By CEO National Master Evan Rabin
In 2017, I was doing sales for On The Spot Photo Magnets and sent a cold email to Rabbi Levi Welton asking what he is doing for photography at an event. He told me he was all set in terms of photography at the event but I should show up. I did and we instantly became close. In 2018, Levi became the rabbi at the Shul and I started coming regularly. In 2019 and 2020 I hosted chess Shabbaton events at the shul.
Today in 2021, I am here doing this talk and am committed to soon becoming a member of the shul! Back in March, like all of us, I faced uncertainty at one by one, the 80+ schools we serve, shut their doors. However, as Rabbi Mark Wildes, Founder of Manhattan Jewish Experience, said, one must use the the coronavirus as an opportunity, not a problem. We quickly pivoted to virtual learning and continued our success, as mentioned in Dylan Mclain’s recent New York times article.
In Parsha Bo, we read about the last three of the 10 plagues:
10) Slaying of the First Born
We learn that we should have a calendar based on the moon, a Passover offering, matzah and bitter herbs. We also learn that one should respect the firstborn. I am now making a haclachta (commitment) that I am going to call my brother once per week.
The parsha also teaches us that the Jews asked the Egyptians for gold, silver and garments, showing that they left Egypt wealthy. Not only does Beth Harmon leave the orphanage, but she also soon shows her materialism as she travels with her new mom and asks for items like clothing, chess sets and more.
Parsha Bo also introduces the important mitzvah of tefillin, which one binds on his arm and head. Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of Chabad of West Palm Beach, explains in this Facebook video how the English word for tefillin is “phylacteries”, which is of the same root as “prophylactic”, a common chess word which is used to explain how players like Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov made moves to prevent future counter-play.
A yeshiva high-school student David volunteered at a nursing home. Like a Chabad shaliach/mercenary, he would often walk around, asking the residents if they would like to dawn tefillin. One day one of the residents got angry at him as he did not want to put on tefillin and soon brought David to his room. He explained how he and his father were the only two for a while to survive from the Holocaust. Soon after just for putting tefillin on, his father was murdered.
The tefillin was the only thing that the man was able to keep from his father so for many years he equated it with death. A few days later, David was looking for the 10th person to make a minyan and his elder agreed to take part. When David asked if he would like to take his tefillin, his elder reluctantly agreed. After that David, would help him put on tefillin on each day… until a few months later when he unfortunately passed away. The elder’s daughter called up David explaining how he saved him and that he passed away with his tefillin on. You never know what one small act of kindness can do. I now make a second hachlachta, which is to put tefillin on each day, except of course for Shabbat and Yom Tov, before 10:00 AM.
Elizabeth Harmon is a fictional prodigy, loosely based on Bobby Fischer, Judith Polgar and other top players. National Master Bruce Pandolfini, my podcast guest, and Grandmaster Gary Kasparov were advisors on the film series so the chess was fairly accurate.
Moshe told Pharoah that not only grown men should leave Egypt to serve Hashem. Torah study should begin at a young age and even babies should be exposed. When Elizabeth Harmon was a young orphan, she saw her school janitor playing chess in the basement. When she first expressed interest what he was doing, he said that girls do not play chess and told her to go upstairs. To the contrary, Rabbi AL Scheinbaum writes “If the parent has no desire to respond, the parent has severed his/her relationship with the child.” As Elizabeth Harmon insisted, the janitor eventually taught her and she ended up being a top player in the nation; you never know what type of impact one teacher could have.
As Parsha Bo teaches us to remember Exodus, l’dor v’dor, from one generation to another, Elizabeth Harmon teaches us to remember The Cold War.
Both stories show how we can depart our limitations and become wealthy. Elizabeth Harmon is an orphan who would not let her challenges stop her from international fame. She reminds me of my podcast guest Pastor Bill Wilson, who 50 years ago was left on a street corner by his mother for 3 days in Florida and now runs Metro World Child, an incredible non-profit that supports 200,000+ children around the world with food, education, sponsorship and much more.
As the Jews went from slavery in Egypt to Klal Yisrael, Elizabeth Harmon went from impoverishment and addiction to widespread success. Both cases required teamwork.
Let us all be inspired by Elizabeth Harmon, the modern day Moses. Live up and be strong. Trust in Hashem. As Rabbi Wildes said, consider all of your challenges opportunities, not problems. Despite the challenges of Coronavirus, we have been successful, with exposure in the New York times and recent contracts with Berkshire Hathaway and Google. We may not know it but Hashem always a plan. Shabbat Shalom!