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Rabbi's Blog

Thoughts and Musings by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

Miraculous Arm

 

Last Friday evening, our community experienced an unforgettable Shabbat dinner, drawing a sellout crowd, as we were honored by the presence of IDF elite officer, Yadin Gellman.

It's not every day that we are graced by such an outstanding hero of the Jewish people. Yadin's unwavering dedication to safeguarding the people of Israel was epitomized on Oct 7th when he courageously put his life on the line to save many of our Jewish brothers and sisters. The act of shielding fellow Jews with his own body stands as one of the most sacred deeds one can perform.

I was personally moved by Yadin’s strong faith. Yadin shared a remarkable detail about the months leading up to Oct 7th. Inexplicably, he found himself frequently visiting the Chabad Tefillin stand near his home in Tel Aviv, engaging in the daily Mitzvah of wrapping Tefillin. He firmly believes that the power of this Mitzvah, specifically on his left arm, played a pivotal role in the miraculous preservation of that very arm after being shot and badly injured. Despite the near-complete detachment, with the help of G-d, he has made significant progress on his path to recovery. Our heartfelt wishes go out to him for a complete and swift recovery.

We extend our gratitude to Yadin for inspiring our community and empowering us all to become ambassadors of Israel within our personal circles of influence and in encounters with others.

Staying Mindful


We live in a world where distractions and temptations far overshadow the more noble pursuits, like living Jewishly and upright. The struggle is real. 

How does one stay inspired and focused?

In the aftermath of the golden calf incident, Moses sought out G-d's forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people, he then pleads with G-d: "Show me your glory." G-d responded, revealing Himself veiled in a Talit, emphasizing the knot on His head Tefillin, saying: “You will see my back, but not my face”.

What is the meaning of that appearance?

This revelation teaches a profound lesson — the root of transgression is forgetfulness. As long as we are present and maintain a healthy awareness of our Divine purpose in life, we could never veer off. Only in a moment of distraction, when we ‘forget’ who we are, do we become at risk of a slip up.

So G-d demonstrates for Moses what the people should do to remain inspired. He appeared wrapped in the Mitzvah of Talit and Tefillin, both specifically designed for constant ‘remembrance’, ensuring that our G-d given mission remain central to our consciousness at all times.

Engaging in Mitzvah practices as frequent as possible achieves that even in the busyness of life we can be shielded against distractions, anchoring us in our identity, so we maintain our focus at all times. 

Bottoms Up!

 

What is our fundamental purpose in life?

Are we here to attend to our own needs and occasionally extend our time and resources to others when convenient, or does our primary existence revolve around helping others?

To shed some light (pun intended), consider the golden Menorah that stood in the Holy Temple, adorned with goblets fashioned in the form of triangles. Remarkably, on the Menorah, these goblets were situated upside down; the wider opening faced downward while the narrow base pointed upward. But why?

The Menorah, like the Temple itself, symbolized a radiant source of light, spreading goodness, morality, and holiness into the world. The inverted goblets mirrored this purpose. A cup is designed to receive, yet it fulfills its true function only when turned upside down, generously nourishing others with its contents.

Likewise, the more our personal cups are inverted, the greater our joy becomes. Embracing a focus on others, generously sharing our time, energy, and resources with those around us, constitutes our purpose of why we’re here in the first place; to be an ambassador of light in this world. While acknowledging the importance of self-care, it is critical not to lose sight of our ultimate purpose, to shine our inner light and illuminate the world around us.

Prepare for the Best


Every rabbi recognizes the direct link between a well-delivered sermon and meticulous preparation. This principle extends to business presentations, meetings and virtually any endeavor – the more thorough the preparation, the more favorable the outcome.

In the opinion of Rashi, days before the momentous event of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Jewish people had entered into a covenant with G-d. This was established by Moses reading them those sections of the Torah that were already inscribed on parchment.

Consequently, the Sinai revelation, became an exceptionally transformative experience. It elevated and inspired the Jewish people to serve as Divine ambassadors of morality, light, love and hope, for the world around them.

The implication is profound. When approaching a Jewish holiday or anticipating the arrival of Shabbat, it is worthwhile to consider how we can spiritually ready ourselves to connect with the theme or message of given occasion.

Proactive steps like learning about the practical or spiritual significance of the approaching day, dedicating time to prayer or giving charity, will allow us to approach significant moments with intentionality. Adding meaning and purpose to our routines, turning the ordinary into extraordinary!  

What’s up with the candy?


One of the sweetest memories of your Jewish life may have been when you were pelted with candies at your Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or when being called to the Torah before your marriage. (Side note, this week we will be hosting three such candy throwing occasions at The Shul.)

What you may have not known is that the intersection of candies and Jewish milestones starts even earlier, according to an age old custom, introducing a child into formal Jewish education is done with honey and candy throwing as well.

What is actually up with all this candy enthusiasm?

Well, when entering into new terrain, whether education, adulthood or married life, we do so knowing that life isn’t always a bowl of cherries, challenges are inevitable. It’s not easy to finish school, it’s not always a breeze to live a committed Jewish life and certainly it takes a huge amount of effort to remain in a committed, loving marriage for a lifetime. But the sweetness that awaits us when we do put in the work is infinitely greater than the ‘pain’ we go through to get there.

Tonight we mark the 74th year since the Rebbe assumed leadership of the Chabad movement. In a private meeting, someone once bemoaned to the Rebbe about the fact that his child was not fully embracing a Jewish lifestyle. The Rebbe asked him about the attitude toward Judaism in his home. The man explained that he often expressed himself with "Es iz shver tsu zain a Yid - It’s tough to be a Jew". The Rebbe suggested that he change the atmosphere at home by replacing "It's tough to be a Jew" with "Es iz gut tsu zein a Yid - it's great to be a Jew. And that made all the difference.

Candy throwing at every step reminds us to focus on the blessing of being a Jew. Judaism gives us an anchor, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and that is the ultimate sweetness.

Farewell to Daniella

 

Yesterday we did the impossible, bidding farewell to a cherished friend and community member, Daniella Hampel, z”l.

On Shabbat at The Shul Daniella lit up the room, something I told her the very last Shabbat service she attended, only a month or so ago. She was a Rabbi’s dream congregant, listening intently to the sermon, and never failing to share a compliment after the service. She loved Yiddishkeit and loved learning, attending JLI classes and more recently Esty’s Torah and Tea, continuing to do so even while in pain.

Tomorrow we will read about two great Jewish women, Miriam and Yocheved, who served as Jewish midwives and both displayed incredible heroism in the face of the great darkness of the Egyptian exile. It was because of their sacrifices, risking their lives in assisting Jewish mothers to bring children into the world, that the Jewish nation was able to survive the darkness of exile, eventually meriting the exodus from Egypt.

G-d Almighty rewarded these two women accordingly, that Aaron and his priestly family, the Levites, as well as King David all descended from her. Because they helped secure the future of the Jewish people, G-d rewarded them with the greatest Nachas a Jewish mother can hope for.

This was Daniella. Like Miriam and Yocheved she invested endless time and energy into her children, their Jewish education and values, also serving as a beacon of light and Yiddishkeit in her neighborhood, proudly walking to Shul on Shabbat, hosting community events and much more. Her reward for that is and will be the incredible Nachas that she will see from her own children, as they continue to grow as educated and proud Jews, for generations to come.

Our sincere condolences to her loving husband Ori and children Gilad, Gavriel, Gali and Gayah. Her parents, sister, in-laws and extended family.

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.

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