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Rabbi's Blog

Thoughts and Musings by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

Mackinac Bar Mitzvah

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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:

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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.”

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