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.

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.

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.

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.

Parshas Shloch: Actions Over Words

I often find myself referencing to this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Shloch. The episode of the deceitful spies is one which I resonate with, and one which, I think, is connected to the greatest fault in Orthodox Jewish society today. But for this interpretation to make sense, we need to dig deeper than the surface, and read some of the commentary on the Sedra. To summarise, the episode of the spies occurs near the beginning of the Parsha, where Moshe Rabbenu sends 12 men to spy on the land of Canaan, and report back on the climate and people there. However, 10 of the spies give a false report, beginning with the truth, then claiming to have seen inhabitants like giants, and dissuading the Israelites from entering- saying they would be destroyed, even with G-d’s help. Only Calev and Yoshua argue against this, and the people believe the wicked spies. G-d wishes to destroy them, but Moshe Rabbenu convinces him to lessen his punishment, instead sentencing them to 40 years of wandering in the desert.

The big question here is; “Why”? Why did the 10 spies give this false report? Didn’t they want to enter the holy land?

To truly understand the reason why, we should look to the explanation provided by a Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya and the founder of Chabad Chassidism. He writes, “A great majority of the physical mitzvot can be implemented only in the Land of Israel, especially the agricultural laws and the laws of the offerings brought to the Holy Temple. . . . The spies, who were on a most lofty spiritual level, did not wish to lower themselves to the level of physical action, preferring to remain in the desert, where they received all their needs from above, and related to G‑d by means of the loftier levels of thought and speech (i.e., study of Torah and prayer). They desired to draw down all the divine emanations into the “Land of Israel” that exists in the realm of malchut, the world of divine speech, where there also is a “Jerusalem” and a “Holy Temple.” Regarding the physical Land of Israel, they said: “It is a land that consumes its inhabitants”—if the divine light were to be drawn down into the physical world, our entire existence would be nullified”.

In short, they felt their lives should be about thinking, not doing.

And thinking is great. Learning is great. When a man learns Torah, he protects Eretz Yisroel with his efforts. It’s not just important, but absolutely vital, that we learn and study and daven. We need to read the Torah, understand it, and study different interpretations. We need to learn about halocha. We need to attend shul, and, preferably, shiurim. But we are forsaking the very essence of the Torah, and of this week’s Parsha, when we substitute doing for learning.

So what do we need to do? Physical mitzvos. That means kind acts, acts of chesed and charity. That means donating money and items, helping someone cross the road, inviting someone for Shabbes, Kashering someone’s kitchen with them. It means Ahavos Yisroel. The pillar of Judaism. Learning is amazing. But too often, I come across people who learn Torah, yet ignore its most crucial teachings. They can sit in kollel or yeshiva all day, or write as I do, but if they’re not out there, helping others, spreading light, bringing Holiness into this world, they’ve not learned from the ten spies.

So no matter how spiritually lofty you are, you have a duty. A duty to finish reading this article. Turn off your computer. And change the world with one good deed.

Thanks

Today, I checked Chabad.org’s “The Jewish Woman” website and found my own article- “The Power of Saying Thanks” there. I had known for a while that Chabad were publishing me, but there’s no feeling quite like seeing your own words on your very favourite website. I was momentarily speechless, then elated. Mostly, fittingly, I was thankful.

I’ve worked hard for this moment. I’ve submitted more articles than I can remember, written more words than I can remember, spent more hours then I’d care to admit. And finally, I’ve done it. It’s a small victory, I admit it. Being published on Chabad.org. It’s not like I’m in a book or a magazine even, it’s not like I’m suddenly famous or admired.

But that doesn’t matter. I’ve achieved my personal goal. And yes, I’ve worked hard, but I know that I wouldn’t be celebrating this moment if it weren’t for a number of amazing people. My friends who have supported and helped me. My family who have been there for me. My rabbis who have encouraged and listened to me. Above all, I’m grateful to the editor of the Jewish Woman, Chana Weisberg, and also to my Chabad rabbi, with whom I shared my articles before I even started this site, and who read and commented on my work while juggling a million other things.

And I’d like to thank you, you who is reading this now, for helping me along the way. Thank you for everything. My article can be found below, and I request that if you enjoy it, you take a minute to comment on the link, so that the article gains popularity on Chabad.org. Sharing on social media is also greatly appreciated. Once again, thank you.

http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/3677091/jewish/The-Power-of-Saying-Thanks.htm

One Act of Kindness

Last night, I didn’t just hear the news of another dreadful terror attack. I listened to it taking place. I listened to the sirens and helicopters and unearthly noises which continued into the small hours. And amidst this barrage of violent noise, there was a much smaller sound. That of my tefillos. As I sat in the middle of carnage and terror, I begged Hashem to put a stop to this.

And yet, the noise and violence carried on through the night.

This morning, I learnt of the deaths, and tried desperately to reach out to family and friends. And I tried to utter those words, Boruch Doyon Emes. Hashem is the true Judge. Hashem knows what He is doing. But I couldn’t find those words while I envisaged bodies lying on the bridge, and innocent people stabbed and run over. All I could think of was Moshiach, whom we need more desperately than ever.

If you’re reading this now, I beg you to do just one good deed. One deed of kindness and tolerance and love. One act of chesed. One act of tzedekah. Because if we all come together and each perform one act, Moshiach will come, and terror will end. No matter what you believe about G-d and Moshiach, you must accept that we need love and warmth in a world so cold and dark and terrifying as this one.

So let’s get to work straightaway.