This past Monday I participated in the annual conference of the JLI in Park Slope, Brooklyn together with most of the 900 Chabad rabbis who offer the courses in hundreds of Jewish communities on every continent besides - to the best of my knowledge at least - Antarctica.

At the conference the vice-chair of Chabad shared a story:

Some one hundred and twenty years ago a group of Jews from Kharkov, a city in Ukraine near the Russian border (according to Putin in the Russian province of Ukraine), arrived at their rabbi's town some 500 miles away for a visit. 

A member of the delegation had a meeting with the rabbi. 'So how are things over in Kharkov?' asked the rabbi. 'Things are wonderful in Kharkov!' said the man. 'The Jewish community is thriving, everyone gets along, the schools are well funded, people are happy, the synagogues are full - things are great!'. The rabbi was so pleased to hear this report that he took out a golden ruble coin and gave it to the man.

Later on another member of the delegation had a meeting with the rabbi. 'So, how are things in Kharkov?' asks the rabbi. 'Things are terrible in Kharkov!' said the man. 'Everyone is fighting, the schools are broke, people are angry, and the synagogues are empty!'. His meeting soon ended.

These two members of the delegation met up afterwards. Upon discovering that his friend received a gold coin from the rabbi for his report, the second man was very upset. 'All I did was tell the truth!' he said to his friend. The rabbi's brother overheard their conversation and passed it along to his brother. The rabbi called the second man back in to his office.

'All I did was try to tell you the truth!' said the man.

It's the rabbi's answer that I really liked: 

'Do you think I don't know what's happening over in Kharkov?' said the rabbi. 'Of course I do. I know there are good things, as well as challenges in Kharkov. My real question for you wasn't what's happening in Kharkov' he continued.

'So why did you ask me "how are things in Kharkov?" '

'My question was directed to you' said the rabbi. 'In which Kharkov are you living? When you look at the community do you focus on the troubles and let them sink you, or do you focus on the good things and let them encourage you?'

Life is full of many things. There are always challenges, and always good things. Obviously challenges need to be focused on and dealt with. But we don't need to live with them. In Hebrew there is no plural for the word 'life', or 'Chai'. Life can't take place in more than one place. If we live with the challenges, then life will feel challenging. If it's the good things that we live with, life feels upbeat and positive.

If I feel that my phone, or my car, bank account, house, job or fidget spinner is my life, then if something happens to them my life will feel ruined. If, however, my life is acutely focused on the good that I have then even if I lose my fidget spinner I will still be able to continue.

Tuesday marks 241 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Another lesser known event that also took place on July fourth was 'Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day', on July 4, 1939 - less than two months before the start of WW II. Lou Gehrig was  player number four on the Yankees from 1923 - 1939. A great player he was - his twenty three grand slams were unmatched until Alex Rodriguez beat him by two in 2013.

In 1939 he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The Yankees officially announced Gehrig's retirement on July 4, and named the day 'Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day'. Gehrig spoke that day in Yankee stadium, and ended his speech with these inspiring words: 'So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. - Thank you.' He passed away two years later in 1941.

Lou Gehrig, with all the tremendous challenges he faced at the time, understood that his life was more than his career. He 'still had a lot to live for' despite facing daunting challenges, because his focus was always on the good he had in his life.

Closer to home, the Chabad rabbi in Temecula, California, Rabbi Yizti Hurwitz, was diagnosed with ALS several years ago. Since then he has become a beacon of inspiration for tens of thousands around the globe. He writes beautiful articles through a computer that follows his eye movements, and frequently talks about the beauty and gift of life. He actually has a blog - yes a  blog  ( ) - where he reminds his readers to appreciate the gift of life and smile through it. He spends the entire Thursday writing his weekly message with his special computer. People suffering from ALS sometimes retain the ability to move one part of the body. Rabbi Yitzi retained one ability of movement: his smile.

Let's try to 'live in the right Kharkov', and focus on the good we have in life, like Lou Gehrig and Rabbi Yizti.

Life is full of many things, both good and difficult. But of life itself we only have one. Invest it wisely.

Shabbat Shalom, have a wonderful week!

Rabbi Avrohom