Rabbi Rael Blumenthal

The world is still demanding answers. What will be the day after? When we finally defeat Hamas; when the hostages are safely home... What will happen afterwards?

The truth is that we don’t know. Or at least, I don’t know.

Perhaps there is some hidden file with a well thought out plan. Perhaps there are think tanks of the greatest military and political minds of our time who have already resolved all of these existential questions.

But here’s the great secret: We don’t need to know step two before we complete step one. This is true on a national level in Israel, as well as on a personal level in Avodas Hashem.

It is this lesson that captures the history and Avoda of Shabbos Hagadol and Pesach.

The Tur (אורח חיים ת״ל:א) explains:

שבת שלפני הפסח קורין אותו שבת הגדול והטעם לפי שנעשה בו נס גדול שפסח מצרים מקחו בעשור כדכתיב בעשור לחודש הזה ויקחו להם שה לבית אבות שה לבית ופסח שיצאו ישראל ממצרים היה ביום ה' כדאיתא בסדר עולם ונמצא שי' בחדש היה שבת ולקחו להם כל אחד שה לפסחו וקשר אותו בכרעי מטתו ושאלום המצריים למה זה לכם והשיבו לשחטו לשם פסח במצות השם עלינו והיו שיניהם קהות על ששוחטין את אלהיהן ולא היו רשאין לומר להם דבר ועל שם אותו הנס קורין אותו שבת הגדול:

The Shabbos before Pesach is called “Shabbos HaGadol” (The Great Shabbos). And the reason is because a miracle occurred during the Exodus from Egypt. On the 10th [they took a sheep] as it says: “On the tenth of this month you shall take for yourselves a sheep into your homes.” And the year that the Exodus took place was on a Thursday as we see in Seder Olam, and therefore the “10th of the month” was Shabbos, and on that Shabbos every Jew took a sheep as a Korban Pesach and tied it to their bedposts. And the Egyptians asked them “Why do you have a sheep – the Egyptian god – tied to your bed!?” And they responded: “To slaughter for a Pesach offering for HaShem.” And they got upset that they were going to slaughter their gods, but they could not say anything due to the miracle. And thus it is called Shabbos HaGadol.

The bravery of this moment cannot be overstated. By this point in the story, the only thing our ancestors knew was that the Korban Pesach was their ticket out. This was the way to prepare for leaving Egypt. They still did not know when exactly or how this might take place. But Moshe and Aharon were clear:

וְכָכָה תֹּאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ מׇתְנֵיכֶם חֲגֻרִים נַעֲלֵיכֶם בְּרַגְלֵיכֶם וּמַקֶּלְכֶם בְּיֶדְכֶם

This is how you shall eat the Pesach offering: your belts tied, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.

Imagine the trepidation, the fear, the concern. On the one hand, Moshe had told them that any home without a Korban Pesach would be subject to the same fate as the Egyptians. But on the other hand, taking a sheep – the god of their tormentors – and publicly displaying your plans to slaughter and eat it?! That’s ludicrous and dangerous.

We can still hear those concerns and conversations, two friends at the back of some underground Shtiebel in Mitzrayim.

“Ok, of course Hashem is real. We’ve all seen the previous nine plagues. But does this all knowing, loving God really want us to risk our lives like this?”

“How do we know that Moshe is right about all the details? It was one thing when he was bringing plagues to Pharaoh... But now he wants us to get involved?”

“Yeah. And I don’t even have a first born child. Do you think I still need to risk my life here?“

“And where will we go afterwards? You really think that millions of Jews are going to be able to walk out of Egypt to some promised land?! I can barely get my kids to school on time. There’s no way we’re all getting out of here before they kill us.”

*“Maybe some of us will leave and eventually become Hashem’s nation... But let’s be honest with ourselves; you and me definitely don’t deserve to leave. With everything I’ve done in my life there’s no way God wants me in His nation...”*

“And if that’s the case, then our best bet is not to aggravate the Egyptians.”

All of these concerns center around the the same question: What will happen on the day after? And if we don’t know step-two, is step-one still worth it? We didn’t know then, and we don’t know now.

The courage to still take that first step is the Avoda of Shabbos Hagadol, Pesach and of this moment in Jewish history, as Rav Shlomo Twerski (מלכות שלמה – שבת הגדול) explains:

When a person chooses a goal for themselves, the first step is to decide what not to be. As a person grows, their end goals will grow and develop as well. Of course, without aiming for something, nothing can ever occur, but the beginning of the journey is always a rejection. It’s a decision that “I don’t want this.” Likewise, the Exodus begins with a rejection of the gods of Egypt. We still had no idea what to do afterwards, or what we might become, but there was one thing we knew: We would no longer live in service of the gods and ideals of Egypt.

Shabbos Hagadol is the obligation and invitation to walk away from the illusions that have defined our lives for the past years, decades and centuries. We do so even as we still don’t know what will happen next. All we know is that we can’t continue like this. It will never lead to fulfillment, safety, happiness or freedom.

In a very visceral way, this is the experience in our kitchens during the week before Pesach. We actively engage in getting rid of Chametz, even though there’s no matzah to eat... yet.

For the few days my kids have been steadily eying the Pesach snacks. And as the Chametz pantry dwindles to empty, in this world of slim pickings, even the heimishe knock-off purim leftovers are finally getting eaten. In the days before Pesach we’re in limbo; destroying our Chametz, but not quite ready for Pesach.

This gastronomic no-mans land exists on all levels. We’re escaping the lies despite not having all the answers.

Since October 7th, we have awakened to the reality that our in fighting and politicking were always meaningless and destructive. We have learned that our real enemies are always planning our demise. They mean what they say; and we should take them seriously. Despite commentary to the contrary, we learned that we have great friends amongst the nations of the world. But we have also learned the limits of those friendships.

On a personal level, we have learned that anti-semitism is just as real and just as ugly as ever. We have seen the moral bankruptcy of the most elite academic institutions. Through the pain of hatred, Jews around the world have awakened to the truth that there is no way to escape our destiny of being Hashem’s people.

What will be on the day after? What’s the next step? What is the future of American Jewry? What will happen in Israel? We don’t know. But Shabbos Hagadol gives us the strength to abandon the lies that have defined our lives until now.

Redemption is coming. Hashem is coming for me and for you. Despite what we have done, or what we haven’t; regardless of whether we think we deserve it or not. At this critical juncture in our lives, Hashem is not asking us to get everything right. All He is asking is for us to stand up and declare that we know what is wrong.

We have entered the darkness between exile and redemption and our next steps are still shrouded in mystery. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but we can finally see the false gods for what they are. And that’s enough for now.

On Monday afternoon I stood with a group of talmidim staring up at the sky.

Of course, we in Florida only saw a partial eclipse. Millions of people travelled for hours to experience a few minutes of totality. From my conversations with colleagues and friends who made the trek, none of them thought it was a waste of time.

But even for us, there was something special about the event. One of the guys handed me his eclipse glasses and said “Rebbe, thats the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve never felt so small.”

There is something deeply inspiring in witnessing the cosmic dance of light and darkness. For just a moment we are able to experience the unfathomable magnitude of these celestial bodies. Seeing the moon pass in front of the sun is so enormous that one cannot help feel small.

This smallness, however, is not depressing. It’s not the result of the shrinking of ourselves, but instead, the expanding of our views.

In those minutes of humility and wonder, I distinctly felt how my own concerns and issues seemed petty. Many of my students felt the same, and I came away asking if there might be more ways to reengage with these feelings and perspectives without waiting for the next eclipse.

At the same time as the shadow of the moon was sweeping through North America, there was another event taking place. This event was not widely reported or discussed. But I would suggest that it was just as monumental.

In every location where people gathered to see the eclipse, there was 40% drop in internet usage. To the best of my understanding, this “internet time” was not caught up by peaks of usage before and after. Which means to say, that for a short window on Monday afternoon, large swaths of humanity replaced the urge to look down, with the desire to look up.

We are living in a generation where it is laughably impossible to keep up with everything going on. We simply have access to far too much information. As of two years ago, over 30000 hours of video content were uploaded to YouTube every hour.

By definition, every act of looking at a screen contains a choice of what to consume. Often enough, those choices are made for us by algorithms and advertisers. But there is another option.

At any moment, there are countless events occurring in the world around us. But the stories of my life and of your life are experienced as the narrative of events that we are looking at. The choice of whether to look at the sky and marvel at Hashem’s creations or to consume some digital content is choosing how to write the next page in the story of our own lives.

Our lives are nothing more and nothing less than where we place our attention and focus.

As we approach Pesach, we can understand the entire story of Yetzias Mitzraim as Hashem calling out to Klal Yisrael to stop looking down, and to start looking up.

The plagues of Blood, Frogs and Lice addressed us while our necks were still bend in slavery. These Makos affected the water and ground.

When the wild animals, pestilence and boils arrived, they affected people and animals. Our heads were raised to eye level.

Hail, locusts and darkness all descended from the sky as Hashem invited us to look upwards.

Once we had learned how to look upwards, Makos Bechoros taught us to look even further; beyond the world of nature, beyond the world of human sight.

To choose where to look and focus is to choose how we experience our lives. Conversely, if we want to evaluate the kind of life we are living, we should investigate the things we are looking at.

This principle is derived from a Halacha in our parsha. The Mishna tells us: כָּל הַנְּגָעִים אָדָם רוֹאֶה, חוּץ מִנִּגְעֵי עַצְמוֹ – All negaim/tzara’as may be examined by a person, except his own. But the Baal Shem Tov explained further:

כל הנגעים אדם רואה חוץ מנגעי עצמו, ופירש הבעל שם טוב הקדוש, כל הנגעים שאדם רואה חוץ, זה נמשך מנגעי עצמו, כמאמר רבותינו ז”ל (קדושין ד”ע ע”א) כל הפוסל במומו פוסל:

We learned “a person sees all defects, except (chutz) their own defects.” The holy Ba'al Shem Tov explained that “a person only sees defects outside of themselves (chutz)” – if what they see is a continuation of that person's defects, as our sages say “he disqualifies others with his own flaw.”

If we choose to look at another person’s flaws, this informs us of the problems we have ourselves.

Perhaps this is the reason we begin Pesach with searching for Chametz. Hashem wants us to direct our vision. There is much to discuss regarding the values and ideas in the mitzvah of searching for chametz. It's a world of Teshuva and introspection; but it all begins with acknowledging that we are always choosing where to look.

This is the Avoda for this week, for this season and this generation. We can choose where to look. And since we can choose, Hashem is asking us to raise our sights and perspective, to look upwards, inwards and onwards.

We’re living through a strange time in Jewish history. So much is going on all at once, and yet, in the past few weeks it feels like things are slowing down. Everything is happening, nothing is changing. We’re still holding our breath, wondering when or if we’ll be able to come up for air.

Some days it seems as if the national pastime of the Jewish people is refreshing the news feeds. Hoping, waiting, yearning for something. Not a day goes by without wondering what’s happening to the hostages? Is there any news? Any progress?And what’s going on in the North? What does all of this mean? How long until we see something with any clarity?

We feel the tensions brewing, the news cycles spinning. We’re trying to continue life with conviction and positivity, without getting cynical, frustrated or desensitized. Is there anything we can do to feel a little less helpless? A little less burnt out?

The truth is, however, that in a way, we’ve all been here before. This is not the first time we have walked on that narrow bridge from exile to redemption in the darkness of night. I imagine this is exactly how our ancestors felt during their final months in Mitzraim.

It’s a funny thing to consider it because we’re often blinded by our familiarity with the story of the Exodus. But they didn’t know that there would be ten plagues. No one gave them a time line; no pre-prints of the Hagaddah in Egypt. Who knew what was going to transpire? Perhaps there might have been more plagues, or maybe less? Perhaps some of those world shattering events would indeed harm some Jews. Was every Jew worthy of being saved? No one knew. No one would dare to predict what might happen next.

As far as individual Jews were concerned, I imagine that the supernatural and systematic destruction of Mitzrayim was probably a cause for perpetual anxiety. Who knows when or if some Egyptians might retaliate? Sure, Hashem is taking care of things. But what about me and my family? What are our next steps? Even with the miracles of the plagues, Hashem’s plans were still concealed in the fog of the unknown future.

Chazal tell us that the ten plagues lasted for a full year, and throughout that time, and while Moshe, Aharon and the Zekeinim has a role to play, most of Klal Yisrael were observers.

Until Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

On that fateful day, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon to tell us: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים – This month is the head of all months. Somehow, this single mitzvah holds within it the beginnings of freedom, autonomy, safety and the destiny of being Am Yisrael.

Many mitzvos would follow in due course; Korban Pesach, Matzah and Marror; the blood on the door posts. But it all begins with Rosh Chodesh. The obligation to count Jewish time from the first day of Nisan.

The P’shat of this mitzvah, as the Seforno (שמות יב ב) explains, is that freedom begins with control over our own time. Slaves are bound to use their time for the will of their masters, but liberation entails the ability to choose how to utilize this most precious of commodities.

But the Beis Avraham adds a level of understanding that might assist us in confronting the confusion of this moment in our lives:

“This month will give you a new Rosh – a new head. New thoughts, new perspectives and new understandings. Even if one’s head is filled with destruction, confusion, lowliness and heresy, in this month, one can become a new person.”

Redemption is introduced this month by inviting us to think differently about time, purpose and ourselves. Rosh Chodesh grants us the chance to acquire a “new head”, a new way of thinking.

This Avoda is not limited to the singular day of Rosh Chodesh Nisan alone; it continues throughout the month. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה – this entire month should be רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים, days of Rosh Chodesh. Every day of Nisan is like a Rosh Chodesh. Every day is laying the foundation for the rest of the year. Each moment of Nisan is a chance to rethink and reconsider the way we live and act and think and feel.

In the midst of the fog, the frustration and confusion, Nisan charges us with the obligation to rethink our circumstances.

Nisan, like Tishrei is a time for reflection, introspection and reevaluation. Chazal tells us that Rosh Chodesh Nisan is also a Rosh Hashana; this too is a beginning.

The Berdichever explains Nisan is also a time when Hashem judges the world, but the points of evaluation are very different:

וכן הוא בתשרי השם יתברך דן את העולם אם הם אוהבים אותו ויראים ממנו, ובניסן השם יתברך דן את העולם אם הם אוהבים את בני ישראל. ולכך פרעה שעשה רעה לישראל לקה הקב”ה אותו בזה החודש.

On Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei, Hashem judges to see if the world loves Him and fears Him. In Nisan, however, Hashem judges each and every person to determine their love the Jewish people. For this reason, Paroah met his downfall in this month.

During Nisan, Hashem is looking at humanity and examining each person and each nation, asking how much do you love Klal Yisrael? This year in particular, it has not been difficult to see where nations and people are holding with regards to this question. The answers have broadcast on the news for the past six months.

But it’s important to know that this question is not only for the nations of the world. We need to address it as well. Hashem is also asking each one of us how much do we love, respect and value each and every member of Klal Yisrael. The answer to this question for this Nisan is also not hard to assess. But we still have work to do.

The greatest damage of Egyptian exile was the thought and feeling that we were slaves. The we deserved to be slaves. Chazal tells us that the extent of this psychological conditioning was so severe that no slave ever attempted to escape Egypt.

It’s hard to love yourself when you don’t believe your life is worthwhile. It’s hard to love others when you think of them in the same way. So Hashem challenged us then, and He is challenging us now, once again: How much do you love and value every Jew?

The Sfas Emes (שבת הגדול תרמ”ג) explains:

כמ”ש ואעבור עליך כו'. שראה שאין בידם זכות ונתן להם דם פסח כו'. כמו כן בכל שנה בימים אלו מחפשין זכותן של בנ”י.

When Hashem redeemed His people from Mitzraim, He searched for their merits, and found the merits of Bris Milah and Korban Pesach. Likewise, every year at this time, we need to seek out the merits of the Jewish people.

More than any Nisan in our lifetime, this Nisan is asking us to get a Rosh Chadash – A new head. To think differently about Hashem, His world and His Torah. If we’re feeling stuck, if we feel that the world is stalling, it’s time for a new head.

Hashem is asking us to learn how to seek out and find the merits of each and every Jew, beginning with ourselves. Redemption is ‘round the corner. May we merit to see it soon.

Which Megillah are you going to this year? Express? Family Megillah? This important decision rides on one central question: How many Hamans are you planning on “Klapping”?

Amazingly, even on a day when we have so many wonderful mitzvos of community and connection to fulfill, somehow, Klal Yisrael has still found controversy in Klapping Haman.

If you find yourself squarely on either side of the debate, know that you are in good company. We’ve been arguing the issue for over a millennia.

Rabbi Shem Tob Gaguine (כתר שם טוב ב ע’ תקמג) relates that on the Purim of 1783, a group of unruly youths came to the Spanish-Portuguese congregation in London with hammers and axes, banging on the chairs and tables during the Megillah; and their “foolish fathers” did nothing to stop them.

Following that Purim, the officers of the Shul ruled that anyone causing any Haman disturbances during future Megillah readings was to be evicted from the Shul.

But the debate goes back far further and it’s worth noting that the Rama codifies both the practice and its value in Shulchan Aruch (או”ח תרצ יז):

עוד כתבו שנהגו התינוקות לצור צורת המן על עצים ואבנים או לכתוב שם המן עליהם ולהכותן זה על זה כדי שימחה שמו על דרך מחה תמחה את זכר עמלק ושם רשעים ירקב ומזה נשתרבב המנהג שמכים המן כשקורים את המגילה בב”ה [אבודרהם] ואין לבטל שום מנהג או ללעוג עליו כי לא לחנם הוקבע [ב”י בשם א”ח]

It is also written that the young children are accustomed to draw pictures of Haman on trees or stones or to write the name of Haman on themselves and to strike one against the other in order to blot out his name according to “The name of Amalek shall surely be erased” ... We must not nullify any custom nor should we ridicule any custom since they were not established frivolously.

In the generations that followed, many Rabbanim and Gedolim attempted to abolish the minhag, for all the obvious reasons; halachik, hashkafic, political and social. Yet the custom prevailed.

Of course, for a minhag to survive this long with such opposition, there must be something hidden beneath the surface.

The Tikunei Zohar famously teaches that “Purim Ki-Purim”; there is a deep connection between Yom Kippur and Purim. Many Sefarim are replete with commentaries and explanations of this connection, and for our purposes, it is interesting to note that both of these days feature some type of “Klapping”.

On Yom Kippur, we hit our hearts with every mention of “Chatanu” and on Purim we stamp on the floor or beat sticks and stones at each mention of Haman.

The Magen Avraham (או”ח תרז ג) quotes the Medrash, explaining the reason for hitting our hearts on Yom Kippur: אַתָּה גָּרַמְתָּ לִי הַחֵטְא – You, heart, caused me to sin.

The Sefer HaChaim (written by the brother of the Maharal) adds further that when when hit our hearts, we are staging a one-person protest, telling our hearts that our hands will not act impulsively any longer.

The simple intention behind this minhag is the notion that we are fully responsible for our actions.

Taking responsibility for our problems is becoming far less popular in the world today. People enjoy passing the buck, ducking from owning our issues and our habits. We prefer to point fingers, blame others and shirk responsibility.

But Yom Kippur is a day that forces us to come to terms with the reality that אַתָּה גָּרַמְתָּ לִי הַחֵטְא – my own heart led me astray; each action driving my further and further from my purpose in life. Teshuva is the heavy process of realizing and verbalizing “I caused this, I did this.”

Truthfully, we observe this practice in every weekday Shmoneh Esrei; we beat our hearts as we admit “forgive us Hashem, we have failed.” We accept that our choices have created the reality of our lives, and we work to do better.

But there is one day of the year where the script is flipped. That day is Purim.

Regarding Purim (as we will hear this Shabbos leading up to it) the Torah commands us: זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק – Remember what Amalek did to you.

Amalek back then did not choose to hate us because of our sins and flaws. Likewise, the nations and groups that embody Amalek today hate us for who we are and what we represent.

This war was done to us, perpetrated against us. In other words, this one fight, the fight against Amalek is not our fault.

In the deepest sense, the hatred that Amalek harbors is rooted in the existence of evil itself. Chazal (חולין קלט ב) tell us that Haman is hinted to in the Torah in the Pasuk in the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

המן מן התורה מנין (בראשית ג, יא) המן העץ

They also asked Rav Mattana: From where in the Torah can one find an allusion to Haman? He replied: The verse states after Adam ate from the tree of knowledge: “Have you eaten of [hamin] the tree, about which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Genesis 3:11). (Hamin is spelled in the same manner as Haman: Heh, mem, nun.)

When we hear the name Haman, we do not beat our hearts, for our hearts did not cause the Hamans of the world. Instead, we blot out the name of Haman / Amalek. Here, and only here, we rightfully point fingers.

Perhaps this explains why it is that the minhag of Klapping Haman is primarily practiced by children. There is no clearer evidence of faultlessness than kids. If a nation hates Jewish children, that’s not because our kids sinned. Their hearts have not led them astray.

When children are attacked, kidnapped and targeted, we can clearly state: They did nothing to deserve it. And by extension, neither did any of us.

For one day a year, we can celebrate knowing that none of this is our fault. Ironically, anti-semitism has nothing to do with us. There is nothing that we did to cause it, and there is nothing we can to end it. The only thing to do is to destroy it.

Purim is a stark reminder to all those presenting their “As a Jew...” monologues.

Purim tells us that “as a Jew” we take full responsibility for our faults, flaws and failures. We own our mitzvos, aveiros and their consequences. But we take no responsibility for the hatred that others harbor against us.

Indeed, Hashem Himself takes the responsibility here, promising כִּי־מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם – “I, Hashem, will destroy Amelek from beneath the heavens.” Hashem declares that the war against Amalek is His war. He created the possibility of evil; so He will be the one to end it. All that He asks is that we join Him on that battle field; taking action rather than taking blame.

My feeling this year is that even if you’re not a fan of Klapping Haman, perhaps this Purim we should all Klap Haman a little louder (while remaining respectful).

Every Klap is a tefillah, asking Hashem to destroy His enemies. Every Klap is a message to the rest of our Klal Yisrael that we don’t hold them accountable for the hatred of Amalek either. Every Klap is a reminder to the hostages that we have not forgotten them.

With Hashem’s help, we should soon see the end of evil, and names of our enemies will finally be put to rest.

In the past few days, we have witnessed nothing short of an invasion of anti-semites into Jewish communities quite similar to our own here in Boca: Toronto, Teaneck and the Five Towns.

To speak broadly, Jews in these neighborhoods do not live insular lives. They are friendly with their non-Jewish neighbors and deeply engaged with their local community. They participate in the western world. For lack of a better term, these are largely “Modern Orthodox” places. Yet, as history has proven, no amount of blending-in will sway they hearts and minds of those who hate us.

I have no idea as to the plans of these antisemites, but I cant help wondering if perhaps protests in Boca are next on the list? And if they arrive in our neighborhoods, how should we react? How will we feel? Naturally, at the back of minds we are all asking what this might mean for our future?

Of course, mainstream news is reporting this as a “spill over” of the Middle Eastern conflict, but we, as a nation, have too much life experience to deny the reality of these events. Millenia of persecution has proven that Jew hatred is never simply about one issue or another. The truth is that there are people here in North America who are, to varying degrees, protesting the very existence and destiny of Klal Yisrael. Our enemies are not simply hoping that we leave Gaza and Jerusalem, but New York, Florida and Planet Earth as well.

In the history of our people, none of this is new. While this anti-Israel movement is only a few decades old, it is only the most recent iteration of the world oldest hate.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that the very nature of anti-Semitism is its evasiveness. It is always shifting, morphing and changing. There is nothing we can do to convince the anti-semite to stop hating us because there is no reason for anti-semitism. There never has been.

The Rav writes: When Yaakov pins his angelic adversary to the ground, he asks “What is your name?”

...And the answer was, “What difference does it make who I am? Whoever I am, I have one mission, and that is to defy you. I am opposed to what you strive for: to come back to Eretz Yisrael and build and develop a people in that land.” (The Lord is Righteous, p. 222)

It is instructive to note that by this point in his life, Yaakov Avinu has been in the house of Lavan for over two decades. Neither Esav nor his Angelic representative cared to engage with Yaakov until he decided to return to Eretz Yisrael. It is not the existence “a Jew” per-se that disturbs the anti-semite. It’s our potential for Jewish self-actualization, autonomy and sovereignty.

Likewise, Rabbi Sacks wrote extensively on the mutating nature of anti-Semitism:

Antisemitism means denying the right of Jews to exist as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. The form this takes today is anti-Zionism. Of course, there is a difference between Zionism and Judaism, and between Jews and Israelis, but this difference does not exist for the new antisemites themselves. It was Jews not Israelis who were murdered in terrorist attacks in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen. Anti-Zionism is the antisemitism of our time.

Those who hate us see the entire world through those hateful lenses and they feel entirely justified in their perspective. Consider the bizarre irony, that all the previously immutable values of the west have recently been amended to make exceptions for Jews and Israelis. Violating women’s bodies and children’s rights; indeed all the “-isms”, are now permissible in protest of the Jewish nation.

Living Beyond Compression

All of this leads to a fascinatingly difficult truth: Despite all the scholarship, brilliance and erudition of the Jewish people, even a rudimentary understanding anti-semitism escapes us. We certainly have no ability to comprehend the intensity of the hatred directed towards our people.

But if the hatred cannot be understood, can it ever be eradicated? Or are we doomed to suffer the cycles of persecution and exile until we are miraculously redeemed?

As Purim draws close, perhaps we might suggest that our sages were bothered by this conundrum as well. The Talmud (מגילה ז ב) tells us:

אָמַר רָבָא: מִיחַיַּיב אִינִישׁ לְבַסּוֹמֵי בְּפוּרַיָּא עַד דְּלָא יָדַע בֵּין אָרוּר הָמָן לְבָרוּךְ מָרְדֳּכַי

Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordecai”.

Drinking on Purim is more than an excuse for a party. There is a purpose and a goal that Chazal are addressing head-on. We are to blur our understandings of Haman and Mordechai. But to what end?

The “cursedness of Haman” has always been beyond our capacity to comprehend. We have never and will never understand the extent of depravity and hatred that fuels our enemies. It is irrational, illogical and incomprehensible.

But on Purim, we are obligated to realize that the same is true in the opposite direction. The blessedness of Mordechai – “Baruch Mordechai” – Our capacity for Kedusha, for greatness and goodness is likewise beyond all comprehension. Our potential for positivity is also unfathomably infinite. We have no idea how great we can become.

This is not simply Purim Torah. We are capable and obligated to bring this infinity into our daily lives; even (and especially) in the face of our constant internal and external setbacks.

Achieving the Impossible

Sefer Shemos concludes this Shabbos with the final construction of the Mishkan. Despite the various stages of donating and building over the past five weeks, Chazal (תנחמא פקודי יא) tell us that the completion of the Mishkan was beyond Moshe’s abilities.

אָמַר מֹשֶׁה, רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ לְהַעֲמִידוֹ. אָמַר לוֹ: עֲסֹק בְּיָדֶיךָ וְאַתָּה מַרְאֶה לְהַעֲמִידוֹ וְהוּא עוֹמֵד מֵאֵלָיו, וַאֲנִי כוֹתֵב עָלֶיךָ שֶׁאַתָּה הֲקֵמֹתוֹ.

Moshe said: Master of the Universe, I do not know how to build it. Hashem said to him: Try to do it yourself and you’ll see it will stand up by itself, and I will record in the Torah that you achieved it.

The Tiferes Yosef (פקודי ד”ה ותכל) questions:

The Torah does not lie and yet, Hashem is telling Moshe “if you try to build the Mishkan, I’ll make it happen and give you the credit!?” His point is as simple as it is profound:

כשהאדם עובד בכל כחו, אז חותם השי”ת על כל עבודתו ונקראת על שם האדם

When we do all we can to achieve the impossible, Hashem gives us the green light. He grants us success and give us the credit for achieving it.

If we are witnessing an explosion in irrational hatred, Hashem is inviting us to create an explosion of irrational love. If our enemies are trying to intimidate us, we are obligated to combat them with overwhelming Jewish pride. And if our enemies are denying the Kedusha of Klal Yisrael, it is time to upgrade our Kedusha, Torah and Tefillah.

Perhaps they are coming for us in Boca; perhaps they are coming where ever we may be. So perhaps it’s time that we rise above what we thought was possible and become greater than we ever imagined.

This is Hashem’s final promise of the Book of Exile and Redemption: If we attempt the impossible, He’ll make it happen.

Let’s be clear. The obligation to “increase our happiness” in Adar is counterintuitive. Not just this year, with the wounds of October 7th still so fresh; but every year.

In our national calendar, Adar is the end of the year. When Adar arrives, the end is near. A near year, a new season, a new opportunity, a new dawn – it’s all about to happen. Soon. But not yet. Not for another month.

Our sages (ר”ה יא א) teach us that בְּנִיסָן נִגְאֲלוּ בְּנִיסָן עֲתִידִין לִיגָּאֵל – In Nisan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt; and in Nisan we will be redeemed. But Nisan is a month away, and this year in particular, redemption seems more distant than ever.

As this Adar enters, we increase our desperation. Our exasperation. Our exhaustion. Our frustration. Our disappointment with the nations of the world.

As Adar enters, we increase our concern for the hostages. We increase our horror at the complicity and complacency of “decent people.”

As we welcome Adar II this Shabbos, another month has gone by and more of our holy Chayalim have given their lives. Mothers, father, wives and children are still sitting Shiva. So many more are crying next to the beds of their wounded loved ones. Rockets are flying from Lebanon, and thousands of families have yet to return to their homes.

This week, we marked 150 days since our world changed forever and redemption has not yet arrived.

I dare say it, but as this Adar enters we cannot help but increase our sadness.

We are living in the generation before the dawn breaks. We are the Jews who haven’t yet left Egypt. The sea has not yet split. For us, Mordechai is still wearing sackcloth and Ester is still fasting, trembling before she meets the king. The ten sons of Hamas (not a typo) have not yet been hanged.

We are the Jews at the end of time, living through the “Adar” of Jewish history, still waiting for the spring to arrive. Or, in the words of our sages (סוטה מט ב), we are experiencing the עקבתא דמשיחא – the heels of Moshiach.

Perhaps then, it was davka to us that Chazal whispered and insisted, משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה – when Adar enters, it is time to work on increasing our happiness. Not because it’s easy and not because it’s obvious. We need to increase our happiness because that is the greatest need of our generation.

In a world of rising anxiety, depression, instability and antisemitism, we need to increase our happiness.

But how?

Naturally, we turn to our sages to identify the correct methodology to fulfill this obligation. But curiously, Chazal do not define how we should become happier. Neither the Talmud nor the Poskim give us any instructions at all!

This startling absence is a clear giveaway that our understanding is deficient. We are looking at the instructions of Chazal with the self-centered lenses of our contemporary society. We are looking for directions to becoming happier. And why not? Who doesn’t want to experience greater happiness. But The words מרבין בשמחה do not mean “to become happier,” they mean “to increase happiness.”

This is a completely different aim. It is possible to increase another person’s happiness even if we are heartbroken, exhausted and confused.

The most pressing need of Chodesh Adar, of the end of the year, and the end of time is to becoming multipliers of Simcha.

After some searching, I finally found this exact explanation in a lesser known work of the Rishonim, the Sefer HaMichtam (Rabbi David ben Levi of Narbonne, late 13th century – ברוך שכוונתי):

ההרבות בשמחה האמור משנכנס אדר לא נאמר להרבות מאכלים ובמשתאות אבל לב העניים והאביונים ובכללה כל שמחת מצוה

The increase in happiness as Adar enters is not an instruction to eat and drink more. Instead, focus on the hearts of those impoverished and destitute, and in general, all the happiness of doing mitzvos.

Chazal are imploring us shift our center.

This refocusing is echoed in the Rambam’s description of the obligation of Simchas Yom Tov:

וכשהוא אוכל ושותה חייב להאכיל לגר ליתום ולאלמנה עם שאר העניים האמללים. אבל מי שנועל דלתות חצרו ואוכל ושותה הוא ובניו ואשתו ואינו מאכיל ומשקה לעניים ולמרי נפש אין זו שמחת מצוה אלא שמחת כריסו.

When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his stomach.

Of course, our own experiences reveal a great irony. Those who stop chasing their own happiness and invest their time, energy and money into making other people happy find themselves filled with inner contentment.

The pursuit of happiness might be epitomized by a white picket fence. But the actual attaining of such happiness is achieved by breaking the fences down; opening our hearts and homes to each other.

Likewise, when we dedicate ourselves to Avodas Hashem, to Torah, Mitzvos and Chessed we find wells of untapped energy and deep satisfaction. The Sfas Emes notes that when the Beis HaMikdash stood, Jews tasted this Simcha when they donated their half shekel coins. That simple act of investing in the continuity of Klal Yisrael, the Mikdash and Korbanos, of knowing that you are a part of something enormous and meaningful, was a catalyst for Simcha.

This is the deeper meaning of why we’re reading Parshas Shekalim this Shabbos. It’s the introduction to Chodesh Adar II.

It reminds us that in the midsts of brokenness and despair we can still make a difference. We don’t need to know all the answers. But when Adar arrives, we can still increase the net Simcha of the world. All it takes is a single shekel given to a person in need, dedicated to the Mikdash. Or rather, scratch that: Half a shekel will do.

Half a shekel is all it takes to cross over the darkness before the dawn. Perhaps that is why Hashem reveals the Machatzis HaShekel as a מַטְבֵּעַ שֶׁל אֵשׁ – coin of fire. A single coin gives us the light and heat needed to navigate the final moments before the Geulah of Nisan finally arrives.

With Hashem’s help, we should merit to see it soon.

In my Halacha shiur this week, we were discussing the bracha on tzitzis. One of my talmidim raised his hand:

“Rebbe, is it true that if you don’t make a bracha, you didn’t just miss out on a mitzvah, but you get a sin as well?”

It wasn’t really our topic, but I could see that this was bothering him.

“You’re sort of right. The Gemara says something along those lines regarding the brachos on food:

וְכׇל הַנֶּהֱנֶה מִן הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה בְּלֹא בְּרָכָה מָעַל – anyone who derives benefit from this world without a blessing, it is as if he is guilty of stealing from the Beis HaMikdash.“

Being kinda correct wasn’t what this talmid was hoping for. He looked defeated and said “So you’re telling me that I’ve racked up thousands of sins for all this stuff already.”

It’s a complicated question to answer. On the one hand, we cannot downplay the importance of a mitzvah or a bracha. We certainly can’t denigrate words of Chazal. But one the other hand, drilling down is a recipe for despondence and depression.

Pausing for a moment, I told him “Yes, missing a bracha is a sin. That said, I think you care a little too much about your sins. Maybe more than Hashem does.”

That was intentionally inflammatory and the whole shiur was bothered by this idea, so we continued the conversation, noting that in the western world, we’ve all been conditioned by thoughts of sin and punishment from other cultures.

All too often we think of Hashem as some “overbearing headmaster” with a checklist of our flaws and failures. Or perhaps, when that image is too overwhelming, we flip to the other side completely, and imagine Hashem as our best friend; loyal, supportive and tolerant.

Neither of these tells the whole story.

In the deepest way, we should think of Hashem as a great coach who sees what we are truly capable of; often before we do. A great coach trains us to know that every practice, game or competition should be taken seriously. But never to the point where we dread it.

A great coach demands diligence, dedication and a drive for perfection. But a great coach also understands that actual perfection unattainable, and cautions us not to get caught up in our failures.

On the infinite journey towards growth and mastery, we all acknowledge that we will make mistakes. Some of them will be terrible. We will have bad days, and weak moments. Sometimes we’re going to push ourselves too hard and break. And sometimes, we’re going to get lazy and not push ourselves hard enough. Often, we’re going to have a difficult time figuring out the fine line between these two extremes.

Sometimes our emotions and desires will get the better of us, and sometimes we’ll fail to bring that passion into our life, learning and work. We will dig through demotivation and frustration. That’s all part of the process. We know it’s going to happen.

Of course, knowing that we are going to fail at some point does not make it excusable. All of it must be accounted for and corrected. We should not be irreverent about it; a fundamental truth is that nothing we do is ever irrelevant in Hashem’s grand calculus. Every Aveira will require teshuva; it will need to be addressed in this world or the next. But there’s a big difference between fixing our mistakes and beating ourselves up.

That difference manifests in one pivotal way: What happens the day after we fail? Great players know that the only thing worse than losing is quitting.

That’s what Hashem told Aharon in the tragic aftermath of his helping Klal Yisrael to build the Egel HaZahav (ויקרא רבה כא ה):

אם עשית חבילות של עבירות עשה כנגדן חבילות של מצות If you’ve transgressed a pile of Aveiros, counter that with a pile of Mitzvos.

It’s not an easy task and we don’t always live like this. We’re so tempted to give up; to accept defeat and allow our hopes, dreams and aspirations to wither.

But so many of the greatest moments in our history do not come from perfect scores. They come from overcoming fear and failure.

The Sefer Imrei Daas (עמ’ קעט) records the story:

In the winter of 1930, the construction of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin was finally completed. The inauguration of the new building was set for the 28th of Sivan that year. The famed Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Meir Shapiro, made it his personal duty to ensure that the event was publicized and advertised to every Torah Community in Europe.

Weighing heavily on his mind, however, was a question posed by his Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Friedman, the Rebbe of Chortkov: It is wise to publicize this event so widely? Perhaps a more modest reception is in order?

This consideration was not simply a personal inclination. Rashi (שמות ל״ד ג), quoting the Medrash makes this point when contrasting the short-lived first set of Luchos to the second everlasting set:

הָרִאשׁוֹנוֹת עַ”יְ שֶׁהָיוּ בִתְשׁוּאוֹת וְקוֹלוֹת וּקְהִלּוֹת, שָׁלְטָה בָהֶן עַיִן רָעָה – אֵין לְךָ יָפֶה מִן הַצְּנִיעוּת

Because the first tablets were given amidst great noises and publicity and a vast crowd the Evil Eye had power over them and they did not endure. (We see from here that) there is no finer quality than to be modest.

Rav Meir Shapiro responded to the challenge with a question of his own:

Surely Hashem Himself also knows this Rashi?! And yet, He broke the barrier between heaven and earth to present us with His Torah on Har Sinai with fanfare and publicity.

Moreover, we can ask: Why did Hashem give the Luchos to Moshe at all? Moshe was handed the Luchos at the very moment when Hashem told him that the Jewish people had built the Egel. They had violated the core principle of their relationship with God! Surely Hashem knew that those Tablets were not long for this world?!

Of course He knew. He knew all of it; but something greater was at stake.

Consider that as we came out of Mitzraim, the world was drowning in idolatry. Humanity was in desperate need of a shock to their system. The world needed to be shaken awake.

Knowing and understanding this, Hashem gave us the Torah. He handed Moshe the Luchos knowing that they would be shattered, but through this, Klal Yisrael would finally arise from slavery and obscurity. The world would know that there is a Creator of Heaven and Earth, even if they had no sustainable way of serving Him. Even if they built the Golden Calf.

The Rosh Yeshiva concluded: I agree with Hashem’s assessment. If it would be, Chas V’Shalom, that the publicity of my Yeshiva would bring my own downfall, then I am prepared to risk my life to make a Kiddush Hashem in the world.

The Chortkover Rebbe nodded his head, acquiescing to the selflessness of his student and Chassid. Perhaps in some way, he knew that Rav Meir Shapiro would indeed leave the world a few short years later, but that the legacy of his Torah would endure forever in the Daf Yomi which he pioneered.

The profundity of this approach is transformative. It’s the bold declaration that despite our fears of failure and evil, we cannot let anything get in the way of pursuing the ultimate purpose of our lives: Bringing Hashem into this world.

Incredibly, since October 7th this is happening throughout the Jewish world.

Jews who have lived much their lives imagining themselves mired in filth and failures are shaking themselves from that dirt. They’re putting on Tefillin and Tzitzis. They’re saying Tehillim, giving tzedaka and kashering their kitchens. They’re risking their lives in Gaza. They’re saving lives and securing our future.

Perhaps neither they nor we, have succeeded in overcoming the Golden Calfs of our lives. Perhaps we are still smashing the Luchos. But that doesn’t mean we stop showing up for practice. That’s what the coach is asking from us. He still sees something in us and our team that we’ve been struggling to see for generations.

The deepest lesson of the Egel HaZahav is that it wasn’t the end. There is no end to an eternal nation.

So why waste your eternity wallowing in the shots we missed?

It’s time to lace up your tzitzis. Open that Sefer. It’s time to stop chasing those foreign gods and goals. But if you did; if you missed your shot, now’s the time to get over it. As Rebbe Nachman teaches (ליקוטי מוהר”ן תנינא קי״ב):

אִם אַתָּה מַאֲמִין, שֶׁיְּכוֹלִין לְקַלְקֵל, תַּאֲמִין שֶׁיְּכוֹלִין לְתַקֵּן

If you believe that, somehow, you were able to destroy, then it’s time to believe you can fix it as well.

“Abba, when I grow up, I want to be famous.”

That was the opening line of a conversation with our kids while driving up the highway from Miami to Boca. The inspiration for the comment was a massive advertisement with a picture of a young child. Of course, the advertisement had nothing to do with that kid. It said “shot on iPhone.” But in the minds of my own children, the child on that billboard was famous. So I followed up:

“Why do you want to be famous?”

“You get to drive cool cars and go to really fun places.”

“Do you think that the kid on the billboard can drive cool cars and go to fun places?”

“Well, maybe not yet. But now that they’re famous, they will be able to whatever they want when they get older.”

As adults we understand the flaw in the logic. But I hear the point; and my kids are not entirely wrong. We live in a society where fame, fortune and fun are usually displayed as a package deal.

My kids, along with most kids today, are growing up in world of YouTubers and Influences. And while we certainly monitor the things that they watch and the media that they consume, it is undeniable that social media personalities are fast becoming the some of loudest voices that they and we hear.

A 2019 survey found that 29% of children listed YouTuber as their first choice of profession. Another study found that 86% of young Americans are willing to post sponsored content for money (and 20% of that group said they would do it even if they didn’t like the product.)

It all makes sense, of course. The job of a social media influencer is simply to live their best life on camera. It is the highest ideal of our society; working out, eating great food, exploring exciting places, driving fast cars... All of it paid for by other people. It would seem that there is no down side.

But while fame might give a person access to fortunes and fun, it comes with a heavy price tag: As more and more of our live are lived in public, the smaller our private lives become. Tragically, many people pay the price without ever getting the things they hope to receive.

As thinking, dreaming, aspiring, yearning Jews, the notion of a steadily shrinking private life is a disaster. But to a large extent, this does not seem to concern people in the world around us. The desire to inhabit a private life is practically countercultural, and perhaps we should explain the centrality of this elusive value.

The western world believes in celebrating our successes; advertising our victories and publicizing anything and everything positive. All of this is wonderful and important. But it comes with painful collateral damage: Almost by definition, anything left in our private, all the parts of our unfiltered and unaired life, are shameful and unworthy of publicity. The only reason to hide something is because it is doesn’t meet our standards. Why else would we hide it?

All this is to say: We have created a reality in which the dividing line between “success and failure” is practically indistinguishable from “public and private”. This leads to a mindset that privacy is embarrassing and publicity is applauded. The drive to “celebrate our success” is healthy and normal; but it also further cements the dark perspective that anything not celebrated not a success.

Little by little we have eroded the very idea of a private life. We have become bifurcated people, split between the world we share, and the world we conceal.

Because of this, the absence of Moshe’s name in Parshas Tetzaveh is seen as some kind of punishment. The Rosh (רא”ש על התורה, שמות כ״ז:כ׳) comments that since the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, there is no Parsha which does not have the name Moshe – all except this one. Why is his name missing? Why is it that Moshe is denied publicity this Shabbos?

The Rosh, and his son the Baal HaTurim explain: During Moshe’s plea for Hashem to forgive the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe puts himself on the line, negotiating with the Master of the World: ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת – “If you don’t forgive them, then erase me from the Book which You have written.”

The Zohar HaKadosh explains that everything Moshe Rabbeinu said was meaningful – even if it was only said conditionally. In some way, Moshe caused himself to be “erased” from the Torah. In order to fulfill these words, his name is missing from Parshas Tetzaveh.

This whole story is strange. Moshe was acting with exceptional selflessness; he is the paradigm of Mesiras Nefesh for Klal Yisrael. Moshe is willing to give up everything for the sake of his people. Why on earth should he be punished for this?

But what looks like a punishment and a curse from our perspective was most likely the greatest reward for Moshe himself. We should recall that Moshe did not want to be a leader. He did not want to be famous. He was content to remain a shepherd, spending his life meditating, learning and connecting to Hashem. The only reason he entered the limelight at all was for the sake of the Jewish people. Without them, Moshe had no need for publicity.

Rabbi Moshe Mordechai of Lelov explains that in the deepest way, Parshas Tetzaveh is Moshe’s reward for a life dedicated to Hashem’s people. This Shabbos, Moshe returns to the anonymity he cherished. He returns to the intimacy of those vast open plains, where it was just Him and Hashem alone. Chazal refer to this intimate private world as “p’nimiyus” the world inside.

My Rebbe, Rav Blachman, told us that decades ago in Chabad the greatest insult was to be called a “Chitzoni” – a person concerned with externalities. Becoming a “P’nimi”, was the goal of all of our greatest leaders and teachers.

Hidden far from the eyes of the world, Hashem addresses Moshe as “you” – ואתה תצוה – and “you should command them.” It’s a conversation in the second-person; a direct, face-to-face relationship. This Shabbos we get a glimpse of the private life of the greatest Jew who ever lived.

Rav Kook (שמונה קבצים – קובץ ז’ קסב-קסד) writes that there are revealed Tzadikim, and hidden Tzadikim. But the greatest Tzadikim are those who live in both worlds at the same time. They are revealed and hidden simultaneously.

This Shabbos, we witness Moshe rising to such greatness. For Moshe Rabbeinu, there was no difference in being written in the Torah, or being left out – nothing could change his profound relationship with Hashem, even when he was in public, he never ceased living with p’nimiyus.

Next Shabbos, we return to business as usual. Moshe will once again be thrust into the center of the narrative. But for this moment, this small window in the Torah, Hashem is inviting us to remember the importance of Moshe’s private live, and of our own.

By omitting Moshe’s name, Hashem is asking us who we might be if no-one knew our name? Who are we when no one is around? Are we happy with ourselves? Or perhaps, Chas V’Shalom, the only things that remains private are the things which we are most ashamed of? Is our private life a place to fear and escape, or perhaps to celebrate and enjoy?

If indeed we have fallen prey to the Yetzer Hara of living externally, if we have turned ourselves inside-out, this Shabbos is the moment to begin changing. Parshas Tetzaveh is inviting us to choose to do something great, anything great, and to ensure that we tell no one about it. To do something worthwhile and valuable with the only audience being Hashem. Avoid taking the picture. Do it and don’t tell a soul. Don't post it to social media. Start building your private life; a refuge of personal positivity, a secret hideaway from the insanity.

Welcome to the unspoken world of Moshe Rabbeinu, the world of p’nimiyus.

Dear Ayelet

It’s hard to imagine that you are already a Bas Mitzvah. Twelve years seems both impossibly long and impossibly short. It goes without saying that Mommy and I are so proud of you. You have grown into a thoughtful, kind, modest, mature and capable young lady. We have seen you struggle and succeed; developing self awareness and empathy, and we are constantly amazed by your imagination and creativity.

One of the greatest joys of my life is learning with you and from you. You are insightful, curious and unwilling to accept anything at face value. But it dawned on me in the weeks leading up to this milestone, that almost all of our conversations focus on details.

This is not your fault. As parents, we spend most of our time trying to get the little things right.

From the time a child is born, we are worrying about the little things. Diapers and bottles, brushing teeth and eating nutritious food. As a child grows, we turn our attention to education. Letters become words, words become sentences. Numbers are added and subtracted.

In our pursuit to ensure that you and your siblings are prepared for the world, we spend countless hours working on getting habits right. Do your homework. Clean your room. Share your toys. Be kind to your siblings. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep.

Of course, in the realm of Torah and mitzvos, we progress similarly: Did you wash Netilas Yadaim? That’s muktzah! Don’t touch it... Did you make a Bracha? No, not that bracha; this one is mezonos... I’m so sorry, you ate meat for lunch and the ice cream is milchik. You’ll have to wait a little while longer...

As you have grown closer to becoming a Bas Mitzvah, we have expected more from you. Did you bench? Please remember to set the table for Shabbos. Did you get your baby brother to bed? We have guests for lunch, please remember to make extra chicken...

Ayelet, you and I both know that these reminders are important. But as important as they are, if I’m being honest, I also know that they are annoying.

You are a fiercely independent and strong willed young lady and I know that these reminders feel childish sometimes. That’s a good thing. It means that you are ready for the next piece of the puzzle.

It’s time to talk about the bigger picture.

A Story of Two Stories

One of your greatest loves is your love of reading. It’s a love that Mommy and I know well.

Do you remember learning how to read? I remember sitting with you just a few years ago sounding out letters; practicing words. You learned quickly. But then you discovered that once you mastered the skill of reading there is far more that a page can offer.

Reading offers the possibility of escape from the little things of this world; a chance to explore fantastic worlds. It’s allows us to meet and learn from people beyond our own space and time. In the simple act of reading words on a page, our hearts and minds can be filled with emotion and imagination. We can travel millions of miles and thousands of years.

In the deepest way, when you open up a book, there are two stories taking place. On the outside, we can observe the quiet act of scanning letters with our eyes. It doesn’t look exciting or meaningful. But as you know, the far greater story is taking place inside.

The same is true with your life and with the entire world.

There is a story of your life that describes the little things: waking up, going to school, doing mitzvos, spending time with friends and family, learning, reading, exercising and listening to music. Your days are sometimes filled with annoying things and sometimes with wonderful and important things: Davening, chessed, benching, making brachos.

But this is all on the outside. These actions themselves are still the little things; they are like the words on the page. Within them, however, there are worlds upon worlds of Godliness, of growth and connection. It is the meaning that you discover which makes those same actions great. (For the adults seeשל”ה הקדוש תו”א, בית חכמה יב)

Making food for Shabbos might be a simple act of cooking, or it could be an opportunity to share the magic of Shabbos with a new guest or friend. Davening might be a bunch of words, or a heated negotiation with the King of the world to bring the hostages home. Giving tzedaka could be putting money in a box. Or it could be providing another Jew with love, food and hope.

The same is true of the entire world, and all of Jewish history. On the outside, there is a story of a group of people – our people – who have journeyed through millennia of trials, tribulations and triumphs. But the deeper story of the Jewish nation, they story of what it all means, can only be understood by the people who can see more than the words the on pages of history.

From Reading to Writing

Our story is the greatest story ever told. It’s a tale of mystery, magic, miracles and ancient heroes. From Avraham and Sarah to Moshe, Aharon and Miriam; there have been countless great men and women who braved their fears and built our nation.

These people are not simply our ancestors. Their story is ours; their strength, their power and connection to Hashem and His Torah runs deep in our veins as well.

But the story if not over. Every moment of every day it is being written. It is being written by our brave Chayalim fighting for the State of Israel. It is being written by their mothers, wives, sons and daughters. It is being written by the Talmidei Chachamim, who are dedicating their lives to learn and teach Torah. It’s being written by the great Baalei Chessed who dedicate their lives to looking after other Jews.

As you become a Bas Mitzvah, it will be written by you as well. You are no longer just a reader. Hashem is handing you your own pen, inviting you to join Him in the writing the next chapter of Jewish history.

This Shabbos, the Torah teaches us about the building of the Mishkan, and the work of its chief architect, Betzalel.

Chazal (ברכות נה א) tell us that when Betzalel built the Mishkan, he was not simply constructing a tent to serve Hashem:

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר רַב: יוֹדֵעַ הָיָה בְּצַלְאֵל לְצָרֵף אוֹתִיּוֹת שֶׁנִּבְרְאוּ בָּהֶן שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Bezalel knew how to join the letters with which heaven and earth were created.

Betzalel knew that hidden in the threads and beams, the silver and gold, were stories as great as the Creation of Heaven and Earth. With every stitch of his needle and every blow of his hammer he was writing the next chapter in the story of the Jewish people.

With every fibre of our being, the greatest dream of the Jewish people is to escape the words on the page. We don’t want to live as letters and words. We want to transform the story of our nation into our living reality; to build a world that is filled with goodness and kindness. A reality where the world knows that Hashem is as real as water we drink and the air that we breath. The great lesson of the Mishkan is that from wood and rocks we can build a home for Hashem.

Your Chapter

Ayelet, I do not know which chapter Hashem has sent your Neshama into this world to write. But I do know that only you can write it. I don’t know what part of the Mishkan you need to build, only that you’re the only one who can build it.

The Rebbe Rashab wrote to his granddaughter on the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah: You are becoming “עצמאית בחיים הרוחניים שלך” – “independent in your spiritual life.” In other words: You now have the capability to discover a universe of meaning in every action you do, great or small. And because of that, you have the responsibility to do so, to write your chapter in the story of Am Yisrael.

In the world around us, people often get nervous when they hear the word “responsibility”. It’s something they run away from. But you already know that being given a responsibility is a privilege. It’s not as scary as it sounds. Simply put, it means that Hashem believes in you. That’s pretty cool.

The greatest secret to success is to feel Simcha – joy in knowing that Hashem has sent you here to fix His world. He has hired you to do a job that no else can do; which means that waking up every day is a reason to celebrate; to try again, to keep at it.

As Rebbe Nachman explains (ליקוטי מוהר”ן פ״ט:א): When we realize that the King of the Universe, Hashem Himself, has charged us with our mission, there is no greater joy, no greater honor.

Ayelet, Mommy and I are so proud, so excited, so grateful to Hashem for trusting us with the gift of raising you. Twelve years ago we committed ourselves to raise you and your siblings with Ahavas Hashem, Yiras Shamyaim and Ahavas Yisrael, and you have surpassed our greatest dreams.

May Hashem give you the simcha, the courage and the tenacity to overcome all the challenges that lie ahead, to use your God given talents to bring Hashem into the world, and build a life of Torah, Mitzvos and Chessed.

And in the mean time, we’ll keep annoying you 😊

We love you so much. Mazal Tov.

This year, I promised myself I would be better prepared. I had trained a little harder, a little more diligently. I tried to get a little more rest in the days leading up to the Miami Marathon. I was determined to ensure that I would complete the race in better time and better spirits than last year. All things considered, this was shaping up to be a great race... and truthfully, it was. Everything was looking great, that is, with the exception of the the spontaneous heat wave that hit South Florida on Sunday morning.

As sun rose, race officials raised red warning flags, and later reported that it was their hottest race event in 22 years. Myself, and the runners around me, adjusted our pace, reset our expectations, and dug in for the challenging miles ahead.

Despite the heat, I knew there was no turning back. For me, finishing this race was not simply about crossing the finish line. I was running with a difference purpose: Fastened to my back was a sign saying KIDNAPPED, and the face of 84 year old Oded Lifshitz from Nir Oz. Our runners from BRS West, and my team from Team Lifeline were running with more than our own stories. My cap said ”עם ישראל חי”, and I was determined to cross that line in front of thousands of spectators, and announce the world that Am Yisrael is here to stay. I ran with the tefillah that Hashem should give strength to our soldiers, hope to the hostages and courage to all those families waiting for their loved ones to come home.

As the miles continued, I davened that, in some small way, I could remind the world of the horrors our people are facing – and have faced for millennia. I davened that I, my family and my community might serve as a Kiddush Hashem in that moment, and always.

With these priorities occupying my thoughts, the pain in my legs faded into the background. I imagined myself drawing from the wellsprings of generations of Jews who refused to give up on Hashem, His Torah, His People and His Land.

In general, running a marathon for me is a powerful exercise in Mussar. I come back to the hard moments of a run often, reminding myself that if I could harness the strength to persevere there, then I know that I can apply the same relentlessness and resilience to mitzvos, chessed and Talmud Torah. We may be exhausted, but Klal Yisrael is not weak. Quitting can never be an option.

It was these thoughts that echoed in my head as I ran through the final stretch. Thousands of people cheered on the runners completing the race, and I found myself screaming “Am Yisrael Chai! Am Yisrael Chai!” It’s a statement, a truth, and a tefillah. Jews on the side lines, of all persuasions, answered with the same “Am Yisrael Chai!”

Of course, a race like last Sunday, much like the rest of life, is not run on Tefillah alone. We depend on our family, friends and community to support us when we are most vulnerable. In a deep way, running also engenders the humility to realize that our success is due, in no small measure, to the kindness of countless strangers.

There were the strangers who staffed the aid stations, the strangers running beside me, and the dozens of Miami residents who stood outside their homes, with a cheer, a smile and most importantly, a sprinkler and hose pipe. There is nothing more invigorating than a cascade of cold water in the middle of a hot run.

I took full advantage of every such offer of sprinkler and hose pipe in those 26.2 miles.

All except one.

Rounding the corner, clearing through mile twenty, there was a man offering to spray the passing runners with cold water. This man, however, was dressed in full catholic priestly regalia. In one hand, he held a cross, and in the other a small sprinkler of “holy water”. Beside him, two children were handing out race nutrition, in this case, communion wafers. This was, after all, a Sunday morning.

I was shocked to see him, and I was entirely unprepared for my reaction to his offer.

I had only noticed the priest a few feet away, but as he raised his holy water to spray me, a voice rose up from somewhere deep inside of me, and I screamed in horror “No! God Forbid! I’m a Jew!” I’m have no doubt that I sounded like a crazy person.

I don’t know enough about Christian rituals to understand the significance of that water to him. But I knew it was Tameh for me. I wanted nothing to do with it; not a drop.

My scream startled him, and I didn’t hear his reply, but the holy water was quickly retracted. I didn’t mean to offend him, I didn’t mean to yell; it was an instinctive response. This well meaning, religious man, just happened to cross paths with a Jew, a Rabbi, who was three hours into a grueling race, meditating deeply on the journey and challenges of the Jewish People.

It took another mile for me to calm myself from the encounter. With the priest firmly behind me, I began to worry how many Jewish runners had been unwittingly sprinkled by that impure water.

In the days since, I’ve begun to wonder to what extent all of our thoughts, actions and lives have been sprinkled by the waters of other gods, faiths and cultures.

Chazal (כתובות קיא ב) tell us that anyone who lives is Chutz La’Aretz is living as if they are an Idol Worshiper. We are recipients of external influences; tainted by the “holy waters” of the people around us.

I’ve been thinking about this reality as we enter another contentious election cycle in the US. As tensions rise, so many of us seem to gravitate towards some or another political party or persuasion. We find like-minded allies wherever we can. Allies that understand the value of the State of Israel and the dangers of anti-semitism. Allies who also believe in morality and the rule of law. But while we are most definitely grateful for these partnerships; political, religious and social, I keep trying to remind myself that the Torah is above and beyond any secular or political orientation.

Indeed, Rashi (שמות כא א) tells us next Shabbos that even when the Halacha rules identically to secular law, we are obligated to bring our personal disputes to a Beis Din, rather than a secular court.

The Ishbitzer (מי השלוח ח”א יתרו ד”ה אנכי) explains the depth behind this Halacha.

Chazal (שבת קה א) tell us that when Hashem revealed Himself to us on Har Sinai, He gave far more than a simple set of laws. His introductory remark was אנכי – meaning far more than “I”. אנכי is an acronym for אנא נפשי כתבית יהבית – I, Hashem, have inscribed My Soul and given it to you. Even if, by chance or by design, the nations around us accept a rule or a value of the Torah, their laws are still human. The Soul of Hashem cannot be found in secular laws and values.

The Torah is lifeblood of our eternal, immortal existence. It is, quite literally and unfathomably, the will of the Infinite Creator expressed to His finite creations.

When a Jew is seeking clarity and direction in life, we are invited and obligated to seek out that meaning within our own value system. Of course, there are indeed similarities to the values of conservatism or liberalism in the Western tradition. Perhaps we do see eye to eye with some other moral code on certain issues. But that is not who we are; and it certainly does not begin to attempt an understanding of Ratzon Hashem.

As we watch the news, listen to the talking heads and follow our favorite podcast hosts, we all feeling the heat of the world around us. Sometimes (or often) the challenge of moving through this contentious world seems unbearable. So when someone offers us a splash of cool water, a friendship, a partnership, a shared mission, we are tempted to accept their generosity wholeheartedly.

And in those moments, we run the risk of forgetting that a political stance is a far cry from our relationship with the Master of All Worlds; the Giver of the Torah.

This Shabbos at Matan Torah, Hashem reminds us there is only one way to shield ourselves from the encroaching impurity of the world around us: learning and connecting to D’var Hashem. The more we learn His Torah, the more we sensitize ourselves to His Ratzon. Ultimately, the more we will be able to distinguish between cool waters of friendship and Tumah of heresy.

Am Yisrael is neither red, nor blue. Am Yisrael doesn’t trade Torah for talking points. Am Yisrael has far deeper wells than the sprinkles of “holy waters” around us.

On a very practical level, as much as possible, Hashem is inviting us to turn off the news feeds a little more. Use that time to learn more and daven more. To reach out to each other with love, kindness, patience and respect. This will deepen our connection to Hashem, His Torah, His People and His Land.

Our goal is to get to the finish line of this war; the finish line of this Galus. Running through the final stretch, we are all carrying the weight of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael on our backs. Their pain is our pain, and their victory will be our victory as well. Charging to the end, we will scream Am Yisrael Chai. Hashem should help us that the nation crossing the finish line is still His Am Yisrael.

עם ישראל חי!

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