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Rabbi's Blog

Thoughts and Musings by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

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:

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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.

Divine vs. Tech Surveillance!

 

Remember the good old days when you would be speaking on the phone about a vacuum cleaner and minutes later, while scrolling through Facebook, you would see vacuum cleaner ads “recommended for you”?

Now it seems like the tech-algorithms are closing in on us, on the next level! Where I’m literally afraid to even think about a vacuum cleaner.

Sounds unbelievable but tech-surveillance has basically reached a point where it can actually anticipate and track our very thought.

An age-old Mishnaic teaching describes G-d as having: “An eye that sees and an ear that hears”. In 2022, this idea is no longer an abstract verse, but a very relatable concept: It’s called “Divine Surveillance”. If our devices know our every move, certainly our Creator does too!

Let that sink in… and let us realize how empowering it is: Your truth will never go unnoticed by G-d, because He knows your every thought, and sees the entire picture. Not just the end result that everyone else sees, but the backstory as well. My inner struggle, and everything else going on inside of me, G-d knows it all!

From that vantage point, G-d values and appreciates our good deeds infinitely more!

Do You Imbibe?


Have you ever wondered why the words “Boruch ata Ado…” are often followed by a ritual sipping, eating, crunching, dipping or shaking of some sort? 

Why aren’t the words of the blessing meaningful enough to stand on their own? 

It’s because Judaism is not just a belief-system of sound-bites or slogans, but rather an all-encompassing value-system that needs to permeate us to our very core.

Before the Jews left Egypt, they needed to not only offer-up a Paschal Lamb to G-d, they needed ‘to eat it too’.

Therefore “Boruch ata…” will always be followed by an action to remind us that these words have a message that we must imbibe and integrate into our lives.

So the next time you are at a Shabbat dinner or a Seder and you find yourself chanting and sipping, remember that beyond the lip service, there are actual values of holiness, redemption, and faith, that are there for you to “take in” and absorb into your life.

A Parent’s Dilemma

Every parent and educator knows that their number one priority is to protect children from harm, both physical and spiritual. This is especially true in today’s world of ‘moral ambiguity’.

The question is, which way do we go? Do we do what our parents did? Do we follow professional advice or a rabbi’s advice? Our gut instinct or social media influencers?

In reality, we need to go in all directions simultaneously.

When Jacob (our forefather) was encountering his evil brother Esau after 22 years of estrangement, he knew that Esau was approaching with malicious intent. To address this grave danger, Jacob took a multi-pronged approach. He pivoted, outside of his normal ‘zone’ to assure his family’s safety.

Sometimes, we may be tempted to stick to traditional methods, those which we are accustomed to. For example: “My child needs to continue in a particular school or camp (though clearly not in his/her best interest), because doing anything else will raise eyebrows from my social circle.”

Yet, when it comes to ‘saving a life’ we must be ready to employ methods we may have never considered before. If we are to succeed with our youth we need to be open to ‘walking an unbeaten path’ with new and different approaches, not leaving any stone unturned, for the sake of a child’s well-being.

 

 

Be THAT Neighbor!

What are your neighbors like? What kind of neighbor are you?

In each community you typically find a wide variety of neighbors. From those who keep exclusively to themselves, all the way to that neighbor who bakes fresh apple pie and delivers it to your door step, just because. And of course there is the whole spectrum in between.

Jacob (our forefather) was the quintessential neighbor. As he made his way through town he would interact with his fellow citizens, sharing positive and uplifting words with them. His influence was so great that when he left his hometown, its splendor, majesty and beauty left with him.

Each of us is blessed with some positive energy, wisdom or values, that we can share with those around us. We can all learn from Jacob to be ‘that’ neighbor sharing a kind smile, an uplifting word and positivity with those around us.

Seeing the Invisible

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the international conference of Chabad Rabbis in NY.

One of the big takeaways was this:

When we could see the light in another person, and communicate that effectively, that is often what gives them the confidence to see the light in themselves, to help them achieve their goals.

This idea is most pronounced when it comes to our children.

For example: Our forefather Isaac’s primary blessings were given to his YOUNGER son Jacob. But at first he wanted to give those blessings to his OLDER son Esau. But how can that be?  Did he not see Esau’s wickedness?

The answer is, that of course he knew what his son was up to, but what he saw even DEEPER was his son’s extraordinary potential. Isaac saw the greatness that Esau was capable of.

Like Isaac, we too can train ourselves to believe in our children, seeing in them, and in everyone we engage with, what they CAN become tomorrow!

Calm and Crazy

I always loved the saying “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface but paddling like crazy underneath.”

There’s something about that ‘calm and crazy’ juxtaposition, that seems like the perfect recipe for success.

A very compelling example of this, from a Psycho-Spiritual perspective, is found in the personalities of our patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac (who were also father and son). Each of them represented a unique paradigm.

Abraham was full of love, embracing, open-hearted and kind to all. Isaac, on the other hand, was more disciplined, discerning and restrained.

The thing is: Each quality, if left unchecked can be vulnerable to corruption. Just like unrestrained love can eventually become toxic, unending discipline can also be extremely problematic.

That’s why, father and son were a perfect unit, each picked-up where the other left off.

Much like the paddling duck, the path to success is a perfect combination of Enthusiasm and Discipline. 

As their descendants, it is in our hands to harness our own inner ‘Abraham-like’ and ‘Isaac-like’ tendencies to work together in perfect compatible harmony! 

Meeting Yourself

I remember once walking by the Peace Corps offices in Washington, DC, where in the window there was a sign that read: “You will meet some amazing people, including yourself”.

For most of us, it takes leaving our ‘comfort zones’ in order to discover a deeper dimension of ourselves, that we never knew existed.

Creature comforts, fixed mindsets and deep seated behavior patterns keep us tethered to our self-imposed limits.  Whereas, new people and circumstances that may challenge us at first, are ultimately how we break free of our molds to advance forward in life.

Who was the first one to experience this? Abraham.

God told Abraham “Lech Lecha - Go to Yourself…” by leaving your home of origin (in every sense of the word), you will discover many new things, also about yourself. Your highest self!

Like Abraham, we are called upon to take a similar ‘leap of faith’ out of our own comfort zones. While it may feel risky and unsettling at first, ultimately that is the path towards discovering our own Promised Land.

Delegating?

One of the great qualities of a leader is being able to delegate.

Yet, there are some things in life that are just too important to assign to others, and therefore fall under the rubric of ‘DIY’ - Do It Yourself!

For example: Raising our children. Specifically, when it comes to their Jewish values, there is just no app or replacement for nurturing our children’s soul, we are the ones who must do it ourselves.

We may get support by sending our children to a Jewish day school, to the best Jewish camp and even to Birthright Israel. Yet, it’s been proven time and again that DIY at home, is your best chance at success.

You know who else practiced DIY? Noah did! 

He built the entire ark by himself, single handedly. When he had an opportunity to save the world he did not delegate it to his family members or others, he opted to do it all-by-himself.

Even though it took him a whopping 120 years, he so cherished the opportunity to perform the will of G-d, that he rolled up his sleeves and started working - single-handedly!

There is such a tremendous lesson here for each of us. When it comes to core values, like our children’s education, ultimately the key to success is DIY.  When our kids see how emotionally and practically invested we are in Judaism and their education, it is bound to rub off in a positive way.

 

Falling over the edge?

Social media these days is abuzz with college drop offs and of course, the mandatory first day of school pictures. Clearly, it is the season when many are venturing into previously uncharted territory.

Embarking on any venture, like a new school year, moving into a new house, starting a business or a new budding relationship is oftentimes fraught with risks and dangers, and as we know, can also become a source of anxiety.

So what is the secret to a successful transition?

The Torah tells us "When you build a new home, you shall build a fence over your roof." A fence offers definition to a space, as well as protection from the inevitable dangers of rooftops without guardrails. 

To succeed in a new venture, we should look ahead for all potential scenarios and plan accordingly.  When moving away from our comfort zone and going out into the world, various elements may test our most sacred values and convictions. Erecting a fence symbolically means to create personal guardrails to protect our integrity, honesty and morality.

Jewish wisdom guarantees us that creating personal boundaries is the best way of preventing us from “falling over the edge.”

On Campaign Trail

We are now in the month of Elul, uniquely described as the days when the ‘King is in the field’. Normally, in order to gain an audience with a president, one must go through a lengthy procedure. Long travel, waiting for an appointment which would be short and very formal. When actually in the meeting, being so overwhelmed, one may even forget to actually submit his request.

However, when the president is campaigning, he often arrives without the bells, whistles and regalia that he is accustomed to. He may let go of formalities, mingle with the people, ‘shaking hands and kissing babies’, approachable to all.

During this month of Elul, the ‘King is in the field’. G-d Almighty is more readily accessible. We need only make the effort to step out of our comfort zone, to go out and greet Him.

The word Elul is an acronym for ‘Ani ledodi vedodi li’ – ‘I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.’ This is a reference to the two-way relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. This relationship always exists, but it is on full display during this month.

By utilizing these final weeks of the year to ‘enter the zone’, we will be better positioned for our formal ‘meeting’ on the Awesome days ahead of us.

My Time in Surfside

It is not uncommon for friends in the community to compliment us on the forthright and catchy name of our Synagogue "The Shul". I always respond by giving the credit to the pioneering Rabbi Shalom Lipskar of "The Shul" of Bal Harbor and Surfside in Miami.

During my year of study at the Yeshiva in Miami Beach in 1998, a highlight of my week was visiting Surfside/Bal Harbour every Friday afternoon, where we shared a Torah thought, a Mitzvah (or just chatted) with Jewish businessmen and women before Shabbat. This included frequent visits to Rabbi Lipskar and his magnificent, world-renowned Shul.

Yesterday, watching Rabbi Lipskar on Wolf Blitzer's CNN show, just meters away from the site of the collapsed Condo towers where the rescue workers are still searching for his congregants, he shared something fascinating:

Just last week the Governor of Florida has signed two pieces of legislation at his Shul; 1. Recognizing the Jewish run ‘Hatzalah’ as an official Emergency Service in the State of Florida, and 2. Mandating the ‘Moment of Silence’ as a part of the Public School system in Florida.

"And this morning, those are the only two things that were working."

While the experiences of the last year and a half feel like they are breaking us, the truth is, as Rabbi Lipskar explained on CNN, that "we accept it and we have to learn, as we do in our culture, resilience and to move forward because challenges don't hold us back."

Please G-d may Hashem bring miracles of salvation to all those who need it, and the miracle of redemption to a world that needs it more than ever.

Thankful in the Dark

This week we were hit with another ‘unprecedented’ event. Most of us in Houston were severely impacted by a once-in-a-lifetime storm and freezing weather. Millions were left without power and water. If you or someone you know remains in need, please reach out to me and we will do our best to assist.

Like so many others, we lost power in our home for about 45 hours. We spent three cold nights under piles of blankets, while our days were in sweaters, coats or with friends to warm up. As of late Wednesday evening, power and some water pressure have returned, though the 'boil water' advisory remains in effect for now.

This was yet another stark reminder that essentials should never be taken for granted. Even heat and water that we so rely on in the cold of winter, can be taken away from us in an instant.

In our ‘Grace after Meal’ we recite a total of four blessings. Do you know when the fourth one, a prayer of Thanksgiving, was instituted?

It was composed after the Roman conquest of Israel, as a prayer of thanksgiving to G-d, for the Romans finally allowing the Jews to bury the myriad of corpses, more than a decade after they were brutally murdered. Can you believe that? Even in the aftermath of such a horrible tragedy, when there are rays of light or comfort we ought to offer thanks to G-d for them.

Let us show our gratitude by gathering our families to light Shabbat candles this evening at 5:56, enjoy a Kiddush and Shabbat dinner together and please join us for services tomorrow morning at The Shul.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, a great week and a Happy Purim!

Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky
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