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Rabbi S. Paltiel's Sermons

Rabbi Paltiel Delivers Invocation


G-d of heaven, Master of the world, look favorably upon the Town of North Hempstead. Bless these extraordinary individuals, chosen by thousands of people who have placed their faith and confidence in them to lead our Town.

Further bless these distinguished leaders that they may recognize that theirs is a G-d given position; that in the performance of their duty as our elected officials they are performing one of the Biblical Seven Universal Laws in order to ensure a peaceful and moral society governed by laws which are based in the recognition and acknowledgement of you – G-d – as the sovereign ruler of all men and all nations.

Grant us Almighty G-d that these leaders be aware of Your presence and that by laboring for the betterment of our Town they are doing your will.

May each of them be endowed with Divine inspiration to lead; with a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of understanding, and a spirit of counsel

Bless them with good health, wisdom, compassion, good cheer and good fellowship,

And let our beautiful Town serve as a beacon of light and a force for good, with a ripple effect to bring unity to a fractured world so much in need of healing

And may we finally merit to see the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy of the era of redemption, of world peace, when all nations will live together in peace, harmony and mutual respect, under the banner of the Great Creator, and let us say Amen.

Yiskor Sermon 5770 - Jews: Endangered Species

Jews: An Endangered Species

A drunk is on a New York Subway train. The trains in Manhattan are so busy, traveling in so many directions and this poor guy kept getting on the wrong train. Eventually, some nice stranger takes pity on him and manages to find out where he lives and he puts him on the right train to get him home. So the drunk staggers into the compartment, finds a seat, and, as fate would have it, whom does he sit right down next to? A Catholic Priest! And the priest looks at this drunk most disapprovingly, and says, “My good man. Don’t you know that you are on the road to purgatory?!” And the drunk mutters under his breath: “Oh no! Wrong train again!” And he stumbles out.

So many of us keep changing trains in life. We stagger in and out, looking for the pathway to paradise, desperately seeking happiness and fulfillment. But it remains elusive. Yom Kippur is the time to look for the correct train to take us ‘home’, to our Father in Heaven; to a life filled with meaning.

Let’s talk about the environment.  Its become a real big issue. We at Chabad are helping the environment by recycling the jokes from last year…  Plus we’re going green; we now accept cash (I know I already said these last year).

How about Cash for Clunkers… that’s exactly what Yom Kippur is all about.  We offer up an accounting of our deeds of the past year, something like clunkers… in return G-d blesses us with a great year – CASH!

How about Endangered Species, that’s become an important cause for Jews, and for good reason.

Lost in the woods, a hiker spends two days wandering around with no food. Finally, he spots a bald eagle, hits the bird with a big rock and eats it. A park ranger stumbles on the scene and arrests the man for killing an endangered species. In court, the hiker explains that he was on the edge of starvation and had no choice.

“Considering the circumstances, I find you not guilty,” says the judge. “But I have to ask—what did the eagle taste like?”

“Well, Your Honor,” the hiker replies, “not bad.  But nothing compared to the spotted owl.”

I submit to you today that a Jew is an Endangered Species… I am not happy to make this statement, but unfortunately I think it is the truth, and therefore deserves at least as much attention as we give to preserving endangered species out there.

As much as our enemies tried to destroy us they were unsuccessful.  Today, we ourselves are assimilating ourselves out of existence… Intermarriage, assimilation, apathy, we’re in danger… 

In 2001 the NY Times reported on the Jewish population survey:
10 years ago we were 5.5 million, now 5.2 million.  They later came back with a correction: We’re not 5.2 million, but 6.7 million (thank G-d the 1 ½ million Jews that were lost, were found…)

So we’ve got 6.7 million… in this area I’m doing my share…

A rabbi meets a couple and asks them how many children they have?
"We aren't blessed with any yet."

"Let me write down your names and place a note in the Kotel for a blessing."
Five years later he meets the women again and asks, "So how is the family?"
"Well rabbi, we were blessed with 10 children; two sets of twins and two sets of triplets."
"Amazing! I would like to congratulate your husband. Where is he?"
"He is in Israel," she replies
"What is he doing there?"
"Looking for the note you placed in the wall!!

The survey estimated 47% intermarriage… Here too the Times had a correction: it was actually only 42%.  I must tell you I felt so much better; first I couldn’t sleep, 47%; then when I heard only 42%... I slept like a baby…

We’re an endangered species…

We’re so worried about the spotted owl, the Giant Panda,
The Black Rhino, Green cheek parrot, big leaf mahogany…

I mean I like mahogany… but frankly I’m more concerned about human beings, and about my Jewish people… our people… our family…

As the Prime Minister said last week, so proudly: My People…
This is our people… our destiny…

Truth is I am not worried about the Jewish future, since Hashem promised Abraham. We are a miraculous people and we’ll always be here. One of the greatest proofs of G-d’s existence as far as I’m concerned is the miraculous survival of a tiny, persecuted wandering people, even while every mighty nation that ever came to power rose up, had its day, and then disappeared into the footnotes of history.

The future of our people is secure. The question though is will my family be a part of that future.

Population Study done by a team of PhD’s shows future of Judaism in your family is directly commensurate to your Jewish observance.

According to this study which I hold in my hand, they have computed based on intermarriage and birth rates of various groups of Jews, to calculate the Jewishness of their families in the future. 

The study is organized in 5 categories: secular, marginally affiliated, traditional, Shabbos observant, and Chassidic/Yeshiva. In each category they estimate what 100 Jews today will add up to in three generations.  Here goes.

100 Jews today, in 3 generations, will be:

Secular – 7
Marginally affiliated – 10
Traditional – 29
Shabbos observant – 434
Chasidic black hat – 3,401

Dear friends, this is not about alarming us because I think there are things we can do about it… but its good to know the score.

A colleague of mine said not to discuss this, it’s negative, might make people feel bad…  I am talking about it because I intend to tell you what I think you can do about this.  I think there are real solutions, within the reach of every single person in this room…

Besides, it’s important to know the score so we can do something about it. 

(Would you say – don’t tell someone there’s a train coming down the track towards them… and they’ll be in trouble… I say – tell them: hey buddy, there’s a train coming down the tracks… get off the tracks!!!)

When I decide how to raise my family and in which direction to take my life, let’s take into account the future…

People prefer blue chip stocks because they know they pass the test of time. If I’m investing my hard earned resources in a business venture I think about what future it has.  Our lives should have at least the same consideration as our money.
Choose a path with a secure future.

I always find it interesting how people suddenly get philosophical when discussing where they stand in terms of their Jewish observance, while when it comes to their investments they’re not philosophical.  They’re practical. They choose the investments that work, which pass the test of time.  It’s very simple.  Why should my life and my family’s future be any different…? Why not choose your path and observance based on results, on which path will yield a Jewish future for my grandchildren and which will not…

Rabbi Martin Rozenberg, local reform rabbi, in trips to Israel would tell his people, when taking them to yeshivas where they’re studying the fine print of the Talmud: This is the future of our people… 

Think about these statistics: why do more religious families have such a strong Jewish future; it should be other way around. In less observant families things are made much easier, with much lower expectations Jewishly. That Should be more popular… yet, the religious, Chasidic communities seem to have an excellent retention rate of their children continuing their path of yiddishkeit (the occasional drop-out invariably gives birth to a movie or at least a new novel…) and the more secular have a harder time keeping the kids and grandkids in the fold…  Go figure…

The answer is - Don’t Lower the Jewish Bar

Today many good, well intentioned parents think that in order to guarantee their children grow up to be involved Jews, Judaism must be made as easy and undemanding as possible. It has to be an abridged version, more suitable to the attention span of a Twitter generation.

The only problem with this reasonable idea is that it has precisely the opposite effect parents expect.

To illustrate, let’s consider three Jewish Holidays in the Bible, called the Pilgrimage Festivals, (the Shalosh Regalim. On these three holidays Jews in ancient times would make the journey to the Temple in Jerusalem.) The first is Passover, when we commemorate the Exodus, next is Shavuot, which recalls the day we received the Torah at Sinai, and finally Sukkot (Tabernacles), which commemorates the protective clouds of glory that sheltered us as we journeyed through the desert.

Let me ask you, which Holiday is most widely celebrated?

First is Passover, then Sukkot, then Shavuot.

Now, let me ask which is the most demanding Holiday?
Hands down it is Passover. Passover involves lengthy, exhausting preparations. The house must be thoroughly cleaned. The kitchen and utensils must be koshered, or you even may need to buy a new set.

What is the second most strenuous holiday? Sukkot. It involves constructing a sukkah, a hut with leaves for a roof, in which we eat for eight days of the festival. Sukkot also involves purchasing the Lulav and Etrog, the palm branch, and citron, as well as willow and myrtle leaves used in the festival services.

The least demanding of the festivals is Shavuot. What do we do? We eat cheesecake and there is an all night study session. However, both are customs and are not Biblical in origin.

Friends, the more demanding the festival, the more it is observed and celebrated.

This is strikingly evident when it comes to the most challenging day of the whole calendar, today, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Jews spend an entire day in the synagogue, fasting, praying, repenting, and listening to a barrage of painfully long sermons.

Going by the popular theory that the easier a Mitzvah, the more widely it is celebrated, one would expect the synagogue to be empty on Yom Kippur, and packed on the one day a year we eat cheesecake.  The fact is, synagogues are more packed on Yom Kippur than on any other day of the year. Go figure.

This explains why, for two centuries, the Jewish families, even those with the best of intentions that have pursued the policy of making Judaism less demanding, to their great sadness, have found that their children preferred other ways of life.

But why is this so?

It is true in life that we value most what costs us most. The more
demanding the task, the greater commitment it evokes. We cherish most that for which we make sacrifices. Judaism survived two thousand years of dispersion, not because it was easy for the Jewish people to retain their faith, but because it was difficult, sometimes very difficult.

Last year (2008), two American teenagers published a book that became a best-seller. It had one of the most surprising titles I have seen in recent years. It is called:
Do Hard Things. The subtitle is A Teenage Rebellion against Low

Isn’t that fantastic? Teens telling us to expect more, that they are capable of more. So how do we tap into our children’s inner strength and commitment?

The answer is to embrace, not avoid Judaism’s demanding elements. Judaism, with its 613 Mitzvot and its vast literature, requires much study to master, and is about doing hard things.
(Don’t worry… there are really only about 87 mitzvahs that are relevant today since we don’t have the Holy Temple).

There’s this Jewish private school on the Upper West Side, you know, all the kids get dropped off by a driver. The principal comes in one day to talk to the kids about current events. He says, “Let’s take about something very relevant now. Who can tell me what the word ‘economy’ means?” One child raised his hand and says, “Economy? That’s where the other people sit on the plane.”

We teach our children to aim high. We need to teach them to aim high Jewishly as well. Some parents communicate the message to their children (either by their words or their deeds): “Remain Jewish”--we’re not asking much. We are talking about a small Judaism; it would be no hardship. We are not asking you to observe anything, to do anything, or even to believe anything. We are just asking you to be Jewish.”

You would think these would be the kids most likely to remain Jewish…but it doesn’t work that way. Because the child replies: That is exactly the problem. Why should I take Judaism seriously when it asks so little of me, when it has no content other than bagels and lox. When you show me a Judaism that which thinks enough of me, and takes me seriously enough to ask for my soul, then I’ll be interested. I want to be guided, I want to have great demands made of me, and yet you offer me a diluted diet of “be a nice person” and singing “Hava nagila.”

Today so many bright, sensitive, motivated, articulate young Jews are showing a great hunger for depth, for spiritual experiences and great causes.

And that is why they turn away from Judaism that asks so little of them. They devote themselves to those causes that make demands that move them and take over their lives with a quality of dedication they have been hungering for.

Story of “Why is this Rabbi Taking me so seriously” (Young man who became religious because of an encounter with the Rebbe on Simchat Torah who gave each child in his youth group his full attention and poured a cup of wine for blessings into his cup.  His reaction was: Why is this Rabbi taking me so seriously? No one ever did… )Let’s show our children that we take them seriously and they will take their Judaism seriously...

Friends, our Jewish teenagers today are of high quality and therefore they will rebel against low expectations. Many of us are familiar with how hard our Jewish young people work to succeed in school, to get into top colleges and graduate programs, and to excel in the fields of law, medicine, engineering, and many others.

How can we expect these same high achievers to get excited by a watered down, low-resistance version of Judaism? They deserve and want a Judaism that will move them. That will touch their souls. They want the courage to face darkness, the strength to survive life’s setbacks, the confidence and clarity to overcome doubt, the compassion to feel another’s pain as if it were their own.

Give it to them; and I promise you they will invest their life in it. They will become Jews who care, Jews who trace themselves back to Mount Sinai, and who allow that fact to shape their lives—and their children’s and grandchildren’s  lives as well.

Our children know, the best things in life are difficult, and require sacrifice and commitment.

Think about marriage. If someone asked you about marriage, if they should get involved, you’d tell them” it’s got to be one of the most difficult things in life, but I highly recommend it. 


A little girl and a little boy were at day care. The girl
approaches the boy and says, "Hey Tommy, wanna play house?"

He says, "Sure! What do you want me to do?"

The girl replies, "I want you to communicate your thoughts."

"Communicate my thoughts?" said a bewildered Tommy. "I have no idea what that means."

The little girl smirks and says, "Perfect. You can be the

A man with a gun goes into a bank and demands their money.

Once he is given the money, he turns to a customer and  asks, 'Did you see me rob this bank?' the man replied, 'Yes sir, I did.'
The robber then shot him in the temple, killing him instantly.
He then turned to a couple standing next and asked the man, 'Did you see me rob this bank?'
The man replied, 'No sir, I didn't, but my wife did.'

So marriage is challenging… If you tell them its easy, you’re setting them up for failure.  It’s not easy, it takes commitment and sacrifice to share your life and space with another person. But its well worth the sacrifice…


So what’s the solution? Do I think everyone in this room is suddenly going to become religious, Shomer Shabbos? 

I think there is a practical solution within the reach of each of us.

Animals that are endangered are often marked in a special way so that they can be tracked and watched to see their patterns and to ensure their future.

I believe every one of us needs to ‘mark’ ourselves with a mitzvah that we embrace completely, something with which we ‘mark’ ourselves, it becomes part of who we are, it’s not negotiable.

Remember on the chart, the Shabbos observant, “frum”, column had a promise of a positive future?  I suggest that we take small steps, that each year we each choose one new mitzvah to embrace. But that mitzvah must be with a real commitment. In that one mitzvah we are ”frum” – observant.  If we chose tefillin, or Shabbat candles, then we never miss! Never! It’s serious.

We’re telling our children, yes we’re not there yet in terms of full observance, and quick radical changes never work. But that doesn’t mean we’re not serious… and that we don’t take Judaism seriously… The new mitzvah we embrace each year is taken on with serious commitment. It is our duty, we absolutely commit to it.

In that mitzvah you’re shomer shabbos…

And we must add a new mitzvah each year, choose any mitzvah. The Rebbe made a mitzvah campaign highlighting 10 important mitzvahs with which to start. He understood it needs to be gradual, and that it’s not all or nothing.

Wondering if Yeshiva education is for you?  That’s the only way to be assured your children’s future involvement in Jewishness.  I know it’s expensive, and it’s a bold step.  However, what don’t we do for our children.  If I don’t want to play Russian Roulette with whether my children will identify as Jews, marry Jewish, and walk a path of morality and wholesomeness, I believe there is only one answer…  Yeshiva day school education. 

A couple came to my office to discuss their need for more spirituality in their lives.  I suggested they begin with putting up mezuzahs on all their doors, and by celebrating Shabbat with her lighting the candles, he making the Kiddush and a Shabbat dinner at home with 2 challahs and a delicious meal with the family.  They agreed. (Shmuly already visited their home to take care of the mezuzahs…) As they’re about to leave the husband asks:  We have 2 teenage boys who are beginning to question their faith and often are not sure where they stand in terms of Judaism.  We’re going to be making some real changes in our home Jewishly.  How should we explain it to the children?  Is there a way we can explain to them the philosophy behind these customs, the candles, the kiddush, Shabbat dinner?

I looked at them and said:  Don’t worry about philosophical explanations. Just make sure the dinner is delicious…

Besides, I said, the same way the 2 of you (both very intelligent people) agreed to take on these mitzvahs without any philosophical arguments, because somehow to a Jew a mitzvah makes sense… we feel right here in our kishkas…  Surely there are detailed in depth explanations to all of it, but we didn’t go there. I simply made these suggestions and it made perfect sense to you. You feel a need for spiritual nourishment, so mitzvahs make perfect sense there… (just like if someone is hungry… they go ahead and eat, without the need to fully understand how the body reacts to the food and how it provides nutrition…) your children are no different. Give them a taste of a mitzvah.  They’re Jewish too; it’ll talk to them the same way it talks to you… Don’t push them, give them some time, make it delicious, and make it natural, they’ll come to love it…

Let’s think about our future…

Famous Book “From Good to Great” most successful CEO’s are those who think about the greater good of the company, of their mission, it’s not about them. No one would say this in the animal kingdom (in fact until 30 years ago no one would dream this is true among humans either…) isn’t that telling…

It’s the way G-d wired us humans up, that deep down in our heart of hearts there’s a bigger picture, a sense of mission and purpose…
Let’s do the same with our family’s Jewish future.

It’s known that the idea of grandchildren or grandparents is a uniquely human phenomenon.  Animals know their young, but not their young’s young.  Humans have a sense of history, a sense of connection to generations past and future.  It’s human to be concerned about the destiny of my family, of my people…

Columbia business school professor taught: Make your business “BUS READY” – when you get hit by a bus things should go on…

If the business world is realizing the key to success to be seeing the bigger, our mission, our purpose, our future and destiny, how much more so as Jews… it’s always been about our collective destiny… a Jew’s life is about the future of his people…

No need for sudden huge changes in your home.  From Good to Great doesn’t recommend drastic changes, just small but meaningful steps in the right direction.

Choose that mitzvah today….
Make your family BUS READY!!!


There is a story in a Yiddish book from the Middle Ages about a mother bird that was walking down the forest road with three baby birds, when the little family came to a stream. The stream was too deep for the baby birds to walk across and too far for them to go around. So the mother bird asked the first baby bird:

"If I pick you up and carry you across the stream, how will you repay me?"
The baby bird answered:

"At the next stream we come to, I'll pick you up and carry you across."

The mother said: "That's a silly answer. You're too small to carry me
across." She asked the same question of the second fledgling, and it answered:

"When I'm grown up, I'll carry you across streams."

The mother bird shook her head and said: "Even when you're grown up, I won't need you to get across streams." Then she turned to the third bird who answered:

"Someday I'll be a mother bird and I'll have babies of my own, and I'll do all the things for them that you've done for me."

And that, of course, is the correct answer.

We are here because our parents and grandparents gave us Yiddishkeit.  Let’s do the same for our children… Let’s do for them what our parents did for us… 

Every person in this room has a very real sense of Jewish identity, that’s why you’re here…  We have our grandparents to thank for that identity.  It is because of their commitment to Jewish observance, to Shabbat, Kosher and Yeshiva education, that you and I are here today…  Let’s do the same for our children… Let’s pass along that same passion for yiddishkeit through role-modeling an active observance of Mitzvahs.

Yizkor service
We are about to recite the Yizkor service, during which we remember members of our family who are no longer here. We think of it as an act of kindness for the souls of the departed, something we do for them. But it also is a prayer that our loved ones will teach us something about immortality.

Our being here today testifies to the fact that they knew how to defy death, in a sense. It is because of their influence on us that we are in the synagogue and that we pray. They carried us on their back. And we ask them to teach us to do the same for our children.


The Chazan (Cantor) of Cracow was famous throughout Poland. People would come from far and wide to listen to him sing and lead the service.  Ironically, his father was deaf.   The Shabbat after his father’s passing, to the surprise of the congregation, he asked to lead the service.  He sang with a great amount of emotion, he sang, he laughed, he cried… The people were puzzled.  “You’re still in the middle of Shiva… what’s the celebration?” 

“Don’t you understand?  This is the first time my father heard me sing…”
The souls of our loved ones are looking down. They are watching, cheering us on saying, “Fill your home with real, living Judaism.  Be an example for your children. Show them how seriously you take the traditions of our people…. How seriously you take them and their identity as Jews… Don’t lower the bar.”
Friends, our children want an exciting Judaism, one that teaches them how to live wisely, courageously, compassionately; a Judaism that is demanding;

Introduce them to the Judaism of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Rabbi Akiba and Judah the Maccabee, of Queen Esther and Deborah; tell them they are wearing the same tefillin worn by Moses and king David; they are lighting the same Shabbat candle as our Matriarchs Sarah and Rachel lit… Give them the gift of a Judaism that is timeless; the Judaism that was practiced by our grandparents and their grandparents for three thousand years… a Judaism that is vibrant, alive and fulfilling; a Judaism that is forever.

ROSH HASHANA SERMON 5769 | DAY 2: Torah - Art Metaphor

ROSH HASHANA SERMON 5769 | DAY 2:  Torah - Art Metaphor

Sermon Rosh Hashana Day 2 - Torah as G-d’s Masterpiece Artwork
A fellow in Boro Park decides that he wants a pet. Going into the neighborhood pet store, he's quickly
attracted by the bright plumage and poise of the three parrots.
Pointing to the first, he asks the Jewish pet store owner, "How much for that parrot?"
He is stunned by the reply: "Five hundred dollars."
"What could possibly make that bird be worth that kind of money?" he wonders aloud.
"Well," explains the owner, "this parrot knows the entire Tanach (Five Books of Moses plus the
Prophets and Writings) by heart!"
Sure enough, they say the first three words of a number of biblical verses, and the parrot flawlessly
completes the verses!
The fellow expresses his amazement but, noting the stiff price tag, points to the second parrot and asks
the price. He's even more astounded when he hears: "Two thousand dollars!" To explain the steep price,
the storeowner continues, "This parrot knows the entire Talmud by heart -- with the commentaries of
Rashi and Tosafos!"
Twenty minutes of testing follow, with the parrot responding precisely and correctly about even the most
obscure Talmudic subjects!
Deciding that two grand was out of his price range, the customer pointed to the last parrot, hoping for a
reasonable buying price. "Oh that one? He's $5,000."
The customer exclaims, "What can this bird possibly know that could even remotely justify that
outrageous price?!"
"Well, we really aren't sure what he knows," admitted the store owner. "But the other two call him
'Rebbi' (Teacher)!"
As a rabbi I am often called Rebbi, or teacher, but the truth is I learn from the people more than I teach
them. I especially enjoy my conversations with children and teen agers in the congregation. They’re so
innocent and honest; there’s much to be learned from them.
Today’s sermon is inspired by a meeting I had with a Bat Mitzvah girl, Emma Podolsky, who celebrated
his Bat Mitzvah at Chabad on Shabbat the week before last. Thank you Emma.
I asked the young lady to tell me what her favorite hobby is. She said she loved art. She said that she
loved to draw and was pretty good at it.
I asked her why she loved it so much. She thought about it for a moment, and then gave me profound
answer: “I enjoy seeing my imagination come out onto a piece of paper.” Wow! How’s that from a 12
year old girl…
In general people are attracted to art. We’re intrigued by it; even mystified a little. I think we run to the
art galleries to connect with something spiritual, less mundane, and to get away form the mechanics of
the day to day grind.
And then it occurred to me that the Torah is exactly that: Art. G-d’s masterpiece artwork!
No doubt many of you are thinking: Torah is art? Torah is law! At best, it’s literature. But art?!
However, according to Emma’s definition, which is absolutely correct, Torah is in fact art of the highest
form. How do I know this? It says so in the 10 Commandments.
The 10 Commandments begin with the words: I am the L-rd your G-d; in Hebrew: Anochi Hashem
Elokecho. In truth, the correct Hebrew term for “I am” is Ani, not Anochi. In fact, Anochi is borrowed
from an Egyptian dialect. Why would G-d begin his first statement with an Egyptian word?
Our sages tell us it’s because the word anochi is made up of 4 letters which stand for an acronym of a
verse that says it all about what the Torah is: Ano nafshi ksovis yehovis; I (G-d) have taken my soul, I
have written it down and I have given it to you.) So Torah is G-d’s soul on paper; G-d’s imagination
right there on the parchment!
Just like loving, dedicated parents might envision in their minds the type of life and future they imagine
and hope for their beloved child. G-d has painted a picture in Torah of the perfect life which He
envisions for us, His beloved children.
He envisions a life with true values of family; marriage with real life-long, deep seated commitment; a
life filled with goodness and kindness; a life where one day a week we stop to reflect on the Creator of
life; a life where at every doorpost there is a sign reminding us of the Creator and His purpose; a life
where before every bite of food or drink of water our children know they need to pause and
acknowledge gratitude…
Torah than is the greatest masterpiece art from the greatest artist of all time.
If you like, you can look at it as “paint by number.” Imagine if a fine artist gives you the outline to fill
in. Think of it as a Chagall by number. All you’ve got to do is follow the instructions and fill in the
blanks and presto – you’ve got a Divine Masterpiece.
How much is this masterpiece worth? Well, we all know the value of art can be astronomical. A signed
original from a famous artist can be worth millions, even priceless. How about a “signed original” from
the Master Artist of all times, an original more than 3000 years old?! Priceless!
We need to be very careful not to tamper or change even one iota of Torah’s timeless message. People
often ask me why I am so stubborn about the old fashioned laws. Surely the Torah, like everything else
in the world, needs an update from time to time to make sure it is still relevant…
You see, if we were dealing with a book, books tolerate change; at times they even necessitate updating.
But art? Whoever heard of updating art? Maybe we should replace the Mona Lisa’s nose with
something more creative based on the new designs of today’s plastic surgeons… how about that?
Impossible! Any change on a work of art brings its value down tremendously.
Why? It’s because art is an expression of the artist’s imagination, of their soul. That’s why the value
can be so high. If I make even the slightest change it no longer is his soul’s expression. It might be
beautiful, maybe even nicer than before, but it’s not his. Torah is the expression of Hashem’s soul… “I
have taken my soul, I have written it down and I have given it to you…” We need to be very careful not
to touch it… Any minutia of change and it no longer is G-d’s Torah. It might be wonderful and nice and
helpful; but it no longer is His.
People often tell me: "Yes, Judaism is beautiful, it's wonderful. But aren't some of these things a little
old fashioned?" To which I always have the same response: "I've never seen an expiration date on the
You see, we're used to things going in and out of style. Styles change, what used to be in, is now oldfashioned.
We had single-breasted suits, then double-breasted, 2 buttons, 3 buttons. I hear they’re
coming out with a new style: no buttons. If you ask me, I think that’s great. If you lose your buttons it’s
no problem; you’re in style! So, we're used to things becoming old fashioned and outdated. What we
don't realize is that some things never go out of style.
You remember when Coke came out with the "New" Coke, it lasted about 6 months. Then they went
back to what everyone wanted: Good old fashioned Classic Coke. Like Coke, Torah is the 'real thing',
its best in its original classical form, it doesn't need to be updated.
A man was visiting the Louvre in Paris and he's looking at the most valuable collection of paintings.
Try as he might, it didn't mean anything to him. He had no idea what was so beautiful and valuable
here. (That's what happened to me when I went there….) "These paintings aren't anything special," he
said. A man, who happened to be a fine artist, was standing nearby and overheard his comment. He
turned to the man and said: "These paintings are not on trial. You are!"
The ancient, timeless wisdom of the Torah is not on trial. It has been tested and proven time and again.
How many things do you know that are 3000 years old, unchanged… If Torah were a stock we’d sell
everything we own and buy ‘Torah’… It was the Torah's system of law and order, of right and wrong. If
there is monotheism in the world today it is thanks to Torah. If there is morality in the world it is thanks
to Torah. If there is goodness and kindness in the world it is thanks to Torah. If there is equality in the
world it is thanks to Torah. These wonderful things that have become the bedrock of modern civilization
were first introduced to the world by Abraham and Sarah and the generations of our ancestors that

With all the advances and modernity of today's sophisticated world, we are still totally at a loss when it
comes to issues of right and wrong. The lines are blurred. We find ourselves falling back on our past
for answers to these and other pressing questions regarding life's purpose and the like, how our parents
and grandparents lived, the Constitution, the 10 Commandments. Why are we always looking back for
answers to these questions? Because these are not things the human mind can discover and develop.
These are self-evident truths based on the belief in a creator to the universe. If all our wise men of today
would adhere to the 10 Commandments, society would be infinitely better off. The saying goes, "The
best things in life never change." The Torah and its teachings are timeless, relevant today as they were
3,500 years ago.
Friends, this doesn’t mean we’re all going to become observant Jews tomorrow. If you accept the Torah
as whole and unchanged does not mean you’ll be observing it all the next day. That’s not practical and
doesn’t work. All I’m saying is, let’s not cut the Torah down to size to fit our observance level. Let’s not
change the rules so that we are winners. Let’s leave the bar where it is, and do the best we can to reach
higher and higher towards the bar. We should take baby steps, beginning with one mitzvah at a time
until we grow into our observance. But why tamper with the original?
Some years back we took a busload of people from this community for a tour of the Crown Heights
Jewish community. We visited the Rebbe’s shul, his personal library, the matzah bakery. Then we
visited a Chassidic art gallery. The people were enthralled by a particular painting depicting pre war
European shtetl life; they all wanted desperately to have this particular painting. But it was quite
expensive, perhaps $10,000 or so. The group of people I was with were not very wealthy, but they really
wanted it… so they settled for prints. Virtually every person on that trip came home with a $20 print
One man was especially taken by the piece. I saw him go to the back office where the curator of the
gallery sat. He emerged a few minutes later with the original piece. I asked him what happened,
knowing it wasn’t within his budget. “I’m going to send him $50 a week” was the reply. He’d pay it
We can choose to decide Judaism is too difficult, we can’t “afford” it, and settle for the print. Or we can
embrace the untouched, priceless original. True, we can’t “afford” it right now, but we’ll pay it out…
We have a whole lifetime to grow into it. First we’ll start with Shabbat candles, a rather small
commitment, (or Tefillin for the guys). A month or two later we can try having Shabbat dinners at least
once a month at our homes. Later we might affix some kosher mezuzahs. Maybe we’ll eventually
consider going to shul once a month as a family. Its baby step by baby step… When we feel ready, we
can become kosher, at home at first. Eventually maybe we’ll go further… maybe we’ll keep Shabbat
once or twice a year… it’s a long term plan of installments… but you get to take home the original…
You are introducing your family to authentic, timeless Judaism that is 3300 years old, unchanged since
We all worry about Jewish continuity, about how we will transmit Judaism to our children and
grandchildren. It’s a very serious concern, nowadays more than ever. Think about what happens when
you go out to an art museum and settle on the print… What happens to that print? It doesn’t as much as make it out of the tube… You only bought it to placate your guilt at not buying the original, but it’s not
something you’re proud of. Your children don’t even know the family has it in its possession. There’s
no chance they’ll pass it along to their children…
How about when you buy an original, signed masterpiece? It hangs right there prominently right over
the fireplace in the family’s living room. The children know about it and its important place in the
family home. It has real meaning to them; they understand its value. You can be sure one day it will
hang in their living rooms; and one day it will hang in their children’s living rooms… Its pretty much
guaranteed this will be passed along… no one leaves an expensive masterpiece behind… After all, it’s
something precious and valuable…
The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Schneerson, of blessed memory (father-in-law of our
Rebbe) had an affinity for art. He often said that if one appreciates art and has a creative imagination,
that this can be a useful tool in developing an appreciation for Torah and spiritual growth. Occasionally
he would have opportunity to visit some of the famous art museums of Europe.
On one such visit, he came across a stunning work by the famous Italian artist Rafael. It was a painting
depicting a battlefield, down to the last detail: the soldiers on their horses screaming as they attack and
are being attacked; the generals on tall towers with binoculars in hand shouting commands; wounded
being carried off by fellow soldiers; compassionate army physicians running alongside stretchers
carrying the wounded; the entire picture down to the last detail, right there on the canvas, reflecting the
reality precisely. The Rebbe writes in his diary that many tens of thousands of artists and army experts
had visited this painting, and all agreed it was correct, down to the last stroke of the brush.
Legend has it, that a high level retired general from the Czar’s army once visited that museum. He stood
there motionless, gazing at the painting for seven consecutive hours… and then fainted… When they
revived him he said: “This painting is so real. I felt as if I was really at the battlefield. I fainted from
sheer fright…”
My dear beloved friends, if Torah is our G-d given painting, we need to take the time if we want to
appreciate it. Just walking by a work of art, giving it a moment of attention and nodding our approval
doesn’t cut it. We need to take the time to gaze deeply into the words of our holy, timeless Torah. We
need to explore its every nuance and detail. We need to take it in… It will move us beyond what we
think imaginable!
As a young rabbinic student I was traveling Europe with a handful of friends. When we visited London
we went to see the Crown Jewels of course. We were very taken by them.. (I believe we were especially
moved considering our background as students of Chassidic thought and Kabala, which often use
royalty as a metaphor for G-dliness.)
One of us was “the businessman” type, the kind of guy who would fit right into Jackie Mason’s story
about how when Jews go to restaurants they immediately being figuring out how much money the guy is
making… they begin counting the tables, how many rows, times how many shifts, multiplied by how
much per plate… this was exactly this guy’s personality. So there we are, standing there at the Crown
Jewels, taking it all in, when this fellow pipes up: “Excuse me, how much are these worth?” The
woman tour guide seemed rather annoyed. She snapped back at him in her strong British accent: “Sir,
I’ll have you know, there’s no price for them; it’s the Crown Jewels.”
It reminded me of the Midrash which says the following: When G-d wanted to give Shabbat to the
Jewish people he called Moses and he said: Moshe, chemda genuzah yesh li b’veis otzorey, veshabbos
shmo. I have a precious gem in my treasury room… it’s called Shabbat. Please go and tell my children
I want to give it to them.
I’ve heard about this Midrash since I was five years old. I often wondered about it. Why did G-d need
to make this elaborate introduction? If He wants to give us Shabbat, well, let Him give it to us. If he
wants to give us another set of laws that will govern our behavior on the seventh day of the week, fine.
But why the dramatic introduction?
It’s because He wants us to know this is not a set of rules. Shabbat is not a nice tradition that we do
because that’s what our ancestors did. It’s Shabbat… It’s the Crown Jewels!
G-d, the Creator of the entire world, who created everything around us, the people, the plants, the
planets, the entire amazing, gorgeous universe of life, says to us: That’s all fine and good. But Shabbat
is different, it’s from His treasury room! It’s priceless… It’s the Crown Jewels… It’s the good stuff…
One of the arguments people have about Judaism is that it’s too physical for a religion, with too many
dos and don’ts. If you’re going to give me religion, they argue, give me something spiritual, something
transcendent; something that offers everlasting bliss and eternal salvation, maybe some outer-worldly
experiences, mountain top meditation exercises. Now that’s a religion. But Judaism? Who needs a
religion that tells me what to do all the time? And down to the nitty gritty… what to eat and when to
eat… who to marry and how to marry… what I can and can not do on the weekends…
My dear friends, please consider that Judaism is not really about detailed ritual at all. It’s art! It’s all
about G-d giving us a chance to experience a life that He alone has imagined for us. It’s all about our
loving Father in Heaven, the Master Artist, giving us his color by number instructions so that we can go
ahead and draw for ourselves our own masterpiece in the image of the Divine. He made it easy for us.
All we got to do is follow the instructions and stay in the lines, and we’ll end up with a Divine
Masterpiece which will make life fulfilling, joyous, purposeful and blessed.
The Talmud tells us about a conversation the Sages had about Scripture, the 24 Books (comprised of
Torah, Prophets and Writings) that make up the Written Book of Torah. Originally the Sages felt that
only 23 Books should be included. They wanted to exclude Song of Songs, a prophetic work by king
Solomon where he uses a loving relationship between a man and his beloved woman to describe our
people’s relationship to G-d. The Sages argued that Song of Songs is not “Torah” – there are no laws or
instructions in it; it is merely a metaphor for the relationship. It is poetry, not Torah law. It’s nice, but let
it be an addendum to Torah.
Then Rabbi Akiba, the eldest and wisest of the Sages arose and said: “My dear colleagues and students.
You don’t understand… you missed the whole point. If all the other 23 Books are holy, Song of Songs is
holy of holy.” All the books of laws and instruction are there only because of G-d’s deep, infinite love
for His children. It is really all about the “art”, the loving, limitless connection with Him that He wishes
for us to appreciate; this is why the rules are there, so that we live our lives according to His dream and
imagination for us… Embracing the Torah lifestyle is not compliance to a system of law. It’s signing on
to a marriage with a beloved… with all of the joy, radiance and blessing that come with it…

Rosh Hashana Sermon 5769 | Day 1: WHAT NOW?

Sermon Rosh Hashana 5769 – Day 1

An Italian, a Frenchman and a Jew arrive in Heaven and each is judged. The angel escorts the Frenchman to his heavenly reward. They enter a beautifully arranged banqueting hall with all the foods that a French connoisseur could dream of.
The Frenchman turns to the angel and says, "This can't be mine. There must be some mistake. I was immoral most of my life and I was hardly G-d fearing."
The angel replies, "There is no mistake. These delicacies are yours but there is a catch. Every day at 5:00 pm they will bring in a large pot of soup that is boiling hot. You will be immersed in it. If you can take the pain you can partake of the banquet."
"Sorry" said the Frenchman "I just could not tolerate the pain."
The Italian, too, is taken to his reward a similar banquet with pasta and all the best Italian food you can wish for on Rosh Hashanah.
Again a similar dialogue takes place, the Italian admitting to a life of financial fraud and corruption. "This can't be mine. There must be some mistake.”
He too is advised that at 5:00pm each day he will be immersed in a boiling hot pot of minestrone soup and he again states that the pain would be too much to bear. It’s just not worth it.
Finally the Jew is taken to his eternal rewards. They enter a beautifully arranged banqueting hall with all the foods that a Jew can only dream of... Chopped liver, kugel, gefilte fish, sweet herring, salty herring, kishke, cholent, sushi, beef lo mein, and of course, the most beloved food for Jewish men – tofu and soy beans.
He too cannot believe his luck.
"This can't be mine. There must be some mistake. I never went to Shul, I never did anything Jewish…
How can this be mine?"
Again the same response: "5:00 pm each day, you will be immersed into boiling hot chicken soup with kneidalach. If you can take the pain the banquet is yours."
"Fine", said Yankel, "I'll take it".
The angel is stunned. “The Frenchman and Italian – and countless other gentiles – have declined the offer; what makes you different?"
Yenkel responds: "What should I tell you? I know Jewish functions all too well. 5:00 is not 5:00 and the soup is never that hot."
Well, welcome all to one of the great Jewish functions of the year. But one in which we are on schedule…
Plus, many of us have been through some serious “hot water” these past few months… weeks… days.
So now you’re ready for amazing blessings. Yes, we’re going through very difficult times at the moment which is affecting many of us directly and all of us indirectly. But Judaism places great emphasis on the New Year being a new beginning – To quote the Talmud: Tichleh shono ukloloseah,
may the year end with all of its curses; Tachel shono ubirchoseha, may the New Year begin with all of its blessings. It’s a new year, a new page, a brand new book. May all of us and our families, along with Klal Yisroel, and through us all good people, be blessed with a year filled with blessings; good health,
happiness, nachas, fulfillment, and yes, some gelt…
So it’s an election year. The refrain seems to be change, change, change… Change we can count on…
Change we can believe in… Change is coming… Why the big deal about change? Someone said: Can
anyone come up with another slogan… for a change? Why is it that virtually every candidate, from the right and from the left, feel that the surest way to touch a nerve with the electorate is by invoking change?
Yes, we’ve been through a few difficult years, but I think there’s more to this change thing… People need change. We crave change, something new. Just ask the 40 year old suburbanite why he went out and bought himself a sports-car convertible; “I needed a change”.
Isn’t it a most interesting fact that fish swim to the surface when it rains to get a drink of the rain water… here they are surrounded by an ocean of water. But that does it cut it. They want something new and fresh.
I believe it is our nature to look for change, for something different… something above the ‘surface’, something satisfying. We’re surrounded by so much wealth and comfort but it doesn’t satisfy. We’re constantly looking for something fresh and refreshing that will.
I want to talk to you today about what I believe to be the most common question people ask themselves:
What now?
No matter at what stage in life; after every milestone, challenge, success or accomplishment. We then turn around and ask ourselves: So what now? Is that it?
We’ve just landed the perfect job for ourselves… we just drove out of the showroom with the car of our dreams… we just bought a new home in the exclusive neighborhood we’ve been talking about getting
into for 15 years… we just completed a complicated business deal… a deal that took us four years to complete… the deal of a lifetime, bringing together companies from across the country… netting us more profit than we’ve ever imagined possible… The next morning… or a week or two later… we invariably look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves: What now? Is that it? It doesn’t satisfy. There somehow never seems to be a finish line that
we can cross and we’ve arrived… they seem to keep moving the finish line each time we advance.
Subconsciously this is why we are so hungry for change… for something new. Give me something more, something satisfying. Something where we can feel we’re doing something real, something that’s not a means to some further end but is an end in itself.
We’re stuck in the cycle it seems where the lines are blurred between what are the means and what is the end. We work hard to be successful so that we can give our kids a good education; they in turn will use their education to be successful so that they’re kids can get a good education in order to provide for
they’re kids’ education… repeat steps 1 and 2…
Try sitting down and drawing up a chart of two columns: things you do that are the “means” and things you do that are the “ends”… I think that would be an excellent exercise every once in a while just to clarify our priorities and where we’re headed…
You know the story of the pool simple “yiddle” (European immigrant) who is out fishing, only to be harassed by a CEO who took an “important” day off from his busy life to fish… (The yiddle is totally chilled and relaxed while the CEO is quite anxious to make sure his important day off or relaxation is a success…) The CEO, impressed with the other guy’s intelligence is trying to convince him to go into business and become a CEO one day. But the poor guy can’t understand why. “You’ll manage a whole team of people”. “So what?” “You’ll make a good living and be a macher…” “So what”? “You’ll be
so successful you’ll be able to go on vacations and go fishing.” “Vell” he says in his strong Yiddish accent; “that’s exactly vot I’m doing…”
The whole world is debating what is life really all about… what is the purpose, where are we headed…
I don’t want to become too philosophical… that could have its own hazards…
The ten year old boy was home from school due to the flu. He was alone with the nanny who didn’t speak a word of English, when he started feeling really bad. So he decided he’ll call the doctor. But he didn’t know the phone number. He picked up the synagogue bulletin: Rabbi Dr. Jerome Goldstein.
Perfect, my rabbi is also a doctor, let me give him a call. Rabbi takes the call, pleased to hear form one of his junior congregants. How can I help you, my son? Well, I have this terrible flu… Sorry, son, but I’m not that kind of doctor, for flues… I’m a doctor of philosophy… “Philosophy? What kind of
sickness is that?”
So there’s the ongoing debate…
Some say it’s all meaningless, just enjoy. I saw a license plate the other day: LIV42DY. Just enjoy yourself while you can… OK, that’s an interesting world’s view… Just have some ice cream…  know for any intelligent person that doesn’t cut it. Besides, after a tub of ice cream we always ask
ourselves the question: What now…?
Others say its retirement that makes it all worthwhile, when we finally get to relax and cross that finish line… now that’s when we’ve arrived… But how much sense does that make? To work 50 years for a ‘maybe’ of 15?
Still others believe it’s all about the hereafter … it’s in the afterlife where life gets some meaning …
"Do you believe in life after death?" the boss asked one of his employees.
"Yes, Sir," the new employee replied.
"Well, then, that makes everything just fine," the boss went on. "After you left early yesterday to go to your grandmother's funeral, she stopped in to see you ."
But us Jews are too practical to accept that… we know intuitively that this awesome, beautiful world of ours has got to have lots of meaning and purpose in it… right now in the here and how… not just in the hereafter… But it seems to keep alluding us.
Friends, each time I walk away from officiating a funeral I hear the same sentiments: Is that it? Is this how life works, it’s just over? Even if the person lived until 98, and I’m happy to say I’m increasingly doing more funerals for over 90’s… people still feel a void, an emptiness inside. Yes, they’ll pay lip
service to it - “He lived such a full lie, he did everything he ever wanted to do, traveled where wanted to go.” But on the inside people are shaken up. They walk away shaking their heads… Is that it? We just collect all the pieces and the game is over?

Some people try to defy mortality by becoming famous. “True, it’s all meaningless, but at least let’s perpetuate this meaninglessness into eternity…” I recently went to see a very wealthy man to discuss his
getting involved in our building project, maybe he can help us complete the new building… When I walked into his office he was on Google. He was Googling himself… “Rabbi, do you know how important I am? I have 25 pages on Google!?” Oh, so that’s the purpose of life – lots and lots of Google pages?
What now? (Besides, what’s 25 pages? Some people have 50 pages, 100, and more…)
Read any of the interviews on famous people and you’ll see they invariably come back to something personal, a relationship, a child, a charitable endeavor. They know, perhaps better than anyone, that fame just doesn’t cut it; that when 100 million people know your name you still ask the same question,
perhaps with even more emphasis: what now?!
I said to you earlier that the businessman will always come back after even the most successful deal and ask that same question, what now. How about a doctor, after healing someone and saving his life. Does he also say – what now? How about a paramedic who brings someone back from cardiac arrest and saves their life? Does he also ask the question? How about when you hold your new born child in your hands… or your grandchild… do you still ask the question? I don’t think so... Somehow we sense something real is going on. We’re dealing with life itself. So there are some real things in life after all…

My dear friends, it’s because life is sacred. It’s holy.
What does holy mean? Let’s demystify this. People think of holy as special, important, significant, etc. but why use the word holy? What does it really mean? It sounds so mystical…
The Torah says: Vehiskadishtem – you shall be holy people. Ki kadosh oni – because I (Hashem) am holy. Holy than means being like G-d. G-d is holy; we should be holy too.

How do I mean? G-d is not a means to an end; He IS the end!
A teenager recently said to me: Rabbi I have two questions. Who made G-d and why do we need Him?
Good questions… In our material, scientific world where everything is relative, where the value of anything is only what can I get from it… where kids have parents only because they need someone to
pay for college… the question bothered him – why do we need Him. I explained to the young man that G-d was not made and we don’t need Him. He is not a utility, he is not here to serve a purpose; he IS the purpose. I tried to introduce to the young man the concept of REALITY, that there are somethings that
are real. G-d is real, and was always here, so no one had to create Him. G-d is Reality with a capital R!
That’s what holy means, sacred, true, real, an end unto itself. G-d is asking us to live lives filled with holiness, with acts of mitzvahs which are the end itself, not a tool or a utility.
That’s what a mitzvah is. Mitzvahs are G-d’s representatives here on earth, and they carry His quality of being real, true, satisfying. A Torah scroll, for example, is holy, not because you use it, not because you read from it. Many torahs never get used, they are still holy just the same. It’s not about what you can do with it. It’s a torah…
The only thing other than mitzvahs that carries this quality of holiness is human life. Life is sacred, because man is created in the image of G-d. As such, life is an end in itself. We do everything possible to save a life. We don’t consider the costs when it comes to saving a life, regardless of whether the
person is 19 or 90. That’s because life is something sacred, real, Divine, not a utility that can be measured in terms of how much return there will be.
It always upsets me when I hear people say: “It’s too bad we lost the 6 million. I can only imagine how many doctors, scientists, musicians, artists were amongst them…” this type of talk makes me nuances.
Is that what the value of human life comes down to… their contribution to society? Are we beginning to view human life like a commodity to be evaluated on its merits? Isn’t that what the Nazis did?
That’s how they priced things out in the slave trade, based on how many years of work you have left, just like when you buy a used car you pay based on how many miles its got left in it.
There’s the problem today with medical insurance companies and hospitals and the government not wanting to spend money on people unless they know they’ll live a certain amount of time, so that the investment makes sense…

Director of HMO dies and comes to heaven. He’s greeted by G-d who says: Welcome to heaven. But you can only stay 48 hours, then you got to go. We need the bed.
So the doctor who saves a life doesn’t ask – What now? Because he or she knows intuitively they’ve just done something real.
Think about it. The doctor is just doing his job, and he will move on to the next patient as is his routine.
But somehow he knows deep down that something real just happened. It doesn’t leave him wanting. It satisfies him. But why? If you think about, what’s the big deal? So he saved a life… so that it can now continue to wander around aimlessly like the rest of us for 80, 90 years… If life has no purpose, why
suddenly is there purpose in preserving it…
Its because life is holy, we’re created in the image of the Creator and carry that quality. We know this intuitively. We feel it in our gut when we hold our child or grandchild… this is not a tool to anything; this is reality!
My dear friends, allow me to impress upon you today that the same holds true with every mitzvah.
When you light a Shabbat candle, this is a holy act. It is an end in itself. When you put up a mezuzah you are not just doing a nice tradition. You have crossed the finish line… you’ve experienced truth…
you are touching the Divine… Ever wonder why mitzvahs are so satisfying… they make us feel good... they don’t leave us wanting.
I asked you last year on Yom Kippur to take a moment each morning and night to place your right hand over your eyes and recite the six words of the Shma – Shma yisroel adonoi eloheinu adonoi echod…
Why did I ask you to do this? Did I get a raise from the Board of Trustees? Am I expecting some extra
brownie points in heaven? I asked you to do this because it is something real… I know you will feel
fulfilled each time you do it. It will change your life because each day you will do something real…
something that if we lived for one day alone would make it worthwhile…
This is why, throughout history, our people lived and died to do a mitzvah. With their last breath they used the opportunity to say the Shma… Why did they do that? Under the worst of circumstances they held fast to their Jewish observance. Why? They weren’t doing it for return. It would have been much
more “beneficial” at the moment not to do the mitzvah.
My own father grew up in Communist Russia. As a 5 year old child, orphaned from his mother, his father would take him into a closet each night to teach him that there is G-d who created this world, teach him the holy letters of the Aleph Bet, the Hebrew alphabet… He did this in the closet with candlelight so that the communist neighbor, living in the same room separated only by a curtain,
wouldn’t get wind of it…

A Chasid by the name of Rabbi Cahn, who spent years in the Russian gulags for the crime of teaching Torah to Jewish children, writes in his diaries about the only two times he cried during this entire ordeal.
Once at the train station when he said goodbye to his family. He held strong and didn’t want his wife to
see him cry, but there she was, infant in hand, a 6 year old next her… but he still held strong… It was only when his 3 year old daughter got onto her tip toes and began jumping up and down so she can get a glimpse of her dad in the train car before he is taken away… not knowing when and if she’ll see him
again… He broke down…
He arrived in the Siberian Labor camp a few weeks before Rosh Hashana. He had two concerns… He didn’t have his Tefillin… and what will be about a shofar… Days before Rosh Hashanah a package arrived from his father. He goes through it… there is some food… some underwear… he’s searching,
looking, and then suddenly beneath it all… there they were… his Tefillin!!! It was as if he’s just discovered the Crown Jewels! He put them on and prayed, even though he had already prayed that day
he prayed again… and he cried…
And beneath it all – he discovered a shofar… his joy was limitless. He told some Jewish inmates but they thought he lost his mind. Here you are in the gulag, doing time for spreading Jewish observance,
and you want to blow the shofar? On the first day of Rosh Hashana, he writes in his diary, he blew only one lone sound, a tekiah. After all, he didn’t want to get caught, in which case they would confiscate the shofar… what would he do on the second day… do you hear this, my friends? Second day he already
blew a full set of ten, figuring, what could happen already? If they take away the shofar, he doesn’t need it anymore…
As many of you know, I often go to pray at the gravesite of the Rebbe, of blessed memory, in keeping with the time-honored tradition that the resting place of a tzaddik (righteous person) has tremendous merits and their prayers on our behalf from on high are very effective. Many of you here, as I look
around the room, have been with me to the Ohel, as it’s called, in Queens.
On occasion Chassidim will gather to spend a Shabbat at the site, to honor the Rebbe’s yahrzeit of birthday. A few thousand Chassidim gather, camp out in tents and celebrate the Rebbe’s life and his teachings. These Shabbats are most memorable and meaningful.
Last winter, in honor of one such occasion, my three older boys and I decided we would spend Shabbat at the Ohel. As luck would have it, my watch battery died that Friday. So there I am relaxing around the house, when my wife says to me: Shalom, do you realize its 45 minutes to Shabbat… Oy vey… the
boys and I decided we’re going for it. We grabbed the things we needed… I grabbed my special card I got from Chief Ronnie, which helps me in case I ever get pulled over for any minor traffic infractions…
After all, I’m a busy rabbi… And we set out.
We now have 40 minutes to get to Queens… it’s Friday afternoon at rush hour… as you well know, it
takes 40 minutes to get to the LIE… Anyway, armed with my “rabbi” card I drove like never before… I
did a maneuver at the Lord & Taylor-Shelter Rock Road intersection that will go down in the annals of
rabbinic driving history…

The clock is ticking… It’s now 20 minutes left. We finally get to the LIE, which is packed bumper to bumper. But there’s always the shoulder. No problem, I’ve got the card… But then we get onto the
Cross Island Pkwy, bumper to bumper parking lot… and there’s no shoulder to speak of… here my card
helps vi ah toiten bankes… It does me no good.
It’s 6 minutes to sunset, my boys look at me, I look at them… we’ve heard these stories before… but it
now became clear to us we were going to have a “story” of our own… with 2 minutes left to sunset we
pulled off right there on Union Turnpike, got out of the car, took whatever clothing we can put on our
person (no carrying…), I even put my talit under my coat, we closed everything up, clicked the alarm
clicker, put the keys on top of the tire (don’t tell a soul)… and we looked at each other.. Shabbat
If I tell you, dear friends, this was one of the best times we’ve had together… It was the most exciting,
bonding experience we’ve ever had. First we davened the mincha prayer because it’s got to be before
sunset… we prayed mincha right there – Union Tpke… We prayed with extra concentration because we
don’t know if mincha was ever prayed at that spot before… Then we headed out for a nice walk. It took
a little over three hours and we arrived at the Ohel… a bit cold but fine, and we had a most inspiring
When I told the story the next day to my JLI Adult Education class someone asked me: Rabbi, do you
feel bad that you have this restriction? I said – Bad? There’s nothing better! “But rabbi, isn’t Shabbat
about rest and relaxation?” No, it’s not. True, Shabbat (usually) offers rest and relaxation, but there are
many other ways to accomplish those things… Yoga, exercise, vacations. Shabbat is not about that.
Shabbat is a holy day… It’s not negotiable. It’s the real thing…
My friend Larry Pinner taught me something I’ll never forget. As you might know Larry and Sheryl’s
architectural firm, Pinner Associates has been totally dedicated to Chabad and our various construction
projects for the past ten years. I once was trying to express my gratitude to them for this amazing
dedication and generosity, when Larry turned to me and said: “Rabbi, but this is the good stuff!” He
nailed it right on the head. Life is filled with lots of stuff. But a mitzvah, that’s the real thing. It’s the
good stuff!
So friends, lets make it a year of change. Change for the better. Change we can truly believe in. Let’s
not accept the status quo of the regular rat race of life. That is all good and important and will continue,
and may we all be successful in every area of life. But like the fish, let’s come up a little bit.. let’s try to
rise up a bit above the surface of things… for a refreshing drop of something different, something real.
Let’s resolve that we will give ourselves the pleasure of nurturing ourselves with mitzvahs, with
additional acts of goodness and holiness. May G-d grant all of us the gift of a year of health, wealth and
nachas… a year filled with fulfillment, purpose and satisfaction.


Lion King Sermon 5766

Lion King Sermon – Yom Kippur 5766
Chabad of Port Washington

A very religious Jew calls a taxi to take him and his wife to hospital on the eve of Yom Kippur as she is preparing to give birth. Since its Yom Kippur he makes a request that they not send a Jewish driver. As he and his wife get into the cab, they hear the crackling voice of the dispatcher over the radio: Did you pick up those Anti Semites yet???

Anti Semitism is often blamed on our claim to be the chosen people

What does Fiddler say: G-d I know we’re the chosen nation. But can you do us a favor? Every once in a while can you please choose someone else…

Jew who survived the holocaust finally makes it to America, is sitting on a subway train in NYC, reading a paper and minding his own business, anti-Semite begins to start up: Hey Jew, what’s this about chosen people? You guys think you’re so special, that G-d chose you, huh?!  The guy looks up from his Forverts, looks across the subway car from the top of his bifocals and says, only half in jest: (say with strong European accent) Vhat’s you’re problem? You’re jealous? I vouldn’t be jealous… He chose us? He picked on us!
Too often we Jews are uncomfortable with the title – Chosen people.
Rabbi Manis Friedman was asked to deliver an end-of-semester talk on religion to a class of Christian Seminary students. During the question and answer session one of the students asked: What do you think about being the Chosen People? Rabbi Friedman answered: Feels great…  The student is satisfied with the response and sits down. Later, the priest in charge tells Manis that last year they had a different – less proud – rabbi give the talk. This student asked the very same question of that rabbi. The rabbi tried to wiggle his way out of the issue by saying things like – well, we’re not really more chosen than anyone else… that’s an old fashioned idea… we can all be chosen if we like, etc.   On the bus on the way home, all of the students agreed, the rabbi was lying to them!
Friends, we can’t get away from the truth that we are the chosen people… A truth  stated unequivocally in the Book of Books, the Bible, the best seller of history, a book recognized by all the major religions of the world.
When we say Chosen, it’s not that we Jews are brighter, more energetic or talented than others. That is a racist doctrine to be rejected. Rather, it is that to be a Jew is to be asked to give, to contribute, to make a difference. We were chosen to help in the monumental task that has engaged Jews since the dawn of our history, to make the world a home for the Divine presence, a place of justice, compassion, human dignity and the sanctity of life. More than a privilege, our chosen ness is a responsibility – a G-d given responsibility - Letakein Olam – to fix the world, to make the world better, kinder, gentler, a world befitting it’s great Creator… A place G-d can call His home.
Here’s what some famous non-Jews had to say about the Jews:
Winston Churchill said:
"Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world."

Leo Tolstoy wrote:
"The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire, and has illumined with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring, and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religions."

Paul Johnson in History of the Jews wrote: The Jews stand at the center of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose."

Matthew Arnold in his book “Literature & Dogma” wrote: "As long as the world lasts, all who want to make progress in righteousness will come to Israel for inspiration."

My dear friends: that very same best seller of history refers to our nation as: Mamleches Kohanim, Royal princes… Every one of us is a prince... a princess… The Torah calls us royalty… Again, this is not about some kind of self grandiose of being a supreme race… To quote the Talmud: Lo shroro ani nosen lochem… It is not rulership which I give to you… It is servitude…   Al-mighty G-d chose us as His royal family… to be Ohr Lagoyim, a light unto the nations… to lead the world in the direction of G-dliness and goodness… More than a privilege, it is a responsibility… 
And it is very important to make the distinction… You see, if it’s merely a privilege, I can pass on it… Thank you – but no thank you… Choose some body else… If it’s a responsibility, now that’s a different story. I’m being counted on.  I have to live up to my responsibility… 
We often play down the “Jewish” thing because we think we’ll be more accepted into society. But it doesn’t work that way. First of all, we can’t hide it…
A Jew walks into an exclusive country club looking to join … They look him up and down, check out his nose… Hmmmm… Ok. They give him an interview where he is asked a few questions: What’s your name? He offers some really Waspy name like: Hutchinson River Parkway the Third or something like that… Where is your family from? Ireland of course (they’re really from somewhere in Poland). What’s your Religion?  My religion? Goy!
A Jew was having a hard time making a living so he got himself a job at the church. After a couple of weeks the priest meets with him and tells him how satisfied he is with his performance. “Just please, I ask of you three favors: When you come out of the bathroom don’t wash your hands with that water – it’s the holy water. Stop hanging your coat on the cross. And please… stop calling mother Teresa - mother Shapiro.
When we deny our chosen-ness, they just simply don’t believe us… And they resent that we’re not telling them the truth. And that we’re not doing our job… When we’re proud of who we are, people respect us for it.
Those who have been coming to this shul for a while know the relationship I have with my non-Jewish neighbors. How one of them insisted that I put a mezuzah on their front door to bless their home…
…and another one thanked me and felt blessed when a strong wind blew our entire sukkah into their backyard… I came home … walked onto the back porch, and the sukkah was gone… It had picked itself up and landed in the neighbors’ backyard. I ran over to their house, I apologized, I was thankful no one got hurt… But they were fine with it… They had heard about the sukkah from the Bible, and they felt blessed to have had a sukkah, albeit upside down, in their backyard for a few hours…
Mattisyahu, the now famous Chassidic Reggae superstar… grew up totally non-religious. Is now a Chabad Chassid and a religious Jews. He speaks about the first time he wore his yarmulkah in public. He says it was one of the greatest feelings. And I quote Matisyahu: “I felt for the first time I was wearing my own clothes… That felt so good. I noticed a feeling of respect that I got from people. I think it’s because they see that you’re doing your thing. You’re really doing you…Being religious and coming across as a Jew-I’m not lost and assimilated into the culture. A lot of times people really respect that.”

I’m sure some of you have seen the Disney Movie - Lion King.
(I must make a disclaimer here. I’m not a big fan of the movies. I rarely watch a movie. I think most of them are a terrible waste of time – at best. However, once in a while there’s a really good one that comes out.)
Remember the part when Simba is roaming around with his new found friends doing the Hakuna Matata… (Sing …)  No worries, problem free philosophy…  And instead of acting like a king, this lion is dancing around like he’s some kind of wart-hog or something… When someone suggests that he’s a king he goes: No, I’m no king. I’m the same guy… I’m just like you. Sound familiar? A neighbor says – you’re the chosen people. Nah, it’s really nothing… Don’t pay attention to that… I’m the same guy... I’m just like you…
But you’re a King! Nah, that was a long time ago…
But we have a responsibility… Remember when Nala comes along and says – we need you. You’re the king… We need you… You’re our only hope… Everything’s destroyed in Pride Rock, there’s no food, no water, everyone will starve…
Like Simba, when we fail to take our place in the Circle of Life, everyone loses… We’re not being humble… We’re shirking our responsibility… We’re not doing our job… Our non-Jewish neighbors are disappointed in us…
When the Torah tells us we are Royalty… a kingdom of princes – it’s not just for us, to make us feel good, to boost our egos… It’s for the whole world… We’re all connected in the great circle of life… But we got to stand up and take our rightful place…
Yom Kippur is the when a Jew looks himself in the mirror and asks himself: What am I about? What is my life about? Have I gotten lost, was I farblonjet somewhere along the way? Who am I?
And the resounding answer that Yom Kippur gives each of us: You know who you are?
You’re Mufasa’s boy!!!
You’re royalty…  Stand up and do your job!
And you do your job by acting like royalty… 
Remember when Simba’s two new friends first bring him into their trio and they introduce him to their food menu…. He’s not thrilled… He’s used to eating like a lion… But they say to him: If you live with us – eat like us…
No, you don’t eat like them. You eat like a king… a special royal menu for princes and princesses... It’s called  kosher…
You take your prince aside and teach’em a lesson on how to continue the chain of royalty… it’s called Yeshiva, a good Jewish education…
You marry like royalty – to a fellow prince or princess, together with whom you will bring to the world the next generation of kings…
And then take your little royal cubs… and lift them up proudly for the whole world to see them… with their yarmulkahs and their tzitzis hanging… pick up your little kinderlach bring them over to the mezuzah to give it a kiss… carry them over to put some coins in the tzedakah pushka…
And when you lift your eyes heavenward in prayer, you don’t accept that what you’re seeing is just some fireflies stuck on the inky black backdrop up there. Even if you don’t understand it fully, you know that there’s something greater… that there’s a plan… and a purpose… and an afterlife… You know that Hashem is out there… together with your loved one’s… the great kings of the past…
And whenever you feel alone – just remember… look up at the stars… those kings will always be there for you… Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what Yiskor is all about… Why are we so moved by Yiskor… It’s our connection to our past… Our illustrious past… We’re all so proud of where we come from…
I once visited the home of a Jew here in Sands Point. As soon as I walked in he made a clear statement up front: “I’m not religious. I don’t care much for any of this old fashioned stuff. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t believe in it.”    I’m standing there in the entrance area taking off my coat trying to figure out how I’m going to connect with this guy. There was a whole wall of family pictures. I notice a few photographs of people with beards and peyes… and sheitels… so I say – wow – who are these very religious looking people? Suddenly the guy’s eyes well up with tears… He was so choked up it took him a few minutes before he was able to talk… Yeah – he said. That was my zeideh… my grandfather… He was a real tzaddik… He used to daven… he used to daven everyday with his tallis and tfillin…And this is my bubbie… They were real Jews! Very religious… Very religious…    And the guy’s choking up again – my bubbie used to make a Shabbos table, and we would all stand around the table… It was so special to us because after she lit her candles she would walk go the room  and give each of us a Shabbos kiss and a piece of chocolate…
But Yiskor is much more than just remembering the past… it is reliving that past in the present …
You’re a special chosen people… You’re a king… Me a king? Nah, maybe a long time ago – maybe my father was the king…  I’m not my father…
Sound familiar? What Simba said is what all of us say. We are all very proud of our illustrious Jewish past, our zeidies and bubbies from back in the old country who lived like Jews, looked like Jews… Everyone has pictures of their ancestors who were rabbis, gabbais, sofers (scribes) and observant Jews. We proudly tell people about these special Jews who came before us… But then when it comes to ourselves, we suddenly look at ourselves totally differently… We’re not like them… We’re part of modernity…
This is the most powerful moment of the film, the part where I choked up: when the baboon says to Simba: You’re father’s alive… And he stares into the water and sees his royal reflection… and he says that’s not my father, just my reflection… No – he says: Look hard… You see, he lives in you…
Mufasa appears in a fiery image from heaven… (how I wish there was a kosher way of projecting that scene right here in shul – with Mufasa in the fiery image – and his booming voice in surround sound)…just like Yiskor when our loved ones join us in shul… “Simba – you have forgotten who you are and so you forgotten me… Remember who you are… Remember – that’s Yiskor - You are my son… Remember… You are more than what you have become… You must return and take your place in the circle of life… Remember… Remember…
Today – at this very moment, Yom Kippur 2005…our parents look down at us from the stars… along with their parents and their parents… Today – at this very  moment - the great kings of the past – Abraham Isaac Jacob… Sarah Rebecca Rachel Leah… Moses & Miriam…  Queen Esther… Deborah the Prophetess… Hillel & Rabbi Akiva… Rashi & Maimonidies… The Baal Shem Tov… The millions who have come before us who lived and died for their Jewishness… Today… and every day… all these great kings of the past look down at us... Yes, us… You’re thinking – who? Me??  These great historic figures are looking at me? But I’m so small and insignificant… Why would they look at me…  Friends, because you are them… You are the kings of today… Look into your eyes… Look into your Jewish heart and soul… your neshomo… your sparkling G-dly soul within… Look hard… You’ll see your ancestors… You carry their souls within your’s… You carry their destiny within you… They live within you… Now it’s all up to you… You’re our only hope…
Like I said to you on Rosh Hashana, now it’s up to you and me… The destiny and purpose of all the great kings of the past is now in our hands. And we have only two choices – yes and no - Remember that conversation?  We can’t plant a tree without a tree… we can’t plant Judaism without Judaism – without Mitzvahs and Torah and Traditions… This is no time for false humility…  This is a time to stand up and be counted… To take responsibility for the continuity of our people… By stepping up the level of Judaism in our homes starting today…
The Jewish people lost an unbelievably special, dedicated Jew this year. Simon Wiesenthal alav hashalom – G-d bless his soul, was asked by fellow survivors why he dedicated so much of his life to remembering the holocaust. He said: After 120 years, when we meet with our loved ones who were murdered, they’ll ask us what we did with the rest of our lives. What will you say – he asked. That you sold shoes? You traded stocks? I will say – I worked hard every day so that you would not be forgotten…
I get a call one day from a man who lives in this community, a friend, he might very well be here in this room today. He’s upset. He tells me his son is in love. The girls is really nice and sweet.. but not Jewish… He’s really upset. They are a fairly traditional family. How could this happen to him. He asks if I would try to help. I asked him if his son would come and talk to me. He said that the matter was already closed in their home,  but he would ask his son to come and talk to me. The young man came to my office, tall, handsome, very bright young man. The first thing he tells me is that I should know I am wasting my time talking to him. “I know the whole story you’re going to tell me how terrible it is to marry a shikse… I’ve heard it all from family and rabbis… You’re wasting your time… I only came here out of respect to my parents… I don’t believe in this whole thing… I think it’s racist… Besides, my parents don’t keep Shabbat, or kosher, or the holidays… They never bothered sending me to a Yeshiva… Why is this the only sin that matters? If they wanted me to live a religious life they should’ve woken up 20 years ago and brought yiddishkeit into our home...”  “Good point” I said.  Anyway, I sat there and talked and talked… I gave him my best shots, but I could tell I was getting no where… Every once in a while he would glance at his watch impatiently. Once or twice during my “monologue” he excused himself as he quickly replied to an email coming in on his Blackberry… I was, in fact, wasting my time.
Finally, I pulled out the best trick I had in my bag... I looked him the eye and asked for his full attention… I told him the story of a world-renowned musician who happen to visit a small, isolated village. The simple villagers were overwhelmed by the honor, they begged him to do a concert for them… They all gathered in Town Hall wearing their best tuxedos, bowties, walking sticks and all… It was a celebration such as this little town had never seen before… The maestro walks up onto the stage, places his flute to his lips, and makes a little “toot” … then another sound, and a third… And this kept happening… The people were puzzled… This world-renowned artist is standing there blowing a series of unrelated notes… Once they were amply confused, the artist said to them: I know what you’re thinking. I know when I stand here alone and play it doesn’t sound like anything. However, the truth is that I am not alone. I am part of a large orchestra of musicians who play together in perfect harmony, producing the most amazing musical symphony. When we all play together in harmony, my little “toots” add a beauty and perfection to the entire orchestra…
So I said to the young man sitting across the desk from me: This is story of the Jewish people. You might think of yourself and what you do as small and insignificant. But the truth is you’re not alone. Your deeds matter. Your Mitzvahs matter. You are part of a large orchestra of Jews throughout the whole world who are doing mitzvahs… and the hundreds of generations of Jews who came before you… all the way back to Abraham and Sarah… the patriarchs of our people… We are all one… And your little “toot” matters… It adds a perfection and beauty to the entire picture…
Imagine this, I continued: The most beautiful orchestra in the world has been playing without interruption for 3800 years. Hundreds… thousands of musicians have playing… each generation some of the players go back stage and others come on stage… the orchestra keeps expanding… never once did the music stops… it continues to play in good times and in bad times… In good times… during Holy Temple days… the orchestra played proudly as if in the most gorgeous concert hall… In bad times… pogroms.. inquisitions… gas chambers… it played much as it played on the sinking Titanic.. but the music never stopped…  Imagine this… For the past 3800 years of  your family the music continued… The Suddenly – it stops! 
As the young man got up to leave, he shook my hand and said: Rabbi, you’ve given me something to think about…
Friends, that’s our story… Let us remember who we are and what we are part of .  Don’t forget - You’re Mufasa’s boy. If you don’t forget who you are you won’t forget where you came from… The future of our people is in our hands… The destiny of all our ancestors in our hands… Let’s not let them down… Let’s make them proud…

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