Imagine sitting behind bars since the late 70’s with no date on the calendar when you get to go home! Where is your hope? Where is your faith? How do you carry on? How do you ever get a taste of freedom.?
Nine years ago I was asked to visit a group of individuals incarcerated not to far from us here in Oberlin, I can tell you I wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect, what would I be able to offer these folks? I was a guy in my mid-twenties, born after half of them were incarcerated, but I was told if I don’t go visit them there is no one else…So lo and behold I made my first visit to prison. Over the past nine years my visits have spanned numerous institutions, and I believe that we have been able to make these men feel just a little bit more human and less like an inmate. I have been fortunate enough to hang mezuzahs on homes upon release, and enjoy a dinner in a restaurant with another, but it still nags at me, who is left behind “inside”.
So how do we talk about Passover in prison? On one hand this group has been dreaming about freedom for decades, but on the other hand those locks still click behind me and they remain on the other side of the electrified barbed wire fence. I can’t promise these men a date they will once again walk on the streets ,but I can show these men that they are still owed to be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to sit at a seder on the eve of Passover and ask “why is this night different from all other nights?” . True they won’t be donning their finest suits, rather the same state issued blue scrubs as every other day…but tonight is different! Through many efforts they will be gathered together as the Jewish community, they will sing, they will dine, and they will recline like free men. Chabad at Oberlin will provide these individuals with the exact same feast that will be served at our own seders, the very same hand-made shmurah matzahs, and a sense of joy and liberation. They have the opportunity to break down the barriers that separate them from society and not be imprisoned, they get to be Jews!!!
Help us provide a taste of freedom to these individuals that I visit, let them know and understand that they are not forgotten by their community. Our goal is to raise $1,500 to subsidize our efforts with incarcerated individuals in Ohio.
Much to the chagrin of both of our families, there was a time when Devorah and I were looking to open up a Chabad House where the prospect of moving to Christchurch New Zealand( or ChaCha as the Jews call it) was on the table. We would have served the small Jewish community there as well as the Jewish population at the university located in that city. Obviously the Divine cards were dealt differently and we ended up in our lovely little shtetl of Oberlin, but since we thought about it quite seriously we’ve always felt a special connection to the Kiwis.
Like many of you, our hearts sunk as the news broke of the terrorist attack that took place earlier today in two mosques killing nearly 50 people and injuring dozens more. There are unfortunately countless attacks that take place in our world on a regular basis, but this one hit home in a different way for some reason. Upon reflection I believe that this one hurt just a little more because it was an attack on people of a particular religion and killed while in worship in their sacred space, ringing eerily similar to the attacks in Pittsburgh not so long ago. No the victims were not Jewish, they were Muslim, and our brothers and sisters in humanity and our not so distant cousin, this one feels oddly personal.
In our Chabad House we often talk about wearing “G-d glasses”, that is honing our spiritual conciseness to recognize the Divine energy that permeates our existence, and it also means allowing G-d and G-dliness into our space. It means that symbols of the Divine, and outwardly religious people of our own faith and of others, should not frighten us, rather inspire us. I recall back the the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s activism to include a moment of silence in public schools. The Rebbe wanted to allow for students to have a moment of mindfulness and to have the opportunity to start their school day with a moment of G-d conciseness, to shape the rest of their experiences for the day. The Rebbe was not pushing a Jewish agenda, Jewish prayer, or only looking to benefit the Jews within the school system, rather an overall benefit to the spiritual well-being of the entierty of the student body.
Today the Muslim community was attacked, mourning is not enough, we must acknowledge that this attack was borne from the same fanaticism and nationalistic jingoism that fueled the Pittsburgh attacks. We must take an active role in supporting our cousins in their time of need, and we must spring into action by filling our world with more acts of G-dliness and holiness. And we should make those actions public, let us not fight this fight in the privacy of our own homes or houses of worship, but wear our spiritual identities on our sleeve (or heads) let us not be satisfied with our own individual spiritual path, but help tend to the spiritual path of others with confidence and pride. As my holy Rebbe taught if you know the letter aleph, then teach the letter aleph, don’t keep it all for yourself.
(watch till the end its only 25 seconds)
Oh man, my mothers words from when I was a kid are ringing in my mind watching this video. Let's take a deeper look at this clip. The first kid is brave, he is the trailblazer, the next three are just goofballs, but that last kid is one big life lesson wrapped up in a toddlers body. The last one doesn't actually trip, he gets out of the tent just fine and then drops to the ground because thats what everyone else before him did it. How many times in our lives do we find ourselves with our head on a swivel, looking to see what everyone around us is doing? Then we do exactly what they are doing too. Why? Because thats what everyone around us is doing! Even when know what they are doing is wrong or a failure, we are compelled to mimic out of fear of being different.
When I was a younger and debating what trajectory in life I wanted to take, a mentor (I don't think he knew he was a mentor) gave me some sage wisdom. He said "It is a 100% guarantee that you will make mistakes in life, but learn from my mistakes and be bold enough to make your own mistakes"
So thanks Tom, I've been enjoying making my own mistakes for many years now.
As I watched this little Facebook video it reminded me of a rabbi who I know who told a story of a time when he was sitting in an airport and a man approached him and started chatting him up.
The man, a evangelical christian, began telling the white bearded co-conversationalist about how the bible has effected his life and how connected to God he feels. After about 20 minutes of rambling he looks at the good rabbi and apologizes for being rude and talking so much, and asks him what is his relationship with the bible.
The rabbi pauses, my relationship?
Well, have you ever heard of Aaron, Moses brother, the first Kohen, priest? I also am a kohen, so Aaron is like my great grandfather, Moses is my uncle. Thats my relationship! I am not just reading a fine piece of literature with a nice message, I am looking at my family album.
When we look at the Torah we see our grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, and yes even the ones who embarrass us a little bit.
Facebook as silly as it may seem, can sometime remind us very serious life lessons.
Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
- Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a
We easily see how the impact of one person can change the world, not just for another, but for a generation. Now we must ask ourselves what are we going to do TODAY to change the WORLD of OTHERS?
Check out this video of Alan Veingrad, two time Super Bowl champion, and his journey into his Jewish identity. (He won with the GB Packer and the Dallas Cowboys)
Click here to watch Alan tell his story
A person carries two voices, two souls: The animal soul and the Divine one. In the words of Ecclesiastes, "The human spirit ascends on high; the spirit of the beast descends down into the earth." They are in constant struggle, with the animal soul seeking instant gratification and pleasure (like the Id), and the Divine soul seeking transcendence and unity. The animal spirit wants to be "more animal," hence more self-ego. The Divine spirit wants to be "more Divine," more selfless.
The domain of the animal manifests in the impulsive emotions, while the domain of the Divine spirit rests in the reflective mind, which can control and temper impulsive reactions. A young child for instance, is controlled entirely by emotion, and yells out "I want it and I want it all now." Similarly the animal within us selfishly barks "give, give." As our minds develop we gain the ability to reflect, repress, temper or channel our impulses.
The question of course is, which is our most dominant force?
The answer is the Divine soul. The inner good in man is the most dominant force in our lives. Yet, this force is locked in battle with the animal soul. We have the freedom and the ability to overcome any temptation if we so wish through self control ("moach shalit al halev," the mind’s dominance over the emotions).
Thankgivingukah isn't just a cute name. There is a real divine connection between the two holidays.
Last week we spoke of the beauty of our Matriarch Sarah. Our tradition teaches that the Eishes Chayil song was composed originally by Abraham as a eulogy, and you can read more about it here, and that her real beauty wasn't because of her face, but the beauty of the soul.
This woman also has a soul that is filled with faith and love, despite challenges and adversity.
I know this video is a bit long, just over 10 minutes, but worth the investment of time.