Rabbi's Blog

Thoughts and Musings by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

A Light in the Darkness


This Shabbat, the 19th day of Kislev, is a day of celebration. It marks the turning point, when the dissemination of Kabbalah/Chassidic teachings entered a new phase of accessibility, establishing it as an essential element in Jewish life. This day empowers each of us to dig deeper into our own soul and its limitless potential as a reservoir for joy, spirituality and meaning.

Then on Thursday comes Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, bringing home the same message: Even the smallest flame can illuminate much darkness, even on a cold(ish) winter night. Each soul is a candle. Within each of us lies the potential to illuminate our own life and the lives of those around us with goodness, peace and positivity, irrespective of how challenging and ‘dark’ things around us may seem.

This year especially, as the forces of evil have wreaked havoc since Oct. 7th and have not backed down, as many hostages remain in savage captivity. Yet, this immense darkness brought about an unprecedented measure of light, as Jews in Israel and the world over are identifying more with their Jewishness, are more proudly Jewish than ever and are finding common ground with Jews whom they rarely encountered before.

These holidays empower us to seize the moment and continue to dig deeper, uncovering wellsprings of faith, optimism and commitment, to embrace our calling and mission. By expressing our Judaism through observing Mitzvahs like lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles, wrapping Teffilin and giving charity, we will illuminate the darkness and bring redemption to ourselves and the world around us.

Doing Jewish AND Feeling Jewish


Did you ever excitedly make a commitment to a cause or a project, in the heat of the moment, only to find yourself losing your enthusiasm for it sometime later?

Every seven years the entire Jewish people would gather in Jerusalem to experience a reenactment of the original revelation on Mt. Sinai, when the entire Jewish people received the Torah. The purpose of this gathering was to ‘recommit’ to G-d, His Torah and its commandments.

But when making a commitment to rituals, there is always the risk that with time our enthusiasm can run dry. How do we ensure that we will remain excited and personally invested in what we’re doing?

The answer lies in the fact that at this gathering the leader of the Jewish people read from the Torah, not while standing on the floor but specifically while standing on a platform.

The platform is a symbolic reminder that when we ‘do Jewish’ we also need to ‘feel Jewish’, to find ourselves in the experience, we should identify the components within Judaism that resonate with us personally.

By standing on a ‘platform’ of courage, confidence and pride in who we are and what we do, we can remain enthusiastically engaged, until our next ‘Hakhel’ experience in Jerusalem.


Have you ever felt used?


Have you ever had the yucky experience of engaging with someone in a way that left you feeling taken advantage of?

Examples can range from the harmless to the extreme, but we all know that 'feeling used' is pretty awful.

If we take a moment to probe deeper, it may be because when G-d created each of us, it was with choice, love and intention. Meaning, each individual has automatic intrinsic value and a unique purpose. IOW: If you are here, then YOU matter.

There are things in this world that are a means to an end, and that do not carry the same unconditional value as each individual person does. For example: alarm clocks are here to wake us up, cars are here to drive us where we need to go and jobs are here for us to earn a livelihood and support ourselves and our loved ones. If there was an alternate way to wake up, get ourselves where we need to go or earn a living, we would easily ditch the alarm clock, car and job.

You however are not a means to an end. You are the end. If you exist, that is G-d saying “you are the most important thing to me, you are indispensable”.

This intrinsic value can be compared to the automatic and unconditional love a parent feels the moment their child is born. The child does not need to perform or produce anything unique to win the parent’s love. Our sages teach us, that the parental love is only an attempt at a metaphor for the great unconditional love G-d feels towards each individual.

This may be why being taken advantage of feels horrible, because it denies our intrinsic unconditional, G-d given value.

When we cultivate this attitude towards ourselves and others, many of life’s challenges are healed. When we stop judging ourselves and others based on performance alone, zooming into the absolute core value at each individual, we experience the transformative power of unconditional love.

Embracing Your Inner Tourist


Esty likes to say that although she grew up in NYC, her first visit to the Statue of Liberty was a couple years back, when visiting New York as a tourist.

People are often more excited about attractions in other cities, because of a certain novel allure and unfamiliarity. When we travel to new places, everything is fresh and exciting, and we're more open to new experiences and adventures. In our own hometowns, we may take our surroundings for granted and feel like we've seen it all before, leaving us unenthusiastic about local tourist attractions.

In a similar sense, it is not uncommon for a convert to Judaism to be even more enthusiastically observant and meticulous than their born-Jewish counterparts. The convert has a special place in the eyes of G-d, because of them choosing Judaism, on their own initiative, with the inspiration coming from deep inside.

We can all take a page out of the conversion book. When a Jew chooses to increase his or her Jewish observance, even in the smallest way, one more visit to Synagogue, Shabbat candles lit, Teffilin wrapped or charity given, G-d’s reward is commensurate (not based on the deed, but) with the effort and enthusiasm invested “Lifum Tzaara Agra” (Avot chap 5) .

So while yes, we ought to feel right at home in our Judaism, when it comes to enthusiasm and curiosity, we should channel our inner tourists.

Run With It


Since the pandemic, one of the sustained changes I've noticed, has been a significant uptick in people running in my neighborhood. From early morning until late evening, it seems as if running has become increasingly popular.

The Mishna teaches that: “One should run to do a Mitzvah”. Running to do something expresses deep excitement. Some people ‘run’ to the game, others ‘run’ to work or to their favorite restaurant. But when it comes to supporting a community cause, going to Shul or to a Torah class, it may be much more difficult to schlep ourselves out of the house. 

Just last night one guy said to me: “I don’t know how to get my children to be committed to Judaism like I am”. I asked him: “Do your children see you ‘running’ to do anything Jewish? Do you do Jewish with ‘Oy’ or do you do it with ‘Joy’?”

When you're running to do something, you're moving purposefully, with a sense of urgency and determination. It shows that you are willing to put in the effort to get there as quickly as possible. This kind of enthusiasm is contagious. When your children see you running towards that Mitzvah, they can sense your excitement and passion and they may even be inspired to follow your lead!

So the next time you are gearing up for a good cause, a Mitzvah opportunity or a Jewish experience, consider the fact that if you're going in that direction anyway, you may as well run towards it!


Can the Problem be the Solution?

A friend of mine recently shared with me his lingering frustrations, over a fallout with a dishonest business partner years back, which made their entire business tank. Interestingly, as a result of that mess, he went out on his own and built a thriving business, going on to achieve a level of success he never could have, if not for the bitter breakup with his former partner.

Isn’t it fascinating how some of the most effective solutions and big breakthroughs come about as a direct result of a problem or ‘mess up’.

Like the story of a chemist who attempted to create a strong adhesive. However, the result was a weak adhesive that wouldn't stick well. Instead of viewing this as a failure, the chemist saw an opportunity. He realized that the weak adhesive could be used to create a reusable, removable note. And thus, the Post-it note was born.

This week we study the phenomenon of ‘Tzarat’, which was an ancient spiritual ailment of ‘leprosy’. These lesions would break out as a result of a person engaging in excessive gossip. The disease and its aftermath, required the afflicted person to quarantine in solitary confinement. This very experience, as painful as it was, set the individual on a path of rehabilitation, ultimately allowing him or her to turn a page, starting fresh with a clean slate.

Interestingly, this section in the Torah is named  ‘Tazria’ which connotes conception, birth and renewal. Because the hope for a better future starts from the actual disease itself.

The message is clear: Oftentimes in life, the problem itself is the solution. While it may be bumpy and painful, it also has the potential to give birth to something great, beyond our imaginations.

Front-Page Article


We hope your Passover finale was as uplifting as ours, with beautiful, well attended services and meals. Thank you Esty Zaklikofsky for skillfully overseeing and preparing all the delicious meals throughout the entire Pesach!

As you know by now, The Shul of Bellaire ran an ambitious Passover awareness campaign by gifting a box of authentic, hand-made ‘Shmurah Matzah’, accompanied by an informative handbook, to every Jewish household in Bellaire and beyond. Every member of our community was united together at their Seder, by eating the same Matzah eaten by our ancestors for over 3,000 years!

We received lots of positive feedback how the gift enriched the Seders of many, and one family said that if not for this gift, they wouldn't have had a Seder this year, and this gift reminded them to not pass over Passover! 

Bellaire Water Tower.jpgWe thank ourlead Passover sponsors: Abby and Tomas Ackerman; Jim Adler; James Crawford; Gary Davis and Family; Dr. Allen Deutsch; Larry and Lynn Friedman; David and Elizabeth Grzebinski; Kenneth and Dana Katz; Marshall and Doreen Lerner; Lynn Levit; Howard and Barbara Weiner and many others… we thank you very much!

A very big thank you to the amazing volunteers who helped deliver the Matzah: Elan, Nathan and Yuta Bogomolny; Daniella, Gali and Gayah Hampel; Jordan Gorewitz; Dale Kurtz; Shmuly Marosow; Mendel Moya; David Troppe; Mendel, Mushka, Chana, Rochel, Rivkah and Shaina Liba Zaklikofsky.


A Muslim Woman Shocked Us


Last weekend I had the merit of leading a wonderful group of local teens to New York for the International CTeen Shabbaton  (pics below) .

The teens made many new friends, celebrated a beautiful Shabbat in Brooklyn, enjoyed a boat ride, delicious meals, our chapter even hosted a super lively after-party for over 200 teens. They also engaged in meaningful discussions, workshops, visited the Rebbe's Ohel, celebrated our Jewish pride with dancing and singing in Times Square and finished with a grand banquet and Nissim Black concert! Wow!

bellaire.pngOn Sunday evening we were at LaGuardia airport, returning to Houston after a whirlwind weekend in NYC with CTeen Bellaire. One of the teens had a ticket to return on a later flight than the rest of us, so we approached the agent at the gate to see if stand-by would be an option to bump him onto our flight. While we were talking to the agent, an amazing Muslim woman named Saadia approached the agent and said that she was confirmed for our flight but would like to give up her seat so that Mikie would be able to travel together with his group. She was willing to take the next flight to Houston, three hours later!! We were all totally blown away by Saadia’s incredibly generous and selfless offer to an absolute stranger 
(join the conversation).

Saddia could not have shown up at a better time, as we prepare for the holiday of Purim, this Tuesday. Purim is celebrated with Mitzvot, hearing the Megillah reading, giving gifts of food to another, enjoying a feast and giving charity to the poor. 

On Purim the obligation is to respond generously to anyone who reaches out for help, no judgment and no evaluating of how needy they are or how deserving. We just give.

Where do I even begin?


Do you ever find yourself caught in a vortex of app notifications on your phone where an unending barrage of beeps, pings and flashing numbers are coming at you from all sides? Have you ever felt like your 'to do' list is as overwhelming as the tens of tabs open on your computer, leaving you to wonder: Where do I even begin

A lot of this common chaos is part of everyday reality for millions of people living in today's overloaded, high-tech world. 

When the Jewish people needed to advance from the watershed ‘splitting of the sea’ event, they lingered around, to the extent that Moses literally had to force them to leave in order to advance to Mt. Sinai. But why? Were the Jewish people acting like children on 'slow mo' who refuse to rush to get to school on time?  Obviously there was something deeper at play. In truth, they hung around because they felt they still had 'unfinished spiritual business' at the sea. Their picking up as many Egyptian washed-up treasures as possible, was part of their G-d given mission and destiny. 

The Jews were so invested in the moment, leaving no diamond unturned, that they had to be 'forced' away, in order to move towards their next great mission at Sinai. 

We all find ourselves bombarded with a million things calling for our attention, constantly. As tempting as it may be to try to do a little-bit-of-everything at the same time, we can learn from our ancestors the value of being fully immersed and present, as we invest ourselves totally into one task or encounter at a time.

When we approach the task at hand, or the person before us, as a Divine given mission, deserving of our complete and undivided attention, we begin to experience sea-splitting revelations, each step of the way.

Mackinac Bar Mitzvah


Have you ever been to Mackinac Island, Michigan?

Last week Esty and I spent a day on the island after visiting our kids in Michigan camps. We ‘randomly’ bumped into Ivan. Ivan, born and raised in Russia, immigrated to the US in 2014, knew very little of Judaism, other than the fact that his mother and grandmother were Jewish. After chatting for a while, he shared that several months ago he began to explore Judaism and Kabbala and was marveling at how unexpected it was to meet a Rabbi Zak on Mackinac. We then decided that we would meet up the next morning, before he would sail off, to perform the Mitzvah of wrapping Teffilin, for his first time ever.

Mazel Tov Ivan for your Mackinac Bar Mitzvah! 

Bloom Where You Were Planted

You know how it is, some people call it the: ‘same old, same old’ syndrome. When the thrill for the people, places and things around you begins to fade and boredom sets in. Sometimes, this leads one to wonder: ‘Perhaps it’s time to move?’

And then, inevitably, it’s just a matter of time before, ‘same old, same old’ kicks in for another round…

Interestingly, Jewish law mandates that one who lives in the Holy Land of Israel, is not permitted to abandon its sanctity by leaving Israel. But, the law continues, generally one should not leave and abandon their location regardless of where they live, even outside of Israel (obviously, this excludes moving for a legitimate reason.) But what is so significant about a person’s location? And what about the age old longing to make Aliya to Israel if possible?

The answer is very simple. Where you are is exactly where you need to be. Where G-d needs you to be. As the saying goes: ‘Bloom where you were planted’. Your location is not a random accident, but rather by Divine design. Your entire soul’s purpose is very much tied up to exactly where you find yourself, and therefore, without a very good reason, Jewish law does not support: ‘Moving, just because.’

By tuning into your purpose and aligning your lifestyle with goodness, kindness and sanctity, in the very place you find yourself, you are ultimately ‘Making Aliyah’ without having to fly anywhere!

Until 120 - Then what?

Several months ago I set a personal goal to wrap Tefillin with 120 Jews, in honor of the 120th birthdate of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to have reached my goal of Tefillin Selfie #120, with Benjamin Samuels, Chairman of the Jewish Federation of Houston.

It has been a wild ride tracking these Mitzvah wraps over the past few months.

From hotels to parks and Costco aisles. Mid flight bar-mitzvahs, homes, offices, parties, funeral homes and even lifeguards at the Bellaire pool. 

I have had the great merit of participating in, quite a few, not so ‘random’ meaningful Jewish experiences. Now, As we mark the Rebbe’s 28th Yahrtzeit this Shabbat, I am reflecting on his legacy of unconditional love and leadership, and how he would certainly encourage me now to set a NEW Tefillin wrapping goal for another 120 Jews. So heads up people!

Don't count on it!

When the world watched in horror as war broke out in Ukraine, we launched an emergency appeal to help the communities there, in dire need. The response was overwhelming! So many generously stepped up to help people, who they never did, and probably never will, meet.

A question I often get is: “Rabbi, with so many worthy causes and requests, how am I meant to prioritize my charitable giving?”

Interestingly, Judaism does have a hierarchy when it comes to allocating one’s charitable dollars. In general, those closest to you, your family and your local community do take precedence.

However, there is one major exception. We are commanded to ‘leave the corner of your field for the poor’. We ‘leave it’ by totally removing ourselves from the decision of who will benefit from it.

G-d is teaching us something powerful, to know how to give with zero gratification, where you may never know the recipient or enjoy the benefits of your charity.

So today, do something that counts, and then don't count it!

Make Some Noise

A couple months ago, Mendel and my nephew Levik were sharing Mitzvah opportunities in front of the Bagel Shop in Bellaire, here is one:

unnamed - 2022-02-14T093648.777.jpg

Sometimes, it seems like the bells and whistles of the public square are exclusively reserved for flashy billboards and the display of worldly vanity. Judaism, Mitzvot and Torah study (in contrast) is typically reserved for the Synagogue and the home. In other words: Holy things ought to remain ‘behind closed doors’.

We get an important perspective on this from the garments of the High Priest: At the bottom of the High Priest’s outfit, were bells, so that when he would enter the Temple, the bells would sound. Basically, part of the High Priest’s Temple service was to generate Holy Noise.

With the amount of disturbing noise in our world today, there is a desperate need for us to crank up the volume on anything that is positive and good. We should look for opportunities to wear our Judaism with pride and in public.

You never know, a Mitzvah 53 years in the making could be waiting for you!

What's your Profile Picture?


In today’s ever increasingly visual and virtual world, it is very easy to go down the rabbit hole of jumping to conclusions, based on the surface level story we are being fed on social media.

But yet, we all know that there is always more to the story, behind the scenes, filtered out for a specific narrative or clickbait agenda.

And still, the ‘judging a book by its cover’ struggle is real!

Interestingly, the altars in the Holy Temple were made of acacia wood and earth but both were plated with a layer of copper or gold respectively. Yet, as far as ritual laws were concerned the shiny coverings were completely inconsequential, and the altars were judged for their primary inner quality only. 

This is indeed a timeless lesson!

In Temple times, we were not to judge an altar based on its covering. In 2022 this can mean: Don’t judge a person based on their Instagram profile, or lack thereof, or anybody for anything, for that matter! 

Every individual was created, i.e. handpicked, by G-d Almighty. Questioning the value of another, or judging them based on external trappings or behaviors is casting doubt on G-d’s taste, so to speak.

So bottom line: If we can look at another and see their spark, their core infinite value, we can then encourage and support them in revealing this to their ‘outsides’ as well.

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