Weekly Newsletter Message

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  

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 


Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.