thanks to heaven at 3:00 am, and everyone in between.

One thing we can all agree on is that this week proves that unexpected things canhappen. At shocking speeds. So, one lesson perhaps we can all learn, is that preparing ourselves for the unexpected may not be such a bad idea.

If you view this as the end of an era and a true disaster – recall the eternal words of king Solomon “At all times, let your garments be white”; meaning that you should be prepared for it, if death struck at this moment. Is there someone you need to apologize to – do it today. Does your family know that you want to be buried and not cremated? Do your children know your true Jewish values so they aren’t left guessing or not knowing? 

And if you view this event as a blessing and the birth of a new era – think: Are you ready for a new era in your life? If you’re waiting too long for the love of your life – know that it may happen unexpectedly; if you’ve waited to long for the blessing of children – know that it may happen unexpectedly; if you’ve been out of a job for what appears as forever – know that one may just become available today. Prepare yourself, mentally and practically – unexpected things do happen.

For over three thousand years we’ve been collectively waiting for the coming of Moshiach, an era of true goodness and kindness, where all of humanity will pursue holiness, goodness and kindness; where there will be no famine, war, competition or political campaigns. It will be an era when G-d’s purpose in creation is fulfilled. It appears so removed, so far way, so much unexpected; but this week taught us that unexpected things happen quickly. So, prepare thyself with another act of goodness and kindness, as your next action is going to be one to tip the scale and make this world better forever.

Gut Shabbos.

An Eighteen-Million-Dollar Smile

 A Reflection

IMG-20160302-WA0009.jpgThey say the world is a global village; linked into a single community with today's advanced communication methods. If the world is a global village than the people of Chabad Lubavitch live in a global cul-de-sac, where everyone knows everyone, cares for everyone and everyone is family; there almost isn’t a place on earth where you don’t have a cousin, best friend or classmate; or at the very least, your best friend’s classmate’s cousin.

Global village notwithstanding, the world is still very big geographically and getting from place to place takes time, energy and resources. So when my brother-in-law Sholom Ber, my wife’s ninth- and last-to-get-married sibling, announced his plans to marry Muka Groner in Melbourne, Australia; Dobi and I immediately knew we couldn’t possibly take our entire family there, much as we’d love to. She would have to go alone.

So on Sunday evening she took off to spend a week in Melbourne and celebrate the wedding of her youngest brother, which took place on Wednesday evening in Melbourne (which was Tuesday night in Arkansas) and was very beautiful.

Since I wasn’t the only sibling-in-law “babysitting,” those that stayed behind asked those that went to send us as many pictures and video clips as possible so we can feel just a bit as if we're part of it. Throughout the night I received several dozen pictures and clips which my children and I truly enjoyed.

While all of the pictures were nice, there was one picture in particular which made a very powerful impression on me. It was not sent to me by any family member, rather it came from a friend of mine in Liverpool (and I’m still unsure who sent it to him. He must be living in the aforementioned global cul-de-sac. :) )

It was a picture of my dear father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Y. Pewzner, sitting on the side and observing the celebration. There is some commotion around, yet no one is sitting with him, just he alone, observing the scene, and smiling – not an ear-to-ear smile – rather a more thoughtful smile, a loaded smile; though I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I'm not a mind reader and I can't possibly know for certain what he was thinking. I had also not spoken to him since. What follows is what I imagine the feelings and emotions going through one's mind at such a time must be like.

My in-laws never amassed much in terms of material assets, yet they are very happy with their lot. Whenever our conversation shifted to the ‘haves and have-nots,’ my father-in-law often told me in his unique humoristic way: "G-d gave me nine wonderful children. If I had to put a value on each, it would be a minimum of two million dollars. So my net worth is at least eighteen million dollars."

I know that while he says it in a humorous way, there is infinite meaning and truth to that statement (it also makes me feel like I am a multi-millionaire with my own brood of seven.)

My in-laws raised nine children. The eldest, my wife Dobi, was born in 1979. So for the better part of four decades, they’ve been actively raising their children. Now, as they marry off their last it is time for them to enjoy the next generation, their wonderful grandchildren, the eldest of which will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah right here in Arkansas in five short weeks.

If there is a time that marks the conclusion of raising a child, when he or she are fully ‘on their own,’ it is their wedding day. As the Torah puts it (Gen. 2:24) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife.” Marrying off your ninth child, having had endless nachas from each and every one of them, witnessing this awesome moment, must feel like closing a really really good deal. An awesome deal. An eighteen-million-dollar deal, at least. And that’s when I realized that what I was seeing on his face, was in essence 'an eighteen-million-dollar smile;' one of inner contentment and satisfaction, one of pure joy and gratitude to Hashem.

IMG-20160303-WA0069.jpgI wish my brother- and new-sister-in law a tremendous Mazal Tov on their wedding day; may you build and everlasting home in Israel, the next link in the golden chain of Klal Yisrael. To my dear father- and mother-in-law, the best thing I can wish you on this monumental moment is that as the family grows, with Hashem’s help, the value of your smile should continue to increase exponentially.

Gut Shabbos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

Ever ride an Uber?

 

Earlier this week I was visiting a friend in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn and enjoying the 70-degree weather this December has brought, I was wearing only a suit when I left my in-laws' home in Crown Heights, about half way across Brooklyn. No coat, sweater or even an umbrella, as it appeared that the rain had stopped. I didn't bother to check the forecast. 

Well, upon leaving his office I was caught by a major downpour. After trying to jog the first half of the six blocks to the nearest subway station, I gave up, stopped under a outdoor staircase for shelter and summoned an Uber to take me to the neatest subway station.

"Hey, Man Nishma," greets me the driver; and for the first time in my out-of-Israel life, I was picked up by an Israeli cab driver, something unusual even in Brooklyn. After making small talk, I inquired whether he put on Tefillin today, and when he replied he didn't, I felt terrible that I hadn't taken them along, something I almost always do. "Listen," I said after a quick thought, "here's my offer to you. As you see, I was only planning to take you to the nearest subway station, about a five minute drive. If you agree to put on Tefillin when we get to our final destination -- I will take you all the way to Crown Heights, about five times the original cab fare you were going to make on this ride." 

We were both happy when he readily agreed -- him for making a few extra bucks and I for being able to get this Mitzvah. 

Earlier this week Chabad of Northwest Arkansas launched a year-end Chai-campaign, to raise 18,000 dollar to cover the remaining five-percent of 2015's balance and the first five percent of 2016. Corresponding the to the 36 candles we light on Chanukah, we invited our friends and supporters to be one of thirty-six lamplighter to help spread the bright flame of Torah and Judaism in Northwest Arkansas. With one three-thousand dollar candle lighter; five at one thousand; ten at five hundred and twenty at two-hundred-fifty, we can easily reach this goal. As a matter of fact, we already raised 7,783 dollars and we are nearly half way through.

At Chabad, going out of our way for another Jew, materially or spiritually, isn't just a cliche - it's a way of life. Please take a moment in the last few days of 2015 and make your generous contribution to Chabad; where we spare no effort, time or cost to be there for our fellow Jew. whatever the need.

What's he crying about?

A short clip I received this week shows a well known TV personality that asked a group of parents to film their kids while they were telling them that they had eaten all of their candy from last week and capture their reactions on camera. It was very entertaining to watch how the children react; some cry and others kick and turn chairs over... but the last child on the clip just says "Its fine, Mommy. Really, it's fine."

What our kids cry for and about, is telling about us, their parents, too. While all kids will crave candy and avoid brushing their teeth, it is the parents' priorities and consistency that sets the decibel level of the tantrum and length of the melt-down. When you see a child throwing a twenty minute fit down the candy aisle, you can't help but assume he or she is used to being given a lot of candy on a fairly regular basis...

Recently, I was in Walmart with my 2 year old, Moshe. At the checkout lane I noticed the battery display and reminded myself that we needed some batteries, so I threw a package in the cart. Moshe looks at me, and yells: Tatty, don't take that! It's not kosher!

He is only two, but he's been told enough times regarding items at the checkout lane that they are not kosher. So while he still likes candy, he knows that the checkout lane is not kosher.

There's a story the Lubavitcher Rebbe liked to tell about a five-year-old child and a 99-year-old man. The child was Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneerson, born on the 20th of Cheshvan 5621 (1860), who served as the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe from 1882 until his passing in 1920. The 99-year-old man lived 36 centuries earlier; his name was Abraham and he was the first Jew.

The story goes like this:

On the occasion of his fourth or fifth birthday, Rabbi Sholom DovBer visited his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch. Upon entering his grandfather's room, the child burst into tears. His teacher in cheder had taught them that week's Torah reading, Vayeira, which begins, "And G-d revealed himself to Abraham..." Why, wept the child, doesn't G-d reveal Himself to me?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: "When a Jew, a tzaddik, realizes at the age of 99 that he must circumcise himself -- that he must continue to perfect himself -- he is worthy that G-d should reveal Himself to him."

The Rebbe must have told this story dozens of times. The story, followed by a discussion of the manifold meanings and lessons the Rebbe saw in it, was a regular feature of the farbrengens (Chassidic gatherings) he held each year on or near the anniversary of Rabbi Sholom DovBer's birthday, which is always around this week's Parsha, Vayeira.

Imagine: a five year old weeping because G-d doesn't reveal Himself to Him!

I don't know if we can get our children to do THAT! But it sure gives us an idea of what our direction should be. To paraphrase an old cliché: You are what your children cry about!

I-49

 

If you happened to have traveled on our Interstate highway during the last few days you may have noticed that I-540 has been renamed I-49. It is less likely, though, that you noticed the date this change took effect. It was on Wednesday, April 16.

Typically, I wouldn't either notice this seemingly trivial fact, but the reason I did notice is because this year April 16 coincided with the day we began the annual "counting of the Omer." And how many days do we count for the Omer each year? You got it! 49 days.

So what do highways and the Omer have to do with each other?

Several days before Pesach, Dobi and I visited a friend in Fayetteville, and since he is as much of a night owl as we are, our visit lasted past midnight. Driving home close to 1:00 AM, on the then I-540, I noticed about two dozen workers at the amphitheater site just north of exit 82. I have no idea why they were working so late but I am sure there was good reason, perhaps an impending deadline or something similar. 

Whatever the reason was, it probably had little to do with the workers themselves, as they probably couldn't care less about the deadline. They were there for one reason only: their Job. They wanted to keep their job; and sometimes you need to work at 1:00 AM in order to keep your job.

This reminded me of another story.

A couple of years ago I was on a flight to Chicago. If you ever had the good fortune of sitting on the last two rows on one of those little jets we get here at XNA, you know that one needs to shout over the loud engines in order to carry a normal conversation. So here I am, seated at the row before the last, overtired and trying to fall asleep, only to be repeatedly disturbed by the group behind me, carrying a very loud conversation. After twenty minutes of failed attempts, I gave up on sleeping, and without being given a choice I was eavesdropping on a very loud conversation. 

The woman in the row behind me was telling everyone how when she arrived to the Montreal airport that morning she realized she left her wallet at home. The airport parking lot system there is such that one needs to dip a credit card when entering the lot and use the same card when exiting. This way the system determines the length of the parking and charges the card. So not having a credit card equals no parking.

"I soon realized that if I don't park now, I will miss my flight, which means I will miss my Walmart meeting, which means my boss will be very unhappy, which may likely mean that I will be fired. So I sat there thinking: It's my car or my job. Which is more important? I turned off the road and left my car right there. I hope I have a car when I get back home tonight."

So when this woman realized what's at stake, she concluded that her car was meaningless if it means not having her job.

And keeping our job makes people do all sorts of crazy things, like building amphitheaters at 1:00 AM.

When we left Egypt on Passover, G-d gave us a job: In seven weeks you will receive the Torah. Get ready! Examine yourself, refine and cleanse yourself from the impurities of Egypt.

Every year we take that 49 day highway once again, reliving the preparation to receive the Torah; examining, correcting and refining every detail of our personality. Making sure the "I" uses the "49" to become the best Jew it can be. Fit to do our job: To accept and live the Torah way.

(According to Kaballah we have seven character traits, and each includes the other seven, so we need 49 days to refine each detail of our personality. See here for more on the subject.)

While we're already in day ten of the 49 day journey, it is not too late to get on the highway. By asking ourselves "Is it my car or my job?" "What is my mission on this world?" "What does G-d want me to do during these 49 days?" we are sure to cruise the highway and arrive at Sinai as proud Jews (and the third lane they're adding will certainly help.)


Get out of your comfort zone

 

I recently came across this line: Some people dream big, others do something about their dreams. 

Dreaming big is only as effective as the ability to get up and do something about it. While not every dream will be realized; half of a dream realized is better than a big dream fantasized.

The number one obstacle to success and the reason why most people remain at the dreaming stage is because doing something requires stepping out of our comfort zone. And most people hate leaving the cozy comfort zone behind.

Perhaps the reason that our people, the Jewish nation, have been so successful in so many areas over the generations is because leaving our comfort zone is part and parcel of Judaism. The first sentence G-d spoke to the first Jew, Abraham, was "leave your land, your home and your birthplace, to the land that I will show you." G-d was telling Abraham: In order to be Jewish you need to leave your comfort zone. You need to do something for Me because I want it, not because its comfortable.

Leaving your comfort zone doesn't mean you need to move into a cave and ride on horseback. One step out is all that's required—and very quickly you will find out that you have a new comfort zone. Then you take the next step. And then the next one. Staying inside that zone will never make us grow, while taking that first step helps us realize that we can grow. 

Being Jewish can be viewed as discomfort. It's not always easy to be limited in what to eat, wear, speak or getting instructions on when to work, pray or play. It can be seen as discomfort. It can also be seen as leaving our comfort zone for something greater. A commitment to something larger than ourselves. A connection to G-d and the Jewish people throughout the generations.

History has proven, and modern reasearched just proved it again, that Judaism continues and flourishes precisely becasue of religous commitment, not despite it; that we are here today because we weae not afraid to leave our comfort zone; and unfortuantely, the same reasearch has clearly concluded that when we force our Judaism to stay within our comfort zone, very quickly there is no Judaism left.

So the next time our Judaism clashes with our comfort zone, let's remember Abraham. Let's remember our history. 

And there will no longer be any clashes....

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