Weekly Share

Food For the Soul

The constant connection

Unfortunately, for many people, only when faced with hardships or tragedy do they examine their existence. At times of maximum vulnerability, people tend to gravitate to the sanctuary of their faith, hoping to ride out the hard times under Judaism’s shelter. This time of crisis becomes the impetus for a rapprochement with their G‑d.

We read in the Parsha Va’etchanan the first paragraph of the Shema, the basis credo of Jewish belief: “Hear O Israel, the L-rd, Our G‑d, the L-rd is one.” The verses continue to describe our love for G‑d and some of the basic commandments. Twice a day, “night and morning,” we are instructed to reaffirm that commitment. This obligation is fulfilled by the recitation of the Shema.

I would like to posit an alternative explanation for this verse. The love of G‑d is the basis of our faith; as a feeling of connection to one’s Creator drives one to live up to His religious expectations. This connection must be a constant, both during the blackness of night, when all is dark and turning to G‑d for succor comes naturally, and under the bright lights of daytime when the average man feels no need of reassurance.

Connecting to G‑d during the hard times comes easily, but how many have the intelligence to hop off the gravy train while the good times still roll? Don’t wait for the cold shower of tragedy to shock you into conformity, the verse advises; reconnect to G‑d now, during the good times and take pleasure in choosing your path not under duress but because it is the right thing to do.

From an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

Shabbat Shalom

“Comfort My people”

The haftorah following the Torah reading on Shabbat usually reflects a topic in the Torah reading. The centerpiece of the reading, Va’etchanan,is the Ten Commandments. Yet the haftorah is from Isaiah, and it is about comfort. “Comfort My people, comfort them . . .” says G‑d to the prophets. After destruction comes rebirth and rebuilding. After the destruction of the first Temple came the building of the second. After the destruction of the second Temple will come the advent of the Messiah and the building of the third Temple. The sense of comfort after the darkness of destruction is so strong that in fact this is only the first of a series of seven haftarot, week by week, all with the theme of the promise of redemption.

From an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal

Mind Over Matter

How to become free

In every situation, we have the ability to be free. Even in this dark exile, where the world seems against us. Even in our personal lives, where we each have difficulties, suffering and pain. It is our choices that express our free nature –not our predicaments. In every situation, we find a way to free our essence, our Jewishness. Today, this seems harder than ever, as there is great temptation to be like our non-Jewish neighbors. But we have been there before, and if you try, Hashem will surely help you free yourself from your Egypt. On a deeper level: Each of us has the ability to free ourselves from our current level and reach higher plateaus. Ask yourself: How can I improve myself? How can I get closer to G_d? Then you become free.

From an article by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz

Moshiach Thoughts

Love His children

Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz writes, “…realize that to get closer to G‑d, you need to love his children, including those you deem less observant or more observant than yourself. Loving each other is the key to our redemption; it is how we break the chains of this exile. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult. Nevertheless, we will overcome this as well. May it happen soon.”

Have I got a Story

Kindness, positivity and gratitude

When I was a little girl, I used to love hearing my grandmother retell a Yiddish folktale about a miserable couple living in their cramped quarters with their many children. They went to seek rabbinical advice and were surprised to hear that to solve the issue they need to bring a goat inside the house. The family was confused, but did as they were told by the sage. With this addition, they became even more miserable. The family returned to clarify what to do and astonishingly were advised to bring a sheep into the house. This went on until they had an entire barn inside the house. Finally, the house had become utterly unlivable and they went to beg the rabbi for help, and only then did the rabbi tell them to let all the animals out of the house. The couple did so and was ecstatic to be living in their now-spacious-feeling dwelling with just the family. Clearly, they were back to the beginning, but with a new perspective.

My grandmother taught me about life by sharing meaningful stories such as this one. Life can always get worse, yet we have an opportunity to transcend our limitations and look at the bright side of things, regardless of circumstances.

Some might say that the death of a 95-year-old woman should not be shattering. Yet a lifetime of wisdom could not prepare me for the loss of my grandmother, Zelda bas David, who passed away on May 6, 2020. Her vibrant spirit transcends her actual years on this earth. How can a heart so full of goodness and resilience just simply stop beating?​​ My grandmother’s life taught me that as a container is defined by its contents, life is identified by how one spends precious hours, days, years and decades.

Zelda was born a lifetime ago in July of 1924 in the former Soviet Union. The world was recuperating from the Great War before confronting the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Her mother died in childbirth when Zelda was just 3 years old. Zelda and her two sisters were raised by her loving father, who worked around the clock to feed his three little motherless daughters.

My grandmother was the kindest person I have ever known. Perhaps people who lived through wars, starvation and poverty had a special passion for giving to others. Zelda often repeated the story about a little boy sitting on the stoop in the neighborhood. It was the early 1930s; these were the years of Stalin’s oppression and unbearable hunger. The boy was covered in lice, begging for food. Zelda’s heart was racing as she ran inside the house yelling, “Papa, I want to give my day’s ration of bread to the poor child outside.” Her own hunger couldn’t stop her, as she snatched a piece of bread and ran into the street. The boy grabbed the bread with both hands, stuffing it into his mouth. Zelda often thought about that boy, remembering how hungry and weak he was.

Later in life, Zelda became a doctor, saving countless lives. She married and had two daughters. Then, at 34, she became a widow when her husband died in a horrific drowning accident. A year after, her youngest daughter, who was 8, year fell off a slide and suffered a traumatic brain injury, becoming handicapped for life. A motherless widow with a sick child, she continued to march on through her personal obstacle course. Zelda spent 12 years of her life in and out of hospitals, doing everything possible to save her daughter’s life. Despite the unimaginable struggles, her spirit remained unbroken.

During these complicated and uncertain times, before I fall asleep I imagine my grandmother reminding me to learn to narrate my life with positivity and gratitude. I hear her voice reassuring me that “all the memories and experiences that have been accumulated along the way can be rechanneled into a vehicle of light and kindness.”

Just as Zelda dressed up her challenging life into a colorful rainbow of joy and gratitude, I hope and pray that all of us will emerge victorious from this challenging period, embracing kindness and empathy.  

Condensed from an article by Sofya Sara Esther Tamarkin

Food For the Soul

The future is in our hands

The Parsha Devarim (Deuteronomy) begins the last of the five books of the Torah. In it Moses speaks directly to the Jewish people, recalling the major events and laws that are recorded in the Torah’s other four books. This repetition was so important that Moses dedicated the last days of his life to it. Clearly, it was necessary to insuring the future of his beloved nation . 

We often hear talk about the “Jewish future.” How will we overcome the threat of assimilation and inspire the younger generation to care about their heritage? There are task forces, studies and conferences all focusing on this issue.

Inspired by the book of Devarim, I’d like to suggest that the best way to insure a Jewish future is through Jewish education. The first choice is a Jewish day school, which provides young people with all the knowledge and skills they need to live as Jews in the modern world. The second choice is an after-school or Sunday Hebrew school.

Let’s consider the facts: The values of Judaism enrich us; they provide us with a moral center, spiritual depth and purpose. They link us to thousands of years of tradition that reach back to Mount Sinai, when G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. It’s hard to think of anything that could be more important.

Perhaps Moses spent his last days on earth repeating lessons he had already taught to underscore the necessity of education. The chain of history is only as strong as the weakest link. We need to ensure that the next generation remains connected to their heritage and understands the depth and richness that Judaism has to offer. Education is the key. The future is in our hands. 

Condensed from an article by Rabbi David Eliezrie

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat of Vision

July 25 (4 Av) is called Shabbat Chazon (“Shabbat of Vision”) after the opening words of the day’s reading from the prophets (“haftara”). On this Shabbat, say the Chassidic masters, we are granted a vision of the Third Temple and are empowered to break free of our present state of galut (exile and spiritual displacement) and bring about the Redemption and the rebuilding of the Temple.

Note: Tisha B’Av occurs on July 29-30 (9 Av). This is when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple and our launch into a still-ongoing exile. It is marked by fasting and other practices. Please consult a competent halachic authority for details.


Mind Over Matter

What is beauty?

Beauty is not a thing; it is an experience. It is concerning the object of beauty that wise Solomon says, “Charm is false and beauty is vain.” But in the experiencing of beauty we open a window upon the infinite that is synonymous with the experience of truth.

Throw out the chaff of the static object and focus upon the inner experience, seeking a beauty that will last forever, and you will find true beauty—and beautiful truth.

And ugliness? Ugliness is when the mind takes one look and gives up.

From an article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

How to face the future

“It is true”, writes Dr. Tali Loewenthal, “that we have many times seen many tears in our long past. In recent centuries, and in recent decades, we have also seen much confusion. One may indeed wonder, reading the daily newspapers, what does the future hold? Yet our sages are clear in their view: the future is filled with joy.

The key message as to how we should face this radiant future, prepare for it and make it happen, is expressed by the concluding verse of this week’s haftorah (reading from the prophets): “Zion will be redeemed through justice [Torah], and its captives [will go free] through charity”(Isaiah 1:27). Through Torah study, teaching justice in all aspects of life, and good deeds such as charity, we can make the glorious future, the goal of Judaism, for us and all humanity, happen now.”

Have I got a Story

Are you at a crossroads?

In the beginning of our Parsha, Moses recalls how G‑d had said to the Children of Israel, “You have surrounded this mountain long enough. Turn away, and take your journey…” (Deuteronomy 1:6). The mountain is Sinai, scene of the revelation of G‑d’s wisdom and will to man. Yet G‑d tells us, “You’ve been here long enough. Move on!”

We must always be prepared to move forward, to carry on to the next stage. To take what we have and to propel it forward. How are we to navigate a clear path, through the confusion that is everyday life? How do we reconcile this with our past? How do we utilize our life experience, both individual and collective?

A young boy was traveling from Jerusalem to the Galilee. He arrived at a four-way crossroads and discovered, to his horror, that the crossroads sign, with its arrows pointing the way to the cities lying in the four directions had fallen down. Now he had no way to know which road to take to reach his destination.

What was he to do?

But he knew where he was coming from — Jerusalem. By arranging the sign so that Jerusalem pointed to the path he had just come from, he was able to figure out which way to go.

This is the key. Moving forward is essential but in order to do so we must understand where we are coming from. The Torah is our collective life experience. Our heritage and our history are our signposts. Using this as our starting point, knowing where we are coming from, we are able to get to where we are going, on the correct path, without straying or getting lost.  Yes, progress is an inevitable (and even good) thing. Nonetheless, it must be tempered with a clear understanding and appreciation of where we started out from and what our framework of reference is. In this way, we will be able to chart a clear and bright future, dealing with the challenges of the modern world head on, using progress in a positive manner, to reach our final destination.

By Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg

Food For the Soul

The need for boundaries

Boundaries help us define ourselves, nurture our well-being and empower us to more accurately navigate our life’s journeys. Boundaries need regular maintenance, and there are times when we actively need to defend our boundaries against intrusion. This week, we read a double Torah portion: Matot and Massei. Matot has the double meaning of being a line or branch, as well as a tribe. Matot are those branches of wood that are cut off from the tree that have hardened. Similarly, matot also refer to the tribes who have developed into their own individual personalities.  Matot begins with Moses speaking to the heads of the tribes. Massei, on the other hand, means journeys and recounts the journeys of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land.

Part of growing and maturing into your own independent self is finding your backbone, knowing your principles and parameters. We need to know where to draw our line, when to say a firm and unyielding, “No! This is not who I am or who I want to be.” We need to distinguish between what is helping us get closer to our “Promised Land,” and what is just serving as distractions or detours. The portions of Matot and Massei are always read during the Three Weeks, the time period from the 17th of Tammuz until the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), when we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the onset of our exile.

Exile is not only about being forced to leave our land. Exile is about being thrown into a world where values and morals are so spineless that they get swept with the wind, and change with every new whim or societal trend. This week’s double Torah portion reminds us that as we journey through our national exile—just as we search for direction along the path of our unique personal journey—we need to define resilient boundaries. When ethical and personal parameters keep blurring, it’s time for us to take out our metaphorical markers and draw definitive lines.

By Chana Weisberg

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Mevarchim

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 Av (also called “Menachem Av”), which falls on Wednesday of next week. Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the “birth” of the new moon.  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

Spiritual or ethical?

The question was once asked, “Which is more important –Torah precepts or ethical concepts?” The answer is: the one is included in the other. Torah observance must include ethical and moral behavior. Indeed, large sections of Jewish Law deal with fair practice, civil law, slander and libel, contracts, promises, and so much more. The Torah is our guidebook not just in “spiritual” and “G_dly” matters but in mundane, everyday matters. It is in our day-to-day material lives that we are specifically able to elevate our surroundings through adherence to the ethics of Sinai.

Adapted and condensed from an article by Rabbi  Mordechai Wallenberg

Moshiach Thoughts

 A marriage of opposites

All the cosmos came to be because G‑d chose to invest His very essence into a great drama: the drama of a lowly world becoming the home of an infinite G‑d. A marriage of opposites, the fusion of finite and infinite, light and darkness, heaven and earth.

We are the players in that drama, the cosmic matchmakers. With our every action, we have the power to marry our mundane world to the Infinite and Unknowable.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Have I got a Story

See the potential!

I recently visited an apartment that was under construction. Tools were strewn about, nails were poking out from the floorboards, and doors were missing. It was a total mess. Despite the obvious rawness of the environment, I could not help but think about the potential this apartment had. In my mind’s eye, I placed the china closet against one wall, chose my favorite color to paint the dining-room walls and imagined how much more spacious it would look if one of the walls were moved over just a little bit.

I have seen mansions and castles, none of which fascinated me to this extent. I wondered what it was about this construction site that drew me so. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was the potential of its incompleteness that allowed me to use my creativity. The bareness was looking for a designer, and that designer could be me.

The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the ninth of Av are a time when the Jewish people mourn the destruction of the Temple. The first nine days of the month of Av are an even more intense time, as we draw closer to the day when the devastating event took place. We abstain from listening to music, holding weddings and buying new clothes. We avoid things that will make us happy, so that we can truly absorb and integrate the loss of the Temple into our modern-day psyche. Interestingly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe also encouraged the learning of the laws of the service in the Temple during this period. While in exile, we pray instead of offering sacrifices. Wouldn’t it be more relevant to study laws that pertain to our present-day service?

The prophet Ezekiel felt similarly when G_d appeared to him during the Babylonian exile, following the destruction of the First Temple. G_d instructed him to tell the Jews about the building of the Second Temple. Ezekiel said to G_d: “Your children are in exile; they cannot build the Temple.” G_d responded: “Just because they are in exile, should the Temple not be built?”

Rabbi Akiva, a sage who lived during the time of the Second Temple, was able to see the destruction for what it really was, even while living in an intensely challenging time. He was once walking in Jerusalem with a group of fellow sages soon after the Temple was destroyed. They passed the Temple Mount and saw foxes roaming freely there. All the sages cried at the site of the desecration, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.

When confronted about his seemingly inappropriate reaction, he said: “Now that the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple has come true, surely the prophecies regarding the rebuilding of the Temple will come true, too.” He saw the destruction as an event in a sequence, allowing something even greater and more eternal to happen. He was able to celebrate destruction since he could envision a truer and even more beautiful reality. In his mind’s eye, the Temple was already being rebuilt.

Exile may seem to be our reality. We live in a construction site strewn with tools and nails. In this setting, however, there is both exile and redemption. In exile, we both mourn the destruction of the first two Temples and build the Third Temple. As we mourn the destruction, we acknowledge the beauty that has been lost –yet here we stand, on the threshold of a new reality. Let us celebrate destruction so that we can embrace our ability to build a greater future.

Condensed from an article by Chaya Strasberg

Food For the Soul

Bein HaMetzarim – Between the Straits

The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz (July 9) and the 9th of Av (July 27) are called Bein HaMetzarim (“Between the Straits”), and during this period Jewish people the world over enter into a period of constriction, minimizing outward expressions of joy and observing different customs associated with mourning. As their name so clearly implies, these three weeks are hard. We reflect on the spiritually and physically destructive events that occurred between the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls on the 17th of Tammuz and the fall of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) on the 9th of Av in the year 70 CE. Even today it’s considered to be an inauspicious time, when negative forces manifest more freely in the world.

But despite their connection with energies of destruction, these three weeks are, on a deeper level, permeated with powerfully positive spiritual influences as well. In our timebound world, Bein HaMetzarim occurs during the summer, when the sun is at its strongest. Kabbalah teaches that every detail of our world here below is a reflection of what’s going on behind the scenes in the spiritual worlds above. Every physical object and circumstance is the manifestation of its corresponding spiritual force, and of the interactions between individual spiritual forces. The sun is associated spiritually with the Divine Name Havayah,2 a Name of G_d that expresses His attributes of compassion and revelation. So the strength of the sun during Bein HaMetzarim tells us that during the darkest period on the Hebrew calendar, G_d’s love and compassion are in truth shining the brightest.

From an article by Ani Lipitz

Shabbat Shalom

The Three Weeks

During the Three Weeks, we commemorate the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people. Weddings and other joyful events are not held during this period; like mourners, we do not cut our hair, and various pleasurable activities are limited or proscribed. (The particular mourning customs vary from community to community, so consult a competent halachic authority for details.)

Citing the verse (Isaiah 1:27) “Zion shall be redeemed with mishpat [Torah] and its returnees with tzedakah,” the Rebbe urged that we increase in Torah study (particularly the study of the laws of the Holy Temple) and charity during this period.


Mind Over Matter

Think good and it will be good

Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov said, “There are two things it is forbidden to worry about: that which it is possible to fix, and that which it is impossible to fix. What is possible to fix –fix it, and why worry? What is impossible to fix –how will worrying help?”

The power of positive thinking is an oft-referenced Chassidic teaching, evidenced by the Tzemach Tzedek’s famous epigram, “Think good and it will be good.”

From an article by Rabbi Levi Welton

Moshiach Thoughts

You have a purpose

If the world did not need you and you did not need this world, you would never have come here. God does not cast His precious child into the pain of this journey without purpose. You say you cannot see a reason. Why should it surprise you that a creature cannot fathom the plan of its Creator? Now is the time to dig your hands into the earth, to tend to the garden, to care for life. Soon will come a time to understand, when the fruits of your labor blossom for all to see.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Have I got a Story

One who is static may not fall, but will definitely not rise

I was making my rabbinical rounds; visiting various businessmen, chatting with them and offering them the opportunity to put on tefillin with maybe a short Torah thought. One of my regular stops has always impressed with the cheerful attitude of the owner and the atmosphere of industry that is always buzzing around the joint. Here was a place, I used to think, with a well thought-out business model, led by an entrepreneur with vision, working to his plan, and rightly enjoying his much-deserved success.

But that day was a shock: Instead of the usual sight of workers cheerfully gossiping as they packed the products, the place was like a ghost town. A couple of desultory menials listlessly sealing a half-empty container, lights dimmed all over the place, a skeleton crew of secretarial staff filing their nails; light years from what I have come to expect.

In all this inaction, one exception stood out like the beacon of light which shone from his office: the owner; shirt sleeves way up his biceps, piles of papers sliding around the desk and a phone welded to his ear. His face lit up in the usual manner at my tentative tap on his door. He eagerly stood to wrap the straps, all the while chitchatting with me as if nothing at all was amiss. I was almost afraid to ask, but couldn’t contain my curiosity. Turns out a major customer had gone bankrupt overnight; left him with a huge unpaid back-order and warehouses of overstock.

Though I tried to summon some platitudes of comfort, he was having nothing of it. “I started off with nothing,” he declared, “God blessed me till now, and this is just a temporary setback. Gives me the opportunity to try some other products, take the company in a whole new direction.”

I am in awe of his determination and focus. It reminds me of the explanation brought in the classic book of Tanya to the verse “For a righteous man may fall seven times, and yet he rises”: Man is obliged to constantly reach for new heights. One who is static may not fall, but will definitely not rise. Even someone content to take finite, baby steps wouldn’t abandon his former level before establishing a foothold on the next. Only someone who has the energy and imagination to attempt to fly needs to “fall,” if only in comparison with his previous level.

In spirituality, your finite previous self actually hinders your progress, and if you aspire to mature you must first purge yourself of your previous level. The same is true of life. My friend has faith that this setback is just the opportunity he needed to clear his mind from the small-stakes he was bidding for till now and a chance to focus on taking his rightful seat at a new table. And with that determination and attitude, how could he not succeed?

At this time of year our focus is on commemorating the national calamity that has been our lot over the two thousand odd years since the destruction of the Temple. We fast and pray in an effort to persuade God to redeem us and build us a third, permanent, Temple. The setbacks we as a nation have suffered are not just some cosmic joke played out on us by an unfeeling, malicious Divinity; rather they have been the longest and greatest training run in history, forcing us to build up our stamina for the blastoff that lies ahead. Only a people who have suffered as we have, can anticipate a payoff of the magnitude that we deserve. The vicissitudes of fate have toughened and tempered us, awakened us to look for new opportunities, and guaranteed us a future of redemption and happiness, beyond even our expectations.

Condensed from an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

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