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Food For the Soul

Don’t (Only) Rely on G-d

The Parshah Chayei Sarah tells of Isaac taking Rebecca as his wife. “And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother.” Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains this to mean more than the obvious. When she entered the tent, it was as if she was Sarah, Isaac’s mother. Because Sarah was of such saintly character, she was granted three special miracles. 

Her Shabbat candles burned the entire week, her dough was particularly blessed, and a heavenly cloud attached itself to her tent. When Sarah died, these blessings disappeared. When Rebecca arrived on the scene, they resumed immediately. In fact, this was a clear sign to Isaac that Rebecca was indeed his soul mate and that the shidduch was made in Heaven.

Each of those three miracles, however, required some form of human input first. A candle and fire had to be found, the dough had to be prepared and a tent had to be pitched before G-d would intervene and make those miracles happen. In other words, He does help us but we must help ourselves first.

It’s a little like the fellow who would make a fervent prayer to G-d every week that he win the lottery. After many months and no jackpot in sight, he lost his faith and patience. In anguished disappointment, he vented his frustration with the Almighty. “Oh, G-d! For months I’ve been praying to you. Why haven’t you helped me win the lottery all this time?” Whereupon a heavenly voice was heard saying, “Because you haven’t bought a ticket, dummy!”

I wish it were that simple to win lotteries. But the fact is that it is the same in all our endeavors. G-d helps those who help themselves. May we all do our part. Please G-d, He will do His.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Shabbat Shalom

Bless New Month

This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim (“the Shabbat that blesses” the new month): a special prayer is recited blessing the Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) of the upcoming month of Kislev, which falls on Thursday and Friday of next week.

Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the “birth” of the new moon. See molad times on 

It is a Chabad custom to recite the entire book of Psalms before morning prayers, and to conduct farbrengens (chassidic gatherings) in the course of the Shabbat.

Mind Over Matter

Enter Your Day

No moment of life is too small to deserve all of you.

Abraham, we are told, was not just elderly, but “come into days.” Meaning, he had entered into his days, every one of them.

Whatever it was he needed to do, whether to teach wisdom or to graze sheep, to throw himself into fire or to feed hungry strangers, to command or to obey, to love or to fight—in every act of life he invested his entire being.

And so he owned every day of his life. His life was his.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

The Cave of Machpelah

Abraham’s purchase of the field which contained the Cave of Machpelah [where his wife Sarah is buried] represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews. The commentary Pa’ane’ach Raza explains that with the 400 silver shekels that Abraham paid (Chayei Sarah 23:16), he purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of Israel. For by the estimation of “the seed of a chomer of barley at fifty silver shekels” (Vayikra 27:16), 400 silver shekels redeem exactly 600,000 square cubits.

Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

Woman Power

After high school, I went to New York to study at Beth Rivka Seminary in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. I arrived on a perfectly ordinary day in September. One thing that sticks out in my mind is that there was also a funeral that day.

I happened to be nearby and, as it is a mitzvah to accompany the dead on their final journey, even if you didn’t know them personally, I joined the funeral procession. I heard that the woman was a mother of eight children, and she had passed away after a long illness. I later learned that the name of the woman was Mrs. Lifsha Shuchat.

Five years later, I married her son.

This story has special poignancy for the two of us, especially during the week when we read Parshat Chayei Sarah, the Torah portion which describes Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca after the passing of his mother. The verse states: “And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for [the loss of] his mother.” On this verse, Rashi comments: “It is the way of the world that, as long as a person’s mother is alive, he is attached to her, but as soon as she dies, he finds comfort in his wife.” On the day my future husband lost his mother, G-d had already set events into motion that would lead to our marriage five years later.

When Isaac brought Rebecca into his tent, though, it was more than just finding comfort for the loss of his mother. Rashi states, “He brought her to the tent, and behold, she was Sarah his mother; i.e., she became the likeness of Sarah his mother, for as long as Sarah was alive, a candle burned from one Sabbath eve to the next, a blessing was found in the dough, and a cloud was attached to the tent. When she died, these things ceased, and when Rebecca arrived, they resumed.” 

As soon as Rebecca entered the tent, Isaac observed that she emulated his mother. Sarah excelled in fulfilling the three mitzvahs of a woman: lighting candles on Friday night, baking challah and separating a portion for G-d, and family purity (the laws governing a couple’s intimate relationship). For this, she merited the three aforementioned miracles—her candles burned from week to week, her dough never spoiled, and a Heavenly cloud hovered over her tent.

Why was it not sufficient for Rashi to merely point out that Rebecca’s deeds were like Sarah’s? Why did he stress that she also merited the same miracles as her mother-in-law? Furthermore, after Sarah’s passing, surely her husband, Abraham, continued to light the Shabbat candles in her absence. Why did he not merit to have his candles miraculously burn throughout the week?

According to our sages, when a man and woman marry, they enter into a partnership. The role of the man is to “bring home the wheat” while the woman prepares it for eating. His job is to “conquer,” to scour the world for the necessary raw materials, and her job is to take the materiality and transform it, to use it to create a noble, G-dly home. This task is reflected in the three mitzvot of a Jewish woman. By lighting Shabbat candles, she brings the holiness of Shabbat into her home. By separating challah before baking bread, she brings holiness into the food. And by keeping the laws of taharat hamishpachah, family purity, she brings holiness into the body itself.

The miracles that both Sarah Rebecca experienced represent the power they had to draw holiness into this world and to extend that holiness beyond the boundaries of their own homes. Abraham, great as he was, did not have that function. His candles shone with an ordinary light. When Sarah and Rebecca lit candles, the holiness in those lights illuminated the world “from Shabbat to Shabbat”—and continue to shine for eternity. This is the power they bequeathed to their daughters, all Jewish women for all time. Even if we do not literally see our flames miraculously burning for an entire week, their spiritual power, their warmth and illumination remains.

According to tradition, Rebecca married Isaac at an early age, yet her candles already had this miraculous power. As Jewish women, it is our privilege to continue this chain and transmit to our daughters their mission—to light up the world with the “candle of mitzvah and the light of Torah.” Ultimately, the Midrash teaches: “If you will keep the lights of Shabbat, I will show you the lights of Zion,” with the true and complete redemption.

Chaya Schuchat

Food For the Soul

Why Is Inviting Guests Such a Mitzvah?

The Torah portion of Vayeira opens with Abraham lying at the entrance to his tent, which is on the main thoroughfare and has entrances on all sides to attract as many visitors as possible. Abraham is 99 years old, and he’s in great pain, as it is the third day (which we’re told is the most painful day) after his circumcision. G-d has come over to the tent to perform the mitzvah of visiting the sick, bikur cholim. Imagine that – G-d visiting Abraham at his sickbed!

Suddenly, Abraham spots three Arab nomads walking through the desert. It’s an unbearably hot day, Abraham is in tremendous pain, and he has the most Divine visitor . . . what should he do?

What would we do in this scenario? Look away and make believe as if we didn’t see the hungry travelers? Decide that talking to the Almighty is more important than greeting some pagans who deny His very existence? Abraham had no such hesitations. He jumped up, ran out into the scorching heat and invited the three nomads (who were angels in disguise) to join him for a feast—never mind that he was in the middle of chatting with G-d!

Thus, the Talmud concludes, “Welcoming guests is greater than greeting G-d!” In Jewish tradition, Abraham is the manifestation of kindness on earth. This story is but one example. Later in the Parshah, we learn that Abraham and Sarah opened a hotel, which they ran free of charge. They loved sharing not only their wealth but their home as well.

Bringing people into our space can be quite exposing and maybe even embarrassing, but it is one of the greatest forms of kindness and the epitome of sharing our bounty. The founders of monotheism dedicated their lives to this. It must be worth it.

From personal experience, I know that hosting is one of the most rewarding and satisfying mitzvahs we can do. Seeing the smile on people’s faces as they leave your home and hearing their words of gratitude is deeply rewarding. So what are you waiting for? Open your heart and open your home. The blessings are sure to follow.

From an article by Rabbi Levi Avitzon 

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat – A Time for Hospitality

A big part of the delight of Shabbat is the enjoyment of three Shabbat meals, mainly the first two—Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch—that are elegantly prepared, preceded by the sipping of ceremonial kiddush wine and the breaking of traditional challah bread, and lingered over with songs, inspiring thoughts and camaraderie. (The third meal, eaten late on Shabbat afternoon, is normally lighter.)

If you are joining as a guest, the first thing for you to know is that guests are considered an integral part of any Shabbat meal. Your hosts are very happy to have you—their meal just would not feel right otherwise! For information about the proper etiquette as a Shabbat guest in an Orthodox Jewish home, visit

Mind Over Matter

Challenge Up

Abraham passed ten tests in his lifetime. But why did G-d need to test him? Doesn’t G-d know what is in a man’s heart?

But when G-d challenges you, the challenge itself lifts you higher, much higher, to a place you could never reach on your own. It reveals entirely hidden capacities, granting you access to powers you never imagined you had.

When G-d throws you a challenge, don’t say, “I cannot pass this test. It’s beyond me.” It may be true that you were never capable. But thanks to this challenge, now you are.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts


The Talmud (Shabbat 89b) states that in the Messianic age it is specifically of Yitzchak (Isaac) that we shall say “for you are our father” (Isaich 63:16). Chassidut explains that the name Yitzchak is an expression of laughter and delight: in the Messianic age, the supernal joy and delight caused by our present service of G-d will be revealed. Chassidut explain further that the patriarch Isaac represents the aspect of fear and awe of G-d, and the consequent self-negation before G-d. It is, therefore, specifically Isaac who relates to the future era, for at that time G-dliness will manifest itself in the world, and all creatures will be moved to a sense of self-negation.

Indeed, Isaac’s life reflected certain qualities of the Messianic era. The Zohar (I: 60a) notes: when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son (Vayeira ch. 22), Isaac’s soul departed from his body and was replaced by a soul from the “world to come.” By virtue of this new soul, related to the era of redemption, Isaac’s life was in the mode of the future era of the redemption.

Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

Why Angels Won’t Multi-task

When I was in the first grade, just beginning to study the book of Genesis, I was fascinated by the stories, the personalities and the drama. But nothing captured my imagination more than the angels. There was something so mysterious about them. Disguised as ordinary people, they would show up in the right place at the right time, and solve some problem with their supernatural powers. And yet, I knew that however great the angels, they had a weakness. At the first mention of angels in the Torah, the commentators are quick to point out that the angels could not perform more than one action at a time.

Why did three angels come to visit Abraham as he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, hoping to find people to invite? Because there were three items to be accomplished, and angels do not have the ability to multitask. As Rashi explains: “And behold, three men: One to bring the news [of Isaac’s birth] to Sarah, and one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham, for one angel does not perform two errands.”

As a young child, I found this comforting. Maybe I couldn’t fly like an angel, but at least I could do two things at once, like run and shout at the same time. Now, years later, I ask myself, why is it so important for Rashi to emphasize the angels’ weakness? Why is it so important for every child studying Genesis to know that angels cannot perform two things at once?

Perhaps because it’s not a handicap. Perhaps it’s the secret to the angels’ power. Perhaps Rashi’s comment is a critique of the human condition.

The angel cannot do more than one thing at a time because the angel identifies with the task completely. The angel has no other dimension to his personality other than fulfilling G-d’s mission—no personal name, no personal agenda, no personal ego to get in the way. At that moment, he is nothing but the task. As such, he cannot perform two acts simultaneously, as it’s impossible to be, fully, in two places at once.

A person, on the other hand, even when performing the will of G-d. never loses his own ego. A person always maintains the sense that he has an independent identity, an identity which happens to be engaged in the mission. As such, he can never become one with the mission, and therefore, some aspect of his identity will always be able to engage in something else.

Rashi understood that the child reading the story is no angel. Yet Rashi is teaching us how to be more like an angel. How to be fully engaged in what we are doing, to the point that we forget about everything else. How to help someone else, and, while doing so, lose our own ego. How to speak to our children, carefully look them in the eyes, and listen. Listen as if, at that moment, we have nothing else in our life. Listen as if we have no e-mails, no deadlines, no one to meet, no place to go, no other interests.

He is teaching us to be present—like an angel.

Rabbi Menachem Feldman 

Food For the Soul

Journey of the Soul

In the Parsha Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) G-d speaks to Abram, commanding him, “Go from your land, from your birthplace and you’re your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” There, G-d says, he will be made into a great nation. Abram and his wife, Sarai, accompanied by his nephew Lot, journey to the land of Canaan, where Abram builds an altar and continues to spread the message of a one G-d.

Rabbi Menachem Feldman writes: “Abram’s journey was far from challenge-free. He was forced to descend to Egypt, where his wife was abducted. His close relationships with his nephew Lot and concubine Hagar were tested. G-d informed him that his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years. Yet Abram understood that the more challenging the journey, the greater the spiritual gain. Abram understood that a descent is critical to, and therefore part and parcel of, the journey upward.

The story of Abram is the story of every soul. The soul originates in the spiritual worlds, surrounded by divine wisdom and awareness. The soul is then called upon to begin the journey we call life. This journey from the spiritual worlds to life in this physical world seems to be a descent for the soul. No longer can it bask in the glow of spiritual enlightenment and closeness to the Infinite Light. No longer can it remain in the realm of abstract ideas. On this earth, the soul must attend to the concrete needs of the body: food, shelter and comfort. The soul is no longer in the world of av ram, the world of abstract knowledge and enlightenment. The soul is right here on planet Earth.”

Shabbat Shalom

Rachel (1553 BCE)

This Shabbat commemorates the passing of our matriarch Rachel, who died on the 11th of Cheshvan of the year 2208 from creation (1553 BCE). Rachel was born in Aram (Mesopotamia) approximately 1585 BCE. Her father was Laban, the brother of Jacob’s mother, Rebecca. Jacob came to Laban’s home in 1576 BCE, fleeing the wrath of his brother Esau. He fell in love with Rachel and worked for seven years tending Laban’s sheep in return for her hand in marriage. But Laban deceived his nephew, and on the morning after the wedding Jacob discovered that he had married Rachel’s elder sister, Leah. Laban agreed to give him Rachel as a wife as well in return for another seven years’ labor. Rachel was childless for many years, while her elder sister and rival gave birth to six sons and a daughter in succession. Finally, in 1562 BCE, she gave birth to Joseph. Nine years later, while Jacob and his family were on the road to Jacob’s ancestral home in Hebron, she gave birth to a second son Benjamin, but died in childbirth. Jacob buried her by the roadside, in Bethlehem; there, “Rachel weeps over her children, for they are gone [in exile]” (Jeremiah 31:14). Her tomb has served as a place of prayer for Jews for more than 35 centuries.

From an article in

Mind Over Matter

The Spiral Staircase

The Baal Shem Tov described life as a spiral staircase, constantly deflecting away from your target in order to attain it.

In Yiddish it’s called a “swindling staircase.” Some wise chassidim have pointed out a connection: Life swindles you into believing you are going in circles when really you are traveling higher each day. This is the way of every true and lasting ascent: Just as you’re making some progress upward, you see yourself falling away and stumbling in the dark.

If you could see the whole picture, how all things resolve in the end, you would see how those periods of darkness and failure are truly steps higher and yet higher. They must be. Because we did not create life. G-d did. And for Him, there are no failures—only a constant ascent upward.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

Three Altars

In the course of our parshah [Lech Lecha] Abraham built three altars. The first was in Shechem, in gratitude for the tidings that he would have children and that they would be given the Land of Israel. The second one he built near Ai, as an intercession for his descendants. The third he built in Hebron, for the actual possession of the Land of Israel. The Midrash notes that he built it in Hebron because that is where all the elders of Israel entered into a covenant with King David and anointed him King over Israel.  In this context, the three altars allude to three stages in the worship of G-d and three corresponding eras in Jewish history: the times of the first and second Beit Hamikdash, and the time of the third Beit Hamikdash that will be with the coming of Moshiach.  

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Shochet

Have I Got A Story

A Nation of Twinkling Stars

The first snow of the winter is always a delight, but not when it arrives in October. Despondent over the nasty storm, I woke up that morning and ventured out into a street strewn with fallen trees and downed wires. Traffic lights were out of order and streets were slick with ice, but the real surprise came when I discovered our synagogue was without electricity. Without lights, we were hard-pressed to hold morning services. A number of regular attendees arrived and shared my gloom; many left shortly thereafter to pray at home, but several stayed on. We lit candles, donned tefillin and sat down to pray. My gaze wandered about the room, and my spirits slowly lifted. I was enchanted by the quaint scene, the darkened synagogue, flickering flames and heads hunched over the candles reading in the dim light; it was a setting reminiscent of the shtetl.

A warmth spread through me as I surveyed the room, because in the darkness I beheld the heartiness of the Jew. It was dark, cold and icy, the synagogue was without heat or lights, yet nothing could stop these Jews from praying to their G-d. It was morning, and despite the elements, despite the obstacles, these hearty Jews were at synagogue. I realized that the Jew is indeed, as G-d promised to Abraham, like the stars of the sky.

This is indeed what G-d meant when he told Abraham, “Gaze toward heaven and count the stars—see if you can count them.” And He then said to him, “So (numerous) shall your children be.”1 Science has yet to discover, let alone count and identify, every star. This is because they operate in the distant reaches of darkened galaxies, and the naked eye cannot pierce the vast skies to behold them all. Yet, despite the darkness, an occasional star does peek out at us from across the distance. It is for this reason that the star is of so much comfort to us. We are drawn to them because their twinkling light beckons us; they remind us that every challenge can be surmounted, every distance can be traversed and every darkness can be illuminated.

Rather than an impediment to light, stars see the darkness as an opportunity to shine. Just like those Jews who prayed in the darkened synagogue, hunched over the dim and flickering light. These Jews are my stars: never daunted by challenge, never overwhelmed by the dark and never afraid of the night. These are the stars, who never allow an obstacle to get in the way of their commitment. These are the stars that inspire us in the night. These are the stars, in whose light we have no reason to fear the dark.

It was not the candles that enlightened me that cold morning, but the bobbing heads above those candles. In those bobbing heads I saw the stars of which G-d spoke to Abraham.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Food For the Soul

My Kind of Hero

Rashi describes Noah as a man of “small faith” who had doubts whether the flood would actually happen. In fact, according to the great commentator’s understanding, he didn’t enter the Ark until the rains actually started and the floodwaters pushed him in. That explains why many people look down on Noah, especially when they compare him to other Biblical superheroes, people of the stature of Abraham or Moses.

Personally, this is precisely what makes Noah my kind of hero. He’s real. He’s human. He has doubts, just like you and me. I know we are supposed to say, “When will my actions match those of the great patriarchs of old?” but I confess, for me that’s a tall order. Noah, on the other hand, is a regular guy. He is plagued by doubts and struggles with his faith. But at the end of the day, Noah does the job. He builds the ark, shleps in all the animals, saves civilization and goes on to rebuild a shattered world. Doubts, shmouts, he did what had to be done.

There is an old Yiddish proverb, Fun a kasha shtarbt men nit–“Nobody ever died of a question.” It’s not the end of the world if you didn’t get an answer to all your questions. We can live with unanswered questions. The main thing is not to allow ourselves to become paralyzed by our doubts. We can still do what has to be done, despite our doubts.

Of course, I’d love to be able to answer every question every single one of my congregants ever has. But the chances are that I will not be able to solve every single person’s doubts and dilemmas. And, frankly speaking, I am less concerned about their doubts than about their deeds. From a question nobody ever died. It’s how we behave that matters most. So Noah, the reluctant hero, reminds us that you don’t have to be fearless to get involved. You don’t have to be a tzaddik to do a mitzvah. You don’t have to be holy to keep kosher, nor do you have to be a professor to come to a Torah class.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Shabbat Shalom

“Purim Algiers” (1541)

This Shabbat commemorates “Purim Algiers.” In 1541, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of Spain, led a fleet in an attempted attack against Algiers. Miraculously, a storm capsized many of the attacking boats, resulting in the expedition’s failure and rescuing the city’s Jewish community from Spanish anti-Semitic rule. In commemoration of the miracle, the local community marked 4 MarCheshvan as a “minor Purim,” omitting the penitential Tachanun prayers and partaking of festive meals (Zeh Hashulchan pp. 96–97).

Mind Over Matter

Who Will Win

A mighty ocean cannot extinguish the hidden love burning in our souls.

The world in which we live today is a flood of confusion. Yet, ultimately, all the waters of confusion cannot drown the soul, but only lift it above them —for, in truth, this is the purpose for which they were created.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

“The rainbow will be seen in the cloud.” (Noach 9:14)

The Zohar (I:72b) states that the rainbow is one of the signs of the future redemption. Commentators note that the rainbow indicates the purification and refinement that the world underwent by means of the Flood. Before the Flood the clouds were very coarse, thus preventing a reflection of sunlight. Thereafter, however, the clouds became more refined; they reflected sunlight, thus bringing about a rainbow. This, then, is the connection between the rainbow and the future redemption: The entire world will attain the peak of refinement with the coming of Moshiach.

Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

Internationalists or Isolationists?

I recently met an old school friend from my days at Melbourne’s Yeshiva College. We fell into conversation about the time we spent there from age three till graduating at eighteen. He has nothing but good memories from the time he spent in Yeshivah. His family was not particularly religious, but he never felt excluded from the group, nor did he suffer from any associated stigma. Until today he retains friendships from all ends of the spectrum and, though he does not regularly pray or study Torah, is still proud of the skills and knowledge he gained while at school. He’d love to send his kids to yeshivah too.

His wife, however, doesn’t believe in the concept of Jewish schooling. From her perspective, an exclusive school, attended by children of one faith, is discriminatory and snobbish. She wants to send their kids to public schools where they’ll rub shoulders with children of all colors and backgrounds and they’ll learn to get along with everyone.

Personally, I disagree. It is a utopian fantasy to believe that just by hanging out together internecine conflict and differences of opinion will simply disappear. Assimilation didn’t save the Jews of Germany. However, doesn’t she have a point? Is it the ideal position for a Jew to be locked off from the world, isolated in a self-imposed ghetto? We were tasked with being “a light unto the nations” and we can’t do our job if we stay home and hibernate.

On the other hand, many will argue that it’s not healthy to send one’s child to a school where not all the student body are similarly inclined. Is not allowing our precious children to mix with friends who hail from non-religious (or non-Jewish) homes an unacceptable risk?

So who’s right, the internationalists or the isolationists? Should we stay home and play with our own ball or accept the risks of playing in the game out there on the street? I believe that the story of Noah and the Flood provides the answer to this question.

The Baal Shem Tov interpreted G-d’s command to Noah to “go into the ark” as an instruction for all ages. We should be prepared to turn our back on the world by retreating into an ark of Judaism. There is nothing to be ashamed of hanging out with your own tribe and protecting oneself from the flood of contemporary culture.

However the Lubavitcher Rebbe once pointed out that this was not the final instruction that Noah received. There comes a time when you have to be ready to “leave the ark.” You’ve laid down reserves of knowledge and skill, you’ve spent your childhood years studying G-dliness, now is the time to head off into the great wide world and share your gifts with others.

We have nothing to be ashamed of for wanting to protect ourselves behind walls of faith, but neither do we have a right to turn our back on those who come to learn. There is no excuse for ignoring or avoiding the world, but it is recommended that first you spend some time protecting yourself by acquiring knowledge.

Send your kids to a Jewish school. All Jews are made to feel welcome there and the sum of the parts make up a glorious whole. Let them stay there during their formative years, and you can be sure that when the time comes for them to head out and conquer the world they’ll be all the better for the experience.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum