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Weekly Newsletter Message

What’s Wrong with Jewish Men?

Apparently, Jewish men care more about their Judaism than they think they do, and that is creating a problem for Carey Purcell.

The Washington Post recently published an article by Purcell titled “I’m tired of being a Jewish man’s rebellion”.  Purcell, a self-proclaimed WASP, complains about “two serious relationships with Jewish men who at first said religion didn’t matter – and then backtracked and decided it did”

While the article was widely ridiculed for its anti-Semitic undertones and for foolishly blaming overbearing Jewish mothers and rebellious sons, it actually touches upon an important truth that many Jews themselves are unaware of; Judaism is more important to us than we may realize. We may claim to be indifferent, but Judaism is engraved within our souls.

A couple of days ago I received an email from a non-Jewish woman regarding her Jewish husband. “Rabbi Benjy, I have a question that weighs on me, and I can’t seem to get an answer that makes sense:   If one does not believe in G-d, why would one celebrate holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur? It makes no sense to me at all.”

She’s right, it makes no sense, as long as you understand Judaism as a religion. But it’s not. A religion is something you believe in and do, but Judaism is not a religion, it is our very identity. And even if we think we don’t believe nor care, Judaism is still the very core of our being. This is what she and Purcell are perceiving.

In the book “The Top Five regrets of the Dying” hospice nurse Bronnie Ware shares the number one regret of the dying; “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself” in other words, I wish my life would have reflected what was really important to me, and for the Jew, that’s his or her Judaism.

Since Judaism is so important to us, we should have the courage to allow it to find expression in our daily lives so that we live life true to ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Becoming an Optimist

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Unlike Bart Simpson, Jews always give thanks.  

Life is a mixed bag. No life is perfect and no life is all bad, but naturally we focus on the bad, we are hardwired to obsess over what is wrong with our lives rather than what is right, and as a result we are unhappy with our lot.  And no matter how much our lot improves, we are still unhappy because if we are not happy with what we have, we will not be happy with what we get.

The solution is to give thanks.

Recently science has discovered that the brain is malleable and through repeated behaviors we can actually rewire our brain. By giving thanks for the good in our lives we can actually train our brain to focus on the positive.

This is the secret of the Thanksgiving sacrifice that we read about in this week’s Parsha. This sacrifice is the origin of the “Gomel” blessing. After surviving a dangerous situation, one recites a blessing thanking G-d "Who bestows good things on the unworthy".  

We often take life for granted, however after a “close call” we are reminded that life itself is a gift. And by actively thanking G-d for life itself we train ourselves to appreciate the myriads of small blessings in our lives.

The “Gomel” blessing serves as a reminder; If you are alive, you have what it is to be thankful for, how much more so if your basic necessities and beyond are met.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

Stephen Hawkings – A Man of Great Faith

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawkings passed away on Wednesday.

Hawkings taught us faith.  

Yes, I know he referred to himself as an atheist, however, while he did not believe in G-d, he did believe in G-d’s creation.

Hawkings believed in the beauty, depth and grandeur of G-d's universe, as he once shared “We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.” 

More significantly, Hawkings believed in the human spirit. When he was 21 years old he was diagnosed with ALS and told that he had two years to live, but he believed in himself and what he could still accomplish despite his disability, as he shared in an interview with the NY Times “My advice to other disabled people would be……. Don't be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”

In an interview with Diane Sawyer, he summarized his view on life: “One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away.” Hawkings believed in our ability to love, to live with meaning, and to reach higher.

The Torah uses 34 verses to tell us about G-d’s creation of the entire universe, yet spends a whopping 500-600 verses telling us about the construction of the tabernacle, the portable “home for G-d”, that mankind created. It’s as if G-d is saying “Look what mankind is capable of doing”. Instead of pointing at Himself saying “look what I can do” He points to us and says “look at what you can do!”  

Some people believe in G-d’s greatness but not man’s, Hawkings was the opposite. As Jews we are called on to believe in both.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

Nikolas Cruz and My Grandmother

How do you respond to pain and suffering?

Nicholas Cruz had a troubled and challenging childhood.

So did my grandmother.

She had a terrible childhood, she’s a holocaust survivor.

Some people respond to pain by becoming cold hearted and cynical, while others become more sensitized to the pain of others.

Some try to lessen their pain by inflicting it upon another, while others do so by lessening it for another.

Some victims try to regain a sense of control and power by controlling and abusing others, while others do so by taking control of their own lives.

When wronged by “society”, some attempt to harm society in revenge, while others try to fix and improve society.

Cruz responded to his pain by killing 17 young and innocent souls. My grandmother responded to her pain by bringing 10 beautiful souls into this world and showering them with love.  

Rather than dedicating their lives to revenge and hate, holocaust survivors built homes and families and raised up the next generation to be strong, proud citizens of their country. They built the nation of Israel, and they built communities in America.

This week’s Torah begins with the words: “Command the Israelites to bring you clear olive oil, crushed for the light, so that the lamp may always burn” The sages drew a comparison between the olive and the Jewish people. “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi asked, why is Israel compared to an olive? Just as the olive only yields its oil by being crushed so Israel fulfills [its full potential] only when it is pressed by suffering.”

There’s a great parable that has been circulating for a while:

Once upon a time a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn't know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot.

After twenty minutes he took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup. Turning to her he asked. "Daughter, what do you see?"

"Potatoes, eggs, and coffee," she hastily replied.

"Look closer," he said, "and touch the potatoes." She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.

"Father, what does this mean?" she asked.

He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity– the boiling water.

However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak.

The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.

However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they released their fragrance and flavor and changed the water.

"Which are you," he asked his daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean? "

We do our best to avoid adversity and suffering, but when it happens we must rise to occasion and become better people as a result.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

 

 

 

Letters of Love

Our community joins a nation in shock to express our deepest condolences and sympathies to the many people whose lives will never be the same after the school shooting in Parkland, Fl. We cry for them and we cry for our country. This tragedy has shaken us to the core. It has touched a very deep place in each one of us.

After the tragic deaths of the two sons of Ahron, the Torah says “and Ahron was silent”. Silent because no words can possibly express the deep pain and anguish, and silent because words are cheap. It is a time for action not words.

The Torah reminds us that we must respond to tragedy with action. Each of us must do our part, no matter how small it may seem, to ensure that this does not happen again, and to comfort and support the families affected.

With this in mind we invite you  to join our   “Letters of Love" campaign.

We are collecting letters of love, support and Mitzvot for the family of Alyssa Alhadeff, a Chabad Hebrew School alum, who was tragically killed in  the shooting. Please include Mitzvot that your family will do in Alyssa’s memory thereby bringing more “light” and goodness into this dark world.  

I will be forwarding the messages to the family on February 22nd. Letters can be mailed to Chabad , 303 Broadway in Dobbs Ferry or emailed to office@chabadrt.org. Please write “letters of love” in the subject line.

It is a small, yet practical act, that I’m sure the Alhadeff family will appreciate.

May we only have Simchas to share with one another from now on.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Midlife Crisis

A 19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, wrote that "life swings like a pendulum between boredom and pain" What he meant was that if we have achieved our goals in life, then we are in a state of boredom. If we have not achieved our goals, then we are in a state of pain (or frustration).

This pretty much sums up what many face during a midlife crisis.  Those who have gotten where they want to be in life are asking themselves: now what? Those who haven’t gotten there, don’t see themselves ever getting there.

This happens because our goals are binary.  Either we've succeeded and are bored, or we have not, and are in pain. 

This is the challenge of fixed goals. Getting married, moving to the suburbs, raising a family and achieving a certain level of professional success are all examples of fixed goals.  Either you succeed or you don't. 

Judaism, on the other hand, introduces us to limitless goals. Limitless goals focus on the process more than the result, on the how more than the what.   How you make your money, is more important than how much money you make. 

Judaism values the effort, integrity, and kindness one puts into to each moment and each encounter, regardless of results. 

In this mindset, every day can be a success but you never "get there", you are never actually done.

In this week’s portion, we read about the giving of the Torah.  Imagine how anti-climactic this must have been. After waiting and suffering for 210 years as slaves in Egypt, they reached the apex of spiritual life and experienced G-d at Mt Sinai. Now what? What else can they possibly accomplish?  Yet, shortly after receiving the Torah, G-d says "enough sitting around the mountain, travel forward" Each day presents us with new mountains to climb and new opportunities to better ourselves and the world.

The Torah portion challenges us to re-examine our goals. Are all our goals binary, or do we also have limitless goals? Valuing process over results lowers our risk of suffering a midlife crisis.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

PS. Join us for First Friday services tonight at 6:30 pm 

The Goal of Feminism

What is the goal of feminism?

Is it equality alone?  Or is there also a greater goal?

The Zohar on this weeks Parsha states, regarding the Song of Miriam,  that it is the unique song of the Jewish woman that will bring healing and redemption to the world. (see www.chabadrt.org/2744)

To elucidate, I’d like to share with you Hinda’s speech from Spa for the Soul this past Sunday.

"The future is female!

No, we’re not getting rid of all the men, sorry ladies :)

Maybe I should say, the future is femininity (rather than the future is female) It’s a little more PC :)

Judaism, since its inception, has championed femininity.

There are feminine values and masculine values, and while each has its time and place, and men and women each have the capacity for both, Judaism has always placed feminine values above masculine values.  

Examples of feminine values are empathy, nurturing and patience, whereas assertiveness, courage and competitiveness are examples of masculine values.

Before the Torah was given masculine values were respected, while feminine values rejected.

Great men were those who vanquished their enemy. Forgiveness was seen a weakness and competitiveness and ruthlessness were the hallmarks of society.

But the Torah came along and said “love the stranger, care for the orphan and protect the weak”.

Judaism teaches that peace is greater than war, forgiveness the master of vengeance.

Judaism champions the nurturing, as opposed to the competitive, spirit within us. Essentially, Judaism started a feminine revolution.

And who better positioned to carry out this revolution than the Jewish woman.

Yes, we can be masculine when we need to (we have proven that we can be assertive, independent and courageous) but that’s not our unique message and contribution to the world. The world has had plenty of masculinity, it is time for the feminine voice to be heard!

Expressing our G-d given gift of femininity we can teach the world to be more compassionate and nurturing.

We can teach the world that peace is greater than war, that bravery is found in acts of kindness, that how much our children admire us is far more important than how much our business associates do, that our rank in the Forbes 400 is secondary to where we stand in our relationships, and that to empower others is the greatest form of power.

The future is femininity! It is time for our nurturing feminine spirit to bring healing and redemption to a fractured world. "

Of course the above applies for men as well as women. While there is a time and place for courage, assertiveness, competitiveness and other "masculine values",  we must cultivate our "feminine values" such as empathy, patience and our ability to nurture and love.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

 

Greatness is a Habit

Wouldn’t you love to be a more positive, optimistic and joyful person?

Well you can and all it takes is practice.  

In this week’s Parsha, we read about the first seven plagues. Despite the harshness of these plagues, Pharaoh refuses to let the Jews go because “G-d had hardened his heart”.

But what happened to Pharaoh’s free choice? How could Pharaoh be punished for refusing to comply with G‑d’s demands to grant freedom to the Israelites, if G‑d Himself “hardened his heart”?

Nachmanadies explains that G-d’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart during the last five plagues was a result of Pharoh stubbornly hardening his own heart during the first five plagues.

In other words, Pharaoh had habituated himself to be stubborn and hardhearted. At this point, after years of a hardened heart, it had become his natural disposition, it was no longer his choice.

With today’s understanding of neuroplasticity, this is even easier to understand. Repeated behaviors create new neural pathways that then become natural and automatic. Due to Pharaoh’s decisions and habits he was now hardwired to be hardhearted.

Just as this is the case with bad habits such as stubbornness, so too it is with good habits.

Push yourself to act joyfully or think optimistically often enough and it will become second nature. You literally rewire your brain.

You will be good at what you practice. Practice worrying and you will be the best worrier, practice kindness and you will be the kindest person.

Greatness isn’t a gift, it’s habit 

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

Are you ready for 2018?

Will 2018 be a good year for our world?

That’s totally up to you.

One of the most revolutionary and empowering ideas Judaism introduced to the world is that history does not unfold randomly and by chance, but rather it is guided or created by our actions. We are not mere spectators, observing history evolve, but rather we are active participants shaping and guiding it.

We don’t witness history, we make history!

The future depends on our actions. How we behave today will define our world tomorrow. And in this regard, it is the small mitzvot that have the greatest effect.

We recently celebrated Chanukah. Many have the custom to place the Menorah at the window in order to bring the light and message of the Menorah to the outside world. Now, if we are trying light up the world, wouldn’t we be better off creating a huge communal bonfire on Main street? Wouldn’t that be more effective than my small flames on my personal Menorah? However, the message of the Menorah is that it is precisely my small personal candles that illuminate the world. It is the small mitzvot that we each do, that determine what our world will look like in 2018 and beyond.

There was once a shipwreck stuck at the bottom of the ocean.  The crew employed a crane to lift the ship – but the crane couldn’t get the ship to move without its chain snapping.

Then one day someone dove into the water and connected one end of a thin cable to the wreckage and the other to a small hot air balloon. Everyone laughed. If the huge crane could not lift the wreckage, there’s no way this little cable could do it! But the diver wasn’t done. He dove down again, tying another cable – and another, and another.  Soon everyone got the point and they all started attaching cables. Sure enough a short while later, with hundreds of little cables attached, the shipwreck slowly rose to the surface.

Looking forward to making 2018 a great year!

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman  

Did you have a bad week?

That’s up to you to decide.

In this week’s Torah portion Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers and says “"I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that G-d sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But G-d sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but G-d."

Joseph could easily have seen himself as victim, sold by his jealous brothers, but instead he chose to see himself as an agent of G-d on an important mission, one with tremendous potential.  By framing events in this way, he freed himself from an emotional prison of anger, resentment, frustration and victimhood.

There is always more than one possible interpretation of what happens to us and we have the ability to choose between the different interpretations.  (According to the most up-to-date scientific research, none of us experience objective or true reality as it is, instead we each create our own version of reality. Our brain interprets reality the way it chooses to.  Watch this TED talk for some examples.)

In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, when facing challenge, ask yourself “What does this bad experience enable me to do that I could not have done otherwise?”

Why choose a negative interpretation when you can choose a positive one?

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

 

 

Why Be Jewish?

“Why Be Jewish?” is a question we only have the luxury of asking today. In the past, the anti-Semite gave the Jew no choice. The Jew was refused entrance to mainstream society.

But today we live in a different world. We are accepted and welcomed and can easily assimilate. For the first time history our children and grandchildren can ask “Why be Jewish?”

Do we know how to answer the question?

The answer of course is Chanukah :)

No, I’m not referring to the Chanukah Gelt and latkes, but rather the message of Chanukah.

Why be Jewish?

Because the world needs you to be Jewish.

Judaism is the most powerful idea that the world has ever seen.  Might does not make right; every individual is created in the image of G‑d, and is therefore unique and valuable; humans are partners with G‑d in creation, with a mission to better the world - These are ideas the world the world urgently needs to hear.

Judaism teaches lessons that the world needs to learn. A family that keeps Shabbat is always reminded of what is really important—that there is more to life than accumulating wealth. The kosher laws teach us that we are not mere animals that must feed our every urge and desire. A mezuzah on the door tells the world that this home is built for a higher purpose.

On Chanukah we light the candles at the window facing the street to remind us that through our personal Judaism we bring light and healing to the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

More Sexual Assault Allegations!

Are the growing number of sexual assault allegations making you feel "sick"? Are these revelations a sign of the decline and moral decaying of our society? 

There is no question that these revelations are discouraging, however, I actually see them as a healthy sign, not the opposite! 

Think of eczema or other skin rashes. They are unsightly and uncomfortable, however they are actually signs that your body is in a healing phase, which is a good thing. The skin is trying to expel waste, it is rejecting toxins as an attempt to return the body to health. 

For far too long, sexual harassment was ignored and brushed under the carpet.  It was accepted as “part of life”.  Today, we are finally rejecting it. The process is unsightly and uncomfortable, but it’s a sign that we are slowly beginning to heal.  

May we continue on this path to full “global health” until we realize a world in which power is no longer seen as a tool to manipulate and control, but to help and uplift. 

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Why is G-d doing this to me?

The story is told of a sculptor who was commissioned to design a bronze statue of a horse for the town square. After many months of work, he produced a sculpture with perfect detail – showing every sinew and hair follicle. It was truly a masterpiece! However, when the statue was proudly placed in the town square, everyone walked by and completely ignored it! The sculptor was very disappointed to find all his hard work going unappreciated. Finally a friend said: "I think the problem is that the horse is so perfect that people think it's real!  But if you would make a crack, then people will notice it as a work of art."

Sometimes it takes a crack to get us to appreciate the art in our lives. Only when something goes wrong do we begin to notice all that was right.  

We kvetch, complain and are miserable when things are not well, but  do we praise, thank and rejoice when they are? 

I often hear the question "Why is G-d doing this to me?" when people are facing challenges, I'm still waiting for someone to ask the same question when  all is well.

Everyday has its blessings, everyday has its good moments. Enjoy them!

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Are you a thermometer or thermostat?

This week’s Parshah opens with the words “And Sarah’s life was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years – the years of the life of Sarah.

Rashi explains that the Torah repeats the words "the years of Sarah's life" to teach us something about the quality of those years. As Rashi says, “All [the years] were equally good.”

Really? All her years were equally good? What about all the years she struggled with infertility? What about the time she was held captive in Pharoh’s palace or the troubles she had with Hagar?

Can we honestly say that she had an easy and good life?

It depends how you define a good life.

There are two kinds of people - thermometer people and thermostat people.

Just like a thermometer reflects the temperature in its environment, some people are reactive, they are influenced by what’s going on around them. So, for them, when they say, “Life is good,” it really means, “I like the way I’m being treated right now.”

Then there are thermostats. Just like a thermostat regulates the temperature in its environment. there are people who are proactive, looking for ways to uplift their environment. … for them  “Life is good” means “I get to do good” not “I am being treated well.”  They’re happy because they get to serve not because they’re getting good service.

Sarah was a thermostat, and as a result all her years were equally good. Regardless of what was happening to her, she reacted with goodness.

If you want to be guaranteed a good life, make sure you’re a thermostat.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

 

IPhone X

Have you ordered your IPhone X yet?

The day has come. We are spending over a thousand dollars on our cellphones! And it’s well worth it. What these little gadgets can do is truly amazing.

We have advanced so much in so many areas of life over the last decades thanks to science and technology.

We now have the answers to so many questions that our parents could never answer, thanks to advances in all fields of knowledge.

However, there is ONE question that still remains unanswered: And it is the most important question of all:

WHY? - The why of Life. Why are we here. What's the purpose of the life we are given.  

As Mark Twain famously said:  “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Its important because as Viktor Frankel writes in Man's Search for Meaning: “Those who have a 'why' to life, can bear with almost any 'how'.”

Your IPhone, amazing as it is, cannot answer this one simple question. Nor can science.  Science teaches what our world is, it is Religion that teaches us why it is.

There is only one place to go to discover the “why” of life. The Torah.  Join a Torah class today :)

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

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