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Rabbi's Blog

The Inner Heart and Soul of our Country is Good

I was about to board a flight at Hobby Airport when a stranger tapped me on my shoulder to tell me how sorry he feels for what happened in Pittsburgh: "This should not happen in America... It is not who we are," he said with a pained face.

The next day, at Phoenix's Sky Harbour Airport nearly the very same thing happened again, "My wife and I are shocked and outraged," the airport worker told me.

Colleagues and friends have related that similar interactions have happened with them as well. 

The test of character, it is often said, is revealed not as much by a particular negative event that takes place, but more so by how one reacts to it. 

I think the same can be said about a country or society, that its inner heart and soul is exposed by how it reacts to trying events that occur.

As Houstonians, we have seen this only recently with Harvey, and as Americans we are seeing this once again with Pittsburgh.

Millions of people across America are truly horrified by the attack. America was founded on strong moral principles and despite the turmoil in the air -- or perhaps, in the airwaves -- these principles are strongly present and expressed by people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum. 

I have no doubt that in the long run, that inner goodness will continue to flourish and spread and will ultimately prevail.

The Torah's vision for humanity is clear: That there will come a day when the Divine moral principles of the Seven Laws of Noah will be embraced by humanity. A time when the world will finally fulfill its inner potential, to be a place where kindness, goodness and G-dliness reigns.

Let us redouble our efforts to do our part to help make that good world a reality speedily in our days.

Rabbi Yitzchok Schmukler 

PS I'm currently at the annual international conference of Chabad rabbis, where some 4,000 of us are working on how we - together with our respective communities - can enhance our efforts to achieve that goal, for the benefit of each and every Jew and for mankind!

PPS For more information about the Seven Laws of Noah, see: Seven Laws for a Beautiful Planet.  

Reflections on a year since Harvey

This week is one year since Hurricane Harvey. The storm had a severe impact on many people’s lives in our community. Now, one year later, there are still many amongst us who are dealing with the aftermath and working hard to get life completely back to normal.

At the same time, the flood waters revealed an incredible well of kindness as Texans from all backgrounds and walks of life went all out to help one another. We are grateful for the support that the local Jewish community gave, and continued to give, both on a grassroots level as well as through organizations such as the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Services, Chabad Centers throughout the Houston area and beyond, synagogues and many others.

As we approach the new year, it is our fervent hope that anyone in need of healing be granted complete healing and that this coming year bring only good health, peace, prosperity and revealed blessing to one and all.

City Council Invocation

I was honored to represent the Jewish community in League City in my delivery of the Invocation at the opening of the City Council meeting this past Tuesday. Here is a brief video.

Input in School Safety

I was invited last week to serve as one of three 'faith leaders' on Clear Creek ISD's School Safety Committee. Composed of a parents, staff, students, security and mental health professionals, and faith leaders, the committee's task is to advise the board of trustees on what new measures to implement to enhance school safety for the CCISD's 42,000 students and 5,000 staff members. 

We already got to work this past Tuesday and I'm eager to have the opportunity, as a representative of the Jewish community and the larger faith-based community, to hopefully advise changes not only in physical security but in areas that can enhance emotional and spiritual health as well. 

If you have thoughts and ideas that you feel can be helpful in this area, feel free to email me here and I will be sure to include it in the discussions. 

After Harvey

The destruction that so many people in our community have suffered this week boggles the mind. Our hearts go out to each and every person affected by the storm. 

While the recovery is expected to be long and challenging, I am confident that Houston will come back stronger and even better than before. Most of all, the caring and generous spirit that we have seen will no doubt to leave a positive impact that will be remembered and serve as a source of pride and inspiration for many years to come.

Hurricane Harvey

Click here for our LATEST POST ON THE STORM.

Click here to DONATE. 

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(Posted Friday, Aug 25):

With the forecast for tomorrow morning in our immediate area being wet, but not too bad, we will, G-d willing and conditions permitting, be meeting for Services followed by light Kiddush refreshments.

While no one can be certain how things will turn out in the Galveston Bay Area, it seems most likely that there will be people in need of assistance once Harvey passes through.

We will be participating along with other organizations, in coordinating volunteers to provide assistance where possible. If you or anyone you know is need of help, please contact us at relief@jbayarea.org. 

May Hashem watch over all of us and keep everyone safe from any harm.

Remember to light Shabbat Candles (at around 7:32 pm) before sunset tonight and help usher in extra blessing and light into our little world.

Shabbat Shalom! 

The secret of Simchat Torah...

Simchat Torah is a special time. We dance, we sing, we celebrate the greatest gift of all... our holy and precious Torah! G-d's infinite wisdom.

Joy breaks through all barriers! It uplifts and unites us when we celebrate together as one people. Simchat Torah is a celebration not about our accomplishments in studying the Torah, rather it is about the essence of the Torah and our essence as a people - a bond which has kept our people united, courageous and strong despite all diversities we have faced throughout the ages.

Join us as we celebrate our heritage, our love and joy for the Torah and for our people Israel. Let us celebrate our greatest commonality:

We are one people, with one G-d, one Torah, one heart! 

- Credits: Naftoli S.

Nice, France

Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of the horrific terror attack in Nice, and we offer our heartfelt prayers for the complete and speedy recovery of those who were injured.

It has been frustrating to observe the unequal attitude to terror that is exhibited by many around the world. This type of vehicular terror attack was being done in Israel throughout this year and mostly the world has remained indifferent to it, or when noticing it would often be in criticism of the Israeli security forces response. It is clear that we, as a society, must unite with one voice and without bias in pursuit of a common effort to cut this evil off at its root.

May we speedily see our long prayed for time of Geulah - redemption, when violence and evil will no longer reign, with arrival of the era of ultimate goodness for all mankind.

Knowing what comes first

Why does the Torah begin with the letter Beit -- the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to start it with an Alef -- the first letter of the alphabet?

This is to teach us, says the Talmud (Bava Metzia 85b), that when we sit down to study Torah we must be aware that there is something that needs to comes first. And what is it? Reciting the blessing over studying Torah. 

But why is that so important?

Because when we study Torah we're not merely engaging in an intellectual pursuit, rather, what we are doing first and foremost is learning how to connect to G-d.

By reciting the blessing over the Torah, we are putting our pursuit into its proper context by making ourselves aware of G-d, the Giver of the Torah. Only then can our learning and understanding of the Torah truly begin.

- Adapted from Lightpoints

PS The "Blessing of the Torah" is included in the Morning Blessings that are recited prior to the daily Shacharit morning service. 

It's a special year...

What a blessing it has been to be able to inaugurate the use of our new center right at the start of this new year of 5776.

This year happens to be the first year of the seven-year Shmitah cycle, known as the year of "Hakhel" (Gathering). Back in the Temple times, all of Israel, men, women and children, would gather at the Temple in the year of Hakhel on the holiday of Sukkot, to hear a special Torah reading led by the King, to be re-inspired with a renewed vigor and dedication in their service of G-d, and to share their inspiration with others.

How appropriate it is that our new center, the Chabad Bay Area - Center for Jewish Life and Learning, has gotten off to its great start, right at Rosh Hashana, at the beginning of the Year of Hakhel -  the Year of Gathering!

And what a beautiful Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it was, with delicious meals, inspiring services and a wonderful, warm camaraderie.

We invite you to join us for our upcoming exciting programming, starting with our special, one-of-a-kind Simchat Torah Celebration!

A peak into your subconscious mind

"When you reap your harvest and forget a bundle in the field, you shall not go back to take it; leave it for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow...". (Deut. 24:19)

From here we see, says the Talmud, that if you accidentally drop a coin and a poor person finds it, you still receive merit for helping the poor.

Wow, let's think about this: You didn't want to lose the coin, you may even be aggrieved by the loss, yet it is still considered to be your good deed?

Your deep subconscious desire is really to do only good, explains the Rebbe,it is merely that sometimes your conscious thought is not aware of it. Your dropping of the coin could have actually been your soul's way of doing an act of goodness and bypassing your conscious thought. That is why this 'accident' is to your merit and it brings you blessing.

Let's get in sync with our subconscious!

Wake up!

It is customary to sound the shofar during the month of Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

Maimonides says that the Shofar can be seen as a "wake up call" - as if it is calling out and saying:

“Sleepers, be roused, from your sleep! Slumberers, wake from your slumber! Search your deeds and return in teshuvah...” (Maimonides, Laws of Teshuva 3:4)

The path to teshuva, repentance, is a two-step process. The first step is to arouse and wake from our sleep or slumber, and the second, to search our deeds.

While we are sleeping we normally have no conscious desire to disturb our sweet sleep and awaken. The same is true when we might be in a spiritual slumber - we may become complacent with life and uninterested in disturbing our peaceful obliviousness. Therefore, says Maimonides, the first step toward teshuvah must be to wake from our slumber so that we can become aware and make an assessment of our spiritual condition. Only then will we be in position to begin to earnestly work towards return.

- Adapted from Lightpoints

Why Kosher?

 In this week's Torah portion Moses reviews the laws of Kosher. Which animals are permitted to be eaten and which aren't.

Ramban, one of the great Jewish scholars from the middle ages, says that although the commandments are first and foremost an expression of G-d's Will, which by its very concept would be beyond human comprehension, yet, there are benefits in the Mitzvot that our rational human minds can also appreciate.

"We are what we eat," goes the popular saying. Now, this is not only true physically, but spiritually as well. Since the non-kosher animals have more aggressive natures and are usually carnivorous, when we eat them, says the Ramban, we are absorbing some of their physical and spiritual energy, and thus something of their traits.

Thus, avoiding eating non-kosher, is not only about fulfilling G-d's Will, but also a means to help us ensure that our spiritual antenna, our natural sensitivity to holiness and spiritual things, remains uncluttered and in optimum condition. 

Taking a second look at number one

This week's Torah portion includes the verses of the Shema, the most important prayer in all of Judaism.

In it we declare that "...Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One." 

The simple meaning of this declaration is that there is only one G-d. But the deeper meaning is that G-d is the one and only true existence, and that there can be no existence 'outside' of G-d.

The Hebrew word for One, "Echad," consists of three letters: Alef, Chet, Dalet. Alef has the numerical value of 1, representing the Creator, Chet has the numerical value of 8, representing the 1 earth and 7 heavens, and Dalet has the numerical value of 4, representing the 4 directions (north, south, east and west). So the word Echad itself contains a hint to this fundamental concept: that there is One Creator (Alef) who is the only sovereign on earth and in the heavens (Chet), and in all four directions (Dalet).

The birth of Moshiach

While Tisha B'av is normally thought of as a very sad day, the Talmud comments that "On Tisha B'av the redeemer of Israel (the Moshiach) was born."

What exactly does it mean?

Well, certainly when Moshiach comes we will clearly understand what the Talmud meant by that statement. But even prior to that time it conveys a comforting message:

Just when you think you are in the deepest darkness and at the height of despair, know that precisely there a silver lining lies, because this difficult time will give birth to a much better one, an era that will far eclipse the goodness of anything known before.

May we see it speedily in our days. 

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