Friday, August 20, 2021

Always a Tourist

As we prepare for the upcoming New Year, various practices and adjustments are made in our morning and evening liturgy during this month of Elul. At the conclusion of services, we recite Chapter 27 of Tehilim/Psalms, known as L'David. The highlight of the prayer is King David declares his deepest desire is to "dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of his life and visit in His sanctuary." His lifelong ambition is to be in the House of G-d for all the days of his life. Why does he request merely to be a  visitor? This request would qualify him as a long-term resident!!! The thrill of a tourist visiting a world-class destination is unmatched in its excitement and elation. I recall my trip a few years ago to Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta, Canada. It was probably the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Judging the reactions of my fellow tourists at the time, I think they shared similar thoughts. People were speechless when they first arrived at the lake as there were no words to describe the natural beauty they encountered adequately. As with most tourist areas, a guy was selling cold beverages and ice cream at the lake. The individual seemed to be quite stressed from his everyday work experiences not unlike most people who have had that stress at their job. But-- this was the most tranquil and idyllic location! How can the environment not have a calming effect on him? The obvious answer is that because this vendor had seen this place so frequently, he became so desensitized to the location. That is the reality of human nature; no matter how wonderful something is, we begin to lose appreciation when we experience this regularly or frequently. That is what King David was referring to in Chapter 27. He wanted to be in the House of G-d every day of his life, but he never wanted to lose a tourist's feeling when visiting an awesome sight. This is a timeless message for us and especially acute in the month of Elul. We may have become so familiar with the rituals and practices of Judaism that we may no longer appreciate its beauty and meaning. Therefore, let us be in the House of G-d both literally and figuratively and feel as if it's our first time. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Greatest Educator

As schools around the world go back into session, it is once again time to appreciate the tireless efforts of all the educators that pour their sweat and blood into the infrastructure that not only teaches our children but provides them a platform to succeed in the future. The teachers make great sacrifices to educate the children thus giving them the tools to succeed in the future. The dedication of the teachers and educators is evident all the time but especially during COVID. There have been many protocols that teachers have had to adopt to ensure a safe environment for teaching and learning despite the pandemic. The pandemic has triggered all sorts of emotions from every sector and our educators have been in the front line in receiving all sorts of feedback that has not always been positive. It is for this reason and more that it is important for all of us to be so appreciative of all the efforts that teachers and administrators make during this fragile era. I think we should be mindful of this regardless of whether we have children in a particular school or even have children that are still of school age. It’s important to acknowledge all of the efforts of our teachers and administrator. The impact that a teacher or mentor can sometimes surpass the lifetime and generation of the individual. One such impactful figure whose influence is felt all over the world in many Orthodox Jewish schools today has been Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel (1849-1927) in a small town in Lithuania called Slabodka. He was also known by his Yiddish nickname as the Alter (elder) of Slabodka. He was a modest unassuming man that arguably had one of the most profound influences in the Jewish world during the last century. Many of his students went on to start their own educational institutions in the U.S.A., Europe and Israel. These students in turn went on to have many more students that became great leaders and opened even more schools and yeshivas to further influence our generation today. What was the secret sauce of the Alter that allowed his influence to flourish all over the world nearly a century after his passing? The foundation of the Alter’s educational philosophy was the Greatness of Man. He emphasized to his students that Man has unlimited potential as we were created in the image of G-d. This message was very empowering and refreshing for his students. They felt they were freed from the shackles of mediocrity and went on to achieve outstanding results. When a student feels that he or she can make an unparalleled contribution, this motivates the student to conquer plateaus that were previously thought unimaginable. The Alter lived the motto of good leaders create followers but great leaders create leaders. As I so look forward to watching the children making their way back into their classrooms and feel so indebted to their teacher for inculcating them with this empowering philosophy, I also muse about the sage from a small village in Lithuania who created this movement. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Pre Season Is Important!

It is this time of year that holds promise for every beleaguered fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The perennial suffering that local football fans have endured for so many years seems to be in jeopardy with a complete overhaul and not to mention the prize of the number one draft pick. The comprehensive analysis of the Jags season is something beyond the scope of this space, and quite frankly, I feel unqualified to have an informed opinion on the subject. The angle that I want to highlight is the amount of time in training camp and the pre-season it takes to prepare for the regular season adequately. There are at least six weeks of intensive training that includes rigorous workouts and drills. The rationale for this lengthy preparation is evident as it would seem absurd to show up on the day of the start of the season and expect to succeed. It is only with proper planning and preparation that one can anticipate a season with success. This notion of proper planning should resonate with us as we welcome the month of Elul this Shabbos. Elul has been traditionally known as the time to prepare for the Jewish Calendar's most holy and auspicious days. The start of Elul is a reality check that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are around the corner. These awesome days are traditionally a call to get closer to G-d and his Divine Word. It is also essential to get in touch with our inner selves to have a healthy relationship with G-d. One can get there with appropriate reflection and introspection. This process is not like your favorite dish being prepared in the instant pot. This program of reflection and introspection needs a month, which is why we are blessed to have Elul. It may appear fanciful to show up on the day of Rosh Hashanah and dip the apple in honey and wish your friend a good year. As we know from every area of life that success on the field or corporate office doesn't just happen. It takes serious and careful planning to have an outcome that is rewarded with excellence. As the sage in Pirkei Avos taught, "the day is short, and the work is great." The opportunity of Elul lies in front of us, and the clock is ticking. This year more than ever, when we feel the gravity of Rosh Hashanah approaching, let us not squander the gift of Elul. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...