Some time ago, I chanced upon a small, quaint bookshop, with an entire second floor dedicated to second-hand books. I headed right upstairs, of course! The books were meticulously organized, with an average price of five dollars.

After skimming through several books on the Spanish Empire, I noticed a small shelf with a collection of Jewish titles. Among them was a book called 'The Old Country'. It was filled with hundreds of photographs of the world of the 'Shtetl' - the world of pre-war Eastern European Jews. In the book was an inscription designating the volume as a Chanukah gift for 'Grandma and Grandpa', in 1975.

The photographs were fascinating, and reminded me of an old story which took place in the 'Shtetl'. The tale is about a man who, like nearly all the people in those photographs, lived in a materially harsh, poverty-stricken environment.

The man was finding every day to be a depressing struggle for survival, and decided to visit his rabbi, Rabbi DovBer of Mezritch, for advice on how to cope with his daily challenges. Rabbi DovBer advised the man to visit a student of his, named Rabbi Zusha, who would teach him how to surmount his struggles.

The man duly headed to Rabbi Zusha's home in the nearby town of Anipoli. Rabbi Zusha, as it turns out, lived in a shack on the outskirts of what was itself an impoverished town.

He knocked on the door, and requested of the rabbi that he share with him his secret to coping with life's struggles, as their mutual rabbi DovBer had told him to. 'I can't understand why Rabbi DovBer sent you to me to learn how to cope with struggles', exclaimed Rabbi Zusha, 'as I have no struggles in my life - my life is wonderful!'.

The man stood there, taking in Rabbi Zusha's ramshackle abode, bewildered as to why his rabbi sent him to the wrong man. Then it dawned on him that it was precisely Rabbi Zusha's upbeat attitude that his rabbi had meant for him to observe...

Times have changed since that story. From the fields of transportation to medicine, from banking to farming, from communications to architecture and for so much more, we humans have been blessed with mind-blowing advances. It is a world that would boggle the mind of our friend on his visit to Anipoli.

Today we live in a world where challenges lie - more often than not - not in the nonexistence of solutions, but in the fact that the solutions have not yet reached enough people. While this challenge is certainly real, we have made great leaps of advancement to reach that point.

The challenges our ancestors faced however, were, more often than not, the fact that the technology for what they needed simply did not exist. It wasn't that there weren't enough smartphones for all people to benefit from. There were simply no smartphones. It wasn't that there weren't enough modern medical facilities to care for all people. There were no modern medical facilities at all. And the list goes on.

Yet even today, there is a push, a yearning and a feeling that something is missing, which can be openly felt throughout the world, especially over the past months. It comes in myriad forms and from numerous places, but the common thread, felt pulsing throughout society, is a wish for more, a desire for meaning.

In the Torah portion for this week, among other things, we have a census of the Jewish people. This count is described as a 'head count'. The literal translation of the Hebrew, however, does not mean 'head count', but 'uplifting of the head/mind'.

The head is the most advanced and sophisticated part of the human body, with the brain containing nearly twenty billion nerve cells. Why would the mind, of all things, need to be 'uplifted'?

Because the very core of the human being is not a computer chip, like the cores of the robots making Teslas in Fremont. At the core of the human being is a need for meaning, a need for a higher purpose for which it can use all the modern advancements which the mind has discovered

Even the mind, with all its inventions and technology, needs a soul and a purpose. The mind is, at the end of the day, a powerful tool; a means to an end. Even the mind needs 'uplifting'.

Judaism never saw itself as competing with the mind. It is a means by which we can uplift the mind. It is meaning, kindness, connection, giving, learning and spiritual growth. It is a goldmine of meaning that kept our people inspired, from Moses to the Shtetl to the iPhone 12.

To whoever wrote that note in the Chanukah gift for Grandma and Grandpa nearly half a century ago, I thank you for helping me find inspiration this week!

Rabbi Avrohom