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Rabbi's Corner

A New Song

 

Dear Friend,

Boy, this week flew by.

As we celebrated Tu B’shvat this week, I am reminded of the following anecdote:

About two decades ago I got hooked on Jewish cantorial music, in particular the music of the greatest of the 'Golden Cantors’ Yossele Rosenblatt. (These days, I only listen when I'm solo as the kids throw a riot when I turn on anything of that genre). There was one song especially that tugged at my heart, a Yiddish song called 'lomir zich iberbeten avinu shebashomayim', translates as , ‘lets make up with our Father in Heaven'. The lyrics of the song detail the arrangement:  'we keep his mitzvos'...'He stops the pogroms'.

It was such a tragic and compelling tune that I literally could not get this song out of my head. Until one day, when I encountered the great cantor Zalman Baumgarten walking on the street in Crown Heights.

Me: What do you think of Rosenblatt's 'lomir zich iberbeten'?

Cantor Baumgarten: Why do you ask?

Me: I can’t get it out of my mind.

Cantor Baumgarten chuckled and told me the following:

"I performed that song many times nationally and internationally until at one point, when I reported to the Rebbe regarding my concerts and travels, I included the concert programme. I then received a pointed answer. The Rebbe circled that particular song in the programme  and noted מכאן ולהבא אינו כדאי (loosely translated: 'in the future this song may be deleted'.) As a true follower of the Rebbe; I literally forgot the song!

I stood there quite stunned! Upon reflection, though, it all made sense.

Many Jews today feel uncomfortable with their Jewishness. Judaism evokes a Pavlovian association with Shtetel, Shoah, and victim-hood in general. The Rebbe's life mission was to transform this negative association from a sorry tale in black and white to a beautiful story in full blu-ray/ high-def. While it’s true that we may "never forget", we must also never forget that the authentic symbol of our faith is a Jewish school- not a museum. In my humble opinion, the Rebbe was conveying to Cantor Baumgarten to stop reinforcing that sorry stereotype and to choose from the thousands of happy songs depicting the joy of Judaism in his performances.

At Manhattan Jewish Montessori and all of a Chabad ‘s educational programs, we convey THAT story. By doing so, we are conveying our true identity to the next generation, in a tale of hope, happiness and replanting.

Which leads me right back to Tu Bshvat. Tu Bshvat is all about planting seeds, with eyes on tomorrow. Our best days are ahead; the horrors of the past will never be forgotten and at the same time they will not define our core self in any way.

May Hashem bless us that the seeds we plant today flourish into a full bloomed garden and that our children grow as happy and proud Jews.

With blessing,

Rabbi Shmuel Metzger

PS The Tuesday night class is INCREDIBLE to reserve click here .

PPS Raizy will be joining three thousand female powerhouses, aka Chabad Shluchos (female emissaries) for an annual conference, culminating in a Gala on Sunday evening at 5:30pm. You can watch it live on www.Chabad.org.

 

Something Fruity

 

Dear Friend,

I hope you had a week that was off the charts!

It was very gratifying to see the amazing turnout at the launch of 'Six Great Minds: One Thousand Years of Jewish Thought' as we relived the life, read multiple genres of poetry and delved deep into the Kuzari of Judah Halevi. The course continues this Tuesday night with the legendary Maimonides and his life and teachings. To reserve your spot click here.

On Monday, we will celebrate the 15th of Shvat otherwise known as 'Tu B'shvat'. Allow me to share a beautiful insight on this special day based on remarks I had the merit of hearing directly from the Rebbe.

[On a personal note, this teaching is especially memorable to me. Although the Rebbe was fluent in some eight languages, the default language for all his talks was Yiddish. At the age of 15, I was slowly picking up the language and had studied enough Chassidic thought to start picking up the concepts as well. As the Rebbe spoke that Tu B'shvat evening, I vividly remember piecing together the words and applying the concepts I was hearing and then- BOOM!- a whole new world opened up for me with nothing lost in translation. ]

The Rebbe began by noting that on Tu B'shvat we celebrate the seven species specified in the Torah that our holy land Israel is blessed with: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

These seven kinds combined represent, and find conceptual parallel to, a perfect lifetime in the service of G-d. The Rebbe then described each one.

Wheat and Barley:
The book of Tanya emphasizes that we are a composite of two powerful forces, the G-d soul and an animal soul. Wheat (bread) is considered the staple food of man; Barley is the staple food of the animal. In addition to unlocking the potential of the G-d soul within us, we look to 'train the animal'-our more mundane side- to appreciate spiritual pursuits as well, thus harnessing its power for good. 

Grapes:
Water is a necessity of life; wine is a luxury. As opposed to just doing the bare minimum in order to 'cover the bases' of Torah obligations, we are encouraged to observe the mitzvot 'Chassidically': by performing the mitzvahs with love, devotion and in a luxurious fashion. An example of this would be  investing in a high end Mezuzah, a special Etrog, etc.

Figs:
Many of the commentaries on the Torah posit that the infamous 'Tree of Knowledge' was actually a fig tree. The proof is (Genesis 3:7) ...And they [Adam and Eve] sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loinclothes. The theory is that in their shame, they reached for the nearest foliage which happened to be from that very tree. Consequently, by addressing the 'fig', we are really rewiring ourselves not only to abstain from something prohibited but taking it one step further to address the root of our negativity, represented by the precedent for all sin.

Pomegranates:
At this point one might be feeling quite holy. Problem is that holy very often goes hand-in-hand with “holier than thou”. One of the reasons it is customary to partake of pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah is to be reminded of the Talmudic statement 'The sinners of Israel are loaded with Mitzvot as the pomegranate is loaded with seeds'. Simply stated, no matter your personal service, abstain from judging others. G-d has His own metric system.

Olives:
Olives teach us to stay focused on our life’s spiritual mission even during bitter and crushing times. Getting on spiritual track is complicated enough; throw a debilitating challenge into the mix and it becomes near impossible.  But Oil (as opposed to grapes) is extracted with a press under high pressure, showing us that the best of us can come out when we are feeling squeezed. Staying on course and maintaining equilibrium through it all leads us to the final species...

Dates:
The Zohar compares the different stages of a date palm’s path to full maturity to the human lifespan. This final stage represents a rich and full lifetime as described in the book of Tehillim (Psalms 93) “A righteous person shall flourish as the date palm.”
   

May we merit to lead a life full of seeds and flowering fruit! 

I hope you enjoyed this small bit of Chassidic inspiration. A practical takeaway: Raizy and I encourage you to stop by the office on Tu Bshvat morning (Monday Jan 21) for a buffet of exotic fruit, as is customary. We look forward to seeing you. For kids ages 4 and up, our monthly CKids event will be taking place from 10:30-11:00 am. Sign up by clicking here.

With blessing that all your wishes for good take root,

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Shmuel Metzger

 


 

 

A Special Occasion

 

Dear Friend,
 

I hope this correspondence finds you and your loved ones well in body and spirit.

In this week's Torah portion we read of the final plagues and the drama leading up to the redemption from ancient Egypt. Redemption- past and future- is a central theme of the Jewish faith. In fact, one may view most all Mitzvahs as an expression of redemption. For example, on Shabbat eve, women and girls kindle Shabbat candles, creating a warm and mystical ambiance. At that moment, those present are redeemed from the mundane workweek to a time of G-dliness and spirituality.

Another redemption Mitzvah: After G-d does a flyover/Passover, sparing the Jewish firstborn only, He commands -Shemot 13:13- (and I paraphrase) "And now you owe me one!". Consequently, there is a special mitzvah of "Pidyon Haben" redemption of the firstborn son. It is an age-old custom to place the redeemed baby on a pure silver tray during the ceremony, redeeming him from a Cohen for a token five silver shekel.

Just yesterday, our community participated in this special Mitzvah.

Some background: I have a handsome and gifted nephew and Raizy has a cousin, beautiful inside and out  and gifted too. Two years ago, Raizy pitched the match and... "Mazel Tov", Fastforward to this week, the firstborn of this beautiful couple, baby Avraham turned one month old and had a Pidyon Haben. Now, the Chabad at Beekman-Sutton is in possession of the most exquisite Pidyon Haben tray- some four feet long and a good 20 pounds of pure silver- a generous gift by the Becker-Schultz family. We were honored that our community could participate in this beautiful ceremony by providing the tray on which the baby was carried. If you know of any family celebrating this special occasion, please let us know so we can share the tray with them.

At the end of this week, please accept my blessing for redemption, small miracles and big breakthroughs, personal and professional, in every aspect of your life. In the words of our revered and beloved Rebbe, "May we dance to the Moshiach redemption speedily in our days" Amen. 

Warmly,

Rabbi Shmuel Metzger

PS The fascinating and original Chabad at Beekman-Sutton "Six Great Thinkers- One Thousand Years Of Jewish Thought " course begins this Tuesday, 7:30pm. Sign up for individual lectures or the entire course by clicking  here.

Pictured from right to left: Baby Avraham's mother, maternal grandmother, paternal great grandmother, and maternal great-great grandmother... may they all live and be well!

Astoria Borealis

 

Dear Friend,

 

Did you witness the ConEd explosion aka The Astoria Borealis?

You may have seen it on the news or from your windows— an epic electrical event just across the East River. From my vantage point, the entire night sky was lit with an awesome kaleidoscope of psychedelic colors (admittedly, I wondered if perhaps someone had messed with my Kiddush Wine). This incredible display went on for some time (miraculously no one was hurt) and was so dramatic and unusual, it appeared almost biblical. Speaking of which, in this week's Torah portion there are seven awesome plagues, with their own lights and special effects, as we once again revisit the central story of the Jewish faith, the exodus.

 

Chassidic thought teaches that in addition to the literal interpretation of the biblical narrative, there is a moral/religious lesson to be gleaned here. Pharaoh is best described as 'the king of status quo', barely motivated even by clear and present danger. The founder of Chabad in the book of Tanya encourages us to reenact an exodus daily, to bust out of the dusty shackles of sameness and turn the page of our personal history book. 

With that said, might I suggest a first Shabbos of 2019 resolution. Nothing dramatic, important nonetheless, attend synagogue services this #Shabbat. If not for every Shabbat, just this week (and there’s a fabulous Kiddush this week sponsored by the Langers). Hope to see you there. Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom.

Warmly,

Rabbi Shmuel A. Metzger

 

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