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The Blog

People Are Not Algorithms

March 13, 2018

Dear Friend,

To one degree or another, we’ve gotten used to interacting with robots. Not too long ago, if you needed cash, you had to go the bank, say “good morning” to the teller and show your ID. Nowadays you face a machine, press a few buttons and the cash is right there—no human interaction necessary.

Things have gone so far that we have even started talking to those robots as if they were human. “Hey Alexa,” we say before asking “her” to supply information or purchase something. It’s fun, but it can also be frustrating. You know the polite response you receive is not the result of care or even decency—it’s just a computer algorithm.

The antidote to our automated ills is found in the Passover Haggadah.

We read about four children—the wise, the wicked, the simpleton and the one who doesn’t know to ask; they all have questions, yet we are told to give each one a different answer, each as unique as they are.

This Passover, let’s take this lesson to heart. Let’s remember to be inclusive—to invite everyone to the Seder table, and once they are there, to be mindful of their individual needs (here is a great article with tips on how to do that).

When we all sit together, now that’s true celebration.

‘Soul Talk’ Online Course Reveals the Spiritual Reality Behind All Existence

Four lessons examine human challenges, internally and externally

March 13, 2018 11:33 AM
Rabbi Yehuda Refson, Chabad emissary to the city of Leeds, England, will lead a four-part course titled “Soul Talk,” to begin on March 19.
Rabbi Yehuda Refson, Chabad emissary to the city of Leeds, England, will lead a four-part course titled “Soul Talk,” to begin on March 19.

Look around the world and observe a dizzying array of elements, movement, color and creativity. What’s behind it all? Is there purpose in the seemingly endless struggle for survival and the human quest to live better? Is the soul for real?

These are some of the questions that have intrigued and plagued humanity for all time—from prophets and philosophers to theologians and thinkers. Many answers have been suggested, debated, refined and then redefined in the course of history.

At the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries—as the Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) was taking hold and the seeds of the Industrial Revolution were being sown—a revolutionary book of mystical dimension was making waves in Jewish communities across Eastern Europe. Popularly known as the Tanya, the 54-chapter book detailed how a Jew is to serve G‑d—maintaining inspiration, optimism, faith and motivation even when inevitably faced with challenge and failure.

Almost as if to set the stage for the chapters to come, the Tanya devotes substantial text to explaining the interplay between good and evil, and describing the makeup of the human soul (positing that there are actually two competing souls that vie for control). Written in Hebrew and aimed at the advanced scholar, the Tanya can seem as a formidable text to master.

In the latest offering from Courses, Rabbi Yehuda Refson, Chabad emissary to the city of Leeds, England, will explicate these issues in a four-part course titled “Soul Talk,” to begin on March 19 and continue every Monday for four weeks.

“We will endeavor to explain the Chassidic concept of the soul—the fourth dimension in creation, the G‑dly energy that exists within everything and the power in the soul of humankind to elevate that energy,” Refson tells

The lessons address G-d, religion and life, leaving enrollees to determine: Can people change for the good?
The lessons address G-d, religion and life, leaving enrollees to determine: Can people change for the good?

“We will look at the great heights of potential embodied in the human soul and the struggle of man to fulfill his own potential, as well as the potential of the world in which he lives,” he continues. “We will look at the challenges human beings face, internally and externally. And we will call on stories from the lives of great people who have exemplified success in that struggle.”

Refson, who also heads the Leeds rabbinical court, studied under the famed Chassidic teacher Rabbi Nissan Nemanov and was ordained by the world-renowned halachic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

Each of the four lessons sheds light on another building block of the Tanya’s contribution to the Jewish approach to G‑d, religion and life.

In the first one, Refson will discuss the Tanya’s approach to the soul, both that of humans and other life forms. The second lesson tackles the interplay between the human soul and real life. In part three, the rabbi will examine evil—how something that can be so destructive fits into G‑d’s plan. The final class explores the paradox of a G‑dly soul existing in an earthly body. Spanning teachings from the early sages all the way through to the Six-Day War, this concluding class offers an eagle-eye view on the wisdom gained in the previous three lessons and leaves participants with the answer to an age-old question: Can people reallychange for the good?

Rabbi Yaakov Kaplan, who produced the course, says the curriculum strives to answer fundamental questions, such as “why are we here, what’s happening inside us, and what does it all mean?”

Refson agrees, but takes it a step further: “I hope that participants find encouragement to recognize their own capacity . . . that they discover that challenges are opportunities to allow them to reach greater heights.”

To enroll in this free online course, visit the course page here.

#TefillinForYitzi #ShineALittleLight

February 13, 2018


As a regular reader of, you may know Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz through his writings. Or perhaps you came to him through his music. If you’re like us, you are probably in awe of this special man, who refuses to let ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) stop him from sharing laughter, joy and optimism. All he is able to do physically is move his eyes—he even types on the computer that way—and smile. Yet he spends hours and hours “writing” Torah thoughts and inspirational messages.

This week, Rabbi Yitzi turns 46. Friends, admirers and students all over the world are getting together to give him the greatest birthday gift they can think of: 4,600 Jewish men will put on tefillin in his honor. Between us, we’ve been in in touch with Rabbi Yitzi, and he told us that he is super excited and touched by the gesture, and he looks forward to seeing the photos from everyone who participates.

So please click here for details on how you can get involved in this international effort!

#TefillinForYitzi #ShineALittleLight

The Editorial Team Is on the Radio

February 13, 2018

What do you listen to during your commute, while you exercise or whenever you find a few quiet moments?

We are thrilled to share the news with you: had launched a new Internet radio station!

This new station (listen online here) broadcasts Torah classes 24/6. At any time of day or night (except on Shabbat), you will be able to enjoy our best presenters lecturing on Torah, Chassidic teachings, halachah (Jewish law) and other inspiration.

While millions already learn online and download podcasts, there has been a tremendous demand for streaming Torah classes. Whether you are driving and unable to browse or if you prefer the convenience of pre-selected content, this new channel might be just what you’ve been looking for. Start listening today! Radio is available on iOS and Android, as well as on TuneIn and Simple Radio (search for “”).

We hope you enjoy it! And please do provide us feedback. We will be waiting for it.

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