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Weekly Newsletter Message

How satisfied are you with life?

In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, we find the commandment to recite Birchat Hamazon,  Grace after Meals, “And you will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Lord, your God”. 

While the Torah requires one to bless when satisfied, the Talmud says that one should bless after eating a piece of bread as small as an olive. 

Satisfaction in life is a result of one’s mindset not the size of one’s portion. No matter how large one’s portion, there’s always larger. If one chooses to focus on what is still lacking, they will never find satisfaction, no matter the size of the portion. If on the other hand, one focuses on what they already have, they will always be satisfied, even with just an olive. 

By requiring us to recite the blessing after eating just an olive size portion, the Talmud is reminding us that having more will NOT increase one’s level of satisfaction. If you are not satisfied with a little you will not be satisfied with a lot.  

Our sages taught “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot”.  Each of us is allotted our unique portion in life in order to fulfill our purpose and maximize our potential. From this perspective we lack absolutely nothing and can find true satisfaction with whatever we have. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Would you rather a meaningful life or one of convenience?

A meaningful life is one full of doing good and bringing benefit to those around you at every opportunity, which often is not convenient. Meaning is associated with effort, growth and challenge. The things that are the most difficult in your life—a high-pressure job, raising kids, caring for a loved one—are often the same things that add the most meaning (and long-term happiness)

The more you seek convenience, the more you experience disappointment and frustration because every inconvenience or challenge is an impediment to your vision of an easy life.

On the other hand, if you seek meaning, you won’t be so thrown off by those inconveniences and you can even find a way to add more meaning as a result. That very same inconvenience or challenge can be seen as an opportunity to make yourself a better person and make the world a better place.

Everyone experiences difficulties, but if you seek meaning rather than convenience the disappointment and frustration will be far less.

It’s like going to the gym. If you go to the gym to relax, as if it’s a spa, you will be sorely disappointed, but if you go to the gym to exercise, the work will be just as hard, but the experience totally different.  

During those last few lifts at the gym, when your muscles are burning, if remind yourself why you are there and you will find the strength to push through.

The same is true with life in general. As Jews we have a daily reminder to seek meaning more than convenience.  It’s called Modeh Ani. The Modeh Ani is a one-line prayer recited first thing each morning that serves as a reminder as to why we are here. (see more here)

Try it out. The work will be just as hard but the experience totally different.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

Thai Cave Rescue

What an inspiring story!  Divers and rescuers from around the world accomplished (what many referred to as) an impossible rescue.

 

It is a testament to what mankind is capable of. We can accomplish the impossible.

So why don’t we?

Why is there so much dysfunction all around us? Why is homelessness rampant? Why is our healthcare system broken? Why are there no cures for many diseases?  

It’s not because these problems are too large, but rather because we are caught up in politics and pettiness. If we could get rid of personal agendas and politics we would solve every one of them.

But does it take a crisis to put all agenda's aside? Can we throw away the pettiness on an average day?

This week we read a double Torah portion. The second portion, Masei, reviews the Jews journey through the desert and it’s not a very flattering review. The forty years in the desert were full of dysfunction, complaining and rebelling.

But there was one exception; after the infamous sin of the Golden Calf, G-d said: Let them build something together. Instruct the Jews to build a home (tabernacle) for me. This simple command transformed the Jews. During the whole construction of the tabernacle there were no complaints and no dysfunction. The Jews came together and rose to the occasion.

Building something together enables us to transcend our individuality and the impossible becomes possible. But absent a shared goal we descend into individual pettiness and personal agendas and the possible becomes impossible.

During the Thai cave rescue there was a crisis that brought us together, but we don’t have to wait for an acute crisis to build together. All we need is a vision.

This is true on a personal, national and global level.

On a personal level we'll use the example of a marriage. A marriage with a vision, in which the individuals see themselves as coming together to build something greater than themselves, is a marriage of harmony that transcends personal agendas.

On a national level - the cure to the dysfunction in America today is to clarify our national vision. Do we know what we are building together? Is there clarity in our education system and beyond to what it is we are aiming to build?

When we are busy building something together our political differences complement each other, contributing to the “building project” in their unique way, rather than detracting from one another.

And finally on a global level, working together to “build a home for G-d in this world”, we can accomplish the “impossible” and bring peace, prosperity and harmony to our world.  

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

 

The Family Separation Crisis

Jen Adams Beason, a school teacher, recently asked her students to write about an invention they wish had never been created. Their response – The cell-phone. As one second grader wrote “"I don't like the phone because my [parents] are on their phone every day ... I hate my mom's phone and I wish she never had one," Her comment has since gone viral and is all over the media.

Is technology separating us from our loved ones?

Winston Churchill famously said “Never waste a good crisis”

You may be familiar with the Biblical story of Jacob and the Angel. Esav’s guardian Angel attacks Jacob. After an all-night struggle the angel must return to heaven, however, Jacob will not let him go so easily, “Bless me before you go” he says to the Angel. And sure-enough the Angel blesses him by changing his name to Israel.

You would expect Jacob to simply say good riddance! Why would Jacob ask for a blessing from an Angel who fought with him all night?

Jacob did not want to waste a crisis. He refused to move on until he found a way to turn his struggle into a blessing.

(This is the meaning behind the story of the copper snake in this week’s Torah portion. Moses hangs a copper snake on a pole as a source of healing after Jews had been poisoned by snakes. In other words, the curse itself became the source of the blessing).

Our nation had a very difficult week witnessing young children being torn from their parents. It was emotionally painful for all of us.

A crisis of this magnitude must not be wasted!

Now that this practice has ended, we can’t simply move on. We must find a way to transform this crisis into a blessing.

The blessing should not be limited to politics. For those of us who shed a tear for those poor children, this was a personal crisis not just a political one. And as such the blessing must be a personal one, not just a political one.

The greater the crisis, the more deeply it affects you, the more it ought to change you for the better.

Perhaps we can use the emotional pain we experienced watching children being separated from their parents to motivate us to put down our cell-phones and grow closer to the people we love.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

 

Anthony Bourdain’s Mistake

Last week our world lost a good man. Anthony Bourdain inspired the world through food and travel. He was loyal, brutally honest, and brought people together through his work. 

In a revealing comment regarding his childhood, Bourdain shared “God was never mentioned -- so I was annoyed by neither religion nor church nor any notions of sin or damnation” 

Bourdain perceived religion to be an annoyance that restricted one’s choices, because of some belief in hell or notions of guilt. 

He felt fortunate to be free from the shackles of religion, able to pursue his hearts every desire.  As Bourdain told a reporter from the New Yorker “"I travel around the world, eat a lot of **** , and basically do whatever the **** I want”.

But he was mistaken.

Following one’s heart indiscriminately is not freedom. Quite the opposite. 

The teachings of Chasidut differentiate between “inner will” and “outer will”.

The “inner will” refers to wants that are inherent, whereas the “outer will” refers to wants that are a reaction to external stimuli. 

When we desire an enticing experience that pleases our senses and draws us in, we are expressing our “outer will” since we are reacting to the outside world.  Your “inner will”, on the other hand, comes from a place deep within you. It's what you really want in life. 

I can’t tell you what your “inner will” is and what you really want in life, that’s up to you to figure out. However, I can tell you, that if it merely feeds the senses, you are probably heading in the wrong direction. 

Since the “outer will” is often “louder” than the subtler “inner will”, we spend our days on this never-ending goose chase feeding the “outer will” but are left feeling empty and unfulfilled.  We then double down and feed the “outer will” even more, reasoning that if we are not satisfied, then we must need even more. But we will never truly be satisfied because you can’t satisfy the “inner will” by feeding the “outer will”!  (As Bourdain himself said, “I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit, and everything that followed in my life — the food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive chase for the next thing, whether it was drugs or some other new sensation — would all stem from this moment.")  

It takes discipline to ensure that the “outer will” doesn’t hijack our lives. Often, one must say no to the “outer will” in order to satisfy the "inner will”.  

Bourdain was a good person but he was mistaken in this regard. Religion is not about avoiding hell but actualizing our “inner will” and truest self.  He was a slave not to the “shackles” of religion, but to pleasure, sensation, addiction and the “outer will”. 

Bourdain’s life behooves us to take the time to discover our “inner will” and realign our lives accordingly. 

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

PS. Please join us tomorrow at 12:15 pm for Sparks of Wisdom in honor of the Rebbe's Yahrzeit.  Sparks of Wisdom is a new discussion-based social learning experience that delves into 10 profound ideas handpicked from the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings, each exploring a fresh perspective to an important area of our lives. 

Chabad Rivertowns in the News this week:

The Enterprise

Chabad.org 

Lohud.com 

Patch.com  

Are You Looking Out For Yourself?

Ironically, it is not in your best interest to look out for your best interest!

This week’s Torah portion describes Moses as exceedingly humble.

What does it mean to be humble? Did Moses really consider himself inferior or less than others? Did he not appreciate his great talents? Did he not realize that he stood head and shoulders above everyone else?

Humility in Judaism does not mean thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.

Moses was well aware of his greatness but his life was other-centered, not self-centered. His talents were completely directed towards the benefit of the community, not himself. The arrogant person sees only himself, Moses saw past himself. This is true humility.

Why embrace this type of humility?

Because you will be happier.

The less your life is about you the better it Is for you.

 I’ll prove it to you.

The next time you are really upset, go and do a mitzvah. See if you can remain upset during the act. You can’t. It’s impossible.

This is the power of humility. It allows you to see past, or transcend, your limited self and truly connect with the people and world around you. On the other hand, self-centered people see only themselves which leads to loneliness and depression.

How does one attain humility?

It’s actually quite simple.

It’s all about the questions you ask yourself.

Train yourself to ask “What am I giving to this relationship?” rather than “What am I getting out of this relationship?” Instead of always asking “What’s in it for me?” ask “Will this benefit others? When you wake up in the morning ask “What can I give to the world today?” rather than “What can I squeeze out of the world today?”

These simple questions will habituate you to see life through the lens of humility rather than arrogance and lead you to a life of connectedness and happiness.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

 

The Royal Wedding

Did you watch the wedding? (not live of course, it was on Shabbat:))

Apparently, we are enamored by the royal family. Millions of well-wishers tuned in to celebrate with Prince Harry and Meghan last week.

It’s not easy being a Royal. There are all sorts of "rules" or protocols to be followed. Constantly in the public eye, every word or action must be fitting for royalty. 

Prince Harry struggled with this for a while, but eventually came to appreciate that being royal is a privilege not a burden. In order to be Royal, one must act royally.

As Jews we can relate, for we are also Royals. As G-d says in the Torah “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation”. 

Like the Royals, there’s plenty of protocol, we have many rules (613 to be precise).  And like I once heard from a media personality "Jews are news", we are constantly under public scrutiny and must therefore ensure that every word or action is fitting for the name that we carry as Jews. Finally, like Prince Harry we can choose to see Royal life, and the rules that come along with it, as restrictive or a privilege.

Now, I realize that I may have just offended many of my readers. Most Jews cringe at the notion of being called royalty or the "chosen nation". We find it arrogant and hate-inducing.

Yet, at the same time, we are perfectly comfortable with the Royal family. Not only are we not bothered, we are enamored by them and wish them well. When Prince Harry and Meghan left the Chapel in the Royal carriage, not one of the media commentators recoiled in disgust or referred to them as arrogant. But tell a Jew that he is royalty, and he responds, “no, no, G-d forbid! I’m just like everyone else!”

Perhaps this is because we misunderstand what it means to be royal or the “chosen nation”. 

It doesn't mean you are greater than others, but rather that you have a greater responsibility.

Prince Harry, not by virtue of anything he did, was born to certain parents and as a result represents the Crown and the British people and is called on to behave accordingly. Embracing his role as a Royal is not a sign of arrogance but rather of humility!

A Jew is not better than anyone else. But he is a descendant of Abraham and Sarah, and as a result represents the Jewish people and G-d. We are royal, not because of anything we have done, but simply because of who we were born to. As with Prince Harry, embracing our royalty, by living up to the standards of the Torah and being a “light unto the nations”, stems from humility not arrogance.

The nations of the world will not hate us for behaving in a Royal manner, they actually expect it from us.   They hold us to a higher standard and rightfully so.

Prince Harry matured and now embraces his role as a Royal. It is time for us to do the same!  

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

Laurel or Yanny?

How was your day?

How’s your marriage?

What’s your neighbor like?

A few years ago my brother went with a group from his community to visit Israel.  During the trip Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz addressed the group and concluded with these powerful words,  “When you return to America, what you share about Israel says more about you than about Israel.”

Whether you hear Laurel or Yanny has more to do with you than the actual reality. The same is true with life in general.

How you answered the questions above is more a reflection of yourself than the reality.   

We choose which part of reality to focus on.

It is up to us to see, hear and discover the good in on our circumstances and the people around us

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Life Difficult?

Is your life difficult? 

This week’s Torah portion includes the prohibition of giving an indentured servant meaningless tasks. You may have paid a fortune for this individual to serve at your beck and call, however work without purpose is considered an unbearable burden. It doesn’t matter whether the task is difficult or easy, what matters is whether it serves any purpose, because what makes work unbearable is not it’s level of difficulty but it’s lack of meaning.

The same is true with life in general.  What makes a life unbearable is not it’s level of difficulty but it’s lack of meaning.  On the other hand, purpose and meaning can uplift even a difficult life, asVictor Frankl would say “A life with a why can bear any how

We spend a lot of time, energy, and mind space trying to improve our circumstances, but our Torah portion reminds us that we should invest at least as much in finding purpose and infusing every aspect of our lives with meaning.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

Forget About Being Right

Why should I give in? I’m right and s/he is wrong! Why should I be the one to apologize?  I did nothing wrong!

Sound familiar?

This is one of the differences between children and adults. Children don’t care about being right as much as adults. Children can get into a fight and yet two minutes later they're playing together happily as if nothing happened.  Adults get into a fight and they can go decades without talking to each other.

Why the difference?

Children would rather be happy than right, whereas adults would rather be right than happy.

An adult can go a lifetime missing out on a relationship with his own sibling or parent only because he insists that he is right and the other party has to change or apologize. Of course, the other party feels the same way and as a result the fight is never resolved.

Children, on the other hand, don't care as much about being right, they'd rather just be happy and enjoy each other. 

All too often we get caught up with being right despite the possible negative repercussions.  This is especially true in adult relationships.

The next time you get into a dispute, stop focusing on who is right and focus on what you need to do to be happier, and your relationships will be a lot better off.

It's more important to do right than to be right.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

 

Mazal Tov!

As a fourth generation Englishmen, I called my father to wish him a Mazal Tov on the occasion of the birth of a new royal baby. “There’s just one thing that’s bothering me” I said, “who on earth dresses up like that seven hours after having a baby, with high heels and all!?” (I was referring to the now famous picture of Duchess Kate standing on the front steps of the Hospital shortly after giving birth)

“Well, she’s not just any mother” my father responded “She’s royalty, she represents the crown and the British people! She can’t exactly walk out in pajamas!”

Which got me thinking.

We all have a profound need deep inside of us to feel significant and will do whatever it takes to feel important. Often to our own detriment.

Everyone has their way of feeling significant. Some people work harder, others run for political office, while others turn to crime.

What makes you feel significant in the world? What do you do to feel important?

The problem is that no matter how much we achieve, deep down we still feel insignificant. At the end of the day, we sense that we are nothing more than a speck of dust in this vast universe, and the fact that we have one more zero on our bank statement or 100 or even 100,000 more friends on Facebook does nothing to change that reality.  

No matter how much we try it’s never enough, and as a result we are driven to earn even more money, reach higher office, wield more power, or act even more outlandish (think Hollywood J) all in the hopes of finally feeling significant! It’s never ending.

But Kate Middleton is different. Her significance doesn’t come from herself and her personal achievements, but from what she represents.

As long as we live only for ourselves, we are limited to ourselves, and will never feel significant. It is only once we rise above ourselves by representing something beyond ourselves that we begin to feel truly significant.

The picture of Kate on the hospital steps reminds us that our true significance comes from what we represent not what we accomplish.

The 2004 movie Miracle tells the story of the amazing victory of the US Men’s Hockey team. During one crucial scene, the coach yells at the players “When you pull on that jersey you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front (USA) is far more important than the one on the back (their individual names)”

As long as you are solely focused on the name on the back of the jersey you can never attain true greatness.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

A Guide To Misery

In this weeks Parsha we read about the laws of Tzaraat. Tzaraat (often mistranslated as “leprosy”) is a supra-natural plague, which can afflict people as well as garments or homes. 

When describing the status of a Tzaraat affliction on one’s clothing, the Torah states “Im lo hafach hanegah es eino”, if it has not changed “eino”, then the garment is rendered impure. “Eino” literally means his eye, so the verse can be read as saying that the garment is deemed impure because the individual did not change his “eye”, in other words; his problems stem from his perspective.

Often it is not one’s circumstances that needs changing but rather how one chooses to see those circumstances.

With the above in mind, I share with you a post I shared a few years ago.

A Guide To Misery

It's not easy to be miserable. Hopefully this short guide will help:

1. Feel Entitled.

The universe owes you a better life. Expect attention and respect from others.  Life owes you and you were put here to collect.

2. Focus on Problems.

Keep track and constantly review your problems. Remember you can't move on to anything unless everything is resolved.

3. Magnify.

Its difficult to be miserable when you keep things in perspective.

4. Be Ungrateful.

Discount all the good in your life as a given. Focus on all the ways life disappoints you. In time you'll even the see the bad in the good!

And don't forget, misery loves company, the more you share it with others the more you'll wind up having.

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Benjy Silverman 

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 

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