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Weekly Newsletter Message

Weekly Newsletter Message

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iPhone: Friend or Foe?

The Atlantic published an article this week entitled “Have Cellphones Destroyed a Generation?”  According to the author, rather than leveraging the power of technology, the “new generation” has become enslaved by it.

Some people struggle with their relationship with their phone, others with money and yet others with food, but the solution is always the same:  Don’t confuse the means with the ends.

Take food for example.

In this week’s Torah portion we find the verse “man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live”. A commentary on the Parsha shares that  “this verse reminds us that there’s a greater purpose to eating. One must eat to live not live to eat.”

Every diet and weight-loss strategy has its pros and cons, but for any one to really work, you've got to get your mind right. You need to view food as a means to an end, not an end to itself. You have to start seeing food as a source of nutrition and energy. In other words, you eat to live rather than live to eat.

The same holds true for many other aspects of life, including money and technology. What are the means and what are the ends? Do you make money to live or do you live to make money?

The problems begin when the means become more important (to us) than the ends. Think of the dad who gets a job in order to support his family, but then never sees his family, because he’s so consumed by his career.

The secret to not becoming a slave to technology is to have clear priorities.  Actually, it is the secret to successful living in general,  as Steven Covey writes “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”.

The truth is that the challenge of the “new generation” is not the iPhone, but rather a lack of clarity. You can’t keep the main thing the main thing if you have no idea what the main thing is.

On the other hand, if you spend the time to get “the main thing” clear, you will gain a healthy perspective on technology, work and even food. You will see them as a means to an end, and as tools to be leveraged towards achieving your greater goals in life.  When you know why you are alive and what your life stands for you free yourself from the Pharoahs (slave masters) of our time.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Step Up To The Plate

Do we rely too heavily on government to fix our problems?

A functional society is dependent on the individuals within that society.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses shares his request to enter Israel and G-d’s refusal “L’manchem” - because of you, the Jewish people.

According to the Midrash, had Moses entered the Promised Land, he would have ushered in the Messianic Age. As good as it may sound, it would have defeated the purpose of Creation. G-d designed an imperfect world and invited each of us to help Him complete it. The point of life is for humans to slowly and collectively over generations, transform the world into a home for the Divine. Moses couldn’t do this alone.

Perhaps this is what Moses meant when he said “Lmanchem” because of you, in other words,  for your sake I didn’t enter the land.

The Torah is teaching us that the leader can’t do it alone.

The government can only do so much; it can help create a strong economy with plenty of job opportunities, but that will not be enough if we are dysfunctional as individuals. The individual must step up to the plate to carry the responsibility of the future.

Ultimately, the overall health of society depends far more on who we are as individuals than who we choose as our leaders.

If we really care about the future of our country we must find ways to improve ourselves as individuals and inspire the people around us to do the same.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

What's Your Story?

What’s Your Story?

It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is how you choose to tell your story. 

A young girl once wrote to the Rebbe. Her father was encouraging her to attend a new Jewish School that was opening in the area. However, as she explained to the Rebbe, “I do not want to be a guinea pig to be experimented on”. The Rebbe’s response completely changed the girl’s perspective and as a result her experience at the new school. He simply crossed out the words “guinea pig” and wrote in its place, “pioneer.”

The way you tell your story is more important than the story itself.

This explains why Moses, in this week’s Torah portion, recounted the story of the Jews’ prior 39 years in the dessert. Didn’t they already know the story? After all, most of them had lived through it and experienced it first hand.

However, it’s not just about knowing the story but perceiving it the right way. Therefore, Moses shared the entire story in order to frame it in a healthy and positive way.

Julia Brody, a Chabad Hebrew School graduate and friend, recently penned a beautiful article for USA Today College. She wrote how telling her story, and creating a new narrative, helped her heal after her mother’s tragic passing two years ago (read the article here).

You don’t get to choose your story but you can choose how to tell it. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Are You An Extremist?

Extremism is dangerous, which is precisely why we should be extreme.

According to Jewish mystical teachings, everything positive and holy in this world was created with a negative counterpart. And the more positive something is the more negative or dangerous it’s counterpart. 

This is a universal truth that applies to every area of life.

For example, love is great but can easily be destructive when expressed as unrestricted and illicit lust. Self-confidence is wonderful but can easily descend into arrogance. Democracy is so important but can be perverted into “mob rule”.

Extremism is exceptionally dangerous, but precisely because it is so dangerous it must also carry great potential. In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas is described as an extremist, yet he is granted a “peace award” by G-D.

Positive extremism is being extreme in kindness or ethics or truth or loyalty or some other positive virtue. (In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. describes himself as a ”positive extremist”)

The solution to the destructive extremism that we are witnessing in our world is not to shun extremism but rather to utilize it for good.

One who drops everything to help a stranger, over and over again, or someone who, on a moments notice, hops on a flight to the other side of the country just to comfort and be with a friend in distress is extreme. Staying true to one’s values despite immense pressure to compromise is extreme. But it’s what the world needs today. 

So get off the fence and do something extreme, something radically good, thereby bringing healing to our aching world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silvrman

How Do You React to Crisis?

How do you react to crisis?

Do you despair, become bitter and ask why me? Do you stand strong and weather the storm? Or do you see it as an opportunity?

In this week’s Torah portion we find that the very same snake that was the agent of destruction became the agent of healing (see Numbers 21:5–9)

The Hebrew word for crisis is Mashber. However, Mashber also means birthing-stool, because a crisis always carries the potential for re-birth and growth.  

Consider a seed. For a tiny seed to produce a majestic tree it must first rot in the earth.  As long as the seed remains in its shell, it is limited by that shell. It is the rotting that enables it to grow. Life works the same way. When facing a crisis we must remember that the “rotting” provides the opportunity for radical growth.

We all hope to avoid crisis, but when it is forced upon us, those who perceive crisis as an opportunity will be better positioned to act on it.

Just as in the micro so too in the macro. These days the world seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis. It is painful, confusing and dangerous, however the greater the crisis, the greater the opportunity.  Our responsibility is not merely to manage the crises but to find creative ways to transform them into opportunities.

May we merit that the crises that we are experiencing in the world today become the catalyst to a new world order of peace and prosperity.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Derek Black's Story

“You don’t drive away darkness with a stick” - “A little light dispels a lot of darkness.” – Chasidic sayings

In the opening of this weeks Torah portion, Abraham encounters three individuals whom he presumes to be idolaters. As far as he knows, they diametrically oppose everything he stands for, and yet, how does he react? He invites them into his tent for lunch. He doesn’t yell, attack or protest their existence or views.  He doesn’t chase away the darkness with sticks, instead he lights a candle.

Sounds like the story of Matthew Stevenson and Derek Black.

Have you ever heard of Derek Black? His story blew me away!

Derek Black was a leader of the White Nationalist movement. His father is Don Black, a former KKK grand wizard who founded and runs Stormfront, the biggest racial hate site. His mother, Chloe, was previously married to former KKK leader David Duke, who happens to be Derek’s Godfather.

Derek was the future of the White Nationalist movement until 2013, when he suddenly and inexplicably renounced his racism and anti-Semitism, disassociated from white nationalism and supremacism, and apologized for the damage he had done.

His apology letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center was widely reported on at the time, but it was anyone’s guess as to his motivation. This was a real pity, because if we knew what inspired Derek change of heart, perhaps we could use it as a template to change others who are so full of hate.

Well, a few weeks ago, an investigative reporter for the Washington Post decided to find out.

And it turns out that the catalyst for Derek’s change was an invitation to Shabbat dinner!

Here’s the story: when students at New College in Florida found out that they had a leader of the White Nationalist movement in their midst, they were appalled. There were protests, calls for his expulsion from the school, and verbal abuse. Lot’s of sticks swiping at the darkness.

At the time of his original announcement in 2013, Derek said,, “It’s important to point out that the so-called activists who never spoke to me personally but chose to denounce me publicly, intimidate my friends, or otherwise try to peer pressure [me] did not have a positive impact...not to say that I don’t think those who felt marginalized or uncomfortable with me did not have the right to express their negative emotions – but these expressions did not act as catalysts or contribute to my changing mindset.”

But one New College student did make an impact.

Abraham’s descendant, Matthew Stevenson, decided to light a candle and reached out to Derek, inviting him to Shabbat dinner. Derek, who was being shunned by everyone at New College, decided to accept the invitation and went back week after week. For the first time in his life he was faced with diversity. Lively, but warm and eye-opening debates ensued and gradually Derek broke free of the prison of his own mindset.

A little light dispels a lot of darkness

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

If You Think Trump is Bad

“One good deed is worth a thousand sighs” – Chasidic Saying

To those who supported Trump, congratulations. You can stop reading now. The rest of this email is not for you :)

However, for  those completely devastated by the election results. For those who are  depressed, unable to move on, fearful that we have entered a very dark chapter in our history, consider the following.

This week we read the Torah portion of Lech-Lecha, in which we are introduced to Abraham. 

Abraham lived during very dark times.  The “President” at the time was a fellow named Nimrod.

If you think Trump is bad, you’ve never met Nimrod.

He was about as depraved as one can be. “Might makes right” was his entire Weltanschauung.

Yet, Abraham didn’t mope, he didn’t walk around depressed, announcing that the world is coming to end.

Instead, he stood up and took action. He taught, inspired and led by example. He spread his values of morality, charity, equality, compassion and kindness.   

Abraham didn’t yell at the darkness, he lit a candle.  The darkness actually motivated him.  He saw it as a call to action.  

If you feel the situation is dire, then it is selfish to sit around and mope.  Get up and do something. This is your call to action.

Jews are galvanized by darkness, not terrified by it.

Like Abraham your ancestor, share your values.   Not your politics, but rather your values.  Your politics will convince no-one,  your values will inspire everyone.

What is at the core of your politics? What values drive your vote?  Equality? Respect for every human being? Freedom? Tolerance? A responsibility to help the underprivileged?  

Whatever it may be, share those values. Teach, inspire, and most importantly, lead by example. Treat everyone you encounter with full respect, including  complete strangers, your next-door neighbor who irks you,  and yes, even the Trump supporter.  Go out of your way to help the underprivileged, not only the homeless or minorities, but also the guy at work who may be lower on the totem pole.

Don’t yell at the darkness light a candle.

Abraham lit a candle and changed the world forever . You can do the same.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

P.S.  The following videos and articles may help put things in perspective, although I do not personally vouch for any of them. 

-       A 30 minute in depth approach - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YV6PhzgjSs

-       A quick somewhat humorous approach -https://www.facebook.com/crazyrussiandad/videos/1588569608118897/

-       A

short article

that someone sent me

 

Little Things Matter

Do I truly matter? Do my actions really make any difference? Will the world really fall apart if I tell a little lie or commit some other “sin”? 

 
Mr. Anthony Weiner probably didn’t think so when he sent some text messages to a fifteen year old.
 
Yet, his actions are now having a major impact on the elections and may actually determine the next President of the most the powerful country on earth!
 
For the better or worse our actions do make a difference. Every word, thought, and action can have a tremendous impact. 
 
As Maimonides writes, “a Jew must view himself and the entire world as equally balanced between good and evil, one good deed can tip the scale to the good and bring healing to the entire world….”
 
Often we don’t get to see the consequences of our actions, but rest assured that every action creates a ripple effect.
 
 

As a matter of fact, every major event in history can be traced back to a single action performed by a single individual. Like Mohammed Bouazizi who set himself on fire instigating the Arab Spring or Eddie Jacobson, the haberdasher, who convinced President Truman to meet with Chaim Weizmann inspiring America’s recognition of the State of Israel.

 
Remember, G-d does big things with our small deeds. Moses had a stick, David a sling and Samson a jawbone.
 
Had Mr. Weiner been aware of the far-reaching ramifications of his actions he may very well have found the moral courage to refrain from indulging in his vices.
 
The awareness of the far-reaching consequences of every one of our actions can serve as a tremendous source of inspiration and motivation.
 
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Benjy Silverman

What’s Your Destination?

Traveling through life reacting to needs, wants and situations as they arise is like following your GPS without entering a destination first.

If you don’t know where you want to be, you’ll never get there, no matter how fast you run. Or as someone once lamented “I spent my entire life climbing the ladder of success, only to realize, when I got to the top, that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall”

The other day my kids went to one of these Escape rooms. (Groups of people pay money to be trapped in a room, slapped with a time limit, and challenged to find their way out by solving a series of puzzles as a team.) They were given one hour to complete their mission. When they finally made it out they shared how nothing could be taken for granted in the room. Even the most insignificant details contained a clue. Every item, everything they saw or heard, had the potential to bring them closer to fulfilling their mission.

What a great lesson in life. Each of us is sent into this world with a mission, and when our lives are imbued with a clear sense of this mission, even the most insignificant details become valuable opportunities.

But what is the destination? How does one determine his or her mission? For this we have Torah. Science tells you how things are. Religion tells you why they are. 

Now, as we begin the Torah cycle again and come away from a month of inspiring holidays, is the perfect opportunity to take the time to discover and internalize our mission.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

P.S.  Need help discovering your mission?  Consider coming to the first lesson of the new JLI course - How Success Thinks. The first lesson is titled DEFINING YOUR SUCCESS (AND NOT ANYBODY ELSE’S). For more information visit www.chabadrt.org/3409071

A story with a lesson

A colleague shared the following with me and I felt it worthwhile sharing.

 “One night my toddler, Meir, woke  me at 4am. “I’m hungry, bread”

So I went down to the kitchen and made him some bread with margarine. I’m exhausted, it’s 4am, and I have a big day ahead of me. Meanwhile, Meir is sitting calmly, taking his time, bite by bite, as if I’m not there, it’s like I’m household staff.

Meir finished the first slice and announced  “more bread” , so I  made him another.
Then  I asked him if I could have a little piece.  My thought was to engage him, and to teach him to share.

He looked at me from the corner of his eye, he wasn’t happy… So I asked again… slowly, ever so slowly, he tore off a tiny little piece of the corner of the bread, and very softly pushed it in my direction.

I started to laugh. I almost woke up the whole house. C’mon kid… don’t be
so cheap… I gave you the whole thing… and if you want more you know all you
have to do is ask.. but no, he’s not giving so fast…”

What a great metaphor for our relationship with Hashem.

He gave us everything we have, life, health, wisdom to be successful,
opportunities, it’s all His!

But he also asks certain things of us. He asks us to celebrate one day a week with Him, to donate a portion of our earnings to charity, to talk to Him once in a while in prayer, and so on.

He doesn’t need it from us us, it’s all His anyway. He gave us the “bread.”  All He’s asking for is a little piece of what He gave us.

Hashem wants us to have every blessing imaginable:  health, happiness,
prosperity, you name it!

All Hashem really wants is to sit with us at the table and not be ignored.
He doesn’t want to feel like staff. He wants to engage us. He wants to be
involved in our lives.

What a great lesson for life.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

What Netanyahu Did Not Say

Yesterday, at the UN general assembly, Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized Israel's great achievements in agriculture, health, water, cyber and in the fusion of big data, connectivity and artificial intelligence. For example he shared how “Israel leads the world in recycling wastewater. We recycle about 90% of our wastewater. ……. the next country on the list only recycles about 20% of its wastewater, Israel is a global water power”

What he did not address was the secret to Israel’s success. How has a a country of 8 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources become so successful in so many areas?

To understand the success or failure of any society you need to understand its unique culture.

When it comes to Israel though, there’s a challenge. Israel is the ultimate melting pot.  It  has absorbed more than 350 times its population in the last 60 years, by far more than any other nation on earth.

The only thing that all Israelis have in common is their Jewish heritage.  

The cuisine is different, the customs are different, the linguistics and celebrations are all different. But the Torah is the same.

There’s a whole Torah culture that includes a way of looking at life, a system of beliefs and a set of values that is shared by all Jewish Israelis, whether they be Ashkenazi, Sephardi, religious or secular.

Even the most secular Jew in Israel  is a product of generations of Jews that lived and breathed Judaism.  While he may not believe in, or practice Torah, he shares this culture. It’s in his DNA. Whether aware of it or not certain “Torah values” have been transmitted to him from previous generations.  

Judaism is not only a spiritual lifestyle, teaching you the best spiritual path. It is for real life. Real success. Success in relationships, happiness, well-being and even economic success.

The success we are witnessing in Israel today is the sum total, the product of 3000 years of Judaism and  Torah “culture”.

The Talmud declares “As my ancestors planted for me so do I plant for my children”

Israel, and by extension the entire world  today,  is reaping the benefits  of centuries of Torah life and Torah values. But the question each of ask must ask is, are we planting for our children? Will our children benefit from the culture of Torah as we are benefiting from our ancestors? The Torah’s culture cannot continue generation after generation without any conscious effort, without us ever looking into the Torah.

The Modern State of Israel unequivocally shows that when you apply Torah and Jewish values to the world in the 21st century, the result is a stunning success. Why not try it at home?   

Every time you add a little Judaism to your life or your children's, you have given yourself or  them critical tools to succeed in the real world.  

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

P.S. If you would like to find out more about this unique “Torah culture” that inspires such success consider joining our fall course “How Success Thinks”.  The course provides uniquely Jewish ways of thinking to help you develop a growth mindset, identify and cultivate your signature strengths, deal with your weaknesses, and overcome the obstacles to your success. Find out more here.

- Join us for a Farbrengen followed by Selichot, tomorrow night at 11pm

Longevity

Mazal Tov. Yisrael Kristal turned 113 years old yesterday.  September 15th marked 100 years since his Bar Mitzvah!

Earlier this year, Guinness world records officially recognized Yisrael Kristal, a holocaust survivor who barely survived Auschwitz, as the oldest man alive.

But Yisrael doesn't make a big deal about his age. He told Guinness “There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men then me who are no longer alive. My longevity is a gift from G-d”. He takes no credit for living so long.  But what he does take great pride in, and made a big deal out of in his Guinness interview,  is the fact that he has worn Tefillin every day (except Shabat and holidays) for 100 years!

His interview brings to mind the saying “Immortality lies not in how long you live, but in how you live.”  

More important than how many years you live, is how you fill those years.

We invest so much time and energy into our health. We exercise, eat healthy and go to doctors hoping to extend our years, but are we investing as much into the content of those years?

The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, once wished to bless the renowned Chassid Reb Yekusiel Liepler with wealth. Reb Yekusiel  declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. The Rebbe then offered to bless him  with long life. Yet Reb Yekusiel demurred, and replied, “but not peasant years. Not years of those ‘who have eyes, but do not see; who have ears, but do not hear’ — who neither see nor hear G-dliness.”


As far as he was concerned, the only life worth living was one filled with goodness. It matters not so much how many years one lives, but that one should truly be alive during those years.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Responding with Greatness

Optimism doesn't mean that everything will be great.  That’s naivety. Optimism means seeing what’s great within everything.

This week's Torah portion begins, “See, I have placed before you today the blessing and the curse.” This can also be read as: See what I have placed before you today either as a blessing or a curse. We choose how to see our circumstances.

In his book, A Perfect God Created An Imperfect World Perfectly, Rabbi Dr. Elimelech Goldberg, founder of the organization Kids Kicking Cancer,  shares the story of Bernard Johnson.

Bernard had been with Kids Kicking Cancer for almost a year and a half. His mom had abandoned the family when he was very young. Bernard’s dad died a little after his eighth birthday. When he was nine their uncle passed away. That was the same year Bernard was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that had already robbed him of the ability to walk. It was slowly stealing the rest of his body.

While he was still struggling with the cancer, at an event for Kids Kicking Cancer, Bernard shared a few words. Here’s what he had to say:

"And I want to teach you what we do in Kids Kicking Cancer,’ Bernard proclaimed in a loud voice. ‘You can breathe in the light which is your essence and blow out the darkness. You can do this no matter what is going on in your life.’

Optimism does not mean that everything is going to be great. It means that we can respond to everything with greatness.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

 

Going for Gold in Rio

Michael Phelps’ gold medals and purple circles, Simone Biles defying gravity and Aly Raisman’s anxious parents are highlights of the Rio Olympics that we won’t soon forget. But the moment that will be remembered forever, more than any other, is when Abbey D'Agostino stopped in the middle of her race to help another runner who had fallen. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5-fQ2Qda5U). Headlines all over the world declared Abbey as the true Olympic champion.  

 Abbey is the real gold winner of the Rio Olympics.

What a great reminder:  You don’t have to make it to the finish line first to win the gold medal.  You can “win the gold” in the middle of the race too.

Actually, in real life, as many who have lived the rat race can attest to, there is no gold at the finish line. In life, the only place to win the gold is in the middle of the race. If you don’t find gold during the race, you wont find it at the end either; because if you are not happy with what you have, you will never be happy with what you get.

Abbey reminded us that the gold is right in front of our eyes, not at some elusive finish line.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

How McDonald's Taught Me to Smile

A young girl once wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in anticipation of a scheduled meeting between her father and the Rebbe. Her father, a community activist and leader, had always dreamt of retiring to Israel.

“Dear Rebbe, as you may know my father has always wanted to live in Israel. Please make him happy by giving him your consent and blessings to make Aliyah”

The Rebbe acknowledged the girl’s feelings but also gently reminded her of the importance of her father’s work in his community. “I have no doubt that he will feel in his element only in a place where he can fully utilize his knowledge and qualities for the benefit of others. Based on this you will surely realize that he will be truly happy if he continues in his present situation”

True happiness comes from fulfilling your purpose not your desires. Serving others, rather than oneself, is key to happiness.

This can be particularly challenging in today’s culture that places personal fulfillment and feelings above all else. (Is it any surprise that we are the most depressed generation of all time?)

As a young woman recently shared, “College taught me that my feelings are more important than anything. Working in McDonald’s taught me that serving others comes first”.

“At McDonald's, what mattered was not how I felt but how the customers felt…. My job was to make others happy!"
Perhaps this is the secret behind that McDonald's smile. mcdonalds.jpg

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

 

 

 

 

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