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Weekly Message

Can you spare some change?

Human nature includes a healthy dose of perplexity; so, last week, when a fellow Jew said “rabbi would you be cool learning with me”, I was delighted to start a weekly session with him, studying Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed”.  What fascinated me was not his request to learn, I get that all the time, but the fact that he actually showed up. Talk is cheap, sometimes even free; people want to do a lot of good things and we happily share our favorite cause, in bumper sticker form, for all to see, but are we ready “Arainlaigen De Finger in Kalte Vasser – to dip our finger into cold water, i.e. doing something practical about the things that matter to us? Often, we are not.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read about Sir Jethro, the convert of all time. He’s a fascinating figure: He was advisor to Pharaoh, lost his job after advising the king not to harm the Jews, leaves Egypt to settle in Midian where he’s appointed chief idolater and his daughter Tzipporah eventually marries Moses. When the Jews are finally liberated from Egypt, he hears about the splitting of the sea and the victory over Amalek and he happily joins the Jewish bandwagon. That was Jethro, a man of action, he heard about G-d’s miraculous intervention with the Jews and he decided that he’s all in.

The Moabites, Edomites, Philistines and so many others heard the same news as Jethro, they feared the Jews, they were concerned about their G-dly successes, but they weren’t ready to change. How often do we hear a good idea, something that could help our spiritual, physical, emotional or mental health, and we say “That’s sounds great”, and then move on with our day without making the changes necessary. It is said “we cannot become what we want, by remaining what we are”. Change isn’t easy, isn’t simple and does not even include any instant gratification, but, like Jethro, the fruits of our positive labor, our healthy change, are reaped for thousands of years.

In the words of Nelson Mandela “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”!

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Halftime Show with Moses!

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I must admit, I am no sports fan. Yes, I’m from New York, capitol to many sports and diehard fans, but for me, the futile game of “elimination” that we played during recess at Yeshiva, meant more than the Knicks, Giants or Rangers. Yet, even I was impressed, if not inspired, by Brady and his fellow New England Patriots coming back to life and winning the Super Bowl. The 21-3 score at halftime was not a good sign for the patriots, but one must never give up, march forward with conviction and comebacks are possible.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about Jewry crossing the Red Sea. It was halftime for them and all seemed lost. They were halfway between Egypt and Sinai, but with a sea in front of them and Egyptian murderers behind them, death seemed imminent. Some said “we’re done, let’s give up”, others said “let’s pray to G-d”, some said “let’s jump into the sea and die, better than a return to enslavement” and yet others said “let's fight the Egyptians”. There was one man, one spiritual Brady, who said “it’s not all lost, we can’t take our eye off the ball, off the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and we can win this game”. That man wasn’t Moses, Aaron or Pinchas; it was Nachshon, who marched into the sea and it was at that moment that G-d split it.

Tonight we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the New Years of Trees. We have lots to learn from trees, including the importance of never giving up. Fruit falls, leaves blow away, branches occasionally detach, but the root stays strong and every spring starts producing again. It doesn’t Kvetch about its sad fruitless winter, it doesn’t whine about the storms it endures; it is cognizant of how unique it is, how much life, oxygen and fruit it gives the world and marches forward to the tune of growth. Nachson wasn’t perfect and either is Brady, but like trees, they both utilize their gift of life to ignore the statistics and stick to their guns.

Being down at halftime, doesn’t mean you can’t win the game!

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Welcome to Paradise!

Recently, a dear friend gifted me a book entitled “Yiddish Wisdom – Yiddishe Chochma”. In it there is a saying “Gan Eden Un Gehenom Ken Men Baideh Hoben Oif Der Velt”, meaning: “Heaven and hell can both be had in this world”. It brought to mind memorable moment that transpired six years ago. My mom’s only sister, Kraindy, brought a therapist to see her, a short time before her passing. The therapist said to mom “Mrs. Bruk you’re going to go straight to heaven”. My mother being a sharpshooting New Yorker said “How the heck do you know?” to which she responded “because you’ve been to hell already”. My mother really liked her answer.

Unlike my mom, sometimes we choose whether to live in heaven or hell.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we’re awestruck by the final three plagues and then inspired by the exodus from Egypt. Interestingly, in last week’s portion, when G-d starts the process of redemption, He says “And also, I heard the moans of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians are holding in bondage, and I remembered My covenant”. The Holy Chasam Sofer, who served as prime rabbinic authority of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, explains that G-d was telling Moses that in addition to the Jews hearing each other’s cries during the anguish of slavery, He, G-d, heard them too. G-d was heartened to see the Jewish brothers and sisters, caring for each other despite their own suffering. You may have your own bondage, your own bitterness, your own tears, but that never stops us from hearing the cry of others, caring for the pain of our fellow human beings.

When a Jew in Tel Aviv can’t hear the cry of his sister in Safed, when a Jewish student in Yale doesn’t care about a brother in Washburn, when we allow our political persuasions to infuse hatred amongst our fellow Jews with whom we disagree, then we are creating chaotic hell on earth. Heaven is a place where tranquility prevails; where we are united enough to care about each other and despite our never-ending differences we still hear the cry of Klal Yisroel whether in Jerusalem, Paris or Whitefish. Paradise is not a destination, but a lifestyle in which we don’t lose our humanity for the sake of our convictions.

Cry no more Jerusalem!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

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