Good Yom Tov!

Tonight, as we celebrate Yud Tes Kislev- the Rosh Hashono of Chassidism- we remember the liberation of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, from imprisonment in Czarist Russia, and the subsequent strengthening of the Chabad movement, as the Rebbe redoubled his efforts to spread Chassidic teachings, and make them accessible to everyone.

Out of all of the special days on the Jewish calendar, Yud Tes Kislev speaks to me the most. There’s something so inspiring about the Alter Rebbe’s story- in a way, it appeals directly to my emotions and my Jewish journey. When I first became interested in Judaism, and decided to become frum, I found myself held back by my family and living situation. I was very much ‘imprisoned’, and I found it really hard to do the things I wanted to do. Spiritually, I was weakened by the negative influences around me.

During this difficult time, I read about the Alter Rebbe, and I learned that after his imprisonment, he didn’t back down; instead, he upped his game, and started working harder than ever to spread Jewish knowledge. The more I thought about it, the more inspired I felt. It was on Yud Tes Kislev last year that I received news which changed my life, and I decided straightaway that this was no mere coincidence. It was Hasgocho Protis.

Last Yud Tes Kislev, my life turned around, just as the Alter Rebbe’s had, so many years before me. And this year, as I look back over what I’ve been through, I daven that all those people who, like me, are held back by their circumstances, and find themselves spiritually ‘imprisoned’, witness the sort of miracle which Hashem bestowed upon me, and find the strength to continue their Jewish journey. May this be the Divine will, and may we merit to welcome the Moshiach, speedily and in our days!

GOOD YOM TOV.

MAY YOU BE INSCRIBED AND SEALED

FOR A GOOD YEAR IN THE STUDY OF CHASSIDUS

AND THE WAYS OF CHASSIDUS

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Gut Shabbes! (Vayishloch)

Next Thursday, we commemorate Yud Tes Kislev- 19th Kislev- known as the new year of Chassidism. The day marks the Alter Rebbe’s release from captivity in Russia, and with his freedom came a rebirth of sorts for the Chassidic movement, which strengthened and flourished following the event, becoming more “down-to-earth” and accessible to the ordinary person.

But the growth of Chassidism didn’t stop there, of course. It continued with the efforts of the following Rebbes, especially the Rebbe zt”l, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who implemented the Chabad house system, providing Jews around the world with a “home from home”, as well as starting initiatives for widespread kiruv and ahavos Yisroel.

Today, I am frequently asked who the leader of the Chabad movement is. Some say the Rebbe still leads us, for his spirit lives on long after his neshomo has ascended to Gan Eyden. And while this is true, I would like to suggest that you- the person reading this- are the leader of the Chabad movement. You, and every single Jew around you, is a leader with massive potential and a spark of Moshe Rabbenu in your soul. This Yud Tes Kislev, let’s utilise this potential, and lead the Jewish people towards Moshiach, may he come speedily and in our days.

This week, Shabbes candles should be lit at 3:37 PM in London, and Shabbes ends at 4:51 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Chashachana bas Bryna and Chana bas Mushka for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Shabbes! (Toldos)

This week, as Chabad shluchim from around the world gather at the Kinus HaShluchim conference, I am, as always, amazed by the display of unity and Ahavos Yisroel. Chabad have transformed countless lives, and to see so many influential rabbonim together in one room makes me feel proud to be a Jew.

We don’t need to be rabbis or shluchim to make a difference though. Every single one of us holds within us the power to change lives and bring light into the world- and we needn’t wait to get started. We can begin straightaway, by lighting Shabbes candles or inviting guests into our home.

This week, Shabbes candles should be lit at 3:52 PM in London, and Shabbes ends at 5:01 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please daven for Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Chashachana bas Bryna, Chaya bas Perel and Rivka Miriam bas Tsivia Bina. Thank you and gut Shabbes!

Living in Darkness

“A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

I have a lot of experience with motivational quotes. I’ve been sent hundreds, varying from inspiring to laughable, but I don’t think any of them have touched me the way this one has. Chabad.org shared it today, and no matter how many times I have looked at it, and thought about it, it still touches me. There’s no doubt that we’re living in the ‘Footsteps of Moshiach’- a time of darkness which directly precedes the arrival of Moshiach (may he come speedily and in our days), and it’s in times like this that we need light more than ever.

In the past, I thought light was a metaphor for grand gestures. The big things. Inviting people for Shabbes dinner; teaching women to light candles; getting men to put on tefillin. The big mitzvos which Chabad outreach revolves around. And of course these things bring light into the world, but recently, I’ve started to wonder what else constitutes light. Maybe it’s not strictly religious. Maybe it’s about making someone else smile.

I sometimes feel that I’ve spent a lot of my life living in darkness. I try not to complain, and I know that many people around the world have had lives much harsher than mine. Relatively, I am blessed. But I won’t deny that before I found Judaism- and, yes, even throughout my Jewish journey- I struggled a lot. I have dealt with the sort of trauma and grief that can only possibly be described as darkness- the sort of darkness which closes in around you and makes you question why you should carry on.

And it’s only when you’ve lived in pitch black darkness that you understand the power of light. If I had not been on the unique and excruciatingly painful journey which I have been on, I don’t think I’d understand this quote. I’d see it as that lovely, inspirational quote which we find on boxes of Shabbes candles, handed out to women who visit Chabad houses. I’d think that I understood it, but really, I wouldn’t.

But as I sit here today and look back upon all the little bits of ‘light’ which have entered my life- small gestures, good deeds, kind words- I remember how much darkness they dispelled, and I feel that I truly understand this quote. What’s more, I feel it’s my mission to give back to others what they gave to me. This quote appearing today wasn’t a coincidence. It was hashgocha protis- a call to action if you like. And I don’t know about you, but I’m going to act on it straightaway.

A Confession

There’s a very inspirational Jewish woman named Chana Weinberg whose work I absolutely adore. She writes an amazing blog on Chabad.org, along with posting thought provoking videos, plus it’s thanks to her that I got published on Chabad.org. So you can see why I was very interested to see what she wrote today, along with her latest video;

“Here’s a confession. Torah observant Jews have questions. They have crisis of faith, moments of feeling isolated and abandoned by G d.”

Now, deep in my heart, I’d known this. I’d probably said it myself, though without Chana’s certainty and eloquence. But it was only when I heard her say it (or, saw her write it), that I finally felt truly accepted and comfortable with where I am. I’ve spent a long time trying to find myself and my place in the Jewish world, and at last, I feel like I might be doing okay after all.

If you’re like me, torn between two worlds and all too quick to forget that maybe you can live in both, and that everything in this world can be elevated to G-dliness, I hope this message reaches you. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to wonder if you’re doing the right thing. It’s okay to feel alone and angry at the world. It’s okay to doubt and question and wonder.

And if you ever want to speak to someone who knows just what it’s like, hineini. Here I am.

Opposition

The Tzemach Tzedek was arrested twenty-two times during the Rabbinical conference in Petersburg, in 5603 (1843), for opposing the demands of the government regarding changes in education, etc. The minister in charge confronted him: “Is this not rebellion against the government?!”

The Tzemach Tzedek answered: “A rebel against the government is liable to be punished by death of the body; a rebel against the Kingdom of Heaven is punishable by death of the soul. Now which is worse?”

~ The Hayom Yom

Frumkeit isn’t always easy. Usually I hasten to add, “especially for baalei teshuva”- a sentiment which, in this day and age, I think is completely true- but then today’s Hayom Yom reminded me that throughout the ages, our people have faced persecution for their faith, and that it was not only despite this, but perhaps even because of it, that the Tzemach Tzedek continued his efforts to strengthen Yiddishkeit.

I’ll be honest. I felt guilty when I read this passage today.

Recently, I’ve faced a lot of opposition to my observance. I realised that I was losing friends and popularity due to my decisions, and I felt that maybe if I experimented with other paths I would be happy, at last. As I wrote in my article about the blessing for being made in G-d’s image, I learnt that changing myself wasn’t the key to happiness, but I was still left feeling that I’d strayed from my faith.

Then today, I was reminded all over again that opposition isn’t a reason to leave the faith. It’s a reason to cling to it. If it provokes jealously and baseless hatred, maybe the fault lies in the people criticising me, and not in myself or my religion. Here’s to hoping that I’ll never forget this again.

Gut Shabbes! (Chayei Sarah)

Today, I received an email about Sarah Imeinu, drawing inspiration from her strength throughout life’s difficulties, and reminding us of her decision to be proactive and influential- a decision which we, too, can make in our daily lives. As I read the email I was reminded of a beautiful quote, often attributed to the Rebbe zt”l. I think of this quote often, and would like to share it with others who might be similarly inspired by it. I know all too well that life isn’t smooth sailing; we suffer from heartbreaks as well as successes, but our mindset is all important in helping us deal with these challenges.

“Imagine you could open your eyes to see only the good in every person, the positive in every circumstance, and the opportunity in every challenge.”

With this in mind, I would like to wish everyone a wonderful Shabbes- may we merit to have only revealed blessings and happiness! In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4 PM this evening, and Shabbes ends at 5:10 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Shmuel Yossef ben Soroh Malka, Chashachana bas Bryna and Chaya bas Perel. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!