TASTE OF TORAH

By Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

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April 11, 2024

Making music with what you have left!

 

Making music with what you have left!

If you have been reading this column for a while, you know that I have a tradition to retell the following story each year.

It deals with what to do with the bumps and bruises we acquire while navigating through life, and how not to let them get in the way of living joyfully today…

Yitzchak Perlman, the world-renowned violin virtuoso limped onto stage at Lincoln Center in 1995, along with the braces and crutches that were his constant companions since he had polio as a child,

Perlman picked up his violin and positioned himself.  Then, just a few bars into the performance, one of his violin strings snapped. 

The audience prepared itself to wait patiently as Perlman would need to reattach his braces and crutches, and hobble off-stage to fetch a new string, or a new violin.

You can imagine the awe when Perlman just continued to sit there, with eyes closed, and then motioned to the conductor to begin again.

Now a violin has 4 strings and cannot be played with only 3 strings. But Yitzchak Perlman apparently didn’t know that. Perlman played with more passion, power, and purity than ever before.

When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then the audience rose and cheered. There was a deafening outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium.

Perlman wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to silence the crowd and said the following in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone:

“You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

My dear friend, let’s love ourselves and love each other exactly as we are.

Let’s make a lot of music with what we have left!

Wishing you a blessed Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

April 4, 2024

Holy Cow!

 

Holy Cow!

This week’s Torah portion discusses the identifying signs of a kosher animal, which brings to mind the following story:

A wealthy butcher slaughtered a cow and questioned whether it was kosher owing to an abscess on the animal’s lung.

He brought the lung to the Alter Rebbe to obtain an expert judgment whether this cow could be sold as kosher meat or if the carcass would need to be disposed of, causing financial loss to the butcher.

The Alter Rebbe, a most highly sought after Rabbi, mentor, and legal expert began to pull various books off the shelves to determine whether in fact the animal was kosher.

Feeling badly for wasting the Alter Rebbe’s time, the butcher told the Rebbe that he was prepared to discard the carcass and free up the Alter Rebbe’s time for more important matters.

The Alter Rebbe told the butcher that he was not expending his valuable time for the butcher’s sake, but rather for the cow’s sake.

How do you interpret this story?

Every item in this world contains a divine spark which is waiting to be elevated. When we use a particular substance for a positive purpose, we elevate it to a higher level.

The test of whether we are acting like people rather than animals lies in the way we relate with the people and things around us.

Our job is to ensure that our intentions and actions are for the purpose of lifting up the world rather than simply indulging in sensual pleasure for its own sake.

Before we think, speak or act in a particular manner we are instructed to ask ourselves, “Does this really reflect who I am? Will it positively impact myself and the people around me?”

I hope that this gives you pause.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

March 28, 2024

Keep the Home Fires Burning

 

Keep the Home Fires Burning

How do we keep our passion alive, especially when it comes to the repetitive, mundane aspects of our lives? We need not look beyond this week’s Torah reading wherein G-d instructs the Jewish people, “A continuous fire shall burn upon the alter; it shall not go out.”

This continuous fire is represented today by the “Ner Tamid” (eternal flame) that hangs above the holy ark in every synagogue.

Looked at through the lens of Chassidic philosophy, the verse can be explained that if the inner fire of the heart is kept burning continuously, it will extinguish all negativity.”

We each have a personal Temple, a sacred space within our hearts and minds. We may not be conscious of it during ordinary times, but our inner flame and passion are always lit, both during challenging moments as well as during ordinary times.

But just as a physical fire requires fuel to remain lit, so too our inner flame requires fuel to sustain itself and keep our passion alive.

Just as a little light dispels a lot of darkness, so too, the performance of even one Mitzvah provides fuel for our inner flame to shine and it removes the foolishness of our negative impulses.

One good deed, whether it’s studying Torah for a few minutes each day, or going out of our way to help someone else in need is the key to our wellbeing. Moreso, one good act can tip the balance of the entire world and help usher in a new era of peace and plenty for all. May this occur speedily, in our days!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

March 21, 2024

Time to Party!

 

Time to Party!

G-d willing, we will celebrate Purim on this coming Saturday night & Sunday!

“Celebrate” is actually too tame of a word. Not Times Square on New Year’s Eve, nor Rio de Janeiro during Mardi Gras come close.

We dress up in ridiculous costumes, overindulge in food and liquor, while giving out huge amounts of charity.

We are literally commanded to leave all reason and sense of self behind.

Why are we so happy? You can begin by going to http://www.Chabad.org and read the miraculous events that took place on Purim, but that’s only part of it.

We are so happy because Purim marks the moment when we took ownership of our Jewishness!

There was a decree of total annihilation against the Jewish people. We could have simply renounced our Jewishness and lived like the rest of the citizens of the Persian empire.

After all, our morale was at an all-time low. Our Holy Temple had been destroyed. We had been led away to exile in chains.

We had seemingly been abandoned by G-d Himself. Who could blame us?

But instead, we did something insane…

We said, ‘bring in on! We will live like Jews, or we will die like Jews!’ We came together as one people, fasted, and prayed, and the rest is history.

Two thousand, four hundred years later we haven’t heard a whisper from the ancient Persian empire, nor the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, et al!

Two thousand, four hundred years later we are still celebrating!

And very soon we will be celebrating our ultimate joy with the coming of our righteous Moshiach!

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat, and a “beyond the mind” Purim,

Rabbi Yonatan

March 14, 2024

We Can Tip the Scales

 

We Can Tip the Scales

While painfully aware of the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters being held hostage in Gaza, we may feel frustrated by our lack of ability to make a meaningful difference.

But in truth, it’s the seemingly “minor” Mitzvot and small acts of kindness which often make the greatest impact… like lighting Shabbos candles, giving charity, wrapping tefillin, calling on a sick neighbor, or smiling at someone you don’t particularly care for.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the accounting which Moses made of all the various materials and contributions which the Jewish people gave towards the construction of the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary).

A renown commentator, The Sforno explains that this accounting demonstrated that each item contributed to the Tabernacle was important enough to be known by its specific name and served a unique function.

This serves as a lesson for how we should conduct ourselves in our own lives. Every single person serves an indispensable role in this world. Each one contributes something unique in Gd’s masterplan for creation.

Let us take upon ourselves to do an additional Mitzvah in merit of the safety of our brothers, sisters, and all good people in Israel and around the world and usher in a time of peace and prosperity with the coming of Redemption.

As Maimonides states, “Throughout the entire year, a person should always look at the world as equally balanced between merit and sin… if he performs one mitzvah, he tips the balance of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others…”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

March 7, 2024

Manna From Heaven vs Uber Eats

 

Manna From Heaven vs Uber Eats

If G-d is the source of all blessings, then why work? And if we do work and succeed then why are we thanking G-d for the result of our own efforts?

In this week’s Torah portion, we are instructed: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day shall be holy, a day of complete rest to G-d.”

Should not the sentence read “you shall do your work in six days…” rather than, “in six days shall your work be done?”

The use of the passive form suggests that even during our work week, our effort alone is not enough. 

Conversely, we all know that heartfelt prayers for rain won’t do a bit of good for the farmer who hasn’t planted his field!

So, what causes us to succeed; our efforts, or G-d’s blessings? 

There is always a combination of effort and blessings required, yet we should be mindful that the purpose of our effort is to serve as the conduit for G-d’s blessings, nothing more.

While in the desert for 40 years, G-d fed the Children of Israel with bread (manna) from heaven. 

Those with a lot of faith simply stretched their hand out of their tent to receive their daily portion, while those with little faith had to expend greater effort to find their daily portion.

G-d could have called Uber Eats for delivery right to our tents, requiring no effort at all on our part. But he tasked us to exert ourselves to some degree, based on our connection & faithfulness.  

Nothing has changed!

Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat!

Rabbi Yonatan

PS: Please pray for our hostages. May they come home safely and quickly and may G-d grant us a decisive victory against the dark forces which threaten us.

February 29, 2024

Second Chances

 

Second Chances

In this week’s Torah portion, let’s look at Moses’ motivation in smashing G-d’s Ten Commandments, in response to the Children of Israel’s worship of the golden calf.

The Talmud tells the story of a king who became enraged by rumors that the woman he was engaged to had committed an act of infidelity.

A quick-thinking friend who knew the woman was virtuous, took the betrothal contract and ripped it to shreds so that the king could not use it as justification to punish her.

A thorough investigation ensued, and it turned out that the rumors of the queen’s infidelity were baseless. The king was forever grateful to his friend for intervening.

The Tablets Moses received from G-d were intended to serve as a marriage contract between us and G-d.

But on his way back down Mt. Sinai, a small number of Jews were serving a Golden Calf. G-d told Moses He would wipe them all out and allow Moses to start anew with an easier to manage bunch. Then, Moses immediately smashed the Tablets.

Far from being an act of rage, Moses’ seemingly destructive act is considered a quintessentially selfless act of leadership.

By smashing the Tablets (tearing up the marriage contract) prior to delivery (consummation), Moses averted our certain annihilation.

Thus, we had a pathway to return to G-d, which elicited G-d’s complete forgiveness, followed by a second set of Tablets which in some ways, was superior to the first set.

The worst national sin in the history of the Jewish people was forgiven.

People do make mistakes and mess up really badly from time to time…

This Biblical account reminds us that between us and G-d It’s never too late, and with sincere repentance we can always get another chance.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 22, 2024

I have a crush on you!

 

I have a crush on you!

It is both by choice and by force that Israel dwells along among other nations. Our resolve to hold fast to the Torah, and to our faith has kept us unique for more than 3,300 years. On the other hand, our mistreatment by the other nations has also strengthened our core of Jewish belief. 

The opening sentence to this week’s Tora portion is, “and you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you, pure olive oil, crushed for lighting…”

Oil represents the faith and spiritual potential within our own soul. On the one hand, oil never mixes with other liquids, but on the other hand oil permeates everywhere. 

These two qualities represent our nature. On the one hand we refuse to lose our identify among the nations of the world. On the other hand, we greatly impact the world in ways which permeate all parts of society. 

But it’s not enough to possess spiritual potential. Oil must be lit to make it shine! During “normal” times our inherent faith may not be apparent. But during “crushing” moments our reservoirs of faith shine forth. 

The Talmud tells us, “Just as the olive yields oil only when it is pounded, so are man’s greatest potentials realized only under the pressure of adversity.” In previous generations, the “crushing” was external. But in our generation, despite recent flare-ups of antisemitism, we live in relative peace and prosperity. 

Our challenge is to express our inner faith even though we are not being “crushed.” While we are grateful for our freedom and opportunities, we must remain connected to our heritage; not out of guilt, but out of our appreciation of our divine mission…

to engage in thoughts, words, and actions which will tip the scale & bring peace and G-dly revelation NOW!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 15, 2024

More than the calf wants to nurse, the cow wants to suckle

 

More than the calf wants to nurse, the cow wants to suckle

In this week’s Torah portion G-d says to the Jewish people, “take for me an offering (charity)…from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity…”

Wouldn’t better diction have been, “Give to me (on my behalf) …” rather than “take for me…?” Perhaps the lesson is that when we “give” charity we actually receive more than we give.

According to the U.N., enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet, yet 821 million people are considered chronically undernourished.

So why didn’t G-d set up a distribution network from heaven to give to the needy, cutting out the middleman?

G-d designated us as his middlemen, and we are responsible for the distribution network, because the purpose of creation is to make the world a kinder place by helping one another.

Yes, hungry people need food, and even more need love. Most of us don’t lack food or love, but we all need more meaning in our lives which is why G-d gives us the opportunity to give. 

The Talmud tells us, “More than the calf needs to nurse, the cow needs to suckle.”

Each of us has the privilege to contribute to the refinement of the world with our checkbook and with our acts of goodness and kindness.

By doing our part, we are helping usher in a time of peace, kindness, and prosperity for all of humanity. 

Wishing you a Shabbat of delight,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 9, 2024

Don’t Have a Cow!

 

Don’t Have a Cow!

In last week’s Torah portion, G-d revealed himself to us on Mount Sinai.

Just prior, G-d split the Reed Sea for us, and before that he visited ten plagues on the Egyptians, and before that Josef saved the entire world from famine, and before that… you got the point!

Suddenly this week the narrative changes and we are learning about torts and damages, like a first-year law student:

What is my liability if your ox falls into my pit? If I come across my enemy’s stray donkey, am I obligated to return it? How are damages calculated if I knock out another guy’s tooth?

Judaism based on the Torah is a process where we build our lives and our society based on the premise that other people matter.

We live in a way so as not to cause harm to other people, including their oxen and donkeys. In the process, we refine our compassion, empathy, and connection in our everyday ordinary lives.

G-d gave us the Ten Commandments and expects us to show Him what we can do with them! What kind of world are we going to create using His Torah as a blueprint?  

When we sync our thoughts, speech, and actions with Torah, we experience all green lights and there’s always a parking space waiting for us…

Not really, but we don’t sweat the red lights and lack of parking, so much.

This is all accomplished by being sensitive to everyone and everything around us, by notice the needs of others, including strangers and acting kindly. 

This literally brings heaven down to earth.

Wishing you all the best this Shabbat & always,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 1, 2024

Do we really need G-d to tell us that murder is wrong?

 

Do we really need G-d to tell us that murder is wrong?

In this week’s Torah portion, the Children of Israel receive the Ten Commandments from G-d. Why is the opening line, “I am the Lord, thy G-d?” Wouldn’t we have figured out on our own to refrain from murder, theft, and adultery? 

Maybe not. Afterall, it was just one generation ago that the crème de la crème of German culture actively participated in the worst atrocities in history, and army officers gassed Jewish children during the day while reading bed-time stories to their own children each evening. 

If our commitment to decency is based on anything other than G-d based, there is no guarantee that our actions will not be swayed by self-love, expediency, or worse. Nazi Germany proved that even the most culturally evolved society can commit mass murder. 

G-d based morality gives us the tools to lead moral lives and deal with others honestly and respectfully, with consistency.  Otherwise, no matter how good a person may be, he may succumb to compromising his values based on expediency or comfort. 

But don’t ‘religious’ people also display immoral behavior? 

Yes, but when they do they feel awful and repent, or they foolishly look for a justification. On the other hand, one who believes there are no fixed universal values simply changes the definition of his ‘lapse’ so he may remain ‘moral’ based on his own lexicon. 

The giving of the Ten Commandments was not a one-time event, but rather the establishment of a channel that continues to enable man and G-d to relate to each other. This relationship is available to all of humanity who connect to the one eternal G-d.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

January 25, 2024

Keep Moving Forward!

 

Keep Moving Forward!

There are moments in life when prayer is not enough-we must act!

Seven days after our miraculous exodus from Egypt we faced a raging sea in front of us and the Egyptian army chasing from behind.  What should we do?

There were those who said, ‘let us cast ourselves into the sea.’ A second group said, ‘let us return to Egypt.’ A third group said, ‘let us wage war against the Egyptians.’ And a fourth group said, ‘let us cry out to G-d.’

G-d told Mosses that all these approaches were wrong. Rather they should continue on their mission and travel to Mount Sinai. 

The sea hadn’t yet split when G-d told the Jews to enter. Everyone hesitated, except for one man named Nahshon who jumped in. Only then did G-d tell Moses to raise his hand and split the sea. 

Nahshon was not impressed with the challenges that stood in his way of the final goal. If he had to jump into the sea and keep going until reaching Mount Sinai, so be it.

When we are faced with challenges, our general focus should be to keep moving ahead and not let the obstacles dictate our approach.   

Yes, from time-to-time we may have to deal with a challenge head-on, but our default position should be to move ahead in doing the right thing. This is what triggers divine assistance to successfully achieve our goals. 

Collectively we must move forward with our mission to be a ‘light unto the nations.’ One more mitzvah can tip the balance of the entire world to the side of merit and bring salvation to humanity.

Wishing you strength and blessings this Shabbos and always,

Rabbi Yonatan

 

 

January 18, 2024

How to Break Free

 

How to Break Free

In the Hebrew language every word has a root consisting of three primary letters. Most words that contain the same three primary letters share a relationship in terms of their meaning. 

For example, the word for ‘Egypt’ in Hebrew is spelled phonetically in English, ‘Mitzrayim’. The three primary letters are “M”, “TZ” and “R” which also spell the Hebrew word ‘Meitzar.’

‘Meitzar’ is defined as a ‘constricting boundary.’ You see, our enslavement in Egypt was not only a place, but is also a state of mind. Egypt constrained us physically, but we constrain our own selves in a variety of unhealthy ways. 

One person may be a slave to his ego, another to his lust, another to his anger, another to alcohol, and yet another to potato chips. Whatever it is that limits us is our personal “Egypt” and makes us feel insignificant and makes us forget what we can achieve. 

Living as a slave in ‘Egypt’ makes us believe that we must blend into the overwhelming big world around us. It tries to convince us that the world is what’s real, and that our own souls and that G-d are fantasy.

This is why in our liturgy we are commanded to regard ourselves each and every day as if we were personally leaving Egypt. We won’t be free until we break free of our limiting beliefs and uncover our essential G-dly nature. From there, we become true partners in Creation, and our lives become miraculous!

Imagine how your life can change if you connect to this reality!

Wishing you an empowering Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan 

January 11, 2024

Why have you done evil to these people?

 

Why have you done evil to these people?

"Why have You done evil to this people? Why have you sent me,” complains Moses after G-d had previously assured him that he heard the cries of the Children of Israel, and that Moses would liberate them in G-d’s name. 

Moses continues, ‘For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done worse to this nation; and you have not saved them!" G-d assures Moses that it will all turn out well, & the rest is history!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe says Moses’ questioning was an act of faith of the highest order, for crying out, “Why have You done evil?” can only come from the mouth of a true believer. A non-believer can only shrug his shoulders at the universe.

Perhaps this parable from the late Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski about a mother who takes her toddler to the doctor, holds a key:

The doctor prepares an injection. The child doesn’t make it easy for the doctor, trying to get away until the mom has to hold him down while the doctor administers the injection. All throughout, the child is screaming. 

Not a minute later the child buries his face in mom's arms, seeking solace in her embrace. But why? Wasn’t mom an accomplice when she held him down while the doctor attacked him? Why does this child suddenly find comfort in her arms? 

Our Heavenly Father's relationship with us mirrors this dynamic. At times, we might experience pain and frustration and ask why He permits dreadful misfortunes. Nonetheless, we remain aware that His love for us is genuine and unwavering. 

After all, we’re His children. We too can find consolation in acknowledging that G-d loves us unconditionally.

May G-d continue to protect our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land and deliver a decisive victory against all who want to harm us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

January 4, 2024

Birth Pangs

 

Birth Pangs

The contribution of the Jewish people to ancient Egypt is immeasurable. Joseph single-handedly saved Egypt and the rest of the world from starvation, and in the process turned Egypt into the superpower of its day. 

The Egyptians gratefully acknowledged the Jews’ contribution to culture, art, medicine, and the economy.  

This honeymoon lasted 140 years and then as we read this week, “a new king arose who did not know Joseph.” 

Our sages interpret this to mean that the king did not acknowledge the Jews contribution, and enacted harsh edicts against the Jewish community, culminating in 70 years of enslavement, until our Exodus. 

Such has been the story of our people throughout history. Time and again we have been welcomed for our wisdom and contributions, until ‘a new king arises’ who seeks to harm us, or worse. 

Until the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, Jews were thrown out of ancient Egypt, medieval Babylonia, and modern Europe. Between the year 250 and the year 1948—a period of 1700 years—Jews in Europe experienced an average of one expulsion every 21 years.

Which brings us to here and now in the U.S. where it feels like there is overt Jew hatred everywhere we turn. But we should temper our emotions with the knowledge that there is widespread affinity here for the Jewish people, and support for our brothers & sisters in Israel.

While we pray that it won’t come to this, we should thank G-d that Israel serves as a bastion of safety and support for all of us. In the meantime, this is our chance to stand up and be counted. Let us live as proud Jews and let us advocate for Israel. 

The suffering which our people is experiencing now are the birth-pangs of a new era of light emerging from darkness; an era of pure goodness where the entire world will walk in His ways.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

December 28, 2023

The Jewish prescription to free yourself from unproductive guilt
 

The Jewish Prescription to Free Yourself from Unproductive Guilt

Last week we discussed the themes of remorse and forgiveness vis a vis the Biblical Joseph and his brothers. Despite their atrocious behavior, Joseph forgave them and established a paradigm of forgiveness towards which we should aspire.

Joseph provided for his brothers and their families, and all flourished. But upon their father Jacob’s passing seventeen years later, the brothers feared, "Perhaps Joseph will hate us and return to us all the evil that we did to him."

So racked with guilt were the brothers, that they concocted a scheme to get Joseph to continue to act lovingly towards them. Joseph wept at this pathetic display and spoke to their hearts to reassure them he would continue to sustain them.

Is there anything beneficial about carrying guilt and shame for so many years?  No!

At the core of Judaism is a prescription that gives us the opportunity to clean up our mess, no matter how ugly, and then Move On! 

It worked for Adam & Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit, and it worked for the children of Israel after they worshiped the golden calf. Therefore, it can work for you also!

Here’s the prescription to free yourself from unproductive guilt:

Step 1: Say clearly out loud to G-d what you did wrong and how much you regret. Hearing your own voice will help extract the mess from deep inside so that you can throw it away forever,

Step 2:  Fix up what you did by apologizing to the person you hurt. If they don’t forgive, try two more times (after that you’re off the hook according to Jewish law),

Step 3:  Give a lot more charity than you’re used to giving.  Charity heals the world, and your soul as well,

Step 4: Compensate for whatever happened by doing better, acting nicer, & learning more.

Wishing you a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan  

December 21, 2023

It was not you who sent me here, but G-d

 

"It was not you who sent me here, but G-d"

 

Imagine you’re seventeen years old and your siblings all despise you. They conspire and sell you as a slave in a depraved and savage land.

Against all odds, you become wildly successful. Meanwhile, your siblings become completely destitute. You have the means to save the vary family that acted so horrendously towards you. 

What do you do? Do you take your revenge and pay them back measure for measure? Well, here’s how our ancestor Joseph behaved in just such a situation over 3,500 years ago.

“Do not be upset with yourselves,” he says to them. “It was not you who sent me here, but G-d. It has all been ordained from Above to save us, and the entire region, from famine.”

Certainly, his brothers chose to act badly and are accountable to G-d for their actions. But, had his brothers not acted so, G-d would have employed any number of other means to enable Joseph to fulfill his mission.

Joseph understood that every event, no matter how seemingly negative, is part of G-d’s plan, and his brothers’ bad behavior was between them and G-d.

Our own lives are much richer when we focus on our mission rather than on our perceived mistreatment by others. Their bad behavior is between them and G-d.

Our ability to internalize this message, even to a limited degree, can free us from unproductive negativity. Let’s stop keeping score and let’s perform more acts of goodness and kindness.

Please pray for the welfare of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. May G-d grant us a decisive victory against those who wish to harm us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

December 14, 2023

 

Be Within, Stay Above

 

Some people remain faithful to their way of life by living exclusively amongst like-minded people, while keeping their distance from anything foreign.

Others, venture out into unchartered territory, confident that they will retain their cherished values, while even positively impacting those they encounter. 

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about our patriarch Jacob’s son Joseph and his eleven brothers, representing these two different orientations.

Each one was righteous but whereas the other brothers were shepherds who spent their lives in solitude and G-dly contemplation, Joseph became the ruler of the mightiest empire of the day, Egypt.

Despite all the seductive glitz and glitter, Joseph managed to stay completely faithful to his Jewish traditions. In fact, he positively influenced the depraved culture around him.

Obviously, it is much easier to stay true to Jewish tradition in the company of your own. It’s much tougher to practice your faith as a minority.

Yet, most of us live in socially integrated societies mixing-in many different circles.

The question is whether you believe you have a unique Jewish contribution to offer to the world around you?

If so, Joseph is the quintessential role model.

He showed us that we can maintain our Jewishness with dignity despite the challenges thrust upon us by a wide-open society.

Remember the words of the late, great, chief rabbi, lord Jonathan Sacks who said “non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves!”.

Keep eating latkes and donuts thru this evening (and then stop!)

 Please watch these extraordinary videos… 

https://www.theyeshiva.net/jewish/c95/torah/holidays/chanukah.

Shabbat Shalom dear friend,

Rabbi Yonatan

December 7, 2023

Butterflies and Latkes!

Butterflies and Latkes!

 

Did you know that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in Hoboken can cause a typhoon in Indonesia? 

According to Wikipedia ‘the butterfly effect’ rests on the notion that the world is deeply interconnected, such that one small occurrence can influence a much larger complex system. 

In this week's Torah portion, we learn about Joseph's life journey. He went from being his father's favorite child to being sold by his brothers and thrown into prison under false accusations.

Although he had been through a lot, Joseph didn't become angry or bitter. He cared about others and believed in his divine purpose, that everything happening to him was part of God's plan. 

It was that belief in his divine purpose which enabled Josef to be sensitive to the despair of two Egyptian prisoners and went about cheering them up.  

Because of his one small, good action, one of the prisoners unwittingly set in motion a series of events that would lead to Joseph becoming the ruler of Egypt, saving the world from starvation.

This story shows how a single act can make a huge difference. Like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, one seemingly insignificant action can change the world.

When we light the first Menorah candle this evening, remember the power of one tiny light. Be the spark in someone's life and help them spread their own light to others who need it.

Wishing you happy Chanukah and many latkes! 

G-d, please look upon your people and all good people with compassion and bring us to better times.

Shabbat Shalom,Rabbi Yonatan

To learn more about Chanukah, checkout:

https://www.chabad.org/tools/subscribe/email/view_cdo/i/8A35D917402345A2:C0253C4C5B9FD74467E9AAD978FA2B279E8483173BEDD05816EBC31258F7375B#utm_medium=email&utm_source=91_holiday_alert_en&utm_campaign=en&utm_content=header 

November 30, 2023

A Kiss is Still a Kiss!

A Kiss is Still a Kiss!

 

In this week’s Torah Portion, high drama unfolds as Esau is on the march with an army of 400 elite soldiers, hell-bent on murdering his brother Jacob.  

Jacob preempts the attack by sending an emissary to greet Esau with a message, “I have lived in a depraved land and still maintained all of G-d’s commandments, and I did not learn from their evil deeds.”

Why would Esau, a villainous murderer care that Jacob was a ‘good’ Jew? 

Yet, Jacob’s strategy was effective, and the brothers embraced and kissed and went their separate ways in peace.

This encounter teaches us how we should present ourselves to the world. Rather than try to find favor in the eyes of ‘the Nations’, we should express our Judaism proudly, for the world only respects Jews who respect themselves. 

Now, what can each of us do to contribute to the Jewish peoples’ well-being? Do a mitzvah!

Every mitzvah has inherent value, despite our overall level of observance or education. As long as we do a little more every day, we are fulfilling our responsibility and our divine mission.

Women, start lighting Shabbos candles. Men, put on tefillin. Everyone, give money to a worthwhile charity in Israel! Reach out to me if you want help choosing a mitzvah.

Remember, we don’t do mitzvahs because we are religious. We do mitzvahs because we are Jewish. 

Let us remain mindful that contrary to a certain fringe-but-loud minority, the United States of America continues to be a bastion of safety and security for our people. Even more so, our fellow Americans exude overwhelming friendship and support towards us. 

Chazak v’emetz! Be strong and courageous! 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan 

November 22, 2023

Talking Turkey

 

These are trying times for our people. 

American Jews have never experienced the level of antisemitism that is bubbling over from both the far-left and the far-right, causing us to feel squeezed in the middle. 

Ironically it is when we are squeezed that our people always flourish, which is why we are likened to pure olive oil that reveals its true nature when crushed. 

Our purpose, now more than ever, is to embrace the mission for which we were created… to use our pure oil to be a light unto the nations! 

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d promises Jacob and his descendants (us) that “through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth…I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go…” 

The mightiest of civilizations have tried to destroy us, yet we have outlasted them all. Many of our holidays celebrate just such victories, including Chanukah, Purim, and Passover. 

It may feel like there’s nothing you can do. But in fact, there is plenty. 

Live as a proud Jew because the world respects Jews who respect themselves. Also, get educated and learn to advocate for the Jewish people. I hardily recommend that you join us for a two part zoom class starting next week, titled “Antisemitism, it’s root, our response.”

May we witness the time when G-d will remove the hatred within the human heart, and together, as one, we will all serve G-d. May this happen immediately, Amen!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

November 16, 2023

Our Conflict Within

Our Conflict Within
 

Many people act in ways that sabotage their own success in life.

Apropos, in this week’s Torah portion we meet twin brothers, Jacob & Esau who are representative of two opposing orientations within each of us. 

Metaphorically, Jacob represents our G-dly drive whereas Esau represents our self-centered, animalistic drive.  The inner conflict which most people experience can be sourced to each vying for supremacy.  

If one does not experience this inner conflict, it means that one or the other orientation is fully in control, more often the self-centered one.   

By allowing free rein to our ‘inner animal’, our lives tend to be messy and unfulfilling. But by asserting our inner G-dly drive, we harness our self-centeredness for positivity. 

For example, when a rider successfully harnesses the power of his or her horse, he or she can accomplish things that wouldn’t be possible without the aid of the animal.  So too, when we harness the power of our ‘inner animal’ to team up with our G-dly orientation, holiness shines brightly as we learn G-d’s ways, and we do good for others without judgment or calculation…

Our mission is to bring refinement to the world by recruiting our inner ‘animal’ to aid us as ambassadors of G-dly light to everyone we encounter.

May G-d grant us a decisive, miraculous, and immediate victory against the enemies of light and good.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

November 9, 2023

Non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves!

Non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves!

 

When the Nazis invaded Denmark, they decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing in order to be easily targeted. 

Legend has it that King Christian X went about town wearing such a star of David himself, and so inspired the Danish citizenry to do the same, thereby thwarting the Nazi edict. 

Fast forward to a recent antisemitic attack in Los Angeles when a Jewish home was singled out for vandalism because of a mezuzah on the front door.  

The Jews in the neighborhood were unnerved until their Christian neighbors decided to put Mezuzzahs on their front doors as well. 

Over the centuries we have been accused of killing their God, using their children’s blood to bake our matzah, controlling the world’s banking system, and spreading covid.

First, they told us to get out of their countries, and now they tell us to get out of “Palestine”. 

They wish the Nazis finished the job, yet they deny that the Holocaust ever happened.

There is only one response; to live as proud, confident Jews, trusting in G-d. 

As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves!”

Do a mitzvah today. If for no other reason, do it to spite the anti-Semites!

Let me know if you are ready to stand in solidarity with your brethren by placing a mezuzah on your front door. Sponsorships are available based on need.

May G-d grant a swift, miraculous and complete victory over our enemies.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan 

November 2, 2023

This is the Jewish people! We’re awesome!

This is the Jewish people! We’re awesome!

 

At 7 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7, air-raid sirens blared in Ofakim, a town in southern Israel about 10 miles from the Gaza Strip.

Rachel Edri describing the moment Hamas terrorists infiltrated her home on Simchat Torah, “They had grenades, Kalashnikovs and what-not.”

Rachel, a mother, and grandmother, was terrified but remained level-headed, trying to keep the terrorists calm, played host, as she later admitted in an interview: “I told myself, ‘I have guests.’”

“Did you eat? Would you like a coffee or tea? I will make it for you,” she offered the terrorists as they held a grenade to her head. Rachel later told ABC news that she “knew that if they are hungry, they are angry” and so made them chicken and offered them cookies.

“I fed them, I chatted with them, ‘How old are you? Where are you from?’” One of the terrorists was hurt, and Rachel even bandaged his wounds, sitting with him and stroking his hand. “I was trying to distract them so they wouldn't kill us. I also did not want them to get hungry and irritated.”

Rachel acknowledged that throughout the ordeal she did not always expect to come out alive. “We said Shema Yisrael, I thought there’s no way we are surviving this.”

Some 20 hours later, close to 2 a.m., Israeli special forces dropped through the ceiling of the shower and shot the terrorists dead. “They were right next to us. It’s a miracle they managed to kill them and get us out,” Rachel says. “They are our lions, our heroes.”

Within hours, Rachel became a national sensation, the subject of memes and a guest on daytime TV shows. Her grit, faith, and level-headedness were lauded by a nation hungry for good news and viewed as a harbinger of good things to come.

Before Shabbat, Rachel had a special message for Jewish women and girls around the world: “The real ammunition is in your hands, calling on all Jewish women to light Shabbat candles in honor of Israel and the defense forces. “With Gd’s help, all the hostages will return home …

So my dear friends, take it upon yourself to fill the world with more light, and here’s Rachel’s now famous cookie recipe: https://www.chabad.org/recipes/recipe_cdo/aid/6133830/jewish/The-Cookies-That-Helped-Save-Rachel-Edri-From-Hamas-Terrorists.htm 

This was condensed from an article written by Mendel Super on Chabad.org.

G-d, smile down upon your people with compassion and end our suffering immediately.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

October 25, 2023

The one on the other side

The one on the other side

 

In this week’s Torah portion, we meet Avraham, the first Jew. The Torah refers to him as ha’Ivri, “the Hebrew.” The term literally means “the one on the other side,” suggesting that Avraham was on one side and the entire world on the other.

Avraham earned this title because he established a relationship with the one G-d despite being raised and inculcated in the polytheistic paganism of his surroundings. As a result G-d promised Avraham that the Jewish people would inherit the land of Israel for eternity and that they would be directly under G-do’s providence. 

The Jewish legacy of “standing on the other side” still applies today. Although not everyone blames us for the savagery of our enemies, many try to establish a moral equivalence between Hamas beheading our babies and executing our grandmothers and Israel’s determination to neutralize the perpetrators. The politicians, academics, student groups, journalists, and commentators who don’t see the difference are on one side, and we are on the other. 

G-d goes on to tell Avraham, Lech Lecha which means “Go to yourself”; go away from the prevalent culture that inverts the truth and go towards the truth that Am Yisrael Chai, the Nation of Israel lives!

Do not allow yourself to doubt or be confused. Don’t be intimidated by what you read and hear.It will all work out for our best, speedily in our days!

Shabbat Shalom and G-d bless you and all the Jewish people,

Rabbi Yonatan

October 19, 2023

Is your ark watertight?

Is your ark watertight?

 

This week we read in the story of Noah and the Ark, how humanity had sunk into an abyss of moral depravity. 

The one notable exception was Noah, “perfect in his generations,” who was tasked by G-d to build an ark to save his family as well as every species of animal from the coming deluge. 

 What you may not know is that even after G-d decided to flood the Earth, he gave everyone ample opportunity to change their ways and live. 

The sages tell us that even after the downpour started people could have transformed the destructive storms into rains of blessing, but they remained hard-hearted.  

When they left the ark, Noah and his family were charged with re-building humanity based on G-d’s original plan for Adam and Eve. They were provided with a set of ethical laws for all human society, for all time. 

These laws established universal codes of decency including the acceptance of and accountability to a single Creator who cares about what human beings are doing, as well as:

The establishment of the family framework; the enforcement of law and order; and prohibitions against murder, theft, and cruelty. 

These G-d given laws are compatible with every belief system and religion and provide a blueprint for how all of humanity can dwell together as brothers.  

There are destructive rains in every generation, not just during the time of Noah, representing various anti-spiritual influences. They may appear harmless at first, but ultimately can destroy the very fabric of society. 

Each person, each family, each community must make sure that their ark is watertight, by embracing G-d’s wisdom as established in these laws.

But it’s not enough to keep darkness out. 

Each of us must encourage the light within to shine outward and transform the surrounding darkness into G-dly light.  

All that’s missing is to embrace the common ground found in G-d message of humanity’s purpose.

Wishing us all good news. Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

October 12, 2023

Would you like that apple pie, ala mode?

would you like that apple pie, ala mode?

 

This week we start the Torah from “the beginning” and we revisit the Garden of Eden with the bite heard ‘round the world, still reverberating through the present day.

Despite being furnished with everything they needed to live in paradise, with just one little condition not to eat the fruit of a particular tree, Adam and Eve seemingly couldn’t resist!

These were perfect human specimens fashioned by G-d himself! Couldn’t they control their desires

The fact is they made a fully informed decision to trade paradise for toil, struggle, and certain death, not just for themselves and their family, but also for all of humanity.

But Adam and Eve didn’t want a perfect life given to them and all their descendants. Rather, they chose a life challenged relentlessly by darkness, lust, and envy!

Maybe they knew what they were doing, and they chose wisely, for people handed life on a silver platter seldom realize their full potential.

But thanks to Adam and Eve, humanity was gifted with a mission to bring heaven down to earth and transform G-d’s creation back into a garden.

Yes, there are thorns and thistles, struggle, and pain, along the way but also the satisfaction of one’s own efforts on his way to accomplishing ultimate good.

Only with the coming of Moshiach (speedily in our days) when the world reverts back to the perfection of the Garden of Eden, will we fully appreciate the fruits of our labor.

Most definitely a more challenging path, but also incomparably more rewarding.

Meanwhile, it’s only fitting to celebrate with a slice of apple pie ala mode!

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

October 5, 2023

Rock On!

Rock On!

 

When people are happy, they dance…

It could be the Twist or the Watusi, but nothing comes close to the joy we experience from the nonstop dancing we engage in at the climax of this month of holidays known as Simchat Torah, this coming Saturday night and Sunday.

Why is dancing such an expression of joy?

Our Sages tell us that the human body is divided into three parts; the head, which is the seat of our intellect, the heart, which is the seat of our emotions, and our lower extremities which represent our actions.

True happiness is derived when we take our intellect and our feelings and direct them into tangible action.

On Simchat Torah, we gather all our lessons, experiences, and inspiration from Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot and apply them to creating an amazing year. 

This is precipitated by moving our feet while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah!

But hold on!

What about those of us who didn’t understand, didn’t feel, and didn’t have any positive experience whatsoever during this holiday season?

Just lift-up your feet and do something positive because your head and the heart will follow the action!“Rock On” this Shabbos and Simchat Torah!

Rabbi Yonatan

September 27, 2023

Party On!

Party On!

 

During the month before Rosh Hashanah, we made good resolutions, gave extra charity, and tried to connect with G-d in a meaningful way. Rosh Hashanah itself was the day we accepted G-d as our King and beseeched Him to inscribe us into His book of life, health, and prosperity. On Yom Kippur, we fasted for 26 hours and atoned for our misdeeds while resolving to improve ourselves.

Immediately after breaking our fast, with one hand grasping a bagel and cream cheese, we began building a Sukkah in our backyard to prepare for Sukkot, which starts this Friday evening and lasts a week. A sukkah is a temporary hut with a roof made from tree branches. Sukkot is known as the Time of our Joy. Throughout the holiday, we invite friends and strangers to join our celebrations filled with food, drink, singing, and dancing. Think of it as a Jewish hootenanny!

Our transition from the solemn High Holidays to the festive Sukkot reminds us to apply the good resolutions we made into reality. Lasting change can only be achieved through joy. Having developed a deeper connection with G-d and strengthened our relationships with loved ones, we can now truly experience the joy and unity that Sukkot represents.

There are two mitzvahs associated with Sukkot: having a “nosh” (a snack) and making l’chaim (cheers) inside a Sukkah; and performing the mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog by holding palm fronds, willow, myrtle, and citron together with a blessing. If you want to participate in these mitzvahs while celebrating with new friends in a Sukkah, I will endeavor to connect you to someone within drive-time of your home. 

No matter what, you have undoubtedly already secured an amazing year for yourself and your loved ones. So, let's start celebrating this Shabbos and continue throughout the following week, and the entire year!

Party on!

Rabbi Yonatan

September 20, 2023

Did you ever meet a JewBu?

Did you ever meet a JewBu?

 

Do you believe in miracles? Perhaps witnessing one might change your mind.

Visit a synagogue during Yom Kippur (Sunday evening through Monday night), and you'll experience a miracle firsthand.

You might find yourself among non-observant Jews, Jewish atheists, JINO’s (Jews in name only), Jewish Bundists, Jewish Buddhists (JewBu’s), Jews with multiple pronouns, pierced and tattooed Jews, Skinhead Jews, and Jewish anarchists.

What could unite such a diverse group, and what are they hoping to gain from the experience?

It so happened that someone complained to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 'How can it be that such a respectable Torah figure as yourself gives any sort of attention, no less honor, to non-religious Jews?’ 

The Rebbe replied, 'If a non-observant Jew wakes up Yom Kippur morning, shaves, makes a cup of coffee, turns on the radio and hears the announcer say, "Today is the Jewish Day of Atonement," 

Suddenly he runs out of the house to his car, drives to the Synagogue, runs inside, takes his seat, and opens his prayer book for fifteen minutes.

Suddenly he slaps himself on the forehead and yells out, 'Oh no! I'm late for a business meeting!' closes his prayerbook and runs out.

Concluded the Rebbe: 'You have no idea how much pleasure G-d gets from those fifteen minutes that he sat in the Synagogue'.

This is the miracle! Jews of all stripes are stirred up, not out of fear of punishment or reward, but rather because they feel that G-d (who some profess not to believe in) has faith in them to improve and to improve the world!

It's incorrect to label Jews as religious or non-religious. We are all believers by birth, the children of believers. External and internal factors may distance some of us from our true selves, but everyone’s heart remains open to Torah and mitzvahs.

And that’s why you are apt to meet so many interesting people and make so many new friends this Yom Kippur! Please let me know who you sat next to!

You should be sealed in the book of life for exclusively great stuff in this new year, and always!

Rabbi Yonatan

September 13, 2023

Divine GPS

Divine GPS

 

Ever thought you knew where you were driving, only to find yourself completely lost? Before the advent of GPS, you just had to wander around until you figured it out yourself or rely on the advice of strangers who would often send you off the wrong way.

Nowadays you just tell your car or your phone where you want to go, and, if you take a wrong turn, it tells you “Rerouting,” giving the best plan forward, often with options. 

No matter how lost or miserable people’s lives become, most folks only make course corrections when their lives become unbearable.   then in a panic, they seek advice from the wrong people, and end up just spinning their wheels.

Luckily, Judaism offers a ‘GPS for the Soul.’ Activate it by asking G-d for directions, and the Divine GPS will help you establish your sense of direction and reroute you.  

The first time you used GPS, you probably didn’t believe it would really lead you to the closest Dunkin’ Donuts in Omaha.  Now it’s second nature, and you trust it.

So, dear friend, G-d loves you just as you are. Suspend (even temporarily) any cynicism or lethargy which may be holding you back. Just use the Divine GPS app to establish or strengthen your connection. Remember, it is voice activated!

Wishing you buckets and barrels overflowing with blessings this coming year and always,

Rabbi Yonatan

September 7, 2023

Final Preparations

Final Preparations

 

If you could make some tweaks to the overall “you,” that would draw down tremendous blessings for the coming year, would you? Well, this last week leading up to Rosh Hashanah affords us just such an opportunity.

 Now is the time to connect to G-d, before He leaves the field and returns to the Throne to dole out our “blessing packs” for the new year.

The first step is to release any residual negativity. Just as this period was used by Moses to beseech G-d for forgiveness after the sin of the Golden Calf, this is the time for us to work on forgiving ourselves and others.  

That doesn’t mean we ignore the hurt, but we must let go of the anger by seeing beyond the limits of our own (and the other guy’s) personality. This helps us develop the kind of compassion we’re asking G-d to grant us. 

The second component of preparation to “greet the King” is spiritual stock-taking to get in touch with the essence of what’s important in life.  We can do this by acknowledging our mistakes and missed opportunities. 

Yes, it’s much easier to focus on moving forward, but if we really want our future to be better than our past, we must take a long and hard look because “there is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” Becoming whole is a process that cannot occur without first feeling broken. So, whatever hurts is really a blessing in disguise.

May you experience overflowing buckets of revealed blessings in your life in the New Year, and always!

Happy New Year and Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Yonatan

August 31, 2023

Reach Out and Touch Someone, Everyone!

Reach Out and Touch Someone, Everyone!

 

During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, our fate for the following year is sealed. Who will live, and who will die? Who will be healthy, and who will be infirm? Who will enjoy well-being and who will suffer tribulation? Who will be poor and who will be rich?

Thankfully, any harsh decree can be averted, and here’s how. Use this time to pray to the Almighty.  If it’s been a while or if it feels weird, just talk to Him the way you would speak to   the best version of your dad. After all, He is your Father in Heaven. 

It’s also a good idea to give lots of extra charity, and not just money. Uplifting people with your words and actions is also charity, and it’s cherished by G-d.

And it is best practice to spend the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah taking stock of your thoughts, speech, and actions over the past year, just like a merchant takes inventory of his store and balances his books.

A story is told of a man who owned a chain of stores. Each year he would balance his books and then visit each location to see which stores had too many or too few staff and which stores had too much or too little inventory. 

At one store that seemed to have too many staff, he wanted to lay off a certain employee. But the manager said that if he let that person go, he might as well close the store. 

Why? Because that employee greeted each customer warmly and gave each one a good word. He created a happy atmosphere, which made people want to come back. 

This coming year, please G-d, there will be no layoffs, and everyone will be well-stocked. Even if someone is supposed to be sent home, by bringing joy to everyone around us, the angels in Heaven will say, “we need him on earth. He spreads happiness, he makes people smile, and makes them feel good!” 

So, reach out and touch someone, everyone!

Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach!

Rabbi Yonatan

August 23, 2023

Wanted Kishka!

Wanted Kishka!

 

In keeping with last week’s theme that the time is ripe to clean up some of our “whoops” behaviors and form a more real relationship with our Father in Heaven, and to cash-in on more blessings in the coming year, I’d like to share the following story…

The Kaiser of the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to visit the Czar of Russia on official state business. The Czar spared no expense preparing a formal dinner with all the pomp and circumstance, including having his very best chefs prepare the most delicious food.

One of the chefs was Jewish, and he made Kishka! If you don’t know what Kishka is, you haven’t lived. It’s a mixture of flour, oil, and 11 secret herbs and spices, baked in the intestines of a cow.

The Kaiser loved the Kishka and asked for the recipe, so his personal chefs could prepare it. But back home when the Kaiser’s chefs served up the Kishka, it reeked of the foulest odor you could imagine. 

The Kaiser was furious with the Czar until they figured out what happened. It turned out the Czar’s chef didn’t realize he had to instruct the Kaiser’s chef to clean the intestines of all the excrement before stuffing the Kishka with the tasty filling. 

So too, in the month leading up to Rosh Hashana, it’s good to think about how to improve and to make good resolutions. But first its best to home in on any behavior that needs cleaning up. Otherwise, the stuffing (good resolutions) may reek like a vile smelling Kishka!

I sincerely hope you use this auspicious time to connect on high with your Heavenly Father who is anxiously waiting to hear from you. Also, if you’ve never tasted Kishka, you should add it to your bucket list. FYI, today, Kishka is made from synthetic casing, but it is still yummy!

Have a yummy Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

August 16, 2023

The King is in the Field

The King is in the Field

 

Rosh Hashanah, commencing year 5784, is exactly thirty days away. On this anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, G-d allocates each of our personal blessings for health, children, love, and money for the following year.

During the period leading up to the holiday, God makes himself easier to approach. He is less like a king on a palace throne than a king who is traveling throughout the countryside to meet his subjects. The Alter Rebbe likens him to a “king in the field.” so run up and tell Him you wanna connect!

How do you do that? Here’s one way:

• Write down each of your “less than wonderful” actions over the past year. 

• Be sure to acknowledge and write down your good deeds as well! 

• Feel the remorse over your less-than-stellar behavior, but never regret who you are.

• Resolve to not repeat those mistakes!

• Confess your mistakes out loud to your Father in Heaven. It’s not enough to think about it. Your lips need to be moving. (Verbalizing our regrets and resolutions to do better makes it personal and real.)

This process can open your heart and free your soul to experience a deep and loving relationship with your Father in Heaven. That in turn will allow you to experience incomparable joy because now your soul is released from captivity.

G-d should Bless you abundantly in all of life’s domains.

Shabbat Shalom, and a Good & Sweet New Year,

Rabbi Yonatan

August 8, 2023

Get Out of Dodge

Get out of Dodge

 

In Moses’ second farewell address to the Jewish people, he recounts that “since you were commanded to go out of the land of Egypt in haste, there was no opportunity for your dough to rise.”

When the moment of liberation struck, we didn’t lose a moment, “not even the wink of an eye!” In fact, our sages tell us that had we missed that auspicious moment, the opportunity for liberation would be forever lost. Perhaps, this was the source of the term: “Get out of Dodge?”

Paradoxically, the Egyptians had just underwent G-d’s wrath in the form of ten devastating plagues, culminating in the death of all their first born. They were all too happy to see us go. So, how could our liberation be in jeopardy?

The danger was not that the Egyptians might change their minds. Rather, the danger was that some of the Children of Israel might change their minds, having become accustomed to the Egyptian way of life. 

So too, we must guard against complacency with the status quo. Exodus from Egypt was non a one-time historical event. Rather, the root of the word “Egypt” in Hebrew shares the root of the word for “bondage.”  

In our day-to-day lives, we must each contend with our own “inner Egypt,” which is one reason why we reference the Exodus in our daily prayers repeatedly each day. 

Our job is to break free from anything that causes us to be subservient to the ‘animal’ within, or our materialistic environment without. 

Let us each seize the opportunity to achieve personal liberation and to help others do the same. May we free ourselves from all of our undesirable and self-limiting thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

Above all, let us not be satisfied with the status quo, nor give into the pressure to conform to the pressures of the prevalent culture around us.  

Wishing you a liberating Shabbat, 

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

August 3, 2023

The Best Insurance

The Best Insurance

 

This week’s Torah portion commands us to affix a Mezuzzah on the doors of our homes and businesses.

Read on and you will find out how a Mezuzzah is the Ultimate Security!

A Mezuzzah is a small parchment inscribed with the words of the foundational “Shema” prayer, handwritten by an expert scribe. 

The first sentence of the prayer is known by Jews the world over: “Hear oh Israel, the Lord is G-d, the Lord is One.”

A Mezuzzah provides physical and spiritual protection for the entire family. It also reminds us of our connection to G-d and to our people.

The decorative case that surrounds the Mezuzzah might be a work of art, but the inside is what counts. A rolled-up photocopy does not achieve the desired result.

Here’s an amazing story from the Jerusalem Talmud which literally says it all…

King Artavan of Parthia once sent a precious pearl to Rabbi Judah who was a leader of the Jewish people about 2,000 years ago. 

He expected Rabbi Judah to reciprocate with something of similar value, but instead Rabbi Judah sent a Mezuzzah for the king’s front door! 

The king was more than a bit miffed! 

Thereupon Rabbi Judah explained that whereas he would constantly have to guard against theft of this precious pearl, 

the Mezuzzah would continually guard the king and protect him!

So dear friend, if you don’t have a Mezuzzah on your door, let me know. If you have a Mezuzzah but haven’t had it inspected in a while, let me know.

G-d promises that anyone who carefully observes the commandment of Mezuzzah will lead a longer, richer life, as will his descendants!

Wishing you a Shabbat filled with delight,

Rabbi Yonatan

July 27, 2023

When Your Toast Hits the Kitchen Floor “Jam Side Up”

When Your Toast Hits The Kitchen Floor “Jam Side Up”

 

So, an old joke goes like this… a guy who’s late for an important appointment is driving around the block for the umteenth time looking for a parking space. 

In utter desperation he cries out to G-d: “Father in Heaven, if you provide a parking spot for me right now, I will donate $1,000 to charity”! 

Just as the words leave his lips, a spot becomes available & he says: “Never mind G-d, I can take care of this myself”!

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses knows he has just another month before G-d takes him from us.

He tries to impart all sorts of advice so that we can avoid lapses of good judgment, thereby sparing us from future tragedies.

Moses famously says: “Beware, lest you forget the L-rd who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”.

Moses reminds the Jewish people to “always be grateful” knowing that it’s human nature to ease up when things are going well in life. 

It’s typical when people have tsuris (troubles) that they beseech the Almighty for their needs. 

Moses is reminding us that when we are skating down easy street & all the traffic lights are green, G-d remains the source of our good fortune.

Moses is teaching us that sometimes (G-d forbid) only a reversal of fortune allows us to wake up and smell the coffee, in order to remember that it is G-d who is the source of all of our Blessings!

May we experience only good fortune and not forget the source from where it comes.

Wishing you a stupendous Shabbat, 

Rabbi Yonatan

July 20, 2023

From Tears of Sadness, To Tears of Joy!

Weekly Taste of Torah (07/20/2023)

 

The Code of Jewish Law instructs us to decrease in joy during the nine-day period leading up to the saddest day of the year, known as Tisha B’av. 

This year, the first of the Nine Days falls out this Wednesday evening, July 19th and continues until the night of Tisha b’Av which is Thursday, July 27th. 

Tisha b’Av commemorates many historical tragedies that befell us on this date, most significantly the destruction of both our Holy Temples. 

On Tisha b’Av we fast, and we sit on the floor in the synagogue with the lights dimmed low, reciting the book of Lamentations.

A story is told that on the night of Tisha b’Av, Napoleon Bonaparte was strolling with his entourage in his capital city of Paris. 

Low and behold he heard crying and sobbing coming out of a dimly lit synagogue. 

He sent his aide to inquire. He was told that the Jews were mourning the loss of their Holy Temple. 

So moved was he, that Napoleon instructed his aide to re-enter and tell the Jews that he would personally provide the funds to rebuild their Temple.

The aide explained to the emperor that the Holy Temple was in Jerusalem, and it had been destroyed over 1,700 years ago! To this, Napoleon reportedly said: 

“If indeed this people is mourning their Temple after almost two millennia, such a people so attached to their history, will indeed be restored to their land and their Temple rebuilt.”

The Rebbe emphasizes that we are required to serve G-d with joy. Therefore, we spend the minimum required time focused on the litany of tragedies from our long history.  

We use the rest of our time learning about the spectacular third and final Holy Temple to be rebuilt with the advent of the Messianic era, may it take place speedily in our days!

May the time soon come when we look back with the clarity of hindsight to see how all our suffering was but a prelude to happiness and goodness, with the coming of our redemption. Amen!

All aspects of mourning are suspended on Shabbat, so have a blast!

Rabbi Yonatan

July 13, 2023

A Fitting Place for Holiness to Hang out!

Weekly Taste of Torah (07/13/2023)

 

The Children of Israel’s approach to the Land of Israel did not take them near the kingdom of Midian. The Midianites understood that the Jews had nothing against them and wanted nothing from them.

Yet, Midian came out to scheme and battle against us despite the fact there was nothing whatsoever to gain. They caused us lots of casualties and lots of grief.

It’s no wonder that the name “Midian” shares an etymological root with “irrational hatred.”

Which brings us to this week’s Torah portion when the Children of Israel are given one last mission before entering our Promised Land…destroy the nation of Midian, once and for all.

The Torah can be interpreted and understood on a myriad of levels, from the simple narrative in scripture to the most esoteric secrets. So, let’s look a little deeper…

The various nations we had to fight to be able to claim the Promised Land represent our individual struggles against our internal negative traits.

Our struggle against Midian represents the hostility we feel towards other people when we have no good reason. It manifests in us as intolerance and divisiveness. 

Must we hate someone because they acted without consideration, because they always park their car in front of our home, because they voted for the wrong candidate?

Answer our sages, Irrational hatred is defeated by irrational love!

When we treat others with love, while respecting different opinions and orientations, Midian will surrender without a fight. 

That’s how we will reclaim the world and make it a fitting place for holiness to hang out.

Rather than complain about how this world is getting worse and worse, let’s start practicing irrational love. 

If not now, when?

Wishing you a remarkable, terrific, and wonderous Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

July 6, 2023

Some people find fault like there’s a reward for it!

Weekly Taste of Torah (07/06/2023)

 

There’s this guy I used to see every day in the synagogue. He had his issues, like all of us and we got along fine. 

Then one day he decided to actually apply the things we learned in the Torah to try to become a better person. 

I watched in astonishment as he remained calm in situations that used to illicit rage. He stopped gossiping about people we used to love to talk about. 

He acted like a guy who actually internalized the lessons that we were learning in Torah for all those years. 

I waited impatiently for him to slip up and show his “real” self.  

Why do people look for faults in other peoples’ good acts and motives?

In this week’s Torah portion, we meet Pinchas, an “average” person who acted boldly while the Elders, including Moses were frozen in indecisiveness. 

Pinchas acted decisively and thereby averted a national calamity. Yet the vary people he saved said he had ulterior motives.

So long as a person is doing good, he should not be criticized. 

Even if he is brimming with pride, doing good even for the wrong reason will eventually lead him to have purer motives.

But where does the desire come from to find fault in people who are doing something good? 

Maybe a person thinks of himself as humble and thus finds pride in others to be distasteful. Chances are the opposite is true!

His criticism of another’s accomplishments is probably due to the person himself being egotistical and lazy. 

He can’t stand the thought that someone accomplished something that he did not.

Even if the do-gooder is a showoff, at least he accomplished something, and he is honest about his egotism. 

The critic, however, is rankled because he can’t admit that he is also an egotist. So, he feigns righteous indignation.     

It is much better to be a doer than a critic. For a little egotism can make criticism destructive. But a good deed always remains good, regardless of the intention.

Wishing you a peaceful and fun Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

June 29, 2023

No One Can Talk To A Horse, Of Course!

Weekly Taste of Torah (06/29/2023)

 

Long before Mr. Ed the talking horse, lived Balaam’s talking donkey. 

He was smarter than his master because he had the good sense not to mess with the Jews. 

His master along with king Balak of the Moabite nation hatched a scheme to annihilate our people; what else is new?

I won’t use space herein to describe their ending. Suffice to say, when’s the last time you met a Moabite?

Over the centuries we have been accused of killing their God, using their children’s blood to bake matzah, & controlling the world’s banking system. 

First, they told us to get out of their countries, and now they tell us to get out of Israel. 

They wish the Nazis succeeded, yet they deny that the Holocaust ever happened. 

Yes, we should educate and confront antisemites.  The A.D.L., et al, have been doing this for decades. Yet he voices of the antisemites are getting stronger.  

We cannot allow this subject to occupy center stage nor to become the focal point of any kind. 

We must live as proud, confident Jews, and influence everyone we meet with courage, positivity, and encouragement. 

In the words of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves!”

Do a mitzvah today. You’re not religious? So do it to spite the anti-Semites!

It is this attitude that contributes to the secret of Jewish eternity!

Don’t worry; it all turns out great!

Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach,

Rabbi Yonatan

June 22, 2023

Never Enough Prestige, Fortune, & Fame

Weekly Taste of Torah (06/22/2023)

 

We meet a fascinating and tragic figure in this week’s Torah portion, named Korach.

Korach had it all; prestige, fortune, & fame. Only a handful of people had more and that’s what Korach obsessed about. 

Because he could not control his envy, lust, and desire for honor, he fomented a rebellion amongst Moses. 

But In Biblical fashion, the earth opened beneath his feet and swallowed him alive, along with his co-conspirators, putting an end to the entire affair.  

We are all born with a propensity towards envy, lust, and a desire for honor. Left unchecked, it never ends well. 

The Midrash Shmuel relates that a king had summoned both an envious person and a hedonist to his court: 

The king said: “The 1st person to ask for something will receive it. And the other will receive double!” Both remained silent.

The hedonist wouldn’t speak first because he wanted the double portion.

The envious person wouldn’t speak first because he couldn’t stand the thought that the hedonist would receive twice his portion!

Finally, the envious person spoke: “I would like the king to poke out one of my eyes.” 

But channeled properly, these personality challenges can actually help refine us:

Envy can be used to emulate those who are more spiritually refined than us; one can learn to lust for closeness to the Divine, and one can experience honor by honoring others. 

To paraphrase the Rebbe:  if we are preoccupied with our personal status, we are likely to be unhappy, for our sense of worth is based on prestige, fortune, and fame. 

Happiness, however, can be found — by transcending self-concern, and investing our personal resources in a purpose of greater scope than ourselves.

Wishing you contentment with your lot in life, this Shabbat & always!

Rabbi Yonatan

June 15, 2023

We Appeared Like Grasshoppers in Our Eyes

Weekly Taste of Torah (06/15/2023)

 

The Children of Israel had just received the Torah at Mt Sinai from G-d himself. 

Poised at the border of the Promised Land, they were assured that The Almighty would fight their battles and deliver their enemies into their hands.

Then, on their own initiative they decided to send scouts into the Land of Israel.

They came back with a negative report that the land could not be conquered.

How pray tell, could a people under the direct Divine protection of the Master of the Universe lose their nerve?

Scripture states: “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than us…we appeared like grasshoppers in our eyes, and that’s how we were in their eyes.”

That’s right! They suffered from a collective case of low self-esteem.

As a result, G-d told the people that he would extend their desert itinerary for an additional 39 years so the next generation would learn the “right stuff” to inherit the Promised Land. 

Hearing this news that their entry was denied, they had a change of heart and pleaded with G-d to let them enter the Promised Land. But the moment had passed. It was too late!

What caused our people to have such a dramatic change of heart? 

A few moments earlier they were petrified. Now they were ready to march into the Land singing The Theme from Rocky!

Initially their faith was overshadowed by fear. But as soon as they realized the consequences of their behavior, their inherent faith was awakened!

We all experience doubts and fears from time-to-time. 

The way to overcome them is not to attempt to answer them directly, but simply to reawaken the pure childlike faith that lies dormant within us!

He’s got our back! Be strong and of good courage!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

June 8, 2023

Our Personal Journeys are Orchestrated by G-d

Weekly Taste of Torah (06/08/2023)

 

We feel good when we are making progress towards our life’s goals.  Conversely, we feel frustrated when we get stuck!

How must the Children of Israel have felt, wondering around Sinai for 40 years with one overarching goal…to enter the Promised Land!

This week’s Torah portion describes G-d’s Cloud of Glory which led the Children of Israel through the desert, and then hovered to indicate it was time to stop, make camp & erect the tabernacle. 

There were 42 stops on their way to the Promised Land. It’s fascinating to note that when they were told to stop, meaning they couldn’t advance towards their heart’s desire, they remained content to just hang-out!

A famous Torah Commentator, the Ohr Hachayim says that their willingness to stop and make camp was equal to their desire to move on.

Sounds a bit out of character for our people, no?

You see, they were able to recognize that G-d always acted in their best interest, even when they felt impatient and stuck in place.

Our personal journeys are orchestrated by G-d, who “directs the footsteps of man.” 

True, we have free choice and therefore it’s fully appropriate to set out to achieve our goals. Still, we must recognize that only G-d sees the big picture, and only G-d knows what’s in our best interest.

So next time you feel stuck, remember that this is also in your best interest. Embrace it, rather than fight with it.

Wishing you tons of Blessings in all areas of your life, this Shabbat & always,

Rabbi Yonatan

June 1, 2023

Penny-Pinching Cheapskates?

Weekly Taste of Torah (06/01/2023)

 

If I were as wealthy as so-&-so, I would be much further ahead in life! Feel free to insert “attractive”, “smart”, or “lucky” in lieu of “wealthy.”

The truth is that G-d has given each of us the specific resources in potential that we each need to fulfill our specific mission in life.

This week’s Torah portion is a lesson in how to maximize our own potential, & not focus on what we think we are lacking.

When the traveling sanctuary (Tabernacle, or “Mishkan” in Hebrew) was built in the desert by Moses and the Children of Israel, the articles were mostly made of gold and precious stones.

There was no consideration of cost! No expense was spared!

Yet oddly, the Leaders of the 12 Tribes donated only six wagons to transport the contents of the Tabernacle, only one wagon from each two Leaders. Were they penny-pinching cheapskates?

The Talmud analyzes the exact dimensions of all the Tabernacle’s contents and determines that each of the six wagons was filled to capacity without room for even an extra matchstick.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have some extra wagons, so things didn’t have to be loaded and unloaded with such painstaking precision?

The Torah is telling us that everything exists in the world for a purpose. If six wagons were sufficient, then any extra ones would be superfluous.

This concept applies to each of us as well. G-d created each of us with a purpose. If something is not being fully used, it is not fulfilling its purpose.

By utilizing everything in our lives to our own potential, we fulfill the Divine plan, living our best lives possible and spreading more G-dly light throughout the world!

In closing, this Torah portion also includes the Priestly Blessing:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach (a peaceful and blessed Shabbos),

Rabbi Yonatan

May 25, 2023

We are Part of an Unbroken Chain Stretching Back to ‘Ground Zero.’

 

This coming Friday marks the holiday of Shavuot which celebrates G-d giving the Torah to the Jewish people. 

Three million people camped at the base of Mt. Sinai and received G-d’s instructions directly from His “lips”. 

You and I are part of an unbroken chain of transmission stretching all the way back to ‘ground zero.’

Not a single letter of a single word has been altered in the past 3,335 years. 

If you are not aware of this transmission, I assure you that your great, great grandparents, & each of their ancestors were.

What happened on this day completely changed the effect of human events forever. 

You see, prior to our encounter at Mt. Sinai, there was no connection between physicality and spirituality. 

What was above stayed above; what was below stayed below. 

At Sinai, G-d fused the two realms together giving us the ability to affect what goes on above, reciprocally changing our physical reality.

We accomplish this by fulfilling G-d’s desire that we make this world a fitting place for Him to be revealed. 

By performing G-d’s commandments and learning his wisdom in the Torah, we draw down Divine kindness for the benefit of all humankind. 

This unique ability was given to us at Sinai and that’s what we celebrate on Shavuot. 

I have no space to explain, so you have to trust me on what I’m about to say…

You must eat a thick slice, or two, or more of Kosher cheesecake on Shavuot. 

Wishing you a lactose tolerant and yummy holiday and Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

May 18, 2023

E plurbus unum!

Weekly Taste of Torah (05/18/2023)

 

Jewish men who practice my brand of Judaism tend to look alike. 

We don’t spend a lot of time figuring out what to wear each morning… big beard, black suit, black shoes, black hat, & white shirt. 

Next time you see such a Jew, ask him to lift up his pant leg. It might be kind of weird if you lift it up without asking him first; just sayin’!

There’s a good chance you will see vividly colored socks embossed with Mickey Mouse, the Rolling Stones, or Batman. 

On the one hand we all enjoy the feeling of belonging to a group, but on the other hand we love to express our individuality. 

This week the Torah goes into intricate detail as to how the 3 million Children of Israel camped in the desert for 40 years:

Every tribe had its own leader, its own place to camp, its own color, its own flag, and even its own gemstone.

Each tribe was allotted its portion in Israel that best suited its profession as farmer, shepherd, businessman, winemaker, or scholar.

These were the same 3 million Children of Israel who received the Torah at Mt. Sinai as “one man, with one heart.” 

Their identity as members of the community actually enhanced their distinct individuality. 

In today’s prominent culture, the emphasis is on individuality. Community is all but forgotten, except maybe in the virtual world.

Judaism gives us the formula to achieve the best results in life. Belong to a force for good that’s greater than yourself!

Only then can we escape the unhealthy seduction of self-absorption. Only then can we really have the freedom to discover the beauty of our individuality.

Wishing you a connected Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

May 11, 2023

Find out how much music you can still make with what you have left!

 

What are we supposed to do with the mishandled opportunities, the disappointments, & the angst we’ve accumulated?

How can we create beauty and value from the  baggage we are shlepping around?

What comes to mind is a story I repeat frequently to myself…

Yitzchak Perlman, the world-renowned violin virtuoso  limped onto stage at Lincoln Center in 1995,

along with the braces and crutches that were his constant companions since he had polio as a child,

Perlman picked up his violin and positioned himself…

Just a few bars into the performance, one of his violin strings snapped.

The audience prepared itself to wait patiently as Perlman would need to reattach his braces and crutches,

and hobble off stage to fetch a new string, or a new violin…

You can imagine the awe when Perlman just continued to sit there, with eyes closed,

and then turned to the Conductor to begin again…

Now a violin has 4 strings and cannot be played with only 3 strings.

But Yitzchak Perlman apparently didn’t know that…

Perlman played with more passion, power, and purity than ever before…

When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then the audience rose and cheered.

There was a deafening outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium…

Perlman wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to silence the crowd and said the following in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone:

“You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

My dear friend, let’s love ourselves and love each other as we are.

Let’s make music with what we have left!

Wishing you a zippidydudah Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

May 4, 2023

Living it Up in Paradise

Weekly Taste of Torah (05/04/2023)

 

Adam & Eve were "living it up" in paradise! G-d only withheld one fruit tree from them.

Then at precisely 3pm on Friday afternoon, everything changed! 

You guessed it! The bite from the ‘apple' that’s still biting us 5,783 years later! 

It gets even more interesting…

Had they waited just 3 hours longer until the Sabbath entered, they could have tasted from this fruit with G-d’s Blessing!

In this week’s Torah portion, we are told that when we plant a tree, we can’t taste the fruit for the first three years.

This is to remind us of the three hours that Adam and Eve couldn’t seem to wait. Of course, we are permitted to partake of life’s delicacies!  Judaism does not condone asceticism.

But do we really need that 3rd piece of pie?

Do we really have to say everything on our minds?

Must we look at things which are inappropriate?

When we forget our values and our purpose, it becomes possible to pursue instant gratification right off the cliff. 

What’s left is an empty life and purposeless existence.

Creating boundaries around our desires is the antidote! This is the key to living joyfully! 

Wishing you a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

April 27, 2023

G-d is giving us all a second chance. Let’s grab it!

Weekly Taste of Torah (4/27/2023)

 

Next Friday, May 5th marks my personal favorite holiday on the calendar! 

No, it’s not International Chocolate Lovers Day which would be a close second!

It is “Pesach Sheni”, or the “Second Passover.”

THE STORY:

On the first anniversary of G-d freeing us from Egypt, He commanded us to celebrate Passover, which we re-enact each year, to this very day.

But there were people who were not able to join because they had left the camp of Israel in order to fulfill another good deed.

When they returned, they were distraught that they missed the opportunity to celebrate Passover as G-d had commanded.

Moses assured them that they were fully excused by G-d Himself.

But that didn’t satisfy them. They wanted to celebrate Passover! 

They made such a ruckus that G-d relented!

He declared that each year, exactly one month after Passover would come a second chance known as the second Passover! 

THE LESSONS FOR US:

It’s never too late! You’re not a lost cause! You’re never too far away!

There is no justification for despair, no matter how far away or lost we may be! 

Today, and every day, G d is giving us all a second chance. Let’s grab it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yonatan

April 20, 2023

Hold Your Tongue

Weekly Taste of Torah (4/20/2023)

 

Can you imagine if every time someone shared a piece of juicy gossip…

they would get a big pimple on the tip of their nose?

Well, during Biblical times, that’s exactly what happened…

If they spoke negatively about another person, they would contract a skin disease for all to see!

Words carry a lot of power!

Our Sages tell us that gossip hurts three people: the one who speaks, the one who listens, and the one who is the subject!

Therefore the Torah forbids us from speaking negatively about other people, even if it is true. 

Yes, there are exceptions but that’s not my focus herein. 

Beyond developing the discipline to hold our tongues, 

our Sages tell us to “judge everyone for good,”  

to have empathy for other people’s shortcomings and “walk a mile in their Gucci loafers.”

By finding something praiseworthy in every person, and expressing it,

We enable a person’s good qualities—which may be very well concealed—to rise to the surface.

And this is what we can do right now!

Let’s spread goodness and kindness and make ourselves a fitting vessel for Divine Blessing!

Wishing you an awesome Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

April 10, 2023

Can you count to forty-nine?

Weekly Taste of Torah (4/10/2023)

 

Exactly fifty days after our liberation from Egypt, we met G-d face to face on Mt. Sinai.  

We were a broken people and to prepare for the encounter we had to undergo a spiritual deep cleansing because our emotional framework had become distorted.

The Kabballah tells us that we have seven emotional attributes: loving-kindness, restraint, compassion, endurance, humility, bonding, and leadership.

At the root of everything that is not great in our lives, lay distortions amongst these seven emotive attributes. 

Each of our seven emotions is a composite of all the others… 

For example, loving-kindness is comprised of itself plus the other six emotions. Hence there are a total of forty-nine ‘parts’ to re-assemble in proper working order. 

Each of the 49 days we walked in the desert, we refined another emotional aspect of our psyche. On the 50th day, we met G-d at Mt. Sinai and received the Torah.

Today we continue the spiritual deep cleansing for 49 days, by saying a short Blessing each day followed by counting the day corresponding to the emotion we are refining.

Try it out for yourself…

“Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandment to count the Omer”. 

Then look for today’s date with its corresponding emotion and say it out loud:

https://www.chabad.org/holidays/sefirah/omer-calendar_cdo/jewish/Omer-Calendar.htm

That’s it! The key is to do it, whether or not you understand or believe.

At the conclusion of the 49 days, you will have refined your emotions!

Whatever isn’t yet perfect G-d will do for you on the 50th day, Shavuot, the day we received the gift of the Torah!

Happy counting!

Rabbi Yonatan

April 4, 2023

Break Free!

Weekly Taste of Torah (04/04/2023)

 

A thought for discussion at your Seder Table (Passover begins this Wednesday evening with the first Seder, and the second Seder is Thursday evening): 

The Torah says that “these are the journeys of the children of Israel, going out of the land of Egypt.” Why is “journeys” plural? Afterall once you leave, you have left!  

But spiritually, the exodus from Egypt never ends. It is a journey from the boundaries and constraints of habit, conformity, and ego. 

“Mitzrayim,” the Hebrew name for “Egypt” means “boundaries” and “constraints.” 

In the process of our self-work, what we considered to be liberating and expansive yesterday, feels confining and inadequate today. 

Having transcended yesterday’s limitations, we must again journey from the “Mitzrayim” that our present level represents vis a vis our newly discovered potential. 

That is why our sages say that “in every generation and every day, a person must see himself as having today left Egypt.”

Getting out of “Mitzrayim” is just the beginning. Our purpose is to go up to the “Promised Land” which consists of the achievements we create by breaking free from yesterday’s constraints.  

Wishing you a taste of true freedom this Passover, a forerunner of the complete freedom we will all experience, as G-d fulfills his promise to us,

Rabbi Yonatan

March 30, 2023

We are Empowered to Transcend All Our Limitations

Weekly Taste of Torah (3/30/2023)

 

Passover is the celebration of our freedom…

Freedom from our Egyptian captors over 3,300 years ago, and freedom from our own egos.  

Passover teaches us how to rise above our egos so that we can achieve truly great things.

On Passover we eat Matzah.  

If we wanna “up our game”, we eat it for all eight days of the holiday. 

If we wanna go “all in”, we scour our homes looking for microscopic breadcrumbs wedged in crevices in our linen closets. 

In fact, the Talmud states that what is holding us back from achieving great things is the yeast in the dough during Passover!

For when we are all puffed up with our own selves, we are enslaved to our misguided self-construct. 

Further we become prisoners to a world of false expectations that we think we must satisfy and please. 

The spiritual energy of Passover empowers us to break free from our bondage to anything in this world.

And we begin by ritually eradicating a physical manifestation of that ego from our world. 

By getting rid of all grain except for Matzah for the eight days of Passover, we become connected with G-d’s infinite energy, 

and we are empowered to transcend all our limitations...

That is real freedom!

Wishing you a Good Shabbos and a Good Yomtov, 

Rabbi Yonatan

March 23, 2023

A Tale of Two Souls, and One Has A Tail!

Weekly Taste of Torah (03/23/2023)

 

Chassidic philosophy teaches us that we each have two souls… 

One soul is focused on physical survival and pleasure. It is called the ‘animalistic’ soul and it is located in our blood and in our heart’s left ventricle. 

The other soul is focused on our higher calling and is known as our ‘Divine soul’ and is located in our brain.  

Without an animalistic soul, we might go hungry for our physical needs. 

But the key to a successful life is for the Divine soul to always be in the driver’s seat.   

When our brain is in control of our feelings and desires, we live a rich and full life.

But when we let our animal have the car keys, we cannot possibly reach our potential. And imagine how badly your car would smell if you let your ox go out for a spin!

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the animal sacrifices that were offered up in the Holy Temple.

We haven’t offered such sacrifices for over 2,000 years but the message is more relevant than ever…

The Hebrew word for ‘offering up a sacrifice’ shares the same root as the word to ‘bring close’. 

By offering up our ‘inner animal’ to the Divine, we appreciate a higher purpose to our life, and we enjoy connection and closeness with G-d and with each other that is beyond description.

Wishing you a Shabbat of delight,

Rabbi Yonatan

March 16, 2023

Why doesn’t G-d call Uber Eats to send us our daily food?

Weekly Taste of Torah (03/16/2023)

 

One aspect of living Jewishly means coming to terms with seemingly contradictory messages.

For example, If G-d is the source of all blessings, then why work?

And if we do work and succeed then why are we thanking G-d for the result of our own efforts?

In this week’s Torah portion we are instructed: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day shall be holy, a day of complete rest to G-d.”

Why doesn’t the sentence read “you shall do your work in six days…” rather than, “in six days shall your work be done?”

The passive form suggests that even during the six days we work, our effort alone is not enough.

The purpose of our work is to create a conduit to receive G-d’s blessings, nothing more.

While in the desert for 40 years, G-d fed the Children of Israel with “bread (manna) from heaven.”

Those people with the greatest faith simply reached with their hand out of their tent to receive their daily requirement.

Others had to search around the camp.

While those with no faith had to expend great effort to find their daily portion.

At the end of the day, everyone received exactly what they needed for their family!

G-d could have called Uber Eats for delivery right to our tents, requiring no effort on our part.

But he opted to have the manna fall throughout the camp and we were tasked with having to collect it.

Nothing has changed from then until now!

Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat with no need to use Uber Eats!

Rabbi Yonatan

March 9, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (3/9/2023)

 

The Talmud tells the story of a king who became enraged by rumors that the woman he was engaged to had committed an act of infidelity.

A quick-thinking friend who knew the woman was virtuous, took the betrothal contract and ripped it to shreds so that the king could not use it as justification to punish her.

A thorough investigation ensued, and it turned out that the rumors of the queen’s infidelity were baseless. The king was forever grateful to his friend for intervening.

Moses spent 40 days atop Mt. Sinai learning the entire Torah and receiving the Tablets prepared by G-d himself.

The Tablets were intended to serve as a marriage contract between us and G-d.

But on his way back down the mountain, Moses witnessed a small number of Jews serving the Golden Calf.

G-d told Moses He would wipe out the people and allow Moses to start anew with an easier to manage bunch.

Moses immediately smashed the Tablets.

Far from being an act of rage, Moses’ instantaneous act is considered the most heroic and selfless act of Jewish leadership.

By smashing the Tablets (tearing up the marriage contract) prior to delivery, Moses averted our certain annihilation.

Thus we had a pathway to return to G-d, which elicited G-d’s complete forgiveness, followed by a second set of Tablets which in some ways, was superior to the first set.

The worst national sin in the history of the Jewish people was forgiven.

Thus, nobody can say “It’s too Late”, or “I’m too far gone.”  People make knuckleheaded mistakes; human beings do mess up really badly from time to time…

Along comes this story to remind us that between us and G-d It’s never too late, and with sincere repentance we can always get a “do over”.

Wishing you a Shabbat of smiles,

Rabbi Yonatan

March 2, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (03/02/2023)

 

G-d willing, we will celebrate Purim on this coming Monday night and Tuesday!

“Celebrate” is actually too tame of a word. Not Times Square on New Year’s Eve, nor Rio de Janeiro during Mardi Gras come close.

We dress up in ridiculous costumes, overindulge in food and liquor, while giving out huge amounts of charity.

We are literally commanded to leave all reason and sense of self behind.

Why are we so happy? You can go to Chabad.org and read the miraculous events that took place on Purim, but that’s only part of it.

We are so happy because Purim marks the time that we took ownership of our Jewishness!

There was a decree of total annihilation against the Jewish people. We could have simply renounced our Jewishness and lived like the rest of the people around us.

After all, our morale was at an all-time low. Our Holy Temple was destroyed. We had been led away to exile in chains.

We had seemingly been abandoned by G-d Himself. Who could blame us?

But instead, we did something insane…

We said “bring in on! We will live like Jews, or we will die like Jews!” We came together as one people, fasted, and prayed, and the rest is history.

Two thousand, four hundred years later we haven’t heard a whisper from the ancient Persian empire, nor the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, et al!

Two thousand, four hundred years later we are still celebrating! And very soon we will be celebrating the ultimate joy with the coming of our righteous Moshiach!

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat, and an “out of mind” Purim,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 23, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (02/23/2023)

 

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d says to us: “take for me an offering…from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity…”

Would it not be a better choice of words to say, “give for me” rather than “take for me?”

Perhaps the lesson is that when we “give” charity we actually receive more than we give.

According to the the United Nations, enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet, yet 821 million people are considered chronically undernourished.

So why didn’t G-d set up a distribution network from heaven to give to the needy, cutting out the middleman?  

G-d designated us as his middlemen, and we are responsible for the distribution network, because the purpose of creation is to make the world a kinder place by helping one another.

The system is fueled by “Tzedakah”, translated as “charity” but it actually means “justice”.  It is “just" that we share the gifts that G-d has endowed us with. 

Yes, those 821 million people need food. Many more need love. Most of us don’t lack food or love, but we all need more meaning in our lives which is why G-d gives us the opportunity to give. 

The Midrash tells us: “more than the rich person does for the poor person, does the poor person do for the rich person."

Each of us has the privilege to contribute to the refinement of the world with our checkbook and with our acts of goodness and kindness. By doing our part, we are helping usher in a time of peace, kindness, and prosperity for all the people of the world. 

Wishing you a Shabbat of delight,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 16, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (02/16/2023)

 

Just last week, G-d revealed himself to us on Mount Sinai.

Just prior, G-d split the Reed Sea for us, and before that he visited ten plagues on the Egyptians, and before that Josef saved his entire family from famine, and before that… you got the point!

Suddenly this week the narrative changes and we are learning about torts and damages, like a first-year law student:

What is my liability if your ox falls into my pit? If I come across my enemy’s stray donkey, am I obligated to return it? How are damages calculated if I knock out another guy’s tooth?

Judaism based on the Torah is a process where we build our lives and our society based on the premise that other people matter.

We live in a way so as not to cause harm to other people, including their oxen and donkeys. In the process, we refine our compassion, empathy, and connection in our everyday ordinary lives.

G-d gave us the Ten Commandments and expects us to show Him what we can do with them! What kind of world are we going to create using His Torah as a blueprint?  

When we sync our thoughts, speech, and actions with Torah, we experience all green lights and there’s always a parking space waiting for us…

Not really, but we don’t sweat the red lights and lack of parking, so much.

This is all accomplished by being sensitive to everyone and everything around us…

At the supermarket, at the coffee shop, at the nail salon, at the PTA meeting, and at the weekly Trivial Pursuit showdown.

Notice the needs of others, including strangers and act kindly. This literally brings heaven down to earth.

Wishing you a cozy, comfy Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 9, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (02/09/2023)

 

This week in the Torah, the children of Israel are camped at the base of Mt. Sinai…

G-d pays us a visit and gives us our marching orders which includes two tablets which contain The Ten Commandments.

The first tablet contains commandments between us and G-d, whereas the second tablet contains commandments between us and our fellow humans.

For sure, nobody wants to live in a society without a common set of guidelines and rules to keep us safe, healthy, and prosperous. 

But must these rules be based on a G-d given system?  Why can’t we rely on our morals, values, and logical conclusions to behave properly?

So why do we need the first tablet? Wouldn’t we figure out by ourselves not to murder, steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, or covet based on our own logic?

Unfortunately, we need only look back a generation to what happens when G-d is taken out of the equation.

Afterall prewar Germany was the perfect model of civilization, science, culture, philosophy, and ethics. Yet they perpetrated and justified the worst atrocities in history.

Left to its own devices, “groupthink” can rationalize and justify anything, no matter how atrocious.  

The purpose of Torah is to fuse together our spiritual development with our growth as individuals as well as in interpersonal relationships.

By actively refining ourselves through Torah we contribute to making our little piece of the world a “dwelling place for G-d.”  

Collectively we can help usher in a new era of peace, love, and the knowledge of G-d. This should occur speedily in our days, Amen!

Wishing you a fantastic Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

February 2, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (02/02/2023)

 

Good news: We have finally left Egypt!

Bad news: the Egyptian army is closing in from behind and all appears lost!

The Reed Sea is blocking our forward movement, and we’re trapped!

True to form, a debate ensues:

One group says, “Let us end it all and throw ourselves into the sea.” 

A second group says, “Let us return as slaves to Egypt.” 

A third faction argues, “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians.” 

Finally, a fourth camp advocates, “Let us pray to G‑d.”

Moses however rejects all four approaches! 

He tells us to March forward! 

Miraculously G-d splits the sea for us, and it doesn’t turn out well for the Egyptian army. 

What do we learn from this? 

When we are confronted with a hostile or indifferent world, our response must be to go forward.

Not to escape reality,

Not to submit to it,

Not to wage war on it,

Not just to passively pray,

Just move forward!

You will see that all barriers yield, and all threats fade away. 

We have it within our power to reach our goal!

Have a personally powerful Shabbat and bring your floaties just in case!

Rabbi Yonatan

January 26, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (01/26/2023)

 

This is the week we are finally leaving Egypt after 210 years of enslavement! 

To reach this point, G-d smote the Egyptians with 10 devastating plagues! 

Isn’t it curious that G-d instructs us to leave immediately, with not even enough time to let our bread dough rise?

After all, there were no longer any forces enslaving us & the gates were wide open.

Our Sages tell us that G-d rushed us out because the glamour of Egyptian materialism still maintained an inner grip on us. 

So while we were still sufficiently impressed with the ten plagues, G-d hurried us out of there. 

Remember from last week’s lesson that each of us struggles with our own “personal Egypt”, a spiritual prison that limits and confines us. 

When we try to get out, it is oh so easy to slide back!

The Torah is teaching us that in order to stay on our new path, it is crucial to sustain our momentum. 

With our imminent redemption, there will be no possibility of backsliding into our “personal Egypt”; until then let’s stay connected with our faith and with our Torah.

Wishing you a liberating Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

January 19, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (01/19/2023)

 

This week, the children of Israel are getting ready to leave Egypt, never to return.

So, why are we obligated, 3,334 years after the fact, to regard ourselves each & every day as if we are personally leaving Egypt?

In Hebrew, the word for “Egypt” shares the same root as the word for “confinement, limitation.”

You see, our enslavement in Egypt was not only a place, but is also a state of mind.

G-d took us out of Egypt, but we are responsible for “taking” Egypt out of ourselves!

“Egypt” makes us feel insignificant.

It makes us forget what we can achieve.

It makes us believe that we must blend into the overwhelming big world around us.

It tries to convince us that the world is real, and that G-d and our own souls are fantasy.

We won’t be free until we break free of our limiting beliefs and uncover our essential G-dly nature.

From there, we become true partners in Creation, and our lives become miraculous!

Imagine how your life can change if you connect to this reality!

Wishing you an empowering Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

January 12, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (01/12/2023

 

In last week’s Torah portion, things were looking so bright for the Jews in Egypt! Then we turn the page this week, and oy vey!

We spent 210 years in exile. Egyptian culture was quite alluring.

It seemed to promise fortune, status, and popularity. And we were welcomed with open arms. Many Jews became spiritually enslaved to the Egyptian way of life!

After about 130 years, the Egyptians began to feel threatened by our overwhelming success.

They confiscated all our possessions, and we were subjected to back breaking labor.

The Egyptians practiced genocide by drowning our children in the Nile!

G-d heard our cries and redeemed us in miraculous fashion. But that’s a story for another week.

Fast Forward… have we been hoodwinked by a culture that promises happiness but delivers misery and dependency?

Are we unwittingly ‘throwing our children into the Nile’ by immersing them into a culture which worships its own version of fortune, status, and popularity.

The way not to be enslaved is to connect with our own Divine soul, which can empower our intellect to take ownership of our thoughts, speech, and actions.

This will guarantee our material, social, and spiritual happiness, as well as our freedom from the bonds of exile.

Wishing you a liberating Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

January 5, 2023

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (01/05/2023

 

…meanwhile back in Egypt, Jacob passes away in this week’s Torah portion.

His sons, Joseph’s brothers said, “perhaps Joseph will bear hatred and will surely repay us the evil that we have dealt him,” referring to their horrific behavior 33 years prior when they sold their brother into slavery.

But this is not a scene from the Godfather. Rather, Joseph replied, “Do not be afraid, for am I in place of G-d? You had planned to do evil to me, yet G-d planned it to be for the good… he calmed them and spoke to them reassuringly.”

Is there anything beneficial about carrying guilt and shame for so many years? If you were the brothers' therapist, what would you advise?

At the core of Judaism is a prescription that gives us the opportunity to clean up our mess, no matter how ugly, even for the umpteenth time!

It worked for Adam & Eve after they bit into that Granny Smith, and it worked for the children of Israel after their rage party with the golden calf.

No matter the degree or intensity, we can always fix-it with “teshuvah”, translated literally as “return”, which means to regret our misdeed, and resolve never to do it again. Here’s how:

Step 1: Say clearly out loud to G-d what you did wrong and how much you regret. Hearing your own voice will help extract the mess from deep inside so that you can throw it away forever,

Step 2:  Fix up what you did by apologizing to the person you hurt. If they don’t forgive, try two more times (after that you’re off the hook according to Jewish law),

Step 3:  Give a lot more charity than you’re used to giving.  Charity heals the world, and your soul as well,

Step 4: Compensate for whatever happened by doing better, acting nicer, & learning more.

Stop ruminating! Let it go as described above and return to the light from which your soul originally came.

Wishing you a light and loving Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

December 29, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (12/29/2022)

 

Imagine you’re seventeen years old and your siblings all despise you.

First, they plot to murder you, but ultimately decide to sell you as a slave in a depraved and savage land.

Against all odds, you become wildly successful despite years of harsh deprivation.

Meanwhile, your siblings become completely destitute.

You have the means to save your entire family, the vary family that wanted you dead. 

I’m not sure what I would do, but here’s what Joseph said to his brothers in a similar situation in this week’s Torah portion:

“Do not be upset with yourselves that you sold me here, for G-d sent me ahead of you to provide sustenance for you.”

Joseph understood that every event, no matter how seemingly negative, is part of G-d’s plan, and that his brothers were simply an “axe in the hands of the woodchopper."

Had his brothers not acted against Joseph, G-d could have employed infinite other means to enable Joseph to fulfill his mission.

Nevertheless, the brothers freely chose to act badly and were accountable to G-d for their misdeeds.

Joseph remained focused on the prize and harbored no ill will towards his brothers.

Their bad behavior was between them and G-d.

So too, our lives are much richer when we focus on our mission rather than on our perceived mistreatment by others.

Their bad behavior is between them and G-d.

Let us be free from all that negativity, whether justified or not.

Let’s stop keeping score and let’s perform more random acts of goodness and kindness.

Wishing you a warm and cozy Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

December 22, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (12/22/2022)

 

There are those who remain faithful to their way of life by living amongst their own while keeping their distance from the prevalent culture surrounding them.

Others have scaled the “ghetto walls” and live in communities where they remain a minority amongst other residents of varying cultures and religions. 

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about our patriarch Jacob’s son Joseph and his eleven brothers.

Each one was righteous but whereas the other brothers were shepherds who spent their lives in solitude and G-dly contemplation,

Joseph became the ruler of the mightiest empire of the day, Egypt.

With all the glitz and glitter conspiring to seduce him, Joseph managed to stay completely faithful to his Jewish traditions.

Obviously, it is much easier to stay true to Jewish tradition among your own. It’s much tougher to practice your faith as a minority.

Most of us live in socially integrated societies and we mix in many different circles.

The question is whether you believe as a Jew, that you have a responsibility to the world around you?

Do you believe that G-d expects you to change your little corner of the world for the better?

If so, Joseph is the quintessential role model.

He showed us that we can maintain our Jewishness with dignity despite the challenges thrust upon us by a wide-open society.

Remember the words of the late, great, chief rabbi, lord Jonathan Sacks who said “non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves!”.

Keep eating latkes and donuts thru Sunday evening and please watch these extraordinary video stories… https://www.theyeshiva.net/jewish/c95/torah/holidays/chanukah.

Shabbat Shalom my friend,

Rabbi Yonatan

December 15, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (12/15/2022)

 

Ask a Jewish child what’s Chanukah all about, and invariably you’ll hear that it’s all about fried potato latkes and fried donuts. 

It is our tradition to eat oily, fried foods for all eight days of Chanukah!

The oil as you know, symbolizes the miracle of one day’s supply of oil lasting eight days. 

There was plenty of oil, but the Greeks carefully contaminated the supply and we refused to use impure oil to kindle the menorah in our Holy Temple. 

Ok, sounds like a cute kid’s story but hardly worth keeping this tradition for 2,200 years. Besides, what about all the carbs?

Further, Chanukah is the ultimate “against all odds” story.

We were the few against the many; the weak against the mighty but managed to drive the Greeks out of our homeland. 

But we don’t focus so much on the military miracle. Rather we are fixated on the donuts!

Why didn’t the Greeks just destroy the oil, rather than render it impure? 

The Greeks worshiped the human mind and materialism. 

They appreciated the wisdom of the Jews. 

But they couldn’t cope with the Jewish need to live for a higher purpose, to transform this world into a home for G-d. 

By defiling the oil, the Greeks were sending us a message that it’s ok to observe our traditions, but not to attach an eternal G-d to our practice. 

Each of us has a little bottle of oil begging to be discovered. 

The Chanukah lights serve as a reminder that we can kindle the potential for light we all possess within our souls. 

Doing so will undoubtedly usher in a beautiful, new era for all of humankind!

Hopefully the latkes and the donuts will be carb free. 

To learn more about Chanukah and to find a menorah lighting near you, visithttps://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/Lighting_listing_cdo/aid/103839...

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Yonatan

December 8, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (12/08/2022)

 

Why is antisemitism currently erupting in our modern, enlightened society?

Over the centuries we have been accused of killing their God, using their children’s blood to bake our matzah, controlling the world’s banking system, and spreading covid. 

First, they told us to get out of their countries, and now they tell us to get out of “Palestine”. 

They wish the Nazis finished the job, yet they deny that the Holocaust ever happened. 

So, what should be our response?

To live as proud, confident Jews, and influence everyone we meet with courage, positivity, and encouragement. 

In the words of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves!”

In the face of irrational hatred, we must stay proudly and defiantly Jewish, trusting in G-d, and loyal to our people. 

Do a mitzvah today that you didn’t do yesterday. If for no other reason, do it to spite the anti-Semites!

It is this attitude that contributes to the secret of Jewish eternity!

In the blink of an eye, we will usher in a new era of global peace and G-dly revelation, where all of humankind will profoundly appreciate us for being the “light unto the nations.”

In the meantime, have a tasty piece of kosher cake this Shabbos, 

Rabbi Yonatan

(Gleaned from an essay by Rabbi Yossi Goldman in Chabad.org.)

December 2, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (12/02/2022)

 

A man tells his friend that his wife handles the little stuff, while he deals with the big things.

“What do you mean?” asks the friend. “Well, my wife manages the budget, pays the bills, decides on major purchases, and plans for our retirement” says the man.

His friend asks, “and, what do you do?” He replies, “I ponder whether the Lakers should trade LeBron, will I ever get the Wordle word on my first try, can I really lose 40lbs from intermittent fasting?”  

Many “believers” believe that G-d involves himself with the “big stuff”, but that He doesn’t concern himself with our day-to-day lives.

He may WOW us with a miracle that’s concealed within nature like Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, or the 1978 NY Yankees winning the World Series.  

But they conclude that He’s too exalted to stoop down to supervise lil ol us!

On the other hand, Judaism teaches us that G‑d not only knows what is going on down here but is intimately engaged in supervising all the details.

There is an actual interplay between G-d and us whereby each one responds and interacts with the other.

As our understanding develops, we raise ourselves to a level at which G-d is intimately involved in our lives, in an open, beneficial way.

Even still, you may not get the wordle word on your first try!

This Shabbos, make everyone you see, happy!

Rabbi Yonatan

November 24, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (11/24/2022)

 

It is so easy to recognize the faults in others who don’t conform to our worldview. 

It takes courage however to discover the faults within ourselves, due to our built-in partiality.

Apropos, in this week’s Torah portion we meet twin brothers, Jacob & Esau who represent two opposing orientations within each of us. 

Metaphorically, Jacob represents our G-dly orientation whereas Esau represents our self-centered orientation.  

The inner conflict which most of us experience can be sourced to our self-centered orientation vying for supremacy against our G-dly orientation. 

If one does not experience this inner conflict, it means that one or the other orientation is in control, more often the self-centered one.   

By asserting our G-dly orientation, we can harness the enormous strength of our self-centeredness for positivity. 

We accomplish this the same way light overcomes darkness. By lighting a match in a dark room, the darkness instantly fades away. 

Similarly, as soon as we let shine the Holiness of our G-dly Soul by learning G-d’s ways, and by doing demonstrative good for others without judgment or calculation…

Our own selfishness and the selfishness that abounds in the world will be transformed into a force for goodness. 

It is our mission to bring refinement to the world by refining ourselves and being ambassadors of light to everyone we encounter.

Hitting darkness with a stick is crazy.  Just light a match, and poof!

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, and a poofy Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

November 17, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (11/17/2022)

 

Looking at the most difficult challenges in our lives, chances are that if we were certain of the right course of action to pursue, we would feel confident in our ability to succeed.

It is not the problem itself that’s the problem, rather the problem is the doubt & confusion about the correct path forward. 

This may be why the Torah refers to this world as a world of doubt, as well as a world of falsehood. 

The doubt and confusion stem from the fact that everything false contains an element of truth.

Conversely everything true contains an element of falsehood. 

With such confusion and falsehood permeating through our thoughts and feelings, is it any wonder that overcoming our challenges is so elusive?

Is it any wonder why so many people feel hopeless, paralyzed by  their doubts?

Only the Torah is pure, unadulterated truth. It contains no doubt and no falsehood.

Even if one has not yet started along this path, just knowing that there is a path to follow in life that is totally good and true is a great source of comfort. 

“There is no happiness like the resolution of doubts.” (Talmud Sanhedrin)

Wishing you a Shabbat of clarity,

Rabbi Yonatan

November 10, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (11/10/2022)

 

Our perception of reality is just that, our perception.

It is formed by our upbringing, our surroundings, and our experiences.

This explains how so many men and women live “lives of quiet desperation” despite being blessed with lives of plenty. 

Conversely there are others who endure unrelenting challenges, yet they live vibrant and joyful lives. 

Since our experience of reality is subjective,

It would be helpful to know whether our perception of reality is aligned more towards positivity, or more towards negativity.

Over 3,000 years of Jewish tradition, and specifically Chassidic philosophy teaches us how we can assess and reset our perceptions of reality so that we can love our lives and love ourselves unconditionally. 

As paraphrased from the Rebbe, “It is not life’s events that shape us, but the meanings we assign to those events.

In other words, if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

While we are not able to exert control over our intellectual faculties, nor our emotive attributes,

Chassidus teaches us how to affect and to change our thoughts, our speech, and our actions. 

Herein lies the means to live an extraordinary life.

Wishing you a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Shabbat!

Rabbi Yonatan

November 3, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (11/03/2022)

 

In this week’s Torah portion, we meet the progenitors of the Jewish people, Abraham & Sarah.

G-d spoke two words to our Patriarch Abraham which are arguably the two most important words ever spoken in history…

“Lech Lecha” … meaning “Go, to yourself.”

When these words were originally spoken 3,705 years ago, the world was antagonistic towards Divinity.

Society was immersed in rampant corruption and in the depths of depravity, making our world today seem like paradise.

By seeking G-d’s guidance in freeing themselves from  false idols disguised as cultural and familial norms, Abraham & Sarah gained access to their true, higher selves, the selves they could never reach on their own…

And so can we!

Do not be intimidated by what you read and what you hear.

Things are far better and far more promising than what the news and the internet are trying to sell us.

Fear, depression, and dread are illusory.

Let’s march to the beat of a different drummer… G-d’s!

This Shabbat, let’s go to ourselves,

In this week’s Torah portion, we meet the progenitors of the Jewish people, Abraham & Sarah.

G-d spoke two words to our Patriarch Abraham which are arguably the two most important words ever spoken in history…

“Lech Lecha” … meaning “Go, to yourself.”

When these words were originally spoken 3,705 years ago, the world was antagonistic towards Divinity.

Society was immersed in rampant corruption and in the depths of depravity, making our world today seem like paradise.

By seeking G-d’s guidance in freeing themselves from  false idols disguised as cultural and familial norms, Abraham & Sarah gained access to their true, higher selves, the selves they could never reach on their own…

And so can we!

Do not be intimidated by what you read and what you hear.

Things are far better and far more promising than what the news and the internet are trying to sell us.

Fear, depression, and dread are illusory.

Let’s march to the beat of a different drummer… G-d’s!

This Shabbat, let’s go to ourselves,

Rabbi Yonatan

October 27, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (10/27/2022)

 

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Noah and the ark, a story you probably learned at a tender age.

To refresh your memory, the animals came aboard two-by-two and it rained for forty days and nights!

Noah and his family lived an idyllic life aboard the yacht (ark) for a full year before disembarking.

In fact, G-d had to give Noah a “swift kick” because Noah so cherished his quiet, spiritual lifestyle, and he wasn’t looking forward to becoming CEO of Planet Earth 2.0.

Can you relate to how Noah felt? After all it’s so much easier to live the quiet life and to limit interactions to only people who think and believe as we do.

But back at Mount Sinai G-d deputized the Jewish people (that means you and me) to go out into the physical world and positively affect others of all stripes.

Our place is not on a mountain in Tibet. Nor does G-d need more angels in Heaven. Rather he needs us to be an “Ohr l’Goyim”, a light unto the Nations.

That’s right, our mission is to connect with everyone we encounter and contribute value to their lives, without judgments and without a scorecard.

That could take the form of a smile,or ignoring what we find unpleasant while accentuating what is positive,or rolling out the garbage bins for your elderly neighbor,or giving your letter carrier some freshly baked cookies,or forwarding these weekly Torah messages to your friends.

A self-focused life leads to Prozac, whereas a life tuned-in to others is better than an E Ticket ride (are you old enough to remember? If not, google “E Ticket Ride”).

The result is you will be leading a purpose filled life, in touch with your Divine Soul, and singing zipidy-do-dah all day long!

Your thoughts?

Wishing you a zipidy-do-dah Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

October 20, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (10/20/2022)

 

This week, we roll the Torah scroll back to the beginning and the first thing we read is…

“In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth”.

Given that our universe didn’t always exist, the fact that it exists right now is only by virtue of the fact that G-d continuously renews creation.

If He were to stop even for a moment, it would be analogous to tossing a ball in the air.

The ball would look like it is flying on its own power until it runs out of the impetus that you empowered it with…then it falls back to earth and hits you in the head.

The philosophers call this the law of continuous creation, and it means that each moment G-d is creating every aspect of His creation anew.

If He were to stop, the entire universe would revert to nothingness!

Since every moment He creates a brand-new world, we too can create a brand-new personal world for ourselves, free of all constraints.

At any given moment we can start fresh, free of all psychic and emotional limitations.

Wherever you’re at, you can have a Do-Over!

As we begin the brand-new year of 5783, let’s each start fresh with new positivity that will lead to new opportunities.

And don’t forget to do it with a smile!

Wishing you an inspired Shabbos filled with good resolutions and tons of simcha (joy)!

Rabbi Yonatan

October 13, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (10/13/2022)

 

When people are happy, they dance…

It could be the Twist or the Watusi, but nothing comes close to the joy we experience from the nonstop dancing we engage in at the climax of this month of holidays known as Simchat Torah, this coming Monday night and Tuesday.

Why is dancing such an expression of joy?

Our Sages tell us that the human body is divided into three parts;the head, which is the seat of our intellect,the heart, which is the seat of our emotions,and our lower extremities which represent our actions.

True happiness is derived when we take our intellect and our feelings and direct them into tangible action.

On Simchat Torah, we gather all our lessons, experiences, and inspiration from Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot and apply them to creating an amazing year. 

This is precipitated by moving our feet while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah!

But hold on!

What about those of us who didn’t understand, didn’t feel, and didn’t have any positive experience whatsoever during this holiday season?

Just lift-up your feet and do something positive because your head and the heart will follow the action!

“Rock On” this Shabbos and Simchat Torah!

Rabbi Yonatan

October 6, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (10/6/2022)

 

During the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we made good resolutions, gave extra charity, and tried to connect with G-d in a meaningful way.

Then came Rosh Hashanah itself, the day we accepted G-d as our King and pleaded that we be written into the book of life, health, and prosperity.

Not to be outdone, on Yom Kippur neither food nor drink passed our lips for 26 hours as we cried out and made atonement by articulating our misdeeds, and resolving never to repeat our mistakes.

Immediately after we broke our fast, with one hand grasping a bagel and cream cheese, we began building a flimsy, thatched hut in our backyard, known as a Sukkah, for the holiday of Sukkot begins this Sunday evening, and lasts a full week! Sukkot is referred to in the Torah as “Z’man Simchateinu”, or “The time of our Joy.” 

Every night of the week we invite friends and strangers to party in our sukkah with plenty of wine, singing, dancing, and Torah.

Why would we move so quickly from the formality and solemnity of the High Holidays to a Jewish Hootenanny?

Because more important than whatever we achieved while pleading and fasting, is how we are going to apply all the good resolutions we made and turn them into reality.

Just a tip, we won’t accomplish our goals by “white knuckling” our way through the year; quite the opposite the only way to create lasting change is through joy!

We have worked on reconnecting to G-d, and we have strengthened our relationships with our spouses, relatives, and friends.

Now we can truly experience the joy and unity which are the core themes of Sukkot.

There are two mitzvas associated with Sukkot:

First have a nosh and make a l’chaim inside of a Sukkah.

Second, grasp a palm fond, willow, myrtle, and citron together and make a blessing.This is known as the mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog!

Call me crazy, but by taking these two little actions you will help secure an amazing year for yourself and your loved ones.

So let’s start the party this Shabbos and continue for the following week!

Rabbi Yonatan

September 29, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (9/29/2022)

 

Tuesday evening, October 4th marks the beginning of Yom Kippur which is known in English as the day of repentance.

There are several means to return to our Father in Heaven. One such way is to practice the well-known dictum to love your neighbor as yourself because “anyone with whom his fellowmen are pleased, G-d is pleased with.”

To illustrate, I would like to share a well-known story: One Yom Kippur eve, the Alter Rebbe took his place in the synagogue, put on his tallis, and began his preparations for the Kol Nidrei prayers. Suddenly he stopped, removed his tallis and left the synagogue.

He walked to the end of the town and entered a dilapidated cottage, where a young mother was lying with her newborn child. He chopped wood, made a fire to warm the house and prepared her some soup. Only when he was sure that she had everything she needed did he return to the synagogue.

Now, there were other people in the synagogue at that time. Nevertheless, the Alter Rebbe did not instruct someone else to help the woman: he went to help her himself. And when did he do so? When he was deep in meditation before prayer, while intensely bonded with G-d. At that time, too, he was sensitive to her distress.

To “love your neighbor as yourself” is the path of return that comes from a good heart.Wishing you an inspiring and uplifting Yom Kippur and a new year filled with an abundance of G-d’s revealed blessings in all domains of your life!Shabbat Shalom & Good Yom Tov!

Rabbi Yonatan

September 22, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (9/22/2022)

 

Jokes notwithstanding, guilt is not a Jewish thing! But regret is! Guilt leads to depression, whereas regret leads to joy.

The trick is how to take an honest look at our deficiencies without getting melancholy, for depression fuels guilt and can cause us to indulge more in those behaviors which we are seeking to overcome.

Wanna learn the steps to leverage your personal icky stuff (aka “shmutz”) into pure joy? Let’s go!

STEP 1:Tell the truth to yourself, describing each of your not-good deeds over the past year. Acknowledge your good deeds as well! Get in touch with the remorse about what you have done wrong, but never regret who you are.

STEP 2:Resolve to never, ever repeat those misdeeds!

STEP 3:Confess your misdeeds to your Father in Heaven (no, it isn’t enough to think about it, your lips need to be moving). Thinking is theoretical whereas verbalizing our specific regrets as well as our resolve to do better makes it personal & real.

This process will open your heart and free your soul to experience a deep and loving relationship with your Father in Heaven. That in turn will allow you to experience incomparable joy because now your soul is released from captivity and you have been reunited.

G-d should Bless you abundantly in all of life’s domains.

Shabbat Shalom, and a Good & Sweet New Year,

Rabbi Yonatan

September 15, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (9/15/2022)

 

Rosh Hashanah is around the corner, and the book of life, the book of health, and the book of sustenance are all open. The Rosh Hashanah prayer book tells us how to get all the good stuff when it says that charity averts all bad decrees! FYI, charity is not only given with money; you can give charity by uplifting people with your words! So, let’s make a commitment that every day we will make people feel good by saying something nice to them. Let’s not let a day pass without doing it at least once or twice. And if you want to be a “mega donor” do it with people that you find difficult! Rabbi Avigdor Miller gave an illustration of the power of a good word and a smile:There was a man who owned a chain of stores. Each year he would do an accounting to see which stores had too many staff, and which stores had too much stock. At one store, the manager warned the owner that if he let go of a certain employee, he might as well close the store. Why? Because this worker greets each customer warmly and gives each one a good word. He creates a happy atmosphere which makes people want to come back. Similarly, a yearly review occurs on Rosh Hashanah. This year, please G-d, there will be no “layoffs!” But in past years there were workers who were sent home (passed away); there were workers who were “transferred”; and some workers got more “stock”, while some got less “stock”. There was a person who was supposed to be sent home but in Heaven they said “we can’t send him home because we need him on earth. He spreads happiness, he makes people smile, and makes them feel good!”  This is the type of person that G-d needs in this world

Wishing you an exceedingly smiley :) Shabbat!

Rabbi Yonatan

September 9, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (9/9/2022)

 

We are introduced to a mitzvah in this week’s Torah portion that requires us to be forgetful! Whereas most mitzvahs require understanding and intention, this mitzvah can only be performed by being absent minded (maybe that’s why I love this mitzvah)…

“When you reap your harvest…and forget a sheaf…you must not go back to take it. It must be left for the convert, the orphan, and the widow, in order that G-d bless you in all that you do”.

Have you ever forgotten to pick up your change at a restaurant, or had some cash fall out of your pocket? Maybe a needy person picked it up. As a result, G-d blessed you “in all that you do”. Each of us has an inner desire to be connected to G-d so even when we perform a mitzvah unintentionally or by mistake, it emanates from our most deep-seated desire to do it.   Parenthetically this proves that we don’t do mitzvahs because we are religious. Rather it is the natural state of a Jew to be connected to G-d, even though it isn’t always experienced at a conscious level. So next time an opportunity to do a mitzvah presents itself, why not just do it! If G-d is thrilled when we perform a mitzvah by forgetting, imagine how much more He will bless us for our intentional acts of goodness and kindness!

Don’t forget to have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Yonatan

September 1, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (9/1/2022)

 

Imagine if you had an opportunity to meet with the personage who you most admire in history. Now imagine the formal setting, wearing your finest clothes, brushing up on the proper etiquette, and having to clear many layers of security, after many months of waiting for your appointment. At this point you would likely be so intimidated that you wouldn’t be able to speak when you finally meet him or her face to face!

But what if this famous personage invites you out to a burger joint with a couple of beers, and you are both dressed in blue jeans. And he or she is grinning from ear to ear, absolutely thrilled to be hanging out with you!

This imperfect metaphor is intended to describe the intimate relationship that’s available between you and G-d during the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah. During this month G-d makes himself vulnerable to us hoping that we will approach Him, as described in the “Song of Songs" wherein King Solomon says, “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine”. In other words G-d adores you and He longs for you. But having made Himself vulnerable He needs you to make the first move. He just wants you to want Him.

So give it a try. Tell Him that even though it’s been a long time, and even if you don’t go to temple, or eat kosher, or whatever, you just want to come home to experience His loving embrace. And He will most assuredly reciprocate.

Wishing you a connected Shabbat,

Rabbi Yonatan

August 24, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (8/24/2022)

 

In front of an imposing cathedral were sitting two beggars; one wore a large Star of David and the other wore a large Christian symbol. When petitioners passed by they were put off by a Jew collecting in front of their church, and gave even more generously to their co-religionist. Finally someone advised the Jew that he might get some charity if he took off his Star of David. With that the Jew turned to his fellow beggar and said sarcastically: “Moishe, does this guy think he’s gonna teach us Jews about marketing”!?!

This week’s Torah portion of Re’eh speaks in depth about our responsibility to give charity. Everyone is obligated to give, including beggars who subsist from the generosity of others.

This commandment flies in the face of conventional wisdom which would exempt a poor person from giving charity since his generosity comes at the expense of his benefactor, and also because by giving charity he is depleting his own desperately needed resources!

But we are wired differently. The Jewish soul is literally a part of G-d and since G-d’s nature is to give, so is ours. Denying the pauper the opportunity to give of his meager resources is similar to denying him life itself.

Giving is not a luxury, rather it is a necessity. It’s part of our spiritual DNA.

My spiritual mentor is fond of saying that it is a mitzvah to give, and sometimes it is a mitzvah to take! But it is never a mitzvah to do nothing.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful Shabbos,

Rabbi Yonatan

August 17, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (8/17/2022)

 

This week’s Torah portion of Eikev commands us to affix a Mezuzza on the doors of our homes and businesses. Read on and you will find out how a Mezuzzah is the Ultimate Security!

A Mezuzzah is a small parchment inscribed with the words of the foundational Shema prayer, handwritten by an expert scribe. A Mezuzzah isn’t something symbolic. Rather it provides physical and spiritual protection for the entire family. It also reminds us of our connection to G-d and to our people.

The decorative case that surrounds the Mezuzzah might be a work of art, but the scroll inside is what’s important. A rolled-up photocopy of the Shema does not achieve the desired result.

Here’s an amazing story from the Jerusalem Talmud which literally “says it all”…

King Artavan of Parthia once sent a precious pearl to Rabbi Judah who was a leader of the Jewish people about 2,000 years ago. He expected Rabbi Judah to reciprocate with something of similar value, but instead Rabbi Judah sent a Mezuzzah for the king’s front door! The king was more than a bit miffed! Thereupon Rabbi Judah explained that whereas he would constantly have to guard against theft of this precious pearl, the Mezuzzah would continually guard the king and protect him!

So dear friend, if you don’t have Mezuzzahs on your doors, let me know. If you have Mezuzzahs but haven’t had them inspected in a while, let me know.

G-d promises that anyone who carefully observes the commandment of Mezuzzah will lead a longer, richer life, as will his descendants!

Wishing you a Shabbat filled with delight,

Rabbi Yonatan

August 12, 2022

 

Weekly Taste of Torah (8/12/2022)

 

So an old joke goes like this… a guy who’s late for an important appointment is driving around the block for the umteenth time looking for a parking space. In utter desperation he says to G-d: “Father in Heaven, if you provide a parking space for me right now, I will donate $1,000 to charity”! Just as the words leave his lips, a parking space becomes available & he says: “Never mind G-d, I can take care of this myself”!

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses knows he has just another month before G-d takes him from us and he tries to impart all sorts of advice so that we can avoid lapses of good judgment, thereby sparing us from future tragedies.

Moses famously says: “Beware, lest you forget the L-rd who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”.

Moses reminds the Jewish people to “always be grateful” knowing that it’s human nature to ease up when things are going well in life. It’s typical that when people have troubles and hardships that they beseech the Almighty for their needs. But Moses is here to remind us when we are skating down easy street & all the traffic lights are green, that G-d always remains the source of our good fortune.

Moses is teaching us that sometimes (G-d forbid) only a reversal of fortune allows us to wake up to the reality that it is G-d who is the source of all of our Blessings!

May we experience only good fortune and not forget from where it comes.

Wishing you an amazing Shabbat, 

Rabbi Yonatan

August 5, 2022

This coming Sunday commentates the destruction of both of our Holy Temples, on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 bce; the second one by the Romans in 70 ce. It’s by far the saddest date on our calendar!

Given the fact that the world can’t understand why we still go on about the Holocaust after 75 years, how do you explain that we literally mourn a destruction that took place almost 20 centuries ago?

The Emperor Napoleon was walking thru the streets of Paris one evening when he heard the sounds of crying and wailing coming from a synagogue. When he asked what was going on he was told that the Jews were mourning the loss of their Temple. So moved was he that he offered to build them another one. Then he was informed that the Jews were mourning an event that took place 1,700 years earlier, and he famously responded that “a people who never forget their past are destined to forever have a future”.

It is because we refused to forget Jerusalem, that we have returned. It is because we refused to accept our defeat despite persecution and worse, we have rebuilt proud Jewish communities all over the world. The Babylonians, the Roman Empire, the third reich are relegated to history books while “Am Yisroel Chai”-THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL LIVES!

The Talmud tells us that whoever mourns for Jerusalem, will merit to witness her rejoicing! G-d has promised us that he will restore our days of glory and His own everlasting house. May it occur speedily in our days!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Yonatan

Parshat Matos Masei

July 29, 2022

In this week’s Torah portion, upon entering our Promised Land G-d instructs Moses to tell us to destroy all remnants of idol worship, even the most subtle forms left by the previous inhabitants. The word for idolatry in Hebrew means “foreign servitude”, which today includes all self-absorbed behaviors such as the obsessive quest for money, success, beauty, control, and fame. So far, so good?

The Torah teaches us that all our choices in life fit into three broad categories; the Holy, the forbidden, and the permissible* (the asterisk is because our job is to take what’s permissible and make it Holy). Now the Holy, and the forbidden are relatively simple, though not easy for everyone (all the “thou shalls”, and “though shall nots”).

But wait a second! How do I take something that’s permitted, and make it Holy??? How do I turn a delicious, kosher steak dinner into something holy? That’s easy… Thank G-d before and after you enjoy the meal and use the vitality you received from the meal to engage in helping someone in need! What about my next Mediterranean cruise? That’s easy… just appreciate that it’s G-d who created the natural beauty you are experiencing, and encourage every Jewish person you meet on board to show up for Friday night services! The bottom line is to develop the simple awareness that everything comes from G-d!

When we learn to orient even our most mundane activities towards Divinity, we can live free of the inner conflicts that unfortunately take their toll on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of too many people. Our job is to become spiritual samurai and smash our inner idols. What awaits us is the Promised Land of joy and peace that comes from G-d oriented living!

Wishing you a Holy Shabbos, Rabbi Yonatan

Parsha of the Week

July 15, 2022

In this week’s Torah portion, the evil nogoodnik, Balaam is offered big bucks to curse the Jews. However he makes the following disclaimer to his paymasters: “I am incapable of doing anything – small or great – that would transgress the word of G‑d.”

Evil possesses no autonomy; it is nothing more than a tool that G‑d uses to hide Himself from the world, thereby enabling us to choose freely between good and evil (I am not speaking of the evil that manifests within man, who is quite capable of denying G-dliness and committing atrocious acts, giving evil a bad name).

The Zohar, the classic work of Jewish mysticism, likens evil to a prostitute hired by a king to test the virtue of his son, the prince. Although she makes full use of all her seductive powers to seduce the prince, she really hopes – as does the king – that the prince will be strong enough to withstand her advances. Similarly, evil tries to confuse us and entice us into misbehaving, but it is in fact only doing its job and would rather we not pay attention to it.When we are aware of the true nature of evil, it is much easier for us to resist it.

Wishing you an awesome Shabbat! Rabbi Yonatan

July 1, 2022

When asked what are the greatest threats to Jewish survival, most people respond with either Assimilation, or Anti-Semitism. 

Today, Jewish identity is built thru teaching about the Holocaust, and instilling guilt in our children for marrying outside our Faith. Not only is this not the solution, this is the problem!

With such a negative and pessimistic view of Judaism, is it a surprise that young people are opting out of Judaism? When we paint ourselves as victims, or we portray ourselves as an endangered species, what do we expect?

Rather than define ourselves based on how the rest of the world perceives us, we need to discover, and be convinced that Judaism has a message that the rest of the world desperately needs to hear…

1. That every individual is created in the image of G-d, and therefore is both unique and valuable. 

2. That morality is not relative but absolute. 

3. That humans are partners with G-d in creation with a mission to bring heaven down to earth. 

The biggest threat to Judaism isn’t external pressure, rather it’s internal confusion. We don’t need to fear anti-semitism or assimilation. We do need knowledge and pride in the greatness of the Jewish mission along with the confidence to fulfill it. 

Then we will truly fulfill our mission as “a light unto the nations” and hasten G-d’s promise to bring peace, justice, and prosperity to all of humankind. 

Have an inspired Shabbat,Rabbi Yonatan

PS: This message is paraphrased and condensed from an essay written by Rabbi Aaron Moss from Sydney, Australia

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