Friday, February 24, 2023

A Pure Foundation

Amid great darkness, we witnessed a bright light. I am referring to the unspeakable tragedy of the terror attack in Jerusalem shortly before Shabbos last week. A Palestinian motorist plowed into a crowded bus stop and killed three innocent Jews. Among the casualties were two young brothers Asher Menachem Paley who was eight and Yaakov Yisroel Paley who was six. Two precious young innocent children whose lives were snuffed out in an instant in an act of the most violent Jew-hatred. Their father was seriously injured and remains hospitalized in serious condition.  The family sat shiva, and it was nothing short of remarkable. The visitors who came to pay condolences traveled from around Israel to their modest apartment to comfort the bereaved. Jews from all walks of life, backgrounds, and religious observances. The family estimates that at least half of the visitors were people who did not know them before the tragedy. They came as members of a larger Jewish family. The fact they did not know the Paley family did not stop many visitors from shedding tears and weeping as they came to wish their condolences. Great Sages, Rabbis, and the Prime Minister were among the guests who paid their respects to a Shiva filled with emotion and heartbreak.  One thing that stood out was the incredible strength of the boys' mother, Devorah Paley. She said that despite losing two precious jewels, she still has strength and faith. The children were given to her as gifts and treasures to cherish. They now reached their “tikkun” (purpose of living). She recalled as she reached the scene and saw paramedics administering CPR to her son and quickly realized the resuscitation efforts would not succeed. The grieving mother called for peace and prayer. Don't look for someone to blame or revenge, as this was a message from God. She called her children that were killed sacrifices for the People of Israel. She pleaded with the visitors that came to pay her condolences and the Jewish People that the sacrifices should not be in vain.  In the midst of her heartbreak and tragedy, she was able to teach all of us an important lesson. She taught us that while the most devout and pious are not immune from tragedy, the faith that someone has in G-d will give them strength to endure any challenge in life.  Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, February 17, 2023

Faith amidst Tragedy

Amid great darkness, we witnessed a bright light. I am referring to the unspeakable tragedy of the terror attack in Jerusalem shortly before Shabbos last week. A Palestinian motorist plowed into a crowded bus stop and killed three innocent Jews. Among the casualties were two young brothers Asher Menachem Paley who was eight and Yaakov Yisroel Paley who was six. Two precious young innocent children whose lives were snuffed out in an instant in an act of the most violent Jew-hatred. Their father was seriously injured and remains hospitalized in serious condition.  The family sat shiva, and it was nothing short of remarkable. The visitors who came to pay condolences traveled from around Israel to their modest apartment to comfort the bereaved. Jews from all walks of life, backgrounds, and religious observances. The family estimates that at least half of the visitors were people who did not know them before the tragedy. They came as members of a larger Jewish family. The fact they did not know the Paley family did not stop many visitors from shedding tears and weeping as they came to wish their condolences. Great Sages, Rabbis, and the Prime Minister were among the guests who paid their respects to a Shiva filled with emotion and heartbreak.  One thing that stood out was the incredible strength of the boys' mother, Devorah Paley. She said that despite losing two precious jewels, she still has strength and faith. The children were given to her as gifts and treasures to cherish. They now reached their “tikkun” (purpose of living). She recalled as she reached the scene and saw paramedics administering CPR to her son and quickly realized the resuscitation efforts would not succeed. The grieving mother called for peace and prayer. Don't look for someone to blame or revenge, as this was a message from God. She called her children that were killed sacrifices for the People of Israel. She pleaded with the visitors that came to pay her condolences and the Jewish People that the sacrifices should not be in vain.  In the midst of her heartbreak and tragedy, she was able to teach all of us an important lesson. She taught us that while the most devout and pious are not immune from tragedy, the faith that someone has in G-d will give them strength to endure any challenge in life.  Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, February 10, 2023

The WHY of Judaism

As we once again read and study Parshas Yisro, it is a great time to review the fundamentals of Judaism. Parshas Yisro contains the Divine Revelation to the Jewish People, which makes the audacious claim that this was a national experience unlike any religion. The Jewish People accepted the Torah, and its sacred mission was embraced by our ancestors and passed down from generation to generation.  When people are asked about Judaism and its practices, the general responses are centered around the "WHAT" and "HOW." For example, most observant Jews can describe WHAT Shabbos is about. The more learned people can instruct us on how to observe Shabbos properly. There are hundreds of chapters in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) on how to keep Shabbos properly. However, there is another essential element to Shabbos in particular and Judaism in general. That is the WHY of Shabbos and Judaism. If one is proficient in the WHAT and HOW but lacks an understanding of the WHY, there is a fundamental deficiency in the individual Avodas Hashem (service of G-d). People that forget the WHY and just focus on the WHAT and HOW are in danger of having the Mitzvos become mindless rituals. If a person's relationship with Judaism is performing rituals, he is in danger of becoming "burned out." Furthermore, the prospects of our precious heritage being passed down to the next generation are at risk. Who can blame the youth and the future of the Jewish people for not being excited about what they perceive as mindless rituals?  If one focuses on the WHY of Judaism, one not only has an appreciation of the Mitzvah but the attitude and performance of the Mitzvah are entirely different. This week's Parsha of Yisro reminds us of why G-d proposed that the Jewish People accept the Torah. It was that we should become the “Kingdom of Kohanim and a Holy Nation". The basic understanding of this lofty idea is that we should become flag bearers of Holiness and Godliness in this finite world. The Mitzvahs that the Torah teaches us to practice and perform are there for mortal beings to become holy and have a relationship with an eternal and loving infinite G-d. For example, when one makes Kiddush on Shabbos, he can infuse the mundane (cup of wine) with Holiness and Godliness. The mundane world we spend time in is filled with opportunities to elevate the ordinary with holiness. The WHAT and HOW is described in the Torah in detail. It's essential to never lose sight of our WHY. As someone once remarked, "if you know the WHY, you can live any HOW." Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch.

Friday, February 3, 2023

A False Choice

One thing that holds us back in life is embracing a false choice as reality. So many things are presented in a binary manner, and one is forced to choose between the two. It takes courage to look above the clouds and realize that this narrative is inaccurate. One well-known example is that to succeed in business, it is necessary to make compromises in Torah and Judaism. Unfortunately, popular rhetoric is something to the effect of how one can make all the necessary advances and excel in their field if they are held back by halachic restrictions!  This week many individuals from our community in Jacksonville had a first-hand experience of witnessing this rhetoric as a false choice. I was fortunate to participate in Kollel's trip to Lakewood. The participants visited and studied at the famed BMG Yeshiva, which has a student body of approximately 8,000 students. The study experience of in-depth Torah Study for the trip participants was a whole new level in being immersive and exhilarating. There was one additional stop on the itinerary that was eye-opening in shattering the myth of a false choice that we are regularly confronted. We had the pleasure of visiting a title company headquartered in Lakewood called Madison Title. What is most unusual about this company is not that it is a top-rated and well-regarded company in its industry. What stood out to our participants was how the values of the Torah are enshrined in the operations and culture of the company. The company's President in the conference room delivers a class on Daf Yomi at 7:00 am to any employees and guests. A Shachris Minyan on-site follows that. Perhaps, the most stunning example of how This value is internalized is that the company has Torah educators on staff, and company employees can reserve short study sessions during the workday for spiritual stimulation.    The notion of investing in the employees' well-being by providing perks in the workspace is popular in Silicon Valley. Google is famous for providing gourmet food, fitness facilities, and occasional massages. All of these perks are free to employees. The rationale is that if the employee is nurtured, the performance will increase. Who has ever heard of a company offering its employees Torah education during the workday to provide its workforce with a spiritual perk? The Jacksonville participants saw a company in real-time that is most successful in its field and anchored in Torah and tradition.  The next time one fancies the idea that one must attend fewer minyanim or study less Torah to be successful in the world of business, it might be worth remembering the visit of a group from Jacksonville to a  Title Company in Lakewood. 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 ...