Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Tree of Life to Those Who Cling To It

The Jewish Halachic literature offers an unusual window into the Holocaust experience. Jewish Torah Law, or Halachah, serves as a guide for life in even the most trying of times. And circumstances during the Holocaust gave rise to many troubling questions for which Jews required answers.

In this class, we will look closely at the kind of advice that was sought. The responses these Jews were given have much to teach us about Jewish values, but the more amazing fact is that these questions were asked at all.

Some of the questions reveal the fervor and self-sacrifice of Jews who desired to observe mitzvoth. Some reveal the moral courage of Jews who debated whether they were permitted to save their own lives at the expense of others. All are testament to an inner integrity and strength that transcended the horrors of that time.

Please join us for Lesson Five of Beyond Never Again, titled, A Tree of Life to Those Who Hold Fast to It: Halachic Questions of the Holocaust Era.

Looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday evening at the Chabad Torah Centre.

The Land of Milk and Honey by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
Our dream to move to Israel is finally becoming reality. We are making aliyah next month. I know it will be challenging. Any advice?

Israel is unlike any other country in the world. Every other place you could live, as long as you like it there all is fine. But with Israel it isn't enough that you like it there. Israel has to like you too.

Israel is a land with a soul of its own. It is the Holy Land, the place of divine blessing. If Israel finds you worthy, she shares her blessing with you, and no matter how hard life gets there, you will feel at home. But if you are undeserving of her holiness, you won't feel settled there for long.

The move to Israel is called making aliyah, which means "going up." This is not merely because Israel has a higher altitude to its surrounding countries. You need to go up to Israel because Israel is one step closer to heaven than the rest of the world. To reach Israel you need to be going upwards in your spiritual life. It is a land of higher spiritual frequency that has little tolerance for stagnant souls. Only those who are willing to grow can feel at home there.

So along with all the paperwork and preparations for moving, prepare your soul for the journey ahead. Take a step up in your own spirituality by choosing a new mitzvah to observe, and taking on a new project of Torah study. The aliyah ascent begins now, long before you set foot in the Holy Land.

Life in Israel is not always easy. But for a soul on the way up, it really is a land flowing with milk and honey.

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Are You Smoking? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
I read an article by a professor in Israel who suggests that the revelation at Mt Sinai was actually a drug-induced hallucination. I thought it was a ridiculous proposition, but it did get me thinking. How do we know that it was indeed G-d who spoke to Moses and not some mind-altering mushroom?

I read that article too. I am not sure what that professor was smoking when he wrote it.

There are ways to test whether a revelation is truly divine or just the product of human imagination. One of them is by examining the content of the message. G-d never tells you what you want to hear. When people make up their own revelations, the message they convey tends to be very convenient and comfortable. But if it is indeed G-d talking, He most probably will demand from you something you never would have asked from yourself.

Imagine Moses came down from the mountain and said, "Ok guys, here's the deal. G-d wants us to chill out. He thinks we are just fine as we are. Eat whatever you want, be loose in your relationships, and live a life that feeds your every whim and fancy. Don't fuss over petty things like being honest in your business dealings or being nice to strangers. As long as you are good deep down in your heart and are true to yourself that's fine. We are here to have fun, not stress over little moral scruples."

Had Moses brought us this message, we would be justified to suspect that G-d may not have said that. But Moses did not bring us a message of self-assurance and convenience. Rather, he came down from the mountain and said the following (not an exact quote):

"Ok guys, here's the deal. G-d created the world as an unfinished project. And we have to do the rest. We are not here to serve ourselves, we are here to serve a higher purpose. We are naturally selfish, and we have to become selfless. We are physical and hedonistic, and we must become soulful and sensitive. We need to care for the poor and down-trodden, we need to love our neighbours even when they annoy us. We need to practice acts of goodness even if we are not in the mood. We have a huge mission to achieve - to change the world by changing ourselves. There is no promise that things will be easy for us. But this is our mission. So get to work."

The demands that G-d makes of us in the Torah are steep. They challenge us to our very core. This itself shows that Moses received the Torah when He was high on the mountain, not on anything else. The Torah is not about getting high, but about living higher.

Voices of the Past with Rebbitzen Esther Jungreis

AIPAC's Policy Director to Present at Summer Retreat

Mr. Bradley Gordon, the Director of Policy and Government Affairs at AIPAC (Israel’s primary lobbyist organization in Washington DC) will present two pivotal workshops on Israel’s status and security at the National Jewish Retreat.

Before joining AIPAC in 1995, Mr. Gordon served as Staff Director of the International Operations Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and as a political analyst at the CIA in the office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis.

At the Retreat, Mr. Gordon will discuss rebuttals to global attempts to delegitimize the Jewish People’s connection to our homeland, as well as Israel’s options regarding the nuclear threat posed by Iran.

For more information about the National Jewish Retreat, please call or go to

Review of Lesson Four (Beyond Never Again)

Dear Students,

In our first class, we discussed various theodicies, rational approaches to the existence of suffering and evil. But in this class, we dealt with the emotional impact of raw pain.
Pain hurts. It makes us cry out. It can not be answered by cold intellectualism. But faith offers comfort where explanations fall short. In this lesson, we took a closer look at faith and how it can be fostered so it is there for us when we need it most.

Faith is about recognizing that life has purpose. Sometimes, the purpose is revealed to us; more often, it is not. But one who hones trust in G-d in good times has the fortitude to believe that even the harsh times have meaning.

In Hebrew, the word faith comes from the same root as “training.” Faith must become a habit of thought. We must learn to see our lives as guided, and each of our days as part of a larger order.

For many Holocaust survivors, the ultimate act of faith was simply to choose life—to remarry, to rebuild, to continue to believe in the Jewish future.

Thank you for joining us. We look forward to seeing you next week for Lesson five.

Rabbi Shmuly Altein

Everything is for the Best!

“Rabbi Akiva taught: A person should always say: “Everything that G-d does, He does for the good.” Rabbi Akiva was once traveling, when he arrived in a certain town. He asked for lodgings and was refused. Said he: “Everything that G-d does, He does for the good,” and went to spend the night in a field.

He had with him a rooster, a donkey and a lamp. A wind came and extinguished the lamp, a cat came and ate the rooster, a lion came and ate the donkey. He said, “Everything that G-d does, He does for good.” That night, an army came and took the entire town captive. Rabbi Akiva said to his disciples: “Did I not tell you that everything that G-d does, He does for good?” If the lamp had been lit, the army would have seen me; if the donkey would have brayed or the rooster would have crowed, the army would have come and captured me.


A flood is foretold and nothing can be done to prevent it; in three months the waters will wipe out the world.

A televangelist takes to the airwaves and pleads with everyone to welcome J. within three months , as their savior; that way, they will at least find salvation in heaven.

The pope goes on TV with a similar message: “You have three months to accept Catholicism,” he says.

The Sheik tells his people they have three months to accept allah and prepare to die in faith.

The chief rabbi of Israel takes a slightly different approach: He tells his people “We have three months to learn how to live under water.”

Fortunately by Remy Charlip

Fortunately, one day Ned got a letter that said: “Please come to a surprise party.

Unfortunately, The party was in Florida, and he was in NY.

Fortunately, his friend loaned him an airplane.

Unfortunately, the motor exploded.

Fortunately, there was a parachute on the airplane.

Unfortunately, there was a hole in a parachute.

Fortunately, there was a haystack on the ground.

Unfortunately, there was a pitchfork in the haystack.

Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork.

Unfortunately, he missed the haystack.

Fortunately, he landed in water.

Unfortunately, there were sharks in the water.

Fortunately, he could swim.

Unfortunately, there were tigers on the land.

Fortunately, he could run.

Unfortunately, he ran into a deep dark cave.

Fortunately, he could dig.

Unfortunately, he dug himself into a fancy ballroom.

Fortunately, there was a surprise party going on.

And fortunately, the party was for him.

Because, fortunately, it was his birthday.

Underage Underwriters

Viktor Frankl Belief After the Holocaust

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review of Lesson Three (Beyond Never Again)

Thank you for joining us for the third lesson of Beyond Never Again.

In this lesson, we explored the value of Kidush Hashem, sanctifying G-d’s name. Some faiths, believing that this world is temporal and the future world is eternal, glorify martyrdom, for they see life as having relatively minimal value. But Judaism treasures the opportunity that is embedded in each moment of life. Kidush Hashem is thus first and foremost about life and sanctifying G-d’s name in this world.

Judaism does not believe in sacrificing life simply to defy an oppressor. Kidush Hashem is justified to avoid living the kind of life that profanes G-d’s name. This understanding is an important freamework which helped many Jews to make sense of the Holocaust.

During Holocaust, Jews were being killed without the option to save themselves through conversion. There was no escape. This had many ramifications. Those that perished in the Holocaust are seen as kedoshim (holy people) because they died because of their Jewishness.

We can express our own form of kidush by actualizing our innate connection with G-d, and standing strong against any influences that seek to disconnect us from our Jewish values.

Thanks for joining me to this week. I hope to see you next week for Lesson Four.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lesson Three: In Their Deaths They Were Not Parted

Dear Student,

In some religions, there is nothing more glorious than to die for one’s faith. Is this true of Judaism as well? Do we idealize martyrdom?

Even if martyrdom is not a fate we seek out, are their principles of such great importance that life is not living without them?

Lesson Three of Beyond Never Again seeks to explore the parameters of “dying for one’s faith.” In the process, we will come to appreciate that Judaism is a religion that cherishes life rather than idealizing death, and will provide a new appreciation of those forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday at the Chabad Torah Centre.


Rabbi Shmuly Altein

I Can't Answer This! by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
My kids keep asking me theological questions I can't answer. Yesterday my five year old insisted he wanted to know "What does G-d look like?" I had no idea what to say....

Sometimes the best thing you can tell your child is "I don't know." You teach your much child more by being open about your inability to answer a question, than if you would give a half-baked answer just to get off the hook.

If you don't know something, but fudge an answer, you teach a child that it is more important to look like you know something than to be honest and look ignorant. That's a bad message. Saying I don't know teaches that it is alright not to know everything, and it's ok to be honest about it.

Also, by saying you don't know, it shows your child that when you do have an answer, that answer is a real one. Your answers have more credibility when you only say what you really know.

But even more importantly, by saying, "Great question, I don't know the answer, let me try and find out," you teach your child that learning never stops, and everyone can learn more, even a parent. This is the greatest lesson you can teach your child. You may not have given him an answer, but you will have inspired him to ask more questions.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Review of Lesson Two (Beyond Never Again)

Thank you for joining us for our second lesson of Beyond Never Again: How the Holocaust Speaks to Us Today.

The number six million is so large that we cannot picture or imagine it. Thus, there is the danger of Holocaust being reduced to no more than large number. In this context, we must remember that when discussing the Holocaust, the most important number is “one.” Recognizing that each life is an entire universe, we may characterize the Holocaust as the murder of one whole world, six million times over. The only way to get any sense of what was lost is only by looking closely at particular stories, trying to imagine the experience of one individual.

Although many people of all nationalities and faiths perished in World War II, we focused on the particulars of the Jewish experience— both because studying the Holocaust is only meaningful in the context of particular stories, and also because the Nazis singled out the Jews as targets of annihilation. Moreover, the Nazis planned to eradicate not only Jews, but also Jewish values.

Given the Nazi goal of ridding the world of Jews and anything Jewish, any Jew that continued to believe in life and attempted survival was resisting the Nazis. Furthermore, the refusal to adopt Nazi values, instead remaining fast to a world-view, was also engaged in a potent form of resistance.

We looked at some striking stories that illustrated this resistance of the spirit, a power that can be accessed and utilized even under the most dire circumstances.

Thank you for joining us for this class. I hope to see you next week for our third lesson, In Their Death They Were Not Parted: The Mitzvah of Kidush Hashem.

Lesson Two: The Voice of Your Brother's Blood Cries Out

Over eleven million people died in World War II, and there other groups besides the Jews who were singled out by the Nazis as a target of annihilation. By speaking of the war against the Jews, do we lose an opportunity to connect with others who have suffered?

This lesson weighs the importance of hearing a distinctly Jewish voice when discussing the Holocaust, and points out the importance of recognizing what is distinct about the Jewish experience, even while realizing that there are other stories to be told about the war as well.

Join us this week for Lesson Two of Beyond Never Again, in which we will explore the ability to attain universality while viewing the Holocaust through a particular Jewish prism.

Looking forward to seeing you for Lesson Two.