Rabbi's Corner

On Jewish Identity


Dear Friend,


This Shabbat we begin reading the first portion of the second Torah book starting with the words "...Shemot".

The word “Shemot” means names. Our sages teach, there were three ingredients critical to preserving our people’s identity for the duration of their long and bitter bondage in Egypt: they maintained their language, their mode of dress, and their Jewish names.

The Rebbe would often compare and contrast our final exile and redemption to the original slavery and exodus. To the amazement of many in the late 1950's, the Rebbe even mentioned Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman (of beatnik and Yippie fame) as perfect candidates worthy of Moshiach redemption with the best of em; Shtick notwithstanding said the Rebbe, "they keep Jewish surnames and both dress and speak in a way different than the locals as our righteous forefathers had done in Egypt". 

With that said, I suggest and encourage getting comfortable and making use of your Hebrew name (perhaps identify yourself to the local barista at Starbucks that way to hear "Yaacov Moshe your latte is ready!"). Should you not know it, we can talk about it over cholent at the Shabbat Kiddush. I’m sure we can figure it out! 

With warm wishes for a peaceful and meaningful Shabbat,

Rabbi Shmuel A. Metzger

Remarks Shabbos Chazak


Joseph passes away, is embalmed and placed in a coffin in the land of Egypt. THE END

The Rebbe points out that at first glance it would seem that the conclusion of the book of Bereishis is an exception to the rule of thumb that books of Torah conclude on a positive note, as Joseph's death positions the Hebrews of Egypt for an imminent enslavement-- they have just lost all political firepower in the palace.

On second (and deeper) glance a positive emerges ( fyi: even those who have studied the Rebbe's weltanschauung semi-seriously expect a positive to emerge).

Here's the positive: For the duration of two centuries plus, a broken Jewish slave could take solace and comfort with knowledge that the very body and holy soul of Joseph was present in the exile with him, and could pour out her/his soul to G-d with confidence that they had not been forgotten.

At the Exodus Joseph's bones are definitely not forgotten and are eventually relocated to Israel. (His pious mother Rachel is another story. Til this very day her tomb is off the beaten path as a symbol of her selflessness. As the sages teach, she preferred to be buried there as she prophesied that the Jewish exiles would pass that particular location in shackles on the journey to Babylon. She then made a bold decision to waive her right to her rightful spot in the tomb of patriarchs alongside her beloved husband Jacob, instead she chose a final location - until the redemption arrives- in wait for that particular moment when her despondent descendants would pass by in tears and could enjoy a very brief reprieve of prayer, comfort and hope during their bitter ordeal.)

Which leads me to something as profound (imho) and current.

The Talmud teaches (Ketubot 111:1) that it is preferable to be interred in Israel as "Burial in the holy land is comparable to burial beneath the very temple altar", in the diaspora, the grave of choice has typically been in close proximity to a pious Torah scholar; for a Chabad Chassid in the US, it is of paramount importance to secure a plot in NY's Old Montefiore Cemetery in the hallowed shadows of the Rebbe's mausoleum, the Ohel- "Kotel of the diaspora". That is, until recently.

Before their untimely passing, Rabbis & Shluchim of the Rebbe, Avrohom Levetansky and Yehoshua Gordon made their wishes known to be interred in the local cemetery near their congregations in California. In lieu of returning to their native habitat in New York, where they no doubt would have received a "ten gun salute" for decades of putting every last cell and pigment of skin in the game in service of their respective communities, they chose to stay. Their tombstones stand proudly under a palm tree in Commerce City, California, a testament to these heroes of spirit, dedicated in life and thereafter to the holy mission entrusted to them by the Rebbe and to their flock, inspiring us to rededicate ourselves, emulating this selflessness in service of our families, friends and communities in good health. In conclusion, let us proclaim the traditional refrain recited upon the conclusion of a Torah book, חזק חזק ונתחזק Be Strong! Be Strong! Let us be emboldened! Good Shabbos. Photo Credit: Eli Gordon. 

Curb Your Dog


Dear Friends,

It's been a Home Run week at Chabad Beekman-Sutton, and I want to thank over 100 dear friends and partners who came together to make our year-end online matching campaign a huge success. May Hashem bless you for your generosity!

A thought to share: In the late 1960's, Bob Dylan spent a week in Crown Heights, attending the first modern-day Yeshiva for adults interested in learning more about Judaism, Hadar Hatorah. He would return for visits over the years. On one visit, he showed up at the home of his Chabad friend Meir Rhodes with a magnificent great dane which he planned to gift to the Rebbe, since, in his words, "Every royal deserves a great dane". Meir Rhodes politely declined on the Rebbe's behalf, explaining to him that  "The Rebbe trains hounds of another kind." I heard this story directly from Mr. Rhodes, who now lives in Israel, and the symbolism of it struck me.

 The "Tzemach Tzedek" (third leader of Chabad, 1789-1866) teaches that the tefillin strap on the arm- directly across the heart, home of our deepest emotions-symbolizes the leashing of our inner animal. What is our "inner animal"? In the book of Tanya, we learn that we are a two-soul hybrid with a "G-d soul" and "an animal(istic) soul". The key is not to subdue the animal soul- rather, to harness the power and energy of the animal soul for good. In pet parlance, we might say the goal is to train the animal to appreciate the "mystical bone". In a general sense, animals are physically more powerful than humans. and so once we align our "inner animal" as a force of good, we become unstoppable.

At Chabad Beekman-Sutton's weekly Sunday morning (9am) Bagels-Lox-Tefillin Men's Club, we nurture both souls as we invigorate for a week full of success in both material and spiritual realms, to pursue what is deemed noble in the eyes of G-d and in the eyes of man, in the hope that we may be worthy of carrying the title "Man's best friend" -- and G-d's as well.


Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.