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Rabbi Greisman's Blog

True Joy

 

This week’s Torah portion begins with the commandment of Bikurim – first fruit. Every person who owned an orchard of one of the ‘seven species’ with which the land of Israel was blessed was commanded to bring a basket of the first fruit to ripen to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gift to G-d, to be eaten by the Kohanim. The purpose of this Mitzvah is to ensure that everyone is aware that the source of their blessings and sustenance is from Hashem.

Upon arriving at the Holy Temple the person bringing the basket had to recite a few passages, expressing their gratitude for the Exodus from Egypt, the gift of the Holy Land and their specific piece of it – the source of their livelihood.  Once these passages are concluded, the Torah says: Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household.

At first glance, the meaning of this verse is that now that you have thanked G-d you may go home and rejoice in the wonderful gifts He has given you. This week, I experienced something that taught me a much deeper meaning to this verse.

On Monday I took my first flight since the pandemic began. I went to Oregon to participate in the wedding of my first cousin. The youngest of the 60 grandchildren my maternal grandparents had, it was a special occasion that I just could not miss. (Don’t worry, everyone on the plane wore a mask and I stayed out of downtown Portland…)

Chassidic weddings are usually large affairs with hundreds of participants and I was not sure what to expect from a small, outdoor wedding. Perhaps everyone felt the same, because all that were present were very involved and there was quite a bit of festive energy. It turned out to be one the most lovely and lively weddings I’ve been at, a truly joyous event.

I lived with my uncle and aunt when this boy was born and I’m closer to their family more than any other in my extended family. I can go on and on about the emotions of seeing them walk their 13th child down the aisle, the special “mezhinke tantz” – done when the last of a large family gets married, the radiance of ‘yiddishe nachas’ my aunt exhibited or the pleasure of meeting many cousins. Instead, I want to share with you one anecdote that touched me very deeply.

The father of the bride was the recent recipient of a kidney donation from ‘a stranger’ – a woman from Lakewood, NJ. After the successful surgery, the families became very close and the donor and her husband came to participate in the wedding. Several times throughout the evening– under the Chuppah, during the meal and in private conversations, the immense gratitude the family felt was expressed, the bride even composed an emotional song for the donor; but upon chatting with the couple and observing them through the course of the evening I noticed just how grateful they felt for being given this opportunity; just how much joy they received from seeing the man that has gotten new life due to their kindness dance at his daughter’s wedding. It was awe inspiring and very meaningful to see. I nearly cried.

The greatest pleasure and joy in life does not come from ‘having’ or ‘receiving’ but from ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’. When you give of yourself to others (and it does not need to be an organ, but anything that is part of you) you feel the greatest connection to the recipient and it brings with it the greatest and truest pleasure and joy.

I witnessed it firsthand. As each step of the new shul was being completed, I noticed how the biggest smiles and the greatest joy were shown by those who wrote the largest checks. Their excitement as they see part of themselves transform into something so wonderful was palpable.

Perhaps, the Torah concluding the portion of giving the first fruit with a wish for us to rejoice in what we have is not only a wish and blessing, but a prescription and a recipe. Do you really want to rejoice with what you have?? Give some to Hashem, give of yourself to others; for only then can you feel the greatest sense of joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

Negative or positive?

 

“Have you noticed that the most positive word recently is ‘negative’?” asked my sister in a text message sent to me earlier this week.

 

While obviously referring to a negative covid test, this one liner, which was probably just a forwarded, really got me thinking. For in the context of covid, which is clearly not a good or positive thing, we can find some positive.

 

Earlier this week my wife and I sent three kids away for overnight camp and we will send two more after the weekend. While we’ve been sending kids away for camp and school for many years now, when I sent them off this time I had a different feeling within me, one that I hadn’t experienced before. It was hard to define at first, but upon further analysis I realized what it was.

 

For 105 days we had all of our children home. This may not sound like something extraordinary for most, but in our life, where the children are sent to Yeshiva when they are old enough, we don’t all together get to live as a family for an indefinite amount of time. It is the story of the life of many a Jew who lives out of the concentrated Jewish areas.

 

Initially we thought the lock-down will be short lived and eventually most states realized life has got to resume and started reopening – which is how we can send kids to camp. For a long time in between, however, we lived with the knowledge that this isn’t going to be brief yet there was no reopening in sight. During that time period we were all home, together as a family, indefinitely. It takes a lot of work (think 15 loads of laundry per week) but Dobi and I really enjoyed having them home without a return ticket. It was something we hadn’t experienced for a while, and we realized just how much we will miss it now that life is slowly resuming again.

 

This is truly a positive within the negative and I know that everyone can find a positive in their negative if they only searched.

 

This idea is highlighted so often in Chassidic teachings: Since everything comes from Hashem, everything is good, the only options are revealed good or hidden good. What we perceive as bad and negative is truly good in its source – only hidden. Sometimes we will understand it later and sometimes we won’t; but the faith that everything Hashem does is good, is a fundamental part of our faith.

 

In 1927 the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, was arrested by the communist regime for his ‘counterrevolutionary’ activities of spreading and teaching Judaism. He was sentenced to death but miraculously the soviets were forced to retreat; at first commuting the death sentence to exile and ultimately they released him within a month. The date of his release is the 12th of Tammuz, which is tomorrow, and is annually celebrated within the Chabad community worldwide and beyond.

 

In his diary, the Rebbe describes just how terrifying the Spalerno prison was and how every detail in the building and in the process of arrest was orchestrated to frighten and confuse the inmate to the point that they were completely lost and surrendered. He then describes how his faith and the realization that Hashem brought him to this place and He is in control was able to calm him and strengthen him in those difficult moments when they did everything in their power to frighten and confuse him. One paragraph struck me as extremely powerful:

 

“How great is the inner faith, the perfect faith, which is transmitted through our heritage to all Jews, a spiritual inheritance from our patriarchs. How great is the power of absolute trust in G‑d. These are not only the foundation of our Jewish faith, our holy faith, but the foundations of life itself, normal everyday life, the material existence of every Jew.”

 

Faith in Hashem isn’t only a ‘religious thing’; it is a ‘life thing’. Through proper faith in G-d our entire lives are different; the knowledge that He is in control and whatever He does is for the good – regardless of my ability to comprehend it – changes the way we live and truly enables us to see the positive within each negative and even if we don’t, it enables us to carry on with joy and resolve.

 

May Almighty G-d grant us all a life filled only with revealed good.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

 

The Desserted desert

Apparently I wasn't the only one that took their time to figure out when to spell it desert and when it is dessert. I moved to the US as a teenager and tricky/confusing words aren't easy to learn when you had a late start. It wasn't until after I got married and my wife gave me the tip that she got from her English teacher that you 'put in the extra s for sugar', that I was finally able to remember which is which.

This week's Torah portion, the first in the book of Numbers, is called Bamidbar, literally "in the desert"; since the fourth book of the Torah deals with the events that took place from years 2-40 of the Jews' journey in the desert. 

This Torah portion is always read before Shavuot, and there were several messages derived over the generations connecting the two -- desert and Torah -- and offering meaning to the fact that G-d chose to give the Torah to us specifically "in the desert".

At face value a desert is nothing like dessert -- while one brings to mind memories of sweetness and pleasure the other paints images of thirst and scorching heat. Yet, I think there is something about the desert that can be enjoyable and put in 'an extra s' into the desert experience.

The desert belongs to no one, has no structures, no limits and one can live as they please. Spiritually, perhaps, receiving the Torah in the desert meant to be a lesson for the Jew to leave the confines of our home, or even those of our surroundings, our towns, cities and places of work and get used to the concept of doing something 'out of the box'. 

Perhaps, by giving the Torah in the desert G-d was asking us not to be limited by the expectations and limits set by our home, our town, our customs or our peers. Go into the desert, He said, try something new. Don't be boxed in.

Earlier this week someone shared with me an interesting anecdote. A Friend of theirs wasn't well and when they inquired what they can do to help, the friend asked them to do a Mitzvah "they don't normally do"; or one "they haven't done for a long time". 

I thought that this was brilliant. Even in our Judaism, we tend to get used to the Mitzvot 'we do' and those we do 'once in a long while' to those that 'we don't usually do'. How amazing is it to be able to go out of our box, into our perceived desert, and embrace a Mitzvah we have never done? How sweet is it to have the strength of undertaking a Mitzvah that is out of our comfort zone?

In the High Holiday prayers we quote a verse where G-d praises the Jews for going "after Me in the wilderness, in an uncultivated land". I think there is no greater praise for a Jew in 2020 than the fact that they are willing to 'put that extra s' in their desert purely for the sake of G-d.

So this year, for me, Bamidbar means: Go into the desert, go try something new, something you don't usually do or something you haven't done in a while.... turn it into your dessert.

So who said a desert can't be sweet?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 

Deja Vu Minyan

A number of years ago I had an interesting episode where I ended up in Frankfurt after being twice rerouted due to weather and mechanical issues on a trip to Israel. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but ended up being able to help someone who needed a Minyan for his mother’s Yohrtzeit. For once,  I understood why I had to experience a flight cancelation and delay. You can read my story here.

Most of the time we do not understand delays, cancelations and plan changes in our life, travel, work, education or anything else. We have no idea why things can’t just go smoothly as we planned them; we get frustrated and we seldom understand the reason for the failure pf our perfectly orchestrated plans.

The believer clearly knows that Hashem puts him or her where they need to be at the very moment they need to be there in order to accomplish something He needs from us. This is a fundamental belief in our Jewish faith and the foundation of the mystical service that the Kabbalah calls “Birurim – elevations”. There are G-dly sparks of energy scattered throughout the world and they need a specific soul to perform a specific Mitzvah at that location. When we need to be somewhere or do something at a certain time and place, G-d conveniently changes our plans so our soul’s purpose can be fulfilled. Rarely do we get to see what it was we needed to do there, most of the time we just have to believe there was a reason for this change.

I flew to New York on Wednesday to spend a day in prayer at the Rebbe’s holy resting place on the day that marked seventy years of his leadership. It was inspiring to mark this special day with thousands of fellow Chasidim and Jews who admire the Rebbe’s work. There were so many people there - that it took me less time to get from Arkansas to NY than it did to get from the end of the line into the chamber of the Rebbe’s Ohel – resting place. Read about the day here.

On Thursday afternoon, before returning to Arkansas, I visited a friend in Manhattan and our conversation drifted to our reaction to travel delays and of course I shared with him the story of my unexpected stopover in Frankfurt, one of the favorite stories that I like to share. I explained that the Rebbe’s message to each and every Jew was to recognize that whatever situation we find ourselves in, we know that there is something Hashem wants from us at that moment and in that place. Since only “I” can do it, G-d puts me where He needs me. With that awareness, we can stay calm even in front of the most unexpected changes.

Later that evening, as I’m sitting in LGA's terminal B, it was “Déjà vu all over again”. My flight to Arkansas gets delayed for two hours and a few minutes later someone approaches me and asks if I can help him put together a Minyan.

I’ve flown through LGA dozens of times and never did I get that request, and while being a pro at minyan-organizing in XNA I never did one in LGA.

Then I remembered my conversation earlier that day and the Rebbe’s call to recognize that Hashem puts you somewhere so you can help another Jew. So I said “Sure. Let me see what I can do” and fifteen minutes later, we had a Minyan at gate C-12.

I wish I can tell you that I pondered the meaning of this during the entire flight back, but I didn’t. I was so tired from the late-night ‘farbrengen’ we had the previous night in 770 – the Rebbe’s shul, that I uncharacteristically slept almost the entire way back.

However, it was sweet to once again appreciate the spiritual message behind a flight delay and I hope Hashem is proud of me for recognizing that I was delayed in order to help out another person. I hope that you too will be inspired to realize that Hashem has a plan for us, every day and in every move whether we planned it or not.

Gut Shabbos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

My broken charging cable

 

Ask anyone what is the monetary value of a quarter and they’ll look at you as you fell off the moon. Every kindergartener knows that it’s worth twenty-five cents.

In reality, sometimes a quarter can be worth a lot more than twenty-five cents. Picture yourself frantically driving in a big city’s downtown, terribly late to a meeting and when you finally find an empty parking space you realize you don’t have a quarter to feed the meter. How much would you pay for a quarter at that very moment? Go back 15-20 years and imagine you’re in the airport and mom is an hour late to pick you up, but you don’t have a quarter for the payphone. How much is a quarter worth at that point?

“Do not scorn any man, and do not discount any thing; for there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place” says the Talmudist. In a certain time and a certain place the non-valuable item can become invaluable.

Think of your phone’s charging cable. It’s not worth much. Your phone can be worth hundreds of dollars and the power in the outlet is awesome, but without the cheap wire connecting the two, you would quickly find yourself totally non-functional.

I know this first hand. Yesterday I was in NY City, spending a day fundraising for our Shul after dropping off out three high-schoolers in the East Coast. Suddenly I realized the connector on my charging cable was bent out of shape and my phone was no longer charging. Strangely, none of the stores I searched on Seventh Avenue or Broadway had only iPhone cables for sale and my frustration was rising with each battery percentage my android was losing. How will I keep up with my appointments and how will I have a phone for the flight home? After a little while, it occurred to me to pop into my good friends at Lifeworks Technology as their office was right  around the corner. "Surely they can spare one cable”, I thought to myself, ”they make them by the truckload”. It wasn’t long before I was ‘connected’ again and as my phone was finally charging up I realized that never before had I appreciated that cable so much.

Man is a very powerful machine and G-d is an endless source of energy and power and the connection between the two is absolutely vital. Like our phones, we have a charging cable connecting us and there are 613 spiritual ones that connect our soul to its source of power – Hashem, resembling the many thin copper wires that compose our charging cable . Each of those thin wires is called a Mitzvah; together they’re called Mitzvot – Commandments. When we fulfill just one, we have a 1-wire-thin charging cable; but the more we do the thicker our cable becomes and the faster our battery charges.

So, the next time you wrap Tefillin, eat kosher, observe Shabbos, lights the candles on Friday evening or put a coin the charity box, you are doing a lot more than a good deed, you’re ‘plugging in’ your soul.

Here’s to full batteries.

Gut Shabbos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

The 'Hand'

In Judaism, we are trained to see, or look out for, the hand of G-d in everything that we experience. One of the most basic tenets of Chassidism in the teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov that “everything we see, hear or experience is to serve as a lesson in serving G-d” and those of you that read this column regularly know that I always try to follow this instruction and derive meaning and lessons from life’s experiences, regardless of how trivial they may seem.

Fourteen years ago my wife and I and our (then) three children moved to Northwest Arkansas .We were tasked with the mission of establishing Chabad of Northwest Arkansas and provide an opportunity for  every Jew in Northwest Arkansas, local or visitor, to celebrate their Judaism with pride.

In Hebrew that word for hand is Yad, spelled yud-daled. The numerical value of these two letters is 14 – Yud is 10 and Daled is 4. Often, when we want to use the number 14 we use the word yad. The most famous example is the Rambam’s Mishne Torah which consists of 14 volumes which is commonly referred to in halachic literature as the ‘Yad Hachazakah’ or ‘sefer hayad’.

Looking back at the last fourteen years, or ‘yad years’, it is difficult to ignore the hand of Hashem in our personal lives as well as in the amazing history of Chabad of Northwest Arkansas. I always jokingly say that when we established our Shul we used fifty-percent faith and fifty-percent logical planning; but as time went on we realized more on more the hand of G-d and His amazing blessings so the ratio now is more like 95/5. The way everything fell into place, the way the community got involved in participation and support is nothing short of a miracle. The nearly-complete Jewish Center, how it came to be and how it grew in scope and beauty is one more miracle, a pretty amazing one I must say.

The story of Chabad of Northwest Arkansas isn’t the story of a Shul or an organization. It is the story of the Jew who attended Shul for the first time and the one who’s always been going and can now do that here too; it is the story of the Jew who’s been able to say Yizkor again after many years and the one who just learned what that is; it is the story of the Jewish child who can now read Hebrew and the Jewish student on campus no longer hiding their identity; it is the story of the person who had a hot kosher meal instead of crackers and the one that just learned what kosher means and it is the story of the Jew who was laid to rest in a Jewish cemetery instead of being cremated and the story of the Jewish child who was born in purity thanks to our Mikvah.

On Shabbos morning after Torah reading we say a special “Mi Sheberach” for the community. In it we ask G-d that He “give reward, remove all illness, pardon all sins and send blessing and success to all of the endeavors” of “this entire holy community . . those who establish synagogues for prayer and those who come there to pray, those who provide lights for illumination, wine for Kiddush and Havdalah . . and all those who occupy themselves with communal affairs.”

I find it remarkable that the liturgist bundles together those who ‘establish the synagogues’ with those who provide ‘wine for Kiddush’ – ignoring the vast difference in their donation size; and couples those who ‘occupy themselves with communal affairs’ with those who just ‘come to pray’. A community is a synthesis of people with varying levels of resources and commitment, yet each one is precious, needed and blessed. I feel grateful and thankful to everyone that made the last fourteen, and the next many fourteens, a reality. The contribution of each of you, whether you come weekly or annually, give a building dedication or two times ‘chai’, do one mitzvah or a thousand is meaningful, appreciated, amazing and is truly the story of Chabad of Northwest Arkansas. This is your celebration as well.

I thank G-d for giving me this opportunity; I thank my wife and children for their endless support and I thank each of you that made this happen.

Gut Shabbos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

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.

__

“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

 

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