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5 Ways to Keep the Spiritual Momentum of the High Holidays

The High Holidays and Sukkot have ended. This marathon of Jewish holy days earned many of us an increased spiritual awareness, sensitivity, and commitment. But how can we maintain that growth throughout the year? Here are five suggestions for maintaining the momentum of the High Holidays:

1 – Honoring Shabbat

Shabbat is a weekly opportunity to unplug and stay in good spiritual health. Meals with family and friends, communal worship, connecting with community, and creating time to rejuvenate are critical elements to Shabbat, and to keeping the High Holiday growth going during the year ahead. What you do to honor Shabbat, will reward you spiritually and materially.

2 – Creating time for daily Torah study

A person who is not engaged in daily Torah study is depriving themselves of the nutrients they need to stay in good spiritual health, nurture their soul and develop a stronger connection with God. I suggest a Chevruta – learning with a partner. While attending classes is important, it’s often passive learning. The real impact of Torah learning on your life comes from having a study partner. Even 5 minutes a day.

3 – Acquire for yourself a Shul Friend

Our sages teach us in Pirkei Avot, “Acquire for yourself a friend”. Be in regular contact with people you spent the holidays with. This is a natural group of people to help you maintain your spiritual strength this year.

4 – Volunteer for Tomchei and other chesed projects

My last Dvar Torah of the holiday season was about the importance of doing someone a favor. You cannot underestimate the power of helping others — both on how it will positively influence your life and those you are helping.

5 – Paying your pledges

Many people make pledges of tzedakah / charity during the Holidays. Whether in memory of someone during Yizkor, or a misheberach after an honor, an auction, it is critical to pay your pledge for the impact in the world to take place.

May you continue to grow and learn, and be blessed with an outpouring of divine favor!

A Share of the World to Come

There is a tradition to study Pirkei Avot from Passover until Shavuot. Pirkei Avot contains the timeless wisdom of the sages, and inspiring messages for everyday living. In essence, Pirkei Avot is Judaism’s guidebook to success in life.

One of the famous passages of Pirkei Avot reads, “All Israel has a share in the World to Come.” Usually we understand this to mean that everyone, no matter how far they have strayed, still retains a place in eternity. It’s a beautiful affirmation that we all get another chance.

However, the verse says that we “have” as in we “have it now”. What part of the World to Come do we have now?

Shabbat.

The Talmud teaches that on Shabbat we can enjoy 1/60th of the pleasure of the World to Come. Shabbat is in fact the only time that we can access any part of the World to Come.

So what might the sages be telling us?

“All Israel have a share in the World to Come… NOW.”

If you want to access that pleasure of the World to Come now, then dive into Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom!

Image: Marci Weisel Papercut Judaica

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Shabbat is Everything

Can’t wait for tonight.
Candlelight, a bottle of Bro-Deux from Shirah Wine, fresh challah from our French-Persian bakery with a heavy dose of sesame seeds on top, some special guests, our four children, my beautiful wife of over eighteen years, and certainly a feast befitting this auspicious time.

It’s a weekly ritual that grounds me in this world of here and now, and also elevates my soul to appreciate the oneness of Creation.

We’ll sing too. Shabbat melodies new and ancient. We’ll share stories and discuss this week’s Torah portion of Yitro, which contains the most important section of the Torah – the Ten Commandments. (A better translation would be the 10 Declarations, or Pronouncements).

This revelation includes the mitzvah of Shabbat, which in turn contains both the positive and prohibitive elements of Shabbat called shamor (guard) and zachor (remember).” We remember the Shabbat when we recite kiddush on Friday night, and we guard the Shabbat when we refrain from work.
Never before in human history has the wisdom of Shabbat been more apt that in our times. For in a life that is attached 24/7 to the umbilical chord of the data and mobile phone service, we find less time for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Shabbat allows us the time, creates space, and contains rituals to focus on what truly matters.
The Zohar tells us that Shabbat sums up the entire Torah. I would add that Shabbat sums up all of Jewish life, history, and values. For Shabbat is about the sanctity of life, living in harmony with ourselves and others, the preciousness of the Earth, and connecting to the infinite wonder of Creation.

Can’t wait for tonight.

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“Let Don Siegleman be with us for Next Shabbos”

don_happy.jpgLast Friday night, at a massive Hillel Purim/Shabbat table at Congregation Lubavitch-Long Beach the Purim spirit was intense. We had been singing since 5 o’clock, and after many hours, the room was ringing with our joyous songs. We were pounding the tables and the floors were getting treacherous. Delicious shnitzels, BBQ chicken wings, and other dishes were piled on huge platters, and kept coming out of the kitchen. Ice-cold pitchers of Heineken and many other drinks, going fast and furiously. The party was so holy and so beautiful. I got up to make toasts and L’Chaims. I had been in the same place for several hours.

I gave a roaring toast to the assembled students, alumni, members of the community starting with LChaim, tovim, u’sholom, she yibane beis ha mikdash bimheira v’yameinu, u sen chelkeinu v’torasecha…. and so on for several minutes. Then my wife Rachel yelled in my ear “Don.”

I yelled out “And Let Don Seigleman be with us for Next Shabbos!” Only some in the room understood what I was talking about—former Alabama Govenor Don Siegleman has been unjustly imprisoned for nine months in a work camp, denied being free on bail during his appeal, and featured recently on 60-minutes, MSNBC, and in congressional hearings—but it didn’t because it was Purim and everyone gave a resounding, a gigantic “L’Chaim,” and the singing commensed again. At the table was Dana, Don’s only daughter, who works with us at Beach Hillel. Dana, Rachel and I prayed that Purim would be a yeshua, a redemption for Dana’s dad.

The phone rang this morning and Dana told us the amazing news. Her father was set free just moments before, and she reminded us of the story at Purim, and how she remembered what I had said about “next Shabbos” and how impossible that felt. Thousands of his supporters have been fighting for his release from day one, and it was improbable that anything would change too fast. Then yesterday, the news came that he was wanted for testimony on his case on Capital Hill, and the entire wheel started turning:

OAKDALE, La. — Former Gov. Don Siegelman rolled through the gates of the Oakdale Federal Detention Center at 11:10 a.m. [Friday], released pending an appeal after eight months behind bars.

“I may have lost my freedom for a while,” Siegelman said. “But I never lost faith.”

Siegelman stepped out of a black Chevrolet SUV to speak to reporters. He was wearing a torn gray sweatshirt over a T-shirt.

He said he would have more to say tonight in Birmingham.

“Now, I’m sure you understand this, I want to be with my family for a few days,” he said.

At his house in Birmingham, a red, white and blue balloon floated above the mail box this afternoon and more yellow and silver ones were attached near the front door to welcome the former governor home.

That is Purim – everything can and does change in the blink of an eye. Mazel Tov to all the Siegelman’s and their supporters, Baruch Hashem and Shabbat Shalom!