As I was sitting at my desk late Tuesday and thinking that it was time to get out of the office and perhaps experience some of the thankfully warmer weather now upon us, I received a call from Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky of Bris Avrohom, one of my favorite rabbis, though I have many favorites. I assumed he was calling me to invite me to a Bris Avrohom pre-Pesach event, but I was wrong.
He wanted to tell me that he had an idea that was proposed to him by one of his friends and supporters, and he wanted me to share it and help publicize it. Here it is:
From Rabbi Kanelsky: “We have now officially marked the one-year anniversary of the start of this pandemic. In addition to all the physical preventative measures we have in place, it is time to ensure that we have done all we can spiritually to deliver us from these seemingly endless and dark days of the pandemic. Prior to leaving Egypt we were given a mitzvah in whose merit we were redeemed, so too now let us take upon ourselves to do just one more mitzvah and start a chain reaction for all those around us to follow suit.
You can assist a Jew with making Pesach at home, or deliver matzos and wine to the needy or your neighbor, or help the elderly. By doing just one mitzvah in your own community you can inspire others to do one mitzvah too and before you know it the world as a whole will all be doing their spiritual part to ultimately hurry along the ultimate redemption.
Over the course of the next two weeks let us unite, please forward this email as many times to as many people as you wish, and thus you will have an effect in this chain reaction.”
While discussing this with Rabbi K., I was reminded of the ongoing #DoItForShira Mitzvah Campaign in the merit of Shira Shatzkes of Teaneck, who is still in the hospital as I write this and still needs all our tefillot. I was also reminded of what my friend Micah Kaufman advocates in every speech he gives today, as he has become a sought after speaker in the wake of his terrible accident and miraculous recovery. In all of his talks, Micah asks all who listen to him to do more chesed and think hard about how they can do more mitzvot. How can anyone not respond positively to these messages?
There is a common theme here and that is the idea of just taking time to think about how we can add mitzvot and chesed to our lives. It’s such a simple and plain idea, easily dismissed, and yet so powerful at the same time if you think about it. How hard is it really? Not hard at all. It’s almost too easy, too simple, not substantial enough, but if you really commit to doing one or two more positive acts and think about how to accomplish them, and make them happen, even if they are small, you can really make a meaningful, impactful change.
I haven’t read too many self help books over the years, but I recently read BJ Fogg’s just-published book entitled “Tiny Habits” (Mariner Books, January 2021) and I found that I related well to his message of “Tiny is Mighty.” His basic premise, which apparently builds upon the 2018 bestseller, Atomic Habits, by James Clear (which I haven’t read) is that the only way we can ever make any changes to ourselves that will last is to start with just a few tiny changes. I won’t go into all of the steps, techniques, and research he explores but I can tell you that I was able to read through it relatively easily and I have even begun to initiate a few “tiny” and hopefully positive changes of my own.
When it comes to mitzvot, chesed, changing oneself or changing the world, the message is the same: Start small, take baby steps, and do just a bit more than what you were doing before. I like that message and I hope you do as well.
Switching gears: kudos and yashar koach to my classmate, friend and rabbi, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron. I have written in this space a few times in the past few years about his drashot and how creative he and our shul have been in running programs that help reinforce our shul’s sense of community. This year was no exception and of course, COVID19’s many restrictions had to be overcome also.
With the dinner a virtual event this year, what did Rabbi Rothwachs do? He made a movie, of course. He wrote and produced, with help from our shul’s staff and leadership, a 24-minute video that was genuinely funny, engaging, and warm. The basic plot of the film, entitled “There’s No Place Like Home” starts out with the rabbi trying to convince all of the outdoor minyan hosts to close down their minyan and come back to shul now that COVID restrictions are easing. Hilarity ensues as the rabbi learns that none of the outdoor minyanim want to return to shul ever again and he falls into a state of depression. To pull himself out of his funk, he comes up with the idea of creating his own breakaway minyan in his living room. As expected, the rabbi starting his own shul in his living room doesn’t go too well either. Although the conclusion was foretold and never in doubt, it was fun watching Rabbi Rothwachs get there, and the film concludes with the rabbi giving a powerful message of shul and communal unity, despite a year of much challenge and less-than-full shuls.
You can catch the film on Rabbi Rothwachs’ Youtube channel at: t.ly/1unX
Rabbi Rothwachs, keep up all that you are doing on behalf of our shul and at your other job at RIETS helping to mold the next generation of YU / RIETS rabbis. May you never run out of the creativity and humor which you have in abundance.
Mazal tov to you and Chaviva on your daughter Shira’s wedding this Sunday to Akiva Hochbaum of W. Hempstead. My wife and I have seen Shira grow up into a very special young woman and we are so excited for you and Chaviva and your entire family! Mazal tov!
By Moshe Kinderlehrer/
Co-Publisher, The Jewish Link