Gut Chodesh!

Today is the second day of Rosh Chodesh, when we celebrate the beginning of a new month. It’s the start of Tammuz, a month which begins with the yahrzeis of the Rebbe on Tammuz 3, and concludes with a period of mourning known as the Three Weeks. In Jewish history, it is not a positive month, as we remember the invasion and destruction of Yerushalayim- but the message of Gimmel Tammuz is one which helps us transform darkness into light.

Throughout his life, the Rebbe worked to spread light. He built bridges, he established Jewish communities, and he provided chizuk to those who needed it desperately. Physically, the Rebbe is no longer with us. But he lives on through his legacy and spirit.

This Gimmel Tammuz, let’s all take a moment to dwell on the impact which the Rebbe had on the world. And then, let’s all incorporate his teachings into our day, and perform just one of the many mitzvos of which he fostered observance. Do one good deed; give one extra coin to charity; help one person. And may we then merit to see the arrival of Moshiach, speedily and in our days.

Gut Shabbes! (Korach)

This Shabbes, we read the Sedra named after Korach, the rebellious Israelite who sparked a mass rebellion. In light of Korach’s actions, which caused division and heartbreak, we need to look at Moshe Rabbenu’s reaction. Just like the Rebbe, who was the focus of my dvar Torah this week, Moshe sought to create unity where there was none. And that spark of Moshe Rabbenu lives on in each of us.

This Shabbes, utilise that spark. Bring people together. Host someone for a meal or two, invite people to your house, or simply strike up a conversation with someone at the kiddush on Shabbes morning. Our actions carry and immense amount of power- the power of unity. Let’s build bridges between all of klal Yisroel, and, through our unity and mitzvos, hasten the arrival of Moshiach, speedily and in our days iyH!

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 9:04 PM today, and Shabbes ends at 10:36 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna and Shai bas Odeya. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Parshas Korach: Division and Rebellion

In this week’s Sedra, Korach starts a rebellion against Moshe Rabbenu, and, joined by over 250 others, insists that the priesthood belongs not only to Aharon but to them, also, stating that ‘the entire community is Holy’. Moshe Rabbenu is horrified by this display of division, and challenges them to offer ketoret (incense) to G-d, along with Aharon, saying that G-d will accept the incense from the one he has chosen. Aharon’s ketoret stops the plague which has engulfed the Israelites, as a result of their disobedience, and yet he is required to prove his status once again, and does so through the blossoming of his staff. The Parsha concludes with G-d commanding the terumah offering and the giving of gifts to the kohanim.

Korach was attempting to start a revolution. In his eyes, and the eyes of his followers, he was a revolutionary; a freedom fighter. On Tuesday, we mark the yahrzeis of a very different kind of revolutionary: the Rebbe. Both Korach and the Rebbe wanted to change the way the world worked. They both had visions of how things should be, and they both tried their utmost to implement these visions. So how come Korach ended up causing a terrible uprising and a deadly plague while the Rebbe sparked a Torah revolution which engulfed world Jewry and influenced the lives of millions of people around the world?

There’s one word which lies at the heart of this massive difference. And that word is division. Korach tried to push people apart. Rather than playing on the Israelites’ strength as one nation, the nation of the chosen people, he attempted to split them up, and start his own following which aimed to remove Moshe Rabbenu and Aharon. His followers became violent and angry and tore away from Moshe’s leadership, splitting the strong nation into warring tribes.

Meanwhile, the Rebbe did the exact opposite. Where Korach pushed people apart, he pulled them together. He attempted to unite all the world’s Yidden, through tefillin and Shabbes candle campaigns, and encouraged the institution of Chabad houses in places where there was no thriving Jewish community. Through reaching out and building bridges, he brought together people from all walks of life- from Chareidim to totally non-observant Jews, and everyone in between, even including non-Jews, who he reached out to with the campaign for spreading the Noahide laws.

The moral of the story? Build bridges, don’t burn them. Reach out, don’t pull away. And above all, look upon your fellow Jew with the love he deserves, and spread the light of acceptance to defeat the darkness of division.

This dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, in anticipation of his 23rd Yahrzeis, and to all the Chabad shluchim around the world who work tirelessly to spread the light of Torah.

Turn to G-d

Rabbi Meir taught us, “When man is bound up above, he does not fall down below”.

When we focus on G-d and His Torah- the ‘up above’- we begin to realise the fleeting nature of the corporeal world. This doesn’t make us immune to day to day trials and tribulations; but when we experience knocks and blows, we don’t fall down. We remain standing; battered, possibly, but strong. Because at the end of the day, we know that we can put our trust in Hashem.

Being bound up above doesn’t equal an easy life. But it does help us to deal with the problems we encounter. We turn to Torah study; we turn to davening; we turn to G-d Himself. It doesn’t take much to achieve this. Just faith. Put your faith in G-d, turn to Him in times of trouble, and even when you slip, you wont fall.

Think Before You Speak

This morning, I was studying on Chabad.org when I glanced at the daily quote. Often, I get inspiration from the few simple lines displayed on the daily study portal, and sometimes I weave these quotes into articles and divrei Torah. But today, the quote perplexed me. At first, I couldn’t work out why it had been chosen. It quite simply read; ”And Aaron was silent”.

While I pondered over this, trying to find the meaning of these words, thinking of different interpretations and commentaries I’d read, I sat in silence. I wasted no words over my puzzlement, instead choosing to quietly contemplate. And as I realised this, the importance of the daily quote hit me. While I had sat there in silence, I had thought. I had dwelled upon texts. I had used my imagination. And I had reached a conclusion. My silence was constructive.

Sometimes, silence is the wrong thing- or even ossur. In the face of injustice, discrimination, anger or hatred, we need to speak out. We need to argue. We need to correct But lots of times, silence truly is golden. Why? Because when we think, when we explore with our minds, when we pause before we open our mouths, we’re saving others from potential hurt and guarding ourselves against loshon hora. The message of Aaron’s silence is a clear one; think before you speak.

Time for G-d

I began saying the morning prayers as soon as I found a siddur which worked for me- one which was accessible, easy to read, and above all, didn’t take too long to daven from. But over time, my routine became more hurried, and I neglected the crucial five to ten minutes of davening which previously graced my mornings, instead settling for the bare minimum. Between trying to study Chitas, get ready, answer countless messages and emails and sort out any necessary housework, I was left without the time to daven.

Or so I thought.

Then one morning, I accidentally woke up an hour too early. The sun was shining brightly and after I said the Modeh Ani, I started to daven without thinking about it. About half an hour passed before I looked at my clock and realised that I had gotten up an hour early. And yet, I didn’t feel lethargic. I felt ready to start my day, as if Hashem was right beside me, helping me.

Last Shabbes I heard a drosho about the importance of saying the morning prayers. And as I thought about these 2 events, I realised they couldn’t be coincidental. Yes, my life is busy- packed, even. Yes, it often feels like I haven’t a spare moment. And yet… I feel as if saying more prayers is going to make me more productive, less harried. It’s like Hashem is telling me to do this.

From now on, I won’t settle for just saying the Modeh Ani. I’m going to bring Kedushah into the beginning of the day, and hope it graces the rest of my day, too.

Fitting In

Sometimes, I feel that I should write a book about shuls. Something eloquent with a hint of humour, paragraphs of lavish praise and sharp insight among photographs of glittering chandeliers and modest kiddush tables. Or maybe I should stick to Facebook reviews. I was never one for observational comments.

Either way, I am, for better or worse, acquainted with a large number of shuls.

Maybe it’s run of the mill for someone who is becoming frum, but I get the feeling that ten shuls in the space of less than two years is rather more than average. Some of these shuls have been liberal or reform, some modern orthodox, some chabad, some simply traditional. I’ve sat in more womens’ balconies than I care to remember and I could actually write a review of the different mechitzos I’ve stood behind.

I’m not sure if I’m fortunate or unfortunate to have floated between so many communities. Have I ever felt uncomfortable, alone? Without a doubt. Have I wondered if I’ll ever find the right shul for me? Many a time. But now, after much debating and struggling and pleading Hashem for guidance, I think I’ve found my home. Where else but Chabad?

And yet, the feeling of never fitting in has not left me. Only now, it manifests itself differently. If I’m not the one sitting alone, telling myself none of these people want to speak to me, then someone else is. There’s a theory in many games, including Bridge, that if within half an hour, you’ve not worked out who the terrible player is, it’s you.

The moral is: there’s always a terrible player.

And I remembered this theory as I thought about my experience with shuls. Replace the terrible player with the person who doesn’t feel they fit in. The black sheep. The lonely soul. Call them what you want, they’re the equivalent of the terrible bridge player in that there’s always one of them.

Feeling happy and at home in your shul? Great. But in my experience, it means someone else isn’t. I’d love to be proved wrong. I’d love for you to tell me that in your shul, everyone feels a happy sense of belonging. But I just don’t think it’s true. In my past, there’s always been one person who feels like a hopeless misfit. Usually me. And now that it’s not me, I know what my task is.

To find that other misfit and help her feel as at home as I do.