That Time My Wife Forgot My Birthday (Yom Kippur Message)

I’ll never forget the moment. It was a little over five years ago. My wife Mushky and I had only been married a few months and now it was July 20th, my birthday. I had turned 28 but my wife hadn’t mentioned anything all day.

I remember it like it was yesterday: We were sitting on the red couch in our living room. I turned to my wife and said “It was my birthday today.”

My wife couldn’t believe it. She was in shock. How had she forgotten my birthday? It turns out she didn’t forget my birthday. She was actually planning gifts and a special surprise outing (Mary Poppins on Broadway, if you must know) but she was planning it all for my Hebrew Birthday, which was still a few weeks away.

But even still, she was so upset. In her home growing up they only celebrated their Hebrew birthdays whereas in my home we celebrated both and she knew it was important to me. She had been so busy planning my Hebrew birthday, with such anticipation and love, that she had overlooked my English birthday and forgot to mark it.

She started crying and crying, all the while apologizing to me for “forgetting” my birthday.

I couldn’t control myself and now I started to cry profusely as well.

And there we were, husband and wife - friends, lovers - crying in each others’ embrace. 
--
What was it that made her cry so? And what was it that overwhelmed me with emotion that I started sobbing as well?

Did she think that she was in trouble? Was she afraid of some punishment or consequence as a result of her omission? Was she fearful that I wouldn’t love her anymore? Or that our relationship would break apart?

Her pain was not that she had forgotten my birthday; but that it was MY birthday she had forgotten. She wasn’t crying because there’s some rule that says that wife’s must remember their husband’s birthdays and that she had somehow broken that rule.

No. She was crying because when she thought about me and who I am in the context of the relationship - her best friend - the minor infraction of forgetting my birthday became heartbreaking. Because our relationship mattered, therefore my birthday mattered. 
--
And so why was I crying?

When I felt the love that was emanating from her, when I saw how much my birthday really did matter to her and just how deeply she cared, how could I NOT cry? I felt so loved and I’ll never forget that feeling.
--
Tonight is Yom Kippur. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world will be going to shul to recount their sins. And countless more will not be attending any Yom Kippur service for that same reason.

Yom Kippur was given to us as a gift, an opportunity for us to unite with the deepest and truest part of our being, which is another way of saying “uniting with Hashem.”

Let us not spend these next 24 hours, these holy, precious moments wallowing in this past year’s misdeeds, sullying our white garments with the surface dirt of yesterday, recounting specific ways we have been naughty.

Let us focus on our relationship and just how much Hashem means to us and how much we mean to Hashem. When we contemplate how close we actually are with G-d, how much He loves us and how we are truly one with Him, we will naturally avoid anything that will cause distance between us and be motivated to do everything to draw Him near.

So let us spend at least 23 hours of this next 24 hours contemplating this closeness, and only one hour tops thinking about any misdeeds.

This will surely give us the fortitude and power to experience at-ONE-ment with ourself and with others - with grace, kindness and joy.

May it be a year of sweetness for all our people and all of humanity. Amen.

The Fifth Candle is Speaking to You

The Fifth Candle is Speaking to You

Today is the fifth day of Chanukah, which we marked last night, the fifth night, by lighting five candles on the Menorah. 

The fifth night is considered special and growing up we always got more Chanukah gelt on this night than on any other. 

What makes the fifth night special? It is the only day of Chanukah that can not fall on Shabbat no matter which day Chanukah begins on. 

Read More

Meet Brooklyn's Hasidic Hipsters

What what? Refinery29 can't stop their obsession with these two fashion luminaries. And I understand why.

Congratulations to my wife Mushky Hayes Notik and sister Mimi Notik Hecht on this insightful and important feature on your work MIMU MAXI - modesty, fashion, standing up for what's right, connecting disparate communities and breaking boundaries all while maintaining the rich and eternal traditions of our people from time immemorial.

You inspire me and and many others! Go from strength to ever greater strength! ‪#‎mimumaxi‬ ‪#‎totheworld

Yom Kippur and the Gift of Snow White

Yom Kippur is given to us as a gift to get white-clean, "white like snow" in the liturgy, and move on, not as a day to get dirty by wallowing indulgently in yesterday's misdeeds. 

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is about returning to our highest and deepest essence. That place that is One with G-d, where all action and  inactions are of no consequence, to that place where we are white pure and can never be sullied no matter how many concealments and obscurities (or obscenities).

We return to the highest level of the five levels of the soul known as Yechida ("oneness") during the fifth and climactic prayer of Yom Kippur, the prayer of Neilah, which means locked as we are locked in total holiness and unity with our essence, our source, the One living G-d. 

So this year, as Yom Kippur comes to completion, let's sing in the confidence that this year will be better, higher and holier than the previous one. Let's dance with the assurance that G-d will grant us and all of creation a year of life and living.

May we all draw down the highest of high into the lowest of low of our daily lives and material world, ushering in an era of brotherly love, true peace among nations, and the sole occupation of the study and knowledge of G-d. 

Here's to embracing the power of the day by letting go and giving in to the eternal goodliness and G-dliness of our inner essence!

Isn't this kind of perpetual punishment un-Jewish?

Question

After reading 'What happened on the Ninth of Av?' on chabad.org I find it somewhat "un-Jewish" to imagine that God would curse us and inflict pain upon us each 9th of Av. Feels very superstitious and doesn't feel like it supports this overall notion of improving the world. I can understand having a day to commemorate such calamities, but it seems odd that we can't overcome the bad juju of the day because of the act of the spies and the response to their false report. 

In other instances where God wasn't happy with us, he didn't curse us in this way (e.g., waking up late to receive the Torah; worshiping the Golden Calf; even all the sins of our forefathers like when Moses struck the rock or Solomon did what he did resulting in the splitting of the kingdom). Why all of a sudden with this curse that stretches through generations?

Answer

Time has memory and so any event on any given day in the calendar at any point in history are forever imprinted on that day, becoming part of the "DNA," if you will, of that marker on the calendar. This is the source for celebrating our birthdays or any other anniversary or any Jewish holiday for that matter. It's not merely a commemoration of an event that was, but rather a celebration and tapping into a reality that is being relived. 

Our sages teach us that, "One who reads the Megillah (of Purim) backward (meaning out of its written order), does not fulfill his obligation." Chasidus teaches that to mean that anybody who reads the story "backward" - as history, as a thing of the past - does not get it and therefore hasn't fulfilled their obligation to hear the reading. One must live with it and realize that every generation has a Haman and an Achashverosh, every generation has a Mordechai and an Esther. Every generation a Hitler; every generation a Rebbe. In every generation they rise to annihilate us, and in every generation Hashem brings us salvation and delivery. Same page, different stage.

The idea is not that G-d is cursing and afflicting us, but rather that the day itself carries with it a negative energy and power, having been set originally by our misdeed, but not as a recurring punishment for them. When Haman plotted his final solution he chose the day of Moses' passing as the day to implement his plan because he figured, not unreasonably, that the day the Jewish people lost their shepherd would be a day of weakness for the Jews. (Of course, he failed to note that Moshe's day of passing was also his day of birth.)

Also, like Haman's thinking, many of our enemies throughout history have used Jewish fast days as an opportune moment to launch their attacks, as the Egyptians launched their "surprise" attack on Israel in 1973 in what became the Yom Kippur War. And so this day may have become a day of such tragedies not of G-d's choosing, but of our enemies choosing. If they're going to plot and succeed, they argue, they have a better chance on the same day as their predecessors succeeded.

Also they know that the supernatural staying power of the Jew (arguably another source for anti-Semitism) comes from our attachment to our source and our well-being dependent on our fulfillment of our purpose here on earth. And so by selecting a day on which we veered from that they are hoping that our lifeline is weak and that we'd be more susceptible to attack. 

As far as overcoming it, of course we can. We are not bound by the constellations or the patterns set in motion, no matter how powerful. But it requires resolve. In fact, all such days on the Hebrew calendar are days in which will be utterly transformed from days of darkness and mourning into days of light and rejoicing.

And so your intuition was spot on: Eternal damnation or anything of the sort is "un-Jewish." Transformation, renewal, and the ability for Teshuva and rebirth, that is Jewish.

Indeed, the Talmud teaches us that Moshiach is born on the 9th of Av. That the redeemer emerges from the destruction; the cure created before the disease. The day itself has great redemptive powers and it's up to us to study beneath the surface of the overt mourning to understand and see the deeper themes and tap into the true potential of the day, which is one of personal, communal and global redemption and one of true and complete transformation of the darkness itself into light. That the darkness itself will shine forth light. And may it be speedily in our days!

Response

Incredible response. Yeah totally makes sense. What I had read really bothered me, and it was on chabad.org since that's really my main go-to place. But you're right they may be suffering from causality issues. To say Tisha B'Av is a day of misfortune seems much more connected to the rational reason you provide as stemming from the very real situation of collective mourning and physical/spiritual engagement of a people as well as an enemy's potential desire to hit them on these anniversaries, rather than from a "curse" God has laid upon us for that day. I just know that when I was reading it as a curse sort of situation, it didn't sit well with me, in that it just didn't feel like that was a "Jewish thing" from everything I've learned through you and others. Thanks for clarifying.

New Year's Message: The Head of Change

Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, known widely as the Jewish New Year.

Many assume that Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the creation of the universe. Or the beginning of the calendar year. But it marks neither.

In fact Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “head of the year” or more specifically “head of the change” marks the day on which G-d, after creating the heavens and earth and all therein, created Adam and Chava - humankind. 

We human beings are the pinnacle of creation, the purpose for the existence of the world, and the means by which it - and indeed G-d - reaches its true potential. 

This day then changed a house into a home. An infinitesimal drop in the cosmic sea of existence into the epicenter of reality. Through the human being, and our unique ability to choose and fail, G-d created the ultimate change agent. 

But as we move about this earth we often feel ourselves disconnected from the whole, out of touch with our purpose and the way in which we complete the grand design. We feel fragmented and disenchanted, even fearful of what we have become or what our world is becoming - powerless in the face of global upheaval, victims to our own habits. 

But then comes Rosh Hashanah, our collective birthday, to remind us: You are change. You are the head of all change. And no matter the inertia, no matter the challenge, you're an ever-flowing fountainhead of renewal. "The head of change" reminds us that we need not fear and that we can and shall prevail!

Wishing you and yours and all of humanity a happy, healthy, sweet new year!

Peace and blessings always,

Saadya

Why Negotiating with Hamas Is a Disaster for Israel

What must the world think? 

Israel bombs Hamas then sits down to a meeting with them. Drops munitions on their homes. And then sips Perrier with them. Kills their wives and children and then invites them to tea.  

What must the world think? Israel calls Hamas bloodthirsty savage beasts. And then asks them politely to please, please stop shooting at them.  

This doesn't look like a country being besieged by rockets. Or like some safe haven from centuries of persecution.

There's no doubt that there are millions of people worldwide who are merely looking for an opportunity for their latent anti-Semitism to rise to the fore so that they can then champion some international humanitarian cause. 

But there are also hundreds of millions of people across the globe that don't know (nor care much) for the facts and trust more in the nightly news and their own intuition about right and wrong, the good guys and the bad. 

If I were your average American citizen, I would believe Hamas to be the underdog with a righteous cause, if even I considered their practices of resistance unorthodox. (After all what are an oppressed people supposed to do against a well-oiled military machine a thousand times their size?)

Israel claims that Hamas is a murderous terror organization that will stop at nothing short of the total annihilation of Israel. Netanyahu last week said, "ISIS is Hamas; Hamas is ISIS."

Really? Then how come Israel is negotiating with them (or their proxies)? What is there to negotiate? Israel claims Hamas wants them all dead. So are the Jews negotiating the degree to which they'll allow themselves to be killed? Are they going half way? Hamas kills 50% of Israel's people only if we get to retain the other 50%? Is that what's under negotiation?

Apparently Israel wants to live and Hamas wants them to die. How do you reconcile that

By negotiating with terrorists Israel instantaneously undercuts the very message it is spending millions of dollars to promote.

It's time Israel saves the money they're investing in "explaining" (hasbara) themselves and start acting like they believe their own narrative. Because if they don't, how can they expect me to?

Be Strong, for Your Enemies' Sake

I just finished reading Ambassador Michael Oren's definitive book on the Six Day War, titled Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. This is a must read for any person who wants to even begin to understand what's really going on in the larger Mid-East today.

This is a jaw dropping, heart swelling, mind-boggling account written by a master storyteller. The story of the war itself is quite literally incredible. Unfortunately so much of the blessings of this war were undone by Israel's lack of moral clarity and confidence to own their wins during and in the immediate aftermath of the war. Had they done a better job of unequivocally accepting their unprecedented gains, tens of thousands of lives - Jewish and Arab lives - could have been spared in the decades that followed. 

If you read this book and follow Israel news, your mind will be boggled at how we could be making the same mistakes now as we made then - in regards to Iran, the Americans, the UN, the Palestinians and so on.

Time for us Jews to shed our ghetto mentality and realize we don't have to ask anybody's permission to assert our "right to self-defense" or apologize - explicitly or implicitly - for simply existing. Doing so will not only mean a loss (or a greater loss) of life for Jews, but for many Arabs as well.

Remaining strong and owning our destiny is the surest way to avoid war and dissuade our enemies from raising yet another generation of haters and killers - thereby sparing them further disappointment and setbacks, which only further fans the flames of hatred.

Passing Over

Sometimes you just gotta start over.

For the past few days I found myself toiling over my pre-Passover (Pesach) greetings. I had a theme for the email set, but when I put pen to paper it came out clunky, awkward, and utterly non-compelling. I thought I knew what I wanted to say and exactly how to communicate it. And I did! But that was the problem. I thought I was in control; I had an idea that I was stuck on and I was stuck on it.

I’d start a paragraph and jump to another. Cut from one place and paste to another. My words were losing cadence and life. Try as I might, I couldn’t revive the splintered and now overweight email.

The theme was to be about the ego and how its riddance is the first step toward personal transcendence. But instead of communicating the message, I was exercising its opposite intent. I was so caught up in communicating every sentence, every word, indeed every letter, with such precision and relevance that I lost the plot. My ego wouldn’t let me let go. I was holding on to a steering wheel that was never mine.

So instead, now I’m trying to practice not my crafty words, but the message I wanted them to convey: That in order to be free we must first be free of self. True self-expression can only come when we get out of our own way. So I hit Control+N and began anew - a fresh page, white space with infinite potential.

Generally, though, it’s not that easy. Change can be an arduous journey with seemingly insurmountable obstacles – pitfalls and pit-bulls.

So we employ strategy: I’ll add this; get rid of that. I’ll cut here; paste there. This for today; that for tomorrow. But for all our reckoning, we end as shreds on our own cutting floor – overanalyzed and deconstructed; therapy leaving us not just broke, but broken.

But Pesach means to pass over, commemorating how G-d “skipped” over the homes of the Jews when plaguing the Egyptian first-born. That same non-linear energy is renewed in potent form each year on Passover and is accessible to every Jew regardless of observance or spiritual development year-round.

Pesach affords us the opportunity to tap into a higher energy, one not limited by the usual constraints of in-step progress. It enables us to skip along the path of self-liberation, making leaps and bounds in our forward growth.

Year round we can get caught up in strategy, but Pesach comes once a year to tell us: Enough wrestling with your self. Stop trying to subdue, mold and channel. Enough with the sophisticated self-help doctrines.

Blockage? Obstacle? Formidable foe? Just pass over.

Originally, I tried to go linear – outlining my thoughts, strategizing on how to reveal them and focusing on how you, the reader, would perceive my words. It has worked in the past and it will work again.

But sometimes you just need to pass over.

Wishing you and yours a Kosher and joyous pass over!

Saadya Notik

New Year's Message from Peru

Dearest brother, dearest sister,

Happy birthday!

This past Rosh Hashana was 5,769 years to the day on which, on that
sixth day of creation, the first human being was created. And so it is
the birthday of all of humanity.

Only on the sixth day of creation, after creating the heavens and the
earth, the land and the sea, and all mineral, plant and animal life,
did G-d create Adam and Chava (as one originally and then later
separated). The whole universe was created in all its intelligence and
glory to be the theater in which G-d's sole actor, the human being,
would take center stage.

Why did G-d initially create just one human being? Surely the Creator
of the universe could have populated the earth, as He wishes it to be,
by creating many men and women at once? Or at the very least He could
have created Adam and Chava as two separate individuals? So why, then,
did G-d create the sum total of humanity as one singular being?

This, our sages teach, is to emphasize the supreme importance of a
singular life. To G-d it would have been worthwhile to create the
entire world if even for one single human being.

As Maimonides put it: "A person must see himself and the world as
equally balanced on two ends of the scale; by doing one good deed, he
tips the scale and brings for himself and the entire world redemption
and salvation." (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, 3:4).

And in the words of the Mishne: "A person is responsible to say that
the entire world was created for me; when you save a life you save the
universe." (Sanhedrin 37a).

This emphasizes the Divine responsibility and indispensability that
each and every one of us has here on planet Earth. Each of us has
something wholly unique to contribute that no other human being can.

On a personal note, not only do each of you make up my world, but you
mean the world to me. You've taught me invaluable lessons, by deed and
by word. You have challenged me, questioned me, helped me to see
beyond myself. You have been a friend and a guide, knowing or
unknowingly.

Whether we've been friends for years or only met briefly (perhaps on a
plane or in an airport) whether in the States or abroad, we've shared
a real moment together. Those precious encounters, brief though they
may have been, were meaningful and make up the days, the weeks, months
and years of my life.

You've given of yourself to me and allowed me to give of myself to
you. For this I am indebted and grateful to you.

As I dance with the Torah Scrolls with unbridled joy this Simchat
Torah here in Lima, Peru I will be one with all of you.

Peace and blessings,

Saadya Notik

For more on the unifying and joyous holiday of Sukkot and Simchat
Torah please visit:
http://www.chabad.org/4126

I haven't been in contact with many of you for way too long. I'd love
if you would drop me a line and let me know how you're treating life.
Thanks!

Leggo Your Ego

Every year for the past 3,000 years, in times of persecution as in times of calm, Jews have gathered together to celebrate the holiday of Passover, in which we commemorate the miracles G-d performed in emancipating us from centuries of mind-numbing Egyptian slavery and oppression.

Tonight, Wednesday April 8th, Jews the world over will begin celebrating the eight day festival of Pesach by eating matzah as our ancestors had; recounting the story of our liberation to our children through texts and song; drinking four cups of wine, one for each aspect of freedom; eating bitter herbs as a reminder of the bitterness and tears of bondage; and reclining in royalty.

This is not a theatrical commemoration of an antiquated event, but a timeless and potent step-by-step guide to self-liberation. Our sages teach that in each and every generation every individual must view himself as though he just made his grand exit from Egypt. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is rooted in the word meitzar meaning boundaries, constraints and limitations.

No matter our mobility or autonomy, a part of us remains subjugated to our own inner “task master” – the slave driver within that restricts us to habit, shackles us to our fears, and relegates us to personal bias. Pharaoh’s Egypt we’ve long escaped; it’s our own individual boundaries that we must transcend daily.

Unlike when we left Egypt, personal breakthroughs rarely come through revealed sea-splitting intervention. It will be through determination and perseverance that we split our own seas and cross through on dry land.

Here are just three steps, each a tool, pulled from the 15 steps of the Passover guide, to briefly illustrate the relevance and potential of the Passover experience and assist you in your personal exodus.

Leggo your ego
Matzah. We search our homes (and psyche) to rid it of any trace of leaven, of hot air, of self- aggrandizement. We eat poor man’s bread. A return to basics, to a more pure recipe. We are not in control, but we’ll crash, unless we let go of our ego.

Order your drinks
Yayin. We drink wine. Four glasses. Will the real you, please stand up? (Slowly, now.) Relax that which is inhibiting you from actualizing your highest potential. We don’t slam shots. Each glass has its time, its place. Uninhibited, but with aim.

Saline Solution
Marror. We eat bitter herbs. Stop filling the hole; start feeling the hole. We cry, knowing what our ancestors experienced, not only in Egypt, but also in every generation since. No explanations or modifiers. Get in touch with the pain, with the void, and simply cry.

One final thought. This morning we have an opportunity that won’t come for another 28 years: Birkat HaChama or the blessing of the sun. Take a moment to give thanks and praise to the Creator for the sun – and for all of creation. Visit www.chabad.org/sun for more information and for a text of the short service.

May you have a kosher and happy Passover!

For more information on Passover or to find a Passover seder near you, please visit www.chabad.org/passover or contact me.

Echo-less Shavuot

Tonight starts the two-day holiday of Shavuot. On Shavuot we relive the revelation of G-d and the giving of the Torah.

G-d spoke at Mount Sinai, but there was no echo. The question is, Why?

Our sages explain that when G-d spoke at Mt. Sinai there was no reflection of sound, not in time and not in space. Every fiber of existence and non-existence, of the here-and-now as much as of the then-and-there, swallowed and internalized G-d's voice, His expressed will. There was no resistance or throwing back, and hence no echo. And so G-d continues to speak, the cosmos absorbing and constantly reabsorbing his words.

This ongoing revelation (read revolution) which began at Mt. Sinai effectively shattered the impenetrable barrier that once divided matter from spirit, the physical from the spiritual. Now they not only co-exist but actually affect each other, each illuminating in the other their inherent potential.

This year, as every year, we won't be merely commemorating a historical and unprecedented event that happened 3,321 years ago, but reliving, re-receiving and reabsorbing the same vibrant vibrations of G-d's word, the Torah, in our time and in our space.

Wishing you an internal-most receiving of the Torah into your inner and outer-most dimensions with true joy and gladness of heart; a happy and echo-less Shavuot to you and yours!

See you at Sinai!

For more information on Shavuot or to find a local reading of the Ten Commandments, visit www.shavuot.com.