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The Anguish of Unanswered Questions

Does every question have an answer? Does every tragedy have an explanation? How am I supposed to react to the beyond-tragic senseless murder of innocent men, women and children? What shall I think when two courageous individuals, a young couple that selflessly left the comforts of their hometowns and communities and went to far-off India to help their Jewish brothers and sisters, are gunned down by agents of pure evil?

I echo the words of horrified angels, exclaimed upon witnessing the barbaric murders of the holy Ten Martyrs, haunting words repeated each year in the Yom Kippur liturgy: "This is Torah and this is its reward?! Look, look, G‑d! See what the enemy is doing!"

"Look, look, G‑d! See what the enemy is doing!"

In my youth, I merited to bask in the presence of the Rebbe. As a rule, the Rebbe radiated optimism, faith and joy. His enthusiasm was infectious and uplifting.

But I have one memory that will never escape me. It was the 9th of Adar I 5752 (February 13, 1992). It was the last day of shiva for Mrs. Pesha Leah Lapine, a Crown Heights resident who was killed in cold blood by an assailant who broke into her home. That evening, the Rebbe addressed the crowd assembled in Lubavitch World Headquarters. I was stunned by the words—words uttered with such intense emotion and pain. The Rebbe was trembling, even his lectern was shaking.

The following is excerpted from the Rebbe's talk that night:

What has occurred – an act of open martyrdom – is utterly incomprehensible!

There is no one to whom to turn for an explanation. All those present, including myself, are equally confounded. So what do we gain by questioning? The question will remain...

To die al kiddush Hashem, for the sanctification of G‑d's Name, is an incredible merit—as is demonstrated by this episode:

The venerable Rabbi Yosef Karo reached such a high spiritual level that he was informed from Above that he had "earned" the merit to die al kiddush Hashem. Later, because of his involvement in an incident that was not appropriate – considering his exalted spiritual level – he was denied this privilege.

What happened afterwards? He lived many more fruitful years, and composed the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. By authoring this universally accepted Code, Rabbi Karo, in effect, became the rabbi of all Jews until the end of times.

Yet despite all his subsequent achievements, he was "denied the privilege" of dying al kiddush Hashem; i.e., dying al kiddush Hashem would have been considered an even greater merit than being the rabbi of all Jews in all following generations!

What do we gain by questioning?.

The greatness of dying al kiddush Hashem is amplified in this instance, for the victim was a young mother who left behind young children. Being taken from her children is a greater sacrifice than that of her own life. For this means that she must give over the upbringing and education of her children to others. This is the greatest sacrifice possible for a mother.

For many years to come – if, G‑d forbid, the fulfillment of the prophecy "Those that lie in the dust will arise and sing" will be delayed – these children will long for their mother. They will recount to their own children their intense longing for their mother; they will tell them that she merited to sanctify G‑d's Name...

Enough is enough! Have we not sufficed with all the martyrdom we have experienced until now?

And that which G‑d derives nachas and pleasure from a Jew's self-sacrifice—it suffices the self-sacrifice of a Jew who is in exile, with the knowledge that this exile has lasted more than 1,900 years—and Moshiach has yet to come!

Another day passes, another week passes, another moment passes... and Moshiach still has not come. We say and we think and cry out "Ad masai!", how long must we wait in exile? And yet what do we see happening? -- The sanctification of G‑d's Name; a Jewish soul is taken away; a mother is taken from her children.

May there be no further need to discuss these matters for the Redemption will come immediately. "Those that lie in the dust will arise and sing," and those who died al kiddush Hashem will merit to be resurrected first. And then this young woman will encounter her children and continue their education with a joyous heart.

May this take place in the immediate future, without any delay whatsoever.

Do A Good Deed and Light Up the World

(I'm copying here an article that appeared in our news section -- N.S.)

As these lines are being written, the hearts and minds of people all over the world are with our brothers and sisters in Mumbai;

With little Moishe'le Holzberg, miraculously rescued from the besieged Mombai Chabad House, who celebrates his second birthday this Shabbat, without his parents, who were both killed in the attack;

With Moishe'le's grandparents, the parents of Rabbi Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg, mourning the loss of the young couple, the beloved, dynamic co-directors of the Mumbai Chabad House, who cut down in the prime of their lives by cruel and vicious terrorists;

With Gabi and Rivki's extended family of thousands of brothers and sisters, the Chabad emissaries around the world, traumatized and saddened by the terrible tragedy;

Most of us are hundreds or thousands of miles away; yet our very being cries out: What can I do to help?

Yes, there is something we can do.

A mitzvah, a G-dly deed, has the power to reach deep into the core of our being--where we are all one, and the physical distance between us is of no consequence. At this core, a positive deed on our part can help bring peace and goodness to this troubled world.

What better way to mark little Moishe'le's birthday, and to salute the bravery of his courageous parents, than to perpetuate their lives--lives they devoted to bringing goodness and G-dliness into our hurting world!

Take a minute to do one or more of the following. You can make a difference.

  • Light Shabbat candles! Jewish women, light a candle tonight! Click here for instructions and local lighting times.
  • Tefillin: If you already put on tefillin every day, encourage a friend to do so. If you don't yet, now is a good time to start! Click here to find out how to put this important mitzvah into practice or contact your local Chabad center for assistance.
  • Torah study (suggestion: our Daily Study page contains selections from the Torah)
  • Say a prayer (suggestion: Psalm 20 is traditionally said in times of distress)
  • Charity and acts of kindness: Put a coin in a charity box, give a gift of money to a fellow in need or to a charitable cause, or extend a helping hand to someone who needs it.
  • Mezuzah: If you don't yet have a mezuzah get one now! If you already do have one, it may be time to have it checked to ensure that the words on the parchment have not faded. Click here for more information about this special mitzvah.

I am stunned. The pain of our holy nation of Israel at this time cannot be described. Our fellow Jews, amongst them Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad of Mumbai, were killed during the terrorist attacks that just struck India. May G‑d avenge their blood!

I'm trying to articulate how I feel and how I am certain every Jew feels at this time. But I just cannot. Instead of an analysis of a broken heart, I am going to share a Torah thought with you in memory of the victims. May G‑d have mercy on His people!

In this week's Torah portion, Toldot, we read about the life of our patriarch Isaac, the first born-Jew. In celebrating the birth and development of his son Isaac, our forefather Abraham made a feast. The Torah tells us (Genesis 21:8) that is was "big." The Midrash explains that it was big by virtue of the impressive guest list, which featured the greatest and the brightest of the generation, including the infamous giant named Og, king of Bashan.

"What is this kid worth?" he sneered. "With one finger I could squash him"

This Og wasn't just big for his size. He was literally a giant. In fact, according to the Talmud, during Noah's Flood, he managed to survive by hanging on to the roof of the Ark.

The baby boy Isaac was brought to the feast. Amidst the coos and smiles there was a smirk and a nasty comment from Og. "What is this kid worth?" he sneered. "With one finger I could squash him."

One imagines that such a comment quieted the crowd. But a voice was heard in response. It was G‑d Himself. "By your life, you will see thousands ands tens of thousands of his children. Your end will be that you will fall into their hands."

Needless to say that is exactly what happened. Og managed to live till the times of Moses, as he was leading the Jewish People to the Promised Land. Moses did battle with Og and slew him single-handedly. So much for big Og and his strength. The Jew prevailed, although apparently weaker and smaller.

This has been the story of our history ever since. They think they can squash us. They think we are weak. They never succeeded. They never will.

Friends, let us remain united in our uncompromising demand from the Almighty to send us Moshiach speedily and end the pain and suffering forever more. The Torah's prescription for situations such as these is to remain focused on life. Together we will overcome our enemies and flourish!

I was sitting in the office yesterday afternoon when I clicked on to to check on what's happening. As the moderator of this news blog, I'm in the habit of checking the news a few times a day—always on the lookout for breaking stories or interesting news items.

The big red lettering sprawled across the top of the page immediately caught my attention. Another terror attack. A big one. at least 80 people killed, countless other injured, and many others taken hostage.

"Hello, I have a friend who I think might have been a victim of the shootings..."

"What a tragedy... what a crazy world," I thought to myself as I returned to the article I was in middle of editing. "When will all this madness and grief end?" I sighed to myself.

A few minutes later, I'm totally engrossed in my work again, and some snippets of conversation emanating from an adjoining cubicle pique my attention.

"Hello, I have a friend who I think might have been a victim of the shootings... Were any of the victims brought to your hospital?... Were any of them Jewish?"


It seems that they've been unable to establish contact with the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Mumbai. The shootings are in the vicinity of the Chabad House, and some of my co-workers were calling the various local hospitals, hoping for some information as to his welfare.

Not much work was accomplished in the office yesterday afternoon. Same story this morning. Eyes are glued to the various newscasts, as news slowly trickles in.

The Chabad House of Rabbi and Mrs. Holtzberg, the Chabad representatives in Mumbai, is occupied by terrorists. As I write these words, their fate is unknown. Thank G‑d, their young son escaped in the hands of a nanny a few hours ago. According to news reports, Indian commandos are preparing – or have already begun – to storm the Chabad House. We all hope and pray to hear good news very soon. May G‑d have mercy...

People just like me

A tragedy that is occurring 8,000 miles from me has hit home. An event that would have normally elicited from me a sigh and a few moments of thought is now consuming me. It's not "numbers" of casualties; it's real people with real faces. People just like me.

What is this supposed to teach me? Am I really expected to be this affected by every tragedy that is reported? Is that humanly possible? Would I be able to continue on with life in such a fashion?

I don't know.

I do know, though, that for the moment, I suddenly have perspective.

Meanwhile, let us continue saying Psalms and prayers for Rabbi & Mrs. Holtzberg – Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivkah Bas Yehudis – and all the others impacted by this monumental tragedy.

May G‑d have mercy.

The continuing decline of the economy is unfortunately taking a toll on so many different areas of our lives. The news headlines are voraciously tackling every possible angle—each day revealing another area affected by the recession.

This past Sunday, reported on perhaps one of the most unfortunate side effects of this financial crunch. It seems that many couples are opting to remain married instead of divorcing—they simply can't afford to divorce. Nationwide, the numbers of divorce filings are dropping.

Pamela Smock, a researcher at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that this does "not bode well for all sorts of families. It could keep unhappy couples together."

Jeff Grumley, a marriage counselor from Illinois, said he had seen a 25 percent jump in business in recent months as couples tried to save their marriages, and their money. "I think people feel desperate," Grumley said.

The way I see it, the incalculable damage caused by this phenomenon will be long-lasting. Think of all those poor couples who are undergoing marriage counseling: chances are that a good number of them will end up resolving their differences, leading them to stay married long after the economy recovers!

Let's get serious now.

Thinking rationally, it's difficult for most of us to understand people who would divorce, just because "they can afford it," rather than try to patch things up through therapy. But when egos and feelings get involved, many people – even those who are normally wise and intelligent – stop being rational. Sometimes a financial deterrent is what does the trick.

Our Sages recognized this truth about human nature when they instituted the ketubah—the marriage contract. This contract, whose centerpiece is the husband's obligation to financially compensate his wife in the event of divorce, was intended to make divorce a financial trouble on the husband, so that "it should not be light in his eyes to divorce her."

The economy will rebound. It always does. In the famous Biblical story of Joseph in Egypt, the years of plenty served to sustain and feed the years of famine. But just as the booming years provide a nest-egg that cushion the lean ones, the lessons learned during the lean years provide perspective and clarity for the financial good times.

Empathy, financial prudence and prayer. The realization that we are not completely in control over our destiny; we must always have faith in a Higher Being who is the ultimate power. All these positive traits that we cultivate during difficult times—we must make sure they carry over when these times pass.

And, of course, marriage is most sacred. Termination of a marriage should only be considered after every single possible solution has been exhausted.

Maybe you can afford it in terms of dollars. But the destruction of a family has no pricetag.


The mere word is enough to bring out the strongest emotions in all of us. Disgust. Sympathy. Anger. Frustration.

The settler situation in Israel is enough to send normally calm people into tirades. Quiet people into shouting matches.

When I lived in America, I never quite knew what to make of settlers. I was confused by the whole situation. But I knew one thing: they were extreme. And I was scared of that.

So when I came to Hebron to cover the Beit Hashalom (House of Peace) protest, I had no idea what to expect.

Beit Hashalom is a house in Hebron that was bought by a family in America that claims to be direct descendants of former inhabitants of the house. Nine families have moved in since the house was bought,.

A week ago, however, the Israeli High Court ruled that the families in Beit Hashalom had to leave.

The settlers refused to accept this. And they meant to protest. To stay in the house. And this is why I came to Hebron. I had to see this for myself.

The rally started in Kiryat Arba, a town bordering Hebron. The stadium filled with people. It was soon clear that everyone there were settlers, with a few exceptions.

As speaker after speaker came up, I could feel the energy mount. After each rousing speech protesting the injustice of the Israeli government, people clapped, hooted, and stood to show their support. The energy pulsated through the room.

A woman came up and showed a video of the transaction between the buyer of the house and the previous Palestinian owner. She played audio of the man admitting that he had sold the house. Proof after proof was brought. Each piece of evidence tore into the energy more and more.

Right before leaving, I heard the last speaker say: "We will not just enter Beit Hashalom, but all of Hebron, and all of Israel."

What had I gotten myself into?

Finally it was time to go. A van blasting music with lyrics that said, "Hebron is our home!" drove towards Beit Hashalom, followed by hundreds of supporters. People sang and danced on their way there. There was a feeling of festivity in the air. What happened to the frustration? I was confused.

When we finally arrived at Beit Hashalom, people intermingled happily. Grins and smiles surrounded me. It almost felt like a party.

Mezuzahs were put up as the entire crowd looked on. People cheered as each one was put up. Afterwards, groups of people broke out into song and dance. Others looked on and smiled.

As I left the room, I had to find out more about what was going on. I needed to hear it straight from people's lips. But everyone I talked to refused to talk. The moment they saw my voice recorder, the smiles disappeared, the mouths shut, and they shook their heads. They didn't trust me.

I finally found someone who was willing to speak to me. A man wearing black and white. A black hat. And stickers. All over himself.

He talked quickly and energetically. He, like most of the speakers, emphasized that, "It is a fight for our very survival here in Israel. Whether we stay here or not."

Suddenly, a man walked up and interrupted. He looked at me suspiciously, inquiring as to what I was doing. I suddenly found myself surrounded by about eight settlers, who all eyed me curiously.

I tried explaining that I just wanted to hear the stories. I worked for a Jewish website,

The man nodded. Most of the settlers disappeared. He turned to the man covered in stickers and explained that all the journalists would take pictures of him. That the picture would be all over the world. And all the settlers would seem like extremists.

Sounded familiar.

With a frustration that reminded me of the rally the man said, "If they see a weakness, they will take advantage of it. We are in a struggle over every little thing."

The man's name was Noam Arnon. He was a spokesman for the settlers in Hebron. He began explaining to me why the moment I took out a voice recorder, people looked at me so suspiciously: "The media is anti-Jewish. Anti-Semitic. Pro-terror."

As he explained his belief that the Jews of Beit Hashalom were being mistreated, that all the settlers were misrepresented, it slowly became clear why there was so much frustration in all the settlers' voices.

There was a feeling of pent up energy. The settlers simply felt voiceless. Despite the journalists that surrounded them, they could not speak to them. Despite the fact that every single move a settler makes is recorded and watched, they felt unheard. Even though they lived in the Holy Land, they felt hated by their own people.

They felt alone.

I walked outside for a breath of fresh air.

The moment I walked outside, though, I suddenly saw boys, all looking around thirteen to fifteen, running down the road. Outside of the perimeter that the soldiers had set up. I decided to follow them.

I heard chanting. Yelling.

Halfway down the road, the sound of bullets being shot filled the air.

More yelling.

More bullets.

As I ran away from the sound of bullets being shot, someone looked at me and asked, "Why are you running away? Go back!"

Only in Israel do people run towards bullets.

I later found out that the boys had gone through Hebron and sang and chanted. Palestinian boys came from their homes and threw rocks at the settler boys. The soldiers shot into the air to disperse everyone.

As I looked around after the incident, I began to realize how many of the protesters were teenagers. No more than fifteen. Girls and boys.

As the night progressed, the teenagers became more and more restless. After the initial excitement, the night had become calm and quiet. It was obvious that, more than anything, the teenagers simply felt as if they wanted their voices to be heard.

And so every now and then they would break the stillness in the air. They tried to get around the police over and over again. Over and over again they were stopped.

One boy began screaming at a soldier: "How could you do this to Jews? Why are you stopping your own people? What side are you on? I am your brother!"

The soldier, almost as young as the boy, looked at him with an intense sadness. He was on the verge of tears.

When I returned to my yeshiva in Jerusalem the next day, someone asked me if my experience had changed my views on settlers and Israel in general.

I thought for a moment. And I realized that the words that I was used to hearing, such as "extremist" and "fanatic" seemed to dissolve away. The settlers were simply people.

It quickly became obvious that more than any other word, "frustrated" described the settlers best. Frustrated that their government ignores them. Frustrated that the world misunderstands them. But, most of all, frustrated that their own people have rejected them.

There was a moment, however, when the frustration melted away. As the settlers made their way towards the house, no one seemed angry or upset or ignored.


Because there was something happening. Because the settlers were literally stepping forward. They no longer felt as if they existed within a state of stasis. The simple act of singing, of chanting, broke down their barriers. Despite the fact that they felt the whole world hated them, for a moment they felt as if they could sing to everyone, even their enemies.

Now, imagine if someone was actually listening.

In June I wrote a post on this blog trying to find a silver lining in exorbitant gas prices. Oil was $140 a barrel and the "experts" were sure it was going to $300. Auto manufactures, sure the SUV was a relic of the past, reconfigured their machinery, replacing gas guzzlers with go-carts.

So now that gas is back to around $2.45 a gallon I guess our economy is rock solid once again?

Wait, what happened? Didn't we promise that if the time ever came when we didn't need a second mortgage to fill up, we'd never complain again?

Well, that issue was reversed and yet there is so much more to do.

The current market crisis is a harsh illustration of an encouraging lesson: we're never done. We are endlessly in pursuit of our mission. There is no conclusion; and that's great.

Too often we find ourselves wishing just one last wish: "If I pass my driver's test... If I get that job... get out of that speeding ticket... I'll never ask for anything again... life will be serene."

We can and will overcome this challenge too. We will work hard and succeed and then work harder, reaching unimagined heights and on and on—"keeping on keeping on" means we are alive!

When we accomplish something really special (even if we are the only ones who deem it so) a little voice whispers: "Good job! Wow! Take the rest of the week off—you deserve it." You helped out when no one else would, you answered the call and made the minyan, helped the sweet old lady with her groceries—you're good; let someone else attend to the next mitzvah.

Chassidic thought reminds us that life is a constant dynamic, an ever intensifying series of opportunities. The wonderful truth is there is always something more; till 120, we can build, grow and assist. As enticing as the hammock often seems, it is not why G‑d created us—mere existence is not living.

We are not looking for crisis; life provides those for free. But we are excited by each day's fresh gift, viewing each accomplishment as a challenge to do even more.

When people reported to the Rebbe of some great mitzvah act, the Rebbe often responded with encouragement to double their efforts. To the uninitiated this may appear as criticism, when in fact it is complimentary. One's success means they have great abilities, if someone did well we bless them to do even better.

Now that we can drive our cars again let's use them to run errands of goodness and kindness and arrive at the ultimate destination—the coming of Moshiach now!

All across the fruited plains, Democrats are savoring their monumental victory. Aside for the historic nature of President-Elect Obama's landslide victory, the Democratic Party scored gains in the Senate and House, and increased their gubernatorial majority too. On the local front, Democratic candidates have rolled into office, in many cases defeating entrenched incumbents—winning loads of mayoralties and positions in municipal and state governments.

A classic example of large coattails atop the ticket.

Obama skillfully energized the nation and excited us with his vision. He recruited an astounding number of our young to campaign on his behalf, and by the millions he motivated us to register to vote. We flocked to the polling stations en masse, causing enormous lines. (On Election Day, I passed a polling station at 6:15 in the morning; the line was already around the block!) Excited by the prospect of change that Obama promises, voters turned out in numbers not seen in at least forty years.

Enthusiastic about Obama, many of these new voters, and many of the veterans too, voted straight Democratic—from the top of the ticket to the bottom. Hence the across-the-board impressive Democratic gains.

"613 mitzvot were given to Israel; came the prophet Habakkuk and based them all on a single one—faith. As it is written: 'a tzaddik lives by his faith' (Habakkuk 2:4)"—Talmud, Makkot 24a.

"This means, it is as if there was only one mitzvah: faith alone. For through faith alone one will come to fulfill all the 613 mitzvot"—Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya ch. 33.

Mitzvot also have coattails.

When we feel uninspired and not in the mood of anything holy, when we'd rather sit at home and watch TV rather than go to the polling station (synagogue) to register our vote for G‑d, when we find ourselves – as we all do at one time or another –in a spiritual lethargy, the trick is to enthusiastically tackle one mitzvah. Excitement about one mitzvah is infectious; it has the ability to reenergize the rest of the ticket, move you out of your spiritual slump and on the way to a landslide victory. If one is truly enthused and psyched about his faith in G-d, that alone has the coattails to infuse the rest of his observance with excitement and profound meaning.

But the concept of "mitzvah coattails" isn't only the domain of lofty mitzvot, such as faith.

"Rabbi Yosef asked the son of Rabbah, 'Which mitzvah was your father most careful with?' 'With tzitzit,' the son responded"—Talmud, Shabbat 118b.

Habakkuk suggested faith. Rabbah chose the mitzvah of tzitzit. What's your choice?

My thoughts on baseball's free agency

Baseball season is in full swing (sorry couldn't resist that pun). Of course I know that the World Series is over (Mazel Tov Phillies), I am referring to the player's favorite part of the year: free agency. Where else can one refer to an offer of $10 million a year to play a game as "an insult"?

For those not in the know: When a player's contract expires he is a "free agent"; able to hire himself to the team of his choosing. A common refrain heard during the bidding war is "It's not about the money." Players claim that their choice involves numerous factors—and it's not about the money.

Well I believe them. When someone insists on an annual salary of fifteen million instead of fourteen, it's not because there is something in his projected budget that requires that extra money to purchase; it's about objective affirmation of value. There are even contracts that stipulate that the player must make more (even by $1) than anyone else on the team.

We can debate all day who the best second baseman is; what is objectively verifiable is who the highest paid player is. The math is very simple: I make more than you, hence I am more valuable than you.

This reminds me of the joke about two men who were hiking when a crazed grizzly began chasing them. Fleeing for their lives one said to the other: "Do you think we can outrun the bear?" His friend replied: "I don't have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you!"

Such a competitive attitude is appropriate on the field, not in the evaluation of self or others. We should never strive to simply be better than the other guy; each one of us must commit to achieving all that G‑d needs specifically from me, regardless of how much more or less I have done than others.

It is only when we lose sight of our personal relationship with an infinite G‑d that we look for finite markers to affirm our progress and value.

On his deathbed, the great Talmudic sage Reb Yochanan ben Zakkai told his students: "I don't know on which path (in the afterlife) I will be led."

This great sage and leader of Israel didn't know whether he was going to Heaven? This was no false humility, he simply had never thought about it, had never paused to grade himself; he was too busy working G‑d's plan.

Don't settle for being the best, strive to do your best.

Ready for a quiz? I selected a few quotes from recent campaign speeches by the two presidential candidates. Can you guess who said what?

  1. "We can't afford to slow down, sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in this last week."
  2. "We will win Florida, and we will win this race tomorrow. There's one day left until we take America in a new direction..."
  3. "With this kind of enthusiasm, this kind of intensity, we will win Florida and we will win the election!"
  4. "Don't believe for a second this election is over... We have to work like our future depends on it in these last two days..."

Even if you are following the campaign from the periphery you should be able to correctly identify which candidate said what. Senator McCain (quotes 2 and 3) is trying to exude confidence and sound upbeat. Senator Obama (quotes 1 and 4) is trying to get across the message that the election is still very much up for grabs, and that each vote counts.

Kind of ironic considering that all the polls suggest that Obama has much more reason to be confident about securing a resounding victory, while McCain should seemingly be emphasizing that it isn't over until the last vote is counted...

No matter who wins this election, I think we can take an important message from this in waging our personal campaigns and struggles—our often difficult endeavor to become better, more spiritual and refined individuals, as well as our struggle to have a positive effect on our families, acquaintances and environment.

Never Be Overconfident...

"Do not believe in yourself until the day you die"—Ethics 4:2.

Everything is going swimmingly well. Everything is going your way. The pieces are all falling in place. Your spiritual progress is coming along nicely, at exactly the pace you envisioned, and you are serving as a great role model for others.

Don't let it get to your head.

During the Second Temple Era there was a High Priest, his name was Yochanan, who dutifully served in his exalted position for eighty years. For eighty years he entered the Holy of Holies every Yom Kippur—and anyone who was not perfectly righteous would immediately perish upon entering this holiest of chambers. After eighty years he decided to reject the oral tradition and he became a Sadducee.

No one is ever too righteous or holy to stumble. One must be ever-vigilant. As Obama rightfully says, we can never "afford to slow down, sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second."

Life is a slippery mountain. You are either exerting yourself and climbing upwards, or you are, G‑d forbid, slipping down.

...But Never Lose Confidence Either

The prognosis is grim indeed; the obstacles seem insurmountable. All the experts agree that your chances of victory are slim to none. You're locked in a constant battle against your whims and capricious tendencies. You have not made even a dent in the spiritual listlessness that surrounds you. You feel like you're getting nowhere. Is there a reason to continue campaigning? Maybe you should just have your name removed from the ballot...

Never give up!

In His attempt to establish human Free Choice, G‑d doesn't give goodness and holiness free reign. He creates obstacles and challenges, and deliberately sets them in our path.

But He didn't create an entirely even playing field. He gave an unfair edge to the path of holiness: when actively pitted against each other, obstacles will always melt away. (The problem is that often we submit to temptation without even entering the battlefield...)

There's one caveat, however: A stronger combatant will be defeated by a weaker foe if the weaker one is excited and confident, while the stronger one is lethargic and depressed.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains (Tanya ch. 26) that the same holds true in our personal struggles. We may be stronger, we may hold the edge, but if we are not happy, excited and assured, we can very easily fall victim to our weaknesses.

So, no matter how bleak the future seems, always remember that you do have the ability to be victorious. All that's needed is an upbeat and positive attitude.

And when all else fails, you can always plead your case before G‑d. As this following fascinating story recounted in the Talmud (Berachot 10a) demonstrates:

Hezekiah, righteous king of Judah, fell ill. He was visited by the prophet Isaiah the son of Amotz, who informed him that all efforts to cure him – including spiritual intervention – would be fruitless. "It had been decreed in heaven," Isaiah foretold, "that you will soon die."

"Son of Amotz," Hezekiah thundered, "cease your prophesying and leave! I have a family tradition, handed down from my grandfather David, that even if a sharp sword is drawn across one's throat, he should not stop praying for mercy!"

The king got out of bed and prayed. His prayer was heard by G‑d, and he lived for another twenty-two years!

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...